Monday 30 January 2023

The Boy On The Bridge

The Gifted

The Boy On
The Bridge

by M. R. Carey
Orbit Publishing
ISBN: 9780356503561

Warning: Some very mild spoilers.

The Boy On The Bridge is M. R. Carey’s prequel novel to the original novel and film The Girl With All The Gifts (my review of the film is here and the book review is here), which he wrote simultaneously, giving slightly different versions of the same story to different media as he went along. Now, I absolutely loved both the movie and novel versions of that one but I have to say, I expected a prequel to a story which had a very definite and somewhat bleak ending... at least for the human survivors of the post-apocalyptic world depicted... to be somewhat labouring the point as it surely could have nothing new to say. But, actually, I was wrong, it’s not all doom and gloom in this prequel and, well, let me just say that the brief epilogue to the book, set 20 years after the events depicted in this novel, actually acts as an epilogue to the first novel as well... or as a sequel, actually.

So this story is about the crew of the fortified truck/land raider style military vehicle which went out in the world to find a cure but which disappeared long before the action in the first novel/film took place. The vehicle is called the Rosalind Frank, known more affectionately as Rosie, which houses a small team of scientists and military personnel, collecting biological samples from the hungries (the name for the zombies in Carey’s world) in order to try and find some kind of helpful cure or breakthrough against the highly contagious disease which has destroyed the majority of the population... the ‘still human population’... of the planet. You may or may not remember that the discarded carcass of the Rosie was found by a bunch of survivors in The Girl With All The Gifts and was made much use of, by them, for a while.

This is the story of one of the scientists, Greaves, a boy genius who has a kind of high level Aspergers or something similar, who is also the inventor of the blocker/inhibitor that we were introduced to in the first book/film that humans smear on to hide their scent from the hungries. He’s mostly hated, or at least looked on with much suspicion, by most of the others apart from one scientist, Dr. Khan, who kinda rescued him as a young boy. However, Khan is pregnant, as it turns out and really shouldn’t be on this mission in this state... especially after something happens around halfway through the book which puts both her fate and that of the baby’s in a much more questionable state, in terms of how they will be accepted by the rest of the crew.

This novel also builds on the idea of the Junkers (which were in the first novel but not in the movie version) and, very importantly, the tribe of half hungries/half human children who the ‘special’ pupil Melanie discovers in The Girl With All The Gifts... depicted here a few years before she meets up with them.

And, it’s a very entertaining and certainly gripping novel. Somewhat, it has to be said, because the author has followed a similar formula to the first one. A ‘special’ kid (in this case human) and an adult who sympathises and has a relationship of sorts with him. And then the world is seen through the eyes of Greaves for a lot of it but it’s also much more of an ensemble piece in terms of other characters also having a lot to say and do... Carey limits himself to around five or six characters with which we share the odyssey of the book.

And, yeah, this is a short review for sure but, mainly because it’s a brilliant novel and I had no complaints at all. I do want to say though that, if you’re familiar with the first one in either of its forms, then this tale isn’t just a case of filling in the gaps... it does advance things to the point where a kind of hope can be found out of the ashes of both what happens here and at the ending of the original tale. Also, without giving too much away, the epilogue of the book is where you will find out, definitively, what just became of Melanie and Miss Justineau from the first book. Things tie in a lot nicer than you might be expecting and... well, I’d love to read a third book at some point but, like the first story, I’d be hard pressed to figure out where the author could possibly go from here. But, yeah, he did pretty great with The Boy On The Bridge so, perhaps that’s not just wishful thinking on my part. So... a hugely entertaining and very suspenseful novel which more than lives up to the original. My one warning to potential readers, though, would be to read The Girl With All The Gifts before you start on this one... otherwise that epilogue is going to make no sense and will give away spoilers for the first novel (and film). So, yeah, give it a go.

Sunday 29 January 2023

The Case Of The Velvet Claws

Legal Claws

The Case Of
The Velvet Claws

USA 1936
Directed by William Clemens
Warner Archive DVD Region 1

The Case Of The Velvet Claws is the fourth of the six Perry Mason feature films made by Warner Brothers in the 1930s but it’s also the last one with Warren William playing Mason. Eddie Acuff takes over as Spudsy, the comic relief private detective assistant to Mason on this one but we also welcome back Claire Dodd as Della Street, who played her in the second movie also, The Case Of The Curious Bride (reviewed here).

This one is actually based on the very first Perry Mason novel from 1933 and, I can only hope the meaning of the title is made clear in that book because I’ve got no idea what it has to do with the content of the film, for sure. One thing opens the movie, though, which I’m sure must be a pretty big deviation from the source... that is to say, well, in the books there is often some sexual tension between Mason and his secretary Street. Apparently, in the 2020 TV show, which is still set in the 1930s, they remove that element by making Della Street a lesbian. Here, they come at the issue from another angle. The film starts off with Mason interrupting a legal proceeding and the judge takes a ten minute adjournment in order that she can marry Mason and Street in her chambers. After the two tie the knot, they set off on a honeymoon but, of course, before they have had five minutes of the married life, Mason is taken at gunpoint by a new client, Eva Belter (played by Wini Shaw) and he very quickly gets involved in a case defending her from a murder wrap, with a difference...

In this case, both Eva and the audience think she did it. Mason figures differently but, unfortunately, to save herself, she tells the police she heard Mason get into an argument with the victim at the scene of the crime and throws suspicion on him. So Mason has to try and solve the case while staying ahead of the police who want to arrest him. Of course, by the end of the film, Mason fills everybody in on who the real murderer was... much to the surprise of Eva.

While this one is a little more on the serious side than the screwball antics of the previous two films, there’s still a lot of humour being forced into this one, although it doesn’t seem as well written and falls flat most of the time, it seemed to me. Shenanigans include a running joke where Perry has to keep running out on his new wife, a running joke about him catching and giving everyone a cold and a horrible sequence where Spudsy goes under cover dressed in drag. Yeah, the comedy is not great in this one but it doesn’t distract too much from the plot, it has to be said.

All in all, it’s not a terrible movie although the director did nothing special to push the semiotics of cinema the way one or two of them on this series did. William Clemens also directed the four, quite brilliant 1930s Nancy Drew movies and a couple of The Falcon adventures too. Once again, this was one of a number of films which were promoted on the credits as part of The Clue Club Mysteries, a gimmick Warners were pushing to act as a brand for their mystery movies at the time.

And that’s me done on this one I’m afraid. I’m sorry this is such a short review but I don’t have much more to add. I don’t know if Mason is still married to Della Street in the next film in the series but I’ll let you know sometime soon. Meanwhile, The Case Of The Velvet Claws (whatever that means) is not the best in the series and not one I’d recommend to hook you into these.

Tuesday 24 January 2023

Death On The Nile


A Gal In
Every Port

Death On The Nile
UK/USA 2022
Directed by Kenneth Branagh
20th Century Fox Blu Ray Zone B

Warning: Slight spoilers.

Finally catching up now to the 2022 release of Kenneth Branagh’s Death On The Nile... a loose adaptation of Agatha Christie’s novel of the same name and a sequel, in this case, to the director’s Murder On The Orient Express (reveiwed here), in which he reprises the role of Christie’s famous Belgium detective Hercule Poirot.

And there’s lots of things wrong with it, it has to be said. Especially if you’re an Agatha Christie purist and treat her original works as sacred. I don’t and am somewhat fortunate, in regards to this film, that I’m not all that familiar with the story. The first and last time I had any exposure to this particular tale was in my local cinema in 1978, when I saw Peter Ustinov play Poirot in the adaptation of it from that year. It was a much publicised film and I think I found it pleasant enough (which is probably not nearly enough for a ten year old boy watching more sensationalist fair such as Star Wars and Battlestar Galactica) but I absolutely don’t remember anything of it other than Ustinov wore a white hat... I think.

So, luckily for me, I found this new version by Branagh to be utterly entertaining and well directed, with some beautiful, symmetrical cinematography and bright, almost lurid colours signalling stark contrasts in tonal palettes, to indicate key locations (and even time shifts) at various points. There are a load of problems though... so I’ll get to those first.

The character of Poirot is at least 30 years younger than in the books and here is seen, younged up and clean shaven, serving in the Belgium army during the First World War. The scenes serve as an introduction to the film and are rendered in a beautifully crisp black and white which helps serve, along with a later flashback, to give us both an origin of why Poirot grows these enormous moustaches and also helps to humanise Poirot. So I think Christie purists would have bailed by this point of the pre-credits because, yeah, all of this is just made up and not from source.

Then we have the various characters and plot mechanics themselves... many of them amalgamated or replaced to give a smaller ensemble. Perhaps a very smart movie for a film adaptation but not something fans of the novel would easily embrace, I suspect.

Now I’ve said that, though... the cast are all wonderful and there are some real star names on board the paddle steamer, which serves as the ‘murder cruise’ location for the majority of the film. Actors such as Annette Bening, Letitia Wright, Armie Harmer, Sophie Okonedo and, the film even reunites famed comedy duo French and Saunders as ageing lesbian lovers. Joining them is the absolutely brilliant Gal Gadot and, I have to say, I was impressed by her skills as an actress here. I mean, she does brilliantly as Wonder Woman but I was amazed she was able to hold her own with such acting heavyweights on board... more than hold her own actually, she pretty much outshines many of them and I was truly astonished by her presence on screen again in this one.

There were two more big downsides for me though. One is when one of the characters greets Poirot with a parody of a famous line from Casablanca, “Of all the pyramids in all the world...” etc. Alas, the main action of this film takes place in 1937... five years prior to the release of the film this character is paraphrasing. So, yeah, this was quite a glaring error.

The other big problem for me was... knowing it was a mystery. As soon as I heard one of the characters complain that some red paint was missing, I knew that a gunshot wound or some such was obviously going to be restaged to reframe the timing of a murder and I was pretty sure I knew, due to some atmospheric dance hall telegraphing near the start of the movie, exactly who the two culprits would be. Despite their pretences throughout the main body of the movie. So, alas, within the first twenty minutes of the movie, I was pretty sure I knew who would be responsible for various murders and... yes, alas... I was completely right. Always a bad thing, in my book.

However, I will say that, for all it’s many perceived flaws, I thoroughly enjoyed this production and was content to let the beautiful performances and wonderful cinematography, counter pointed by a nice score by the director’s regular collaborator, composer Patrick Doyle, wash over me and give me a nice time. I even enjoyed the romantic spark of humanity stirred up in the movie and bolstered by an epilogue which clearly spells out Poirot’s intent to one of the other characters (a scene which also features a cameo by long standing TV Poirot David Suchet, as it happens). So, yeah, if you’re a strict Agatha Christie fan then you may find this new version of Death On The Nile to be in poor taste, perhaps... but I certainly had a good time with it, despite the ease of the solution to the mystery. Glad I saw this one and I hope Branagh gives us a third sometime soon.

Monday 23 January 2023

Pulp Power

Preaching From
The Pulp Pit

Pulp Power
by Neil McGinness
Abrams Books
ISBN: 9781419756160

Before I embark on this short but, very sweet review of a wonderful book given to me by a very special friend this Christmas, I should probably warn the more educated and literate readers among you of the thing on the cover which caused paroxysms of rage to manifest upon my golden aged, chiselled features because, yeah, it’s a problem. A subtitle to this glorious tome reads... “The Shadow, Doc Savage, And The Art Of The Street & Smith Universe.” Yeah, that’s right, there’s a hideous comma before the word ‘and’. Further rage was felt when I discovered that this wrongness... I’ll say it once, you never put a comma before the word AND under any circumstances, unless you are a complete idiot... has now been perpetrated upon an unsuspecting public more than once, under the guise of a completely nonsensical creation called ‘the Oxford comma’. And this is why Oxford should always be destined to lose their boat race every year because, frankly, the King’s English shouldn’t be abused in this manner. 

Further insult to injury continues in the interior passages of this book where the writer (or perhaps it’s a wrong headed editor) has failed to realise that the full stop always comes after a passage in parenthesis and not, by any means, before. If you use it before, that means the sentence has been finished and there’s no need to put the following text in brackets. Got it? So... you know... stop teaching young children and troubled, impressionable adults to get it wrong please.

That aside, what a great book Pulp Power is! I’ve been reading 1930s and 40s pulp novels (in paperback reprint form, I’m not well paid enough to be able to buy first editions) since the release in cinemas of the Doc Savage movie in 1975 (reviewed here) and I’ve always admired the no nonsense and efficient manner these great, fast paced stories, which enthrall the reader at every twist and turn, are written. Not so much The Shadow, written by Maxwell Grant (mostly by Walter Gibson under that Street and Smith pen name) but most assuredly the sheer economical energy found in the Doc Savage tales written by Kenneth Robeson (the majority penned by Lester Dent under that house pseudonym). So a book celebrating the artwork on those 1930s/40s pulp covers was definitely something I was looking forward to cracking open in this nice, coffee-table sized wonder.

But, it turns out, this book is so much more and, while it is filled with many beautiful pages of the cover artwork, not to mention the less familiar interior, monochrome illustrations for the original pulp editions... there’s also a fair amount of text which deals with not only those two mighty heroes mentioned above but also with the origins of publishing house Street and Smith from its 19th Century birth, under founders Francis Street and Francis Smith, before passing to one of their heirs and then to its later acquisition by Conde-Naste. Following a suitably humble forward by the great Frank Miller, this companionable compendium is split into six chapters and breaks down thusly...

Section 1. The Shadow
Although named after one of their more famous heroes and certainly covering some interesting facts and figures that I was unaware of about the character, this chapter is where the bulk of the text is laid down and also deals with the company and the people who worked for it... as well, of course, as featuring lots of artwork from the interiors and exteriors of the 30s and 40s editions of The Shadow, not to mention some rare artefacts from the extensive collection of one of the many Shadow collectors in this world. It covers the birth of the character on the radio and highlights what that character was as opposed to what he became when, by demand a year later, the first Shadow pulps were launched... and a very brief glance at a couple of films and theatrical serials based on the character, although the two 1950s attempts at a TV show are not mentioned. What I did find interesting was that Walter Gibson was very quickly established as being so prolific with the character on his typewriter (and you would have to be, at a penny a word) that Smith-Corona produced a standee, endorsement of him as his pen name Maxwell Grant, as a reciprocal promotional gimmick. It also tells of the eventual cancellation of both The Shadow and Doc Savage magazines in favour of a new, glossy breed of magazine venture which became known as the slicks, in direct contrast to the pulps (also named after the quality of the paper used)... specifically a teenage girls magazine called Mademoiselle at the end of the 1940s (which was still running until sometime in the last decade).

Section 2 - Doc Savage, tells a little of the story of Lester Dent’s tales although, I have to say, that the text in this section is not as illuminating or as detailed as the first section. Nevertheless, there’s still a lot of the cover paintings and interior illustrations rendered beautifully on the page. These pages also include lots of big pull quotes from Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson, presumably from around the time that he was in the running to play the character in a new film series (what the heck happened to that, please?).

Section 3 - The Super Crew looks at the other heroes created for both the Street and Smith pulps and some of their comic counterparts... dealing with The Whisperer, The Skipper (aka Captain Fury), The Avenger (along with his team, Justice Inc) and the first metatextual comic book character, Supersnipe. It also deals with the original and later, very different incarnations of a character who I saw highlighted on book shops shelves a lot during the 1970s and 1980s... namely, Nick Carter. I didn’t realise just how different the various revised versions of this character were or, just how prolific the writers were... surpassing even the extremely lengthy runs of The Shadow and Doc Savage novels (both numbering in their hundreds) by many hundreds more.

Section 4 - Paperback Revolution looks at the era of the characters I know best, especially in terms of James Bama’s dynamic 1960s and 70s Doc Savage paperback reprint covers (who I’ve mentioned many times before in articles for this web site, was modelled on Steve Holland, who played Flash Gordon in a dire TV incarnation of the character in the 1950s). There are some nice paperback covers of The Shadow included too, by comic book legend Jim Steranko.

Section 5 - Comics Evolution looks at, not just the 1930s and 1940s incarnations of these characters in their comic book equivalents but also looks at their presence in comic books over the years, especially from stables like DC and Marvel. Indeed, there’s even an interview with the great comic artist Bill Sienkiewicz about his run on The Shadow. I did notice, however, that the truly excellent Doc Savage covers for the comic books put out by Millennium Press are strangely absent from the mix... hmm... perhaps there was some politicking going on.

Section 6 - A New Future is devoted to the continued life of some of these characters. I was surprised as a big follower of Doc Savage that, not only were writers such as Philip Jose Farmer and Will Murray, who have penned some great entries in the series in modern times, curiously absent here... but also that modern popular novelist James Patterson has already released a novel apiece for both The Shadow and Doc Savage. How that got by me without any kind of publicity is beyond my understanding and they’re definitely something I’m going to have to read but, I have to say, the blurb on Amazon for the Doc Savage story is pretty dire and off the point, it seems to me. I guess I’ll have to tread carefully when I’m reading this one. DC already tried modernising him in the comics in the 1980s and, frankly, it didn't work.

And that’s that. All the way through, the writer keeps reminding the audience of something they should probably already know... that characters like The Batman and Superman certainly owe more than just a passing debt to The Shadow and Doc Savage, repeatedly emphasising the easiest ‘borrowings’ to identify their common traits and stressing that these superhero characters would never have come into existence without the groundwork laid by these specific pulps. However, despite this and a few glaring omissions (why show things like the membership badge for the 1930s Shadow Fan Club without showing the similarly charming Doc Savage Club equivalent?), I’d have to say that Pulp Power is a wonderfully illuminating and terrific tome and highly recommended as both an object of beauty and as an education, especially to those readers unfamiliar with some of the stories. The fact that I learned a lot from it and am very familiar with the characters anyway, in various incarnations (most specifically Doc Savage) says a lot, I think. A really nice book and an absolute pleasure to spend some time between the pages with, I must say.

Sunday 22 January 2023


Gone Ghoul

USA 1965 Directed by Bill Rebane
(with additional footage by Herchell Gordon Lewis)
Arrow Blu Ray Zone B

Monster-A-Go-Go is the first film in a Blu Ray box set from Arrow called Weird Wisconsin - The Bill Rebane Collection. I’ve already talked about Rebane in my review of the feature length documentary which also comes as part of this set (reviewed here) and I have to say that, while I wasn’t expecting much from the film, it comes over as a lot less interesting than I was expecting. Bill Rebane himself has called this the worst movie ever made but I think he’s maybe being a little hard on himself... he’s obviously never had to sit through Eddie Murphy in Harlem Nights.

The brief plot of the film is actually a little like Nigel Kneale’s The Quatermass Experiment (and subsequent film adaptation reviewed here) but, you know, without any marked quality or dramatic impetus to the story. A basic summary would be that an astronaut who has somehow grown to enormous size arrives on Earth when his capsule returns but he is missing, strangling people and accidentally killing them with his lethal space radiation. As the film progresses, his space radiation gets bigger in an ever increasing radius around him until it threatens to engulf a city. Then he disappears and turns up well, with no radiation and at normal size. And that’s it... and as much as that plot summary sounds like it might be ‘so bad it’s good’... it’s not. It’s just so bad it’s incompetent most of the time.

Okay so, Rebane’s first attempt at film making was certainly a learning curve. He decided to shoot the film, then called Terror At Halfday, in order of the scenes (rather than the sensible way) and he ran out of money after a few days. When he eventually raised enough money again to resume filming, most of the actors were unavailable... which explains why most of the characters just disappear after the first 20 to 30 minutes into the movie, to be replaced with new characters fulfilling the same functions. Apart from one actor who played a character who had already died. He was available so he just takes his wig off, wears glasses and returns as his own character’s twin brother, who is also a scientist.

Then filming halted again with the movie still incomplete and pretty much abandoned. Four years later, Rebane’s friend, the Godfather Of Gore Herschell Gordon Lewis, needed a second feature to play with one of his cheaply made movies. So he bought the film and added a few more scenes with different characters (random sequences of dancing and people running away from the ‘space mutant’s point of view’ character), added his own narration to try and fill in all the gaps and, you know, actually tried to convey to the audience what is actually going on... where he really is trying very hard to sound like Rod Serling introducing and narrating an episode of The Twilight Zone... and released it with a new title, Monster-A-Go-Go.

And, yeah, it’s cheap and not particularly cheerful.

The man playing the astronaut Frank was a natural giant... very tall indeed and so he was perfect for the role. Except you never see him in long shot interacting with anyone else so you can’t actually see how tall he is. He’s only in the film maybe a total of two minutes, scattered in various quick shots throughout the narrative and, sometimes he has papier-mâché on his face to show his mutation and, sometimes he hasn’t and they just forgot. Most of the things he gets up to take place off camera, presumably because it’s cheap (although I understand that approach is a Bill Rebane signature so, I’ll reserve judgement for now) and so things like the death of a helicopter pilot are heard through a policeman’s radio, as he is in touch with them. So... “My god....eaaaaaggghhhhh”, for example. The voice over narrative tells the audience that his body is “horribly mangled in a way no one had seen before.” When we do get a quick look at an actor standing in (err... laying down) for the dead pilot a little later, no mangling seems present.

Some of the edits are so badly done that I can only assume  a lot of the shots required weren’t covered on the shoot. This creates moments when it just looks like the film broke and the actors are just a little later into the same performance. And the sound is terrible as all the ambient noise is captured on the microphones. And there’s no music in the film apart from a song on the credits and at a night club... so there’s nothing to help mask the inadequacies of the sound. Indeed, in one sequence, instead of being able to dub on the sound of a phone ringing, someone just makes a brrrr brrrr phone noise off camera and this is as good a stand in as they can afford.

And, like I said, at the end the mystery just disappears into the ether and we are told by Herschel’s pseudo-Serling voice-over, because obviously we’re not going to see it, that everything is back to normal and everyone just turned out fine. It’s an ending as terrible as the rest of the movie, to be sure.

But what is interesting is... some of the characters just don’t seem to get along and they go about their daily duties giving the impression that they are barely able to disguise their contempt of each other. I don’t know for sure but I’m interested in finding out if this passive hostility in the characters crops up again in Rebane’s work. I guess I’ll know soon enough... there are five more of his movies in this set from Arrow for me still to watch. As for Monster-A-Go-Go... can’t say I’d recommend it to anyone but I may find later that it’s a very telling starting point for this independent director’s career.

Tuesday 17 January 2023



USA 2023
Directed by Gerard Johnstone
UK Cinema release print

 Warning: Very slight spoilers for certain kinds of people.

A quick shout out for M3GAN, which I had a lot of expectations for, especially since it was written by Akela Cooper, who wrote the totally brilliant Malignant (reviewed here). Okay, so I’ll have to be brutally honest and say that this film isn’t nearly as good as Malignant, which came off as the best Brian De Palma parody ever... but I have to say I found this one pretty entertaining at the very least. It’s being sold as a horror movie but, yeah, while it uses the same kind of visual syntax as a horror movie in places, there are no supernatural or alien threats in this one so, yup,  M3GAN is securely in the realm of science fiction, I think. Although, that being said, I think it could very easily be cross pollinated with a horror film franchise in due course. Now, I’ve not seen any of the Chucky movies (thankfully) but I can’t help but think that sometime within the next 8-12 years we’re all going to be lining up to buy tickets for M3GAN VS Chucky at some point.

Okay, so M3GAN is an android prototype invented for children to be their play companion. Gemma, played by Allison Williams, is a toy designer who is working on a very overt parody of Furbies mixed with those horrible Funko Pop toys people seem to like these days. But after her sister and her husband die in a car collision with a snow plough at the opening of the movie, their daughter Cady (played by Violet McGraw) is the lone survivor of the incident and busy Gemma has to be the sole guardian of the child. So, despite her boss’ wishes, she starts constructing the proper prototype of M3GAN, which stands for Model 3 Generative ANdroid, to help keep Cady entertained. The android pairs with the first person who touches it, Cady... and learns as it goes, being the guardian responsible for entertaining, educating and, above all, keeping her charge safe. What could possibly go worng... as the 1973 posters for Westworld used to say.

Well, plenty because, as you can see, it’s a variation, once again, of the primary law of Isaac Asimov’s Three Laws Of Robotics, that of not allowing a human to come to harm. And, of course, almost all literature which uses these basic tent poles as their primary set up treats this as a cautionary tale, to explore what can go wrong. And it’s not long before M3GAN finds herself causing harm to others and, pretty soon, developing a taste for it, using her new found killer instincts to keep Cady safe but also to prevent her own discovery as a killer and, failing that, her own survival.

And, yeah, it hits a lot of clichés. There are some nice shout outs and, I’m pretty sure it’s riddled with visual references to the Chucky movies (although, not having seen them, I only noticed one myself) and, well, if anyone remembers the original Robocop movie, there’s a pretty obvious homage which is used three times in this movie (no less).

However, I’d also have to say that M3GAN is a mixed bag because, although I think it will be successful at the box office (as will the inevitable sequels), it is full of clichés from within both the horror and sci fi genres and this kinda works both for and against it. I mean, it’s great in some ways because the audience wants to see all those buttons pushed. But, at the same time, it telegraphs the main human character’s obvious salvation within about ten minutes of the opening of the movie. As soon as Gemma shows Cady something she invented years before and begins to demonstrate it to the girl, you know exactly what form the deux ex machina denouement is going to take, very early on in the movie. Which is a shame... I wish they’d found some other way of doing this which would be more of a surprise but, trust me, as soon as you see something, you’ll know exactly where things will be heading and, also, exactly the location where the final scenes of the movie will be taking place.

Another annoying thing about M3GAN is that, even before it was released, it became a victim of its own success. I remember seeing the trailer quite a while back last year and, apparently, it played very well with a teenage demographic. So, in their distorted, money grabbing wisdom, Universal or whoever was in charge of production at the time ordered cuts and reshoots so it could get a PG13 certificate in the US. So, the goriness was excised and some of the kills were removed while others were re-shot (or at least re-edited) is my understanding. So what we have is a film which is trying to have its cake and eat it... going for the teenage market to rake the profits in rather than go with the original idea of the movie. At least one of the team behind it said they liked this version better as it leaves more to the imagination and, yeah, I can kinda have seen how that might work (although, the film really isn’t scary or even horrific, it has to be said). However, it’s also been said that they’re thinking of re-releasing it in an unrated directors cut so, yeah, they’re going to go for the delayed ‘double dip’ sales when it reaches Blu Ray, I suspect. I’ll just wait until the proper cut comes out before buying this one, I think... no matter how many years down the line it is.

All in all though, M3GAN is a fairly entertaining movie which will even please the younger fans of horror genre movies too, I suspect. There’s no post credits sequence on this one (feel free to leave during the credits so the cinema staff can get their screen clean up started quicker) but there is an obvious sequel option blatantly shown on the very last shot of the movie so, we know those sequels could keep on rolling for a while if they choose to pull on that particular thread. Worth a look but perhaps not all the film it could have been.

Monday 16 January 2023

Slime - A Natural History


Slimes Of Passion

Slime - A Natural History
by Suzanne Wedlich
Translated by Ayça Türkoglu
Granta Books
ISBN: 9781783786701

Suzanne Wedlich’s charming tome Slime - A Natural History does... pretty much... what it says on the cover... by giving the reader a diverse range of accounts of various slimes and their uses throughout nature. I was worried initially that the content of the book would be a little too heavy for me... not that I’ve ever let that put me off reading something before... read a book you don’t understand once every ten years and you’ll eventually be much better equipped than when you first read it, to fathom its secrets and mysteries.

And, truth be told, there were a few chapters here which... well, they didn’t have me baffled as much as maybe overwhelmed with information. Like if I was taking a whistle-stop tour of a large and complex cornucopia of a rich topic were you find yourself leaving with some but, not all, of the rich scenery on offer. Which actually, now I come to think of it, is very much what we have here.

It’s also extremely entertaining and reasonably accessible to the ignorant layman like myself, for which I’m grateful. The book is set up as seven separate sections, each with a number of chapters in each part, usually between 4 and 6 chapters in length. The sections are labelled next to their assigned roman numeral thusly - Phenomenon, Physics, Organism, Life, Evolution, Nature and Environment. These look at various interesting phenomena of incarnations of slime and the species and structures - flora, fauna, mineral and beyond - that make use of various versions of these slithery jells.

Pretty much each and every chapter has an opening hook with a quote and often a reference to at least one instance of popular culture, often film or literature, which the author can hang her next topic on. And, like the slimes that populate our planet, it’s a quite diverse set of references at that. So she’ll talk about the slime seen in Ghostbusters (one writer thought the preponderance of slime in 1980s mainstream cinema was an unconscious reaction to threat from radioactive contagions, for example), the cosmic Cthulhu horror of H. P. Lovecraft, Matheson’s I Am Legend, the publicity campaign for the original version of The Blob, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest (for one of the sections on the underwater world and Davey Jones’ Locker), Woody Allen’s role as a sperm in Everything You Wanted To Know About Sex and Asterix with his druid pal Getafix. There's even a bit delving into music, such as John Cage’s composition currently being performed in Germany, an ideally non-stop performance which is due to last 639 years. Alas, on that last one, they had to briefly pause the performance for a number of months, presumably due to the Coronavirus pandemic (a virus which is also mentioned here in ways it connects with the book’s subject matter) but which is now continuing in performance from where it left off.

And she had me right from the start, even with the ‘all seducing’ film references, by trying to define the contours of slime by asking whether it is a liquid or a solid... and then, by way of illustration, telling the story of the researcher who was trying to apply that definition to cats, to ascertain if our feline co-habitors are one or the other. For example, a liquid will fill a vessel amorphously by taking the shape of that vessel and, of course, so do cats pretty much, gliding through small, improbable spaces or, you know, filling a cardboard box.

And I learned quite a bit from this tome too, I’m happy to say. Not detailed technical knowledge but, for example, the fact that the human body uses at least four different kinds of slimes of various chemical make up to act as essential shields and barriers and, also, a pregnant woman will change the composition of one of those slime barriers to ensure the life inside her isn’t naturally attacked by her body’s own defence systems. Or the fact that the oceans of our planet are not only full of different slimes fulfilling different functions but, also covered with a very thin layer of slime on the surface... the skin of the sea, so to speak. Not to mention the importance of slime manifested in, say, a runny nose, being a useful indicator that the human body is under the spell of a virus. And the history of our species originally assuming odour, rather than slime, was the original harbinger of infection, hence the phenomena of city streets being paved and hospital beds having long legs... to cut down the risk of infectious smells.

I also learned that the popular mystery writer Patricia Highsmith (who apparently died alone in Switzerland due to her fractious and challenging nature), absolutely loved snails and had loads of them as her ‘real’ friends. She would pack them up with her in her bag when going out to dinner and, when she moved to France where she wouldn’t have been able to import her friends legally, she made several trips where she smuggled a few at a time on the undersides of her breasts, rather than live without them.

Another hugely interesting thing I discovered, among many to be found here, was that slugs were often used as lubrication of coach wheels back in the day, when it seemed they were not operating at 100% function. Just put a slug on the wheel to be crushed and oozed into the path and this was presumably better than a pot of oil.

And don’t get me started on the devastating haboobs or dust storms which were introduced to me by this author via a quote from Steinback’s The Grapes Of Wrath. I was, however, happy to encounter the story, once again, of slime moulds mimicking/rebuilding the Tokyo tube map in their search for food... although I understand now why this was more a probability than the moulds actually doing something different.

Surprisingly, for someone like myself who is absolutely not well versed in any branch of science or manifestation thereof, I did find myself picking up on a fair few mistakes which dropped me out of the experience a little but, of course, these mistakes were amongst the various film references thrown into the book. For example, when using an example about Sigourney Weaver in Ghostbusters, the writer says that Weaver would go on to encounter more slime in A L I E N. Which is, of course, totally wrong, since A L I E N predates Ghostbusters by a good few years. Similarly, when one scene from A L I E N is described later in the book, it’s quite clear that Wedlich is confusing this film with its sequel, ALIENS. Another glaring error is when she’s talking specifically about the 1951 movie The Thing From Another World. What she’s describing doesn’t happen in that movie at all... instead she’s confusing it with both the John Carpenter remake, The Thing and also the original short story it’s based on, John W. Campbell’s Who Goes There?

I was however, intrigued to learn just how much plastic has been found around the world, including in the digestive tracts of many organisms including humans... to the degree where I think David Cronenberg must have read and been inspired by this book (or something much like it) when he directed his recent incarnation of Crimes Of The Future (which I reviewed here). Perhaps Slimes Of The Future would have been an equally appropriate title.

However, pop culture references aside, I have to say that Wedlich’s Slime - A Natural History took me on a very welcome and enlightening voyage, although I’m now worrying even more about the ecosystem of slimes on the planet which can do a lot of damage to us under the umbrella of global warming but which is, of course, due to its nature, a much neglected point of interest in the war against the gradual destruction of our planet. If what I read here is correct, we ignore slime at our peril and our undoing may come about much more spectacularly and quicker than the various other perceived threats to our planet’s stability... or at least it habitability (is that a word?... it is now). Still, I’m very grateful for the writer to bring all this to my attention... and in such an entertaining and accessible way too. This one gets a strong recommendation from me... give it a go when you have some time for slime.

Sunday 15 January 2023

Annual Quizwoz Answers






Annual Cryptic
Movie Quiz
2022 Answers

Thanks to all who had a go at this year's movie quiz... I hope you found it fun. The winner is, for the second year running, Steve Braham in Australia, so wel done to him.

The answers are pictured above in the grid and this is how you break them down to solve them.

1. Game of an Egyptian God as a North American warrior.
So Game, an Egyptian God could be Ra and a North American warrior could be called a Brave.
So put those three together and you get... Gamera The Brave.

2. Revisiting where the last shot was fired from half a dozen six shooters.
Revisiting is a Return. Half a dozen times six is 36 shots fired from 36 chambers so we get the Shaw Brothers classic... Return To The 36th Chamber.

3. Opposite of a southern lady.
A Northern man so... The Northman.

4. Ian is the king of the Elephants.
The King of the Elephants in literature was Babar (so change the spelling slightly) and then put it next to Ian and you get... Barbarian.

5. A week of non-stop sexual intercourse with a girlfriend named after a month.
A week is seven days, a girl named after a month could be May, so you get... Seven Days In May.

6. Sexy texting where 10 becomes 100.
A sexy text these days is known as a Sext, apparently. Treat the X as the Roman numeral for 10 and then swap it out with the Roman numeral for 100, which is C, to leave you with the Italian horror movie... The Sect.

7. Bound from dusk ‘til dawn.
Bound could be tied, dusk ‘til dawn could be considered night so... Night Tide.

8. Multiple negative sentiments for a droid in Star Wars.
Multiple negative sentiments would be the plural of No... so Nos. For... a droid in Star Wars... R2. So Nos for R2 aka... Nosferatu.

9. Lying and jeering in her final resting place.
Final resting place would be a tomb, of someone who will lie and jeer... you’re left with the AIP Edgar Allan Poe classic, Tomb Of Ligeia.

10. This Scottish Loch is certainly not happy?
So that would be Loch Ness... but it’s sad so... The Sadness.

11. This good man is under financial obligation to another.
One famous ‘good man’ would be Benny Goodman. So Benny. Someone under financial obligation to somebody else is a debtor. So you are left with Benny Debtor... aka... Benedetta.

12. By a body of water, singing that “You got women, you got women on your mind...”
Body of water is a lake. Guy who sang that famous lyric was Mungo Jerry so... Lake Mungo.

13. Taking a dive from those Autumnal heights.
Taking a dive and the American term for Autumn will both help you arrive at the same, single word answer... Fall.

14. Own up to acting in a lustful manner to the 6th letter of the alphabet.
Owning up is to confess something. The sixth letter of the alphabet is F. Acting in a lustful manner to someone could make you a Letch so... Confess Fletch.

Also... give yourself a bonus point if you knew the backdrop behind this year’s grid was from the great Christmas zombie musical Anna And The Apocalypse.

 Hope all those who played along enjoyed it.

Tuesday 10 January 2023

Return Of Sabata


Derringer Harbinger

Return Of Sabata
È tornato Sabata...
hai chiuso un'altra volta!

Italy/France/West Germany 1971
Directed by Gianfranco Parolini
Eureka Masters Of Cinema Blu Ray Zone B

Warning: Minor spoilers. 

“Nine fingered man, four barrell derringer, Sabaaaaaata, he’s the only invincible man in the countryside...” Main title song from Return Of Sabata.

Okay, technically the third film in the Sabata trilogy and, due to that marketing decision, the third and final film in the recent Blu Ray set from the Eureka Masters Of Cinema label... Return Of Sabata sees Lee Van Cleef return in the role for what is actually the only real Sabata sequel (for more on that, see my review of Indio Black, aka Adiós Sabata, right here). And, of course, along with Van Cleef we have Sabata’s trademark gadget, his trick pistol, referred to as a ‘four barrel derringer’ in the main song but, as we all know from the first film (which I reviewed here), it actually also has three additional barrels concealed in the handle, which we also get to see in use again.

And, naturally, a Parolini film means part of his repertory cast such as Aldo Canti performing his usual trampoline tricks and Ignazio Spalla, are on hand to work with Sabata and his new, somewhat untrustworthy ally played by Reiner Schöne. The plot is the usual shenanigans with a corrupt head of a town and various bought elected officials trying to diddle the town with their counterfeit notes while getting all the gold out of the county. Sabata, of course, steps in to try and relieve them of their gold and also help out the townsfolk. And that’s all I’ll say about the plot.

The film itself has been included in a book called The Fifty Worst Films of All Time (and how they got that way) but, honestly, I don’t know why it’s in there and, I have to wonder how many movies the authors have seen if they saw fit to include this one in its ranks. In terms of the three Sabata films (or two if you are a purist), then yeah, it’s the least entertaining of them perhaps... but it is still very watchable and there are some really beautiful sequences in here too.

For instance, the film has a very strong opening pre-credits sequence... probably the best scene in the movie actually, it’s so striking. This film involves various gun men in an enclosed space... a kind of cross between a barn and a fun house... hiding and waiting for Sabata, to take him out. It’s a really wonderful sequence and its very colourful. Amongst the white shirts of the gun men and the red of the blood on them as they each fall victim to Sabata’s guns in elabourate set ups (falling off a level and into a coffin which slides down a beam etc), the lighting is a visually exciting blend of colour washes... greens, violets and reds, which invoke the spirit of Mario Bava perhaps. This set up scene also serves, not only as a rug pull moment, when it turns out everyone’s guns were loaded with some kind of red paint balls, as Sabata has joined a side show troupe... but also serves to set up the logic of a scene near the end where Sabata is shot dead by the bad guy, only to resurrect himself from the grave having loaded the bad guy’s gun with similar paint pellets, once he’s heard the villain’s disclosure of where ‘the gold’ is hidden after his fake death. So it’s a long game Parolini’s playing here with his foreshadowing of one of the end scenes of the movie (the producers and writers of the James Bond films did exactly the same thing with the start and end sequences of The Man With The Golden Gun, of course... reviewed by me here).

There’s some other nice cinematography too, such as a scene where Van Cleef is standing in the middle of the screen ready to draw his gun... the director manages to somehow catch two simultaneous, long strips of lens flare coming from where Van Cleef is standing and thrown off at opposite diagonals from the central character. I’m not quite sure how he managed it and, in general, lens flares in movies have never been my friend... but it does look quite spectacular here, I’d have to admit.

As usual with this director, as well as all the acrobatics, he also works a fair few gadgets into the mix, to go alongside Sabata’s trick derringer. So we have an acrobat using braces stretched from between his feet to fire balls at various guards (with the camera fast zooming in on a target to mimic the journey of the ball bearing as the mark falls over), a blow dart coming from a trick cigar, a magnet cigar to influence the outcome at a roulette table and a guy with a mirror stuck to the inside top of his hat so he can take it off and see who’s approaching from behind.

Now, many people probably don’t realise that Van Cleef has the top of one of his fingers missing. It’s said that he got it taken off while building a play house for his daughter but I don’t think he went out of his way to publicise it. Here, though, Parolini works it into the foreground of the film in three ways. The most obvious, perhaps, being the opening title song from Marcello Giombini’s gorgeous score referring to Sabata as the ‘nine fingered man’. Secondly, it’s mentioned that the injury to the Sabata character was self inflicted, having chewed it off to convalesce in a military hospital in order to get more than a little friendly with a Colonel’s wife for a few months.

Thirdly... and perhaps more interestingly, when it looks like Sabata is about to kill his traitorous, ‘out for himself’ ally right at the end of the movie, instead of killing him he just shoots his trigger finger off, so the other can learn to live with the same disability. It’s a nice but unusual moment, taking a real life but, not that noticeable disability and thrusting it into the limelight, so to speak, like this.

And, yeah, I’ve not got much to add to this one, it has to be said. It may be the least entertaining of the three films but, almost contradicting this, it’s also probably the most lively and the one making the most of the humour, playing fast and loose with the trappings usually associated within the Spaghetti Western. Since the first two Trinity films came out either side of it (the second being released into Italian cinemas just a month after this one), this slow rebellion against the tropes of the genre makes a lot of sense, I guess. Return Of Sabata is definitely worth a look if you liked the first film and, if you’re into the scores on these things, the soundtrack is wonderful.

Monday 9 January 2023

Adiós Sabata

Cowboys And Indio

Adiós Sabata
aka Indio Black
Indio Black, sai che ti dico:
Sei un gran figlio di...

Italy 1970
Directed by Gianfranco Parolini
Eureka Masters Of Cinema Blu Ray Zone B

So the second of Eureka Masters Of Cinema’s new Blu Ray set of the dubbed American prints of The Sabata Trilogy (seriously, why no Italian option on these to give the scores a chance?), is Adiós Sabata, which is the film which makes a mockery of it ever being a trilogy of course. A nice story surrounding the film is that former Sabata star Lee Van Cleef and Yul Brinner, who plays the title character of this film (yeah, I’ll get to that in a minute), just swapped roles and so while Yul Brinner was playing Sabata, Van Cleef was replacing him as Chris in The Magnificent Seven Ride... but the two films are actually a couple of years apart so it’s really not the case. Nice story though.

So, yeah, the reason this film makes a mockery of the idea of a Sabata trilogy is that, well, this is not actually a Sabata movie at all. The film’s original title is Indio Black or, on the Italian release, Indio Black, sai che ti dico: Sei un gran figlio di... and, Indio Black is the central character. And while it’s easy to argue that the characters of Indio Black and Sabata are more or less interchangeable, they don’t use the same gadgets as each other and the tone of the characters is slightly different. Although, gadgets and, of course, acrobatics do play a prominent part in the movie, being as it’s a Parolini film. Also, Ignazio Spalla is back, playing a more cleaned up but, also, very much a similar sidekick called Escudo, of sorts, to Indio. Or to Sabata, if you’re watching it in the English dub, which is problematic only in terms of the great Bruno Nicolai’s truly wonderful score for the film (one of his catchiest and certainly one of his best). Nicolai and Morricone at this time were conducting and sometimes orchestrating each other’s scores (although I believe Morricone denied the orchestration claim) and their music from around this period was very similar in style. So the English dub retains the sweeping score with its trademark whistling but erases the male chorus chanting Indio Black... which is why I lament the loss of the Italian dub from this set.

Okay, the film is set in the specific Mexican revolution of 1867 (as opposed to one of the other Mexican revolutions of this era) and the Austrians are in power. Indio Black... err... Sabata is retained by a client to help out with retrieving some gold from the bad guy Colonel Skimmel, played by Gérard Herter (who some may remember as the Austrian Baron/villain from the incredible movie The Big Gundown (aka La resa dei conti). Indio/Sabata, Escudo, an untrustworthy American painter called Ballantine (played by Dean Reed) and a bunch of Mexican revolutionaries, including a man who can launch ball-bearings from his feet to kill people in acrobatic ways, get caught up in plot and counter plot... as the Colonel is also trying to rip off his own Government and has transported sand rather than gold out to be intercepted by robbers. So lots of shoot outs, double crosses and, as you would expect from the director, a nice array of gadgets.

So the Colonel has a big model galleon on the chest of drawers in the corner of his office and, when he sends his allies who he needs silencing, to open the drawers and take their payment, the miniature cannons on the model fire into them. Since he’s not really playing Sabata, Yul Brinner is kitted out with just a regular derringer and his rifle doesn’t have an extension to shoot long distances... however, he does have a trick rifle. He has a special cigar case which slots into the top and acts as a cartridge feed into he gun for rapid firing/reloading... which is a nice looking thing. Like his character Chris in The Magnificent Seven, not to mention Sabata, he dresses all in black but he’s definitely doing his own thing here, with a big V of his chest showing from the shirt and loads of tassels on the fringe of the arms. Not something Sabata would have worn, I would have thought.

There’s some nice stuff going on with the cinematography and shot design on this one too. Sometimes Parolini will put someone like Brynner in the foreground so just his head and shoulder are on the right of the shot while a full figure of the person he’s having a conversation with (although both are looking directly to camera) is seated and taking up the left of the shot, to push the contrast in size and distance.

There’s a wonderful shot where three paid thugs are sent to collect Sabata from a barn... they enter and the shot shows a screen split by two upright supports of the building, each person framed in one of the three gaps spread across the widescreen aspect ratio. There’s also a great bit where a bunch of barrels and such like, with no ends, are placed at the forefront of the screen and Indio and his friends are walking towards camera but in such a way that they can only be seen in the approach through the circular tube of one of those barrel openings... the shot eventually zooming towards the opening to fill the screen with the view.

Another nice creative piece is the rotating iron cockerel motif used to start a gunfight at the start of the movie... when the cockerel stops, Sabata and the gang who is after him open fire. We see the swivelling cockerel at the foreground of the shot intercut with various pans and zooms over the eyes and faces of the protagonist, antagonists and watching crowd, to build up the suspense. It’s not an unusual device for a spaghetti Western for sure but, it’s well done and makes for a nice sequence.

And that’s about all I have to say on Indio Black... sorry, I mean Adiós Sabata, although I would point you towards Austin Fisher’s excellent 15 minute piece about the film as one of the bonus features, if you want to better understand the political context of the film and what it was trying to do. Politics isn’t my strong point so I won’t attempt to get into it here... I don’t know who this Fisher guy is but he seems like someone who really knows what he’s talking about (which makes a change from some of the extras I’ve seen in recent times, to be honest). Oh, and one last thing, fans of gialli might notice a small appearance in the film by giallo queen Nieves Navarro (aka Susan Scott) in this as a saloon dancer (and one of Ballantine’s lovers, it’s intimated). But, overall, a fun Western with some nice gadgets and tricks worthy of the director, probably a little more serious than the ‘real’ Sabata films but that’s just Yul Brynner’s inimitable style, it seems to me. A nice print and transfer too, as you would expect from the Eureka Masters Of Cinema label.

Sunday 8 January 2023


Lock, Stock &
Seven Smoking Barrels

Ehi amico...
c'è Sabata. Hai chiuso!

Italy 1969
Directed by Gianfranco Parolini
Eureka Masters Of Cinema Blu Ray Zone B

Warning: Minor spoilers.

It’s been a while since I last watched the Sabata films... fortunately I was gifted with the new Eureka Masters Of Cinema The Sabata Trilogy Blu Ray set for Christmas*. That being said, anyone who knows the movies will know (or soon come to realise) that, like Sergio Leone’s ‘Man With No Name’ trilogy, the three films don’t form a trilogy at all but, at least in the case of the Sabata movies, the third one, Return Of Sabata, is actually a direct sequel to first movie. And, yeah, I’ll talk about that more when I look at the ‘second’ film, Adios Sabata (aka Indio Black) for this blog.

Okay, after a load of pepla, secret agent moves and the like, Sabata was only around about the third Western directed by Gianfranco Parolini, following on from his Johnny West and Sartana movies. Well, it’s more like an assault on the genre actually because, while he certainly goes out of his way to bring in the popular tropes, he also brings a lot of his own baggage with him and injects it into the movie.

The production designer was Carlo Simi, who worked on many a spaghetti Westerns including, of course, a few for the maestro of the genre, Sergio Leone. Perhaps the biggest element of familiarity for the genre trappings of the film was Parolini’s decision to hire the nine fingered actor Lee Van Cleef (he’d lost the top of one digit while building a playhouse for his daughter) to play the title role. And, yes, his costume in this is very similar, if not identical, to the one he wore playing Colonel Mortimer in the first of his big hits, For A Few Dollars More... opposite Clint Eastwood, for the aforementioned Leone. In the Leone film he played a bounty hunter and, Sabata is not much different to that character except there’s no history between him and the villain of the piece waiting for a surprise reveal in this one... although he does have a history with the secondary lead, William Berger playing the banjo playing character... um... Banjo.

The plot is simple. The evil planners of the town of Daugherty are ripping off the army by stealing money, in a bank robbery shown early on in the film, which sees a lot of soldiers killed. The film’s primary villain, Stengel, played by Franco Ressel, needs the money to buy some land which will at least double in price when the railway comes to buy it from the owner. However, very quickly, the new drifter in town, Sabata, kills many of the robbers and returns the stolen safe to the town. It then becomes a game of the villains trying to get Sabata, who has evidence against them, out of the way and not pay his ransom for silence... while also trying to kill anyone else who knows about their evil doings. But mostly just by trying to kill Sabata in various ways, which the title character is far too smart to fall for, leaving a trail of hired killer corpses in his trail.

There are betrayals, double crossings, surprise reveals, plenty of action, a very satirical look at how the governing bodies try and rip off the little people (hmm... I wonder if the current UK Government have been taking lessons from this movie) and a wonderful score by Marcello Giombini.

Helping Sabata are Ignazio Spalla, as the knife throwing Carrincha and Aldo Canti as the acrobatic Alley Cat (or Indio, depending on which country’s version you watch). And talking of acrobatics... it’s one of the two big things which director Parolini brings to the fight, so to speak. He always had a lot of acrobatics in his movies. And, of course, especially hot off of the various secret agent movies released then, there’s a whole host of gadgets and surprise weapons that Sabata or his enemies use against each other. Indeed, in the US and UK, the movie was promoted with a kind of ‘James Bond in the West’ spin to it, although that really isn’t what this is.

For example... and it’s no surprise due to both some posters and also the obviousness of the fetishistic nature of some of the accoutrements of the main characters, Banjo’s banjo also includes a hidden rifle as part of its make up. What is a surprise are some of Sabata’s gadgets. He has a screw on extended barrel for his Winchester which allows him to shoot much further than an ordinary rifle could... some of the posters heralded him as ‘The Man With The Gunsight Eyes’. But there’s also his tricky Derringer. Not only does it have four barrels in place of the standard single shooters, it also has another three barrels hidden in a drop down piece from the handle, first revealed when Sabata flips his pistol 90 degrees and shoots from the stock, so to speak.

There are also lots of other trick moments which make the movie entertaining, such as a pull thread on the derringer hidden in a bag so that when Sabata pushes the bag to a killer disguised as a priest, it activates it and shoots the villain from the inside of the bag. There’s a nice moment at the end of this sequence too, when Sabata throws a coin across the room to snuff out a candle.

But another thing that makes it watchable is the heart behind some of the characters. Sabata and Banjo, who are mostly allies in the film (to an extent), both knew each other from opposite sides of the civil war. Also, the down on his luck ex-civil war veteran Carrincha bemoans that nobody will take his medal to put up for a gambling stake or to swap for a bottle of whisky. Luckily, the medal saves his life from a stray bullet later in the movie and, for the ‘not dead after all’ reveal for the character, Parolini gives that medal a lot of foreshadowing throughout the film.

Finally, it’s really not a bad looking film technically. Parolini moves the camera about in various spaces with his characters, revealing new details about their environment and their positioning in it as he does so... but he’s not above adding in a quick close up insert before returning to the camera movement from a slightly closer angle, also making use of the zoom lens when required. He also uses the positioning of the camera to reveal Sabata’s trick of appearing in a frame as a painting, before he’s rumbled... the shots hitting a mirror which has been framed perfectly somehow in the villains view by the ‘human canvas’.

And, yeah, that’s me about done on the first Sabata film. It’s a heck of a lot of fun and so rides up there with some of the best of the Spaghetti Westerns, certainly from that late 1960s/early 70s period of the genre. If you like your Westerns then this one is definitely one to take a look at. And I’ll get onto the next ‘unofficial’ entry in the series, also made by the same writer/director, for my next Sabata review.

*Christmas 2021... it takes me a while to get the reviews up sometimes.

Wednesday 4 January 2023


Livid Let Die

by Patricia Cornwell
Sphere Books
ISBN: 9781408725818

Warning: There will be some spoilers of a plot element which makes itself known fairly early on in the book but, yeah, if you want to go in completely spoiler free then please don’t read this.

Livid is the latest in Patricia Cornwell’s long running series featuring forensic pathologist Dr. Kay Scarpetta and, as regular readers of this blog may remember, it’s also my annual Christmas ritual to start the new Cornwell book on Christmas day.

This one takes place in just a couple of locations and once again, like many of Cornwell’s recent books, it takes place over a very short space of time. This one, for example, is written first person view from Scarpetta’s point of view (as is usually but, not quite always, the case) and takes place over the course of... not quite two days. Maybe around 30 - 35 hours of a time frame done in ‘real time’, or as near to that as you can get with via the written word. This kind of approach seems to suit Cornwell well and makes for a very intense and suspenseful time for the reader. As is sometimes the case on these things, there is one last follow up chapter which takes place a week later and which the writer uses to explain and sum up the various plot threads and address their resolutions.

This one starts off with the end of a day in court where Kay is being picked on and badgered as a witness by the prosecution of a very high profile case, which has transformed the locality of her and her crew into a powder keg of an angry population who could get violent at any time. However, while the case in court is important, it’s what happens away from the court, simultaneous to those events, which bring in the meat and bones of the book. The Judge in the trial is a very old friend of Scarpetta’s and, while this is going on, the Judge’s sister is found murdered in a macabre manner at the family home. It’s up to Kay, pushing against political red tape which means her no good outcome, to investigate as she begins to uncover a weaponised ‘microwave’ gun and stumbles headlong upon yet another corpse in her investigation.

It’s nice that nobody really gets left out in this one in terms of Cornwell’s extended Scarpetta family, either. Chiefly it’s about Kay and her right arm Marino investigating these things but, the plot also involves her niece Lucy (one of the best characters in these books), Kay's criminal behaviour specialist husband Benton Wesley and even her annoying sister Dorothy, who by this point in her adventures is married to Marino. Plus the usual extra cast of colourful and deadly characters who are both aiding and abetting her investigation.

It’s well written and, unlike other brilliant crime writers who end each chapter on a revelation, is fairly straight on with the narrative, allowing the unfolding events to do the work rather than resort to mini cliffhangers to keep the audience engaged (which is, honestly, not a problem for me, I love that kind of writing also but it’s nice to see a master at work who doesn’t feel she needs to do that all the time). It’s also, as I’ve gotten used to with Cornwell lately, quite frightening. Not because of the scenarios she dreams up but because, as well connected and meticulously well researched as Cornwell always is, you know you are looking at something which could indeed happen or, quite probably, has happened. So when you read about a microwave weapon that can take out security cameras and cook your brain at the same time without any normal means of detection... you have to start worrying about the state of weaponised technology we’ve reached now. I mean, the idea of a directed microwave gun is certainly nothing new... I was reading about it in Doc Savage novels of the 1930s where he was faced with such a threat (although I don’t think the character had a modern name for such a weapon until a partial sequel to a particular pulp written in the early 1990s). But the fact that Cornwell is now writing about them as a matter of fact is absolutely terrifying.

Now, I have one nit pick with this one and that’s when Scarpetta uses the phrase ‘reasonable certainty’. My dogmatic brain tells me that you are either certain about something or not. However, it might be that it’s a specific legal term and... oops, I just blundered. Here we have writing as it happens folks. I just did a Google search on the phrase mid sentence and, it’s indeed a legal term and not an error after all. So, yeah, if I’m nit picking anything at all it’s maybe a clarification of that for the less informed reader but... hmm... yeah... running through my own wet paint and moving swiftly on. Forget I said anything. Don’t talk down to the readers, for sure.

Okay... my only other thing worthy of perhaps me mentioning is that I was pretty sure the book was going to have a big set piece of an end game where Scarpetta herself is targetted with the microwave gun and, yeah, it’s a cliché perhaps but that definitely happens and, frankly, I wouldn’t have it any other way. This is a writer giving her audience what they want in terms of the end pay off and Cornwell certainly doesn’t steer away from it here.

And that’s me done for another year on Patricia Cornwell’s latest novel, Livid. It’s a ritual I enjoy going through time and again and one of the bright and comfortable spots of my life, truth be told. Once again the writer delivers a taut, suspenseful and utterly compelling page turner of a mystery which rewards the reader at every twist and turn. And, as usual, I can’t wait ‘til the next one.

Monday 2 January 2023


Pleasure Crews

Sweden/Netherlands/France 2022
Directed by Ninja Thyberg

Pleasure, directed and co-written by Ninja Thyberg, is a really interesting look at the US porn scene. In terms of content, it’s a little like the wonderful movie Boogie Nights... but with all the humour taken out of it. So what you end up with is a fairly chilled portrayal of a Swedish model going by her new ‘stage name’ Bella Charry, as she flies into the US to make her fortune shooting porn movies. On her voyage she is put through the ringer, so to speak... as we see her transformed from ‘naive, erotic starlet on the make’ into something less humanised and much more like the people who take advantage of her, to a certain extent.

That’s all I’m going to tell you about the plot and I’ll also say that there’s not a lot of compromise on the limits of the approach to the material. I mean, it’s not (quite) what you’d see in various extreme, hard core porn films but the dramatisation is close and, of course, since the director is using a less simplistic agenda in terms of the way the camera frames, reveals and hides certain information... well, although the content is slightly less extreme than the porn shoots it’s trying to emulate, it certainly feels way more because the crew is much more subjective about what the director is trying to say, rather than just using the material to arouse.

The film is filled with men and women who work in the sex industry. So we have porn stars, porn directors and porn producers... and it’s grim and gritty but the real life angle is that the main protagonist Bella, is played by a newcomer to movies in pretty much her first feature film shoot. That person, who gives an absolutely amazing performance in this, is called Sofia Kappel and, certain parts of this shoot must have been quite gruelling for her. For example, while the BDSM suspension sequence is maybe toned down for the actress to a certain extent (although you can certainly see the rope marks on her body in a scene), with the edit allowing a certain amount of shielding going on in terms of the impact play etc... the rough sex scene where she’s dominated by two guys who lay into her with ‘abuse’ which is bordering on the thin line between consensual and non-consensual, must have certainly not been faked for certain moments, surely pushing the actress through towards some agreed limit edges.

And the really interesting thing is, according to the IMDB,  that this newcomer of an actress actually applied for the role to be deliberately placed out of her comfort zone in order to aid her own cognitive behaviour therapy. I guess it must have worked out for her because I notice she’s already completed her second movie, which looks to be a relatively high profile horror film that I hope I’ll get the opportunity to see at some point soon.

So, yeah, a great performance from the lead actress and also, I might add, some of the porn stars in this who do a really good job with the ‘straight’ stuff. But the other thing that makes it so watchable is some nicely lit, fluid photography and it’s coupled with some brilliant sound design which, actually, really elevates the film. So what the director will do is she’ll pitch dual pieces of audio content against each other in juxtaposition, sometimes even within the same scene. The opening credits is a give away for her modus operandi throughout the movie. Starting off with a piece of sound that obviously comes from the unseen part of the rough sex scene from later in the movie (deep throat gagging etc) it then lapses into some beautiful, ethereal music as a direct contrast to this and it’s something which happens throughout the film, when the surface ugliness of a scene is suddenly given a bit of tension release by almost religious, vocal stylings on the soundtrack.

Another thing she’ll do with the sound on a couple of occasions, is to suddenly drop it out completely. So a particularly intense sex scene, for example, would suddenly lapse into silence, as if to force the audience to concentrate on the purely visual aspects of the footage and thus reenforce the intensity of the visual experience in those moments. And it’s a technique that’s used in different ways throughout the film, which allows an agreeable aesthetic clash between the visceral nature of certain brutally chill moments and those which suddenly seem almost poetic in terms of the music and visual imagery. It’s a nice mix of aural and visual moments (not to mention oral and visual moments, I guess) and, along with the quite amazing performances from the cast... Sofia Kappel and porn star Zelda Morrison in particular (the latter coming across almost like a young Shirley MacLaine)... it serves to make the entire cocktail of elements quite a potent mix, it has to be said.

And that’s me pretty much done with this one. I should probably warn potential viewers that Pleasure might be quite raw and edgy to watch for some people, dependent on the amount of extreme, hardcore porn you’ve personally seen (is my guess). But it is an interesting movie with something to be said about the gradual reduction of a human being and the way in which a certain kind of personality processes the kinds of experiences shown in the story. Definitely worth a look. 

Sunday 1 January 2023

 New Year's Day 2023

Happy New Year

New Year's Day 2023

It’s that time of year again, coming around increasingly quicker the older I get, where I once again wish all my readers a very Happy New Year and thank you all for taking the time to dip in occasionally and read the odd review or three (the odder the better, right?). I don’t hold out much hope for this coming year, as it happens... I think it’s going to be a horrendous one for me personally due to a lot of ‘challenges’ coming up but, I’ll be optimistic and say I’ll try my best to keep the blog going and updated three times a week if I possibly can.

I’ve certainly, with over 200 reviews already written and waiting in the wings to be tweaked and published, got more than enough content and am planning on creating a lot more. Here’s some of what I’d hope to have going up this year, if things go the way I want them to.

Well, I need to finish up the reviews of the Perry Mason films and the movies which comprise the Bill Rebane box set. I also need to put up reviews of all of Basil Rathbone’s Sherlock Holmes movies once those are done. And, since it’s the 60th anniversary of everyone’s favourite timelord this November (with nothing new being broadcast before then, it would seem), I’ll need to revisit and review a fair number of the new Blu Ray sets for the blog. I also need to finish watching the two Severin boxed editions devoted to The Eurocrypt Of Christopher Lee... not to mention their All The Haunts Be Ours box of folk horror films. And I have a load of Hammer Dracula reviews to publish, plus a raft of Ray Harryhausen reviews ready to go up. And I’d really like to get back to revisiting the Zatoichi movies on Blu Ray, not to mention a third DVD volume of Sleepy Eyes Of Death. More spaghetti Westerns too, I think will be in the mix, along the usual horror and exploitation fair. Plus...there will be Kolchack!

There may be a few more themed weeks such as a Sabata week and, probably a Face Graft Surgery in Cinema week (but, no, I certainly won’t be revisiting Face Off anytime soon... or ever... thanks very much). I have a load of other box sets to delve into too... including but not exclusive too (and these may take a year or two to get up on the blog) the Sartana movies, The Incredibly Strange Films Of Ray Dennis Steckler, the House Of Psychotic Women Rarities Collection, Bruce Lee, Mae West and even a set of the Lupe Velez Mexican Spitfire movies (that last courtesy of Warner Archives). There may even be a couple of bona fide 1970s porn films thrown into the mix, with the help of the wonderful Vinegar Syndrome label. Oh... and absolutely loads of Blu Ray giallo upgrades to get my teeth into, including a few by Argento.

So yeah, I may be anticipating a bad year for myself but, fingers crossed I’m able to keep my head above water (should I still want to), then the blog should certainly be firing on all cylinders for the forseeable future... fingers crossed.

Once again, thanks for taking the time to read and a Happy New Year to you all.