Sunday 30 April 2023

Dungeons And Dragons - Honour Among Thieves

Gelatinous Expectations

Dungeons And Dragons -
Honour Among Thieves

Directed by John Francis Daley & Jonathan Goldstein
United States/Canada/United Kingdom
2023 Paramount
UK cinema release print

Warning: Minor sequence spoilers.

I wasn’t going to bother with Dungeons And Dragons - Honour Among Thieves, initially. Primarily because I used to love the game when I was a kid and didn’t see how a movie could do that kind of experience justice (yeah... still can’t actually). I remember my dad getting this game somewhere between the early to late 1970s and I used to love reading the various descriptions and images... pretty much none of which I can now remember except the one creature that always intrigued me... the gelatinous cube which slowly digests you if you get caught inside it. So I’m really glad, actually, that the gelatinous cube has made it into this movie incarnation... that’s a big plus in its favour. But, that being said, I’d have to say that I don’t have a clue about all the many obvious in-jokes in the film although, I did notice a vaguely familiar band of adventurers in a cameo during a sequence at the end, where everyone is trying to get through a giant maze.

However, the trailer to the film is really fun (although some of the line deliveries and dialogue are, I think, from different takes than used in the final cut of the movie) and, honestly, I haven’t seen a bad word about the film in any review... even from those from people who are not RPGers (which is the camp I would consider myself in now... it’s probably been nearly four decades since I played). So I thought I’d give it a go and, the first thing which surprised me about the film is that it’s... drum roll... based on a property from Hasbro! Seriously? When did this happen? I remember the set we used to have (and probably still have somewhere) was branded up as TSR Games. Did they sell it?

Anyway, this is going to be a very short review I think because, I can tell you right away that I’m not as enthusiastic about the film as all the other people I‘ve seen talking about it. It is, however, a fairly entertaining romp of an adventure, to be sure. Chris Pine and Michelle Rodriguez play thieves Edgin and Holga (my favourite class of D&D character... the one I always used to pick to play) who escape from their prison at the start of the movie and go on a quest to try and regain Edgin’s daughter (Chloe Coleman) from the clutches of traitorous former partner Forge (played by Hugh Grant). To do this they have to go on a quest for a legendary artefact and band together with a few other characters played by Justice Smith, Sophia Lillis and, in what amounts to a very good extended cameo section, Regé-Jean Page.

And all of the actors I just mentioned in this are absolutely wonderful performers and they all have great chemistry. So I’m not quite sure why my personal reception of the movie was somewhat diminished because I can tell you for sure that the movie is certainly pacey, has plenty of fantasy action and has a lot of humour with a script that walks a delicate tightrope between peril and humour with ease. And, to boot, the dialogue isn’t bad either... I suspect I would like this a heck of a lot more if I watched it a second time, now that my head has processed the entire experience. Some movie just hit me like that and I get so much more out of them on subsequent rewatches (such as The Mummy Returns, La La Land and Knives Out, for example).

The highlight sequence, for me, asides from the appearance of the gelatinous cube, would be the sequence with all five heroes in a cave being chased by what has become, the fattest, roly poly dragon I’ve ever seen in a movie. This sequence is a real testament to how easily the film can play with your expectations, throw up a ludicrous concept... because that huge, fat dragon sure looks silly not being able to fly, falling over and rolling around almost crushing our heroes... and still present it as a credible and quite threatening enemy to the other characters. There’s also a great sequence where our heroes are using an incantation to wake one of the dead to ask an alloted five questions and that becomes an extended sequence of wasted, ‘I didn’t mean that as one of the questions’ moments and continued digging up of dead bodies, until the characters finally get the information they want.

So, yeah, I didn’t quite gell with the movie but I certainly don’t have a bad thing to say about it either. For me, Dungeons And Dragons - Honour Among Thieves was an okay time at the cinema with a movie which entertained but didn’t bowl me over completely. As someone who hasn’t played in almost forty years, I still found it quite accessible and I don’t think you have to be a hardcore RPGer to enjoy the movie. I would certainly recommend it to experienced players who are going to have a lot richer experience than I did, due to understanding a lot more of the references and jokes but, yeah, I think a lot of people will find this one entertaining and have a good time with it.

Tuesday 25 April 2023

Doctor Who - Planet Of Giants

Putting The Insect Aside

Doctor Who - Planet Of Giants
Airdate: 31st October - 14th november 1964
BBC 1 - Region 0 Blu Ray Three Episodes

Well now, of all the things I was expecting from the BBC delving into Blu Rays of its classic strand of surviving Doctor Who stories, an almost complete set of surviving episodes from Series Two was not among them. But here it is and, I have to say, I am somewhat in awe of such a release, although the inaugural story of this second season, Planet Of Giants, doesn’t exactly set the world alight but, I think that’s probably about my familiarity with this old cliché of a novelty theme more than anything else.

Almost the entire story takes place in just three locations... a back garden, a laboratory which connects to the garden through the pipe in the sink and, for a few brief scenes, a local telephone exchange. Something goes wrong with the TARDIS when it rematerialises and the scanner smashes (a scanner which is somehow miraculously repaired when The Doctor (William Hartnell), granddaughter Susan (Carol Ann Ford), Ian (William Russell) and Barbara (Jaqueline Hill) return to the machine at the end of the third episode.

When they wander outside, they find lots of dead things and inanimate objects in giant sized form. They wonder where they are until they come to the conclusion that they are not on a planet of giants at all but on Earth... Norwich, to be precise. Whatever went wrong with the TARDIS has shrunk them to the size of about an inch each and then shenanigans ensue as two mini groups of them get separated and accidentally stumble onto a plot involving a new, lethal insecticide. A chemical that is a little too powerful but which the businessman behind the development wants released at all costs. Something we learn when he murders a troublesome government scientist in the first episode.

Although The Doctor, Susan, Ian and a very sick Barbara... who has come into contact with the insecticide and whose internal antibodies are too small now to fight off the effects properly... never actually meet or come face to face with the oblivious ‘giants’ who are instrumental in the plot, they manage to defeat them. In doing so they also survive two cliffhanger moments at the end of the first two episodes involving a giant sized (but not really because in reality, it’s just stayed at normal size) cat and water released down a drain that The Doctor and Susan are hiding in.

And I suppose it’s all okay but, with films like The 3 Worlds Of Gulliver and later shows like The Avengers and Land Of The Giants covering similar territory, I have to say that I can’t get all that excited about it. That being said, the performances by the key four cast members are all quite good, despite, I think, a bit of ‘slip up covering’ from Hartnell in a take which maybe the BBC didn’t have time to reshoot and a truly stupid moment when a man says he’s been working on a formula for as much as 60 hours a day... yeah, I think your original script said ‘week’ matey.

So, yeah, it does look stagey with all the oversized props but most of them look fine. With almost everything dead from insecticide the encounters with a large, prop ant are also quite good although, I have to say, the accidental comedy moment of a bee being dropped lifelessly onto the set to feign insecticide death and the truly terrible state of it, leaves a lot to be desired. As do some of the painted backdrops of grass in what looks to me like an entirely studio bound shoot. In terms of the scenery, I had to keep reminding myself that these things were never made to be seen in high definition or at a great size like we look at these things now. So the quality of the transfer on this new Blu Ray certainly doesn’t do the story any favours, I’d have to say.

The Doctor’s costume is interesting... I don’t remember seeing this incarnation in a cape before (although I remember he was depicted this way in some of the BBC Christmas Annual illustrations from this period). I don’t seem to remember him wearing it in the next adventure but, I may be wrong. All in all, Planet Of Giants is not a terrible watch and everyone is quite good in it but... yeah, it’s also a little dull, I think.

As far as the next story in the box, The Dalek invasion Of Earth, goes... well I’ve already reviewed that one in DVD form, which you can find here. Sometime this year is when my review of the big screen adaptation of that story should also see the light of day on this blog. Both this story and the next were hold overs from Season 1 so, although Carol Ann Ford is in both stories, she’d technically already left the show by the time Season Two was under full swing. And I’ll get back to you with my review with the third story in this new box sometime soon.

Monday 24 April 2023

Twister's Revenge!

Trucking Hell

Twister's Revenge!
USA 1988 Directed by Bill Rebane
Arrow Blu Ray Zone B

Warning: Spoilers but... really?

Okay... wow. This is going to be a short review. I’ve seen some terrible films in my time but this is easily one of the worst, almost beating out Harlem Nights as the film I’d most want to walk out of. Bill Rebane’s ‘comedy action’ movie is the last of the films in the Weird Wyoming - The Bill Rebane Collection that Arrow put out and, yeah, I’d have to go on record as saying that the majority of this box set is terrible. The Game was watchable and The Alpha Incident was a film I’d probably watch again but, not much to recommend in this one. Not least, Twister’s Revenge, which manages to fail to deliver on both the action and comedy that I’m assuming it was trying for.

The plot, such as it is, tells of a young couple, Dave (played by Dean West) and Sherry (played by Meredith Orr). They play those big, US monster truck shows... you know, those trucks with the raised chassis and the humongous tyres? He’s the driver and she is the computer programmer and fixer for the new artificial intelligence installed in their new truck, Mr. Twister (so there’s half of the title explained... you’re on your own trying to find any ‘revenge’ in this movie though). So Mr. Twister, the monster truck, can think for himself, talk to them and he is their friend, it would seem.

Anyway, since the whole kit is worth 200,000 dollars, three wiley but low in intelligence redneck thugs who work at the local scrap yard, called Kelly (David Alan Smith), Bear (R. Richardson Luka) and Dutch (Jay Gjernes), decide to steal the truck and all its gear. Bear is the really dumb one and is pretty much the less upright, male equivalent of the kind of character played by Regina Carrol in Blazing Stewardesses (and you can read my review of that one here). The first third of the movie is the thieves attempting and failing to steal both the truck and the van full of computer equipment. So they kidnap Sherry on her wedding day and tie her up next to some TNT in an old abandoned mine shaft, holding her to ransom for a few days. So Dave and Mr. Twister go out of their way to make life hell for the three crooks and rescue Sherry... which is the next two thirds of the movie.

And it’s mostly action but it’s fairly low budget and consists mostly of long, extended and very dull car vs truck chases (culminating in a similarly extended tank vs truck sequence) which... well, it’s just boring. And all along the three are trying to be as funny as they can for the audience and... yeah, I wasn’t laughing along at this one I can tell you. I just felt insulted and that maybe Arrow should be paying me to have to sit through this one.

Even a terrible song and dance scene can’t save the picture and, while the director does try to get creative once, in a very brief shot of the main male protagonist taken so that it’s looking through a spider’s web in front of his face, there’s not really a great deal of interesting stuff going on visually in this one either. And it’s not the most carefully filmed movie I’ve seen. For instance, in the big tank scene where it’s just Dave and the three crooks running and rolling along in the deserted junkyard, there’s a spot where a crew member can be easily seen in the distance, walking along and not minding what’s going on near the front of the screen.

Another point of interest is the use of the truck as a comically intimidating entity, where the background music, including a backing beat, alludes and finally, very briefly, breaks out into the John Williams Jaws theme at one point, before hastily doing it own thing, presumably to evade anyone having to pay any copyright.

All in all, Twister’s Revenge is certainly a low note to end on in the Weird Wyoming boxed set and I won’t be recommending this film to anyone anytime soon. The action scenes, which are plentiful and maybe all that the film is made up of are mind numbingly boring on their own and... yeah... those are the highlights. I hate to give a bad review but, yeah, I won’t be watching this one again. A short review for a film that I’m hoping will leave my headspace sometime soon. Maybe I’ve exorcised the memory with this review.

Sunday 23 April 2023

The Three Musketeers - D'Artagnan

Not Giving Athos

The Three Musketeers -

Directed by Martin Bourboulon
2023 Pathe
UK cinema release print

Warning: Spoilers to this and, presumably, the sequel, abound.

I’ve always loved adaptations of The Three Musketeers, since I was a kid when my parents took me to cinemas to see Richard Lester’s versions - The Three Musketeers and The Four Musketeers - and also watching the cartoon version which used to play as part of The Banana Splits show. And I can say I have actually read the first of the three books (five in the UK... get to that in a minute) which make up Alexandre Dumas’ d'Artagnan romances (romance being used in its original, proper usage rather than the lovey dovey stuff that its come to be associated with over the centuries by slovenly practitioners of the King’s English). These are The Three Musketeers, Twenty Years After and The Vicomte of Bragelonne: Ten Years Later.

It’s been quite a while since I read that first book and, alas, because the novels come from one big serial, depending on which publisher you read them with, they are split at different points. It got complicated and, since the publisher I read only had the first title in the set, I have no way of knowing if I would be missing a few chapters out if I read the next one from a different publisher. Moreover, some of the English translations were apparently ‘woked up’ (aka stupidly censored) when it came to various sexual references in the course of the adventures... so there’s no way I’d want to read one of those abominations. Also, the third book is split into between three and five novels over here (again, depending on which translation and publisher you read)... with the most famous being the last part, The Man In The Iron Mask, which has also been made into countless films.

Now I don’t often go to modern movie adaptations but I went to this one, The Three Musketeers - d'Artagnan, because it’s the first time the French have produced their own adaptation of the novel in around 60 years and, also, because Eve Green plays Milady in both this and the sequel (which is set to come out in December of this year... at least in France, we may get it a month or two later in the UK, I’m guessing). So, yeah, I went and, bottom line (if you are concerned with such things) is that I thoroughly enjoyed it. Although one of its problems is one that has plagued pretty much every big or small screen adaptation I’ve seen of it over the years...

Which is... they’ve taken a lot of liberties with this adaptation and this always seems to be the case. So, honestly, if you’re expecting to see a close version to the source literature with this new incarnation, think again... it’s way off at many points (although it certainly nails the spirit of the source). There are three things particularly that stick out and that riled me a little as I watched...

One is that none of the characters appear to have any servants... so characters like Planchet are not present (indeed, a part of his role seems to have been given to Athos after a plot development which seems to differ quite dramatically if memory serves... and it possibly doesn’t serve so well these days so, please be kind to me in the comments, if any).

Secondly, the love of d’Artangan’s life, Constance, is not married to another man as she is in the books and, nor does he have ‘liaisons’ with Milady at some point. So, yeah, it’s a bit much like it’s trying to make everyone in this version extremely ‘pure in heart’, so to speak.

Thirdly, Porthos is pictured as being bisexual which, frankly, he wasn’t in the books and I’m hard pressed to believe that a soldier in the King’s Musketeers at the time would be so openly up front in sleeping with both sexes so... again, a barrier to the authenticity of the time they are trying to capture, for sure.

Other than stuff like this, though, I really didn’t mind all the plot embellishments active in the story and found all the swashbuckling action to be pretty fun. Especially with the approach they’ve take here with the choreographed fight sequences, which seems to be wandering camera taking you right into the action and following various people around without cutting. So yeah, technically it’s a very impressive film too and François Civil is a likeable d’Artagnan... so, there’s that.

One thing which I feel ashamed of myself for is this, though (and a similar thing happened to me on my viewing of the TV show The Rig, reviewed here) and the problem is... I’ve never really liked or appreciated Vincent Cassel. Thinking back on it now, though, that’s because he pretty much always plays a villain of some kind whenever I’ve seen him. Now I’ve watched him playing an arguably sympathetic character in Athos, I realise just how good an actor he is so, yeah, I need to start watching more stuff that he’s in, I think.

There is one other problem with the film, though and... I think it stems not from Cassel’s portrayal of Athos himself, who frankly does kind of turn into a bit of a villain by the later books (from a certain point of view) but, more from the script itself telegraphing things too obviously. And by that I mean... it’s been a long time since I read the book or saw a movie adaptation of it but, even though they seem to be saving this reveal as some kind of plot twist for the sequel... it was pretty obvious to me, as I’m sure it will be to half the audience watching, that the woman Athos was married to and turned in to be branded and hung was, in fact, Milady. Why they’ve chosen not to reveal this when it’s practically spelled out for the audience in terms of the implication of including certain flashbacks, seems a bit strange to me. I’d forgotten all about it but I was certainly in no doubt by the end of the picture (and staying around for the mid-credits post-credit scene helps telegraph this even more).

But, I don’t care... I really enjoyed The Three Musketeers - d'Artagnan and will be first in line for the sequel when it finally arrives on these shores. As I will be for the Blu Rays although, I suspect, the deviations from the original novel will be too much for my dad to remain in any way calm about. Still, if you’re going to see this one, make sure you see it at the cinema because it looks fantastic and the sound design, with the constantly jarring musket shots thumping onto the audio range during the battles, is also outstanding. A cracking good time at the cinema, for sure.

Tuesday 18 April 2023

Perry Mason (2020)

Masonic Disorder

Perry Mason (2020)
Season 1 - 8 episodes
HBO Blu Ray Zone B

Warning: Some mild spoilers

Okay, following my viewing of the original 1930s Perry Mason films, I bypassed the Raymond Burr series (for now) and ended up taking a look at the newest incarnation of Erle Stanley Gardner’s famous literary lawyer. Now, if you’ve read my other Perry Mason reviews, you’ll recall that I haven’t actually read the original source novels... something which stood me in good stead because the movies are, apparently, nothing like the original novels and I have an idea that, despite being touted as being based on the earlier, darker novels of Gardner’s character, quite a lot of this show deviates from its literary source quite a lot too.

What we have here is an eight episode story arc of a case which is particularly dark and we have Perry Mason, played by Matthew Rhys, as a fairly broke private investigator working for a lawyer, EB, played by John Lithgow. It’s set in 1931 and 1932 and it’s pretty much a ‘superhero origin’ story as far as the regular characters from the books go. Della Street, played by Juliet Rylance, is Lithgow’s secretary but any sexual sizzle between the characters like in the books (heck, Perry even married Della in one of the movies) is removed by her also being a lesbian. Ditto, the few appearances of young, future DA Hamilton Burger are notable in that he is also gay.

Then we have Chris Chalk playing a black version of Mason’s future detective Paul Drake. He starts off here as a cop walking the beat and he’s one of the most interesting characters in this, throwing up the whole racial tensions issue. My one slight problem with that is that, as a private detective in the 1930s, I’m not sure the colour of your skin wouldn’t be a major hindrance to gaining access to places as a private investigator but, please chime in down below in the comments section if you know different and it turns out this was a common practice after all. Shea Wiggum is also in this as private investigator Pete Strickland and he also does a really good job here.

The show is bleak from the onset, when a group of kidnappers are paid off but, when the mother and father go and collect the baby boy that was stolen from them after they leave the money, he’s dead with his eyes sewn open. From there on in, the law firm which employs Mason gets involved in what turns out to be a very convoluted case and, well, the inevitable happens in a way I won’t disclose here but, by the fifth episode, Mason fudges his way through a law exam (in much the same way that original novelist Gardner did when he passed the bar to be a lawyer) and inherits the office of the former lawyer, due to the perseverance of Della Street and the impetus of clearing the kidnap victim’s mother of conspiring to set into motion the entire set of events.

And there’s a whole lot of stuff going on involving an evangelical superstar (Tatiana Maslany aka She-Hulk) promising to resurrect the child in her religious fervour, bent cops, whorehouses, morally questionable officials and various other distractions like Perry’s ex-wife and son, his casual lover (played wonderfully by Veronica Falcón) who wants to buy his small ranch out from under him and various other twists to the plot, more than enough to warrant eight episodes of what is, frankly, a quite gripping story arc.

In terms of the literary legacy and straying far from its source, I’d say that the style of the show is much closer to the modern, 1940s and 1950s set hard boiled novels of James Ellroy than anything else. It’s full of foul language and gritty, ugly ideas and scenarios. It definitely gives the central character something to test his mettle against and, although I found the ending of one of the characters in the last episode a little unsatisfying, I found the whole thing to be well thought out, well executed and... well, doing this thing in period with this many extras... it must have been expensive to produce. My understanding is that Robert Downey Jr spent some time developing this series with HBO and was originally going to play the lead but had to drop out of acting duties due to scheduling conflicts. Instead, he’s produced the series and I’m guessing that’s why the budget it attracted was as large as it was... or at least, as large as it seems. Terence Blanchard’s score, which does a very nice thing on the end credits of the last episode, is also pretty good and fits the flavour of the show like a glove.

I liked pretty much everything about the new Perry Mason, to be honest and I’m glad that, by all accounts, another series is going to be forthcoming from the same company. My father, who is a big Perry Mason fan and who I bought this set for, was a bit unsure of the first episode or two, until he realised that this was an arc which transformed the detective into something, well just a little closer to the Perry Mason character as he’s more usually presented. Not a whole lot like him but, still, I think my dad really liked this one too so, for me, that’s a ringing endorsement that I can pass on to other lovers of the character for sure. Can’t wait to buy my dad series two when it gets a blu ray release.

Monday 17 April 2023

Lips Of Blood

Crypt, Oh!
Through The Two Lips.

Lips Of Blood
aka Lèvres de sang
France 1975
Directed by Jean Rollin
Redemption Blu Ray Zone A

Warning: Slight spoilers I guess.

After The Demoniacs (reviewed by me here), Jean Rollin returned to the realm of vampires and, although there are five, sexy vampire ladies in this one, he does also manage to include the dual theme among them as two inseparable agents of the undead in this are played by the twins, Catherine and Marie-Pierre Castel. It’s also one of my favourite Rollin films (I even have a nice t-shirt with some bosomy poster art on it) because there are not that many plot points to take on board and it’s mostly focused on the main male lead running about the streets of France in the dark. That being said, I really don’t like the main character... for no other reasons than that a) he loses his temper too easily with people and b) his head seems too overly large to properly carry on top of his body. However, my lack of fondness for the man in question, Jean-Loup Philippe as Frédéric, doesn’t detract from my enjoyment of the film which is a tribute, I think, to the power of the director’s beautiful imagery.

Okay, so the basic plot of Lips Of Blood... Frédéric sees a photo of a château at a party. It sparks a long repressed childhood memory of spending the night there as a young boy of 12 with a vampire lady dressed in white (Jenniffer, played by the totally cute and gorgeous Annie Belle... my favourite of the ‘Rollin Vampire Gals’ for sure). His mother denies all knowledge but when he starts to try and find out from the sexy photographer who took the shot (and also to try and find out why she’s being paid not to tell him), he unleashes various misadventures where he is locked in a room then, when he gets out, the photographer is killed, a gunman played by Willie Braque tries to kill him and he is temporarily locked up in an insane asylum. He is rescued by the twins dressed as sexy nurses because he earlier accidentally freed four vampires when they were in their ‘bat state’, when he stumbled upon their coffin in one of the bizarre series of coincidences which dreamily crop up on a regular basis, it seems to me, in the cinema of Jean Rollin (not knocking it, by the way, but can see that the internal logic, such as it is, of these films wouldn’t be for everyone).

Anyway, he keeps seeing the ghostly apparition of Jennifer watching over him and giving him clues and, at last, he finds the château and, despite the warnings of his vampire hunting mother, helps fake her death and releases her ageless vampire self from her coffin prison so they can become lovers once more. She bites him up to seal the deal so that they can be eternally together and then, suddenly, they turn up at that beach that Rollin often features in many of his movies and get in a coffin together, so they can be washed out to sea with the tide. So, yeah, it’s a romantic one.

The film is certainly simplistic in the storyline but, with the exception of Rollin’s early works such as Le Viol Du Vampire (reviewed here), that’s not unusual for this writer/director. What’s also not unusual is the sumptuous and surreal visual images and beautiful compositions which are in abundance throughout the film. Great swathes of the movie are shot at night and mostly without any dialogue... which gives contrast when a character or two do decide to open their mouths and get into an exchange of ideas. During these night sequences, I noticed Rollin does what I’d seen him do on at least one other film, which is to light only the buildings and characters which are points of interest, leaving the rest of the frame in inky blackness and using the negative space to focus the audiences eyes on the highlights he wants you to see. This also gives these scenes a kind of built in ‘unnatural theatricality’ (which obviously doesn’t hurt a Rollin film any) and it’s an unusual way of doing things. I’m not saying it’s a unique characteristic of Rollin’s film-making... I’m sure I’ve seen directors like Bertrand Blier do a similar thing on movies like Merci La Vie... but it’s also not that common either.

Also, much as I dislike the main male lead, I think the acting in this one by all concerned is a heck of a lot better than the majority of the director’s previous films and this all helps... especially in those dialogue scenes. This one never really feels stilted or jarring in the delivery, unlike in The Demoniacs, for example (although I made a special case in my review on why that one perhaps shouldn’t be judged too harshly in terms of where it goes with the style of the acting).

And I really don’t have a lot more to say about Lips Of Blood other than, it’s the usual Rollin affair with naked vampire girls pitched against richly lit architecture and dreamy ideas with a soundtrack which is appropriate to the various sequences. It’s still one of my favourites by this director and this was a good period in Rollin’s career, I think.

Sunday 16 April 2023

Diabolik - Ginko all'attacco!

I Kant Ginko, Satisfaction

Diabolik - Ginko All'attacco!
aka Diabolik - Ginko Attacks!
Italy 2022
Eagle Pictures
Directed by Antonio & Marco Manetti
Blu Ray Zone B/DVD Region 2 set

Warning: Spoilers alluded to throughout.

Okay, so Diabolik - Ginko all'attacco! is the sequel to the previous year’s reboot of Diabolik (reviewed by me here) and the second of the new trilogy directed by the Manetti Brothers. Once again I got the the limited edition deluxe dual DVD/Blu Ray set imported over from Italy (with English subtitles on the movie... sadly not on the extras) because I’m just not sure when, if ever, these movies will get any kind of cinematic or home video release on these shores. The set also includes a facsimile edition of the particular fumetto that this second movie was based on, Diabolik Issue 16 from 10th April 1964 - Ginko All'attacco! but, just as in the deluxe edition of the prior movie, the comic is in Italian so, I am unable to read it myself. Two months ago it was announced that Kino Lorber have acquired the rights to release the new trilogy on a home video format in the US but, I suspect they’ll wait until the third film gets released (in Italian cinemas in November 2023 if the release pattern of these previous two are anything to go by) before they let these loose on the American public.

I’m also not sure if the modern US or UK audiences would rake in the cash for these movies either, to be fair, since they’re not the kind of action-heavy oriented movies that are generally attended multiple times over by teenage audiences. A cursory glance over the nine (at time of writing) user reviews on the IMDB suggests that many of the reviewers might well be in that age group because, yeah, the verdict is not good on this one. And I’d have to say that, of the Diabolik movies, the original 1960s version, Danger Diabolik (reviewed here), as directed by the late, great Mario Bava, is still pretty much the most fun and best of the batch, although I found the first of the Manetti Brothers’ movies to be pretty solid, for the most part. Again, Diabolik - Ginko All'attacco! is a bit of a mixed bag but with a heck of a lot of positives... offset by the huge negative of the progressing story.

Okay... so one of the positives can be found in the quite good performances by the three leads... none of them quite so iconic as in Bava’s version but still, pretty strong for modern day movies. We have Miriam Leone returning to the role of Diabolik’s girlfriend/accomplice Eva Kant and she’s pretty great. We also have Valerio Mastandrea returning to the role of Inspector Ginko, the arch nemesis of super criminal Diabolik and, yeah, he’s got a pretty strong presence in this which is just as well because his ‘love interest’/rich jewellery criminal bait, the Duchess, is played by none other than Monica Bellucci, who does a brilliant job and looks absolutely stunning, it has to be said.

And then there’s Diabolik himself. Due to scheduling difficulties created when the Covid pandemic stalled production of the second and third movies, Luca Marinelli was not able to reprise his role as the titular supervillain in this one. Instead, he’s been replaced by Canadian actor Giacomo Gianniotti but, yeah, he does an okay job in this, filling in Diabolik’s shoes very nicely.

Once again, the other big positive is the design and look of the film. It has beautiful cinematography and captures the stylistic milieu of the 1960s period when it’s set in a beautifully flamboyant way. The directors choose to use things like moving, hidden wipes as people move past the camera to transition from some scenes and there’s even a nice penchant to slip in and segue between split screen sequences with double wipes on double splits throwing us back into a single shot, for example. This, coupled by a nice score by Aldo De Scalzi really makes the film shine and dazzle where it might seem duller in the hands of another director. And, following a pre-credits heist scene, there’s an absolutely wonderful sequence where a choreographed show put on for an audience becomes an integrated part of a Bond-like title sequence for the movie which, wow, wish I’d had the opportunity to see this one at the cinema.

So all well and good and it’s another fun romp turned caper, which sees Diabolik under attack with Ginko almost capturing him but, certainly, discovering his hideouts and depriving him of all his wealth and main hideaways. He even has to abandon Eva who, spends the rest of the movie aiding Ginko as revenge... or does she?

Okay then, this leads us all nicely into the really big negative of the film which is... there are absolutely no surprises in this one. We were already prepared by the previous movie that, due to the nature of Diabolik’s Mission Impossible style mask technology, he and Eva can be anybody else at any point of the film and this, coupled with some really obviously writing, means the audience doesn’t miss a single trick... even when the so called ‘plot twists’ don’t hinge on the use of swapped identities. For instance, when the dancers from the credits are kidnapped by Diabolik and forced to abandon the jewellery it seemed pretty obvious to me that the whole thing was an elaborate set up by Ginko to trap Diabolik. Specifically, it turns out, to plant radioactive jewellery that could be picked up by the super criminal and tracked by Geiger counter... so it was no surprise when the dancers turned out to be from a division of trained police officers.

Similarly, the direction for the performances made it so obvious who Diabolik was impersonating for the majority of the film that, I even doubted myself for a little while as it just seemed too obvious and I thought the directors were toying with me. It’s just so unsurprising as to what’s going on. And even the woman who Eva Kant is posing as is obvious. I said to my dad, who was watching with me, that character is really Eva Kant in disguise and he argued with me saying the shape of the face is wrong. But that’s entirely the point with those magical masks... it’s supposed to confuse you and, therefore and alas, it doesn’t.

So, yeah, Diabolik - Ginko All'attacco! is not the best plotted affair and I suspect the reveals in the original fumetto were much less telegraphed than what we have in this movie. So I can kinda see why all the negative reviews but, honestly, this didn’t stop me from enjoying the movie as a nice piece of ‘1960s retro homage’ cinema... in other words, I loved it. I wouldn’t recommend this one to everybody, for sure but, fans of the Diabolik character and his long legacy will no doubt be grateful of his current presence on cinema screens for sure (even if those cinemas are only in Italy, alas). Looking forward to the third part.

Tuesday 11 April 2023



USA 2021
Directed by Pierce Berolzheimer
Young Gunner Films

Warning: Spoilers scuttling up the shore...

Right then... Crabs! This is not, as you might be expecting, a movie adaptation of one of Guy N. Smith’s many novels focusing on the misadventures of giant crustaceans. Instead, this movie depicts the menace as being the humble horse shoe crab, which is incidentally a very important crab used for various medical purposes due to the properties of its blue, coppery blood. A lot of that blood will be spilled throughout the movie, contrasting nicely with the huge amounts of the usual red variety as various people’s faces (and other things) are devoured by the little beach dwellers.

Set in the small, coastal town of Mendocino, the film focuses on the wheelchair bound, boy genius Philip (Dylan Riley Snyder), his equally smart girlfriend Maddy (Allie Jennings), Phil’s policeman brother Hunter (Bryce Durfee), Maddy’s school teacher mother Annalise (Jessica Morris) and their odd, foreign stereotype of a friend Radu (played by Chase Padgett in a movie stealing turn as he gives one of the most politically incorrect but absolutely hilarious performances you just don’t see actors getting away with today... heck, he even sings the ludicrous “It’s Crabs” song on the end titles).

After a bizarre scene with huge chimney stacks blowing up, showing just how cheap and nasty the CGI effects of the movie are, we switch back to the practical effects work which comprises most of the movie, as a young couple who are having noisy sex on the beach are attacked by a horseshoe crab... losing most of their faces in the process. Even this moment is comically timed as, when the girl grabs a rock to bash the crab mauling away at her boyfriend’s face, the crab jumps off just as she brings the rock down, pulping her lovers head even more. It’s all about timing folks and I can only imagine how this moment must have brought the house down with laughter when it screened at FrightFest a couple of years ago.

And, yeah, it’s a really great little movie, as various horseshoe crabs go on the rampage at the local high school’s prom night, some of them metamorphosising into giant versions of themselves, while our tireless heroes try and concoct a remedy for the menace, plus the new ‘super giant’ crab monster heading their way (I’m not sure why... I suspect the science was less than credible by this point in the film but, who cares, just go with it) as the film suddenly drifts into kaiju territory and the young tyke Phil constructs a giant exoskeleton in his garage to get all Pacific Rim on their ass... or whatever a crab’s ass is called.

It’s a very funny movie too... the smaller crabs (not the giant ones, which are much less of an impressive practical effect... man in suit, folks!) have their own personalities and it does get a bit like Gremlins in tone in some scenes, such as when the crabs are seen living it up in a local bar and even playing with the crane grabber machine. Not to mention the moment when a crab doesn’t like the DJ’s choice of music at the high school dance... so it eat’s the DJs face off, dons his hat, works the turntables and starts hitting the crowd with some ‘fresher’ tunes!

It’s true some of the effects are not really up to it (demonstrating the low budget nature of the affair) and there are some moments which are perhaps, a little on the bad taste side (if you believe in bad taste) but, ultimately, the film delivers a mix of outrageously over-the-top comedy coupled with, what everyone wants in their film, a warm beating heart at the centre of the movie.

My one criticism of the film was that, in a few scenes, composer Mike Trebilcock’s score does tend to overplay the comedy element musically when, the movie is funny enough in that those scenes might have played better supported by a straighter score, rather than a series of musical cues that are trying to score the humour. It’s just a little too ‘on the nose’ in certain scenes but, yeah, at other times it’s just right so, like any movie where the fast and furious stream of comedy gags can be hit and miss, the same can be said of the score here on some occasions.

And I have nothing much more ot say here about Crabs!, I think, other than the film doesn’t quite outstay its welcome and it kept me entertained throughout. Definitely one which will please the legion of fans who like comedy horror movies done right. It’s not exactly subtle but, yeah, how subtle could a movie called Crabs! truly be, in all honesty? I had a good time with this one.

Monday 10 April 2023


Hello There

Airdate: Feb 2022
MGM Ten Episodes

Warning: Spoilers is probably the only way to go, to give a flavour of this one.

Well From is a gripping show but, I’m kinda dreading where it ends up going.

This relatively new series (there was a time lag between streaming in the US and streaming in the UK... these companies really need to start thinking globally about these things and their presence on social media) but it’s a pretty good one and it got onto my radar towards the end of 2021 when I saw a trailer for what I thought was a new horror movie but, it turned out to be this. Before digging in, I read up on it and thought the basic premise of it sounded almost like a remake of my favourite TV show, The Prisoner. Well, don’t worry... it’s actually not that at all.

I also found out that it shared one of the producers of Lost and, as I discovered when I started watching, it also stars one of the main stars of that show, Harold Perrineau, as one of the lead characters, the Sherif of an un-named village (more like a village surrounded by forest, actually) full of mystery. However, those two people don’t seem to be the only similar elements the show features (yeah, I’ll get to the whole Lost thing in a little while).

The basic premise, which gets slowly added to from the first episode onwards, is a small community in a village where, once you somehow see the ‘upended tree and the crows’, you can’t help but drive your vehicle on into their communty. Once you do, however, you can’t escape. Every straight line away from the village just brings you back to village again. Worse, though, than not being able to escape, is that you need to get into a safe place before sundown... safe being a place where doors and windows are shut and a mysterious talisman is hung by your door. Otherwise the vampire-like monsters that come out at night will smile at you while they tear you apart and eat bits off you.

So the family unit of a mother, father, daughter and younger son who we start off with in the first episode... who have a traumatic experience when they crash their wagon far outside the main hub of the community and the young son is pinned to the van by his leg, with a rod going through it, just as day turns to night... are another set of main characters in a show which is populated by little overlapping cliques of characters, who just want to try and somehow get out of their village and survive each night. Before the show properly starts, we are shown a little girl tricked into opening a window to the monsters and, after the credits, which are accompanied of a really flat but ‘it’s growing on’ me version of Que Sera Sera (performed by The Pixies.... for the record, I prefer the Doris Day version), we see a mother and the little girl have been torn apart, mutilated beyond belief with their rib cages poking through the flesh etc. It’s a good way of letting your audiences know just how dangerous and ruthless the creatures are and, as time goes on, you realise none of the regular characters are necessarily safe from being killed at any given time.

Because of elements like this, it’s quite gripping and, frankly, I binge watched the whole of the first series very quickly. Asides from Perrineau, who is one of the best things in it, there are a whole host of really good actors such as Elizabeth Saunders, Eion Bailey, Ricky He and Avery Konrad doing a pretty good job here, breathing life into their characters and making the sometimes quite brutal and dark drama come to life.

But my problem is, every time something brilliant keeps happening in the show to keep me watching, the more I worry that I’m just watching another Lost. To explain, I only saw the first two or three seasons of Lost (due to the girlfriend I split up with at the time being the only way I had access to the episodes)... but when I heard how that series ended, apart from being pretty much what I expected, it had also been done before with more of less the same ending to the British TV shows Life On Mars/Ashes To Ashes. Oh, everyone is dead and in some kind of weigh station trying to prove themselves (without their knowledge) and discover whether they will ascend or descend. And when you think about it, that’s pretty much the only way you’re going to be able to end that kind of series which keeps throwing one bonkers concept after the other into the mix.

So, I’m worried that From will have a pretty similar ending. In Lost we had stuff like the random polar bear in the jungle... here we have random juke boxes playing songs, electrical power to the houses which doesn’t have any wire in the cord, people having visions, people hearing voices in their heads and killing or trying to kill their fellow survivors, a huge radio tower project which ends up with the voice at the other end knowing exactly who the caller is and what’s going on in the village, a tree which teleports objects and people to other places and... yeah... loads of tricky stuff which just compels you to watch because none of it makes any sense. So, from episode one, I was pretty sure everybody was already dead and just having a hard time in Hell and, that feeling has just grown on me over the course of the first ten episodes comprising Season One. Now, the writers do try and address this obvious conclusion in a discussion between two characters in the first episode but, my biggest fear here is that’s deliberate misdirection and they really are trying for this kind of end game again at some point. I hope not because, it felt like a real obvious ‘cop out’ in the other two shows I mentioned and, frankly, I can’t figure out a solution to the events here which isn’t going to be some form of similar endgame, it has to be said.

But, also like I said, From is a terrific series and so I’m just keeping my fingers crossed that the producers of the show can take it in a direction I can’t see coming. It’s a tall order considering the insane nature of the show and its Matryoshka doll-like revelations but, oh heck, at least it’s a gripping and intriguing show, for sure. Let’s just hope I get to find out what the ending is before some bright spark decides to cancel it prior to leaving any loose ends, is my hope for it. Definitely worth a watch if you like dark horror shows which don’t pull punches, though.

Sunday 9 April 2023

King Boxer/5 Fingers of Death

Chao Handy

King Boxer
aka Five Fingers of Death
aka Tian xia di yi quan
Hong Kong 1972
Directed by Chang-hwa Jeong
Shaw Brothers/Celestial Pictures
Arrow Blu Ray Zone B

Okay, full confession time. I’ve not seen that many Shaw Brothers movies over the years. Literally... probably less than 25 I would guess. So Arrow’s Blu Ray set, ShawScope Volume 1, was definitely something I wanted to check out, containing 12 Shaw Brothers classics (10 of which I don’t think I’ve seen). What I also didn’t know was that this first film in the set, King Boxer, starring Lieh Lo as the main, put upon protagonist Chao, is actually the film more commonly known in Western circles as Five Fingers Of Death and, honestly, that seems to be a better fit for a title since, as far as I could make out, there’s no actual boxing in this movie.

The plot is simply the old feuding Martial Arts schools entering a fighting competition, with one villanous school breaking all the rules, killing lots of people and generally trying to take out the potential champions of their rival before the event goes ahead... so they can proclaim their martial arts skills the greatest in the region. Chao is one such student at the school, who has a proper fleshed out background and he’s not alone in this, rather impressive slice of Shaw Brothers action cinema. There are a whole bunch of main protagonists and antagonists, each explored and built up in their own right. We even have a somewhat traitorous ‘good guy’ and a turncoat ‘bad guy feels ashamed and helps the hero’ also thrown into the mix, to add to the complexity of the story. Not to mention two women who both have eyes for Lo’s often miserable and angry looking Chao. Fighting, treachery, training montages and enthusiastic name calling ensues, with bloody consequences to both sides as the film progresses.

Asides from that, though, it also popped me right out of my seat when the opening credits used the music from old TV show Ironside needle-dropped into it. Now wait a minute, I thought to myself, is this where Tarantino nicked the idea of having his heroine Beatrix, in Kill Bill, hear the opening siren call of the Ironside theme every time she got worked up to go into battle, from? Sure enough, once our hero is handed down the Iron Fist Technique Manual from the sensei who is training him and mastered the moves for himself, the Ironside sirens play and he gets to be even more moodier looking than his usual expressions of either shame, anger or intense concentration. So, yeah, it’s no secret that Tarantino is, to put it politely, post modernistic in his storytelling.

Actually, I was brought to attention by the soundtrack quite a lot as there is a lot of needle dropped music in it. For instance, there are at least two cues from John Barry’s Diamonds Are Forever (reviewed here) in this and, also, a couple of instances of very short snippets from his Thunderball score too, if I’m not much mistaken (reviewed here). And later, in a few scenes but especially when one of Chao’s ‘waiting women’ is daydreaming and literally imagining the two of them running into each other's arms in an open field (no, really!), we get some of Piccioni’s score from Camille 2000 (reviewed here) suddenly dropped into the audio mix... which makes for quite an unintentionally hilariously moment I can tell you.

And it’s a sleek looking product reflecting Shaw Brothers budgets, I imagine. I saw eight kung fu films made in Taiwan shortly before I watched this one and the Shaw Brothers certainly win out in terms of the productions values and also story coherence I would say. That being said, I thought the Joseph Kuo films I saw in Eureka Masters Of Cinema’s Cinematic Vengeance set had a lot more energy and spectacle in their various fight scenes. Everything looked a lot more rigorous and enthusiastic, it seems to me.

That being said, the fights in this are not to be sneezed at either. They certainly seem better edited and, while they don’t show the various combatants reacting to their injuries as much during the fights, the Shaw Brothers have also amped up the goriness factor. There’s a scene for instance, where the traitorous good guy is punished for failure by a bad guy in a fight when, with both opponents in mid air, the bad guy plucks the other's eyes out. All during the film we’ve seen him playing with a couple of metal balls in his hands like Humphrey Bogart in The Caine Mutiny and it’s at this point, as the villain opens one of his hands to reveal the other guy's eyeballs before dropping them to the floor, one realises the whole idiosyncracy of the character was foreshadowing this moment. In a later scene, before getting killed himself, the victim goes all Zatoichi and, turning the lights out on the man who deprived him of his sight, pulls out the other guy's eyeballs when he can’t see him. There certainly isn’t a dry eye in the house at this point, I can tell you.

Perhaps my favourite thing about the movie though, accompanied by that Pavlovian use of the Ironside theme to build audience anticipation of the fact that someone’s going to get a good kicking, is the heroe's pair of... um... well his ten fingers of death. At one point in the movie, fearing his deadly hands, the villains tie him to a tree and destroy his hands with sticks, smashing them to smithereens and he is seen, as in the aftermath of the ‘horses on hands’ scene in the very first Django movie, to be contemplating his ruined fingers just like Franco Nero did in the aforementioned spaghetti western. However, just like Nero and every other hero who ever took a beating before the final reel of a picture, he regains the power of his hands, toughens them up again and once more uses them as lethal weapons. And it’s at this point that, whenever the sirens go off in his head, his palms glow an eerie red, their deathly powers shining like an aura of blood before he clenches his fists and bashes the bad guys up.

Arrow’s Blu Ray, which looks like it’s been ported over from a Celestial Pictures transfer (I used to buy the old Region 3 Celestial Pictures DVDs from places like Soho back in the day), is absolutely brilliant apart from in one fight scene where the quality suddenly drops sharply... but I suspect that’s more to do with the original footage on the negative rather than a transfer issue. There are also a wealth of extras including the first of a three part documentary (which I assume will be continued on other discs in this set) which explores Kung Fu cinema and also its later influence on Hollywood. So, yeah, King Boxer aka Five Fingers Of Death, is a vastly entertaining movie and I’d certainly recommend this one to afficionados of martial arts movies, for sure.

Saturday 8 April 2023

Wonder Woman (1974)

Crosby, Steals and Bashed

Wonder Woman (1974)
Directed by Vincent McEveety
USA 1974
Warner Archive DVD Region 1

Wonder Woman, the 1974 TV movie (yeah, unsold pilot in sheep’s clothing), was not the first attempt at trying to put William Moulton Marston's iconic character on screen. Around the time of the hit 1960s Batman TV show, a short pilot had been made for executives to consider green lighting it, very much in the campy, comedy mode of the Adam West show. The general public never saw that attempt though, until it surfaced more than a couple of decades ago on YouTube but, this 1974 version starring Cathy Lee Crosby as the titular character was seen by the public, who largely ignored it, I think and, having now finally seen it for myself, I can fully understand why.

This was, however, the first time Warner Brothers had attempted to translate their newly acquired DC comics to the screen and, in the US, it aired as one of many weekly mystery movies on ABC television under the umbrella collective of The Wide World Of Mystery (I believe The Night Strangler, the second of the Carl Kolchak TV movies was ushered in on the same weekly show and was also part of this three year run... Kolchak reviews coming later this year).  In the UK, however, it just happened to air one Saturday afternoon when I, the writer of this blog was, alas, a six year old on holiday somewhere like Eastbourne or Bournemouth and, when we got to the flat we were staying in that week, we caught about ten minutes of it on the television there... I was very annoyed I’d missed it because we hadn’t bought the TV papers that week since, heck, we were away on holiday. Also, it’s not like I could’ve videotaped it then either. Home video recorders weren’t available on the commercial market as yet and certainly we’d never heard of them (and wouldn’t know about them for over another decade). So I’m glad to be finally catching up with what I missed all those years ago... it kind of feels like an outstanding box has been ticked. Which makes it even more of a shame that it’s really not very good.

Okay, so this was produced at a time when, in the comics, Wonder Woman had been revamped and had all her powers taken away so she was just an espionage agent. By the time this aired in the US, DC had cottoned on to how badly they’d treated their character and reinstated all her powers and original mythology. This pilot seems to be a compromise in that, apart from a special introduction to the character on Paradise Island, where she goes out into the world of men because mankind needs her, she also has no special powers... just gadgets and it makes you wonder why the world of men needed this blonde version of Wonder Woman at all.

The brief island scene acts as a kind of pointer to the character’s origins and also sets up a character called Ahnjayla (played by Anitra Ford), who is obviously going to be the heroine’s equally un-superpowered but combat skilled nemesis in the outside world. And then, quick as a flash, we cut to the fact that Wonder Woman, under the guise of Diana Prince, has somehow immediately landed a job under Steve Trevor (played by Kaz Garas, in a performance which is possibly memorable for all the wrong reasons), for a top government intelligence agency. He seems to half know Diana is Wonder Woman, looking the other way when she stays off work for the dentist to go out into the field, where she keeps him apprised of her progress on the case (obviously, this is what you always do with your secretaries). But that’s okay, because all the villains, even when she’s out of her unusual looking Wonder Woman jumpsuit, also know exactly who she is. I guess that’s why she doesn’t try to disguise herself in any way when she’s Diana... um, yeah, I was already ten minutes in and I didn’t know what the heck was going on.

The plot revolves around a villain, played quite charmingly by Ricardo Montalban... and his partner, played with no charm at all by Andrew Prine... who have stolen top secret books from five countries listing the identities of all their secret agencies, which he is trying to ransom back to the American government. Um... one has to wonder why the whole plot exists because, once somebody has those names, surely you can’t trust any villain to not tell anyone he likes. It’s a strange plot suited to more innocent times, I suspect... or at least innocent in TV land where such things made sense in the early 1970s, I guess.

And the rest of the film is just Cathy Lee Crosby using her espionage gadgets and cunning to foil the plan. She does mention her invisible plane so that was obviously, like Ahnjayla (whom she has a fight with later in this film), be something which was supposed to feature in future episodes. But her superpowers are definitely out of the running as she has to do things like get a waiter to bring a saucer of milk to her hotel room so that the deadly snake attached to her leg would be tempted to go for a drink... or try and shove her way out of a compressing room death trap (which at least looks good as it’s got red, beige and blue mud running down the walls and seems quite spectacular for a villainous device). Also, Wonder Woman does wear her bracelets but she can’t catch bullets with them... instead, they hold a wristwatch, can act as a tracker and also be set to explode as required. So, yeah, this is not Wonder Woman as she was in the 1940s, nor as she is today. The musical score is not nearly as brilliant as the 1975 TV show either... really quite unmemorable, it has to be said.

Now, Cathy Lee Crosby is actually quite good in this... or at least as charming as Ricardo Montalban and it’s a bad break for her, I think, that she was landed with such a bad script and, certainly in terms of the character’s super powers, a budget which would never do justice to them anyway. But she’s bright and efficient and has a nice smile. She looks the part, even though that part is a severely compromised ghost of the character she could have been. Apparently, a young hopeful actress called Lynda Carter auditioned for this part but was rejected... I guess she had better luck the second time round a year later, when the version of Wonder Woman which made her into a household name was set in motion (and you can read my review of the Lynda Carter show here).

And there’s really not much else to say about this one. All the logistics of the way the character interacts with those around her in this version of Wonder Woman seem hasty and ill thought out. Not too much of it holds up to any kind of scrutiny and there’s not much to offer from the show that you couldn’t see in any other espionage themed show of the 1970s, in vehicles such as Charlie’s Angels or A Man Called Sloane. If you are interested in the character of Wonder Woman and how she evolved in her TV and cinematic forms, then this is an important one to watch for sure... but you’ll probably be more than just a little disappointed in it. For everyone else, well, it’s really not got all that much going for it, it’s sad to say.

Friday 7 April 2023

The Game


The Game
USA 1984 Directed by Bill Rebane
Arrow Blu Ray Zone B

Warning: The usual spoilers.

Okay, yeah... The Game is another one from Arrow’s recent Weird Wyoming - The Bill Rebane Collection that I kind of liked. I mean, it’s no The Alpha Incident (reviewed by me here) but it’s better than Monster-A-Go-Go (reviewed here), Invasion From Inner Earth (reviewed here) and The Demons Of Ludlow (reviewed here). I mean, it’s not gobsmackingly brilliant but it’s certainly watchable and... cheap looking but entertaining for the most part. For a Bill Rebane film, I’m taking that as a win.

It starts off with a nice but brief credits sequence comprising a series of static shots of various title and credit cards placed on some mostly well known board games. We then get into the plot which belongs to that relatively small but tried and true genre of the eccentric rich person inviting a number of guests to his/her house to try and survive the weekend. In this case, it’s three eccentric multi-millionaires... as told by an opening narration performed mostly in rhyming couplets... and their hotel resort The Northernaire in Wisconsin (which is now torn down, in real life, it would seem).

They invite a bunch of people to play their ‘game’ for the next few days while they themselves are absent (aka controlling things from a locked off, boiler room grotto at the centre of a hotel). The game is called ‘Game of Fear’ and it’s basically the cookey rich folk piling on horror and death scenarios in an attempt to get each player to leave the grounds... with the last player standing receiving a million dollars. Don’t ask me to highlight any of the actors or actresses in the movie specifically because, as usual with a Bill Rebane movie (and a surprising number of movies actually), the IMDB is no help at all in providing photos of the actors in the movie so, I have no real way of matching them up and I don’t remember names so well.

Anyway, it’s typical of this kind of movie up until a point and I had no problems with it, for the most part. The various scenarios on offer by the millionaires are things like a tarantula on a plate, a shark fin in a swimming pool, blasts of fog and freezing cold air, a stalking but pretty unthreatening hunchback (who later turns out to be a well spoken hired hand in a neat little twist before a more elaborate reveal) and some kind of bed burster reminiscent of the chest bursters in the Alien movies... just less well done and surprisingly hard to rig. Which is where things get a little different to a lot of movies of this type... I’ll touch on that in minute.

The film has the usual trimmings such as the various hotel guests either gelling (and having sex) or arguing about what the heck is going on, even at one point getting into a stalk and kill gun fight with each other when the pressure gets turned up. The actors are, mostly, fine and overall the film has a comfortable vibe to it. There are a couple of things which set it a little off kilter though.

For instance, there’s a scene where somebody puts a water snake in a swimming pool. Then we see one of the ladies sitting up in her bed to go for a swim... but double exposed on the camera so she steps out of her body and leaves herself laying on the bed still. This is a strange enough occurrence by this point of the movie but she then goes for a swim and gets attacked by the water snake... until she wakes up back in bed and that sequence was all a dream. However, if it was all a dream, then why did we see someone putting a water snake in the pool before she went to sleep. Hmm?

Another strange thing is, when the last three surviving people are each promised a million dollars and taken away from their resort to meet the others, who were transported to a nearby hotel, only one of the former guests is there. It turns out that, more than just The Game was going on and real supernatural forces have also been actually killing the guests, finishing with the three millionaires. They are killed but wake up from death near the end, in a kind of afterthought moment, which might be just leaving the camera running after the scene was finished and then using it or... well, it’s a double rug pull that doesn’t quite make sense by the time we know there are real supernatural shenanigans going on also, I would have to say.

Most of the music for the film, credited to composer Bruce Malm, is completely not what you would expect for a horror/thriller picture. It’s mostly ragtime style piano music in the style of Scot Joplin and it puzzling why some of it was used the way it is... it’s a pleasant enough listen but does pretty much nothing for the atmosphere of the piece, that’s for sure.

And that’s me pretty much done on The Game. As I said, entertaining enough and one of the highlights, I suspect, of Bill Rebane’s filmography but, it’s probably not going to be for most folks, I would have thought and it’s not something I would be happy to recommend to most people unless they have a specific reason for wanting to visit something like this. For my money, The Alpha Incident is still the jewel in the crown of this Arrow boxed edition but, I still have one more movie in there to watch.

Thursday 6 April 2023


The Eat Is On

USA November 2021 - January 2022
Series 1 Ten episodes

Warning: Some spoilerage.

Yellowjackets is a fairly recent American TV show (if streaming can be considered television) in which a group of teenage girls comprising the high school champion soccer team, Yellowjackets, are heading off to an event when their plane crashes somewhere very remote, midst some forests in Canada. The first episode hits the audience right away with how things are going to go, with a scene which, I guess, we’ll eventually catch up to sometime in an upcoming season (if the show doesn’t get cancelled... that’s a big drawback of television these days, shows getting cancelled before their story has finished playing out, thus rendering watching all that’s gone before a waste of time).

The opening scene involves one of the teen girls (we don’t know which one and I had two best guesses, at least one of which was proved to be totally wrong before the end of the first season), being chased by something through the forest... presumably the other teens, who are all obscured by animal skins and seem to have taken the mantle of some kind of witchcraft coven. The girl is killed and then hung upside down, bled out, cooked and eaten by the others.

Then, the back story of the girls (plus three guys) leading up to (for the first episode) the crash and then how they attempted to survive their fate, is crosscut with a new story involving the lives of the four survivors in modern times... Taissa the senator (played by Tawny Cypress), Shauna the housewife (played by Melanie Lynskey) , Natalie the cool one, in and out of drug rehab (played by Juliette Lewis) and Misty, the psychopathic one (played by Christina Ricci). The teenage equivalents of these four characters are played by Jasmin Savoy Brown, Sophie Nélisse, Sophie Thatcher and Samantha Hanratty respectively.

And it’s a wild but very drawn out ride. As we see the girls trying to survive the wilderness with some quite brutal conditions, it’s ironic that it’s the quiet, unpopular girl Misty who is the one who shows them best how to survive. She makes the snap judgements like chopping off what’s left of the coaches leg with an axe and cauterising it so he can live etc. The coach can then, in turn, show two of the party how to hunt with a rifle. Meanwhile, in the modern day, there’s a blackmailer threatening the survivors and all kinds of things from their secret past suddenly coming back to haunt them... there’s also a nice subplot (which is neatly resolved although, I think it needs going back to in terms of a certain person’s real identity) where Shauna... Melanie Lynskey, gives an absolutely stand out performance in this and it’s the reason I kept watching, her comic timing is amazing... starts having an affair with a much younger man, after she rear ends him in the street. Meanwhile, one of the other survivors, Travis, has been murdered in a ritualistic killing similar to ‘the old days in the wilderness’ and the four of them have to pool their resources to find out what is going on.

And it’s a grim tale with some quite brutal blood letting, both in the past and present... and with enough slightly different twists as it goes to keep you interested. This is not like, say, From, where each twist is capitalised and screams at you from the rafters (which, to be fair, is very effective in that show)... this is a much slower burn of a tale. One of the things I really appreciated is that, while it’s building the personalities of the kids in the back story... it really takes its time to flesh out their adult selves with little adventures and the ways in which they relate to those closest to each other. There’s a wonderful moment in the... I think it’s in the first episode... where a marriage counsellor Shauna and her husband are seeing gives them some role play homework to get their sex lives back on track. They give it two goes where, to Shauna’s amusement, her husband's sex fantasy is just a customer coming in to his furniture shop to pick up some new equipment. Seeing these two twice try and act out an improvised role play on this stuff is pretty funny, I have to say. Meanwhile, the senator is sleepwalking, ending up in trees, eating dirt and getting up to all kinds of stuff (she suspects). Much like she did just after the plane crash when one such event was responsible for her girlfriend coming out the worst after an encounter with a pack of wolves.

Another thing is... I’ve no idea where this is going. At first I thought the ‘popular’ girl who was the team captain, Jackie (played by Ella Purnell) was the one who would be chased through the woods and eaten. Well, the story doesn’t develop that far into things by the time of the last episode of the first season but, it’s made pretty clear at one point that she definitely wasn’t the one. My other suspect, a girl called Lottie who has prophetic visions( played by Courtney Eaton), is also possibly not the one if the last few seconds of the last episode is anything to go by... although that’s not necessarily the case. The good thing, however, is that the show doesn’t ever do what you expect it’s going to do... when I figure out the next thing to happen, it either does something completely different or does a similar thing but focused on an entirely different person. So I do appreciate the writing on this one and, yeah, the performances and chemistry between the actors is brilliant.

So, yeah, loved Yellowjackets and would recommend it to people, for sure... my only caveat being that, from the third episode in, they bring in a title sequence and song and, yeah, it’s a truly terrible title sequence, like someone is trying to be really edgy but executed it with all the sensibilities of a child. Maybe that’s the point though but, either way, it’s a pretty good show and I’d get on it if you like horror themed TV.

Wednesday 5 April 2023

A Challenge For Robin Hood

Straight N’ Arrow

A Challenge For Robin Hood
UK 1967 Directed by C.M. Pennington-Richards
Hammer/Indicator Blu Ray Zone B

A Challenge For Robin Hood is the second of the two films presented in Indicator’s recent boxed edition Robin Hood At Hammer - Two Tales From Sherwood Forest and, unlike the other movie in the box which I thoroughly enjoyed (reviewed here), this one’s a bit of a clunker, it has to be said. This one’s more of a traditional version of the tale than Sword Of Sherwood Forest, for sure but, it also has some interesting deviations from the norm.

For example, it tells of nobleman Robin played by Barrie Ingham (who played a Thal in the Doctor Who and the Daleks movie and appeared in assorted Doctor Who episodes over the years), who on the murder of his father, is framed for the death by his brother Roger de Courtenay (played by Peter Blythe), who is a friend of the Sheriff Of Nottingham (played by John Arnatt). Made a fugitive, he organises the rabble outlaws in the forest, recruiting from his own former staff too... but it’s a very dull affair. There’s also a bizarre slant where Lady Marian, as played by Jenny Till, is an imposter and the real Marian, unbeknownst to said imposter and played as the Maid by Gay Hamilton, is the real romantic lead of the picture... or distraction in this case as she doesn’t get to do much, it has to be said.

There are some good things about the film. We have James Hayter (Mr. Pickwick and no stranger to the odd period romp via movie masterpieces like The Crimson Pirate) playing Friar Tuck and, indeed, this was his second go at the role after also playing Tuck in Walt Disney’s The Story Of Robin Hood And His Merrie Men, fifteen years prior. He’s always fun to watch. And, there’s a brief but pleasing turn from comic actor Alfie Bass as a roving pie salesman.

All in all, though, it’s a fairly dull affair and while there is a quick quarterstaff fight (but not with Little John, who prefers wrestling) and a very slight, blink and you’ll miss it moment to show Robin’s prowess with a bow... not to mention endless action scenes dotted throughout the cumbersome running time... it never really rises up to the point where it gets very exciting or, really, even remotely entertaining, it seems to me.

Point in case, there’s a terrible continuity error which should at least lead to something more lively than what happens. In the scene where Alfie Bass is boasting of the capital quality of his pies... Robin buys the whole cartful plus the cart, to use to gain entrance to the gathering where Will Scarlett is to be executed... he gives one to Friar Tuck and we can see that it’s a giant sized pie fully covered in crust. Bizarrely, at the start of the next sequence, where Tuck is posing as pie salesman, the pies have all strangely transformed into traditional, movie custard pies, mimicking the form of a bakewell tart with no top covering. Oh yes, I thought to myself... that means there’s going to somehow be a classic custard pie fight sometime in the next ten minutes and, sure enough, to help save Scarlet and Robin from death, custard pies are flung effectively against the Sheriff’s fully armoured fighting force. How they are effective is anybody’s guess but, letting that slide... I’d have to say that things must be pretty bad if even a custard pie fight looks quite this dull on film.

As I write these words, I’m trying to think of something which is at least partially interesting or positive to say, by way of leaping to the defence of A Challenge For Robin Hood but... well, it’s well acted by a company of respected work horses but, alas, they are given a fairly dull script and some plodding staging, it seems to me. Even the score is quite dreary, although there is a nice companion extra on this disc (along with numerous other typical Indicator bells and whistles) that breaks down Gary Hughes’ score for the movie. I’d have to say, I enjoyed this extra more than the movie itself and there are some other interesting things for me to explore later, including a look at cinema and TV incarnations of Robin Hood by the great Kim Newman. All in all, I would never recommend this movie to anyone but, I would certainly put many a good word in for this Robin Hood At Hammer - Two Tales From Sherwood Forest set put out by Indicator, which is an excellent package.

Tuesday 4 April 2023

She Hulk - Attorney At Law

Sensational Savage

She Hulk - Attorney At Law
2022 USA Marvel
9 episodes

Warning: If you read all these spoilers and complain about it after, I’m gonna rip up all your X-Men comics!

I’ve always has a soft spot for She-Hulk (or Shulkie, as she is often affectionately known). I first got into her when I was trying to recover from crippling RSI about 30 years ago and comic books were the only things I could keep held open at the time... so I rediscovered my comic book youth and also picked up a lot of old titles I’d missed out on, via a much better choice of shops where you could buy reasonably priced back issues than you could find these days. So I read... and this is the extent of my ‘old school’ She-Hulk knowledge... the first two incarnations of the comic book and the graphic novel which popped up between the two.

Now, a quick history of the character, as far as my experiences of her are... in the late 1970s, Stan Lee created the comic book The Savage She-Hulk, where Bruce Banner’s cousin, Jennifer Walters, gets a blood transfusion and manifests as a female version of Marvel’s popular The Incredible Hulk. Lee created the character to stop Universal, who were successful with their TV show based on the property, from spinning off their own female character which they would own outright, independent of Marvel. So while the initial, relatively short run of The Savage She-Hulk was pretty awful... in all honesty... it at least served it’s function. But then came a graphic novel entitled The Sensational She-Hulk, followed by a second attempt at the character, initially created by the hottest comic book sensation of the time, John Byrne... and that incarnation stuck and was a lot more successful.

This version of the character was breaking the fourth wall and talking to both the readers, not to mention her artists and writers, constantly... a long time before Deadpool was doing similar stuff. Indeed, the first cover has Shulkie talking directly to the readers and threatening to come and rip up their X-Men comics if they don’t buy her book this time around. The cover was parodied in an almost identical duplicate for the very last issue of this much longer, much more successful run... where Shulkie was declaring she was about to make good on her threat.

And the character was a complete joy to read and so, I was pretty cynical when Marvel launched a TV series, starring the excellent Tatiana Maslany as the central character. I thought, unless this character starts to frequently break the fourth wall, not to mention completely obliterating it by the final episode, then this would not be a good adaptation. Fortunately, I was dead wrong... this is probably the most ‘in the spirit of the original comic’ adaptation that Marvel have done for their MCU TV shows and, probably, for their movies too. Although Maslany doesn’t look a whole lot like the Jennifer Walters I knew, she’s got the character pitch perfect and her co-stars such as Ginger Gonzago and Renée Goldsberry are brilliant.

Asides from having a lot of references, some of them quite clever, to comics and pop culture in general, there are also a host of characters from the MCU (and former, reconstituted MCU) movies and films who cameo, quite strongly and significantly, in various episodes. So, of course you get Mark Ruffalo back as Jeniffer’s notorious cousin, accidentally infecting her with his virus to a lesser degree (she can change to her She-Hulk personality at will, retaining all her consciousness and intelligence... it’s literally just a physical transformation), there’s Tim Roth in quite a few episodes as Emil Blonsky, aka The Abomination (who tried to kill Edward Norton’s version of Banner in The Incredible Hulk movie, before Ruffalo replaced the actor), Charlie Cox as Daredevil and also, in some wonderful moments, Benedict Wong back as Wong from the Doctor Strange movies.

And Roth is absolutely hilarious as Blonsky, who has changed and become an ‘in touch with your feelings’ self help guru, who Jen has to defend and get out of prison. It also shows us exactly why he was battling Wong in a fight club in a cameo moment in Shang Chi And The Legend Of The Ten Rings (reviewed here). And everyone is great in this with about three main plot threads which all come together in the final episode (Jen even gets to have sex with Daredevil and now seems to be his new, regular girlfriend). And there’s even a beautifully ‘on topic’ reference (alas, not in any of the Daredevil scenes) of the term ‘fridging’, which is a popular shorthand saying for lazy ‘kill the girlfriend’ motivation story arcs which originated from something that happened in a Daredevil comic decades ago, if memory serves.

And, of course, the last episode truly lived up to my expectations when She-Hulk does not like the way her final episode is shaping up, criticising the lame way in which Marvel shows and films end with big confrontational battles, which somehow bury the loose plot ends and so, in fine She-Hulk fashion, she exits the episode through the Disney+ Marvel menu of the streaming channel and breaks out to go and have a word with the writers in the studio and the ‘robot’ head of the company K.E.V.I.N (obviously a reference to Kevin Feige... I would have preferred the actual person to make an appearance as he would have done in the comics) and gets her ending rewritten, exactly how she wants it. It’s hot stuff and I can see why lots of Marvel fan boys were whining and getting angry at the show, especially the last episode. All that really shows, though, is that they’re totally ignorant of the character and maybe they should have actually read some of the John Byrne issues to find out what they were letting themselves in for... at the very least.

Heck, the last episode even has a beautiful parody remake of the old The Incredible Hulk TV show opening title sequence... which was great and brought a smile to my face... especially the “Don’t make me angry... you wouldn’t like me when I’m angry” line, which the show used to re-run in the titles every week. The whole thing is incredibly well done comedy and, yeah, it’s a different tone from the majority of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (other than Deadpool, obviously). I just had a wonderful time with it. My only real problem is that they didn't recreate the notorious 'naked skipping rope' sequence inspired by the fan letters in the comic book but, yeah, hopefully some day. I doubt, given the uproar the show caused, that there will be a second series but, yeah, I live in hope. She-Hulk Attorney At Law certainly deserves to keep going and I hope Marvel realise that they have made some interesting art here and not just go down the 'follow the money' route, so to speak. Good job to everyone involved and, yeah, a big recommendation from me here.