Tuesday 27 June 2023

Sherlock Holmes And The Voice Of Terror


My Dear Nazi

Sherlock Holmes And
The Voice Of Terror

USA 1942 Directed by John Rawlins
Universal Blu Ray Zone B

The character of Sherlock Holmes,
created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle,
is ageless, invincible, and unchanging.
In solving significant problems of the
present day, he remains, as ever,
the supreme master of deductive reasoning.
Sherlock Holmes And The Voice Of Terror

So there we are. Due to bad marketing (or so the story goes), the 20th Century Fox series of Sherlock Holmes films... starring Basil Rathbone as Holmes, the inimitable Nigel Bruce as Dr. Watson and supported fleetingly but regularly by Mary Gordon as Holmes’ housekeeper Mrs. Hudson... had stalled after the second film (The Adventures Of Sherlock Holmes, reviewed by me here) and Fox had cancelled the series. However, this was not the end of the screen adventures of the great detective starring this particular set of actors... more like a new beginning. After three years of Rathbone and Bruce keeping their interpretations of the characters very much alive and popular on the radio, Universal pictures took the plunge and decided to continue the series, with a change or two and, frankly, the changes must have worked somewhat because they made a further twelve films, starting with this one, Sherlock Holmes And The Voice Of Terror, based on Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s original story His Last Bow but, very much updated for obvious reasons I’ll get to in a minute.

Okay, so there are some format changes with this series from now on which mark them as slightly different to the two Fox pictures prior to this. For starters, this is very much in the Universal B-movie mode, much like what their classic horrors had evolved into by this point in the 1940s... which means that they’re all just a little over an hour long from now on. Furthermore, the films start off with a title sequence of Rathbone and Bruce in character in the fog, peering out of the screen at the audience to some strident, Frank Skinner music. This sequence is reused on most (probably all, I can’t remember but will confirm when I get to the last one) the films from this point on... so they are very much ‘branded’ as a specific series of Sherlock Holmes mystery films in this way.

The other big change is that, the films are no longer set in the period in which Conan Doyle wrote them and, instead, they’re set contemporary to when the films were released. Although Holmes reaches for his Deerstalker and cape at one point, he never actually wears them and, indeed, doesn’t don them for the rest of the movies either. Instead, Holmes and Watson are dressed appropriately to the time and will take a motorised taxi rather than the traditional Hansom cab associated with them in their source stories. The way the studio chooses to obliquely underline this message is in a screen full of text... which I’ve quoted directly and in full at the top of this review.

And I have to say, as horrendous as this all sounds, it all works beautifully and this is a real masterpiece of a Holmes movie as far as I am concerned. Joining the cast and further cementing the relationship with Universal’s classic monster pictures is Evelyn Ankers as the ill-fated Kitty. She’s trying to help Holmes and Watson stop a Nazi spy ring who are broadcasting propaganda radio broadcasts to the people of Britain and then causing the deadly disasters in England that they predict in their broadcasts. It’s all set in London as Holmes and Watson are called in to help the war effort and thwart the propagandist ‘Voice Of Terror’. Which, obviously they do.

And yeah, it’s a great one and quite bleak. It’s got beautiful black and white photography throughout and there are a lot of instances in this one of cutaways to long held close ups of various actors and actresses reacting subtly to on screen shenanigans, further enhanced by very little music in most of the scenes. Kind of like a form of Eisensteinian typage but it’s extremely effective at silently enhancing the suspense and tense atmosphere of the movie. I did feel for the poor actors though, as the way they are lit with the light framing all or most of their faces for the close ups must have been very hard for them. You can see Rathbone’s and Ankers’ pupils shrinking down to just pinpricks as they face into camera, towards the light.

There are some nice little touches too... like the fact that Holmes carries around a stick or cane in this one which has a built in torch at the end for when it’s needed. Also a hokey but nice piece of visual deduction as Holmes realises there something up with the version of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony played on the radio at a certain time, in that it contains some kind of message to the German spies... I think, that point is never quite made fully implicit but they do spend a long time establishing that something us up with the broadcast at a certain point.

The dialogue is sparkling too and, even if one of the main villains is fairly easy to spot, it’s fast paced fun amongst little set pieces and stock footage of Nazi propagated disasters (such as a reuse of the train crash footage from The Invisible Man, reviewed by me here). And, yes, it is very much a tool for British propaganda to help the morale and war effort but, that’s okay, so was Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s original story written in 1917, on which this is based (in a topsy turvy way). Something which marked these Universal versions of the films out, if memory serves, was Holmes giving a patriotic speech to Watson (or whoever was listening) at the end of each film. This one is no exception but his words here are taken directly from his closing words in the original story... except in the original the character was talking about the upcoming First World War (or The Great War as it was known then)... in the movie the words are reused to address the Second World War to good effect. And that’s me done on Sherlock Holmes And The Voice Of Terror. A cracking film and I’m really looking forward to checking in with some other old favourites soon. Great stuff.

Monday 26 June 2023

Shaolin Temple

Temple’s Fugit

Shaolin Temple
aka Shao Lin si
Hong Kong 1976
Directed by Cheh Chang
Shaw Brothers/Celestial Pictures
Arrow Blu Ray Zone B

Okay, so this movie is set during the real life events, from two years and right up to, the burning of the Shaolin Temple. As such it serves as an almost parallel story to Joseph Kuo’s Return Of The 18 Bronzemen (reviewed by me here) and also acts as a kind of prequel (but not quite) to the previous Shaw Brothers film included in the Eureka Masters Of Cinema label’s ShawScope Volume One blu ray set, Five Shaolin Masters (reviewed here). In that prior film, various students escaping the destruction of the temple by the government had survived to set up a revolution against the Quing Dynasty and, in the process, find out who the traitor in the temple was. This film literally finishes with a bunch of characters... some of them the same characters played by some of the same actors but in different stages of their lives from what I could tell (confusingly)... gathering at the end to kick start the revolution but, by this point they already know the various traitors in their midst (and have pretty much killed them all).

So this one starts off with actors like Sheng Fu and David Chiang playing more or less identical characters but a whole load of other good guy characters too... way too many to keep track of, almost. Following a credits sequence showing the usual ‘monks in training, performing their synchronised katas’, we get a party of people waiting for days in hard conditions outside the temple before they are finally let in to train... another cliché of the genre. Followed by another bunch of ‘all but one’ good guys from the previous dynasty’s army, who are also let in to train and hide. There’s yet another bunch who are then waiting outside to be let in for a number of days, whittled down to another three who are accepted. So, yeah, more characters to keep track of than in a Marvel Avengers movie but without the different costumes to help distinguish their personalities and traits visually.

The reason they are all let in is because the wise monk who runs the place knows, since they are teaching martial arts in a country which has banned the teaching of such things, that the government will come knocking with a big army to massacre them at some point in the near future. So he takes on all these new students so that, when the time comes, they will be able to spread the wisdom of the martial arts skills if some of them manage to escape.

That time comes after two years of various training montages which rely on the old steadfast kung fu movie ritual of preparing the students to be good at stupidly mundane tasks, while hampered with chains, weights or pointy obstacles, so that when the time comes for them to learn the various fighting styles, they will possess superhuman powers of concentration, agility and, literally, be able to leap tall buildings in a single bound (which they quite often do here).

After a gruelling trial for two of them in an area reminiscent of the one in the Bronzemen films but, with different challenges, the army finally strikes and the last battle is crosscut between about 12 different main characters with the occasional black and white flashback moment to the training sections to remind the audience which of the heros is finding which style appropriate to their personal combats. And, yeah, it’s quite entertaining stuff it has to be said, ‘tween all the bashing, high kicks, high jumps, summersaults, sound effects and needle dropped music tracks from other films or music libraries.

The director does some nice things with the compositions too, although his choice to show a distorting curve from the way the anamorphic lens is used in certain shots got on my nerves a little, truth be told. He made up for it in a brilliant scene where a high level traitor monk is trying to recruit the ‘almost but not quite until this particular scene’ other bad guy into working for him on behalf of the Quing government. The particular shot is using some bars in the room from which the camera is placed, with those bars creating vertical slats to separate the screen into five or six thin, vertical sections. And of course, each of the two characters is speaking from a different visual strip but, as the aforementioned bad guy decides to turn traitor properly and throw in with ‘bad monk guy’, he walks across the screen to join him in the same vertical segment. So we literally see the character joining up with the other guy underpinned with a visual metaphor of this act on screen. Lovely stuff.

Other than that kind of thing happening, Shaolin Temple is all good, energetic fighting stuff mixed with some nice work building up the personalities and sympathies of some of the characters and it’s pretty entertaining, it has to be said. There is a kind of weird sequence of sub sections where a faceless (she has her back to us at all times) female monk trains two of the ex-army heroes and then just drops out of the narrative entirely. I think this is because she, like a few off hand one liners about other events going on at the same time, is representing certain famous historical Chinese people who, I have to admit, I have no knowledge of. But it doesn’t really matter... I’m happy to be watching these guys kicking and punching their way noisily through another furious movie so, yeah, I don’t really question the stuff which doesn’t make much sense, to be honest.

Sunday 25 June 2023

Asteroid City

Casual Encounters
Of The Third Kind

Asteroid City
Directed by Wes Anderson
USA  2023 Indian Paintbrush
UK cinema release print

Warning: Light spoilers.

Asteroid City
is the latest movie from Wes Anderson (co-written by Roman Coppola, the genius behind CQ) and, yeah, it’s certainly the best movie I’ve seen at the cinema so far this year. If you’re a lover of Wes Anderson’s exquisitely composed and controlled cinema, dealing with suppressed emotions and quirky themes in a lightly comedic but sometimes melancholic manner then, yeah, you’ll certainly know what to expect. Don’t particularly expect a story because, if there is one, it’s not immediately apparent and notions of what an individual may think of as the elements of a story would have to be brought into play and, you know, maybe argued about.

This film takes the form of documentary sections, filmed in black and white, of a performance of a playwright’s new play, Asteroid City. Most of the film is that play in full colour widescreen in an actual desert location that stands in for Asteroid City (not as a play, as such but, certainly being the play). This stuff makes up most of the footage with punctuations between acts and so on as the documentary footage in the form of... a play of the documentary footage... pops up to deliver narrative on events. However, sometimes the two formats bleed into each other, such as when the narrator played by Brian Cranston accidentally turns up on location and realises he’s not supposed to be here.

The film focuses... if a Wes Anderson film could be said to focus on any one character for any amount of time... on  Augie Steenbeck played by Jason Schwartzman, He hasn’t yet told his accompanying kids, who have arrived with him in Asteroid City so his son can receive a prize (being among some child inventors also receiving prizes for their startling achievements), that thier mother has recently died and is also accompanying them in the form of ashes in a Tupperware box. When his car breaks down, stranding them in the small town, along with various other characters played by the usual troop of people who want to work with Wes Anderson... such as Scarlet Johansson, Jeffrey Wright and Liev Schreiber... he calls his father-in-law, played by Tom Hanks, to come and collect the three daughters.

Soon after Hanks arrives, the small town has a ‘close encounter’ when an alien comes to borrow the asteroid which landed there millions of years ago and whisks it away in his spaceship. Naturally, the people in town are further delayed as the place is quarantined and the FBI move in to interrogate the many witnesses. And so on...

And it’s great. Some may find it a bit indulgent but, you know, that’s why you have auteur directors with very specific styles like Wes Anderson... if you like their work you want them to indulge and fully invest in their own quirkiness and that’s exactly what happens here. No Bill Murray in this one (he had Covid and had to be quickly replaced by Steve Carell) but most of the big stars you would expect to appear in a Wes Anderson movie... Willem Dafoe, Tilda Swinton, Jeff Goldblum etc etc... are all present and correct and all are absolutely marvellous, as you would expect with these kinds of highly stylised, somewhat deliberately muffled performances of dialogue. I shouldn’t have been surprised that ‘new to the Andersonville camp’ Tom Hanks was able to adjust his style of delivery to be absolutely perfect in this either... you get good actors and they deliver, simple as that.

And everything seems to be absolutely what you would expect from an Anderson movie, bordering on  cliché, almost. For example, Alexandre Desplat’s score for the film (which should be on a CD already... what’s wrong with you people?) is mixed heavily into the foreground and does exactly what you would expect from a score from this composer/director collaboration. Although the needle drop songs seemed to be more on point on this one rather than from very different styles. As such, however, there are no real surprises in the film other than the little moments (like Cranston’s character accidentally entering the wrong part of the movie). So, I knew that alien would be back to do one final thing and, yeah, it’s for the most Wes Andersonny purpose that the asteroid was temporarily absconded with.

All in all, I don’t understand some of the criticisms of this movie but, hey, I’m glad everyone is different. All I can say is, I loved Asteroid City and had a big smile on my face all the way through. Another masterpiece by one of my favourite living directors, for sure. 

PS. This 'city' is only a few structures and has a population of 87. Not sure why it's classified as a city.

Tuesday 20 June 2023

Mazes And Monsters

Only When I LARP

Mazes And Monsters
USA 1982
Directed by Steven Hilliard Stern
Plumeria Pictures Blu Ray Zone A/B/C

Before I get to any negative stuff about this movie in the following review, which I suspect will mostly take the form of my personal recollected history of the title in question, I’d like to genuinely thank the newish UK label Plumeria Pictures for putting this one out. It’s like visiting a very old friend I’d not seen in a long while... only to find that friend had aged rather badly and gone a little senile in the intervening years. However, I have a lot of fondness in my heart for this movie, despite how much it seems to creak nowadays and I certainly didn’t think I’d ever see a home video version of the film, especially in a high quality Blu Ray presentation.

Okay, so Mazes And Monsters is a TV movie based on a novel by Rona Jaffe, itself inspired by a real life, long running suicide case which I won’t go into here, read the liner notes on the accompanying booklet to the Blu Ray if you want to know more. Plumeria pictures Blu Ray is a 40th anniversary edition, the film originally aired at the end of December 1982 in the US but, I’m pretty sure we didn’t see it on our TV stations in the UK until at least the following year. I remember I saw it more than once because our family had just bought our first video cassette recorder and so, as I was trying out this new and, frankly, miraculous (as it seemed then) technology, I was always on the look out for interesting films to record (in fact, owning a VCR started me on my path to loving the films of The Marx Brothers, looking for something to test it on).

I’d seen it in the listings and figured this film was obviously something to do with the playing of the game Dungeons And Dragons (really, what about the subtly copyright evading title made me imagine that?) and that was something I loved doing when I was a kid... looking through my dad’s D n’ D manuals from the early 1970s. So I watched it and, at that time, I thought it was great. I loved the actors playing the gamers... Wendy Crewson, David Wysocki, Chris Makepeace... and especially liked the performance of the fourth player in the film, one who I raved to my friends about when I sat them down one by one to watch my VCR recording... a young Tom Hanks in his first starring role. That actor’s going to go real far, I told them, one year before I got to say “Ha! Told you so!” when Splash was released into cinemas. Although, watching the film now... I don’t know why I felt that strongly about him at the time, in all honesty.

Okay, so the film tells the story of a gamer, Hanks, who goes off the rails and starts believing he is the character he plays in Dungeon’s And... urm... Mazes And Monsters, going on a quest to find The Two Towers (an obvious Tolkien reference for the time) which turns out to translate to going to the top of the World Trade Centre (aka The Twin Towers) and throwing himself off the roof. Can his friends find him and stop him in time or will he become a splash of red on the New York side walk? Well, without giving too many spoilers, there’s a third option which plays out which, is actually a quite negative and poignant takeaway from the film/novel... which kind of saves the movie, somewhat, with a definite ‘not in Hollywoodland’ ending.

That’s as much as I’m saying about the film but I will say that, back in 1983, I loved this movie so much (before recording over it to make way for Work Is A Four Letter Word... another movie I’ve lost to time) that I even managed to find a second hand copy of Rona Jaffe’s paperback novel, with a wildly innapropriate photographic cover of a blonde model, if memory serves (pictured above)... and looking straight out of the Mills And Boon school of cover design. And it was a fantastic book which I also have no memory of now, save for one scene which sticks in my mind in which two of the characters are listening to Miklos Roza’s score for Spellbound in their car and talking about film music being the ‘classical music of tomorrow’. For reasons obvious to regular readers of this blog, that statement struck a cord with me as it helped legitimise, in my mind, my own love of film scores.

Watching it now, the film is dated and, honestly, nothing remarkable. It seems it had a very short turnaround time and that would excuse it a bit, I guess. Bearing in mind it aired in 1982, for example... one of the characters has a poster of Blade Runner in his college dormitory room, which itself didn’t get released until that same year. Yeah, it’s clunky and schmaltzy by today's standards but, back then it was an absolute classic.

The quality of the thing, though, both technically and in execution, leaves a lot to be desired. Plumeria Pictures, who I suddenly have a lot of time for (and will be keeping an eye out for their future releases, which are sadly few and far between), have done their absolute best to bring a beautiful transfer of the film into our homes. Alas, the quality of the thing looks just as bad as my old home video recording back in 1983... something less than sharp and with occasional visual stutters like the film has been broken and been repaired, just slightly wrongly. Plumeria obviously did their best with this though and must have realised the problems with their source material because... and I quote from the back of the box... it’s ‘restored from the best available source’. Unfortunately, not even a small company treating this picture like a labour of love can change the fact that I got up from my seat once to brush a fly off my television, only to realise it was actually a recording of a fly crawling on the camera lens at one point. There was also at least one moment in the movie when I was fearing that one of the actors might be damaged by the bits of sound equipment suddenly hanging down into shot.

One thing which I did feel was a bit over the top in terms of Plumeria was the marketing of the film, in terms of its rather attractive cover art. This comprises a slip case (which is a limited edition part of the deal so, if you want one, hurry up and order from their site at https://plumeriapics.co.uk/ already... it may be gone by the time this review sees the light of day) featuring five Dungeons And Dragons dice in a pool of blood and a passing quote from the movie talking about the more sensationalist and exploitative elements of the game. It’s a nice thing, actually but, it has to be said, in no way evokes the spirit of the film residing within its slipcase.

But that’s that. I’ve been reunited with an old friend and, even if I was somewhat disappointed with the movie now, I shall be forever greatful for Plumeria stepping in and allowing me (and hopefully many young fans... I hope this sells well for them) the chance to own a film I never thought would see the light of day ever again. I’m not going to recommend Mazes And Monsters as such because, yeah, it is a bit of a clunker of a movie when viewed through a contemporary lens but, I’m sure an audience such as myself exists for this movie and I sincerely hope they make thier money back on this one. As for me... well... goodbye old friend.

Monday 19 June 2023

Angels Of Music

Eric’s Angels -
Full Throttle

Angels Of Music
by Kim Newman
Titan Books
ISBN: 9781781165683

Warning: Some mild spoilers for some literary references and cool jokes in this one.

Once again I find myself lured into the fantasy world of one of the UKs greatest literary storytellers, Mr. Kim Newman. This novel is one of a number of this great writer's works I’ll be reviewing on the blog this year (if my health doesn’t finally fail me), either by revisiting past classics or catching up to what he’s been doing over the last ten years or so. I was up for reading this novel when it was first announced because I already had read some of this tome under the guise of short stories that Mr. Newman had published in Randy and Jean-Marc Lofficier's annual publications, the Tales Of The Shadowmen collections (for reviews of a number of those books, head over to the book section of my index page and take a look). Indeed, there is a dedication to these two publishers at the opening of the book and, although Mr. Newman is certainly known for his popular genre mash-ups such as the Anno Dracula series of novels, I can’t help but think that the many famous characters in this novel, which spans 40 years in the history of Paris from the late 1890s to the early 1930s, are partially inspired by those Shadowmen collections, which take that modus operandi as their central mission statement, so to speak. Although this, of course, could well be inspired by Mr. Newman’s past works as much as anything else (or Philip José Farmer's Wold Newton universe, for that matter).

Either way, I’m glad that the writer has decided to expand the adventures of his Angels Of Music in the form of a novel and, it’s so much more than I was expecting from it. It is, in its basic structure, a collection of short stories regarding the various ‘waves’ of the title characters over the history of a specific agency I shall detail in a minute but, where some writers when attempting similar tricks of expansion seem to come up with merely the sum of their many parts, Newman manages to weave these stories together in self referential form so well that, when we get to the final tale, everything presents itself as one perfect story arc... and so this book, in this way and many others, is a triumph of this form of structural building, I would have to say.

The story element of these, if you are unfamiliar with any of theses works, is basically The Phantom Of The Opera meets Charlie’s Angels. That is to say, a retrofitted version of Charlie’s Angles, run by Eric, the famous opera ghost and assisted by their Bosley stand in, known only as The Persian. The first three angels in the first story are Irene Adler (‘The Woman’ from the Sherlock Holmes stories), Trilby O’Ferral and Christine Daaé. And it’s here that I have to admit that, just as when I read the Tales Of The Shadowmen collections, I don’t always know the characters and situations the various references are pointing to... although I do know a reference when I read it and there are so very many in these stories. A quick poke in the eye with a name, for instance, was all that was needed for me to realise that the Carlotta Castafiore, mentioned early in the first story, was an obvious ancestor of the Castafiore in the TinTin stories.

The story is made up of a number of tantalising vignettes split up into acts... Act One: The Marriage Club, Act Two: Les Vampires De Paris, Entre Act - The Case Of Mrs. Norton (in some ways, the most tragic segment in the novel), Act Three: Guignol, Act Four: The Mark Of Kane, Act Five - Deluge and then... After The Curtain (I’ll get to this last one in a minute).

As some readers may have guessed, some of these titles are giveaways to a few of the characters you are going to meet within the section and, up to a point, each set of angels is a completely different team although, later in the book, older angels return to team up and smite their enemies together, in the best crossover tradition.

The first act deals with a bunch of improbable but wildly entertaining... let’s say ‘non-human’ enemies (not too many spoilers desired) and the evil Joséphine Balsamo (who turns up a lot in the pages of the Shadowmen collections, it has to be said). The second one brings in Les Vampires of the famous Louis Feuillade serial (and the later Olivier Assayas Irma Vep movie and show) but, curiously, Vep herself doesn’t show her face with a proper mention until much later in another segment. One person who does pop up in this is Newman’s Vampire Genevieve, although I couldn’t work out which incarnation of her it is. At first I thought it was the one I know and love from his Anno Dracula books and the time setting of this story indeed seems to favour that the events of the first book might well be taking place around that point but, later on, with his Kate Reed character also turning up as one of Eric’s Angels, I am more inclined to think it is the other version of Genevieve from his Warhammer books and, thus, another version of Kate Reed, separate from the Anno Dracula novels, who is also working for the Diogenese Club (and I’ll be reading Mr. Newman’s short story collection The Man From The Diogenes Club sometime very soon so, I may find a little more enlightenment there).  

The Entre Act concerns the return of a former angel as a client and, in some ways, best demonstrates what Edgar Allan Poe once called The Imp Of The Perverse. In that it’s somewhat a tale of obsession where the victim has brought everything down on themself. This is followed by another wonderful story where Kate Reed, among other angels, finds herself embroiled in a torturous murder spree being committed around the area of the famous Grand Guignol, although I was surprised to find that the legendary Paula Maxa did not turn up as a character in this one (unless she was alluded to and I just didn’t recognise her... which might well be the case).

Act Four is a tour de force as the next lot of angels go to the French commercial tourist trap version of Xanadu (a kind of Euro Xanadu), to do battle with newspaper magnate Charles Foster Kane (yeah, from Citizen Kane). Kane is attempting to, as William Randall Hearst once said, ‘provide the war’ by uniting a whole crew of famous villains such as Dr. Orloff and Julian Karswell, by paying them off with wins in his casino (there’s even a character popping up from Its A Wonderful Life, reviewed here, in here, if I’m not mistaken). The angels obviously scupper his plans but I was glad to see that there is one definitive winner in the story segment... Bret Maverick, as played by James Garner on TV and at the movies (check out my TV and film indexes for various Maverick reviews). Plus this section has an obligatory ‘armadillo’ mention, relating to the Tod Browning version of Dracula (reviewed here)... gotta have one, I guess and I always enjoy when people mention that damned armadillo.

The last act deals with the infamous floods in Paris and reunites some of the former angels, who turn up to bear witness to a very sad event, only to find themselves trying to stay alive long enough to see if it really is Fantômas trying to kill them all, or someone from their past. This story includes a really great joke scene which refers back to the first Star Wars film but, yeah, I can’t bring myself to reference the joke here, you’ll just have to read the book.

It goes without saying, perhaps, that Newman doesn’t let all the many references get in the way of a good story and, even the genuinely ridiculous bits are held together without risking the credibility of the fantasy world he creates in this one... sometimes you just have to roll with the whimsy, I guess and, life is generally all the more enjoyable for having done so.

And then, when all is said and done, we get a Newman manifestation of a thing which has ben occurring (perhaps plaguing) modern cinema since the first time it happened in the first of the Matt Helm films (The Silencers, review coming relatively soon). That is to say... we have a genuine post credits scene in the book which, if you skip through what looks like the ads at the back, many will miss. Yup, after Kim’s afterword and, even after a couple of pages of ads for some of his other books, we get a final mini chapter entitled After The Curtain, where we will learn the fate (hopefully not the final fate) of one of the more important characters in the book. One hopes for a sequel to this one, set over the next forty years perhaps but, I guess time will tell if Mr. Newman wishes to revisit this literary territory in the future.

And that’s that. Once again, with Angels Of Music, Mr Kim Newman delivers another spectacular set of yarns that are totally immersive (despite the constant referential writing that is etched into the very DNA of the tales) and gives his readers a wild and very entertaining ride. Definitely check this one out.

Sunday 18 June 2023

The Flash


Allen, No Alyn

The Flash
Directed by Andy Muschietti
USA/Canada/Australia/New Zealand  
2023 Warner Brothers/DC
UK cinema release print

Warning: This one will have all the spoilers. Seriously don’t read if you don’t want to know.

The Flash is the long delayed DCU (DC Universe) movie which is being touted as a soft reboot of the franchise, so DC can mothball the old one and reboot the characters in a new series of movies. Which, frankly, is a bad idea, especially since one of the casualties of this bizarrely terrible decision was the cancellation of a third stand alone Wonder Woman movie, from what I can make out. Well, at least I got to see Gal Gadot reprise her role in at least two DC movies this year (so far... I’m hoping she’ll turn up in Aquaman but, you know, suspect she won’t).

The film has been long delayed, as far as I can tell, due to a combination of the Covid pandemic coupled with the somewhat psychotic, ‘how is this guy not in jail?’ behaviour of Ezra Miller. Miller reprises his role as Barry Allen (aka The Flash), a kind of heavily dumbed down and reinvented version of him than in the original comics, who first appeared in a cameo moment in Batman Vs Superman: Dawn Of Justice (if memory serves, reviewed here) before being introduced properly in the movie Justice League (um... both of them... reviewed here and here).

And basically, this is DCs big multiverse movie, following in the cinematic footsteps of Marvel’s Spiderman: Into The Spider-Verse (reviewed here), Spider-Man: No Way Home (reviewed here) and Spider-Man: Across The Spider-Verse (reviewed here). Back in the 1970s or 80s, both DC and Marvel Comics had big event mini-series such as Crisis On Infinite Earths or Secret Wars to try and clean their huge and unwieldy universes of continuity errors and, honestly, it wasn’t the last time they had to do this. Now both companies seem to be taking a similar approach to clean house cinematically with their big screen counterparts but, honestly, I’ve no idea how the next two DC movies this year featuring Blue Beetle and Aquaman, destined to be the last DCU movies, will manage to fit in with this one. This one is very loosely based on the Flashpoint storyline.

As a movie itself... well a few people seem to hate The Flash and many are saying it’s the best thing DC have done in a while. My take is, it’s neither of those things. It’s action packed and has a lot of good comedy moments with a lot of spectacle and, in some ways, a morality lesson although, honestly, the endgame of the movie leaves a lot to be desired in terms of just where we are with the version of reality the first Ezra Miller Flash has landed in. Yeah, that’s right, there are two identical looking Barry Allens in this movie (plus one not so identical looking version) but, even so, it didn’t need to get confusing... except where it leaves things in both the pre-end credits scene and the post credits scene is... somehow not going to connect up with the next two films, I suspect.

Okay, so it’s got action, it’s got comedy and... it’s got a fair few actors from DC’s past crammed into it in much the same way as Marvel started using previous franchise iterations as manifestations of the multiverse. Primarily we have Michael Keaton reprising his role as Batman (even though Ben Affleck starts off as Batman in this movie) and, I suspect he’s probably the main reason people are flocking to this film. He may be 72 years old now but his participation in this movie as a major character demonstrates just why he owns the role of Batman/Bruce Wayne. And once the ‘old man raggedy beard and long hair’ is gone... he doesn’t look that different to when he played the role twice in the 1980s, it has to be said.

Also, we have a new superhero in this film’s version of Supergirl, played with a lot of good screen presence by Sasha Calle... who ends up helping the two Barry Allens and Batman take on General Zod in his attempt to destroy the Earth (with Michael Shannon once again reprising the role of Zod, from his appearance in Man Of Steel, reviewed here). In addition we have, as I said, a lot of actors from DC’s past... both in the form of proper cameos and also CGI integrated moments. Most of these are uncredited too, on the final cast list and, I wish Warner Brother had put their names up there. And we really do get into spoiler warning territory here so, yeah, you were warned...

So, in terms of proper cameos with real actors doing new things, we have Gal Gadot back as Wonder Woman, Jason Momoa as Aquaman, Ben Affleck as a version of Batman, Jeremy Irons as Alfred and George Clooney as another version of Batman (or more strictly, just Bruce Wayne).

And then there are the computer integrated cameos. So we have a welcome return to George Reeves as Superman, Christopher Reeve as Superman, Adam West as Batman, Helen Slater as Supergirl, a version of the original Jay Garrick Golden Age Flash played by Teddy Sears and, yeah, even a terrible looking CGI version of Nicolas Cage turning up as the Superman he almost made with Tim Burton (although wearing the more traditional Superman suit, rather than the black version designed for him for Superman Lives). What I got annoyed about though, is the actors that don’t make it into the movie. How can you have George Reeves in this, who was the second screen incarnation of the last son of Krypton... and not have the original actor, Kirk Alyn, put in a cameo appearance? That’s crazy.

Yes, the film is piled high with cameos and, of course, multiverse jokes (Eric Stoltz didn’t get fired from Back To The Future in the version of the universe in which Barry Allen version one ends up, for instance). And it’s... relatively entertaining. It’s not the greatest thing ever but it’s not too terrible either and it’s great seeing Michael Keaton’s Batman trying to pull electricity into his Batcave in exactly the same way Dr. Frankenstein did in the 1931 Frankenstein movie (reviewed here). Yeah, this almost goes the full Strickfadden in regards to that... I suspect that’s the way Tim Burton might have gone with it if he was directing this thing. All held together by a quite good score from Benjamin Wallfisch (who also incorporates Danny Elfman’s Batman theme into the mix), which I really hope will get a proper CD release at some point soon and not just wallow in a useless digital version.

And that’s it apart from one more slight criticism concerning Ezra Miller... or more accurately, Ezra Miller’s character. I’m not going to pass any judgement on what he’s allegedly done in real life but he seems like a good actor to me. However... and this may be the reason why I found this movie to be only quite good as opposed to great... his character, specifically the alternate universe version of Barry Allen, is extremely grating and unlikeable. I mean, I get it. He’s supposed to be irritating but... guess what writers? Bullseye. Why did you think I wanted to be that irritated by this annoying character throughout? I was just hoping he’d get killed at some point because he’s so unlikeable. Oh... and for the record... I don’t believe The Flash has super-healing powers, right? If you get shot in the knee and are acting like you’re in agony and can’t walk properly for a while... it doesn’t kind of fix itself so you can carry on being a superhero after a few hours. A little verisimilitude wouldn’t have hurt here or... you know... have it so he doesn’t get shot in the knee in the first place, if he has to carry on doing all the superhero stuff.

Oh... and alright... maybe one more criticism, now I think of it. In an alternate version of Earth where Kal El never made it there, how the hell did anyone manage to capture his cousin and keep her trapped away from the sun for so many years? Surely you would have to have had some Kryptonite to do that (and recognise what that is) and, yeah, she’s obviously been in a Russian jail for many years before Zod arrives so, hmm... that’s a puzzler (or just bad writing) for sure.

Anyway... The Flash is a nice enough movie, not a disaster but certainly also not one of the best of the DC universe films, for sure. You might want to give it a go because, heck, it’s nice to be able to see George Reeves, however fleetingly, at a cinema again.

Tuesday 13 June 2023



USA 2023
Directed by Tina Sutter
Vertigo Films

Warning: I guess if you don’t know the real life events behind this one, as I certainly didn’t, then technically this review does have spoilers.

“The FBI documented the following events with an audio recorder.
The dialogue in this movie is taken entirely from the transcript of that recording.”
From Reality

It’s been said that drama is no better manifested than in real life. I’m not 100% sure about that myself. I think drama is very much a fashioned/crafted art form trying to capture the compelling tension of everyday life, even if the events being written and performed are not based on a true incident. Reality, is based on a true incident... and it’s also based on a play ‘written’ by this film’s director (who also co-wrote the script). I put written in inverted commas because, the way a play or a film is staged, performed and, in the case of a movie, shot and edited (amongst other things) is the art which informs the drama, so to speak.

So the original play was called Is This A Room? And it’s based on an FBI audio transcript, lasting just under an hour and a half, on the real life events of the questioning in her home and, subsequent arrest, of ex-military translator and former intelligence specialist Reality Winner in 2017. And when I say based on, I mean the dialogue script and running time of the film is verbatim from those recordings. Although they are not the actual recordings heard themselves... the actors in this one just speak the lines and, in the case of actress Sydney Sweeney who plays Reality, taking the performance to the nth degree in that she would talk with the real Ms. Winner on zoom calls and study her mannerisms and so on as she was talking to her. She looks a little bit like her too... something which becomes apparent when real life artefacts are used on some of the images thrown up on the screen for illustrative purposes or to push a point.

Okay, so we have Sweeney as Winner, Josh Hamilton as Agent Garrick, Marchánt Davis as Agent Taylor and Benny Elledge as Unknown Male. Plus a dog and a cat, representing Reality’s pets, who hold things up slightly when they need to be tied up and put into controlled situations before a room in the house is used for Reality’s initial interrogation, which is what this film is all about. And all of the actors in this movie are absolutely great. And, let’s face it, if drama does stem from reality then the drama inherent in the dialogue provided by the FBI recording in Reality, is certainly one step closer to drama than, well, normal reality... you know, with a lower case r.

But, of course, it’s drama as opposed to ‘just reality’ so, there are all manner of visual and audio contrivances (such as a musical underscore) to enhance that drama. Just as there are also elements to constantly remind the audience that they are watching a true series of events unfold in real time, more or less as they happened.

Of that latter technique we have the time settings given precisely. For example, after an opening bit of footage showing Reality working at her desk in an office which constantly has Fox News on the TV screens, something used by her later to try and explain her motivations, we jump into the main meat of the film which takes place, as the screen tells us... 25 days later. June 3, 2017 - Augusta, Georgia. Then, throughout the movie, at random moments, we jump cut to an on screen graphic depicting the sound waves of the recording as the conversation (or not) is being spoken. In addition to reminding the audience that they are essentially listening to a version of a direct transcript, these are accompanied by a time stamp somewhere on the screen. Although, since it’s such a useful device, the time stamp is not solely used in the scenes depicting the graphics. So we can see, for instance, that it’s not until 4.07pm, 37 minutes into the recording, until she is accompanied from the front yard area into her home to begin the actual interrogation.

And, though the film is relatively impartial to the rights and wrongs of the situation... we know it’s almost an hour into the film before she admits to her crime. I’ll come back to that in a minute.

Another, truly wonderful moment of artistry in the mechanics of how the script of the transcript is presented lies in the parts of the recording which the general public are not allowed to know about. At one point, we are shown a text of the conversation we are listening to and part of the recording has been redacted... there’s then a weird, scribbly high pitched computer gibberish sound made when the cursor travels over that part. And then, once the director has put that audio signifier into the audience’s mind that anything featuring that sound effect is a redacted part of the audio as it stands, she then pushes that angle visually. So as we are watching the conversation unfold between the actors, whenever somebody says something which has a redacted portion in it, the sound cue returns and they are deleted visually from the screen for the few seconds that part of the dialogue is being said. There’s a fantastic moment where the sound effect is going off and Sydney Sweeney walks towards the camera, left of screen and, as the redaction ends, we find she is face to face with another character in the room. So, yeah, for a directorial debut in the motion picture industry, I have to hand it to Tina Sutter for fully grasping how to play around with the boundaries of the cinematic language. This hopefully won’t be her last movie.

The only other thing I will say about the content of the film/play... which has Reality Winner’s full endorsement (although, I believe she feels to actually watch it herself and relive the encounter may be too traumatic), is that I think it’s somewhat open to interpretation as to whether you come out on her side or not. Yes, she was definitely found guilty of passing on a printout of a classified document to a newspaper which proved the election results were hacked and rigged... and got a ‘five years and change’ prison sentence for it. At least that’s my understanding of it... as regular readers may remember, politics just isn’t my thing. The flip side as hinted at in the movie’s final moments seems to be in defence of the subject of the film, perhaps asking the question... was that not doing more of a public service to the American people by letting that truth out there than if it hadn’t got out?

I don’t have an answer to that, at least not an official one but, yeah, it’s a hard call. I kinda wish there were no secrets held by any government agency anywhere (I want to know more about the space aliens) but there’s also probably a very compelling case to be made that many things classified at this level of secrecy is a necessity, I would imagine.

At the end of the day, all I know for sure is two things. One is that I really love that a movie has to have a credit in the final roll that holds the title ‘video glitches’. Secondly, that Reality is an absolutely riveting piece of drama and I would recommend it to most people. Whether justice is served in terms of being a drama closer to reality and whether justice was served to Reality, is something you’ll have to decide for yourself, I think.

Monday 12 June 2023



Germany/USA 2022
Eight episodes

Warning: All the spoilers right from the outset. Don’t read if you don’t want to know.

I primarily started watching 1899, not because I’d heard of the co-creator’s former series Dark (don’t worry, it’s now on the list) but because the show stars a British actress I quite like, Emily Beecham, as lead protagonist Maura. I loved her in Daphne (reviewed here) and Little Joe (reviewed here) and I was interested in seeing her in other things.

This one has an interesting central idea for a TV show but there were some problems putting me off binge watching it too. Number one being that, from a few minutes into the show it pretty much telegraphs itself that what you are watching doesn’t take place on a steamer ship, with a diverse range of multinational protagonists all trying to escape their past... and probably isn't really set in the year 1899. I was pretty sure from very early on that what I was looking at was not represented at face value and this was especially highlighted in a really nice little moment where Maura is sitting in the huge dining hall of the ship and... there’s a glitch where she notices everyone in the hall suddenly drinks from their tea cups in synch. Like I said, it’s a nice moment and it’s subtly timed but, yeah, it certainly confirms the unreality of the setting, for those who already suspect.

Now normally I would have said that this was telegraphed way too early but, by the end of episode two, the final reveal is a bank of TV screens monitoring just what’s going on in the ship (which has stumbled across a lost ship, Prometheus, where there is no crew left except for a young boy who Maura takes into her care). So it’s not like they were saving the big twists as an end game. And then the Christmas holidays came around and, because I felt disappointed by already guessing that much from very early in on the first episode... I kinda gave up on it for a while.

Big mistake because, the other thing which then put me off watching it a little more at first, was the fact that the greedy corporate studio who are the sole(ish) venue of where this thing can be watched, cancelled the show in January 2023... so a second season is not expected to surface now, to carry on with whatever the big reveals and accumulated world building would have amounted to in the final episode of the first season. Now, I gave my view of the sad state of TV subscription chanels in my 13th anniversary blog (right here) but, suffice it to say, this didn’t encourage me to bother pursuing the show to its conclusion.

But, of course, I also felt like I didn’t want to start another TV show and have this one hanging over me as unfinished business so, yeah, I eventually finished it and was pleasantly surprised to find that the various layers of the reality as presented to the main characters in the show, start peeling back to reveal a much bigger picture of things each week, like a series of Matryoshka nesting dolls that keep leading onto something else each time you open it up.

Beecham is absolutely brilliant in the lead role and, I’ve noticed this about her before but she’s one of those actresses who can do ‘silent acting’... or perhaps I should call it the ‘acting of the inner, mental landscape’, really well. Vast periods of the episodes have her going without much dialogue but, as I’d seen from the films mentioned above, she’s one of those performers you can trust to carry those kinds of moments and, yeah, 1899 sure is full of them. She’s ably supported by a great ensemble cast too, including the likes of Andreas Pietschmann, Isabella Wei, Yann Gael and Aneurin Barnard.

And, yeah, I was a little disappointed at the ‘that old Chestnut’ nature of the plot, which is pretty much a 1950s or 1960s Philip K. Dick story come to life. As in, people trapped in an ersatz world not of their own making and not even knowing they are trapped. It’s an old plot but the actors pull it off and the whole look of the thing is pretty good. And it’s pretty dour too, it has to be said, in terms of lightning and set design but it’s ‘designer dour’, so to speak... so it looks pretty fantastic, it has to be said.

Now, 1899 has been cancelled but, do we need another series or is it self contained? Well... a bit of both. It seems to be pretty much self contained in that the reality and original period setting of the show seems to be somewhere Maura doesn’t need to go back to, as she wakes Matrix-like from a simulation with the other characters sleeping away in a virally corrupted computer programme... and she finds she’s adrift with them in a starship in the year 2099. But, the answers aren’t all there yet since we don’t know anything about the bigger picture and what role her brother, who seems to be a character of some evil intent, is up to in this newly discovered reality (which might well be a backup ersatz version again, for all I know).

So yes, it does kind of need another season (or at least a one off special to tie things up) and it does mean that, although I found myself really entertained by the various twists and turns of the surreal imagery of the show, I can’t really recommend 1899 to anyone else because... well... it won’t ever have an ending from what I can make out. Which is a real shame. I’m hoping this show doesn’t just disappear quickly into the ether to join many other shows by this particular company that have shared the same fate but... yeah, it probably will, I think. Oh, well... just another argument that the current model of TV development is broken and, actually, is destroying the potential audience for any new series that may be starting. Because trust from the audience that the show they are watching has an ending is being quite undermined by this kind of behaviour from several companies... and there’s no real excuse for it either.

Sunday 11 June 2023


The Parent Trap

USA 2023
Directed by
Nicholas D. Johnson & Will Merrick
Stage 6 Films

Warning: Some slight spoilers here...

Missing is one of those fairly newish (maybe not so new anymore) subgenres of movies which are all set on one person’s computer laptop. They’re more often than not horror movies but, this one is a thriller. And I have to confess that I almost completely steered clear of this one since, to me, it looked like a rip off of a movie I quite liked from a few years ago called Searching (reviewed here). However, after a few weeks, I discovered (and with no thanks to the advertising campaign which obviously didn’t work on me) that it’s actually a sequel or, more accurately, follow up to that movie, written and directed by the editors (and one producer) of Searching. So I was immediately in again.

And, yeah, it is pretty much more of the same but it’s mostly being quite smart about how it delivers the information needed to decode the mystery behind the story although, it has to be said, not nearly as smart as in the first one.

This one is all about a teenager called June (or June Bug, as her mum calls her) played by Storm Reid, who is left alone in her mum’s house for a week while her mother, Grace, played by Nia Long, goes off on vacation in Colombia with her new boyfriend (ten or so years after June’s dad dies from an unspecified medical condition). However, Grace and her boyfriend Kevin (played by Ken Leung) don’t return from vacation and, despite the worst efforts of the FBI, it’s down to June, with some unlikely help from a guy called Javi (played by Joaquim de Almeida), who is her ‘man on the spot’ in Columbia, to try and track her missing parent down.

Like the first movie, this film is all created by panning around June’s laptop, with lots of open windows of her talking on Skype so we can see her face once in a while and, yeah, it’s nicely done, with a few caveats. It follows a similar patter to the first movie in terms of some of the reveals and, though I didn’t see the biggest reveal coming, I was absolutely seeing most of the main twists way before they happen. The film does telegraph itself way more than Searching did. For instance, a stream of very briefly glimpsed photos sent from the vacation near the start of the movie were, to me, noteworthy in that Grace’s head was never turned towards the camera... so it seemed obvious to me that these were deliberately staged shots for the benefit of June and, to be honest, it takes June quite a while to figure that one out.

Sometimes the cleverness of some of the scenes is played with a little too much and it does kind of give things away. For example, there’s a really great bit at the start where some of the events of the first movie are being replayed and my immediate thought was... hey, that’s not the same actor. This is then completely explained in a lovely way, within a few seconds... but I won’t tell you how. However, the writers and directors then use exactly the same trick at the end of the movie and, frankly, as soon as a shot of rushing police cars starts off a sequence, I knew exactly what they were doing. So that’s a shame but, perhaps once would have been enough or, you know, maybe don’t repeat the trick in the same way because, there’s no surprise the second time around.

Another thing which bothered me is that the final scenes of the actual story (before the usual epilogue scenes) were, by necessity and because the film makers obviously didn’t want to cheat the audience, shown by panning around and zooming in on a network of security cam screens on June’s Macbook. Which is fine but the downside of that is that all of the scenes in that final ‘action sequence’ are very blurry as a result. I guess it’s certainly a trade off and the directors made the right choice to preserve the illusion, for sure. Although, like the first movie, it’s not trying to necessarily present itself as complete reality... for instance, the movie has a score on it to help increase and maintain the mood and tension of the piece.

Now, despite its faults, I really liked Missing and, I especially loved the character of Javi. I’m wondering if there’s any scope for a third film in the series which brings together one of the characters from both films to kind of round it off as a trilogy... and maybe make one of those protagonists twist out as the antagonist or some such. Either way, this film is nowhere near as good as Searching but certainly holds its own and is definitely worth a look. This format isn’t quite played out yet and I think it still has some legs on it. Let’s see if Hollywood will let it evolve. I’m sure these things must be very low budget, allowing for a good profit margin.

Tuesday 6 June 2023


Dummy Hand

aka Nonhosonno
Directed by Dario Argento
Italy 2001 Medusa
BFI Screening NFT 3
Saturday 27th May 2023

Warning: Very slight spoilers

So, of all the films playing in the Dario Argento season at the NFT in May 2023, I just picked two movies (finances allowing) to revisit in the season... ones which I knew I’d not seen at a cinema before. So I got to see The Stendhal Syndrome (reviewed here) on a big screen and also this one, Sleepless (aka Nonhossono). Both of these I’d only seen via my old DVD copies and I have to say that, though I enjoyed both back in the day, I really liked seeing them as part of a proper cinema experience so much more.

I seem to remember (perhaps my memory is poor but, if it is, remind me in the comments below) that the film wasn’t particularly well received when it got a video release over here in the UK (I don’t think it got to our cinemas or I would have been straight on it but, the internet wasn’t as pervasive as it is these days). I couldn’t see what the problem was myself... I loved it then and, now I’ve revisited it in a more appropriate venue, I love it now.

The film follows the return to Italy of a killer, thought to have perished in a string of murders against women in the late 1980s. The Dwarf Killer, as he came to be known, was foiled by homicide detective Morretti, played by this movie’s big star, the always incredible Max von Sydow. We see Moretti back then, after a woman has been brutally murdered with an oboe, as he makes a promise to the son, Giacomo, who half witnessed the crime, that he would bring the killer to justice even if it takes him a lifetime. 17 years later, the boy grows up to be actor Stefano Dionisi and he gravitates back to Turin when a series of similar murders take place. 

But, back in the 80s, the dwarf seemingly responsible for the killings was found murdered by an unknown assailant and the crimes came to an end. The police ask the now retired Moretti to help them with his memories of the case and, somehow, he and Giacomo start working the case privately, without official police sanction, to try and figure out why the seemingly dead killer has now returned. Is it a ghost? A copy cat? What’s going on?

And it’s a great movie with Argento absolutely at the top of his game here. There’s the usual great cinematography and the murder set pieces he’s known for and it’s full of visual gems. For example, when a prostitute, who soon becomes a victim in an intense night train stalk and slash sequence, answers the telephone to a client, Argento does some incredible work in the choice of shots and editing. As she talks we get exaggerated close ups of parts of her face isolated and cut together... eye, mouths, ear and back and forth and so on. It’s almost like looking at a cubist painting but only focussing on just one of the fragments of a person’s face at any given moment. It’s a really interesting visual approach and it creates a shorthand summation of the emotional state of the character. Honestly, it would have been nice to see more of this idea explored throughout the film but, I was only conscious of the director employing this technique in this one scene here.

Another interesting moment is of a strip of red carpet in a long corridor in a ballet venue, which the camera tracks in close up, looking down but parallel with the carpet so we just see things like people’s feet walking along and vacuum cleaner heads etc. A long journey through a long section, culminating in, eventually, leaving the carpet to join a killing in progress... the decapitated head falling into the frame from above. It’s all good stuff and in many ways the film almost feels like a compilation or ‘greatest hits’ tape of early Argento signature moments.

For instance, there are a few sequences where he pitches bright Bava-like lighting styles against each other. A single flash of blink and you’ll miss it red in the chase through the train near the start of the picture, for instance. Or a dance club where the large double level floorspace is clearly delineated in the frame by green, red and purple lit sections like it’s almost riffing on Suspiria (reviewed here) or Inferno (reviewed here).

The killings themselves seem almost reminiscent of Argento's early screen kills too... some of them definitely reminded my of those in Deep Red (reviewed here) for example. I don’t know if this was a conscious decision or not but one of the story mechanics used to mask the identity of the killer, using a ventriloquist’s dummy, is almost like a rationalisation to one of the more notoriously non-sequitur moments of that earlier film, invoking the ‘mad puppet’, it seems to me. Also, the idea of an old timer coming out of retirement to help catch the killer seems to me like a riff on the Karl Malden character in Argento’s Cat O’ Nine Tails (reviewed here), just a little.

The film even includes a few scenes with famous giallo damsel Rosella Falk, who many readers may remember in such gialli as The Fifth Cord, Black Belly Of The Tarantula, Seven Blood-Stained Orchids and The Killer Is On The Phone. You may also remember her from Fellini’s 8 1/2 and Modesty Blaise (reviewed here). So it’s nice to see an actress associated with the genre popping up in a move by the king of giallo.

To further infuse the film with a ‘the gangs all here and making classic Argento’ feel is the return of the group Goblin on musical chores. My understanding is that, after splitting up under bad circumstances years before, the band reformed to score this movie and... promptly split up again for good (in this incarnation) due to their differences once the score was complete. Our loss because, honestly, it’s a classic Goblin score, one of their best as far as I’m concerned. So yeah, this film ‘sounds’ like an Argento classic as well as just looking like it.

Other points of interest are Max von Sydow insisting his parrot in the movie be named Marcello, after his friend Marcello Mastroianni and the fact that the poem about farm yard animal killings which the murderer uses as a playbook, was written by Argento’s daughter, Asia.

If I had any grumbles about the movie it would be the slightly clunky animatronic heads used in two of the murders (but that’s still preferable to using CGI effects, for sure) and the completely ‘out of nowhere’ moment when the killer is shot in such a way that the person shooting him from a different location would be completely unjustified in doing so and it just feels like a bizarrely miraculous way to get the surviving protagonists out of harms way. But these are minor complaints for such a well made giallo as this, it has to be said.

Just like the planned sequel to Argento’s The Stendhal Syndrome was transformed into non-sequel The Card Player, so too was the original planned sequel to this film, dropped due to financing issues,  rewritten and then recycled into Argento’s latest movie, which retained the original proposed title Occhiali Neri (aka Dark Sunglasses)... you can find my review of that one here.

All in all, I really enjoyed seeing Sleepless again and it needs a full bells and whistles Blu Ray release as far as I’m concerned (along with other, later Argento opuses). It’s easily the best of Argento’s 21st Century made movies, to date... and needs to be seen more. An absolute belter.

Monday 5 June 2023

Doctor Who - The Rescue

Packaged Dido

Doctor Who - The Rescue
Airdate: 2nd - 9th January 1965
BBC 1 - Region B Blu Ray Two Episodes

Warning: Full spoilers.

This story follows on from Caroline Ann Ford’s departure as original companion, The Doctor’s granddaughter Susan, in the previous story The Dalek Invasion Of Earth (reviewed by me here), alluded to fleetingly when William Hartnell’s Doctor briefly forgets she’s no longer on the TARDIS. The Rescue served as a very short, two part introduction to the newest companion joining the TARDIS crew, Vicki, played by Maureen O’Brien. And it’s a quite nice introduction, at that. Apart from the last story, I’d not seen any of the other shows in the new Second Series Blu Ray set from the BBC and the ride so far is of varying quality but, never less than interesting, it has to be said.

So The Doctor, Ian (William Russell) and Barbara (Jaqueline Hill) land in a cave on the planet Dido and are menaced by a threatening alien called Koquillion. They are split up and Barbara survives a cliff top plunge by being rescued by one of two survivors of a crashed spaceship, Vicki and the disabled Mr. Bennet, played by Ray Barrett. The Doctor and Ian, left in the cave with a ferocious looking monster (guy shambling around on all fours in a rubber suit) and a series of traps, seek to get out to find out what’s happened to Barbara while she, rescued by Vicki, bickers with her and Mr. Bennett about their safety and how they might throw off the threat posed by Koquillion. The Doctor and Ian eventually arrive (after Barbara has accidentally shot Vicki’s pet monster to death) and The Doctor solves the riddle of what’s really going on.

Now, I have to be candid here... around about 15 minutes into the first episode, I realised there was going to be a twist and guessed exactly what the twist would be. But, I have to say... it’s a smashing twist and normally, even though I can usually see the twists coming a mile off most of the time... I really shouldn’t have seen this one coming and I think a lot of people, including many of the various guest companions watching this as part of the much loved Behind The Sofa watch-along extras in this set, were taken by surprise by it. I only guessed it because the monster costume on the Koquillion looked so much like a standard man in a suit that I figured it was actually supposed to be representational of a man wearing a suit... and not just some ‘golly weren’t the monster suits so bad in those days’ manifestation. So, yeah, I was way ahead when it turns out the person responsible for the deaths of the rest of the crew members and the majority of the Dido race was actually the disabled Mr. Bennet himself, putting on the personae of Koquillion and heading for a pure Scooby Doo ending when The Doctor works this out and he unmasks himself. It didn’t take me long to figure out both Koquillion and Mr. Bennett were never seen together at the same time.

At the end, a really bizarre and, possibly slightly disappointing bit of deus ex machina resolution sees Mr. Bennet fall to his death and The Doctor waking up in the TARDIS, to offer Vicki the chance to ride along from adventure to adventure with them. As was standard for the show at the time, the story finishes and automatically starts off the next adventure, with the TARDIS landing somewhere and falling off a precipice.

Okay, it’s actually, despite how some people feel about this one, a really nice introduction to the character of Vicki... who’s not such a cardboard cutout of a character, it seems to me, as you might think and definitely modelled from the same mould as Susan, in terms of arguing about things and being quite child-like in places. I’ve never seen this companion before but I’ve warmed up to her right away, even though the person she was replacing was absolutely phenomenal in her role. It’s a hard gap to plug but I think the writing and performance fills it pretty well here.

The actors are all great although, since they were only allowed two edits or retakes an episode, you can once again see how Hartnell’s memory started flagging and how he pauses and talks around things to give the right cue to the other actors after remembering what his real lines were... with William Russell occasionally looking bemused or off set to see if he should try to continue or not, it seemed to me. Hartnell, though, is absolutely electric in the role here and he really does save the story in some ways. His pep talk to Vicki and his later confrontation with Mr. Bennet/ Koquillion is pretty strong and helps things along greatly.

The one thing which I only just realised is that they were also writing in scenes where he’s almost the butt of the joke in terms of humour. For instance, with Ian suggesting or observing something and the elder Hartnell ignoring it and eventually flagging it up himself. I reckon this was to get the teenagers into the show more, to identify with the younger members of the cast looking up at the old fuddy-duddy and it probably would work to retain these audiences on this show, for sure. Make no mistake though, Hartnell’s Doctor is ingenious and with a lot more going on that you at first see... Hartnell plays it to perfection as somebody who really has some teeth which, when they come out, certainly demonstrate his bite is louder than his bark, so to speak.

So, yeah, The Rescue is another excellent, if short, story and I really enjoyed this one. I’m not looking forward to the next one so much as it’s one of the period/eductional stories but, well, let’s wait and see. I’ll report back here soonest.

Sunday 4 June 2023

Spider-Man - Across The Spider-Verse

Webs Are Flowing
Out Like Endless
Rain Into A Paper Cup

Spider-Man -
Across The Spider-Verse

Directed by Joaquim Dos Santos,
Kemp Powers & Justin K. Thompson
USA  2023 Sony/Marvel
UK cinema release print

Warning: Yep, there will be plenty of spoilers here.

Spider-Man - Across The Spider-Verse
is the direct sequel to Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse (reviewed here) and has been made back to back with its sequel, Spider-Man - Beyond The Spider-Verse, which comes out in cinemas this coming March 2024. So, yeah, if you’re expecting this one to end with an unresolved story plus a cliffhanger, you’d be absolutely right. In fact, don’t even bother sitting through the end credits on this one because, surprisingly, this one has no mid or post-credits scenes on it.

Now, I quite liked the first Spider-Verse movie, even though I had no idea who this Miles Morales was and, yeah, it took me by surprise. This second one also managed to take me by surprise because, after the densely packed previous installment, I really didn’t expect this one to be much more than a disappointing repeat of the first one at best. Well, I was completely wrong because... and I don’t often say this or take this kind of statement about new movies all that kindly or credibly but... this one is at least as good as the first movie, if not better.

The story on this one follows on from the post credits sequence of the last one, where Spider-Man 2099 (played here by Oscar Isaac) seems to be monitoring the state of the multiverse. However, Miles Morales (played by Shameik Moore), it turns out, is not even supposed to be the Spider-Man for his version of reality because, as it turns out, the spider that bit him in the first movie was actually from another dimension and this, plus a couple of other things happening, including a hilarious new villain called The Spot, have set up the interconnecting universes on a crash collision and, long story short, Miles father has to die to avoid a catastrophic incident. Cue many, many different multidimensional incarnations of Spider-Man trying to stop Miles from returning to his own dimension to save his dad from imminent destruction.

The film looks great, employing different animation styles and colour palettes throughout. It also has a superb voice cast including Hailee Steinfeld returning as Gwen Stacey, aka Spider-Gwen and various other actors, sometimes returning from other related Marvel movies. Such as J K Simmons once again returning briefly as J Jonah Jameson and, in a wonderful live action moment, Peggy Lu reprising her Mrs. Chen role from the two Venom movies. Biggest shout out, though, goes to the superb performance put in by Daniel Kaluuya as the British Spider-Punk. And, of course, all these wonderful performances wouldn’t be possible without the brilliant writers who make both the dialogue and story superb. Note to Hollywood... pay the damn writers who are, at time of writing, on strike. Get your priorities right here!

Now, I heard a review of the film which pointed out that there was a lot of stuff being thrown at the audience all at once but, underneath all that visual chaos, the film has a warm, beating heart which enables you to care about the main protagonists. I’d say yes to the second point but, honestly, this one didn’t hit me as much of an information overload of a spectacle as the first. There are a lot of visual and audio jokes for sure but I think I caught most of them and this one seemed, if anything, to make a lot more sense than I thought it would. To the extent that the big twist reveal near the end of the movie, such as it was, came as no surprise to me by that point in the story.

However, it was a logical story beat so it didn’t disappoint me as such and, that particular villain reveal aside, I also loved that another villainish character in this movie is as much one of the heroes as he is a villain. But his complex psychological needs to ‘parent’ what’s going on in the Spider-Verse kinda turns him into a villain too.

The film would be nothing, of course, without Daniel Pemberton’s follow up score to his wonderful job in the first movie and I am keeping my fingers crossed that some company will release this one on a proper CD at some point and, not just stick with a useless electronic download of the score.

And I think that’s me pretty much done with Spider-Man - Across The Spider-Verse. I absolutely expected it to be, well, not that great but, I absolutely loved it and will be first in line when the third movie comes out early next year. Would recommend this to anyone who loves the various Marvel characters and a script that doesn’t take itself too seriously. Good stuff.