Monday 31 July 2023

From Series 2








 

From Hell

From - Series 2
Airdate 23 April - 25 June
10 Episodes


Warning: Yeah, I think this one will have to have spoilers.

So Season 2 of From gives us very little answers to the many questions posed on an almost weekly basis in the first season (reviewed here). The cast, including Harold Perrineau, Elizabeth Saunders, Eion Bailey, Ricky He and Avery Konrad... also return with many of the surviving regular characters and, in the case of a few people... dead ones too. Some in flashback but also some as ‘personal ghosts’ who appear in certain characters’ heads to help them try to think out their problems... or perhaps hinder them, who knows. We also have a bunch of new characters to contend with too.

This one carries on from exactly where the last season left us, with at least four cliffhangers to be taken care of... so thread one: Sheriff  Boyd is teleported by the tree to a structure where he manages to escape from a well with the help of an old man chained to a wall (yeah, hold that thought). The old man dies but not before he transfers his blood to Boyd, which now has worms crawling around in it and which also gives him hallucinations about a music box. The music box will also overlap into other characters’ sleeping and waking dreams as the show progresses, playing an important part in the season finale.

Thread two: The voice on the radio who knows exactly what’s going on... is unresolved and perpetuates a mini mutiny involving a new way of thinking between two of the trapped characters, with some dramatic consequences.

Thread three: The character digging to find where the electricity comes from (only to find their wires lead to nowhere and there’s no way any of them should be able to have electricity at all) falls through the house, which actually collapses... but is rescued by Victor, who helps her navigate the tunnels where the creatures sleep (it would seem).

Thread four: The bus full of new arrivals... this takes a while to resolve and introduces us to, among others... the doctor’s girlfriend, who just happens to be on the bus and who is going through drug withdrawal; a sensitive and almost prophetic guy who seems to have some kind of way of navigating all this locked away inside him (if he could only access it); a bad guy who is as unstable and tough as they come, just to throw a spanner into the works and, also, a fairly calm and rational little old lady, who I think will come to play a much more important role in the following seasons (which I hope all get green lit as soon as the next one).

And, yeah, I binged the whole thing in a few sessions because, although there aren’t that many new crazy things happening in this one (although, honestly, there are a fair amount of new ideas... one of them meaning that nobody in town dare go to sleep or be left alone), it’s still pretty compelling and the actors really nail their characters and work well together.

So it’s all pretty gripping. Once again, Victor, the longest inhabitant of the community who has been there since he was a boy (when the rest of the town died overnight on him), seems to be the key to everything... or at least the key to having a better chance of survival. If he was just able to remember stuff but, of course, his slightly stunted ‘child’s brain in an adult body’ is a very convenient way for the writers to drip feed the necessary story beats and revelations over time so, he’s also a very useful character to the overall drama of the show, for sure.

My one big criticism of the show would be how Sheriff Boyd doesn’t notice and ask the obvious question in the first episode. You’re stuck in a well like structure and the voice of an old man helps you and a rope is thrown down. When Boyd gets out, the old man is a prisoner, chained to a wall. Yeah, right? Then who was it who threw the damned rope? And why does nobody stop to ask this question? Has this been left here as a sleeper element for another season or were the writers seriously just running through the wet paint around the corner they painted themselves into here? Don’t know... I may find out, I guess.

The last episode has a conclusion of one of the mini arcs in that Boyd manages to save the lives of three people who are dream sleep victims. It also has a big cliff hanger in which, through being injured in a big fall from a very specific place in this weird world, one character appears at the end to actually escape but, I’m not sure we’ve been given the full picture concerning that little revelation, obviously... so we’ll have to wait and see. Wait until 2024 I guess, which is when Season Three of From, which has been commissioned (thankfully), is due to air. Meanwhile, if you’ve not latched onto From yet, it’s pretty compelling... and sometimes brutal... stuff so, yeah, maybe give this one a go.

Sunday 30 July 2023

The Mighty Peking Man









Pekingese Pockets

The Mighty Peking Man
aka Xing xing wang
Hong Kong 1977
Directed by Meng-Hua Ho
Shaw Brothers/Celestial Pictures
Arrow Blu Ray Zone B


Warning: Spoilers I suppose but... it’s too funny not to.

I’m delighted that, midst all the Kung Fu mayhem in the new Arrow/Celestial Pictures Blu Ray ShawScope Volume One box set, they’ve also included one of the first Shaw Brothers films I saw, The Mighty Peking Man. It was around 19 years ago that I first saw this at the Curzon Soho, as the second of a four film all-nighter screening of Shaw Brothers movies, which also included The Monkey Goes West (I still can’t figure out why the four Monkey films have not hit Blu Ray as yet, they’d sell bucket loads), The Oily Maniac (reviewed here) and The Super Infra-Man. It’s also quite puzzling since, while Arrow have been quite careful not to step on the toes of another British label, 88 Films, with Arrow’s releases of Come Drink With Me (reviewed here) and The Eight Diagram Pole Fighter only going on release overseas, they’ve put this one in a box set when The Mighty Peking Man is also available as a single film from 88 Films in this country. Not sure what’s going on here but I didn’t think that was allowed to happen by the BBFC in the UK?

Anyway, the film is one of many Kongsploitation films made, this one starting off with a rich, sex pest of a business tycon, remembering that time a couple of decades ago in India when a giant gorilla attacked. He plans to go to India to capture it, bring it back to civilisation... aka Hong Kong... and then make a lot of money from it. He hires ace tracker Johnny Fang, played by Danny Lee, to lead the expedition, as we flashback to the sad back story of his career minded girlfriend in an over-zealous ‘couple in love’ montage, suddenly throwing him over for his TV producer brother. But a plague of misfortune hits the expedition fairly quickly after they arrive in India. A few guys are lost to quicksand for example... although the Shaw Brothers version of quicksand here is not the slow sucking under as it’s depicted in most movies... it really does live up to its name. And talking of quick things... when a guy on the expedition gets his leg hastily chomped off by a wild tiger in the most comical and unconvincing manner you could hope for (I remember the whole cinema was in fits of laughter), well, it sets the tone for the rest of the film.

A film so bad it’s good as, when Fang is left on his own and abandoned by his expedition, he is grabbed by Ah Wang, the giant sized ape of the film’s title. However, he is rescued by jungle girl Ah Wei, played by bosomy Swiss actress Evelyne Kraft, who spends almost the entire film with her animal skins pulled down so low that said bosom threatens to pop free and have someone’s eye out at various points throughout the picture. If you want to see a comically inept but blatant example of ‘the male gaze’ then, yeah, this one’s probably right up your street. She enters the picture literally swinging from a vine and doing her feminine version of the Tarzan yodel. It’s not long before Fang discovers that, after a plane crash a couple of decades before when she was a little girl, the somehow Mandarin speaking gal (who fluently speaks it to all her jungle friends with instant understanding, such as leopards and elephants... not just her big, hairy friend Ah Wang) was rescued by the giant ape who raised her as his own. However, love rears it’s head and it isn’t long before Johnny and the jungle queen are running around in love, with her literally swinging leopards around in her arms in slow motion to a truly awful, syrupy love song... in an extended love montage which is so unintentionally hilarious and incompetent that it almost achieves the level of perfect cinema.

After Fang also saves her life by sucking snake venom from her inner thigh, he persuades her and The Mighty Peking Man to accompany him back to civilisation where the cruel downfall of the characters begins. The big ape is in chains and being exploited by sex pest guy, who also tries to rape Ah Wei after she is already trying to deal with Fang possibly getting reacquainted, in a sexy way, with his ex. It all leads to death and destruction as, attempting to rescue Ah Wei from her would be rapist, Ah Wang gets loose and runs amok. Despite Ah Wei trying to coax him back to the jungle from atop the tallest building in Hong Kong at the time (the Connaught Centre Building, as it was back then) both her and her giant ape friend are brought down in a hail of bullets and explosions. Beauty in this version of the King Kong formula, dies alongside the beast and then her gaze is carried out to look at the waterfront in the arms of her newly unfaithful lover, as the film’s final credit rolls.

And it’s a grim ending to a greatly entertaining... for all the wrong reasons... piece of movie making. The new Blu Ray transfer shows the special effects off to their fullest... or should that be ‘shows up’ the special effects. Old, Showa-era kaiju style toy tanks look pretty clunky by 1977, it has to be said, and the substantial difference in quality of the film stock, with easily spotted rear projection to achieve the effects, is quite evident here. It’s just another reason to love this wonderful mess of a movie and so, ironically, I couldn’t recommend The Mighty Peking Man enough. As part of the bonus features on this Shawscope set, there are two discs of needle drop soundtrack cues from the De Wolfe library and the first of these included some of the ones used in The Mighty Peking Man. If you like King Kong rip offs and you’ve not seen this one, well, you might want to think about adding this behemoth to your selection.

Tuesday 25 July 2023

New Religion


Moth Understanding


New Religion
Japan 2022
Directed by Keishi Kondo


Warning: Full on spoilers... some open to interpretation.

New Religion is one I missed at last year’s FrightFest (I think it was on a late night slot or something else which forced me to take a swerve on it). It’s a shame because I think it would definitely have been my favourite film of the festival for that August. Catching up to it now, I can see it’s a very confident and assured feature debut from director Kondo. You don’t expect to see  a fully formed, perfect piece of art on a directors first go but, that’s exactly what we have here.

The film starts off with a dream sequence all done, like many scenes in the film, in images bathed in a red light. We have flowers giving way to city scapes, a moth, dolls, transformations... a surrealistic nightmare before we even get near the basic set up of the movie (although, it turns out this is also a relevant puzzle piece because dreams seem to play a large part in this particular artistic construct). We then join lead protagonist Miyabi, played by Kaho Seto, in the one set up of her room and balcony which dominated a lot of the shots which take place in that particular environment in the film. She reads Virginia Wolfe’s To The Lighthouse while her daughter waters the plants. Everything is a perfectly controlled composition, as Kondo uses verticals and horizontals in the room to delineate areas and put each of the two actresses in their own specific, visual partition... to the point where the shot almost looks like a checkerboard. It’s a level of control and meticulous framing which permeates the entire film, even in the more airy exteriors. 

And then the daughter falls to her death from the balcony.

We then cut to some time later. Miyabi’s husband has divorced her but she’s still living in the same apartment with her new boyfriend. And she’s working as a call girl to pay her bills. Due to the death of her daughter, the relationship she has with her new boyfriend, entirely due to Miyabi’s attitude, is muffled and minimalistic.

Then, one of her colleagues at work starts talking about going out with her father... even though he’s been dead for some time. Miyabi shrugs it off when she notices the other girl has been cutting herself but, some time later when she and her boss (who drives her to her tricks and waits for her, to take her back after) see the girl on the street... she starts stabbing random people and in one case gnawing on someone’s intestines before running off. Much later on, the same girl is held accountable (but still uncaptured) for the bombings of several buildings around Japan, all happening almost simultaneously.

By this time Miyabi has her own problems. She takes over the girl’s client, a sinister man called Oka (played by Satoshi Oka) who lives in a darkly lit apartment. He talks through speakers in the walls because, well... his explanation is that he has throat cancer but he doesn’t always have the machine on this throat. But he doesn’t want sex... instead, he asks to take photos of specific body parts of Miyabi... in the first session it’s a shot of her spine and another of her legs. He has her sign the photos after, saying it’s not necessary that she uses her real name and on subsequent visits he takes more photos of different body parts. Very soon after the first session, Miyabi starts having dreams of her dead daughter and also sensing her in her apartment through whatever parts of her body have been photographed. Things escalate and the dreams get more vivid. When her ears are photographed, she can hear her daughter talking to her in the apartment. When her eyes are photographed, she can see her too and starts properly interacting with her, much to the dismay of her boyfriend who thinks she’s going nuts. Which may well be the case of course.

When Miyabi’s pimp breaks into Oka’s apartment to check things out... one of Oka’s many other photographic subjects, a man, seems to be birthed out of one of his developing rooms and kills the guy. Meanwhile, in her dreams possibly, Miyabi is asked to consider if a human dreaming of watching a moth is reality or whether the human is just in the dream of the moth... or some such. This is not a film I claim to understand and, honestly, I’m not sure I’m supposed to. But, at the end of the movie, which I think is very much open to interpretation, Miyabi, or a rebirthed Miyabi who has possibly replaced her, has become weaponised in much the same way as her earlier call girl colleague. Possibly she has been targeted by Oka because of her all encompassing grief. As the film closes, Oka starts to turn his gaze towards Miyabi’s ex-husband.

I think.

It’s hard to tell and one of the things this director does, using bright juxtapositions of coloured lighting such as purples and reds, is he manages to perfectly capture a kind of sleep dream state and waking dream state which the audience is drawn into, slowly merging the two until the observer is unsure which is which and how they impinge on reality. There’s sinister crackling on a lot of the soundtrack, as if a piece of music were too loud for a speaker to be able to handle (but not necessarily while any underscore is playing). Indeed, in some sequences where things get out of kilter and a wonderfully sinister feeling is produced through the music, I found myself thinking back to David Lynch’s Eraserhead or Twin Peaks and, I suspect Lynch could be said to be an influence on this director in some ways. Especially since there are some sequences in the underground room where the call girls wait to be called up by their bosses, where there is a constant flickering light which, inevitably towards the end of movie, goes out completely and plunges everything into darkness... which is very much an early trope of Lynchian cinema, of course.

Another sequence, from one dream in particular, where Miyami is pointing to something to show herself, who has entered the dream... very much reminded me of a certain moment in the viral video from the Ringu series of films so, I’m wondering if this was a deliberate shout out or just a coincidence. Either way, it’s all good stuff and helps permeate the general atmosphere of creepiness that the movie conjures up.

So there you have it. New Religion (and I’ve no idea why it’s got that title, to be honest) feels very much like one of those late 1990s J-horror films that Tartan (remember them) were so good at releasing and then distributing on DVD in the UK at the time... but with a healthy dose of David Lynch thrown in for good measure, it seems to me. And I’ve certainly missed this kind of filmmaking of late. If that sounds like your cup of tea then... yeah, you’re probably right. What this film needs now is a proper Blu Ray release in this country because, wow, the film is exquisite and deserves the kind of physical release that can do it justice. Definitely a director to watch out for, I think.

Monday 24 July 2023

Yellowjackets - Series 2





 

Wilderness Things

Yellowjackets - Series 2
USA March - May 2023
Series 2 Nine episodes


Warning: Some spoilerage.

Yellowjackets Series Two  is... mostly pretty good I’d have to say. Continuing from the point it left off, where one of the major grown up versions of a character was kidnapped on the point of suicide, this one details just what happened to her and the attempts of grown up Misty to find out who has kidnapped her and why. Meanwhile Shauna, her husband (played brilliantly by Warren Kole) and her daughter (Callie Sadecki) are trying to throw the cops off the scent of Shauna’s murder of her ‘fling’ in series one. Also, we have Taissa dealing with the fallout from her somewhat violent sleepwalking stints (as her reflection gazes back at her before doing its own thing, in some nicely chilling moments)... with symptoms of that being hallucinating a visitation from her son and putting her wife in a coma from a car crash in an early episode.

Of course, we also have the teen versions and various other ‘probably mostly expendable teen versions’ trapped in the wilderness with their now one legged coach, dealing with Shauna’s pregnancy and also, quite accidentally, getting into a taste for cannibalism... while they embrace the ideas and teachings of the teenage version of Lotte (Courtney Eaton).

And it’s pretty riveting stuff with all the cast from the first series back for the second, including Taissa (Tawny Cypress), Teen Taissa (Jasmin Savoy Brown), Shauna (Melanie Lynskey), Teen Shauna (Sophie Nélisse), Natalie (Juliette Lewis), Teen Natalie (Sophie Thatcher), Misty (Christina Ricci) and Teen Misty (Samantha Hanratty). There are also a couple of new members of the team. Firstly, the grown up version of Lotte (who has apparently spent at least ten years in a Swiss psychiatric hospital) is played by Simone Kessell. She’s now running a kind of cult retreat for troubled souls, which is a bit of a bad idea for that character when you think about it.

Also, we finally get to see who Teen Taissa’s red headed girlfriend, Van (performed wonderfully by Liv Hewson) is played by when she’s grown up. As Taissa somehow manages to drive to her VHS video store ‘While You Were Streaming’, we find that she’s played by the brilliant Lauren Ambrose.

Meanwhile, Misty gets some, at first unwanted, help from a fellow amateur but somehow millionaire crime sleuth... who is also probably a serial killer (I reckon)... played by Elijah Wood. All I can say is... they make a cute couple. And the song and dance stuff they do when Misty is availing herself of Lotte’s sensory deprivation tank is pretty silly (which means it’s cool, in my book).

And, yeah, it hurtles along at a pace with some nice momenta such as, when teen Shauna is talking to the frozen body of her dead best friend, it transitions from living actress to corpse version and back again between the cuts. When the two get in a tussle, Jackie’s frozen ear falls off and Shauna is mortified... except, by the end of the episode, she casually slips it into her mouth and eats it. Nice touch.

And everything hurtles towards the inevitable double cliffhanger ending for the girls in the ‘end of season finale’ episode... this season is an episode shorter than the first, for some reason. So in the back story, the girls barely escape their cabin burning down. While in the modern story, all the characters converge (including those pesky cops) in Lotte’s retreat where, things get fairly dramatic and a regular character dies (yeah... she’ll be back in some form, I reckon). Although, I’d have to say that, after a great lead in, I kinda found the last episode a little anti-climactic, truth be told.

Here’s the thing though... I think I’m getting a sense of where this might be going. Although... I kinda hope I’m wrong and this show manages to surprise me instead. There have been little clues, quite subtly hidden (or else I’m imagining them) that things from the present are kinda, maybe, bleeding back into the past. So I’ve got two theories where this might be going... especially since we now know how easy it is for any of the characters to be hallucinating and we also know, especially due to the episode dealing with Shauna’s first pregnancy, that the camera eye doesn’t always tell the truth. Furthermore, we also know the grown up versions of the characters have hazy memories about certain aspects of their past.

One idea I have is that, maybe the girls didn’t get out of the wilderness and have grown up there without realising they didn’t escape and have been collectively (or even singly) imagining their modern life. Which would be interesting, for sure. Or... the girls never escaped but they are still in that time and just imagining their future (which would be a bit of a cop out, truth be told). So, I kinda hope it’s not one of those things but... well, time will tell I guess.

Ether way, series two of Yellowjackets didn’t overly disappoint and I can’t wait for season three to arrive. Hopefully they’ll finish the story off with that one, maybe?

Sunday 23 July 2023

Sherlock Holmes And The Secret Weapon







Mori-Nazi!

Sherlock Holmes And
The Secret Weapon

USA 1942 Directed by Roy William Neill
Universal Blu Ray Zone B


Sherlock Holmes And The Secret Weapon is the fourth of the fourteen big screen adventure’s of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's popular literary sleuth to star Basil Rathbone as Holmes, Nigel Bruce as Dr. Watson and Mary Gordon as their housekeeper Mrs. Hudson. So that would make it the second one in from when Universal took over the franchise and shifted it to a contemporary setting. This one was directed by Roy William Neill, who must have gelled pretty well with the principal actors because he would also go on to direct the remaining ten in this series of films.

I actually don’t think the direction on this one is as compelling as the previous installment, Sherlock Holmes And The Voice Of Terror (reviewed here), with its stark lightning, long held silent expressions and minimal musical scoring but, that’s not to say this one isn’t a great film in its own way. There’s a marvellous shot where one character is introduced playing the piano as a reflection in a close up of a mirror, for example, before the camera swings around away from the mirror and into the room itself... which is a nice, visually interesting way of doing it. Neill put together some great movies here and obviously cemented the reputation of this body of work for years to come. Despite the lack of accuracy to the source material, I still think these are, for my money, the most watchable Holmes movies ever committed to celluloid, that’s for sure.

Case in point, Sherlock Holmes And The Secret Weapon purports to be based on Conan Doyle’s The Dancing Men but, while the coded figures certainly take a front row seat in the proceedings, the story around them is mostly fabricated from original material. And once more it’s Holmes versus the Nazis, for the opening at least and then continuing to fight for the war effort less directly but no less effectively. The film starts off with Holmes in one of his many disguises in Switzerland... which is actually a pretty good disguise until Rathbone reveals himself to the audience... as he snatches a leading scientist away from the Nazis and gets him safely to London, England. The scientist has perfected the secret weapon of the title, a new bomb sight which will allow the UK and US planes to effectively target their weapons against the Germans. However, after the scientist has hidden the four parts of the invention with four different scientists, he is captured by Holme’s nemesis, Professor Moriarty, played in this one by Lionel Atwill. Moriarty can’t make the captured scientist talk so the rest of the film is a race against time as both Holmes and Moriarty hurry to decipher The Dancing Man code, to locate the names and locations of the four scientists before the other.

And, yeah, it’s a nice, fun movie with Rathbone and Bruce both showing off thier remarkable talents as one of the best loved duos in cinematic history... at least as far as I’m concerned. Bruce obviously excels at Watson who, by now, has lost any wit he showed in the very first movie and is much more the bumbling, incompetent side kick he mostly became known for in the part. But he does it so well and so charmingly that it’s impossible not to love him in the role. Rathbone also has Holmes captured perfectly and he excels equally at playing England’s greatest detective.

This installment also features Dennis Hoey playing his trademark role of Inspector Lestrade for the first of six times in the series. He’s not quite as dumb a sidekick as Watson in this one but it wouldn’t take long for the character’s IQ points to plummet as the series of movies progressed, if memory serves. Now, Lionel Atwill looks a little different, to my eyes, playing Moriarty. I could just about tell it was him but his face seems to be a little more changed, it seemed to me, to what I am usually seeing from the actor. He’s certainly up to the job, though... and the cat and mouse dialogue between Holmes and Moriarty continues... although Atwill seems to be playing the role in a more laid back manner than that of his predecessor in the role, George Zucco in The Adventures Of Sherlock Holmes (reviewed here). Of course, 1942 was also the year Atwill was indicted before a jury for various incidents which occurred at a pornographic orgy that took place the year before in his home. After this the industry mostly shunned him although, he was still getting in some good work... until his death just four years later of lung cancer at the age of 61.

There’s an interesting comment from Atwill’s Moriarty in this, though and... I wonder if the censor missed it at the time. The films of that period couldn’t and were certainly not likely to mention Holmes fondness for a seven percent solution of cocaine injected into him to help his sleuthing abilities. However Moriarty certainly refers to it after Holmes devises his own death by slow draining of his blood, Moriarty quips, “The needle to the last, eh, Holmes?” Obviously, if you are unfamiliar with the literary depiction of the character, you would not realise this was a reference to Holmes drug habit so, they managed to sneak it in there for people ‘in the know’.

Once again, Moriarty falls to his supposed death in water (in a trap devised for Holmes or whoever followed him on his escape route) and the scientist and his invention is saved to help the war effort. And, of course, as in the last film, this one would end with Holmes making a short patriotic speech to remind audience members that the war they were fighting off screen was a worthwhile cause. In the last film the words had been culled from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s source story itself... here the lines are freely adapted from Shakespeare’s Richard II.

Once again, Sherlock Holmes And The Secret Weapon is another fine cinematic adventure for Holmes and Watson and I can only recommend it to pretty much anyone. And once again, Rathbone puts on some great disguises in the role, two of which may well fool you the first time around if you’ve never seen this one before. Make-up was always good at Universal (just think of those classic monster movies) and when Rathbone takes off his old Swiss bookseller make-up, in close up in a mirror in the early stages of the film, you can see just how much work has gone into the make-up to give a thoroughly convincing look. Great stuff and I will always gravitate back to these films at various stages of my life, I think.

Tuesday 18 July 2023

Lola

 











Champagne
Like Cola


Lola
Ireland/UK 2022
Directed by Andrew Legge
Cowtown Pictures


Warning: Some spoilers.

Lola is a new, ‘found footage’ science fiction film (after doing the usual festival circuits it played on general release over here in the UK in early 2023) shot entirely in black and white in a 4:3 aspect ratio (more or less) and expertly made to look like a cobbled together relic from the 1940s... and, it’s quite a long way into the movie before it just about justifies the polish of the story in terms of that footage and how it’s been deliberately manipulated. I could probably put my hand up and shout that there’s no way anybody would be silly enough to shoot certain sequences (which in itself has become a cliché of the found footage genre) or gotten all of the footage used to make the story work but... I’d be a bit of a killjoy in the case of this one and, it’s not too far a stretch when you take into account the invention at the heart of the movie.

So, the film starts off with various statements informing us that this was a ‘broadcast’ which was found in a house in 2021. We then, via one of many montage sequences used in the film, witness two sisters - Martha and Thomasina - who have been orphaned and left on their own to bring each other up - grow into adulthood by the late 1930s. And one of them, Thomasina (played by Emma Appleton), is an extremely ‘ahead of her time’ inventor. And, within minutes of the movie’s opening, she invents a time machine of sorts, which they call Lola. A screen that can intercept any broadcasts from a particular date and time in the future. Both she and Martha (played by Stefanie Martini) are quite taken with the music of the future... the first broadcast they pick up is footage of David Bowie singing Space Oddity.

And then the war comes and they realise they can predict where German bombers will hit and, through a very clever broadcasting method, they are able to anonymously warn the people of Britain where to evacuate before it happens, saving many lives in the process. The anonymous voice of the girls becomes known to the people of Britain as The Angel Of Portobello. However, a clever army intelligence officer manages to trace the girls and ‘enlists’ them into using future enemy broadcasts to change the course of the war... for the better. Except, while they are doing this, Martha realises that they have erased the future they were so enjoying... including erasing people like David Bowie, Bob Dylan, Nina Simone and her now favourite director, Stanley Kubrick.

Then things get dark and... that’s all I’m saying about the story itself but, I will say it’s one of the more successful and enjoyable microbudget movies I’ve seen in a while. Very cheap movies usually look just that - cheap and with a tendency to wear the limitations of their budgets on their celluloid sleeves (okay... probably not celluloid these days but, you know what I mean). Partially because of the limited locations and partly because of the format in which the movie is presented, it actually feels a little slicker than it probably could have been and, well, ‘value for money’ it well may be but the movie certainly doesn’t suffer from the limited ingredients juxtaposed with the abundance of ideas.

Let’s get to the lead actresses... they really nail this. The girls have that kind of laid back, almost narcissistic attitude towards life that rich people living without the consequences of their actions sometimes are portrayed as having (especially in films set in the 1930s but made with a more contemporary eye, I’ve found). Emma Appleton especially plays Thomasina as a kind of spoiled brat of a genius who also happens to be wanting to do the right things for the right reasons. Martha is more sympathetic and equally righteous in her motivation and it’s interesting because the whole film is pitched as a message to Thomasina from Martha in the future... which you will know from the start and which, in some ways, spoils the surprise of the ending a little but... it does have a good ending and a terrific punchline in a single photograph. Not quite the final shot of Stanley Kubrick’s version of The Shining in terms of style but, certainly it should give those who have been following along with the story and thinking things through a window into whether Martha was successful in getting her message... aka this film... through to Thomasina or not.

One really nice sequence makes good use of a song by The Kinks... although, while the title of the film (and the central time viewing machine) may or may not be a nod to The Kinks, the sequence in question very much is. When Thomasina and Martha are at a celebratory dance party in the 1940s, Martha gets up to sing, accompanied by Thomasina on piano, the song You Really Got Me. And the audience at this point (and it’s a great sequence) will learn from the montage, via a stray news item, that ...You Really Got Me becomes ‘The Anthem Of The War’. And that’s partially what the film is... as well as touching briefly on the nature of film and how you manipulate it to tell a story... the film is all about consequences and what happens when you use knowledge of the future to try and avoid the bad bits. It inevitably catches you out and things can end up getting a whole lot worse. Can the past already done be changed somehow, is what this ‘message in a bottle’ of a film actually manages to answer with its final shot. And it’s nicely done, it has to be said.

And not much more to say, I think, about Lola other than, I really enjoyed it and I hope the writers and director (not to mention the crew) get more of a budget to carry on and do something even more spectacular. In some ways, Lola is a stretched out episode of The Twilight Zone in substance... just like a few other modern directors I could name have been doing over the years... but it’s a really successful one and has a style all of its own. Definitely one to catch if you are into the usual scientifiction conundrums done right. Loved it.

Monday 17 July 2023

2400th Blog - Boutique Label Blues






A Funny Thing
Happened To Me
On The Way To
The Boutique
Blu Ray Label...

My 2400th Blog Post

Okay, for my 2400th blog I thought I’d have another little rant about one of the hobbies I hold dear to my heart... physical media. Not limited to but, for the sake of this mini article... Blu Ray movies. And, more specifically, the boutique labels which, to be honest, are the only thing which makes the world of physical releases a joy to invest in. Now regular readers must surely realise how much I enjoy and admire the products of boutique labels like Criterion, Severin, Vinegar Syndrome, Arrow, 88 Films and a whole host of others bringing out lovingly restored movies, many rescued from obscurity and given the kind of life they always deserved coming in from the cinematic wilderness. So please believe me when I say that none of what follows is a dig at any of these labels and the problems that I see in no way tarnish the wonderful reputation and good work that these and many other independent companies are doing.

However, there are two big negatives I’ve been thinking about lately and which I shall be getting into in a minute but, they both stem from/are symptoms of... the same issue, it seems to me. That issue is that, as the internet increases its grip over the world, whether we happen to like ot or not, we are living in a global community and, certainly many film fans are happy to embrace that pleasant state. And, as a British guy who is sick of seeing certain kinds of films censored in my own country, buying from global sources either because they have the best option or are, quite often these days, the only game in town... makes much more sense. A film lover in the UK probably would be in a lot of trouble if multi-zone Blu Ray machines were unavailable but, as it happens, they’re relatively cheap and easy to acquire and, humongous shipping rates of recent times aside (I used to be able to buy a US DVD of a film before it hit our cinemas for a much cheaper price than I would have been charged by my own country a year or so down the line), they open up the global market for everyone. However, the boutique Blu Ray labels of various countries (the UK and US especially included), either don’t seem to realise this, don’t want to lose a licensing deal or... you know... maybe they don’t care.

So what we have... and this is the unfortunate part... is wonderful labels such as those mentioned above releasing a film in ‘the best possible version’ and then, some months or even a year later, another label from another country releasing their edition of the movie in, you know, ‘the best possible version’. Sometimes it will be different masters of a film and sometimes it will be the same transfer with the other label’s credits showing up on the end title of, say, a special feature. And to make matters worse, some of these will have the same special features, some will have different special features, some will have a mixture of both and others will have a compelling extra such as a soundtrack CD of the score (often already released by another CD label in the past and in the exact same edition... yeah, that’s a similar grumble to what I’m talking about here).

So for the globally minded cinephile... and I don’t really know of any other kind among the physical media buyers I personally know...  if it’s a film they want then they will buy whichever label brings it out first, in whatever country that has to be. Unless, of course, they gamble and play the waiting game and take the chance that the first edition will be sold out before another version gets released, if it ever does. And it’s annoying as heck and I wish the labels would just liaise with each other and coordinate so we only have to have one version of a film coming out in the world within, say, a ten/twenty year period.

So films like Suspiria, Two Evil Eyes and the like all have a couple of different versions available (at least), all in slightly modified variants with alternate extras. And I’m sure it must be affecting each label’s sales negatively because, more than likely, most people will only buy the first one on their radar and give a hard pass to the next one down the line. I only want to end up with one version guys! As I write these words (I’m guessing you’ll be reading them a few weeks later), the BFI have released a formerly hard to see Elisabeth Taylor film on Blu Ray called The Driver’s Seat. I would possibly have been enticed to buy this if, as it happens, I hadn’t already bought the same movie earlier this year (or it may have been late last year) in what I suspect is a much more ‘bells and whistles’ release from the US under it’s other title, Identikit, as part of Severin’s House Of Psychotic Women Rarities Blu Ray set. So I really don’t need to buy the new one (and won’t... for all I know it’s exactly the same transfer too). No longer a rarity then, I guess.

And don’t get me started on the masterful giallo from Dario Argento, Four Flies On Grey Velvet. This used to be absolutely impossible to see at one point and I have bought a few ‘improved’ bootlegs over the years, until it finally started getting official releases, all with a little more footage or in a much better scan as each one came out. This culminated for me last year on purchasing what I think may be my seventh version of the film, in a very limited ‘one week on sale only’ edition of it from Severin Films which includes, wouldn’t you know it, an additional hitherto unseen cut of the film. Okay, it was worth it then if you like the film but... wow... the UK label Cult Films just reissued their ‘better subtitles’ version of the film, which I suspect is more or less the same one their sister label Shameless issued a year or two before. Except this time its in a box of four Argento films comprising this and... three other Argento movies which have been out numerous times in the UK... including from this same label sometimes. Who the heck is going to bother to buy this set unless they’re a complete newcomer to this director’s works? It’s crazy.

At the other end of the spectrum, when 88 Films released A Black Veil For Lisa in a limited edition (now reissued as... um... a non limited edition), it only included the English cut of the film which, I knew from reading around, was not the best version. The full Italian cut is out in Italy but without the English subtilties. Luckily I already had a bootleg with both versions on it and, when I saw how different the Italian version is (and much more in keeping with the traditional cinematic interpretation of the genre... black glove killer included in a few shots of that version) and the different ending, which made a mockery somewhat of what one of the experts on the set was saying about the film (I hope that wasn’t deliberate and they’d just not seen the proper Italian version), then it means I am now chomping at the bit for a company to actually release a correct version of the movie on Blu Ray, rather than the one we’re stuck with at present. Similarly, 88 Films edition of Prozzie turned out to be 'not the complete version' and I had to re-acquire this one under another title, Olivia, in uncut form from Vinegar Syndrome in the US. It’s ridiculous guys... we just wanted one version and... we wanted the right version.

Arrow Films have been doing a lot of this unnecessary ‘lets add a new extra and repackage it’  malarky lately too. Their recent slew of ‘Essential Giallo’ boxed editions are almost exclusively anything but essential. These are boxes of gialli, with different colour themed packaging per box but, guess what? All but one of these boxes are just repackages of other releases still on sale from the same company in individual units. There’s just one edition to date, the Black edition, which actually had all the gialli included as premiere releases in this country (and possibly any English speaking country). I bet I know which one of their box sets sold the most units. Tellingly, the Black edition seems to have disappeared very quickly from physical shop shelves. I guess that did well for them but, if it did then they didn’t learn much from the experience, being as the next two ‘Essentials’ releases were ‘new money for old rope’ editions once again.

Okay, so there we have the two problems.. companies issuing similar or identical versions at the same time and companies repackaging the same versions and pretending it’s something shiny and new (most film fans would not fall for that tactic, I’m sure). I don’t want this rant to go on forever and so I’ll just leave it at that for now. I do love all these boutique labels but, they need to start talking to each other... I’m sure they’d get more sales by releasing products that like-minded labels are not also releasing around the same time (make that decade). Especially when there are thousands of movies out there which haven’t been issued even once yet... let alone their eighth time. For example, a number of times when Severin have announced titles like Blood For Dracula, Vinegar Syndrome have released a complementary title around the same time such as Flesh For Frankenstein. So one feeds into the other with increased sales for both, is my guess.

One last reminder though... if we didn’t have these kinds of labels at least making the effort and, in some cases, pouring a lot of love into their work, then the physical media landscape would be disappearing a lot faster than it already is. These labels are doing startling work and they need your support... just be carful which editions you go for. Buyer beware.

Sunday 16 July 2023

Mission Impossible - Dead Reckoning Part 1






Ai Ai Oh

Mission Impossible -
Dead Reckoning Part 1

Directed by Christopher McQuarrie
USA  2023 Paramount Pictures
UK cinema release print


This was okay.

Having said that, I’m really not sure why Mission Impossible Dead Reckoning Part 1 has had such strong word of mouth... the reviews I’ve been half hearing lifted my expectations to a point where I was possibly going to be a little disappointed with whatever I saw at the cinema last night, perhaps. Okay, so my history with the Mission Impossible film franchise (which you can read in its entirety via reviews accessed from the index link top right... just scroll on down past the book section and into the film section) is such that I thought the first one was so so and that, after that, each successive film kept getting better and better, up to and including the fifth in the sequence, Rogue Nation, which I personally think is the best of these movies to date. The sixth one was okay but I think was nowhere really near it in terms of the art and craft of the former and, I think, that holds for this one too, which seems to be not quite as good as the previous movie in the series also.

Still, it’s quite good and holds the interest all the way through. It’s a nice piece of espionage entertainment and the cast and crew still do a great job with it. This one continues with most of the regulars in place... so we have the core team now pretty much being Tom Cruise, Simon Pegg, Ving Rhames and Rebecca Ferguson. There are a few others returning too, in the form of Vanessa Kirby as the arms dealer The White Widow and, for the first time since the first movie, Henry Czerny as Kittridge. 

 We also have a ‘new to the franchise’, joint leading lady in the form of the great Hayley Atwell as professional thief Grace. I loved Atwell as Agent Peggy Carter in the various Marvel movies and TV show and she’s a good fit with Cruise for this film for sure.

Another stand out new character in this one is a female assassin called Paris (named after one of the original TV show characters) played by Pom Klementieff (who plays Mantis in the Marvel movies). She’s got a lot of screen presence in this and is a lethal proposition in any fight... she also has her own kind of shorthand mini arc in this and... well, not saying anything more about her other than she’s a good character.

The plot of the film in terms of the global threat the team has to face in this one does feel like the stakes are upped once again. It’s a newly self aware artificial intelligence (so we’re told) known as The Entity, with a human assistant from out of Ethan Hunt’s (Tom Cruise) past in the form of human villain Gabriel (Esai Morales). The Entity is a big problem because it sets everyone (every nation and power) against each other when it needs to and can be in the room listening to you all the time, because it’s in everything digital. Which is why, halfway through the film in a sequence where one of my favourite characters gets killed (nope, I’m not saying which one... there are more than a few deaths in this movie), the crew find out that their tech can’t be trusted to be working with them and, at one point, their espionage toys are taken away from them completely. So yeah, they’re alone and in the cold with everyone after them because, of all the interested parties who have a stake in finding the AI, which involves gaining possession of two halves of a key which will unlock something which nobody seems to quite know about yet... Ethan Hunt and his friends are the only ones who want to destroy it and not try and control it for world domination. So, yeah, it’s the rest of the intelligence bureaus in the world against them, not to mention the AI, which seems to be manipulating them at every turn.

The film has some good practical stunts (always a bonus and I wish Tom Cruise would just slow down a bit before he kills himself... he’s a good actor and doesn’t deserve to die for a movie) and some lengthy action set pieces. I did find a lot of those pieces kinda dull to be honest but, not so dull that it wasn’t entertaining enough in its combined onslaught that I ever got bored, to be sure. Lorne Balfe’s score, again incorporating Lalo Schifrin’s iconic themes, is pretty nicely done but, again, I don’t think it’s the best in the series. Of all the composers who have worked on these films over the years... Danny Elfman, Hans Zimmer, Michael Giacchino, Lorne Balfe... I think it’s Joe Kraemer’s score for Rogue Nation which is the most satisfying of the bunch. This one is pretty cool though and I’m looking forward to purchasing La La Land’s CD release of this and giving it a spin when funds allow.

Other than that, not much more to say about Mission Impossible: Dead Reckoning Part 1... it’s a nice enough movie for lovers of the series and, as you’d expect, it kinda leaves things up in the air with all the threats still out there. Although it does have a stop and take a breath resolution of sorts at the end, to wrap things up and get things ready for part two next year. I guess it’s a cinematic rendezvous I’ll definitely have to keep with the caveat that Cruise has said that the conclusion will be his final part in the franchise. So expect more regular character deaths and mayhem would be my guess.

Tuesday 11 July 2023

Fascination










Fascinating
Rhythm


Fascination
France 1979
Directed by Jean Rollin
Redemption Blu Ray Zone A


Warning: Light spoilers.

I think Fascination, in a slightly edited print on television, was probably the first of Jean Rollin’s marvelous surreal vampire tales that I saw... followed in quick succession by a few of his other exquisite gems. I say vampires but the five girls who are the main ‘menace’ (shall we say) of the film are not pure vampires in the most commonly perceived, supernatural definition of the word but, they certainly fit other definitions of the term, which I shall come to in a little while.

Also, yes, there are five of them but, for the majority of the film, only two are present and are the main protagonist's way into the story. These two are chambermaids Elisabeth, played by future novelist Franca Maï... and Eva, played by Brigitte Lahaie, the French porn star who acted in a fair few of Rollin’s films and who acquits herself much more gracefully and naturalistically as an actress than many of her co-stars in a fair few of these productions, it seems to me. She’s quite often the best thing in a Rollin film in terms of acting ability but Fascination seems to me to be one of the films where the actors being used by Rollin are all much better than the usual suspects prior to this.

The film starts off strongly, with a slow pan down from an oil painting onto a locked book on a table. A pair of hands opens the book and starts leafing through and caressing the pages. It’s a shot which doesn’t have anything else to do with the rest of the film, from what I can make out but, it looks great. This is then followed by a wonderful title sequence of Elisabeth and Eva dancing on a very long, causeway-like, low bridge to a gramophone record... one of those old players with the big trumpet speaker. This is followed by an interlude where three of the ‘vampires’ visit a local slaughter house to drink animal blood from wine glasses, to help improve their ‘anemia’.

Then, the main story catches up as thief Marc, played by Jean-Marie Lemaire, escapes four other criminals he is conning with a small chest containing gold coins. He crosses the causeway I mentioned earlier and enters the big house, surrounded by a river (yeah, it’s more like a less traditional looking castle with a moat, in fact) and starts what is almost a small ‘home invasion’ with the two chambermaids. Sexual shenanigans ensue as Eva especially wants to keep him on the grounds until midnight, when their ‘friends’ will arrive for their special club meeting. To that end, she even gets rid of the other robbers for him... offering her body to them and then, in an iconic moment in French cinema (as far as I’m concerned), wielding a grim reaper’s scythe and slaughtering them all.

Of course, when the rest of the gals arrive and entertain the ‘guest’ until the proper time, Marc, who is not a sympathetic character and arrogant enough to think himself safe around five flimsy women, finds out that these ‘anemics’ have developed a thirst for human blood and they kill and eat the blood of a ‘guest’ at midnight when they meet up. More shenanigans ensue, which I won’t bother to detail here.

This is an absolutely stunning work from Rollin, it has to be said (I’m surprised Encore didn’t release this one as one of their fantastic Rollin boxed DVD editions when they were doing them). The film is more bound to interiors than most of them for about two thirds of the combined running time but, with a house as large as this, the director is still able to include the odd shot of small figures amongst architectural details (such as shots down long corridors) and his signature is all over this. Beautiful colours, naked and half naked women, a minimal plot and absolutely brilliant framing are the order of the day here.

Philippe D'Aram’s score is pretty good for this one too, using a very distinctive sound which makes good use of, I think, a musical saw for some of the themes (such as the record the girls are dancing to in the opening credits). Out of all of the Rollin film scores, I think this is the one which has had the most commercial releases on CD... such releases are a bit sparse when it comes to Rollin’s films and often they include the French dialogue where the elements have not been kept separate from the music tracks.

Every time I see Lips Of Blood (reviewed here) I think that it’s my favourite of his films but, every time I see Fascination, I think the same of this one. Certainly, this most recent Koch/Redemption Blu Ray release of the film looks absolutely stunning (it’s often had cheap and washed out looking prints in the past) and is certainly worth the money (I believe Indicator have their own version coming out very soon which may well be a good one to own too). If you’re not familiar with Rollin’s work then Fascination is a good place to start because the acting isn’t completely terrible, the dialogue is actually above average and it’s filled with all the usual, sumptuous imagery you’d expect form the director. Always a pleasure whenever I revisit this one and certainly one I’d recommend to most cineastes.

Monday 10 July 2023

Insidious - The Red Door









Further More

Insidious -
The Red Door

Directed by Patrick Wilson
Canada/USA  2023 Screen Gems
UK cinema release print


Okay, so despite the first movie in the series being yet another ‘inspired by but not owning up to it’ reworking of the Little Girl Lost episode of The Twilight Zone, I do quite like the Insidious movies and have been happy to go see each one as they hit the cinemas. So now we’re up to the fifth chapter in the ongoing series, Insidious - The Red Door. This one is mostly not written by Leigh Whannell as far as I can tell (the IMDB seems a bit conflicted with this information in a couple of different sections) but he does still do a cameo as his character from the previous movies in this, as does both his ghostbusting partner Angus Simpson and, in two big cameo spots, Lin Shaye... who I was hoping would have a much bigger role in it this time around.

This movie is set nine years after the events of the first film and features the main male lead Patrick Wilson (who also directed this installment as his debut behind the camera) as Josh and, now college aged but still played by the original actor who was a boy in the first couple of films, Ty Simpkins as his son Dalton (his brother is played by Andrew Astor, who also reprises his role for this movie). Then we have Rose Byrne back as Josh’s ‘now ex’ wife and a newcomer in the form of Dalton’s new college buddy/potential girlfriend played by Sinclair Daniel.

This one sees a rift has developed between father and son in the years since they were both hypnotised to forget their involvement and terrifying experiences in The Further, the parallel realm to this one which haunts them in both their corporeal forms and their astral explorer forms. Both are plagued by visions with their suppressed memories starting to break loose and manifest new horrors upon them... with the film following the two individually as they fail to connect in real life, until they are rebonded accidentally in the next ‘scary movie encounter’ in The Further, linking them right back to their earlier experiences.

And it’s an okay film. It’s not the best in the franchise for sure and, I think I find it somewhat lacking in terms of story more than anything else. Patrick Wilson proves himself a very good director, working with the material he’s been given and I was especially impressed by a scene where nothing much happens but the whirs and clicks of an old microfiche reader (I’ve never heard one make those sounds) are used to punctuate jump cuts as the camera is repositioned a little closer to him and his subject matter at each click.

And it’s got some good enough jump scares in the movie too. Once more, it’s all about what the audience sees and expects which dictates the way the camera points, often calling to attention differences in shots of familiar terrain. So the audience can see a door has been opened between shots where the character can’t for instance... or the presence of a man behind a truly contrived presentation of a classic memory game is getting closer each time Josh uncovers a panel of a set of windows. So, yeah, in some ways the film is predictable about when the scares are going to come... and how they’re going to come (I didn’t expect full on face vomiting in this one, for sure) but it doesn’t really stop the jumps being fairly successful and, with Joseph Bishara’s typical score to back up the film, it all works pretty well.

I have three main disappointments with the film though, which I’ll briefly elaborate here. One is that the endless array of scary set pieces don’t follow a particularly complex or interesting narrative. If you’ve seen the previous installments, you’ll know what’s going on and there’s not much story development in this one, it has to be said. So I did find it a kind of an empty bunch of scary moments in a bag, ultimately.

Secondly, after Lin Shaye’s character Elise’s death in the second one (plus her wonderful, much more leading roles in the two prequels), I was hoping she would be back in a big way. We know she’s in The Further (as this film reminds us) so I was hoping for a series of movies where she and her two ghostbusting co-workers would be working a horror mystery from each dimension, communicating through some kind of link. Instead, the three characters really are just cameos so... yeah... that was a shame.

Thirdly, there’s a truly great new character, an art teacher called Professor Armagan, played by Hiam Abbass. It’s set up like she’s going to be a new mentor character in place of the deceased Elise (or at least that's what it seemed like to me) and the actress herself has amazing screen presence in this role. Alas, both actress and character are wasted in here, in what amounts to just a couple of scenes. I think the writer should have done more with this character.

Other than those slight grumbles though, yeah, if you like the previous Insidious movies then Insidious - The Red Door should give you another good time at the cinema. As I type this, the news has come in that it’s beaten the new Indiana Jones movie (reviewed here) at the box office and, yeah, I think a lot of people (myself included) are in shock that Indy didn’t do a lot better. All I will say is that, despite there only being seven people in this screening (so I don’t know how it managed to snag the figures it has), I’m guessing that this one is appealing to a younger target audience than Mr. Jones. And, I suspect, that’s the generation that, rightly or wrongly, are much less frightened about going out and catching Covid from a cinema trip. So maybe those box office figures aren’t such a large surprise after all.

Sunday 9 July 2023

John Barry Plays 007











Where Norman
Has Gone Before


John Barry Plays 007
by Geoff Leonard & Pete Walker
No visible ISBN
Windmill Books


A very quick shout out of a review to an interesting book a friend bought me for Christmas last year, John Barry Plays 007. The book was published in 2022 and has no ISBN. I’d not heard of it before and so am assuming my friend, who is always in the know about John Barry stuff (and alarmingly prejudiced when it comes to discussing authorship of The James Bond Theme), probably ordered this one direct from the publishers.

It’s a pretty cool book and does what it says on the tin, by taking each of Barry’s eleven Bond scores (plus the arrangement job from Dr. No) and breaking each one down dealing with a quick summary of the content of the film (which I suspect is not needed for most readers), followed by anecdotes on how the famous songs and scores were written and recorded, along with lots of info on the releases of the various records (and cover versions) of the various Bond related music and, of course, how both the singles and albums charted in various countries.

So yeah, there’s lots of stuff you may not know along with a lot of things the casual Barry listener will probably be aware of. So you get the anecdote Michael Caine recounted at John Barry’s return concert in the late 1990s about the gestation of Goldfinger (gosh that concert went on quite a few hours too long... I remember everyone having trouble getting home from central London after that gig), the chestnut about Shirley Bassey freeing her bust to be able to sing properly on the recording of that same song, the one about Tom Jones nearly passing out in the studio while trying to hold the last note of Thunderball... and various other things which are all a part of the John Barry myth and legend.

It also gives some nice insight into why Nancy Sinatra was not at her best when attempting to record You Only Live Twice (the final recording is made up from several different takes recorded on different days), a mystery about why her dad Frank pulled out after agreeing to sing the title song for Moonraker, and mention of earlier versions of You Only Live Twice, including the one that appeared on the Rarities album a few decades back and also one I’ve never heard recorded by Julie London.

Added to all this are many photos including rare ‘behind the scenes’ shots and, in itself quite valuable, absolutely loads of pictures of the covers of all the releases of the songs, soundtracks and knock offs (although I was a bit annoyed the old Eric Winstone Plays 007 album was not included). And then there’s the elephant in the room of course...

The book starts off with what I thought was going to be a credible testimony as to why many people believe John Barry wrote The James Bond Theme, rather than just arranging it. Using testimony from court cases and other sources, the authors try to paint a picture where Barry did just that, de-emphasising the importance of Monty Norman's role in it. It’s not convincing at all however and I still believe that Monty Norman was himself responsible for the melody and its use in various scenes. Barry did an arrangement... the definitive arrangement for sure... of the theme but, nope, it seems obvious to me now that Norman wrote the tune. And here’s the thing I will say to all those naysayers who have just stopped reading... just listen for yourself to the score in the movie Dr. No. Especially towards the end, in Norman’s underscore, you can hear The James Bond Theme dynamically woven into the fabric of the music. Not only was it Norman who wrote the main score which utilises this theme, before Barry was brought on board to make it more punchy and help carry the movie (which he assuredly did)... but one of those cues was even tracked in/added to the score of From Russia With Love in the final release cut so, yeah, go and have a think about that one.

Other than that, though... John Barry Plays 007 is a lovely book and I’m glad to have it. I also have yet another, much thicker book on the music of Barry to read and review at some point soon so, yeah, look for that on here either this year or the next.

Tuesday 4 July 2023

The Menu









Saving It
For Dessert


The Menu
USA 2022
Directed by Mark Mylod
Fox Searchlight


Warning: Here be spoilers.

Just a quick shout out of a review of a movie I missed on its release towards the end of last year, The Menu. I kinda wanted to see this one but ran out of time on it. One of the reasons I wanted to see it is because I like Anya Taylor-Joy as an actress (Ralph Fiennes is none too shabby as a great performer either) and the other reason was because, from the trailer at least, you can tell something is really off. To me, it looked like a modern remake of The Hounds Of Zaroff (aka The Most Dangerous Game) and, yep, it’s doing something ever so slightly different but it’s certainly, in some ways, exploring the same kind of concept. Just without the manhunt (or at least, a highly abbreviated one).

This film, however, is set in the world of gourmet cooking. I’ve never really understood or appreciated the world of culinary delights. To me, food is something you shovel in quickly to stock up on energy so you can get the next thing done. I don’t fetishise it myself like a lot of people seem to do. This film involves 12 guests (just like the last supper, right?) who travel to Hawthorne Island to sample The Menu of the great Chef Slowik, played by Fiennes, at huge expense (some may say the ultimate expense). Guests such as a character played by Nicholas Hoult, his companion for the evening played by Taylor-Joy (yeah... you’ll get there real fast as to the nature of their relationship, well before the reveal) and a big league but washed up movie star played by John Leguizamo, who said he based the performance on Steven Seagal (apparently there’s no love lost between the two actors in real life).

The film is wrapped up in the language of food criticism and the slow, smooth, languorous shots which make up a lot of the running time are punctuated between scenes by the typographic announcement of menu items, which grow more humorous and ‘on point’ as the movie progresses. It also becomes clear, I think, that while the film is aimed at the kind of rich customers and their lack of true appreciation of food... those hated by Slowik... it’s also a send up of the entire food industry in some ways. Certainly, the restaurant which is the only structure on its own island (the rich clientele gathering on the docks to be picked up by a boat to take them to their gourmet experience) is based on one which the writer went to and realised he was technically captive their until the meal was over and the boat came to pick the customers back up.

And it kinda works. It’s maybe just a little overlong but it manages to land the humour and horror of the situation in which the guests find themselves and it also shows the keen intelligence of ‘the person least likely’, who has more in common with the chef and his army of helpers, in that she understands the foreshadowing of events (such as when the guests are served no bread as a bread plate, being just left the sauces that go with it... which she correctly perceives as an insult rather than a piece of conceptual food art) and is able to figure out a way to put herself on the same footing as the madman running the whole show.

And I said it was a short review... I only have to shout out Colin Stetson’s fine score (sadly not on CD... honestly, Milan Records were a great label once) and conclude that, those four courses of paragraphs that I just served comprise the entire meal of this review. I quite liked The Menu and, though it’s maybe a close cousin to the many movies which steal the plot of The Most Dangerous Game... it’s certainly something else too and that shouldn’t stop you from taking a bite out of this particular food themed film.

Monday 3 July 2023

Indiana Jones And The Dial Of Destiny








Lost Arky Medium Spiral

Indiana Jones And
The Dial Of Destiny

Directed by James Mangold
USA  2023 Paramount/Lucasfilm
UK cinema release print


Warning: One big spoiler from which you can infer the ultimate fate of one of the characters.

Okay then... lets do this. I love the Indiana Jones films but I was kinda worried that both Spielberg and Lucas were stepping away from this one (although I think Spielberg was on this one as executive producer or some such). I’ll get to my main worry later because, in a way, it’s a bit of a spoiler so, you know, I’ll leave it to near the end.

I won’t say too much about the plot of Indiana Jones And The Dial Of Destiny other than it involves a typical 1980s style quest narrative of putting together bits of an artefact before the bad guys... who in this case are the Nazis, despite the majority of the film being set in 1969. And that the artefact in question is the titular dial, aka an invention Archimedes designed called the Antikythera, although it serves a different function in the film to what it was used for in real life. And that’s me done on the story.

Let’s get to the actors.

Harrison Ford is pretty great in this and he’s ably supported by someone called Phoebe Waller-Bridge playing his god daughter Helena. Also, we have Toby Jones in the sequences of the film set in 1939 and Mads Mikkelsen playing a Nazi rocket scientist spanning both 1939 and 1969, who is the main villain of the piece. Anybody who’s seen Mikkelsen play villains will know he’s really good at this kind of thing and this role is no exception.

Then there’s Antonio Banderas who, honestly, is a really great actor... a pity then that he’s totally wasted in this movie. I wish his character would have been written as someone with greater importance to the story. And there are also a couple of actors returning too. John Rhys-Davies returns playing Indy’s friend Sallah for a third time and... yeah, I’ll leave the other returning actor a mystery but, you will be expecting it.

The film is full of action although, the formula seems a little different. It felt a bit like it wasn’t quite as ‘action and plot in overdrive’ as the other four movies and I think it suffers somewhat from this, truth be told. But it’s fine... it doesn’t get boring and Indy fans should be enthralled with the journey this movie takes them on. There are a few problems with the movie too, though...

Okay, my cousin in Australia, who saw it a number of hours before me and who loved it, warned me up front so I didn’t simmer in my own anger for twenty minutes like he did. A big problem is that the Paramount Pictures mountain logo doesn’t transform into the first shot of the movie like the other four films do. This is pretty much like watching a Bond movie without the famous signature tune and gun barrel walk at the start (and we know how that turned out when they tried it on two of the weakest movies in the Bond franchise). So, yeah, that is a pretty anger inducing phenomenon, for sure.

Secondly, the famous shadow silhouettes which Spielberg always used to foreshadow Indy’s entrances at various parts of the movies are completely gone too. Which is annoying and I’d go further and say that, for all the action and dialogue scenes, nothing quite seems as simple as the way Spielberg and his cinematographer would have shot it. It feels elaborately constructed rather than just being elaborately constructed with that fine air of simplicity that made them feel as breezy as the 1930s adventure serials on which they were based. Which is a shame but...like I said... it’s an okay film.

Let me now address two generally cited problems with the film which seem to have come up on social media but which I really don’t think are really a problem at all. One is the ‘younged up Harrison Ford’ CGI. I mean yeah, it’s never great when they do this in movies but, honestly, it’s really not all that bad for the majority of those scenes in the film. I mean, yes, there were a couple of moments where he looked like a fake modern computer game but, for the most part, you should be able to suspend your disbelief enough to get caught up in the action. It’s basically fine... I’m not a fan of this kind of stuff but it suffices here just as big wire cables to hold up the spaceships sufficed in films of the 1930s-1960s. Just ignore it.

Secondly, the last twenty or so minutes of the movie seems to have divided people. All I will say is that it’s traditional for an Indiana Jones movie to build towards a fanciful conclusion. I had the same disappointment when I first saw Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade... which I thought had an absolute rubbish ending. Angels and Sankara Stones I could buy into but ancient knights preserved through the centuries was just silly. I much preferred the next one because the alien at the end seemed a far more sensible option. So all I will say is, the first three movies had religious endings of a sort and the last two movies have similarly fantastical endings which are based on pseudo-scientific wish fulfilment (which you probably will see coming a long way before it happens). Yes, the last twenty minutes or so will cross a line for some people but I think, if you’re going to have this sequence in a movie, then this is rendered as credibly as you could hope for. I didn’t mind it at all.

What I did have a problem with was John Williams wonderful score to the film. I love Williams’ Indy scores but this one felt a little overly familiar. I mean, yes, if you’re going to reference things from previous films then it absolutely is the right decision to score it with a bit of leitmotif which is relevant from the source score. However, I didn’t like the fact that I kept also hearing things which weren’t linked to a specific reference also turning up. For instance, I don't want to be seeing a car chase and then have musical cues like Escape From Venice and Belly Of The Steel Beast (both from Last Crusade) interpolated into the score. It just reminds you of the other movie when it doesn’t have a link so... yeah... found that a bit disconcerting, to be honest.

Okay, there are a few more minor problems also like anachronisms in terms of the time setting throughout the movie (police car livery, makes of gun... that kind of thing) but I don't know how many of these were actually genuine mistakes as opposed to dumbing things down for the audience for greater clarity... so I think I’ll stay off that subject. And now we get to the big spoiler so, yeah, don’t read further if you don’t want to know.

My biggest worry about this one was that they were going to kill off Indiana Jones... not because it didn’t feel right but because it would completely break continuity with the Young Indiana Jones TV show where we know that Indy lives to tell his stories from the perspective of the 1990s (as played by both George Hall and, in one episode, Harrison Ford himself). Especially since the last movie validated the series as continuity in that events from at least one episode are mentioned and, similarly, this movie has its own visual reference to the show. All I will say to others worried about how this movie keeps continuity with that TV show is... it absolutely does. Which is a big spoiler in itself I guess but, the movie doesn’t contradict the timeline in any way that I could see, so have no worries there.

And that’s about all I’ve got to say about this one other than, Indiana Jones And The Dial Of Destiny is an enjoyable enough romp but, for me, it’s easily the weakest of the Indiana Jones films and I won’t be rushing back to the cinema for a repeat viewing. I’ll catch up with it again when I show it to my parents on Blu Ray. It’s a nice enough film for sure and it certainly has its moments but, for me, the writing and direction didn’t come close to the earlier films. It’s not the years it’s the mileage.

Sunday 2 July 2023

Doctor Who - The Romans









Lyre, Lyre,
Rome’s On Fire


Doctor Who - The Romans
Airdate: 16th January - 6th February 1965
BBC 1 - Region B Blu Ray Two Episodes


Carrying on from the end of The Rescue (reviewed here), the story that introduced Maureen O’Brien as new companion Vicki, The Romans was the first real attempt add some comedy in Doctor Who. It was also one of the two educational/historical stories in the second season... something which was originally the intended brief for the show but, already the producers were realising that the purely historical shows suffered more in the ratings. When Verity Lambert saved the show by going with the Daleks in the second story of the first series, the genie was out of the bottle so to speak. Consequently, this season brought not one but two Dalek stories with it.

Okay, so it was played slightly for laughs and writer Dennis Spooner, who wrote a lot of great television shows in his time, delivered a pretty good script but, I have to say, unless I’d known beforehand that this was supposed to be a comedy, I probably wouldn’t have noticed. Although there is a nice moment when The Doctor deliberately misremembers Ian’s name to set up a joke which is pretty clever. But it’s not wild humour like the writers could get away with when Patrick Troughton joined the show, for sure.

So we have William Hartnell as The Doctor, Maureen O’Brien already firmly established and, of course, Ian and Barbara played by William Russell and Jaqueline Hill. This one is odd in that it replays the moment from the end of the last story where the TARDIS materialises and promptly falls off a cliff edge but then, we rejoin the four characters fully kitted out in Roman clothes and enjoying a holiday at a villa which they have taken over while the owners are out. So the action jumps a month from that first scene and The Doctor is not worried about heading off in the TARDIS again when it’s time for the holiday to end, mentioning it can dematerialise from any angle.

Then, in true serial fashion, the main characters get separated. While on a jaunt to Rome, The Doctor and Vicki come across the body of a murdered lyre player and The Doctor poses as him when a Roman centurion goes to find the man who, it turns out later, he knows should be dead. So The Doctor and Vicki end up in Nero’s palace as entertainers, where they get involved in a conspiracy to kill the emperor. Meanwhile, Ian and Barbara get kidnapped as slaves. Ian finds himself on a Roman Galley while Barbara is, luckily, sold to Nero’s palace. Ian escapes the galley and goes looking for her and, by the time of the fourth episode, shenanigans ensue as the main cast are once again reunited in one way or another.

And, yeah, it’s not a bad story actually. It was a lot more painless than I’d imagined the historical ones of the time would be and there were, it has to be said, some eyebrow raising moments. Such as a fight scene which takes place in the second episode between The Doctor and a would be assassin. I certainly didn’t expect to see the elderly Hartnell throwing himself and his opponent around and even, without the aid of a stuntman that I could detect, throwing someone with a Judo move. Pretty good stuff.

There’s also a scene right at the end when Vicki, after it’s clear that The Doctor accidentally burning Nero’s plans by hiding his glasses behind his back and magnifying the sun’s rays is responsible for the Emperor’s idea to set light to Rome, tries to make him understand that it’s his fault Rome (and presumably many of the people in it) is burned to the ground. The Doctor at first rejects this theory (and would continue to reject that notion in the 2008 story The Fires Of Pompeii) but then embraces the idea with much laughter... so, yeah, for future versions of The Doctor that may seem a little out of character but, you really don’t get the sense of it here.

There’s lots of unintentional humour in the things too, as is made much of in this disc’s Behind The Sofa extras, where the three teams of past companions watching this story are in fits of laughter that the Centurion’s helmet keeps bobbing up and down on his head whenever he’s talking (with Bonnie Langford laughing so hard I thought she was going to pass out) and there are also a lot of places where you can tell, in the days when re-takes were an expensive rarity, that Hartnell is forgetting his lines and ad libbing while the other actors try to accommodate.

All in all, though, I quite liked The Romans and I’m warming to Vicki as a companion surprisingly quickly. Next up, though, is The Web Planet, which I remember trying to watch in my teenage years on VHS and never managing to get through it. I loved the Target novelisation when I was a kid but the quality of the footage when I tried to watch it was alarmingly bad, from memory, So I’m hoping the new Blu Ray version will look a heck of a lot better than that. Time will tell, I guess.