Tuesday 28 May 2024

Black Sabbath aka I Tre Volti Della Paura

A Wurdulak
In Your Ear

Black Sabbath
aka I Tre Volti Della Paura
Italy 1963
Directed by Mario Bava  
Arrow Blu Ray Zone B
From the Macabre Visions -
The Films Of Mario Bava Blu Ray box

Warning: Various spoilers in this review.

Black Sabbath, or I Tre Volti Della Paura to give its original title, is Mario Bava’s 7th film where he’s actually credited as director (although followers of his work will know he helped out on a lot more uncredited directing jobs throughout his career). It’s the third film presented in Arrows ‘blink and you missed it’ Macabre Visions - The Films Of Mario Bava Blu Ray boxed edition and it’s a film which has been released in two, very different versions over the years. The I Tre Volti Della Paura version in Italy which, for the record, is the version I watched for this review and the Black Sabbath US version, retitled to cash in on Bava’s success with Black Sunday (reviewed here). Both versions are included in the Arrow disc, with an additionally interesting, half hour long visual essay of side by side comparisons on some of the many differences between the two versions.

The film is one of those portmanteau horror movies which became so popular in the 1960s and early 1970s especially. The Italian version is bookended with two scenes where Boris Karloff, who is also in one of the three segments, talks to the audience. The opening on the Italian one has him standing on some other-worldly precipice with a blue background until, by the end, his features in close up are purely lit in red against the blue, making for a very vibrant, trademark use of colour by Bava. The US edition merely has a floating head close up of Karloff and is far less interesting visually. The bookend scene, where Karloff is still dressed as the character from his segment and riding a horse, is a wonderful piece where the artifice of the production is deliberately shown... the camera pulling out to show the half horse mechanism Karloff is riding with the background going by and men holding branches running around the camera for the foreground scenery. This was completely excised from the US version.

So we have three stories... The Telephone, The Wurdulak and A Drop Of Water. At least that’s the order of them in the Italian version... in the US print they kind of shuffled them around.

The Telephone is set in the apartment of a woman, Rosy, played by Michèle Mercier, who is told she will die that night. It’s strongly intimated to her that it’s er ex-lover Frank, who has escaped from jail and coming to kill her for revenge. However, half way through, when she calls on her ex-girlfriend Mary (played by Lidia Alfonsi) for help, it’s revealed that it’s really her former lesbian lover who has been making the calls to try and get back with her. And then, since the former boyfriend escape was also true, it turns out... Frank arrives and kills Mary before being stabbed to death by Rosy.

The Wurdulack features Mark Damon as a young count who falls in with a family worried by a vampire creature called a Wurdulak. Karloff went to hunt down and kill the one who was terrorising the local area but, in the process, became one himself and, as the segment progresses and Damon falls in love with a character played by the truly beautiful Susy Andersen, the whole family are eventually turned into the creatures. It’s actually not the twist ending I was expecting but it works well enough.

The third segment, A Drop Of Water, is my favourite of the three and, after a trained nurse is called to a home to dress the body of an old woman who has died while holding a seance, she steals her ring. The eerie sounds in her apartment such as the drop of water and the sound of a fly which was on the cadaver's ring finger follow the nurse home and she is slowly terrorised by these various sounds before the corpse shows up and the nurse ends up strangling herself due to its supernatural dominance over her.

The film is, of course, jam packed with various Bava signatures such as use of various shapes and details in the foreground of the camera, used to split different sections of the shots. There’s also that propensity to shoot from a bit above the characters or, often, from just below their eye line.

And then there’s his use of colour lighting, of course. Almost the whole of The Telephone takes place in Rosy’s flat and it’s all filtered through a pale lilac lighting scheme. It’s interesting that, for the most part, Bava’s colour use is still big washes of specific hues but, in these three segments they’re mostly much more subdued than in many of the movies he’s known for. The Wurdulak goes from the blues of night to kind of subdued pinks of a family home and A Drop Of Water uses pale blues and reds with the odd bit of orange. Everything is a bit less overt but no less ‘Bavaesque’ but it’s interesting to note that, on the US version the colours were still further muted, perhaps because they just weren’t used to seeing colour manipulated as strongly and expressively as when the great Mario Bava brought them out to play.

All in all, Black Sabbath is a pretty fun watch and it’s nice seeing the consummate acting of Boris Karloff in the middle segment. The visual essay about the differences in the US version, with different sound mixes, alternate footage in some sequences and some unsubtle musical stingers on Les Baxter’s strident musical score on the US version (it’s a more appropriate score by Roberto Nicolosi on the Italian version, I think) is an eye opener. Especially when the one giallo segment, The Telephone, has been completely changed on the US version. The implication that Rosy and Mary were once lovers is completely obliterated. As is the plot about Frank escaping from prison. In the US version, he’s dead and it’s actually Frank’s ghost who is coming for Rosy... from mystery giallo to supernatural horror with just a few ommissions and inserts. So, yeah, I still don’t trust the US versions of other countries’ movies, for sure. So, if you’re going to watch this movie, my best advice would be to make sure whatever version you own has the original Italian print on it. It’s worth the trade off against Karloff’s own voice being dubbed over in Italian because it’s a much stronger film in its original incarnation. Definitely one to have a look at if you are in the mood for something spooky and colourful, for sure.

Monday 27 May 2024

Furiosa - A Mad Max Saga

The Fast And
The Furiosa

Furiosa - A Mad Max Saga
Directed by George Miller
Australia/USA 2024
Warner Brothers
UK Theatrical Print

I’m not that enamoured with either the Mad Max movies or of George Miller, truth be told. I thought Mad Max was okay  (reviewed by me here), Mad Max 2 - The Road Warrior was the standout film (reviewed by me here), Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome was... um... what it was, I guess (reviewed by me here) and then the much lauded Fury Road was, honestly, pretty dull and uninspiring (reviewed by me here).

So I really wasn’t expecting much from this one, Furiosa - A Mad Max Saga, which is a prequel to Fury Road and tells the back story of the character played by Charlize Theron in the previous movie, Imperator Furiosa. The real reason I decided to go see this one is because one of my favourite new actresses, Anya Taylor-Joy, is playing a younger version of Furiosa (and also, as it turns out, an even younger actress who’s absolutely brilliant in this called Alyla Browne, for the first hour). It also has Chris Hemsworth playing a villain here too (which I’ve seen him do before and he tends to do villains pretty well... this one isn’t his most evil, I reckon).

So, yeah, I was only here for the Joy of Anya Taylor but, I have to say, this new movie is a lot less duller and much more watchable, up to a point, than the last movie.

There are just more interesting story beats and ideas in this one, it seems to me... although probably a lot less action... which is fine in itself but, the main problem with this is the way the action is structured because, those action set pieces are pretty good but, the climax of the movie in terms of that specific kind of action spectacle comes maybe a half hour before the end. The big ‘war’ which we are expecting to happen is mostly just a quick montage before we get to see Furiosa go and continue her quest for vengeance. So the end 30 minutes or so, felt a little less like a climax and more of an afterthought it seemed to me.

Okay, about that ending which, literally leads into just a minute or so before the action of the last film, even going as far as to play scenes from Fury Road over the end credits... well, it’s pretty lame. I’m talking about the specific vengeance meted out to Hemsworth’s character by Furiosa at the end... it’s a kind of grim, fantasy vengeance and I’ve got no problem with that sort of far fetched penchant for whimsy thrown up into a movie... bring it on... it’s just that it seemed both tonally off and not that well integrated into the spirit of the post-apocalyptic Mad Max films, it seemed to me... so I left on a low rather than a high, it has to be said.

Anya Taylor-Joy is absolutely brilliant in this as Furiosa and she has said it’s the most gruelling shoot she’s ever done... which I guess would be the case if you do most of your own stunts (hanging underneath big, scary vehicles etc) as she seems to have done here. She’s always great in whatever she does, though but, I didn’t necessarily think she was the best casting choice for the film. Not in terms of a bad ass actress who can look believable in the role... she’s got that covered in spades. But I think she is a slight mis-match for Charlize Theron’s portrayal of the older version of the character in Fury Road. Theron played it mostly emotionless but calm and measured... Taylor-Joy has so much personality and energy crackling in every performance she gives that she can’t help but look way more intense than who the character turns out to be in the former film. I guess you could argue the years and experiences have mellowed the character somewhat, later in life but, for me that was a stretch.

Other than that, Tom Holkenborg’s score (aka Junkie XL) to the film seems more listenable than the score for the last but, alas, there’s no CD release as yet so I guess I won’t be able to listen to it at all. Which is a shame. When will these companies learn what people want? Ban downloads and give us proper discs please. Music shouldn’t be a transient experience.

But no, Furiosa is a fairly good and entertaining film and I’m sure most of you, like I did when I saw they’d added the words A Mad Max Saga to the title, will be expecting Max to somehow turn up in a scene where he and Furiosa don’t actually meet. Yep, it’s in there... welcome to Jacob Tomuri as the third actor to play Max in the films, after Mel Gibson and Tom Hardy. He strikes a good pose, for sure (which is all you will get but, I’m guessing you would have guessed that).

One last thing though... if you want to see a George Miller movie that really is a masterpiece (an underseen masterpiece, at that) then check out his last film, the absolutely brilliant Three Thousand Years Of Longing (reviewed by me here) because, that truly was ‘cinema’!

Sunday 26 May 2024

Tales Of The Shadowmen 18 - Eminences Grises

The Shadows Strike

Tales Of The Shadowmen 18
Eminences Grises

edited by Jean Marc & Randy Lofficier
Black Coat Press
ISBN 9781649321039

After an unplanned absence on my part of a few years, I once again resume my reading of the Lofficiers’ Tales Of The Shadowmen series for their Black Coat Press imprint... only to find that the final, extra thick volume published last Christmas (which I’ll catch up to soon enough, that one is volume 20) is the final one in what has been a hit and miss but always fun series of collections.

A very short review by me of Tales Of The Shadowmen 18 - Eminences Grises because, it has to be said that this volume, for me, was definitely more miss than hit. If you are unfamiliar with these collections, they are basically short stories by a series of writers of all nationalities using various pop culture characters, many from the pulp literature of 19th and 20th century France but many from other countries and other eras too... mixing the heroes and villains (as they often are) together and bringing them new adventures. So, for example, an early volume brought a short description of what happened when Barbarella kidnapped Captain Kirk.

There are certain characters who tend to come up more than once a volume too.. such a Countess Caligriosto, Josephine Balsamo, Rouletabille, Arsène Lupin and Fantômas and this one is no exception. For example, the first story in this collection, Tim Newton Anderson’s Thirty Pieces Of Gold, sees the inclusion of Rouletabille, Inspector Juve, Fantômas and Arsène Lupin, all trying to put one over on each other. Fascinax also appears in more than one story, the first where he is employed as a supernatural agent to foil the plans of the famous filmic character Dr. Phibes (as played by Vincent Price in the two movies) and then, in a second one where the ghost of Ebenezer Scrooge is trying to get help because he has accidentally created a child serial killer who strikes at Christmas every year due to his younger self wishing this as a child, when in possession of The Monkey’s Paw.

Perhaps my favourite story is one in which several Jules Verne characters intersect, namely Martin Gately’s Young Robur Over Africa, which shows the younger version of Verne’s Robur The Conqueror (another character played by Vincent Price on film in an adaptation of the second Robur novel, Master Of The World) accidentally travelling to a future where he is intent on stopping a world war. Another one, The Power of Countess Cagliostro by Rick Lai deals with a trio of female agents coming to blows with the Shaw Brothers’ running villain Pai Mei (who some only know from Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill Volume Two) by way of The Man with a Harmonica, Charles Bronson’s character in Sergio Leone’s masterpiece movie Once Upon A Time In The West.

Other delights show SPECTRE and their leader Blofeld being outwitted by the 1960s Jean Marais movie incarnation of Fantômas, another where the likes of Fu Manchu and various other Sax Rohmer characters are outsmarted by both Madam Atomos and Sumuru (yet another Rohmer creation)... and another featuring the version of Erik, The Phantom Of The Opera, from Kim Newman’s Angels Of Music stories (which I reviewed here and which, of course, is a mash up of the opera ghost with Charlie’s Angels, itself being an expansion of some stories involving those characters from stories in this very publication’s earlier volumes). And, of course, a title such as Angel and Hopkirk (Deceased) by Randy Lofficier speaks for itself.

And yes I had a good enough time with Tales Of The Shadowmen 18 - Eminences Grises and am looking forward to the next two volumes, even though this one seemed a little duller than many others. I shall certainly miss the very large hole left in modern literature by the ending of the series but Black Coat Press are always worth checking out because they do a great service in reprinting and reinventing just these kinds of characters for modern, French and English speaking audiences. So yeah, I’ll report back when I read the next one.

Saturday 25 May 2024

Doctor Who - 73 Yards

73 The Yard Way

Doctor Who - 73 Yards
Airdate: 25th May 2024

Warning: All the spoilers here.

So, Ncuti Gatwa and Millie Gibson are back as The Doctor and Ruby Sunday in this fourth episode of the new series of Doctor Who entitled 73 Yards and, despite unpopular fan theory, this episode did not turn out to be connected to Ethel’s Sandwich Quiz on an old episode of No. 73. Instead, what we have is a bit of a dilemma for this reviewer because it’s easily one of the best (if not the best) of the current season but, when the final denouement is played out, it turns out that the main feature of the isolating element of Ruby Sunday’s character trajectory in this one makes... it has to be said... absolutely no sense whatsoever. I mean, what a load of codswallop!

But it did continue the tradition of a relatively ‘Doctor free’ episode being one of the strongest they’ve done. In fact, my two all time favourite episodes of the ‘new Who’ era, Blink and Love And Monsters, were very Doctor-lite, it has to be said.

So, basic set up and pretty much the whole of the story is (I said this was full on spoilers, right?)... The Doctor and Ruby land on a cliff in Wales and The Doctor accidentally breaks a man-made (or something-made) witchcraft style circle. With the least biggest surprise in the episode made completely predictable because of the odd way the camera holds the focus and movement on Ruby in close up for a longer than average length of time, she looks around and The Doctor has just disappeared. The TARDIS is locked and for the next 60 plus years, it doesn’t move. A strange woman who is making signs and is always standing exactly 73 Yards away from Ruby wherever she is... frightens anyone else away from Ruby with whatever she says to them. This includes her own foster mother, who locks her out and never speaks to her again and, even Kate Lethbridge-Stuart and UNIT, who goes to help Ruby, abandon her as soon as they hear what the woman says.

Then, because of something she heard The Doctor say about a prime minister bringing the world to the brink of nuclear war in 2046 (yeah, thanks for dating the show for future viewers, guys!), she manages to fix things so the woman who is always there talks to the guy before he starts a nuclear war and terrifies him away from his position of power. Another 40 years later and she dies in hospital, realises the woman is herself at her old age and then she goes back to where it all started in her past somehow, to warn her younger self, successfully this time, to not let The Doctor break the circle. The end.

And it’s great... the sense of suspense coupled with a relatively new companion both abandoned and with no way of helping herself pushes lots of the right buttons. It’s entertaining, starts off with a relatively early, extended Susan Twist sighting (oh yeah, that twist is coming at some point alright) and even has Anita Dobson’s Mrs. Flood from the Christmas special make an appearance too.

But it’s also very infuriating because, as the thing the woman, aka future Ruby, is saying is that The Doctor shouldn’t step on the circle... why the hell was everybody in the episode running away in fear? It made absolutely no sense whatsoever. Now... I’d like to hope that Russell T Davies has some kind of trick up his sleeve and that he’s going to revisit this story in some way before the series is done... to somehow make sense of that but, I dunno... I don’t trust that to happen. Rendering the whole story actually quite ineffective and, I dunno, a bit of a damp squib. It’s the kind of great build up and then complete anticlimax I would have expected from Steven Moffat as a show runner, to be honest and, yeah, I’m still not feeling that confident about this iteration of the series now, once again.

Still, with 73 Yards, getting there seems to be half the fun and, yeah, it’s entertaining and intriguing enough, for sure. I just wish it had actually gone somewhere, though, rather than just give us mind candy with no real substance, as seems to be the case here.

Tuesday 21 May 2024

Robot Monster

Ro-Man Legion

Robot Monster
USA 1953 Directed by Phil Tucker
3-D Film Archive Blu Ray
70th Anniversary Restoration in 3D

I’ve been wanting to catch up with Robot Monster for many decades now. I mean, who wouldn’t... it’s got an iconic looking monster in the form of a man in a gorilla suit, wearing white gauze on his face, topped off with an old timey diving helmet converted into a space helmet with the addition of big antennae. As luck would have it, there’s been a recent restoration of the film by the 3-D Film Archive on the occasion of it’s 70th anniversary... and it’s in 3D!  

Now, like a lot of people who were sceptical when they were first released, I don’t have a 3D television but, that’s okay, there are two different 3D options on here. Firstly, one for 3D TV owners but, with a quick toggle on the menu (the menu card looks fantastic once toggled, by the way), you can switch it over to anaglyphic 3D and just use the blue and red 3D glasses provided in the package. Luckily, we have had a few of these sets of 3D glasses for a number of years due to unusual novelty items and so I was able to watch this one in 3D with my mum and dad, also similarly tooled up... and let me tell you, when you are watching a film with people who are old enough to have seen it at the cinema, that whole nostalgic, ‘so bad it’s good’ element is not there for them and all they see is a badly made movie.

And it is a bad movie for sure. An almost indescribably, hilariously bad movie but... two things save it. One, the 3D on it looks absolutely, jaw droppingly amazing. I mean, those red and blue glasses really get a lot of depth out of this one... incredible. Secondly... diving helmet space gorilla from the moon! What’s not to like?

The first thing you’ll see on the Blu Ray when you start the film off and running is the director’s short which originally accompanied the film in cinemas and acts as a warm up to the 3D process... called Stardust In Your Eyes. It’s basically just this guy called.. wait for it... Slick Slaven... telling terrible jokes to the audience before he then proceeds to sing a song, over and over again, as impressions of popular movie stars of the day (and how they would have sung it)... so we go through a whole gamut of impressions that I found quite fun but, honestly, the amount of tutting coming from my dad during this sequence rivalled the amount of tutting at the bad writing of the main feature... I thought he was going to start throwing things at the TV at one point. Anyway, if you wish to see Slick Slaven’s timeless impersonations of Cary Grant, James Stewart, Ronald Coleman, Jimmy Cagney, Humphrey Bogart, Larry Parks, Peter Lorre, Sydney Greenstreet and Charles Laughton, they’ve been lovingly restored here.

Then we get to the main feature and no amount of bad special effects can hide the fact that the world the boy whose eyes we see the film through has changed ten minutes or so in to one where only eight people are left alive in the world, due to being attacked by the Ro-Man from the moon and that the whole thing must be ‘just a dream’. And yes, of course it IS just a dream... especially when half the cast get killed off by the Ro-Man, including the lead actor and actress (George Nader and Claudia Barrett). A dream world where the boy’s family are living in the ruins of their house, cloaked behind an impenetrable electrical shield which stops the Ro-Man on Earth from finding them somehow. A family immune to his death rays because of an experimental antibiotic invented by the father. Oh wait, did I say death rays.. no, calcinator rays with their hideous crackling and flashes of negative/positive images strobed on the screen at certain points. And then there’s the Ro-Man’s communication apparatus, which is basically a machine blowing bubbles, lots of bubbles, which float in wonderful 3D out of your television screen. Not to mention some of those wonderful bits of machinery invented by the great Kenneth Strickfadden, rented and used on many movies since the 1930s.

The whole thing is shot on an outside location (in just four days... it shows) and has terrible dialogue and that wonderfully iconic looking Ro-Man, who has even more brilliantly awful dialogue such as “Fool hu-mans!” and “I am ordered to kill you. I must do it with my hands.” And there are also terrible interjections of stock footage of monsters from other films... such as stop motion dinosaurs and a couple of lizards fighting while the studio pretended they were giant size. But, surprisingly, there’s also a strong shot of women’s lib in the form of the main female lead, who is the brains behind the survivors’ attempt to escape the wrath of the robot monster. Yes, the robot monster who is so emotionless, like his people, that he tries to rip her top off and mate with her, brutally knocking her unconscious because he doesn’t have time to properly tie her up when his space leader calls on the radio... even though, in the very next shot, she’s completely tied up. You what now?

The ‘it’s all a dream’ revelation would be hugely annoying if the structure of the film wasn’t so bad that you see it coming from ten minutes in... instead, it’s the cherry on the cake for this enjoyable romp which, despite the protest of my parental units, I found truly entertaining. It even has one of the earliest scores by future film composing legend Elmer Bernstein! This was his sixth feature and he scored it the same year he composed the music for Cat-Women On The Moon, if that tells you anything.

The director, on hearing the negative critical reviews of this film, apparently held a gun up to his head and pulled the trigger, trying to shoot himself. He famously missed, somehow. I guess he had the last laugh though because, on a budget of only $20,000 the film took a huge amount at the box office, over a million dollars, it turns out.

And that’s me more or less done with this 70th Anniversary presentation of Robot Monster, other than to say that there are some great extras, both 3D and 2D (and, yes, also in anaglyphic 3D) to explore which are as much worth the price of the disc as that incredible (or incredibly bad, depending on your point of view) introduction from Slick Slaven. Honestly, for a film which regularly tops, or comes near the top, of lists and polls of worst movies ever made, I found this new Blu Ray presentation to be money well spent and I will now have to find out if 3-D Film Archive have released anymore of these treasures in anaglyphic.

Monday 20 May 2024

Dracula Has Risen From The Grave

Stake Out

Dracula Has Risen
From The Grave

UK 1968
Directed by Freddie Francis
Hammer/Warner Archive
Blu Ray Zone A

Warning: Some spoilers rising from the grave.

Dracula Has Risen From The Grave is the fourth of the Hammer Dracula cycle of films and the first to be directed by someone other than Terence Fisher, after his initial salvo of Dracula (aka Horror Of Dracula, reviewed here), Brides Of Dracula (reviewed here) and Dracula Prince Of Darkness (reviewed here). I relatively recently read a book which stated that director Freddie Francis didn’t like directing the gothic variations of the films and that it certainly showed in his direction. Well, I dunno, maybe I’m a bit of a Philistine but I found this one to be a really good entry in the series and it kept me enthralled all the way through... which is perhaps more than I could say for Brides Of Dracula, to be honest.

From the start we have a credits sequence backed by a strong James Bernard score, cementing the musical language of his previous Dracula entries and also using a phrase which is almost, not quite, the Dies Irae... pretty much a parody of it but I’m sure that’s what the composer must have had in mind here. This is followed by a strong opening where a young, mute cleaner of a church rings the bell, only for no sound to come out and his hands to be stained with blood. An investigation finds a woman with a vampire bite stuffed into the bell, dropping down (following a shoe) at just the right moment to hang dramatically for the camera. Though exactly how Dracula was supposed to have killed her in a church full of crosses is anybody’s guess.

And then we have Rupert Davies playing Monsignor Muller, visiting the village near Castle Dracula a year after his supposed demise under the ice in the previous film, signifying that the opening took place sometime before those events. Now, mark that time scale because he says more than once that it’s been 12 months since Dracula’s death. He goes to find out why the local priest has an empty church with no congregation and it’s because the shadow of Castle Dracula touches the building at certain parts of day so, he and the less than enthusiastic priest take a day’s trek up the mountain (a time considerably longer than it takes both Dracula and the hero of the piece to get there towards the end of the movie) so the Monsignor can ‘exorcise’ the castle. The wimpier priest doesn’t go the whole way and while the Monsignor seals the church with a big cross... the other priest falls on the ice and cracks it open where Dracula is buried (that running water in the moat has magically moved his body somewhat ‘down mountain’ it has to be said) and his blood revives the Count, played once more with considerably more enthusiasm, in this outing, by Christopher Lee. The second priest becomes Dracula’s slave. They steal a coffin and follow the Monsignor cross country to his hometown where Dracula spends the rest of the movie trying to exact his revenge by biting up the Monsignor’s daughter Maria, played by Veronica Carlson and, generally getting in the way of her atheist boyfriend Paul, played by Barry Andrews (who was in Blood On Satan’s Claw, which I reviewed here and who looks somewhat like a long, thin version of Roger Daltrey).

The actors are all very good but it has to be said that all their scenes are stolen from them by the actor and actress playing two supporting characters. We have Hammer stalwart Michael Ripper playing Paul’s dad and he’s just a joy to watch. We also have the amazing Barbara Ewing as the saucy barmaid working for Michael Ripper, where Paul works part-time as a cook while studying to become a doctor. He has a row with the Monsignor because he admits he is an atheist but, of course, by the end of the movie, when he’s battled the forces of darkness, he makes a sign of the cross over Dracula’s body (which has fallen and become impaled on a crucifix), showing that he now believes in God and can marry Maria with the Monsignor’s approval.

It’s nicely shot and there seems to be a lot of very colourful lightning in some of Dracula’s scenes. There also seems to be a lot more cleavage on display in the picture at this point in Hammer’s history, as typified by Barbara Ewing’s costume. Although, why the audience is asked to believe that a very thin leather collar around her neck would actually hide the appalling vampire bite scars she has is beyond me.

Points of interest are... once you think Dracula is finished, after Paul has half heartedly staked him, you learn just how ‘half heartedly’ because he gets up, writhes around a bit and just pulls the stake from himself... which I think is the first time this was done in a Hammer Dracula film. Later on, when he is finally restaked by falling on the upright cross, we get the famous shot of his bleeding from the sides of both eyes, which of course has been parodied and homaged a lot over the years (perhaps the most famous steal from this that springs to mind is with the death of Go Go Yubari in Tarantino’s Kill Bill Part One).

One big criticism I have of this is the continuity. As I revisit these Hammer Dracula films I realise they pay the same care and attention that Universal must have taken with their early Mummy franchise. That is to say, absolutely none at all. The previous film was set in 1895 and, we know from the words of the Monsignor that it’s been a year since Dracula’s demise in the ice. And yet, when Dracula and his new slave priest steal a coffin, the date on it reads 1885 - 1905 so, yeah, a complete contradiction, it has to be said. Also, the close ups of Christopher Lee’s eyes in this aren’t consistent from scene to scene. Sometimes the whites are stained blood red, for the earlier scenes but, by the end the whites of his eyes are very clean and clearly visible... so that’s another problem, I feel.

However, these quibbles aside... and I’ll leave it up to the reader to evaluate whether they are just minor quibbles or franchise shaking errors... I have to say I had a really good time with Dracula Has Risen From The Grave and would say it’s one of the better films in a franchise which, I think it’s fair to say, has its ups and downs. Definitely recommended to fans of the genre and company and certainly one of my favourite performances by Sir Chris Lee in the role. Looking forward to seeing the next one in the series again soon.

Sunday 19 May 2024

Doctor Who - Boom

Sunday Mundy

Doctor Who - Boom
Airdate: 18th May 2024

Warning: Some spoilers here sweeties.

Yay! Finally... the new series of Doctor Who has a pretty good episode... Boom... with a hidden surprise to it too, it has to be said. And, blimey! It’s written by Steven Moffat. He was a great Doctor Who writer during the Russel T. Davies era of Doctor Who but when he took over as show runner on Matt Smith and Peter Capaldi’s tenures, well it would be safe to say his writing went rapidly downhill. Now though, he provides a pretty good story  for the new show and, well, I guess Russel T must be the best editor for this writer, is what I’m thinking.

Okay so, The Doctor (Ncuti Gatwa) and his new companion Ruby Sunday (Millie Gibson) land slap bang in the middle of a war. I think the army, who are once again a religious army, with serving ministers and bishops etc instead of modern ranking, must mean it’s the same lot as in Moffat’s second Weeping Angels story for Matt Smith’s first season. Here there is no real twist as the fact that the army is fighting no enemy and are being kept fighting and dying because of capitalism of the war machinery merchants (and the soldiers’ own gullibility) is something that is telegraphed from very early on, I thought... or at least just very obvious.

So we have mechanical ambulances killing their own soldiers in the field because it’s not financially viable to give them a few weeks to recover from their injuries and, right from the get go, The Doctor steps on a ‘smart’ landmine and stays there for most of the episode while Ruby, who is pretty much shot dead under accidental circumstances about half way through the episode, tries to figure out, with the help of a few religiously impaired military types, a way to stop The Doctor from both blowing up and, because of his timelord anatomy, taking out pretty much half the planet if he shifts his weight or blood pressure one notch more.

But there’s lot’s of things going on here for what must have been a relatively cheap episode to shoot (it’s mostly set in that one location, which I suspect is one of the new backdrop screen thingies which Disney used on The Mandalorian and which seems to be rolling out through the entertainment industry). Including two surprise actors in this one.

Well, okay, actually the first one is no real surprise... I’ve been expecting Susan Twist to appear in every episode this year, as a different character per episode and, in this one she’s the personality of the ambulances. If the final twist of this year’s show isn’t to do with The Doctor’s granddaughter Susan, I’ll be surprised (although I was fully expecting her to make an appearance about six years ago and she didn’t show then).

As for the second guest appearance... well I would have been more worried about whether Ruby Sunday was going to come back from certain death or not had I realised that Mundy Flynn was being played by Varada Sethu. Who is back as Mundy next year, I believe (or maybe this Christmas?), as a new regular companion for The Doctor (alongside Ruby, I think... I suspect the marketing machine is being pretty deceptive with the facts at the moment). I’m somewhat relieved, though, because I really liked the character here and so I’m glad she’s back at some point.

Okay, so to be fair, the supposed ‘twists’ were all forseeable... although, did anyone catch Ruby’s age when the ambulance analysed her (is she really many thousands of years old or is that just because she’s maybe that far in the future?)... but it was all done with a certain panache and I even found myself warming to Ncuti in this one (thank goodness) so, I guess the darker ones fit him better, perhaps? Or maybe just me.

Once again we have the return of the ‘Ruby snow’ through one sequence. Which is another part of the ongoing mystery of Ruby Sunday and I’m all for that underlying arc (again, something to do with either Susan Foreman or Susan Twist, perhaps?). Time will tell and, not long to wait I guess, since it’s a ridiculously short season this year... well, unless they make us wait until Christmas or beyond, I suppose.

And I’ve not much more to say about Boom, to be honest except, next week’s ‘mostly Doctorless’ (if the publicity is to believed) episode is one I’ve been looking forward to for a bit and it looks to be giving us more intriguing flashbacks to the mysteries of Ruby’s past, for sure (the ambulance in this episode was completely unable to find her next of kin when it analysed her, of course). I just hope all the other episodes of this season carry on with this kind of quality going forward (if not even better). Liked this one a lot.

Tuesday 14 May 2024

Britain's Toy Car Wars

Hotter Wheels

Britain's Toy Car Wars -
The War of Wheels Between
Dinky, Corgi and Matchbox

by Giles Chapman
The History Press
ISBN 9780750997133

I bought this book, Britain's Toy Car Wars - The War of Wheels Between Dinky, Corgi and Matchbox, for a friend for his birthday last year and, when it arrived and I hid the bright, shiny covers within, probably equally garish coloured wrapping paper, I realised that this tome was also something I should read myself. And so another friend furnished me with one as a birthday present this year and, I have to say that it’s a remarkable book which I thoroughly enjoyed. My one caveat being the penultimate chapter which I’ll get onto in a minute.

So this traces the history of the three car toy giants Dinky, Corgi and Matchbox from the origins of Dinky in the early 1930s to their unfortunate demise and selling off to foreign companies in the very early 1980s. So lots of things I never knew in here are revealed to me for the first time... starting with the birth of Frank Hornby on 18th May 1863. This gentleman was responsible first for inventing the once much loved childrens’ (and adults’) construction toy Meccano, before further extending his arm into Hornby train sets, another iconic and long running toy. And then, just two years before his death in 1936, he started up die cast giant Dinky Toys. That’s a pretty good CV but the book also tells the history of both Corgi and, of course, Lesney’s Matchbox company... started by two school friends from George Spicer school in Enfield (where I used to go to school) in the 1920s, who remained friends after serving in the Second World War in their respective fields, eventually starting up Matchbox in the basement of a derelict pub.

This book is basically a rise and fall type affair, highlighting the various manufacturers’ rival schemes and the inventive features they put on their cars (both in terms of things like opening doors, more stable and useful wheels and also things like advertising livery put on as decals etc) plus their race to get new cars licensed and approved for sale to the public.

This invaluable treasure reveals such interesting points as the early materials suffering from metal fatigue due to impurities created by things like factory workers throwing their shiny cigarette wrappers into the molten metal, how the die cast factories were switched to making ‘grim tools of war’ and how the three companies fared against each other in various deals and situation, straight from the mouths of people who used to work for the big three companies. Not to mention how they tried to see off new rivals and imitators like the popular American company Hot Wheels and the long struggles which found them, in the words of the title of chapter 11, ‘Fighting Back Against Star Wars and Teenage Indifference’.

Surprisingly absent for the majority of the book are the various properties licensed from TV and movies... which apparently started, unbranded, when Lesney made a much loved and popular die-cast puppet of Muffin The Mule. That is, until a special chapter, the one I mentioned earlier, about such things. And, for my money, this exciting aspect of the cars is not given nearly as much detail or coverage as I would have liked. The first die cast car licensed from TV was apparently made by a company called Budgie, based on Gerry Anderson’s Supercar. It was unsuccessful. But then, Corgi renewed one of their cars with a figure of The Saint and a decal of the stickman logo, which sold them a lot more units than just the normal version. They eventually figured things out and licensed their famous Aston Martin DB5 with the special features to belatedly tie in to the popular Bond movie Goldfinger and, even with 36 trucks waiting to take the Bond toys to the shops, couldn’t keep up with demand of the millions of units they sold in such a short time as they launched. A sales arc unmatched until their Batmobile from the Adam West Batman TV show the following year outsold even that.

But having this chapter after the self explanatory chapter entitled ‘Sad Endings as Britain’s Little Wheels Come Off’ seems a bit of an add on, to be honest... I’d rather it was all included in the running history of the companies but, hey, it’s a small criticism of a great book.

The writer, who is obviously a collector, trader and reseller of the toys himself, finishes this handsome tome with a round up of his own take on collecting these things and gives some facts and figures about how much things sell for today. So if you’re wondering what to look out for as an investment, there’s some interesting stuff to be gleaned from this final chapter.

And that’s me done with Britain's Toy Car Wars - The War of Wheels Between Dinky, Corgi and Matchbox... a true gem of a book and worth more than it’s weight in red hot, molten metal poured into a steel mould. Definitely a welcome and valuable addition to the book shelf, for sure. 

Monday 13 May 2024

Kingdom Of The Planet Of The Apes

My Kingdom
For An Ape

Kingdom Of The
Planet Of The Apes

Directed by Wes Ball
USA 2024
20th Century Fox
UK Theatrical Print

Well I certainly wasn’t expecting Kingdom Of The Planet Of The Apes to be any good. Don’t get me wrong, I loved the previous trilogy and pretty much most of the original movies (I even liked the Tim Burton version to some extent) but after War Of The Planet Of The Apes (reviewed here) I couldn’t see where else they had left to go with it. Turns out I was wrong though... they did have a bunch of ideas worth exploring and I thought the new film was absolutely fabulous. Not sure why the critics are grumbling that it’s too slow, to be honest.

This one is set ‘many generations’ after the previous film, except for a brief prologue where you see Caeser’s funeral... about 300 years later, in fact. The hero of this one is a young, teenage ape named Noa who, although he’s played by Owen Teague rather than Andy Sirkis this time around, does bear a striking resemblance to the lead ape of the last three movies. I think it’s the director’s visual shorthand to say that this new legacy hero is part of the same bloodline, without having to tackle that issue in this film (although, I suspect possibly in a future film it may come to light?).

In this one, Noa’s clan are all falconers and the film starts off with Noa and his two friends on an expedition to climb and steal three eagle eggs so they can attend the village bonding ritual the next day. After an accidental intervention by a seemingly bright human, played by Freya Allan and initially named Nova (after the human female in the original 1968 movie, reviewed here), Noa has to leave the village at night to try and get another one, or miss out for a year. But then he discovers a group of masked apes who are from another, much more aggressive clan, headed up by an ape called Proxima Caeser.

These apes slaughter some of the villagers, kill his father, enslave the rest of the villagers (taking them back to Caeser’s own encampment) and then leave Noa for dead. When he awakes the next morning, he clearly has a mission to set his fellow clan members free so, for a while, the movie becomes a road movie with him, a knowledgable orangutan he finds on the way and, eventually, Nova... who turns out to really be called Mae.

Then things really start to happen and when they finally arrive at the ‘kingdom’ of Proxima Caeser, it’s clear he has a more sinister motive for his actions and is much more aware of what the humans were on the planet some 300 years or so before. He even has his own talking human, played by William H. Macy. But that’s as much as I want to give away here because, it’s definitely worth a look and has an ending that sets up the next two films. Although, while some critics don’t see it as a stand alone film at all, I’d disagree... the ultimate set up for the next one is really just established properly right at the end of the picture, in a series of epilogue sequences. I think it works just fine as a stand alone movie, for sure. But, yeah, I hope it does well because, I would like to see where they take the next chapter in the saga, after what happens at the end here. I can’t help but think that Mae will end up being the natural antagonist of the apes by the time of the third movie down the line.

And it’s wonderfully put together, looks nice, is well acted and has remarkable special effects again. I never find myself questioning the reality of the apes in these later films, for sure. And there are also a heck of a lot of nods to the original 1968 movie in this. And that also goes for the music too. While composer John Paesano starts the film off in a very similar musical landscape as Michael Giacchino’s score for the previous movie, as the visual echoes of the 1968 movie start to stack up, the composer goes into the same territory as Jerry Goldsmith, bringing his orchestrations and snatches of his compositions when the crucified ‘scarecrows’ are seen for instance. Or in a very similar scene to the hunt in the 1968 classic, actually having a do over of Goldsmith’s famous accompanying action cue. I don’t know if this was the original intention though because, well, I did also detect a bit of ‘temp trackitus’ in the film... because when Noa first enter’s Proxima Caeser’s kingdom, the music seems to exactly replicate a very specific part of Goldsmith’s score for The Mummy too so... not sure why that happened unless it was part of the musical temp track, I suspect.

However, it certainly doesn’t hurt the movie and I would love to listen to this score away from the movie.  A shame then that Disney don’t seem to have issued it on a proper CD, once again giving us a first film in a franchise now owned by Disney to be the first in that franchise not to have an actual CD score release. It’s such a shame that this isn’t available on a proper format, for sure.

That being said, I think Kingdom Of The Planet Of The Apes is a solidly put together film which, asides from the echoes and retreads, does have some nice ideas and which I think lovers of the franchise will want to jump in and explore alongside with the director and writers. I’ll definitely be revisiting this one again when it comes out on Blu Ray.


Planet Of The Apes at NUTS4R2

Planet Of The Apes TV Show (live action) - to be reviewed
Time Of The Apes - to be reviewed


Sunday 12 May 2024

Doctor Who - Space Babies and The Devil's Chord

Baby’s In Black

Doctor Who
Space Babies

and The Devil's Chord
Airdate: 11th May 2024

Okay so, that wasn’t terrible and... it wasn’t great either. 

The new series of Doctor Who starring Ncuti Gatwa as the ‘fifteenth’ incarnation of everyone’s favourite timelord and Millie Gibson as his new TARDIS companion Ruby Sunday gets underway with, not one but the first two episodes of... I refuse to call it Season 1 just because Disney says so, the same as I refused to call the Christopher Eccleston debut Season 1 when the show returned in 2005... let’s just call it the new series, right?

So, anyway, much as I loved most of Russell T. Davies’ run on the Eccleston and Tennant seasons, I have to say that after last year’s four episodes, I’ve lost a lot of confidence in him and, yeah, I found these two new ones a bit of a mixed bag too. Sometimes verging on brilliance but somehow also giving me a lot of miss to neutralise the hit factor.

The first story, Space Babies, where the Doctor and Millie land on a mostly abandoned but still running baby farm on a space station was actually quite intriguing and, when the lone carer of the children is pretending to be a computer and having her words ‘filtered’ by the nanny persona, the writing is quite clever and witty. But I did feel the whole thing kinda died and was let down by the last fifteen minutes or so. I had to explain to somebody who was watching with me what the ending was because it wasn’t too clear for him and I explained the babies were headed for a planet with a name half taken from a character in The Quatermass Experiment (that would be Victor Caroon).

There were, however, some nice references to the past and some nice touches in reference to the ongoing mystery of Ruby Sunday’s origins and how, after the plot points raised by the ‘timeless child’ story arc at the heart of Jodie Whitaker’s incarnation of The Doctor, there are certain parallels between Ruby and the timelord. The moment where the memory of snow on the day The Doctor sees Ruby being left in a basket by someone in her past leaks into the current adventure and manifests itself in the space station, Tarkovsky-like, was a pretty nice moment. So, yeah, not all bad but, like I said, a terrible wrap up.

Hmm... moving onto The Devil’s Chord then, where the two travellers in time and space go to see The Beatles record their first album (and Cilla Black too) and things aren’t quite the 1963 they were expecting... was also an interesting set up. Although it was pretty noticeable from the outset that neither the BBC or even Disney had stumped up any cash to buy the rights to any of The Beatles songs. I mean... really? The one lone chord from the famous song A Day In The Life they used maybe doesn’t incur a copyright fee, is my guess. However, the story brought out a nice reference when The Doctor informs Ruby that both he and his granddaughter are currently living in another part of London in that time, recalling the first ever episode of the show in 1963 (although he doesn’t mention that he is also, simultaneously there in yet another part of London, if memory serves, in his Sylvester McCoy incarnation).

But the new villain who manifests to The Doctor with a ‘giggle’, recalling The Giggle episode from last year (reviewed by me here), is really over the top and overly campy and, honestly, just not much fun, it seemed to me. And the story was more than a little contradictory in terms of the state of music in the various time zones... why have pop artists recording songs at all if there’s no love of music in the world? Oh, and The Beatles looked nothing like them (I was somehow less confused between them by others in the room) but, I thought the young George Martin looked much more authentic.

But, did anyone notice there was snow again in this episode... and some Christmas. Guess this year’s Christmas special should provide some answers to the mystery of Ruby Sunday then, I reckon.

Also, was I right, despite what the IMDB says, in thinking that actress Susan Twist played different characters in both these episodes, just like she did in last year’s stories? Hmm... there’s always a twist in the end, right? Maybe it will be a twist featuring Susan, The Doctor’s granddaughter, who we last saw in the show in 1964? Methinks Russel T is playing games with the audience again, casting an actress with that name in recurring roles.

Anyway, there was a brilliant metatextual one liner about non-diegetic music in this episode which truly was a touch of brilliance, as was the diegetic piano tune from the pre-credits sequence morphing into the full bodied non-diegetic theme for the titles and then further morphing back into diegetic music at the start of the very next scene. Good stuff.

And talking of the scoring... Murray Gold is definitely back and the music feels somehow a lot better than it has in ages, it has to be said (I believe he also featured in the episode as himself but I didn’t spot him... wasn’t looking out for him, to be honest). But, overall, I have to say that the episode just felt a bit meh, brilliance aside. It didn’t grab me the way I’d hoped but, I do still live in hope that the series will get better, for sure.

Now then, one last thing. Millie Jackson is absolutely incredible and I already love her character and the way she performs it. Ncuti Gatwa... still not sure. Still seems to be way too touchy feely for me and somehow... dunno, can’t quite put my finger on it but, it’s early days and I’m not giving up on him just yet. Don’t quite like the way he’s playing him but he’s still shaping the character, I guess. Not to mention I’m still trying to get used to him... so there’s that.

Time, or the man made illusion of duration that it represents as a metaphorical abstract concept, will tell, I guess. I’ll definitely still be tuning in for next week’s episode, which sees former show runner Steven Moffat returning to writing duties. So we’ll see how that goes soon enough.

Tuesday 7 May 2024


Four Body Problem

8 Episodes
Airdate: 19th October 2023

Warning: Some spoilers attacking you from different parts of history.

Well now, Bodies has an interesting premise, which gripped me straight away... so I should have realised it was based on a comic book (by Si Spencer and not a graphic novel as the opening credits to each episode try to make out) from the DC/Vertigo imprint, almost a decade ago. Now, I haven’t read that original comic yet (don’t worry, it’s now on my hit list) so I can’t tell you if this closely follows the comic book although, it’s such a high level concept that, I suspect it’s not far off... some of the characters may have been tweaked for the show, is my guess.

Okay, so here’s the set up. Four detectives, Alfred Hillinghill (played by Kyle Soller), Charles Whiteman  (played by Jacob Fortune Lloyd... who recently played Buckingham in the French Musketeers movies), Shaharah Hasan (played by Amaka Okafor) and Iris Maplewood (played by Shira Haas) find a dead body in Longharvest Lane in London. The body is naked, has the left eyeball shot out (although there’s no trace of a bullet inside the head when the autopsy is performed) and has a strange kind of symbol, scorched/tattooed onto the wrist.

So far so good but... here goes... Hillinghill lives in the 1890s, Whiteman is living in the 1940s (during The Blitz), Shaharah is living in 2023 (contemporary to when this series was released) and Maplewood lives in the 2050s. Oh... and it’s exactly the same body each one finds, in exactly the same condition... although, when Maplewood is introduced to us at the end of the first episode, the body is still just about alive. And so this starts off as a police procedural of sorts, as we follow each detective simultaneously and, as the ultimately time twisting investigation continues (well, that’s half of it but... four versions of the body, remember? And, no, it’s not clones... it is the same person.), the two characters in 2023 and the 2050s slowly realise that this is not the first time this body has been discovered in Longharvest Lane. Both start to look for clues in the past.

And to say much more really would be even more spoilerish so I’ll refrain and say... like a lot of modern TV shows, it’s not the style of the show or, in this case, the remarkable acting performances of all and sundry that keep you watching... it’s the story which gets its hooks under the skin and pulls you into things.

There’s some nice world building going on too, especially in the 2050s... for example, Maplewood shouldn’t be able to walk but she has a rechargeable device which she plugs into her spine to allow her to walk (and run when required) normally. There’s are also a few surprise betrayals and much manipulation involved as we discover that each of the detectives, from their respective time zones, are being manipulated by a conspiracy group that knows exactly what is going on. And yes, the lack of bullet in the brain of the victim when various autopsies are performed on it from their separate time zones, is explained when you see the eye injury happen... in an absolutely stunning slow motion shot of an eyeball exploding everywhere, as the bullet travels through it... which is the most spectacular ocular injury sequence I’ve seen since Salvador Dali and Luis Buñuel released Un Chien Andalou onto an unsuspecting public.

The final solution to the conspiracy and the time manipulation uncovered by this four body problem is also pretty interesting... with a final parting shot of a temporally displaced character and a building decorated with a certain set of initials turning up in the wrong year, for sure... something to haunt the viewer at the end (it’s also a possible continuation point if anyone wanted to make a sequel, I would guess but, I can’t see that happening). There are also some nice visual metaphors and echoes from time to time (literally, from time to time) which make the series worth watching too.

And I think that’s all I want to say about this intriguing series called Bodies. Definitely worth a watch, I would say and, I wish this one was released on a proper Blu Ray edition so I could show it to people instead of letting it have its fifteen minutes of fame and then wallowing in obscurity for the rest of time. But that’s modern studio thinking for you... the same kind of thinking that is killing the art of the moving image, it seems to me.

Monday 6 May 2024

The Fall Guy

Blunt Stunt Hunt

The Fall Guy
Directed by David Leitch
USA/Australia/Canada 2024
UK Theatrical Print

Warning: Some minor spoilers falling from tall buildings.

The Fall Guy is a new movie reboot of an old TV series, which ran for five seasons from the early to mid-1980s, being Lee Majors’ big role after The Six Million Dollar Man got cancelled. And I have to be honest, I nearly passed on this one because, well, I never saw even one episode of the original show, so, I honestly can’t tell you how this new version measures up in comparison to the old and I certainly won’t be able to identify any of the little nods to the show which have undoubtedly been hidden away in this big screen version. Other little nods to certain things, sure but, not the original template show.

However, the trailer looked great and it features two of my favourite ‘movie stars’ in the lead roles, playing versions of characters from that original show... so we have the great Emily Blunt playing Jody Moreno and the all around likeable personality Ryan Gosling as Colt Seavers (the original Lee Majors role).

For those unfamiliar with the term ‘fall guy’, it’s an industry nickname for a stuntman, the unsung hero of many an action movie (and more) since the dawn of movie making. This movie version of the property differs, I suspect, from the original by making this movie a romantic comedy drama, with all the stunts and action you’d expect from a film with that kind of title. After breaking his back when a stunt goes wrong, Colt disappears for a year and hides out from everyone, including camera gal Jody who was the love of his life (and vice versa). Due to his completely disappearing, the two are somewhat estranged but he’s conned into returning when the producer of a new film (played brilliantly by Hannah Waddingham), an action movie which is actually the directorial debut of Jody, says that Jody wants him to do the stunts for her new film. A little white lie, seemingly to get the romance back on track but, actually, for other reasons which, I guess most of the audience will see coming about half way through the film.

However, the leading man of the film has gone missing and the producer tasks Colt with tracking him down so he can finish the movie. Which is when the film becomes an action comedy/romantic comedy cross-breed thriller, as Colt tries to find out what’s going on in order to save Jody’s directorial debut.

And it’s a nice enough film, for sure... I think Blunt and Gosling have a lot of chemistry going for them and there’s plenty of action and comedy to keep most people happy, I think. Plus some really, quite nicely surreal sequences... including a unicorn which keeps popping up during a certain period of the movie. There are also some nice nods to things like, in one fight scene there’s a... wait. I want to say blink and you’ll miss it but it’s on the soundtrack so... I dunno, what’s the equivalent of blinking your ears? Yeah, that. Anyway, don’t blink your ears or you’ll miss a nice sound effect during one of the fights where, for a second, maybe two, you get to hear the old ‘bionic’ sound effect from The Six Million Dollar Man again.

There’s also what I think is a huge in-joke for somebody because the film that Jody is directing (and it even has the same tag line as the real one), is Metalstorm. Does anyone remember that? During the 1980s 3D movie phase, hot on the heels of Spacehunter - Adventures In The Forbidden Zone, they had Metalstorm - The Destruction of Jared-Syn (I even have the soundtrack on CD to prove it exists... not sure the subtitle was included in the marketing of the film here in the UK). Goodness knows why they picked on that title... a famous movie... as the title of the film within a film for this one but, maybe one of the key staff worked on that film back in the day?  

Now, there are some bad things in terms of the writing, specifically the story and its twists. There’s absolutely nothing in here you won’t see coming... no surprises at all. Well, okay, maybe the unicorn but, not much else and the unicorn isn’t really a story point (although it’s definitely one of the reasons why the film ‘had me’). So nothing too clever in the story department for sure but, it certainly makes up for it in the dialogue and other various flourishes. So, the film entertained me and, yeah, I guess that’s the main purpose of this one (except maybe to make a very convincing case, if one were needed, that stunt people should get a category at the Oscars). The Fall Guy is an immensely entertaining film and I’ll definitely be picking this one up on Blu Ray to show my folks when it gets a release... a nice little movie, on a blockbuster budget which certainly shows where that money all went.

Sunday 5 May 2024

Love Lies Bleeding

The Joy Of Flex

Love Lies Bleeding
Directed by Rose Glass
UK/USA 2024

Well Love Lies Bleeding is a very interesting film, to say the least. Lou, played by Kristen Stewart, manages a gym and has a none too great existence... but it’s love at first sight when Jackie, played by Katy O'Brian, comes to pump up her body in preparation for a body building competition to be held in Vegas. After some steroid injecting foreplay, the two become involved but, when Lou’s sister gets badly beaten by her husband (again), something snaps in Jackie’s brain and she tries to put things right in her own way. And did I mention the owner of both that gym and the gun club where Jackie is currently working as a waitress is also the long standing local villain, who also happens to be Lou’s father... played to the hilt by Ed Harris?

If this sounds like a classic set up for a 1940s/50s film noir then, bingo but, here’s the thing, the film is set in the late 1980s (Die Hard is mentioned as being a popular, recent film) and this has a similar feel to one of those retro-noir movies made in the 1980s for sure. But, the other thing about this movie is... it’s the second feature by writer/director Rose Glass, who had a big hit with her wonderful movie Saint Maud a couple of years ago (reviewed by me here). And this next piece of cinematic artistry is a worthy successor to that debut, although it’s in no way aligned with it tonally and this is a much more playful movie, shot through with a much more blatant sense of black humour.

The film looks beautiful, with a rich colour palette and some beautiful camera angles. Glass is not afraid to adopt a birds eye view shot and then hold it for a period of time when she feels it’s appropriate too... which reminded me of certain shots in Hitchcock’s oeuvre from time to time.

It also has a few surprises up its sleeves too with the director bringing in a couple of well placed, healthy doses of cinematic surrealism to throw into the mix, to wrong foot and certainly surprise the audience from time to time. There’s a wonderful moment during the body building contest when Stewart, who isn’t even in the same city, appears a couple of times and makes a truly spectacular entrance in one scene (in a way that totally is what using CGI in cinema should be about). Sometimes these dalliances with surreal occurrences can be excused as hallucinogenic states creeping up on a character due to persistent steroid abuse and at other times... well, there’s a wonderful denouement with Ed Harris which, admittedly goes the way you think it will in terms of deus ex machina outcomes but, spectacularly not in a way many people would see coming. Like the final shot of Saint Maud, this forces the audience to consider the duality of what they are seeing and to find their own interpretation of just what is going on by this point. Which is a nice gift to the viewer and something you can take away with you after the film is done.

Added to all this we have a fetishistic devotion to the way muscles can be pumped up on a body with a truly heightened sense of sound design and which, itself, is a constant foreshadowing for the scene I mentioned with Ed Harris in the previous paragraph. It’s another interesting element of the film that seems almost a throwback to a couple of decades earlier, when Darren Aronofsky was using fast cut montages with enhanced sound design in films like Pi and Requiem For A Dream.

And... while we’re on the subject of Aranofsky, this film is also scored by the composer for those films, Clint Mansell. And it’s got a very distinctive feel to it... sounding a lot more like his early works in terms of commenting on the atmosphere of a scene in a more vibrant way than some of his later stuff. I think he’s consciously, perhaps, trying to sound like something earlier for the sake of the time period of the film but one scene where I was really surprised was in the first sex scene between Kristen Stewart and Katy O'Brian, where Mansell’s score almost goes into full on 1980s porn soundtrack mode... at least that’s the way it seemed to me. It was a bit ‘off putting’ at first but when I figured out the way it fits in with the aesthetic of the piece, I kinda got into it.

And what more is there to say. Love Lies Bleeding, the second feature length film from Rose Glass, is something which at first feels very familiar but then evolves into something much more challenging to what your expectations might be, I’m pleased to say. I was really drawn into the quirkiness of the project and coupled with doses of sometimes uncomfortable, lethal paranoia, I really had a good time with this movie. I suspect it will totally divide audiences straight down the middle but, that’s okay... that just means a film has a powerful voice and falls closer to being an auteur piece than most. I’m glad that this kind of refreshing, cinematic surprise is still able to get a mainstream release these days and, yeah, I hope it does really well.