More Nannydiddering (+ bonus Moana)

So in my pursuit of watching anything to distract me from our current hellscape and musings about the sweet release of death, I found myself thinking, “I should watch a Disney movie.” That’s one of the things I wanted to do this year: catch up on the despised “kiddie fare”. Not despised by me, certainly; one of the vows I made when I was a kid was that I would never stop watching cartoons. That’s about the only one of those promises I kept (becoming a mad scientist required some facility with math, it turns out). Luckily I didn’t specify that the cartoons had to  be cel animation (as in those days, teaching a computer to slur “Daisy, Daisy” was the height of technical artistic achievement) or I would be screwed.

Or reduced to watching nothing but my box sets of Jonny Quest and Frankenstein Jr. That could still happen.

Anyway.

Later for you, primitive DVD technology!

Remember back at the turn of the century when Disney put out The Black Cauldron on DVD? I had seen it when it was released theatrically in 1985 and wasn’t terribly impressed, but this was back when I had disposable income, so I bought it… and proceeded to forget about it. I guess I had foreseen that 18 years later I would have a mad posh to give it another chance and was simply planning ahead.

Settled in, pressed start on the player… and the disc wouldn’t cooperate.

I could soothe my minor disappointment with the memory that I had tried a similar venture with The Black Hole a few months ago and discovered that by golly I may have been younger when I saw it in the theaters and was disappointed, but I was still right. But my Disney mood was in danger of going unslaked! No big deal, as my wife is a teacher and that somehow means we must always have Disney on hand. So what would also fulfill my mission to scope out cinema for young’uns I had missed while watching four-hour Russian movies?

Well, hello Moana.

Hooray! Saved by modern blu-ray technology!

For the benefit of others who were distracted by *harrumph* more serious pursuits: Moana is the daughter of the chief of a South Seas island. As is required of all spunky heroines, she is a bit of a thorn in his side because she is fascinated by the ocean, and Pop has a definite policy against voyaging no further than the outer reef. This is really put to the test when the coconut trees fall to disease and all the fish leave the immediate vicinity. This appears to be due to the curse incurred when the legendary shape-shifting demigod Maui stole the Heart of the Sea from the goddess Te Fiti. Wouldn’t you know, there’s also a legend that someone has to cross the ocean to take Maui back to the scene of the crime to return the Heart. And we know just the title character to do it.

Now, Moana is a good movie, with a story that has remarkable depths. Playing about in the mythology of another culture always yields dividends, and reminds me of my youth when I was devouring books worth of exotic folklore from other nations. The voice acting from Auli’i Cravalho as Moana and Dwayne Johnson as Maui is superb. The graphics are frequently gorgeous. But it is, in the end, a Disney movie.

I mean, look at that. That is freaking gorgeous.

That means it’s a musical. I hate musicals.

I’m trying to figure out why that blindsided me here. I mean – just to reiterate – it’s a Disney movie. Disney movies have songs. In Moana, however, they move the story forward, yet somehow don’t seem very well integrated. I actively resented that Moana’s signature song got stuck in my head, but then I realized it wasn’t so much the song as the power of Ms. Cravalho’s pipes – she sings the living hell out of that song. I think… it’s the songs themselves?

I try to remember Moana’s song – “How Far I’ll Go” – and all I can come up with is Pocahontas‘ “Just Around the Riverbend”. The single villain song that we get – “I’m Shiny” (with Jemaine Clement, who’s got a great voice)? I can only come up with “Oogie Boogie’s Song” from Nightmare Before Christmas. I just don’t find the songs in Moana memorable at all, and that is a hell of a thing for a guy who hates musicals to have to say.

Really liked the rest of the movie, though. Do more non-European fairy tale stuff, Disney. Guess my next posh will go to Zootopia and aw, crap, that’s gonna be a musical, too, isn’t it?

Anyway.

Besides watching other “kiddie stuff” like LEGO super hero videos – shut up, they’re funny, and actually respectful of the source material – there’s all the (here come the quotes again) “prestige TV” I’ve been watching, so strap yourselves in for nannydiddering…

There are also cows.

I’m currently only two episodes away from the end of Season 2 of Legion. After a rocky start for me, the season has steadied into a much better, if somewhat infuriating, groove. We’ve had episodes focusing on one character or another, which is nice, and there are times that the series’ marriage of music to imagery is simply. splendidly unmatched. Homages/lifts from movies like A Clockwork Orange, Office Space and Eraserhead only add to the mix. We’ve been given more Aubrey Plaza in a most unusual way. Way way back in the day when I was reviewing Wild in the Streets, I wondered what happened to multi-panel layouts on movie screens, so prevalent in movies at the time, even in mainstream fare like The Boston Strangler – well, here they are again. Surprise!

A continuing fixture in this season has been mini-lectures on various forms of delusion narrated by Jon Hamm, which surely have some overall connection to the major arc, but as in all thing Legion, we are still uncertain. The one in Episode 9 about sociopathy in the digital age is a particular humdinger.

There has been, though, a singular lack of dance numbers.

And then of course there’s WHAT THE HELL

Legion fills a hole in my head that was left after Twin Peaks: The Return ended, which is gratifying, but also worrisome, in that there is another similarity that is gnawing on my brain: that all this fun, enjoyable stuff seems to be at the expense of the major story arc, and with only two episodes left in the season, I worry about a too-hasty conclusion to all these hectic threads (I don’t know why I was expecting anything different from Twin Peaks, I guess I’m just an old fool). Luckily, Season 3 was announced at the beginning of this month, so hey: more weirdness. Eventually. Chances are I’ll just watch the last two episodes this weekend, to coincide with the finale of Season One of Westworld, Leaving The Expanse the odd man out.

Speaking of which…

It’s slightly older news that there will be a Season Four of The Expanse, and as I catch up with S3, this has new importance to me. On Twitter, someone mentioned being interested in how the series would handle a narrative shift present in the novels, and I guess that’s happened now? Maybe? In any case, one of the books has obviously wrapped up, with the shooting war between Earth and Mars circumvented, and now there is a huge piece of alien technology in orbit near Uranus, and nobody knows what the hell it is, but, as usual, our main characters – who are finally starting to figure out that they really are the unluckiest SOBs in the solar system – are right in the center of it.

Are missiles supposed to do that?

I don’t much care for the personnel shakeup that happened, but also know that the characters lost are still kicking around in that universe somewhere. (Especially since one character we were pretty sure was dead is suddenly turning up and acting all Keir Dullea in 2010) The trade-off in story beats is worth it, I guess, as it’s given me one of the biggest kicks I’ve had in a long time: A massive generation ship – a massive church converted into a battleship – flying into the alien artifact, into the unknown, because every other faction has done so and it is vitally, politically necessary to follow – dang it, that’s just good science fiction.

Got a new favorite character, too, in David Straithairn’s Commander Klaes Ashford, a boisterous reformed pirate who’s the second-in-command on that church warship. It’s typical of the care shown both by the showrunners and the cast that I’m still uncertain of Ashford’s true motivations and loyalties, and damn if it ain’t interesting to watch. Not to mention that he’s managed to steal my affection away from characters I have two and a half seasons invested in!

If Season Four hadn’t been picked up, there would be cops outside the building right now asking me to put down my weapons. I’ve got the first two books on my Kindle, I guess I’ll be reading them soon. To try to alleviate the twitching after this season ends.

Westworld S1 ends for me this week, and at least with it I can move on to Season 2, not something I can say for those other series. No, I’ll be waiting for their return along with the rest of you, which occurs to me would be a way for the awakening AIs in Dellos to forge their emotions closer to human.

I’m starting to make some sense of those timelines I keep hearing people talking about in the plot, I mean now that I’m listening to people talking about the show. I seem to have developed a method of enforcing blind spots on social media when I perceive a show or movie I have not seen is being talked about. It’s far from foolproof, as I have movies spoiled for me on a regular basis (you bastards), but it enabled me to watch Season One blissfully ignorant of Bernard’s true nature until the fateful question, “What door?”

It also let Tessa Thompson be a surprise, so win/win

The Season One Finale awaits me this weekend, which I suppose will answer some questions but ask many more, to open up the next season. With Legion dropping out of my weekly rotation, I think it’s about time I started Sense8, don’t you? Then, when I run out of The Expanse, there is a better than even chance that I’ll indulge my new Noah Hawley fetish with Fargo, see how that goes.

Maybe I’ll even watch some movies.

Escape (I Get Out When I Can)

So here we are again.

After a period of semi-activity, you may have noticed we went dark last week. There are reasons for this. Folks don’t seem all that interested in my nannydiddering about TV, the only posts that generate traffic are the Crapfest posts – and sadly, reality dictates that we cannot have one of those every week – and I just didn’t have anything to say. Add to that our current antic-driven government is determined to actively break reality by declaring every day to be Opposite Day, allies are enemies, enemies are allies. People who used to wonder about Germany not taking to the streets during the rise of the Third Reich need only look out the window at our own empty streets to get their answer. As a race, I don’t think we are capable of redemption, let alone deserve it.

Also, as you may have noticed, it’s been a while since I could afford my anti-depressants.

So let’s use some movies to get as far the hell away from our current situation as possible, eh?

Can’t be any worse than what’s happening outside my window

One definition of “as far the hell away as possible” is Sherlock Gnomes. I’ve been a Holmes fan since my early days, so why not test my mettle with this? By way of establishing a baseline, I’m okay with the Robert Downey Jr. movies (though that is largely because of Jude Law’s Watson) and am rather ambivalent toward the Benedict Cumberbatch version (increasingly dependent on wackiness). There. Now to this movie.

This is a sequel to 2011’s Gnomeo and Juliet, and if, like me, you did not see that, you’re going to be okay (my wife informs me it was “charming”). The setup, if nothing else, is going to be familiar if you’ve ever been in the same room as a Toy Story movie. We’re dealing with the realm of ornaments, which, like toys, must freeze if a human looks in their direction. Okay?

The movie’s versions of Holmes and Watson are, no surprise, garden gnomes themselves; Moriarty is a renegade mascot doll of a pie company, who delights in smashing gnomes, hence the conflict. At the film’s opening, Moriarty is preparing to drop a dinosaur skeleton on some gnomes trapped in pie filling, only to himself fall victim to the plummeting bones. The gnomes are saved, thanks largely to the super-competent Dr. Watson (though it’s Sherlock who gets all the praise). Our garden gnomes from Gnomeo (including those title characters) move into a council house in London just in time for the apparent resurrection of Moriarty and a mass kidnapping of all the gnomes in London. So Gnomeo and Juliet must join forces with Sherlock Gnomes and Dr. Watson to riddle out Moriarty’s scheme and save the gnomes.

Directed by John Stevenson, who helmed the rather boss Kung Fu Panda, this is a solid kid movie that, when it is allowed to be, gets quite creative and delightful. To get one clue, the team must infiltrate Curly Fu’s Emporium in Chinatown, where the ruler is an enormous golden Lucky Cat (and whose salt shaker spokesperson is a wonderful vocal cameo by James Hong); then a trip to a toy underworld run by Irene Adler, who is voiced by Mary J. Blige. Irene gets a song that, unique among musical numbers in kid movies, did not have me yearning for the fast forward button. The movie also has some non-CGI animation representations of Sherlock’s memory palaces, which are good ways to break up what could have been some visual monotony.

While we’re talking about the voices, I should mention that Johnny Depp is Sherlock Gnomes and Chiwetel Ejiofor is a cracking good Watson. If there is one criticism I would lower upon Sherlock Gnomes, it’s that the major plot driving forward the story is a straight lift from the late Charles Marowitz’s play, Sherlock’s Last Case, which might not be obvious unless, like me, you played Watson in a production, but is nonetheless there. If you cast back your memories a bit, you might recall I’m also the guy who criticized Brotherhood of the Wolf for plagiarizing Richard L. Boyer’s Holmes pastiche The Giant Rat of Sumatra.

I am an astounding repository of information that does me absolutely no good.

Hard science fiction has been in short supply of late. Don’t come banging on my door with what-abouts and but-there-was-es. Most of what is being called “science-fiction” these days is stories from other genres dressed up with zap guns and rocket ships (and, needless to say, laser swords, or “light sabers” if you prefer). You’d think that a successful hard science fiction movie like The Martian would have given us more of the same at the local cinema, but no. It’s expensive and requires some effort.

There’s a reason when I discovered The Expanse midway through its second season I embraced it wholeheartedly. But that only shows that you have to go seeking it on smaller screens. That, also, requires some effort.

I tripped over a trailer for The Beyond mostly by accident. Most genre aficionados know that title belongs to one of Lucio Fulci’s more famous horror movies, so finding it applied to a science fiction flick is… odd.

In the near future, an anomaly opens up in Earth orbit, sucking a spacewalking astronaut right off the International Space Station. Several spheres of an inky, cloud-like substance shoot from the anomaly and take up residence in the upper atmosphere. Typically, some trigger-happy nations fire on the spheres, to no effect. Observation of the anomaly, called “The Void” (another trouble-making possible title right there, there have been at least 14 movies called The Void released in the last couple of years) reveals what seems to be another planet – The Void is a wormhole. Obviously, the only way to find out what’s up with those black spheres is to journey to that planet and ask some questions. The major obstacle to that would be surviving the trip through the wormhole.

Wouldn’t you know, the deepest reaches of the deep state military has been working on an Enhanced Human project, dubbed Soldier 2.0; a tough cybernetic body housing a human brain. Now the trick is to find a willing subject with the skills and knowledge necessary for the mission, who is also willing to become a robot for the rest of his or her now probably very-elongated lifespan.

I enjoyed The Beyond enough to not engage in any real spoilers, except to say that as we enter the third act, the science becomes a little too fantastic and elastic and cosmic and boy do I have questions but all the same it’s pretty cool. This is the first feature film from Hasraf Dulull, formerly known only as a visual effects supervisor, and man, does that show. The budget is pretty low, but the movie has the visual punch of something that cost multi-millions more.

Dulull poking his head out of his assigned cubbyhole also opens him up to the usual offhand cruelties of the online world, probably the most blatant being stuff like “as a writer, Dulull is a good visual effects supervisor”. That’s a bit of unnecessary snark – there’s nothing wrong with this script. The format is unorthodox, as it starts as a in-house puff piece on the head of the space organization and morphs into a documentary about the events that unfold around the Void. That’s a tough format for storytelling, and I’ve only seen it used well a couple of times – but in this instance, that comment really seems a case of “I need to find something bad to say about this or I’m not doing my job as an online critic”.

Eh, I’m probably guilty of the same thing. I’m tired and under-medicated. I’m sure someone will be more than happy to dig up my hypocrisy and wave it around, if that’s the case.

Anyway. I liked it.

So let’s go on to Dulull’s follow-up, 2036: Origin Unknown.

Despite the title, we start in 2030, and a manned flight to Mars. Despite the aid of an advanced AI named ARTi (voice of Steven Cree), the ship encounters a massive magnetic and electrical phenomenon, and crashes.

Okay, now it’s 2036, and ARTi is so advanced it’s devised a means of Hyper-Light radio transmission, which means it is now possible to remotely control a roving device all the way from Earth. Katee Sackhoff (in the midst of that peculiar curse where, if you are in a popular role on a successful sci-fi series, you will thereafter only get work in indifferently-budgeted sci-fi movies) plays Mackenzie Wilson, the human supervisor on the mission. Julie Cox plays Lena, the head of the Space Corporation running the mission. Oh, and they’re sisters. And their father was on that doomed mission.

In the course of the mission, it is discovered what caused the crash, six years earlier: an enormous cube, which, when activated by an outside source – in this case, a Chinese satellite on a collision course being shot down over the cube – the dang thing causes another ruinous electric storm and vanishes – only to show back up again in Antarctica.

This time around, Dulull has another writer to help, Gary Hall, and the result is a more normal storytelling format, though one that is not interested in explaining itself overmuch. I have a lot of questions – a lot – after that third act, and any unraveling I might do over the massive wad of threads presented would be way more work than the movie deserves, frankly. After an hour and twenty minutes of interesting sci-fi thriller the movie turns a sharp corner into extreme cosmic hoo-ha that doesn’t serve anybody very well, but it sure is pretty.

I’m interested to see what Dulull does next, I really am. But 2036 Origin Unknown feels like a step down from The Beyond. Like somebody holding a money bag just out of reach said, “Well, that was nice and brainy, but people want something with a hero they can cheer for, a human villain they can boo and shit blowing up. Do you have anything with shit blowing up?”

To keep this from ending on a completely dour note, let me add that I’ve journeyed to the realm of theaters twice this past week (as in “Hey, didn’t you say you were going to use that MoviePass card until it imploded?”), and I felt good about it both times. Solo: A Star Wars Story was just as much fun as everyone said it was, except for those grumbling fan boys who wanted The Last Jedi to be directed by Zack Snyder on a males-only set. It mainly brought home to me how much I want see more movies in that universe that have absolutely nothing to do with space wizardry, Jedis and Sith. I was so into the story as presented that when a certain bit of fan service cropped up in the end, I actively resented it. My theater had this in one of their small auditoriums, only 39 seats. It was a showing for me and three other people.

Then, today I went to see Hotel Artemis, in a larger auditorium, but still only three other patrons. I had seen the trailers and thought, “Hm, quirky crime drama” and noted that I would likely see anything with that cast (Jodie Foster, Dave Bautista, Sterking K. Brown, Sofia Boutella, Jeff Goldblum, and a surprise appearance by Zachary Quinto). What I was not expecting was near-future science-fiction, a sort of I Can’t Believe It’s Not Cyberpunk! It takes place in 2028, and none of the tech is outlandish. Sadly also not outlandish is the background being a city-wide riot in Los Angeles because the privatized water utility has shut off everyone’s water. I liked it but I didn’t love it. Would recommend it, but you’re likely safe waiting for disc or cable.

Oopsie, got dour again. It happens.

The Catch-Up, Part Two (Speaking Of Edition)

I may have accidentally stumbled onto how I can actually set an endpoint to this Catching Up business, and hasten the phenomenon of actually seeing a pinprick of light in this seemingly endless tenebrous tunnel: I’ll watch TV.

See, Friday nights that I don’t have a show are the nights where I can settle into my movie chair and watch three or more movies in a row. This is by necessity more than inclination: scheduling rather than solicitude. Last Friday, as a bit of a warm-up, and because it’s now in its second season and cropping up on my timeline again, I decided to watch the first episode of Legion before moving on to stuff on my Movie Watchlist. You know, find out what the shouting was about.

This is my brain on Legion.

I am not a binge watcher. I like to watch an episode of a TV series, then think about it for a while (you know, the way the format was originally intended).

Last Friday I watched the first six episodes of Legion‘s first season before dragging myself to bed at 2am.

Hey, everybody from my timeline a year ago saying how great and confounding and downright amazing it was, you were right. So now I will kowtow to my magic DVR and – unless showrunner Noah Hawley sucks me in again, no promises – alternate it with episodes of the recently-cancelled The Expanse which I have been hoarding like bullets in a Mad Max movie. I guess I should find some way to lay my hands on the first season of Westworld, too. Maybe this will stem the ever-regenerating list of back-filed reviews waiting to be written.

Speaking of which:

Bad Day at Black Rock (1955)

Well, what you have here is your bona fide classic, re-issued in a stunning blu-ray by Warner Archive. Spencer Tracy is one-armed WWII veteran John MacReedy, who gets off the train at the titular town, claiming he’s “only going to be here a day”. Black Rock is a desolate little desert community that’s incredibly tense about this stranger’s arrival. And that’s all I’m gonna tell you, because I find myself in the odd position of not wanting to talk about a 60 year-old movie. There are two mysteries at play in Bad Day, and unraveling both is essential to your enjoyment of the film. Director John Sturges makes sure we are in the same boat as the movie’s characters: we know as much about what Black Rock is hiding as MacReedy, and we know as much about MacReedy as the townspeople – which is nothing in both cases. And the solutions are pretty satisfying.

If nothing else, the cast alone should convince you this movie needs to be watched. Besides Tracy, there’s Robert Ryan as the town boss, Ernest Borgnine and Lee Marvin as his two bully boys, Dean Jagger as a worthless drunk of a sheriff, and Walter Brennan as the town doctor and undertaker. That’s five Oscar winners right there. Anne Francis runs the local garage, and John Ericson is her brother who runs the hotel.

Francis’ presence as the sole woman in evidence in Black Rock is the one detail that gnawed on me during my viewing; finding out later that  Sturges cut out all background characters to make Tracy seem even more isolated and outnumbered didn’t do much to diminish that gnawing, but it at least made it more understandable.

Shot in CinemaScope, Bad Day really forces you to confront the remoteness of the location (odd that leery MGM suits insisted that a standard 4:3 version be shot simultaneously) (and even odder that it was accompanied by a 4 track stereo soundtrack on a movie with almost no score). That blu-ray does it full justice, and if you don’t have access to an actual repertory house theater, that’s the way to go.

The Phantom Tollbooth (1970)

And speaking of Warner Archive…

The opportunity to see a feature film directed by Chuck Jones was irresistible. The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster is a well-regarded children’s book; it’s the tale of latchkey kid Milo (Butch Patrick in the movie), whose school has crushed him into a youthful pile of ennui. Finding a magic tollbooth in his living room, he drives a toy car though it (in the movie, turning into a cartoon), and journeys to the land of Dictionopolis, where he gets involved in your standard heroic quest to save the kingdom, rescue princesses, and learn the value of knowledge. The book is a clever affair, full of puns and wordplay, and has been justly compared in that respect to Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and The Wizard of Oz.

An actual problem in its translation to screen is that Juster’s novel, which is itself a satirical take on the state of education, somehow becomes drab and preachy, even if the color palette becomes brighter. There is too much HERE IS YOUR LESSON, STUPID KIDS, and far too little allowing Jones to inject some humor into the proceedings. I thought I was going to really enjoy this during the first self-conscious song during the live action sequence, where our Sandpiper-esque chorus croon about “What will happen to Milo” but then we descend into Dictionopolis and thereafter every song is absolutely dreadful, only compounding the misery.

It’s really a shame when you’ve got some heavy hitters in the voice department doing their usual best – Mel Blanc, June Foray, Daws Butler, Hans Conreid, Les Tremayne. The movie was actually completed in 1968, but MGM’s ongoing financial woes delayed its release, with minimal promotion, until 1970. I was honestly watching TV with an eye towards movie trailers in those days, and I recall only a 10 second ad for The Phantom Tollbooth, featuring Butch driving through that gate and turning into a cartoon. I guess it was effective enough that I remember it fifty years later. MGM closed its animation department almost immediately after the release.

Juster reportedly hated the movie. I can see why.

Chuck Jones’ legacy as a creator of quality shorter fare is unassailable, at least.

The Ritual (2017)

Speaking of people shouting about things (we were two movies ago): this was getting a buzzy moment on social media when it cropped up on Netflix, so yeah, sure, why not? You may have noticed, I do like a good horror movie.

Hm.

You’ve got five friends (Rafe Spall, Arsher Ali, Robert James-Collier, Sam Troughton and Paul Reid) out for a lengthy hike/camping trip to honor a dead friend (tragic backstory that will get mined thoroughly, you can be sure). One gets injured, cutting the trip short, but instead of heading back down the trail they used, it is decided to cut through the forest, which will only take one day instead of two.

Everyone who thinks this is a bad idea, raise your hands.

Of course, things like compasses don’t work in the woods, there are strange runes on the trees, a night in an abandoned cabin yields weird nightmares, and there is something in the woods following them.

As I said, I like a good horror movie. This means in the past decade I’ve watched a lot of movies with people wandering around lost in some creepy woods. It’s like my Dracula fatigue: I’m in almost desperate need of something besides Blair Witch with a dash of Lovecraft’s “Dreams in the Witch-house”. Most of the reviews I’ve sampled don’t like the third act, which is the only part I really liked – it’s the point at which The Ritual finally gains its own identity. It just arrives too late for me to recommend it.

Speaking of wandering through creepy woods:

Annihilation (2018)

  • This is director Alex Garland’s follow-up to his 2014 Ex Machina, which, as is traditional, I will be watching later in the year.
  • A meteor crashes to Earth, bringing with it “The Shimmer”, an expanding field that changes the environment as it expands. Five women (Natalie Portman, Jennifer Jason-Leigh, Tessa Thompson, Gina Rodriguez and Tuva Novotny) go into the Shimmer in an attempt to find out why the earlier teams never came back – except for one (Oscar Isaacs), Portman’s husband, who is now dying for unknown reasons.
  • Smarter people than me quickly pointed out that this is basically Lovecraft’s “The Colour Out of Space”.
  • That’s a very strong cast all bringing their A+ game to a story that requires some really questionable decisions on their characters’ parts.
  • It also has some king-hell horror movie moments.
  • The strongest of these, known as “The Screaming Bear”, is a creature straight out of Gene Wolfe’s Book of the New Sun series: a predator that speaks in the voice of its last victim.

It may be this last item that got my goat and refused to give it back, in combination with The Ritual: I’ve lost count of the number of writing projects I’ve given up because I finally decided they could be seen as derivative of other works, not original stuff dredged up from my psyche. I should apparently get over myself and write those damned stories, because other people that do get them made into movies (even if Garland didn’t re-read Jeff VanderMeer’s novel before writing the screenplay).

Annihilation is still worth a watch, even if I can’t give it the enthusiastic referral I had hoped.

Oh, hey, speaking of not-enthusiastic referrals:

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice Extended Edition (2016)

My pal Dave told me that this version added some character beats that actually made him feel better about the movie. So blame this on Dave.

  • It does.
  • The movie is still a goddamn mess.
  • So much of a mess that anybody that comes to me complaining that Avengers: Age of Ultron is a mess for trying to set up the MCU’s Phase Three is going to be strapped to a chair and forced to watch this Clockwork Orange-style. All three hours and two minutes of it.
  • I was really hoping for some illumination as far as what the hell Luthor’s endgame was supposed to be because I’m a gullible sap.
  • I can only assume that every time I see people on the Interwebs talk about how this was the best movie of the year, they are speaking in such heightened irony that I almost can’t hear it, but my dog can.

Zack Snyder v Superman (2016, Warner Brothers)

I am never, ever going to get over my essential bitterness toward Zack Snyder’s interpretation of these characters. From Superman killing Zod in Man of Steel to his pre-production statement of “This Batman kills”, those are major violations of the ethos of the characters I grew up with. Yes, this is a fat old fanboy moaning that his childhood has been violated, but for a better reason than “girls have cooties” (obligatory jab at Star Wars “fandom”, come at me, bro). Superheroes are aspirational characters, and the MCU’s Captain America has been a better Superman than Henry Cavill has ever been allowed to be (at least until Justice League). A major part of that aspiration has been going to great lengths to avoid taking life.

Gosh, this getting ranty.

*sigh* At least it gave us Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman. Even if it did murder Jimmy Olsen. And Mercy (again). And…

Crap. Should have quit while I was ahead.

Well, now I’m into the beginning of March of this year. That’s something.

The Catch-Up, Part One

Now that I’ve opened the floodgates, it’s time to see if I can’t successfully clear out my backlog of commentary. Probably most of these are going to be capsule-type instead of my usual incisive in-depth criticism (hold for laughter).

For instance:

Geostorm (2017)

  • Guys, I am still not sold on Gerard Butler as a leading man.
  • The science on display here is so incredibly suspect they might as well call it magic.
  • If you’re an aficionado of  Devlin and/or Emmerich scenes of vehicles outracing natural disasters, you’re in luck, because Devlin pulls that shit twice.
  • Similarly, if you feel movies are sorely lacking in characters saying the title over and over again, boy, do I have a flick for you.
  • Since there has to be a human villain behind the events, and Morgan Freeman isn’t in the cast, it’s going to be incredibly obvious who it is from the get-go.
  • Still, if you’re pining for an Irwin Allen-style multi-character disaster flick, you could do worse. For instance, by actually watching an Irwin Allen-style multi-character disaster flick.

The Beast (1975)

Trying to get back into my once-lofty goal of watching all the high-falutin’ pieces of world cinema I had been ignoring for decades, I pressed play on this one, which got some newfound infamy a few years back with a blu-ray release. I knew only two things going in: one, it had originally been conceived as a chapter in director Walerian Borowczyk’s earlier Immoral Tales (which I’ll be watching later, because, remember, I tend to back into filmographies – I prefer to think of it as a motif, rather than a pathology), and two, it’s, shall we say, somewhat explicit.

So I spent about the first twenty minutes of the movie fearing I was going to spend the rest of my life thinking of it as Horse Dong: The Movie. This prodigous member has such prominence in our first act.

If all the furor around The Beast had led you to expect a salacious re-telling of Beauty and the Beast, you are going to be mighty confused by all this horse-dongery, but there is some method here. The story proper takes place in the present day (or at least 1975). The noble l’Esperance family is in decline, and their only hope to avoid financial ruin is a long-arranged marriage with the wealthy industrialist Broadhurst family. The daughter, Lucy (Lisbeth Hummel) is to wed the brutish Mathurin (Pierre Benedetti), who is more at home in the family stables (where, you know, the horse dongs live). Lucy is pretty gung-ho about this, unaware that the flowery romantic letters she has been receiving are actually written, Cyrano-style, by Mathurin’s father, Pierre (Guy Tréjan). And that is only the most minor of the machinations Pierre is juggling to make this wedding happen.

Before a fractious dinner, Lucy is told of a mysterious encounter centuries earlier between the Countess Romilda l’Esperance (Sirpa Lane) and the infamous Beast of Gévaudan. That night, wearing the platonic ideal of a sheer nightgown, Lucy has visions of Romilda’s story (after contemplating her polaroid of everybody’s favorite horse dong). We see Romilda follow a lost lamb into the woods, only to find it devoured by The Beast, who has yet another titanic tallywhacker. It chases Romilda as the surrounding bushes and trees are suddenly complicit in tearing off her clothing, and roughly rapes her. She decides she likes it and apparently proceeds to screw the Beast to death. Take that, oppressor!

During breaks in this vision, the barely and then not-at-all clad Lucy keeps sneaking into Mathurin’s room, where he is sleeping off a tremendous drunk, before she is startled off and returns to more visions of furry pr0n. All this is leading up to a series of revelations that will doom that arranged marriage, the l’Esperance family, and the manipulative and even murderous Pierre.

Booga booga!

When you finally stop thinking of this as Horse Dong: The Movie and start getting into the actual story, it becomes a pretty scathing absurdist comedy, like Buñuel but with a better emotional core, and Borowczyk really impressed me with his careful setup of several unexpected jokes. Every woman below the age of 30 in this movie is eventually going to be extremely naked, so it would be easy to cynically dismiss this as a porno film for people who would like to pretend that they had just seen an art film. But The Beast has a lot more to offer, and it is rather amazing to contemplate that such a movie, so explicit and yet so artful, even exists.

And now, true to my usual self-destructive bent, I guess I should track down the sequel-in-Sirpa-Lane-only Italian cheapie The Beast in Space, and throw away all that goodwill.

Blade Runner 2049 (2017)

  • What, you were expecting a full-blooded review? I’m gonna have to watch it again for that, and this is a three-hour movie.
  • I liked it. I liked it better than the original, which I found very pretty (and undeniably influential) but completely unengaging.
  • My favorite form of science-fiction uses a technological advancement to facilitate the story, and the best instances of this explore how the advancement changes society, and all the different ways that advancement is utilized. Making the protagonist a replicant trying to rise above his origin, and interacting with other replicants trying to do the same, is great.
  • That improved AI subplot is also really good, and affecting.
  • To muddy the waters a bit, the Netflix series Altered Carbon does an excellent job of extrapolating how society will find different ways to exploit and fuck up a good idea. But like seemingly all Netflix prestige TV series, I lost patience around episode 8.
  • When I first saw Blade Runner, my date, at the end (with the footage taken from The Shining), asked, “Why would anyone live in that city if this was outside?” 2049 does a better job of answering that with its blighted wastelands of a dying Earth.
  • If Roger Deakins hadn’t finally gotten his Oscar for this, there should have been rioting in the streets.
  • What a cast. I would have liked to see what David Bowie could have done with the Jared Leto role, but I actually rather liked Leto in this.
  • One day I will have the time to watch this again. I look forward to it.

The Recall (2017)

  • This is for all the people who say “I really miss when you used to review crappy movies.”
  • Stop me if you’ve heard this before, but five friends (RJ Mitte, Jedidiah Goodacre, Laura Bilgeri, Niko Pepaj and Hannah Rose May) head out to a weekend at an isolated lake house.
  • At the traditional Texas Chainsaw rural gas station, they encounter The Hunter (Wesley Snipes), who doesn’t much care for snot-nosed whitebread kids.
  • Wouldn’t you know it, there’s an alien invasion that weekend.
  • These aliens have been here before; they abduct humans, make some improvements, then release them. No one knows why, and this time they’re abducting even more.
  • Well, whaddaya know, The Hunter is one of those former abductees – an astronaut kidnapped off the ISS, and he’s been booby-trapping the woods against the aliens’ return. Of course, this means a team-up with the kids.
  • SPOILER ALERT
  • The kids all get abducted and altered, anyway.
  • Speaking of which, Eduardo Sanchez’s Altered did this much better.
  • Good thing they now have super powers, because after the aliens go away, the government is rounding up all the abductees and killing them.
  • The end.
  • The CGI is… not entirely successful, shall we say. Practical effects in the abduction sequence are similarly a mixed bag. Again, Beyond Skyline did this stuff much better. I also suspect they had a lot more money, though.
  • Speaking of money, I have a sort of rough respect for a crew that has to light night scenes in a forest and finally just says fuck it and starts setting up white lights where they couldn’t possibly be.
  • Wesley: good to see you onscreen again, man. I hope your next movie serves you better.

 

 

 

 

Yes, Another Infinity Wars Take

Hey there.

Been a hell of a couple of months, hasn’t it? I’ve kept busy, watched some movies, dealt with depression. That I wasn’t writing anything about those movies fed into that depression. So let’s at least kick that frustration to the curb, shall we?

And then I’ll turn right around and invalidate this return to the digital page by merely adding to the noise about the latest Marvel movie, Avengers: Infinity War. Better, more prolific writers than myself have already written thoughtful pieces about it (for instance, check out Rob Dean’s defense of the utter necessity of that downer ending on Daily Grindhouse). You know me: when it comes to cinema, I’m pretty much an autodidact. I don’t have any classes or degrees to back up what I think about movies, I just have personal data to fall back on – so I guess that’s the tack I’m going to take. I’ll try to stay as spoiler-free as possible, especially since my pal Diane won’t get to see it for another couple of weeks and she will murder me. (The “downer ending” referenced above is such a part of the cultural ripples racing out from the movie that I think I’m safe there. Just don’t click on that link, Di)

One of the most surprising things – to me – is that my wife, Lisa, is a big fan of the MCU movies. I have to immediately qualify that, because she hasn’t made it a point to see ALL of them, but she’s been willing to see most. It started when we took my son, Max, to see Iron Man all those years ago, where we taught him the value of sitting through the end credits. She’s expanded her nerd creds a bit past that – my proper schoolmarm wifey laughed out loud many times at the vulgarities of Deadpool and going to see Pacific Rim: Uprising was her idea. (She also enjoyed Wonder Woman, but let’s leave the DCU out of this) As we entered Theater #9 to watch Infinity War, she said, “I’m really looking forward to this.”

Max will be finishing up his sophomore college year next week and coming home, and he’s going to want to see Infinity War. Lisa has informed me that it will be my job to take him, because, unlike Black Panther, she does not want to see it again. Her dismay at the ending was not helped by my explanation of that post-credits scene, either. “Who?”

The conversation after the movie (well, after a trip to the restroom, where there was a line, unusual for the men’s side: if nothing else, Infinity War keeps your butt in that seat for two and a half hours) led to me saying, “You know, this movie and the next were originally called Infinity War Part One and Part Two.” “So they crammed it all into one movie?” (fair assumption. The flick is packed) “No. I think they just changed the titles.”

The tweets I had read comparing it to The Empire Strikes Back were quite appropriate. I was there for that, and the feelings leaving the theater were the same. (At least we don’t have to wait three years for this rendition of Return of the Jedi.) I’ve also seen comparisons to Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1, but I haven’t seen any of the Potter movies since the first, so I can’t attest to that (yes, I have a box set and will get around to them eventually, don’t @ me).

Maybe read a few thousand of these, eh

I find myself wondering how many people on that record-breaking weekend had my wife’s experience, though: coming to Infinity War with only the past movies to rely on, and without a lifetime being steeped in comics lore and culture. Infinity War is the closest thing to a cinematic realization of a major crossover comics event that we have ever seen, and it probably would have helped to have a few of those under your belt before watching it. The breaking up of the heroes into different teams of disparate characters was done fairly organically, as opposed to Batman making battlefield assignments (so much for keeping DC out of this). The pitched battles against bad guys that can’t have any real victories, because it would cut the major story arc too short, and dispel the dramatic tension. And, of course, the fact that the heroes must be driven into their darkest hour of defeat before they ultimately triumph. That usually takes about twelve issues. In movie terms, about five hours, it seems.

Doing something like that in a movie is outlandishly expensive. Which is good, says I, because the constant crossover events are what eventually led me to drop comics for the umpteenth time (well, that and poverty). I think it was Fear Itself, after Civil War, The Secret Invasion and Dark Reign that finally broke me. I doubt a similar glut will happen in the MCU. It’s just not financially feasible.

So Avengers 4 -whatever title it may take – is likely to be similarly cataclysmic (though, of necessity, with a smaller cast of characters) and then we’re probably going to return to comparatively smaller movies like Ant-Man and the Wasp. More diversity is something to wished for, and I doubt the lesson of Black Panther’s success will be ignored. We seem to be on track to finally getting a Black Widow movie – good, I can only watch Atomic Blonde so many times and pretend Charlize is a redhead – and somebody needs to construct a story that brings together Natasha, Wasp, Scarlet Witch, Mantis and Valkyrie. Shuri for tech. Maria Hill as liaison. I’ll volunteer, if need be.

Was it, like, a year or two ago I was whining that the only people that seemed capable of making immersive spectacle movies taking advantage of new technology anymore were the Chinese and the Wachowski sisters? I can’t say that anymore, and that makes me happy. Infinity War had some amazingly sweet mocap performances. Josh Brolin showing through Thanos was exceptional, but The Ebony Maw (Tom Vaughan-Lawlor) and Corvus Glaive (Michael James Shaw) were literally comic book characters come to life, and I’m looking forward to my inevitable blu-ray purchase so I can see more of them. There were also some sadly questionable effects… then I remember also those glaringly visible matte lines in the first theatrical run of Empire. 

This may mean I am the one with the problem here, and if so, I will own it. I love the spectacle of these peak visual movies. I was fairly obsessed with League of Gods and Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons for a few months. Jupiter Ascending was a pleasant surprise. But those are balanced out by many others that have no soul to give their fantasies flight: 47 Ronin, Immortals, Seventh Son, Gods of Egypt, the live-action Ghost in the Shell. Artistry untempered by humanity simply does not last.

If I want to end on a more upbeat note, I should point out that Lisa is still pumped to see Deadpool 2, and willing to be talked into Ant-Man and the Wasp, so maybe her nerding wasn’t truncated by disappointment after all.

So… you miss me?

 

 

 

January again?

It’s been a strange trip to this post. My wife, Lisa, caught The Cough in early December. After Christmas, I caught it too. I was lucky – the worst of it for me was over in a couple of days, thanks to megadoses of vitamins, I’m sure. She didn’t improve though. We still had to get my son, Max, back to college over New Year’s, and we were both so sick that we wound up staying in the college town an extra day. As I write this, Lisa is now in the hospital with pneumonia. As I can’t do anything but leave her to the doctors and nurses, I guess I’ll just write. After all, I ponied up the cash to renew my domain and ad-free account – not using it would be stupider on my part than usual.

I travel light when taking Max to school, which bit me on the butt this time with the unexpected layover, but I had, at least, brought my Kindle Fire with me. That, combined with the LaQuinta respectably fast wi-fi allowed me to start my 100 Films, and it was all the fault of the 80s All Over podcast. Drew McWeeny and Scott Weinberg had exclaimed about Contraband, mentioned that it was on Amazon Prime, and since I’d had no idea that Lucio Fulci had made an organized crime drama…

Fabio Testi plays Luca Di Angelo, who with his brother Mickey (Enrico Maisto) runs the cigarette bootlegging racket in Naples. Someone starts trying to muscle in on their business, even to the point of murdering Mickey. Another Neapolitan gangster is suspected, but in truth it’s a vicious French drug gang led by The Marsigliese (Marcel Bozzuffi), who wants to take over Di Angelo’s smuggling operating for his heroin. Lots of people die.

There are parts of the movie that are extremely interesting; it makes the point that the economy in Naples is so depressed that practically everyone, in some way, depends on the black market. The resistance of old school criminals to drug trafficking is going to be very familiar to anyone who’s seen The Godfather, as is the sequence when The Marsigliese starts killing off all the capos – though not during a baptism, nor all at the same time. It’s all the work of one very busy – and speedy – assassin. The bloodletting in Godfather was shocking and fairly realistic, but we’re talking Fulci here. When a guy gets the back of his head blown off, we’re going to linger on it. When a woman tries to rip off The Marsigliese and he takes a blowtorch to her face, that is going to take a while. And let’s not forget a fairly graphic rape scene.

There seems to be a fair amount of involvement of actual criminals in the making of the picture, which would explain the bizarre climax where older gangsters come out of retirement with their favorite weapons to put paid to The Marsigliese and his gang. It’s not a great movie – dang, Luca is one of the stupidest heroes I’ve seen in a long time – but it is fairly entertaining and has some lovely cinematography.

I then watched Xmoor, but I need that for Hubrisween, so you’re just going to have to wait.

I followed up Xmoor with Hell House LLC, another Prime movie that had come highly recommended by my friend and fellow horror fan Rodney. It’s a found footage movie, so go ahead and get the jeers out of your system. I don’t mind them, personally. Found footage movies, that is. I hate jeers.

The setup is this: in a Halloween haunted house attraction, something goes wrong on opening night, and fifteen people die mysteriously, including four of the five people who organized it. The incident is pretty much hushed up except for the footage one attendee uploaded to YouTube. A group of filmmakers investigate, and manage to find the sole surviving member of Hell House LLC, Sarah (Ryan Jennifer Jones). After several years of seclusion, she’s finally ready to talk, and she brings with her all the video footage shot during the creation of the House.

We get introduced to the company in the course of the tapes, and they got several of these haunted houses under their belts. This is an attempt to grow the company outside New York City, and they take over an abandoned hotel in (snerk) Abaddon, NY. It does seem like an ideal locale, and it is rather interesting to watch the group brainstorm the haunted house tour, which will end up in the basement. The group’s leader, Alex (Danny Bellini) isn’t too worried about the fact that the basement comes complete with pentagrams chalked on the walls. Not operating in their home town, the group moves into the hotel and begin to work on cranking up the scary in the first floor, and installing cameras to ensure safety (and more coverage for our found footage).

Clowns. Why did it have to be clowns.

Needless to say, weird stuff starts happening. Sarah is sleepwalking. Props start moving by themselves. The local actors hired have heard, um, stories about the place. Bad stories.

This is all cut together with Sarah’s interviews, along with interviews shot by the investigating crew, and some other attendee footage for the climatic opening night. A lot of the stuff building up to that night is really creepily effective, and the fact that it all takes place in an environment that has been engineered to be scary just makes it worse. The cast is engaging and real, and there is only one instance I can point to where the found footage concept is cheated. I found the reveal on the opening night catastrophe a bit underwhelming, but the stuff leading up to it is so good I didn’t mind. And even after that reveal, the movie is going to continue screwing with you.

I’ll be the first to admit there are a lot of lackluster found footage movies out there. Hell House LLC ain’t one of them. It’s really good, folks.

Fast forward a few days. We’ll spare you the exhausting drive home. No surprise, our Friday show was cancelled, so let’s see what’s available… huh. Beyond Skyline. I hear that’s crazy.

It is, in fact, kinda crazy.

Frank Grillo is Mark, a tough police detective whose son Trent (Jonny Weston) has wound up on the wrong side of the law again. An old colleague of Mark’s (Jacob Vargas) lets him go for old time’s sake, but makes it clear this is the last time. An attempt at reconciliation between the two on the subway is interrupted by an alien invasion. Enormous motherships hover over the city, broadcasting a blue light that hypnotizes almost everyone and levitates them into waiting holds (that’s about all you need to know from the first movie). Trent gets hit by the blue light not once, but three times, with Mark, apparently one of the few immune, pulling him back each time, until finally they get pulled into the ship.

Now inside, we find that the aliens are harvesting (in a pretty grisly fashion) the brains from captured humans and plugging them into robot bodies, still hypnotized by the blue light, to create a zombie robot horde. Significantly, the more times you resisted the blue light, the more immune you become; Mark is himself rescued by a robot who’s broken the hold of the aliens and needs him to help his still-human wife give birth. One other wrinkle: the first pulse of the blue light has somehow altered the fetus in situ, engendering fast growth (the mom is only three months pregnant when she gives birth to a fully developed baby) and the child has strange powers that the aliens fear. Mark promises the transformed father to get his daughter out of the ship.

You know, like Kill Bill Vol. 1Beyond Skyline really feels like a tender valentine to me and the movies I love. Past the whole alien invasion thing, the scenes inside the ship have an undeniably horrific edge. The freed robot sabotages the ship, causing it to crash in southeast Asia, where Mark and another survivor, Audrey (Bojana Novakovic) run into a drug warlord (IKO UWAIS!!!!) who’s going to have to go to war with the aliens, too. Where Iko goes, so must Yayan Ruhian, who must have it in his contract that he must always die in the most intense fight choreography you have ever seen. Which means, that’s right, just when you thought Beyond Skyline had blended in almost all of my favorite genres, it went ahead and threw in The Raid movies, too. And on top of that, two giant things start pounding the crap out of each other.

Whatever else you may say about Beyond Skyline, it’s not boring. It feels like one of those crazy-ass action movies you chanced onto at two o’clock in the morning on Cinemax, but with actual money.

Let’s see if I can bring this in.

My pal Dave, a couple years back, was dissed by younger hipster actors for not being familiar with the films of Rene Laloux, probably while they were huffing avocados through their Vapemeister 3000s. Laloux’s primary fame on these shores comes from Fantastic Planet, an animated movie I’ve never particularly cared for. It’s pretty, but is, as Danny Bowe’s once said of Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, “French as fuck.” Still, I’m down for animated movies. So I followed up Beyond Skyline with Time Masters.

I was not expecting a Moebius movie.

Now, Jean Giraud did not write the story – that’s the work of equally French writer Stefan Wul, but he did design it. Giraud was an artist who could knock you square in the eyes with his work and make you thank him profusely for the experience. Time Masters is still French as fuck.

A young boy, Piel, is marooned on the planet Perdide. His dying father radios an old comrade, Jaffar, to rescue Piel. Jaffar immediately interrupts his current journey to set out for Perdide, much to the displeasure of his passenger, a prince who is escaping some justice on his home planet. Trouble is, in the vastness of space, it will take Jaffar a month to get there.  They can communicate with the boy via a subspace radio, and have to help him survive via instruction. The Prince will try to get Piel to “accidentally” kill himself, there are guys with wings and Time Masters. It’s all French as fuck.

He’s probably smoking a Gauloise

Yes, it does feel like one of Moebius’ Metal Hurlant serials in animated form. The animation style is much more traditional than the nearly-decade previous Fantastic Planet, and often it doesn’t serve Moebius’ work as well as you’d hope. Still worth seeking out for its French-as-fuckness.

There I did it! First real blog post of the year! Four movies into The List! I’ll correct the spelling errors tomorrow! 30!

December Already

There is an odd perceptual trick that as you get older, time goes by faster. This phenomenon likely has its roots in the crush of past experience pressing up against the present moment, with a constant increase in supposedly adult matters burning away your time. I suppose the current administration was the solution for that, as there were instances when time ground to a maddening crawl, like a perpetual few seconds just before the impact of a car crash. Hurricane Harvey was only three months ago; it feels more like a year.

Life definitely feels like a circus act where you’re pressed up against a board and some idiot with a blindfold keeps throwing knives at you. December’s always hectic, and I doubt it’s going to calm down until the year is nearly over. Maybe not even then.

I think you’re getting at least one more post out of me this year. In the meantime – since I have a few minutes to catch my breath – here’s the few movies I’ve had the chance to watch:

The Limehouse Golem is based on a Peter Ackroyd novel, and delights in moving the timeline back and forth as Inspector John Kildare (Bill Nighy) is a sacrificial detective set up by Scotland Yard to investigate the Limehouse Golem murders, a series of bloody mutilations that predate and outdo Jack the Ripper for sheer ghoulishness. His investigations run counter to the murder trial of music hall star Lizzy Cree (Olivia Cooke), whose poisoned husband seems a very likely suspect for the Golem.

The world of the English music hall wasn’t something I was expecting to be immersed in when I started the movie, and that was a pleasant surprise. Douglas Booth, as music hall superstar Dan Leno, is a continuing thread through the story as it unfolds, enabling the unique story structure. I’ve not read Ackroyd’s novel, but that structure feels uniquely literary, and director Juan Carlos Medina pulls it off well. While I can’t hand it an enthusiastic recommendation, I can still say it’s definitely worth a look. If you’ve not had your fill of Edwardian murder mysteries, you can certainly do far worse.

I finally watched Atomic Blonde, and I’m sort of glad I didn’t get over my animosity toward theaters to see it. It’s a pretty good retro spy movie, taking place just before and during the fall of the Berlin Wall. Charlize Theron is Lorraine Broughton, an asskicking troubleshooter for MI5 tasked with finding a wristwatch containing microfilm with the names and records of every agent on both sides of the Cold War, including a double agent known only as Satchel. She meets up with the local handler, Percival (James McAvoy), who has gone native in a big way. She spends most of the movie getting the crap kicked out of her, but you should see the other guy(s). What’s left of them, anyway.

Let’s be frank, Charlize Theron just plain owns me, and has for years. She is incredible as the agent James Bond would rightly be afraid of – except incredible doesn’t really cover it, she is credible in the role. Great supporting cast, too – John Goodman, Sofia Boutella, Toby Jones, Eddie Marsan. Incredible soundtrack. Great editing. Pretty much what you would expect from David Leitch, who was one of the directors of the original John Wick.

My only real complaint is that the movie feels over-extended at nearly two hours, giving me far too much time to figure out the true identity of Satchel. Minor complaint. Some directors would have stretched it out to two and a half hours.

That same day I saw Takashi Miike’s Blade of the Immortal, so I must have been in the mood for a fight. If you dug on the 45 minute long battle scene that ended 13 Assassins, good news! This is basically a movie-length version of that! In the very first segment, Manji (Takiya Kimura) informs a mob of about a hundred lowlife bounty hunters – who just slaughtered a girl for fun – that he is going to kill each and every one of them. And does. As he lays dying from his wounds, he is infected by bloodworms, which will heal any wound, even rejoining severed limbs to his body.

As Blade is based on a long-running manga series, I don’t know if there is ever a good reason given why a mysterious old woman gives Manji this curse/blessing – it still hurts when he gets injured, and the healing is far from instantaneous. He just can’t die from his wounds. He eventually takes up the cause of young Rin (Hana Sugasaki), whose family was killed by a group of rogue martial artists who want to take over the Imperial Guard (a ploy familiar to fans of “rule the world of martial arts” movies). The story gets somewhat involved from there, with plots, counterplots, a bloodworm poison that significantly slows down Manji’s healing, many colorful opponents, and my second two exhausted, bloody combatants still taking each other on fight scene in one day.

Overall, I liked it, but I wanted to love it. Miike’s samurai flicks are really good, though – see it and make your own decisions.

I watched two more movies, but I promised the review for one to Daily Grindhouse, so you’re going to have to be satisfied by closing things out with S&M Hunter.

I’m always downloading movie trailer collections and watching them at my leisure; one group was some movies available from PinkEiga, which specializes in Japanese “Pink” movies – so called because they involve nudity. That’s a subject that has a Wikipedia page all to itself, so I’ll direct you there for the broader picture. Pun definitely not intended, by the way. S&M Hunter caught my eye with its outrageous stylization and definite kinkiness (it’s right there in the title, after all), so I sought it out.

A man comes to “The Pleasure Dungeon” and chooses to whip a submissive dressed (briefly) as a nun until she faints. The Dungeon Master states “You are not a true sadist. I can see it in your eyes.” (Never mind that both men are wearing sunglasses) It turns out that new customer has a massive hate on for women because he’s gay and his lover has been kidnapped by a high school girl gang and is being used as their sex slave. Enter the dungeon’s superhero, S&M Hunter, dressed as a priest with a skull eyepatch, who agrees to rescue the boy. His super power is an amazing – and like all super powers, essentially impossible – mastery of rope tricks and the fact that every woman he is up against gets pleasure from the act of being tied up.

S&M Hunter would be classified in the realm of “Pinkie Violence”, I guess, but the whole setup is so silly and over the top that it comes off as a lighter parody of that genre. S&M Hunter has his own spaghetti western theme song. The Hunter’s archenemy feels it necessary to dress up in a gestapo uniform, complete with Nazi flag. The Dungeon Master has all the good lines. It’s only an hour long.

I was considering this for a Crapfest entry. But. It still remains a sex film, and that’s a level of tawdry I’m not willing to subject the fest to – titillation is fine, but S&M Hunter, while not explicit, still crosses that line. It is a pretty subversive entry in that genre, though, as the only truly loving, normal relationship is the homosexual one. Here, have a censored version of the trailer that sent me on this odd sidetrip:

Things only get busier from here on out. Hope to see you betwixt Christmas and New Years, if some moron doesn’t get us all killed. Happy Holidays, everybody, as possible.