Tuesday, October 30, 2012

A few TV pilots that should have been given their wings

HEAT VISION & JACK (1999)

"If I feel so much as one bullet hit me, I'll come over there and pull your lungs through your nostrils."

One of the chief joys of this incredibly bizarre un-aired pilot is the chance to see Ron "the bad guy from TIME COP" Silver send himself up in great style as 'Ron Silver', a former astronaut-turned-super villain (with an occasional sideline in acting) on the hunt for the titular duo. When he's not being recognized as the villain from a Van Damme movie ("Get a pen and I'll write you an autograph!"), Silver is a ruthless killing machine, destroying anyone who gets in his way. He's so diabolically evil he even monologues to himself about how diabolically evil he is. 

And who are the heroes standing in this fiend's path?  Well, there is Jack, a former astronaut-turned-fugitive who gains super-intelligence when his brain is literally baked by the sun. His only weakness is that when the sun goes down, he loses his super-intellect. 

And then there is Heat Vision, a motor bike possessed by the mind of Jack's former un-employeed roommate, whose weaknesses include running out of petrol and being pushed over. Why is he called Heat Vision? No idea.

Sadly, we shall never know how this clash of the titans would have ended. Fox cancelled series production and any chance of a return (talk of a feature film has been bubbling since '08) ended when Silver succumbed to cancer in 2009.

KORGOTH OF BARBARIA (2006)

"I've dated girls uglier than you for breakfast!"


The title sequence alone had me wanting a series. For anyone who loves 1982's gloriously unhinged CONAN THE BARABRIAN and has a sense of humor, this is for you! The makers of KORGOTH take no account for good taste, diving into the goldmine of cliches which is 30s Sword-n-Sorcery fiction. Not only do they take the tropes of the 80s flicks they inspired (sex, violence, gore), there are gags which reference the cover art of Frank Frazetta, 80s heavy metal and even a few shout outs to HP Lovecraft's Cthulhu mythos.   

Directed by SAMURAI JACK creator Genndy Tartakovsky, KORGOTH benefits from a similarly  deadpan approach to its subject, albeit with an R rating.

LOOKWELL (1991)

The story of a former star of yesteryear making a comeback as a latter-day crime fighter, LOOKWELL should have been the beginning of a comeback for BATMAN star Adam West. West is in his element, playing a delusional actor who believes his experience as a 70s television cop qualifies him to aid the police. 

A worthy companion to POLICE SQUAD! and SLEDGEHAMMER!, LOOKWELL never made it to air, consigning West's second greatest performance to the dustbin until the fame of its co-writer, Conan O'Brien, and the enduring appeal of its star resurrected it on Youtube.

THE GIRL WHO MADE ME WANT TO SET MY EYES ON FIRE

Rooney Mara, NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET


In light of Mara's recent success, I feel almost cruel in posting this, but her work in the awful 2010 remake really had my capillaries flowing. I really don't know how to describe it. I'd like to say you'll have to see it for yourself, but that would  involve taking two hours out of your life to actually watch it.

Broadly speaking, Mara takes on the role of the heroine played by Heather Langenkamp in Wes Craven's 1984 original. Unlike Langenkamp, who played a vague approximation of a normal teenager, Mara is stuck playing some kind of damaged emo chick with a mysterious past. The most frightening part of uncovering her character's past is the chilling number of times the script ticks off various cliches: emo hair, emo music, crappy job, creepy emo male friends, pretentious emo sketching. 

And then, on top of this Necronomicon of bad signs is the performance itself. Or more specifically, the voice. The only way I can describe it is if Lee Marvin's monotone had met Sylvestor Stallone's patented mumblemumble, and had a casual booze-soaked fling that resulted in this sad troglodyte creation. It's horrible, it's nigh-on unintelligable and it is frickin' hilarious.

It felt almost like Mara did an impression of Kristen Stewart in TWILIGHT for the gag reel, and the director didn't tell her to stop. When I wasn't laughing my head off, her mumbling  had me reaching for the rewind just to figure out what the hell she was saying. I gave up because the movie was so crap I could not bear to watch it again.

While even the hounds of hell cannot convince me to re-watch the movie again, her performance was so flaccid it dips over from merely stiff to some kind of weirdly memorable anti-performance that I can't help but want to re-visit. Thankfully I've been able to resist the urge... so far. 

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

A Short Walk Out A High Window

I'm sitting here in a moment of reverie. The day is officially retired. Obligations met, challenges dismissed, overlong pontifications endured. Fred Neil is singing 'The Water Is Wide'. Life is about to turn into a flood of major projects and equally, insufferably important minutiae. But right now, nestled in a comfy chair with my feet perched on its brother, I feel at peace.

Casting for my short film is now, hopefully complete. It has been an interesting search and I think I have found players capable of ripping my characters away from me and making them breath. It's exciting. I just hope I have done my homework so I can do them justice. Our first read-thru is this Saturday. Our rehearsal dates are already booked, which feels me with an indescribable sense of relief. It feels like the ship is on course and heading for its destination.

Next week I have to put on a production of the key scene from Tennessee Williams' black comedy BABY DOLL. It's a good scene. I can see why Elia Kazan chose to expand it into a feature-length movie. It's got a weird, loping gait to it that is alternatively comic, vulgar, sexy and disturbing.

The story is a doozy: Jake Meighan, a middle-aged plantation owner burns down his competitor's property and gets his business. Learning of the arson scheme, his damaged rival, Silva Vicarro, chooses to rectify his sense of injustice by taking the one thing the old man prizes more than his cotton: his very naive and very disturbed nymphet bride, the titular Baby Doll...

The scene I'm doing is the key confrontation between Baby Doll and Silva. It's a juicy piece of Southern Gothic, spiced up with Williams' ambiguous presentations of his characters' motives and impulses. I'm having a great deal of fun with my Director's Notes. It's going to be hard work but I'm getting the scene into a good piece, at least in my own mind. The first rehearsal is booked for this Thursday. I would have liked to start earlier, but casting for this has been a difficult, torturous process mired in all the cliches associated with the casting process.

I've been reading Elia Kazan's notes on A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE and they have been a huge help to me, especially in terms of releasing me from my fears of attacking what I feel are the flaws of Williams' text. While interesting, Williams too often resorts to having his characters blatantly highlight the themes of the story and the motivations of each character.

Combined with my desire to present a stream-lined treatment of my chosen scene, I felt free to cut and tighten the parts of the scene which would impede both its drama and (crucially) my cast's ability to learn their roles. In my role as editor I did not re-write anything. I simply cut lines which repeated and over-emphasized important points, or detracted from the scene's overall sense of impeding doom.

The most overt example of this process was the character of Jake. In the original text, Jake appeared for roughly the first 1/5 of the scene, and contributed a lengthy monologue on the attributes of his wife's large figure. After completely embarrassing his wife and Silva, he leaves to go to work. Now, in refining this role, I considered what I felt was Jake's main contributions to this scene.

- he provides the context for the confrontation between Silva and Baby Doll (such as the fire) so the audience would understand what was going on without a lengthy spiel from me.

- his antagonistic, demeaning treatment of Silva would make his actions later in the scene more understandable, while still despicable.

- he sets up the notion of 'tit for tat' that Silva takes to a most idiosyncratic and disturbing extreme in his attempts at retribution for the destruction of his property.

Nowhere could I find a justification for Jake's love of big women. And so it fell out, and Jake's role was reduced to a highly charged page of repressed sexual and racial rage. In summary, he remained a tosser, and that was all that was needed.

How successful my task was will be proved this Thursday in rehearsal, and at next week's performance. But for now, I am appeased. The cast have read through the script and no one has asked any questions, so I'll take it as an acknowledgement that my surgery was successful.

Well, that's about it for now. It feels good to have a bit of a cyber yack to myself. I hope it was entertaining in some way. Good night.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

The Best of Bond

With the release of the 23rd entry upon us, here is my personal list for the best Bond flicks. I've dropped a few of the more obvious ones, and tried to keep it focused on the rather broad mandate of Bond films that make a more than valiant attempt at being 'good films' with characters and stories rather than rigid adherence to formula. Enough from me. I can already hear the howls of outrage at the absence of YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE's volcano, MOONRAKER's space marines, OCTOPUSSY's circus, and TOMORROW NEVER DIES's remote controlled car. Read on!

FROM RUSSIA, WITH LOVE

DR. NO may have gotten the ball rolling but FROM RUSSIA, WITH LOVE is where the key creatives learned how to score. 

Considering the direction the series took, it's amazing to see how different FRWL is from the films which follow it. In contrast to the increasingly predictable plot structure adopted by the films post-THUNDERBALL, Connery's second stab is a relatively small-scale spy thriller, spiced up with a few trappings (gadgets, sex, action) that would soon come to overwhelm the series.

Darker, tougher, sexier and funnier than DR. NO, FRWL would come to represent the promise of a different direction for the series. From the introspective OHMSS, to the grounded FOR YOUR EYES ONLY, THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS and CASINO ROYALE, FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE's focus on the hero's vulnerabilities and wits, rather than gadgets and puns has been emulated but, arguably, never bettered. 
Signature scene: The fight on the train. Still Bond’s toughest, nastiest brawl.
GOLDFINGER

The most iconic of the early Bonds, this is the one movie where everything works. The cast are at the top of their game. The score is awesome. The technical standards are high and the direction combines stylish panache with a fast pace. It could only go down from here.
Signature scene: While the film is filled with terrific scenes, for me it doesn’t get any better than the divine bit where Bond blithely lights a cigarette while a bomb goes off behind him. 
OHMSS

Probably, along with CASINO ROYALE, the only Bond movie that steps out of formula and manages to come into its own as an honest-to-goodness great movie. With one of the best Bond Girls, and the best version of perineal foe Ernst Stavro Blofeld, OHMSS manages to be both faithful to and (way) better than its source material, and most of the films which succeeded it. An underrated gem.
Signature scene: That ending.
LIVE AND LET DIE

After the rather ramshackle DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER, Bond got his mojo back in a movie that ignores most of the classic Bond hallmarks and still manages to feel like a very good Bond movie. While it lacks the strange atmosphere of Fleming’s novel, it makes up for it with a better plot, a great villain and some cracking repartee. Great theme tune as well.
Signature scene: While I could go for the alligator two-step or the boat chase that follows it, I'm going to go with a brief scene which highlights the best aspects of Moore's Bond: I am referring to an early scene set in a bathroom, in which Bond avoids death by a poisonous snake. Tense, atmospheric, and tinged with dark wit, this sequence highlights the rather unique tone of this rather idiosyncratic and supernaturally tinged entry, while playing to the strengths of the actor portraying Britain's Finest.

FOR YOUR EYES ONLY

THE SPY WHO LOVED ME is fun, but if you’re looking for a Roger Moore Bond movie that won’t elicit groans, this is the place to start. A complex plot, a darker tone and a more mature, measured performance from Moore ensure this is the best ‘spy’ Bond since OHMSS. From the memorable pre-credit sequence in which Bond dispatches an old foe, director John Glen establishes the more visceral, down to earth tone which would define the Bond films of the 80s. The gadgets and tired gags are retired in favor of a Cold War-tinged mission in which Bond has to survive by his brains and physical force. There's even some thematic back bone to the whole thing, as each of the main characters is forced to deal with the consequences of their violent pasts.
Signature scene: In a marked shift from Moore's established persona, Bond avenges a friend's death by kicking her killer's car over a cliff.
THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS

Preceding CASINO ROYALE by 20 years, the Bond producers take a back-to-basics approach that re-ignites the series (albeit briefly), laying the groundwork for the ethos behind the films of 90s and 00s. Featuring a plot filled with twists and turns, suitably nasty antagonists and a more believable relationship between Bond and the girl, THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS represents a real turning point in the portrayal of Bond and his world. 
Signature scene: A toss-up between the assault on the safe house (complete with exploding milk bottles) and the vertigo-inducing battle between an outclassed Bond and blonde giant Necros out the back of an airplane.
GOLDENEYE

Marking a clean break with the markers of the 80s (a trick Dalton could not avoid), GOLDENEYE still feels as exciting, sexy and cool as it did back in ’95. Shot and cut with real panache, it marked a return to the high style of the 60s Bonds while setting its hero out from the other blockbusters of the Bruckheimer/Bay era.
Signature scene: While I could go with tank chase, instead I’m going with the brief sequence in which Bond is surprised by a sailer onboard the yacht. Combining fast, brutal action with ingenuity (he beats him with a towel) and wit (wiping his brow with said towel), it epitomizes the Bond of the 90s at his best: Smart, suave and cool.
CASINO ROYALE

One thing about the films that followed GOLDENEYE is that while they never sank to the level of MOONRAKER or MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN, they failed to maintain the high standard GOLDENEYE had set. TOMORROW NEVER DIES was a solid action picture, but lacked the freshness to be anything other than a solid action picture. It also made the mistake of most of the later Moore Bonds by giving the game away early, reducing Bond’s battle with the villain to the level of pantomine. THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH tried to combine escapism with a more character-based narrative but ended up as an unsatisfying (though intriguing) mishmash of the two. DIE ANOTHER DAY opened well, but quickly veered back to formula, turning into a cynical retread of past glories which reaped plenty of gold but left no-one happy.

So with this law of diminishing returns in mind, I was somewhat dubious when I sat down to watch CASINO at the end of 2006. Thankfully my fears were annulled. GOLDENEYE director Martin Campbell proved he really was the man with the golden touch, David Arnold made up for the repetitive nature of his last few soundtracks, and Daniel Craig proved the naysayers wrong with a combination of icy control and brutish violence. 

While his portrayal has turned off certain corners of Bond's traditional audience, Craig's portrayal is perfectly tailored to this origin story. Managing to blend elements of an action thriller with a character study is a hard thing to do (see OHMSS for a successful example; see THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH for the opposite), and overall CASINO succeeds. It lacks most of the gadgets, conventions (Q and Moneypenny) and lame puns of the latter Brosnan films, allowing the filmmakers to focus on Bond and his story (hewing it far closer to the perspective of Fleming's original stories). The action scenes are exciting, the relationship with Vesper well-handled and the overall atmosphere is tense and engrossing. It's also rather sexy, which a Bond film hasn't been since GOLDENEYE.

While QUANTUM OF SOLACE has laid open the flaws of the new approach (hopefully remedied by this year's SKYFALL), CASINO ROYALE remains a prime example of how Ian Fleming's creation can be mined for more substantial thrills than armies of henchmen and invisible cars.
Signature scene: That phone call. That suit. That gun. That line. That theme. Nuff said. 

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

A different tack

 I don't know if anyone will bother reading this, but I've decided to use this blog in a more creative and personal way.

I'm in the middle of a screen production course at Auckland University. I have to write a 10 minute piece which will be my big filming project next semester. I'm using an idea I had at the beginning of this for a feature film...

BEGINNINGS

It started in a weird way. I watched a crime movie called AT CLOSE RANGE, which was about this psychopath dealing with his son's attempts to join his gang. The son had a girlfriend, and there was a slightly uncomfortable sense of a triangular dynamic forming throughout the story which I found really interesting. The movie kinda didn't fulfill my expectations and awhile later, January this year, it struck me that a story based around a middle-aged man coming to grips with both his son's maturity and his own loss of vitality, with the introduction of a girlfriend who unknowingly catalyzes this conflict was kinda... cool. I thought it would make for a potentially really exciting and unpredictable story. Plus it was something a little more sophisticated than anything I'd done previously, which increased its appeal. So I just started free-writing, to see where it went...

MARK I

Since I wanted to strip away anything potentially 'generic' that would get away from this triangular relationshipI initially set the story on a camping trip. It seemed like a natural platform for the male characters to act out their competitiveness (building tents, cooking, gathering wood, sports etc). I got about halfway through and started to run out of steam. I had no idea how it was going to end, and I could not decide on how dark and twisted I wanted it to be. I guess I was trying to follow Polanski's KNIFE IN THE WATER a wee bit, and the story could not breath on its own. In the end it just kind of died, and I started my Screen Production course, which curtailed any hopes of re-starting it.

MARK II

That is, until my instructor for the screen-writing component of my course laid out the limitations for our final assignment - pitch 2 ideas for a 10 minute short film. One idea would then be workshopped into a script which we would have the option of shooting next semester. In a rare moment of cohesive thought, I realized this was a golden opportunity for developing ideas I wanted to do 'when I have the money'. So I dusted off the camping idea.

The first thing I did was get rid of the camp bit. Realizing the logistics of camping AND filming, I came up with a more economical notion: a trek up the side of a mountain. The progression seemed dramatically more appropriate, and it seemed apparent that a sense of competition could be sustained within a shorter running time.

When I delivered my pitch, people really liked it, and the feedback I got was really interesting. For one thing, I had always felt the idea would be very dark and probing of issues of masculinity. However, everyone saw it as a comedy. Just shows how you can get lost so far in a project that you lose some sense of perspective on its possibilities.

So I revised my pitch, trying to lay out character and plot points. And that's where I'm at at the moment. I'm currently awaiting feedback on my latest synopsis. I'm not that happy with the ending, so I'm hoping the feedback spurs me in a new direction. A bit of good news though: A mate has agreed to provide the soundtrack for it, which is exciting. He's going to cook up some demos which I can use as inspiration.

I really hope this project works out. It's considerably more personal than anything else I've done, and the themes really resonate with the kinds of stories I like to watch, and tell: Namely the objectification of women and the failure of masculinity. Watch this space...

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Crooks, vagabonds, reprobates and no-good-nics

Originally sentenced 26-2-2012


A collection of folks you wouldn't want to meet in a dark alley...

The Dude in the funny hat, A BITTERSWEET LIFE
Apart from the fact that I can't remember this crazy mofo's name, I can't find a picture of him either. But if you've seen the movie, you'll know who I'm talking about. In spite of his funny hat, this guy is not someone you'd want to point at and say "Hey, look at your funny hat!" He's pretty handy with a razor blade which makes up for said headgear. And the fact he dresses like a nerd. The number he does on the hitman anti-hero comes out of nowhere and is one of the highlights of the movie. However the fact he does not kill the protagonist outright kind of hurts his rep. Not to mention making that hat look even funnier splattered with his blood. 

Brad Whitewood, AT CLOSE RANGE

All the more disturbing for being based on a real person, Whitewood is probably one of the closest approximations to a real criminal I've seen in an American movie. Like most real-life crooks Whitewood is not smart, he's not witty and he does not have grandiose schemes to make lots of money. He's a common thief who steals farm equipment. He's also incredibly paranoid and vindictive, responding to his son (and fellow thief) being jailed by cold bloodedly murdering everyone associated with the poor sap (including his OTHER son) to prevent the cops building a case against him. He shows a similar lack of tact and morality in dealing with his son's girlfriend's attempts to rehabilitate him, but I'll leave THAT particular episode for viewers to find out for themselves. A gothic monster plucked from the headlines, Whitewood is one of Christopher Walken's most underrated and despicable characterisations.

Virgil, TRUE ROMANCE

As soon as James Gandolfini turns up in that hotel room, you know the shit is about to hit the fan. Not taken in for a second by heroine Albama's flirty dumb blonde routine, he plays along with her charade before dropping the bomb (or in this case, her, with a right to the face). To say Albama's eventual, painful victory over the psycho is cathartic is an extreme understatement.  

Blackie, PANIC IN THE STREETS

Not only is Blackie completely batshit crazy (hey he's played by Jack Palance!), he's also the unknowing carrier of bubonic plague which could endanger the entire city. Argh! The quarry of no-nonsense health inspector Richard 'I shit bullets' Widmark, Blackie is a relatively minor hoodlum given major power and significance through a bad turn of fate. Played with deceptive calm by Palance, this is one asshole who knows when a knife in the belly says more than words. In a blackly comic twist, Blackie ends up solving most of the problem for the authorities when he kills all his minions (who are also carriers of the deadly affliction) for disloyalty when they try to turn themselves in.

Varla, FASTER, PUSSYCAT! KILL! KILL!

"I don't beat clocks, just people!"

This is one broad you would not want to get caught oogling. Varla is a terrifying whirlwind of big voice, big cheekcbones, big breasts and very bad intentions all wrapped up in the blackest of bows. As she states early in the piece, she's out for everything, "or as much as I can get." Using her body as both sex object and weapon, Varla is ready for any contest, and anyone who dares get in her way. Whether that means sex, a knife in the back or, in the case of one poor body-builder, getting splat against a wall with a car, Varla does it all with a smirk and pithy comeback. She's Bond without the government sanction, Bourne without the conscience, a glamour model with a brain, and the finest character to ever come bubbling out of the mind of Russ Meyer. The real crime of this film is that first-time actress Tura Satana did not gain mainstream recognition out of this performance, leaving Varla as the sole showcase for this charismatic, passionate performer.

Burke, BLOW OUT

This dude has a really bad case of taking his work home with him. A government assassin gone way, way off the reservation, not only is Burke responsible for the death of an upcoming politician, his plan to cover his tracks involves killing a series of women to make this political conspiracy look like a psycho-killer on a spree. While the door is open as to whether Burke really believes this insane plan will work, or is just using it as an excuse to indulge in a sick pastime, he goes about the task with chilling, methodical tenacity. 

Favorite comedy characters

[Originally released 18-2-2012]

Karen Smith, MEAN GIRLS



Amanda Seyfried has made a career out of movies in which she posts letters, recieves letters, writes letters and searches for people who have written letters. A pity, since her first role suggested an entirely different career trajectory: brain dead bombshells who probably can't even read. Karen Smith is stupid. Not tragically stupid, but more of a "Oh Honey" kind of stupid (to quote How I Met Your Mother). Putting her big doe eyes to the cause of dumbassdom, Seyfried scores for the gods. Moving through the movie with the empty headed bliss of a gold fish, she provides the perfect third piece to the "Plastics' who dominate the protagonist's new highschool. Here's hoping Seyfried goes back to comedy soon, because while it was kind of funny, DEAR JOHN nearly killed me.

Vijay Joshi, YOUTH IN REVOLT



"I'm afraid this night has awakened in me a lust of disturbing insatiability!"

I've had a massive man-crush on Adhir Kalyan ever since he was in the great tv show ALIENS IN AMERICA (sadly cancelled after one season). Now he is currently the best thing in the otherwise mundane RULES OF ENGAGEMENT. The dude is funny, and I'm hoping he'll get some better showcases in the near future. One of his best roles thus far is his brief role as Michael Cera's sex-obsessed friend in the hit-and-miss adaptation of C.D. Payne's popular novel. In about 10 minutes of screentime, he steals the show from Cera, as the pair embark on a roadtrip to re-unite Cera's character with his girlfriend. While Cera goes about constructing an alternative sociopathic personality and planning elaborate schemes to seduce his girlfriend, Joshi proves to be a far more succesful lothario, melting an icy nymphomaniac (Rooney Mara) by quoting the Ramayana. In French.

Gene, THE OTHER GUYS

Michael Keaton is the man. Doesn't matter what he's in, he always brings that crazy bit of mojo that raises the calibre of whatever I see him in. Whether it's refereeing the world's quietest fight (in the middle of a wake!) or disciplining the title characters by scaling down Will Ferrell's ordinance ("This is a rape whistle"), Keaton plays the role totally straight, amping the yucks. He was so good I wanted see a whole movie based around this guy, an average joe who works two jobs as a police captain and the night shift as the manager of a major appliance store.

Otto, A FISH CALLED WANDA

I could put the entire cast of A FISH CALLED WANDA in here, but particular kudos must be paid to Kevin Kline and his glorious embodiment of moronic psychopath Otto. Overshadowing two former Pythons and Jamie Lee Curtis, Kline doesn't steal the movie. He owns it from the outset, a volatile combination of pretenious pseudo-intellectualism, gunplay and rage. He's a gun with a human being attached to it. It's a testament to the character's colossal idiocy that he gets run over by a steam roller going about 5 miles an hour.

Dolores, THE MAN WITH TWO BRAINS


"I get so excited when you get angry. It makes me feel so much closer to the reading of the will."

Kathleen Turner is the epitome of the comic vamp, adding glorious smoulder to WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT. Likewise, her performance in THE MAN WITH TWO BRAINS has a diabolical charm all her own. Effectively amping up her femme fatale role from 1981's BODY HEAT, like Keaton Turner plays the role completely straight. A good thing too, considering the insanity zinging around her co-star an on-incredibly-stupid form Steve Martin. Holding her own against a man who manages to break a plate glass window  with the sheer force of an impromptu erection, Turner er, turns what could have been a flat, two dimensional villain into a carnal, calculating maneater of the highest calibre. "Into the mud, Scum Queen!"

B-Movie Palooza!

[Originally released 22-1-2012]

Here's a brief list of fun little B movies I've seen over the past few years. Not all are great, but they're all good for a Friday night.

The Narrow Margin (1952)

71 minutes of claustrophobic tension as an oldschool hardass tries to protect a woman from gangsters on a highspeed train. So awesome it got a shitty remake.

Hell and High Water (1954)

The story of a group of mercenaries on an old Japanese submarine attempting to foil a plot by Chairman Mao to drop a nuke on Seuol. Richard Widmark is his usual dependable self as an asshole-with-a-heart, Bella Darvi is on hand as a token female crew member and director Sam Fuller keeps the pace up with plenty of underwater hide-n-seek and land-based gun fights. It's Cold war exploitation nonsense but good fun in a comic book kind of way.

Kiss Me Deadly (1955)

If misanthropy and schadenfreude had a baby, it would be Mike Hammer. Whether it's blackmail, violence or murder, he does it with a shrug and a sneer. Worth a look just for the scene in which Hammer jams a villains' hand in a drawer, with the camera lingering on his easy grin as his foe howls in agony.

Black Sunday (1960)

Mario Bava shows Hammer Films how to make a real Gothic Horror film. With Barbara Steele along for the ride.

Youth of the Beast (1963)

A Yakuza variation of the YOJIMBO story made by someone on a very bad acid trip. Featuring sandstorms that come out of nowhere, psycho momma's boys, and moronic gangsters, this is the most coherent of director Seijun Suzuki's bizzare gangster flicks. The madness ends with an upside down fist fight involving the hero tied to a chandelier. 

Navajo Joe (1966)

A loner with fewer lines than his horse. An army of bad guys. And a town of poor saps stuck in the middle. Mayhem ensues. Stallone was taking notes.

Vixen! (1968)

Fifty minutes of nymphpomaniacal hijinks for the punters. Twenty minutes of pointless political discussion for the censors. Did it work? 

Tombs of the Blind Dead (1971)

If it weren't for the plot and characters this would be brilliant. As is, it's two thirds bitchy couple on holiday, one third eyeless monk cadavers wreaking ruin on said couple and their compadres. 

Horror Express (1972)

It's got Peter Cushing looking stern, Telly Savalas looking drunk and Christopher Lee looking badass fighting zombified Cossacks with a scimitar.

Lips of Blood (1975)

Pretentious? Most likely. Illogical? Of course. Mesmerising? To a select few. Gratuituous nudity? OH HELL YEAH. 

Assault on Precinct 13 (1976)

Scary, action-packed and tense you'll never look at a police station the same way again.

Turkey Shoot (1982)

The lovely little tale of a group of rich pricks hunting prisoners for sport. A piece of Aussie sleaze from a time when its film industry had no sense of morality or high culture. 

Lifeforce (1985)

Don't let the big budget and name cast fool you. This is a B movie through and through. Directed with laughable restraint by Tobe Hooper, this misfire features a bunch of scientists hunting for an alien woman with no clothes on.  

The Hidden (1987)

A Cop. An FBI agent. And an alien parasite. It could have been terrible. Instead it turns out to be one of the smartest, funniest and flat out coolest genre mashups of the 80s.

They Live (1988)

John Carpenter and pro-wrestling legend Rowdy Roddy Piper. Together at last! Memorable for an extended fistfight over a pair of sunglasses and this one liner: 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s1TcnQxV4BE&feature=related

I Come in Peace AKA Dark Angel (1990)

One cop + One alien drug dealer = best Dolph Lundgren movie EVER. An unapologetic action flick from people who know how to shoot a dude running across a row of cars while they blow up behind him.

And Now For Something Completely Different...

Original Release Date: 3-1-2012


In a galaxy far, far away...


I used to be obsessed with STAR WARS. Nowadays I'm not as fussed. Age, new interests and the bad taste left by George Lucas' prequel films have left me a bit blasé  about the whole deal.

However, every now and then I like to sit back and read some of the tie-in books which Lucasfilm have been cranking out since 1991. And, as I seem want to do, I tend to focus on the bad guys. So, here for your reading pleasure is a small selection of the various muckers who followed in Vader's bloody boot steps... 

Grand Admiral Thrawn

The antagonist of Timothy Zahn’s excellent HEIR TO THE EMPIRE trilogy of novels, Thrawn  immediately stakes his claim as the finest villain of the STAR WARS universe (including the films):

a) As a military commander, Thrawn is no Vader, and he is not able to use the Force.

b) He is an alien, slightly anamolous considering the usual makeup of the Emperor's legions.

c) Highly intelligent, he is able to elucidate how his opponents will act according to their specific backgrounds and cultural roots (not to mention the odd bit of espionage)

d) While he is a military commander, he is not Colonel Kurtz. He shows more compassion for the lives of the men who serve under him, recognizing unlike his predecessors, that his success is dependent upon his minions

e) As the highest ranking official of the Empire, he is in the unenviable position of commanding a drastically reduced fighting force. There are no Death Stars and massive planetary invasions or space battles in Zahn's universe, and Thrawn has to rely upon thurough planning and intelligence to hammer his enemies with what has at hand. The fact it takes until the final book of Zahn's trilogy to see Thrawn fall is a testament to the succcess of the Grand Admiral's tactical genius with limited resources. 

f) More of a stylistic choice than a personality trait, but part of what makes Thrawn so fascinating is that his creator always writes about him from another character's perspective. The reader is left to build a picture of his character without the writer providing Thrawn with his own voice. Added to his lack of a backstory, Thrawn remains one of the most enigmatic and just plain entertaining characters to emerge since the original trilogy's close.

Joruus C'boath

This guy is madder than a sack of monkeys.

The deranged clone of a dead Jedi Master, C’boath is initially Thrawn’s secret weapon in his war against the rebels, using his powers to co-ordinate the Admiral’s forces in a series of synchronized surprise attacks.

Contemptuous of his allies’ plans, C’boath is obsessed with creating a new Jedi order in his own twisted image and makes his own attempt to turn Luke Skywalker to the Dark Side.

Ysanne Isard

The Director of Intelligence is the bureaucrat of the bunch, but don’t let that put you off, Isard is one stone cold bitch.

So untrustworthy even the Emperor considered having her executed, Isard is as duplicituous as they come. Whether it is blackmail, murder or a planetary plague, she is willing to do anything to preserve the Empire (and her position within it).

Her death is suitably ignimonious - shot in the stomach she is left to die by her associates.

Admiral Delak Krennel

More of a petty despot than a real galactic threat Krennel is an opportunistic military man who decides to go it alone, killing a high-ranking noble and stealing his holdings (a few systems of planets and moons and such).

Rather than support the likes of Thrawn and Isard in their attempts to re-establish the Empire, Krennel is content to hold on to what he's got, smart enough to realise that the New Republic is less likely to turn on him if he doesn't make a nuisance of himself. 

Emperor Palpatine's clone(s)

These bastards pop up just as the rebels start getting the act together and suddenly we're back in the good old days of shoot outs, space battles and genocide on a planetary scale.

Carnor Jax

AKA the cool one.

A former Imperial Guard, Jax is responsible for sabotaging Palpatine's clone bodies so that they age rapidly and kill the wily tyrant.

He's also the first villain since the Emperor to show a sense of style, pimping out his Guardsman duds in a cool black'n'red combo, and giving his personal bodyguards black armour. Of course he probably could have done better keeping up his fighting skills and hiring some minions who could a) aim and b) move stealthily. They get wiped out so fast its embaressing.

Admiral Daala

Taking on the entire galaxy with only 4 ships requires balls the size of the Death Star, but reaching way beyond your means is all in a day's work for Daala.

More liberal-minded than her predecessors, Daala is the first Imperial commander to actively challenge the Empire's rules on gender in the military.

Easy to anger, Daala lacks Thrawn's ability to coolly judge a situation, nor Isard's political nous. However, her ruthlessness does have its moments of success: When she realizes the warlords who control the Empire's remaining resources are more concerned with attacking each other than the Rebels, she has them all gassed, clearing the way for her to get the Imperial war machine to come rearing back to life with a suicidal bliztkrieg across the galaxy (good thing that idea doesn't pan out).



RETROGRADE REVIEWS Presents Almost Up-To-Date!

FACE OFF


Pre-Remade 30-12-2011

Remakes. They suck. It's a rule, like gravity.

Taking my interest in movie baddies to a bizzare extreme, here's a selction of no good nics who have had the dis/honour of being ressurrected. 

Paul Mallen/Gregory Anton, GASLIGHT 

The 1944 remake starring Charles Boyer is better known, but arguably falls short in one key respect. Boyer is a servicable villain, his natural charm effectively masking the character's intentions, and lending an air of plausibility to his attempts to drive his wife insane. However, when compared with Anton Walbrook's mesmerising performance in the original, his characterization can come off as something of a one-note.

From the moment he steps onscreen, Walbrook dominates the movie. His voice dripping with disdain Walbrook's simpering, utterly hateful performance is a marvel. The very definition of a cold fish, Walbrook's Mallen gives Thorold Dickinson's movie a sense of earthy, nasty menace sadly lacking in its glossier counterpart.

The Jackal, THE DAY OF THE JACKAL/THE JACKAL

Here's one that proves star power can completely undermine a character's credibility. In the guise of British character actor Edward Fox, The Jackal is a cipher, a rather bland-looking nobody who doesn't look like a hired killer. Which is kind of the point.

As played by Bruce Willis, the Jackal is Bruce Willis - and where Bruce Willis goes, explosions, bad wigs and Jack Black must folllow.

Hannibal Lecktor/Lecter, MANHUNTER/EVERY OTHER HANNIBAL MOVIE

Hannibal Lecter is a role that will always be associated with Anthony Hopkins. And quite rightly so. It was a charismatic, star-making performance. It's a pity however that Hopkins' success was such that it has eclipsed the fine work Brian Cox accomplished as Lecter (renamed Lecktor) in Michael Mann's MANHUNTER (1986). With hindsight, Cox's performance comes across as something of a revelation.

Compared to Hopkin's various touches, Cox delivers a remarkably restrained performance. What is equally amazing to me is how Cox's performance manages to match Hopkins' without any of the OTT lines or stage business we associate with the character. In contrast, Cox's Lecktor is a cold blank slate. 

Appearing in only three scenes, we don't see any of his crimes, and we don't get any insight into what he did to mentally screw up hero Will Graham (William Petersen). Isolated from the film's more obvious touches of horror, it is a testament to Cox's performance that Lecktor's empty, mocking sneer provides the film's most unsettling image.