Not much in the way of Dork life for most of the week. But on Friday night, there was another meeting of the Justice League of Extraordinary Book Club. This month, for Halloween, we read the Hellboy anthology The Chained Coffin. I was surprised (and very happy) that folks seemed to really like it. Much more than I was expecting. And several people expressed interest in reading more (Jill’s already started). Hellboy is so rooted in the things I love. The weird tales of H.P. Lovecraft, Arthur Machen, William Hope Hodgson, and others; the fairytales of the Brothers Grimm and others; Judeo-Christian mythology; medieval history and legend; the pulps like The Shadow, Doc Savage, and The Spider; and so many more.
Lust for a Vampire: There are elements of this film that I really like, but it is a total mess. Pretty young women dancing about in Greek-type robes, Ralph Bates’ mousy freak, and the wacky pseudo-Christopher Lee jabbering on in Latin. Oh, yeah. But the production looks…well, it looks like a TV episode or something. Even the nudity is awkward. As usual, there’s plenty of bodice-ripping opportunity, but much of the nudity that is in the film seems tacked on or wedged in where it doesn’t belong. It also doesn’t help that Yutte Stensgaard looks so much like Shelly Long. Not one of the better Hammer Gothics.
Fright Night: This surprisingly charming update to the minor vampire classic does a pretty good job of bringing things to the modern day, while still capturing a bit of an 80s vibe. Collin Farrell turns in one of his best performances, and everyone seems to be having a good time. It is frustrating that in spite of the blood, the film feels very PG-13, and I was surprised to find out it was R. I guess they drop the F bomb too many times. As always, a little less obvious CG would have been nice.
The Brood: Oliver Reed, man. Somehow, I don’t think he’d have been a good psychologist. Every move he makes, every expression on his face lets you know he is filled with raging contempt and barely checked violence. His outer calmness is clearly hiding an seething inner chaos of hate. Not conducive to mental health. Winter bleached Canada is once again the depressing home of horror as David Cronenberg explores our violent impulses and what happens when we don’t want to deal with them. There’s some cool stuff in this movie. However, I don’t know if it’s the hero or what, but I don’t find it especially interesting. Not one of Cronenberg’s better films.
Spontaneous Combustion: This movie is crazy. A seemingly forgotten Tobe Hooper film that is well worth rediscovering. In the same semi-genre as Scanners, Firestarter, The Dead Zone, and other psi-power awakening films. I think, in the aftermath of the 50s and 60s, when a lot of secrets about experiments the government had been getting up to came out, there was a brand of anxiety this film cashes in on. The late 70s and 80s were full of movies and TV shows about the results of science run amok, always awakening nasty bits of human potential. Poor Brad Dourif. He’s a nice guy, but everybody’s dumping on him, and his inner fire is about to get out of hand. This movie doesn’t always work, but there’s enough cool in it to make it worth watching. This is one I’d love to see get a good remake.
Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom: “Nothing shocks me. I’m a scientist.” Often dismissed, I think this is a good entry in the series, with plenty to love. I grant you, Kate Capshaw is quite aggravating. And the effects don’t always play. But there’s some excellent action. I think my major complaint about this movie is its limited setting. After a brief stop in Hong Kong, the rest of the film takes place in India. But Indiana Jones is kind of like James Bond. He’s a world hopper, and having him stuck in one location feels wrong (like that Bond film where he spends all his time in Japan).
House of Whipcord: Ugh. They’re called lights. They’ve been using them on film sets for a century. Half the time, you can’t see anything that’s happening because it seems the filmmakers didn’t pay the lighting bill. But worry not, the annoying, sniveling voice of Penny Irving never stops. And while you can’t always tell what she’s saying, you can always tell it’s stupid. I guess this is S&M porn (it’s not actually porn), but it’s all pretty silly. I suppose if anyone ever turned a light on, there would be a lot of nudity. But they don’t. A right wing group of sexually repressed weirdoes kidnap young women to abuse them for imagined crimes. And plenty of bad lighting and editing later, I still don’t care. Is that prison matron John Noble in drag?
King Kong: “I’m just an actor with a gun.” Peter Jackson’s remake of the original 1933 King Kong, one of the best adventure films of all time, is clearly made with a great deal of love. And generally speaking, it’s very good. An epic of weird retro-adventure. But on a few occasions it does fail. The most obvious and glaring problem is the canyon stampede scene, which is super clunky, totally unneeded, and looks bloody terrible (seriously, it looks horrendous…how did this make the final cut?). Some sequences run too long, especially the big Kong VS ‘V-Rex’ scene, which feels like it will never end. And some of that time could have been better spent exploring the island and its mysteries. But, problems aside, there are great characters, fantastic visual feasts, grand adventure in the spirit of the original, and some very emotional and beautiful scenes. Kong is rendered with supreme skill and technical finesse. Naomi Watts is a beautiful woman, and can sell youthful innocence with a tinge of world weary resignation (she really doesn’t look her age…it’s kind of creepy). This was Jackson’s dream project, the movie he’s wanted to do since getting into the movies (and before, I’m sure). And I get that. It would be one of mine, too (along with Creature from the Black Lagoon and Conan). It’s not a perfect film. But it’s a grand adventure film like they rarely make these days.
The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad: This is actually two separate stories in one movie. First up is a story taken from The Wind in the Willows. It’s a pretty good short film. But I think that UK stop motion version from 15 or 20 years ago is much, much better. The second is the adaptation of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. It’s a pretty good, pretty freaky telling of the tale. Some good funny bits, and some good creepy bits.
Massacre in Dinosaur Valley: “Want a banana?” Ah, Brazil. Land of cockfighting and plastic surgery disasters. Amazing ADR. Better music. Spectacular acting. Tip-top editing and cinematography. And that ‘humorous’ sexual assault scene. Didn’t it get nominated as one of the all time greats by the AFI? This movie is really, really dumb. It’s only mildly entertaining. By the way, you don’t get to call your film Massacre in Dinosaur Valley if there are in fact, no dinosaurs. Now, some attractive women take their clothes off, and that makes up for a lot. But I’m darn well owed some dinosaurs. The disk has a bunch of special features. Probably my favorite are star Michael Sopkiw’s personal photos from his time in Brazil. The interview is kind of interesting; hearing the story of a guy who had a strange kind of success, but a temporary kind.
|You want dinosaurs? Try a different movie, buddy.|
Terror of Mechagodzilla: “Your heart is frozen and dry. Who’d love a cyborg?” One of the better late Godzilla films, it’s got some pretty good storytelling and cool creature effects. I love these movies. And I’m not normally a fan of Japanese film. Aliens, cyborgs, peaceful monsters, electrocutions. Oh, yeah. It’s interesting that Godzilla doesn’t show up for 50ish minutes in this movie (and it’s a great entrance). There’s other stuff going on, and the giant sea monster Titanosaurus blows some stuff up (or over, anyway).
Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Beginning of the End: “Women on the verge of an atomic breakdown.” This dreadful bit of 50s Atomic Horror is full of Burt I. Gordon awfulness. But with Mike and the Bots along for the ride, it’s a fun bit of wackiness. They’re pretty on with this movie, cutting it up pretty hard. And the grim views into the private life of Dr. Forrester and TV’s Frank will strike terror into the stoutest heart.
Sound of Horror: “She’s only an amateur. And a woman.” This movie teaches a few lessons. Don’t go to Greece and blow up Neanderthal burial mountains. Especially if those Neanderthals date all the way back to the Siege of Troy! If you like seeing old sweaty dudes dig holes in a cave, this is the movie for you. There is actually some potential here, but it’s sabotaged by profound technical failures. It’s shot poorly, and the audio and dubbed voices make it feel extra crappy. There’s a taste of the weird tale and the classic monster movie. But sadly, this is no classic. Check out young Ingrid Pitt as the go-go dancing hanger-on.
Tosca: “My love nest has been defiled!” Puccini’s opera gets a cinematic adaptation in this 1976 version. Placido Domingo with his Riker beard is pretty awesome. But I was quickly reminded of something I’ve said many times. I just don’t dig Italian opera. German? Sure. Italian…Meh. As far as the story goes, I think the lesson learned here is don’t hook up with a crazy, jealous bitch. Tosca is a paranoid harpy who continually suspects poor Mario of every kind of infidelity with little or no cause beyond her own self-obsessed insecurity. I’m a loyal guy, but two hours of this woman’s flip-flopping emotions, accusations, and suspicions would probably drive me into the arms of another woman…Or a monastery. Though she eventually becomes less awful as their situation grows more terrible. And the end is pretty badass.
P.J. Harvey on Tour -Please Leave Quietly: P.J. Harvey is probably my favorite currently active musical act. She’s frequently on my computer’s rotation, her CDs often near the top of the pile. Hers was also the first real concert I ever attended (what can I say, I lived in Maine for 31 years and 38 Special didn’t do anything for me). So when she put out a live DVD, of course I picked it up. Sadly, it’s just not what I wanted at all. It’s super disjointed and looks thrown together. The music sounds good, but it’s not shot at a single event. Even within a single song there is footage from several different performances. It just feels weird and fake. Parts of various performances are really good, but I really, really don’t like the format. Also, her guitarist who keeps twitching and falling about is annoying as hell.
Master of the Flying Guillotine: Jimmy Wang Yu is the One Armed Boxer, and he’s got old man assassin problems. A blind old dude, with a long white beard has a wacky head chopping weapon, is looking to trim some martial artists… a bit off the top. A fighting contest, a bunch of foreign fighters, and some fantastically weird music all crank up the kung fu chop-socky. Some pretty good fights and some unintentionally hysterical dubbing. Great stuff.
Lost Horizon: I like this quiet and thoughtful, almost wistful movie about a man’s hope for a better world. After fleeing violent conflict, a diplomat and a ragtag group of refugees crash in the mountains of central Asia. From there, a dangerous journey through the snow takes the group to a hidden land of peace and tranquility. But not everyone wants peace. Not everyone is ready or willing to be happy. Not everyone can cast off the trappings of their former life. The movie is like a dream, a meditation on paradise, and a contemplation of life and desire. It’s a fascinating classic, which was not well received in its day, and there’s no wonder. Not an action movie, but a grand spiritual journey.
Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade: “Goose-stepping morons like yourself should try reading books instead of burning them.” I know this is an unpopular opinion, but this is probably my least favorite of all the Indiana Jones films. Don’t get me wrong, that still puts it up there. It’s pretty great. But it has some major problems. The entire opening, featuring young Indiana, is bloody awful. It’s too humorous and goofy (what‘s with that fat kid?). Even the credits kind of suck (and that’s not something I usually notice). Why is Marcus a bumbling idiot? And as a friend recently pointed out, it’s lame that all of his trademark quirks (hat, whip, chin scar, snake fear, etc.) all come out of one single event. Plus there is too much of an attempt to remake the first film. Another Judeo-Christian artifact, more Nazis, a very similar plot progression. The differences are what make it work, in spite of the problems. The relationship with his father and the more fatale femme. And the world hopping is back, which is something I want in this kind of film.
The Mummy: I have such mixed feelings about this movie. I was pretty jazzed to see it when it first came out, but was seriously disappointed upon watching. It still feels like they were trying to do too many things, go in too many directions, and thus failed at all. It’s not funny enough to be a comedy, not scary enough to be a horror movie, and not exciting enough to be an action movie. But over the years, I’ve come to enjoy it as a light bit of pulpy fun (not good, but fun). Of course, the Egyptian history nerd in me screams out at how much they bungle things. But that happens every time ancient Egypt is used (10 Commandments, I’m looking at you!). This movie did finally give me a name for a character archetype. The Beni Character is that guy who shows up in a story only because the writer needs someone to create conflict. Pay attention to Beni (Kevin J. O’Connor) in this. He is directly responsible for every single bad thing that happens. And, if someone just put a bullet in him the first time he did something that clearly warranted immediate execution (At the ten minute mark, by the way. Though an argument could be made for eight minutes, I would vote for a severe beating, not death, for that act.) then everything would have turned out fine. The Beni character is all too common these days, especially in the realm of horror, where nearly every horror movie (and most science fiction) relies purely on at least one character being as stupid as humanly possible in order to move the plot along (see: any ghost movie, Drag Me to Hell, Prometheus, Sunshine, etc.). It also serves as a reminder that while CGI can do amazing things, it shouldn’t be a star unto itself. Anyhow, I think this was the movie where I first really noticed Rachel Weisz. And for that, it deserves a certain place in my movie lover’s heart.
I read B.P.R.D. volume 3. That continues to be an excellent series, and I can’t wait to read the next volume, which should be out in a little over a month. And first volume of the New 52 Aquaman, which was a heck of a lot of fun.
And in the wake of the Hellboy reading of last week, I finally sat down to the Library Edition volume 5, as well as the finishing part of that story, the trade paperback The Storm and the Fury. Kept chugging along and read the short story anthology The Bride of Hell.
After the extremely fun Aquaman: The Trench, I figured what the heck, and read that series’ issue 0. It’s pretty much just a glossed over origin story. Not much actual depth, but at least it gives you a few facts of his beginnings.
Issue 63 of Futurama was pretty funny. It got a couple good chuckles out of me, actually. They do a good job of capturing the characters from the show. You can almost hear the voice actors as you read. There’s certainly nothing of consequence going on. But it’s perfectly enjoyable silliness.
Issue 0 of Batman The Dark Knight is a reminder of how familiar Bruce Wayne’s origins are at this point, and how it might be time to stop revisiting it. Everything here is stuff you’ve seen before, from a slightly different angle. Not really an interesting one.