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The Good, the bad and the ugly… July 31, 2006

Posted by Ian W in : DVD Viewing Journal , add a comment

or what I watched this week.

White Comanche

William Shatner as half-breed Comanche twins. Isn’t that sentence enough to make you want to see this? It did me.

Unfortunately, what we get is a cheap Spanish (a paella western?) production that not only wastes the talents of Shatner (in his prime between seasons of Star Trek) but those of Joseph Cotton as well.

The story is a simple one - good twin, bad twin, only one will live to see the end credits. The film isn’t helped by a DVD that has obviously been made from a video master and not just any video but one that’s been chewed up in several places. There also seems to be something wrong with the score, it sound like it’s a replacement not the original as it doesn’t fit with the onscreen action, sometimes going for comedy in dramatic moments. It’s either the wrong music or one of worst score I’ve ever heard.

On the plus side Shat’s looks good in cowboy gear (although less convincing as the bad brother in Indian getup) and it’s a shame he never got a better chance to show what he could really do in a western. The Great American Western, Vol. 20

The American West of John Ford

This was on the same disc as White Comanche and came as a nice bonus as the front cover only lists it as The American West and I’d assumed it was just another old western (there are four films on the disc in total).

It’s not a particularly insightful documentary as Ford was never one to talk about himself when he could avoid it (and he usually could) but we do get John Wayne, James Stewart and Henry Fonda all talking about working with the great man and that alone makes it worthwhile.

Listening to these three giants of the cinema reminisce about the films they made with Ford with such obvious pleasure is a joy. Wayne in particular cannot hide his deep affection for the old guy even though Ford teases him whenever he gets the opportunity. In fact watching the two of them is almost like watching a father and son. And Wayne I thing always craved Ford’s respect much like a son would.

Kentucky Rifle

Cheap 50’s B western about a broken-down wagon loaded with guns that’s abandoned by a wagon train and the men and women who stay behind to fix it.

Of the cast there’s only Chill Wills gives anything like a good performance. It says a lot about the films low budget origins that Wills, normally a supporting actor, gets top billing.

The film feels amateurish and even the few action scenes fail to generate any excitement.

Bells Of San Angelo

Old Roy Rogers western that is full of clichés. For example - a writer is coming to town who’s name is Lee Madison, so they’re expecting a man but it turns out to be Dale Evans who then pretends to be someone else. See what I mean?

The Sons of the Pioneers are on hand for musical accompaniment and Andy Devine is there for comic relief but there’s nothing to get excited about here.

Just a word of warning about the disc these westerns are on - the cover states ‘digitally mastered’ - translation ‘we put it on a DVD.’

Bad Girls

A ‘gimmick’ western with the twist being the outlaws are girls. Madeleine Stowe, Andie MacDowell, Drew Barrymore and Mary Stuart Masterson all try to be hard but, with one exception, they don’t even come close. Only Stowe comes near to convincing and you just wish she had better material to work with. Having said that Barrymore may not convince but she is certainly entertaining.

There was a time when director Jonathan Kaplan looked like he might be somebody to watch (he made The Accused) but by the time he made this it was clear he had little creative ability. The action scenes are badly shot and poorly edited, there’s no flow to them. It’s no surprise that Kaplan’s ended up working as a TV director. Bad Girls (Extended Cut)

Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls

The first Ace Ventura film was a laugh out loud comedy but this one barely raises a chuckle. The basic idea is Ace goes to Africa and that should have made for a funny film but sadly, the producers must have thought the idea was enough and not bothered finding a humorous script.

Jim Carrey had moved on from his breakthrough hit to make The Mask, Dumb and Dumber and Batman Forever and he seems bored at having to go back to playing Ace. This may be why, this time, Ventura comes across as annoying instead of funny.

The only moment I really enjoyed was the William Shatner/Twilight Zone bit on the plane. Ace Ventura - When Nature Calls (1995)

Con Air

One of the best action movies of the 90’s thanks to a superb cast and some excellent writing. The actors are much better than you would normally find in a film of this type - Nicolas Cage (no stranger to action now, but this was only his second, following The Rock), John Cusack and John Malkovich. But the film is stolen by Steve Buscemi as Garland ‘The Marietta Mangler’ Greene, a perfectly played send-up of Hannibal Lecter.

The films secret weapon is Scott Rosenberg’s script that never takes itself too seriously, it’s also full of quotable lines. It’s a simple story - cons take over a police transport plane in an attempt to escape - with the plane occupied by some of the most unpleasant criminals in the history of cinema with some wonderfully lurid names. On top of the previously mentioned Mr. Greene we also get Cyrus ‘The Virus’ Grissom, William ‘Billy Bedlam’ Bedford, Ramon ‘Sally-Can’t Dance’ Martinez and Swamp Thing.

The standout moment is probably Malkovich and the bunny but there are so many it’s hard to choose. If only all action movies could be this much fun. Con Air [1997]

Black Jack

The title character is a mysterious surgeon for hire in this anime based on the manga by Osamu Tezuka. The story revolves around attempts by a huge corporation to create a new breed of superhuman. Unfortunately, the test subjects start to self-destruct after a short time. Enter Black Jack to save the day.

The film never really introduces the lead character so you feel you’re coming in part way through a series and thus you never really feel any connection. The fact that he is so aloof anyway doesn’t help. The animation itself is fairly basic, even if it is enhanced by some computer graphics.

Far from essential viewing except by the most fanatical anime lover or fans of the original manga. Blackjack [1993]

Affliction

While this may have some of the trappings of a murder mystery it is nothing of the kind, it’s a character study that gave Nick Nolte the best part he’d had for years, possibly ever. He plays a small town cop whose mental breakdown is at the heart of the film, and at the heart of his breakdown is his violent, drunken father played convincingly by James Coburn.

There are some excellent supporting performances from Willem Dafoe (as Nolte’s brother) and Sissy Spacek, but this is Nolte’s film. He conveys the inner turmoil and, finally, self-revulsion as he sees himself becoming his father.

I expected this to be good, coming from director Paul Schrader, but I had no idea how good, or how powerful a film it would be. It is an emotional journey that builds to a terrible and seemingly inevitable conclusion. Affliction [1998]

The Mummy

Peter Cushing gives his usual impeccable performance in Hammer’s take on the Mummy story. He plays John Banning one of a team of archaeologists who uncover the tomb of the Egyptian Princess Ananka and a little something extra as well…

Christopher Lee, not yet getting equal billing with Cushing, plays the title role and spends most of the film covered in bandages although he does get to show his face for a short flashback scene. He makes as commanding a Mummy as he did Frankenstein’s Monster the previous year.

Not as good as the Frankenstein and Dracula films that preceded it but still lots of fun in the very British Hammer style. The Mummy [1959]

The Big Lebowski

I’m becoming a Coen brothers fan. Last week I enjoyed Barton Fink and now this comedy masterpiece. Combining the mystery thriller genre with off the wall comedy the film tells the tale of a kidnapping gone wrong and how a case of mistaken identity results in Jeff Bridges’ Dude getting involved more or less against his will.

There are plenty of laugh out loud moments and some great comic turns from Coen regulars like Goodman, Buscemi and particularly John Turturro. The best bowling movie ever made.
The Big Lebowski [1998]

Films I want on DVD No1: Rituals July 26, 2006

Posted by Ian W in : Rants & Raves , add a comment

This is the first in a planned series about lost classics not yet released on DVD.

I was introduced to Rituals by Stephen King; not personally you understand but via his book Danse Macabre. It’s an excellent read and highly recommended for anyone with a love of horror, be it cinematic or the printed word. One of the many films he referred to was this low budget Canadian shocker called and it was included in his top 100 horror films at the back of the book.

Now in the early eighties I was a King fanatic (I’m still a big fan) so if the big guy rated it that highly then I wanted to see it. And I did, on a poor quality video cassette rented from the local video emporium, this was in the pre video nasties era when any Tom, Dick or Harry could set up there own video rental business and Blockbuster had yet to invade these shores.

I was impressed or as impressed as I could be with what I could see on-screen and that wasn’t much. The video had been in a lot of machines before ours and at least a few of them must have found it tasty enough to have a chew on, added to this was the fact that a lot of the film takes place at night and the film was low budget to start with so we’re not talking high production values here.

Years later I managed to track down an ex-rental video from American via Amazon.com. This was a lot better quality than the version I first watched but I later found out that it was cut by ten minutes and was taken from a TV edit. I’ve no idea if the first one I watched was cut or not, too much of it had faded into the mist of memory.

So what’s it about? Well there are obvious similarities to Deliverance with a group of friends going off into the wilds on vacation only to meet some less than friendly locals and have to fight to stay alive. There are also shades of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and some similarities with a film that was made the same year - The Hills Have Eyes (1977); still while it may not be original it is well made.

Director Peter Carter’s career may not have ascended to great heights but he knows how to get as much tension from a scene as possible and great performances from his actors. The always reliable Hal Holbrook is the most recognisable member of the cast and he relishes being given a lead role for a change. Lawrence Dane is the only other member of the cast that’s done anything else worthy of note, with a part in Cronenberg’s Scanners (he played Braedon Keller) and he has some great scenes with Holbrook. The rest of the cast may not have amounted to anything but are all a notch or two above the usual brand of actor you’d find in this kind of film.

There is one other person connected with the film who went on to a very successful career and that’s make-up man Carl Fullerton. This was Fullerton’s first film but with no experience and next to no money he manages some great effects. Not that this is a blood and gore kind of film, like those I’ve previously compared it to this is as much about what you don’t see as what you do.

So the big question is why is this not out on DVD? It seems perfect for Anchor Bay or Blue Underground to release; they can even market it as one of Stephen King’s top 100 films. I’m sure if they ask him nicely he’ll even give them a quote they can emblazon the sleeve with. And if they get there act together they could even get Hal Holbrook in for a commentary, probably the director and the rest of the cast too. A featurette on Carl Fullerton? There are lots of possibilities.

Please someone put this out on DVD soon!

Mother Of All Dust Devil DVD Releases!

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Subversive Cinema have announced the specs for there Region 1 DVD release of Richard Stanley’s Dust Devil. To say they sound good is a bit of an understatement. See what I mean -

Disc One:
• Dust Devil :The Final Cut: 107-minute version with 5.1 and 2.0 Dolby Stereo sound
• Audio commentary by Stanley and Hill
• Stanley’s production diaries
• A Demon Reborn: The Final Dust Devil featurette
• Making of Dust Devil featurette
• Trailer for the long-lost 16mm version of Dust Devil

Disc Two:
• Bonus CD: Dust Devil soundtrack by Simon Boswell

Disc Three:
• 114-minute reconstruction of the Dust Devil work print, in non-anamorphic 1.85:1 widescreen with 2.0 stereo sound
• New Dust Devil comic book by Phil Avelli, story approved by Stanley

Disc Four:
• ‘Voice Of The Moon’ documentary about Afghanistan, with commentary with Stanley and Hill
• ‘The White Darkness’ documentary about Haitian Voodoo, with commentary by Stanley and his production diaries

Disc Five:
• ‘Secret Glory’ documentary about the search for the Grail and the neo-Nazi movement, with commentary by Stanley and Hill and Stanley’s production diaries

This release easily tops the current Region 2 DVD and must rank as one of the best Special Edition releases ever put out. I’ve never seen any of Stanley’s documentaries before but ‘The White Darkness’ and ‘Secret Glory’ sound fascinating. I’m glad I held off buying the current UK release as this is a must have.

Stanley’s film for those of you who don’t know is a unique take on the serial killer genre and a visually stunning piece of cinema. This is a limited edition of only 10,000 so get yours quick. With a recommended retail price of a mere $29.95 (and no doubt this will be discounted by a lot of e-tailers) there really isn’t any excuse is there?

Now if only someone would release Hardware….

The week in pictures… July 24, 2006

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Friday The 13th Part VII: The New Blood (Region 1)

Or as it was no doubt pitched to the studio execs Jason meets Carrie as Jason comes up against a girl with telekinetic powers. Sticking to the rule (even good, odd bad) this is a pretty poor entry in the series, it may be called The New Blood but there’s precious little on display. Even the showdown between Jason and Car…sorry, Tina isn’t really up to much and the surprise ending runs part three a close second in the dumb idea stakes.

On the plus side this did give us the commanding presence of Kane Hodder as Jason for the first time and the make up when his mask is removed is pretty good. Friday the 13th - From Crystal Lake to Manhattan (8 Movies)

Friday The 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan (Region 1)

This breaks the trend of even numbered films being the good ones although I suppose it deserves some credit for trying something different. The title is a misnomer really; Jason Takes A Cruise would be a more fitting one as he takes an hour to arrive in New York. Even when he does finally arrive it wastes good opportunities for action; when confronted by a street gang, instead of killing them, Jason just shows them his face under the hockey mask and they run away. It’s a moderately amusing moment but hardly what the film needs. There are a couple of funny scenes, the best coming when Jason arrives in Manhattan and finds himself confronted by a billboard featuring a hockey mask.

The films biggest fault (as is the case with most of the series) is the ending; Jason gets returned to the form of a child after a bath in toxic waste. Inane.

Friday The 13th Part IX: Jason Goes To Hell (Region 1)

Probably the best, with the exception of the first one, of the odd numbered films, just don’t get the idea its good.

On the positive side –
It tries something different.
There’s more blood and gore (not to mention sex and nudity).
Steven Williams has a ball as bounty hunter Creighton Duke.
The action scenes are quite well done.
There are some decent actors in it - Billy Green Bush, Erin Gray (Wilma Deering from the Buck Rogers TV show).

Now for the bad –
The idea is a little silly even for a franchise renowned for silliness
We don’t get enough Jason (he only really appears at the beginning and end of the film)
The decent actors don’t really get anything to do (apart from die)

The ending sets the film up perfectly for Freddy vs. Jason but instead they made Jason X next. Jason Goes to Hell - The Final Friday

Jason X (Region 2)

Part ten of the Friday the 13th series sees Jason going where no hockey mask wearing serial killer has gone before – into the future and outer space! Nice idea that’s unfortunately poorly handled by director James Isaac.

David Cronenberg turns in a two minute cameo that must have been done as a favour to Isaac (he’d worked on a few of Cronenberg’s films) but it’s so small he may as well not have bothered. As for the future setting well it’s just window-dressing really and people certainly haven’t gotten any smarter.

The film wastes its best idea, a cyber Jason, only bringing him out for the finale and then not letting him do much. On the plus side we get the lovely Lexa Doig running around in a skimpy top with a big gun but that’s nowhere near enough. Jason X [2002]

Freddy Vs Jason (Region 2)

Watched as an action movie rather than a horror film this is a lot of fun. The plot really doesn’t matter as it’s only there to set things up for the big showdown between the two horror icons, it’s like a modern day Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man.

The action scenes are amazing, almost like a superhero clash but with added gore. Director Ronny Yu orchestrates the carnage like a master and Robert Englund looks to be having more fun playing Freddy than he’s had in years. Kane Hodder is replaced by Ken Kirzinger as Jason and even though he’s playing a totally mute character he still makes an impression. In fact Jason almost comes across as sympathetic and he’s certainly the one you’re rooting for in the final showdown.

Considering how successful this was it’s a surprise they haven’t made a follow-up already. Freddy vs Jason [2003]

Born On The 4th Of July (Region 1)

The first of Oliver Stone’s biopics is as much a tale of lost innocence as it is about the Viet Nam war., not just a man’s innocence but a country’s as well. The film gave Tom Cruise his first chance to show he really can act and he makes the most of it. He gets great support from Willem Dafoe and Frank Whaley but its Raymond J, Barry’s performance as his father that provides some of the most moving moments in the film.

This was the time when Stone could still tell a simple tale without the need to use a hundred different types of film stock to do it; all he needed was good actors and a well written script. Maybe one day he’ll return to that. I hope so. Born on the Fourth of July (Special Edition)

Bullet in the Head (Region 2)

A tale of three friends who leave Hong Kong for View Nam in an attempt to make there fortune during the war. It’s nice to get a different perspective on things than the usual American Nam film and here we see things through the eyes of people not tied to either side.

This is John Woo’s most epic film and possibly his most personal. The action scenes are as explosive as ever but at the heart of the film is the relationship of the three friends torn apart by the war. Bullet In The Head

Barton Fink (Region 1)

I must confess that I’m not really a Coen brothers fan. Of the films I’ve seen some I’ve liked (Blood Simple, Fargo) and some I haven’t (Raising Arizona, The Ladykillers) but many I’ve yet to see. This one now tips the scales on the positive side.

It’s a surreal black comedy about a New York writer selling out by going to Hollywood. There’s so much going on here – a satire of old Hollywood, a murder mystery, even a little horror – that it would be hard not to find something to like.

John Turturro is great as Barton and so is John Goodman as his neighbour with a secret. Steve Buscemi is sadly underused as Chet an employee at the hotel where Turturro and Goodman are staying. Best of all though is Tony Shalhoub as Ben Geisler a studio exec, he also gets the best line –at a restaurant with Barton he sees the writer is unsure what’s expected of him in Hollywood and recommends he seek guidance from another writer. When Barton asks who he replies ‘Jesus, throw a rock in here, you’ll hit one. And do me a favour, Fink: throw it HARD.’ It’s a great line but it’s the delivery that really makes it work.

There’s even a clever ending the leaves you with a smile on your face and questions in your mind. For some reason the film put me in mind of Polanski’s The Tenant but I’m not sure why. Barton Fink

Bitter Moon (Region 2)

Roman Polanski’s tale of sexual obsession is compelling viewing thanks to Peter Coyote’s superb performance. Two couples on board a cruise ship find themselves drawn together. Hugh Grant and Kristin Scott Thomas play the English couple celebrating there seventh wedding anniversary but it’s Peter Coyote’s American invalid and his French wife played by Emmanuelle Seigner that the film really revolves around.

Most of the film is told in flashback by Coyote to Grant (who’s obsessed with Seigner) and details his relationship from a chance meeting on a bus to his ‘accident’ that put him in a wheel chair and on to his wedding. It’s a tale of desire and revenge taken to far.

Polanski’s a master at this kind of thing and gets great performances from the leads, with the exception of Grant who’s a little to lightweight for the part. There are some nice moments of black humour to enjoy as well and the shocking finale fits the tone of the film perfectly. Bitter Moon [1992]

City War (Region 3)

Fairly standard Hong Kong action movie, about an ex-con out for revenge on a cop (Ti Lung) who’s best friend and fellow cop Chow Yun Fat is in love with the criminals girlfriend.

What elevates it a little above the norm is the presence of Chow Yun Fat and a violent final third of the film with some very shocking moments. The action scenes are decent but director Chung Sun is no John Woo.

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Comic Book movie sequel news… July 23, 2006

Posted by Ian W in : Film News , add a comment

Dark Horizons have reported some interesting news on the Batman and Hulk sequels-

Batman

The big Batman news is that Heath Ledger has allegedly been offered the part of the Joker in the next film.

Now Ledger is a good actor (although I can’t think of anything he’s been in that I’ve really enjoyed) but he lacks the flamboyance needed to portray the Joker. I think Paul Bettany or even Adrien Brody would have been a better choice but after Batman Begins I’m willing to accept that Christopher Nolan knows what he’s doing.

He’s yet to make a bad film and I’m eagerly awaiting The Prestige due out later this year.

Hulk

Now this is very good news. Louis Leterrier the director behind The Transporter films and Jet Li’s Unleashed will be directing the sequel.

I’ve yet to see Transporter 2 but based on the other two films he’s a director who knows how to make an action movie, and that’s just what this film needs. Ang Lee is a great director but he was always a bad choice for Hulk, trying to make it fit his style of filmaking rather than fit his style to the film.

According to Leterrier the new film will do for Hulk what Spider-Man 2 did for Spider-Man. There’s no news if Eric Bana will return but I hope he does as it will give the film some sense of continuity. The budget is reported to be over $100 million and there will be a lot less CGI this time. And that may be a good thing.

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Superman Returns July 22, 2006

Posted by Ian W in : Reviews, Film Reviews , 1 comment so far

I can’t say I went to see this with great expectations. Cautious optimism would probably be the best way to describe my frame of mind on entering the cinema.

The film starts with the familiar strains of John Williams rousing score and credits in the style of the 1978 Superman film and we’re informed that Superman’s destroyed home planet had been discovered by astronomers and that Sups had left earth in an attempt to find his roots (a bit dumb considering he’d been told by his father, Jor-El, that the planet had been destroyed, but then he never was that bright.)

We get introduced to Kevin Spacey’s Lex Luthor and find out how he got out of prison then we’re off to Smallville and the main man’s spectacular return to earth. He spends the night with his ‘Ma’ played by Eva Marie Saint (who gets nothing to do) does a spot of reminiscing about how he learned to fly before heading for Metropolis. So far so good…

Then we get to Metropolis and the Daily Planet building and it becomes clear just how big a fan Bryan Singer is of Richard Donner’s original film. Superman may have been gone five years but walking into the Planet takes us back almost 30 to 1978, nothing has changed. It’s soon clear that Singer is not a fan of Superman the character but rather Superman the movie and it’s this slavish devotion to the original that lets the film down. It’s Brandon Routh who comes off the worst, Spacey and Bosworth aren’t trying to be Hackman and Kidder but its clear Routh’s not playing Superman, he’s playing Reeve playing Superman. You can almost picture the casting sessions ‘No, not enough like Chris. Next!’ or Singer’s on set pep talks ‘Great Brandon but can you give me a bit more Reeve’ and it does a disservice to a good actor. And he is a good actor, he does a pretty good job of imitating Reeve but how much better would he have been if he’d been allowed to make the part his own? We’ll sadly never know.

But it’s not all Singers fault; the script writers deserve some of the blame for the films problems. We discover that Lois has had a baby in Clark’s absence, and is living with boyfriend Richard White (X Men’s James Marsden) and this makes Superman come across as something of a home wrecker. He’s been gone five years and left without telling anyone, that doesn’t exactly make him a sympathetic character. It’s made even worse because Marsden’s character is so likable, he’s probably the nicest guy in the film. When he discovers that Lois and the kid are being held on Luthor’s boat after being captured while sneaking around (she’s not going to win any good parenting awards) he hops in his sea plane and heads off to rescue her. It’s this simple human heroism that’s more heart-warming than any of Superman’s superpowered daring-do to the extent that, when Sups finally arrives to save the day I actually resented it, I wanted Marsden to be the hero. Then there’s Luthor, whose evil plan is basically the same as the first film, he’s not a supervillain he’s a land developer.

From an acting point of view Spacey is the biggest letdown, while the trailer gave the impression he was going to be much too over the top the opposite is true. He underplays far to much, he’s neither as funny nor as menacing as Hackman was (it’s hard to do both in the same part but Mr H pulled it off). Bosworth does a reasonable job as Lois Lane but then she’s only up against Margot Kidder and I’ve always thought her the weakest link in the Superman films. Frank Langella could do the Perry White part in his sleep, Sam Huntington wins the award for most annoying character for his portrayal of Jimmy Olson and Parker Posey manages to be less obnoxious than normal and even pulls off a couple of funny moments. The stand out though is James Marsden who turns a nothing part into a likable guy almost on charisma alone. And then of course there’s the blink and you’ll miss it Marlon Brando appearance that just shows again how fixated Singer is on Donner’s film.

Don’t get the impression its a total loss however, the action scenes are truly spectacular (if perhaps a little sparse) and watched as a sequel it’s an ok film, not as good as Superman II but better than 3 & 4. It’s a shame though that with almost 70 years of history to choose from we keep getting Lex Luther as the villain. At over two and a half hours it’s also a little long, it’s as if Singer wants you to believe you’re watching a real epic not just a fun action movie.

The film has done fairly well at the box office but it may struggle to match X Men: The Last Stand the film Singer abandoned in order to make this one, and X Men cost $50 million less to make. X Men provided people with what they want from a big budget superhero movie - superheroes fighting supervillains. Singer has apparently said there will be a sequel and hopefully he’ll have learned from this one and next time we’ll get something new and fresh, not a sequel that’s past it’s sell by date.

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Disillusioned with American TV July 21, 2006

Posted by Ian W in : Rants & Raves , 4 comments

My love affair with American TV shows began as a child. I remember watching Star Trek, sitting on the sofa with my younger brother, dodging the Enterprise as it flew towards the screen during the opening credits. There were a host of other SF series as well, mainly coming from the fertile mind of Irwin Allen. Luckily my Dad provided something to return my feet to terra firma. He was a huge western fan so other early viewing included The Virginian, The High Chaparral, Lancer, Cheyenne (and spin off Bronco) and the excellent Hondo that sadly only lasted one season. Not to mention Kung Fu that had me attempting to imitate David Carradine’s Kwai Chang Caine resulting in more than a few bruises, some my own!

As the 70’s progressed we saw the decline of the western show and a glut of detective series filled the void - Kojak, Cannon, McCloud, Colombo, Banachek, Starsky & Hutch to name just a few. My personal favourite was The Rockford Files, to the extent that my ambition when I grew up (sadly unachieved) was to be a detective and live in a trailer by the sea. And there were also other lesser known gems like Petrocelli, Manhunter (set during the American depression) and Baretta (starring the ill fated Robert Blake).

Then there were the SF shows trying to fill the gap left by Star Trek and Irwin Allen - The Six Million Dollar Man (and spin off The Bionic Woman),Logan’s Run, The Fantastic Journey, Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, Battlestar Galactica along and numerous others that are probably best forgotten (The Man From Atlantis anyone?)

All of these shows had one thing in common; you could miss a dozen episodes come back and nothing would have changed. The characters and there relationships would be the same as when you left them. Then in the 80’s things changed…

Hill Street Blues was a different kind of show, with a large cast of characters whose lives were often changed dramatically by events. The stories were different to and dealt as much with the protagonists lives as they did with there attempt to find criminals. This new, almost soap opera type show was a hit and others soon jumped on the bandwagon. St. Elsewhere transplanted the idea to a hospital and L.A. Lawto the courtroom, both were hits who’s influence is still felt today in series like E.R and Boston Legal.

This was great both from a viewers perspective (better developed characters enriched the viewing experience) and from the networks (it encouraged people to tune in EVERY week) and things stayed more or less the same until the mid 90’s and…

J. Michael Straczynski’s Babylon 5 hit the screens with its incredibly ambitious five year story arc. Yes there were some episodes that told pretty much stand alone stories but there was a main plot arc that ran through the whole show and it worked, almost anyway. I say almost because Straczynski tied up most of the plot threads at the end of season four when it looked like there wouldn’t be a season five. This resulted in a final year that contained a lot of padding, but by and large this brave experiment worked. Sadly I think its Mr Straczynski and his grand scheme that is, indirectly, the reason for my current feeling of disenchantment.

No one dared to try this kind of thing again until J.J. Abrams created Lost in 2004. Abrams had dabbled with a multi season plot strand with Alias and its Rambaldi McGuffin but with Lost he really embraced the long running story arc as no one since Straczynski had. Audiences loved it and the series was a huge success and like all successes it brought a flock of imitators. Some fell by the wayside early on (Threshold) but others survived for a full season (Invasion, Surface) only to get canned leaving viewers with lots of unanswered questions.

And it’s this lack of respect for viewers that’s behind my falling out of love with American TV, 22 episodes is to much time to invest in something that’s never going to reach a proper conclusion. I watched and enjoyed both Surface and Invasion but I’m left wondering why I bothered. I understand that they need viewers to survive but why try it in the first place? Why not go back to basics and tell single episodes stories. The US networks are notorious for cancelling excellent shows, Firefly and The Inside are two recent examples, but at least they can be rewatched and enjoyed. This new trend for multi season epics leaves me with no desire to see them again, even though the money hungry studios release them on DVD.

This disillusionment has spread from just the long running tales to all American series. I used to watch all three versions of C.S.I., House, Medium and lots more but now feel anything but compelled to watch them. Even Lost has lost its charm, if you’ll pardon the pun, although that could have more to do with the steady realization that, unlike Mr Straczynski, there is no plan and they’re making it up on the fly.

Will I go back? Probably at some point. I’ve felt the same, for different reasons, about British TV and have returned to that in recent years. But right now I find myself watching films in the time freed up from TV viewing and I’m enjoying watching something that I know will have an end before bedtime.

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That was the week that was… July 16, 2006

Posted by Ian W in : DVD Viewing Journal , 3 comments

A round up of the weeks viewing.

Cat People (Region 2)

Paul Schrader’s film is a good example of how to do a remake. While the core of the story is the same almost everything else has changed, with the addition of the brother character and the incest element being the biggest differences.

The casting is excellent, Malcolm McDowell and actually look enough alike to be believable as brother and sister and both give great performances. As does John Heard as the zoo curator who falls in love with Irena, this was the time I though he was destined for major stardom having made the excellent Cutter’s Way the year before but he’s ended up a reliable character actor instead.

Possibly the best thing about the film is Giorgio Moroder’s score that, even though it’s very 80’s, still sounds great and there’s even my favorite David Bowie song to accompany the end credits. There are also some pretty good make-up effects by Tom Burman who’d worked his way up through the slasher films of the early 80’s

And we get Ed Begley Jr singing the correct song (What’s New Pussycat?) just before getting his arm ripped off unlike the old VHS release that had the song replaced for copyright reasons. Cat People [1982]

C.H.U.D (Region 1)

A fun B movie style horror film from the mid 80’s about radiation transforming down-and-outs living underground into cannibalistic monsters that made a nice change from the slasher films of the time. Daniel Stern and John Heard don’t take things (or themselves) to seriously and Heard must have realised by this point in his career that the big time had passed him by. C.H.U.D.

Conquest (Region 2)

I’ve always though of Lucio Fulci as a poor man’s Dario Argento, not bad (at least not all the time) but not great. While his best films were either horror or giallo he’d have a go at almost anything - westerns, comedies, thrillers and even a bit of sword and sorcery as he does here.

Sadly it’s pretty awful, with a minuscule plot, poor dubbing and special effects that make Pertwee era Doctor Who look like Star Wars

Archers Adventure (Region 2)

If this tale of a racehorse’s journey overland across
Australia had been made by Disney it would have been full of lovable characters and heart-warming heroism but thankfully this is an Australian production and while there are certainly moments of heroism there also a much bleaker side to the story than any Disney film would have shown.

The film features a young, pre-stardom Nicole Kidman as a flirtatious farmer’s daughter and she makes the most of the fairly small part.

Not a classic but there are certainly worse ways to spend an hour and a half. Archers Adventure [1985]

Births, Marriages and Deaths (Region 2)

This wasn’t what I was expecting after reading the blurb on the back of the box, which made it sound like a thriller series about three friends who commit a murder on a stag night and that’s not really an accurate description of this series. Consequently it took a little while to adjust but by the end of part two I was hooked.

Ray Winstone is great at playing lovable rogues and incredibly unpleasant characters. At the start it seems like Alan will be one of the former but by the finale it’s become clears he’s definitely the latter. The climax at a wedding anniversary party with the guests in, appropriately, Roman togas brings everything to a head brilliantly.

And Maggie O’Neill singing ‘I Will Survive’ over the end credits gives a last laugh to a perfect combination of drama and comedy. Ray Winstone - Vincent / Henry VIII / Births, Deaths And Marriages

A Killing Affair (Region 2)

Not a bad film thanks mainly to a good performance from Peter Weller. He plays a drifter looking for work who we know has killed one man and may have murdered his whole family with an axe. He holds Kathy Baker hostage (it’s her husband he’s killed) and it’s through there relationship that we discover the troubled past of both characters.

The direction of the film is uninspired and it looks like a TV movie, it’s not helped by a very poor DVD transfer with colours so washed out that it almost looks black and white at times.

This was made the year before Weller got his big break with Robocop and it’s not hard to see why he went on to better things.

The Big Easy (Region 2)

A decent thriller that benefits from the obvious chemistry between Quaid and Barkin. Sadly Ned Beatty is underused as the leader of the corrupt cops that Barkin is trying to bring down but he makes the most of an underwritten part. Director  Jim McBride should have made more of the New Orleans locations; apart from the opening shots and the funny accents this could be set anywhere.

The 80’s was a bad time for thrillers, being replaced by over the top action movies and this was one of the better ones and even this has to go for the big explosive finale.

Some very nice Cajun music on the soundtrack and Quaid gets to give his tonsils a workout as well. The Big Easy [1987]

American Gothic (Region 2)

Crazy tale of a group of friends whose seaplane crashes in the Pacific near an island and the sole occupants are Rod Steiger, Yvonne De Carlo and there three mentally defective kids (one played by rent-a-nutter Michael J. Pollard). Needless to say they have a funny way of welcoming visitors.

It’s hard to tell if this is a comedy horror film or just so bad it’s accidentally funny. To see two once great Hollywood stars reduced to this is a little sad.

Friday The 13th (Region 1)

The heartrending tale of how a parent copes with the grief of losing a child in a terrible accident.

The film that opened the floodgates for the slasher films of the 80’s still stands as one of the best of its type. It’s not high art but it does what it sets out to do and does it well. Â

This was the first 18 (or X as it was then) rated film I saw at the cinema and as such it has a special place in my heart. And no I wasn’t 18 at the time. Friday the 13th - From Crystal Lake to Manhattan (8 Movies)

Friday The 13th Part 2 (Region 1)

Steve Miner gets promoted from associate producer to director and does a better job than Sean Cunningham. He wrings as much suspense as he can from the film by realising that we know these people are going to die so the only question is where Jason is going to come from. It’s a ploy that works at least for the most part.

The cast do a fair job with the standard teen victim parts although it’s a little disappointing that a lot of them have gone into town when the mayhem starts as it misses out on the opportunity for some wholesale slaughter.

It’s only at the end that the film disappoints, with a bizarre climax that leaves you wondering what the hell happened.

Friday The 13th Part 3 (Region 1)

It’s hard to believe that this was directed by the same man who made part two as there is a complete absence of suspense with the exception of the opening sequence. The film also ignores the ending to the previous film, finishing the recap at the beginning with Jason still in his little shack, leaving out the part where he comes through the window at the end of the second film.

Steve Miner isn’t helped by the film having originally been made in 3D (during one of Hollywood’s periodic attempts to get the idea off the ground) and thus has to have things flying or poking out of the screen every five minutes, or by a truly terrible cast playing paper thin characters and delivering clichéd dialogue from a dumb script.

The worst thing about the film is the ending that rips off the first film by having a woman come out of the water to grab the only survivor. Who the hell is she supposed to be? Jason’s mum? It’s just to stupid for words.

The films only plus point comes from giving us the iconic image of Jason in the hockey mask for the first time.

Friday The 13th Part IV: The Final Chapter (Region 1)

A return to form after the terrible third film that also marks the return of Tom Savini. Savini had worked with the director Joseph Zito on the superior slasher film The Prowler (aka Rosemary’s Killer) a few years before.

There’s little suspense generated as we know by now that most of the characters will die at some point but the murders are well executed and Savini provides some nice gory effects.

We even get some people who can actually act this time and a couple who would go on to bigger and better things - Corey Feldman and Crispin Glover (whose dance alone is worth seeing the film for). And we also get lots of naked female flesh something that was (sadly) absent from part three.

Of course this wasn’t the final chapter, not even half way in fact, and the ending sets the scene for the following years A New Beginning.

Friday The 13th Part V: A New Beginning (Region 1)

It may be a new beginning but sadly it’s a return to the poor quality of part 3. This time the characters are even worse and they’ve found actors with even less talent to play them.

This is probably the worst film in the series and certainly the worst so far. No Jason, no gore, no point really.

Friday The 13th Part VI: Jason Lives (Region 1)

I’m starting to see a pattern here, even numbers good odd numbers (with the exception of part one) bad.

Choosing to ignore the ending of the previous film, where Tommy was about to take over from Jason, this turns him into the hero. Although it’s all his fault anyway for digging up Jason’s grave and then stabbing him with a metal railing so he can be struck by the lightning that brings him back to life. That sounds crazy (and it is) but this film embraces the craziness. It’s like the old Universal Frankenstein films and the ways they had of bringing the monster back for the next film and Jason by this point is as iconic a figure as Karloff’s Frankenstein (the film even references Karloff at one point).

There’s a nice streak of dark humour running though the film, something absent from previous entries and writer director Tom McLoughlin obviously has a lot of affection for the series.

And to top things off we get Alice Cooper singing the theme song!

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Things to come… July 15, 2006

Posted by Ian W in : Site News , add a comment

What will I find within these pages? I hear you ask. Or is that just the voice in my head again?

Well you’ll find reviews. Mostly film reviews but some of my other passions will creep in as well, namely books, comics and music. In the not too distant future you should be reading my views on Superman Returns, Don Siegel’s autobiography A Siegel Film and Kevin Smith’s first Green Arrow story Quiver plus lots more cool stuff.

You’ll also find comments rants on current movie related news and other things that bug me. The first of these already has a title - Disillusioned with American TV - and the rest should follow soon.

Lastly you’ll find my weekly viewing log complete with mini reviews. The first of these should be posted later today and will (hopefully) contain pretty pictures for you to look at.

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