Amandla Ngawethu!

So I’ve been boning up on Black Panther in anticipation of the movie – have read the character’s two initial appearances in Fantastic Four, the Ta-Nehesi Coates run (too dry – didn’t care for it), Christopher Priest’s (innovative and cool but a little bit too pop culture-y at times for me), and now Reginald Hudlin’s (AWESOME). It inspired me to sit down this morning and write this.


In Hudlin’s TPB there’s a really brilliant piece he wrote in the back, The Black Panther: A Historical Overview and Look To The Future, in which he writes –
“The Black Panther is the Black Captain America. He’s the embodiment of the ideals of a people. As Americans, we feel good when we read Captain America because he reminds us of the potential of how good America can be, if, of course, we have the convictions to live by the principles the country was founded on. As a black person, the Black Panther should represent the fulfillment of the potential of the Motherland.”
There’s a great exchange between King T’Chaka and a representative of a global economic conference in issue three…
Rep: Your Majesty, we’ll pay whatever price you set for your goods.
T’Chaka: They are not for sale until the spiritual advancement of the West catches up to their technological prowess. It would be irresponsible to share our scientific discoveries with you.
Rep: What? Are you calling everyone here irresponsible children?
T’Chaka: No. More like sullen teenagers who feel more mature than their behavior warrants. The fact that every conversation here is framed in terms of profit and power says it all…you could have made half these breakthroughs yourself, but there’s too much money to be made in misery. Why cure a disease when people pay for medicine? Why provide cheap energy when…
Rep: We get the point, T’Chaka. Heh. I’ve never met a socialist with a crown on his head before, but I guess there’s a first time for everything…
T’Chaka: Who gave you permission to use my first name?
Rep: I…I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to offend…
T’Chaka: I understand your frustrations in dealing with a black man who can’t be bought with a truck load of guns, a plane load of blondes, and a Swiss bank account, but hold onto what little class you have.
Rep: Your Majesty, I truly apologize…
T’Chaka: This meeting is over.
* * *
That scene really hit for me. It’s everything I hope the Black Panther movie is, and why I’m really nervous about it failing. Black Panther needs to be political as all hell, safeties off. I love that it’s on the cover of Time, and that people are excited for it. I love that it’s going to be a celebration of black culture, as Luke Cage was, and I hope it lives up to the cultural touchstone people really want it to be. But I hope it goes a step further. I hope it inspires people. I hope it blindsides them with a truth they themselves suspected, but one that needed to come in under their wires somehow; that a nation becomes great when it cares for its people. I hope people come away thinking….”hmmm….that wouldn’t be so bad. Why don’t we have that? (and I don’t just mean the flying cars)”
Ah, it’s a lot of hope to put on a Disney movie about a comic book character. Probably way too much.
But so what?

Wakanda is a sovereign nation unconquered, great because of its dedication to instilling pride in and bettering its own citizens with education and innovation, who holds its leader to a strict moral principle which then inspires them to emulate that principle themselves. There’s no want, no ignorance, no lack of compassion in Wakanda. In elevating one, all are elevated. Wouldn’t Wakanda be a great place to live? Couldn’t we come together to make Wakanda wherever we are?


Published in: on February 11, 2018 at 9:54 am  Leave a Comment  
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New Years Movie Roundup 2017

I didn’t get to the movies as much as I would have liked this year.  Missed out on a lot what with traveling and family. Slept on Mother!, Last Flag Flying,
Professor Marston And The Wonder Women, Lady Bird, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, The Disaster Artist, Happy Death Day, The Shape Of Water, Hostiles, All The Money In The World, and Molly’s Game.

However, there was a lot of great stuff released this year. My top ten new release viewings of the year were –

1. Blade Runner 2049 – I was never clamoring for a Blade Runner sequel, but Villeneuve’s masterful revisitation of Ridley Scott’s seminal dystopian noire was far and away the finest movie I saw in 2017. For the first time in years I sat through the end credits not because I was waiting for some cutesy fan stinger, but because I was completely flabbergasted by what I’d just seen and in awe of the achievement of everybody involved. An instant classic, even, I would venture to say, surpassing the original.
2. I Am Not Your Negro – Documentary narrated by Samuel L. Jackson about the unpublished writings of James Baldwin regarding the civil rights movement in America. Literate and harrowing, this film should be required viewing not just for everyone trying to understand the histrionics of the racial divide in this country, but by every American period.
3. Your Name (technically a cheat as it really came out end of last year in limited release) – What I expected would be a cutesy lark of an anime about a boy and a girl randomly switching bodies turned out to be the most moving and heartfelt fantasy film I’d seen in years, and easily the best Japanese animated movie to come along since Miyazaki. I was honestly riveted by the unguessable twists and sometimes dark turns it took.
4. T2 Trainspotting – Another sequel I didn’t know I wanted till I was once again immersed in the lives of Ren, Begby, Sickboy and Spud. A punchy, raw, honest and at times hilarious look at the onset of middle age in characters who had so encompassed the frenetic wildness of youth. Seeing them again was like going home.
5. Coco – Vibrant, glorious, passionate Mexican fable from Pixar about a boy who pines for a life of music in a family where past tragedies have driven all music from their lives. The comparison to the Del Toro produced Book of Life is unavoidable, but while there are some similarities, this stands admirably on its own as a loving meditation on family, art, and reconciliation.

6. Brawl In Cell Block 99 – I wasn’t a fan of Bone Tomahawk, but S. Craig Zahler’s crime thriller followup about a reluctant crook forced to do dirt behind bars to keep his pregnant wife safe was a top watch, with a brutal, intimidating performance by Vince Vaughn, brilliantly cast against type – well, I can’t say that. Vaughn is a big guy, and it just took a stroke of genius from Zahler or his casting director to recognize in him the capacity for such a violent, physical role.
7. Alien Covenant – A lot of people have completely hated Ridley Scott’s enigmatic prequels to the Alien franchise. I’m not one of them. I still think Prometheus is a flawed masterpiece, and I derived giddy enjoyment from the followup, which subverted my expectations of another mysterious exploration of the Engineers and instead presented itself as a grand guignol Hammer Frankenstein movie set in space while still continuing the underlying theological themes of its predecessor.
8. Lego Batman Movie – Possibly the single funnest Batman movie ever made, sending up every iteration of the character while never devolving into mere thoughtless parody, and thus displaying more genuine love for the character than any filmmakers have shown thus far. And there was even a Gymkata joke. 


9. A Cure For Wellness – This was a gem of a horror picture about a man trapped in a remote mountain sanitarium boasted some of the most staggering visual compositions outside of Blade Runner 2049 and perhaps Killing Of A Sacred Deer, but it was much maligned for a perceived tonal shift in the last reel. I didn’t get the hate. I was hypnotized by the dread and like Alien Covenant, found the ending appropriately Hammer-esque. I still can’t believe people preferred The Void to this. 


 10. The Girl With All The Gifts – I might be the last guy on earth that’s still open to a good zombie movie. This one was very good, from its gripping opening to its Richard Matheson-esque denouement.

Let’s hope 2018 brings some happy watching. Feliz ano nuevo.

31 Days of Halloween Horror Viewing

It’s that time of the year for Halloween fear. No pre-prepared watch list this time, I’m just jumping in and checking out stuff I haven’t seen. Follow along!

Day 1 – The Hand – So if CERN really did shunt a bunch of us into another universe, the fact that I had never heard of a Michael Caine movie by Oliver Stone in which a comic book artist’s severed hand goes around killing people is proof enough for me. After a really grisly and well done hand loss the movie meanders a bit, but remained watchable, if absurd.
Day 2 – Sole Survivor – A woman emerges unscathed from an airliner crash, but is haunted by silent strangers stalking her everywhere. I found this to be a more consistently coherent It Follows. A bit of a slow burn, but enjoyable.

Day 3 – Gerald’s Game – I never read the book, but this movie is carried by its performances, particularly that of Carla Gugino. It’s a great and at times infuriating study of character, history, and gender, but the final scene in the courtroom is a bit pants, to use a funny expression from across the Pond. I understand it happens in the book, so I guess it’s a faithful adaptation.
Day 4 – Pieces – The VHS box for this one has stuck with me for years. Absolutely bonkers giallo with some lovely ladies getting cut to…well….pieces. There’s a totally bizarre ethnic ‘kung fu’ joke in the middle of it for no apparent reason and the left field ending stinger has to be seen to be believed. This has got to be the single biggest influence on the classic parody movie Student Bodies.

Day 5 – Vampire Circus – I had been wanting to see this one for a long time and it was worth the wait. Top drawer Hammer movie about a staked vampire who lays a curse on his slayers which a band of odd circus performers/minions begin to enact in hopes of resurrecting their undead master. Some really inventive FX, beautiful actresses as always, and ingenious scenes of vampire slaying. This is gonna be a top watch for me for the season for sure.

Day 6 – Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde – Another late Hammer outing. London chemist Dr. Jekyll, seeking a life prolonging formula, figures out how to chemically change sexual characteristics (maybe because unmarried women live longer?) and promptly begins assuming a vampish, female form who may or may not be his darker self. Points for including both Jack The Ripper and Burke and Hare, but otherwise kind of middling.

Day 7 – Child’s Play 3 – Chucky, rendered to a molten blob at the end of Part 2, gets reconstituted into a new body when an unscrupulous toy manufacturer decides to re-christian the Good Guy line. I think I would’ve enjoyed this if it had been about Chucky running rampant through the upper corporate echelons as some kind of cathartic, anarchistic statement on the evils of unfettered capitalism, but instead he just went after Andy (this time play by Justin Whalin from the D&D movie) at a military school and I spent three quarters of the movie trying to remember if I’d seen this already or not. The always good to see Andrew Robinson was memorable as a weirdo military barber, but that’s about it.

Day 8 – Don’t Deliver Us From Evil – French film about two Catholic school girls who dedicate themselves to Satan. Their deliberate sins gradually escalate from minor pranks and infractions to their logical outcome. Widely regarded, it reminded me a bit of The Little Girl Who Lives Down The Lane. An engaging movie, but frankly, a bit too sleazy with the underage girls.

Day 9 – Abbott and Costello Meet Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde – Might be the low point of the ‘meets’ series for me so far. Just not particularly funny, though it has moments. And the song and dance routine of the suffragettes kicking up their heels and lifting their skirts like can can girls was pretty cringeworthy, even for a guy who likes Willie Scott the best of Indiana Jone’s lady friends. The boys are American cops inexplicably working in some kind of exchange program (a la Black Rain?) with the British coppers in Edwardian England. They get fired and wind up chasing Dr. Jekyll’s (Karloff) alter ego to try to get their jobs back. Costello turns into both a mouse man AND a Hyde monster.

Day 10 – Eyes Without A Face – There’s a reason this one’s got a Criterion release. A French surgeon, responsible for a car crash that leaves his daughter Christiane horrifically disfigured, sets out to make amends by kidnapping beautiful young girls with the help of his assistant and attempting to graft their faces onto hers with varying degrees of success. Incredibly well realized and astonishingly graphic for 1960, this is another top first time watch for me this year. I’m trying to talk my wife into going next Halloween as Christiane!


Day 11 – Boys In The Trees – This Australian picture turned out to be less of a horror film as advertised and more of a dark fantasy. That’s not a knock on it. It’s a great little movie, about teenaged boys on the cusp of manhood, and in particular, two former best friends on Halloween night, one an aspiring photographer who compromises himself to fit in with the local crowd, yet has dreams of leaving their small town, and the other an imaginative, bullied pariah who doesn’t want to grow up. The two reason through why they drifted apart and the movie becomes a meditation not just on masculinity, but on identity and memory. Extremely well done and affecting. Almost as if written by a brokenhearted Ray Bradbury.


Day 12 – The Resurrected – Dan O’Bannon captains this practical FX gorefest, loosely inspired by Lovecraft’s Case of Charles Dexter Ward and starring Chris Sarandon as the necormancy-obssessed doctor being hunted up by a private detective hired by his wife to figure out just what he’s been up to. Suprisingly moody and fun, with some neat lore and grotesque creations.

Day 13 – Personal Shopper – Kristen Stewart is a personal assistant for a Parisian celebrity, but she’s also a medium staying in Paris to hear word of her late twin brother. Then she starts getting mysterious texts on her phone urging her to give into her wild side. So I watched this because I’d heard good things….but it felt like three different stories vying for my attention, and Stewart’s character just wasn’t interesting enough to make me care about any of them. It was a total slog.

Day 14 – The Hour of The Wolf – Bergman’s a great filmmaker. The Seventh Seal and The Virgin Spring are amazing. This was pretty, but very, very boring.

Day 15 – Eyes Of The Cat – I stumbled across this one completely by accident (was looking for the Hammer movie, Shadow of The Cat). An ambitious hairdresser recruits the estranged bon vivant nephew of a clingy, ailing San Francisco socialite in a bid to alter her will then murder her and steal her millions. Seems pretty straightforward, except the nephew is terrified of cats and the woman’s will currently leaves her inhertiance to a mansion full of felines. When the (perhaps incestuous) aunt gets rid of all the cats and then a sack full of kittens so as not to offend her beloved nephew, one particular orange tabby seems to take a preternatural interest in the proceedings. Lots of neat twists and turns (perhaps, in the very end, just one too many), good dialogue, and some inventive camera work.

Day 16 – Frankenweenie – A first time watch with the kiddies. Not bad remake of the live action original, though I preferred the first iteration with Barret Oliver. The catpoo-o-mancy was a little much.

Day 17 – The Sorcerers – Interesting picture starring Boris Karloff and Catherine Lacey about a pair of married, aging scientists who invent a process that allows them to experience another’s thoughts and feelings, and exert a degree of control over them. The pair test their process on an unsuspecting London swinger, Ian Ogilvy, and proceed to push the experiments into new territories, Ogilvy blacking out when they take over. Lacey becomes more and more addicted to inhabiting Ogilvy….good movie.

Day 18 – The Berlin Syndrome – An Australian tourist winds up the the latest captive of a psychopathic German sports school teacher in east Berlin. A well done thriller.

Day 19 – Snuff – Weird ass schlock take on the Manson murders turned in the last five minutes into a faux-cinema verite ‘snuff’ film where the camera crew ‘unexpectedly’ films the director murdering an actress (who, if I’m not mistaken isn’t in the movie) on camera. Obvious head and hands through the bottom of the bed and fake body trick. I guess people fell for it back in the day.

Day 20 – Night Of The Devils – Neat Italian horror of a man who stumbles upon a remote, isolated family dealing with a witch and the legend of the verkolak.

Day 21 – Crystal Lake Memories – Thorough, epic 7 hour documentary of the Friday The 13th film series, from Part 1 through the recent remake. I have a deep, abiding love for this series, and Simon Hawke’s novelization of Part 6 is one of the books that inspired me to start writing. This loving analysis delved deep and left me with a new appreciation for the movies, even the remake. I really hope Derek Mears, who played Jason, gets another crack at the part, and I totally agree with the notion that Part 13 should bring back ALL the final girls and Tommy Jarvis. A top watch.

Day 22 – Pirates of The Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales – It’s got ghost pirates, so I say it counts. A vengeful Spanish pirate bent on avenging himself on Jack Sparrow seizes control of the high seas and the cursed Will Turner’s son sets out to find the loopy rogue and find an ancient artifact that could break his father’s curse. Very inventive and neat at times, though I sometimes lost track of the character motivations and decisions. Javier Bardem was cool as always and I’m glad they moved away from that Jack Sparrow is a lord of pirates business. Nice callbacks to the superior original. Young CGI Jack was a little wonky in an otherwise killer scene.

Day 23 – Seed Of Chucky – Chucky and Tiffany’s innocent doll son escapes a freakshow and goes to Hollywood to find his parents. What the heck did I just watch? It actually started off pretty amusing and strange, but I didn’t need to see Chucky jerking it in silhouette, and eventually Billy Boyd’s Glen/Glenda became annoying. Jennifer Connelly and Redman are good sports.

Day 24 – Diabolique – French classic about the wife and mistress of a boorish French headmaster who plot to do away with him. Pretty great, but I wish the twist had not been telegraphed early on by the mistress.

Day 25 – 1922 – Chilling Stephen King adaptation about a farmer who enlists the aide his own son to murder his wife to prevent her from selling off their land. An epic, macabre gothic morality tale. Very well done.

Day 26 – The Babysitter – Amusing horror comedy about a shy, out of step boy who learns his idyllic babysitter is not what she seems to be….but c’mon, once she showed such a passion for Billy Jack I knew she had to be evil. The black character was a little bit too stereotypical at times, but the movie was fun overall.


Day 27 – Funny Games (1997) – A well to do Austrian family has their vacation home invaded by a pair of young psychopaths. “[Director, Michael] Haneke states that the entire film was not intended to be a horror film. He says he wanted to make a message about violence in the media by making an incredibly violent, but otherwise pointless movie.” He succeeded. But it wasn’t really that violent either.

Day 28 – Curse of Chucky – A huge step up from the previous sequels. Somebody sends a Chucky doll to a disabled heiress and shenanigans quickly ensue. Moody and well done. The fan service end stinger got me hyped for Cult, which is what I’ve been slowly working towards.

Day 29 – Cult of Chucky – The girl from Curse of Chucky is tormented again by the killer doll in the asylum to which she has been committed. I liked seeing Andy in a more Tommy Jarvis role, but the mechanics of Chucky’s plan didn’t make sense to me. Curse and the original remain the best of the series.

Day 30 – Behind The Mask: The Rise Of Leslie Vernon – I got what the filmmakers were going for, but horror comedy is a tough sell for me and rarely works. Plus I just couldn’t get bast the twerpiness of the killer. Maybe if he’d lost the soul patch.

Day 31 – And I wrapped my 2017 Halloween first time viewing marathon with The First Power.  Lou Diamond Phillips pursues a body jumping serial killer. Jeff Korber’s always interesting to watch, but this is pretty paint by numbers, even with a magic Catholic crucifix dagger.



Six Great Foreign Westerns You Might Have Missed

A while back I did one of those lists, 7 Gritty Westerns You’ve Probably Never Heard Of, shedding light on a fistful of down and dirty 70’s era western movies in the cinema verite style which I hadn’t heard a lot of hooplah about but really enjoyed.

I recently watched a spate of fantastic western movies from the other side of the world and have similarly been inspired to list them here. I know some western fans tend to denigrate the efforts of non-American filmmakers in the original American art form, but they’re definitely missing out.  These pictures prove that some of the most innovative and interesting horse operas being made to day are being imported to our shores, just as in the early days of the much lauded Italian spaghettis.

1. Brimstone – If ever there was an anti-Searchers, it has to be Dutch filmmaker Martin Koolhoven’s sprawling, nihilistic epic about a crazed Reverend (Guy Pearce, in yet another great performance that by all rights should be a breakout part for him but like everything else he does, somehow isn’t given its due) relentlessly pursuing tongueless midwife Liz (Dakota Fanning) for reasons that only an attentive viewing of the slowly unraveling nonlinear tale as it unfolds make clear, and which I wouldn’t dream of spoiling here.


Brimstone is a dark, demented masterpiece, almost a psychological horror movie, and the less you know about the plot going in the better I think it is. It demands patience, but definitely rewards the viewer with a tragic, operatic story in the best bloody, grand guginol style. The gradual reveal reminded me of Leone’s Once Upon A Time In The West.


As I said, Pearce delivers an apocalyptic performance as the fanatic man of an increasingly mad and evil god. Emilia Jones gives a great turn, particularly for a young actress in such a stark, weighty part, and the cast is liberally peppered with vivid, memorable characters, including Kit ‘Jon Snow’ Harrington as a fugitive outlaw and Paul Anderson as a loathsome pimp.

2. Slow West -The joint British and New Zealand production of John Maclean’s Slow West presents one pie-eyed young Scot’s (Kodi Smit-McPhee, in a winsome, earnest performance) bildungsroman journey to reunite with his true love Rose (Caren Pistorius), who has fled the accidental killing of his own landowning father for the wilds of Canada. Jay, the kid, falls in with a cynical bounty hunter (Michael Fassbender) secretly out to collect a bounty on her head.


Slow West is a lyrical coming of age story peopled by unique characters and featuring some absolutely eye popping cinematography.  There’s a great illusory action sequence of Ben Mendelsohn’s outlaw gang popping up from an unbroken field of tall golden wheat like whack-a-moles to exchange gunfire and then seamlessly vanish again that had my eyes bugging. Little moments are focused and lingered upon; blood pooling beneath a dead clerk, a nail catching on a corpse’s trousers as it’s desperately dragged across a porch so that a door may be shut against the hail of gunfire outside, the progression of a bright caterpillar across a camoflagued Indian warrior’s painted face. It’s a beautiful movie, and an affecting portrayl of innocence and responsiblity lost and regained.


3. The Salvation – Kristian Levring’s lavish Danish western begins with an explanation of the migration of veterans of the Second Schleswig War of 1864, an event that harkens to the westward flight of Confederate veterans to Texas following their parallel defeat at the hands of the Union, to the American frontier.


Mads Mikkelson’s Jon and his brother Peter (Mikael Persbrandt), having eked out a stable living, have sent for Jon’s wife and ten year old son after a separation of seven years. Tragedy strikes on the stagecoach to the homestead when a pair of violent ex-convicts board and force Jon off. Jon walks through the night in the ruts of the stage, finally discovering his son murdered and then his wife brutalized and killed. In short order he kills the two perpetrators, but finds that one of them was the brother of powerful local gang boss Delarue (a really oily and odious Jeffrey Dean Morgan), who takes the nearby town hostage until the killer of his brother is turned over to him.


Sort of an alternate take on High Noon’s theme of the lonely good man against bad odds, I found the alternate viewpoint of Danish settlers really interesting and the action inventive and top notch.  There’s a particularly great bit involving a guy shooting through the ceiling of a hotel at a sniper on the roof and a can of kerosense that you’ll know when it comes.

Likewise, The Salvation’s look is really unique, eschewing the typical dull beige pallette of most modern westerns for a bright, brilliant sun baked hue of sandstone that really makes it stand out.

4. The Dark Valley – This bleak, moody German-Austrian revenge tale from Andreas Prochaska doesn’t take place in the American west at all, but I’m still including it here as it has all the trappings of the genre.


The mysterious stranger, photographer Greider (Sam Reilly), who rides into the remote mountain town hiding a secret only to systematically unleash a hell that turns out to be well deserved in the final reel reveal reminds me a lot of High Plains Drifter, and its snowbound gloom recalls Corbucci’s classic The Great Silence.


The Dark Valley is a quiet, brooding movie, where the violence comes smashing down like an unexpected avalanche.

5. The Proposition – John Hillcoat’s  wild Australian western, written by Nick Cave, takes place in a bloodsoaked 1880’s outback.  Police Captain Morris Stanley (Ray Winstone) offers captured bushranger outlaw Charlie Burns (Guy Pearce again) and his simple minded younger brother Mikey freedom in exchange for Charlie hunting down his murderous older brother Arthur (Danny Huston), a notorious killer feared even by the Aborigines, who call him The Dog Man.


Sort of a western Heart of Darkness, we follow the progression of Charlie’s hunt for his near-mythic brother across a virtual hellscape, replete with black clusters of flies and savage, half-wild bounty killers (including a grizzled John Hurt) and bear cringing witness to his eventual, ultraviolent return when the particulars of the titular proposition go tragically, if not predictably awry.

960The Proposition is brutal and beautiful, a dark acid western in the truest traditions of the genre.

6. The Warrior’s Way – OK this one is a huge thematic departure from the rest of this list, but I can’t help it, I really enjoyed it. It’s essentially a frenetic HK-style action movie from South Korea and New Zealand, directed by Sngmoo Lee.

Sad Flutes (named for the sound of blood whistling from a severed neck) clan master assassin Yang ( Jang Dong-gun) destroys a rival clan at the orders of his superiors, but stays his hand from doing in an infant girl. In derelict of duty he flees to the western town of Lode, populated by ex-carnies, and there raises the girl, April, in anyonymity, befriending a dwarf (Tony Cox), the town drunk (Geoffrey Rush), and a local girl (Kate Bosworth), who seeks revenge against a murderous gang leader known as The Colonel (The Proposition’s Danny Huston again) for murdering her parents and brutalizing her.

When the Colonel and his army arrive to finish the job, Yang takes up his sword to defend the town. But the very act of arming himself draws the attention of his old clan master Saddest Flute (Ti Lung), and the Sad Flutes arrive to punish their own.


The Warrior’s Way is a slick, insane weird western actioner where legions of bandanna wearing, duster-clad, Maxim toting stormtroopers essentially butt heads with the Korean equivalent of faceless sword twirling ninjas, and I get absolutely giddy watching the CGI mayhem unfold. Blood fountains and rains (literally), and for some there will probably be as much eye rolling as head rolling. It portrays an at times hilariously over the top hyper reality of painted backdrops and never-could-be characters, Geof Darrow-esque mass super-violence in the mode of chanbara flicks and manga. Very imaginative, but admittedly not for everybody.

It sticks out like a sore thumb on this list, but if you can watch a scene like the one below and get a kick out of it, you’ll enjoy it (definitely NSFW):

Any one of these is worth a view, and in my opinon, a purchase.


DT Moviehouse Review: The Chronicles Of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe

Time once more for my blog feature, DT Moviehouse Reviews, in which I make my way alphabetically through my 200+ DVD/Blu-Ray collection (you can see the list right here)and decide if each one was worth the money. Today, I review the Chronicles Of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe.

Directed by Andrew Adamson

Screenplay by Andrew Adamson, Ann Peacock, Christopher Markus, and Stephen McFeely

Tagline: The beloved masterpiece comes to life.


What It’s About:

In the midst of the German bombardment of London during World War 2, four children are sent to the country to live with their eccentric uncle. During a game of hide and seek they pass through an enchanted wardrobe into the magic land of Narnia where they become embroiled in a war between its good creatures, led by the lion Aslan (voiced by Liam Neeson) and the White Witch Jadis (Tilda Swinton) and her dark army.

Why I Bought It:

I was not introduced to fantasy by C.S. Lewis, but probably by Rankin and Bass’ Hobbit cartoon and Ralph Bakshi’s Lord of The Rings, which in turn led me to the original Tolkien novels, Robert E. Howard’s Conan, and most importantly, Dungeons and Dragons, the roleplaying game that supercharged my imagination early on. I spent untold hours in the basement of a friend’s house rolling dice and eating junk food while the older players passed the Captain Morgan and we took on hordes of monsters and each other in bleary-eyed sessions morning and night. I couldn’t get enough of fantasy.

I had read the entire Narnia series by the time this movie came out, so it was a given I was going to see it, but I remembered Lewis as being a bit bland, and so I didn’t expect to like this as much as I did. I saw it with my best friend, a guy who I’d once watched turn his human thief into a fire breathing, flying minotaur trapped for all eternity inside a diamond (a magic Deck of Many Things, a few lucky Wish pulls and a complete inability to quit while he was ahead had culminated in this) and when the final battle sequence began with its dizzying array of Monster Manual denizens, we’d both turned to each other, looking past our wives in nerd-gasmic, bug-eyed appreciation, both of us I think, in that moment, really WANTING to be in Narnia.

e4cc9d4c53b1bf5a2b7edd1ef8bce7e4Following a cast of child actors can be pretty hit or miss. You can be blessed with Harry Potter or The Goonies, or damned to the ninth circle of Mary-Kate and Ashley Skywalker. The kids assembled to portray the Pevensie kids are winsome and earnest, and don’t come across as the type with a celebrity and money obsessed parent breathing down their necks, shoving them into the closet with St. Sebastian when they don’t hit their marks (or whatever showbiz parents do).

45b3874fbebeb72ddac3c01c986d7764Young Lucy (Georgie Hensley) is a standout, plucky and yet sensitive, with a great gosh-golly-wow face. I’d just had my first daughter when I saw this and she won me over pretty quick. I can’t even hear that Alanis Morrisette song that plays during the credits without picturing her now. The scene where she is betrayed by Mr. Tumnus (James McAvoy) is a particularly good display of her talent. Her bewilderment at the fawn’s lie (which, under the director’s hand, has an almost unseemly, exploitative feel, like a prelude to molestation in some darker Todd Solondz movie) comes across well.

Likewise Edmund (Skander Keynes) is sufficiently shifty, but doesn’t play his seduction by the White Witch so that we can’t forgive him later. Peter (William Moseley) is as heroic as you want him to be, and Anna Popplewell as the much-maligned Susan….I wish she had gotten the chance to play the character to the end of her involvement in the series, because I think from this (and Prince Caspian, the sequel) she had the chops to make it interesting.

Jadisedmundcastle1Tilda Swinton is as ever icy and ethereal as the White Queen Jadis, alluring and cruel as first crushes often are, which gets you in Edmund’s shoes pretty well. “I know she’s evil, but dang, I really want her to be good, so I’ll give it a go. Besides, Turkish Delights! So she must like me.” Jadis’ dwarf henchman Ginarrbrikk is played by Kiran Shah, who was the kid who let the monkey poison the dates in Raiders of The Lost Ark. Liam Neeson’s voice rivals James Earl Jones’ as the sound of ultimate paternal love in the form of Aslan the lion. Other recognizable voices include Michael Madsen as the Witch’s rough right-hand wolf who sounds like he’s ready to chew your ear off at any minute, and Ray Winstone as the salty, blue collar Mr. Beaver. James Cosmo has a memorable cameo as the most kick ass Santa Claus ever.

The CG animals are only a little difficult to accept, and even then, only initially. When blended with live action, its practically perfect, particularly as on display in the epic final battle sequence. For the most part the FX are great, and surprisingly bright and four color, eschewing the typical rule of using shadow to obscure the seams.  Narnia is a sumptuous land, with bright, beautiful scenery and luxuriant textures, as any storybook land should seem.

Narnia has a reputation as a Christian fantasy series. I guess there is some element of that on display in the character of Aslan, whose arc may be a bit mystifying if you don’t take his origins into account. Yet I wouldn’t say it pushes an agenda. I don’t feel proselytized to watching it. It’s just a pretty straightforward good vs. evil story.

chronicles-of-narnia-the-lion-the-witch-and-the-wardrobe-the-20051019035129270-000What I really love about this movie is it feels like an 80’s throwback. In the 80’s we had fantasy movies like Dragonslayer, Ladyhawke, Legend, and Excalibur, movies that were never embarrassed of what they were. Even Jackson’s much-lauded Lord Of The Rings movies are peppered with anachronistic winks at the audience (that awful, awful Dwarf tossing joke). Narnia has a bunch of kids from our world in a fantasy realm, and they they aren’t cracking wise and giving us Poochie MST3K commentary. They’re in it, and it’s as real as can be. I like that the kids don’t take a rear echelon Pokemon role in any of the action. They’re in the thick of the fight at all times. It makes their ultimate enthronement more deserved, more satisfying, and their sudden departure back to their own lives (as if they’d never left) more poignant.

Best Dialogue/Line:

The one that gets me is right before the final battle.

Peter has been thrust into the role of commander of this vast army, and he sits atop a unicorn in shining armor with a magic sword, possibly every boy’s dream, and certainly mine. But he has this moment where he looks to his centaur second in command (played wonderfully by Patrick Kake) and asks, as a kid in a bit over his head might;

“Are you with me?”

And the centaur has this great look on his face, a sort of bewilderment at the question. Aslan, for all intents and purposes his god, has chosen this kid to lead them, so there’s not a doubt in his mind. He sort of shakes his head and furrows his brow in an ‘of course’ manner.

“To the death,” he says.

Best Scene:

maxresdefaultWell I keep talking up that final battle, don’t I? It’s every storybook fantasy battle you’ve ever dreamed of, with the ‘bad’ critters on one side (Minotaurs, werewolves, goat-men, bumbling giants, etc) and the ‘goodies’ on the other. There’s a fantastic shot where Peter in his shining armor, gallops on a freakin’ unicorn at the vanguard of this contingent of centaur cavalry. The centaurs lower their lances and a group of racing cheetahs pull ahead of the army, while on the opposite side, a group of white tigers rush to meet them. There’s a pullback to the whole battlefield and the music (which I must mention is really cool during this sequence, very 80’s Vangelis sound) cuts out to a pre-clash heartbeat. Then these great cats just bash into each other ahead of their respective hoses, and go tumbling. It’s not a bloody battle, but the violence is there, and dramatic. Jadis petrifies enemy combatants, even turning a diving hippogriff to stone in passing so that it crashes into the ground in fragments.

Would I Buy It Again? Yes. And this reminds me to revisit the others.

Next In The Queue:



DT Moviehouse Review: Chato’s Land

Time once more for my blog feature, DT Moviehouse Reviews, in which I make my way alphabetically through my 200+ DVD/Blu-Ray collection (you can see the list right here) and decide if each one was worth the money. Today, I review the Charles Bronson western Chato’s Land.

Directed by Michael Winner

Screenplay by Gerald Wilson

Tagline: The scream of his victims is the only sound he makes.


What It’s About:

When mestizo Apache Pardon Chato (Charles Bronson) is harassed and challenged in a saloon by the racist local sheriff, he turns and kills the lawman, fleeing into the desert. Ex-Confederate Captain Quincy Whitmore (Jack Palance) gathers a posse to track him down, slowly losing control of the situation and the unruly bunch of men under him.

Why I Bought It:

The 70’s is a great era to drag for hidden gems of westerns, and Chato’s Land is among the best. It’s definitely overshadowed in Bronson’s ouvre by his better known work, and is probably mostly forgotten even among his turns in westerns like Once Upon A Time In The West and The Magnificent Seven. John Landis, who worked in some small capacity on the picture, called it by the numbers, but I couldn’t disagree more.

ba99I love the washed out, ugly, pared down look and feel of Chato’s Land. The Almeria (doubling for Arizona) landscape is ugly, beige, alkali-covered and barren. It really looks hellish, crawling with flies and rattlesnakes. The characters who eke out their living in this place are almost uniformly unkempt and ugly, particularly the posse members, who are cast with some fantastic character actors like Little House On The Prairie’s Victor French, Richard Basehart, James Whitmore, and particularly the loathsome Hooker brothers, Ralph Waite (the father on TV’s The Waltons), Richard Jordan, and Psycho’s psychiatrist Simon Oakland, whose patriarchal Jubal is a standout here. The Hookers are horrific villains. Earl is introduced apparently trying to rape his sister while his brother Elias sits by shaking his head and Jubal takes his belt to him. They’re a pack of wild dogs Quincy calls upon in the hunt, but who end up biting him in the end.

3Bronson, when he strips to his breechclout toward the end, looks to be carved out of sandstone, sprung from the land itself. The most significant chunks of his dialogue are spoken in Apache, so it’s a Conan The Barbarian-esque part, with Bronson doing all his acting with his physicality. He still manages to bring a humanism to Chato in the interactions with his son and the gorgeous Sonia Rangan, his wife. Rewatching it though, I wonder at his initial motivation for drinking in the saloon of an apparently notorious racist sheriff (one of the rancher’s sons describes him as a no good hillbilly who got what he asked for later on). It’s apparent the town and its lawman has a reputation, so it feels like Chato intends to kill the man. Why is he in town at all if he has a hacienda with a wife and son in the remote mountains? Why is he making a point of bellying up to the bar? He has a reputation himself as the Mexican tracker in the posse knows him and the horse he rides. One wonders if the movie opens with some kind of climax to an untold story between these two. Maybe Chato and the sheriff had a lot of previous run ins.

At any rate, once Chato guns down the sheriff and rides out of town, the first person anybody runs to is Jack Palance’s Captain Quincy Whitmore, ex-Confederate officer, ex-scout for Tom Jeffords, who famously ran down the Apache guerilla Cochise, and the most able man in town when it comes to organizing a posse.


Palance plays the character pretty much as he’s written, a man eager to relive past glories. The first thing he does when he hears there’s a fugitive killer is go upstairs and don his old Confederate duds. It’s kind of a weird thing to do if you think about it, but it’s a telling character moment. The man sits dreaming of the past. Later, in a dying fever, he curses an enemy commander and several times speaks wistfully about watching tides of gray clad men crashing against lines of bluecoats. He’s never gotten past that part of his life. The character Nye observes that Quincy is ‘chasing down a breed and dreaming of Yankees.’

It seems to be a running theme among the most prominent characters, that they can’t overcome some self-made obstacle in their lives, some obsession or obstinacy which drives them to the inevitable. Quincy must lead men. Jubal must avenge his no good brother. Earl must have a woman. Even Malachie, the most progressive of the bunch must respond to his neighbors’ call, even when he knows it’s probably not right.  The inevitability each of them faces is Chato himself, who is the dead that comes with folly.

chatos-landYet he’s a surprisingly kindly reaper at first, gently urging them all to drop it and let it go. Chato killed the sheriff, but he has no quarrel with them. When they pursue, he spares the Mexican scout, knowing they will use his abilities to follow his track. He leads them in circles, sneaks in and night and spears their waterskins and canteens while they’re sleeping (sparing them again), shoots their horses, tries everything to discourage their pursuit. I think at one point he even discourages a raiding party of Comanche and Kiowa from tangling with them, telling the hostile Indians the posse isn’t worth the trouble. Returning to his hacienda and speaking to his Apache father? Brother-in-law? He even seems reassured that they will have learned their lesson.

The movie is something like the anti-Searchers, with Palance standing in as a reluctant Ethan Edwards. He even paraphrases John Wayne’s famous line about the Comanche, adapting it here for the Apache.

“Injun’ll chase something until the chasin’ begins to cost too much, then he’ll drop it. That’s how he thinks. Now he don’t plan on somethin’ comin’ after him no matter what.”

1118full-chato's-land-screenshotWhen Quincy’s posse lucks upon water and discovers Chato’s hideout while he is away wrangling wild horses, the Hooker brothers and some of the other possemen gang rape his wife. Then of course, Chato strips away his ‘white’ clothes and goes First Blood on them, rescuing his wife, running off their horses, torturing and killing Earl, and mercilessly picking them off one at a time in a variety of ingenious ways (my particular favorite being flinging a live rattlesnake into a guy’s face and watching him expire).

Their intractability has led them to their ends, and not even the mildest among them, who deride the acts of the Hooker brothers but who do nothing but stand by hemming and hawing while they are committed, is spared. Quincy swiftly loses control of the Hookers and Jubal wrests leadership of the posse from him in the wake of Earl’s death, forcing them all into the maw of Chato like a mad Ahab, until Malachie and Brady, the two Scotts rebel. But it’s too little too late.

Chato’s Land feels like a pretty brutal movie, even though much of the violence is implied rather than depicted. It’s tame by today’s standards, but it has an adult hard hearted-ness that make it ring true. As a personal note, it was a huge influence on my own feature film Meaner Than Hell.

I find the score kind of forgettable, but there are some noteworthy sound and editing choices. There are a lot of match cuts in the transitions, a zoom of a belt turning into a horizontal fire log burning, and my favorite, the screams of Chato’s wife turning into the keening cries of horses at one point.

Best Dialogue/Line:

“To you this is so much bad land – rock, scrub, desert and then more rock. A hard land that the sun has sucked all the good out of. You can’t farm it and you can’t carve it out and call it your own… so you damn it to hell and it all looks the same. That’s our way. To the breed, now, it’s his land. He don’t expect to give him much and he don’t force it none. And to him, it’s almost human – a living, active thing. And it will give him a good place to make his fight against us.”

Best Scene:

For me, it’s got to be the ending.

Malachie and Brady, the two most reluctant of the posse members, both Scot immigrants, finally turn on Jubal and gun him down.

They immediately turn to the long trek home, short on water. One horse dies on them, but they keep going. Then, at night in camp, a rifle bullet comes out of the dark and leaves Malachie burning on the fire.

The last scene is of Brady, the lone survivor, stumbling on foot through the white, dusty rocks bordering his home, lips cracked and sunburned. He scrambles up an embankment only to find Chato sitting there atop his horse, denying his final escape. He tries to pass, and Chato simply moves left or right, herding him like a wayward steer.

Brady falls back and stumbles into the wasteland as the camera rises into a final, shaky helicopter shot, Chato ushering Brady back into the empty landscape, not lifting a finger to kill him, though his fate is pretty clear.

Would I Buy It Again? Yes

Next In The Queue: Children of The Damned

Published in: on March 10, 2016 at 12:15 am  Leave a Comment  

DT Moviehouse Reviews: Casino Royale

Time once more for my blog feature, DT Moviehouse Reviews, in which I make my way alphabetically through my 300+ DVD/Blu-Ray collection (you can see the list right here) and decide if each one was worth the money. A bit late to tie into the release of Spectre, here’s Daniel Craig’s first outing as 007, Casino Royale.

Screenplay by Neal Purvis and Robert Wade

Directed by Martin Campbell

Tagline: None


What It’s About:

casinoroyale_commentary1In the wake of earning the 00 prefix, MI6 agent James Bond (Daniel Craig) follows a twisting trail of a Ugandan terrorist organization’s millions back to criminal financier Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkselsen). After foiling Le Chiffre’s plan to double his money via the destruction of an international airline, Bond and Treasury agent Vesper Lynd (Eva Green) are tasked by M (Judi Dench) with going head to head with the desperate Le Chiffre in a high stakes game of Texas hold ‘em at the Casino Royale in Montenegro to keep the money out of the terrorists’ hands and force the financier to give up his shadowy criminal employers.

Why I Bought It:

The first James Bond movie I ever saw was Live And Let Die on broadcast television with my parents. While I was impressed by the alligators, Tee-Hee and the voodoo, the ‘kissy stuff’ was a big turn off, and I would roll my eyes as further installments aired over the years, dismissing James Bond as a romance series. In the 90’s I rediscovered Bond via GoldenEye, and was completely arrested by the character (enough to jump at the chance to write him – more on that in a later post). I never did get into Roger Moore much, but I went back and watched the rest of the series, and finally read the musty, water-damaged old Ian Fleming paperbacks from my dad’s college days, which totally outshone the series in my mind, and despite my excitement for the character, I detected the gradual split between the superior books and the films, probably right around You Only Live Twice, with a brief return to form in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and, in terms of feel anyway, parts of Timothy Dalton’s run. Brosnan’s subsequent outings departed from reality and left me a bit cold, so when Daniel Craig and this movie were announced, I didn’t rush out to see it.

The first time I did catch it was in the break room at my then job.

CASINO-FIGHTThe opening of Casino Royale brought the thunder. Shot in brutal, stark black and white, we’re treated to the ‘origin’ of Bond, or at least, the initial two kills which earn him his license to kill. This sequence was an epiphany for me. The savage bathroom fight is harsh and dirty. This is Ian Fleming’s scar-faced assassin, terrifying in one instant and magnetic in the next, as we cut to his confrontation with the rogue section chief. In contrast to the bleak, disheveled whiteness of the restroom, Bond emerges from blackness like a shot out of the Third Man, neat, cold, merciless as he cuts off his quarry’s advice with a suppressed bullet.

Casino_Royale1-e14016479285401.pngThen, like Dorothy stepping out of her house into Oz, the screen floods with brilliant colors and the opening strains of one of the fiercest Bond themes since Live And Let Die, the skin prickling You Know My Name by Chris Cornell. The lyrics are pure Bond. Are they a continuation of the section chief’s warning to the fledgling assassin, or are they a weathered, cold hearted Bond speaking dismissively to Le Chiffre or to his younger self?

Arm yourself because no-one else here will save you
The odds will betray you
And I will replace you
You can’t deny the prize; it may never fulfill you
It longs to kill you
Are you willing to die?

The coldest blood runs through my veins
You know my name

blue-white-etc (1)I wrote a bit more extensively about the awesome opening title sequence here for Hasslein Books, so I won’t spend more time on it here.

This was new, this was brilliant. This wasn’t the erudite playboy delivering Schwarzeneggerian quips and lasering comic book bad guys with his wristwatch. This was Fleming’s Bond, stepped right out of the book from which this movie takes its name.

And yet, on that initial viewing, I went from riding high immediately to despair as Bond wound up chasing an African bomber through a construction site in a crazily over the top parkour sequence. I was wrong, this was still comic book stuff. I went through the rest of the flick half-lidded, guffawing at one point when, after a furious fight in a stairwell with two machete wielding Ugandans, Bond discovers the shaken Vesper sitting in the shower fully dressed, sits down next to her, and proceeds to suck her fingers. And Texas Hold ‘Em? Bond’s game is Baccarat. Texas Hold ‘Em is for hillbillies and Vegas rats in hoodies with sunglasses.

I didn’t go see Quantum of Solace (a real shame, because next to this, it’s my favorite Craig outing), and only went to Skyfall because a friend from out of town wanted to see the Cinerama Dome on Vine and chose Skyfall as the movie.

I enjoyed Skyfall, and it induced me to revisit Casino Royale.

If I could kick myself in the head, I would.

Casino Royale isn’t quite Ian Fleming’s Bond, but it’s pretty dang close. It follows most of the plot of the book, even if Craig’s Bond is given a bit of an out by M at the end, so he’s not quite the same cold hearted bastard he is at the end of the book, which, if I’m not mistaken, ends with the line “The bitch is dead.”

picture-of-sebastien-foucan-in-casino-royale-large-picture.jpgThe plot is taut, the action gripping. That parkour chase through the construction site I dismissed in my first viewing is absolutely killer, with Sebastian Foucan (and his freerunning doubles) moving with sublime kinetic grace as Bond pursues his character like a juggernaut, smashing through drywall and finally chasing him down to an embassy which he leaves in flames. The crash of the DBS V12 when Bond nearly runs over Vesper in the road is spectacularly shot, and the tense battle inside a sinking Venetian edifice is a great climax.

Casino_Royale_(120).pngGone are the campy sexploits of stiffly mugging Bond. This is the cold blooded international assassin, slipping a blade into a man at a museum exhibit in the midst of unsuspecting civilians, downing a whisky to quell the shakes after battling to the death in an empty stairwell, then cleaning his cuts and chaning his shirt in time for the next multimillion dollar hand down in the casino. The only gadget on display is a believable adrenaline shot and dashboard defibrillator, the closest thing to a joke in the wake of the action an exultant but exhausted grin as a terrorist mistakenly blows himself up instead of the world’s largest jet liner.

Daniel-Craig-as-James-Bond-in-Casino-RoyaleYet despite the superhuman feats Bond pulls off, this is not an untouchable superman. This Bond doesn’t shrug off bullets or car crashes. He nearly succumbs to poison, and after suffering grueling ‘advanced interrogation techniques’ at the eager, sadistic hands of Le Chiffre, he earns a hospital stay. Likewise, this Bond, we are to assume a young Bond early in his career, still feels enough for Vesper’s betrayal to cut out his heart in the end. We’re witnessing a crucible firing. The fat is cut away, and at the end, the man who blows out Mr. White’s knee and stands over him with a silenced submachinegun, truly is Bond, James Bond.

Casino_Royale_(99).pngThe supporting cast of Casino Royale is fabulous. Of course Judi Dench’s return to the role of M is welcome (if a bit puzzling in terms of series continuity, until you arrive at the conclusion that these should basically be viewed and enjoyed the same way as the Godzilla series, where the origin and basic tropes are the same and each subsequent installment unrelated, groups of miniseries within the overall series). Eva Green believably pulls off the arc of a seemingly inexperienced field agent who is also in league with the Devil the whole time, alternately vulnerable and necessarily cruel, tragically beautiful and regretful. This is the movie that introduced me to the great Mads Mikkelsen, whose bleeding-eyed Le Chiffre seems as cool as the other side of the pillow when he’s at the table playing with other people’s money, but is suitably sweaty and frantic when those people come to collect. His scenes with Bond around the table are terrific, and the cringe inducing torture sequence appropriately hard to watch. Jeffrey Wright’s been a favorite actor of mine since Ride With The Devil, and his turn as series mainstay CIA agent Felix Leiter is a welcome casting choice. I like him here and in Quantum of Solace, and have missed his return since. I especially like Giancarlo Giannini in the role of Rene Mathis, a likable, sophisticated mentor for Bond whose loyalty is called into question late in the game. Bond movies are known for their lovely actresses and I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the absolutely stunning Caterina Murino as Solange, the satiny, neglected wife of one of Bond’s kills who pays the ultimate price for betraying her slimy husband’s doings.

casino-royale3.jpgAs for Daniel Craig himself, he’s the best Bond since Timothy Dalton, and captures the look and feel of the literary 007 possibly better than any of his predecessors. Sure he’s a sophisticate and a connoisseur of various fineries, but the drinks and the pills are holding him together, and beneath that veneer he’s the scary killer smashing through the dry wall to get at you. Those freakin’ eyes!


Best Dialogue/Line:

The initial exchange between Vesper and Bond.

Vesper Lynd: All right… by the cut of your suit, you went to Oxford or wherever. Naturally you think human beings dress like that. But you wear it with such disdain, my guess is you didn’t come from money, and your school friends never let you forget it. Which means that you were at that school by the grace of someone else’s charity: hence that chip on your shoulder. And since you’re first thought about me ran to “orphan,” that’s what I’d say you are.

[he smiles but says nothing]

Vesper Lynd: Oh, you are? I like this poker thing. And that makes perfect sense! Since MI6 looks for maladjusted young men, who give little thought to sacrificing others in order to protect queen and country. You know… former SAS types with easy smiles and expensive watches.

[Glances at his wrist]

Vesper Lynd: Rolex?

James Bond: Omega.

Vesper Lynd: Beautiful. Now, having just met you, I wouldn’t go as far as calling you a cold-hearted bastard…

James Bond: No, of course not.

Vesper Lynd: But it wouldn’t be a stretch to imagine. You think of women as disposable pleasures, rather than meaningful pursuits. So as charming as you are, Mr. Bond, I will be keeping my eye on our government’s money – and off your perfectly-formed arse.

James Bond: You noticed?

Vesper Lynd: Even accountants have imagination. How was your lamb?

James Bond: Skewered. One sympathizes.

Best Scene:

Casino_Royale_(9).pngHas to be that opener, one of the best of the series.

Dryden: How did he die?

Bond: Your contact? Not well.

Dryden: Made you feel it, did he? Well, you needn’t worry. The second is…


Bond: Yes. Considerably.

Would I Buy It Again: Yessir. Though I think I’d like to hunt down that European cut, which is a bit more brutal, I hear.

Next In The Queue: Chato’s Land


DT Moviehouse Review: Captain America: Winter Soldier

Time once more for my blog feature, DT Moviehouse Reviews, in which I make my way alphabetically through my 200+ DVD/Blu-Ray collection (you can see the list right here) and decide if each one was worth the money. Today I review Captain America: The Winter Soldier.

Directed by Joe and Anthony Russo

Screenplay by Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely, based off a story by Ed Brubaker and characters created by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby

Tagline: None


What It’s About:

hero_CaptainAmericaTheWinterSoldier-2014-1After the events of The Avengers, soldier-out-of-time Captain America/Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) begins to question the motivations of SHIELD and its director, Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) while running a series of nebulous covert missions alongside assassin Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow (Scarlett Johanssen). When Fury is attacked and passes along an important data drive to Steve, urging him to trust no one, he becomes a target for the occult machinations of SHIELD official Alexander Pierce (Robert Redford) and top assassin The Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan), while he works to uncover a far reaching conspiracy with the help of Romanoff and pararescue trooper Sam Wilson/The Falcon (Anthony Mackie).

Why I Bought It:

captainamericaMy introduction to Captain America was fittingly #224, a Mike Zeck penciled issue which featured Cap suffering from amnesia and a shady conspiracy by South American villains The Tarantula and Senor Muerte to assemble and detonate a bomb. This was part of one of those three-comics-in-a-bag things you used to be able to pick up at the corner drug store or Toys R Us. I don’t know if they still do them, and I don’t know why somebody got this for me (I was three and obviously still in my make up the story since I can’t read it stage), but the two subsequent issues, #225 and #226, involved false memories and Cap’s body being returned to his pre-super soldier physique, and an attack by an army of SHIELD agents turned into Red Skulls.

I was always aware of Captain America, watched the early movies, dug his motorcycle, wore the Underoos, but never really got into the character till the cover for Captain America: The New Deal caught my eye at a convention and I retroactively started reading the title again.

By the time the movie Captain America: The First Avenger came about Captain America had become my favorite Marvel superhero.  What I like about Cap is that although he seems underpowered compared to his fellow Avengers, he’s the ultimate human. That is, he’s a human being taken to his maximum potential in physicality, determination, raw, practical intellect, and perhaps moral certitude. He can jostle Thor’s hammer, dodge Iron Man’s force blasts, and most importantly, stand against his own government if he needs to. Unlike many of the Marvel stable, he was a hero before he got his powers. All he needed was an opportunity. His strength of heart is off the charts. He’s the purest American dream fully realized. He’s what America ought to be.

As a fan of the character, and believing as I do that The Rocketeer is the greatest comic book movie ever made, I was understandably excited for the first modern day Cap movie. After a stellar first twenty minutes though, The First Avenger plummets in quality to such an extent that I came away completely disappointed and have maybe watched it once since.

As such, I nearly skipped this follow-up. I felt the Bucky character and his relationship to Steve Rogers had been sorely mishandled, and would hardly be remembered by non-fans, and that the big revelation couldn’t possibly carry the weight it did in the titular Brubaker storyline from the comic.

I have no idea what made me trek to a matinee alone to see this. Possibly it was the early gushing of friends. But I did, and it’s simply put, one of the five best comic book movies there are.

CATWS_01Everything that went wrong with First Avenger is corrected here. Instead of barely fleshed out supporting characters and a two dimensional villain going through the motions in a hurried, assembly line story whose only real purpose is to get the hero in place for the sequel, Winter Soldier is a great standalone movie with a logical, intriguing plot populated with rich characters and centered around a great central reveal. It’s a successful merging of the superhero genre and the kind of breathless conspiracy thriller its casting of Robert Redford, the star of the classic Three Days Of The Condor, is obviously intended to bespeak.

hail-hydra-01The intricate and far-reaching conspiracy of Winter Soldier was a pleasant surprise. These days it’s pretty difficult to go into a high profile movie like this spoiler-free. Even a cursory glance at an entertainment headline or a message board or a cast listing on imdb told anybody unfamiliar with the original material the identity of The Winter Soldier. Concluding that the same actor who had played a different role in the last movie was returning for the sequel under a new nom de guerre was no big leap.  But the greatness of the movie is that the big reveal 90% of the audience already knew about turns out to be a sideshow to the even bigger revelation of who/what’s holding the Winter Soldier’s leash. The trailers admirably skirt it, focusing instead on the mystery of the Winter Soldier. I personally didn’t see it coming, and the subsequent ramifications (and the brilliant way they tie into the real world present state of global affairs) send the rest of the movie hurtling forward at a breakneck pace that is supremely entertaining. I hate to talk around the plot, as I’ve kind’ve made it a point not to worry about spoiling things, but it’s so good, if you just stumbled upon this blog and are unwisely reading this having not seen it, I don’t wanna be the guy to spoil it for you.

88milhas_Capitao03As mentioned, the characters from top to bottom are extremely well and yet succinctly rendered. Cap’s previous naivety has here given way to a world-weariness and growing disillusionment with the modern world that comes out in Evans’ interactions Redford’s bureaucratic Pearce and Jackson’s all-business Nick Fury, and yet also manages to take on a tension-alleviating humorous bent for instance, when he takes dating advice from Black Widow, or hastily adds Marvin Gaye’s Trouble Man to his ‘catch up’ list at the behest of Falcon. And special kudos have to be given here to Anthony Mackie, who portrays Sam Wilson with infinite charm and humanity. He’s got a boundless energy and positivity in him that masterfully counterbalances Cap’s growing dark side and, I think, serves to turn him away from despair. It’s a stroke of brilliance that he’s a VA counselor and veteran combat pararescue guy, making him the perfect conscience and confidant, having seen what Cap’s seen, and yet still able to draw clear lines and put things in perspective.

captain-america-the-winter-soldier-scarlett-johansson-leather-butt-black-widowScarlett Johanssen continues to evolve the Black Widow character, making her more and more interesting with each movie, not a small feat given that she’s intended to be a supporting character in sometimes disparate stories. I think in this one she’s the most human she’s ever been, maintaining the manipulative air and yet delivering lines like ‘I just pretend to know everything’ with the same dry, flat, assassin’s affect that is entirely believable given her background. Her conversations with the completely open and forthright Cap change her, and by the end of this one, she’s much more of a heroine than she’s been previously.

Winter_Soldier_TWS-2robert-redford-washington-monumentSebastian Stan understandably doesn’t have a lot to work with here, but he projects an imposing presence I didn’t imagine he was capable of in the first movie, and there’s a nice flashback scene between him and young Steve Rogers on the back stoop of his late parents’ place that brings out their fraternal relationship winsomely. Toby Jones makes a welcome return and delivers the infodump at the heart of the movie with pulp villain glee that had me grinning. Likewise, all-American Robert Redford’s casting (I once read a great wishlist casting him in his prime as Steve Rogers) is on par with Henry Fonda’s typecast bucking role in Once Upon A Time In The West.

In the age of the CGI-heavy movie, it’s also refreshing to see such great practical stuntwork and fight choreography in a mainstream comic book picture. Nick Fury’s chase sequence through the streets of DC and the impromptu fight between Cap and Batroc (Georges St.-Pierre) are great examples, and the overpass battle between Cap ‘n pals and Winter Soldier is a thrilling mix of both.

fz-22469resized.jpg__800x600_q85_cropAll said and done, it’s just an all-around entertaining movie. The action isn’t just amped up from the first film, it’s meaningful and inventive this time out. The picture also gives us a myriad of fine character moments. Cap’s melancholy reunion with an aged and senile Peggy Carter (Haley Atwell), his wondering tour of his own Smithsonian exhibit (and the great, great bit where the starstruck kid doesn’t ‘out’ him)….the best nods to fandom should resonate just as strongly with somebody who’s never picked up a Captain America comic. Winter Soldier does it pitch perfect.

Best Dialogue/Line:

will-falcon-steal-the-show-_147216-fli_1382632185“I can’t ask you to do this, Sam. You got out for a reason.”

“Dude. Captain America needs my help. No better reason to get back in. When do we start?”

Gave the little kid in me chills in the theater.

Best Scene:

Captain-America-2-The-Winter-Soldier-Official-Still-Elevator-Scene“Before we get started, does anybody wanna get off?” ‘Nuff said.

Would I Buy It Again? Yep.

Next In The Queue: Captain Blood


DT Moviehouse Reviews: The Call of Cthulhu

Time once more for my blog feature, DT Moviehouse Reviews, in which I make my way alphabetically through my 200+ DVD/Blu-Ray collection (you can see the list right here) and decide if each one was worth the money. Better watch out! It’s Halloween night….and here’s my review of the fan made HP Lovecraft Historical Society’s adaptation of The Call Of Cthulhu.

Directed by Andrew Leman

Screenplay by Sean Brannery, based off the story by H.P. Lovecraft

Tagline: The celebrated story by HP Lovecraft brought at last to the silver screen.


What It’s About:

A man uncovers evidence of a strange cult, following the seemingly disparate threads of an ancient artifact, a police raid on a degenerate backwoods bayou ritual, the nightmares of an artist, and the account of a Norwegian vessel’s exploration of a remote island.

Why I Bought It:

I’m a fairly recent convert to the works of weird fiction author HP Lovecraft.

MovieQuiz_963-0000I think I started reading him only about 2006 or so. I’ve always found him kind of a dry writer (I’m a Robert E. Howard guy), but the ideas of his seminal Mythos definitely left an indelible mark on my mind, and grew to inform my own work as a writer, if not entirely pervade it. Once I began delving into Jewish esoteric lore for my Merkabah Rider series, I saw parallels between certain occult concepts and the stuff Lovecraft developed and incorporated them. I have no idea if he was in anyway a student of Kabbalah and the like, but his notion of taking the good and evil equation out of existence and instead portraying the universe as a kind of barely controlled chaos against which his protagonists struggle and usually fail, is undeniably striking and unique. A mythology for atheists, I guess, where the supernatural is simply the unexplained, or even the inexplicable, where God is not an entity but a misnomer for something unfathomable.

cthlhu2Lovecraft is steadily growing in popularity with the dissemination of his work online. I first heard of Cthulhu back in my early roleplaying game days, and then later read about his extended family via Howard’s Mythos stories.  It’s inevitable that so long lasting an author have his work tapped by filmmakers, but there have been very few adaptations if his work that have successfully portrayed his output. Most lift the concepts but go for the splatter and gore, or are content to mention Miskatonic University and then run with the ball any old way.

But not the H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society’s adaptation of The Call of Cthulhu.

Fan made films don’t often hold up too well to scrutiny. Slavish devotion to the source material hardly ever makes for a good adaptation. Books are a different creature than movies, and Lovecraft’s stuff, if you’ve ever read it, is far from mainstream fare. It’s cerebral and academic, episodic and existential. Lovecraft’s bestiary/pantheon is older than Creation, aloof and unconcerned with humanity, but can wipe us all out with a shifty look if their attention is unwisely attracted.

And yet, The Call of Cthulhu is a perfect, nearly to-the-letter adaptation….and it works.

legrasseThere is so much love(craft) in every frame of this low budget indie film, not only for its source material, but for the cinematic conventions that co-existed with its birth, that it can’t be seen as anything less than a masterful homage to the Mythos and to the expressionist films of F.W. Murnau, Robert Wiene, and Wegener and Galeen, with nods to James Wale and Todd Browning.

The central concept of CoC is that the HPLHS decided to produce the movie as though it were a contemporary adaptation of the original story, written in 1926. Thus, the movie is black and white, and silent with title cards and an incessant orchestral score. All the FX are practical, and wherever possible, true to the time period. No CGI. Just elaborate sets, forced perspectives, and the occasional matte image.

The impossible angles of nightmarish R’yleh is achieved with angular wooden sets and old fashioned chiaroscuro. Dramatic light and oppressive shadow take the place of staid and artificial computer wizardry.

call-of-cthulhu-castroI’ve seen modern filmmakers attempt to do period movies before. Tarantino and Rodriguez’s Grindhouse for example, which I think, doesn’t manage to quite pull it off all the time, partly due to the actors. I don’t know what it is with humanity, but certain faces seem to come and go in and out of style in certain time periods. The actors gathered for CoTC have the look of silent movie actors. Maybe it’s the makeup, but Matt Foyer in particular looks like he was awakened from some kind of suspended animation just to portray the narrator in this.  And the cultist interrogated by the police after the bayou raid sequence reminds me of Dwight Frye.

Call of Cthulhu isn’t just a great example of Lovecraft, it’s an amazing example of what low budget independent filmmaking can achieve when ingenuity and creativity drive the work.

It should be viewed as nothing less than an inspiration.

Best Dialogue/Line:

“Burn it all.”

Best Scene:

cthulhuMost all the set pieces are so wonderfully rendered, but the climactic sequence has to take the kewpie doll here.

The Norwegian ship The Alert comes across a mysterious island covered in a weirdly constructed…is it a city? Is it a necropolis? We don’t know.

The captain leads the sailors towards an immense monolith covered in weird runes which reacts to their prodding and opens. One of the hapless sailors pitches headlong into its dark depths.

Then a pair of huge clawed hands emerge – the hands of dread Cthulhu.

The sailors run pell mell for their launch, falling victim to the grasping claws of the pursuing creature and to the weird M.C. Escher landscape itself. Memorably, one sailor stumbles and falls into an illusory gap between the blocks that isn’t even visible from our perspective.

It’s just a great, tense sequence. Some argue that the herky jerkiness of the stop motion creature takes away from the effect, but I found the effect marvelously surreal and a nice homage to the work of Harryhausen and King Kong. Something about the slightly unnatural movement combined with the true lighting has always appealed to me about stop motion peril.

Would I Buy It Again: Yes

Next In The Queue: Captain America: The Winter Soldier


Guest Blog Post: Jeff Carter – HELLRANKER

Today I’m giving over the blog to my friend and fellow author Jeff Carter, who if you’ll recall, has been a guest here in the past, previously rating the Friday the 13th series.

This time around, he took a look at the inimitable Hellraiser, it’s fine sequel, Hellraiser 2….and all those other ones. I actually liked the one with the detective, but we’ll see what he says….he has such sights to show you.

In the meantime, I’m off to my Extra Life 24 hour Dungeons and Dragons session for Children’s Hopsital LA. I’ll see you next week, if I make my Con saves.


I watched the Hellraiser move franchise, so you don’t have to.


Every year I watch a horror movie franchise (my top ten Friday the 13th list is here).  I’m working my way through them all.  Nightmare on Elm Street.  Halloween.  Chucky.  There were a lot of laughs, a few groans and the occasional scare, but it’s usually a fun time.

There are 9 Hellraiser movies with rumors of a remake in the wind.  I was looking forward to rewatching the first few that had terrified and haunted me, and was curious to see what strange places the franchise went in its many sequels.

It was torturous, but like the Cenobites say, you can’t know pleasure without pain.  While diving back into the first film, I was struck by how joyless the world of Hellraiser is compared to other horror films.  Many slasher films have more victims and grisly torture and dismemberment, but for lack of a better word, they’re fun.  You know, for the kids!  Hellraiser is a different, darker breed, existing in the hellish space between the first Texas Chainsaw Massacre and the torture porn of Hostel and Saw.

The more sequels I watched, the better the original looked.  The grim atmosphere of the first movie is justified by its artistic ambitions.  The sequels are just torturous.

  1. Hellraiser 9: Revelations

Ye Gods, this film is terrible.  It was an ultra low budget movie, written and shot in 3 weeks so that Dimension could keep the rights to the franchise.  To quote Clive Barker, the author of the Hellraiser stories and director of the first film, “If they claim it’s from the mind of Clive Barker, it’s a lie. It’s not even from my butt-hole.

What should have been a saving grace is that it was at least written as a Hellraiser movie, and centered around some core elements: The Puzzle Box, Pin Head, The Cenobites, the bone demon, The revolving pillars of flesh, the resurrection from a bloody mattress, the hooked chains.  Here they feel tired and perfunctory. This is the only film in which Doug Bradley does not portray Pin Head, and it is amazing how sorely he is missed.

  1. Hellraiser 6 – Hellseeker

This movie commits the most grievous sin of all: it’s boring.  The three main sets are an office cubicle, a police station, and a warehouse.  Trevor, the mayhem guy from the Allstate commercials, is trying to piece together how his wife came to die in a tragic car crash.

Things go from dull to worse, and then suddenly we’re in continuity city.  His wife was Kirsty, the ‘last girl’ from Hellraiser 1 & 2.  Trevor tried to kill her with the puzzle box, but she turned the tables by selling him out to Pin Head.  It’s way too much too late.

Hellraiser Hellseeker mayhem

“Switch to Allstate and avoid Mayhem, like me.”

  1. Hellraiser 7: Deader

Despite starring the always watchable Kari Wuhrer, this film was a typical low budget shot-in-Romania flick.  Kari is an underground reporter sent to investigate a cult.  Their leader is a necromancer that is raising the dead with his puzzle box in order to find the chosen one that will…help him rule the world?  This movie made no sense and featured precious little Pin Head, because it was in the straight to video run that took pre-existing horror scripts and shoe-horned in the Hellraiser Mythos.

  1. Hellraiser 8: Hellworld

This movie was a grave disappointment.  The premise: a diabolical website lures and kills teens.  I thought this would be wonderfully ridiculous.  It was just ridiculous.

The continuity here is off the charts in the weirdest way.  The spoiled thrill seekers that play the Hellraiser on-line game wear Cenobite masks and talk about the ‘Lament Configuration’.  While they manipulate a virtual cube on their screens the website plays sound bites of Pin Head’s voice from earlier films.  Strangest of all, one of the characters wears a T-Shirt with a photo of Pin Head’s face on it.

Hellworld t-shirt


“It’s just a crazy internet game!” (Actual dialogue)

It’s really bizarre and a giant cop out.  This is the Friday the 13th Part 5 of the series, in that Pin Head is not the killer here.

The website was simply created to lure the spoiled teens to a rave (in eastern Europe, of course) where they could be separated and tortured.  Pin Head only appears briefly because this is another story to which the mythos was later added.  Not even a young Henry Cavill or an old Lance Henrickson could redeem this one.


“Me am Bizarro.”

  1. Hellraiser 5 – Inferno

Part 5 was another sequel in name only, about a brilliant but reckless detective on a mind bending case to find the dark crime lord known as ‘The Engineer’.

This is another original script retooled as a Hellraiser story, but the source material and cast elevate this one above the later installments.  The mind games, plot twists and themes tie in quite nicely with the Hellraiser series.  And hey, it’s got James Remar!

hellraiser 5

“I’ve found a finger print.”

  1. Hellraiser 3: Hell on Earth

This movie was bold on many levels.  What starts as a cruel and greedy club owner’s deadly obsession with the puzzle box ends in a showdown between Pin Head and his own soul. First, a victim is wheeled into an emergency room while being torn apart by the puzzle box.  A reporter catches wind of the mystery and becomes a conduit for Pin Head’s soul to lure out and defeat the demonic Cenobite he has become.  Pin Head has a different goal: to open the gates of hell.

He very nearly succeeds, slaughtering hundreds of people in a night club and spilling his terror onto the city streets, murdering police officers and blowing up cars.  It’s totally bananas.  This one is so crazy they made a music video where Lemmy from Motorhead plays poker with Pin Head.


CD the DJ.  Raddest Cenobite ever?

  1. Hellraiser 4: Bloodline

Move over Jason X and Leprechaun, it’s time for Hellraiser to go to space.

I don’t know why the director took his name off this one.  It’s clever, it’s interesting and it deepens the mythos.  We go back hundreds of years, to the origins of the puzzle box, created by   the genius toy maker L’Merchant.  A loathsome aristocratic sorcerer (and his apprentice Adam Scott!) uses the cube to open a gate to hell and summon a demon.

In present day, the demon travels to the office building (seen in the last shot of part 3) patterned after the puzzle box.  L’Merchant’s descendant, John Merchant, tries to destroy the cenobites and redeem his family legacy.

Finally, in the distant future, Paul Merchant intends to get it right on a giant space station.  Pin Head and the demon appear, there’s a robot, there’s lasers…it’s pretty sweet.


It’s a disco inferno.

  1. Hellraiser 2: Hellbound

This sequel continues right where part 1 left off.  Kirsty, the ‘last girl’ from the previous film is understandably committed to an asylum.  Unfortunately, the brain surgeon in charge of the facility, Dr. Channard, is a bit of a collector.  He has a vast trove of occult objects, including dozens of puzzle boxes and a secret dungeon filled with insane patients.

Using their blood, Channard wants to resurrect Julia. Like her lover before her, Julia died after opening the puzzle box and can now be resurrected with fresh blood.  She seduces the doctor and offers him power in the hell dimension.

Things get worse from there.  Leviathan, the lord of hell, transforms the doctor into a funky new Cenobite with an overly elaborate, fatally flawed design and the dark power of…claymation?


“At least I’m not based on CDs or cigarettes!”

This movie has a Cenobite fight.  Why? I don’t know, but when I was a young horror fan such things were the stuff of dreams.  This is also the start of Kirsty’s negotiations with Pin Head, and his journey into remembering who he was before he first opened the puzzle box and became a pawn of hell.

This movie brings back much of the cast from the first film, including the sleazy mover.  When Doug Bradley was approached for the first Hellraiser, he was given the choice of playing Pin Head or the Sleazy Mover.  Sleazy Mover made it into 2 movies, but I think Doug made the right choice.

  1. Hellraiser

This movie holds up.  It’s rich, thematic and dark.  It’s a creepy psycho-sexual drama with a wildly original premise and some of the most jaw dropping character makeup you will ever see.

This is the story about a man returning to his childhood home with his new wife.  We never learn what went so terribly wrong, but the house is filled with shrouded religious objects and unspoken history. His new bride is distant and cold.  She secretly yearns for the forbidden passion she shared with Frank, her husband’s dead, degenerate brother.

In a visceral, creepy scene the man gouges his hand open while moving a mattress up the rickety stairs.  The blood resurrects Frank in an epic birth sequence and sets the stage for the family’s ruination.


“I don’t know why I even bother wearing white anymore.”

In the Clive Barker story, the leader of the Cenobites was simply called ‘priest’ or ‘The Engineer’.  Even though he was simply billed as ‘Lead Cenobite’, the Hellraiser franchise was built with the nails from his pointy head.  Doug Bradley is a commanding presence.  His creepy one liners are the high lights of the next few installments, and he fills the screen with cruel delight.

This movie is a true original.  It is a dark drama, with themes of obsession and transgression, an amour fou taken to the ultimate extreme.  It creates a dark universe with hints of diabolical mechanics and secret rules, bound together with pain and desire.

If you are looking to explore the franchise, enjoy the first four and skip the rest.  If you try to watch all 9, like I did, “your suffering will be legendary even in hell.”


Jeff C. Carter’s most recent work in print appears in O LITTLE TOWN OF DEATHLEHEM, now available in paperback and Kindle from Amazon.  Get more Halloween stuff at his blog Compendium of Monsters and say hey on Facebook and Goodreads.