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.

MPW-14671

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:

Cimarron

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.

chatos-land-movie-poster-1972-1020195511

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.

chatos-land-dvd-4045167266339-4

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

casino_royale_ver4

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!

james-felix

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…

VWIP!

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

captain_america_winter_soldier_movie_poster_5

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.

call_of_cthulhu_movie

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.

Hellriaser-Pinhead-Barker

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.

cavill

“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

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.

hellraiser4cubelightalt

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?

Dr_Channard

“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.

Frank

“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.

DT Moviehouse Review: The Cabin In The Woods

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, and a perfect fit for the Halloween season, I review Drew Goddard and Josh Whedon’s The Cabin In The Woods.

Directed by Drew Goddard

Screenplay by Drew Goddard and Josh Whedon

Tagline: You think you know the story.

cabin-in-the-woods-poster-hi-res

What It’s About:

33d5bfc8College students Dana (Kristen Connolly), Holden (Jesse Williams), Marty (Franz Kranz), Jules (Anna Hutchinson), and Curt (Chris Hemsworth) depart for a secluded weekend at a remote forest cabin and ‘accidentally’ summon up an undead clan of pain worshipping murderers who begin to stalk and kill them one at a time. But is all as it seems, or are they being manipulated for some mindbending, sinister purpose by office managers Sitterson (Richard Jenkins) and Hadley (Bradley Whitford)?

Why I Bought It:

After a premature run-in (in a dark room no less) with the head twisting scene in The Exorcist when I was six or seven years old, I actively avoided watching horror movies for about nine years, finally breaking the ‘fast’ with, ironically enough, Exorcist III.

CITW_-_floaty_girlI’m really lucky that Exorcist III was such a great flick, or I never would have backtracked and sought out all the scary movies I’d missed.

And I never would have ‘got’ The Cabin In The Woods.

I never actually realized what a horror hound I had become until I saw this.

This is probably one of the greatest horror movies ever made, period. It’s so enjoyable it almost seems like every single horror movie that has gone before was created specifically so this could come into being.

Make no mistake, to fully appreciate the greatness of this movie you have to have at least a passing familiarity with Hellraiser, The Shining, Dracula, An American Werewolf In London, The Mummy, HP Lovecraft, It, The Ring, Suspiria, Evil Dead, Halloween, Juh On, David Cronenberg, George Romero, Scream, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Troll, Poltergeist, Alien, and Friday The 13th.

5pR6aThis is really a movie that benefits in a huge way from going in entirely blind. What a hard movie to cut a trailer for! Being kind of jaded about the summer slasher movie genre, the very title The Cabin In The Woods was a turnoff for me. I’m not into the torture porn genre made popular by stuff like Hostel and Saw and assumed this was going to be more of the same. It looked like yet another vanilla cookie cutter teens in peril flick. There would be some topless scenes, some beer drinking and pot smoking, and in the end, the smartest guy (or more likely, girl) would go through hell at the hands or claws of some inbred hillbilly stereotype or a zombie or plague crazy gutmuncher and maybe get away in the end, maybe not.

Then a couple people whose opinion I trusted started sounding off that this was great, but wisely (and I thank them) refused to give details as to what was so great about it.

Just watch it, they said.

So after a long time of not thinking about it, I finally rented it.

Little did I know that Cabin In The Woods would contain just about every clichéd trope in my aforementioned laundry list….and yet still somehow manage to be entirely original. Thrillingly, awesomely original, and more, a hilarious, subversive in-joke directed solely at horror fans.

This is not to say that you have to be a horror junkie with an all-encompassing knowledge of everything the genre has to offer. It’s just that it offers so much more if you’re a nerd.

Surface-wise, the plot alone is entertaining and the tag line says it all. Going into it, you think you know what’s going to happen. The very title evokes a paint by numbers scenario. Early on though, you realize something weird is going on, when the movie opens not with the teens gearing up for their weekend, but a couple of middle-aged salarymen in suits preparing for some big to-do at their white, sterile workplace.

Of course, then we get the obligatory scenes where get to know who’s who and who’s with who, which is the jock, which the brain, which the burnout. Yet there’s still something just a little off. Our football hero has in-depth knowledge of socio-economic theory. Our stoner and his wild conspiracy theories make more and more sense as the movie progresses. The boy’s aren’t slavering pussy hounds – when one discovers a two-way mirror looking into the object of his desire’s room and she starts to undress, we don’t get the voyeuristic topless scene. He knocks on the wall and lets her know what’s going on (does she do the same for him later on?).

As we go deeper down the rabbit hole of Cabin In The Woods, our expectations start unraveling. A bird hits an invisible force field. The office guys are shown to be having some effect on the behavior of the kids. There are tantalizing hints toward some greater purpose being fulfilled. And when the kids start acting like we expect them to, it’s unexpected.

whedon4

W.T.F! Yeah, Cabin In The Woods is kinda like this.

By the time a character we thought was dead returns, we know this same drama is being enacted all over the world for some strange reason and I doubt anybody who hasn’t seen this movie or read about it beforehand can guess what the heck is happening. Yet it’s not all some fly-by-night-pull-it-out-of-your-ass-make-it-up-as-you-go-along thing. By the time Sigourney Weaver shows up to explain it all, it’s like the last piece of a puzzle is fitting into place and you think to yourself, “Ahhhh that’s perfect.”

It’s a real treat to be surprised by a movie, and it’s even better to be totally delighted by it as a genre fan.

cabinboardFor me, the movie really takes off when they go down into that cellar and find it packed to the gills with thinly disguised items from other movies. The puzzle ‘ball,’ referencing both Hellraiser and perhaps Phantasm. The diary with the incantations right out of Evil Dead. It’s all intercut with that wonderful whiteboard the office workers are all betting over, crammed with achingly great references to threats from across the horror spectrum. When that scene passes and you realize what’s about to happen, you love it, but a small part of you thinks in the back of your head, “Aw man, it would’ve been so great if they’d gone with the BLANK instead.”

And then, maybe twenty or thirty minutes later, they hit the Purge button and it’s Christmas morning, as every monster and beast, every ghost and murderer on that board floods your screen.

The_Monsters_The_Cabin_in_the_Woods-1024x426Cabin In The Woods that does the impossible. It’s a flick with a one off plot twist so great you can’t possibly expect it to be rewatchable once you know it’s coming. But you do watch it again. And you rewind and pause and slow mo it to death to see all those white board monsters tear their way through the complex. Geez there’s even a 50 foot woman in one of those cages.

One of the most supremely satisfying movies I’ve ever seen.

And, like the complexity of the plot itself, it’s smart. You can still delve a level deeper beyond the monsters and uncover a rich examination of the movie fan himself. There’s a great scene when Hemsworth and Hutchinson are being manipulated via hormone gasses, temperature, and lighting to have sex in the woods, and the team of manipulators are shown hanging on the scene from their viewing room, waiting for Hutchinson to show her breasts and groaning when she initially defers. How many guys have sat together watching a horror movie at home or in a theater and experienced the same audience reaction? It’s a funny scene, and yet the makers bring it back a step when Hadley and Sitterson dismiss the greater portion of the crew and put their full resources toward getting Hutchinson to disrobe, ostensibly for the viewing pleasure of the Old One (is the band of randy office drones a stand in for the moviegoing audience, which is funny, or is it the Old One, which suggests something more unseemly). Their expressions completely change. They’re almost sad to do it. But the Old One must be appeased. The tropes of the ritual must be adhered to.

When Marty says early on that the world needs to crumble, but everybody’s afraid to let it crumble, he speaks of the loss of privacy, the invasion of nebulous government watchers and dropping of sanctions on private life. This foreshadows the situation of the kids in the cabin, but doesn’t it also reflect on the fears of modern life in America?

What is the change Mary is calling for if we apply it to ourselves? Should the Old One rise up to completely tear down the system? Is popular entertainment an opiate used to keep that giant from waking up and breaking out? Maybe this is ham-handed political commentary to some, but then again how many of the general movie going audience came away with this message from something as innocuous seeming as a summer horror movie?

Cabin-In-The-WoodsIt also cleverly breaks the horror movie cliché down into a thematic, seemingly ancient codification. The athlete, the fool, the whore, the virgin. These are mystical concepts that really do occur throughout the history of human storytelling, and are most clearly represented in the cards of the Waite Tarot. The fool is often considered the stand-in for the questioner in a card divination. In Arthurian literature it’s the fool, often Sir Dagonet (as in Tennyson), Percivale (Perfect Fool) or in some cases (TH White) Merlin, who can look beyond the confines of his own story to comment on the greater meaning. The fool sees the strings, and can follow them to the storyteller. The fool attains the Grail, the greater, hidden knowledge, often to his detriment, as is the case with Marty here.

One wonders what cultural tropes the Old Ones in Japan need to see to keep them sleeping.

A thing I’ve said this in other reviews, but a good movie is entertaining. A great movie ‘moves’ the watcher, either moving their heart to experience some emotion, or moving the mind into a previously unconsidered mode of thought.

I would say The Cabin In The Wood is a great movie.

Best Dialogue/Line:

Marty’s weirdly funny and cryptic (and ultimately prophetic):

Cops will never pull over a man with a huge bong in his car. Why? They fear this man. They know he sees further than they and he will bind them with ancient logics.

Best Scene:

Without a doubt the best scene is the monster Purge I’ve already described above. This flick has a lot of funny moments amid all the horror. Mordecai on speakerphone comes to mind.

But if I had to pick a scene that never fails to make me laugh because it’s totally indicative of the multilevel enjoyment I get out of this movie, is when Hemsworth’s Curt tries to escape the area by jumping the gorge on his motorbike.

6487After their camper is blocked from escaping through the tunnel by an unexpected explosion which results in a cave-in, Curt devises a plan to jump the gorge and escape on his motorbike, vowing to return with the police, the national guard, the ghost of Steve McQueen the LA Raiders, and ten thousand Roman gladiators to get his friends out, and especially to avenge the horrifying death and post mortem beheading of his girlfriend.

He assures them he can easily make the jump, and cuts a heroic, Thor-like figure for a moment, revving his bike and nodding to them his assurance.

“You can’t hold back,” his friend Holden warns him. He has to achieve maximum velocity to make this leap to freedom.

“I never do,” Curt growls.

He cuts loose, leaps the bike into the air, and it looks like he’s going to make it, until he smashes head on into the invisible honeycomb field enclosing the area. His bike explodes in a fiery ball and we sees his lifeless body tumble down the long length of the shield wall, bouncing as it goes, giving us a glimpse as to how deep it really goes (perhaps it’s there to keep the Old One penned in?).

For the victims in the story, it’s a horrible, hope-smashing moment.

For the guys in the control center, it’s a sigh inducing close call, which if you think of the movie in the terms that they are actually the ones trying to preserve the world and all human life on it, is kind of a time bomb cut the blue wire hero moment for them.

And for me, I just burst out laughing. Is it a guilty laugh? Maybe upon multiple viewings, but the first time, no. I just found the failure of Curt’s heroics unintentionally hilarious, like a somebody calling their shot in a game and then fumbling utterly, or Jack Burton exuberantly shooting in his gun in the air before the big fight in Big Trouble In Little China and then getting knocked out by the falling plaster.

I wonder if this made the Old One chuckle in his bed too?

Next In The Queue: The Call Of Cthulhu

DT Moviehouse Review: Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid

After a prolonged hiatus, it’s 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 timeless classic, Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid.

Directed by George Roy Hill

Written by William Goldman

Tagline: Not That It Matters, But Most Of It Is True.

bsposter

What It’s About:

In the waning days of the American West, notorious bank and train robbers Butch Cassidy (Paul Newman) and The Sundance Kid (Robert Redford) see the writing on the wall for their way of life and head for Bolivia and a fresh start with schoolteacher Etta Place (Katherine Ross).

Why I Bought It:

bandsdThe first trip I ever took the West Coast was with my parents. We did the tourist thing, walked Hollywood Blvd, and hit the wax museum. On the way out, my dad and I were pulled aside by the photographer in the gift shop, who put us in front of a screen (I think it was blue, maybe green) and snapped our picture, then put our heads on the bodies of Butch and Sundance, in that famous pose where they’re leaning against some crumbling Bolivian backdrop, possibly on the last day of shooting (no pun intended). And for probably the only time in my life, it was a perfect fit. My dad was Redford, and I was Newman. My mom bought it on the spot, and it’s hanging still in the basement of their house on the stairs going down to his model Santa Fe railroad layout, next to a framed photograph of the real life Hole In The Wall Gang I picked up somewhere.

I had never seen the movie at that point. I was maybe thirteen or fourteen and didn’t care a whit for westerns.

My love for the genre came much later, after I’d burned through Eastwood’s spaghetti westerns, John Ford, and the Duke and came the long long way around the barn back to the great American westerns of the late sixties and seventies, of which is this is one of the very best.

butchRewatching this movie is like slipping on an old coat, or seeing a couple friends from the old bunch. You know, the guys you were inseparable with in high school – only neither of you has changed. This is a flick carried on the shoulders of two giants in, if not star-making, star solidifying roles; Paul Newman as the irascible, likable Butch Cassidy, and Robert Redford as the winsome, steely eyed  Sundance Kid.  It’s impossible to imagine William Goldman’s words coming out of any other pair of actors. The charisma, the affability of the two leads is irrepressible, inimitable. Newman and Redford are one of the greatest pairings in movie history, right up there with Bacall and Bogart, Flynn and DeHavilland, Tracy and Hepburn.  This is the touchstone of male buddy movies. Without it Shane Black could never have a career.

If it sounds like I’m taking this one up inordinately, it’s just that there’s nothing to  really say about BC&tSK except praise.  The word classic gets bandied about for every superhero movie and Disney cartoon that comes down the pike – but this is the real deal. A bona fide Hollywood classic. If you haven’t seen it, your repertoire has a great big hole.

butch_cassidy_and_the_sundance_kid_enough_dynamiteButch and Sundance is the father of bromance movies. It’s a platonic love affair between two guys who are so good together the people they rob step out of cover just to see them do their shtick.  The lawmen that should be arresting them on sight offer them a place at their table. They’re the ideal romantic outlaws, stealing from the modernizing, corporate juggernaut of the advancing railroad and somehow never having a dime to retire on because they frankly suck at it. They don’t kill anybody, take no personal effects, and spend what they earn like water on the myriad of fairweather friends and women who appear out of the woodwork after they pull a job and fade away when the money’s gone. It’s their fallibility that makes them loveable. For as renowned a train and bank robber Butch is, sometimes he uses too much dynamite. For as deadly a gunfighter as Sundance is, he can’t hit the broad side of a barn if he’s not bending, spinning and twisting while he shoots, like some kind of proto-Jon Woo heroic bloodshed protagonist.

I call it a love affair. It’s definitely about the relationship between Butch and Sundance (I think, without any of the homoerotic subtext that you’d expect), but moreso, it’s a love affair between them and us, the audience. It doesn’t take long to fall for Butch and the Kid. They’re devilishly good looking, but again, their fallibility makes them seem real, like a pair of guys you’d like to hang out with, not movie stars aping real people. Katherine Ross has an admittedly light role as schoolteacher and Sundance’s paramour Etta Place, but she’s almost like the blank protagonist character in a video game. She’s the audience, wooed by these two guys into participating in their crazy lives for the thrill. But she’s also, I think, a stand-in for Goldman and George Roy Hill. Everybody falls for Butch and Sundance. You just can’t help it. The filmmakers can’t help it. I think the actors couldn’t even help it. That’s why Newman’s charity for mentally disabled youths was called Hole In The Wall, and Redford’s continuing film festival is named for Sundance.  These are such well written parts. It’s a lightning strike. Perfection.

The rest of the cast is a cornucopia of familiar faces, all memorable even in their minute roles. The Addams Family’s Ted ‘Lurch’ Cassidy as Butch’s enormous, ambitious, and surprisingly clever underling Harvey Logan. Strother Martin rasping through Sweet Betsy From Pike. Jose Torvay, the bandit with the watch from Treasure Of The Sierra Madre, playing a bandit again here. In the opening scene where Butch defuses an ornery gunfighting gambler with a mere mention of Sundance’s name, you can just about make out Sam Elliot’s left hand as he vacates the card table.

butchcassidy-420x0One of the more ingenious elements is Burt Bacharach’s swinging, playful score which on paper sounds like a recipe for disaster, but plays perfectly, lending the three montage sequences in which it’s specifically brought to the forefront a fun, airy quality, particularly the song, Raindrops Keep Fallin’ On My Head, which plays over a brilliant scene of Newman and Ross just playing around on a bicycle. There’s an underlying sadness to the musical numbers too in their down moments, which matches the images excellently. There’s a sad clarinet and accordion duet during the travel montage in which, via a series of still photos, we see Sundance and Etta dancing at a New Year’s ball on the passenger liner while Butch looks on a little sadly, then dozes in a chair. Very lyrical without a word spoken.

I once heard James Coburn tell a story about working on Pat Garrett And Billy The Kid in which he said that the day before they were to shoot Kristofferson’s death scene, Sam Peckinpah confided to Coburn, “I just don’t wanna kill him.”

600full-butch-cassidy-and-the-sundance-kid-screenshotWe don’t want to see Butch and Sundance get their inevitable comeuppance. Yet when the boys brutally gun down a gang of Bolivian bandits, we know they’ve somehow crossed a line they won’t return from. It’s the heartbreak of the movie that is telegraphed by the bicycle salesman and the relentless, never in focus superposse led by the ominous night tracking Lord Baltimore and Joe LeFors in his white skimmer, and by Jeff Corey’s Sheriff Bedsoe, who warns them, “Your times is over and you’re gonna die bloody. All you can do is choose where.” Etta tells them before well before parting ways, “I won’t watch you die. I’ll miss that scene if you don’t mind.” And whether by some mercy of Hill or reluctance of Goldman, we are spared the final heartbreak of say, The Wild Bunch. Butch and Sundance are surprised by Bolivian troops and after a desperate rush for the horses, are repelled and wind up surrounded by the Bolivian Army. Already bleeding from a half dozen wounds, Butch suggests they try Australia next. They trade a quip about LeFors and rush out shooting. We hear the Bolivian commander give the order to fire, we hear the crash of the guns, but like Bruce Lee forever leaping at the camera in the final shot of Fist Of Fury (no doubt lifted from this), the boys are washed in sepia, not blood, and we get to remember them as we loved them, game and daring, framed in the same daydream magic tones of the clever, old timey cinematograph opening credits.

This movie made legends of the real Butch and Sundance as much as it did the men who portrayed them.

It’s also, on a personal note, a movie I will forever associate with my father.

Best Bit Of Dialogue:

Butch 7 End“If he’d just pay me what he’s spending to make me stop robbing him, I’d stop robbing him!”

Best Scene:

The escape from the superposse via the jump from the cliff is hilarious, and deserving of the description classic, but my personal favorite is the moment Butch and Sundance first attempt to rob a Bolivian bank. This has been Butch’s big brainchild the whole movie, and their reason for retreating the heat in America for this tiny but booming South American nation. The first time they try to size up a bank, they are discouraged by a friendly teller who fends them off with simple Spanish, which neither of them can speak or understand.  This necessitates Etta having to tutor them in Spanish. Sundance neglects his lessons for amorous pursuits with her, and Butch scrawls his answers on a crib sheet in the next room when she quizzes them.

They burst into their first job, guns drawn, Butch yelling “Estu es un robo!”

The patrons raise their hands and go to the wall, Sundance covering them.

Butch fumbles through a couple false starts of Spanish, then furiously digs out his wrinkled crib sheet and reads;

“Manos arriba!”

Sundance, exasperated, yells;

“They GOT ‘em up! Skip on down!”

“Arriba!”

“SKIP ON DOWN!”

“Todos ustedes arrismense a la pared!”

“They’re AGAINST the wall ALREADY!”

Butch squints at the paper.

“Donde es….AWWWW You’re so damn smart, YOU read it!”

He flings it down and stalks forward with his gun. Sundance empties the drawers and they run out of the bank, bickering all the way, Sundance muttering “A goddamned CRIB SHEET.”

Would I Buy It Again?

Undoubtedly.

Next In The Queue: Cabin In The Woodsishot-2205

My Coolest Story From Comic Con 2014

Sergio Out Take 3I’m a bit late in posting this, but I wanted to share the coolest thing I saw at San Diego Comic Con two weeks ago. I took no pictures (wish I had) so I guess you’re gonna have to take my word for it. But Sergio Aragones is a genuinely nice man, and I think he’ll bear this story out if you just ask him.

Whenever I go I invariably see celebrities, and my daughter and her friend always grill me about who I saw. This year crossing the street I could’ve reached out and slapped Chris ‘Captain America’ Evans on the shoulder (and got my arm broken by his entourage for it), I shared a train with Anthony Head, and spied Robert Carlyle on the corner with his little girl hanging on his arm.

But I haven’t braved the colossal lines of Hall H since they announced the title for Revenge Of The Sith, and I don’t really go to star watch anyway. It’s Comic Con. I go to buy comics and just generally gawk and mingle.

So I’m a big Sergio Aragones fan, a big Groo The Wanderer fan. I don’t think you can be a fan of Robert E. Howard’s Conan without liking Groo – or you shouldn’t. It’s wonderful social satire centering around a bumbling barbarian parody of Conan. One of the first comics I ever collected, and filled marging to margin with astounding art. For those that don’t know, Sergio Aragones is one of the best artists working today – a living legend. He’s an Eisner Award winning cartoonist who began his career doodling in the margins of Mad Magazine and he’s probably the fastest cartoonist alive. He’s….aw heck, just look at these samples.

aragones3 aragones4 aragones5 aragoneswoodstock1_3

Mad #500-028-29The way Sergio fills a page is nothing short of extraordinary. A running joke in the pages of Groo was the exasperation of colorist Tom Luth who had to inject color into these staggeringly detailed crowd scenes….a task involved enough to drive anybody insane, but which Luth performed admirably on a monthly basis for a number of years. Sergio packs his splash pages with dynamic individuals and a myriad of hidden side jokes.  The only artist that comes close to what Sergio does, in my opinion, is Geoff Darrow.geoffReally, if I had the money to commission them both, and if they were willing, my dream is to have two pieces of art hanging side by side on my wall, one featuring Groo slicing his way through one of Geoff’s backgrounds, and the other of Darrow’s Shaolin Cowboy fighting through an army of Sergio’s cartoon denizens.

geoff-darrow-conanembiggened

Anyway, all gushing aside, I always make it a point to stop by Sergio’s table when I’m at San Diego. It’s always a treat to see what he’s up to, and just listen to him, and once his wife baked a plate of awesome brownies for everybody.  This year I was in line to pick up a copy of his new Groo Vs. Conan comic (something I’ve anticipated for decades), and he was telling a story to the guy in front of me out of the pages of Sergio Aragones Funnies, his anthology series of illustrated autobiographical anecdotes (he has led a fascinating life). I had read somewhere his father had once been a line producer on movies in Mexico, but he was talking about his dad’s work on the movie Animas Trujano, which featured his (and my own) idol Toshiro Mifune as a Mexican revolutionary.

animas-trujanoMifune is one of the all-time great Japanese film actors, who solidified his place in history in movies like Yojimbo and The Seven Samurai. He was the John Wayne to Akira Kurosawa’s John Ford, like DeNiro to Martin Scorcese, and if he’s been in a bad movie I’ve frankly never seen it. Apparently Animas Trujano, as absurd as his casting may sound, was no exception – Sergio said it was nominated for the Mexican Academy Award, and a little internet digging confirms this.  Sergio told us Mifune didn’t know a word of Spanish, but learned his lines phonetically, like Shih Kien in Enter The Dragon. As we were geeking out about this cool little inside story, Sergio pulled the topper, the thing that put this neat little moment over the edge for me. He reached into his thick, worn wallet, dug a bit, and produced one of those old Kodak photographs where the colors are mostly orange and a bit blown out and there’s a white border around the image – those kind you don’t see anymore and is basically only preserved in Instagram filters and crackling old photo albums.  In the picture are two sun reddened men with their arms over each other’s shoulders buddy style, smiling at the camera through their brushy black whiskers. From the peon costume of one of the men it looked almost like a behind the scenes still from a Sergio Leone movie, as if Gian Maria Volonte had taken a break in his Indio costume and taken a shot with a friend on the crew.

“Here’s a picture of my father on set with Mifune,” he said. “He really looked Mexican.”

Totally blown away. Knowing my tastes as readers of this blog may, it was like all the stars of my fandom aligned perfectly at once in some kind of Great Conjunction. I was standing at San Diego Comic Con, talking with one of my all-time favorite artists, looking at a candid, unpublished photo of one of my all-time favorite actors.

I felt weird asking to take a picture of him holding a personal photo of his dad, so I didn’t. But next time you’re at Sergio’s table, if you’re a Mifune fan, ask to see it.

animastrujano2

 

 

Published in: on August 4, 2014 at 10:53 am  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , , ,

Star Trek Continues

ld_star_trek_cast_ll_120820_wmainI’m an old school Trek fan. Specficially TOS (The Original Series), the classic 60’s show with Shatner, Nimoy, Kelly, Doohan, Nichols, Takei, Koenig et al. I love the interplay between the characters, I love the killer retro look and sensibility, the appealing primary color palette.  If you haven’t checked out the Animated Series, it’s like a lost fourth season, with much of the same talent both in front of and behind the camera returning. DC Fontana and some of the other writers handle scripts, all the principals return to voice their characters. I discovered it a few years ago on Netflix Instant and it was like going home again for a little while.

But TOS lasted three (four with TAS) seasons and that’s it.

My wife is a big Next Gen fan, but I’m not. The sterile look never really grabbed me like classic Trek, and while the characters and stories are great, I never latched onto them like the original. I got some enjoyment from Voyager and Deep Space Nine, and from the last season of Enterprise when it started doing what it had originally promised, but I’m not a fan of the new movie universe at all.

Nothing ever quite took hold of me like Classic Trek.

star_trek_tos_zps73d073cdA fellow writer, Bobby Nash, was raving about this fan production Star Trek Continues, the other day on his Facebook page, and the stills intrigued me, particularly the re-enacted pose of the TV Guide cover featuring Kirk and Spock looking up at the camera with their arms folded. It was a nifty insider homage, I thought, and the actors playing Kirk and Spock really looked the part.

Reading a bit on it, I realized the crew behind the web series had managed to raise in excess of $120,000 on Kickstarter (Kirkstarter they called it) to get the show running and I was understandably curious.

So I caught the first episode on Youtube (Pilgrim Of Eternity – check it out HERE). It was a sequel to the Who Mourns For Adonais? episode, in which the Greek God Apollo turned out to be a powerful alien being which required the subservient worship of humans to thrive. At the end of that classic episode Apollo is defeated by Kirk and crew and fades out, calling to his fellow exiled Olympians.

startrekcontinues-cast1Right from the get-go I could see where that Kirkstarter money had gone. They have perfectly recreated the 60’s era Enterprise set. The bridge, the corridors, the crew quarters, even the Jeffries’ tube made an appearance. The costumes were spot on, and most importantly, the lightning was perfect. This looks like a hi-def episode of Classic Trek, precisely like the remastered editions that came out a few years ago, right down to the aspect ratio.

I’ve seen some very well-produced fan films of Trek, Star Wars, and superheroes. There is some very impressive work out there, but one uniform problem I’ve had with them is the quality of story and acting. You can have a technical, visual masterpiece on the screen, but if you can’t capture the mood and story of the original, all you’ve got is a pretty copy of something far superior – like a digital photograph of a white sand beach in sunny Puerto Rico. The postcard is never quite as nice as being there with the sand in between your toes.

Now, the STC cast play their parts well. It took me maybe thirty seconds to accept this wasn’t Shatner, Nimoy etc. before I started being drawn in by the story.

Yeah, the story.

In a fan production.

It was pretty cool, and full of nods to the original show without coming across as fan service.

They got Michael Forest to reprise his role as Apollo (here physically diminished by an energy drain) and he picked up the part like he’d only played it the other day, yet with the experience that comes with age, actually making the role…better than the original.

I showed it to my wife.

“The acting’s not bad,” I said. “And the story’s pretty….good.”

So we cued up Lolani.

Man!

lolaniThe show took off for me at this point.

The STC guys took the old nudge nudge wink wink boy’s club trope of the green skinned Orion slave girl and brought it into modern day context without destroying the sixties framework. They took an eye candy character and gave her nuance and heart, and presented as subtext a condemnation of the poor treatment of women passed off as cultural more existing today. THAT’S Star Trek! Plus, they brought in Lou Ferigno….as a quality, imposing villain….in green body paint!

Plus, Vince Mignogna, who I kind of dismissed as passable in the previous episode, shined in this outing.

ferignoAnd the third episode, The Fairest Of Them All, set in the mirror universe, is even better!

In this one Mignogna once again impressed me with his tyrannical Kirk counterpart, but Todd Haberkorn, knocked it out of the park as Spock. I admit my first impression of him in the part was, well, he doesn’t quite have that resonant but flat voice and he’s a little more human looking than Nimoy. But I forgot all that in this episode. He’s got Spock down pat. There’s a great scene where he and his former captain part ways, and Kirk screams his name as the shuttle doors close….loved it.

The rest of the cast hasn’t escaped my attention either. Grant Imahara was seriously echoing the dark version of Sulu in this one, and the lovely Kim Stinger had me from the first singing in the galley as Uhura. Chris Doohan, son of James Doohan, carries on the Scotty role his father originated so admirably it borders on uncanny, and Michelle Specht is a welcome addition as ship’s counselor Elise Makennah.

stc_fairest_06If I have any criticism it’s more Bones, my favorite character. I haven’t quite seen enough of Chekov to make a judgment either way.

Yeah, the whole show has me giggling in a good way.

This is a labor of unfettered love for 60’s era Trek and if you’re a fan like I am, you need to check this out right now. This is stellar work, I think even transcending the appellation ‘fan film.’

I can’t wait to see more (and I hope they open up for script submissions!).

It’s probably the greatest gift a Trekkie could ask for.

Check their website here.

http://www.startrekcontinues.com/