CLASSIC TV reviews: DOCTOR WHO! STORY 13 – THE WEB PLANET !!!

This installment of IT WILL NOT BE TELEVISED we take the way back machine to the swinging and bloody early days of 1965, and look at a serial from season 2 of a little known (at the time) Brit show called Doctor Who! And the serial, the 13th Who Serial, is called THE WEB PLANET.

Onto the review:

SERIAL 13 THE WEB PLANET
Original Airdate Weekly from 13 Feb 1965- 20 Mar 1965
Doctor Who: The Web Planet (Story 13) (See all Sci-Fi & Fantasy Cult Movies)


First let’s start with a bit of back-story. What was happening in the world over the six weeks, six Fridays, this serial went out on? Well The News during this Time is… all too human:

-The first US combat troops arrive in Vietnam. By the end of the year, 190,000 American soldiers are in Vietnam.

-In the Audubon Ballroom in New york City on 21 Feb 1965 El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz (perhaps better known as Malcolm X) was assassinated before a crowd of hundreds including his pregnant wife, and 3 of his 4 children.

-18th March, 1965: A Soviet cosmonaut known as Lt. Col. Alexei Leonov exited the spacecraft Voskshod II for a short “spin”. He completed a somersault, and then proceeded to take pictures of space. This took place just days before the U.S. planned to launch its first two-man spaceship and becomes the first man to walk in space.

-18th February, 1965 : An avalanche and Glacial Slide caused the deaths of 26 miners who were removing copper ore from underneath a glacier in British Columbia.

-15th February, 1965 : It was proclaimed by Queen Elizabeth II of England that the Maple leaf would become Canada’s new national flag symbol.

-20th February, 1965 : The Ranger 8 spacecraft crashed on the moon after sending back thousands of pictures of the lunar surface

-2nd March : The Sound of Music Premier 1965

-7th March, 1965 : Troopers with night sticks, shotguns and tear-gas grenades violently confronted 600 civil rights marchers during an attempted 50-mile march from Selma to the Alabama state capitol Montgomery.

-Optical Disk —– 1965 USA by James Russell – now Compact Disk CD / DVD

-The Supremes, “Stop! In The Name Of Love” rises to the top of the charts

So that’s a look at the world 46 years ago. And for a bigger kick to put that world in perspective, here are what things cost then (US prices):

Cost of a new home: $21,500.00
Cost of a first-class stamp: $0.05
Cost of a gallon of regular gas: $0.31
Cost of a dozen eggs: $0.53
Cost of a gallon of Milk: $0.95
Federal debt: $322.3 billion

Average Income per year $6,450.00 (Needless to say this average income bought you a lot more more back then, than today’s average income of $39,423.00 is going to buy you. For one thing far more of today’s money is eaten up in taxes upon taxes, and most things have multiplied faster than income… ie stamps and petrol and the price of a house are nearly 10 times 1965 levels, while income is barely 6 times 1965 levels. So income is trailing inflation by nearly 50% overtime, and that’s not even accounting for various new forms of taxation. And just think, you thought this was just a Doctor Who review! :) )

While the Brits may have been watching Doctor Who (and let’s be honest, very few of them were doing that), In the States the airwaves were packed with shows eating up the ratings from THE FUGITIVE to BEWITCHED to MAN FROM UNCLE to VOYAGE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA to BONANZA to ED SULLIVAN to JONNY QUEST to popular music shows such as SHINGDIG. And 1965 would only provide more programs to keep Americans occupied.

It wouldn’t be till the late 70s, and Public Broadcasting’s increased efforts going across the pond for programming… that would introduce the States to this thing called Doctor Who. And indeed give the show the added funding to keep it running, when other BBC shows of the period had given up the ghost.

And being one of the few shows of the fantastic, Doctor Who offered a cross cultural appeal that continues to… stand the test of time. So to speak. :)

So without further ado the review of the 13th Doctor Who story, starring William Hartnell and written by Bill Strutton, produced by Verity Lambert, and directed by Richard Martin:

    EPISODE 1 OF 6

THE WEB PLANET- by Bill Strutton. More shockingly bad alien costumes. Dennis Spooner graduates to script editor. This is a mysterious but not particularly satisfying series opener. Unimpressively directed by Richard Martin. C.

    EPISODE 2 OF 6

THE ZARBI- Strange premise with more shockingly inept alien costumes. Here’s the thing, if you don’t have the budget to do something convincingly… then don’t do it. Not without interest, but those sets and costumes… uggh. C-.

    EPISODE 3 OF 6

ESCAPE TO DANGER- I do like how the Menoptra move. Very elegant. It was Richard Martin’s idea to have dancers play the Menoptra, and a great idea it was. Lacking their… grace, and performances, and strangeness I would not be writing this review. Roslyn de Winter, an Australian mime, was hired to choreograph the Menoptra’s movements and speech, and also plays the central Menoptra… Vrestin. For the actress to act through all that makeup is impressive… for all the actors actually. With this episode I became interested in the serial, in spite of its constraints. B-.

    EPISODE 4 OF 6

CRATER OF NEEDLES- You have to give this serial points for sheer imagination. So much creativity. If I was a kid, the target audience, I would have loved this serial. It is very well written, and passionately performed. And the flying scenes, and battles are quite lovingly staged. While as an adult I could ask for better costumes, effects, sets, what they pull off is still quite impressive. The strength of Doctor Who, being the same strength of The Simpsons or any good Pixar movie, it is layered, smart writing to appeal to both adults and kids. B+.

    EPISODE 5 OF 6

INVASION- From a serial I almost did not finish, when I saw the first one, this has really grown on me. Beyond the questionable budget it is quite a lovely fable, and also at times quite touching, and quite dire.

    EPISODE 6 OF 6


THE CENTRE- All routes lead to the center, as the Doctor and his Crew and the butterfly like Menoptra battle the Animus, an eater of worlds, at the center of all things. A strong denouement, for a surprisingly good serial. B/B+.

So in summation this six part series is not, when recalled, fondly remembered by most. That said its first episode, THE WEB PLANET, originally brought in 13.5 million viewers, the most of any Doctor Who broadcast of the 60s.

Doctor Who never brought in great numbers, but it managed to be consistent, and have a passionate fan-base. Which accounts for the longevity of both the original series, and the success of the new series. If you can get past the questionable first couple episodes, and go along with the conceits, I think you’ll find a serial that is surprisingly… fun. Overall grade: B/B+.

You can pick up the DVD using the link below AND support this blog at the same time! Say it ain’t so, Joe! :) ! But seriously I only recommend things I myself own, and I appreciate any purchasing you do via this blog. Thanks!

Doctor Who: The Web Planet (Story 13) (See all Sci-Fi & Fantasy Cult Movies)

Sources:

http://www.shannonsullivan.com/- Offers background info on this episode
http://www.listzblog.com- Nice overview of popular shows by period
http://www.tvparty.com/- More great overview of what’s hot in tv by year
http://oldies.about.com/od/60srockers/tp/topten1965.htm- A great overview of popular music by year
http://www.1960sflashback.com/- Helped with research on prices in 1965
http://www.ssa.gov/oact/cola/AWI.html- more prices over time data
http://www.thepeoplehistory.com/- another great tool for prices over time
http://doctorwhoreviews.co.uk/N.htm- for a helpful scan, plus see it for another take on this serial. Good stuff.

Doctor Who Season 5 Review: Steven Moffat’s Reign?

Steven Moffat, on the strength of some stellar self-contained DR. WHO stories in the first four seasons of the revamped WHO series (see my Best of Doctor Who posting), was rewarded in the fifth season by being promoted to lead writer/show runner, replacing Russell T. Davies.

Russell T. Davies the heart of this new WHO, was clearly running out of things to say with the character by the 4th season, so Moffat would seem to be the perfect choice to replace him (the episode BLINK written by Moffat and directed by Hettie MacDonald being arguably the finest hour of Dr. Who done to date).

Particularly when you consider between season 4 and season 5, (specials not counted) was an almost 2 year delay, you would have thought Season 5 would have had all the kinks worked out and been a solid season… ready to… wow.

Unfortunately that is not the case.

Season 5 sporting a new Doctor, a new companion, a new look and a new lead writer, is a season I was rooting for to be great, but it just isn’t. It’s not even good.

I mean the first two episodes show promise, THE ELEVENTH HOUR is a good into to the new Doctor, though almost immediately the character of Amy begins to annoy me. Still overall an okay B- episode.

Next is THE BEAST BELOW which was a good episode, and was one of the only times all season I thought the character of Amy was remotely helpful/interesting. It’s solid writing by Moffat that elevates this episode to a B/B+.

However, after this episode from the VICTORY OF THE DALEKS on, Amy and her boyfriend, and their whole angsty issues just like the Mickey/Rose subplot, annoyed. And the shows felt like chores to get through rather than entertainment, all the way up to the mess of a two part season finale.

And while a lot of this is the writing, a lot is the casting (There are exceptions such as the character of River Song, played by the brilliant Alex Kingston [of ER fame] , who was fantastic last season, and is even better this season. And I also quite like the character of the Bloody Queen played wonderfully by Sophie Okenedo).

The new Doctor is okay, Matt Smith is likeable enough, but his companion and her boyfriend are “turn the channel people”. When I see them on the screen, I want to change the channel. That’s harsh I know, unfortunately… it’s not untrue.

We’ll get back to that in a bit, but all this adds up to not good omens for the 5th season, because Matt Smith is filling big, and overwhelmingly liked and respected shoes in David Tennant’s Doctor, and Matt won’t fill those shoes on his personality/performance alone. He’ll need everything working with him in this season, including the cast, the scripts the direction, all working at full steam… and unfortunately for the most part it doesn’t.

And as stated one of the big hangups this season is the casting. One of the weaknesses of RTD ‘s reign was the horrendous writing of the character Mickey, however this was made up for by the great character of Rose and a stellar, endearing, effervescent performance by Billie Piper, and the great dynamic between her and the great actors that played the Doctor, Eccleston and Tennant. Martha, played by the wonderful Freema Agyeman was likewise a fantastically written and performed character (In fact my personal favorite of the companions).

Unfortunately the character of Amy is no Rose or Martha, she is as annoying as those characters were charming. She and her boyfriend/fiance are this season’s Mickey, largely annoying characters.

Evidently BBC is skewing younger for this season of Doctor Who, a British Dawson’s Creek feel, and I think that is to this season’s detriment.

And on top of the irritating characters, this season suffers largely un-compelling scripts and tired plot-lines.

Example: Daleks AGAIN!??

Really???

Are you going to use them every other episode?? Come on, really?!

The Daleks have built up fleets and been destroyed seemingly half a dozen times in the last couple of seasons. It cheapens and weakens the “ultimate’ enemy, for it be pulled out and dispatched like a parlor trick every other episode.

And the season seemed replete with such retreading of RTD plotlines, and “ultimate enemy” storylines. Moffet seemingly trying to outdo RTD in the universe shaking event, and for my money fails. Universe destroying event after event, becomes meaningless and boring when not used sparingly. Moffat forgetting that the intimate smaller stories is what got him the job as lead writer, that’s his strength, and in this season he completely fails to play to those strengths. Epic is what RTD does, trying to follow him up with more epic, to out epic him,… was not a wise decision.

Watching the season, it was hard to believe the innovative writer behind BLINK could helm a season so lacking in innovation or interest. It felt like a redo of other/better seasons.

Season 5 did the one thing a Dr. Who season should never do… it bored me.

Ridley and Tony: The Scott Brothers! A movie making dynasty! ROBIN HOOD & UNSTOPPABLE! Pt 1 of 2!

Ridley Scott’s ROBIN HOOD and Tony Scott’s UNSTOPPABLE.

The Scotts, brothers Tony and Ridley, are a movie making dynasty. Having really defined the look and beats and high points of cinema for three decades now.

Ridley Scott, in his seventh decade, has over fifty producing credits to his name and has directed over twenty feature films. His influence on cinema, in a variety of genres cannot be overstated. Before Michael Bay (love him or disparage him, you can’t argue that he is technically an innovative and stylish director) or David Fincher he was very much the crafter of this new, innovate, sensory intensive, style of filmmaking.

His best films are his early painterly, saturated, stylish, and somewhat aloof films, particularly THE DUELLISTS, ALIEN, BLADERUNNER (I’ve always preferred the voice-over version myself), SOMEONE TO WATCH OVER ME (his most underrated film, but a personal favorite), and BLACK RAIN.

Going into the 90s, starting with THELMA AND LOUISE, and continuing in films such as GI JANE and GLADIATOR and BLACK HAWK DOWN, and pretty much everything he has done since (with the exception of AMERICAN GANGSTER) the magic of his earlier work tends to be absent. To put not too fine a point on it, I don’t care for them.

I think the quality difference is analagous to the difference in Brian Depalma’s early work to his post 90s work.

I think Ridley Scott’s later films lack true heart, while appealing to the simplest most jingoistic terms of the audience. There’s a slight slant to Ridley Scott’s latter-day work, that doesn’t appeal.

However 2007s AMERICAN GANGSTER was a welcome return to greatness for Ridley Scott, and 2008s BODY OF LIES a good if not great followup. He still uses the camera as good as anyone in the business, and better than most.

So now we have his latest offering breaking on theaters this week, 2010s ROBIN HOOD, reteaming him with Russell Crowe. And that can be a problem. Because I wasn’t a fan of their first teaming, and from initial trailers it really looks like Russell Crowe is sleepwalking through this one. He comes across as very uninterested and uninteresting in the trailers.

But hopefully I’m wrong and the film offers the energy, and interest and vibrancy that seems missing from the trailer.
Hopefully with writer Brian Helgeland, who is known for providing quality screenplays (MAN ON FIRE, THE ORDER, GREEN ZONE, LA CONFIDENTIAL, TAKING OF PELHAM 123) Ridley should have the necessary framework/substance, to apply his visuals to, while maintaining an interesting/rousing story.

Going to see the film in a couple days, so time will tell. Though for my money the definitive Robin Hood will always be the 80s BBC series, ROBIN OF SHERWOOD.

Check back next time as I bring you the review on ROBIN HOOD, as well as the second half of this article, where we take a look at Tony Scott’s astounding body of work and his upcoming UNSTOPPABLE with Denzel Washington.

And speaking of Tony Scott, In many ways I find his arc is in opposition to his Brother. I think Tony’s early films were good, but his later films (starting really with 1998s ENEMY OF THE STATE) are a marked improvement, being brilliant. I think it’s a rare and special thing when the right director and the right actor team up, and together they produce cinema that is more than the sum of its parts. You get that with the pairings of Ford and Wayne and Woo and Fat and Leone and Eastwood and Hitchcock and Grant and Capra and Stewart.

And you get that with the pairings of Tony Scott and Denzel Washington. Together these two make films that get me in the theater and me buying the DVDs ( I love listening to Tony Scott commentaries, outside of Michael Mann’s commentaries they are the most insightful, interesting and brilliant commentaries you’re going to hear).

Wait, I’m supposed to be leaving some of this for the 2nd half. :) . Check back soon for part 2!

RECENT FILM REVIEWS: ORPHAN and DRAG ME TO HELL

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DRAG ME TO HELL

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There is nothing quite like having an entire movie theater to yourself. And I had just such an experience at today’s matinee showing of Sam Raimi’s latest DRAG ME TO HELL.

Though that said, DRAG ME TO HELL is obviously a film that plays to having the crowd experience. The jumps, and exclamations of the audience are part of the gestalt in a film such as this.

But having the theater to myself gave me a chance to evaluate Raimi’s film as a film, rather then just a theater experience. And as a film the first 2/3rd made me quite remember why the name Raimi is legendary. He remains an exciting, innovative filmmaker. You can see on the screen all the timing and experience he brings from his Indie days, his big budget days, even his TV days, and it makes the first two thirds of the film quite fun.
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The story perhaps relying a little too much on gross out gags, for the juvenile audience, but it is an easily overlooked flaw. It is not perfect by any means but the first 2/3rd of the film moves at a brisk enough pace to keep you from looking at the seams of the movie.

SPOILERS:

However from the séance onwards, the film becomes a little too campy. The wire-fu possessed dancing dude, is pretty much where the film loses me (dancing characters appear to be Raimi’s Achilles heel. I say that to be tongue in cheek, because unlike many, while I agree the third SPIDERMAN was the weakest of Raimi’s trilogy, as a whole I quite liked it. And found the dancing sequence in that film quite enjoyable, however not in this film).

The possessed guy, assistant to the medium who tries to exorcise the demon, his whole appearance in the movie seems like what it is, contrived, and calls attention to itself in a bad way. He comes in and comes out to be the weakest portion of the film. So from that point on the film feels really forced, particularly the ending just seemed (the name of the movie to the contrary unlikely) slapped on to give the audience an unconventional ending.

I think with any ending [spoilers], the film has to earn that ending; has to earn its happy ending or earn its downer ending. This film did not earn its ending.

The ending felt, rather than coming out of the film we were seeing, as if it were there for no other reason then to appeal to an audience that increasingly confuses sensationalism and extremism with quality.

Being an optimist I think most films earn their happy endings. I’m a believer in happy endings. So for a film to have a downbeat ending, it has to, through the internal logic of the film, earn that ending. Films that fail to earn their downer ending, are films like THE MIST (its ending felt forced, and tacked on. But so did most of the film).

As far as examples of movies that earn their downer ending: DESCENT, Raimi’s own EVIL DEAD films, TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE, SEVEN, Carpenter’s THE THING, etc.

Unfortunately DRAG ME TO HELL’s ending is more MIST then DESCENT.
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And I understand that studios increasingly gear films toward an audience that filmmakers are aware can’t appreciate plot, or subtlety, or even beauty, but just bodily fluids and banality.

So increasingly filmmakers crank out lowest common denominator films to lowest common denominator audiences. They create caricatures rather than characters, protagonists as objects for audiences to laugh at or feel superior to (for not being in their shoes). And I think that’s a dangerous itch to train the American public to get used to being scratched; to objectify and even enjoy the pain of the other. There’s a dangerous grooming of the audience that filmmakers are gearing their movies toward; a dangerous commentary about what our degenerating fictions say about our society’s degenerating freedoms.

But such pandering was not something I expected from a filmmaker like Raimi. And to his credit it’s not something I got for the bulk of the film. But unfortunately it is the ending that defines the journey, and I think the film swerved into oncoming traffic at the end.

The ending flew in the face of the internal veracity/logic of the film. How many blank sealed envelopes, with a round item in it are you likely to find in a car? It is illogical (in the logic of the film) that the protagonist would mistakenly pick up a duplicate envelope, or that such a duplicate envelope would just be sitting in the car. As soon as she lost the envelope, then found it again I was on the alert for just such an ending as we got. But I was hoping Raimi wouldn’t be as… slapstick as that.

And that is the perfect word for the ending, it felt slapstick rather than narrative, or emotive, or meaningful.

I think DRAG ME TO HELL is not a film that people who raved about it in the gestalt of the theaters, will judge it as favorably upon second viewing. I think the clumsy nature of the 3rd act, will be clearer when revisited.

An ending has to be a product of the convictions and craft of the filmmaker, as well as the strength of the script/story; and should not be an interchangeable thing. A film is not a video game, it shouldn’t have multiple endings. It is a narrative that should like a novel, build toward a singular end. DRAG ME TO HELL, its name to the contrary, felt untrue to its end.

So all in all, a film worth seeing just for Raimi’s directorial style, but a flawed film. It is a fun date/group movie for most of its running time, but just be aware the ending does not hold up.

**1/2 out of ****.

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ORPHAN

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Saw ORPHAN last week with a friend, and in a packed theater, and it was a very odd experience for me. ORPHAN is a thriller with a creepy kid, that’s all you need to know going in. That’s all I knew. It is a technically pretty damn impressive film, that does everything it wants to do, with a nice twist I did not see coming, but I really did not enjoy this film. Because for all its craft, its cliches got on my nerves. (I’m going to avoid the central spoiler of this film, because it is great and you should see it for the twist alone, that said to discuss what I don’t like about the film is impossible without discussing a few other things about the film. So these are very minor obtuse SPOILERS, but they are spoilers, so go see or rent the film first, and come back to compare our takes on the film. You have been warned! :) )

F**K I’m sick of characters of color being in a movie just to buy it. SICK OF IT. It was piss poor filmmaking three decades ago, and it has just gotten to be a more pathetic crutch today. Which is why I’m such an effing fan of John Carpenter films. Wow, great movies, where the character of color doesn’t necessarily have to be the victim or the villain. And where he typically has more than one character of color. Imagine that? Man, I understand roles are hard to come by for actors of color, but seriously to all actors of color out there: pick your roles with some care!

Because when you, the actor, are silenced… shuffle off this mortal coil; they… the images, will continue to speak for you. Actors like Poitier and Belafonte and Roundtree and Williams understood this. And while this principled stance has made their careers shorter than they otherwise would be, it has also made cinema better than it would otherwise be.

Here endeth that rant.

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Onto Cliche and rant two. The cliche of getting the upper hand on the villain, then turning your back on them. OH KNOW, NOT AGAIN!

The last time that was cool was in the first LETHAL WEAPON movie. It’s been done 5 million times since then, notice to filmmakers: IT IS NO LONGER COOL, INTERESTING, OR REMOTELY A SURPRISE so stop effing doing it! Grrrrrr! ORPHAN has this obligatory scene of “surprise the villain isn’t dead”, and it’s just lazy scriptwriting, lazy direction, lazy filmmaking.

And like I say, I quite like where the ending of ORPHAN begins to go, but that cliche just takes me right out of the film, and kills any enjoyment for me. And the whole movie is filled with frustrating and annoying cliches like that. Particularly the character of the husband is so stupid and whiny and blind, that I personally want to reach into the screen and strangle him. The actor Peter Sarsgaard is always such such a swarmy presence in his roles, though that did serve him well in the far better SKELETON KEY.

And the last thing that really kind of got me about this film, it’s really a very vicious film throughout. I mean, it’s bloody dark. Which is absolutely what the filmmakers were going for, but I have to say, I was pretty uncomfortable with the whole film. I’m no light weight when it comes to thrillers/horror, I’ve seen everything from UNIVERSAL CLASSICS to EXORCIST to SEVEN, Japanese Horror, Italian Horror, you name it, I’ve seen it. But a lot of this film revolves around violence around children, putting them in jeopardy, and while this has been done to good effect from films such as NIGHT OF THE HUNTER, LEMORA, WHO CAN KILL A CHILD, TOGETHER BROTHERS, etc., it’s always something I’m weary of. And here in ORPHAN there’s some really explicit violence, and implied violence, and language perpetrated around and at children. How parents of these young actors can be okay with their kids in such explicit scenes, I always find slightly disturbing.

All that’s on the bad. But on the good is that the performance of the cast, for the most part, is fantastic. Vera Farmiga as the mom, Kate Coleman, has been working since the 90s, but this puts her on the map for me. She completely ties you into this movie. CCH Pounder in a thankless role, delivers her usual solid and grounded performance (a great actress, who is typically underused). And the children Jimmy Bennett (The Young James T. Kirk from the new STAR TREK film, who only 13 already has over 30 film and TV credits to his name), and Aryana Engineer (in her screen debut) are excellent in really difficult and intense roles. But it’s the 12 yo Isabelle Fuhrman who is a revelation as the title character. It is an astonishing performance and one I would never have any 12 yo play. However in the long history of evil kid movies, without argument Isabelle’s performance takes the crown.

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Director Jaume Collett-Serra, a Spaniard, with this his third movie marks himself as a pushing the edge director to watch. If he can avoid the easy cliches, and the predictable scripts, he may become a house-hold name. Based on this film I’ll check out his previous two films: HOUSE OF WAX and GOAL II. And finally moving onto the writers, the story was by Alex Mace, and screenplay by David Johnson. Their twist I quite liked but, like the director, the writers need to avoid the clichés and the well worn choices of the genre.

An interesting film, with some really unnerving scenes. Not a film I walked out of the theater liking, though my friend— she was more a fan of it then I, but I can not argue that it was compellingly crafted.

An intriguing film, definitely flawed, but overall very capably put together. I wouldn’t recommend spending movie prices to see, but it is definitely one you should rent and decide for yourself. And let me reiterate if I didn’t make it clear, this is not a family film. IT IS NOT FOR KIDS, and is totally deserving of its R rating.

Okay those are all the reviews for this segment. See you next time!

Classic Movie/Giallo Review: Dario Argento’s INFERNO!

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Then I realized my early work did have something special that audiences adored apart from what I humbly thought about them. They occupy a distinguished niche in Italian film history and probably always will.
Dario Argento

After many years of reading about Argento’s INFERNO I finally got around to seeing it. It starts off promising but ultimately meanders its way to an underwhelming, and more than a little amateurish conclusion.

And I say that being a huge fan of Dario Argento’s early work. I think his DEEP RED is a masterpiece and films such as his 1969 debut BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE (as masterful a debut as you’ll find, and something of a warmup to DEEP RED), and his subsequent films of the 70s, are close to masterpieces and all deserving of viewing.

However as with many great directors of the 70s, that greatness would not extend into the 80s. In the 1980s director sweethearts of the the age of Aquarius such as Argento, found themselves scrambling to be relevant in an era of Reagonomics and Hollywood Blockbusters and sought to wrangle audiences with gore and excess over craft (And don’t get me wrong there are moments of brilliance in his post 80s work, TENEBRE while flawed, has some really masterfully composed scenes of… tension and horror, and I enjoyed his JENIFER for MASTERS OF HORROR, but on a whole they tend to fail to hold together).

INFERNO is on the cusp of that transition from 70s craft to 80s gore, but its failure seemingly has to be laid more at the hands of just a half-baked film concept/story. First the good: Here as in SUSPIRIA the visuals are great. Argento’s use of primary colors, and the use of architecture and sets, drenches the film in this decadent dream reality. However unlike SUSPIRIA it is hampered by an inferior, and annoying score, and a weak and underdeveloped protagonist (The actor who plays the lead like most of the actors in this film, seemed like he had no idea what to do in-front the camera, and just wasn’t someone the audience could really connect with) and the same for the antagonist, the mother of shadows, who appears in the final act and whose final form is pretty darn laughable. All in all a mess of a movie, that has to be laid at the hands of Argento’s script. Those flaws noted, if you are an Argento fan the film is worth seeing for the visuals alone. C-/D+.

Zack Snyder and the WATCHMEN, and who wasn’t watching! A HT movie review!

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I just came from seeing the WATCHMEN, a much anticipated movie. My first film on the big screen since being back on the East Coast.

My first theater experience, made me miss the Southern Californian movie theaters. LA as you can imagine is a place that takes their theaters seriously. From enforcing restrictions on R rated showings, to having state of the art sound and picture, to policing the screenings.

The policing part made moot, by the fact that the Socal movie crowd, like I said is serious about their films. This east coast screening however, slightly marred by the fact that some idiot with a laser pointer made me want to kill somebody. An irritation easily resolved in the short term by having an usher in the theater to monitor just such idiocies, and in the long term by more selective breeding.

This country has too many of the wrong people breeding. This moron, someone told me later was in there with three kids (seemingly his), and all four of them looking like Howdy Doody.

I hate morons. Always have, always will. I hate people who cross the line.

That minor idiocy bringing us back to the topic at hand, the WATCHMEN. The 12 chapter graphic novel at its heart is a cross-generational murder mystery, about a time and a breed of people, that hold an ever more broken line.

The graphic novel is an acknowledged masterpiece, that I read when it first came out in 1986, and reread recently… just a scant month before the opening of the film.
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The graphic novel is deserving of its praise, as written and drawn and colored by three brits, it uses the trappings of the hero genre to examine and dissect the paranoia of a cold war America, and the violent, decadent, cannibalistic American id. An oft covered topic now, back in 1985-1986, the work was revelatory. In many ways it still is.

Dense and layered and rich, Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons and John Higgins’ WATCHMEN was the wakeup call to a medium, that had been a long time sleeping. There is a sophistication to what these gentleman had done in the WATCHMEN that has since been much copied, but seldom equaled.

For over 2 decades it kicked around Hollywood, unfilmable most said. But that was before. Before comic properties routinely started generating over 100million dollars. Before CGI grew up. Before Zack Snyder’s 300, made much money on little investment.

So the unfilmable movie has been filmed, and director Zack Snyder is to be applauded for his vision, his style, his direction, his faithfulness to the source. There are many scenes that made me smile, because they capture exact and momentous moments, capture them well. Many scenes improve on the source, make moments cinematic and visceral, definitely Snyder’s strength in 300.

His action scenes are phenomenal. Not since Peckinpah and Woo has anyone used slow motion as effectively.

In pieces, in parts, the movie impresses; but as a whole it unfortunately fails. And that can be summed up in one word: Pacing.

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Snyder tries to be faithful to the book, but the book is too dense and too rich to be shoehorned into 2 or even 3 hours. Without having read the graphic novel, large parts of the movie are going to be confusing and incomprehensible to the audience. Even having read the novel, I clearly saw that much of it was muddled at best. I felt the whole conceit and destruction it was building up to and that the ‘heroes’ were racing to stop, got lost. The characters moving from scene to scene, but the why of their movements either lost on the cutting room floor or never filmed. I knew the ending of the book, but based on just watching the film, you wouldn’t.

Snyder’s faithfulness to the source material, costing him in terms of making it accessible and exciting as a film. Bottom line, there was too much happening, in too little a period of time, to too many characters.

And it cost a visually inventive movie its heart. Its audience.

The movie would have been better served as a tv show, or a movie trilogy.

Both options giving the audience time to know the characters and care for them, an empathy absent from this film.

Looking at the trilogy aspect, the first movie should have ended with the death of the Comedian, not been just the beginning of a movie. That would have covered the Minutemen years. The 2nd movie would have been Rorschach’s investigation and the Watchmen years, and the third movie would have been the last hour and a half of the movie we saw in the theaters minus the muddled shoehorned in back-story.

But hindsight is 20/20. I can see clearly what works, because of Zack Snyder’s effort.

He had much right. The casting I thought was spot on, the performances, the acting, the visuals, the music, however the script and the pacing did not play to the strengths of cinema, this edit of the movie largely was nonsensical and cost a movie that could have been… great, its greatness.

So all in all, a failed film. That I would not recommend to anyone who has not read the book, and even those who have… may find it a viewing better reserved for when the extended, and hopefully re-edited DVD comes out.

But I still count Zack Snyder, with only 3 movies under his belt (DAWN OF THE DEAD, 300, WATCHMEN), as one of the most exciting filmmakers working, because even his misses, are visually more interesting than most people’s successes.

A filmmaker to watch.