Wednesday, December 16, 2009

It's that time of year again.

All over the world proud parents are suffering.
maryandadonkey... "

School nativities.

By my calculations I have another ten years of the buggers to sit through. By the time Eben is treading the boards with a tea-towel wrapped round his head and a stuffed toy sheep under one arm for the final time I will be 60 odd and have been watching my kids be Angels, Josephs, Marys, Kings, and all the rest for 15 years. (Unless of course M and I have another kid in which case the clock is reset to minus ten again).
I don't mind school nativities too much. I can't stand organised religion in any shape or form and would happily see it banned from all schools the world over but for most kids it's their first real taste of drama and performance - both of which are GOOD things in my book. But why are school nativities so incredibly bland? Why do they always miss out the gory bits? (The Slaughter of the Innocents anyone?) And why no school Passion Plays at Easter? I can't believe there isn't one kid in every school the teachers wouldn't love to see nailed to a tree.

I just like the idea of little Timmy rushing home from school in floods of tears: "Daaaad! Waaaaaah! They picked me to play Jesus!"

I am a very cruel man.

Monday, December 14, 2009

All the crap movies I have watched last month. Fortunately it is a very short list.
  1. Wild Wild World of Batwoman aka She Was a Hippy Vampire (MST3K) - Oh God!

  2. Il gatto a nove code (1971) - Dario Argento does a Hitchcock with Ennio Morricone as his Bernard Herrmann.

  3. Our Man Flint - Stupidly sexist semi-spoof of the Bond films which was actually a funnier than I was expecting - and a lot funnier than the Austin Powers movies which covered the same ground. Our Man Flint played it straight. No mugging to camera. The story was cigarette paper thin (blue ones) but had a rather groovy design and music vibe which I rather enjoyed.

    You are not a pleasure unit....

    And, after careful repeated watching, at various speeds, of the seven or eight frames in which this girl is pulled from behind the glass panel before disappearing out of frame, I was able to answer one of those technical questions that has long bugged me about shower scenes in American movies of this period - answer: they wear flesh coloured bikinis.

    Ah well. Another evening well spent then.

  4. The Blue Umbrella (2005) - Merriol found this one, cruising through Blockbuster for suitable movies for the kids. We didn't realise it was in Hindi till it was in the machine and we were all snuggled up to watch it. It is, not to beat about the bush, a wonderful film. It's simple little tale of a poor Indian village girl who meets a Japanese tourist and swaps her amulet for the tourist's blue umbrella. The Umbrella is stolen, the thief is unmasked and eventually the girl forgives him. That's it. And it tore me up. Shredded me. I was in tears. Simple straightforward movie making, wonderfully acted, beautifully shot, and brilliantly edited. Not that it is perfect - even caught up in the emotion of the story, I noticed a few odd moments - a couple of line crossings, and a weird bit of focus pulling at one point which made me think the dialogue had been rewritten post-production and this was only usable shot the editor had. Sometimes I really wish the part of my brain that notices this sort of stuff would JUST SHUT THE FUCK UP! - till after the movie had finished at least. A delightful film.

  5. Yor, the Hunter from the Future - about which I have already waxed lyrical.

  6. When Worlds Collide (1951) - 1951 was a good year for heavily biblically subtexted SF movies. (See The Day the Earth Stood Still - last month?) This time it's Noah and the Flood that got reworked.

  7. Stardust - the Neil Gaiman one, not the David Essex one. And I was more than pleasantly surprised. It was nice to see the CGI serving the story for a change and not the other way around. And when things are going well I do really like 'the part of my brain that notices this sort of stuff', despite what I said a few movies ago. Towards the end of Stardust there is a tremendous battle between three witches and our hero, who is trying to rescue his true love from being sacrificed by them. Two of the witches are killed in the course of the fight but, just at the moment when the third, and strongest, witch has the helpless heroine and the hero at her mercy, there is sudden pause and we get a small panning shot from her POV of the desolation caused during the conflict. There is no one else in the room. There is no help coming for our heroes. The witch slashes with her knife - and frees the captive heroine. The witch turns away from them, what good are youth and beauty to her? Her sisters are dead what's the point?
    The shot we just saw wasn't really there to show us there was no hope for the heroes - though it did do that job very well - it was there to show us the witch's realisation that her life has no meaning any more.
    As the newly united lovers walk away, a cunning look comes over the witch's face and she attacks them again. She was toying with them. Now her sisters are dead she will not have to share the power that their deaths will bring her. The POV shot was her making sure they were dead. One simple shot and three different interpretations/uses of it presented - bang bang bang - one after the other. Great bit of movie making.

  8. Teenage Monster - One of the few cowboy monster movies. Not a genre that caught on. Off the top of my head I can only think of a few others: Jesse James Meets Frankenstein's Daughter, Billy the Kid vs. Dracula ... erm .... Anyway! Using standing sets, three horses, no continuity girl, and about four interiors:

    (one of which is very strangely framed at the top - presumably the low angle they chose to shoot it from let the camera see the top of the set and the studio ceiling - until they shoved a piece of cardboard in the way) our gallant crew of no budget movie makers - also responsible for The Brain From Planet Aurus (qv.) - tell the story of a widowed mother and her son who, after possibly being struck by a fragment of meteorite - the narrative is a little vague about the details - and finding gold in their mine, move to the outskirts of town where the widow romances the sheriff and the boy (now grown up to be a hairy homicidal giant) kills people with relentless monotony.
    In the end the boy beast, with the usual instincts of the doomed tragic monster type, heads for the local high ground where he throws the blackmailing scheming minx, who has pretended to befriend him, off the top of a cliff before being shot down like the hairy teenage monster that he is. The End - of a very long 65 minutes.

  9. War Of the Worlds - Not the Tom Cruise one, the 1953 George Pal one with Gene Barry. Better than I remember. The scenes where the mob take the scientists' vehicles, and wreck their chances of finding a weapon to defeat the seeming invincible Martians, must have been a real shock at the time. The conventions of the day would have had our heroes pulling a plot device out of the hat at the last moment ("It's crazy - but it might just work!") and saving the day but here, just at the point where you would expect this to start taking place, frantic selfish people spill out all over the screen and rip that hope away from the audience. Must have been much more disturbing to the well-ordered, conformist America of the Eisenhower years than it is today.

  10. War Of the Worlds - The Tom Cruise one. Which was better than I expected and which I was quite enjoying - until the moment when Tim Robbins' character appeared on screen. Then it went tits up very fast. I can suspend my disbelief with the best of them. Tom Cruise's character spends most of the movie running away, doing vaguely sensible things and generally not behaving like an action movie hero at all. So all that 'sensible' semi-realistic stuff almost outweighed all the bullshit stuff that was going on around him. Martian machines buried underground for millennia? Ray guns that vaporised people but not their clothes? - or at least not their outer garments, it seemed to vaporise their bras and panties pretty neatly, but has trouble with jeans and sweatshirts. I'll even let him get away with surviving having half a Jumbo Jet fall on his house, but it's later, having lost one of his kids and alone with his daughter, when things go wrong. In a scene almost recognisably drawn from a scene in the book, our hero meets a character called Ogilvy hiding in a cellar. (In the book Ogilvy was an astronomer, the character in the cellar was just called 'the artilleryman' though parts of Robbis character are also drawn from 'the Curate' in the book.) There are Martians all over the place and they are trapped, forced to keep quite in case they are discovered. Ogilvy's character is digging a tunnel and his continuous noise is putting them all in jeopardy. Our hero decides he has no option but to kill Ogilvy to save his own and his child's lives. He blindfolds his daughter and tells her to to sing while he goes to do the deed. This could have been - should have been - a horrible, terrible moment. Our decent, hard-working, loving family man forced to do something so horrible to protect those he loves. But it isn't. It isn't because the film-makers chickened out of making it a horrible terrible moment by making the character of Ogilvy creepyily weird, possible paedophile, so repulsive that people just wanted him disposed of. There was no moral ambiguity. Cruise was acting his cotton socks off in this scene but the moment had gone. Ogilvy was broad brush-stoke evil and therefore Cruise's character was entitled to dispose of him. Wouldn't it have been so much more interesting if Ogilvy had been nice. Helpful, friendly, nice - but just dangerously noisy. Wouldn't that have been one hell of a scene? Damn right it would. Oscar time all round I think, but Hollywood leading men don't kill 'nice' people do they? Three minutes later (having remembered he's an action hero) Cruise is blowing up previously impregnable Martian war machines with a couple of hand grenades he just happens to find lying about and reuniting his family. The End.

  11. The Great Garrick - a 1937 piece of nonsense directed by the great James Whale (better known for Frankenstein, Bride of Frankenstein and Showboat) which I love dearly. It's a flimsy piece of froth, totally set-bound and stagy but fun. It is my perfect Sunday Afternoon Movie. It's a shame and a puzzlement that it has never been released on VHS, DVD, Laserdisc - or any other home format you care to mention. I've had a treasured copy, taped off the telly some 20 or so years ago, and only recently managed to find a copy on line. The quality isn't the best but it'll do till someone at Criterion or somewhere rediscovers it and restores it.-

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Ages since my last post. Sorry world. How have you managed without me? It is at this point I usually dump the screen full of every movie I watched last month. But I'm not because it's bloody freezing in the office and I want to go to bed and watch another one - so, to keep you going:

Part One of My New Top Ten Ways of Surviving a Science Fiction B-movie list (part two will be with you when I think of some more). The previous top ten list (as hosted by my good friend Mr BaliHai).

  1. Don't go Anywhere Near the Derelict Ship. Just don't do it. Don't go near it. Don't go in it. No matter how interesting it looks, or how much insanely valuable Alludium Fosdex there is supposed to be on board, just don't do it. Because you will die. I guarantee it- unless maybe you look cute in a vest and panties, or you are a cat, then you're in with a chance. Within minutes of you opening the derelict's airlock door and waving insanely bright torches round the dusty interior - something, or someone, will start bumping off your pals one by one. (If you do find yourself on a derelict ship with something bumping off your pals one be careful to observe the following

    • DO NOT walk backwards down corridors, no matter how impressively huge a gun or flame-thrower you are holding. You're just asking for trouble.

  2. Don't Take a Job as a Guard in an Off-world Penal Colony. I really don't have to spell this one out do I? Just turn the page and search the want ads and look for something a little safer - like juggling live hand grenades.
  3. Giant Spider Webs are Usually Made by Giant Spiders. Giant Spiders are not vegetarians. They don't build those big sticky things to catch broccoli. Avoid. (Unless, very weirdly, you are made of broccoli - in which case I think you are probably safe.)
  4. Women, Never, EVER! Tell Your Husband You're Pregnant Just After He's Walked Out on an Evil Corporation. This is a variation of 'Older Cop Syndrome' which happens a lot to police sergeants with only three days to go till retirement. Either way, death at the hands of evildoers is almost always guaranteed - usually within sight of your husband or partner who will be just that little bit too far away (probably buying you a hot dog) to be able to help you.

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