Change Your Image
Upload An Image
Crop And Save
The Walking Dead: Here's Not Here (2015)
Here's Not Here. Or There. Or Anywhere.
About this ep, I wrote that Morgan's "all life is precious" ideology is "content-free," but while "Here's Not Here" was meant to establish where Morgan got it, the ep actually does nothing to establish WHY he picked it up from Eastman. Eastman is a nice guy and brings Morgan back to his senses after he'd practically lost his mind but that doesn't really constitute any reason to adopt Eastman's philosophy.
Indeed, Eastman himself is given no clear reason for having adopted it. As the ep proceeded, we learn that Eastman slowly starved to death an evil psychopath who had murdered his family. Eastman says doing this didn't make him feel any better but he still did it. He seems to have adopted the "all life is precious" philosophy in the wake of this in order to find inner peace (though it doesn't make a lick of sense, considering what he'd been through) but he's a fellow who has spent nearly the entire zombie apocalypse in a remote cabin entirely isolated from what was happening in the rest of the world. Outside the confines of the little world he's built for himself, it's often kill or be killed and his view is delusional. Entirely incompatible with reality.
Morgan, on the other hand, is, by this point, well aware of what happens outside that little fence that keeps in Eastman's goat. He knows the score. In a 90-minute filler episode, there's never any connection made between Morgan and what Eastman was preaching, no insight, no moment at which Morgan came to see it as a better way, no incident that provided Morgan with any reason to see wisdom in it or to want to make it his own. The two never even have a conversation wherein the state of the world is discussed in relationship to this philosophy. That would require a greater depth than is present in martial arts movie clichés, a depth TWD's overbearingly pretentious writers are entirely incapable of providing. Morgan's adopting Eastman's view is utterly arbitrary, the character suddenly turned into an entirely new character solely because of temporary plot needs. Which is, of course, TWD's usual m.o.
Worse, it can be read as a very serious reduction of the character. Morgan, when he was introduced, was a fellow who just couldn't bring himself to kill the zombie that had once been his wife. It made him very human. It's the reason the character became so beloved. Later, in "Clear," it was revealed that he'd continued to put off killing the creature until, one day, it killed his son. In last night's opus, he senselessly murdered a fellow but--entirely arbitrarily--didn't pike the fellow's brain. The fellow Morgan murdered came back as a zombie and bit Morgan's Jedi sensei. One can see this as being Morgan's fault for killing the fellow but given Morgan's recent actions, the reading of it that screams to the viewer is that this was another situation with which Morgan failed to properly deal and that came back with disastrous consequences--if he'd have piked the fellow in the brain, Eastman would still be alive. Toward the end of last season, one of the Wolves turned up at the now-"enlightened" Morgan's camp. He announced his intention was to take everything Morgan had, including his life. Morgan allowed the fellow to live; the same fellow later came back with his Wolf buddies and carried out horrendous atrocities against the Alexandrians. When Morgan faced those marauding Wolves in "JSS," he stood around like a naive idiot who had never lived so much as a day in this zombified world and didn't know what to do, trying to reason with them at the very moment they were committing gruesome murders he could have prevented. When he faced down the final group of them, he told them to run away and allowed them to escape. Minutes later, story time (in "Thank You"), they attacked and tried to kill Rick. In arbitrarily imposing this "all life is precious" business, the writers have not only reduced this once-very-human fellow to a one-note caricature, they've now made him ideologically committed to being nothing more. Morgan, the dumbass who gets others killed because he can never learn his ONE lesson.
Las garras de Lorelei (1974)
A good little movie
I'd heard some pretty terrible things about THE LORELEY'S GRASP, but it turned out to be very good, almost excellent. Certainly hampered by budgetary considerations, but not cripplingly so.
Shortcomings: I could have done without the weird little professor's radioactive recreation of Siegfried's blade--why not just stick with the mythical elements of the film and write it so the Doc had found what he believed to be the real one? Loreley's business face was an atrocity, but good ol' Amando realized it from the beginning, and, having thankfully never been corrupted by the Lucio Fulci School of Talentless Hackwork with regard to lousy effects, never allowed us to get much of a look at it.
At the same time, her public relations face was that of Helga Line, and we get to see plenty of it, which is just dandy.
Great locations, too. Amando is almost Franco-like in making solid use of interesting surroundings. He manages, at times, to imbue the movie with an otherworldly feel, as though it's a fairy tale or myth; something that isn't necessarily taking place in a fixed time in the real world. Our heroes' stripey pants do unfortunately date the film. Put him in some khakis, and we'd be talking Timeless.
Overall, a very solid effort--a movie I'm glad I saw.
For a gialli, not bad
I'm just not much of a giallo fan. As a sub-genre, it's wonderful in theory, and usually godawful in execution. I was somewhat hesitant about picking up the new BLUE EYES OF THE BROKEN DOLL disc, because as its title suggests, it's an intentional effort to ape the Italian gialli, this one brought to us by the Spanish. It stars the most excellent Paul Naschy, Spain's version of Lon Chaney, and was directed by Carlos Aured, a fellow pioneer of Spanish dark fantasy who has recently died. Those two facts helped prompt me to pick up the movie, but the two real selling-points for me were that I also wanted to help feed BCI/Deimos, who have done a FANTASTIC job on their series of Spanish horror films, and I wanted the Aured/Naschy commentary, recorded not long before Aured's death, and probably his last public words on his career. That, in particular, made it a must-have item. Still, I didn't have very high hopes for the movie itself.
Imagine my surprise when it turned out to be a pretty solid film. Our man Naschy is a drifter who breezes into a town in the north of France and goes to work for three odd sisters, living a reclusive life in a big, old house. Almost immediately after he arrives (and starts getting very friendly with two of the sisters), blue-eyed ladies start turning up dead around town, each one having their eyes stolen by their killer. Naschy's drifter, it turns out, has a past from which he's on the run, and when it emerges, all suspicion turns no him.
But there's more to this mystery than meets the blue eyes.
The movie, though certainly worth a look, is far from perfect, and it would probably be fairly ranked as a relatively minor Naschy outing. It suffers from some of the shortcomings that so violently sink most gialli, but, unlike so many of the Italian films, it isn't sunk by them. The police procedural elements are fairly minimal. The "big reveal" at the end is, as in practically every giallo, utterly ludicrous, but the final sequence is so odd and so well played that viewers will tend to forgive the film for failing to solve a critical piece of the mystery (a major character is stabbed, but it's never revealed who did it), and for building up a minor one, then leaving it completely unexplained (the matter of the accident that resulted in the injuries to the two sisters). We're given at least one red herring that is never unexplained--one of the sisters spies Naschy's boots covered in mud, which was potentially very important, but no explanation for their being muddy is ever given. As a mystery, it has far too much of the giallo in it to be very good. As a movie, though, it's pretty consistently entertaining, with plenty of nifty directorial flourishes and a really good score.
I may be going easy on it because I was so surprised it wasn't a complete waste of space. Still, I'd give it a marginal recommendation (with all the caveats I've outlined here, at least).
Jesus Franco is now a full-fledged cult legend, and EUGENIE DE SADE, from 1970, is one of his absolute best films (and, to be clear on the point, Franco, in spite of what one may hear from his detractors, has a LOT of great work under his belt, and you've never seen one Franco film until you've seen them all).
The movie--obsessive, disturbing, and still darkly romantic--is based on "Eugenie de Franval," by the Marquis de Sade, but updated to a modern setting. It tells the story of a very twisted but quite brilliant writer named Radek (played by Paul Muller) and his step-daughter Eugenie, whom he has raised from birth. Radek's wife had already been pregnant when he married her, she'd died not long after giving birth, and he'd raised Eugenie himself, but not necessarily out of fatherly affection. He had a much darker agenda, as we soon learn. He has, in fact, raised her to be his perfect companion, a lover and a collaborator in his various and sundry crimes. Radek is a Sade character, recall. He kills people just because he likes to do it, and, more importantly, because he likes to prove to himself that he can get away with it. Eugenie is sucked into his madness, and the movie records it all.
Eugenie is played by the ravishing Soledad Miranda, then one of Franco's regular stable of performers, and she has never looked better than in this film. Only in her mid-20s at the time, she pulls off a balancing act, in her performance, that would have been impressive for an actress of twice her years. Eugenie willingly participates in all of her step-fathers' horrors, yet still retains an air of innocence--she is a victim as well as a perpetrator. One online review of the film said Paul Muller is totally miscast as her stepfather, and I couldn't disagree more strongly. His intensity is piercing, and he nails every note of his performance like a virtuoso. It is, in fact, difficult to imagine anyone else in the part. Originally, Franco was going to make him Eugenie's real father, as in the book, but he changed this out of censorship concerns. Still, the incest theme is quite icky, and Muller is extraordinarily creepy.
Kudos, also, are due to the films' fantastic score, another shot out of the park by the most excellent Bruno Nicolai--a perfect marriage of image and sound. Like Eugenie herself, it suggests both innocence and corruption, and makes no judgments on the proceedings.
The atmosphere in this one is stifling, at times, and I imagine some would feel the need for a shower after watching it. One shouldn't feel too dirty, though; this is great movie-making.
Flavia, la monaca musulmana (1974)
A solid effort
I'd read about FLAVIA THE HERETIC for many years, but I only got to see it early last year, when I went on an insane movie-buying binge, and, for whatever reason, it has been on my mind lately, though it's been some months since I watched it.
It's a striking film, set in Italy somewhere around the 15th century. Definitely Medieval-era (though I don't think any specific year is ever given). This being the time of Christian ascendancy, the age is a time of utter madness, and the movie captures this very well.
Flavia, our protagonist, is a young lady who encounters a fallen Muslim on a battlefield. He seems a warm and intriguing fellow, and she's immediately taken with him. Her father, a soldier of a a family of some standing, comes along, almost immediately, and murders the wounded man right before her eyes. But she'll continue to see him in her dreams.
Her father ships her off to a convent that seems more like an open-air insane asylum--the residents, so harshly repressed by unyielding Medieval Christianity, slowly go mad. Flavia comes under the influence of one of the nuttier nuns. But in a mad world, only the sane are truly mad, and this sociopathic sister clearly recognizes the insanity around her. Her take on the times in which they live strikes a chord with Flavia, who, being young and apparently sheltered, is beginning to question everything about this world in which she finds herself trapped.
The movie is unflinching in its portrayal of that world, showcasing a lot of unpleasantness. We see a horse gelded, a lord rape one of the women of his lands in a pig-sty, the pious torture of a young nun. Through it all, Flavia observes and questions, rejecting, eventually, the Christian dogma that creates such a parade of horrors in terms that would gain the movie some criticism over the years for seeming anachronistic. I disagree with that criticism. Flavia's views, though sometimes expressed in ways that vaguely mirror, for example, then-contemporary feminist commentary (the movie was made in 1974), revolve around what are really pretty obvious questions. It is, perhaps, difficult to believe she could be so much of a fish out of water in her own time, but that's the sort of minor point it doesn't do to belabor. Flavia is written in such a way to allow those of our era, or of any era, to empathize with her plight. Getting bogged down on such a matter would be missing the forest for the trees.
Flavia is heartened when the Muslims arrive, invading the countryside, and she finds, in their leader, a new version of the handsome Islamist who still visits her dreams. Smitten with her almost immediately, he allows her to virtually lead his army, becoming a Joan of Arc figure in full battle-gear, and directing the invaders to pull down Christian society, and wreak vengeance upon all those she's seen commit evil.
Is she the herald of a new and better world? She may think so, but Muslims of that era weren't big on feminism, either, as she soon learns the hard way. As they say, meet the new boss...
This is really just a thumbnail of some of the things that happen in FLAVIA THE HERETIC. The movie is quite grim, and with a very downbeat, rather depressing ending. Not a mass-audience movie at all, to be sure. It's quite good, though, and doesn't belong on the "nunsploitation" pile on which it is often carelessly thrown. I think there's much value in the final film, and I'm glad I saw it.
Sie tötete in Ekstase (1971)
A positively hypnotic film
A naively idealistic scientist engaged in fetal research he hopes will offer tremendous benefits for mankind instead finds himself scandalized, his work condemned as ethically abominable (how's that for a timely premise?). Distraught, he eventually kills himself, and his horrified lover (Soledad Miranda), psychologically broken by it all, sets out for revenge against his persecutors--one by one, she hunts them down, seduces them, and kills them.
The film's most astonishing sequence features beautiful Soledad consumed by grief to the point of insanity--as she confronts the horror of it all, Franco zooms into her face and seems to zoom into her soul. We see her thoughts and memories of her previously happy life, and their effect on her. We witness the point at which the madness finally consumes her--we almost experience it ourselves. A breathtaking sequence, and far from the film's only moment of brilliance.
Like all Francos, the movie is, unfortunately, plagued by obvious budgetary shortcomings--the final suicidal plunge, in a car, off a cliff was reduced to a rough drive down a somewhat steep embankment. In such cases, the viewer just has to let his imagination more properly fill in the details.
Vampyros Lesbos (1971)
VAMPYROS LESBOS was my second Franco, and the one that guaranteed there would be a third, fourth, and 50th Jesus Franco film in my future. It's very rare to come across something so utterly bizarre and unorthodox in every particular but to "get" it instantly. That's how VAMPYROS LESBOS and I hit it off, though.
Bela Lugosi's Dracula has been sequelized, remade, rehashed, and referenced more times than can be easily counted, but, as far as I know, this is the only time anyone set out to produce a "remake" that consciously reversed everything in the movie. Night becomes day, hetero Count becomes lesbian Countess, Puritanical vampire hunter becomes degenerate obsessed with becoming a vampire, and so on. The perversity of it all is delightful. When Franco zoomed into Soledad Miranda's exquisite face as she tells us how much she loves wine, I didn't spare a shout.
Ultimate Avengers (2006)
What a mess, and what a shame
This project offered a golden opportunity to produce something very special and quite unique. A literal animated adaptation of the excellent Ultimates comic--literal because the book is already tailor-made for film treatment--would have made for a very special cinematic experience indeed.
Unfortunately, Marvel, while making enormous strides in live-action cinema in recent years (after decades of atrocities), is still stuck in the increasingly distant past with animation; still dedicated to the notion of grinding out Saturday morning kiddie cartoons in the mold of the mid-to-late '80s/early '90s, and pretending as though "Batman The Animated Series" and its successors never happened.
Every aspect of "Ultimate Avengers" is, in fact, identical to animated product of that earlier era--incredibly cheap animation, horrible "G.I. Joe"-style music, voice "actors" who can't act, reading embarrassingly awful dialogue from writers who can't write. The film is a mess, and, frankly, an inexcusable one.
More than that, it's a tragedy for the utterly wasted opportunity it represents. Instead of the classic it should have been, we get just another Saturday morning cartoon aimed at 8-year-olds, but with a PG-13 rating. VERY disappointing.
The PG-13 rating slapped on this clinker is a joke. It smacks of a marketing campaign, and one suspects it may have been the result of a bribe somewhere along the way. The movie does literally nothing to earn that rating, and is actually far less mature, in every way, than the prominent WB animated television productions of the past decade; it could, in all likelihood, be run on Saturday morning television without altering a frame (In a more reasonable era, it would have gotten a G rating).
The fact that the filmmakers were willing to accept a PG-13 only makes the movie that much more of a tragedy, as the comic could have been literally adapted under that very same rating.
It should also be noted that the pre-release ad campaign, which promised a more literal adaptation of the book, amounted to a colossal lie. The teaser trailer released late last year was made up mostly of the battle with the Hulk from the first story-arc of the comic. It showed entire sequences recreated directly from the book, and rendered in fantastic animation. That, combined with the announced rating, created much anticipation among those of us hoping for a faithful adaptation, but, as it turns out, not a single frame of that material, shown in the teaser, is actually in the movie.
Shi mian mai fu (2004)
HOFD an American Film
HOFD is difficult to simply dismiss outright as a "bad" movie only because Zhang Yimou is a master craftsman who is clearly present in the work. While calling it "bad" poses some difficulties, it would be hard to understate the case for its "ain't-good"ness; for a film about which I knew literally nothing going in, I haven't been this let down in a very long time.
First and foremost--and this represents a major break by Zhang with his previous work--the film isn't *about* anything. Whereas "Hero" was, to paraphrase one of the HOFD reviewers, "exploring a profound theme in a very ambitious way," HOFD is a lot of sound and fury, signifying nothing. There are no underlying themes, grand or modest, to be found anywhere in its two hours. It's barely more than a series of random (frequently tedious) scenes thrown together. About an hour into the film, you get a "big reveal." Most movie goers will, I suspect, have seen it coming from only minutes into the film--I certainly did--but when it finally arrives, you think you're about to see a major theme emerge having to do with identity. Everything has been heavy-handedly pointing toward it for a while. Unfortunately, it's dropped, immediately and permanently, and a cloying soap opera introduced, which is allowed to consume the rest of the film.
It isn't even a good soap. To be effective, a soap must be emotionally engaging on at least some level. In HOFD, the film goes out of its way to be exactly the opposite. The structure of the film denies the viewer even the most basic knowledge necessary to have any feelings at all about the characters. Everyone is lying about who they are for most of the movie, and when this is revealed, the viewer is never offered anything to fall back on. You don't know who they are, and can't feel any sympathy for them. Their very bad behavior, after the "big reveal," makes this even worse--by then, you're actively disliking them, and, before the movie is over, you just wish everyone would die. Further crippling this entire stretch of film is the Spielbergian structure adopted by the director which is constantly telling the viewer he's supposed to care about them.
Then there are the set-pieces. "Hero" was packed to the gills with fantastic set-pieces; during its running time, you were faced, on perhaps dozens of occasions, with astonishingly original and beautiful images which floated around in your mind long after the movie was over. HOFD has much more action than "Hero"--there seems to be an action sequence every three minutes or so--but it doesn't manage a single such image. Not one. The action sequences, in fact, were, almost without exception, blandly choreographed exercises in unbearable tedium. More than once, during HOFD many donnybrooks, my finger crept toward the FF button, and, at two different points, I was unable to resist the temptation. In "Hero," the fights were highly stylized; lots of wirework, emotion, close-ups. It wasn't supposed to be "realistic." It was like feelings. It was like a dance. It was like an opera. It was beautiful wuxia. In HOFD, it's like a really silly cartoon, full of awful, awful, awful CGI-"artist" masturbation of the kind that have rendered Hollywood's "summer blockbusters" unwatchable. Every battle in HOFD sees scores of badly-computer-generated arrows, swords, and daggers cut around corners, and bounce off targets only to reset themselves in midair and try again. They behave in more ridiculous fashion than the JFK "magic bullet", and the movie exploits every visual cliché in the book in displaying them--for what seems like hundreds of times, you get the standard traveling shot following a CGI weapon in the foreground to its target. "Hero" had a few moments where fights were ill-conceived (the chess parlor fight and the fight over the lake) or dragged on a bit too long (like the incredible fight in the autumnal forest). All of HOFD's fight sequences, however, looked like this.
The conclusion of this mess is just awful in every possible way, and is not in the least camouflaged by the inexplicable snow-storm Zhang threw in to try to confuse the matter. It's the sort of ending you tack on when there's no real point to anything you've just seen. There's no way to create a real ending, because, the film having told no story, there's no story to play out. Throw in some more fighting and a sudden snow-storm, and maybe no one will notice (Zhang foolishly draws attention to the Flying Dagger plot he'd so abruptly abandoned for soap by tossing in a shot of the soldiers creeping up on Flying Dagger HQ near the end--should have let us forget about them, Zhang!).
In short, HOFD looks exactly like what an upbudget Hollywood attempt to duplicate a film like "Hero" or "Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon" would look like. Its remarkably positive critical reception in the United States is a very damning comment on the state of contemporary film criticism. I don't deal in thumbs, and don't like numerical ratings for films. I suppose one measure of a movie's impression is whether you find yourself looking at it again. I've seen "Hero" a few times now--I don't anticipate I'll ever been sitting down to HOFD again.
 The "big reveal" makes rubbish out of several things you've already seen--this one would hold up really badly on subsequent viewings, when the viewer is aware of everyone's real agenda beforehand.
Batman Begins (2005)
Where to begin? Unbelievably ill-conceived. That's it. A film that tries to be everything to all people, and ends up being nothing as a consequence.
An important point to establish up front is that, hysterical claims to the contrary aside, the film is *not* an adaptation of the comic character in any more than the most superficial of ways. The filmmakers simply altered the fundamental elements of the character to far too great a degree. The film, then, must be judged on its merits as a film, not as an adaptation.
So how is it as a movie? This one had a lot of potential, and it was hard to watch it fall apart as it went along. Some grumble-inducing moments notwithstanding, it's actually quite good in the early going. It's engaging, well-constructed, and, despite a lot of high-fallutin' monologues about the psychology of fear, never comes across as overly pretentious. The first indication of trouble, however, occurs in this early part of the movie. Bruce Wayne, our future Batman, has been in training with the League of Shadows, a ninja-style group led by Ras al Ghul (Ken Watanabe). Upon his "graduation," Ras explains his master plan. His "explanation" is an utterly incoherent rant about "destroying Gotham," Bruce's home city, for no apparent reason other than that it is "corrupt." As Watanabe rambled, I started giggling. That the film, in standard Hollywood tell-you-what-you're-supposed-to-think-about-what-you're-seeing fashion, presents this as a very somber, serious moment only added to the joke. Bruce, having listened to this, then turns to Ducard (Liam Neeson), the man who'd recruited him into the League, and asks, totally deadpan, if he really believes in all of this, and my giggles turned into outright laughter, shared by others in the theater. It's an embarrassingly idiotic moment that immediately took me out of the mood that had been established.
The film bounces back fairly quickly from this early misstep, though. Back in Gotham, uber-boss Carmine "The Roman" Falcone is very well established; he's a guy who runs everything in a corrupt sewer of a city. A scene wherein he threatens to shoot Bruce in a restaurant full of city officials, convincingly explaining that he could do so and get away with it, is certainly a keeper, and promises much more to come. Why the filmmakers bothered spending so much time and energy setting him up is anyone's guess, though, because nothing much ever does. They could have built a movie, or an entire series of movies upon Bruce's efforts to clean up the town, as they'd established it, but, instead, the mighty Falcone is decimated by the Batman in mere minutes, in ludicrously implausible fashion, none of his power helping him a bit. This is to get him quickly out of the way so the movie can radically switch gears, and the new gear it falls into is near-complete idiocy.
This gear-switching is so jarring because of the two diametrically opposed--and irreconcilible--directions in which the filmmakers tried to take "Begins." The end-product is a cut-and-pasted mess, drawing, almost equally, from great and solidly grounded Batman material, like Frank Miller's "Batman: Year One" (which should have been this movie), and very bad, very dated, and embarrassing comic book stuff from yesteryear featuring motiveless, pretentious, overblown, super-villains with some incredibly idiotic (and laughably inefficient) plot to "destroy" something. When it kicks into this second phase, every minute of the movie seems to be worse than the one before.
The movie essentially disintegrates from the moment Bruce dons the Batman mask. Sitting in the theater, you can almost physically feel the film's IQ drop. Christian Bale, who had done an admirable (if largely unexceptional) Bruce Wayne, never comes close to getting a handle on his characters' alter ego. Indeed, his Batman voice and persona suggest the actor had picked up his direction on how to play the part at the Keanu Reeves School of Acting. When Bruce becomes Batman, all he has to do to rid Gotham of the mighty Falcone is rough up a dozen of his men who are, at that time, in the middle of completing an illegal drug shipment, then attack Falcone and leave him chained and beaten senseless at the scene of the crime. This, we're told, will send Falcone away forever. Uh huh. Then, the filmmakers get to the story they really wanted to tell: Ras al Ghul returns, still looking to "destroy Gotham" for no real reason. His means of doing so is the most ludicrous item in a film filled with ludicrous items, and the final hour of the movie is dedicated to a lot of empty standard-issue Hollywood sound and fury, as the plot plays itself out. Unforgivably, the film's last scene is a straight steal of the great ending of Frank Miller's "Batman: Year One," which only serves to rub salt in the wound the film has created by spoiling the scene for some future filmmaker who may one day want to make a real Batman movie.
I have no tolerance for this sort of thing anymore. If I hadn't been with a friend, I would probably have left long before it was over In the final analysis, "Batman Begins" is inferior, in pretty much every way, to the original Burton flick, and is even less of a Batman movie. For my part, I hope it's going to be ending, rather than beginning, a Batman franchise. I'm rather fond of the character, and have had quite enough of Hollywood dragging him through the mud.