'Orfeo Negro' – Brazilian publicity
poster for 'Black Orpheus' (© Marcel Camus/Tupan Filmes/Lopert Pictures)
Over Christmas last year and the early part of the
New Year, I fulfilled a longstanding promise to myself and watched all eight of
the Harry Potter movies, one a night for eight consecutive nights, on DVD, and I
thoroughly enjoyed all of them – which has in turn inspired me to indulge periodically
in further film-watching binges ever since.
The eight 'Harry Potter' films on DVD
(© Chris Columbus/Alfonso Cuarón/Mike Newell/David Yates/Heyday Films/1492
Pictures/Warner Bros. Pictures)
Consequently, during the past few months I've
finally succeeded in watching a number of fantasy-themed movies that I've long wanted to see
but had somehow never got around to doing so, plus a few new releases. I've
posted my own mini-reviews of some of them on my Facebook wall, containing my
thoughts, opinions, various related if somewhat random facts, and other allied
ephemera. As these generally have attracted quite a degree of interest from FB
friends and other movie fans, it seemed worthwhile gathering them together and
preserving them in my Eclectarium. So that's what I've done, and here they are.
NB - All
illustrations included in this blog article are copyrighted to the respective
directors, film studios, and distributors that released and distributed them,
and are included here on a strictly educational, non-commercial Fair Use basis
for review purposes only.
22 March 2017: 'KONG
– SKULL ISLAND'
'Kong: Skull Island' publicity poster
and film still (© Jordan Vogt-Roberts/Legendary Pictures/Tencent
Pictures/Warner Bros. Pictures)
Another cinema visit today, this time to see 'Kong:
Skull Island'. Whereas I felt that Tom Hiddleston (playing a British SAS captain leading the expeditionary party to Skull Island) had been unfairly panned by
the critics, the monsters were zoologically implausible to say the least (but
in any film featuring a gorilla the height of the Empire State Building or
thereabouts, this fact was never going to be unexpected), yet thoroughly
own particular favourite - other than Kong himself, naturally - was
what initially appeared to be a fair-sized algae-covered hillock
mysteriously rising above the water surface of a huge lake but which
soon revealed itself to be the humped back of a truly humungous amphibious
yak-like ungulate - a veritable bovine behemoth, in fact, but which proceeded
to stare impassively at an armed-and-ready Hiddleston with cud-chewing
indifference. I've been (semi-)reliably informed that it is officially known as a sker buffalo.
The giant Kong-sized skullcrawler (© Jordan Vogt-Roberts/Legendary Pictures/Tencent
Pictures/Warner Bros. Pictures)
expected in all the best monster movies, there were the obligatory
giant invertebrates (squid-octopus combo critter, spider, parasitised stick insect), mostly lurking unseen for much of their screen time
but with murderous intent aplenty, and also some very weird giant flying beasts called leafwings. However, Skull Island's principal monstrous
villains this time round were a grotesque two-limbed reptilian lineage known as
skullcrawlers that lived underground but surfaced periodically to wreak
havoc and horror upon their human victims, with the skullcrawler numero
uno being a colossal monster of comparable proportions to Kong himself.
Morphologically, the skullcrawlers were truly bizarre, looking something
like what might be the macabre outcome if ever a gigantic tatzelworm
(ask a cryptozoologist what that is) or a ginormous lindorm (ditto a
dracontologist) and an immense wingless pterodactyl ever got it together
- but without these latter beasts' charm!
The film purists have scoffed, are scoffing, and no
doubt will continue to scoff, but I never go to monster movies to expect
zoological reality, I go for awesome special effects and escapism, and this
film more than delivered on both counts for me. Click here to check out this action-packed trailer, and see
for yourself. As for the plot: look, guys, this is a monster movie - you weren't really expecting a plot, surely??
24 March 2017 – 'LORD OF THE RINGS' TRILOGY (2001,
The extended DVDs of the 'LOTR'
trilogy (© Peter Jackson/WingNut Films/The Saul Zaentz Company/New Line Cinema)
I spent last weekend box-setting (lo, a new verb is
created!) all 12 hours or so of the extended DVD versions of Peter Jackson's 'Lord
of the Rings' film trilogy.
I loved the books and the three 3-hr
cinematic-release versions of the films, but the extended DVDs each contain
about an extra hour's worth of footage that helped to fill in a few notable
gaps in the cinema versions, most notably showing what happened to Saruman
(played by Christopher Lee) after the ents flooded Isengard and marooned him
In the cinema version,
that incident happened at the end of 'The Two Towers', and nothing more was
seen of him afterwards. But in the extended version of 'The Return of the King',
Saruman is seen still at Isengard but treating his lackey Wormtongue badly
there, who responds by stabbing him to death in the back. Why this pivotal
scene was cut from the cinema version of 'The Return of the King' (and hence
meaning that Lee never appeared in this third film at all), I shall never
understand (true, it deviates from the books, in which they are in the Shire
when Wormtongue stabs him, but at least it provides a resolution of sorts that
was absent from the cinema version).
Anyway, glad to have
seen these at long last. Next on my movies to-do list: box-setting the three
extended DVD versions of 'The Hobbit'!
7 April 2017 – 'MALEFICENT' (2014)
'Maleficent' publicity poster (© Robert
Stromberg/Walt Disney Pictures/Roth Films/Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures)
Many months ago, knowing that I've always been a
massive Disney fan, a friend lent me her DVD of the 2014 movie 'Maleficent',
which tonight I've finally got around to watching. It's the Disney live-action
reworking of their earlier animated feature film version of the classic Charles
Perrault fairy tale 'La Belle au Bois Dormant' ('Sleeping Beauty').
In 'Maleficent', the eponymous fairy is evil only
because she had previously been grievously betrayed by her human lover (father
of the future
Sleeping Beauty, Princess Aurora), so she is actually misunderstood rather than
malevolent. Yeah, right. The special effects are spectacular, as you would
imagine from Disney's CGI department, but there is only so much reworking
possible with anything, and I'm sorry but in the classic tale, and especially
in Disney's original animated film, Maleficent is the absolute embodiment of
evil. There is not a glimmer, not the slightest scintilla, of goodness in her,
so for me it was impossible to suspend disbelief and pretend that she's really
not that bad after all.
Having said that, it
was an enjoyable romp, with Angelina Jolie playing Maleficent superbly
(especially in her more sinister scenes), wonderful visuals, and a most
unexpected twist on who actually wakes Sleeping Beauty with true love's kiss.
Oh yes, almost forgot: a beautiful Tchaikovsky-based song and the vocals of
Lana Del Rey really don't go together, honestly - just sayin'...
Anyway, if you haven't
seen the movie, click here to view an eye-popping
trailer for 'Maleficent'.
15 April 2017 – 'DREAMCHILD' (1985)
'Dreamchild' in VHS videocassette
format (© Gavin Millar/PFH Films)
Last night I watched 'Dreamchild' on DVD, a classic
1985 British movie giving a fictionalised version of how the original Alice who
inspired Lewis Carroll's 'Alice's Adventures in Wonderland' and 'Through the
Looking Glass' books visited New York when she was 80 years old to receive an
honorary degree from Columbia University in celebration of the 100th anniversary
of Carroll's birth.
That did happen, but in the film it is interspersed
throughout with flashbacks to when she was a child and also with several fantasy sequences in
which Alice both as a girl and as the elderly lady (the latter played superbly
by Coral Browne) encounters some of the Wonderland characters.
The characters are
played by life-sized human-containing puppets produced by muppet creator Jim
Henson's Creatures Workshop, but if you're expecting cute Kermit/Fozzie
Bear-type creatures, think again! Instead, they're grotesque, sometimes
hideous, monstrous entities that look, speak, and behave as if they've escaped
from a Stephen King nightmare, most notably the March Hare and the (very) Mad
Disney this ain't,
that's for sure! But bearing in mind that the film was written by Dennis
Potter, perhaps we shouldn't be too surprised by that.
16 April 2017: 'SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY COMES'
'Something Wicked This Way Comes'
publicity poster (© Jack Clayton/Walt Disney Productions/Buena Vista
Back in my student days I devoured sci-fi and
fantasy novels in innumerable quantity, and among my favourites was Ray
Bradbury's mesmerising 'Something Wicked This Way Comes'. Now, after years of
seeking it, courtesy of YouTube I've finally succeeded in viewing the
sumptuously sinister, consummately creepy Disney film version (inexplicably all
but unobtainable in Britain either on VHS videocassette or on DVD), and it was
well worth the wait.
Jonathan Pryce is a superbly malign Mr Dark,
carnival owner and leader of the Autumn People who grant greedy or unsuspecting
visitors to the carnival all that they desire, then feed upon the fear and
misery that their desires inevitably generate. Click here for a taster of what to expect.
27 April 2017 – 'EVENING PRIMROSE' (1966)
'Evening Primrose' on DVD (© ABC TV
Not a movie this time but instead a one-off TV
special. Just tracked down another long sought-after fantasy rarity. Ever since
hearing Sarah Brightman singing the haunting song 'I Remember Sky' on her album
'The Songs That Got Away', I have always hoped that one day I'd get to see the
obscure 1960s made-for-American-TV musical 'Evening Primrose', by Stephen
Sondheim, from which this song originated, because it had such a weird
storyline, yet had never been made available commercially (a DVD of it now exists) and never shown at
all in Britain.
A group of people secretly live their entire lives inside a large
department store, remaining hidden from all customers and staff during the day
by posing as store mannequins, coming alive as it were only at night when the
store is closed. None is ever allowed to leave this enclosed community in case
they betray its presence in the store, and if anyone ever does try to escape
they are visited by the fearful 'Dark Men' who transform them into mannequins
permanently. One day, a very disillusioned-with-life poet (played by Anthony
Perkins of 'Psycho' fame) decides to stay in the store after hours, whereupon
he unexpectedly meets the closeted community, who accept him into it, but he
also falls in love with one of its members, a young woman who has been there
ever since she was accidentally separated from her mother while shopping there
aged just 6 years old. She sings 'I Remember Sky' to the poet, in which she
recalls memories from her life in the outside world, before she became part of
the store's secret community all those years ago. The poet and the young woman
plan to escape, to make a life for themselves outside the store and in the real
world, but what happens? Do they succeed?
Now, like I've done,
you can find out for yourself, by clicking here to watch this
fascinating 51-min-long curiosity, originally screened as part of ABC's ABC
Stage 67 anthology TV series, but currently accessible online courtesy of
YouTube (it is in English but has Spanish subtitles). There is also an
excellent webpage devoted to 'Evening Primrose' here.
29 April 2017 – 'KISS OF THE SPIDER WOMAN' (1985)
'Kiss of the Spider Woman' publicity
poster (© Héctor Babenco/Embrafilme/Island Alive/FilmsDallas Pictures)
Finally watched another film that I've long
promised myself I would – 'Kiss of the Spider Woman', a joint
Brazilian-American production released in 1985, starring William Hurt (who won
the Best Actor Oscar for his role in it) and Raul Julia.
Not a super-hero(ine) movie, lol, but instead a
somewhat stark, prison-based, politically-themed film and hence not the genres
that normally appeal to me, but its decidedly strange, surrealistic nature,
interspersing reality with fantasy, drew me in and maintained my interest throughout.
Pity the eponymous spider woman played such a very minor part in it, but it's
certainly a one-off film wholly unlike anything that I've seen before.
It would be interesting
to see the musical based upon it, and learn how such a singular, decidedly dark
film (featuring as it does the torturing of political prisoners) has been
transformed into a stage show with songs.
7 May 2017: 'BLACK ORPHEUS' (1959)
'Black Orpheus' English publicity
poster (© Marcel Camus/Tupan Filmes/Lopert Pictures)
Friday just gone was a day from hell for me (major
car trouble - don't ask!!), so to chill out and put it all out of my mind, I
devoted Friday night/Saturday morning to watching a very special film that I'd
wanted to see for many years – 'Black Orpheus' ('Orfeo Negro'), the
celebrated, award-winning Brazil-set musical from 1959 offering a modern-day
interpretation of a classic story from Greek mythology, Orpheus and
Eurydice. It is in Portuguese, but a few days ago I was able to purchase an official
DVD of it dubbed into English and also with English subtitles. So I sat back
and watched it twice, once the English-dubbed version, and once the original
Portuguese version with English subtitles.
A fascinating film,
blending the wild samba-driven gaiety of Carnival in Rio de Janeiro with life
in one of this city's famous favelas (much of the movie was filmed in a real
favela), full of melodic music and colourful dance, with eerie supernatural
overtones as Death stalks and ultimately claims Eurydice, followed by Orpheus's vain attempt to win
her back by participating in a Macumba ritual taking place within an
Underworld-redolent setting complete with a ferocious guard-dog called Cerberus
(albeit only one-headed here).
In the English-dubbed
version, the movie's most famous song 'Manhã de Carnaval' is sung in direct
English translation from the original Portuguese, and was the first time that
I'd ever heard these beautiful lyrics, as the two more famous English versions
('Carnival', and 'A Day in the Life of a Fool') are not translations from the
Portuguese version but are entirely new lyrics, so that was a very pleasant
As a longstanding fan
of musicals and Greek mythology and as someone fortunate enough to have visited
Rio, I thoroughly enjoyed this most unusual but spellbinding film, and can
readily recommend it to anyone seeking something very different and totally
captivating in the world of movies.
9 May 2017: 'THE MONKEY
KING 2 – JOURNEY TO THE WEST' (2016)
'The Monkey King 2: Journey to the
West' publicity poster (© Cheang Pou-soi/Filmko Entertainment)
I've just watched the spectacular 2016-released
Chinese fantasy movie 'The Monkey King 2: Journey to the West', with English
subtitles. The special-effects were truly out of this world - not in any of the
countless sci-fi/fantasy films that I've viewed down through the years have I
ever seen anything to compare to them.
The monsters are as varied as they are numerous - everything from a pair of bloodthirsty aerial mermaids, an Oriental mothman lookalike, and a colossal white tiger that effortlessly defies the laws of gravity when attacking our heroes, to skeletal wraiths, a pig demon, an immense Eastern dragon, and, as the film's villainess, a mercilessly evil female demon whose aerobatics, shape-shifting abilities, and chilling yet mesmerising malevolence renders the likes of Maleficent, Cruella De Vil, and Ursula the sea-witch mere toe-dippers in the deep, dark waters of evil.
And if you don't believe me, click here
for a taster of what to expect from this stupendous film - there's
certainly never a dull moment in Oriental mythology, that's for sure!
27 May 2017:
'INTERVIEW WITH THE VAMPIRE' (1994)
'Interview With The Vampire' film still (© Neil
Jordan/Geffen Pictures/Warner Bros. Pictures)
Weather too sultry for sleep tonight, so exactly 30
years after reading the
original Anne Rice novel it seemed to me to be the ideal night for finally watching the 1994
Brad Pitt/Tom Cruise movie version of 'Interview With The Vampire' - so I
Although I much prefer the novel (Rice's flowery to the point
of decidedly mauve if not entirely purple prose in places may not suit everyone
but in relation to its subject matter I enjoyed it), the film certainly holds its own -
all-time favourite vampire movie remains 'The Lost Boys'
(overlapping as it does the rock'n'roll and biker genres guarantees that!).
Tom Cruise and horror
was something new for me, but his Lestat was undeniably and wickedly malign,
and a young Kirsten Dunst as the vampire world's answer to Shirley Temple was chillingly
good too. Brad, conversely, seemed rather less enamoured by it all, which
accords well with media accounts claiming that he was not overly enthusiastic about his
role. And so, another long-promised-to-watch movie duly watched!
28 May 2017:
'NOSFERATU THE VAMPYRE' (1979)
'Nosferatu the Vampyre' publicity
poster (© Werner Herzog/Werner Herzog Filmproduktion/20th
I've just expanded my vampire movie night of last
night into a double vampire movie night double-bill, because tonight I've just
watched the 1979 film 'Nosferatu
the Vampyre' - Werner Herzog's art-house remake of the classic 1922 silent
As I expected from an art-house film, it's visually
stunning, but with the very notable exception of Klaus Kinski, who is quite
mesmerising in the title role of Nosferatu (i.e. Count Dracula), the
acting is rather stilted and laboured, and I confess to being somewhat mystified
by certain aspects of the plot. In particular, am I correct (or not) in
assuming that the rats and the plague are merely a cover created by Dracula to
conceal his vampiric activity? But if so, surely the death count is too high for
even the most bloodthirsty vampire to achieve? Conversely, if this is all a
misapprehension on my part, and the spreading of the plague via the
rats was truly real and not a subterfuge, what was the point of it?
Also, the physical
appearance of Nosferatu/Dracula is so grotesque, so unearthly, that how
could Jonathan Harker not realise instantly that he was indeed a member of the
undead rather than merely a castle-bound eccentric?? Such plot-holes aside,
however, and suspending disbelief in relation to them, it is unquestionably a fascinating
film, and yet another long-awaited one finally ticked off my list.
30 May 2017: 'PAN'S
'Pan's Labyrinth' publicity poster
and film still (© Guillermo del Toro/Telecinco Cinema/Estudios Picasso/Tequila
Gang/Esperanto Filmoj/Sententia Entertainment/Warner Bros)
I've just watched the Spanish fantasy/war movie 'Pan's Labyrinth',
directed by the highly-acclaimed Guillermo del Toro, with English subtitles,
and I can honestly say that it has been some time indeed since I have been so
emotionally involved in a film, but this one incorporated so effectively and so
evocatively such a diversity of universal themes that it would have been impossible
for me not to have been.
It contained strange magic and dark fantasy (including a huge
Pan-like faun, shape-shifting
fairies that reminded me of Ray Harryhausen's winged homunculi in 'The Golden
Voyage of Sinbad', a gigantic subterranean toad, a screaming writhing mandrake
root, and a hideous child-murdering humanoid monster known as the Pale Man);
beauty and barbarism; the futility of warfare (it features bloody aggression in
1944 Spain between Franco-supporting Falangist nationalists and a
forest-protected outpost of Maquis republican guerilla rebels); self-sacrifice
for the greater good of others; plus haunting music; and profound sadness, so
much profound, pervasive sadness (as you'd expect, the traumatic scene in which
the young heroine's mother died is one that I could scarcely even look up at,
let alone watch).
But just like the
original, this Pandora's Box also contained hope, sometimes faint but always
flickering, and with that the viewer is ultimately sustained. A spellbinding
masterpiece of a movie, and one whose images and emotions will remain with me,
I'm sure, for a long time to come. Check out this trailer for it here, and you'll see what I mean.
10 June 2017: 'THE
WICKER MAN' - The Director's Final Cut (1973/2001)
'The Wicker Man' – Final Cut
publicity poster (© Robin Hardy/British Lion Films)
Just watched the Director's Final Cut (2001) version
of the cult 1970s British horror movie 'The Wicker Man', containing 15 minutes
of restored footage that had been cut from the original theatre-released
version. Nothing spectacular in that additional footage, but it enhances the
continuity of certain scenes.
It's a fascinating movie, unquestionably, but,
ironically for such a famous horror film, there is a conspicuous lack of horror
until the climactic 10 minutes or so, when all suddenly becomes hideously clear
to the poor deluded police sergeant (played by Edward Woodward) from the
mainland as he witnesses the gigantic Wicker Man awaiting him, in which he is
to be imprisoned and then burnt alive within it as a human sacrifice. The
people, and most especially the Lord (played by Christopher Lee), of the remote
Scottish island of Summerisle, have been playing him for a fool, in every
sense, ever since he arrived there in search of a supposed missing child. There
was no missing child - she was simply the decoy to lure him, because he was the
perfect sacrifice needed by them in their bid to gain the benevolence of the
nature gods and thus procure from them a bountiful fruit crop next year - or at
least, this is what they hope.
Prior to that dramatic scene, however, the film had
played out in a very tongue-in-cheek, nudge-nudge wink-wink manner throughout,
even veering dangerously towards 'Carry On'-style farce on occasions
(particularly those featuring the gorgeous and frequently disrobed Britt Ekland
as the pub landlord's voluptuous daughter, Willow) - but the truly horrifying
Wicker Man scene fully vindicates what would have otherwise been an
outrageously unwarranted 15 certificate.
So, not so much a movie of two halves as one of
9/10ths vs 1/10th, or thereabouts. Nevertheless, it is certainly a unique,
enthralling film, totally compelling throughout, but above all in those scenes
featuring Lee's suavely sinister Lord of this pagan dominion - think a Scottish
Saruman, and you'll get the picture. Highly recommended.
11 June 2017: 'GUARDIANS
OF THE GALAXY' (2014)
'Guardians of the Galaxy' publicity poster (© James Gunn/Marvel
Studios/Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures)
I recently watched the original 'Guardians
of the Galaxy' movie, one of my ever-increasing collection of videos and DVDs
waiting to be viewed, and I thoroughly enjoyed it, not least of all because of
the refreshingly-unstuffy Chris Pratt's engagingly laconic portrayal of the
hero/anti-hero Peter Quill as a would-be (but in reality not always)
ultra-cool, hip dude. Unlike so many po-faced 'what is my motivation?' actors
currently purveying their thespian wares in Hollywood, Pratt never takes himself
too seriously, actually seems to be enjoying himself, and therefore avoids
mirroring his surname, unlike a fair few of his contemporaries whom I could
(but won't) mention here. Unfortunately, the same cannot, I feel, be said of
this film's leading actresses, whose character portrayals were, I felt, way too
portentous, and pretentious (lighten up, ladies, it's only a super-hero film,
it's not Citizen Kane!).
As one expects,
nowadays, from any super-hero genre film, the story was ludicrous, but who
watches this kind of film for profound plotting and lyrical depth anyway? What
we want are spectacular special effects, and there were plenty of those
throughout - which leads very neatly to two of my favourite characters, both
CGI-generated. One was a genetically-engineered talking raccoon called Rocket
(voiced by Bradley Cooper), the other a huge sapient tree called Groot (not so
talkative - his entire vocabulary consists of 'I am Groot', albeit enunciated
very effectively in innumerable variations by Vin Diesel).
The soundtrack includes
a wonderful selection of 1970s songs, including two that, inexplicably, were
hitherto new to me (as a 1970s teenager), but which are now massive favourites
of mine – 'Hooked On A Feeling', by Blue Swede, and 'Come And Get Your Love',
I plan to see 'Guardians of the Galazy 2', but
meanwhile, click here to view my favourite
scene from the original film, introducing to the audience during its opening
credits the all-dancing all-butt-kicking adult Peter Quill, in which Chris
Pratt showcases his character in the delightfully tongue-in-cheek,
devil-may-care manner that continues throughout the movie, and all to Redbone's
afore-mentioned, insanely-catchy 'Come And Get Your Love'. Enjoy it, and, btw,
no small alien carnivorous bipeds were harmed during the making of this scene.
17-18 June 2017: 'THE HOBBIT' TRILOGY (2012, 2013,
The extended DVDs of 'The
Hobbit' trilogy (© Peter Jackson/WingNut Films/New Line Cinema/Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer/Warner
Heaven help me but I've started ploughing through
the extended DVDs version of 'The Hobbit' trilogy. Only viewed the first
2-hourish DVD of the 2-DVD extended version of 'An Unexpected Journey' so far,
but I can see already that the compelling, close-knit Tolkien
novel that I read with such pleasure back in my childhood has been turned into
a vastly over-blown, mind-numbingly staggered pseudo-epic, which the original
novel's storyline simply cannot sustain. Ah well, only another five 2-hour DVDs
presumably featuring Martin Freeman's irritatingly-excessive mannerisms of
confusion, fussiness, and displeasure throughout to go, plus nine DVDs of
extras - Lord have mercy upon my soul!
Ok, I've now watched the extended DVD version of 'The
Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey', and the second half was certainly better than
the first, especially when the gargantuan roc-reminiscent eagles appeared. But
a camp goblin king rapping with the voice of Dame Edna Everage (or at least her
alter ego Barry Humphries)?? I don't remember reading that in 'The Hobbit'
novel!! Ah well... - bring on 'The Desolation of Smaug'.
The Goblin King and Dame Edna Everage
- separated at birth...? (© Peter Jackson/WingNut Films/New Line Cinema/Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer/Warner Bros.
Pictures / Wikipedia)
Now watched the first of the 2 discs comprising the
2-disc extended DVD version of 'The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug'. Some
memorable horror: the gargantuan spiders of Mirkwood, the ferocious wargs,
Beorn in his rampaging ursine form, plus the biggest horror of them all - but
that's enough about Stephen Fry's acting... Yet what about this movie's
eponymous reptilian star? So far, 'The Desolation of Smaug' has been notable
for the decidedly desolate, i.e. non-existent, presence of the Benedictine
Cucumberpatch-voiced wyvern in question, but no doubt he'll set the scenes
aflame when he does finally deign us with his appearance in this film's second
half, otherwise it is really going to drag on (sorry, couldn't resist!).
Ok, I've now seen both halves of 'The Desolation of
Smaug' in 2-disc extended DVD version, and I can see why Smaug as a wyvern (two
wings, two legs) has attracted criticism. Basically, it just doesn't work,
morphologically - especially as Smaug is also portrayed as exceedingly
serpentine. It has to use its wings as a pair of legs in place of the pair that
it should have had, in order to sustain terrestrial locomotion effectively with
such an elongate yet only two-legged form. A shame, because its presence is so
powerful, but let down by its form. Incidentally, is it just me or does Smaug's
head and face look extraordinarily similar to that of the T rex in the 'Jurassic
Smaug (© Peter Jackson/WingNut
Films/New Line Cinema/Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer/Warner Bros. Pictures)
I've now watched 'The Battle of the Five Armies' in
extended 2-disc DVD version, the third and final film in 'The Hobbit' movie
trilogy, which certainly lived up to its title and was a marvellous spectacle
of CGI brilliance. However, as Tolkien purists will definitely
confirm, apart from a few minutes here and there following the death of Smaug
its storyline bore little resemblance to anything in Tolkien's original novel,
constituting instead a sprawling wargame spawned by the fusion of the
film-makers' own imaginations and notes written by Tolkien but contained in
appendices at the end of 'The Return of the King', the third 'LOTR' novel. If
the film-makers had faithfully adhered to 'The Hobbit' novel, it could have
been told, as originally planned, in just two films, rather than in three, but
of course three films make more money than two...
That aside, there were
some very nice (crypto)zoological touches in this third hobbit instalment,
notably the Irish elk Megaloceros giganteus serving as a most noble, imposing
steed for the elven leader Thrandull, the giant wereworms that resembled
Mongolian death worms writ very large indeed (click here
to read a ShukerNature blog article of mine concerning this intriguing
cryptozoological link), and the huge white bipedal anthropoids that looked like
the misbegotten offspring of King Kong and the Great White Apes battled by John
Carter on Barsoom.
astride his Megaloceros steed (© Peter Jackson/WingNut Films/New
Line Cinema/Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer/Warner Bros. Pictures)
All in all, if taken
out of the context of being supposedly based upon Tolkien's novel and viewed
instead merely as films in their own right, the three Hobbit movies
unquestionably make compelling viewing (albeit a little tedious and drawn-out
at times for those of us who are not rivetted by extended battle scenes), but
for Tolkien purists I can see why
they were greeted with less than enthusiasm, unlike the 'LOTR' movie trilogy,
which did largely stay true to their source material and were all the better
for having done so.
24 September 2017: 'THE MONSTER CLUB' (1981), and 'VAULT
OF HORROR' (1973)
Raven the shadmock, played by James Laurenson, from 'The
Monster Club' (© Roy Ward Baker/Chips
Productions/Sword and Sorcery Productions/ITC)
Amazing, isn't it, how in spite of having been seen just once, countless
years ago, certain movies retain a tenacious grip on one's
memory. Two such examples, both of which are British, have aspects of the
supernatural as their theme, and take the form of a compilation of shorter,
semi-autonomous segments, are the subject of this mini-review double-bill - if
only because it is only now that I have finally viewed again from the first of
these two films the segment that totally fascinated me when I saw it for the
first (and until now) the only time way back in the 1980s and has stayed in my
mind ever since; and it is, equally, only now, after many fruitless attempts,
that I have finally identified the second of these two compilation-type films,
which I watched on TV once during either the late 1970s or early 1980s but have
never seen again. And by a remarkable coincidence, it turns out that both of
these long-elusive films, albeit produced by entirely different companies and
released by entirely different companies, were directed by one and the same
person – Roy Ward Baker.
Jiminy Cricket advised Pinocchio to give a little whistle if ever he was in
trouble, but that is the very last thing that you'd ever want a troubled
shadmock to do! After more than 30 years since reading the original 1975 novel The
Monster Club by British horror author Ronald Chetwynd-Hayes and seeing once
on television the 1981 movie version of it starring Vincent Price, David
Carradine, Donald Pleasence, Britt Ekland, and Patrick Magee among others,
which consists primarily of three separate 25-minute segments interlinked by
scenes at the eponymous monster club, I've finally re-watched the shadmock
segment, courtesy of YouTube. A memorable invention of Chetwynd-Hayes, a shadmock
is a fictitious, complex human hybrid of vampire, werewolf, and ghoul whose
piercing whistle, emitted only in times of severe distress, has truly
The shadmock's segment in this movie is rooted very much in the bittersweet
Phantom of the Opera genre, its uneasy coalescence of pathos and terror playing
out beautifully against Fauré's hauntingly melancholic Pavane melody, and
featuring a very moving, finely-tuned performance by James Laurenson as Raven,
the reclusive, ashen-faced, poignantly-naive but fatefully-betrayed shadmock in question. If you've
never seen this tragic little gem, watch it here
[Update, 3 November 2017: Sadly, the above video is no longer present on
YouTube, having been removed for copyright reasons, so it was very fortunate
that I found it and viewed it when I did.]
Publicity poster for 'Vault of Horror' (© Roy Ward Baker/Amicus Productions/20th Century Fox/Cinerama Releasing Corporation)
Many years ago, as in 30-odd years, I once saw on TV a horror movie
consisting of a series of separate segments, each one telling how someone met a
bizarre but invariably grisly end after committing some heinous crime as I
recall, and most of them featuring some supernatural aspect. Of particular
interest was that it featured a host of iconic British actors and actresses,
including Terry-Thomas, Tom Baker, Terence Alexander, Denholm Elliott, Arthur Mullard, Daniel Massey, Anna Massey, and Glynis Johns, and I
dimly remembered that the ending revealed that the villains were in fact ghosts
doomed to retell their grim histories for all eternity.
I have tried many times to discover the title of this film, but all to no
avail - until now when, finally, I tracked down some of its six segments on
YouTube, and was then able to confirm it by reading its entry on Wikipedia. The
film was 'Vault of Horror' (1973) - click here
to read the detailed Wikipedia entry for it.
Also requiring a (very) honourable
17 March 2017: LA LA
'La La Land' publicity poster (©
Damien Chazelle/Summit Entertainment/Black Label Media/TIK Films/Imposter
Pictures/Gilbert Films/Marc Platt Productions)
This afternoon I watched 'La La Land' at my local
cinema. I've read very different comments re it, but I absolutely LOVED it -
wonderful music and songs, beautiful colours throughout, a great storyline well
acted by its leads Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone, and some bewitching fantasy scenes - dancing in the sky, a tantalising "what if..." imaginary alternate plot-line at the end, etc.
All in all a thoroughly delightful, charming homage
to the golden age of MGM-style technicolor musicals, which if made 50 years ago
would have probably starred Gene Kelly and Lesley Caron. Modern-day films
rarely move me, but something about this one really resonated deeply within me,
reviving distant memories of younger days, both happy and bittersweet, so many
what had beens, what could have beens, what should have beens, and what never
would have beens. An enchanting afternoon.
Click here to check out an excellent 'La La Land' trailer. And for anyone in heartfelt reminiscing mood who wistfully sighs: "Ah, the good old films, they don't make them like that any more" - yes they do, and here's the proof.
And finally: a short mini-review of the film, a
longer mini-review of the book:
22 November 2016: 'FANTASTIC BEASTS AND WHERE TO
FIND THEM' (2016), the film
'Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find
Them' publicity poster (© David Yates/Heyday Films/Warner Bros. Pictures)
Today I saw 'Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find
Them', which I thoroughly enjoyed, although I must confess that for me the plot
was definitely secondary to the afore-mentioned Fantastic Beasts, all of whose
CGI engenderings were truly spectacular. My personal favourites were the giant
four-winged griffin-like creature that turned out to be a thunderbird and the turquoise
winged serpentine dragon called an occamy. I also liked the graphorns, as seen
in the film still below. Highly recommended for cryptozoologists and magizoologists
An adult female graphorn with her
calf (© David Yates/Heyday Films/Warner Bros. Pictures)
18 June 2017: 'FANTASTIC BEASTS AND WHERE TO FIND
THEM' (2017), the book (updated, expanded edition)
From Tolkien to Rowling: A couple of days ago, I
purchased the updated hb edition of Newt Scamander's 'Fantastic Beasts And
Where To Find Them', which I'm reading through now, and finding to be a very
enjoyable mix of entirely fictitious beasts invented by J.K. Rowling (such as
the niffler, jarvey, kneazle, and graphorn), bona fide mythological creatures
(e.g. unicorn, manticore, griffin, sphinx), and even some cryptids (yeti, sea
serpent, the Loch Ness kelpie aka Nessie), plus at least one fantastic beast that
is ostensibly invented yet may well have been inspired by a cryptid.
Namely, the nundu, described in this book as being
a gigantic and very ferocious leopard from East Africa, which is very
reminiscent of the similarly-named nunda, a feline cryptid from Tanzania said
to be a huge brindled cat of ferocious demeanour that was blamed for the
killing of several people in that East African country (or, to be precise, the
region that subsequently became Tanzania) during the early part of the 20th
Century. I've documented the nunda (aka the mngwa) in my two mystery cat books
and also here on my ShukerNature blog.
Returning to 'Fantastic Beasts…': it's a delightful
book, full of tongue-in-cheek descriptions, some very wry and arch, and amply
supplemented throughout by exquisite line-drawing illustrations. A great
companion to the film, which again I very much enjoyed when viewing it at the
cinema last November.
'Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find
Them', the updated, expanded 2017 edition (© J.K. Rowling/Bloomsbury)