Saturday, March 28, 2020

Mystery Movie Night | Gaslight (1944), Dial M for Murder (1954), and Deathtrap (1982)

Dave, David, Erik, Evan, and I muse about manipulation, money, and manuscripts, but mostly... murder!

00:02:01 - Review of Gaslight (1944)
00:15:24 - Review of Dial M for Murder (1954)
00:32:22 - Review of Deathtrap (1982)
00:48:33 - Guessing the Connection

Friday, March 27, 2020

Zorro (1975)

Who's in it?: Alain Delon (Le Samouraï, Red Sun)

What's it about?: Zorro as a Spaghetti Western

How is it?: As great as I hoped as Spaghetti Western Zorro would be. It crosses over into slapstick and other general silliness a few more times than I'd like, but mostly it's very cool.

Alain Delon is an excellent, suave and dashing Zorro. This version of the story replaces the California West with a larger South American city called Nueva Aragón. (There's a current Nueva Aragón that's a suburb of Mexico City, but if I interpret the map in the movie correctly, the film version is not in Mexico.) Alain Delon's Don Diego is a friend of the new governor of Nueva Aragón, but when his pal is assassinated on the way to taking control of his post, Diego replaces him.

True to the mythology of Zorro, Diego pretends to be a frivolous fop while adopting the Zorro persona to fight the city's true power, the evil Colonel Huerta. This spices up the story with some cool variety while keeping true to the elements of Zorro that really matter. And Ottavia Piccolo is wonderful as an aristocratic woman who's much more than just a love interest for Zorro, but is also a badass revolutionary herself.

Rating: Four out of five bullwhips.

Thursday, March 19, 2020

Filthy Horrors | Letters from Whitechapel

Would you like to play a game? Darla, Jessica, and I did and chose Fantasy Flight Games' Letters from Whitechapel. One player takes the role of Jack the Ripper as the other players' detectives attempt to catch him over a series of four nights.

We also talked about other horror-related and -adjacent things we've been watching and reading:
  • Harper's Island (2009 TV series)
  • A Christmas Carol (2019 TV mini-series)
  • Doctor Sleep (book and film)
  • Dracula (2020 TV mini-series)
  • Mindhunter (2017 TV series)
  • Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (2019)
  • Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (2017)
  • Marvel Comics Tomb of Dracula series
  • Sweetheart (2019)
  • Underwater (2020)
  • The Turning (2020)
And some things we've been looking forward to:
  • The Lodge (2019)
  • Run (2020)
  • The Invisible Man (2020)
  • The New Mutants (2020)

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Hellbent for Letterbox | Charro! (1969)

Pax and I discuss the world's prettiest cowboy, Elvis Presley in the Spaghetti-inspired Charro!.

We also watch Don Knotts in The Shakiest Gun in the West, a 1968 remake of The Paleface.

Thursday, March 12, 2020

Emma. (2020)

Who's in it?: Anya Taylor-Joy (The Witch, Split, Marrowbone), Mia Goth (A Cure for Wellness, Marrowbone, Suspiria), Bill Nighy (Underworld, Love Actually, Pirates of the Caribbean), Rupert Graves (A Room with a View, Where Angels Fear to Tread, Sherlock, The White Queen), and Miranda Hart (Spy)

What's it about?: An adaptation of Jane Austen's novel about a well-meaning rich girl in need of humility and learning to mind her own business.

How is it?: Dee. Lightful.

I went in a little concerned that it would take too lighthearted an approach to the story, but while it's quite funny (Bill Nighy's hypochondria and his long-suffering servants being especially hilarious), it also values the emotional pieces and themes that make this my favorite Austen story. Of all of Austen's characters, Emma Woodhouse is the one I relate to most. She has good intentions, but thinks she knows best what's good for people and can be controlling about their welfare. She needs taking down a peg or two, but to do it requires someone who loves her enough to risk their relationship with her by challenging her to change. I might have gotten a bit misty there a couple of times.

It deserves to be seen on the big screen for Taylor-Joy's eyes alone, both in terms of sheer beauty and how she uses them in her acting. It's a lovely, captivating performance.

Mia Goth is also wonderful as the current object of Emma's efforts. Rupert Graves plays the beneficiary of one of her past schemes. And Miranda Hart is pricelessly buffoonish as an irritating neighbor who adores Emma, but rubs her the wrong way.

Rating: Five out of five scheming socialites.

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

The Mark of Zorro (1974)

Who's in it?: Frank Langella (Dracula), Ricardo Montalban (Fantasy Island, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan), Anne Archer (Patriot Games), and Yvonne De Carlo (The Munsters).

What's it about?: A TV remake of the 1940 Tyrone Power version.

How is it?: Poor Frank Langella can't catch a break on costumes. Between Dracula and this, he's a captivating romantic lead, but keeps getting stuck in outfits pulled off the Halloween aisle at K-Mart.

This is a very close remake of the 1940 Mark of Zorro. It feels weird that that's the one they went to, but by the '70s it was the definitive film version, not the old Douglas Fairbanks silent. The Disney show was also iconic at that point, but it a) would have been harder to adapt to a feature length and b) was already readily available on a lot of TV stations in reruns.

The production quality on the Langella version drops a lot from the original, being made for TV, but it tries to make up for that by putting Don Diego in costume as Zorro a lot more than Power's version ever was, including during the final sword fight.

And it's got some cool actors in the cast. Ricardo Montalban is the main villain (played by Basil Rathbone in the original), Anne Archer plays Diego's love interest, and Yvonne De Carlo is his mom.

It's not a classic by any stretch, but I enjoyed comparing it to the Power version and Montalban is especially enjoyable. I recommend it for fans of his.

Rating: Three out of five really sad masks.

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Fourth Chair Army Invasion | The Expendables of Spy Movies

If you’re bummed about No Time to Die getting pushed back to November, have no fear. William Bruce West, Doug Frye, Evan Hanson, Rob Graham, and I have created the best spy movie in the world and you can enjoy it right this very second in your imagination.

Friday, March 06, 2020

Greystoked | Tarzan and the Mermaids (1948)

Noel and I are back to wrap up the Johnny Weissmuller era the same way we began it, with guest Ron Marz, who'd just returned from South Africa with stories of an actual safari . It's mermaids in Mexico and memoirs about mammals in this very special episode.

Thursday, March 05, 2020

Presence of Mind (1999)

Who's in it?: Sadie Frost (Bram Stoker's Dracula), Lauren Bacall (To Have and Have Not, The Big Sleep, Dark Passage, Key Largo), Harvey Keitel (The Piano, Pulp Fiction), and Jude Law (Enemy at the Gates, Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, Sherlock Holmes)

What's it about?: A pretty faithful adaptation of Henry James' The Turn of the Screw.

How is it?: I read Henry James' The Turn of the Screw a couple of years ago and was fascinated by it. I hated it for most of the time I was reading it, but started warming to it by the end. And then after I had a chance to sit with it for a while, I liked it quite a bit, realizing that there are multiple ways to read it and that the most frightening ones are the least supernatural.

It's the story of a governess who goes to watch over a couple of orphan kids at an isolated, huge English estate. She starts to see ghosts. Or think she does. And she thinks the kids see them too, but they deny it. The question is: Is she seeing what she thinks she's seeing or is it all in her head?

I put it away for a while, but was reminded of it earlier this year when a new adaptation was released to theaters. I was curious about how Floria Sigismondi's The Turning would interpret the novel: Straight-up ghost story or psychological horror? Sadly, that movie tried to have it both ways, but not in a subtle, ambiguous way. I ended up mostly liking it, but eager to see a more straightforward adaptation, which is what Presence of Mind is.

Presence of Mind keeps James' ambiguity about whether the ghosts are real or imagined, but unlike The Turning, it understands that it doesn't really matter either way. The ghosts are actually a metaphor for something else that I won't spoil with speculation, but would be open for discussion even if I did. It's a good introduction to the ideas of the novel.

The Spanish estate that it was shot on isn't as gothic as I'd prefer, but it's gorgeous. And there's a familiar Hammer-esque quality to the setting and the costumes and even that so much of it is filmed in the bright light of day. Ghostly appearances in full daylight somehow make it more unsettling, not less.

And the cast is especially fun. Sadie Frost plays the governess and I like her subtle sensuality. She was also Lucy in Francis Ford Coppola's Bram Stoker's Dracula where she was much more overt. In Presence of Mind, she's repressed, but always about to bubble over. It's also clear that she has secrets which may be affecting her experiences at the estate.

Lauren Bacall is the estate's chief domestic whose relationship with the kids sometimes interferes with the governess'. And Harvey Keitel has what's almost a cameo as the mostly absent master of the house. Jude Law is also in it as Keitel's secretary, but it's an early bit part for him that I actually missed for blinking.

The kids, played by Nilo Zimmerman and Ella Jones, are also great. Finn Wolfhard plays the brother in The Turning and brings menace to the role that Zimmerman doesn't have. I like Zimmerman's take more, because it puts the spotlight back on Frost's character where it should be. She needs to be responsible for her actions, where Mackenzie Davis' governess in The Turning is more of a victim. (Brooklynn Prince plays the sister in The Turning with a similar vibe to Jones' version in Presence of Mind: a mixture of adorable and troubled that ultimately makes the character unreliable.)

I wish that Presence of Mind were more atmospheric than it is. That's what keeps me from loving it. But it makes me want to put the novel back on my reading list and also watch some other adaptations.

Rating: Three out of five touched tutors.

Wednesday, March 04, 2020

Zorro (1957-61)

Who's in it?: Guy Williams (I Was a Teenage Werewolf, Captain Sindbad, Lost in Space).

What's it about?: Walt Disney adapts Zorro as a TV series.

How is it?: Williams is the definition of swashbuckling and perfectly plays the balance between dashing Zorro and passive Don Diego. Gene Sheldon is also delightful as Diego's mute manservant Bernardo and Henry Calvin is a joy as the good-hearted, but wrong-sided Sgt. Garcia

I expected most of that, having watched an episode or two as a kid, but what I'd totally forgotten was the amazing sets and matte paintings. Disney threw some real money at the show and created a wonderful fantasy landscape for southern California with all kinds of great cliffs and passes and skull-shaped mountains.

And I had no idea that the storytelling was so 21st Century. Each episode is more or less self-contained, but they also connect and build on each other to tell longer stories. In fact, the first eight episodes were packaged together to become a feature film release in 1960, The Sign of Zorro. And that's not even the entire saga of the ruthless Captain Monastario. The evil officer takes 13 episodes to bring down and I was actually shocked when Zorro eventually succeeded and the story line ended.

Then, just as Zorro's thinking of retiring, a new enemy shows up in the form of a secret society that uses eagle feathers to communicate. The group's leader, the mysterious Eagle, lurks in the background for a while, pulling strings behind a variety of other villains and plots as he works toward a takeover of the entire state of California. And while Zorro competently overcomes every individual threat, a growing sense develops that he's getting in over his head when it comes to the Eagle's larger organization. The stakes are raised nicely as the show heads toward the first season finale. And while Zorro manages to pull out some kind of victory each episode, the wins get smaller and smaller as the Eagle gains more and more power, even taking over Don Diego's home.

Sadly, the Season One finale isn't entirely satisfying. Zorro pulls out a decisive victory, but it's also apparent that it wouldn't have been as decisive if the Eagle hadn't grown impatient and tried to stage a final coup before he was ready. His allies knew it was a bad idea and withdrew, but he insisted on moving ahead alone, which was a bone-headed play and led to his downfall more than Zorro's skill did.

Still, the first season is a strong run of almost 40 episodes, even if it doesn't perfectly stick the landing. One of the MVPs of the series is Don Diamond as a late addition to the cast. He's brought in as a foil for Sgt Garcia; someone for Garcia to boss around, but who doesn't follow orders so well. The two of them are hilarious together and bring a needed, lighter touch to the show just as it's starting to look rather grim.

Season Two features a major change in location. Instead of taking place in Los Angeles, the action moves to Monterey where a patriotic trader is trying to gather money for a massive supply shipment. Spain is at war, so the Spanish citizens of California see it as their duty to support their homeland by keeping up business. The trouble is that shipments of investment capital from all over California are being intercepted by bandits, so Don Diego has traveled to Monterey to oversee delivery of the money from LA.

He's accompanied by Bernardo and is eventually joined by Sgt Garcia and Diamond's Cpl Reyes as well, so the best characters from the first season are still there. But the locations were such an important part of Season One and I wasn't ready to let them go. Happily, the relocation isn't permanent, but it takes a while to get Zorro home. Unlike the original novel and some other adaptations, the Californian government in the Disney show isn't depicted as completely corrupt. But the governor isn't as wise or careful as he should be either, so his underlings are often able to get away with cruel activities. When that starts to happen in Monterey, Zorro has to smother the oppression or occasionally deal with other rebels who are just as brutal as their oppressors. These are interesting conflicts, but they go on too long for me.

My interest was renewed though with the introduction of some cool guest stars. Richard Anderson (Oscar Goldman from The Six Million Dollar Man) became a recurring foil for Don Diego. The two characters are old rivals and things get complicated when both men fall for a woman named Señorita Verdugo. I'm not usually crazy about these kinds of romance triangles where two people both like the third and the object of their affection refuses to make a choice. But it works in this case, because I feel like Verdugo actually makes a choice, but one of the men isn't paying attention. Whatever the case, Anderson adds a lot of fun to the cast and the plot wraps up in a really lovely way.

After that, Season Two abruptly and unceremoniously returns the main cast to Los Angeles in time for a few episodes with Cesar Romero as Don Diego's shifty, gold-digging uncle. There are still multi-episode story lines from there, but they don't flow from one to another the way earlier episodes did and there are a few that are just completely standalone.

The series never returns to the 13-episode arcs of the first season, but one of the best multi-part story lines stars Annette Funicello, who was given the role as a 16th Birthday present by Walt Disney. She plays a young woman who's come to Los Angeles to meet her estranged father. She's convinced that he lives there and she's even received letters from him postmarked Los Angeles, but no one has heard of the man. It's a cool mystery and Funicello brings a lot of conviction and spunk to her role.

Season Two ended in 1959, but Disney kept Guy Williams on salary and made four more episodes (hour-long this time) to run on the anthology series Walt Disney Presents. The first two ran in Autumn 1960 and formed a single story about a group of Mexican bandits who show up in Los Angeles to challenge Zorro's supremacy as local outlaw.

The next episode ran in January 1961, featuring Annette Funicello, who was back as a different character: a family friend of Diego's who's trying to elope with the wrong fella. And saving the best for last, an April 1961 episode had Ricardo Montalban and Wild Wild West's wonderful Ross Martin as a pair of scoundrels who know enough about Diego's past to suspect that he's Zorro. It's a great finale and makes me wish that there'd been a whole series just about those two characters.

Rating: Four out of five rapiers

Tuesday, March 03, 2020

Hellbent for Letterbox | The Paleface (1948)

Pax and I break down this Bob Hope brew co-starring Jane Russell as super spy Calamity Jane. Pax also talks about the 1952 sequel, Son of Paleface, while I reconsider Joan Crawford as a contemporary cowgirl in 1930's Montana Moon.

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

The Mark of Zorro (1940)

Who's in it?: Tyrone Power (Jesse James, Son of Fury: The Story of Benjamin Blake, The Black Swan), Linda Darnell (Blackbeard the Pirate, Black Spurs) Basil Rathbone (Captain Blood, The Adventures of Robin Hood, Son of Frankenstein, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes), Eugene Pallette (The Adventures of Robin Hood)

What's it about?: The origin of Zorro

How is it?: Since Johnston McCulley's novel jumps in after Don Diego has already become Zorro, creating an origin story means deviating from the book in big ways.

This version opens in Spain to show Diego's (Power) prowess at swordplay and horsemanship, then has him called back to California by his father. He expects (and dreads) a life of relaxation and comfort instead of the carousing and adventure that he's experienced in Spain. But he quickly learns that his father has been deposed as mayor and replaced with a tyrant whose rule is enforced by a ruthless captain (Rathbone). Diego knows that his parents will be in danger if Diego rebels openly, so he creates the identity of Zorro to put pressure on the new mayor.

It's a cool strategy, actually. While Zorro interferes with the mayor's cash flow, Diego befriends the mayor's wife and plants suggestions that she'd be much happier back in Spain. The plan is to get the mayor to leave voluntarily, but Rathbone's character is a bigger problem than Diego anticipated. He's actually the power behind the mayor and he won't be intimidated so easily.

Adding a romantic complication to the story is the mayor's niece (Darnell).

As you may or may not be able to tell from that description, the 1940 Mark of Zorro is very focused on Diego and there's actually very little Zorro in it. When Diego does put on the costume it's exciting, but it kind of reminds me of superhero shows from the '70s where 90% of the show is the secret identity and then you'd get a couple of big scenes with the hero to make it worth watching. Not that the Diego stuff is boring. There's a lot of drama and intrigue and some great character stuff. And the swords fights are extremely good, even when no one in them is wearing black.

There are some nods to Douglas Fairbanks' version that are worth pointing out. Fairbanks' handkerchief tricks are replaced by Power's having a general love for magic and sleight-of-hand, but he actually says, "Have you seen this one?" at least once. And Power's Diego also has Fairbanks' tendency to embed his sword in the ceiling until circumstances demand that he need it again.

Except for those details and a couple of scenes with Diego in costume, though, this is a great swashbuckler, but not a great Zorro film. In other versions, the character of Fray Felipe is a quiet man who nobly endures the oppression of the government, but here he's played with blustery gusto by Eugene Pallette, who's pretty much just redoing his Friar Tuck performance from Adventures of Robin Hood a couple of years before. There's also no deaf and/or mute servant and no Zorro cave under his estate (though there are secret passages in the mayor's house that Diego makes good use of). Really like the movie. Wish it had more Zorro.

Rating: Four out of five rapiers

Friday, February 21, 2020

La Forêt (2017)

Who's in it?: A bunch of extremely talented actors whom I didn't know before this.

What's it about?: When a teenage girl goes missing from a small town in France, the investigation uncovers all of the community's secrets. [French language with English subtitles]

How is it?: Wow.

I started watching La Forêt (listed as The Forest on Netflix) just because of its setting. I've always been into stories about small towns and even more so when they're located near huge, dark, old forests.

I'm not as into stories about child abduction or serial killers (I don't necessarily avoid them, but I don't seek them out, either), but it was clear from the first episode that this wasn't just a procedural about the hunt for a particular criminal. As the police and other members of the community start looking for clues, a lot of metaphorical logs get turned over and a lot of metaphorical bugs come pouring out all over everything.

The missing girl is named Jennifer and it quickly comes to light that she had some conflicts with a couple of her friends named Maya and Océane. Those girls are now behaving strangely which especially concerns Maya's mother, a police detective named Virginie who's taken lead on the case. And Virginie becomes even more invested when Maya and Océane also go missing.

The town is full of characters with secrets. Virginie's husband is clearly hiding something as is Océane's father. And one of my favorite characters in the six-episode series is Eve Mendel, a teacher at the girls' school whose past is so mysterious that even she doesn't know what it is. But details from Jennifer's case start triggering memories for Eve.

And then there's the police captain Gaspard Decker, who's new enough in town not to have secrets, but still plenty of drama. He has to decide how much room to give Virginie who isn't objective about the case for obvious reasons. He also has a teenage daughter whom he's concerned about considering all of these disappearances. And is that romantic interest between him and Eve?

All of these relationships and mysteries build to exciting revelations all throughout the series, culminating in a conclusion that ties up all the plot threads while also satisfying emotionally.

Rating: Five out of five priceless pedagogues with perplexing pasts.

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

The Mark of Zorro (1920)

Who's in it?: Douglas Fairbanks (The Three Musketeers, Robin Hood, The Thief of Bagdad, Don Q Son of Zorro, The Black Pirate, The Iron Mask)

What's it about?: When the Spanish governor of California becomes oppressive, a seemingly foppish nobleman puts on a mask to protect the persecuted.

How is it?: I've seen this a few times by now and it's a very faithful adaptation of Johnston McCulley's novel, The Curse of Capistrano, in which Zorro first appeared. There are a couple of big differences though.

The first is Zorro's assistant Bernardo, a character who's barely in the novel. McCulley's version is deaf and mute, but The Mark of Zorro allows him to hear and gives him a lot more to do. He's not a major character, but the sense is that he's a clever and capable helper in Zorro's subterfuge.

Another difference is how Mark of Zorro handles Zorror's secret identity. The novel surprisingly saves the reveal until the very end, so the reader finds out who he is at the same time as everyone else. Mark of Zorro lets viewers in on the deception right away.

That's cool because it means we get to peek at parts of Zorro's life that the book keeps hidden. Like how Zorro comes in and out of his house. Underneath his mansion, he's got a cave with a couple of hidden entrances. There's a shrub covered, horse-sized outer passage, and in the house there's a secret door disguised as a grandfather clock. Everyone knows that Batman was inspired by Zorro, but sometimes we forget how much. It's all based on this Fairbanks movie though, not the novel.

Batman could take some more lessons from Fairbanks' Zorro on playing the idle playboy, though. Fairbanks' performance as Don Diego is brilliant. He always looks exhausted and bored, only perking up when he's irritating someone with an unwanted handkerchief trick. Christopher Reeve rightly gets a lot of praise for creating separate performances when he's playing Superman or Clark Kent, but he wasn't the first to do that. Fairbanks does the same thing as Don Diego and Zorro and I totally see why people are fooled.

That impressive bit of acting is nothing compared to the unbelievable acrobatic work that Fairbanks pulls off in Zorro mode, though. He leaps around and climbs over sets like he's inventing parkour. The final chase between him and the Spanish soldiers is a stunning showcase for Fairbanks athleticism as well as just plain hilarious.

Rating: Five out of five rapiers.

Western Wednesdays

I'm starting a new viewing project that I think I'll keep track of here. It was inspired by Stephen Ives' documentary series The West. I watched the first episode again recently and since the series takes a chronological approach to the history of the American West, I decided that in between episodes I would watch movies that take place during the time periods covered by the previous episode.

So, Episode 1 is titled "The People" and is mostly about the indigenous folk who lived in North America prior to the European invasion. I'm not aware of films that cover that, except perhaps The Daughter of Dawn (1920), which is a silent film with an entirely American Indian cast and features only American Indian characters. I like the movie, but it's not specific about its time period, so while I could use it as a starting point, it could also be a movie that fits later in the timeline.

In talking about European colonizers though, "The People" brings up a couple of periods that have been more definitively adapted by Hollywood. The first is the Spanish takeover of the California coast, in part to secure it against Russian settlers who were coming in from the North. The Spanish expanded from their hold in Mexico to build forts and missions all up and down California. And of course this is the period covered by the Zorro stories. So I'll be starting there. I'm not going to watch every single Zorro movie I can get my hands on, but I'll hit the big ones and that's what Western Wednesday will be about for a while.

The other major European invasion covered in the "The People" is the Lewis and Clark expedition. There aren't as many Lewis and Clark movies as Zorro ones, but I plan to at least watch The Far Horizons (1955) starring Fred MacMurray as Meriwether Lewis, Charlton Heston as William Clark, and Donna Reed as Sacajawea. It'll be a while before I get to that one though. I've got about a dozen Zorro movies to watch first.

After The Far Horizons, I'll watch Episode 2 of The West and see where that leads me next. And that's how this project will go. Please feel free to recommend movies to me and I'll add them to my list. Especially if you know of other Lewis and Clark movies that I should watch.

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Nerd Lunch | The Final Star Wars Panel

I'd feel more sad about the final Nerd Lunch Star Wars panel if every member on it hadn't become such a valuable part of my life that I don't for a second imagine that this is any kind of parting of the ways.

But it is the last time we'll get together to talk about Star Wars in this format and that's a sad thing. In this episode, we clear away the table with a discussion of our favorite and least favorite contributions of the Disney Star Wars movies, both saga and anthology films, as well as where we expect / hope the series will go from here.

Monday, February 17, 2020

Vampyr (1932)

Who's in it?: Mostly amateur actors. The lead actor was also the chief financer of the film, so that's the kind of production this was. Sybille Schmitz (Diary of a Lost Girl) has a small role as one of the vampire's victims.

What's it about?: An amateur monster hunter wanders into a haunted village and is drawn into the battle to save a couple of sisters from a vampire.

How is it?: I've seen the movie three times now and one of those was with Tony Rayns' commentary on the Criterion disc, so I feel like I finally have a pretty good handle on what director Carl Dreyer is trying to do and how well he actually does it.

It's a disconcerting movie the first time. Dreyer's deliberately trying to throw off the audience with his narrative and editing choices. He creates an atmosphere that makes it tough to connect with the film, much less fully understand what's going on. The film says right at the beginning that its main character, Allan Grey, is a guy who wants to believe in the supernatural and goes looking for spooky stuff. Since he's not an objective witness, we in the audience are meant to wonder if what we're seeing is actually happening or if it's all in Grey's head.

For myself, I think the ghosts and vampires have to be real. There are too many scenes that take place when Grey isn't around, although those could be imagined as well if you like the idea that he's making all of this up. Personally, I'm prejudiced against a vampire movie that doesn't actually have any vampires in it, so I prefer to read it as straightforward. Even so, there are parts where Dreyer is too many steps ahead of me and leaving clues that are too subtle for me to pick up even after a couple of viewings. It rewards coming back to, though, and I'm considering buying a copy for myself.

Regardless of your interpretation about the reality of its monsters, Vampyr is really effective at creating a mood and feels ahead of its time. The special effects, especially the use of shadows to depict ghosts, still look unique and feel fresh 90 years later. And I love that the vampire is a woman who looks like William Hartnell's version of Doctor Who. It came out the year after Tod Browning's Dracula, but feels more like low-budget, black-and-white '60s horror like Night Tide, Night of the Living Dead, or especially the also-dreamlike Carnival of Souls. It's innovative and creepy with very little dialogue (its way of managing the very new-at-the-time technology of incorporating sound into films).

Rating: Four out of five Minas (or Gisèles, as the case may be).

Saturday, February 15, 2020

Thudarr Road | Master of the Stolen Sunsword

Thundarr Road is back, but Thundarr, Ariel, and Ookla have not yet moved on from the Los Angeles area. They're in Beverly Hills, dealing with a wizard named Yando as well as Thundarr's diminished connection to the Sunsword.

FCA Invasion | The Mandalorian

The Nerd Lunch Star Wars panel is back to talk about The Mandalorian, Cara Dune, and the cuteness of The Baby That's the Same Species as Yoda.

Friday, February 14, 2020

Pinocchio (1940)

Who's in it?: Mostly voice actors whom I don't know, but Mel Blanc was apparently responsible for the hiccuping of the otherwise silent Gideon the Cat.

What's it about?: A superior adaptation of the classic Carlo Collodi novel.

How is it?: I usually remember Pinocchio as an episodic story about an unlikable kid, but that's every other version ever that's clouding my perception. Disney's adaptation manages a pretty stable throughline to pull the episodes together and makes the title character charmingly naive rather than outright mischievous. And of course he's totally heroic by the end.

And don't even get me started on how awesome the world looks with its casual inclusion of anthropomorphic animals, extremely attractive fairies, and all that amazing wood carving. I want to live there.

Rating: Five out of five Blue Fairies

Thursday, February 13, 2020

Mystery Movie Night | 36 Hours (1964), Dark City (1998), and Paycheck (2003)

Evan, Dave, David, Erik, and I are joined by blogger and podcaster extraordinaire Siskoid to pontificate on paper cuts, police detectives, postage stamps, and what could possibly connect them.

00:02:56 - Review of 36 Hours (1964)
00:19:36 - Review of Dark City (1998)
00:36:01 - Review of Paycheck (2003)
00:54:46 - Guessing the Connection

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Hellbent for Letterbox | Third Birthday and State of the Camp 2020

On a special, smaller episode Pax and I celebrate Hellbent's third birthday with a look back at what we covered in 2019, what we'd like to see on the show in 2020, and what we think of the films on the AFI Top 10 Westerns list.

Saturday, February 08, 2020

Avenue 5

Another show I've given up on this year is Avenue 5 on HBO. I'm a big fan of Hugh Laurie, spaceships, The Love Boat, and disaster movies, so Avenue 5 sounded pretty good. It's about a luxury space cruiser captained by Laurie that's thrown off course and is going to take years longer than expected to get back to Earth. There's a lot of potential drama in that premise, especially when you consider the anxiety-heightened family turmoil and the unprepared crew's trying to keep everything together. And if it's also funny, so much the better.

Sadly, it's the humor that turns me off. Or the specific kind of humor. The show wants laughs mostly from people being exasperated with each other. There's a lot of yelling. A lot of just being unreasonable. And while some of it is funny (Laurie is delightfully wry, as expected), I get tired of everyone's just generally being irritable with each other. I watched two episodes to make sure it wasn't just the pilot that had that tone and that's all I want to do.

Friday, February 07, 2020

Gretel & Hansel (2020)

Who's in it?: Sophia Lillis (It, Nancy Drew and the Hidden Staircase), Alice Krige (Star Trek: First Contact, Deadwood), Jessica De Gouw (Arrow, Underground), and Charles Babalola (The Legend of Tarzan, Mary Magdalene)

What's it about?: The story of Hansel and Gretel retold to focus on Gretel's coming of age.

How is it?Gretel & Hansel is a cool idea. Rather than have the kids be twins and more or less the same age, Gretel is a teenager and Hansel is her little brother, probably around eight-years-old. When they're kicked out of their home by their widowed mother, that puts Gretel in the position of making sure that she and her brother survive. Hearing about a community on the other side of the forest, Gretel leads Hansel in that direction, hoping that they can find work and a new life.

Just on a superficial level, I'm not in love with the production design on the film. The art department is clearly going for something in particular, but the simple costumes and clean lines of the architecture aren't my preferred aesthetic. Especially for a story based on a fairy tale, and a dark fairy tale like this one, I would have loved to see creepier, more ornate designs: baroque or gothic. I'd feel differently if I could tell what this specific design does for the story, but I can't. Maybe I just haven't figured it out yet. That's possible, because there are definitely thematic elements that I haven't quite put together either.

The forest locations look great though. I love every second that the characters are in the woods.

But even though the look of the film doesn't always connect with me, I appreciate the thought that's gone into the story and what themes can be coaxed out of it. I said "coming of Age" in the summary above, but that doesn't satisfactorily summarize it. Gretel & Hansel sees growing up as a dark, violent process and not just because of the loss of Innocence. Growing up inherently means severing ties with family. Not necessarily completely, but it's still a process that involves some pain. There's a lot that Gretel & Hansel wants to say about that and I wasn't able to follow it every step of the way. I'm not sure if that's my fault or the film's, but I'd enjoy revisiting it at some point to see.

Certainly the cast is perfect for me from Borg Queen Alice Krige as one aspect of the Witch, Jessica De Gouw (whom I loved in Underground) as another, and Nancy Drew / It Girl Sophia Lillis as Gretel. Charles Babalola plays a huntsman they meet early on. I didn't recognize him, but he's been in some stuff I love and deserves mentioning.

Rating: Three out of five woodland witches

Wednesday, February 05, 2020

Lincoln Rhyme: Hunt for the Bone Collector

I have Goodreads to log my reading and Letterboxd to record my movie watching, but there's not a great site that I know to record thoughts on TV shows. I can and do keep track of what I watch on IMDb, but I'm not interested in jotting down actual reviews there. It's too big and covers too many other things. If there's a great site dedicated to logging and talking about just TV, someone please let me know. In the meantime, I'm thinking I'll use the ol' blog to record thoughts about TV shows that I'm trying out.

A few years back, we talked about the 1999 movie The Bone Collector on an episode of Mystery Movie Night. I'd forgotten all about it, but Erik Johnson recently reminded me that in that conversation he made the observation that the movie felt like the pilot to a TV series. And the reason he brought it up was because someone else clearly thought so, too.

I like the movie. I'm not sure the story holds up to close scrutiny - either the plot or some of the characters' motivations - but Denzel Washington and Angelina Jolie are both really watchable and it's fun to follow them as they solve the serial killer's puzzles. I also like the concept of a super smart, but housebound detective working with an also capable, but definitely more mobile partner to solve crimes. The Bone Collector novel by Jeffery Deaver was published in 1997, just about a year after DC Comics published Black Canary/Oracle: Birds of Prey by Chuck Dixon and Gary Frank featuring wheelchair-bound Barbara "Oracle" Gordon and Black Canary.

But we probably shouldn't give too much credit to Dixon and Frank, because the concept goes back at least as far as 1934 when Rex Stout's Fer-de-Lance was published. That's the first appearance of Nero Wolfe, an obese, possibly agoraphobic detective who never leaves home, but solves mysteries with the help of his assistant Archie Goodwin. I've always liked those stories too, especially as adapted in the '80s TV series starring William Conrad and Lee Horsley.

Deaver's Bone Collector novel has had over a dozen sequels, so there's plenty of material to adapt for further adventures of Lincoln Rhyme and Amelia Sachs (renamed Donaghy in the movie, for some reason). Again, I like the concept, so I decided to give the new series Lincoln Rhyme: Hunt for the Bone Collector a try when it premiered last month on NBC.

After all that background information, it's a shame to say that I didn't like the show. Arielle Kebbel is fine as Sachs, but Russell Hornsby's version of Rhyme lacks the instant charisma of Denzel Washington. I root for Washington even when he's being stubborn and cranky. If I were to stick with the show, I'd need more time to warm up to Hornsby.

But the biggest barrier for me is the subject matter. I enjoyed the pilot, because it adapted the plot of the novel differently from the movie and kept me guessing even while it reminded me of what I like about these characters. What I didn't like was that it kept the Bone Collector serial killer at large at the end, hence the series' subtitle. And I didn't like the Bone Collector's motivation for killing, which I won't spoil, but I thought was ridiculous and makes Rhyme even more unlikable.

But even with all that, I felt like I could deal if the series kind of followed the format of The Mentalist and was mostly a criminal of the week with the Bone Collector occasionally popping in for sweeps week and season finales. I wouldn't love it, but I thought maybe I could take it.

I tried watching the second episode though and the Bone Collector character is right there out in front, torturing and killing and planning how he's going to keep sticking it to Rhyme. And in the meantime there's a whole new serial killer with an especially harrowing MO and I gave up ten minutes in. I can handle some pretty dark stuff if I'm super invested in some other aspect of the story, but with this, it felt like the darkness is meant to be the draw.

Tuesday, February 04, 2020

Nerd Lunch | Rise of Skywalker Drill Down

It was bittersweet to record the last Nerd Lunch drill-down about a Star Wars movie. The end of that show is becoming very real. And even though these friends of mine aren't going away, our time getting together in this particular format for these particular discussions is coming to a close.

I'm so pleased with how all of these episodes have gone. Five people of various ages and levels of fandom aren't always going to agree about what makes a good Star Wars movie and that's what's made these discussions so valuable to me. And not just the varying opinions, but the way in which those opinions have been expressed and accepted, even when we don't share them.

Happily, though this is the last Star Wars movie we're likely to discuss together in this format, it's not the last time we'll be getting together to talk about the galaxy far far away. But you can tune in to the episode to get those details.

Sunday, February 02, 2020

Hellbent for Letterbox | River of No Return (1954)

Pax and I come back from Hellbent's winter break with Otto Preminger's River of No Return starring Marilyn Monroe, Robert Mitchum, and Rory Calhoun.

Also: I watch Bing Crosby in Rhythm on the Range and Pax discusses his family's recent trip to New Mexico and the short story "Jacob and the Indians" by Stephen Vincent Benét.

Thursday, January 30, 2020

The SequelQuest Podcast: A Sequel to Plan 9 from Outer Space

After a very busy holiday season, I've kind of taken a break from podcast editing in January. I'll get back on that horse soon, but in the meantime, please enjoy this episode of the SequelQuest podcast in which the hosts and I talked about the terrible Ed Wood classic, Plan 9 from Outer Space. And then of course pitched our ideas for possible sequels to it.

If you're not familiar with SequelQuest, I highly recommend the show. The commentary on the original movies is insightful and the sequel ideas are always fun.

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

My 20 Most Anticipated Movies of 2020

It's fun to think about what's coming out and which movies I'm most interested in, then compare that at the end of the year to what I actually enjoyed. For instance, even though last year was a really good one for enjoyable movies, my favorites weren't the ones I was most looking forward to.

Of my 20 Most Anticipated last year, only nine of them turned out to be Top 20 movies for me. Those were Godzilla: King of the Monsters, Avengers: Endgame, Captain Marvel, The Kid, Pokémon Detective Pikachu, It 2, How to Train Your Dragon 3, The Lego Movie 2, and Dora and the Lost City of Gold.

Of the other 11, I lost interest in seeing four of them (Jumanji 3, Zombieland 2, the animated Addams Family movie, and the Charlie's Angels remake) in the theater because of trailers or reviews. Then there were six that simply failed to crack my Top 20, but when I look at what those are (Rise of SkywalkerSpider-Man: Far from HomeHellboyJohn Wick 3Men in Black: International, and Shazam), I enjoyed all of them on some level. There was just a bunch of better stuff that I didn't see coming.

If you're doing the math, that leaves one movie unaccounted for. That's because one of my most anticipated last year was The New Mutants which got pushed back to 2020. And sure enough, it's on this year's list again.

20. Last Night in Soho

I'm not a huge Edgar Wright fan, but I do like his movies quite a bit (Hot Fuzz being most my cup of tea). The draws here are the horror elements and Anya Taylor-Joy's involvement. Her name's going to pop up at least a couple of more times on this list. I'm sure that some day she'll pick a movie to be in that I don't at least think is interesting, but it hasn't happened yet. She is to Present Day Michael what Johnny Depp was to '90s Michael.

19. Dune

Dune adaptations are always super flawed, but fascinating nonetheless. Denis Villeneuve is a super interesting filmmaker and I'm eager to see how he interprets Herbert's story.

18. Eternals

I'm deeply interested in this new phase at Marvel Studios. With Endgame behind us, they seem to be starting over and rebuilding, which I think is super smart. I'm very very curious to see how Eternals fits into that.

I know nothing about the characters in the comics and care even less, but that's a cool challenge and I'm reminded that most of the world felt the same way about Guardians of the Galaxy before those movies came out. I'm also very interested in Chloé Zhao as a filmmaker and she's assembled a cool cast, including Salma Hayek, Angelina Jolie, Kumail Nanjiani, Gemma Chan, and the Other Stark Boys: Kit Harington and Richard Madden.

17. First Cow

Lately, A24's logo is all a movie needs to at least get my attention. The stuff they produce is always artfully made, compellingly told, and usually has a cool genre twist. In this case, the genre is Western and the story is about a cook for a bunch of fur trappers in Oregon who teams up with a Chinese immigrant to start a new business that somehow involves that cow.

16. Jungle Cruise

One of my favorite Disney rides gets a movie starring two of my favorite actors these days.

15. Ghostbusters: Afterlife

I've liked all three of the Ghostbusters movies so far on some level, but I'm not crazy about any of them. The blend of comedy and horror has never been just right for me, but the concept is great and with some tweaking to boost the chills, I could get right on board. Afterlife seems like it may be headed that direction.

14. The New Mutants

This keeps getting pushed back, which doesn't bode well, but I like these characters in the comics and I especially like that the movie stars Anya Taylor-Joy as Magik and Maisie Williams as Wolfsbane. There's been some speculation that the delays have in part been due to Disney's figuring out how to incorporate it into the MCU somehow to make it the first X-Men movie as part of that rather than the last X-Men movie from the defunct Fox universe. I hope that's the case, but whatever universe it's a part of, the horror angle sounds great. I'm rooting for it.

13. The Gentlemen

I'm always into Guy Ritchie doing his Guy Ritchie thing. I love that this includes Michelle Dockery, Hugh Grant, and Matthew McConaughey.

12. Birds of Prey

Margot Robbie was definitely the best thing about Suicide Squad, so I was mildly interested in more of her as Harley Quinn, but I didn't get excited until I realized that Renee Montoya and Cassie Cain are making their live-action debuts and that Mary Elizabeth Winstead is playing Huntress. And oh crap, I just now connected that Jurnee Smollett-Bell (Black Canary) was Rosalee from Underground and now I kind of want to bump this up to Number 1.

11. Gretel & Hansel

Everything about this sounds so cool. One of my favorite fairy tales as a horror story with Gretel as the older, main character protecting her little brother and the Borg Queen Alice Krige herself as the witch. I'm afraid that I may be too excited for it.

10. Death on the Nile

Branagh's Murder on the Orient Express was fantastic and I'm eager for more. The rest of the cast isn't quite as exciting this time, but Gal Gadot is enough all by herself.

9. Emma

Anya Taylor-Joy in a Jane Austen adaptation.

8. Bill & Ted Face the Music

I'm nervous that it can't be as good as the other two films, but it's encouraging that this has been a passion project of Alex Winter's pretty much since Bogus Journey wrapped. The idea of it doesn't feel like a late in the game cash grab, but like a long-standing dream finally come true. I hope the movie feels that way, too.

7. The Secret Garden

Frances Hodgson Burnett's novel is a great gothic story for all ages, so I'm always excited by a new adaptation. And this one has Colin Firth in it.

6. Godzilla vs. Kong

Let them fight.

5. Wonder Woman 1984

I have questions and concerns, but I'm not about to start distrusting Patty Jenkins or Gal Gadot at this point.

4. The Turning

Another classic gothic novel gets adapted. I read Henry James' The Turn of the Screw a couple of years ago and my first reaction was that I kind of hated it. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that there are multiple ways of interpreting it and that the more mundane interpretations are ironically the more haunting ones. I wish I could read it again before the film comes out, but I know I'm not going to have time. I'm very eager about the setting and atmosphere though and curious to see what approach the film takes in interpreting the novel.

3. Enola Holmes

Millie Bobby Brown plays Sherlock Holmes' younger sister with Henry Cavill as Holmes and Helena Bonham Carter as their mom. Cavill doesn't seem like natural casting for Holmes, but I'm not complaining.

2. No Time to Die

I mostly enjoyed SPECTRE, but I didn't love it the way I love the other Daniel Craig Bond movies (yes, even Quantum of Solace). I'm assuming this is Craig's last one and am hoping it's a super strong end to his run.

1. Black Widow

One of my favorite Marvel characters in any medium, but I've loved Scarlett Johansson in the role since Iron Man 2. Seeing a whole movie with her sounds fantastic and I also love the supporting cast of Rachel Weisz, David Harbour, and especially (thanks to Little Women) Florence Pugh. And if this is setting up Pugh as a new Black Widow to move forward in the MCU, even better.


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