Saturday, December 15, 2012

It's that time of the year again…

…so I'll have to stop posting and posting and posting for a bit. Normal service will resume on January the 2nd.

Meanwhile, visit M.O.S.S., overthrow the Man, smile at strangers, talk to me (@houseinrlyeh) on Twitter, and have delightful holidays of whatever kind you prefer!

In short: The Giants of Thessaly

Original title: I giganti della Tessaglia (Gli argonauti)

After having been robbed of its godly gift, the Golden Fleece, Thessaly is slowly devoured by volcanoes, for the gods are assholes. Thessaly's king Jason (Roland Carey) takes a crew full of heroes and the mighty ship Argo to sail to the other side of the world and steal the Golden Fleece back.

Alas, the voyage is slow and dangerous, and at the point the film starts, Jason and his crew have been gone from home for long months. Jason's cousin Andrastes (Alberto Farnese) is taking care of the throne and Queen Creusa (Ziva Rodann) while the King is away. Unfortunately, Andrastes has long held a dangerous crush on Creusa and power, and uses the opportunity to find fiendish ways to undermine the country's trust in the success of Jason's mission, marry Creusa and buy himself a new kingdom with Thessaly's treasure.

All the while, Jason and his companions encounter bad weather, hunger, witches, a cyclopean ape, young love and other every day troubles of mythical Greece.

I was expecting a bit more of The Giants of Thessaly than I actually got out of it, given the immense reputation its director Riccardo Freda has won over the years.

On a visual level, Giants succeeds quite wonderfully. The film's sets are particularly beautiful, full of interesting details, and clearly constructed to woo the audience with a sense of the monumental. Freda's direction emphasises this aspect of his film greatly, with nary a shot that isn't framed with a painterly eye, and compositions that often have a classicist feel to them, as is only too appropriate in a peplum.

Unfortunately, being beautiful and painterly isn't all a film needs to be. Giants suffers from several problems even Freda's obvious eye for beauty can't distract from forever. It is, to start with, a badly paced film, with the operatic melodrama going on in Thessaly permanently undermining what could and should be the flow of a fast-paced adventure movie. The film's main problem here isn't so much the existence of the melodrama - I for one approve of Freda's wish to also dive into the tragedy and emotion of Greek myth - but how badly it is realized and integrated with the adventure movie elements. There's something too stiff and too operatic surrounding all emotional scenes here that goes beyond the usual peplum stiffness and melodrama, as if the director were neither conscious of the flatness of the writing in these scenes nor of the inability of his actors to play them convincingly in either a naturalistic or a stylized manner. Consequently, the film drops dead in its trail whenever anything related to human emotions comes up, be it Andrastes being ineffectually evil, or Orpheus making a supposedly moving speech on love. It's quite a shame, for it's easy to imagine a film managing to realize these moments convincingly, providing the film they are in with emotional and thematic richness and at the same time making it's adventurous moments more interesting by virtue of given them actual stakes beyond the spectacle.

Alas, that's not what we get with The Giants of Thessaly, and so I'm left with a very pretty movie with okay peplum action that seems to be moving at a snail's pace even though it's just ninety minutes long.

Friday, December 14, 2012

On ExploderButton: The Uninvited (1944)

Ghosts and romances are things that should go together like rapier fights and people wearing ridiculous wigs, but usually, if your romance contains a ghost, or your ghost enters the realm of romance, horrible things are bound to happen.

Unless, of course, your film is Lewis Allen's The Uninvited where all manner of things are done exceedingly well and even the most cynical cult movie fan says yes to romance. Read everything I think about the film in this week's appearance on ExploderButton.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

In short: Looper (2012)

To say Rian Johnson's handful of films make me inordinately happy would be a bit of an understatement. Part of the reason for the love I've developed for the man's films can surely be found in certain parallels in aesthetic upbringing people in the same age bracket tend to have, but then I know more than enough directors of my general age whose films are the complete opposite of everything I want in my art.

But I've not come to put down vague, possibly made-up directors who happen to make films I dislike, but to praise Looper and Rian Johnson. The film is another one of the bastard children of Philip K. Dick (rule: the best Dick adaptations are those films that aren't adapting actual Dick texts but are influenced by him), and the history of the near-future SF film. The film is full of echoes of films, and books and movies of the past, but - not surprising in a film whose production design so clearly knows how retro fashion works and whose story just as clearly knows that circles need to be broken - never a slave to them; the shadow of the past is there to make the now more visible and give it more resonance. Despite being a film full of influences of the films of the past, it's not a film about those films.

Looper also just happens to be an excellent, finely ironic SF action film, a film about the lengths one has to go to if one wants to break through the loops of violence and destruction either a malevolent universe with a bitter sense of dramatic irony or just horrible luck of the kind that makes existentialist philosophers cry create, a film about the fact that the Bruce Willis-style 80s and 90s action hero has always been a self-centred prick, a timely reminder why Bruce Willis is still playing in actual movies too, while Stallone and Schwarzenegger are only good for The Expendables 2, and the kind of film that really knows where and how to use obscure soul songs and Richard & Linda Thompson.

So it's not difficult to imagine Looper was made just for me.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

In short: Sint (2010)

aka Saint

aka Saint Nick

Turns out the original Saint Nicolas (Huub Stapel) wasn't the cuddly bishop of wherever but a renegade with murdering and pillaging as his main hobbies. That is, until some heroic peasants from Amsterdam made use of pitchforks and fire and sent the murderous bastard and his gang to hell.

Saint Nick is something of a sore loser, though, so every time the night before the 6th of December - the Christmas Eve version of the Dutch - falls on the night of a full moon, Nick and his gang of Zwarte Piets (black being the colour one's skin takes on when one gets burned) visit Amsterdam for a bit of a blood bath.

This being a horror film, the authorities have kept Nick's massacring ways hidden for no discernible reason for centuries and not made any effort to get rid of the supernatural menace, which must make his job quite a bit easier.

Anyhow, it's 2010, and it's time for Nick and the Petes to do their thing again. Because the police is mostly left in the dark about their ways, and those in the know are in the business of hushing things up, it falls to shlubby college boy Frank (Egbert Jan Weeber), freshly suspected of some of Nick's murders, and cop and survivor of another Saint Nick massacre Goert (Bert Luppes) to get rid of the red-coated menace. Most probably, there will be blood.

When it comes to Christmas-themed horror movies, one can usually be glad if the film at hand is more entertaining than it is atrocious - with the absolutely brilliant Christmas Evil being the big positive exception. Seen from this perspective, veteran genre director Dick Maas's Sint is a success, as it does mildly entertain throughout its running time. Typically for its director, "mildly entertaining" is pretty much where it stops, though.

If you have any ideas about Maas's script using some of the obvious subtext about, say, the dark side of Christianity, or apply some social criticism through the film's idiotic conspiracy theory, you'd best forget them. This is a bread and butter horror film that just happens to have an undead Saint Nick and his burn-faced servants as its monsters, and really doesn't think about it any more than as an opportunity to add some winking and some jokes (it's something of a comedy) to the proceedings. It's all a bit inoffensive and not exactly bursting with imagination, but there's some competent gore and adequate horse riding over roofs action (yes, in this film, magical roof riding is merely adequate instead of awesomely ridiculous). And somebody gets killed at least every ten minutes.

This leaves Sint as the kind of Christmas-themed horror movie you can waste your time on without hating yourself afterwards. It's a perfectly alright movie for what it is.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Grabbers (2012)

Some exciting thing from outer space crashes down in the Atlantic close to a peaceful Irish island. As it goes with these things, whatever went down contained one big tentacular mommy monster and her small tentacular off-spring, all hungry for a little islander blood.

Island drunk Paddy (Lalor Roddy) fishes one junior monster out of the ocean, which really seems to awaken the interest of the monster family in the possible food source these islanders make. Consequently, people start to disappear. Unfortunately, the place has only the most minor police force in form of two people - alcoholic Garda Ciarán O'Shea (Richard Coyle) and ultra-straight Garda Lisa Nolan (Ruth Bradley) who's on the island as a two week holiday replacement.

With the help of local marine biologist Adam Smith (Russell Tovey), the two cops soon realize the monsters' weak spot: they really don't take well to alcohol. So, when the island is cut off from any help by the genre-mandated storm, the plan is clear: get everyone on the island drunk and keep them blissfully ignorant, while a small core group of drunken monster hunters takes care of the creatures. Turns out drunken monster hunting is more difficult than anyone could have suspected.

Despite what some horror filmmakers seem to think, horror comedies are a difficult thing to get right. Many films seem to think that making the monster "hilarious" (which usually translates to annoying and unfunny) is the way to go here, but usually that way a less than satisfying movie lies, for if there's one thing a movie needs to take seriously, it's its own monsters.

Jon Wright's Grabbers does that whole horror comedy thing right, though, keeping its be-tentacled menace actually threatening and dangerous throughout, building its humour out of the behaviour of its human cast and the difficulties of comically drunk monster hunting. This could still have gone horribly wrong, for, believe the son of an alcoholic there, drunk people aren't generally all that funny unless you're a drunk yourself. Grabbers, however, actually knows what it's doing here, not only making the drunkenness jokes funny to someone who doesn't generally go for that sort of thing like me by actually giving many of it human warmth but also by not coming over like an alcohol commercial.

One thing I particularly liked about the humour was its sense of restraint. While there's a sense of absurdity throughout, and Grabbers hardly lets an opportunity for a joke pass it by, it also knows when to not make a joke, or when to just turn a sarcastic face towards the audience, or let the monster movie just be  a monster movie with a bit of added absurdity. The acting ensemble is very good at transitioning from the humorous bits to the more dramatic parts, off-handedly charming the pants off a jaded and cynical viewer like me.  Consequently, the film is really very funny and works as a monster movie that hits all the mandatory genre beats with verve and imagination.

This is also a film that's very good at using the local - in a funny, clichéd form, I'm sure - very well as a background for its horror story, giving the film a much more believable and interesting feel than a more generic background could have achieved. In this and in the way it works as a comedy monster film, Grabbers is very reminiscent of Tremors, another film with the ability to be funny and still be a real monster movie, just that the film at hand is situated in Ireland instead of the dusty parts of the US. And honestly, once a comedic monster movie can be compared to Tremors, it is as good as something in this particular genre can get.

Last but not least, Grabbers is also a fine demonstration of how good digital effects can be when a production only applies them correctly. There's never a moment here when the (tentacular) monsters look anything less than real - as much as this sort of monster can ever look real - making the monsters as much of a joy to watch as the rest of Grabbers is.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Die Weiße Spinne (1963)

aka The White Spider

The gambling addicted husband of Muriel Irvine (Karin Dor) has a car accident that leaves him quite exploded. The only way to identify his body is via his miraculously safe talisman, a white spider made of glass. Despite Muriel and her husband not having had the best of marriages, hubby's death is not the start of happier times for her. The company responsible for her husband's life insurance delays the payment of a much larger sum than Muriel had expected because they suspect something isn't right about the accident, and Scotland Yard starts poking around.

Or rather, Inspector Dawson (Paul Klinger) of Scotland Yard does. The policeman is convinced a murder syndicate has established itself in London, delivering murders that look like accidents, and - perhaps not the best idea when you want to actually have your murders look like accidents - leaving behind white glass spiders as their calling card. Dawson soon is killed by one among the half dozen bad guys who are all played by Dieter Eppler (and if you think that's a spoiler, I really don't know what to say).

Scotland Yard's boss Sir James (Friedrich Schoenfelder) decides to give the case to a secretive Australian master criminalist who hides his face behind blinding spotlights and has methods decidedly related to those of the criminal mastermind behind the white spider business. I'm sure he has nothing at all to do with Ralph Hubbard (Joachim Fuchsberger), an ex-con who - depending on one's tastes - charms or slithers around Muriel in the social worker job provided by another Dieter Eppler she has to take. Muriel's other problems include the possibility that her husband is still alive and Scotland Yard will think her to be his accomplice in insurance fraud, another ex-con with the charming name of "Kiddie" Phelips (Horst Frank), and a criminal mastermind with a thousand faces that all look like Dieter Eppler's who has grown quite fond of her and is much worse at romancing than Hubbard is, though makes up for that by turning out to be very adept at killing people with his favourite wire noose.

Now, all this may sound as if we were in the presence of another Edgar Wallace adaptation, but in truth Die weiße Spinne belongs to the number of German krimis of the 60s in the business of keeping as close to Rialto's Wallace movie style as possible while only shelling out for a novelistic source by Louis Weinert-Wilton. Not that you'd really find much of a difference, especially since this was written by Egon Eis who was also responsible for writing the earliest Rialto Wallace films. Eis, knowing what is expected of him, does not change anything of the krimi's established style. It's the German version of pulp mystery through and through, with all the curious ideas about the UK and stiff-necked melodramatics one expects here. So of course, Die weiße Spinne features the fun convoluted plot full of mildly inventive contraptions and too complicated evil plans one also expects.

Other Wallace veterans are involved too. The film is directed by Harald Reinl, whose films in the genre usually put the emphasis on fast pace and show a particular talent for and love of doing the more pulpy and outlandish elements in his films justice. Reinl can't quite bring all of his usual visual imagination to bear here, though. Neither Ernst H. Albrecht's production design nor Werner M. Lenz's cinematography (both man weren't very deeply involved in the krimi) are quite on the level of their Rialto counterparts, making the lower budget of the second row krimis quite visible in places. Even so, not quite living up to the standards set by the best part of popular German cinema of that era still leaves us with a film that always has something interesting to look at, which is as much as I'd ask of a second row krimi.

Another Rialto Wallace alumni working on the film is Peter Thomas. Thomas is generally the weirder of the two main krimi soundtrack composers, with Martin Böttcher usually providing somewhat straighter yet not weaker scores. In the case of Die Weiße Spinne, though, Thomas goes for an archetypal, horn-driven style that sounds exactly like you imagine a krimi soundtrack to sound. It's not exactly inspired work but it gets the job done.

Finally, you'll also know just about anyone on screen from playing similar roles in the Rialto Wallace films: Fuchsberger is charming and two-fisted, Dor very pretty but cursed with a horrible thing for mistaking woodenly opening her eyes really wide with effective melodramatic acting (honestly, it might be an irrational dislike for the actress speaking here, but she's so wooden, Anthony Steffen playing a wooden Indian would be less like a piece of wood), Eppler the least thousand-faced man with a thousand faces imaginable but always fun to watch, be it in bad brown-face as a Sikh or in bald eye-patched main henchman mode, and Horst Frank his usual entertaining psycho.

That's not enough to make for one of the top spots in krimi history, but it sure as hell makes for an entertaining ninety minutes.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

In short: Idaho Transfer (1973)

I was thinking quite hard about how to best approach the spirit of apathy and half-assed-ness that moves - or rather not - Peter Fonda's sort of SF film Idaho Transfer, but then I was possessed by the spirit of the movie and didn't care anymore if what I wrote became a rambling, incomprehensible, preachy without any actual affection, bunch of nonsense.

And lo, I wrote this: The end of the world, man, who cares? Let's just get transferred into the future, not attempt to find out what destroyed humanity as we know it and wander around apathetically. We're a bunch of apathetic lame-ass hippies, so obviously we're meant to repopulate the world. Just too bad nobody cared to make any actual plans for the event, or realized the whole time travel bit makes us sterile any earlier. I'd be all angry now, but the film only allows us to sulk and wander off a little, because everything else would have needed an actual script or actors able to improvise with a point. And let's be honest, it's difficult enough to keep the characters here apart, seeing as nobody beyond our main character Karen actually does anything or has a personality. And Karen mostly likes to sulk and wants kids, and is kinda (the film's too apathetic for more) sad about the end of the world. Or something.

Just look at the film's awesome-sweet visual metaphors! You know, that stone skipping on the water until it sinks is just like humanity and, um, I'm sure there's a point, but I can't tell what point over the sound of people being apathetic. Man, perhaps Peter should have left that weed alone for the five minutes writing the script must have taken.

And after that, I drifted off into the long, dreamless, apathetic sleep Idaho Transfer felt like.

Technorati-Markierungen: ,,,

Friday, December 7, 2012

On ExploderButton: The Bullet Vanishes (2012)

aka Ghost Bullets

Blah blah, Hong Kong movies aren't what they once were, blah, blah, Takeover, blah.

While I was bloviating about the sad state of Hong Kong cinema, I nearly missed out on this very fine pulp mystery with (the eternally glorious) Lau Ching-Wan and the (eternally boring) Nicholas Tse that may smell a bit like Guy Ritchie's Sherlock Holmes movies but really has other interests at its core.

Click on over to the all-new, all-exciting ExploderButton to read more of my words about the movie.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Three Films Make A Post: Their Form Is Human But They Have Crossed Over ... Is There Sex After Death?

Corrida pour un espion aka Code Name: Jaguar (1965): This Spanish-French-German co-production directed by perfectly decent director Maurice Leblanc starring perfectly decent Ray Danton in a curiously non-globe-hopping, perfectly decent adventure is a perfectly decent romp, unless it suddenly turns on the torture and the chauvinism a bit much for about five annoying minutes. From time to time, the film's more humorous moments are even better than perfectly decent. And that's really all I can say about a perfectly decent Eurospy movie.

Juggernaut (1974): Richard Lester's bomb disarming thriller on the other hand is quite a bit more than just decent. It's also a very strange film compared to the way a thriller is generally supposed to be built. Instead of being based on obvious dramatics and twists, Lester's movie is an experiment in building ever-mounting tension through the most laconic presentation, a precise, unhurried narrative tone, and brilliant actors consciously being as little overtly dramatic as possible; even Richard Harris is game to working against his usual approach to any given role.

Unlike some experiments, Juggernaut actually works too, consequently pointing out a completely different direction the thriller as a genre could have taken.

ParaNorman (2012): Despite all its technical accomplishment and its stylistic deftness, this piece of animation mostly reminded me of everything I already hated about US family-centric animation when I was a kid. It's a film willing to betray its charm, its humour, its willingness to engage with the unpleasant sides of childhood, and its few moments of subversion for patronizing - the only way the film knows to talk to children seems to be to talk down to them - and deeply hypocritical moralizing at a moment's notice. The film belongs to that part of children's entertainment that seems to think doing everything else, like being honest and not pretending that everything in life will work out with a smile and/or an ascendancy to heaven is bad for children, even in a film whose story really screams for a more complex solution.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

In short: The Lost World (1960)

As a fan of the Lost World subgenre, I have developed a - perhaps misguided - patience with the genre's worst elements, namely racism, a problematic love for imperialist structures, and gender politics of the most dubious kind.

Therefore, one would expect me to be all over Irwin Allen's adaptation of the - lovely - Arthur Conan Doyle (my democratic principles laugh at your titles) novel which gave the subgenre its name. Curiously, one would be wrong in that assumption, for I do in fact enjoy only about twenty minutes of this version of The Lost World. In part, I blame Allen's insistence on making a film whose politics often feel more problematic than those of a book published 48 years earlier, which is an achievement the film even manages to repeat by including a romance much worse than the one in the Doyle novel. Even worse, the film seems to assume people care about the human element in this sort of film and so puts a lot of emphasis on it. Too bad people generally don't, unless the human element in a Lost World movie is either very well written or enabling exciting adventures, neither of which applies to the film at hand.

Lost World 1960 doesn't rise in my appreciation with using the animal snuff film version of dinosaur special effects, that is, the responsible parties glue fins and horns to helpless reptiles and let them fight or fall to their (actual) death, while the camera lingers unpleasantly. It's a bit like a junior version of Cannibal Holocaust without the self-consciousness, and also so vile I find it difficult to even laugh at the movie for its idea of how a Brontosaur or a T-Rex are supposed to look.

And I still could ignore or pretend to ignore all this if the film would just throw me a bone of actual entertainment for more than just once or twice during its running time. Allen's direction is just too bland, the characters just too uninteresting and/or annoying, and the film just too lacking in visual imagination to distract from the basic unpleasantness of its worldview in theory and practice (as demonstrated by the way Jill St. John and all brown people are written, as well as the animal killings - one might even suspect a connection between the two). It's just not The Lost World I signed up for.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Malocchio (1975)

aka Eroticofollia

aka Evil Eye

Playboy Peter Crane (Jorge Rivero) goes through some heavy times. Dreams where a bunch of butt-naked evil hippies (is that a penis dangling in semi-slow motion?) make googly eyes at him and make funny noises. The dreams disturb Peter's wild(ish) lifestyle, but things become really disturbing when he meets up with a woman named Yvonne (Lone Fleming) who tells him she had a dream in which her dead husband warned her that a man named Peter Crane was going to kill her. Which would be reason enough to either seek psychiatric help or avoid people called Peter Crane in the future, but obviously not for her. Yvonne is quite different - the next night, she meets Peter again, and even follows him to his villa.

But the making out session first turns into a manifestation of poltergeist phenomena, and then sees slick Peter suddenly turn into a glowering strangler. The next morning, Peter remembers nothing of what he's (probably) done. Somebody seems to have taken care of the dead body too. This is the first in a series of murders Peter may or may not commit under some sort of occult influence. There will be more poltergeisting, an old family friend who may have an agenda of his own (Richard Conte), a frightfully attractive female psychiatrist with dubious ethics (Pilar Velázquez), a blackmailing factotum (Eduardo Fajardo), and a lot of oddness (and I don't just mean a couple brushing each other's teeth in the shower though that scene would be odd enough for most). From time to time, the film pops in to the investigation of the murders as made by Inspector Ranieri (Old Wooden-Face Anthony Steffen) whose attempts to make sense of anything that happens in the movie are bound to fail.

Despite beginning like a giallo with slight supernatural elements, Mario Siciliano's Malocchio soon enough turns out to be one of these really weird pieces of continental European horror movies from the 70s that pride themselves in making as little sense as possible. Sure, one could, if one wanted, read a lot of what's going on as metaphor, squint at some of the film's backstory, add up what one imagines (audience hallucinations are always a possible effect in these movies), and arrive at some sort of explanation of everything that's going on here that may even be the explanation the screenwriters thought of (if indeed they were in the thinking business). However, I don't think that effort would be as worthwhile as just taking the film's oddness at face value.

The narrative is as jumpy and illogical as you'd expect in a case like this, with nobody's actions making much sense, motivations that seem made up on the spot, and only the loosest idea of dramatic tension. The film's climax does indeed seem wilfully un-climactic, and the filmmakers decision to do the ouroboros thing in the end gives the impression they just ran out of napkins to write on rather than leaving the audience with the shock of finding the main character trapped in a never-ending nightmare.

Of course, as you'd also expect in a film like this, that insistence on only making the vaguest sense, on leaving every scene dipped in a haze of the unreal is also Malocchio's greatest strength. This is, after all, a movie whose protagonist can't tell dreams from reality and truth from lies - why should it be any different for the audience?

If there's one problem I had with the film, it's that Siciliano's direction is not quite strange enough for the strangeness of the material. His direction is not bad - especially in the evil hippie demon dreams and assorted scenes - but he's often coasting a bit on the wonderful mugging and eye-rolling of his actors and the oddness of the script without adding quite enough oddness all his own.

But in the end Malocchio is confusing and dream-like enough to satisfy me, even if I've experienced films that were even more confusing and dream-like than it is.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

The Venetian Affair (1967)

Warning: this is not a Solo for U.N.C.L.E. movie, so get over it.

Former CIA agent Bill Fenner (Robert Vaughn) is now an alcoholic reporter for a wire service, walking through life in the mandatory crumpled suit and trenchcoat. The end of Fenner's career had something to do with his wife, now ex-wife, Sandra Fane (Elke Sommer) working for the KGB, and left Fenner rather cynical towards his old life.

When a conference about nuclear disarmament in Venice ends in a bomb explosion, the CIA pressures Fenner's boss to send him to Venice, for Fenner's former CIA chief Frank Rosenfeld (Edward Asner) knows a few things Fenner will take some time to find out, namely that Sandra is now working for a rather nasty freelance spy named Wahl (Karlheinz Böhm), and had an affair with the US delegate for the conference, which can hardly be mere chance.

But before Fenner stumbles into this particular nest of vipers, he meets Pierre Vaugiroud (Boris Karloff), another freelance operator, but one with a more wholesome agenda. Vaugiroud has written a report that not only confirms that the bomb explosion was caused by a suicide bomb the US delegate of the conference wore, but he also has an explanation for that rather atypical behaviour the film will continue to play coy about. But before Vaugiroud can get his report into the hands of the powers that be, he disappears. Rosenberg sics Fenner to somehow catch his ex-wife and use her to get to the truth of the affair.

Of course, various trusts will be broken and Fenner's cynicism confirmed during the course of the narrative.

TV workhorse director Jerry Thorpe's The Venetian Affair stands in the rather uncomfortable part of the spy movie genre where a film is neither as realistically minded as a Le Carré novel, nor as outright silly as a Eurospy movie or a James Bond film. In honour of what most people on screen apart from Elke Sommer and Karlheinz Böhm are wearing here, I dub this the "trench coats and crumpled suits" sub-genre. We could also call it the "nearly existentialist but not quite" sub-genre. In these films, the spy business is rather dirty, and really not an adventure, but these films aren't generally intellectually or emotionally deep enough to be existentialist about it, nor is there much of a political bone in their bodies.

This doesn't mean that this part of the spy genre isn't worthwhile, it only means you need to bring a different set of expectations to them than you would either take into Eurospyland or into Smiley's office. Otherwise, you end up like the IMDB reviewers complaining this isn't like Solo for U.N.C.L.E. and miss out on a perfectly fine film.

And really, it's difficult to imagine a film with a cast like The Venetian Affair's being a complete loss - Vaughn is expectedly good at looking bitter and somewhat worse for wear, Sommer is ambiguous, Böhm a very polite monster, Asner expertly grumpy, and poor, sick, elderly Boris Karloff gives the poor, sick, elderly spymaster he plays true dignity. Other minor roles are filled out by capable actors like Felicia Farr, Luciana Paluzzi and Roger C. Carmel, so there's nothing at all to complain about on the acting front. Venice is also exceedingly convincing at playing itself with its usual mixture of beauty and decay that seems built for the shady dealings on screen.

Director Thorpe gets the job done in a straightforward yet not completely uncreative way. There's no moment I haven't seen in many other straightforwardly directed films done exactly the same way before, but then this is not the kind of film that needs anything more from a director than the ability to let the plot and the characters go about their business while he takes care of a wee bit of mood building; all this Thorpe does.

That leaves me with The Venetian Affair as a minor yet well enough realized film full of people looking grimly at each other, trench coats, conspiratorial meetings, threatening gestures, and a bit of mind control. I'll take it.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

In short: Amphibious 3D (2010)

It's impossible for me not to admire Brian Yuzna for the tenaciousness he shows when it comes to getting films financed. After his luck in the US ran out, he went to Spain. After that went dry, he took his leave to Indonesia. And if he then needs to take some money and some horrible actors from the Netherlands on, too, to make a SyFy Channel style monster movie, he'll do it. Movies need to be made, after all, and they're still rather difficult to crowdsource.

Unlike actual SyFy Channel films, Yuzna's attempt at the genre even shows some ambition. Consequently, this isn't just a film about a charming rogue without the charming (Michael Paré, who will sit out important parts of the movie and could have been replaced by a cheaper actor with an equal lack of facial expressions to have more money for the effects) and a marine biologist named Skylar (Janna Fassaert) encountering an amphibious giant scorpion in the surroundings of a fishing platform, but also one where the marine biologist once lost her little daughter and is now merrily projecting onto the child (Monica Sayangbati) of a black magician in indentured fishing slavery. Plus, there are hints of a more mythological background to the whole giant underwater scorpion thing.

Unfortunately, despite its ambitions for being more than the most basic of films, and a surprisingly effective horror movie shock ending, Amphibious spends most of its time going through the motions of all monster films that can only afford showing their monsters for the grand finale, which is to say it spends most of its time with various heavily accented people talking and talking with some sparse scenes of gore thrown in so you don't fall asleep. While I do appreciate Yuzna's attempts at making these non-monster scenes more interesting than usual in this sort of thing, I can't say he actually succeeds at that effort. When it's not the sloppy pacing of the film, it's the mediocre and boring acting - scenery chewers or good actors could have saved a lot here - that gets in the way, and if it's not the acting, it's Yuzna's inability to sell subtlety or ambiguity through his direction. As a director, he never did subtlety well, and that clearly hasn't changed with his ever decreasing budgets.

Once the film gets to the (not very good) giant scorpion in plain sight and the rather ridiculous attempts to fight it, it does become rather fun to watch. Unfortunately fifteen fun minutes hardly make up for over an hour of boredom and character arcs that never go anywhere, as much as I wish it were otherwise.