Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Plunder of the Sun (1953)

American insurance man (that’s what he says, anyway) Al Colby (Glenn Ford) has somehow found himself stranded in Havana, Cuba, running short on funds for anything but alcohol. So, despite knowing better and playing hard to get, he agrees to be hired by a shady guy in wheelchair named Thomas Berrien (Francis L. Sullivan) who travels with his own private nurse Anna Luz (Patricia Medina) for a bit of smuggling. Colby’s supposed to transport a small package to Mexico. Said package turns out to contain three manuscript pages pointing the way to the lost treasures of the Zapotecs, so not surprisingly, there are rather a lot of characters much shadier than Berrien or Colby after it. Ana Luz isn’t terribly trustworthy either.

Once Berrien inevitably dies, it’s Colby who has to deal with all of them, for he decides that his deal with Berrien has expired through the man’s death, and it’s his choice what’s going to happen with the loot now.

John Farrow’s Plunder of the Sun is a pretty great little movie, freely mixing elements of the noir with those of the (post-)colonialist adventure movie but giving some surprising twists to various genre tropes.

Take as an example the two female characters in the film, Ana Luz and self-declared “tramp” Julie Barnes (Diana Lynn). In most films from the 50s, one of them would be the classical good girl, the other either the femme fatal helping Colby on his way to an inevitable doom for her own gain or the damaged girl dying for him and releasing him into the good girl’s arm. Here, both women lie to Colby and betray him to a degree, but both of them also eventually join with him for more than their personal gain, both having complicated motivations not exclusively centred around the film’s protagonist. Julie, who – badly – uses a desperate kind of sexuality to get what she wants certainly follows the standard femme fatale mode more closely, yet the film argues that this is an assumed role she has to free herself from to become an actual person, and even lets her do this without feeling the need to kill her as some form of punishment. And in Luz’s case, most of her morally dubious acts spring from a feeling of obligation to someone else, the sort of honourable motivation for bad deeds usually reserved for men in this kind of film. In the end, she’ll end up as Colby’s romantic partner as well his future partner in adventure, this being the rare film of its time where a happy end doesn’t mean domesticity. And the hero riding into the sunset with a Mexican (well, as played by someone of British and Spanish decent) woman isn’t exactly the sort of thing common in 50s cinema.

Colby himself is an interesting variation on the noir and hardboiled adventure protagonist, too. Ruthless to the point of cruelty like the genres demand, he also has a heavy moral streak, trying to bully Julie into cleaning up her act out of what feels like a combination of embarrassment (she’s really not terribly good at being a bad girl) and human concern expressed through the rude trappings of 50s manhood, and going through the whole film of adventure, violence and betrayal for monetary gain, but following his own moral rules doing so. So he doesn’t want to sell the treasure illegally or really get the money the various other shady interest groups offer him but is exclusively aiming to get the reward money the Mexican government would pay for the archaeological finds he hopes to make through the manuscripts. Again, treating the local government as the rightful owners of archaeological finds is not a line of thought found often in films about white guys looking for the treasure of brown or black people (hell, even museums and archaeologists in the real world didn’t), yet the film uses it so matter of factly as it were.

Apart from these interesting elements, Plunder of the Sun is simply a very fine example of its genres, Farrow getting as much of the grim noir mood out of sun-drenched ruins in Mexico as he does of nightly shadows; but then, what’s more noir than pre-Invasion Mesoamerican religious practices (apart from Spanish conquistadors, of course)? Farrow certainly knows how to build a suspense scene out of these elements, too.

As a whole, this is a wonderfully economical film, packing a noir-complicated plot, half a dozen three-dimensional characters (most of them rather memorable) and a couple of dubious lectures about the Zapotecs, as well as a more than decent amount of scenes of Glenn Ford getting hit in the head, into eighty minutes. I wouldn’t know what more to ask of a movie.

Tuesday, September 29, 2020

In short: Northern Pursuit (1943)

After an overcomplicated set-up for it all in a first act that never seems to even want to end, Mountie Steve Wagner (Errol Flynn) attempts to go undercover with – Bavarian, going by the predominant accents - Nazis who have some sort of dastardly plan in the Northern wilds of Canada. Alas, the Nazis – specifically their especially evil leader Hugo von Keller (Helmut Dantine) - don’t believe the way too convenient series of betrayals our hero and his bosses have created to lure them, and secure his cooperation in getting them through the wilderness alive by taking his fiancé Laura McBain (Julie Bishop) hostage. But he’s still played by Errol Flynn, so…

Apparently, William Faulkner did some uncredited writing work on this one, even if it is rather hard to imagine and even more difficult to notice. Going by what ended up on screen, the film must have gone through the 40s version of production hell, leading to a sometimes painfully uneven script whose first act set-ups feel strained and contrived and will become completely unnecessary rather sooner than later anyway.

The film markedly improves once Flynn and the comic book Nazis (this is not a complaint) get together in the great white north, director Raoul Walsh creating tensions between the various grades of evil of the Nazis and their helpers, the way they use a couple of First Nation people whose male part actually believes the lovers of Aryan purity will treat his people better than the Canadians do (who were, don’t get me wrong, treating his people horribly indeed), and Wagner’s attempts at somehow thwarting the Nazis while protecting - pleasantly plucky – Laura’s life. And kudos to a film from ‘43 for at least hinting at the possibility someone might collaborate with the Nazis because he’s treated badly by their enemies.

Walsh, while clearly, not working at his full powers of imagination but very much in hired hand mode, does still create some nice action set-pieces in the final act, with a genuinely dangerous looking ski chase and some climactic business in an airplane alone worth the price of entry. Flynn’s charming and manly without being macho, the Nazis are evil, the character actors do their stuff – there’s really very little to complain here beyond the bad spy movie first act, if you take the film for what it is.

Sunday, September 27, 2020

The Grey Fox (1982)

After more than three decades in prison, gentlemanly – even the Pinkertons said so! – stage coach robber Bill Miner (Richard Farnsworth) is released right into the new Twentieth Century. There aren’t any more stage coaches to rob, so Bill tries his best to live the straight life from now on. It just seems to be that the civilian life is a bit of a sham that leaves some important part of Bill – something nearly mythical looking for freedom on his own terms - unsatisfied. However, a viewing of The Great Train Robbery (which seems to miss the film’s timeline for a couple of years, but what the heck) inspires Bill, so he goes off to Canada to become the country’s first train robber. He’s still polite and really not in the business of killing anyone, but his first attempt goes wrong thanks to less than great partner material.

Turns out, picking up a random weirdo alcoholic Shorty (Wayne Robson) works out better eventually. Most of the film takes place after that pair’s biggish first score, when they lie low as miners supposedly working for Bill’s old acquaintance Jack Budd (Ken Pogue). During this time Bill does start to appreciate the quiet life, also thanks to his finding love with feminist leftist photographer Kate (Jackie Burroughs), with a spirit as free and as opposed to societal rules as how one is supposed to live one’s as his own. The police and the Pinkertons (boo-hiss), are still on his trail, so the peaceful life after the criminal career might be just a pipe dream.

Phillip Borsos’s The Grey Fox is a very fine film, framing Bill’s restless nature as a form of romanticism circling around unexpressed ideas of freedom and independence with a certain, also unexpressed in words, somewhat self-destructive streak, like a less lethal case of one of those artists who believe that they need to suffer for their art and do their best to create their own suffering, or a revolutionary who hasn’t yet grown bitter and cynical.

Bitterness and cynicism seem to be completely inimical to the man’s nature, Bill treating everything and everyone with politeness, interest, and some kind of glint or twinkle (depending on the situation) in his eye, the epitome of the movie bandit who can’t stop his robbing because he doesn’t quite want to grow up; at least not in the same way as most everyone around him tells him to. Which is why his romance with Kate is so fitting, for she, in her own different way, has also rejected what society demands of a grown-up of her age and gender, never marrying, having her own business, hoping and fighting for change in the world for the better against hope.

Borsos doesn’t seem terribly interested in the film’s plot as anything more than a reason for his characters to move, taking a leisurely, sometimes companionably humorous, stroll with Bill through his surroundings until the inevitable end that doesn’t turn out to be quite as inevitable. On the way, we circle around never quite expressed – because they are better demonstrated less abstractly -  ideas of freedom, responsibility, community and friendship, and see some beautifully photographed landscapes, without things ever becoming idyllic. The film sees and shows various injustices of early 20th Century Canada, presenting people like Bill, Kate, or even the local policeman Fernie (Timothy Webber), whom Bill befriends, as a quiet hope for ways out of misery.

Apart from its director’s eye for very pretty shots, as well as the very specific evocation of a time and place, the film lives on some wonderful performances. Farnsworth plays the part with the twinkling eyes of a man who has decided not to take on the parts of manhood he dislikes and keeps a little of the boy alive in himself, but also projects the melancholia of a man out of time, making Bill understandable and personable even though he never truly explains himself. The rest of the cast follow suit, giving the tale a warmth completely divorced from the kitsch it could easily have descended into.

For if The Grey Fox proves anything, it’s that you can evoke human warmth without falling into kitsch.

Saturday, September 26, 2020

Three Films Make A Post: They Beat Him, Shot Him, Framed Him For Murder-But They Couldn't Stop Him From Busting The BLACK OAK CONSPIRACY

Black Oak Conspiracy (1977): Well, really, it isn’t – as usual – as exciting as the tagline promises. Rather, this is a very middle of the road example of hicksploitation, avoiding the weirdness of the more interesting films in the genre, or politics of any kind. In combination with the pretty low exploitational values the film has in the sex and violence stakes, this gives the whole affair a pretty bland feel, despite a perfectly okay lead in Jesse Vint (playing a guy who calls himself Jingo Johnson, so there’s that, at least), perfectly decent direction by Bob Kelljan, a perfectly decent script, and whatever else you can give that sort of adjective.

It’s just not a terribly exciting film.

Mørke aka Murk (2005): This Danish thriller by Jannik Johansen about a man (Nikolaj Lie Kaas) who begins to believe the widower (Nicolas Bro) of his sister might be a serial marrier and killer of handicapped women with a suicidal past is very much a thriller in the French mould a la Chabrol. So it moves very slowly indeed, taking the utmost interest in drawing a complicated character portrait of its protagonist, but eventually coming up to a suspense finale that’s highly engaging and dramatic exactly because the film has put so much care and thought into the work of creating its central characters. Ambiguities about suicidal ideations, the various forms of guilt in survivors, the bereft, and the terminally sad abound, but the film’s darkness never quite becomes hopeless, suggesting ways out of all kinds of misery without having to stretch into the unbelievable.

The Alien Girl aka Chuzhaya (2010): This Russian crime movie with more than just a small neo-noir influence directed by Anton Bormatov on the other hand does have a pretty nasty streak, avoiding not a tiniest bit of the shittiness of character you’ll probably find in real world gangsters but still making a viewer care at least a little about these clearly doomed fools by also not denying them the softer and more human parts everybody will inevitably have. The film also does a couple of interesting things with Natalya Romanycheva’s femme fatale, giving her more ambiguity as usual while also making her just as doomed as everyone around her, suggesting a world where everyone is corrupt, corrupts others, and so can’t help but end badly, for even the wins you achieve by betrayal are only very temporary.

Friday, September 25, 2020

Past Misdeeds: Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning (2012)

aka Universal Soldier IV

This is a re-run with only the slightest of edits, so please don’t ask me what the heck I was thinking when I wrote any given entry into this section.

Even after the positive buzz by people whose opinions I respect, I did expect this new addition to the Universal Soldier franchise to be at best a decent bit of cheap-o US action cinema with one or two hints that director John Hyams has seen Apocalypse Now in it. However, what I actually got was so much more.

This is another movie with themes quite close to the spirit of Philip K. Dick. One should probably wish filmmakers to be inspired by more contemporary SF too, but then I'm already happy when filmmakers read anything at all. It's an amnesiac's (Scott Adkins, stuntman/martial artist turned actually rather good actor) attempt to understand why a certain Luc Devereaux (Jean-Claude Van Damme at his most disquieting) brutally murdered his wife and kid during a home invasion, and his subsequent quest to take vengeance. This rather typical plotline is permanently enhanced and deconstructed by twists, turns, and ideas concerning the nature of our hero, free will, the uses of memory, and the killing of fathers/gods, all told in a visual style that reminded me most of Beyond the Black Rainbow and Driver (films this one does actually see eye to eye with) in the way it suggests wrongness and disturbed subjectivity with every colour and framing choice.

The whole film has the feel of a paranoid's nightmare full of bleak colours, grimy instead of adrenaline-pushing violence, and a feeling of claustrophobia - all not exactly things you'd expect in an US action movie belonging to a mildly successful franchise that generally always avoided to actually delve into the thematic mire of conspiracy theory and identity horror its basic ideas are so ideally suited to. Reckoning, on the other hand, delves in without ever looking back, pulling the part of its audience willing to go into nasty and confusing places with it, and leaving the kind of people who need to have the plot explained to them afterwards behind on the IMDB where they belong.

It's not only Hyams's ambition to go where Universal Soldier hasn't gone before I admire here, it's that he actually fulfils it, making one of the most off-beat and unexpectedly disturbing action films with a side-line in existential horror I've ever seen.

Thursday, September 24, 2020

In short: A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1959)

Czech puppet animation pioneer Jirí Trnka’s free adaptation of William Shakespeare’s play (if anyone should need the plot to this one, please make your way across the Internet to various deposits of literature free of that pesky copyright) is the sort of film that leaves me in two very different minds.

On one hand, this is an aesthetic masterpiece, with some beautifully crafted puppets full of exquisite detail, moving in a light and delicate manner through backgrounds of inspired – and again exquisitely and meaningfully detailed – artistry. The film is also directed with much more taste and art than just going for filming what would amount to stages (as would have been much more typical in this style of animation at the time), providing life and further elegant movement via the camera, bringing everything to poetic life. A life also bathed in astonishing colours, Trnka clearly understanding use and meaning of colour to create an unreal mood.

It is all utterly beautiful to look at, showing so much grace and style the film’s main problem (aka the other hand) seems nearly preposterous. You see, while the English language version seems to feature dialogue, the Czech language print I saw replaces the words of that totally obscure and barely literate Shakespeare guy with an off-screen narrator who never stops telling what the film shows. Seriously, it’s such a bizarre decision, I can’t help but think the film would have been better off with having neither dialogue nor that narrator. Anyone interested in the film knows the material anyway, and if you as an artist are dead set against using the words of Shakespeare (or rather his Czech translators), you might as well be consequent.

How much the loss of Shakespeare’s words in this Shakespeare adaptation will bother any given viewer is of course, as it always is, a matter of taste – there are after all more than enough films using them which still don’t amount to much. I found myself mostly flabbergasted by the decision, spending nearly as much time wondering about it as I did entranced by the beautiful pictures.

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

World Gone Wild (1988)

 Fifty years after a nuclear war meant the end of the world as we knew it, what is left of it is suffering from the fact that all survivors are apparently either murderously crazy or total goofballs. Oh, and there’s no water anywhere, either.

Well, apart from a little place of car wrecks and a gas station turned into homes known as Lost Wells, where weirdo hippie Ethan (Bruce Dern) benevolently nods off taking mushrooms – he can murder you with a hubcap or a golf club if need be though – and the – perhaps last – schoolteacher Angie (Catherine Mary Stewart) teaches the wisdom of the four books the place has available. That idyll is rudely disturbed by the murder cult – based on the wisdom of Charles Manson, also taken from a book - of one Derek (Adam Ant), who kills a bunch of people and kidnaps those of the young and capable he can gets his hands on, with the promise to return soon enough.

Ethan has clearly seen one of the Magnificent Seven movies (this film’s too American to suggest Kurosawa), so off he and Angie go to the big bad city to hire themselves some guns. After a couple of misadventures, they get together a gang of Ethan’s old pupil George (Michael Paré), a cannibal with a thing for poisonous and venomous animals (Anthony James), the mandatory black guy in a leotard(?) who also happens to be really good at dual-wielding assault rifles (Julius Carry III), a pretty alcoholic cowardly sharpshooter who can’t really shoot (Rick Podell) and leather asshole Hank (Alan Autry). You know how the rest of the film is going to go, though, for a change, a surprising amount of these goons will survive.

If you didn’t know you needed a post-apocalyptic western with a pretty weird sense of humour in your life, your encounter with Lee H. Katzin’s World Gone Wild may surprise you.

Tonally, it’s a weird one, traumatized children, attempted rape, and an off-screen castration not usually sitting next to Bruce Dern goofing off as a post-apocalyptic weirdo, pop culture references and reworked western tropes. Katzin somehow manages to keep things tasteful enough to actually make the movie feel fun rather than unpleasant, mostly because he seems to understand that you can have a lot of divergent elements in your film if you know which ones to mix in any given scene and which one to keep apart. So there’s no joking about the truly grim elements of the film – murder is obviously fair game for jokes, because nobody, me included, cares – and the off-beat and pretty dark humour hits when you do indeed feel like laughing, or at least not feel like a horrible human being for doing so.

It helps that the film’s jokes are not original but genuinely funny, this future having turned into a place where elements of the past are regularly misinterpreted or used in absurd ways. Otherwise, the script clearly has quite a bit of fun with pushing western tropes against post-apocalyptic tropes, characters, situations and worldviews from different genres often mixing in interesting ways. Though, naturally, the morally more upright western usually wins out here in the end. And from time to time, the film’s even doing somewhat surprising things, like killing off the big bad through a character and in a way that’s atypical for both of its main source genres, and also shows a good appreciation of Hendrix doing Star-Spangled Banner.

While the characters are obviously paper thin clichés and walking talking tropes, the actors fill them with a lot of charm and a sense of fun (well, Ant’s creepy instead, but that’s only right and proper), providing just the right amount of goofiness to not make the film too ridiculous too care about. It’s still, pretty ridiculous, though, but in a companionable and pleasantly off-kilter way I found myself charmed by instead of annoyed. And from a guy who generally shies away from media that don’t take themselves seriously (because why should I waste my time with them, then?), that’s a big compliment indeed.

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

In short: Armstrong (2017)

Her first night as an EMT does turn out even more difficult than Lauren (Vicky Jeudy) expected. Not only does she have to battle through her troubles as a recovering addict in a stressful situation and has been given the bitter, unsympathetic Eddie (Jason Antoon) as her partner, there are rather less normal troubles ahead of her, too.

On their way to an explosion, Lauren and Eddie nearly run over a man we will soon enough learn to be called Armstrong (Shawn Parsons). Armstrong’s wounded, drifting in and out of consciousness and outfitted with a huge, awkward looking bionic arm. As a matter of fact, Armstrong’s fighting an underground war against a well-organized death cult (with its own paramilitary organization, even!) out to cause the end of the world via earthquakes. Just detonate some nukes over the appropriate fault lines in Los Angeles, and the world is apparently going to end. Armstrong’s gotta know, for he was once one of them.

With the alternative being murdered by said death cult, the EMTs – well, mostly Lauren – find themselves joining in Armstrong’s fight.

Kerry Carlock’s and Nicholas Lund-Ulrich’s Armstrong is a surprisingly decent attempt at making a low budget superhero movie, using no pre-existing comics characters but telling a perfectly fitting low scale but not low rent superhero tale. Despite being a low budget film, this was made by people with copious experience in other roles in film production, so there’s always at least a high degree of professionalism on display. Particularly Lund-Ulrich’s experience with effects work is visible on screen whenever we actually get to see some of the action, and makes things pleasantly convincing (even though Armstrong’s strong arm – groan – looks like plastic).

More often than not, the film stays with the EMTs when Armstrong goes out doing his action hero thing, the filmmakers clearly preferring to have a handful of effects scenes that are great to look at to a dozen unconvincing ones.

Plus, while these characters aren’t exactly new to a genre movie audience as types, spending time with Lauren and Eddie isn’t a bad thing, the script (by the directors and Nick Rufca) grounding their characters in mostly believable problems, capably assisted by actors – particularly Jeudy - willing to put an effort in even when in a small-scale genre film like this.

Seen as a whole, Armstrong is a film obviously made by people clearly very conscious of what they can do on their budget and what not, shifting the narrative perspective in the affordable direction while still hitting the most important street level superhero beats effectively. The ending’s terribly cheesy, of course, but it also does the film’s main character (who isn’t its titular character) justice in a way appropriate to the film’s genre.

Sunday, September 20, 2020

Night Visitor (1989)

High school student Billy (Derek Rydall), notorious teenage liar and budding voyeur, is in regular trouble with his teachers for his tardiness and his really very badly constructed and told lies. It’s all harmless teenage stuff, mind you, though Billy’s very uptight history teacher Mr Willard (Alan Garfield) would probably disagree there.

One night, while Billy is watching his new sexy next door neighbour, and prostitute, Lisa (Shannon Tweed) – who sort of encouraged him in this in a very classic type of male teen wishfulfilment in the movies – through the telescope (as you do), he realizes he isn’t watching some kinky sex stuff but rather, that her client, a man wearing robes and mask, has just murdered her. Billy tries to come to the rescue too late, yet still gets into a scuffle with the killer, who loses his mask. It is – gasp! – Mr Willard.

Mr Willard, the audience will learn via some adorable scenes of the domesticity of the crazed evil, and Billy will surmise from facts he’ll snoop out, does live a double life together with his even more insane child-like brother Stanley (Michael J. Pollard), murdering prostitutes and sometimes locking one up in the cellar for play and later ritual murder. Not surprisingly, the two are not just crazy Satanists but also raving misogynists who call their victims “furniture”, like incels born too early.

When Billy tries to convince the police, namely one Captain Crane (Richard Roundtree) and his partner, of the identity of the killer, he gets nowhere. Once poking the nose into a guy’s living room and hearing that a kid makes up lame excuses in school is apparently enough to make an actual investigation unnecessary. So it’s up to Billy and his best friend/soon girlfriend Kelly (Teresa Vander Woude) to catch themselves some Satanists. Which is very difficult indeed, since the Willards know very well what’s going on.

Eventually, Billy will at least be able to talk an old friend of his father’s, the eccentric retired policeman Ron Devereaux (Elliott Gould) into helping in the Satanist-busting project.

Clearly inspired by Fright Night but too individual to become a total rip-off of that much costlier film, Rupert Hitzig’s horror comedy Night Visitor is a nice surprise, the sort of thing you stumble upon when you think you’ve seen every decent horror flick of a given period, custom-made to teach you, in the good tradition of certain Greek philosophers, how little you really know.

Now, I don’t want to oversell the affair: this is a regional horror movie made on limited funds and typical constraints when it comes to the number of sets and locations it can put on screen, but Hitzig is a good enough director to make the most out of what he’s got. While he’s no visual poet, he does know well how to construct basic suspense scenes; from time to time, the film even hits on a genuinely unnerving moment or two. Particularly the scene in which Willard threatens Billy while they are alone in the class room, with Garfield looming behind a hysterical Billy, making threatening gestures until he cuts off two locks of the kid’s luscious 80s hair (which will not be important later on, for the Satanism here doesn’t actually seem to work), is pretty great, and not only because Garfield seems to get a giant kick out of hamming his character up to just the perfect degree. Hitzig really manages to put the power dynamic between the two into action here. There’s also a genuinely disturbing moment between the generally very silly Stanley and the newest victim in the killer duo’s basement, despite the film not going very far in the blood or the sex area.

There is, not surprisingly, much more silliness than actually horrific content in the film, but most of the silly business is very entertaining indeed. Who wouldn’t want to watch a weird Satanic killer brother couple played by these particular actors bicker like kids about murder and Satan? It’s highly entertaining business, Garfield finding the perfect point where he can ham it up extravagantly in the films weirder or sillier moments but still makes a credible threat when it comes to the more serious elements of the film. He, as well as the other more experienced cast members, also do quite a bit to make Rydall look better than he actually is, providing him with the role of the default straight man versus the craziness of the world that really helps play over his weaknesses as an actor. The whole aspect of a kid and his friends against the world also makes the character of Billy much more likeable than he should by all rights be, leaving a theoretically immensely obnoxious guy as a kid simply deserving a break from time to time.

Last but not least, there is, of course, the short but wonderful appearance of Elliott Gould as the film’s Roddy McDowall (which might be one of the weirdest sentences ever written), who is doing exactly what you think Gould will do in this kind of role – making a handful of highly eccentric acting choices that come together not into a mockery of his cheapish surroundings as it would in lesser hands, but add up to a character perfectly fitting the rest of the movie, adding another layer of joy to a surprisingly joyful enterprise of a film.

Saturday, September 19, 2020

Three Films Make A Post: A Scotch Mist...A Girl Never Kissed...A Yank Who Missed...and Landed HIGH AND DRY

The Babysitter: Killer Queen (2020): After the actually watchable first Babysitter, this is a step back into his old crappiness for director McG(odawful). The film’s more a compilation of badly realized and badly staged pop culture references, with a script that interrupts any scene that should be perfectly entertaining when just left alone for some smug “joke” that’s generally about as funny as getting murdered. The final act is total catastrophe, the film pretending it has emotional character arcs (it would need actual characterisation for that) and going for an ending that’s supposed to connect this one better with the first film but mostly feels random and shoe-horned in to get the most out of a shooting day with Samara Weaving.
And please don’t get me started on the thing’s tendency to point out that it has just made a joke, suggesting the filmmakers believe their audience consists of actual cave dwelling monkeys. It’s genuinely dreadful.

The Wind (2018): A completely different kind of film is this piece directed by Emma Tammi. Told slowly and out of chronological order, it isn’t the easiest film to get into or understand initially, but a fantastic performance by Caitlin Gerard, wonderfully creepy and beautiful shots of wide, empty plains and fields do ease one nicely into the uncanny atmosphere. It’s a tale of the supernatural and of madness that keeps things just ambiguous enough to work, exploring the uneasiness of the settler in a very strange land with particular emphasis on the strains this kind of life puts on women.

It’s also an insightful psychological portrait of a murderer, using the strange and the supernatural, mental illness and delusions as ways to understand things difficult to.

The ‘Maggie’ aka High and Dry (1954): This British comedy by Alexander Mackendrick has obvious parallels to the brilliant I Know Where I’m Going, but without that film’s undertow of the mythical, and does not quite reaches its heights. That’s not a shame, really, for not being Shakespeare doesn’t after all necessarily mean you’re a bad playwright. At the very least, the film is funny, using certain clichés about Scots and Scots working class people in contrast to an American businessman with American business work ethics without getting preachy or embarrassing about it.

But then, when the film isn’t setting up its jokes, it does spend so much time and love on its characters that they stop being short hands for ideas or butts of jokes and become people, the film genuinely trying to understand where everyone is coming for, what got them there, and what they might learn from each other. That’s so not 2020, but really rather refreshing.

Friday, September 18, 2020

Past Misdeeds: Diary Of A Madman (1963)

This is a re-run with only the slightest of edits, so please don’t ask me what the heck I was thinking when I wrote any given entry into this section (like, for example, why I didn't even mention Guy de Maupassant's original story in this one).

France in the 19th Century. A group of mourners attend the burial of magistrate and hobby criminal psychologist Simon Cordier (Vincent Price). Cordier left the group his diary - of course containing the mandatory horrible truth - to explain some strange occurrences surrounding his last few months. Thus endeth the unnecessary framing device and the actual action (or what goes for it here) begins.

Cordier, as one of the men who had sentenced the murderer Louis Girot (Harvey Stephens) to death, is invited by Girot to visit him a few days before his execution. The murderer had always stated that he wasn't to blame for his deeds, but was coerced to them by an invisible, evil force that controlled him. Not surprisingly, Cordier never did believe this story, and isn't getting any less sceptical when Girot now repeats it. Alas, Girot is telling the truth, as his greenish glowing eyes when the ranting session turns violent only too clearly demonstrate.

Cordier manages to survive Girot's attack and knocks the man out. Afterwards, however, the magistrate's life turns strange. He can't stop thinking about what Girot told him; the killer's process files mysteriously appear on Cordier's desk; the locked-up portrait of the magistrate's long dead wife and child reappears at a place in his study where it hasn't hung for more than a decade. Eventually, a mocking voice out of nowhere (Joseph Ruskin) introduces itself to Cordier, and explains that it is an Horla, a creature from another dimension that feels drawn to evil - in Cordier's case his feeling of guilt for having (or only thinking to have, the film's not really clear about that) driven his wife to suicide after the death of their child, for which he held her responsible - and uses mind control to let the evildoers do more evil. Which, frankly, seems a bit unnecessary and a mite illogical, what with them supposedly being evil already. Now, if the film would explain that the Horla feeds on the darker human emotions, this whole thing would make a bit more sense, but Diary's script doesn't believe in doing things the sensible way.

To prove its point, the Horla puts the mind-whammy on Cordier and makes him crush his budgie to death. The very next day, the magistrate does the sort of logical thing people in horror films never do - and that seems quite out of place in a movie typically as thoughtless as this one - and visits a psychiatrist.

The Freud surrogate recommends Cordier to take some time off from his exhausting job, and spend some time sculpting as he had done when he was younger. It's a decent idea, really, or rather would be, if the Horla weren't an actual living being instead of a hallucination.

In his new life as an amateur artist, Cordier soon enough meets and is instantly smitten by artist model Odette Mallotte (Nancy Kovack). She's just trying to sell him a picture she modelled for, but instead  of buying it, he decides to hire her as a model for his first new work. What Cordier doesn't know is that Odette is married to the penniless painter Paul Duclasse (Chris Warfield). That's alright, though, because Odette would be perfectly willing to leave her husband for a richer one, especially one as malleable as Cordier seems to be. Unfortunately, the Horla has rather more unpleasant and violent ideas about what Cordier should do with Odette and Paul.

You'd think that a somewhat larger and somewhat more reputable studio like United Artists would have had no problems emulating the success of AIP's (and Roger Corman's) Poe adaptations, especially when they were willing to hire the star of these films, the greatest actor in horror film, Vincent Price. Alas, the studio heads must have somehow overlooked that the quality of the AIP films had quite a bit to do with Corman's enormous creative powers (and at that point in his career, his willingness to use them) and scripts that were written with actual intelligence and care.

In the place of the visionary Corman, UA set Reginald Le Borg, a director who had begun his career cranking out indifferent films of every genre for Universal, and went on to crank out equally indifferent TV jobs for the thankless grind of 50s TV. One can't help but suspect he worked cheap and fast, without that nasty habit of still trying to make a movie worth watching the Corman bubble had brought to AIP. "Indifferent" is also a fine word to describe Le Borg's work here. There's not exactly anything wrong with the man's direction; there is unfortunately, nothing right with it that exceeds pointing the camera in the right - though never an interesting -direction and having competent lighting, either. In not a single scene does the director seem interested in building a mood - be it a spooky one, an ambiguous one, or a dramatic, an exciting or a just plain entertaining one. The camera points, Le Borg shoots, and that's all. For some reason, he also lets his actors pretend the French currency is called "The Frank" (yep, just like the first name), because there's nothing that makes fake France more believable than not even trying to pronounce it (or any of the character names) right.

Fittingly, Robert E. Kent's script is just as indifferent, and badly structured too boot. Too many scenes are completely superfluous, or tend to run on long after they have expressed what they wanted to express (which never is much, anyhow).

The script's troubles begin with the utterly unnecessary framing device that might as well just not be there, for all that it matters to the proceedings, and continue into that most cardinal of all scripting sins: setting up interesting psychological circumstances for a protagonist and then deciding to just not do anything with them, because one would prefer some stiff operatics about a gold-digging woman, her painter husband and the woman who truly loves him. No, I have no idea why I should care about the painter's best friend/would-be wife either - the film certainly isn't telling me. It's all just a draggy mire of misused opportunities.

And - worst of all - not even acting hero Price seems to be immune to the air of boredom surrounding the film. He's not bad, mind you, he's just neither using his control of thespian nuance, nor his patented thoughtful overacting. The star is mostly just there, going through the motions, getting paid. I won't blame Price much for not giving a good performance here, though. Even the most enthusiastic actor can do only so much surrounded by people caring so little about the quality of the film they are making.

Thursday, September 17, 2020

In short: Terrorgram (1990)

This anthology movie directed by one-time filmmaker Stephen M. Kienzle start each of its three episodes off with the off-screen voice of James Earl Jones, out to earn some pocket money by uttering nonsensical variations on “Twilight Zone”-style spooky tale introductions. The actual stories are rather more in the style of “Tales from the Crypt” than of the Serling joint, with terrible things happening to people who deserve it. Each of these arseholes gets a visit from a “mysterious” delivery man (Steven Field), who, in a plot twist one really doesn’t see coming, delivers a package to them, instead of the telegram the title pun suggests (but then all the puns here are terrible anyway), making the care and craft that has gone into the writing pretty clear.

Said packages do of course lead to more or less terrible fates. To wit: a misogynist director lands in the world of one of his films, only that here, classical male and female B-movie roles are reversed, which of course does not end well for him; a bitchy TV anchor woman runs over a little kid and flees, and learns how a Jack-in-the-box feels; an alcoholic shitheel who abuses his family and denunciated other kids to get them shipped to Vietnam when he was young makes a trip into an appropriately nightmarish version of the ‘Nam.

When it comes to cheap, shoddily made anthology movies in the immortal style of “Tales from the Crypt” and other EC comics (and their TV versions), one could do worse than Terrorgram. Sure, the film falls into the usual EC-alike trap of believing that because this style’s surface nastiness is so easy to copy, it’s actually easy to do it well. It isn’t, and consequently, the film at hand never manages to get the more subtle points of the style down.

It is, however, pretty fun – using the word good oversells things a wee bit – because there’s a nasty bit of pleasure to derive from nasty things happening to nasty people at most times, even if it is unpleasant to admit. And the film really does its best to make its victims as despicable as possible, and their comeuppances as weird and nasty as the filmmakers’ strange imaginations can go. The first episode is the film’s best there, Jerry Anderson making the director as grotesquely sleazy as possible, and the actresses torturing him clearly having a whale of a time doing all the stuff only men are allowed to do in most movies of this style. Which helps make up for everyone’s dubious acting, as does the conscious broadness of everything going on. And hey, it’s a more subversive story than you’d expect from an ultra-cheap early 90s anthology movie.

The other two tales never reach the heights of absurdity and fun of the first one, though number two does have a delightfully bizarre ending (even if you see it coming, as you will), and the third one recommends itself with scenes of a badly made-up undead doing really bad sarcastic dialogue.

So Terrorgram delivers rather more than the nothing I expected from it, being fun in a pleasantly trashy manner while keeping in the traditions of American low-brow horror. That’s a compliment.

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Ladies and Gentlemen, The Fabulous Stains (1982)

Corinne Burns (Diane Lane), her sister Tracy (Jessica McNeil) and their cousin Jessica (Laura Dern) are disaffected teenagers with crappy lives in the hell that is small town America during a recession for any girl not willing to turn herself into what her society expects her to be. The trio do have a kinda-sorta band named “The Stains”, something only Corinne seems to take seriously – in a disaffected rural punk teen way, of course.

Luck and a pretty great teenage “I don’t give a shit” face land the Stains a support place on the tour of horrible old man hard rock band The Metal Corpses and British punks The Looters, despite the Stains not even having learned the three mandatory chords yet. Complicated developments turn the band – and particularly Corinne – into an over-night voice of female frustration and empowerment.

This partially feminist punk rock movie directed by music biz guy Lou Adler and written by Nancy Dowd had no impact at all when it was (barely) released, certainly also thanks to a row between director and writer about the ending that left the completed film on the shelf for two years. But then, that’s the sort of thing that’s bound to happen when a guy who thinks MTV stardom is the proper happy end for this film works with (against?) the script of a woman who clearly had rather more interesting ideas about success, counting importance in inspiration for others.

Anyway, the years – as well as an increasing interest in feminism in music – has grown the film its deserved cult audience. Adler is a surprisingly competent director for a guy whose only other directing credit is a Cheech and Chong vehicle. He’s certainly not showing many stylistic flourishes but hitting on a direct, semi-documentary tone that fits the material very well most of the time.

That style of direction is usually a good way not just to demonstrate authenticity (which is obviously a dubious concept but that doesn’t have to interest us here) but also to provide room for actors to do their thing. Fittingly, the film is at its best when it lets its very young actresses loose on a specifically female coded version of the classic escape from the American small town nightmare narrative. Art, here read in the proper punk spirit as a form of raw expression of a self that society wants desperately to repress, is treated as an obvious way both out of one’s repressive circumstances as well as one of understanding oneself and communicating this understanding. Whenever the film focuses on this aspect it feels raw and honest, and coming from what very much feels like actual experiences of the young actresses. Teenage Diane Lane is particularly fantastic in doing this. Watching her thoughtful performance, it’s a bit of a shame that not as many of her later films as should have made use of her acting ability as well as her beauty. Which, really, does fit nicely into this film’s general argument about/against the world.

All of this doesn’t always sit well with the more generic rock movie Adler apparently had in mind, so some of the more tropey plot beats known from all rock music movies ever made rub against that much more interesting film I just talked about for no good reason whatsoever. Of course, cleanness isn’t in The Fabulous Stains’ playbook much anyway – there’s a somewhat sprawling and unfocussed quality to the film, caused not only by the two different visions for it but also by the script’s commendable insistence on giving most side characters a backstory as well as some depth. So even the old rock star caricature Lou Corpse (played by Fee Waybill of The Tubes, one among many musicians playing musicians here) gets a moment of actual humanity, and characters most films would just let go about their plot necessities in the background have motivations and what is treated like a life beyond the movie. It’s certainly not something our contemporary love for streamlining in scripts would tolerate, and it does indeed make the film less dramatically focussed, but this treatment of side characters does demonstrate that the film’s idea of empowerment and expression is meant universally, wanting to open the world for women but not in the business of closing it to anyone else.

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

In short: Cosmos (2019)

Being critical towards a film like Cosmos, that was made with little to no actual budget whatsoever, with actors and what little crew there is beyond directors/writers/everything elses Elliot and Zander Weaver working for free, and that still manages to look and feel like a professionally made film in all regards, seems a bit like kicking a puppy, or being like one of those guys (and it’s nearly always guys) who can’t help but tell you your favourite movie/band/book sucks.

Things aren’t made any easier for me by the fact that the film’s as likeable as they come in other ways too, with its love for all things outer space, as well as a tone so hopeful, people more cynical than I am might call it naive.

I even love the basic idea of telling a Big Hollywood story of first contact through a more down to Earth lens, through the eyes of three British hobby astronomers (though they are all academically close to the field) as (well) played by Tom England, Arjun Singh Panam and Joshua Ford out on a nightly exploration mission with their private, cobbled-together equipment (that still manages to contain a device that can predict the loss of battery power on the second exact) who will be the first to pick up a very strange signal from space.

The film’s big problem is that it takes the basic structure of a Big Hollywood Blockbuster, hitting the same beats at the same moments, clearly following the same script writing handbook that has been en vogue for at least the last decade or so, without seeming to realize that you can’t simply take the structure of your typical Marvel movie and use it for your film about three guys in a car. Big cheesy emotional moments and speeches – capably written in the style as they may be – simply don’t work in the film’s more quotidian environments, really pointing out their silliness and their cheesiness, and frankly wasting the opportunity to tell the story of these less traditionally heroic guys in a way that’s truer to what they are supposed to be. There is certainly a degree of charm to the film’s staging of three guys’ search for a replacement battery (spoilers?) as if it were some grand heroic finale, but the film lacks the self-consciousness to see the irony in this, instead simply using the Big Hollywood beats as if that were an effective way to tell its story.

The film’s also about half an hour too long, with a couple of scenes of guys having heart-to-hearts too many, and a slowness of pace that suggests one of the traps all of us doing things on a non-professional level step into from time to time, the inability to see which of our darlings really need killing rather badly. Self-editing is hard, as we all well know.

Still, having said all that, I also have to emphasise again how likeable of a film Cosmos is, how much of an achievement despite its flaws it is for its makers, really the sort of thing director careers would be made from in any sane universe.

Sunday, September 13, 2020

Freeway (1988)

A year or so ago, the husband of nurse Sarah “Sunny” Harper (Darlanne Fluegel) was shot dead while driving the LA freeway system. The killer has never been found, and the police don’t give any impression of caring about her pain, or simply trying to do their jobs and find justice for a murdered man.

In the last couple of weeks, there have been a increasing amount of people dying like Sunny’s husband did, without any visible provocation for the deeds and no connection to the victims beyond them traveling the LA streets by night. The police don’t believe in Sunny’s theory about a spree killer. Not until, that is, a guy (Billy Drago) ranting biblical passages starts phoning in to the talk radio show of psychiatrist Dr David Lazarus (Richard Belzer), old school live-streaming his killings via car phone. It’s not that the cops do much about this, mind you, so it’s left to Sunny and ex-cop bounty hunter with a tragic past Frank Quinn (James Russo) to do perform an actual investigation.

It is a bit of a movie cliché that New York movies from the 70s and 80s have the best urban grime, but in reality, every major metropolis the world over can look like a hell-hole (very literally to the serial killer in this particular film). Francis Delia’s Freeway does its best to make Los Angeles look appropriately bad, though the film does tend to a rather more artificial kind of grime than a James Glickenhaus New York joint, turning the film rather neo noir-ish in its look and feel.

That’s not a complaint, mind you, and if you believe in cities having specific characters, it makes sense an LA movie would have botox-ed grime, so it will feel appropriate to what many of us not living there believe Los Angeles feels like. As does the film’s focus on Greater Los Angeles’s freeway system as the only proper place for a local serial killer to obsess over as a sign of biblical apocalypse and and take as a place to haunt.

The film’s first third, before the plot really gets going, is particularly strong in its evocation of its idea of Los Angeles as a place of biblical corruption, where nothing is not dark and dirty yet neon-lit, and days seem more unreal than nights. Every man Sunny encounters at this stage of the film seems to be some sort of creep or asshole, be it the cops who don’t give a toss about her pain or the murders they are supposed to solve, a short Clint Howard appearance as ridiculous gas station creep, and so on and so forth. Even Quinn’s first appearances seems to fit into this template, until it turns out he is just as damaged by violence as she is. Really, it’s barely any wonder the killer sees the place as the “Whore of Babylon” or some such.

Ironically, enough, given a rising body count and the ever increasing calibre of the weapons the killer uses (he gets up to a bazooka in the end, because this is still the 80s), and the things Sunny and Quinn uncover about his background as a troubled priest, the film does get somewhat lighter in tone the longer it goes on, the film’s world turning out to be a place where people – though not police – can still cooperate to do some good. Even the highly dubious (the film includes the media world of 1988 with a generally sceptical eye) – and awesomely named – Lazarus does some good, here, and the film does end on a hopeful note I wouldn’t have expected of it going in. Even better, it actually works for this note instead of treating its happy end as a matter of course.

The film’s main strength is obviously its creation of a sense of place, turning Los Angeles – following the old cliché – into one of the main characters, so much so that you can see the narrative as being about a struggle over the soul of the city. If you want to give that sort of depth to a film about a serial killer who likes to (awesomely, because Drago is always great with this kind of performance) shout at streets as if they were living things.

Having never met any disbelief in the arts I didn’t want to suspend, I’m obviously on board with that reading of the movie, particularly when a movie is as moody and interesting as Freeway turns out to be.

Saturday, September 12, 2020

Three Films Make A Post: The old flesh is dead, long live the new!

Darklands (1996): What starts out as if it could become a considerably interesting piece of post-industrial folk horror (the sub-sub genre still waiting on its day) becomes less and less so the longer it goes on, the film wasting some promising ideas on occult conspiracy by the numbers plotting. On paper highly interesting elements like the connection between a “back to our Celtic roots” right-wing politician and a revived druid cult are wasted on barely competent suspense scenes; the filmmakers clearly didn’t do any research on actual pagan practices and most certainly couldn’t come up with anything exciting on their own. The conspiracy plot only manages to remind one of films who are much better at this sort of thing. There’s really little there apart from the initial promise, this being the first Welsh horror movie or not.

Project Power (2020): On one hand, I really think superhero cinema could use more of Henry Joost’s and Ariel Schulman’s focus on POC characters, and featuring among others a plot line that’s explicitly about empowering a young, poor, black teenager is a fine thing to have in this sort of thing. But the film’s not terribly good at integrating these aspirations into its more typical superpowered business, the action movie parts never feeling actually informed by the rest of the film. It doesn’t help that the film is one of those films that believe replacing superhero tropes with action movie tropes somehow makes its view of the world more realistic, when in fact, it’s just blowing up its body count.

Generally, the film has a bit of a meandering quality, its plot lines taking too long to come together (and I would argue that excising Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s character completely would have cost the film nothing but an actor working below his abilities), and the big dramatic beats never quite having the heft the film seems to think they do.

Visually, the Netflix production is a bit of a middling affair where ugly colour schemes meet competent but often slightly bland action.

Ava (2020): Also perfectly watchable but not exactly great (or even good) is Tate Taylor’s tale of a killer for a weird organization with the least believable procedure finding herself in the crosshairs of her own people while also trying to solve some family business I could care less about. The cast – with Jessica Chastain, John Malkovich, Geena Davis, Common and Colin Farrell among others – is great, but the script loves to go through the most generic plot beats available at any given time, leaving these poor people to pretend the way that organization does business (from its boss doing business at his home next to his playing children to the bizarre assassination plans) makes any kind of sense even for an action movie or allude to not terribly interesting backstories.

All of this would be perfectly forgivable if the action were actually impressive, or the family drama all that riveting, but the former is competent (with action-inexperienced Chastain sometimes struggling to go into the action heroine poses) at best, the latter simply not very interesting.

Friday, September 11, 2020

Past Misdeeds: Solomon Kane (2009)

This is a re-run with only the slightest of edits, so please don’t ask me what the heck I was thinking when I wrote any given entry into this section.

It's the year 1600. Mercenary captain Solomon Kane (James Purefoy) is a rather nasty man with a mean disposition, but of excellent talent in the killing arts. While on one of his plunder and pillage escapades with his men, Kane meets a large, faceless charmer of a guy wielding a flaming sword who introduces himself as "the devil's reaper", come to bring Kane's soul to where it belongs.

With luck, the mercenary survives his fight with the creature and escapes. One year later, the film finds its protagonist in England, where he is spending time in a monastery. Which is quite an achievement seeing that there were no monasteries in England at that time anymore; scriptwriters of period pieces should sometimes look into a history book of the era their movies take place in.

His encounter with the reaper has put the fear of the devil into Kane, and he has forsworn his wicked and violent ways and sworn never to take human life again. Alas, the monastery's abbot has had a vision. Seems like god told him to send Kane away to return to his childhood home.

Kane has some very unpleasant (noble) family baggage, though, and is not at all willing to go back to his ancestral castle. Be that as it may, the man obviously can't stay in the monastery when the abbot's imaginary friend says no, so he leaves and wanders the country, doing his best to be non-violent. On his travels, he meets the Crowthorn family, a handful of brave puritans on their way to America. Kane and the Crowthorns take a real liking to each other, and since this is a film with a redemption plot, this does not bode well for Pete Postlethwaite, Alice Krige and their children.

A horde of not completely human raiders under the leadership of a demonic masked fighter (Samuel Roukin) roams the land, killing many people and taking others as slaves. The Crowthorns and Kane have a run-in with one of the raider groups, an encounter that convinces Kane to take up killing again, if now for a better cause. Even with Kane's regained fighting spirit, the raiders kill the male members of the family and take daughter Meredith (Rachel-Hurd Wood) with them. Kane promises the dying Crowthorn to rescue his daughter whatever the cost, leaving Mrs Crowthorn behind alone in the deep dark woods to fend for herself. Very heroic.

Little does the ex-pacifist know that his way to redemption will lead him (after some adventures and detours) back to his family castle.

After the less than promising trailers and the not exactly excited sounding reviews, I went into Solomon Kane expecting the worst. As it turns out, the film isn't as bad as I had feared at all.

As an admirer of the Kane stories of Robert E. Howard this film is supposedly based on, I would not have been optimistic going into a film like this even under more promising circumstances. I was right with not being optimistic about the film in this regard: as a Howard adaptation, Solomon Kane isn't a success at all. Kane is more like an alternative world version of Howard's character than the one I know from the stories. Both Kanes might share their obsessiveness and their fighting prowess, but where the literary figure is driven by a sense of justice and adventure lust he can't admit to himself, movie-Kane is on a by-the-script-writers'-rule-book search for redemption, a search that a contemporary film script of course has to frame with family connections to the source of evil. A simple search for redemption just isn't personal enough anymore, and a hero just being a kick-ass demon-hunting adventurer is of course right out. In the tradition that has already annoyed me in more than one superhero movie, this is an origin story in which everything that is happening has deep connections with the protagonist's history, making his good deeds deeply solipsistic at their core instead of selfless and truly heroic.

This utterly predictable streak is the film's big weakness. Well, it and the tendency to lay the pathos on so thick that I suspect people have drowned in it during the production. I dare anyone not to giggle at the crucifixion scene; and yes, of course Kane rips himself off the cross, as is traditional in Sword and Sorcery films, in contrast to certain other crucifixions.

Having said that, I also have to admit that these shortcomings don't drag the film down as much I would have expected. The plot may be so bog-standard in its ideas more sensitive people will probably want to scream, but its execution is a lot more exciting to watch than you'd think. Director Michael J. Bassett manages to imbue his film with exactly the right feel for a pulpy, semi-historical Sword and Sorcery film. The film gets the needed mood of grimness and slight unreality just right, creating a world of fog, dirt and a bit of snow. It works on the part of the imagination that delights in Frank Frazetta paintings.

Another strength are the film's action scenes, at once grim and cool in a heavy metal record cover sense. They are even dynamic and thrilling enough to let one ignore the weakness of the CGI effects. Only the Grand Finale disappoints in this regard, but I'd rather put that on the boringness of the movie's big bad and Bassett's too conservative scriptwriting (again) than on his ability at directing good action scenes.

While there really isn't much room to do anything impressive on the acting front for anyone, I am still quite impressed with James Purefoy's performance. The actor does a fine job of deliberate, yet subtle overacting and treats his character's standard redemption arc as if it were Shakespeare. There's a seriousness about his approach to Kane that makes this one-dimensional character at times nearly feel like a charismatic person, possibly even someone whose redemption would be a good thing. Plus, Purefoy is also pretty good in the action scenes. One can't help but wonder how excellent Purefoy would have been as Howard's Kane.

Solomon Kane is a terribly flawed film. I would have wished for it to be either more imaginative or at least closer to Howard than it being generic historical pulp fantasy, to be a bit more willing to take risks with its narrative, but in the end, I can't say that it isn't fun, at times even exciting, to watch.

Thursday, September 10, 2020

In short: Rendezvous (1935)

1917. Former newshound William Gordon (William Powell), freshly commissioned as a Lieutenant in the US Army is rather keen on getting to the front. On his last day before getting on the proverbial train, he meet-cutes rich gal Joel Carter (Rosalind Russell). Both are smitten instantly, and when Gordon tells her he once wrote a book about cryptography under a pseudonym, and is now trying to avoid the military finding out so they won’t commission him to a desk job at home – he just finds the thought to be slaughtered in the trenches irresistible I suppose – Joel tells on him to her papa, who just happens to be the Assistant Secretary of War.

There’s some friendly bickering between the couple still to come, but mostly, William will soon be disabused of his idea of a desk job being not dangerous enough. For a German spy ring has involved itself in the US cryptography business, having gotten rather close to striking a dangerous blow. Of course, the Germans are perfectly willing to commit rather a lot of murders to make their plans work. It’s easy enough, too, what with the Ministry of Defense apparently having so little security that a spy can simply waltz in and assassinate a scientist there.

For the first twenty minutes or so of its running time, William K. Howard’s Rendezvous seems to start a slightly more sober wartime variation on The Thin Man, which had after all been a considerable success of the kind no Hollywood studio wouldn’t want to repeat or copy by putting Powell together with a different actress but going for a mix of proto-screwball humour, romance, and espionage. Powell and Russell have a good bit of chemistry between them, so things start out pretty charming indeed.

However, once Powell’s character is set up as code breaker, the spy potboiler business takes over nearly completely, and Joel is relegated to a minor character. Powell – still charming and entertaining to watch as always – has to walk through a rather stiff and melodramatic spy plot nearly alone, romance taking a back seat to the business of espionage and war, even though Howard as a director seems to be really rather better at the romance and the comedy.

The longer the film follows the espionage plot, the less sense it makes, the spies’ plans only nearly succeeding because everyone working for the US government not played by Powell is painfully dense.

Thanks to Powell, it’s not exactly a chore to get through the final two thirds of the film, but it’s not a joy either. The bait and switch of promising a very different film from the one we get isn’t exactly making one happier with the affair either.

Wednesday, September 9, 2020

Head Count (2018)

Evan (Isaac Jay) has come to the California desert to visit his brother Peyton (Cooper Rowe) who has some sort of straight edge drop out trailer dweller thing going on there. However, when they meet a group of college students on vacation out on a hike, Evan falls for one of them, Zoe (Ashleigh Morghan), rather hard, and since she seems to reciprocate, waltzes off with them to their isolated desert place to do the usual movie college kid debauchery.

Things between Evan and Zoe develop rather nicely, but an ill-chosen bit of campfire creepypasta seems to have dire consequences. Something focussed on groups of five seems to leech onto the group, sometimes taking on the form of one them when the original is just around the corner, and clearly planning something bad. Evan is picking up on this rather quickly, but since he’s basically a complete stranger, the rest of the group remains sceptical, and once they have reasons to be convinced, the situation will have escalated badly.

Inspired by the creepy little idea of a group’s headcount always seeming to come up a number too high known from goat man creepypasta (if you’re young) as well as some traditional weird tales (if you’re an old fart like me), Elle Callahan’s Head Count is a lovely example of how to use a simple core idea to make a fine, fun, horror movie. Callahan – who also co-wrote with Michael Nader – does of course add details to that core idea, but keeps those details at once close enough to the core (once you start with counting problems, you might as well make a number important) yet also vague enough to be fitting as well as creepy. This is not one of those movies of rules-based horror where everything is explained completely and you get the feeling of watching a peculiar kind of live action board game rulebook, but rather one satisfied with using monster rules to help create the proper mood of dread without going into too many details.

Hints are more interesting anyway; and showing the characters of a film not quite understanding how what they are up against operates simply increases the feeling of threat.

Callahan is rather great at building up to the climax, aiming for a feeling of disquiet for much of the movie that eventually becomes one of panic. So at first the film’s threat works through doppelgangers seen at the borders of the camera frame, and camera work that suggests something’s not quite right in this desert, making wonderful use of the horror of wide-open spaces here, until these doppelgangers step more and more into the centre of the frame, turning from silent presences into true copies of their originals. There’s a deftly created sense of creepiness running through nearly the whole of the film, a mood of things being not quite right and something always looking over the characters’ shoulders.

The character work is very solid, too. Relationships and character traits are clearly and easily introduced, and the more complex details of character relations are then deepened more by their physical position in the frame and the postures the young actors take than through dialogue. It’s very effectively done, still using archetypes yet avoiding to turn the group into a disposable cabin of meat to for the film to chew through without anyone caring.

Which adds up to a fine, focussed movie, at least in my book.

Tuesday, September 8, 2020

In short: Blood Frenzy (1987)

Psychiatrist Dr Barbara Shelley (Wendy MacDonald) takes a van-load of incongruous patients out into the desert for a weekend of confrontational therapy. Clearly, putting a group of people whose psychological problems have nothing whatsoever to do with each other together in the desert will be extremely helpful for everyone’s mental health. Well, at least they’re bringing beer for the alcoholic, and the nymphomaniac has the opportunity for a lot of sex. That’s how psychiatry works in the real world, too, right?

This being a slasher movie and all, it’s (fortunately) not going to be all party all of the time, so someone really into their jack-in-the-box version of “Pop Goes the Weasel” is going to go on a bit of a killing spree, stranding the group without food or water (but with beer), for better killing.

Hal Freeman’s Blood Frenzy, as re-written by him from an initial script by Ray Dennis Steckler, is one of the more entertaining slasher movies from this phase of the genre. At least, it does have a degree of originality, won by using a different type of victim to your usual gang of teenagers. As you can imagine, the film’s interpretation of the mentally ill still manages to fit rather well into the types we know and love (ha!) from your less creative slashers. But given the general lack of creativity in the sub-genre, I take what little morsels of originality I can get.

As you can imagine, the portrayal of the mentally ill here is highly dubious, completely divorced from reality or actual psychiatry, and fleshed out by the semi-professional actors with great glee and little knowledge of the material. One could be offended if one wanted, but then, these idiots are only there to be murdered in alas relatively conventional ways anyway.

On the gore side, there’s little to write home about here, but I do like Freeman’s use of daylight and the desert quite a bit. On principle because that’s just not what you use in a slasher by convention (even though Halloween has some cracking daylight sequences), but also on account of the good handful of scenes when the director squeezes moments of actual mood and tension in between the indifferent knifings and the mugging.

In fact, there’s more than enough of that to turn Blood Frenzy into something of a minor recommendation among films from the dying phase of the first great slasher wave. Obviously, if you don’t like the cheap and seedy parts of this invariably cheap and seedy horror sub-genre at all, this is not going to change your mind.

Sunday, September 6, 2020

Monstrous (2020)

Warning: there will be spoilers, because the film’s virtues demand them!

The best friend of Sylvia (Anna Shields, who also wrote the script) and Jamie (Grant Schumacher) has disappeared without a trace somewhere in Bigfoot county in the Adirondacks. Her last human contact was a local woman she did ride sharing with, Alex (Rachel Finninger).

Dissatisfied with a police investigation going nowhere, and slowly too, Jamie talks Sylvia into checking out Alex themselves by doing a fake rideshare through a couple of states with her, undercover so to speak. But when the day comes, Jamie is a no-show on account of a stomach bug. Sylvia, driven by deeply ingrained feelings of guilt for the long ago death of her sister and the kind of loneliness that can convince you to do particularly stupid things, decides to go through with the plan anyway.

When her amateur snooping goes badly, she decides to distract Alex with sex, an attempt that turns into real attraction – so much so, that Sylvia eventually tells Alex the truth. The thing is, something is really rather off with Alex (capably suggested by Finninger without laying things on too thick), and Sylvia just might drive into a situation she can only survive with quite a bit of luck as well as her hidden inner strengths.

As I warned, spoilers ahoy: even though it is marketed as a bigfoot movie, this is really a film about a woman’s encounter with a serial killer that just happens to also include (a) bigfoot. Everyone’s favourite cryptid plays more of the role of a plot wildcard than the lead you’d expect going in. As a matter of personals taste, and thanks to the amount of self-satisfied serial killer movies around, I usually find bigfoot slightly more interesting than yet another serial killer (even if it is a female one for once), but Shields’s script and Bruce Wemple’s atmospheric and actor-friendly direction really do wonders with this thing.

The film’s not just having rather a lot of ideas about the nature of the monstrous (as the title promises), it also draws the viewer in as a layered portrayal of a young woman and her baggage. Alex and the bigfoot are really there to drag Sylvia’s loneliness and her internal damage out into the open so that the film can explore them. Thanks to great work by Shields in both of her roles as actress and writer, the film lacks the cruel undertone films all about stripping characters of their armour can have, treating Sylvia with warmth and empathy, while still being honest about her weaknesses.

Which of course also turns her into someone very easy to root for, even more so when she repeatedly risks her own life for someone else as a matter-of-fact impulse only in part explained by her past guilt, telling a counter tale to the more cynical world view that says only following our least humane impulses lets us survive, or as I like to call it, in memory of Tom Godwin’s “The Cold Equations”, the asshole equations.

Even though Monstrous’s emphasis really is on being a character portray of Sylvia, it does do rather well as a horror film, too, deftly staging some classic-style thriller sequences, and even finding space for a silly head squashing by bigfoot. The bigfoot costume for its part isn’t terribly good, but Wemple mostly films around it, letting it loom in the background or in the blurred, liminal, corners of the screen, only showing off how unsatisfying the thing looks when it can’t reasonably be avoided anymore. Which, happily, is also the point in the movie when the quality of the bigfoot costume can’t really drag the much higher quality of everything surrounding it down.

If I was looking to nitpick, I’d probably leave the poor monster costume alone anyway and aim for the film’s final ten minutes when things simply become a bit too much HORROR MOVIE (imagine a creepy clown shouting that from the bushes in your direction), which does distract from an otherwise flawlessly staged and structured film. But these really are minor flaws, unable to do more than chip Monstrous’s armour a little. Call it battle scars.

Saturday, September 5, 2020

Three Films Make A Post: Descend into Fear

Black Water: Abyss (2020): Two couples plus one go on a caving expedition and find themselves stranded thanks to a shock flood, as well as threatened by a very hungry large crocodile. Survivalist standards and soap operatic character stuff ensue. Andrew Traucki’s belated not-really sequel to his decent 2007 evil crocodile movie Black Water is an okay enough film, if you’re in the market for decently – the film’s no The Descent that’s for sure - realized caving horror with a hungry animal. If the filmmaking were sharper, some of the shots wouldn’t suggest that it’s mostly dark down there because it’s cheaper to shoot, and the character stuff were a bit less annoyingly superficial, this would probably even be worth an actual recommendation. As it stands, you might as well go and watch one of the better survivalist animal horror films out there.

The High Note (2020): On the other hand, when it comes to feel good movies about the music biz with a romance plot and some genuinely thoughtful scenes on how race can play into the question of commercialism versus art, and a ridiculously happy ending, you can do much worse than Nisha Ganatra’s The High Note. Plus, unlike quite a few films about music and musicians I’ve seen in the last year or so, I have the impression that someone involved actually likes and gets music (even in its most commodified forms).

Also recommended for an expectedly nice performance by Dakota Johnson (who apparently can do no wrong for me after her incredible work in Suspiria), Tracee Ellis Ross giving a character that could be a cliché life, Ice Cube doing a really fun cliché manager, and a late and lovely side turn by Bill Pullman.

Keeper of Darkness aka 陀地驅魔人 (2015): Doing a bit of the very Hong Kong genre mixture of horror, ghost romance, melodrama and comedy, Nick Cheung Ka-Fai’s (who is also his own star), film is not always successful in every genre it tackles – especially some of the comedy is pretty risible and badly timed – but has an – I assume purposeful – air of a bit of a dirge for this kind of HK film, films wilder, less slick and more alive than what the rules of mainland China cinema seem to allow right now, interesting even when they are not exactly good.

This melancholic undertone works very well with the human/ghost romance (while not as much with the human/human romance) too, the film’s subtext making the somewhat kitschy text it has little to do with otherwise rather more impactful than it should be.

Friday, September 4, 2020

Past Misdeeds: Livide (2011)

This is a re-run with only the slightest of edits, so please don’t ask me what the heck I was thinking when I wrote any given entry into this section.

Lucie Klavel (the fantastic Chloé Coulloud) starts a practicum with mobile geriatric nurse Catherine Wilson (Catherine Jacob) as part of her training. One of the patients the rather cynical Wilson visits once a day is former famous ballet teacher Madame Jessel (Marie-Claude Pietragalla). Madame is very very old, and not much more than a husk of a woman hovering forever between life and death in a coma in her large, increasingly creepy, home. She is also supposed to be very rich; if Lucie believes what Wilson tells her, there's said to be some sort of treasure hidden away in the house, but Wilson has never found it, even though she tried.

When Lucie tells the story to her boyfriend Will (Félix Moati), he can't help but see himself, his brother Ben (Jérémy Kapone) and Lucie breaking into the house and finding Jessel's treasure. Thus, they could leave their certain futures of dead-end jobs and loveless families behind. At first, Lucie is less than thrilled by Will's idea but some family trouble with her father and a visit by/hallucination of her dead mother (Béatrice Dalle) change her mind. It would, after all be a dream to just have enough money to flee and leave all troubles behind (that's how money works, right?). If Lucie knew what the audience knows about Wilson and her connection to a series of local child disappearances, she probably would have second thoughts about her new life of crime, but she doesn't.

When the trio break into Jessel's house - on Halloween night, no less - they find rather more than they would have wished for; finding the taxidermied body of Jessel's daughter Anna (Chloé Marcq) in a ballerina outfit in a room set up as a grotesque, life-sized music box is just the beginning of an ordeal that becomes increasingly surreal.

I wasn't much of a fan of Alexandre Bustillo's and Julien Maury's first film, Inside/À l'intérieur. That film's overdose of shocking violence was so thick, and its grotesqueness so at odds with the narrative tone I ended up not shocked but provoked to laughter, some fine acting and the directors' irreproachable technical abilities notwithstanding.

Livide still contains its share of physically improbable (and rather awesome) gore, but where Inside’s sense of the grotesque and its hyper-realist mood collided in a bad way, Livide haunts a place between the supernatural movies of Dario Argento (whose Suspiria gets a shout-out that suggests this as an alternative version of Mother of Tears perhaps more fit for those disappointed by the Argento movie's closeness to the Demoni films and other movies of that style rather than Suspiria and Inferno; I'm one of the crazy-people who actually liked Mother of Tears, so don't ask me, please), Fulci in his brilliant phase, and European fairy tales in their pre-bourgeois form before the Brothers Grimm tamed them for a more uptight audience. In that context, the film's sense of the grotesque and the grotesquely violent is particularly effective, for a film that does not strive to be a copy of reality can quite pleasurably creep along paths its naturalistic brethren should eschew.

In its narrative structure Livide is a rather fascinating example of a movie which fulfils everything that could be asked for from a very generic horror movie while still having a mind completely of its own. Every viewer even slightly in tune with the horror genre will of course know the comatose ballet teacher to be anything but the mild type of living dead her permanent sleeping habits would suggest her to be, and will expect her to do rather nasty things to our protagonists when they break into her realm; we all know tune and words to this particular song by heart.

However, at the same time it sings this tune, Livide isn't at all willing to accept its simple plot set-up as an excuse to only tell us a story we already know too well in exactly the way we expect. At first slowly, then with increasing intensity, the film's subtext about young women living in more or less terrible situations trying to free themselves takes control of Livide's more generic elements; the more fantastic the film's surface becomes, the more its symbolic level becomes an indistinguishable part of this surface, until the film ends in a scene that's perfectly in keeping with the fairy tales it uses for its own ends, and also completely divorced from reality as most people see it, or expect to see in their modern horror movies. Unexpectedly, Livide also allows itself to end on a hopeful note it can only reach because it dares to humanize (at least one of) its monsters; freedom - such as it is (the film seems neither painfully optimistic nor cynical about freedom's nature) - is won from recognizing a shared humanity between monster and human, of their outward differences, even their identities, dissolving by way of the grotesque. Like in the literary horrors of Caitlin R. Kiernan, of whose books Livide's treatment of the grotesque and the monstrous, reminds me quite a bit, there's not only danger and horror to be found in facing monsters but also beauty and (at least some kind of) truth.

In this context, it seems nearly irrelevant that Livide at the same time also just works very well as a surreal and moody horror film, but work well it does; it's not impossible that exactly its grounding in safe genre formulas is what gives Livide its power.

Thursday, September 3, 2020

In short: Blood Bags (2018)

American Tracy (Makenna Guyler) is in her  last month of a study year in Italy. She dreams of becoming a photographer, finding herself somewhere between enchanted and obsessed by old, empty buildings and the kind of urban semi-ruin you don’t really get in the USA, apparently. She takes her friend Petra (Marta Tananyan) on what may very well be the last photography expedition of her stay to a pretty picturesque street in Turin. When the two find the gate to a particularly impressive building to be open, Tracy drags Petra with her inside. Alas, Petra is soon killed by the shrouded inhabitant of the place, someone, as the audience already know, with a rather dire lust for blood.

Tracy manages to escape for a time, but she’s now locked in the place, stalked by the killer. And she’s not the only one, for she quickly encounters the thief Alex (Emanuele Turetta), who has been hiding from their stalker for hours. To make matters worse, the killer may also have an accomplice making their way to the house.

Emiliano Ranzani’s Body Bags may be a low budget movie with limited ambitions, but I found myself rather pleasantly surprised by it all the same. For while the acting is all over the place (with Guyler and Turetta sensibly the most professional people on screen as well as those with the most screen time), and the whole affair really is a simple “people running through an old house chased by a monster” set-up with just enough scenes set elsewhere to introduce characters and provide a sense of place and time, the film mostly realizes it with competence.

There are some clear nods towards Italian genre greats – Fulci must be a particular favourite I assume – and the slash and stalk scenes are often low-key but suspenseful. The film also features a very nice nightmare sequence that actually makes me wish the production had taken more steps in the direction of the dream-like, but I’m bound to say that, aren’t I?

You could criticize some elements of the script for not being exactly tasteful – porphyria doesn’t work this way, and the whole “sick people are evil” thing is a bit distasteful  – and its mechanics for keeping characters where they are supposed to be are a bit too much the standard mechanics of all horror films. However, given the constraints the filmmakers were working under, I’m still rather taken with Blood Bags.

Wednesday, September 2, 2020

The Secret Garden (2020)

Following the death of her parents around the time of the Partition of India and Pakistan, and a short stint in a pretty Dickensian establishment for orphans, young Mary (Dixie Egerickx, yet another extremely focussed and convincing child actress – I wonder where they breed them) is shipped to the decaying British country estate of her uncle Archibald Craven (Colin Firth).

Craven, driven into a rather serious depression by the death of his wife a couple of years ago, actually has very little time for the girl, leaving her in the hands of his pretty nasty housekeeper Mrs Medlock (Julie Walters) and the rather more pleasant maid Martha (Isis Davis). Mary herself is suffering from PTSD thanks to the circumstances of the late life and death of her parents, finding herself a stranger in that strange England, having to cope not just with loneliness but also the difficulty of trying to understand the new rules governing one’s life when nobody deigns to actually explain them to one.

Mary, it turns out, fortunately is a very resilient – as well as an often pretty arrogant and a bit spoiled - child, finding solace running wild on the moors and in the woods (which must be the height of the exotic to her eyes). Eventually, she discovers a hidden garden on the estate. The garden will turn out to be place of healing not just for her but for all the gothic brokenness she discovers surrounding her; and Mary will turn out to be rather good at sharing that place with others, even if she has to drag them.

How much you enjoy Marc Munden’s very free adaptation of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s beloved children’s book will probably depend on how willing you are to accept the sweeping changes the script by Jack Thorne makes to the source material. I’m rather of two minds about these changes. At least half of them seem to me to be textbook examples of how to properly change elements of a classic to adapt to a new time, new mores and changed audience tastes and ideas, so the film’s treatment of things like class, race and trauma is much more contemporary than in the book, without the film being an ass about it, and certainly a good way to treat the material today.

The other half of the changes, on the other hand, does pull the very genteel source material much deeper into high Gothic melodrama, the sort of thing that can’t not end with a dramatically burning mansion. These are obviously the sort of changes bound to annoy (or violently incense, given the always angry times we live in – the Hulk Age?) the fans of the book looking for an adaptation that may not keep to the details but to the tone of the book. As someone who hasn’t grown up with the Burnett’s writing, it not being the sort of thing read by German children, I find myself raising my eyebrows at some of these decisions a little, but will naturally have an easier time simply accepting them.

Munden does make this acceptance rather easy for me, too, for he is very good at creating a mood of gothic decay surrounding the Craven mansion, suggesting a place rotting away with the sorrows of its dwellers, full of hidden secrets, hidden doors, and even a hidden boy, left by a father whose own mental illness makes it impossible for him to see him clearly or treat him as even a mediocre father should. In this house, all things representing the memory of happier times are hidden away to be found by a courageous little snoop like Mary who hasn’t yet learned the art of repression but faces most of her troubles head-on. The film sells this so well, it even can convince me of that most horrible of things, helpful ghosts; but then, the memories and thoughts of one’s deceased loved ones bringing release and beauty even more than they do pain if you only let them is one of the points of the movie, so helpful ghosts are perfectly fit for the film at hand.

The film does make rather a lot out of the contrasts in light and colour between the mansion - always dark, of course, unless some memory or kindness lets a light in –, the lighter but somewhat bleak and dangerous countryside, and the better than natural brightness and beauty of the Secret Garden. Visually, the house gets all the Gothic colours and shapes of that darker side of Romanticism, whereas the moors are portrayed naturalistic, and the Garden carries the sheen of the brightest Romanticism. As a metaphor, it’s all a bit obvious, of course, but Munden’s visual realisation of the concept is so convincing obviousness doesn’t really feel like a problem.

One might also complain about the film being a bit too nice to its characters, providing them with wounds that heal too clearly and too quickly, but in the decades of the Grimdark Dystopia, I’m pretty fine with a film suggesting that lives can actually change for the better. Curious, I know. Must be my age.

Tuesday, September 1, 2020

In short: Birds of Prey: And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn (2020)

Following as it does that pretty dire Suicide Squad movie, I didn’t exactly go into Cathy Yan’s Harley Quinn solo movie disguised as a Birds of Prey outing with high expectations. Particularly when you add various comics nerd problems I have with the movie conceptually: that the Birds of Prey without Batgirl/Oracle never feel like the Birds of Prey to me; that Harley Quinn has become to DC what Wolverine was for Marvel in the late 90s and early 00s – so omni-present, it becomes rather difficult to care about her; that the film uses characters so far from any of their comic incarnations, I’m not sure why it does use the names from the comics at all (see Cassandra Cain).

However, as a wise writer once wrote: talk about what’s actually there, not your expectations, and approaching Harley Quinn this way, I found myself really rather enjoying the whole affair. For one, unlike the David Ayer Suicide Squad film this is closest to, Cathy Yan and writer Christina Hodson actually know the tone they are going for and are sticking with it, yet still find time to just go off into the direction of some goofy, fun, or interesting idea if they come upon it. Most of the jokes are even funny, and the film is stuffed full of hilariously little details it presents for its audience to get or not get without having to tell us every damn second that we are indeed supposed to laugh now.

For my taste, this one’s much better at the humorous ultra-violence than the much praised Deadpool (which I still loathe with surprising intensity); but then, this is more playful than cynical a film in character, even if some guy gets fed to a hyena, so I’m bound to enjoy it more. It’s also surprisingly good at the small-scale/street level superhero violence, taking quite a few choreography tricks from classic martial arts cinema, which is never not a good thing.

And best of all: EXXXtreme Joker is not actually in the movie in person but only as a symbol of really shitty men for the heroine to mentally break free from, while ranting asshole Joker never existed in this world.