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Richard Bowden "The Film Flaneur" (UK)

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Faintheart [DVD] [2008]
Faintheart [DVD] [2008]
Dvd ~ Eddie Marsan
Price: £1.93

6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Faintheart aint bad, 28 Mar 2009
This review is from: Faintheart [DVD] [2008] (DVD)
Faintheart is something of an innovation in that it claims to be the first 'user-generated feature' being cast, co-scripted and produced by the members of a social networking website. The aspect of novelty ends right there though, as the film is as cosy and traditional in tone as any Ealing comedy from yesteryear. It's an example of that characteristic British home-grown cinema where ordinary people fight through adversity to find true love and the inevitable reassurances of their own social grouping, a comfy ride filmed on a small scale. That's not to say that the journey isn't enjoyable (and in fact I had a smile on my face during most of it) but those who shy away from the cinematic world of, say Gregory's Girl or Brassed Off, and any of those UK movies which show aspirations born of national and personal idiosyncrasies, had better turn elsewhere.

For the rest of us director Vito Rocco provides a steady pair of hands in what is a charming tale set amidst the oddballs and associates of the 'Bloody Broadswords', a battle re-enactment society. At the centre of Faintheart are three relationships. Firstly, that of Richard (Eddie Marsan) and his determination to regain the love of his wife; she's understandably estranged after what proved to be the last straw: his belated appearance at her father's funeral, dressed in battle gear of the Norsemen. Richard's passion for re-enactment - part of an attempt, we suspect, to escape his mundane existence as a browbeaten worker in a DIY store - exasperates his wife (Jessica Hynes) almost as much as it embarrasses his young son. Meanwhile, Richard's friend Julien (Ewen Bremmer), a committed Trekkie, has a quest of his own: to find and retain a woman of his own and finally move out of his mother's place. Finally there's the growing friendship of Richard's son with a girl from his school, someone who recognises that to be different from the crowd is not necessarily a bad thing. In this she suggests an antidote to the disillusionment of Richard's wife as well as the unstinting fan-hood of Julien.

Shot around Worcester and Ludlow Castle, Rocco's film begins especially well with some mock heroic images of putative resistance to the Norman conquest, scenes incidentally anticipating the impact of the more serious 1066, expected next year. His confidence in his material and actors extends though the film, which uses its (surprising for a budget) 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen ratio effectively in a familiar working class landscape of bars, homes and playing fields. Delivered deadpan, and in typically understated fashion, the acting by all concerned is right on the mark. Especially noteworthy is Paul Nicholls as Richard, diehard of the small re-enactment fraternity, whose private life is a much as a struggle as are the heroic events he recreates in costume. The film makes plainly effective, if obvious, parallels between the two worlds he inhabits. They best comes together perhaps with the mock Arthurian moment as he retrieves his recently discarded swords from the rubbish tip.

It's fair to say that the main crisis in Richard's life is when, ultimately he has to decide between real life and pretence, a moment signified by him shaving off his trademark moustache and cutting back his hair. This is also an important moment too as it marks the point where the viewer stops seeing Richard's world, as it were, from the viewpoint of his historical fantasies looking in, and instead sees the real world as now acting upon the fantasies. To a certain extent the film suffers a little after this sea change. Richard's new, sensible look and manner makes the rest of it slightly more serious in a way which is not always to its advantage.

As with a lot of films of this sort a good deal of the pleasure lays in the incidental details fleshing out the relationships and motivations between the principal characters. Julien's goofy sex talk in Klingon for instance, Richard's painstaking, inept recreation of his first date with his wife or, in one Pythonesque moment, the off-hand admission of one of the burly bewhiskered members of the Bloody Broadswords that he "was a woman once." There's nothing in Faintheart which will get them rolling in the aisles, but there's nothing that is intended to. Rocco's movie is an amiable slice of life told with affection, more broadsword than the broad humour expected by some critics. There's enough to embody some truths about the national identity which one can recognise. Like Brassed Off, or the imminent Derek Jacobi movie Morris: A Life With Bells On, Faintheart paints its portrait of a society of social eccentrics facing the world on their own terms, an echo of the national epic, writ small. Eventual success of course is understood from the start, but whether such apolitical 'doing your own thing' is more than wishful thinking, particularly in today's downturn, such films leave others to decide. In the meantime Rocco manages a good deal of empathy with his cast which communicates well, and his movie can be judged a success.

The DVD includes the director's original 'MySpace' pitch but oddly enough no proper trailer for his film. There are also casting videos, on-set diaries, information about the re-enactors behind the story as well as Katie Melua recording her song for the movie.

Memories Of Matsuko [DVD]
Memories Of Matsuko [DVD]
Dvd ~ Miki Nakatani
Price: £5.75

20 of 25 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars half kitschy, half moving, trashy and yet poetic, 28 Feb 2009
This review is from: Memories Of Matsuko [DVD] (DVD)
Memories Of Matsuko (aka: Kiraware Matsuko no isshô) is the sort of film that only Asian cinema seems to come up with: half kitschy, half moving, trashy and yet poetic, you just won't discover this sort of eccentric product often on the Hollywood roster. A companion piece and successor to the same director's equally recommendable Kamikaze Girls, Memories Of Matsuko is the life story of a murdered recluse as discovered retrospectively by her nephew, charged by his disinterested father with cleaning up the dead woman's apartment. As he investigates his aunt's existence further he gradually discovers that life can have value after all, even when there seems none. The audience discovers how vivid personal fantasy can colour the most disagreeable world. Japanese cinema does a fine line in feminist tragedies, with an honourable line of such stretching back to Mizoguchi and beyond, films where the female centre of a movie suffers nobly within a male-centred culture. Matsuko Kawajiri is one from that same tradition, a sacrificial existence albeit filtered by a garish post modernistic pop culture. She's a female whose life when revealed, Citizen Kane-like, to the audience shows a character whose existence brings its own reward in our eyes, revealed with a nobility that only the audience ever sees completely.

Condescendingly dismissed, by one critic, as being like a "collaboration between Robert Bresson and Andy Warhol," a good deal of Memories Of Matsuko's richness lies in its heady counter-play between visual style and story. It frequently gives Matsuko's life meaning and context, by externalising her own fantasies in adversity through a riot of colours, staging and decor. Nakashima's innovative playful approach ranges from Sirkian opening credits through to bright colour and expressionist sets, Disneyesque animated birds and even musical production numbers. Fantastic and feminist in a manner familiar from Kamikaze Girls, as a 'fairytale tragedy' Memories Of Mastsuko echoes that earlier production in its sense of fun and irony. But this is darker parody than that, drawn at a much more ambitious level, with an undercurrent of emotion largely missing before. Whereas Kamikaze Girls is rooted in a rural world of daydreams, rococo ornament and girl gangs, Memories Of Matsuko takes place in an urban setting amidst yakuza, porn stars and pop, and with no happy ending for the main character.

Its energy and wit reflects something of the determination of Matsuko, a woman constantly looking for her ideal companion in life, only to be disappointed either through circumstance or bad judgement. But no sooner does she make another wrong choice, feeling thereafter that her life is over, than she reinvents herself and ploughs on into a new episode, as full of shallow optimism as the musical pastiche regularly surrounding her wayward progress. As the put upon Matsuko Kawajiri, actress Miki Nakatani is outstanding (and in fact she won a Japanese academy award). The memories of Matsuko are less the remembrances of others as much as the character's recollection of herself, particularly as often she seems to narrate her heartfelt story authoritatively from beyond the grave. From here her perspective invites judgement, and so her story becomes about not just how she was seen, but how then in turn she's seen others. It's a technique which considerably broadens the focus of the film, and allows for several excellent supporting roles. But even when others relate their experiences with her, she still dominates the movie, right up until her final appearance as an overweight, smelly frump, living in a garbage filled hovel, obsessed with a boy band.

At this point the film's erstwhile moral, about the importance of giving than receiving throughout life, is made plain. But, especially in the light of Matsuko's sacrifices during a film which frequently says one thing while implying another, we wonder how much this is to be taken without question. Some critics have criticised Nakatani dragging in the New Testament to make glib conclusion to all we have seen. Serious consolations of theology or not, Matsuko has clearly deserved better than she got. And there lays the film's achievement. Not in making the various memories of its central character unforgettable, but ensuring that our impression of Matsuko herself, who has suffered behind the veneer of cheerfulness so much, is by the end indelible.

Whether teacher, yakuza moll, sister, porn star, estranged sibling or murderess, Matsuko's experiences in life follow each other in colourful sequences, and it's a spiral that is slowly but inevitably stretching downwards. And if during her life there is an overarching regret, as part of her constant search for love and companionship, it is that she does not relate to her family as she might. Whether in pleasing her father - who comes to disown her - or being reconciled to the love of her sister, Matsuko's happiness is continually denied, at least until the end of the film where a transfiguration ensures she rests easier. It is easy to see that the distortion of her face at moments of crisis is self defining, a corrupted smile made aptly by the heroine when true joy is ever denied.

Memories Of Matsuko can be seen as both a deconstruction of the noble, self-sacrificing Japanese woman as well as restatement of serious themes through the filter of gone Hollywood and musical kitsch. Either way, there's a tension between what we are seeing, and what we understand, which gives the film interest. It's rare that one can recommend something to admirers alike of such diverse movies The Life Of Oharu, Amélie or the ironies of Douglas Sirk, but this is one such occasion.

On DVD the film comes relatively unadorned with just a 'making of' extra as well several trailers, not for Matsuko oddly, but including one for Kamikaze Girls. Another case of the UK market being short changed, one imagines, as elsewhere viewers can enjoy a two-disc presentation.
Comment Comments (4) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Mar 17, 2011 3:24 PM GMT

Hair High [DVD]
Hair High [DVD]
Dvd ~ Eric Gilliland
Offered by DaaVeeDee-uk
Price: £25.59

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Hooray for Hair High, 1 Feb 2009
This review is from: Hair High [DVD] (DVD)
One of the most easily recognisable auteurs working in animation, Bill
Plympton has produced a succession of animated features and shorts over
the last few years which delight with their unique style and
idiosyncratic world view. His is a bizarre world which, unusually for
such hand drawn work, normally assumes the presence of an adult
audience and where the exaggerations of sex can be sniggered over for
all the right reasons. HAIR HIGH is no exception, and continues the
animator's regular obsessions with the strained relationships between
sexually optimistic men and women, detailed with black humour all the
while laced with some side swipes at the ironies of romance. There's
also plenty of hair spray, horny chickens, a good soundtrack, smoking,
and the genital stimulation of frogs. Rudeness, surreality and extremes
of physical contortion appear again as part and parcel of the
plymptonesque world - which this time includes nods to such disparate
CAGLIOSTRO. HAIR HIGH is voiced by such talent as Keith and David
Carradine, Ed Begley Jnr and Matt Groening. Ostensibly a moralistic
tale of 50's high school love that ends in comi-tragedy, HAIR HIGH
actually engages as a characteristic free wheeling fantasy, allowing
the animator to indulge in all sorts of off the wall scenes and images
propelling the narrative forward. For those better used to the tight
pencil work and plot construction of more regularly exposed animation
studios Plympton's work, which leaps more immediately from the artist's
bizarre subconscious, often comes as a wake up call. In its attempt to
drag cartoons out of the juvenile closet Plympton's longer work has
been blazing a trail for years. With not a cuddly, wise-cracking animal
in sight and a hands-off view with regards to any computer generated
figures, HAIR HIGH is a must for admirers of Plympton. Since this film
Plympton has completed two other features, including SHUT EYE HOTEL
and, most intriguingly, TOKYO ONLYMPIC, which at 137 mins is slated at
his longest yet, double that of the present title.

Why There Almost Certainly Is a God: Doubting Dawkins
Why There Almost Certainly Is a God: Doubting Dawkins
by Keith Ward
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.39

20 of 39 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Another Christian apologist apropos Dawkins, 10 Nov 2008
In this post-Dawkian world of militant, bulldog Atheism, we've seen a whole host of Christian apologists spring up with varying degrees of success, trying to claw back some of the authoratitive ground they once so fondly held. Ward's book attempts to find answer to just the philosophical arguments contained within THE GOD DELUSION (chapters 2 - 4) and therein lays both its strength and weakness.

WHY THERE ALMOST CERTAINLY IS A GOD shows less of the certainty of faith, at least in its title, than was possible before the arrival of the intellectually pugnacious Dawkins - although by the end Ward, who remembered initially "how important it is to be critical of all our beliefs" at least has the graciousness to admit that finally, what he's just toured the patient reader through "must seem like a wish-fulfilling fantasy ... (which is) not just a question of evidence ... (but of) basic forms of perception and action". The trouble is, for this reader at least, is that a good deal of Ward's "perception", being necessarily of the philosophical variety, comes across unduly complex and wishy-washy at the same time. It consists neither of Dawkins' wide appeal for the common reader, gained through a wide marshalling of arguments which give the impression of overwhelming probability in his favour, nor the arch atheist's clear and hard-hitting prose style. For Dawkins, evolution provides an excellent escalator of natural events which necessarily precludes the 'sky hook' offered by one's Invisible Magic Friend. It's an independent process which leads to increasing complexity. Whether or not he accepts the imperatives of evolutionary biology, Ward falls into the believer's habit of offering up that old stand by, faith, by way of alternative, suggesting that because something can't be proved not to be, so it really *has* to be as he thinks so. The result is a lot of wishful thinking, dressed up splendidly in verbiage.

For instance his insistance that mind can exist entirely outside of mechanical process: "This may seem rather odd, but it seems to be a possibility. There could be minds without matter.." so consciousness *might* be achieved by, er, well nothing tangible really as it happens... If I am simplfying Ward then that's because, stripped down to essentials, it's the same old special pleading for something unproveable. And of course he being a professional philosopher, he must know what he is talking about .. even though there's no independent verification of anything he hopes is the case.

Incidentally Ward does not discuss exactly just how it is pure mind can create matter or thought from nothing - indeed the exact connection between the two is one of his book's more fuzzy moments. Just because we have obviously thought and feelings, it seems, this is an argument for God who can also exist 'separately' from physicality - a dubious idea, given the necessarily mechanistic origin of those thoughts and feelings in the first place. But anything else it seems, is consciousness "explained away".

In short, this fairly short book is full of academic special pleading within a very short range. The denseness of argument here certainly proves that a. Dawkins is no professional philosopher in TGD ... but also shows b. that that wide-ranging book, though not without faults, has enough impact to remain impressive. Dawkin's broad assault on belief, built on the foundation strictures of evolutionary biology, creates an overwhelming sense of probability of world reality, one which makes Ward's necessarily narrow attack seem little more than more wishful thinking from an academic, and with none of the same impact.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Feb 22, 2009 10:27 PM GMT

Colossus - The Forbin Project [1970] [DVD]
Colossus - The Forbin Project [1970] [DVD]
Dvd ~ Eric Braeden
Price: £4.90

20 of 21 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars There is another system, 16 Oct 2008
Joseph Sargent directed this, still one of the few films to make computer science exciting, as well as another notable film The Taking Of Pelham 123 (1974) before disappearing off into television. By all accounts The Forbin Project, intended in some way to capitalise on the recent success of 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), was not a success at the box office - due perhaps to the bleak ending, as well as the plot's relatively cerebral nature. Like Kubrick's masterpiece, Sargant's film also features a deadly computer, and is ultimately concerned with what makes men, men. However unlike HAL, Colossus is not malfunctioning; it is programmed to end war and to make its own exponential judgements to further that aim, being "self-sufficient, self protecting, self-generating", a mechanical genius which "no human can touch." What Colossus offers mankind has none of HAL's self-centredness, more a ruthless determination to make us do what is better for all whether we like it or not. And where Kubrick's film suggests the reformation of a species though mind-blowing optics and some enigmatic symbolism, Forbin's project is one where ultimately it is one man who is 'reworked,' not all - though the fate of millions remains in the balance.

As Forbin emerges from the tomb-like Colossus processing installation within the Rockies, (scenes vaguely reminiscent of the final sealing of the pyramid in Hawk's Land Of The Pharaohs, 1955) we feel that he has leaving a part of himself behind. And as we learn more about our central character, it is clear that in fact he lacks a good deal - most specifically any sign of real emotion. Forbin, "world expert on computer systems," is as cold and as calm as the machines he idolises, a characteristic emphasised by the excellent performance of Braeden. This aloofness is emphasised by the actor's slight German accent, helped incidentally by the fact that he was obliged to re-dub his part after shooting had finished. By the end of the film he will be transformed by events he has initiated, and Forbin's impending change gives the film added interest.

Colossus' startling announcement that "There is another system" is what precipitates the main crisis, a bald statement open to a number of intriguing interpretations. First and foremost, the participants take it literally as the discovery of Guardian, Colossus' Soviet equivalent. This film was made at the height of the Cold War, which makes the relatively liberal treatment of the Russians struggling with their own dilemma, as well as the cordial nature between the two heads of state, slightly surprising. Apart from the abrupt elimination of their chief scientist (and this ordered by Guardian) the Russians emerge just as perplexed, honest and concerned as the Americans. This reminds us that the 'other system' can also be taken as political rather than mechanical. It's the abrupt reminder of another social order, announced aptly in midst of a smug Presidential reference to Roosevelt. Finally, and most intriguing, is what the Colossus' announcement slyly suggests in personal terms. As previously observed, Forbin's own emotional 'system' is essentially passionless (his surname even suggests that of Fortran, a genuine computer language). By the end of the film, the two super computers will have united, using their own newly developed machine language to communicate. Moreover the world will be (presumably) united too by the dire threat facing it. And, dominated by his creation, Forbin will have rejoined humanity, a process indicated through his increasing displays of belated emotion.

Once Colossus and Guardian have joined forces, they soon start making demands of the world, enforcing orders by punitive missile launches. Mankind is forced to comply. Forbin, as creator of Colossus, is granted a unique status by the machine, liaising between it and the world. But Colossus fears he may conspire, so in scenes that recall those in Demon Seed (1977), the doctor is placed under 24/7 surveillance, leading to the most interesting part of the film. For Forbin decides to convince the machine that he needs all human comforts to function properly - including time alone with a newly invented mistress, fellow scientist Doctor Cleo Markham (Susan Clarke). The plan is then to utilise their time together to plot. Forbin's sheepish admittal to the machine that he needs sex four times a week, as well as his inevitable romance with his 'mistress' are the first real sign of his humanity. More amusingly, the following dialogue ensues as the two are tucked up in bed together, Dr Markham making her initial report, the air filled with sexual static: "The hardware problem is negative... (we) are still studying a way to get into the thing." In a film singularly bereft of real humour, this double entendre is particularly striking - and is in stark contrast to Forbin's previous concern to get his language exactly accurate for communicating with his machine properly. Meanwhile, Colossus has become the "first electronic peeping tom," seemingly just as concerned with the love life of its creator as in world domination. Until Forbin's final, shocking outburst of "You Bastard!" so is the viewer. This is when, after bedding Dr Markham for real, he throws a stool at a computer screen in a rage at Colossus' repressive agenda. It's confirmed then that he's finally rejoined the (doomed?) human race with a vengeance, and has acquired traits of stubbornness and yes, perhaps heroism along the way.

The Forbin Project benefits greatly from a suitably cool style and restrained performances - entirely apt given the subject matter. It also has a standout score, one that frequently mimics the clatter of electronic activity, adding greatly to the atmosphere. As one would expect, the computer hardware on show is dated, (no doubt most of Colossus' vaunted brain would fit in a hatbox these days), but modern viewers, used to the concepts of 'cross-platforming', the Internet and so on, will find interesting echoes of these developments here. Add in an unfashionably downbeat ending, as well as the working out of Forbin's folly, and it emerges as considerably more than the SF curio one might expect.

Chase A Crooked Shadow [DVD] [1958]
Chase A Crooked Shadow [DVD] [1958]
Dvd ~ Richard Todd
Price: £9.90

17 of 24 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Twisty tale handicapped by casting, 16 Oct 2008
An early film by the director of Logan's Run and Around the World in 60 Days, this one's main strength is its plot, which spins a fairly gripping early variation on the are-they aren't-they mad scenario which proved such a fruitful ground for British suspense films of the next decade. Those familiar with Taste of Fear (1961) Paranoiac (1963), etc will know how it goes: an isolated victim in peril from immediate family; lingering doubts of the identity of those closest to her; suggestions of beckoning insanity, overtones of incestuousness, obligatory last minute revelations, and so on.

At the heart of the film is heiress Kimberley Prescott (Anne Baxter), startled to be confronted by Williams (Richard Todd), purporting to be her late brother Ward, a man favoured with eerily accurate knowledge of their lives together. 'Ward' promptly installs himself in her Greek chateau along with his helper and butler, while Kimberley desperately tries to enlist the help of sympathetic local policemen Vargas (Herbert Lom). Soon it is clear that 'Ward' is interested in learning more about the diamonds missing from her late husbands business, and she grows more and more threatened..

At the the beginning of the film we see Williams and his associate Elaine (Faith Brook) running through the last few details of their unspecified deception. Arguably this could have been profitably omitted, as these opening moments remove any real doubts as to the nature of Ward's character. Without the prologue, far more emphasis would have been placed on Kimberley's suspect state of mind, the true nature of the ambiguous imposter's intentions would be far more intriguing, and the resulting psychological drama greatly heightened. As it is, the present film is closer to, say, To Catch a Thief (1955) than Suspicion (1941), with correspondingly less psychological complexity.

A talky film like this, with a small number of principals and some exotic location exteriors, stands or falls on the relative few elements of staging. Unfortunately, while blessed with an excellent script, Chase a Crooked Shadow is somewhat handicapped by the two leads. As the interloper 'Wade', the upright Todd is simply too stiff an actor to suggest the subtle menace the part requires, although his withdrawn manner does generate some suspense. The lack of any serious doubt about his intention to deceive never makes of his a particularly sympathetic character, although the extent of his intimate family knowledge is provoking (if never really explained). Straight backed, perfectly tailored, Todd's clipped delivery does induces some suspense as if by default, but the actor never unbends enough to add a necessary third dimension to his characterisation.

The other main problem is with Baxter. While sympathetic enough as the put-upon, shrinking heroine in the first part of the film, as events unfold and more elements of her character emerge, she finds it harder to convey the harder edge subsequent revelations demand. The end of the film, while offering an effective last minute twist, simply demands more than the actress can provide. Her final wilting, and lack of larcenous guile, has the effect of making the efforts of law enforcement appear cruel and heavy handed. Morally speaking, they appear to be taking a sledgehammer to crack a nut. In contrast Herbert Lom does his usual excellent job in a supporting role, fleshing out the unspoken concerns of Vargas as best he can.

Anderson's film makes little use of the gothic possibilities of the setting, setting a fair number of scenes in well lit rooms or during daylight. Only towards the end, as Kimberley's anxieties reach a peak, does the director seek to trap her more within the shadows and decorative grills of her environment : having the heroine back nervously into a niche for instance ,while her tormentors pass her by; or her firing a spear gun into the threatening darkness of the boathouse (a place at the heart of her secret in more than one sense).

The final twist is a celebrated one and is as little telegraphed as one might wish. Anderson's chief achievement here is running the whole narrative so smoothly, and on such a small scale, before springing the final surprise on the audience. If a lot of the result is fairly static, then this can be put down to the casting as well as the characteristics of the script. His next film was to be the far more dynamic Cagney vehicle, Shake Hands With the Devil (1959).
Comment Comments (4) | Permalink | Most recent comment: May 17, 2010 9:04 PM BST

Scooby-Doo: Scooby-Doo on Zombie Island
Scooby-Doo: Scooby-Doo on Zombie Island
Dvd ~ Jim Stenstrum
Price: £2.90

1 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Scooby rebooted, 11 Oct 2008
`The ghost is here and its always a fake/Crooks in a suit protecting something/Oh give us the truth/- It's a fake..'

The refrain, from one of the songs from Hanna-Barbera's enjoyably revisionist cartoon feature, gives the game away as much does a false hand or mask: that this is growing up time for those who watched the series before, as much as it is for the fictional characters. Scoobie-Doo, Daphne, Fred, Shaggy and Velma, the members of `Mystery Inc.', were fixtures of children's television during the 70's. (So much that some cultural historians have referred to that age group of viewers as the `Scooby-Doo generation'.) Their show presented an unvarying formula of mild scares, broad comedy and a reassuring resolution.

In `Scooby-Doo on Zombie Island' the intrepid teenage investigators are revealed once again pursued by a monster who, once again, allows Shaggy and Scooby their so-frightened-its-funny routine. And when the monster is felled, and its mask is removed, it is naturally revealed to be none other than the real estate agent Mr Beeman, whose final words are said in time honoured fashion: `..and I would have got away with it too, if it wasn't for that dog and you meddling kids'.

The `meddling kids' however, have grown up, along with their audience. Far from being a closing sequence, Beeman's downfall is shown at the start of this film, as Daphne Blake, now a reporter with her own show `Coast to Coast', replays an earlier adventure of the team on a chat show. An Oprah-like hostess elicits the truth. Since the old days, it turns out that Daphne is not the only one who has gone her own way. Fred (still with the boyish good looks) is the producer on her show, Velma has opened `Dankley's Mystery Bookstore' whilst, in a ludicrous twist, Shaggy and Scooby have become contraband sniffers for customs. The team in short, has broken up, their independence an indication of distancing and maturity.

Daphne's desire to find genuine spooky occurrences for her show's second season is the motivation for the famous team to reform. Their Mystery Machine now a source of nostalgia. But there's an awareness that all of the past `hauntings' have been fakes, which brings an air of frustrated realism. Fred is the cynic, saying that `there's always a logical explanation for these things'. And remembering 300-odd shows that have been before, the viewer must perforce agree with him. There's a symbol of this new mood of disillusionment, in the box of Scooby Snacks given by Velma to Scooby and Shaggy just before they set out. The biscuits are stale.

Speeding to New Orleans, the rest of Mystery, Inc. find Fred's rational view to be correct. Every ghost, it seems, is fake. Daphne is left to gloomily contemplate the lack of any real supernatural encounters. As she admits, all they have found so far have been `guys in masks, mechanical claws and hologram projections', `Just like the good old days' adds Velma ironically. The group's precipitous meeting with the mysterious Lena then, who promises them a real haunted house, is a turning point.

At first, their investigation of Simone and Lena's haunted house seems to be following the same path. Scooby-Doo discovers cats to chase, and he and Shaggy find food to scoff (including some Cajun peppers - literally `hard to swallow'!) But there's a suspicion of romance between Freddy and Lena, and change creeps still further over the film as ghastly events, connected with the pirate Morgan Moonscare, defy rational explanation vexing Velma. For once, the suspicion is that Scooby-Doo and the gang are up against the genuine article. Freddy is at the heart of much of this. (A subtle indication of his new role is when, getting dressed, he impulsively discards his trademark Ascot.) From sceptic, he is forced to believe - an intellectual process central to the success of many adult horror films.

At the heart of `Zombie Island' there's a remarkable scene which epitomises the film's new world-view. The group succeed in discovering the recumbent body of a zombie. Ready for the all-important `unmasking the janitor' scene Freddy tries to pull off the supposed mask. Yanking at the head, he ritualises the process of exposure with suggestions of who the zombie will prove to be, itemising the suspicious characters they have encountered: `.. it's the gardner. It's the fisherman. Maybe the ferryman. Maybe animatronic.. ' Alas for Freddy, the zombie's entire head comes off, and then is promptly reattached as the creature wakes. For once they are faced with the genuine article - a seismic shift in their ghoul-chasing careers.

In previous Scooby-Doo outings, the viewer is reassured by assuming that the evil will be explained away. On Zombie Island this safety net is suddenly removed, and the adventure approaches a level of supernatural unease that the television series failed to achieve - leaving the Scooby-Doo fan in new territory.

The following zombie attack and the discovery of the voodoo cat-cult provide an exciting enough conclusion. In accord with the general air of rediscovery, Scooby and all find that, this time, `the zombies are the good guys'. There's a new song played too, reflecting with some justice that `It's terror time again' as events proceed.

All in all this is a pleasant surprise, the film reflecting a timely and refreshing reinterpretation of the Scooby-Doo franchise by Hanna-Barbera. The films which followed: ` Scooby-Doo and The Witches Ghost' (1999), `The Alien Invasion' (2000), `Cyber Chase' (2001) continue this change, but `Zombie Island' was the creative breakthrough. Values are higher than the TV series, as one might expect given the higher budget and the involvement of a Japanese animation team. A must for fans!

Where Danger Lives & Tension [DVD] [1951] [Region 1] [US Import] [NTSC]
Where Danger Lives & Tension [DVD] [1951] [Region 1] [US Import] [NTSC]
Dvd ~ Richard Basehart
Price: £11.14

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Worth it for Where Danger Lives..., 13 Sep 2008
John Farrow's WHERE DANGER LIVES is one of a small number of interesting noir thrillers the director helmed during the late 40's and early 50's. Included amongst these productions are the bizarre comedy of `His Kind of Woman' (1951) also with Mitchum, and the magnificently baroque `The Big Clock' (1948), with Ray Milland. `Where Danger Lives', a powerful, dream-like piece, has some claim to being the best of these, being respectively less diffuse and grandiose than the other two films. Its strengths lay elsewhere, still founded upon the characteristic insecurities of film noir, but dwelling explicitly on the processes of mental aberration. This successfully induces an unusually strong atmosphere of hallucination - in effect replacing paranoia with psychosis.

Only at the end of the film does the dazed hero realise that he has really been `dating the patient' - the deranged Margo. Thematically this respect it is similar to Otto Preminger's `Angel Face' (1953) and Brahm's intricate `The Locket' (1947), again both starring Mitchum. In all three films the actor confronts femmes fatales with hidden psychological disorders, illnesses of the mind which serve to internalise and, to a certain extent, symbolise the confusions of the noir universe. In this film however, his character is himself mentally confused through concussion, adding a perspective of further disorientation. `I may be seem to be talking logically' says Dr. Jeff Cameron (Mitchum) at one point. `But what I say won't make any sense'.

At the beginning of `Where Danger Lives', Cameron is a man clearly in control of himself, his career, and his love life. Given the concern of the film with health and well-being, it is eminently logical that he should be a doctor (although not a psychiatrist, as Margo's first husband makes a point of establishing). His presence in the hospital is commanding, authoritative even, his future clear. The ebbing away of these keystones to his life - in effect an emasculation after encountering the suicidal Margo - is drastic and troubling. At first he is merely slowed by his own inebriation, then confused by her deceit. This is followed shortly afterwards by the head blow by her outraged husband (played by Claude Rains in his most typically urbane, menacing style), which creates a more profound effect on his mental capabilities.

This is a film dominated by Margo and Jeff on the road, and their crazed relationship to each other. Jeff's concussion and resulting moral confusion, and Margo's hidden psychosis, make them ideal partners in the bewildering and uncertain world through which they travel. Jeff's mental distraction makes him passive, vulnerable, while Margo's compulsions make her determined, wiley and strong. Ultimately it is this distortion in their relationship, in some respect a reversal of the usual sex roles, which gives the film so much of its intrigue. Once Margo and Jeff have found each other, in fact, they play on the same `mad' circuit, hurtling towards a crash, like the racers which stunned Jeff visualises buzzing `up and down' in his head.

Farrow's direction follows the trajectory of events perfectly. At the start of the film, he shoots Mitchum's tall frame framed within the cold certainties of hospital hallways, uncluttered and unshadowed. By the end of the film he is viewed slumped, hidden and confused within shadowy hotel rooms, or stumbling along dark sidewalks. In between times, Farrow is able to enjoy himself with the surreal episode of the beards festival, (a peculiarly bizarre moment even in the extreme experiences of noir) which works well in the context of the runaway's own mental disorientation.

The most powerful scene in the film is the penultimate confrontation of Jeff and Margo in the border hotel. Shot in one continuous take, Farrow effortlessly manages a number of complicated set ups within the frame as the two protagonists confront each other, and their reduced options, while moving around the set. Margo's final attack on Jeff, her attempted smothering of him (as she had done to her first husband much earlier) is so frightening because Mitchum's large frame is now so handicapped and reduced. Close to the Mexican border, Cameron is also close to unconsciousness, coma, and possibly death as well. The cheap hotel room, the broad, the flashing window sign, the rising tide of panic with a departing prospect of `escape' - these are all of course entirely typical of the genre. But by the time we reach this scene it is obvious too that, here at least, real danger lives as much in the head as in the world of police and shady border deals.

Evil Alien Conquerors [DVD] [2000] [Region 1] [US Import] [NTSC]
Evil Alien Conquerors [DVD] [2000] [Region 1] [US Import] [NTSC]
Dvd ~ Michael Weston
Offered by supermart_usa
Price: £3.67

3.0 out of 5 stars Amusing Alien Conquerors, 8 Sep 2008
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
Speaking as someone who loathed such films as DUMB AND DUMBERER, Chris
Mathieson's film EVIL ALIEN CONQUERORS was never an obvious choice. But
Mathieson's reputation as a writer of minor cult material (The BILL AND
TEDs 1 & 2, MOM AND DAD SAVE THE WORLD) gave this, frequently slated,
vehicle some curiosity value. Two gormlessly arrogant aliens, 'Du-ug'
and 'My-ik' from the planet Kabijj arrive on Earth with a mission to
behead the population within 48 hours. Unfortunately the deadly swords
they've brought meant for the job are reduced to the size of cocktail
sticks on arrival. While they think up alternate plans to enslave
humanity, they become temporary lodgers with slacker Kenny. Now
awaiting in terror the arrival of their alien enforcer Croker they are
strangely drawn by the discovery of two odd mono-browed women at the
laundrette, and the attractions of hairy feet..

CONQUERORS demands a particular sense of humour to enjoy it thoroughly
which undoubtedly splits audiences down the middle (my girlfriend for
instance told me never to play it in her presence again) but I found it
continuously amusing, with few flat moments. Despite the ramshackle
nature of it all, there's a lot here that's just naive and plumb-weird
enough to stay in the mind. This while it comes nowhere near the grim,
unfunny commercialism of a DUMB AND DUMBERER. The difference is that
the off the wall naivity of CONQUERORS is a saving grace, not a lumbering
handicap. Mathieson clearly wrote out what *he* thought was ludicrous
on a micro budget. The cast play the result through straight, with
never a distracting wink-wink made to an waiting audience, who at first
might expect some recognition of such a personal joke. Du-Ug's
continuous threats of "you will die in agony!!" to all who annoy him;
the weird vocal play between the two aliens and their jump suit
uniforms; the arrival of the much feared Croker, always shouting "I am
the Mighty Croker!!" but unable to understand how feeble he really is,
in the fast food restaurant ("we've got another one" says the bored til
girl); the Lynchian mono-browed women, the balloon flying device, the
My-ik's obsession with Smirnoff Ice; it all adds up to a package which
is by no means terrible IMHO, if not side splitting, but quotably
crackpot enough in a Saturday NIGHT LIVE sort of way to warrant seeking
out as a real oddity.

Black Rose Mansion [DVD] [Region 1] [US Import] [NTSC]
Black Rose Mansion [DVD] [Region 1] [US Import] [NTSC]
Dvd ~ Akihiro Miwa
Offered by EliteDigital UK
Price: £23.95

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not top drawer Fukasaku but worth a look, 31 Aug 2008
Director Kenji Fukasaku - the dedicatee of Kill Bill - is still best known to western audiences for his final completed feature, the nihilistic and striking Battle Royale. But back home the director had a reputation over his career for a fine run of yakuza movies. Before he made the bulk of these successful films however, during 1968-9, the director stepped away from his usual studio Tohei to work on some different projects in quick decision. From this time dates the independent crime drama Blackmail Is My Business, an oddball space piece The Green Slime, as well as Black Lizard and then finally Black Rose Mansion.

The last two formed a deliberate pairing, Fukasaku's style creating in both an atmospheric blend of art house and exploitation. Black Rose Mansion, in particular, has a claustrophobic and melancholic air of its own, which relates it to cinema maudit. And while Black Lizard was a film version of a Yukio Mishima stage adaptation of Edogawa Rampo's flamboyant piece, pitting a master detective against a cross dressing jewel thief, Black Rose Mansion is also about a thief - but one who steals the love and self respect of those men who encounter her. Both films also feature the vaguely camp and sexually ambivalent figure of Akihiro Maruyama, better known by the stage name of her alter ego Akihiro Miwa. These two films represent his only two starring roles, although in recent years he has provided part of the voice talent for Princess Mononoke (1997). As a female he makes for a striking figure, tall and graceful, even if not (although this could be an occidental thing) conventionally beautiful as a woman.

Part vamp, part siren, part cross-dressing seductress, Miwa plays his part straight in Black Rose Mansion, leading to the question of whether the audience is supposed to 'know' his real sex and, if so, what dimension this brings to the erotic side of the film. One assumes that the original audiences did know, which adds to the peculiarity of it all. In the hothouse of the eponymous club, where there is little or no other competition for male admiration, the effect engendered is rather as if straight-faced Danny La Rue had been cast to appear in Gilda. (Allegedly the director had some problems in motivating some male co stars to act as required with the male star.) Besides the club in which Ryuko finds herself so besieged by suitors, the singer also carries a black rose of her own. A symbol for her heart, she alleges it will change to red, but only when she finds 'real love'. It's also an apt symbol for the confusions of the central role as a perfect black rose we're told does not exist. Like the impossible flower she holds, the character of Ryuko asks the audience to see one thing and believe in another. A second, less natural black rose is given by Warataru to help patch things up with his mother, although at the end kept out of the world in its glass case and this remains on object of curiosity than inviting a romantic blooming.

Although naturally absent from the black blooms themselves, red is a colour which plays an important part elsewhere in the visual scheme of the film: whether in the blood spilt by Ryuko's doomed lovers, or the foreboding and passion it brings when the screen is tinted so strikingly at appropriate moments. Black Rose Mansion may owe something to the psychedelia of the 1960s, especially in the rock 'n' roll night club in which the brooding Waraturu often finds himself, but the use of colour is more suffocating than in Black Lizard. In the striking opening, for instance, as the singer arrives, the "calm sunset before the storm to come" at least as noted by Kyohei, who has stopped off by the quay on the way home from work. Here the whole long scene is drenched in a warm red, as if the whole world had turned to passion - or blood.

Critics have compared the "Mabuse-esque thrills" of Black Lizard to the "dreary Gothic melodrama" of its successor, and certainly the earlier title is more dramatic, having stronger material to work from. Black Rose Mansion also suffers from a degree of cheapness - notably in some of the action sequences, even if such moments - usually rashness on the part of the singer's lovers - do not lay at the heart of a film more about the hypnotic call of Ryoku's alluring 'madness'. But the Fukasaku was good enough an artist to raise most material above the ordinary and the director with his co writer Hiru Matsuda (responsible too for the cult Female Prisoner 701: Scorpion, 1971) between them make an interesting job of it, creating an original script rich in atmosphere, a portrait of men dazzled by an unfathomable creature with odd fascination and presence for audiences 40 years on.

That's not to say Black Rose Mansion is not without its longueurs; the static nature of some of its scenes, whilst suggesting just how much Ryoku's admirers are immobilised by the new arrival (with some irony Kyohei tells Ryoko that, without her, the mansion is "like a museum of mummies") do at times drag. The narrator seems too acquiescent to events, hardly to be expected from a rich and powerful man so quickly fallen into infatuation. For a film made so quickly to capitalise on a previous success, the acting is acceptable while the director helps things along as much as he can with some imaginative editing techniques like freeze frame, rapid cutting as well as the aforementioned filter work. Although the later title, at least, is not essential Fukasaku the novelties of both Black Lizard and Black Rose Mansion make them worth seeking out.

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