The Story Of The Kelly Gang (1906)
At a time when film-making everywhere else was limited to one- and two-reel efforts, a group of Australians got together and made the world’s first feature-length production. At its first release, The Story Of The Kelly Gang ran for over an hour—though tragically, today only about a quarter of the film still exists, and some of that footage is damaged almost to the point of obliteration. However, the National Film & Sound Archive of Australia has undertaken a reconstruction of sorts, drawing upon contemporary sources including an information booklet distributed to cinema-goers, stills from newspapers, and – where all else fails – their best guess to try and piece together a (more or less) cohesive narrative. When The Story Of The Kelly Gang was made, the events depicted were within the memory of many of the people who saw it; indeed, the gang’s demise occurred only 26 years before, and other members of the Kelly family were still alive. The film takes this knowledge pretty much for granted, reproducing without a narrative framework the best-known incidents of the bushrangers’ careers, including their raids and robberies at Euroa and Jerilderie (the latter involving the imprisonment of the local police in their own jail, a popular bushranger stunt); the murder of police informant, Aaron Sheritt; and the final bloody showdown at the Glenrowan Hotel. No punches are pulled about the nature of the gang’s activities; yet the film still manages to position the police and, in particular, the troopers hunting the bushrangers as the bad guys—clearly enough that the film was denounced and even banned in some places (including those areas of regional Victoria still referred to as “Kelly country”) for “the glorification of criminality”. Nevertheless, the film ran for weeks in Melbourne to packed houses; toured the country for over 20 years; and was screened in New Zealand and Britain (and yet not one goddamn person kept a print). Who actually made The Story Of The Kelly Gang, and who appeared in it, is still in dispute; though concert promoter and film distributor, Charles Tait, is officially listed as its director. The film was shot in and around Melbourne, and remarkably, sources suggest that the famous home-made armour worn by Ned Kelly during his final gun-battle with police, seen during the film’s climax, was the real thing—loaned to the production by entrepreneur Sir Rupert Clarke.
Based upon the novel by Gerhart Hauptmann. After learning that his thesis on bacteriology is likely to be rejected because of its radical ideas, Dr Friedrich von Kammacher (Olaf Fønss) receives a second stunning blow when the mental health of his wife, Angèle (Lily Frederiksen), deteriorates to the point where she must be institutionalised. Encouraged by his parents to get away for a while, von Kammacher travels to Berlin and Paris. Along the way, he meets and becomes infatuated by the dancer, Ingigerd Hahlstroem (Ida Orloff); however, he stunning debut sees her quickly signed up by a New York promoter. Receiving word that his thesis has indeed been rejected, on impulse von Kammacher books passage on the Roland, the steamship on which Ingigerd is travelling to America. On board, he attempts to pursue a relationship with her, but finds her surrounded by admirers. In mid-ocean, the Roland strikes an unseen object and begins to sink… Ah, dear. Who would have thought that a film about the sinking of an ocean liner could be so boring? But of course— Despite its reputation, Atlantis is not about the sinking, nor is it by any stretch of the imagination a disaster movie. Nor, for that matter, does it have any connection with the Titantic beyond the conjunction of incidents and dates; though it was criticised at the time of its release for exploiting the tragedy. Rather, this is a rather lugubrious melodrama about the long-suffering Dr von Kammacher and his frustrated romance with the self-absorbed Ingigerd Hahlstroem. The sinking of their liner is, bizarrely, merely an interlude in an overlong and rather soapy narrative that never succeeds in making the viewer care about any of its characters…or perhaps I just never got over the disappointment of discovering that von Kammacher being a bacteriologist is also beside the point. I can’t even say that the film is worth watching for its disaster scene, which – even allowing for the limitations of its time – is not well-staged. The focus remains on panicking extras, while the ship itself sits motionless and horizontal in a perfectly still ocean—until an abrupt shot shows it two-thirds below water with its stern in the air. But despite this central shortcoming, Atlantis is nevertheless an example of the remarkable technological advancement of the Danish film industry at this time, when indeed it was at the forefront of international cinema, challenged only by Italy. This was Denmark’s first multi-reel motion picture, and its production design, cinematography and location shooting are all remarkable—suggesting a film made a decade later or more. Atlantis was directed by August Blom, then the head of production at the Nordisk Film Company; and so complicated was the filming, Blom took the unprecedented step of hiring two assistant directors—one of them, who also appears in the film as Hans Fuellenberg, a colleague of von Kammacher, being a young Hungarian called Mihály Kertész…better known these days as Michael Curtiz.
The Ghost Train (1931)
Another case of a film surviving piecemeal. Arthur Ridley’s 1925 play, The Ghost Train, was quickly adapted for the screen, with this being the first sound version. Though successful at the time, The Ghost Train was subsequently believed to be a lost film; although four of its original seven reels were eventually rediscovered, with a fifth reel emerging later. However, at the time of production film and sound recordings were separate, and only two of the rediscovered reels have a soundtrack. The existing footage has now been reassembled (with a caveat; see below), and comparing this earlier version with the much better known 1941 adaptation is both fascinating and a bit dismaying. In the first place, many of the annoyances (to put it mildly) of the later film are also present here, and may therefore presumably be traced to the original play. That said—though they are every bit as annoying emanating from Jack Hulbert as they later are from Arthur Askey, these annoyances are much better explained here (at least if you know the full story, as some of the relevant material is missing), and they are also concentrated in the single character of Teddy Deakin. Though Deakin spends the film pursuing Peggy Murdock (a young and rather plump-cheeked Ann Todd), most of his “comic” interactions are with parrot-toting spinster, Miss Bourne—played by Jack Hulbert’s wife and long-time partner, Cicely Courtneige. Unfortunately, both of the serious highlights of any version of The Ghost Train are effectively missing here: the early scene in which stationmaster Saul Hodgkin (Donald Calthrop) recounts the terrible secret of Fal Vale Station is in one of the silent reels; while the moment in which the ghostly train tears through the station is missing altogether. The ending of this version of The Ghost Train is quite different from that of the later version, which was reworked into a war-era narrative. However, the train-crash footage which forms that film’s climax was lifted from this earlier production, along with various other snippets.
(This 1931 version has been made available on YouTube, however its reels are out of order! It appears that the three silent reels were lumped together, then the sound reels added on. If you watch it, at 20:45 jump forward to 30:37; then at 40:45, return to 20:45; then at 30:37, jump forward to 40:45.)
Call Of The Savage (1935, 12 chapters)
Based upon Jan Of The Jungle by Otis Adelbert Kline; also known as: The Call Of The Savage.
Pardon me while I go completely overboard banging on about this serial’s set-up, which is far more entertaining than anything that follows:
In New York, a bereaved mother offers a half-million dollar reward for anyone who can develop a treatment for infantile paralysis, aka polio. A medical institute chooses two pairs of researchers: saintly Doctors Trevor (Bryant Washburn) and Neff (Don Brodie); and evil Doctors Bracken (Walter Miller) and Phillips (Fred MacKaye), who are only interested in the money. It turns out that for some reason, polio research has to be conducted in Darkest Africa, and somehow involves lots of lions and tigers and b—uh, leopards being kept in distressingly small cages; although “testing the formula” is a matter of pouring something from one test tube into another and then staring at it. Bracken and Phillips meet with nothing but failure; but after one particularly intense pour-and-stare session, Trevor announces success. His wicked colleagues overhear this, and plan to rob him of his “formula”. Trevor, however, has already learned to distrust them, and so having written down his formula, he divides it into two—keeping one half himself and engraving the other half on a metal bracelet which he places around the wrist of his young son, Jan (Dickie Moore), who apparently is never going to grow any bigger or anything inconvenient like that. A series of disasters, some planned, some not, then result in wild beasts on the loose, fire, multiple fatalities, and a missing child…
Fifteen years later, and no-one has bothered getting off their backside and doing any polio research. So we gather from the fact that, when Bracken and Phillips catch wind of a white man wandering around Darkest Africa mumbling about his son, they set out immediately in pursuit of the missing formula and the still-extant offer of half a million. From here Call Of The Savage takes a fairly rapid nosedive, degenerating into a shameless Tarzan rip-off and consisting chiefly of tedious chase-through-the-jungle and failing-arms-fist-fight scenes. The grown Jan (Noah Beery Jr) crosses paths with Mona Andrews (Dorothy Short), supposedly the daughter of trading-post owner, Henry Andrews (Russ Powell), but in fact the long-missing princess of the equally lost City of Mu (that place sure does get around). Borno (Harry Woods), framed and banished from Mu, is determined to return Mona to her real father, the Emperor Mena (Stanley Andrews); while Bracken and Phillips, a dazed Trevor in tow, hunt Jan and the others in pursuit of the formula… Though it picks up when the party reaches Mu, which is full of death-traps, electronic doo-hickeys, John Davidson in a turban and sets from Frankenstein, overall Call Of The Savage is dragged down by an unconscionable load of animal abuse—a shame in more ways than one. This serial’s stock footage, a mixture of documentary, zoo-shot and staged material, is actually more varied and interesting than usual, featuring such little-known animals as a pangolin and a slow loris; but every other animal scene features either an animal getting killed – mostly faked – or two animals being tossed together and forced to fight—not fake. These scenes go on and on during the first half of the serial, and are made all the more sickening by the fact that they are so clearly presented for our entertainment—with jungle-boy Jan laughing delightedly every time two terrified animals start kicking the crap out of one another. Fuck you, Jan, seriously.
Love Takes Flight (1937)
Pilot Neil Bradshaw (Bruce Cabot) earns a living through commercial flying, but dreams of adventures that will give him a place in world aviation. He is also in love with air hostess Joan Lawson (Beatrice Roberts), though for a variety of reasons he does nothing about it, much to her dismay. On a routine flight from Los Angeles to El Paso, one of the passengers is move producer Dave Miller (Edwin Maxwell), who is being tormented by the demands of his star, Diana Audrey (Astrid Allwyn). Joan catches Miller’s eye: he offers her the chance to appear in his “air picture” as the second lead. Joan is excited by the opportunity—which unbeknownst to her, swamps Bradshaw’s own “big news” of a promotion and a ten dollar a week rise in salary. Finally, however, Joan decides she cannot leave flying – or Bradshaw – and rejects the offer. Miller’s disappointment is compounded when Diana Audrey refuses to be cast opposite an inexperienced actor: their argument ends in Diana determining to fly to New York to see the head of the studio. However, flights east are grounded due to bad weather. When Diane calls the airline, its publicity officer, “Spud” Johnson (John Sheehan), promises to arrange a private flight for her. He puts her on the airline’s new prototype, piloted by Bradshaw, and hopes for a speed record—but over Arizona, the plane develops engine trouble… Love Takes Flight is one of the innumerable aviation-based romance-dramas churned out during the 30s, and a reasonably likable one for all its lack of ambition. Its main virtue is that the screenplay by Lionel and Mervin Houser manages to keep its characters in the air and to use flying situations to sort out its story complications – including the nice meta-touch of an “air picture” inside this “air picture” – which gives this low-budget effort a few extra points. The main downside of Love Takes Flight – along with OCR Spud Johnson, his refusal to pay alimony the subject of a running “joke” – is that Bradshaw is the usual selfish and romantically obtuse type, taking Joan for granted—and, unlike her, not thinking twice when the publicity surrounding his emergency landing with Diana Audrey results in a movie offer for him. This situation is all the more exasperating because Beatrice Roberts is charming here; so that Joan capturing Dave Miller’s attention in the first place is quite believable. However, the film redeems itself – and displays a certain kinship with Wings In The Dark – when Joan retaliates by accepting a series of stunt-flying assignments arranged by Johnson: the fact that she’s a flyer herself having been revealed in passing early on. As Bradshaw’s movie career goes from strength to strength – as well as his romance with Diana – Joan builds her own alternative career through increasingly reckless stunt- and endurance-flying—and begins a romance with the son of the aeronautical designer whose plane she has been hired to test in a distance-race. The two subplots cross paths when Bradshaw learns that Joan has signed up to take on the dangerous trans-Pacific flight to the Philippines that he always dreamed of but did nothing about…
(More on this film in Spinning Newspaper Injures Printer – we have another repeat offender!)
The Gorilla (1939)
The community of Westchester is terrorised by a killer known as “the Gorilla”: presumably a maniac who dons an ape-suit to commit his crimes, 24 hours after sending a warning note. One such note reaches Kitty (Patsy Kelly), the cook-maid for Walter Stevens (Lionel Atwill), warning that he is to be the next victim. Stevens’ reaction is not what might be expected: first, via phone, he tells someone that he has a scheme to pay back all the money he owes him, plus a tidy profit; second, he cables his niece, Norma Denby (Anita Louise), telling her he will not be able to meet her ship when it docks, but that it is urgent she come out to his house upon her arrival. When Norma arrives, she is with her fiancé, Jack Marsden (Edward Norris): the two plan to marry almost immediately. Stevens takes the opportunity to explain that, under the terms of her father’s will, Norma and he are co-heirs, but that in the event of either of them dying, the other inherits the entire estate. Norma and Jack also learn of the threat made by the Gorilla: they urge Stevens to call the police. He is reluctant, for reasons that are not quite clear, but assures them that he has taken precautions: he and his butler, Peters (Bela Lugosi), are both armed; and he has hired private detectives in the form of Acme Investigations: Mulligan (Al Ritz), Harrigan (Harry Ritz) and Garrity (Jimmy Ritz)… This was the third filming of Ralph Spence’s play, The Gorilla, the other two being perhaps mercifully lost; though it is hard to imagine either of them could be as much of an endurance test as the 1939 version, which was retooled into a vehicle for the Ritz Brothers. The Gorilla is one of those “comedies” where about 90% of the alleged humour consists of people screaming hysterically, yelling at one another, and/or behaving in a cowardly fashion—or in the case of the film’s three “stars”, all of this at once. The results are all but intolerable, with only a few glimmerings of decent material when these unfunny knuckleheads are briefly out of the way. Above all, in what in some ways the film’s most bizarre touch, set against the relentless shouting and flailing of the rest of the cast we have Bela Lugosi underplaying—and his unperturbability as Peters, in the face of the ever-escalating insanity around him, is a genuine pleasure. Meanwhile, Lionel Atwill manages to maintain his dignity, and Patsy Kelly gets a few good moments when the screenplay by Rian James and Sid Silvers allows her to stop screaming. And of course, this is one of the 30s’ seemingly infinite films which serves up a “real” gorilla as well as a “fake” gorilla and no-one is supposed to (i) see anything wrong, or (ii) be able to tell the difference. The one touch of actual wit here, presumably originating in the play, is that the real gorilla is called “Poe”. Disappearances and reappearances, sliding panels and secret passages, plus a couple of strangers who may or may not be who they claim, complicate matters until at last, the Gorilla is unmasked…
(…if not the gorilla, which is played by Art Miles.)
(More on this film in Spinning Newspaper Injures Printer!)
(ETA: The Gorilla is also a Repeat Offender!)
The Giants Of Thessaly (1960)
Original title: I giganti della Tessaglia; also known as: Gli Argonauti / The Argonauts. Angered by the theft of the Golden Fleece, Zeus visits a series of disasters upon Thessaly. Consequently, King Jason (Roland Carey) gathers a band of loyal followers and sets out in a ship, the Argo, to search for it. Jason leaves his kingdom in the hands of his cousin, Adrasto (Alberto Farnese), who is also tasked with caring for Jason’s wife, Creusa (Ziva Johann), and their infant son; but though in public Adrasto speaks passionately in support of Jason, in private he has plans both for Thessaly and Creusa… Jason and his followers encounter many hardships, including a violent storm that wrecks the masts of their ship and leaves them drifting without food or water. Some of the debris washes back to Thessaly, raising the fear that Jason and the others are dead; but neither Creusa nor the people will believe it. The Argonauts are eventually saved by a rainstorm, and then find land in the form of an island populated only by beautiful young women—and which hides a terrible secret… Though co-written and directed by Riccardo Freda, The Giants Of Thessaly is a disappointing take upon the story of Jason and the Argonauts. Coming only two years later, it is impossible not to make comparisons with Hercules. In this version, Iolcus is the capital of Thessaly; an adult Jason is already king; and of course, there’s no Hercules along for the ride—although for some reason the crew includes Orpheus (Massimo Girotti), who spends his time moaning about how he really shouldn’t have looked back at Eurydice… (Yeah, no shit, bro.) It turns out that the Argonauts have been at sea a full year without getting anywhere near their destination (!!); and whatever enthusiasm they might have had for their quest at the outset has degenerated into boredom, sulking and rebellion—prompting the viewer to react pretty much the same way. The Giants Of Thessaly is episodic even by peplum standards, and its individual interludes don’t amount to much. The beautiful women turn out to be witches, though Jason thwarts the plans of Queen Gaia (Nadine Duca aka Nadia Sanders) by refusing to be seduced; while another island stop finds the Argonauts confronting and killing the local ravening monster—the Cyclops. (Aw, I hate when it’s the Cyclops, you know what’s gunna happen…) However, Jason’s reclaiming of the Golden Fleece, in which he must mount a solitary assault upon a gigantic statue, is a well-staged sequence. The question is then whether the Argonauts can reach Thessaly in time to put a stop to both the angry punishments of the gods, and to Adrasto’s evil plans…
Gladiator Of Rome (1962)
Original title: Il gladiatore di Roma. General Astarte (Piero Lulli) helps to overthrow the rightful rulers of Silesia, but his “reward” from the paranoid new king is to be sent to hunt down the rightful heir to the throne, Nisa (Wandisa Guida), who was sold into slavery—and warned that it is her life or his… Nisa, meanwhile, has been fortunate: though a slave, she is kindly treated by Valerius the Elder (Nando Tamberlani) and his wife, and under the personal protection of a fellow exile and slave, Marcus (Gordon Scott). Valerius the Younger (Roberto Risso) is in love with Nisa, and promises that he will persuade his parents to free her and agree to their marriage. However, he is called away from home and, in his absence, his parents are killed and their house fired by Roman soldiers sent by the Emperor Caracalla, after they are falsely charged with being Christians. The household slaves, including Nisa and Marcus, become the property of the state: Astarte, arriving just too late, works to have Nisa assigned to him. Meanwhile, an outraged Valerius throws over his military commission and devotes himself to rescuing Nisa, working with a quick-witted tavern-wench, Aglae (Ombretta Colli), who is in love with Marcus… First the bad news: readily accessible prints of Gladiator Of Rome are awful, and so is their English dubbing (turning one supporting character into the Odious Comic Relief, whether he was meant to be or not). The good news is that this peplum is much more complexly plotted than is usual, with all sorts of people at cross-purposes—albeit that most of them are trying, for one reason or another, to get their hands on Nisa and/or Marcus. As a result this film may have too much talk and not enough action for some viewers, but I found it engaging. It should be noted, though, that the film’s title is misleading: though rescued from the consequences of an attempted escape and trained as a gladiator instead, Marcus never actually fights in the arena—instead using his strength and skill to defend his fellow slaves and the increasingly persecuted Christians. Likewise, it would be difficult to call Gordon Scott the “star” of this film: with so many characters and subplots, he has to share the screen with co-good-guy, Roberto Risso; but also with bad guys Piero Lulli; Alberto Farnese as Vezio Rufo, an ambitious Roman governor trying to curry favour with Caracalla by killing Christians; and Eleonora Vargas as his wife, who gets a letch for Valerius and takes it out on Nisa. There are lots of fights, escapes, recaptures, and finally a crucifixion—but also a happy ending which by that time seems more than a little out of place, and which features future Roman Emperor, Macrino / Macrinus (Gianni Solaro). Despite his reduced role, Scott is charismatic and believable as Marcus, and he is well-matched by Ombetta Colli as Aglae—who is, of course, much more interesting than Nisa (and if you guessed that she’s a brunette and Nisa a blonde, give yourself a gold star). Mind you—now that I think about it, I don’t think Valerius ever finds out that the “slave-girl” he loves is the rightful ruler of Silesia, so a big thumbs-up for him.
Dorian Gray (1970)
Original title: Das Bildnis des Dorian Gray (The Secret Of Dorian Gray). The weird thing is that this Harry Alan Towers production is actually a pretty good adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s famous story about a painting that ages while its subject retains his youth and beauty—that is, if you don’t mind Wilde’s bons mots being interspersed with explicit sex scenes. In fact, the main criticism you could make of this film is that at some points it sticks too close to its source, leading to various touches that just don’t work. Dorian Gray opens in what deduce to be the 1950s (though its evocation of that era is not one of its strong points): young Dorian (Helmut Berger) is out of step with London high society thanks to his idealism and generosity. This leads him to pursue a serious relationship with the lovely young actress, Sybil Vane (Marie Liljedahl); the two are soon discussing marriage, though Sybil insists she wants to keep acting. Dorian is having his portrait painted by his friend, the artist Basil Hallward (Richard Todd), who introduces him to the jaded socialites, brother and sister Gwendolyn (Margaret Lee) and Henry Wotton (Herbert Lom), both of whom are strongly drawn to him. Almost in spite of himself, Dorian begins to listen to Wotton’s cynical and selfish life-philosophy. When the portrait is finished, Wotton bemoans the fact that Dorian himself must fade and age, while the painting will stay beautiful forever. Suddenly overcome by bitterness, Dorian insists furiously that he will not age—that the portrait will do it for him… There are a number of unexpected strengths to Dorian Gray, including Helmut Berger’s almost androgynous beauty in the title role, which director Massimo Dallamano and cinematographer Otello Spila exploit to the utmost as Dorian pursues a life of, shall we say, experimentation. The newly immortalised Dorian is like walking catnip, irresistible to men and women alike, young or old, married or single, straight or gay—his omnisexuality climaxing, if you’ll forgive the expression, in the film’s funniest touch: a new career as a celebrity porn star! For a film of this vintage, Dorian Gray is both frank and non-judgemental about its protagonist’s homosexual encounters, after he is – somewhat belatedly, we might feel – seduced in the shower by Henry Wotton: Dorian is next seen cruising the docks for muscular young sailors. Furthermore, though its random gays are of the flaming persuasion, they are by no means treated unkindly. However—don’t expect an equal visual explicitness in this section of the film. As the years drift by, with the 50s becoming the 60s and then the (much more convincingly staged) 70s, Dorian remains as cold and as beautiful as ever; but also as ever, his hidden portrait records the excesses and cruelties of his life… A British-German-Italian co-production filmed on location in England and Italy, Dorian Gray boasts a fabulous Euro-film cast including, in addition to those already named, Maria Rohm, Beryl Cunningham, Isa Miranda, Eleonora Rossi Drago and Renato Romano, who also oversaw the film’s dubbing. The film’s most significant letdown is the portrait—which I don’t think captures Helmut Berger the way it needed to.
Goliath Awaits (1981)
In 1939, only days after the outbreak of war, the ocean liner Goliath attempts to cross from America to Great Britain. Although the ship is sent on a looping, southerly course in an attempt to throw off its pursuers, it is hunted down by German U-boats and torpedoed… Forty years later, a survey-dive team searching for deposits of manganese in the Caribbean is startled to come across the wreck of a ship: from its size and design, they know what it must be. Peter Cabot (Mark Harmon) argues his team into stopping to investigate—pressing the extraordinary nature of their find on one hand, and the value of the salvage on the other. Working from a dive-bell, Cabot leads the first examination of the wreck. As he draws near its hull, he is startled to hear a noise which he becomes convinced is an SOS; but this is only the beginning: he then hears what sounds like music before, glimpsed through a porthole, he sees a woman’s face… By the time his dive-mates get to him, Cabot is in convulsions due to a faulty pressure-gauge. He is rescued and transferred to a naval hospital to recover. While there, Cabot – who is ex-navy – stubbornly tells his story to Admiral Sloan (Eddie Albert), who agrees to mount a full-scale investigation, much to the bemusement of his subordinate, Commander Jeff Selkirk (Robert Forster). Sloan confides to Selkirk that the Goliath was carrying certain explosive documents that, even now, could rock the world; if there is any chance of their survival, they must be found and destroyed. A joint US-UK team mounts an expedition: the men are stunned to get a response to their own Morse Code message—one indicating that 337 people are living within the wreck of the Goliath… Originally broadcast in two parts and running some three-and-a-half hours in total, Goliath Awaits is an interesting but fatally flawed science fiction effort. It is strongest over its first half, wherein it makes an intelligent, good-faith effort to engage with the questions raised by its premise, and provides thoughtful if not wholly convincing answers to the issues of pressure, breathable air, warmth, light, and food and water production. The overarching problem here is that the screenplay by Hugh Benson, Richard M. Bluel and Pat Fielder finally raises a raft of other questions that this mini-series just doesn’t have time to answer: about the psychological and emotional states of those living within the Goliath – those who remember the surface, and those who have known nothing but their enclosed world – and such side-issues as enforced contraception (how?), lifelong work assignments and euthanasia. Nor, perhaps, does the narrative engage quite sufficiently with the central irony of people succumbing to fascism even as they spend forty years living in fear of a German victory, though the point is certainly made; and there likewise is something of a shying away from the implications surrounding the ship’s Dr Goldman (Jean Marsh), who is Jewish. Goliath Awaits is finally too uneven for complete enjoyment; in particular, the climactic escape / rescue sequence seems interminable, dissipating suspense through its over-length. The best thing here is – surprise! – Christopher Lee, who effortlessly conveys the two faces of former Third Engineer John Mackenzie: oozing unctuous self-satisfaction as his colony’s beloved saviour and patriarch on one hand, on the other coldly dangerous when anything threatens his absolute authority. However, Mark Harmon and Emma Samms as Lea Mackenzie are uninteresting as the perfunctory love interests; while Frank Gorshin overacts shamelessly as Dan Wesker, Mackenzie’s devoted servitor / high priest / hitman. The supporting cast includes John Carradine as 30s movie idol, Richard Bentley; John McIntire as former US ambassador, Oliver Bartholomew; Jeanette Nolan as his wife; Duncan Regehr as Paul Ryker, leader of the rebel “bow-people”; and Alex Cord as naval doctor, Sam Marlowe. Goliath Awaits was partially filmed on the Queen Mary, which contributes enormously to a sense of verisimilitude (and put me in mind of The Last Voyage!).
Mona Lisa (1986)
Trying to pick up the pieces of his life after being released from prison, George (Bob Hoskins) has the door slammed in his face by his ex-wife and is unable to find work. Things improve somewhat when George finds a refuge with his friend, Thomas (Robbie Coltrane), a mechanic who writes thrillers in his spare time, and secures a job of sorts through local crime-boss, Denny Mortwell (Michael Caine)—who George blames for his incarceration, though he is now compelled to beg favours of him. George is given the task of driving – and spying upon – high-price call-girl, Simone (Cathy Tyson). The two are initially antagonistic, with George resenting Simone’s evident distaste for him as crude and low-class; but in time their attitudes shift to a grudging mutual liking and even respect. George, indeed, cannot shake the feeling that in spite of her profession, Simone is a lady—too good for the likes of him, though he begins to dream otherwise. As the two grow closer, George is lured into Simone’s ongoing search for Cathy (Kate Hardie), a young girl she knew when first on the streets, and who is under the control of a dangerous pimp called Anderson (Clarke Peters)… Neil Jordan’s directorial debut is a mixture of neo-noir crime-thriller and character study, which draws upon all sorts of influences without ever feeling stale or derivative. Mona Lisa functions most overtly as a kind of mirror-image of Taxi Driver, relocated to a seedy, pre-gentrification London and with a protagonist who is not only sane but longs for a decent life; though the two films collide in the way that George’s attempt to rescue a young prostiture likewise ends in bloody violence. It is his misplaced romantic streak that plunges George into danger, as he tries to win Simone’s regard by taking on her quest for the missing Cathy, a prostitute not much older than his own estranged daughter, Jeannie (Zoë Nathenson), with whom he is forging a tentative relationship behind the back of his ex-wife. All this said, George is no angel; and when he discovers that Simone has secrets in her life – that she has been taking advantage of his obvious longing for her and making use of him for her own purposes – his furious reaction sets in motion a chain of deadly events… Mona Lisa represents an astonishing assured debut for Neil Jordan; but while his own sensibilities are responsible for the film’s mise-en-scène, it is the performance of Bob Hoskins that holds it all together. George is a remarkably shaded character, crude and repellant, as Simone first concludes, violent by the training of his envoronment, yet with all sorts of decent impulses that his life has hardly allowed to develop, let alone provided an outlet for. Cathy Tyson is also striking in her film debut, allowing us to understand how George can romanticise her, but never leading the viewer into the same mistake. Michael Caine, meanwhile, offers one of the truly unpleasant characterisations of his career as Mortwell. His is really only a cameo appearance—yet in its very brevity, we are made to feel the crime-boss’s grip on the lives of his underlings, and to understand the magnitude of the risk George is taking in defying him. Robbie Coltrane offers the film’s only break from the bleakness as Thomas. Nat ‘King’ Cole’s version of the title song dominates the soundtrack of Mona Lisa, in which Phil Collins’ “In Too Deep”, though lyrically appropriate, seems out of place.
Though long banished from his father’s realm, the vampire Radu (Anders Hove) returns to the stronghold of King Vladislav (Angus Scrimm) when he learns that his younger half-brother, Stefan (Michael Watson), is to assume power. Vladislav tries to to trap and restrain his son, but Radu is able to escape with the help of a swarm of blood demons spawned from his own fingertips. Vladislav is killed, and Radu seizes control of the Bloodstone, an artefact which exudes the blood of the saints… Two American students, Michelle (Laura Mae Tate) and Lillian (Michelle McBride), arrive in Romania, to be greeted by their college friend, Irina (Irina Movila). The three are studying medieval history, with an emphasis upon the region’s folklore, and the newcomers are delighted to learn they will be staying in an ancient fortress, the scene of a famous historical battle which according to legend ended when the invading Turks were slaughtered by the local vampire population. The caretaker, Karl (Ivan J. Rado), tells the girls that one other student is staying in the fortress, but that he is rarely there. Later, a young man introduces himself as Stefan, and explains that he is a zoologist studying the area’s nocturnal fauna. Michelle is strongly attracted to him, much to her friends’ amusement. While exploring, the three girls come across an abandoned castle of which they can find no mention in their books. As night is beginning to fall, Mara and Michelle want to leave further exploration for another day. However, Lillian tries to force open the rusted door of the castle but only succeeds in cutting her arm. As the three hurry away, taking a shortcut through the woods, Radu emerges from the castle… Directed by Ted Nicolaou, Subspecies represents a cinematic landmark of sorts, being not just the first Full Moon film, but the first American film to be shot in Romania. The setting is one of its real strengths: the locations are well-used, and there is a freshness about their deployment that reminds us that everyone involved was seeing these places for the first time. As for its plot, Subspecies is a fairly engaging mixture of traditional vampire lore, Full Moon obsessions, questionable acting and unfortunate early-90s trends (see also: Michelle’s hat). Perhaps the most impressive thing about it is the way that the screenplay by Jackson Barr and David Pabian manages to riff on Dracula – film and novel – without being either intrusive or smug about it; and in pursuing this theme, the film is rather ruthless in its handling of its central characters. Meanwhile, Adrian Hove as Radu sports some weirdly extended fingers that reference Nosferatu…and which cause him no end of trouble during the climactic sword-fight. But while Radu is a nasty creation, Stefan – who is half-human – unfortunately harks forward to the pretty-boy vampires of recent times. Furthermore, his abrupt relationship with Michelle is unconvincing—a problem given the weight eventually placed upon it by the script. To compensate— Well, this would hardly be a proper Full Moon film if there weren’t Little Scuttling Things, and this time around we have Radu’s blood demons, the “subspecies” of the franchise title, animated by David Allen. The plot of Subspecies involves the struggle for vampire power via possession of the Bloodstone, which can allow a vampire to feed without preying upon mortals, but which in the wrong hands – i.e. Radu’s – becomes like a drug. Radu, the unintended offspring of Vladislav and an evil sorceress, has always hated Stefan, their father’s favourite, and now pursues a double revenge upon him—trying to seize power in the form of the Bloodstone while also ruining his half-brother’s life by targeting the young students he has befriended: Michelle in particular…
Also known as: Jersey Devil. Cap (A. C. Peterson), the owner of a carnival, purchases a strange creature for his show—and promptly kills the man who sold it to him, tasking his assistant, Quinn (Dominic Cuzzocrea), with getting rid of the body and dumping the dead man’s delivery van. Cap plans to sell the creature to a collector, but in the meantime puts it on display to try and save his struggling carnival. The arrival of the show in the town of Resilience, Nebraska, infuriates the local pastor (Vlasta Vrana), who complains to the police. Sheriff Atlas (Lou Diamond Phillips) visits the show as it is setting up, to check that all its permits are in order, and finds himself drawn to fortune-teller Samara (Simone-Élise Girard), whose visions are very real—and who flinches from an image of bloodshed and death when she touches his hand. Pastor Owen begins organising a revival to protest the carnival with the help of his son, Taylor (Matt Murray). The latter soon slips away for an afternoon of illicit drinking with his friend, Jesse (Kyle Gatehouse). The two attend the carnival, queuing with the other townspeople and the sheriff to see what Cap has billed as “God’s abomination”. To their astonishment and fear, they find themselves gazing at a creature with claws and wings, which snarls as it hurls itself against its cage. Further infuriated by Taylor’s taunting, the creature finally breaks free and, as the crowd stampedes in terror, flies away… Carny is another in the seemingly endless SyFy “Maneater” series, and an absolutely typical Halmi production (though this time we have Robert Jr on his own) inasmuch as it never bothers to account for its creature: where it was caught, how it was caught, who caught it, how Cap alone found out about it—and the big one, why it’s being passed from hand to hand between shadowy carny folk for a wad of bills instead of being exploited for millions. As for what the creature is, Carny (as its prosaic Australian retitling indicates) exploits the legend of the Jersey Devil here—going with the “it really is the devil” version to justify the Old Testament reactions of Pastor Owen to the carnival, the creature, and the well-deserved death of his obnoxious son. Though an obvious mixture of CGI and a rubber puppet, the creature is fairly well-realised—albeit that it changes size from scene to scene, and that – of course – we see a lot less of it than we do of people running around in the woods looking for it. In fact, Carny throws away all of its potential strengths in favour of cost-effective but numbingly dull running around—most significantly the carnival itself, which has become a refuge for all sorts of outsiders, from a genuine psychic to people who work as part of an old-fashioned “freak show” because of their physical deformities. (The makeup effects here are surprisingly good.) I mean, no-one loves a monster movie more than me—but in the early scenes of Sheriff Atlas wandering the carnival, his initial shock and embarrassment giving way to appreciation, there are hints of a far more interesting film than we finally get. Similarly, the initial sense that Cap genuinely cares for the people in his employ and would do anything to keep their carnival going gives is completely lost in the increasingly bloody shuffle. There’s nothing much the cast can do here, although there’s a measure of amusement in watching Lou Diamond Phillips play yet another out-of-his-depth small-town sheriff. That said, given that Atlas lets the situation – and the body count – escalate without calling in any outside help, it’s hard to be sympathetic. Meanwhile, Joe Cobden gets a few good moments as Atlas’s deputy. Carny was directed by Sheldon Wilson, who also helmed the rather unpleasant Kaw.
(The more I think about it, the more I wonder whether Carny started life as an entirely different film, as its inappropriate title suggests, but only got made after a monster was shoe-horned in.)
An Officer And A Murderer (2012)
The appointment of Colonel Russell Williams (Gary Cole) to command of Canadian Forces Base Trenton, in Ontario, is received with acclaim from both Williams’ military colleagues and the local community. Though entitled to live on base, Williams tells his wife, Mary Elizabeth Harriman (Nahanni Johnstone), that he would prefer to go on living in their new suburban home and commute. Meanwhile, as part of an exchange program, highly-qualified Toronto police detective, Nick Gallagher (Rossif Sutherland), arrives at the headquarters of the Trenton police. He is partnered with local detective, Jennifer Dobson (Laura Harris), who warns him that nothing much ever happens in Trenton. However, her words are belied when the two are called to the scene of a break-and-enter: sensing something untold, Detective Dobson presses the point, and learns from the family’s mortified teenage daughter than the intruder stole her underwear. Dobson and Gallagher discover that several other such cases are on record; they wonder how many more victims may not have reported the crime, out of embarrassment. As their investigation builds a picture of a serial offender, Gallagher warns Dobson that in such cases, there is very often an escalation to rape and even murder. His words prove only too true: two women report an intruder who stripped and blindfolded them before photographing himself with them. Then the body of Corporal Marie-France Comeau, from the Trenton base, is discovered; while a second local woman, Jessica Lloyd, disappears… This Lifetime movie is a fair depiction of the real-life case of Colonel Russell Williams, the decorated Royal Canadian Air Force officer who in 2010 was convicted of murder and sexual assault, and is currently serving a life sentence. It is, in any event, better than Lifetime’s subsequent The Grim Sleeper, not least because it doesn’t spend half its running-time fretting over its female protagonist’s love-life. Likely cast because of his earlier appearance as Jeffrey MacDonald, Gary Cole gives a brave performance here in what is unavoidably a deeply distasteful role. Given that this is a Lifetime movie, An Officer And A Murderer does a pretty good job of conveying Williams’ increasingly aberrant crimes without being overly explicit. Where this film tampers with the facts is in its presentation of the investigation, or rather of the people involved in it, who are fictional. However, in context what is done with that tampering is quite striking, in that there is no artificial drama here, just sensible procedure. Though a big-city detective and a qualified profiler, Gallager is never condescending or know-it-all; while Dobson, confronted with her first big case, rises to the occasion: both of them make mistakes along the way, but neither shrinks from pursuing a suspect as celebrated and well-liked as Williams. Meanwhile, though she resists their initial plea to go public, Captain Catherine Novak (Catherine Disher) subsequently does everything she can to support her officers; and though, when informed that Russell Williams is the prime suspect, both the military and civilian authorities are appalled and disbelieving, they do nothing to hinder the investigation. Behaviour such as this is almost unheard of in a film of this kind, but it eventually dawned on me that, well, of course everyone is being reasonable: they’re all CANADIAN.
Dracula Untold (2014)
It’s an enduring mystery to me why, when dealing with the real-life inspiration for the fictional character, Dracula – a happy chappy known to history as Vlad the Impaler – so many contemporary screenwriters feel the urge to try and turn into some sort of romantic hero; worse still, to domesticate him. But here we are again, in yet another unnecessary origin story that gives us a war- (and, ahem, impaling-) weary Vlad (Luke Evans) who just wants to live peacefully with his wife, Mirena (Sarah Gadon), and young son, Îngeraș (Art Parkinson), if only those mean old Turks would let him. Dracula Untold posits that, not only was Vlad surrendered to the Turks as a boy, as a hostage for his father’s loyalty (which is true), but that it was their raising and training that turned him into a remorseless fighter and killer. Eventually he broke away, returning to Wallachia, and maintaining an uneasy peace with the new sultan, his foster-brother, Mehmed (Dominic Cooper)—until Mehmed decides that the Wallachians’ tribute of silver coins is not enough: he wants in addition one thousand young Wallachian boys, to be raised as Janisseries, as Vlad was… Faced with the choice of giving up the children or being slaughtered by the Ottoman Army, Vlad chooses a desperate third path. Earlier, he and his retinue discovered evidence of Turkish scouts in their territory and followed it to a cave in Broken Tooth Mountain. There, though Vlad escaped, his companions were killed by some powerful force lurking in the darkness. Consulting a local monk, Vlad learns that the creature in the cave is a vampire, who has been trapped there since his “turning” in the days of the Roman Empire. Vlad returns to the cave and confronts the vampire (Charles Dance), who agrees to turn him—but warns him that, though his powers will be immense as a consequence, he will also be gripped by an overwhelming urge to feed on human blood. If he can resist it for three days, he will revert; if not… The issues with Dracula Untold are many and tiresomely familiar: overarchingly, though it refuses to be a horror movie (and you can almost feel director Gary Shore turning up his nose at the very idea), it can’t make up its mind whether it wants to be a Lord Of The Rings-esque epic adventure or some sort of superhero story (transformed Vlad becomes, literally enough, The Bat Man); in both guises, it struggles with its need to find noble, or at least understandable, reasons for Vlad’s actions. Never at any point does Dracula Untold convince as history—or even just as film-making. We have the usual jumble of distracting accents, too many things included to “look cool”, and a scenario studded with wince-worthy anachronisms, everything from a casual “Okay” in conversation to medieval soldiers effectively doing martial arts, unhampered by their armour; while the need for a PG-13 rating results in scenes of absurdly bloodless slaughter, with Vlad mowing down the Turks like the Ottoman Army had been replaced by the Droid Army. The only effective sequence comes when, after disaster strikes, Vlad “turns” the handful of Wallachian survivors and leads them in one last attack. However, this is undercut by the film’s ending which, in addition to being a shameless set-up for a sequel, steals its moves not from Bram Stoker’s Dracula, but – sigh – from Bram Stoker’s Dracula…
The Parker family struggles with its relocation from the urban centre of Coonaburra to the small, remote, desert-adjacent town of Nathgari. Matthew (Joseph Fiennes) and Catherine (Nicole Kidman) are estranged and uncommunicative; fifteen-year-old Lily (Maddison Brown) begins acting out sexually; and young Tom (Nicholas Hamilton) develops insomnia and begins slipping out of the house to walk the night. After a family argument, late one night Matthew sees both children sneaking out of the house—and says nothing. The next day, Catherine is woken by a phone-call from the local school informing her that neither child is in attendance; she learns that both have been regularly cutting school. In a panic, Catherine rushes to the local pharmacy where Matthew works, embarrassing him with her uncontrolled behaviour. She in turn ignores his plea to keep the situation private and reports the children’s absence to local police detective, David Rae (Hugo Weaving). Rae learns that Lily went missing once before; he also discovers that the reason for the move to Nathgari was the girl’s sexual relationship with a teacher, Neil McPherson (Martin Dingle-Wall); Matthew’s attack upon him, resulting in a restraining order; and a desire to escape the notoriety. Aware that if the children have wandered into the desert, they have only days to live, the town is mobilised into a search; while Catherine grows increasingly angry with Matthew’s detachment… Strangerland is a disappointing film that doesn’t seem to have recognised where its strengths were—or at least, which ignores most of its genuine possibilities for yet another study of the problems of middle-class white people. Its focus remains the dysfunctional family at its heart, and in particular the chasm between repressed, controlling Matthew and the increasingly erratic Catherine—and the chicken-and-egg situation of Lily’s revealed sexual behaviour and Catherine’s own failed attempts to gain sexual attention from Matthew or, failing him, someone else; anyone else. Meanwhile, the film wastes both its marvellous setting – Strangerland was filmed around Alice Springs in the Northern Territory, and Canowindra and Broken Hill in New South Wales – and the potential of its tense, mixed-race town; while its allusions to aboriginal mythology and to other Australian films, most significantly Picnic At Hanging Rock and Walkabout, never amount to anything concrete, despite the film’s obliquely suggestive ending. Both Catherine and Matthew are unsympathetic, even in their grief and despair, so that it is hard to buy into their characters despite the horrifying nature of their loss. Hugo Weaving, however, offers a low-key but nuanced performance as the police officer caught between his white and black communities both professionally and personally—the two colliding when Burtie (Meyne Wyatt), the mentally-challenged brother of his aboriginal girlfriend, Coreen (Lisa Flanagan), confesses to him that he was involved with Lily…
A Surrogate’s Nightmare (2017)
A woman out jogging on an isolated track is violently attacked. Though she cries out that she is sorry, her attacker beats her and throws her down a steep, rocky slope… Shelley (Emily Tennant) is devastated when she receives the news of her mother’s death, which is ruled an accident: her bereavement comes on the back of her learning that she cannot have a baby. Angela (Poppy Montgomery), Shelley’s estranged older sister, returns to town for the funeral. Now a successful author based in New York, Angela has not been home since running away at the age of seventeen, but promises that she will stay for a while to help Shelley through her grief. As the sisters get to know one another, Angela offers to act as a surrogate for Shelley and her husband, David (Steven Kreuger). After the funeral, Angela reconnects with her high-school boyfriend, Kurt (Ty Olsson), who is still carrying a torch for her. In fact, he immediately begins planning their future together… This Lifetime movie is an odd mixture of the completely stupid and the unnervingly on the mark; although the former unsurprisingly predominates. A Surrogate’s Nightmare is full of people making life-changing decisions at the drop of a hat, usually without consulting the other people involved. Thus, Shelley pursues her determination to have a baby without checking that it’s what David wants too—and it isn’t, not at this time, because he’s up for a work promotion…which requires him to move to Shanghai, something he hasn’t gotten around to telling his wife. Meanwhile, rather than see that these immature idiots shouldn’t be having a baby (or moving to Shanghai), Angela moves in with them and immediately gets herself impregnated. (So much for her life in New York.) All that said, A Surrogate’s Nightmare isn’t actually about any of that, nor what we might expect from its title, such as a baby-napping or some such; but is, rather, an all-too-familiar tale of an obsessed man who doesn’t know how to take ‘no’ for an answer. Of all the unlikely plot-touches here, Angela’s reconnection with Kurt might be the least likely (it’s even more unlikely than it seems at first, once we know their back-story); not least because of the whole “I’m carrying my sister’s baby” thing, something she doesn’t get around to telling him…which is just too bad for David, when Kurt misinterprets the situation… Silly as much of this is, the film’s depiction of Kurt’s growing obsession with Angela, his over-the-top reaction to every small gesture from her, and the way he acts out when she rejects him is unfortunately all too believable—in particular, the moment when he caps off a passive-aggressive speech about what a man might be justified in doing in such a situation – what he could do – though he won’t, because he’s a nice guy… Stalking, spying, threats, terrorisation and revelations finally get capped off by a twist ending that any experienced Lifetime viewer ought to see coming.
New York air-traffic controller, Dylan Branson (Michiel Huisman), begins to experience recurrent dreams involving Grand Central Station, and a tragedy that occurs at 2.22 pm. One day at work, Dylan slips into a fugue state in which he sees the patterns embedded in his dreams. Though his risky last-minute instructions avert the collision of two planes, he is temporarily suspended. With time on his hands, Dylan uses tickets given to him for his birthday to attend the ballet. To his surprise he ends up admiring the production—and even more so a beautiful young woman seated near him. He approaches her afterwards, learning that she is Sarah Barton (Teresa Palmer), who works as an artistic designer for an art gallery. The two connect strongly—and Dylan is stunned to discover that Sarah was on one of the planes that narrowly avoided collision. Meanwhile, Dylan becomes aware that certain events in his life are repeating themselves on a daily basis. He attends a gallery showing with Sarah, though uncomfortable that the artist, Jonas Edman (Sam Reid), is her ex-boyfriend. The display opens with an elaborate holographic projection of events that exactly mirror Dylan’s recurrent dream—and involve a murder committed at Grand Central Station some thirty years before… My understanding is that 2.22 was stuck in development hell for several years before this Paul Currie-directed version finally emerged from the shuffle of rewrites and recasting; honestly, its producers should have taken the hint and let it lay. This film is exasperatingly full of itself, quite convinced that it’s saying something profound, yet so hollow it eventually shatters like almost every piece of glass that appears in it. The repeat-pattern stuff just by its nature holds the viewer’s interest for a while, but when its meaning is revealed, it just doesn’t make sense—or not as presented. At length we learn that Dylan, Sarah and Jonas are destined to reenact a double-murder committed at Grand Central Station thirty years before—on the day both Dylan and Sarah were born (the same day a star some thirty light-years away went supernova, which apparently set all this in motion, *eye roll*). But this is 1986 we’re talking about—and consequently, the scenario given is just ridiculous. This part of the story needed to be set much earlier, in a noir-ish 50s or even a corrupt-ish 30s, to play out as we’re asked to accept that it does. In fact, the more this film explains itself, the more intolerable it becomes. It also requires the viewer to care what happens to Dylan and Sarah, and we just don’t. But really, there isn’t much the cast can do in the face of the pretentious screenplay by Todd Stein and Nathan Parker. Australian viewers, however, might get a few more yocks out of 2.22 than anyone else: despite the film’s setting, it was shot at the Fox Studios in Sydney—which among other things results in a mysteriously underpopulated and amusingly cleaned-up NYC. There’s also an hilarious moment that finds Hyde Park standing in for Central Park…where I don’t think they have Moreton Bay fig-trees, do they? At any rate, they certainly don’t have an Anzac Memorial…
A privately owned space-station used for dangerous biological research by the Energyne company is wrecked when a giant mutated lab-rat breaks loose. The last surviving scientist makes it to an escape pod with vials of an experimental pathogen in a protective case, but the pod is damaged and burns up upon re-entry, scattering debris across the United States… Primatologist David Okoye (Dwayne Johnson) is appalled when he learns that George, the albino gorilla he rescued from poachers, and who he can communicate with using sign-language, has suddenly turned savage—escaping his enclosure at a wildlife sanctuary and killing a grizzly bear. Okoye manages to calm and restrain the gorilla, but discovers to his bewilderment that George has grown larger overnight. News of the space-station’s destruction prompts Dr Kate Caldwell (Naomie Harris) to contact Okoye: she tells him that George has been exposed to an experimental pathogen that she designed to treat disease, but which Claire (Malin Åkerman) and Brett Wyden, the owners of Energyne, are trying to turn into a biological weapon. She hints that she may be able to cure George. However, the gorilla breaks free of its cage and goes on a violent rampage before being shot with tranquilisers. George, Okoye and Kate all find themselves in the custody of a mysterious government agent, Harvey Russell (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), who ignores Okoye’s warning about putting George on a plane. When a wolf in Wyoming is exposed to the pathogen, Claire Wyden sends a team of mercenaries there to capture it, but they are slaughtered; while in Florida, a third vial of the pathogen is swallowed by a crocodile… Based upon the arcade game of the same name (!), Rampage is sufficiently dumb fun if you don’t think about it too much—particularly not the SCIENCE!!, at which we must either laugh or cry. In fact, the film’s blithe disinterest in how any of its characters got to where they are or how they are able to do what they do and how any of this actually works is almost breathtaking. At this point, Dwayne Johnson can churn out this sort of role without breaking into a sweat, and he is well-matched by Jeffrey Dean Morgan as an equally bigger-than-life sp00k who starts off as the film’s Resident Asshole but changes sides when Okoye saves his life: Resident Asshole duties are then handed off to Colonel Blake (Demetrius Grosse), who just can’t be talked out of an airstrike on Chicago, despite the fact that most of the city hasn’t been evacuated. And of course, having Chicago the target in a film like this makes for a refreshing change—though it’s also where it starts being hard not to have qualms: there’s a bit too much realism about a lot of the destruction here, if that isn’t an unreasonable complaint, and a bit too much mean-spiritedness in the deadly violence—both of which sit oddly beside what at points is almost a buddy-comedy (by which I mean Okoye and George, but Okoye and Russell works too): it feels like they didn’t quite settle on a tone before they started filming, or at any rate didn’t discuss it with the special-effects team. This notwithstanding, the effects per se are pretty good, and the three killer animals realised with a great deal of enthusiasm, if not exactly biological accuracy. Drawn to Chicago by a radio-frequency set off by Claire Wyden and which is driving them mad, the three animals wreck most of the city before destroying the transmitter—in the process of which, Okoye and Kate manage to treat George with an experimental antidote, which restores his natural personality. Now fighting for the good guys, George must face off against both wolf and crocodile… Hmm. Well. I don’t suppose there was ever much doubt about how the climactic Big Battel in Rampage was going to turn out (let’s just say that this film has a case of giant mutated “Aww, Monkey!“); though personally I’d back that croc against any soft and squishy mammal, even one that can use tools. On the other hand, there’s one other aspect of this film that really did made me drop my jaw. Rampage is of course technically science fiction; but you could also classify it as either a killer animal film or a disaster movie—or as both—and perhaps the latter multiplication accounts for the fact that no film I’ve ever seen promotes my Nature Abhors A Helicopter theory to a greater extent than this one. And yet Davis Okoye keeps getting into a helicopter… How nice to be the hero!
(The wolf is called “Ralph” here as per the original Rampage game; the crocodile isn’t named in-film, but I gather it was called “Lizzie”…)
Am I A Serial Killer? (2019)
When her mother’s last appeal is denied and the date for her execution set, Natalie (Monroe Cline) begins suffering from nightmares about the double murder for which Annie Weaver (Crystal Allen) was convicted, and from bouts of sleepwalking and blackout. Her situation is made worse by a group at school, led by Kent Shelton (Jordan Leer), who harass and torment her. Natalie’s therapist, Dr Welk (Andrew Lauer), encourages her to visit her mother in prison, which she has never done before—not least because she, Natalie, at the age of ten, was the main witness for the prosecution. Natalie does so, and is surprised to find Annie welcoming and concerned for her. She also insists that she used to write to her every week, but stopped when she accepted that Natalie was not going to respond. At home, Natalie confronts her Aunt Caroline (Jhey Castles), her late father’s sister, who took her in after her mother was convicted. Caroline admits to intercepting and burning Annie’s letters—she says, to protect Natalie: she warns her niece that Annie is manipulative and not to be trusted. Another confrontation with Kent ends with Natalie suspended from school, after she punches him in the face. A few nights later, Natalie is discovered in the middle of the road by Dr Welk, with no memory of how she came to be there. The next day, she learns that Kent has been brutally murdered… Okay— Technically, NO-ONE here is a serial killer; so let’s get that out of the way. Someone, however, is a sporadic cleaver-killer; the question is, who? Am I A Serial Killer? is mildly amusing, but it founders on the central performance of Monroe Cline, or perhaps more fairly on the way Natalie was written by Aidan Scott and Daniel West, which makes her reaction to everything – everything, that is, from her mother’s impending execution to her growing fear that she herself may be a killer – a petulant tantrum. And yes, I realise she’s a teenager— That’s where this film finally overreaches: it needs Natalie to simultaneously be young enough to have forgotten or blocked out the night of the double murder (though she managed to be the star witness against her mother before forgetting), but old enough to be a viable alternative suspect when events suggest that Annie Weaver has been wrongly convicted. When it emerges that the original detective on the case withheld exculpatory evidence, Annie is released pending the reopening of the case—with the new information pointing straight at Natalie, who is already a suspect in Kent’s bloody murder… It is hardly giving anything away to sat that there’s a “surprise” villain in Am I A Serial Killer?, but who could it be? Did Caroline’s hatred of her sister-in-law lead her to frame Annie for murder? Why is Natalie’s nerdy-cute best friend, Geoff (Brady Richards), really following her around—while carrying a cleaver? And why does everyone who makes Natalie angry turn up dead…?
(Now if I can just find a copy of I Am Not A Serial Killer…)