Friday, October 24, 2014
At this point, many people in America are familiar with the Worst Witch TV movie, and some have even taken it to their hearts as a Halloween tradition. As far as I know, quite a few such people (specifically Americans) may be surprised to know that there's a complete Worst Witch TV series, that lasted for 40 episodes! Or 79, depending on your point of view (there were two sequel shows). It holds a special place in my heart, and is extremely nostalgic for me, as I watched it all the time when I was a kid!
...Of course, I never, ever admitted to liking it, not even to myself, because I was a stupid kid back then, thinking it would be 'uncool' and 'wimpy' to watch a 'girly' show. Despite vehemently thinking that, I still somehow never missed a single episode of The New Worst Witch.
The Worst Witch centres on Mildred Hubble, a somewhat klutzy and absentminded young girl, in her first year at Cackle's Academy, a school for witches. She quickly makes many friends, but also a bitter enemy-Ethel Hallow. Throughout the year, Mildred gets caught up in numerous fixes, from earning the ire of strict teacher Miss Hardbroom, to turning Ethel into a pig, nearly getting expelled, and saving the school from nefarious witches, proving that "Even the worst witch in the entire school can be the best"...
The Worst Witch is adapted from the first two entries in the book series by Jill Murphy, and it surpasses them amazingly! The Worst Witch books are very compressed, with more being told to us than actually happening, or being said, and it barely reaches 100 pages, even with its huge children's book font size, and multiple large illustrations. The series does a great job at taking this barebones book and filling it out over multiple episodes. It never feels like it's a novel that's been interminably stretched out
This is a frequently hilarious show, and it's always well-written! Even the one episode I didn't like as much as the rest still wasn't bad. The characters are believable, likeable, and always entertaining to watch, even the antagonistic ones such as Miss Hardbroom, and Ethel Hallow.
The acting in The Worst Witch is always great. The star, Georgina Sherrington, is perfect! She's my favourite actress! Sure, she hasn't fought undead Hitler twice like my former No. 1 favourite actress Carla Balenda, but she's a great actress, always a joy to watch, and the works she's appeared in are significantly easier to find than that of Golden Age of Film actress Balenda.
Kate Duchene plays the stern Miss Hardbroom, and she's fantastic, delivering a perfect amount of meanness in the role. Clare Coulter is great as the more jovial and easygoing Miss Cackle, while Una Stubbs is hilariously demented as the kooky Miss Bat. Claire Porter plays Miss Drill, the most normal of the teachers, and she does very well.
The rest of the actresses, from those playing Mildred's friends (such as Emma Brown, Jessica Fox, Joanna Dyce, Harshna Brahmbhatt, Poppy Gaye, and Julia Malewski), to those playing her enemies (Felicity Jones, and Holly Rivers) are always great.
A really neat aspect about this series is simultaneously a pretty small, yet pretty major point-The classes at Cackle's Academy are practical ones as well as magic-based! Too often in fantasy school settings do the kids learn nothing but spells, and never any other subjects that'd get them through life. Thankfully The Worst Witch bucks that annoying trend.
One of my favourite things about the Worst Witch franchise as a whole is its continuity. Each episode nicely follows one another in many ways, rather than being random events in a dateless void, the series remembers names, which comes into good importance for later entries in the franchise's (for example, in Weirdsister College, the titular university didn't come out of nowhere, but was in fact mentioned a few times in the original series), and every entry remembers which spells are which, getting the words right! That last one may sound like small potatoes, but it's a level of detail I really appreciate!
There's only one thing about this franchise that's unclear-Does the outside world know about magic? There are many aspects of the show that suggest that it does (such as non-witch families being able to enroll or work at witch schools, there being witch radio shows, or the fact that witches and wizards have names like Nightshade, Cackle, Hardbroom, Moonshine, Merlin, Grailsquest, Dragonsbane, etc.), but others that do the opposite, especially the first sequel series Weirdsister College, which confirms the latter outright. It gets really frustrating when episodes keep near-contradicting each-other on this point!
Finally, the soundtrack of this show is always great! The main theme is nice, and the rest of the score throughout the series is always highly enjoyable, and never feels repetitive, even if you marathon all three seasons in as many days!
Now, onto reviewing the episodes proper!...
The Battle of the Broomsticks
It's the first day of the school year at Cackle's Academy for Young Witches, and Mildred Hubble hasn't made a good first impression, having crashed into the school dustbins as she arrived. Despite the setback], she quickly makes friends, but that may not matter soon enough, as if Mildred doesn't succeed in the broomstick flying aptitude test, she won't be a part of Cackle's any longer, as failure means instant expulsion...
This is a great opener to The Worst Witch, with many funny moments, and a well-written story. Mildred is a very likeable protagonist, and it's nice seeing her conquer her fears of heights and the dark.
Quite a few of the show's supporting cast (mainly Mildred's friends) don't really have introductions, and moreso just appear. This is pretty noticeable, but it's not too big of a problem, and Millie's friends are still likeable, despite the lack of much character at this point.
Miss Hardbroom is one of the most entertaining characters at this point, thanks to the writing, and Kate Duchene's excellent comedically ruthless performance.
The effects here, mostly broom flying, vary. Sometimes there's obvious green screen use, sometimes it looks decent, and other times it looks really good!
When We Feast At the Midnight Hour
The new pupils of Cackle's Academy are dissatisfied with the constantly bleak meals they're served, and strive to do something about it, to the chagrin of Miss Hardbroom. In an attempt at solidarity, Miss Cackle decides to make an effort to not eat any of her usual diet (mainly comprised of delicious pastries and cakes) for an entire week, and eat only the same dishes as the students...
To me, this is the funniest episodes of Worst Witch's first season, with numerous great moments, from Miss Hardbroom making the students use particular positive keywords in their letters home, to Miss Cackle's craving fantasy during teaching, her quote of "Not many witches believe in ghosts. Mind you, I don't think many ghosts believe in witches", and the hilarious final minutes!
The green screen work here for the enlarged animals is pretty bad, as expected, but it's no huge issue.
A Pig in a Poke
The girls of Cackle's have just gotten their cats, and they're all excited, however, after Ethel insults Mildred and her cat Tabby, Millie impulsively turns her into a pig. Unfortunately Ethel runs off and is found by Miss Hardbroom before Mildred can retrieve her. Hardbroom assumes that Ethel is a pig that's escaped from the nearby farm, and instructs the school caretaker Mr. Blossom to send her back. Now, with the help of Blossom's visiting nephew Charlie, Mildred must save Ethel before she's taken to the pig farm and sold in the upcoming weekend markets...
If you ever wanted to see the mean bully Ethel Hallow get her comeuppance, this is the episode for you! A Pig in a Poke is very funny, and has a well written plot with a hilarious idea behind it!
The usual characters are great, and Charlie is a likeable new character, who never feels forced or railroaded into the plot, and contributes nicely.
Unlike what a show nowadays would probably do (watch Death in Paradise if you don't believe me), this episode actually uses a real pig for the transformed Ethel, rather than CGI, which is much appreciated! Yeah, I'm that jaded to modern TV that the presence of a real animal in a show is worth mentioning!
A Mean Hallowe'en/Double, Double, Toil and Trouble
It's the Halloween season, and Cackle's is being visited by the Grand Wizard Hellibore for the occasion. A tableau is set up for the special night, and Mildred ends up winning the main part. As this will involve serious broomstick skills, the concerned Miss Hardbroom takes special care to try and instill good flying skills onto Millie. Unfortunately, a trick of Ethel's ruins everything-And, as the majority of the academy sleeps through the following night, a trio of evil witches, led by Miss Cackle's mean-spirited twin sister Agatha, secretly break into the school, with intent to take it over...
This two-part episode, adapting the final parts to the first Worst Witch book (but is not the series finale, as you might think if you were watching this on TV, like I did once), is very good! It's got great character moments, mainly from poor ostracized Mildred, and is all-round hilarious, from the magically high-pitched Millie (so adorable!), to the tableau, and its rehearsals, and many other scenes. Miss Hardbroom is especially funny here, such as when she gets the students to pull numbered paper sheets from a cauldron to determine who'll fly in the tableau, and Mildred gets the winning one-HB's reaction is "This is what comes of trying to be fair."
Claire Coulter is amusing enough as Miss Cackle, but she really shines with her double role! She's deliciously villainous as Agatha Cackle!
Some effects here are pretty laughable, while others are decent. Overall, this two-parter is great fun, whether it's a season finale or not.
It's a new term at Cackle's Academy, and there's a new student-Enid Nightshade. In an effort to try and improve Mildred's clumsy attitude, Miss Cackle and Miss Hardbroom decide to have her supervise Enid. Unfortunately for Millie, Enid is a total troublemaker, and is constantly getting her into trouble...
Monkey Business is the first episode to feature new main character Enid Nightshade, and she's definitely a worthwhile addition to the show! She's unique to the rest of the cast-Devious, and a playful troublemaker, but still likeable.
The dialogue is Monkey Business' best aspect! There are quite a few hilarious lines! And finally, the ending is a highly amusing cliffhanger of sorts...
Miss Cackle's Birthday Surprise
When Enid accidentally gets Mildred into serious trouble when trying to magic up a shortcut through an arduous cross country run, Miss Cackle is not impressed. If Mildred steps one more toe out of line in-between now and the half-term holiday trip, she'll be barred from going...
Just as I like The Worst Witch's continuity, I also like how the reset button isn't pulled every episode for Mildred, and her frequent 'troublesome' actions do have consequences over time, even to the usually kind and understanding Miss Cackle. Though of course, things don't go badly for Millie in the end, as you'd expect.
This episode progresses nicely, and culminates in a very good climax, where things fit together perfectly for our loveable heroine.
The Great Outdoors
For the half-term break, the students of Cackle's are going on outdoors expeditions. While some are with Miss Bat on a birdwatching exercise, Mildred and others are with Miss Drill and Miss Hardbroom on a camping trip. Once the girls reach their campsite, the teachers set up a treasure hunt. To try and win, Ethel cheats by magically manipulating the weather, and when Millie and co. react in kind, a magical phenomenon known as the Foster's Effect starts, and will go on doubling up the bad weather forever unless it can be stopped...
The Great Outdoors is an entertaining sojourn episode, and also establishes an interesting aspect about the laws of magic, which comes up a few more times, from episode to episode.
The episode has a bigger-than-normal secondary cast, with the band of boy scouts that the Cackles girls/staff bump into at their camping site. Thankfully, they all do a decent job.
The blizzard effects here are pretty well done, and are created practically, rather than with CGI.
The Heat is On
Back from their half-term break, everyone at Cackle's Academy is enjoying the lovely hot weather. Ethel and Drusilla, however, are very angry with Mildred, to the point where Drusilla attacks Millie. This nearly gets them into trouble, but instead incenses Miss Cackle to try lightening the tension by setting up a competition for the girls to try and recreate a magically created soft drink without the aid of any magic. Mildred and her friends set out upon a lengthy search to find the right ingredients, but all their efforts may be all for naught if the spiteful Ethel succeeds in sabotaging their project...
My second favourite episode of the season, The Heat is On has many great qualities, from the humour, the acting, to the funniest of Ms. Bat in the entire show! It showcases all of her various foibles and eccentricities all so awesomely!
One particular highlight of the episode is an unintentionally funny one at the climax, with some hilariously bad effects!
Sorcery and Chips
Mildred is borrowing a toy robot dog of her friend Ruby's, but accidentally 'kills' it when she forgets to feed it on time, and trips down the staircase in a rush to get to class, spraining her ankle in the process. Mildred tries to fix the battered machine by dipping it in a restoring elixir during potions class, but she fumbles, and her mishap causes the lab to be overrun by the desks turning into rapidly growing trees. For once, Miss Hardbroom doesn't blame Mildred for the disaster, but instead on the class' mini-cauldrons, which she feels are are old and has-been, and would have failed sooner or later no matter how klutzy or careful the user would be. Ethel's father, the new chair of school governors, has the potions lab replaced, filling it with state-of-the-art computers, something that bothers the heavily traditionalist Miss Hardbroom. Unfortunately, the restoration potion worked on the robot dog, and it's brought it back unhinged, and it sees a perfect target for conquest in the potion lab's new computers...
This is my least favourite episode of Series 1 of The Worst Witch. It's still entertaining and humorous, but not as much as the other episodes, I feel. Also, the resolution to the climax is kinda confusing, as well as unfulfilling and abrupt.
The effects here are decent, especially with the 'game' at the end, which looks pretty nifty, but is very underused.
Let Them Eat Cake
Mildred and her friends are out walking, and are tricked into going to nearby bakery Cosie's by Ethel and Drusilla. The bakery is out-of-bounds, and Ethel plans to send Miss Hardbroom there to catch Millie and co. red handed. This ends up being the least of the girls' worries when they realize a real estate scam going on at Cosie's...
Let Them Eat Cake is another funny sojourn type of episode, with an entertaining plot, and various parties all converging on the same spot in an amusing way.
The supporting cast perform very well too, from Sheena Larkin as the fragile Miss Cosie, to Harry Hill as the hilariously nefarious antagonist.
Sweet Talking Boys
Grand Wizard Hellibore has come to Cackle's Academy to give a lecture, bringing three students along with him, two of them scheming bullies, while the third is a timid kid under their thumb. They play several nasty tricks on the witches of Cackle's, getting away with them scot-free, and it's up to Millie to help save the day before the boys' cheating bests the competition Cackle's is now in against Hellibore's wizarding school...
Sweet Talking Boys sees the return of Grand Wizard Hellibore, and the introduction of some new characters. Bullies Baz and Gaz are entertaining jerks who you love to hate, while Loppy (aka Merlin) is a bit boring here. His character is better in future appearances, thankfully.
The episode is well-written, with a highly amusing conflict! You'll want to beat these sexist wizards upside the head!
By far the best thing about this episode is Georgina Sherrington, who gives her best performance of Series 1 in the climax!
A Bolt from the Blue
It's the final days of Mildred's first year at Cackle's Academy, and she's only barely passed. She may not make it through to next year, however, as Miss Cackle is suddenly displaying an uncharacteristically hostile attitude...
Seeing the return of an old foe, A Bolt from the Blue is a great season finale
The acting's all great, especially from Claire Coulter, and Kate Duchene. It's hilarious seeing the usually toughly composed Miss Hardbroom flustered and at a loss for words in the presence of people equally or more hardass than she is!
There's only one problem I have with this series finale, and that's the contribution of Ethel Hallow. It's not that she willingly helps Mildred and co. out in solving the mystery of Miss Cackle's new attitude, but that there's no transition to her doing so. At first I didn't even notice that it was Ethel, and assumed it was one of Mille's friends.
The Worst Witch is a great show, and I highly recommend you check it out, especially if you're a fan of the '86 movie! Unlike the last British paranormal show I reviewed-Powers-and one yet to come, The Worst Witch actually has a DVD release! I'm not sure if it's still in print though, as the DVD's can go for pretty high prices online. All the episodes are on Youtube, but if you can find the DVD's for a non-ridiculous price, then go for it!...
Saturday, October 18, 2014
As I stated a couple of weeks ago, the Doctor Mabuse series is a German movie franchise about the titular character, a nihilistic and evil criminal genius. The three main Mabuse films were made by famous filmmaker Fritz Lang, from 1922 to 1960, and are well lauded. The series hasn't gotten many more entries over the years, however. There were a few cheap rush sequels in the 60's, an unofficial entry in the 70's made by Jess Franco, and another unofficial version made in 1990 by Claude Chabrol, and from then on, nothing...until last year, when young newcomer director Ansel Faraj penned his own Mabuse movies...
In a city (no, seriously, the film never bother naming it!), an evil criminal named Doctor Mabuse has returned. He has been away for many years, carefully planning how to overtake the city, and the only thing standing in his way is the young Inspector Carl Lohmann. However, Lohmann soon finds himself in over his head as he's unwittingly led along, by the mysterious Christina Novello, and by Mabuse's intricate mind games...
Doctor Mabuse is a bad movie! Really bad! It's slow, boring, and the writing is shallow. The plot masquerades as a deep film about nihilism and dread, but the story it tells is way too thin and poorly written for it to get across any real message or themes. The dialogue never feels pretentious, but it's never well-written either, and especially annoying is how people keep saying "These are strange times.". The film also has an incredibly confused timeframe in regard to its backstory with the character of Von Wenk.
Now when I say that the dialogue here isn't pretentious, I don't mean the film isn't. It is, mainly in how it bafflingly tries to build a connection with Suspiria, and Levana and Our Ladies of Sorrow! I'm sorry, I thought I was watching A Doctor Mabuse film! What are witches from the fiction of Dario Argento and Thomas de Quincey doing here?!
The plot's worst crime is that Doctor Mabuse doesn't do anything! His only plan in the entire film is getting Lohmann to be his successor, and a couple of vague remarks that he wants to rule 'the city' because he does. He never actually does anything except for kill a disobeying henchman! The Mabuse of the original film was formidable because he could hypnotize people, always wore elaborate disguises, and most importantly, was anonymous. When someone mentioned the name Doctor Mabuse, they didn't think 'infamous mastercriminal', they thought of a noted Doctor, and no-one even knew the name of the criminal tearing up the city. This new Mabuse is none of those things. The only reason he's able to get into people's heads is because he's magical! The original Mabuse was powerful by using tactics anyone else with smarts could realistically do, but this incarnation has to get by with BS cheating!
The look of this film is annoying. Most scenes are shot in front of green screens, and it seems like this was to intentionally evoke a mystique Well Doctor Mabuse fails at building mystique with green screens for the same reason Bride of the Monster doesn't build any with its hilariously bad giant squid-It's a bad effect! Not only does the film look incredibly fake due to this misguided effort, but the green screens keep glitching out!
Scenes that are shot in real locations are done so in very cheap looking sets, filled with more curtains than a plane in an Ed Wood movie, and are constantly lit by a green glow, because Ansel Faraj is trying to be STYLISH!
The rest of this film's effects are terrible, such as when a woman jumps off a building, or when a death ray is used! The CGI is the kind you'd see after fiddling around with photoshop and a couple of still images for two minutes!
The acting in Doctor Mabuse ranges from mediocre to bad. Jerry Lacy is merely passable as the titular character, and he is no Rudolf Klein-Rogge! One annoying aspect of his performance is that he keeps doing the Mabuse stare for no reason! If I was an evil mastermind, I would NOT not regularly glare into thin air for no reason! When Rudolf Klein-Rogge did that, it was usually for a reason, like hypnotizing someone! Jerry Lacy's Mabuse just does it because oooOOOooOOOOOOOooooOooooo ScaRY, the old films did this, so aren't we cool for doing it too, ooOOOOooOOOOO!
Another problem with the actors here is that they constantly mispronounce the title name as either Mabyuse (sounding like Inspector Clouseau saying 'room' in the process), or by pronouncing it phonetically! You're making Germans angry, Faraj! It's pronounced Mabus-a!
If you don't know anything about the Mabuse franchise, and are going into this film completely fresh, then you won't be in luck. This is not very accessible.
The direction in this movie is barely ok at best. There are several moments that are outright bad, such as a dizzying chase scene, where the camera twirls around and upside down for no reason, and there annoying super zoom-ins here and there. Especially bad are the egregious strobe flashing scenes in the climax, which make me think that Ansel Faraj has it in for anyone with epilepsy!
The score is ok, but it's too low-key. It never goes beyond a few moody low notes, and thus, it's not memorable.
And finally, dialogue in Doctor Mabuse is hard to hear on many occasions due to the poor sound and music balancing!
It seems as if every terrible thing about this movie is a deliberate move on the part of its creator to make it look stylish! Well I didn't find it to be so. I found it to be shit! Doctor Mabuse is a boring film that's bad in just about every way a movie can be bad! It looks crap, it sounds crap, the acting is crap, as are the effects, the music, the set design, the editing, the writing, and the direction! I loathe this film for its detestably wasteful nature! If you've been patiently waiting for a real Doctor Mabuse film since the 1960's (or the 1970's if you're a Jess Franco fan, or the 1990's if you're a Claude Chabrol fan), you'll be extremely disappointed by this mess!...
It's been two years since Doctor Mabuse took control over 'the city', and all is not well. He grows paranoid, and seeks to root out those who would betray his doctrine of Etiopomar-Mabuse's 'utopia'. Meanwhile, not only are two of the witch sisters plotting and scheming, a man by the name of Professor Konradtz is creating a revolution to overthrow Mabuse...
Doctor Mabuse: Epiotomar is a hodgepodge that throws everything it can into its short 82 minute runtime, from Fritz Lang 'homages', to rival evil doctors for Mabuse, a revolution, robots, psychics, magic, interdimensional beings, and a trio of witches, hoping it'll all stick. As you'd imagine, none of it does, and what we get is a strange beast that has very little to do with Doctor Mabuse.
A big problem with this movie is in its names. It has a trio of magical sisters named after the Sorrows from Levana and Our Ladies of Sorrow (and by extension, Dario Argento's witchy Three Mother's trilogy). I don't think Ansel Faraj has ever read a single word of Thomas de Quincey. I think he just utilized names from it to sound profound and stylish, when in reality, it just makes him sound like a fucking pretentious idiot! If one wants to utilize elements from other works, they should actually do it, not just have superficial names and nothing else, because that's shallow, stupid, and offensive to the creators of such work! Ansel Faraj, you're pissing of undead Thomas de Quincey with this bullshit! Did you think he wouldn't mind just because he's dead?!
Ultimately, this problem spreads to the main work these two movies are adapting itself. These films have nothing to do with Doctor Mabuse! I've seen the other films, and they're about a nihilistic criminal genius, not ancient Egyptian witches, magic, and robots in Justine top hats!
The writing here is bad! It's poorly written, poorly planned, and poorly paced! Doctor Mabuse: Etiopomar is only 82 minutes, but it feels a lot longer. The script's problems range from its characters going nowhere and making zero impression on the film's events, to an overabundance of subplots, all of which go nowhere, and the fact that the city the film is set in is only ever called 'the city'!
The titular villain does very little in this movie, and it doesn't help that the script unwittingly makes him an idiot! For such a supposedly meticulous plotter, he only has one copy of his doctrine, which he keeps in an unlocked clothes drawer! Wow, what a criminal genius! This Mabuse is all-round extremely ineffectual, and does nothing but make mistakes. All the original Mabuse needed to build his criminal empire was an elaborate doctrine. This Mabuse, however, is worried that he can't keep control of 'the city' unless he's backed by an army of robots! What a pathetic villain!
Meanwhile, mad scientist Rotwang (yep, this movie goes as far as to have a mad scientist named after the one from Fritz Lang's Metropolis!) is the kind of dumbass who proclaims his intent to take over the city from Mabuse when the 'good doctor' literally only just stepped out of Rotwang's laboratory.
The acting in Doctor Mabuse: Etiopomar is a mixed bag, mostly leaning on the negative side. Jerry Lacy was passable in the previous movie, but here he's bad! His line delivery is frequently clumsy, or just boring. As for Nathan Wilson, he made a meh Inspector Lohman in the last movie, and he performs worse as Doctor Mabuse. His acting just isn't up to snuff. Christopher Pennock is mostly terrible as Professor Konradtz, especially in the film's climax.
The only bright spot in this movie is John C. Smith. He's not all that great in the first movie (where he plays the 'End is nigh' placard guy), but he's markedly better in Etiopomar, and he's Australian, so that's cool! Unfortunately it doesn't take long before the script starts to misuse and waste his character. By the way, his character is named Cesare, because Ansel Faraj probably thought something along the lines of "The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari is a German silent film. Not a Fritz Lang film, but it's German, so if I use a name from it, my movie will seem very intelligent and thematic with...err...something! Yes, something! I'll probably work out what that something is in post. By the way, what's a Mabuse?".
Kelsey Hewlett is a decent actress here, but the movie's poor script, and the direction I suspect, hold her back, which is a shame. I hope to see her in better things. By the way, her character is another who's horribly wasted and misused, almost to a Women in Refrigerators degree (that is to say, her death only seems to happen to inspire the film's male leads into action). Speaking of misused and wasted, the character of Christina Novello does nothing here but cry, and be indecisive, before getting killed! A far cry from what the previous movie foreshadowed!
For all his over-the-top camera mugging, Dane Corrigan is actually quite good as Rotwang!...Aaand he's horribly wasted and misused! And finally, Elyse Ashton and Kelly Erin Decker* are decent, but underused.
*Kelly Erin Decker, by the way, has an insanely awesome sounding filomgraphy! Lizzie Borden's Revenge, Nazi Dawn, Dracula's Sorority Sisters, Disaster Wars: Earthquake vs. Tsunami, Serial Love: A Sociopath to my Heart, and Doctor Mabuse! Wow!
One last annoyance is the constant mispronunciations! It's bad enough that no-one can say Mabuse correctly, but they mangle names as simple and well-known as Cesare and Hecate!
The effects in Doctor Mabuse: Etiopomar are dreadful! There's one scene where two characters are walking down a street, but the actors are in front of a green screen. It's obvious they're not really walking, as they're just going through motions, and not actually moving, and the camera keeps shaking, trying to make it seems like the actors are actually walking! Then there's the city destruction at the end, which is some hilariously bad CGI photoshop crap! The green screens are just as present here as they were in the last movie, and they glitch out all the time! It's pathetic!
The budget here is so embarrassingly low that when Konradtz is making his viva la revolution speech out in the streets about overthrowing 'the city's' corrupt regime, there's no-one around to hear it! The streets are completely empty!
Finally, the ending to Doctor Mabuse: Etiopomar is abrupt, pointless, and has a twist for the sake of having a twist. It adds nothing to the film's plot, or characters!
The two Ansel Faraj Doctor Mabuse films are adaptations in name only. They are pathetic and boring films that have no substance, no character, look embarrassingly bad, and worst of all, they have nothing to do with the Doctor Mabuse franchise! These films are the lowest of the low! I gave 1989's Dr. Caligari some crap last Halloween for using the Caligari name despite only being tenuously connected to the 1920 film, but I was at least thoroughly entertained by that movie. Doctor Mabuse and Etiopomar have no such entertainment value, and are completely worthless films, which I recommend nobody watch!
I'm going to end this double review on a grim and harsh note-The people who made the Italian goofball Fantomas spy trilogy in the 1960's did better justice to that character than Ansel Faraj has done to Doctor Mabuse with his 'adaptations'. Yes, I seriously just said that!...
Saturday, October 11, 2014
A particular Halloween favourite for many people over the years, The Worst Witch is a 1986 TV movie from Britain, about the misadventures of a magical schoolgirl...
At the witch school Cackle's Academy, Mildred Hubble is constantly failing. She's naturally clumsy, and has a bad memory, often leading to her getting into trouble, and causing her to be known as the 'worst witch' of the school. The worst might be the best, however, when a coven of evil witches attempt to invade Cackle's...
While The Worst Witch is a bit of a mixed bag, I can easily see how this is a treasured Halloween special. It's very enjoyable, well-written, and quite funny. Unfortunately it's very short at just over 70 minutes.
Onto the acting. It's very bizarre watching a Worst Witch movie with this cast (for reasons I'll get to later), but that wasn't too distracting once I got used to it. Fairuza Balk is adorable as Mildred Hubble, even if she doesn't even attempt to hide her accent (thankfully this isn't an environment where an American character would be totally unbelievable), while Diana Rigg is perfectly mean as the strict teacher Miss Hardbroom. Charlotte Rae on the other hand is terrible! She's ok as headmistress Miss Cackle, but as the evil Agatha Cackle she does dreadfully! Tim Curry isn't in the film long, but he shines as the Grand Wizard, especially in his musical number! The rest of the acting is all decent, minus the evil witches.
More on them-The evil witches in this film are such a drag! They're really annoying, and in one scene, they even get a musical number! Right when I was hoping for a scene change to hurry along!
The set design, as well as the general look of this film is very stylish, from the nifty uniforms, to the star-shaped blackboard, or the ooky skull ornaments. The effects (such as green screens for broomstick flying) in The Worst Witch are pretty bad, but in that endearing cheap TV kind of way.
The soundtrack is a mixed bag. The instrumental work is all great, especially the melody when the schoolgirls are getting their cats, but the songs themselves leave a bit to be desired. I like the opening tune (after all, it is sung by the awesome Bonnie Langford), but the aforementioned evil witch one, despite not being too bad in it of itself, caps off an annoying scene. The Halloween song sung by Tim Curry is...interesting! Thinking critically, the lyrics get worse and worse as the songwriter seems to be running out of words to use, but thinking naturally, however, it's a ridiculously entertaining musical number!
To finish, The Worst Witch isn't perfect, but it's very entertaining, and I definitely recommend it, especially for Halloween, if you can fit it in to your undoubtedly busy schedule! Meanwhile, come tomorrow morn, I'll start posting my reviews for the Worst Witch TV series.
...Yes there was a Worst Witch TV series. It ran for 40 episodes. I'm surprised that so many American fans of the movie don't know that...
Monday, October 6, 2014
A show about the paranormal, Powers is a show from 2004 that I am very nostalgic about! I saw it when it aired, back when I was a kid. Unfortunately, it's never aired since, to my knowledge, and despite the show's popularity, and good ratings, Powers was never renewed for a second season and beyond, and for some baffling reason, it's never gotten a media release of any kind! No videos, no DVD's, and no obscure Japanese laserdiscs!
Powers is about the titularly titled team of scientists and students who help people and investigate cases of the strange and unexplainable variety. They include Song-Li Harris (Amy Yamazaki), Mark Roberts (Adam Jessop), Professor Henry Powers (Rupert Holliday-Evans), and Dr. Mary Holland (Mandana Jones). Mark is both telepathic, and telekinetic, while Song-Li is empathically telepathic-She can read feelings, whereas Mark can read minds.
The plots to this show are very well written, as I'll get into greater detail about below. The characters carry the show well too. Mark and Song-Li are fun leads, with good character to them. While Mary, and the Professor aren't particularly fleshed out, they're still likeable, and make more-than-worthwhile additions to the team.
The acting is always good, my favourite performance being from Amy Yamazaki.
The score to Powers is superbly done, especially with the awesome main theme!
Another thing I dig about the show is that secondary characters are realistically skeptical. If they don't believe in telekinesis or the like, they certainly do after seeing it in action!
New Kid in Town
A country hotel is rapidly losing clientele after repeated incidents that seem to be caused by a ghost. Song-Li, a lonely young girl, is particularly 'tormented' by the spirit, as, unbeknownst to her, she has empathic psychic powers. Her exasperated father doesn't believe a ghost is present, and instead thinks that Song-Li is deliberately trashing her hotel room, for attention.
New Kid in Town is a serviceable premiere episode to Powers. It's not great, but it does its job well, introducing the series template, and its characters. The plot is decently written, but the story with the ghost is very abruptly concluded.
The acting is by far the best thing about this episode, most notably Amy Yamazaki.
This episode's only downfall is the subpar CGI for the plates being thrown around.
Family man David has been guilty all his life, ever since he accidentally caused an explosion at his family's quarry, injuring his father badly in the process. While his father has long since forgiven him, David can't bear to forgive himself, and he gets out of bed in the middle of one night and goes missing. After four days, the police have beeen unable to find out where David is, the only clue being the presence of his car at the old quarry. David's family call the Powers Project for help, and this case may need Song-Li's newly trained empathic abilities...
Missing is a highly entertaining and interesting episode, which almost manages to be a perfect sit, but is hampered by a pretty major problem. It's not so major that it's annoying, or that it ruins the experience, but it will probably make you groan. It gives such a ridiculous reason for the possibility for time travel! "It's well documented that stress can cause physical changes in people. If that's the case, it's quite possible it causes physical changes in the universe. The enormous guilt David was carrying could have caused enough stress to throw him back in time!". Wow! That's hilarious!
The secondary characters here are all likeable, and in the case of the kid, David's son, he's not only not annoying, but he's also pretty proactive!
Missing's ending is a great character moment between Mark and Song-Li, and it's very well done! It's my favourite part in an episode already brimming with neat ideas and great moments!
Shade in the Stone
Teenager Evan has always been interested in but ever since he and his great uncle dug up ancient Anglo-Saxon artifacts, he's been obsessed, even caught snooping in the museum the objects were given to in the middle of the night. The Powers Project visit Evan, to try and determine the cause behind his erratic new behaviour, but all Mark can telepathically gleam from his head is a repeated phrase from an old language...
Shade in the Stone is a nifty episode, and has a couple of creepy moments here and there! Overall, the story has a great atmosphere to it, especially thanks to the episode's scoring, which has a ye olden times tribal British feel to it.
I can't judge on the effects for the ghost at the end of the episode, as the low quality of the series on Youtube makes it hard to tell.
One problem I know I have with Shade in the Stone is its pre-credits sequence, which is way too short and undercooked. It just stops moreso than it ends.
We Are Not Alone
A young girl has been captured at a top secret government facility, and they believe her to be an alien. They call on the Powers Project for help in getting the girl to talk, and Mark and Song Li are successful, finding out the girl's name-Lex. They soon realize that Lex and others from her ship were only at the facility by mistake, despite the paranoid Dr. Felton's suspicions that they were hostile, and the two devise a plan to break Lex free...
Yep, aliens. This show has introduced legit real aliens! Thankfully, it does so in a way that's not only not forced, but makes you eager to know more. It never comes across as silly that the Powers Institute are getting embroiled in Area 51 type alien 'hijinks'
We Are Not Alone is a very enjoyable episode, and I really wish it was long! It's not too short, nor does it underutilize its concept, but rather it's so good that I wish it wasn't just 21 minutes long.
Jessica Fox (known for her main role in The Worst Witch series) does well as the alien Lex, and Tim Curry lookalike David Mallinson does a good job as the episode's 'villain' Dr. Felton, even if his character is a very stock-standard type.
The pre-credits sequence here is better here than last episode, but not by much, as it still feels too short.
Land of Nod
Young girl Erin has been having a disturbing recurring nightmare for the last few nights. She dreams she's with a kind old couple, William and Angie, and they're very friendly with her to begin with, but the dream always goes wrong, and William, inconsolably angry about something, always storms away. Erin's mother takes her to the Powers Project to see if they can help, as the dream is really taking its toll on her, and the team work out a plan-Let Erin fall asleep, send Song-Li in the dream with her, and let the two play out the dream all the way to the end, to try and solve the mystery behind it...
Land of Nod is not only my favourite episode of Powers-It's also one of my favourite stories ever! Due to the lack of availability of this series, it took eight years before I was able to see Powers again, but despite the passage of time, I still remembered many episodes clearly, Land of Nod most of all! Dreams are such an interesting concept, and this episode explores them very well, delivering an excellently written, and poignant tale!
The acting here is all great, especially from the secondary cast!
I especially like the effects for the dreamworld, in the respect that they make the proceedings feels naturally surreal, not weird in a forced way.
Things That Go Bump
A children's home is experiencing a bad haunting, with objects dangerously hurling themselves everywhere on multiple occasions. The resident is skeptical at first, believing the 'haunting' to be the work of vandals, specifically Kelly, an older teenager who ran away from the home after a big fight with her, and hasn't been seen since. The Powers Project are called in, and quickly realize that there might be a worse reason for Kelly's disappearance than her simply running away, and this haunting is not the work of mere vandals, but it might be orchestrated by Kelly's ghost...
Things That Go Bump is a pretty simple story, but it's well-written, and has some well-handled creepy scenes, as well as an interesting plot. Of course, it kind-of loses some of its impact when it's revealed where Kelly really is, but it's never poorly handled.
There's annoyingly convenient development at the very end which I found groanworthy and kinda nonsensical. It's ridiculously convenient, and a wholly unnecessary inclusion.
Is There Anybody out There?
In a small farming hamlet, a local man has supposedly been abducted by aliens. The whole event was recorded on a video camera, and a skeptical Professor Powers reluctantly lets the team go to the site to determine the truth behind the abduction. Are aliens truly involved, or is this a hoax? And who are the mysterious Cargill family?...
..They're aliens. The Cargills are aliens. It's so predictable and obvious, and the fact that their motivations are never explained make me not feel bad about spoiling this 'twist'!
This episode isn't great, but it's certainly enjoyable. I actually really appreciate one aspect of it-The fact that it furthers the alien arc! In my experience with shows like this, another show would've had the one-off alien episode, then never mentioned it ever again, but Powers had it as a recurring element! I wish we could've seen where it led had Powers not been canned.
The weak link to this episode regards the Cargills themselves. It's never explained in the slightest why they're on Earth, and that's partially detrimental to the plot.
I'll Be Watching You
A teenager named Ian has been having bullying trouble, and it was difficult for him at first, but an unknown force has been making Ian extremely self-confident, to the point that he's willing to go along with potentially dangerous dares to show off in front of his aggressors. The Powers Project are called to investigate Ian by his aunt Mel, and they soon discover the reason behind Ian's newfound confidence...And that it will fade away in three days, whether the now-reckless Ian likes it or not...
On paper, the concept of a guardian angel doesn't sound like it'd gel in a show like Powers, where everything's scientific rather than magical and supernatural, but I'll Be Watching You makes it work. The episode does imply that 'guardian angels' could be a form of psychic phenomena rather than a literal winged angel. Of course, it does also imply the opposite, but nothing specific, so you could think either option, depending on which you prefer.
Song-Li doesn't get much to do this episode, nor does she even appear all that much, but this is bearable, as this is more of a Mark-centric episode.
There is one possibly confusing aspect about this episode. When I watched it, I just assumed that the woman Mel was a counselor or teacher of some sort, but according to Wikipedia, she's Ian's aunt, which does make sense, but I'm not sure if the episode ever says she is. If it doesn't, that's a mild problem, and if it does, then I'm a dumbass.
Just as Shade in the Stone had music that was very fitting with its plot, so does I'll Be Watching You, with its angelic score.
The Powers Project are called by a friend of Mary's to help with his son Ben, who's dog Buster has vanished. Ben claims that he's seen Buster, and that he was at his house, along with a different family. His father naturally doesn't believe such an impossible story, but Mark and Song-Li realize that Ben is telling the truth, and the two quickly uncover where Buster's disappeared to-A parallel universe. Unfortunately, if matter from one universe stays in another, both will start to collapse...
Whether you think parallel universes are a scientifically valid concept on a quantum whatsit level, or if you think they're a laughably unfeasible idea, they can be highly interesting to watch/read things about so long as the story they're in is good, and The Uninvited is definitely that!
This is another episode that I wished was longer than 21 minutes, because its plot pulled me in so much that I could watch this as a whole movie!
When I was a kid, I used to think this episode ended on a pretty down note, but I think the implication is that the wormhole leading to the other universe was a random freak occurrence, only kept open because Buster went through it, and once everything from our dimension was brought back from the other one, the wormhole closes. It's either that, or the depressing thought that any dumbass could accidentally destroy all of creation by inadvertently wandering through.
This episode does have a pretty big problem, unfortunately. The effects for the dimensional disturbances are just video effects like colour filtering or fake static, and don't seem like things that are actually happening in the context of the show. It feels more like someone's just screwing around with the camera.
A man and woman are in a car crash, and while they're badly injured, a teenage girl walks from the crash, completely fine, and oblivious to what's just happened. She ends up being found by the police, who she tells her name-Toni. The mystery girl has no memory, and due to the strange powers she seems to display, the police call the Powers Project to determine who Toni is...
Just as Powers handled aliens really well, it also pulls off this episode's concept beautifully! And it does it in a neat way too, never taking a cliched route, or taking the easy way out! What is this concept, you ask? I'm not spoiling it!
One cliche Face Value seems to follow is having an uber secret evil organization looking to retake Toni for NEFARIOUS purposes, but this episode throws a curveball!
The acting here is especially good, and Florence Bell does a very good job as Toni! Her character is definitely well put together!
Just like The Uninvited, this episode has static-y effects, but they work a bit better here.
In the Loop
Aircrafts have been having baffling instrumental problems whenever they fly over a specific patch of land. Mark and Mary go to the farm where the land is on, and the find a family at odds. The father loves the area and wants to share it with others by making guest cottages, but his daughter Becky feels that this will remove a lot of what makes the area naturally beautiful. Unfortunately, the father's efforts do a lot more than clear trees when he bulldozes a giant stone, causing both his family, and Mark and Mary to be mentally flung several minutes back in time. While Mary is oblivious to the loop, Mark notices, and he realizes from a confused Becky that this isn't the first time this loop has gone around, and this family has been trapped in it for some time...
In the Loop is yet another episode of Powers with a very interesting concept behind it-Time loops! It handles the idea very well, providing a very intriguing plot. The constant looping of the episode's dialogue in the time loop thankfully doesn't feel repetitive, and is instead portrayed in a way that I really dug, with the way the loop is affecting everyone, no matter how hard people try and break away from it.
Another thing I really like about this episode is the very end. At first it seems like a cliched ending stinger, showing that the problem isn't really over, but instead, it shows the opposite, which I appreciate, for not being depressing, and for not being cliched!
Scientist Professor Dixon has brought in an experimental new device to the Powers Project for Mark and Song-Li to test out, called the Future Box. Taking data from how the subject is in the present, the Future Box shows a virtual reality of what they're future could be like. Mark is thrilled to find out that he's incredibly rich in the possible future he sees, but is warned by Dixon to not interact with the simulation, otherwise bad thing could happen to Mark mentally. Unfortunately, Mark's future self in the machine knows his younger self is there, and convinces him to show himself. Mark's body is now facing catastrophe, and a more personal problem comes when Mark finds out the ugly truth about his future self...
Future Box is one of Powers' most interesting episodes, and that is really saying something! There are some aspects of the Future Box device that don't totally make sense, but they're pretty easily forgotten. I won't say anymore, because I'm not spoiling a single thing about this story!
Behind the plot, the direction is the best thing about Future Box, as the episode is really only set in two different locations, one being a single room, and it pulls this off really well! As for effects, they're simple vanishing ones, and they look good, as you'd imagine they would, since making things disappear is one of the things CGI can really do convincingly!
The Future is Yours
It's Mark's birthday, and he's brought to a local football club, which has been loaned the FA cup, to help with its money troubles by bringing in onlookers. The Powers team meet a young teen named Tyrone, who they quickly realize has the ability to see faint visions of the future, and because of seemingly criminal actions he sees involving Mark, Song-Li, and the FA cup, Tyrone is very hostile...
I had interesting expectations with this episode. The last time I saw it was in 2004, and I remembered liking the episode, but being really annoyed by the actor playing the character of Tyrone, especially since he could have potentially been a new cast member had the show returned for a second season. Thankfully, when I rewatched the episode, I didn't find the actor annoying at all! Granted, I still wouldn't like Tyrone much as a main character, but only because the series has got enough characters
As for the plot here, it's a nicely well-written one, and even if Tyrone's powers do seem more on the supernatural side rather than paranormal, it's still a neat concept done well.
Powers is a fantastic show! There's not a bad episode in the bunch, in my opinion, and it really is criminal that there were never any more seasons. This was always a highly interesting series, with intriguing concepts, and great acting! It's all on Youtube, and while it is in low-quality, you can get used to that pretty quickly. I highly recommend checking Powers out if you're at all interested!...
Wednesday, October 1, 2014
Fu Manchu is one of the most well-known villains in pulp fiction from the early 20th century, and he had simple bad guy motivations-Take over the world! OF COURSE!! However, two other villains of this time period were more complex-Fantomas, and Dr. Mabuse. Fantomas was a criminal who committed every kind of crime, for no reason other than he could, while Dr. Mabuse does that, but with a deeper philosophy. The guy is the kind of arch-criminal who just wants to see the world burn. Literally, he's the inspiration for The Joker in The Dark Knight!
Fans of this series aren't exactly the luckiest bunch, as the much-loved Dr. Mabuse films are sporadic to say the least! The first entry, Dr. Mabuse: The Gambler came out in 1922, the first sequel came out in 1933, and the second sequel (The last directed by famous genre filmmaker Fritz Lang, and the last in the official trilogy) came out in 1960! From then on, we suddenly got a flood of quick cash-in sequels, which as far as I know, are mildly entertaining romps, but lack a certain je ne sais quoi. From then on, we've gotten zero Mabuse films, aside from an unofficial one made by Claude Chabrol in 1990, and two that are still new releases. More on those later...
Today, to mark the occasion of October, I'll be looking at the very first entry in this series-Dr. Mabuse: The Gambler...
In Weimar era Germany, a sinister criminal is causing chaos wherever he can, be it screwing around with the stock market, nearly causing a crash, or hypnotising millionaires into gambling all their money away. This man has no feelings for those he manipulates, and he extends his cruel schemes all over Germany. State prosecuter Norbert Von Wenk has been assigned to the case of finding the culprit behind these seemingly senseless crimes, but he faces continuing difficulty as he's constantly bested by the maniacal Dr. Mabuse...
As you may have guessed from the release date, this is a silent film. While the editing is obviously choppy in that way only 90 year old films can be, this is still a very well put together movie! Its got neat direction, nifty visuals, and a horrifyingly long runtime that is actually pulled off-270 minutes! Speaking of visuals, this movie is only one colour! If you don't know, certain silent films have the nasty habit of changing colour palettes every few minutes. Sometimes it works, but other times it just feels uneccessary and annoying, as you're eagerly watching a movie, and the filter keeps changing from black-and-white to baby blue, yellow, grass green, or PB pink!
This is a well-written crime movie, but despite its reputation, legacy, and four-and-a-half hour running time, I find it to be pretty simple, and this is to near detrimental effect.
Dr. Mabuse: The Gambler's themes are heavily tied to the excesses of Weimar era Germany, but you don't need to know that before going in. If you know nothing about the climate of 1920's Germany, you'll still have a complete viewing experience here.
The film's lead protagonist Von Wenk is likeable, and carries the film well, getting the majority of the screentime.
Rudolf Klein-Rogge is fantastic as Dr. Mabuse! He always has a stare that's so cold and evil, that it's borderline iconic! His performance is very over-the-top, but in a way that works for a silent film, given that this is the genre where if you snorted sushi-wrapped coke off a naked woman's chest, then flailed your arms about in your ensuring high, your acting would be considered subtle.
Klein-Rogge also perfectly pulls of the various different disguises Mabuse utilizes! While it's always recognizably him, he looks unique and different each time. In fact, sometimes his eyes are the only real giveaway.
As for his character, it's decently written but not particularly impressive. The Dr. Mabuse portrayed here isn't quite the character he would later become, as here he's just an incredibly devious nihilistic criminal. There's no doctrine, or anything like that.
Dr. Mabuse: The Gambler is never boring or drawn out at four-and-a-half hours, but it is a pointlessly long run time given the utter simplicity of the plot. It'd be bearable if this was the anarchistic 'Empire of Crime' Mabuse, but this is just about a nihilistic gangster who does stuff, and a cop who's after him.
Probably my only complaint about this movie aside from its simplicity is one scene which looks like a year-spanning time lapse, but isn't. It confused the hell out of me!
One final note. The subtitles on my Director's Suite DVD seem a bit iffy at times. Not unreadable or incorrect, but iffy nonetheless.
Dr. Mabuse: The Gambler is a very good movie. It's pretty simple, and depending on how you feel, it's also three movies too long, but I still recommend it. It's an entertaining crime flick, as well as an interesting look at both German culture in the 1920's, and of films in general of the silent era.