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.
Tuesday, September 30, 2014
He Man and the Masters of the Universe was an extremely popular Saturday morning kid's cartoon, whiich had countless viewers, and lasted for years...And that's about all I know about He Man, aside from the fact that it's eTernia, not eTHernia, and Sheera, not She-Rah. Actuallly I have one more thing to say before I exhaust all knowledge of He Man that I can utilize for this intro-There's a funny 'from the mouths of babes' story I've heard about an Evangelical families kid saying 'Jesus isn't the master of the universe. He Man is!'. *chuckles*
In the far-off planet of Eternia, a war is raging. The evil lord of Snake Mountain, Skeletor (Frank Langella), has all but conquored Eternia, and only the brave warriors He Man (Dolph Lundgren), Teela (Chelsea Fields), and Man at Arms Duncan (Jon Cypher) are able to continue the fight against the despot. They soon find Gwildor (Billy Barty), a small creature who has invented a dimensional opener that Skeletor has stolen. Knowing the damage Skeletor could do with it, Gwildor uses a prototype to send He Man and his allies into Castle Greyskull, Skeletor's new base, but an enemy squad attacks, forcing a hasty retreat to another planet-Earth...
Masters of the Universe is not a good adaptation. It not only either omits various details from the He Man cartoon, but it also gets quite a few things wrong! And of course, there's the not-so-small problem with the whole film being set on Earth, aside from the first and last ten minutes! All we see of Eternia is a small, barren, rocky desert outcrop, the inside of a hut, and the inside of Castle Greyskull! This is a horrendous adaptation, but on its own, Masters of the Universe is still an extremely entertaining movie! It's got an amusing plot, fun action, and the whole movie is a blast from beginning to end! Really the only misstep is when the movie first cuts to Earth. For one, it's really out-of-nowhere, and two, the movie is pretty slow paced with near-boring human stuff for nearly twenty minutes! I guess it's understandable, since the movie's gotta set up its human characters, but this portion really does grind the movie to a halt.
Masters of the Universe is pretty decently written, but nothing special. It's just a run-of-the-mill action-fantasy, with a simple hero, simple villain, and simple conflict.
The effects in this movie are pretty good. There are decent practical effects, and your familiar '80's laser special effects, which look good. There's some pretty crummy green screen work during the glider sequence in the second act. The set design in Eternia is pretty meh, though. Castle Greyskull looks bland. Also, there's a near problematic Star Wars aesthetic, given Skeletor's darth stormtroopers!
Surprisingly enough, Masters of the Universe is quite a violent movie! Not Commando levels, but it has more blood than Goldeneye, that's for sure! I guess that's what happens when you let Cannon make a kids movie! I for one am glad that the movie had plenty of blood in it, as it makes the villains more threatening than if they were just harmlessly tossing people around.
The acting in Masters of the Universe is all decent. Dolph Lundgren is good, but not great, as the script doesn't elevate his character beyond anything other than a beefcake heavy. Frank Langella on the other hand, if fantastic! Not only does he deliver a top-notch performance as Skeletor, but he gets some really awesome bits of evil dialogue! Skeletor is by far the script's best aspect, even if he does take a cue from The Rocky Horror Picture Show meets The Village People with his getup in the climax!
Meg Foster as Evil-Lyn makes for a pretty good secondary villain, with those eyes of hers made doubly creepy as she plays the evil lady so evil, it's part of her name! A young Cortney Cox is pretty good here, as is future Star Trek actor Robert Duncan Mcneill.
Chelsea Field's acting isn't perfect, but it's serviceable. Also, she's hot! *drools* From Teela's sexy bondage catsuit to He-Man's strapped battle loincloth, this movie has something for everyone!
James Tolkan (Principal Strickland from the Back to the Future trilogy) is quite good as the skeptical cop Detective Lubic, and he gets to do plenty. Despite again playing a stern authority figure, Tolkan is very different than he is in Back to the Future, which shows that Tolkan is pretty damn talented. It kinda makes me sad that he didn't appear in more.
Finally, the soundtrack. The theme to Masters of the Universe is unequivocally the Superman theme, just slightly tweaked! This is incredibly distracting at first, but after a while, it starts to sound less like Superman. I guess due to 'indoctrination'-You hear a ripoff tune enough times and it starts to sound original.
Masters of the Universe is a bad version if He Man, but on its own it's a highly entertaining action-fantasy, and I highly recommend it! You can't often go wrong with Dolph Lundgren, whether he's violently killing things, or awesomely yelling "I HAVE THE POWER!"...
Why the hell haven't we had a Fu Manchu movie since 1969?! Hell, I can count the amount of Fu Manchu books we've gotten since the 80's on one hand! Marvel ended up getting into a bit of trouble with their Shang-Chi: Master of Kung Fu character, as they created him as the son of Fu Manchu. Unless they've since gotten the rights back, they're strictly not allowed to even mention Fu Manchu's name. Given there hasn't been a film with the insidious devil doctor in 45 goshfucking years, Marvel really should get the rights back, because it's pretty clear that no-one wants ANYTHING to do with Fu Manchu! What the hell?! In fact, where the hell is Charlie Chan, too? Um, studios and filmmakers, you realize those two characters aren't racist caricatures, right? You ARE allowed to make movies with them once in a while! Or not, I guess. We live in a world where movie budgets are spiraling outta control and films have to literally make back the equivalent to a national budget just to simply break even, and it tends to take three to four years to make one movie! I miss the Golden Age of Film, where a movie took two weeks and a few pennies to make...
The point to all of this is that in the early 20th century, we got a trilogy of films featuring the pulp Yellow Peril supervillain Fu Manchu, and I've finally, finally, managed to watch these hard to find movies!...
The Mysterious Dr. Fu Manchu
In 1908, during the Boxer Rebellion in China, a doctor named Fu Manchu is living with his family. He's gladly helping the British against the Chinese rebels, giving aid to them, and even takes in Lia, a missionary's daughter, after her father has to go somewhere potentially fatal. Things go horribly wrong when some rebels hide in Fu's house, and the British troops fire upon it, killing Fu's wife and son. Distraught and driven mad, Fu Manchu swears vengeance upon the whole white race, and vows on his dead ancestors to find and kill everyone who was involved in the attack on his house. Twenty years later, Fu Manchu has killed all of his enemies, including their families, and only the Petries remain...
The Mysterious Dr. Fu Manchu isn't a very good film. It's not bad, or even boring, but it's completely unremarkable. Unlike other Fu Manchu tales, this never globetrots, and instead spends its time in a few English sitting rooms, and a set pretending to be a Limehouse gambling den. The film itself isn't boring, but its locale sure as hell is!
The writing is painfully standard, and the characters are basically cardboard cutouts, with a 'swoon' direction for the actresses. The film's love story between Jack Petrie and Lia is very rushed, but not King Kong rushed. Speaking of rushed, that's what the ending is. This movie couldn't end fast enough! It also climaxes with a confusing and kinda out-of-nowhere plot point
For a film from the time period where calling someone a 'filthy nigger' was entirely culturally acceptable, this film is surprisingly not as racist as you'd think! It's still creaky, but it portrays Fu Manchu near sympathetically, given his backstory and evolution into a villain, rather than just as a one-note Yellow Peril caricature.
Also for a movie from a time where film plots were rushed out in a minimum hour, this one surprisingly takes its time in setting up its villain-A good ten minutes, at least. However, despite all this time for development, Fu Manchu's shift to villainy is still really abrupt, as after he swears vengeance, we cut to twenty years later, and he's suddenly an evil criminal mastermind.
Due to being a neglected and forgotten film from 1929, Mysterious' quality is terrible, as you've surely noticed from these screenshots, but thankfully the dialogue isn't too hard to hear, which is a blessing!
All the Asian characters in this movie are white people in yellowface, but the film's bad quality hides this pretty well, as it reduces everyone to white voids. Due to this, I've no idea if the black Noble Johnson is playing a character called Li Po in yellowface, or is just really poorly named.
The acting here is mostly barely passable. Some performances are worse than others. Warner Oland (famous for playing Charlie Chan) boring for the first hour, but very entertaining in the final twenty minutes, although his delivery is a bit shaky at times. As for Noble Johnson, he's apparently in this movie. I say apparently, because I couldn't see him at all! Maybe he really was in Yellowface!
Surprisingly for a film from the '20's, this has a flamboyant gay stereotype! In 1929? The character in question is the Petrie family butler, and he's annoying at first, but gets more likeable as the movie goes on.
The Mysterious Dr. Fu Manchu is a pretty crummy movie, and I don't recommend it. It's not terrible, but it's not good either.
The Return of Dr. Fu Manchu
Yes, Fu Manchu returns, despite dying at the end of the last movie! Be prepared to take a lot of that, no matter which Fu Manchu movie you watch! The guy really must have the full support of the gods with his evil plans!
Having survived his fate at the end of the last movie, the insidious Dr. Fu Manchu wastes no time in plotting his continued revenge against Jack Petrie, as well as Lia Eltham, and his arch-nemesis Detective Nayland Smith...
This is an unnecessary sequel, but it's quite entertaining, and certainly better than the previous movie! It's still dull-ish with its choice of locations, but the movie is a lot faster paced than Mysterious.
Warner Oland continues his energetically villainous performance as Fu Manchu from the previous movie's final act rather than the dull Fu of that film's first two acts, thankfully, and he's never boring. He and Nayland Smith even share a neat dynamic!
The explanation for Fu Manchu's survival of the events of last movie is explained pretty well (It's a Romeo and Juliet type of fake death poison, hence Fu survived whereas Petrie would've woken up in a coffin had things gone to plan) and helps make Fu even more of an evil bastard, given he now has a predilection for insuring dozens of his victims get unintentionally buried alive. However, the first explanation-Nayland Smith's theory-is decidedly weaker, as it just says 'maybe the poison wasn't really poison', which is dumb and makes no sense within the context of the first movie.
Lia is actually pretty proactive here, which is much better than her being a cardboard patsy like in Mysterious. Another returning character from Mysterious is the flaming gay butler, Sylvester, and he's pretty entertaining, thankfully, and even kinda endearing in a way, given his friendship with Jack, and how he wants to help take down Fu Manchu.
The video quality to this movie sucks, but it's a slight improvement over Mysterious, so actors aren't merely white silhouette's.
While still not a great movie, The Return of Fu Manchu is watchable. I don't recommend it, mainly due to its print quality, but it's not as dull as its predecessor.
Daughter of the Dragon
This movie sucks!
Daughter of the Dragon, very much the black sheep of this trilogy, should be retitled Ignominious: The Movie! It's set twenty years after the last two movies, and Jack Petrie and Lia (recast, and both looking a hell of a lot older than as if merely twenty years has passed) are living happily!...And then Jack is brutally murdered by Fu Manchu! (who for some reason waited twenty years before doing this). Yeah, pretty big middle finger to those who enjoyed the last two movies! And guess what-Fu Manchu dies too! Twenty minutes in! From then on, his previously non-existent daughter Ling Moy picks up the slack to go after Jack's son Ronald.
This movie's other problem is that it's a misogynist pile of crap! Whereas Fu Manchu in this universe had complete and total control over his henchmen, Ling Moy is constantly belittled and harangued by her subjects for being a 'weak woman', resulting in some incredibly eye-rolling dialogue! Yeah, these are sexist attitudes from the film's villains, but this is still 1931-I really don't think these views weren't what the writer already thought!
Funnily enough, the only negative thing this film isn't is racist. It's even got an Asian protagonist who's actually played by an Asian guy!
Daughter of the Dragon is also boring! The script is poorly written, has bad pacing, and feels a hell of a lot longer than 70 minutes. Once it's over, it feels like nothing has been accomplished, and we're back to square one again!
Finally, the acting. It sucks! It's largely mediocre, but Sessue Hayakawa is wooden, and poorly emotes, while Bramwell Fletcher (Ronald Petrie) is too emotive, delivering a pretty bad performance. Warner Oland is barely passable in his extended cameo, and Anna May Wong is meh as the film's lead villain, and really annoying when she constantly refers to herself in the third person! Shut up, Anna May Wong!
I apologize in advance to the ghost of Anna May Wong...
You can't do much worse with Fu Manchu films than Daughter of the Dragon! I've seen all the Christopher Lee movies, as well as the entirety of the Adventures tv series, and Daughter takes the cake! Its only contender may be the reputedly painfully unfunny Peter Sellers movie The Fiendish Plot of Fu Manchu!...
Y'know, it's really not a good sign when you watch three Fu Manchu movies in a row, and the only thing they do is leave you with a taste for Fu Manchu, as they contain so few elements of the franchise they leave you feeling like you've just watched three-and-a-half hours of something almost entirely unrelated to Fu Manchu!
While two out of three of this trilogy are passable, I don't recommend them. The low quality of the seemingly only available prints online on Youtube are dreadful, and the movies themselves are just not all that great. Enter the terrible third entry, and you have a movie series that's not worth your time. The two Jess Franco Fu Manchu movies get a lot of crap, but I've seen them, and they're damn entertaining pulp movies, well worthy of the Fu Manchu name. Watch them, and the previous four entries in the Christopher Lee series, and also try and hunt down the Boris Karloff movie, or even the movie serial if you can find it cheaply, and you'll have a much better viewing experience than you would with this trilogy...