Thursday, December 25, 2014
Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!
Wow, an Australian Christmas that wasn't at least forty degrees! That's not common in these parts! There wasn't even a single time where I had to painstakingly beat a snake to death with a blunt axe! Needless to say, my Christmas was fun! Among my presents were the latest Stephen King book, a CD of Supergrass, a Game of Thrones Westeros glass mug, a Doctor Who TARDIS mug, a Doctor Who trivial pursuit game (that I literally know all the answers to!), a longbox that I have no idea how to assemble, and the complete run of comic series It Girl and the Atomics, among other presents!
The day was slow to start, as my relations weren't already here come Christmas Eve, but drove down on Xmas Day, so I only had a couple of presents to open before having to wait nearly five hours (I got up at 7:00, which is unusual for me-I guess my body just knows when it's Christmas!). I wiled away the time watching internet videos, reading Shortpacked, playing a calm game of Ninja Gaiden, and picking out a nice Questionable Content shirt to wear for the special day. Come lunchtime, everyone had since arrived, and after a lunch of turkey, chicken, ham, hard-boiled eggs, cucumber, and a whole host of other assorted vegetables that I refused to touch, there was a delicious dessert of Trifle and Pavlova!...That I was too full to eat!
When it came to the TV, there was very little Christmassy on. Only a few movies from the last couple of years, all having two stars or less in the TV guide! And Christmas Eve had four Xmas flicks, all one star! So I ended up watching The Sound of Music, which was he best thing on TV at night.
I hope all of you had a great Christmas, or happy other holidays, depending on what you celebrate. And I bet most of you lucky bastards got to have beautiful snow for yours. For me, snow is an unattainable myth.
Happy holidays, and a merry Patrick Swayze Christmas to you!...
Wednesday, December 24, 2014
The Twilight Zone: Night of the Meek (1960)
Anthology TV series The Twilight Zone certainly did offer a lot to its audiences, from horror either straight or of the psychological kind, to science fiction, to fantasy! In the case of Night of the Meek, it's a much more kind-hearted story than the dark series is usually known for...
Henry Corwin is a mall-Santa, who's unemployed for most of the year, and spends most of it drunk and despondent. He's devastated that he can't do anything to help those in need on Christmas Day, and wishes just once, that he could be a true giftgiver. Soon after, he comes across a seemingly magical sack that produces whatever present anyone desires....
Night of the Meek is a wonderful Christmas story! It's a poignant tale, very well-written, and all-too-short. It has an air of Christmas spirit and joy, and there are some great dramatic bits of dialogue from Corwin, as well as plenty of character, both for Corwin, and for the grumpy store manager who's won over by Christmas cheer.
The only problem some might have with this is the ending. They might find it a bit too much, and I can definitely understand where they're coming from, as without this coda, the episode would have had a much more subtle conclusion, but I like it. It's a nice and sweet Christmas-y ending.
The acting in Night of the Meek is great all-round! Art Carney delivers a very powerful performance as Henry Corwin, and is definitely one of the best Santas to have ever graced the silver screen!
I highly recommend Night of the Meek as part of your Christmas lineup! It really is one of the best things you could be watching, whether alone or with family, on Christmas Day!...
Tuesday, December 23, 2014
A Christmas Study of Goodbye, 20th Century! (1998)
This may come as a surprise to you, but a Macedonian arthouse film about Santa Claus bringing about the apocalypse actually has artistic merit! Tonight, I'll be presenting you with an essay I've written on what I believe Goodbye, 20th Century means...
In the year 2019, the world has fallen into chaos after a catastrophe. In the Balkan wastes, a religious tribe are about to execute a man named Kuzman, for heresy that they believe caused misfortune to befall them. However, when they gun Kuzman down, he gets right back up again. After further attempts, the tribe believe Kuzman to be cursed, and warn him to stay away from them. Later that night, he's approached by a mysterious barber and prophet, who cryptically tells of what Kuzman must do to learn how he can finally die...
In the year 1999, it's New Year's Eve, and still the Christmas season in Macedonia, due to their Orthodox beliefs. A rent-a-Santa goes back to his apartment, where his landlord and others are holding a wake for a dead man. The proceedings quickly and violently turn to chaos, and it's up to Santa to stop the entropy, by any means necessary...
Goodbye, 20th Century is part post-apocalyptic movie, part re-imagining of the Noah's Ark parable, infused with Macedonian culture and history. To briefly review the film, it's entertaining, thoughtful, and is very well paced! If you're just watching for a good movie, and don't want to have to read artistic themes and messages into anything, then Goodbye 20th Century does stand on its own, and the two stories it tells are extremely varied, and tie together well! The post-apocalypse segment is really only made up of four scenes, but takes up nearly fifty minutes of film. These scenes either have quite a bit happening, or are long dialogue exchanges, and to last as long as they do and remain compelling, never boring, is a great feat! The soundtrack to this movie is especially good. It's moody and evocative in some places. There's also a nice Christmas song! And then there's the licensed music, from Frank Zappa's Cocaine Decisions, to Sid Vicious' My Way, which fit in perfectly, the latter especially so! The effects are quite good too (minus when the Joker lookalike gets shot), and the locations great! The only problem I have with the movie is one really out-of-place extended fart joke, and what else happens during this brief moment. It's baffling! On that note, there's a scene fifty minutes in where the camera flies into a toilet while playing grand music, and emerges in space, where the title flies by, then is hit by a comet. This may too seem like a really bizarre and out-of-place scene, but it's right before a very flashy New Years TV presentation show, so this could just be the opening to that. Most importantly, Goodbye, 20th Century rarely feels pretentious. Not even the scene with the gun-toting Joker lookalike who quote's Bob Dylan's Death is Not the End!
Without further ado, onto the analysis of this film...
Goodbye 20th Century is divided in two large stories, with a very small, but important segment in-between. In the first story, set in the post-apocalyptic future, Kuzman, the man cursed with immortality, sets out to find the 'Wall of Names and Fates', where everyone's destinies are written. The second segment is a brief silent film, showing an incestuous wedding that ends in murder when the groom is shot to death by his family. The third and final segment is about Santa at a funeral wake that has devolved into disrespect and violence, leading him to 'push the button on doomsday', sparing one man to have him build an ark for the upcoming disaster. Numerous aspects connect these stories together, that I'll get into further down below.
Negative legacy seems to be a big theme in Goodbye, 20th Century. The world of this movie is not kind to children. Kuzman's 'lewd' acts in front of a fresco of a saint causes the tribe's children to die, while back in 1999, the children we see are rude, cruel, and willingly partake in the erupting chaos. This is why Santa kills them along with the older people at the wake, as while they may not have had enough time to mature and become genuinely rotten like the adults, Santa could see into the future, and knew that they would indeed get worse, and are therefore just as culpable as the adults. Also, the adults at the wake may be reflections of what the kids would grow up to be like in the future. And when Santa shoots the seemingly innocent old widow, it could potentially be because she represents the people responsible for the raising this generation that led to their current cruel nature.
Kuzman's problems with immortality seem to stem from his own encounter with Santa as a child, when he calls the polite jolly red man an ugly asshole. This could be evocative of the Wandering Jew story, about the man who insulted Jesus at the crucifixion, and was cursed to walk the Earth until the Second Coming. Meanwhile, the legacy of such acts seems to have long-lasting consequences in the future of 2019, where there are forums who view children as disgusting and cruel, and wish for them to be forced into a separate ghetto, away from everyone else.
The other big theme of this movie is cyclical time. The sins of the past carry on through the present and the future, mirroring each-other, as these same acts perpetually doom humanity and drag down its morality. This is represented through a building that we see has a perpetually violent history, from the silent film showing the incestuous wedding, and the murder it caused, and the wake that signals the apocalypse. But, this same location of chaos and violence also becomes a hallowed ground, housing the Wall of Names and Fates, from which humanity can potentially correct their mistakes, and break free from the negative cycle.
One particularly interesting motif is the recurring scream, which you hear in Kuzman's first attempted execution, when he's traversing into the place with The Wall of Names and Fates, and when Santa kills the old widow at the end. The sound seems to signify the collective echoing anguish and suffering of humanity. ...Yes, I'm fully aware of how pretentious this is making me sound.
The character of Santa* likely represents God, showing resignation and apocalyptic fury at the violent and ill-natured state of the world, while the immortal barber who shows up in each segment is a prophet, who's despondent at humanity's mistakes, and seems to want to help them rise up over them and into purity.
*Technically he's only a rent-a-Santa, but if he's literally God, then I'm sure I can consider him as being literally Santa too. Plus, he plays Jingle Bells when destroying the world, so there.
Incest is another big theme in Goodbye, 20th Century, but I haven't the faintest idea what it's meant to signify.
Now to address a couple of potential goofs that could in fact be deliberate aspects to the movie. The first is part of the film's written opening narration, which talks of the apocalypse, and how only the animals survived, before immediately showing people. This could be mind-numbing stupidity on the part of the writer, or it could be a deliberate comparison, to show the savagery of the people of 2019.
The other possible goof is the fact that in this post-apocalyptic world, trees are said to be all gone, yet we clearly see trees in some scenes, and fruit figures very heavily into one scene (from what I can tell, apples were an aphrodisiac, or something like that, in Greece, so their use in that scene makes sense, and isn't forced pretentious imagery). Perhaps the reason for this is that Kuzman's tribe is in a self imposed life in the wastelands of the Balkans (just as Moses and the Isrealites did in the deserts of wherever) as part of a penance to God, and that's why they miss the trees. For all intents and purposes, they no longer exist to them, hence why the feel as if they're all gone, and thus refuse to talk about them. The dialogue doesn't explicitly say why they're all gone, and the wording of the establishing conversation is definitely accommodating to my theory, given its wording.
So, that ends this essay. Am I correct in my theories, or am I just looking into things too much? No idea, but speculation on art films is fun regardless. I seriously do dig art films, but for me to enjoy them, they actually have to mean something. Anyone who makes a movie that's two hours of a car driving who claims their work is high art is a fucking asshole, and needs to stay away from movies! I want things to actually happen in art films, that I can draw intelligently crafted themes and meanings from. That Goodbye, 20th Century is! If you're looking for an intelligent art film about cyclical time, or just a general insane Christmas movie full of post-apocalyptic antics, and Santa destroying the world, that'll leave you wanting to listen to some X-Ray Spex, then I recommend it!...
Emmet Otter's Jug-Band Christmas (1977)
It's a well-documented fact that muppets are adorable, and trying to deny it will result in your inevitable violent death at the hands of murderous Snuffaluffaguses (also known as Anthropophaguses). They've certainly been a well-traveled type of puppets, from properties such as, of course, The Muppets, to Sesame Street, and 1977 TV movie musical Emmet Otter's Jug Band Christmas...
Emmet is a young otter living in a small lakeside town. He and his mother are very poor, but still want to get each-other a great Christmas present, so they both, without the other realizing, enter a talent competition to win prize money...
Emmet Otter's Jug-Band Christmas is a mixed bag. On one hand, while a bit trite, the plot isn't badly cliched, and it's never boring or poorly written, but I also just never found it to be all that interesting. Also, the climax ends kinda depressingly!...But things all turn out ok following that, obviously, as films like these never want to make you jump off a building for long.
The movie is only 49 minutes long, and I wish it was longer, but it's never rushed, ill-paced, nor does the running time adversely affect the plot, thankfully.
The musical numbers here are nice. The singing is good, as are the lyrics, some of the time. Other times, they're...'interesting'! On a different note, who knew Paul Williams would ever write a song like There Ain't No Hole in the Washtub! But then again, who'd think he'd appear as a Faustian record executive in a Brian de Palma rock-opera 'horror' musical! The guy's sure had a very varied career!
The Jim Henson designed puppets in this film look great! They're not convincing at all, but they're not trying to be. They're well-designed, and most importantly, their actions and dialogue synch up well. The locations are fake in that deliberately obvious way, which'd be fine if not for the strings you occasionally see. Regardless, they're very well-crafted sets!
The acting in this movie is all ok. There are no bad performances, and like I said, the singing's decent.
All in all, I found Emmet Otter's Jug-Band Christmas to be a tiny bit meh, but it is watchable, and has a good soundtrack, so if you're in the mood for Christmas-related hijinks involving adorable Jim Henson puppets, then I recommend it. It's not like it'll eat up too much of your time...
Saturday, December 20, 2014
Santa Claus Conquers the Martians (1966)
Even before its inclusion on riffing show Mystery Science Theatre 3000, Santa Clause Conquers the Martians has always notorious for being one of the worst films ever made, right up there with Plan 9 from Outer Space! Like Plan 9, this movie has a cult following thanks to how 'so bad its good' people see it as, rather than being just irredeemably dreadful...
Children all over the planet Mars are feeling depressed, not caring to eat, and heavily drawn to Earth TV programs. The planet's leader Ki-Mar sets to find out what's causing this mood shift, and soon realizes that Mars needs a Santa Claus. He goes to Earth with some compatriots and kidnaps Santa, along with two kids, Billy and Betty, who he had divulge Santa's location. They head back to Mars, where Santa makes a positive impression on everyone but the aggressive Voldar, who seeks to destroy Santa Claus before he can 'sap the warrior spirit' from the Martian youth...
As far as I think, Santa Claus Conquers the Martians isn't really much of a bad film in the slightest! Sure, it doesn't look great, but it has such an air of fun to it that there's no way I could consider putting it on any worst lists!...Well, minus the effects, but that goes without saying. My point is that I have seen a LOT of really BAD movies, and lemme tell you, Santa Claus Conquers the Martians is no Feeders 2!
While the plot to this movie is entertaining in a fun and kitsch, it is very is dumb, and has quite a a few plot contrivances, such as Santa and the kids escaping a soon-to-be-decompressing airlock by going through an air vent!...In an airlock! And then there's the climax, where Voldar, the armed 'proud warrior Martian', is easily defeated by glitter guns, bubbles, and flimsy remote control airplanes! One scene in particular many find weird and disturbing-The laughing scene!
The dialogue is pretty standard, albeit clumsy in places, and there are a couple of mildly amusing moments, like Santa's line about chocolate ice cream and headaches. Then we get to the hilariously lazily named main Martian family-Mo-Mar, Bo-Mar, Gir-Mar, and the more subtly named Ki-Mar (as in King, I assume).
The acting in this movie is largely decent. John Call makes for a very good Santa, looking perfect in the role and acting suitably jolly, while the film's child actors are not as good, especially the two Martian kids (one of which is the infamous Pia Zadora, star of notorious film The Lovely Lady, and subject to the Anne Frank stage production "She's in the attic!" myth regarding the supposed quality of her acting). The actor who plays Voldar technically isn't all that good, but he exudes a villainous charm with his delivery that makes quite entertaining. The character of Dropo is bound to be annoying to some, but is mildly tolerable to others, such as me.
The effects in Santa Claus Conquers the Martians are unequivocally terrible, in a charming way, from the coffee-can headed robot Torg, to the propane-lighter spaceships, the incredibly fake sets, and a polar bear costume faker than the cat in Miranda July's The Future!
There are a few moments of archive footage in the movie's first third, which are pretty unnecessary, but not superfluous, as it is at least showing something of significance. It's just something of significance that isn't really required. Thankfully the quality of its film stock does mesh with the proper film's if you're watching the HD version, though not so much when you're viewing the crummy print Public Domain version.
This movie's score is ok, if eclectic, and the main theme, Hooray for Santy Claus, is listenable, in a fun camp kinda way.
Overall, Santa Claus Conquers the Martians is a dumb film, but it's immensely enjoyable, whether you're watching the hysterically funny MST3K version or not. I recommend it if you're looking for something light and fluffy to watch for the Christmas season...
Friday, December 19, 2014
Santa Claus (1985)
Santa Claus is truly one of the enduring figures of Christmas, despite debilitating setbacks such as his weight, or getting beaten up by Patrick Swayze after attempted theft. He's a jolly old bearer of gifts who even gets plenty of great movies based on him!...And about three times more bad ones, but don't tell him that in your letters, otherwise he may start emulating that Weird Al Yankovic song!...
Long ago, in the cold ends of the Earth, a man named Claus takes great pleasure in giving personally handmade presents to all the children he can reach. One night, he and his wife are nearly killed in a snowstorm after a delivery, and are saved by a group of Elves. The mystical people were expecting Claus, and have prepared a vast toy workshop, from where he can produce toys for every child in the world. Christening him Santa Claus, and giving him immortality and a variety of magical abilities, the elves are ecstatic, and Claus is ready to take on his newfound expanded duty.
In the present day, Santa makes friends with two kids-The homeless Joe, and the orphan Cornelia. They're both entranced by the jolly red man, but after his chief assistant Patch ruins Christmas, they're among the only ones still supportive of Santa Claus...
Santa Claus is a very nice Christmas movie, with many great aspects! This film does something surprising by actually giving Santa a character! I'm sure that other movies have done this (Ernest Saves Christmas, and the Miracle on 34th Street films come to mind), but in most media, he's more of a template (a good one, mind you) than he is a well-rounded character. The mythology behind Santa presented here is very well-done too! This movie takes Christmas seriously, with more than enough joy in its telling!
The story here is decent, and great concerning Santa, but unfortunately it focuses too much on the wrong character (I'll elaborate below), and doesn't spend enough time with its two child supporting leads. They get just enough scenes, but still too few by far! What's worse is that they're quite well-written characters, and their friendship is quite a nice one, but it's not given enough attention. My final problem with Santa Claus' plot is that its ending is really abrupt and rushed, while the final stinger is an oddly dark way to end the movie, which had just seemed to finish on a very happy note.
Now onto my biggest issue with Santa Clause-Patch! I don't care if he's played by Dudley Moore-Patch is an unlikeable sack of crap! His constant pathetic mistakes are the catalyst for all the movie's problems! He's a smug and petulant asshole who never, ever stops making terrible elf puns, and makes many a scene extremely uncomfortable in an otherwise charming movie! He ruins Christmas for a YEAR! He causes Santa to fall into deep depression!
The acting in Santa Claus is middling. Dudley Moore is dull when he's not annoying, while John Lithgow plays his role as the film's villain incredibly over-the-top, to a highly entertaining degree! Carrie Kei Heim is cute, and a largely decent actress. Her delivery is a tad weak at times, but nothing too serious. Christian Fitzpatrick isn't quite as good, but still decent. And finally, we get to David Huddleston, in what is quite possibly the best performance of his entire career! The man gets across so many emotions so fantastically, whether sadness or joy, and his Santa is undoubtedly one of my all-time favourites!
The score to Santa Claus is quite good, with the best song being Thank You, Santa, but unfortunately it's only played for about half-a-minute, then never heard again. What's worse is that the song played over the end credits is sssssssssooooooooooooooooooooooooooo REPETITIVE! It never stops playing the chorus! It's sung like fifty times! LITERALLY! There's a special place in hell for songs so bad they make me want Sheena Easton to shut up!
The effects in this movie are decent. The green screen shots when Santa's flying his sleigh are rather well-done, while the reindeer are cute! Obviously not real animals, but good nonetheless. As for the look of Santa's workshop, and the costume design for the elves, it's all incredibly colourful and vast!
Santa Claus is a great Christmas movie! It has quite a few problems, but it's still a fine thing to watch in this season of joy!...
Thursday, December 18, 2014
1982 musical Annie is a film that I was worried about going in, as I'd heard negative rumours aplenty about the movie's quality, but I was far from disappointed by it!...
Annie is a 10-year-old orphan living under the 'care' of the cruel drunkard Miss Hannigan. Her crummy life is interrupted one day when billionaire Oliver Warbucks decides to temporarily take in an orphan for a publicity stunt. Annie is ecstatic at the opportunity to live in Warbucks' vast mansion, and she quickly makes friends with all the staff, eventually the uninterested Mr. Warbucks himself, who decides to permanently adopt her. Soon enough, the two go on a search for Annie's real parents, if they're still alive, but unfortunately their efforts attract the attention of a deceitful pair of one-bit thieves...
Annie is nicely paced and quick for a two hour movie, and it has a very well-written plot! The 'father-daughter' relationship between Annie and Oliver Warbucks is very well handled! As far as the original Annie stage musical's lyricist is concerned, this is a terrible movie that simplifies and dumbs everything from the play down, but to me, that simply isn't the case at all.
The title character of Annie is great! She's a very likeable and endearing lead character, with plenty of heart, compassion, and all-round character! Annie is awesome, make no mistake about that! She punches out bullies, and sings to FDR!
Oliver 'Daddy' Warbucks is a nicely well-rounded character. Rather than just being a totally cold dick to start with who gets thawed out by Annie, he instead always has a softer side-He's just one of those people who's good without being all that nice. Though of course, he is still touched by Annie's spirit, and made a happier and kinder person-The movie is just less cliched about it than others.
The villains of this film aren't quite as well-handled. Rooster and his Bernadette Peters-helmed sidekick appear just enough to have enough screentime, but I wish they had more scenes. Miss Hannigan on the other hand is another pretty decently rounded character!
The acting in Annie is very good. Aileen Quinn has a lot of work in not only carrying a movie, but a musical at that, and she succeeds beautifully! She's a great singer, a fine actress, and she never comes across as cute in a forced way-She naturally exudes pure cuteness!
By the way, a funny aside. It sure must've been confusing for the young girl to have won both a Best Young Actress award from one outlet, and a Worst Supporting Actress one from another! But then again, that latter 'award' came from the Razzies, and everyone knows they're not a real awards function-They're just a bunch of dicks.
Albert Finney is great as the boisterous and loud Oliver Warbucks, while Ann Reinking is good as the nice Grace Farrell, although she sort-of phases out of the movie after a while. She still shows up now and again, mostly in the background of scenes, and she's in the final musical number, but it's not much.
Carol Burnett is a riot as the lush Miss Hannigan, and Tim Curry is a good villain, with a decent American accent to boot! Geoffrey Holder makes for a memorable character in appearance, even if it is baffling why a black guy is playing an Indian named Punjab (Still, could be worse-It could be a white guy playing the ethnic role!). Holder even gets to let out his iconic laugh at one point, despite the character's otherwise stoic nature in the rest of the film! The rest of the acting is fine, their singing is all pitch-perfect, and not one child actor here is bad! Hooray!
The songs in Annie are great! From Tomorrow, to Maybe, You're Never Fully Dressed Without a Smile, and Hard Knock Life, by far the film's (and by extension, the stage musical's) most famous number. Tomorrow is reprised twice in the movie, and thankfully it doesn't get old or overused. The space between its uses is long enough, and it fits perfectly in all the scenes it's sung in, making them completely!
Funnily enough, the only songs in this movie I didn't much like were the ones written specifically for it, rather than taken from the stage play, such as the Dumb Dog, and Sandy ones. They were over too quickly, and weren't very punchy or greatly written. I also didn't like the overlong last third of the Let's Go To the Movies number.
The staging and choreography of a lot of the musical numbers in Annie is great, from the iconic Hard Knock Life, to more extravagant ones such as Let's Go To the Movies (blech), or the glorious final song!
One last thing to note about Annie is that I'm very thankful for frilly and huge 1930's style undergarments, because it makes the movie's habit of the younger actresses frequently flashing the camera slightly less creepy, by just a smidge.
Annie is a great musical, and a very joyful movie! It left me with a huge smile on my face come the end, and I highly recommend it!...
Saturday, December 13, 2014
The Amazing Mr. Blunden (1972)
Geez, am I glad that I decided to go to the local markets today! I was originally not going to go, but when I woke up, I was too tired to object to being dragged down, and I'm the better for it, as if I'd stayed in bed, I wouldn't have found out about the fantastic The Amazing Mr. Blunden!...
Kids horror films are usually a pretty sorry affair. Even if the movies or TV shows in question aren't bad, they're not often particularly frightening, as they're always holding back in-case they 'scare the kiddies too much'. Screw that! Scare the little brats as much as possible! Scare them until their skin violently flies off their body!
1972's The Amazing Mr. Blunden isn't strictly a horror film, but it shares many qualities, despite what the fun-happy title would leave you to believe. It led me to assume this was a joy-ridden comedy!...
One night, a mysterious lawyer named Mr. Blunden visits Mrs. Allen, a widower. He tells her about a caretaking job at a lavish but in disrepair mansion out in the countryside. As Mrs. Allen is poor, in debt, and has three children to support, so she jumps at the job...although when she visits the law firm the next day, they're most surprised to know that Mr. Blunden of all people was in any way capable of doing anything...
Mrs. Allen's two grownup kids Lucy and Jamie first hear about the estate's supposed ghosts from the cryptic Mr. Blunden, and they soon come across them-Sara and Georgie. The two spirits tell their story about about their cruel housekeeper and semi-guardian plotted to murder them, for their money. Sara and Georgie may not actually be dead after all, as they've been traveling to the present using a potion, which they instruct Lucy and Jamie to brew and drink, so they can help prevent the terrible things about to happen. Lucy and Jamie soon realize how desperately the need to when they find a gravestone with Sara and Georgie's names on it...
The Amazing Mr. Blunden is a very mature kids film! It always takes itself seriously, and the story it tells is a very smart. It's very well written, with elements of ghosts, mental time travel, predeterminism, and of trying to correct dire mistakes of the past, all going together perfectly! This is a pretty dark film, and certainly moreso than usual kids movie fare, and it doesn't shy away from grim themes, even if the ending is a happy one. So many filmmakers assume kids are stupid, and need simple watered down scary-lite movies, but stuff like The Watcher in the Woods and this (among hopefully others) prove that it's certainly possible to make intelligent and scary movies for kids.
When it comes to this movie's genre, I have no idea what to class it as. It's not an adventure, nor mystery, or horror. It's a bit of a hodgepodge of genres.
My only problem with this move is the title! At first I was annoyed by Laurence Naismith's lack of screentime, but as the movie went on, I realized he had an effective amount. What mainly bugged me about his lack of presence at first was that he's in the title, but he is important enough to the plot that I could let that slide...if not for the use of the word 'amazing', which makes this sound like a fun panto romp with him in charge. Also, The Amazing Mr. Blunden? That title is a bit too chipper for the subject matter.
The ending is very good! Rather than just wrap up in under a New York minute, it's actually given due time to properly wrap everything up! There is what could potentially be seen as a bit of a contrivance at the very end given the lineage that comes up, but could potentially just be a little white lie-A sneaky provision by Sara.
Speaking of the ending, the credits are pretty unique and interesting! Think the end of a stage play!
The Amazing Mr. Blunden's characters are nicely written. Lucy and Jamie make for very good leads, as does Sara. Georgie does less, though, as he's a much younger kid. The film's villain is decent. More on her down below.
The villain's husband seems like just a nothing character at first, as given he's either mentally disabled, or brain damaged, he doesn't have a personality on display, but come the end, it makes him a pretty effective villain. He's a tough brute who can't be reasoned with, or easily stopped.
And finally, onto the film's best character, Mr. Blunden himself. He's a tragic and memorable figure, and his efforts to right his wrongs from the past make for a compelling story.
The acting here is largely very good, and there are no bad performances, which is very impressive, given the amount of child actors present. Diana Dors is over-the-top as the villain, but still good, depending on your point-of-view. Meanwhile, Laurence Naismith gives a fantastic performance, making the most of his rather brief screentime.
The scoring is good, but is either absent, or too low-key, in more than a few scenes, so while there are a few memorable tracks, quite a few leave little impression.
The Amazing Mr. Blunden is one of my new favourite movies, and I wholeheartedly recommend it, especially for Halloween!...
Curtis Harrington is a pretty interesting director. He specializes in horror films involving middle aged women, rather than young co-eds or anything of that like, and his films tended to have very distinct themes and creepy atmospheres. I couldn't tell you much more than that, as to this day, I've yet to see any of his films (even the awesomely titled Who Slew Auntie Roo?), aside from his 1977 outing Ruby...
Ruby Claire was a big-time celebrity and singer in the 1930's, but her nasty habit of hanging around gangsters backfires on her badly when her mob boss friend Jake killed her lover Nicky in a jealous rage. Years later, the washed-up Ruby runs a drive-in, employing all her old 'comrades-in-arms' from her criminal days. One night, they start getting mysteriously and violently killed, and Ruby soon becomes convinced that Nicky's spirit is back. She's correct, and Nicky is under the impression that Ruby set him up to be killed. He makes short work of the guys, and soon possesses his and Ruby's mute daughter Emily to personally take revenge on his ex-lover...
Ruby is a pretty good horror film. The plot is decently written, and had very neat pacing! It's never boring, and never shows off too much or too little at a time. Ruby's overall atmosphere is nice and ooky, and there are some great setpieces. One scene, however, is a total Exorcist ripoff!
There is a pretty big problem I had with the plot though. It's unclear whether or not Ruby's 'boys' are the ones who shot Nicky. If they are, why is Ruby ok with them?
Aside from that annoying bit of confusion, the plot is otherwise fine, and the ending is nicely fitting!...Until the last ten seconds, anyway! The 'shock' moment completely botches the whole point of the ending! From what I can gather, this crammed-in studio edit abrupt 'shocker' pissed Curtis Harrington off something fierce!
Another issue I have with Ruby's ending is that I wish we would've had a bit of conclusion for Emily. At least it didn't end depressingly for her.
The acting in Ruby is all decent. Piper Laurie is great as Ruby Claire! The character may be pretty unlikeable, but Laurie's fantastically over-the-top, and unhinged comes the end!
Janit Baldwin is great as Emily, but unfortunately underused. Without saying a word, she relies entirely on her physical expressions and actions, and she succeeds very well! And then there's when 'she' talks! She can look scared, look diabolical, and she's also absolutely adorable! Look at her!
The effects in Ruby are good, especially the 'ghostly hurricane', and the death scenes are very stylish and well-put together!...Except for one, where it looks like the guy's getting the crap beaten out of him by the film's edits!
The scoring is atmospheric and effective, and complement the movie so well!
Ruby is a nifty horror film, and for the vast majority of its runtime, I enjoyed it greatly! I recommend it, but make sure to pause the ending and switch the movie off in the last ten seconds, so you can get the ending's true effect, and not get pissed off...
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