Saturday, November 28, 2020

REMEMBERING WHEN 'IT CAME FROM BENEATH THE SEA'



The mystery of the briny deep, and the potential monsters and other horrors that may lurk fathoms down in the pitch dark of the ocean bottom, has provided as strong a fascination and allure for some as what the endless void of outer space has for others. With so much of our world still hidden beneath the sea, it naturally lends itself to tales of fantasy and the unknown. Jules Verne most famously took readers on a thrilling journey Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea in 1870, an adventure that included a tense confrontation with a giant monster squid which attacks the Nautilus submarine. When Disney adapted Verne’s novel in a lavish 1954 production, the climactic battle with the squid provided one of the most exciting and iconic moments in the studio’s history. The success of the film showed that oversized cephalopods could provide plenty of onscreen thrills and chills, and no better film amply demonstrates this than It Came from Beneath the Sea, which was released in July of 1955, little more than six months after Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea.

Directed by Robert Gordon, who began his career as a child actor in the 1920s before moving behind the camera in the late-forties, the modern miracle of atomic energy is once again the cause of the problem in It Came from Beneath the Sea. While the gigantic octopus that is the IT of the film’s title has existed for countless years deep down inside the Philippine Trench, the atomic bomb tests conducted on the Marshall Islands has forced the monster to surface, since the radiation it has absorbed has driven off its natural food supply. It first makes its presence known when it takes a fancy to a new $55 million nuclear submarine, captained by Commander Pete Mathews (Kenneth Tobey), which is out on manoeuvres in the Pacific. While the boat and crew survive the encounter, Mathews and his men are at a loss as to what had attacked them, the only clue being a large piece of rubbery tissue found jammed in one of the sub’s diving planes.

Returning to Pearl Harbor, Mathews enlists the help of a co-ed team of marine biologists, Professor Lesley Joyce (Faith Domergue) and John Carter (Donald Curtis), to identify the mysterious tissue. Naturally, the military bigwigs scoff at the pair’s deduction that the tissue came from a giant octopus, but they soon sing a different tune when fishing boats start going missing and near-catatonic survivors talk of a giant sea monster attacking them. As romance starts to quickly bloom between Mathews and the young female professor, the beast makes its way underwater towards San Francisco where, further irritated by electronic nets put up across the bay to try and stop it, it spectacularly destroys parts of the Golden Gate Bridge and the busy port area, its enormous tentacles stretching out across the surrounding streets to spread the horror inland. The only chance at destroying the monster is to try and drive it back underwater and then use the nuclear submarine to launch a special jet-propelled torpedo at it, which will embed itself in the octopus’s brain before being detonated by remote control from a safe distance. Not as easy a task as it sounds!



The title of It Came from Beneath the Sea was, quite obviously, inspired by It Came from Outer Space (1953), Jack Arnold’s classic 3D science fiction adventure that Universal had released. While Columbia didn’t mind swiping the title from their rival studio, they stopped short of filming their movie in 3D, a fad whose initial wave of popularity was already on the way out by 1955. Besides which, Columbia already had their own powerful “gimmick” in store for audiences, which was of course the incredible stop-motion special effects provided by Ray Harryhausen, for whom It Came from Beneath the Sea is essentially a showcase.

While Willis O’Brien is rightfully considered the pioneer of stop-motion animation, a technique he displayed with cinema-changing brilliance in King Kong (1933), it was Ray Harryhausen who picked up the torch and took it to the pinnacle. After working with O’Brien on Mighty Joe Young (1949), which won an Oscar for its visual effects, Columbia eyed Harryhausen after seeing his impressive work on The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (1953), his first solo film credit. It was at Columbia that Harryhausen first started to work with producer Charles H. Schneer, a fruitful partnership that would begin with It Came from Beneath the Sea and continue right up to Clash of the Titans (1981), Harryhausen’s final feature. “Dynamation” was the name which Harryhausen gave to his own brand of stop-motion work, which involved placing his miniature models between two separate live-action plates, giving a more convincing sense of depth to the scene, and more interaction between the human characters and the animated miniatures.

Naturally, it is Harryhausen’s work which provides the bulk of the excitement in It Came from Beneath the Sea. Budgetary constraints imposed upon the movie by Sam Katzman, head of Columbia’s B picture unit, meant that Harryhausen was only able to construct a six-tentacled model octopus for the special effects scenes, though honestly, in all the excitement who’s counting? As usual, Harryhausen is able to imbue his creation with a distinct personality, not just with his fine craftmanship for building the miniature models and sets, but the way in which painstakingly brought them to life with his intricate stop-motion techniques. Even if it is just the octopus’ bulbous head expanding and contracting, or a little flip of the tip of one of its tentacles, or even just the stare of its cold black eyes, it all combines to give the creature an individualism that makes it not only more charming and engaging, but infinitely more threatening as well. Priding himself on detail, Harryhausen made sure to research and study the look and behaviour of octopuses during pre-production, in order to give his model as much realism as he could. While the narrative pace for It Came from Beneath the Sea may be sluggish during its first two acts, the film more than makes up for it whenever Harryhausen’s magic is on screen. The partial destruction of the Golden Gate Bridge, where the octopus tries to drag itself up out of the water by wrapping its tentacles around one of the bridge towers, is virtually worth the price of admission alone, and the follow-up attack on the port is just as memorable.



Plot-wise, one curious theme which the screenplay by Hal Smith and George Worthing Yates tackles is that of female empowerment and independence, a topic that was still kept fairly hush at the time, gaining much more strength and mainstream traction a decade later, when the counterculture started to really take hold. Of course, the topic is not tackled with any subtlety here, and comes in the form of Pete Mathews and his old-world views of women as the weaker sex who need protecting and should give up their careers as soon as they meet a man. After merely one dance and a quick kiss, Mathews gets angry when Lesley doesn’t cancel her plans to accompany John Carter on a research expedition due to leave the following day. “Do you mind if I make a mental comment on the nature of women?”, he asks of Lesley and Carter before storming off from the dining table in a huff.

Putting Mathews’ views down to the male-dominated environment he spends most of his time in, the more sensitive and worldly Carter tries to put him straight, when he sees that he is clearly struggling to get Lesley on his side:

“You don’t see many women in the navy. There’s a whole new breed who feel they’re just as smart, just as courageous, as men. And they are. They don’t like to be over protected, they don’t like to have their initiative taken away from them.”

Of course, it takes a while to be convinced, but Mathews finally drags his views into the 20th Century at the end of the movie, when Lesley takes the initiative and leans across the dinner table to plant one on his lips. “Say doctor, you know, you are right about this new breed of woman”, Mathews tells Carter coyly as the screen fades to black.

According to Bill Warren in his seminal Keep Watching the Skies, Volume 1: 1950-1957 (McFarland, 1982), there had been a further romantic sequence planned between Pete and Lesley, which would have fleshed out their burgeoning relationship a little more, but the scene was scrapped by Katzman during production, to ensure filming did not go overschedule. There is a nice moment in the film where Pete and Lesley are enjoying a dip in the ocean at night, sharing a steamy kiss before being interrupted by the arrival of Carter. It’s a scene that has a nice film noir quality to it, and provides a pleasing change from the rather staid human interplay throughout the rest of the film.



Kenneth Tobey and Faith Domergue are likeable in their respective roles, though genuine chemistry between them is sadly lacking. Tobey was more enjoyable to watch in The Thing from Another World (1951) and The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, he seems to just cruise along here, though the ruddy, rugged redheaded always makes for an interesting screen presence. Likewise, Domergue isn’t as interesting here as she was in her other fifties’ genre features, Cult of the Cobra (1955) and This Island Earth (1955), the later one of the big science-fiction adventure films of the day.

Much of the live-action scenes in It Came from Beneath the Sea were filmed at the San Francisco Naval Shipyard, with director Gordon also shooting aboard real submarines with a handheld camera, a decision that was primarily financial as it saved the costs of having to build sets, but it also inadvertently helps capture a more genuine and palpable sense of claustrophobia. Other famous San Francisco landmarks like the Embarcadero and the Ferry Building are used along with the Golden Gate Bridge to provide maximum impact during the destruction sequences.

The opening title sequence for the movie is quite moody and effective, set over a footage of a rough and stormy night sea, the title and main credits scrolling up the screen from out of the choppy waves, giving a good atmospheric portent of the horror to come. The credits are followed by a text scroll that gives us the usual warnings about atomic power and the upheaval of nature, while the narration by William Woodson comes across as overly portentous (“For the first time in their lives, three people met”, we are told when Mathews, Lesley and Carter hook up in the Navy’s research lab). Prolific Russian composer Mischa Bakakeinikoff contributes a fairly typical fifties monster movie score, which is serviceable though not quite as effective as his follow-up work for Harryhausen on Earth vs. the Flying Saucers (1956) and Twenty Million Miles to Earth (1957). Bakakeinikoff also provided the score for another infamous fifties giant monster movie, The Giant Claw (1957). 

In the US, It Came from Beneath the Sea was originally released as the top-half of a double-bill with Creature with the Atom Brain (1955), another Columbia production, directed by Edward L. Cahn. The film was a decent financial success for the studio, grossing $1.7 million in the US, certainly a good return for a $150,000 production budget. The success of the film allowed Harryhausen and Schneer to continue with their partnership, their next project being the magnificent Earth vs. the Flying Saucers. Some stop-motion footage of the octopus from It Came from Beneath the Sea was also used in “The Village of Guilt” episode of Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, which aired during the show’s first season in 1964.


Copyright John Harrison 2020


Saturday, October 31, 2020

ADVENTURES IN THE B MOVIE TRADE

My review of the excellent new book by veteran Australian exploitation filmmaker Brian Trenchard Smith is now up at the FilmInk website. A terrific read for film lovers. Click on the link below to read.

Friday, October 2, 2020

GIANT MONSTERS OF FILMLAND

Spectacular cover (art by Paul Garner) for the upcoming GIANT MONSTERS OF FILMLAND book, another huge full-color volume coming from the publishers of WE BELONG DEAD magazine. I've written three essays for this book, for IT CAME FROM BENEATH THE SEA (1955), THE SPIDER (1958) and A*P*E (aka SUPER KONG, 1976). Not sure of the publication date but will post more info and pre-order link once available.







Saturday, September 26, 2020

SPOTLIGHT ON HORROR

Received my contributor's copy of the magnificent new SPOTLIGHT ON HORROR book from the UK the other day, for which I contributed essays on RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD (1984) and the recent two-part adaptation of Stephen King's IT. What a stunning volume, over 400 glossy color pages covering horror cinema from 1920 to 2019. Beautifully designed and illustrated, big congrats to Eric McNaughton and everyone else involved in its publication. I already know how my two contributions turned out but I can't wait to read all of the other essays in this terrific piece of work that all horror cinema lovers would devour.







Friday, September 25, 2020

GLAMOUR & GLAMAZONS!

 

The latest issue of GLAMOUR filed through my mailbox a few days ago, to help while away some of those isolation blues. Published by the elusive and mysterious Glamour Puss, GLAMOUR revels in being one of the few old-school, cut 'n' paste film fanzines still around, eschewing any online presence and found only by word of mouth or sheer luck. I sometimes miss the days of trading my own fanzines, like STRAIT-JACKET and REEL WILD CINEMA!, with other zines published around Australia and the world. GLAMOUR helps capture the thrill of those days, where you had to make an effort to seek things out, and information (and misinformation) wasn't readily available at the touch of a button.

Each issue of GLAMOUR is usually devoted to a certain theme or a particular performer (past issues have covered Flash Gordon, Maria Montez, Steve Reeves, prehistoric glamour gals, Jayne Mansfield, and much more). First published n the 90s, GLAMOUR is relatively light on new writing. Glamour Puss usually provides a couple of pages of introductory text to provide us with some historical background on that issue's theme, before letting the visuals take over and do most of the talking (though she also provides notes and captions on many of the illustrations).

And what visuals they are! A digest chock-filled with rare stills, posters, lobby cards and pressbooks, most of which are sourced from Glamour Puss' own extensive personal collection. The latest issue of GLAMOUR takes us through a look at Glamazons on film, with visual material from films like TARZAN AND THE AMAZONS (1945), LOVE SLAVES OF THE AMAZON (1967), GOLIATH AGAINST THE GIANTS (1961), Terence Young's WAR GODDESS (1973), SUPER STOOGES VS. THE WONDER WOMEN (1974, a film I now need to see), THE ARENA (1974), GWENDOLINE (1984), RED SONJA (1985) and many more.

As much as I know how many people would enjoy this, I can't tell you where you can get your mitts on an issue of GLAMOUR. You have to already be part of the sacred circle to receive it, though Melbourne folks may sometimes find Glamour Puss making copies available at local film fairs, not that we have had one of them for a long time (and likely will be a while before we see them return).

Some previous issues of GLAMOUR:



Saturday, September 19, 2020

FAILURE TO LAUNCH

Binge watched all four episodes of the riveting new Netflix documentary series CHALLENGER: THE FINAL FLIGHT earlier in the week. Equal parts harrowing and heartbreaking, but always fascinating. The series looks back at the history and development of the Space Shuttle (via some terrific old footage), the historic first launch and landing of the Columbia shuttle in the California desert in 1981 (with Steven Spielberg and Roy Rogers amongst the awestruck witnesses), and the mounting concerns that put the program behind schedule almost from the start. NASA’s promise to deliver a profitable means of re-usable space transportation saw them under pressure that made them put business before lives.

The interviews with the family members of the seven deceased astronauts are incredibly sad. I felt particularly sorry for Marcia Jarvis, whose husband Gregory was originally scheduled for the flight previous to Challenger, but he was bumped off by Senator Jake Garn, who became the first sitting member of Congress to fly into space. The bumping of the spot meant Jarvis was now relegated to the doomed Challenger flight.

You also can’t help but think of the nine runner-up schoolteachers who came so close to being in Christa McAuliffe’s shoes on the day (the doco does interview Barbara Morgan, who was the back-up should McAuliffe had been unfit or otherwise unable to make the flight). The fact that Challenger had on board the first schoolteacher sent into space meant that millions of inspired young American students sat glued to the television set to watch the launch live, only to look on in horror as the Challenger exploded in front of their eyes less than two minutes into its flight. Tragically, one of the reasons why NASA did not want to delay the flight any further was because McAullife was scheduled to teach two classes live from the shuttle while it was in orbit, which would be beamed into American schools. If NASA had delayed the flight again, the scheduled lesson would have fallen on a weekend, when there was no school, something that the space agency did not want to risk after all the publicity build-up and anticipation.

Hopefully there will be a similar series produced that looks into the other tragic Space Shuttle mission, that of the original shuttle Columbia, which after 27 successful flights burned-up upon re-entry on re-entry in 2003, killing all seven crew members.

Monday, September 7, 2020

FROZEN TEARS ARE FALLING HOT!



Melbourne, Australia has always been home to a thriving hard rock and heavy metal music scene. The early-eighties was a particularly exciting and fertile time, with tours by major bands such as AC/DC, KISS, Deep Purple and Iron Maiden stirring up excitement and energy in thousands of suburban teenagers, many of whom spent most of their spare time hanging out inside the cramped confines of Central Station Records. Hidden within the cold concrete tomb of Princess Bridge Train Station, Central Station was a mecca for local hard rock and metal fans, a source for not only the latest vinyl imports and hard-to-find rarities, but a place for likeminded fans to congregate, listen to new music, swap cassette tapes, and share the occasional life dream or vision.

It was out of this landscape that emerged the two main forces that would ultimately combine and lead to the formation of Frozen Tears, a melodic rock band who came together in 1996. Driven by close childhood friends Thanis Akritidis on vocals and Jon Powers on guitar and keyboards, with both contributing to the songwriting duties, Frozen Tears was a natural and organic progression from the bands which they had each led in the 1980s. Akritidis spent several years singing lead for Knight, a melodic rock outfit who proved popular on the local live scene, playing alongside noted acts like Axatak, De-Arrow, SAS and Virgin Soldiers, while Powers displayed a more aggressive, pure metal sound with his late-eighties act Blood on Kisses. The combination of these two disparate styles is what helps give Frozen Tears their distinctive sound…melody with bite!

After working out their sound and approach, and putting some original songs together, Frozen Tears soon began work on their debut album, Silence of the Night, which saw release in late-1997 and was a potent mix of no-nonsense hard rock with strong melodic overtones and an infusion of classic A.O.R. sounds. Heavily influenced by bands such as KISS, Whitesnake, Dokken and White Sister, Silence of the Night amply demonstrated the strong creative chemistry between Akritidis and Powers, not to mention the duo’s songwriting skills and the overall musical chops of the group.  The album was well-received both critically and by the band’s fans, and also found an audience overseas, particularly in Europe where it still sells consistently thanks to the enduring popularity of that musical style on the continent. 

The production on the new tracks is quite excellent - crisp, punchy and polished, with a lot of air and space for the instruments and Akritidis’ assured, passionate vocals to breathe and expand, yet it also retains a natural and organic sound. Providing the perfect balance to the vocals is the very tasty and accomplished rhythm and lead guitar work by Powers, which is filled with chunky, epic riffs but also highlights his ability to superbly handle the softer and more melodic sides to Frozen Tears’ sound. Powers, who has done a tight job of engineering the new tracks he co-produced with Akritidis, also proves himself adept with his keyboard skills, which contribute greatly to the depth and authenticity of the music. Children of the early-eighties, Frozen Tears have done an enviable job of recreating the aural analog warmth of all the albums they grew-up listening to, providing a much-welcome relief from the overly-digitized and autotuned sounds that mar and render lifeless so much of modern music.

While Frozen Tears went into an extended hiatus not long after the release of Silence of the Night and its subsequent local tour to promote it, the band never officially broke up, but have instead spent the years since writing and working on new material, with the inevitable aim of recording and releasing the long-awaited follow-up to their debut album.

The stars finally started to align for the band in early 2020, when Frozen Tears began laying down tracks for Brazen Whisper, the tentative title for their self-produced sophomore album. As the world started heading into isolation and worrying about the future, Akritidis and Powers were escaping into their music, laying down and refining cuts like “Set Me Free”, “Love Can Be Real”, “Hold on Tight” and “Brazen Whisper”.  These highly infectious new tracks show that Frozen Tears have remained true to their original influences and direction, while also showing a natural maturity in sound, lyrics and production. “Hold on Tight” is a rousing, anthemic plea in the best 1980s Paul Stanley tradition, while “Set Me Free” powers along on a chugging guitar riff, the song also featuring some pleasing jazz and funk-inspired breakdowns and interludes. There’s also the balladic “Can’t Stop”, which wears its classic Whitesnake influences proudly on its sleeve, not to mention the title track, “Brazen Whisper”, which starts amidst a kaleidoscopic swirl of ambient sounds and hypnotic vocal echoes, before its heavy, dour riff kicks in and the song soars into high gear.

With seven tunes already finished and in the can, and work being completed on four more tracks,  Brazen Whisper makes an emphatic statement that melodic hard rock in its classic style remains just as vibrant and vital as it ever was, and is not going anywhere anytime soon. Certainly not if Frozen Tears have anything to say about it.


Click HERE for the FROZEN TEARS Facebook Page


Above: The early Frozen Tears line-up, Jon Powers at far left next to Thanis Akritidis.

Above: Frozen Tears lead singer Thanis Akritidis (rights) meets KISS legend Paul Stanley!
 

Above: Title track from "Silence of the Night"


Wednesday, August 5, 2020

RIPPER HUNTING

Current watch. As someone who has watched and read quite a bit on the case of Peter Sutcliffe, the infamous Yorkshire Ripper, I'm surprised I hadn't already seen this two-part UK TV mini-series from 2000. Focusing on the years-long hunt to catch the Ripper and told primarily from the view of George Oldfield, the police chief assigned with leading the task force to track down the killer, this really is a quite engrossing watch. Alun Armstrong is terrific as Oldfield, who took the case personally and eventually let it completely destroy his health and career. He also let himself become sidetracked by the infamous Ripper hoax letters and tape recordings, which took the investigation into a false direction and let Sutcliffe get away with several more murders before he was finally caught in early 1981. Chillingly, the authentic tape recordings sent by the phony ripper are used in this production (at the time, the sender of those fake letters and tape recording were still unknown - DNA left on one of the letters eventually led to the arrest of John Samuel Humble in 2005, who admitted to being the hoaxer).


AUTO FOCUS

Last night's movie. One of my favorite Hollywood biopics, examining the life and sordid pastimes of popular HOGAN'S HEROES star Bob Crane (wonderfully played by Greg Kinnear), a life which culminated of course with his grisly, and still technically unsolved, murder inside an Arizona motel room in 1978. Directed by Paul Schrader and based on the 1993 book THE MURDER OF BOB CRANE by Robert Graysmith, who also wrote the two books on which David Fincher's classic ZODIAC (2007) was based on. As well as being an excellent showbiz bio, it's darker elements also make it a gripping character piece, while visually the movie has one of the most sumptuous recreations of Hollywood and L.A. in the 1960s & 70s that I have ever seen. Willem Dafoe is also excellent as John Carpenter, Crane's oily friend and hanger-on who is widely accepted to have been the killer. Graysmith's book is also an engrossing read and a perfect companion piece to the film. Many DVD and Blu-ray releases of the film also contain the interesting two-part documentary MURDER IN SCOTTSDALE, which examines the case and the attempts to bring Carpenter to justice over the years, before he passed away in 1998.


Tuesday, July 28, 2020

CHARLIE'S FINAL (?) WORDS

Watched this 2017 documentary late last night (it is currently available to view on SBS on Demand in Australia). Released soon after Manson's death, and comprised of interviews, archival footage and recorded prison phone conversations with Manson and Bobby Beausoleil, as well as the usual dodgy staged re-enactments of the key events. Rob Zombie seems a strange choice to get on board as narrator, especially if you were trying to present it as a serious documentary, but thankfully he doesn't narrate in a white trailer trash accent or throw out a curse word every five seconds. Originally titled CHARLES MANSON: THE VOICE OF MADNESS before the subject died while the film was in production, this turned out to be one of the better and more interesting documentaries on the subject, of which there have been a plethora. CHARLES MANSON: THE FINAL WORDS at least isn't afraid to throw doubt onto the wildly accepted version of the events, and questions whether "Helter Skelter" was indeed an insidious plan put together by Manson and his followers, or more just a bunch of random threads and ideas that were weaved together by prosecutor Bugliosi in order to present a compelling case and assure a conviction against Manson (who of course received the death penalty, later commuted to life, even though he never actually killed any of the Tate or LaBianca victims, and was not even at the scene of the first killings). I don't think anyone would deny that Manson deserved to spend the rest of his life behind bars, but whether he was put there by entirely legal means or not is an interesting question to ponder, which this documentary certainly makes you do. 


ATHLETE A


A new Netflix documentary examining the case of Larry Nassar, the long-serving medical doctor for USA Gymnastics, who was finally brought to justice in 2017 after abusing hundreds of young female gymnasts over a twenty-year period. Skin-crawling stuff seeing this creep in the police interview room, stumbling over his words while trying to justify a medical reason for why he would have the need to digitally penetrate (both vaginally and anally) so many of the girls entrusted to his care. If the testimony of his brave survivors didn't sink Nassar, the thousands of child porn images found on hard drives that he tried to dispose of would have.

ATHLETE A also highlights the sickening cover-ups attempted by the higher powers at USA Gymnastics, for whom image protection, Olympic gold medals and multi-million-dollar sponsorship deals were more important than the physical and mental wellbeing of their young stars. It's also interesting to see how the demographic of female gymnasts changed from featuring teams of mature women to a focus towards teens and pre-teens with tiny bodies, a shift that started after Romanian Nadia Com─âneci made such an enormous impact as a fourteen-year-old at the 1976 Montreal Olympics.

A disturbing watch for sure, but an important one and good to see so many of Nassar's survivors standing up in court to have their say to him. Thankfully, he has at least 50 years behind bars in front of him.


CIRCUS OF BOOKS


A fascinating and sometimes moving new Netflix documentary about Karen and Barry Mason, who as a young married Jewish couple struggling to make a living in 1976 answered an ad in the Los Angeles Times to become a local distributor for HUSTLER magazine. Their side gig would soon expand and see the couple taking over a local gay bookstore called Circus of Books. Before long, the Mason's expanded to film production and became one of the biggest distributors of gay porn in the US, while Circus of Books became an iconic hub for the local LGBT community.

Directed by the Masons' daughter Rachel, CIRCUS OF BOOKS paints an endearing portrait of these most unlikely of smut peddlers, for whom the adult business is strictly that - a business. Mason not only interviews her parents but also her siblings, which helps give the documentary an additional angle by reflecting on what it's like to grow-up being the kid whose parents run a hardcore gay sex shop.

The documentary covers an important era of erotic entertainment, and it gets quite heavy and sad when the Masons start reflecting on the deaths of a number of employees during the height of the 80s AIDS epidemic. The Mason's pre-porn careers were also interesting - Karen was a freelance writer who had interviewed Larry Flynt while Barry was a student alongside Jim Morrison at UCLA film school and went on to do some special effects work on 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY and the STAR TREK TV series.

Highly recommended.


DA 5 BLOODS


After a riveting and almost flawless first hour, DA 5 BLOODS runs a little bit inconsistent (and overlong), and sometimes threatens to collapse under the weight of its own heady ambitions. The film is so many things - a social and racial statement, a history lesson, a violent jungle war movie, a survivalist epic, a relationship drama, a crime caper, and more. Probably Spike Lee's most ambitious film to date. As expected, Lee adds his own distinctive sense of humor to the characters and situations, along with montages of real-life photos and footage of Vietnam War atrocities to jolt us back to grim realities.

The flashback war sequences are visually conveyed quite interestingly, the screen ratio changing to 4:3 for these sequences, and the film stock looking older and grainier, recreating the way most Americans at the time would have watched the war unfold on their television sets. Later generations will feel as if they are suddenly watching some 80s Vietnam War action flick on their VCR.

Unlike the recent THE IRISHMAN, no CGI is employed during these flashbacks, the older actors simply playing themselves as young soldiers in the 'nam. It's a brave creative choice that seems a little jarring at first but does create a distinctive visual aesthetic, and also helps get you thinking about war and what it turns those who survive it into.

Delroy Lindo will likely find himself in the Oscar race for his role as Paul, a proud Trump supporter still filled with anguish and rage over his Vietnam experience. Veronica Ngo is also excellent as Hanoi Hanna, a real-life Vietnamese radio announcer who, during the Vietnam War, would broadcast (in English) propaganda and other demoralizing messages and speeches to the American troops on behalf of the North.


WORTHY WAR

Caught up with the first four episodes of the latest WAR OF THE WORLDS TV series adaptation. It's currently showing on SBS on Demand at the moment for those in Australia (a new ep each Thursday). Starring Gabriel Byrne and Elizabeth McGovern, I wasn't sure if we needed another WAR OF THE WORLDS at this point. There was already a three-part UK adaptation done just last year (which was set in the Edwardian era), and Spielberg gave us a big-screen modern interpretation in 2005, not to mention the 1953 classic George Pal production which has just hit Blu-ray in a stunning new presentation. But this WAR OF THE WORLDS seems to be (so far) a more loose adaptation and is certainly all the better for it as it throws a few different and unexpected things into the mix, no character is safe and those little alien dog drones (or whatever the heck they are) have so far made for some very tense moments. I'll definitely keep tuning in.



BEHIND THE DOORS


Tonight's movie. Last time I watched THE DOORS (1991) was on VHS in the 90s, so was well due for a re-visit. I decided to watch The Final Cut of the film, which is out locally on a two-disc Blu-ray release through Studio Canal as part of their Classics Remastered collection. Unlike most special editions, the Final Cut of THE DOORS actually runs a couple of minutes shorter than the original theatrical cut.

Like a lot of other people, I went through a pretty big Doors phase during my early pot-smoking days of the eighties. I had the L.A. WOMAN. MORRISON HOTEL and GREATEST HITS albums on frequent rotation, I'm sure my long-suffering neighbors knew exactly when I was getting stoned. I also read the riveting Jim Morrison bio NO ONE HERE GETS OUT ALIVE during this period, and there are so many pivotal and interesting moments in that book which I would have loved to see play out on film. It does make THE DOORS seem like something of an incomplete movie because of it, though I also understand that time constraints limit what can and can't be included, and ultimately this is the version of Morrison's story which Oliver Stone chose to tell.

In comparison to much of his other work from the years just before and after this (PLATOON, TALK RADIO, BORN ON THE FOURTH OF JULY, JFK, NATURAL BORN KILLERS), THE DOORS is probably one of Stone's less potent films. It's a fairly standard rock bio flick (with the requisite bad wigs and fake beards), but it's entertaining and decadent and elevated enormously by the truly engrossing and completely immersive performance by Val Kilmer as Morrison - the physical similarities are truly uncanny at times. The Doors' classic blues-infected trippy music also makes the film a delight to watch, of course, and I'd forgotten about many of the interesting supporting players that turned up in the movie - Kyle MacLachlan as Ray Manzerick, Kevin Dillon as John Densmore, Crispin Glover as Andy Warhol, Paul Williams, Mimi Rogers and Kathleen Quinlan, who is terrific in a rather daring role as a witchy rock journalist.

Break on through.