Tesseracts 19: Superhero Universe – Claude Lalumière and Mark Shainblum [Ed.], (2016)

September 28, 2016

Tesseracts 19It was only three years ago that we were treated to an anthology of short stories that had as a central theme Canadian superheroes. Masked Mosaic: Canadian Super Stories (Tyche books)

was a long overdue collection that was right up my alley and I anxiously awaited its release. I was lucky enough to have attended the Ottawa book  launch where I met a number of the authors and was entertained to readings of select passages and stories. Alas, when I finally got around to completing it I was too busy to give it a review it rightly deserved and once some time had gone by the opportunity to do a proper write up had passed.

Imagine my surprise in learning that Tesseracts 19, the annual collection of Canadian speculative fiction was going to be superhero themed. More Canadian superheroes and a chance for redemption. Edited by Claude Lalumière (who also co-edited Masked Mosaic) and Mark Shainblum, this collection runs the gamut of perspectives from caped defenders to vigilante guardians, and a few that fall in between the spectrum of the moral curtain.

My hands down favorites was  Pssst! Have you heard… The Rumur by D.K.Latta, a story in which each chapter is written from the point of view of a different character, each relating the events leading up to a mob hit and the following strange events that lead to the mobster’s demise. The story itself must be pieced together by the reader, beginning by reading Tony “Spats” DeMulder’s account of being publicly embarrassed by actor Ken Anton and then piecing together the accounts leading up to and beyond the mysterious death of the actor. We get slices from Spat’s moll, a detective, a grocer who regularly gets shaken down, a reporter, Spat’s lawyer and finally his doctor. The story that unfolds as narrated by each of the tongue-in-cheek stereotypes describes Spat’s fallout with his number one moneyman and hitman, the mysterious “Book” and how that fallout is precipitated by a pulpish, shadow-like figure messing with various aspects of Spat’s operations.

Canadian fans of indie comics will be pleased to hear that Bernie Mireault has resurrected his underground comic hero The Jam in prose form with The Jam: A Secret Bowman. As the title suggests, our hero stumbles across a mysterious bowman and ends up being a suspect himself under the knuckles of an attention seeking police officer. I wish the story went a little deeper with the Jam’s prey, but it was a pleasure having him back in any case.

Another bizarre – although somewhat questionable guideline entry – Crusher and Typhoon by Brent Nichols, doles out an honest to goodness old west, Kung Fu story. Reminiscent of the old Wild Wild West TV show, it’s a symbiotic friendship between a one time martial arts master and an impaired steampunk inventor. Hardly super hero fare and with only a reference to the Canadian Pacific Railroad, the relationship to the anthology’s theme is tenuous at best but the story was endearing enough that it did not matter.

The Rise and Fall of Captain Stupendous , by P.E. Bolivar is the unveiling of a superhero as a lesson that you can’t believe everything you read. A tangled story of deceit, love and betrayal, which gives rise to a super villainesses and we get a front seat in the transition. We’re reminded that the world is not all black or white and there is always another side to a coin.

Another villain oriented story was Jason Sharp‘s Black Sheep where the protagonist manifests Magneto like powers but instead of being able to control metal, water is the substance of manipulation. Not an action story at all but an introspective personal quest that the villain pursues after a prison break.

Friday nights at the Hemingway is a short story by Arun Jiwa that blends superhero history in a local watering hole the likes of Callahan’s Crosstime Saloon that answers the question “Where have all the heroes gone?”

In a world populated by super hero mutants that need medical attention and mending, where do they go for healing and convalescence? Find out from the point of view of a first day medical recruit at secret mutant superhero hospital in Corey Redekop’s SuPER.

Exhibiting both amusing stories with serious fare the overall collection is highly satisfying with only a few clunkers that are easily dismissed by the other entertaining ones. And in all, a highly recommended collection made all the more interesting to Canadian readers who will recognize a few people, places and events.

If you want a taste of what’s in the book the publishers have created a sampler you can read online which basically contains the first 2 pages of each story. Give it a try here:

http://edgewebsite.com/books/tess19/downloads/SuperheroUniverse-Tesseracts19-Sampler.pdf

Movie Reviews 271 – Johnny Stecchino (1991)

September 15, 2016

johnny-stecchinoItaly’s greatest frenetic export since Espresso coffee, auteur Roberto Benigni had a breakout with his 1997 feature Life is Beautiful which garnered him Oscar’s for both Best Actor for Best Foreign Feature among many other awards. But the multi-talented comedian, writer and director was already well known to Italian fans long before that.

Johnny Stecchino (Johnny Toothpick) is one of his earlier movies which appropriates the comic staple doppelganger plot. But instead of being a case of mistaken identity it has a hapless victim Dante (Benigni) who is a lookalike of a mob boss being setup to take his fall. Always on the lookout for love, the buffoon Dante is nearly run over by Maria  (played by Benigni’s real life wife and regular co-star, Nicoletta Braschi) who happens to be wife of Johnny Stecchino (again, Benigni). Mafioso don Stecchino, currently in hiding and on the run from all the other local mobsters after breaking omertà – the mafia code of silence – in exchange for his own freedom from prosecution. When Maria notices the similarity she befriends Dante and slowly maneuvers him to take the fall for her husband. The plan is that once Dante is knocked off and everyone believes that Johnny is dead, she and Johnny can escape to Argentina to live free of mob and police reprisal.

Using a complex and multi-layered plot, the oblivious Dante visits Maria in Palermo, Sicily and soon targeted by a barrage of bullets believes he is being persecuted for other crimes, his penchant for stealing bananas at the top of the list. But his resolve to defend himself fortuitously thwarts his manipulator’s moves as well as those of the police and the cross-hairs of the rival gang.

Combining comedic sequences built up throughout the film along with a few bits of slapstick thrown in for good measure, Benigni strays from convention in many ways such a positing his best friend Lillo, a kid with down syndrome, as the brains and level headed party in the relationship. The jokes that play out in earlier scenes become pivotal plot points later, all the while delivering anti-corruption, anti-mob, and anti-authoritarian indictments.

In the big scheme of things, Dante just wants to get laid. But as he juggles the dual realities at play, everything that Dante says and does has a different meaning to everyone else. Benigni shines at every moment, always believing he knows exactly what is going on, but never flinches at the challenges, and ready to defend his Maria. In the end, everyone gets what they deserve, but you will never look at a banana the same way.

Santa-Cleopatra, this is a movie you have to seek out!

Ode to the Comic Geeks

September 2, 2016

This is a long overdue tribute that started off as one final salute to an individual, but after some thought I felt it needed to be expanded to encompass the entire group to which this individual belonged, and in a broader sense all of comic fandom.

I stumbled upon the Comic Geek Speak (CGS) podcast as I was disillusioned with all the local radio stations selection from for my daily car commutes to work. I’d heard there were a few good podcasts out there covering a wide range of topics and at first I wasn’t even looking for a comic podcast. While I already owned tons of comics and many of the more popular graphic novels at the time (the story of how I got most of that is worthy of it’s own blog), I wasn’t in tune with any of the then current comic scene and thought that a podcast would be nice to bring me up to date. This was back in 2007 and I’d seen that one of my friends had ‘liked’ the CGS Facebook page so I figured it was as good a place to start as any.  So I downloaded the most recent podcast they had on their website which was somewhere around number 250, listened to it, and immediately knew I’d found a gem in the wasteland that is the internet. I went went back to their very very first podcast, started listening one at a time, and haven’t looked back. Their main podcast, now well over 1600 episodes, is every bit as good and in many ways even better than that first show.

Starting off as a simple two man experiment in 2005 by Bryan Deemer and Peter Rios, the show remains the most prolific podcast dedicated to comics. In the years that have passed, crew have come and gone (and come back), spinoff podcasts were launched, and the podcast garnered a worldwide loyal audience. They had their own conventions, anniversary shows with public fan gatherings , their own magazine for a short time, and have had a myriad of comic creators as guests on their show ranging from celebrities like Stan Lee down to young talent just getting their feet wet. They’ve had guests who were comic legends that have since passed away like the great Gene Colan and Joe Kubert, leaving us with now treasurable interview recordings. Aside from the comics themselves, their discussion topics encompass everything comic related, whether it be movies, TV, or anything remotely geeky. When not hosting their own booth at comic cons, they become one of us, slithering through artist alleys, recording and interviewing creators, letting us enjoy conventions virtually if not in person. Over the years they have also recruited a few recurring guests who we’ve come to know almost as well as the hosts themselves including the always hilarious ‘Uncle’ Sal Abbinanti whose Storytime with Uncle Sal purple prattle episodes always leaves listeners in stitches.

Some of the regulars and semi-regulars that have manned the mic over the years include Adam “Murd” Murdough, Shane Kelly, Matt (Just “Matt’), Kevin Moyer, Chris Eberle, Dani O’Brien and notably Brian “Pants” Christman, who has blossomed from a one-time wallflower on the show to being the bellwether through some hard times.

Which brings me to the impetus for my writing this venerable blog, the anniversary of the passing of the late Jamie Dallesandro a pillar CGS crewmember who left us 2 years ago.You see the CGS crew aren’t just folks who diligently give us the latest scoop and their take of the comic world. When you tune into CGS they are more than just friends giving opinions and facts. Sure we get to know the personalities, likes and dislikes of the individuals, but it goes deeper. While keeping some things respectively private, they have also let us share their world. We know their day jobs, their pastimes, their families and a lot more. For most of the CGS audience the CGS crew are like family.

And it was as a family the CGS clan of listeners first learned when Jamie was diagnosed with the dreaded Big “C”. We traveled that road of treatment, remission and eventual relapse even as we listened to him lavishing praise on his beloved Avengers. And we were all shocked when we heard of his passing. He may be gone, but he will never be forgotten. And neither will we forget the CGS crew who continue bringing us comic news … and more.

R.I.P Jamie “D”, the shiznit pimp, May 2, 2014

Visit CGS at www.comicgeekspeak.com

Movie Reviews 270 – Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)

August 27, 2016

Close Encounters of the Third KindWhen Star Wars made its debut in 1977 its success created a resurgence in science fiction films that lasted for years. One of the first films to sate our appetites for more was Close Encounters of the Third Kind, wunderkind director Steven Spielberg’s followup to his own megahit Jaws. The audience was ready for a thought provoking science fiction film and we were teased for months with a nondescript TV short trailer for Close Encounters featuring not much more than a symbolic flat topped butte and a distinct melody of five musical notes. Those five notes would carry me for months until the film finally arrived in theaters.

With only the teasers to go by and the knowledge that the movie was about aliens, I puzzled over the very meaning of the title for weeks. What did they mean by Close Encounter? And what the hell was a Third Kind, to say nothing about what was even a First or Second kind?

Not quite Star Wars It was nonetheless a huge hit and within a short time everyone knew what the title referred to. As much as the special effects reigned triumphant and was one of the reasons it garnered praise and appeal, this movie is very much a sentimental one. As ironic as it sounds seeing it is a movie about aliens, it’s the human element that raised this movie above the deluge of SF movies that followed. It is every bit as much the story about everyday suburbanite Roy Neary (Richard Dreyfuss) as it is a story about alien creatures.

What I watched in that theater took me for quite a ride. Sure Star Wars had cool aliens and some jaw dropping spaceships, but nothing prepared me for the realism in Close Encounters. While undoubtedly science fiction, it also gave a more or less realistic take on what an actual alien first meeting would be like. It was spooky, eerie and in many ways surreal. But it was genuine and thoughtful without ostentatious space battles, gadgets or weaponry.

The movie immediately sets it’s low key approach with completely silent opening credits which slowly transforms into an arid windswept Mexican desert where a group of evidently official mystery men are led to a squadron fully intact WWII era warplanes sitting on the dunes. As the 70’s were ripe with conspiracy theories and cryptozoology oddities, tales from the Bermuda Triangle swirled in the media and I knew the significance of ‘Flight 19’.

As other lost-in-time artifacts appear in across the Earth – always with the group of mystery men closely behind – the aliens first appear in a series of UFO sightings one night over Indiana. Roy is one of a handful of people that are first hand witnesses to the phenomena which the government tries to cover up. After his encounter Roy is besieged by visions of a particular butte and becomes fixated with its significance, eventually surrendering everything including his family in search of answers to questions whose essence even he isn’t sure of. Accompanied by a single mom desperately seeking her abducted child (Melinda Dillon), Roy defies all attempts to stop him from reaching his goal, whatever that may be.

All he knows is that his answer lies at the foot of Devil’s Tower in Wyoming, and once there he finds the mystery men have set up an ornate landing strip for a preordained first contact. Laden with cameras, microphones and every sensor imaginable, a hive of scientist await the aliens, with their main communication tool being a music synthesizer and a giant panoramic color board of lights. In the end Roy finds his destiny to be the envoy and species bridging catalyst the aliens seek.

While Star Wars and its ilk can give provide great escapist space fantasy, Close Encounters  is emotional, speculative (yet still fun) grounded science fiction.

I was blissfully ignorant of François Truffaut‘s film legacy at the time and just thought he was merely some good French actor but the famed director’s inclusion here as one of the mystery men is yet another fine touch to the film. I also enjoyed the fact that the film that shied away from portraying an idyllic home and family environment. Aside from the messy rooms, dirty laundry, and sometimes obnoxious kids, the film makes it a point that Roy will even give up his wife (Teri Garr) and kids for his obsession.

Viewer should be aware that there have been several versions released over the years, some with one particular addition of note. Some later editions feature an additional final scene in which we get a glimpse of the interior of the alien mothership. Like Spielberg himself regretting the addition, I thought it best be left to the audience’s imagination and should never have been filmed at all.

There is one last side note I’d like to mention regarding this movie. I had the chance to drop into the Udvar-Hazy Center which is one of the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum branches in Washington D.C. While not as famous as the Smithsonian in the downtown National Mall, the lesser known Udvar-Hazy has a lot fantastic historical aircraft worthy of a visit and tucked away in a back room is none other than the model used for the mothership in the movie. As immense as it seems in the movie the model is a modest few feet in diameter. But it’s the few household odds and ends that the modelmakers threw in the intricate patterns that make this model an especially fun display. Check it out next time you’re near Dulles airport as the museum is just a few minutes away.

Psycho – Robert Bloch (1959)

August 9, 2016

Psycho-BlochMultifaceted writer Robert Bloch has excelled in just about every genre of literature, winning a Bram Stoker award for his horror, a World Fantasy award, as well as a Hugo for the genre for which he is probably best known overall; science fiction. But without a doubt his biggest hit came with the novel Psycho which was  adapted to film a year after publication by Alfred Hitchcock into the iconic thriller masterpiece.

As I assume most readers here are familiar with the movie adaption I won’t bother with an overdrawn synopsis of the plot. Besides, it’s not one of those stories you can give almost any detail without spoiling some aspect of the story. Suffice to say that’s it’s one of the all time greatest horror thrillers and is just as popular today as it was back then. But as the classic movie adaptation has far surpassed the original novel in popularity, two questions come to mind. The first question is whether the source novel is as good as the movie on it’s own merits and the second question is how close is the Hitch’s adaptation to the source?

Just as there are a number of clues in the movie that hint at Norman’s relationship with his mother, so too does the novel tease readers on the matter. While deftly skirting the truth, reading between the lines of both Norman Bates’ spoken dialog and the events as portrayed in the novel, the cat is never let out of the bag, yet those already in the know can see the foundations of the truth. Yes, the novel is just as finely crafted as the movie and deserving as much respect as the film. The written form is even better suited to having the reader exactly in tune to Norman’s perspective on things which of course deviates from reality in a few regards.

Comparing the movie to the source we find a mix with a significant portion of the movie script closely following the original for much of the story, but at the same time diverging significantly for particular aspects. The first relatively big change is the physical appearance of Norman Bates himself, in that the slim, suave and tidy Norman in the film as portrayed by Anthony Perkins was actually an oafish, overweight alcoholic in denial here. It was odd reading those few descriptive passages of Norman as we’re all so familiar with Perkins’ rendition. There are a few small changes in events and particulars, but none of any real significance to the major plot.

Like any great thriller, the greatest enjoyment is when you are first introduced to it, regardless of format. Given that, I would say that anyone unfamiliar with the movie may just as well start with this novel and enjoy the surprise ending as originally conceived. But do get to watch the movie if you haven’t already as the performances and imagery in some key sequences are unforgettable.

Now you’ll have to excuse me. Mother is calling…

Movie Reviews 269 – Bon Cop, Bad Cop (2006)

July 16, 2016

Bon Cop Bad CopGrowing up in Montreal in an English speaking home in the heart of Little Italy meant I lived in some sort of demilitarized zone separating the ever present English and French two solitudes that is and will always be Québec within Canada. Straddling the two divisions there was relative peace and calm but at the drop of pin tensions could flare up for any slight, perceived or otherwise, if the two sides were separated along linguistic lines. At that point adversarial stances became set and insult volleys would begin with missives like ”Maudit Anglais” which would elicit retorts of “Pissou” or “Frog”.

And that was just the kids playing ball hockey in the streets.

The ‘adults‘ on the other hand have had a longstanding rift since the pivotal battle on the Plains of Abraham leaving the English and French in Canada to have a seemingly incessant fluctuating relationship whose ebb and flow are almost as predictable as the ocean tides with an occasional hurricane landfall.

So what has this to do with the movie Bon Cop, Bad Cop? Well everything and nothing. Coming from French Canadian director Eric Canuel this is a comedy that explores the stereotypes and different attitudes towards, sex, driving, law obedience, dining etiquette and the most divisive of issues: hockey allegiances.

As the title suggests, this is a cop movie and it begins right at the border between Ontario and Québec. When a dead body is discovered teetering above the road sign marking the divide between two provinces, the police from both jurisdictions arrive at the crime scene. Neither wanting yet another case to solve, Detective David Bouchard (Patrick Huard) attempts to thrust responsibility to his Ontario counterpart while Martin Ward (Colm Feore) tries to argue otherwise. The bickering ends when both of their superiors decide that it will be a cooperative investigation partnering the long-faced cops to solve the murder.

With the aid of a nutty post mortem examiner the jousting duo try to set aside their differences and follow the clues for what ends up being a serial killer on mission. Ricocheting between Québec Joual and broken English the two explore tittie bars, drug grow-ops, and worse places (Toronto. Well for a militant Québecois…) brokering just enough of a truce to lead them to their masked “Tattoo Killer”.

While a great film I wonder how non-Canadians will take it in given many of the jokes and puns are decidedly Canadian and Québec rooted. Will they really understand the significance of a hilariously timed exclamation “Vive le Québec libre”? I doubt it. On the other hand I believe it is every Canadian’s patriotic duty to watch this flick. Parle-moi de t’ça, hostie!

DVD owners will rejoice with the opportunity to watch the movie (A) in English, with French subtitles, (B) in French with English subtitles, or (C for true Canadians) as filmed in alternating English/French with no subtitles!

Movie Reviews 268 – Das Experiment (2001)

July 4, 2016

Das ExperimentMind control experiments are always fun.  Whether it be Pavlovian reprogrammed instincts or submission to a group mentality, the end result, while scientifically valid, are never pretty. The subcategory of peer pressure and group conformance has been tackled before in various forms of media: as teleplays (The Twilight Zone episode The Monsters on Maple Street, the ABC afterschool special The Wave); short stories (Shirley Jackson’s The Lottery); novels (Aldous Huxley’s 1984); and, sadly in real-life, with Nazism as standout example in recent history.

The phenomenon proved interesting enough that researchers at Stanford University decided to document the effects using live human test subjects in an experiment they performed in 1971. In that famous experiment a number of students were paid to undergo testing in which the would be equally divided into the roles of guards and prisoners for a period between one and two weeks during which the prisoners would be subjected to mock incarceration conditions but as closely mimicked to real life as possible. From the outset the guards were instructed not to inflict any actual pain, but to otherwise treat the others as actual prisoners. Surprising even the research lead himself, both sides soon adopted their assigned roles to the point that both physical and psychological abuses began to take place. The experiment was aborted on the sixth day when a research assistant objected to escalating debasement and pointing out how the lead himself became complicit in the ever escalating brutality against the prisoners. The German film Das Experiment (The Experiment) is loosely based on the Stanford experiment.

Former newspaper reporter Tarek Fahd (Moritz Bleibtreu) works as a cabbie when he stumbles upon an ad seeking volunteers for a psychology experiment. Before signing up he stops to meet up with his former editor and begs forgiveness for some past indiscretion, promising to infiltrate the experiment which he is convinced is some military funded endeavor and which promises will result a juicy story.

After rounding up a bunch of volunteers from all walks of life, the dehumanization begins as soon as the experiment commences. Imperceptibly at first, as both sides are jokingly playing their assigned roles, the dividing line begins to part when the guards force one of the prisoners to drink his lunch milk when he is clearly lactose intolerant. Tarek takes that opportunity to challenge the guards authority by drinking the milf himself. It’s a small act whose consequences quickly grow, when one guards, Berus (Justus von Dohnányi) begins to assert control over both the prisoners and his fellow custodians. Soon the researchers who are watching events unfold over video cameras lose control over the guards and when they finally try to intervene they become captive along with the prisoners.

This dramatization of course raises the bar on violence to a point far beyond mere disturbing. The social psychology exhibited by both sides is fascinating and there are interesting  secondary characters on both sides. The prisoners have one particular silent mate who, like Tarek clearly has an ulterior motive for joining, but the reasons why many of the other volunteered is explored. Even Berus on the guards side begins as an outcast and it is interesting to see him rise to power bit by bit.  As he relishes his newfound power he soon asserts his power over the guards as much as over the prisoners. In the end, the escalation goes far beyond the confines of the prison.

The recipe is somewhat marred by the inclusion of an external third ingredient, a love interest (Maren Eggert) who Tarek met the only the very night before his participation in the experiment began. Basking after that one night stand she incredulously manages to figure out where he is and tries to intervene. This plotline proves to be an unnecessary distraction to the events going on in the prison itself.

Overall I rate the movie a big Ja, but the love interest angle gets a Nein, Danke.

Movie Reviews 267 – Assault on Precinct 13 (1976)

June 24, 2016

Assault on Precinct 13Before John Carpenter became a household name with horror hits Halloween and The Thing he gave us a hint of his many talents with his urban violence feature Assault on Precinct 13. A blend of The Wild Bunch brutality with The Warriors street gang trappings, Carpenter wrote, directed and provided the musical score for this 70’s urban jungle melee that features an overrun and outnumbered police precinct face a quandary evocative of Custer’s last stand at the battle of the Little Bighorn.

Fresh on the force and looking to make an impact, police lieutenant Bishop (Austin Stoker) is disheartened when he is dispatched to a South Central LA precinct in its final hours with the most of the office already moved to new precinct building. Set to shut down permanently the next day, only a handful of administrative staff and one constable remain at precinct 13 when Bishop arrives for what he believes will be a slow and insipid night.

But a local gang known as the ‘Street Thunder’ recently acquired a sizeable shipment of assault rifles and knowing this, authorities had set up a trap in which half a dozen members were slaughtered in cold blood. With the media covering up the mass slaying in their reporting, the four leaders of the gang vow to avenge their fallen brothers. Meanwhile, a bus transporting prisoners to another facility have to make an emergency pit stop and as far as they know precinct 13 is up and running and would make a perfect, secure layover. Among the prisoners is the notorious death row bound Napoleon Wilson (Darwin Joston) whose dislike for cops keeps him constantly shackled, and even that doesn’t deter him from taking pokes whenever the opportunity arises.

Street Thunder decide that a slaying an mobile ice cream salesman in broad daylight will send a clear message to the cops and when a little girl returns to tell the now dead seller that she got the wrong flavor … well putting a bullet through her is just icing on the cake for the ruthless gang. Unfortunately the girls dad is nearby and begins a car chase that leads right to precinct 13 as nightfall approaches. With the girl’s father now in a catatonic state, he enters the precinct which soon finds itself under siege by dozens of well armed thugs just as the prisoners are about to re-embark the bus to continue their trip.

With all communication lines out the isolated group can’t even call for help and it comes down to Bishop, sultry eyed administrator Leigh (Laurie Zimmer), and Napoleon to lead a handful of others to thwart the incursion. Coming in spurts and waves, the barrage of bullets and attempts to bodily infiltrate the building take a huge toll on the never ending stream of gang members, but also comes at a cost to those holed up. Can they last out until help hopefully arrives?

As the storm progresses the precinct staff and prisoners become a cohesive unit, with both sides cooperating and respecting one another in order to stay alive. Through it all a chemistry percolates and teases between Leigh and Napoleon, as evidenced by Napoleon’s comment to Leigh “You’re pretty good.” referring to her gunplay in holding off a bunch of gang members in a corridor to which she replies “I can be bad.”

While not a horror movie the blood flows freely. Instead of the zombie infestations we are so familiar with today the attackers here are smarter (well a bit smarter anyhow) and they have tons of guns. The film is a microcosm of Carpenter’s Escape from New York which he would go on to make five years later and which proved to be Assault on Precinct 13 on steroids.

Like many horror movies of the day there are some pretty evident logical hurdles that have to be ignored to enjoy the film, but Carpenter’s familiar percussive synth soundtrack will help to make up for some of the faults.

I haven’t seen the 2005 remake yet so I can’t compare the two, but I somehow doubt it can capture the grit and grime of the original.

Movie Reviews 266 – The Red Shoes (2005)

June 14, 2016

The Red ShoesSpoiler alert. The red shoes in the movie The Red Shoes which features prominently on the movie poster and DVD cover art aren’t red at all. They are clearly and emphatically hot pink. This unexplained and bizarre turn of events is just one of the many things that had me scratching my head in this Korean horror release.

But it’s all about the shoes, in this case a particular (pink!) pair that mysteriously appears and whose allure quickly convinces any nearby girl or woman that they must have them. Once pilfered, the women become obsessed with their possession and bad things begin to happen, inevitably ending up in other women (equally lusting after the shoes) dying horrible deaths that includes their feet being severed. The shoes then mysteriously end up back with the one who first got their hands on them.

Tenuously based on a Hans Christian Andersen fable, the story centers on Sun-jae (Kim Hye-soo) who sets out with her young daughter Tae-su when she stumbles upon her husband cheating on her. Near destitute, she rents a small dilapidated apartment and hires decorator In-Cheol (Kim Sung-soo) to help her build a salon in which she hopes to revive her former optician business. She finds the stray shoes on the subway soon after and takes them home. But little Tae-su immediately falls for them and mother and daughter soon become combattants for the fancy footwear. When Sun-jae’s best friend runs off with the shoes during a visit, she never makes it home. With the shoes soon back in Sun-jae’s elaborate glass shelving shoe collection that would be the envy of Imelda Marcos, she starts wearing them more frequently when In-Cheo remarks that she would look good in them. As Sun-jae slowly transforms from a shy and timid single mother to an alluring woman with eyes for In-Cheol, she continues her constant fights with little Tae-su. Her expanding quest for answers regarding the shoes include the history of similar murder mysteries that are somehow linked to a hunchback elderly woman living in the basement of her apartment building who knows more that she is letting on. Sun-jae eventually unravels the history of the shoes going back decades ago and induced when another woman was spurned and then murdered. Reuniting the shoes with that original owner promises to end the terror.

Bearing all the staples seen in countless Asian horror movies, my interest waned during the first acts as I started checking the stock trademarks on my list. Once you’ve seen one cherubic ashen faced kid poking out of the dark, you’ve seen ‘em all. By the time it gets to long haired women hiding their faces while roaming in dimly, flickering lit subways in the middle of the night my checklist only needed ‘woman crawling while bent over backwards’ (which unsurprisingly they eventually covered). But just as I was about to chalk this as a lusterless, Ju-on wannabe, the stakes were elevated with a final act that shockingly provides a secondary element to all of Sun-jae’s torment and the true mystery of the shoes.

While aspiring to all horror hounds with a foot fetish, non-orthopedic inclined fans can equally enjoy this story of jealousy, vanity, greed and envy, all delivered in a plot that features multiple bloody shoe battles. And for the last time they’re pink dammit.

Movie Reviews 265 – Vanishing Point (1971)

June 8, 2016

Vanishing Point

The birth of the counterculture in the late sixties and early seventies gave rise to a public that was more liberal, vocal, rebellious and demanding in daily life and those demands transcended onto the silver screen. The changes brought about included relaxed sexual attitudes, open use of drugs, defiance against authority and a seemingly unquenchable thirst for over the top action. The result was a subgenre of unbridled movies featuring car chases, nudity, violence, anti-war propaganda  and blaxploitation. All those elements and sub genres can be found in the cult classic Vanishing Point in which a mourning and spent Vietnam vet, ex-cop,ex-stunt driver reaches a breaking point.

Hired long distance driver Kowalski (Barry Newman) gets a job to deliver a souped up Dodge Challenger from Denver to San Francisco. As soon as he gets the car he inexplicably self imposes a 2 day delivery time despite the long distance. Right from the outset Kowalski definitely races ahead of law enforcement attempts to stop him, first for minor speed infractions, then mounting offences as liabilities (and cars, and motorcycles) start to pile up.

His journey through picturesque mountains and sterile desert is punctuated with painful flashback memories of his past as a cop and racer as well as reflective moments with his former love who died five years earlier in a surfing mishap. When a small time blind radio DJ, Super Soul (Cleavon Little), listens in on police radio and hears about the ongoing chase, he takes up Kowalski’s cause and broadcasts encouragement, advice and spiritual guidance. While he obviously cannot receive any feedback from Kowalski himself, he appears to have a near psychic rapport the protagonist.

Along his route Kowalski has brief encounters with an desert worn snake catcher (Dean Jagger), a prophesying group of melodic hippies and a nomadic couple in which the woman rides walks about and rides a motorbike in the nude. All heady stuff.

Escaping one fuzz trap after another as he crosses state lines, each new jurisdiction vowing confidently that “we’ll git him”, Kowalski is eventually corralled as he nears a small town where two bulldozers are positioned side by side to block his last escape route. A fine slit of space between the blades imposes a decision that will determine Kowalski’s ultimate fate.

The symbolic White Knight in the guise of Kowalski’s 1970 Challenger propel Kowalski as fights his inner demons on the rubber slicked road to freedom. The mechanical mayhem is bestowed with a funkadelic soundtrack blending in with roaring mufflers and street squeals as the muscle cars are pushed to their extreme limits.

I have to admit that the praise I’ve heard over the years did not entirely fulfill my built up expectations. But the succinct dialog reminds one that this is really actually a reflective film. It just happens to be conveyed in one glorified chase. Watch for an uncredited John Amos to complete your 70’s flashback experience.