30 April 2014

Our Sean Bean Reviews!

All Hail The Bean!
By Kristin Battestella

Shall we send out the month with a look back at all our reviews and essays featuring that April Birthday Boy and resident Walking Spoiler Sean Bean? Indeed.


Don’t forget, all our Sean Bean essays are also simulcast at The Mighty Bean website and our Bean Horror Pictures can also be found at Horror Addicts.net! Seeking just Sharpe? Find our articles at Sharpe's Point or browse our handy Sharpe List - complete with the novels, too!

27 April 2014

Wicked Blood

Performances Enrich Wicked Blood
By Kristin Battestella

Netflix finally stopped wait stalling on the 2014 homegrown drug thriller Wicked Blood, and although it has some shortsighted hang-ups, the cast makes this watch worthwhile.

After the death of her parents, Hannah (Abigail Breslin) lives with her older sister Amber (Alexa Vega), a waitress, and their paternal, drug addicted Uncle Donny (Lew Temple). Unfortunately, the sisters remain indebted to their mother’s brother, local crime boss Frank Stinson (Sean Bean), and his hot headed henchman Bobby (Jake Busey). Hannah, however, takes matters into her own hands and insists on going to work for Uncle Frank by delivering drug packages on her bicycle. She befriends secretive biker and drug distributor Bill (James Purefoy) in her deliveries but remains unaware that he is also romancing Amber and that her interference in the family business threatens Frank’s entire empire.

The situation in Wicked Blood is immediately bleak with angry kids, disturbed older siblings, and a whole lot of “hillbilly crack.” Everyone waxes so wise, gives attitude, and insane drug use is also instantly apparent yet there need not be so many setting the crappy household scenes to start Wicked Blood. How they got to this destitute situation isn’t fully explained by writer and director Mark Young (Tooth and Nail, Dead Bodies, Southern Gothic), but one awkward dinner scene sums up all we need to know perfectly – especially when contrasted to Uncle Frank’s comparatively upscale lifestyle. He’s supposed to look out for this lesser part of the family, but their dressed up dinner invitation is clearly just to affirm his power over them. Wicked Blood provides some lovely and tender moments in this drug business control and reasonings on life being too painful to remember so drug stupors are how you forget. However, it’s too obvious that Hannah will be getting things done herself despite the fact that her situation doesn’t appear drastic enough to resort to such actions. There’s no catalyst to make her turn so dire other than having a bad year after her parents’ deaths. In fact, her interference brings about worse extremes, and ironically, the instigation seen in the finale should have been the crux that sets Wicked Blood in motion. The sporadic chess narration and gaming parallels are also an unnecessary, juvenile connection for an R rated and otherwise adult picture, and the hardworking humor tone over the bicycle riding, drug-delivering montages is also awkward. Wicked Blood could have been ironic and funny, sure, but the despair starts off so strong and so dang serious, that any levity or change in tone feels uneven and compromises the fine statements being told. Why are these people under one crime boss’ thumb? Why can no one break out of this living by honest means? Can one be a respectable hard worker in a life of crime? The don’t do drugs, stay in school, obvious yadda yadda rationale on why this kind of life is bad gets a little repetitive during these 90 minutes. Wicked Blood perhaps again proves the theory that a writer and director should not be one and the same – especially if this is one man wearing multiple hats in what is largely a feminine piece. This isn’t a super gritty, stylized, or always an entertaining picture to see, and a counter balance person looking for the cinematic smooth would have polished Wicked Blood beautifully. Thankfully, the real life desolate and multi layered human story is diversified by each hard luck family member. The crisscrossing characters both known and unknown and near or far create interconnecting twists and relationship wrenches. Refreshingly, the plot doesn’t judge its players and the pace remains heavy without being artsy fartsy in its storytelling. There are a few turns in Wicked Blood I didn’t expect, yet I can’t decide if I’d rather this have been a full on, flaw free, complete character piece or a more complex and involved criminal thriller. Enough ensemble examinations and underworld interplay are here to keep Wicked Blood watchable, but with a few refinements, it could have really driven home all its nuances.

All grown up Abigail Breslin (Little Miss Sunshine, Zombieland) is obviously beyond her country means in Wicked Blood because she plays a “stupid game” called chess; it’s almost amazing she is as well put together as she is considering her irresponsible surroundings. Hannah dresses in tomboy clothing and carries herself as older than she is while every other character affirms how in over her head she is by calling her a little girl or crazy kid and threatening her with foster home talk. She’s somewhat too sassy and full of gumption to be believable at times as well – she’s delivering magic baggies to biker gangs and gives them that kind of attitude? In the real world, unfortunately she’d be dangerously put into place instead of merely being called a pistol, spitfire, or little shit. Her youthful morality is touched upon when she visits the cemetery, but again redundancy creeps in when every character comments that she’s like her dead parents or should get a boyfriend. Hannah quickly gains a badass rep and respect at her “job” but she never considers the deadly consequences of her deliveries. It’s implied she wouldn’t have resorted to this work if her parents were alive and that life was better then, yet this criminal family life was all already happening. It was probably just a matter of time before Hannah encountered this world, but she stupidly attempts to play middleman for both sides of the drug clientele whilst also trying to save others from it. Why does she think she knows better than these experienced drug dealers? We like Hannah and want to see her escape this Wicked Blood, yet it becomes increasingly difficult to root for her in the mess she created amid an already desperately fragile, dangerous business. Her plans are faulty, she lashes out at others who could help, and this weak dialogue in what should be a special none too seen role for a teen girl comes off as a touch too wishy washy. Some mature audiences won’t like Wicked Blood for all her stupidity. Is Hannah empowered by these actions and satisfied with the outcome? She could have left everything alone and ended up with the same result eventually. Did her immediacy help her? Perhaps, but at a very high cost from others.

Now, how did it become obligatory that Sean Bean have a naked chick by his side in Wicked Blood and all these direct to video pictures like Soldiers of Fortune and Death Race 2? Is it just because he’s Sean Bean? The Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones alum is like a mini don with his rules about not talking to the law and promising to look after the kids so long as they don’t bite the hand that feeds them. The dichotomy of the character isn’t explored beyond what Hannah sees, but Uncle Frank is an intriguing figure – intimating enough for one to desperately remain on his good side yet also sentimental in remembering his late sister. Perhaps he’s too easily convinced to have Hannah join his bike delivery squad, and hello, it is an odd decision to help someone out by having her deal drugs for you. Bean puts on a fairly generic southern accent of course, but his delivery, swagger, and threats come across as always. Frank sits on his veranda, seemingly genuinely concerned when things turn for the worse while he drinks lemonade and chats about drug distribution chains slipping through his fingers. How did he get to the top if all seems so shaky? The dark room with the spotlight desk is a little too The Godfather wannabe complete with an ominous, “You come in here, insult me…” Frank is a big fish in a little pond businessman who can’t control his own family, but the broad writing again hampers the serious possibilities. Ultimately, the don has to get his hands dirty – if you want something done right, have Sean Bean do it, baby!

James Purefoy (Rome, The Following, and Sharpe way back in the day with Bean, too!) also provides an interesting conflict for Wicked Blood as he simultaneously woos Amber and buys Frank’s no good goods. Bill isn’t really that shady – he knows his motorcycles, befriends Hannah, and may be the lone stable influence in her life – yet he’s also hiding something and keeping Amber in the dark about all his dealings. Alexa Vega (all grown up from Spy Kids) seems bitchy from Hannah’s perspective and antagonistic as her older sister Amber should be, but her trying her best working waitress is good with customers, knows her job, and is understandably trying to get out of this crappy existence. She’s a bit too clingy upon meeting Bill, but they also have endearing chemistry and sympathy. Each represents and outlet or glimmer of light and hope, but for all Amber’s straight and narrow, it doesn’t help her any in Wicked Blood. Contrastingly, Jake Busey’s (Starship Troopers) younger Uncle Bobby hit man uses fear and menace in his up close violence and dangerous impulses. He’s personal with fists, objects, and close range gunfire but not as stupid as he seems. Despite some uneven Crazy Glue quirky at the wrong time, Bobby is not to be underestimated thanks to Busey’s imposing stature and psychotic on command. Likewise, Lew Temple (The Walking Dead) embodies drugged out Uncle Donny wonderfully. He’s a nice guy trying to forget his troubles through drug addiction yet he knows the err of his ways and gives words of safety and care to Hannah whilst fondly remembering her as a smiling innocent kid pre-drug distribution biking. His druggie saying no to drugs and stay in school parable is a too little hooker with a heart of gold supporting character cliché, granted. However, Temple is surprisingly engaging and gives a fine, cohesive performance.

Wicked Blood also serves up a few country songs on its menu to further create its sense of southern irony, but the occasional twang or happy go lucky tunes are somewhat misleading compared to the heavy title. Then again, the slow opening credits echo the bleak of Wicked Blood a bit too much. The absence of major law enforcement and text messaging in the contrived finale also give the impression that technology or the outside world weren’t really thought through or are merely used as needed. For what should be a hard-core picture, the stripper scenes are too brief and the nudity weak. Frank’s nightclub, Amber’s diner, and Hannah’s bike riding montages are too abstractedly set with little dressings, dark photography, and rough camerawork. It’s not that the filmmaking is bad per se, it just seems amateur or bland; Wicked Blood looks the low budget standard and doesn’t really set itself apart visually or strive for more. Of course, such well dressed crappy is probably by design, as the perfectly isolated natural locales, empty roads, swamps, shabby trailers, and rundown houses are relatable and certainly represent something most audiences have seen. Props also to the redneck porch swing – a country toile couch strung up on a tree! If you doubt the accents used by the cast, their real voices are nice to hear on the short but insightful behind the scenes interviews on the blu-ray edition. Although I do wish there had been a commentary or conversation with writer/director Mark Young to help resolve some of the unpolished aspects of Wicked Blood.

Yes, Wicked Blood certainly has a familiar, un-ambitious, often uneven, and sometimes obvious B-grade direct to video feeling. I’ve seen far worse make it to the cinema, but viewers can’t come to this movie with any expectations of Oscar glory. There will be dialogue too colloquial for some audiences and the domestic abuse or incestuous violence will be iffy even though similar stories have been done more artistically or better disturbed elsewhere. Longtime heist or thriller fans may be disappointed in the action elements and Wicked Blood might even anger folks who have it or think they have it a lot worse yet don’t resort to this kind of behavior. So who exactly is the audience here? Wicked Blood is not for kids regardless of its teen female protagonist but it isn’t tough enough for hardened adult viewers. The story is depressing and characters are both cliché yet multidimensional, but fans of the cast or ensemble driven pieces can enjoy Wicked Blood thanks to the rising to the occasion players and their bittersweet performances.

15 April 2014

Machine Gun Preacher

Rousing Machine Gun Preacher Slightly Hampered by Its Own Weight
By Kristin Battestella

I was eager to see this 2011 true telling of the eponymous minister Sam Childers and his mission work in Africa. Though heavy hitting and powerful in its spiritual tale and in shining the light on children’s plights, Machine Gun Preacher has a little too much to do in showing its multi layered story and somewhat hinders its potent performances.

Biker Sam Childers (Gerard Butler) is released from prison and returns to his criminal ways despite wife Lynn’s (Michelle Monaghan) turn to religion. Childers eventually comes to faith himself and after success in his construction business, builds a church for other reformed men like himself and best friend Donnie (Michael Shannon). Upon hearing of mission work in Uganda and orphans amid the Lord’s Resistance Army strife in the war-ravaged Sudan, Childers goes to Africa to help despite the ups and downs it creates with his own family. When the foundations of his hospitals, schools, and orphanage are threatened and damaged by the regime, Childers uses his weaponry knowledge to defend the frightened and maimed children in his care.

A violent 2003 Sudanese village attack with upsetting images of women and child injustices sets the scene for this biopic before introducing us to the titular biker and would be minister Sam Childers. Director Marc Forster’s (Quantum of Solace) pace, however, is somewhat confusing as we go back thru the years and meet Childers fresh out of jail and immediately deep into his old life of drugs and guns. Robbery, stabbings, shooting up – regardless of the criminal activity, the uneven editing or intercutting is heady one moment and then too slow or tame like a Y2K TV movie from the period Machine Gun Preacher depicts. The transition from underworld debauchery to church going also happens too quickly, increasing the subsequent reckless or violent feelings instead of the about the man inspiration. With or without religion, audiences love films with strong redemptive characters brought low only to overcome. With its bland look, haphazard, and armed debate, however, Machine Gun Preacher looses the resonance of its tender, reforming salvation story. Instead of a rushed twenty minutes, one could do an entire movie on such an uplifting character arc, but the only way to tell such transformative time is speedily passing in Machine Gun Preacher is through Childers’ Rapid Soap Opera Aging daughter. Decide to be a righteous war epic or a quiet personal piece – the mishmash of battle desolate and dangerous or scary scenes don’t always hit home as they should because of Machine Gun Preacher’s indeterminate structure and timeline crunch. Understandably, when a film is based on real life questions this sort of struggle to properly dramatize events can happen – with such a two sided, dual tale of one man, this material was always going to be compromised in its telling. Would Machine Gun Preacher have been an even finer picture had it abandoned the true story narrative and streamlined choice cinematic events for a completely fictionalized account? Perhaps.

Fortunately, the story gets better as it goes on thanks to the honest baptism scene and spirituality treated as factual, natural, and realistic even amid Childers’ human struggles and imperfection. This newfound faith isn’t handled as overly lofty, magically montaged, or even filmed artistically or highbrow. This is a man trying to do well for himself and his family as finances, work, and recovery troubles mount. Childers sells his motorcycle, gives blood for money, let’s toss in a tornado just to really test a man’s resolve before the carpentry business succeeds! Granted, the symbolism is obvious at times – the family starts in a distant choir loft and the next minute they are sitting in the front pew – and again, the story seems uneven since Childers’ life changing conversion isn’t the primary focus of Machine Gun Preacher but rather a background catalyst for his causes in Sudan. That being the case, then the film takes half of its two hour plus runtime for the real titular action to happen. Machine Gun Preacher restarts its tale once Childers gets to Africa, and he asks questions about the LRA so the audience is updated on the disturbing war injuries and landmine consequences. This reset is tough to pull off, yes, but who can quibble when kids are asking what they did wrong to be so attacked? No shocks are withheld, and once we hear Childers speak on his mindset, details, and cause, the story grows deeper and more personal. The possibility of one person doing good is relatable compared to the angering, snotty, uncaring rich folk refusing to fund the desperate, maimed, and destitute children. Machine Gun Preacher gets heavy and asks some tough, gray questions despite an unrefined script from newcomer Jason Keller (Mirror Mirror). Is some of the ambiguity, language, or blood played too safe at times so Childers can show a slightly re-cut version of Machine Gun Preacher in his ongoing work? Maybe. However, Hollywood would have made Machine Gun Preacher a 90 minute feel good movie – a sweet, badass looking action picture with a clear line in the sand, black hat wearing villains, and heroes on white horses easily defined in total rah rah rah.

Of course, Machine Gun Preacher must also rise upon its lead actor, and Gerard Butler certainly looks badass a top a motorcycle! His rough get up is cool, matching the slicked back hair, rocking beard, biker build, sleeveless arms, and husky voice. Naturally, he’s chewing on an American accent, but Butler does get some of the nearby inflections right and it lends an authenticity to Machine Gun Preacher. His look also noticeably changes through the film – Butler cleans up nice as Childers cleans up nice before ultimately switching to some militant swag. It’s also downright refreshing to hear Butler bandy over serious dialogue and dramatic delivery in such a serious role. Family man Childers does his best, works hard, and helps his friend back from the brink, and Butler hammers, digs, and builds in excellent physical embodiment of Childers’ determination. Childers does start Machine Gun Preacher as unlikeable, trashed, and disheveled to parallel his drug shooting, misogynistic demeanor. He’d rather his wife be a moneymaking, hard drinking stripper instead of an honest factory worker, and again, the fast moving timeline slightly compromises his positive changes. The viewer sees him get on the up by his home, family, and business one minute yet he’s running off to save Africa the next. Childers speaks powerfully at an under construction church but then jets off again to build an orphanage. The spiritual transformation is superficial or full force as needed, and though it’s apparent that he’s just looking for a crusade to occupy the void of his previous wild activities, Butler makes us believe Childers must do something about the big picture. Gerry’s likeable earnest is the best part of Machine Gun Preacher, yet we don’t immediately think of him for this kind of part thanks to his badass action yarns or crappy romantic comedies. He is on his game in driving Machine Gun Preacher and this may in fact be his best immersion of character since 300. This isn’t an ogle Gbuttz movie for sure, but its Gerard frickin no fear Leonidas Butler at a pulpit – we want him to succeed. Machine Gun Preacher proves he can make some damn fine movies when he wants to do so. Not only has he actually done work with charities in Africa, but if Butler did turn to doing somber, artful good movies or produced topical films all the time, Lord have mercy! His only problem is that no one is watching these quality pictures.

While Butler is giving his all in Childers’ quest to save orphans, that uneven writing and Machine Gun Preacher’s unanswered questions hamper the zest and the story’s opportunities for more. Butler doesn’t shy away from the difficult choices gnawing at one’s core and shows the crisis of faith and its extremes – from the tenderness, uplift, and inspiration to the one drink away from destroying the mind, body, and soul. Unfortunately, such heavy, often too close to home concepts are not for entertainment value, and the audience of Machine Gun Preacher is left with an uncomfortable, tough emptiness instead of closure. Childers certainly goes off the deep end at times – wouldn’t you? How do you choose which orphans to help if there are too many and you can’t save them all? Do you just not try? Why continue this losing battle at the expense of your own family, mortgaging their livelihood, selling your business, and missing your daughter’s life? Is it Childers’ place to play white savior in Sudan? Is he helping, hurting, or interfering? It’s easy to root for Childers when he is doing actual ministry at home or abroad. However, his physically taking up arms in renegade salvation will negate his mission for some viewers. Machine Gun Preacher makes some confusing statements, and Childers’ killing of others – sometimes tragically forced militant kids – to save the lives of other orphans can certainly lead to a spiritual dispute. One has to defend one’s ministry. We ought to defend the sanctity of all houses and homes needing protection– but with rocket launchers? Machine Gun Preacher doesn’t present this debate very well yet adds some shame rousing on top. He’s doing something to help others, but what are you doing? We like Butler. Upon hearing his stirring pleas for funds, you want to know to whom you make out the check! We never get the sense that this movie is a big advertising campaign for Childers’ ongoing missions, but had this hot button material honed in its riveting statement to match Butler’s presence, Machine Gun Preacher could have been a controversial success instead of an obscure church movie.

True Detective’s Michelle Monaghan also falls prey to spousal clichés in Machine Gun Preacher as Lynn Childers. She found religion and changed her tune while Childers was in prison, but we see too little of her strife as she supports him thru the worst and the best. The back and forth is both girl of gold and a thankless part – she tells her man he has God’s purpose and he needs to build again while on the phone and pushing a shopping cart at the grocery store. Their relationship onscreen seems all about him instead of them or her and any happy understandings or uneasy rough patches they may endure. Monaghan has excellent moments when push comes to shove between cause and family, yet she’s almost painted in a bad light if she contests Childers’ Sudan glory. Does a wife have the right to draw the line on family when he is doing such good for others? Likewise, Michael Shannon’s (Boardwalk Empire) drug dealing biker pal Donnie is immediately dislikeable as a mocking enabler and we unfortunately don’t get to see all of his touching recovery thru Childers’ help. Of course, that jump over a critical character turn doesn’t stop him from becoming the underused but typical brotherly and sacrificial best friend. Kathy Baker (Picket Fences) as Childers’ mom Daisy also has next to nothing to do in Machine Gun Preacher – I don’t recall her even speaking onscreen! Although she’s apparently a lovely upstanding lady, it’s never explained how her son turned into a prison going bad biker, either. Madeline Carroll (Swing Vote) as daughter Paige fairs slightly better only because her point that Childers cares more about his cause then her is a very valid one. Several spotlight Sudanese child characters such as newcomer Junior Magale and soldiers Souleyman Sy Savane (Goodbye Solo) and Mduduzi Mabaso (Blood Diamond) also provide an innocent but no less sophisticated and much needed counter balance on how to let hate go and not let cruelty change your heart. They put a face to the mission but should have been better focused soundboards for Childers instead of leaving Machine Gun Preacher as a patchy one-man vehicle. Solid emotional scenes from the ensemble and questions from aid worker Jessica Joffe (And It Was Good) on mercenary motivation versus humanitarian aide or killing for the right reasons reflect the viewers’ ethical questions and help deter Machine Gun Preacher from lapsing into its one sided storytelling crutch.  

Although Machine Gun Preacher has no major fancy camerawork interfering with the tale and the story is generally allowed to speak for itself from scene to scene, it nonetheless feels that a production finesse or punch is lacking here. The straightforward independent style looks undynamic or standard; dark nighttime photography and firelight make it tough to see who is who amid the battle action logistics. However, the crappy early 2000s cars, trailers, and South Africa filming locations are both lovely to see and fittingly bleak or harsh. The good old-fashioned split level rancher interior filming is also not congested but realistic compared to studios and sets. Would Machine Gun Preacher be more polished and a deeper, complex tale if it had focused solely on either Childers’ transformation or his African campaign? A fully dramatized mini series or episodic length not beholden to the back and forth could build the transformation, business struggles, difficulties at home, ministry, crisis, and wartime in an extended, worthwhile, if depressing presentation. The end credits contain words about ongoing mission work and real photos of The Childers Family, yet Butler’s larger than life presence almost isn’t enough to tide Machine Gun Preacher’s often polarizing double design and pacing flaws.

The inconsistent faith questions, divisive action, and zooming timeline will be polarizing, even aggravating because the audience keeps thinking of the film Machine Gun Preacher should have been rather than the picture it is. For some viewers, something more inspirational will be missing from Machine Gun Preacher thanks to its real life meandering, but then again, this isn’t an indulgent re-watch nor does it shy away from the ugly humanitarian struggles in its heavy viewing. There are not for faint of heart scenes that will have even the most hardened audience holding its breath and gasping regardless of the man’s man physicality and action edge. Yes, Machine Gun Preacher has its ups and downs in getting itself straight, yet I’m surprised this too zealous and not zealous enough picture with such controversial potential limped away from the box office with only $1million to its name and has gone so unnoticed by, well, everyone. The unexpectedly fine performances, touching moments, and relevant issues in Machine Gun Preacher are worthy of discussion, perhaps even in some churches or schools. Hampered as is, Machine Gun Preacher should not be so easily dismissed, for its stirring, spiritual pondering is most definitely worth a look.

07 April 2014

James Bond Documentaries!

Real World Documentaries on the Fictional James Bond!
By Kristin Battestella

If there’s one thing more magical than analyzing Bond onscreen, then it’s analyzing the analysis of others analyzing Bond onscreen!  So here’s a session of Bondian non fiction and documentaries to delve deeper into Her Majesty’s fictitious Service.

Biography: Daniel Craig – From his first school plays, maternal support, and theatre work to edgy independent fair such as Love is the Devil and successful Hollywood turns in Road to Perdition and Layer Cake, this 2007 episode of the long running series illumes the decade of thespian work before Craig’s coveted casting as the first blonde Bond. While it’s great to see childhood photos and early snaps of the handsome young actor, the zooming, panning, angled, and spinning photos can be annoying as they continuously repeat and fill the 45-minute TV time. Of course, most of the 21st century Biography shows play more like hip, gossipy, entertainment newsbeats instead of the program’s traditional, seemingly official, or sanctioned sit down interview and intimate revelation with the subject. Instead, snippets from other Craig interviews pre and post Bond, chats with old school teachers, and commentary from celeb columnists make for a somewhat awkward presentation. A showbiz reporter informing on Craig’s first marriage, famous girlfriends, daughter, and extreme privacy against intrusive tabloids feels illegitimate – if industry reporters are talking about how he doesn’t often grant interviews or ignores media fodder and he didn’t consent to an interview with Biography…yeah, whoopsie! Short clips from Craig’s early films and television that international audiences may not have seen do much better in showing the actor’s talent, versatility, and penchant for heavy scene chewing material. The popcorn narrator doesn’t paraphrase Barbara Broccoli’s decision on choosing Craig as Bond until the final fifteen minutes, but the encapsulation of the challenging transition and becoming accepted as 007 is interesting to see in retrospect again now. It’s nowhere near all encompassing on Craig’s life and career, no – this episode seems to have more of everyone else but him! Indeed, I’d like to see a new, real Biography conversation someday with The Man Himself reflecting on his Bond tenure, yet fans new to the franchise or Craig’s work can get a quick summary here before diving into his varied filmography for complete Craig appreciation.

Bond Girls Are Forever – Maryam D’Abo hosts this retrospective hour on “The Women of James Bond” with an honest, globe trotting, and fun approach fitting to this fanciful, exclusive club. Footage of each lady in her respective Bond film looks great alongside new intimate conversations on Their Man James and what it means to be a Bond Girl from Ursula Andress, Honor Blackman, Luciana Paluzzi, Jill St. John, Jane Seymour, Maud Adams, Lois Chiles, Carey Lowell, Michelle Yeoh, Halle Berry, and Rosamund Pike. Non traditional 007 gals like Judi Dench as M and Samantha Bond as Moneypenny also have their say, and updated editions of this 2002 video include thoughts from Eva Green, Caterina Murino, Gemma Arterton, Naomie Harris, and Berenice Marlohe. Of course, this isn’t exhaustive with every gal in every Bond movie, and understandably, some foreign ladies or retired gals perhaps did not wish to appear. Although this leaves little reflection on From Russia with Love, You Only Live Twice, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, The Spy Who Loved Me, For Your Eyes Only, A View to a Kill, Goldeneye, and The World is Not Enough, we can forgive absentees of note such as Diana Rigg, Barbara Bach, Lynn-Holly Johnson, Tanya Roberts, Izabella Scorupco, Famke Janssen, Sophie Marceau, and Denise Richards. Pity also there’s no outside canon conversation with Kim Basinger, but the major loves and villainesses here give unique cross coverage on the fame, notoriety, expectations, career help or hindrance, and where are they now comparisons. Serious issues on the sexism of Bond then and now, the feminism movement, and the over the top damsel or bitch caricatures are debated as well. This isn’t specifically a classic look or by Bond focus, but the chronological order and clips from all the 007 pictures go along well with the multiple re-releases and companion book. Besides, it’s just dang fun to see how these ladies have only gotten better with age.


Everything or Nothing: The Untold Story of James Bond – World War II background, lovely post war period footage, and Jamaican home videos inform on Bond creator Ian Fleming’s literary tenacity to start this 2012 hour and a half detailing the history behind the beloved spy. From the earliest, struggling Jimmy Bond adaptations and difficulties in establishing the titular Eon Productions to interviews with Christopher Lee, Fleming family and friends, Barbara Broccoli, the Saltzman family, and Michael G. Wilson, this documentary has a lot of history to cover! Archive footage of Fleming and Cubby Broccoli supplement the hesitation over choosing Sean Connery as Bond and finding the right production team with Maurice Binder and John Barry before the fame, franchise heights, cast fallouts, and more. Quotes from John F. Kennedy, voiceovers with Connery, and more conversations with Maud Adams, Judi Dench, Bill Clinton, Famke Janssen, Rosmund Pike, and Sam Mendes read like a who’s who, and of course, we have retrospectives with 007 men George Lazenby, Roger Moore, Timothy Dalton, Pierce Brosnan, and Daniel Craig. Whew! Indeed, this feels a little too action movie fast paced as it intercuts and jumps between Bond footage. The time here isn’t a sentimental reflective documentary going deep with Fleming’s genesis, but some film details are skipped over in favor of the bitter, decades long Kevin McClory drama. Thanks to a playing it safe lack of depth beyond how these court cases broke Fleming’s health, viewers who don’t know the franchise’s history may not fully grasp the scale and legal issues created by McClory’s claims. Time is much better spent on the Lazenby switch, trouble between Broccoli and Saltzman in Moore’s early era, Dalton’s darker take on 007, Brosnan’s waits in landing the role, and 21st century refocus with Craig.  Despite the title, there’s a lot more of the basics then what’s untold – an entire series of documentaries could be done with the story of this franchise. A telefilm per actor, an episode on Fleming, one on Thunderball and the Battle of the Bonds with Never Say Never Again – the billion dollar interest can support it! There are a few pacing hiccups, sure, but ultimately, this nostalgic look serves its purpose in getting both newcomers and longtime audiences hankering for a viewing marathon.

The Real Story: James Bond – The Smithsonian Channel presents this 2009 45 minutes debating how much fact is actually in Ian Fleming’s spy fiction. Did Bond embody his creator’s womanizing and addictive ways? What about those real life secret service efforts and AU commandos orchestrated by Fleming? Expert interviews discuss the literary action, plot formulas, and sexism on the page and how they encapsulated Fleming’s own military life, travels, and espionage experience. Real life card game encounters and officers who would become M inspirations had their twists in Casino Royale while enigma decoding plans become From Russia with Love’s premise, but what wartime heroes could have suggested the 007 character? Was Bond the author’s wish fulfillment or something darker and misogynistic? Through expensive tastes and real world expertise, Fleming used his history and the Cold War topics of the time to draft the perfect fantasy spy for a post war UK still looking for heroes. The segment on fantastic wartime gadgetry, real gyrocopters, and defecting spies becomes a little out of place since the majority of the time here plays more like a Fleming biopic than something about Bond or the film franchise. The re-enactments and narration hyperbole are a bit much at times, and the questions raised sound so overly serious or faux scandalous amid otherwise tender and fresh family angles and period footage. These numerous possibilities, theories, and offshoots on how Bond came to be are nothing new in themselves, and the presentation could have been exclusively about Fleming by going deeper into his exhaustive book pace and it’s increasing tired and ill tasking upon his health. Fortunately, literary purists will like the brief graze upon the films, and the fiction comparisons and digging deep into life imitating art is always interesting to see.

And just in case you’re curious, no, I still haven’t gone through all the multitude of features on the Bond 50: The Complete Film Collection blu-ray box set, tee hee. 

02 April 2014

A Ghostly Film List!

Ghostly Film Delights!
By Kristin Battestella

Phantoms, spirits, ghosts, and the supernatural – who doesn’t love a good old haunted house tale, ghost story, or bump in the night scare? Regardless of if you spell it spectre or specter, don’t take in these apparition accounts alone! 

The Conjuring –Vera Farmiga (Up in the Air) and Patrick Wilson (Insidious) lead this 2013 possession thriller along with Ron Livingston (Office Space) and Lili Taylor (Six Feet Under). Although some of the cast may seem a bit too modern and it’s tough to tell the kids apart at times, the 1968 beginning has the fashions, feeling, and creepy dolls for immediate atmosphere. No attempted cool opening credits waste time – the opening crawl explaining the true story basis and Warren demonology casework does just fine before the 1971 station wagons, old TV static, home movie reels, and ominous music accent the main Perron tale. Granted, there is always a hardened dad, nobody pays attention to the dog’s warnings, the clocks all stop at the same time, and they go into the previously boarded up basement! The Warrens also seem fake and over confident to start, withholding information amid a slightly uneven back and forth establishment of the Perron haunted house period Poltergeist meets Ghost Hunters Warren family relationships. Fortunately, the plots and sympathies come together amid foggy lakes, eerie wide camera lens perspectives, uneasy upside down pans, creaking doors, and sleepwalking kids – that’s a creepy blindfolded and clapping game they play! The editing on the jump moments from director James Wan (Saw) is surprisingly subtle, startling the simmering audience at different times with different things and allowing for a personal build instead of in your face, all the time unfulfillment. Kids in peril, bodily bruises, excellent silence and darkness, heavy breathing, and over the shoulder fearful reveals keep the phenomenon intimate despite the old time research montage and cliché centuries old history. Most visual tricks happen in camera; the pacing focuses on fear and personal reaction even as complex, multiple occurrences mount thanks to an off kilter contrast, stillness, or action movement. Horror fans accustomed to recent under 90 minute standards may find the near two hours here long or too similar to classic supernatural fair, but the tension follows through from start to finish, progressing to a wild exorcism finale. 

Ghost Story –Fred Astaire, Melvyn Douglas, Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., John Houseman, Patricia Neal, and a bewitching Alice Krige shine in this supernatural 1981 tale adapted from Peter Straub. Firelight, dangerous snowscapes, and perfect mood music accent the storytelling atmosphere, and cluttered old houses, period décor, quaint thirties charm, and a mysterious Victorian derelict anchor the classy old guard and their demented Chowder Society. Ghostly laughter, eerie sounds, old time elevators, and scares unseen until it’s too late match the hazy effects and dreamy style – keeping the viewer unsure but intrigued. Is this a dream, reality, guilt, or apparition? Granted, the plot isn’t faithful to its source, bad effects are humorous today, and some of the acting crazy is hokey. Those who don’t know the cast may also find it tough to tell who is who and be confused in putting the connections together. The unusual framing design and back and forth flashbacks add some humor and romance that may detract from the spooky tone, and wise horror viewers will spot the simplistic plot holes, too. However, it’s pleasing to see older protagonists deal with sudden shocks, death, sex, and mature topics while clashing over generational changes, phantoms, and longtime regrets. It’s both thrilling to see the jolly old school unravel and suspenseful to watch uncomfortable nudity and an ominous we don’t know what lingering over any seemingly happy times. We like our gent ensemble yet suspect the past illicit – thanks to the period settings and refined performances, the decades old scope and personal stakes have room to stand out even if this isn’t all that scandalous compared to contemporary tales with lots of gore, cults, and torture. The paranormal tone and gothic atmosphere are not super scary for the most part, yet there are some excellent, intense moments here along with a macabre little mystery and ghastly finish.

The House of the Seven Corpses – Cranky director John Ireland (Red River, All the King’s Men), the aptly named John Carradine (Bluebeard, The Grapes of Wrath) as creepy old man Edgar Price, and aging actress Faith Domergue (This Island Earth) star in this 1973 haunted house film within a film full of red decor, black candles, and color tinted photography. A creepy death reel further sets the gothic mood along with Outer Limits music, feline fears, and spooky old house bumps in the night. Who knew behind the scenes equipment, filmmaking troubles, seemingly innocent script incantations, and shooting in a haunted location held so many perils? The viewer is just waiting for a retractable knife switch a roo stabbing! The voices are tough to hear most of the time, but the light humor and snarky banter works because the ensemble knows they are making a scary movie – the wooden, fake filming and crappy scenes are a fun audience comfort before the real suspense and spine chilling scary mounts. Conflict amid the onscreen crew and production furthers the fears and shocks as the titular risings begin while plenty of great screams, twists, and ghoulish intensity keep the viewer invested even if we suspect how the scares will play out. Although the ending is somewhat unexpected, even abrupt because the house history is confusing and left unresolved thanks to some plot holes, this is still a bemusing, atmospheric 90-minute ride.

Lights Out – I like short films and wish they got more mainstream attention and recognition, but I don’t think I’ve ever reviewed something this short at under three minutes. I can talk longer than this is! However, director David F. Sandburg’s (Earth Savers, Ladyboy) winner of the Bloody Cuts Horror Challenge 2013 starring Lotta Losten got me. Not many purportedly scary films these days can capture this unseen suspense, the increasing infringement of the unknown in the sanctity of the home, bedroom, and childhood under the covers safety. How can you flight or fight when fear is coming to you? Sure, jaded viewers may balk at the lack of dialogue or motivations. Why not call a friend in the night? Leave? Lock the door? Scream! Perhaps the end isn't as fulfilling as the initial shocks that either glue you in for the topper or make you drop your precious mobile viewing device, either. The lighting, shadows, and design, however, are top notch, and we’ve all been there – thought we saw something in the dark or retreated at the paranormal possibility. This relatable hook and scares totally works. If bigger industry names or Hollywood studios don’t notice Sandburg and this smartly simplistic viral sensation, they should certainly take note at the taut tension and straightforward filmmaking. Is it easy to keep up this intensity at this short a sample? Sure. Was the minimal design required by the competition and an indie shoestring budget? Probably. But is this how modern horror should be done instead of all the in your face 3D mayhem, fluff, trite, and obnoxiousness? Yes.  View if you dare on Sandburg’s page here: http://vimeo.com/82920243.

But Not so Delightful…

The Ghosts of Hanley House – Great thunder, screams, fun sound effects, footsteps, shadows, ticking time, and chiming grandfather clocks set the mood of this 1968 black and white haunt. Objects moving by themselves, unseen chokes, and opening doors lay on the titular further along side antiques, séances, and creepy décor. Unfortunately, bad music, faux hep cat cool, dated dialogue, ridiculous up close shots, flawed editing, and wooden acting from the unknown cast hamper any chance this seemingly tired premise or its twist might have had. One can forgive low budget feelings, the dares to spend the night in a haunted house, the cliché old woman who knows the story, and the inexplicably psychic lady believer, sure. However, viewers can’t overcome the overlong 85 minutes, padded plot, and poor audio – it sounds like they are throwing their voices from off camera! The slow pace and stupid actions are too tough to enjoy, and the darkness or flashlights going off and on will be annoying to some. These lighting schemes ought to be eerie and effective, forcing the audience to look and listen for the ominous sounds and scary reveals. But sadly, the dry scripting and stilted cast ruin any atmosphere, and there’s almost no reason to care once we get to what should be a very fine kicker. Pity.