cast: Isabelle Huppert, Annie Girardot, and Benoit Magimel

director: Michael Haneke

125 minutes (18) 2001
widescreen ratio 1.85:1
Artificial Eye DVD Region 2 retail
Also available to buy on video

RATING: 8/10
reviewed by Gary Couzens

In Vienna, Erika Kohut (Isabelle Huppert) works as a piano teacher. Unmarried, she lives at home with her domineering mother (Annie Girardot). Outwardly, Erika is harsh and strict; but she has a secret. Erika’s darker side manifests itself in visits to porn shops, voyeurism. She meets a promising young student (Benoit Magimel) who attempts to seduce her, and they enter into a sadomasochistic affair.
The Piano Teacher was Michael Haneke’s second film to be released in Britain in 2001. Code Unknown used a deliberately fragmented structure and long takes to express his film of the interconnectedness of people and their responsibilities to each other. The Piano Teacher, based on a novel by Elfriede Jelinek (apparently largely autobiographical, which is disturbing news in itself), is much more classical in style, though as before it demands considerable input from the viewer: Haneke deliberately avoids making any comments on the film’s action,

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letting the audience judge for themselves. This detached style is matched by a brilliant, considerably risky performance by Huppert, who expresses considerable emotion with the minimum of facial expression. She deservedly won the Best Actress Award at Cannes for her performance here and should have had an Oscar nomination if the Academy were inclined to reward ‘controversial’ films. Since her breakthrough role in 1977’s The Lacemaker, Huppert has proved herself one of Europe’s finest, and most prolific, screen actresses.
Difficulty in interpretation is matched by difficulty in content – to be precise, many people will find much of this hard to watch. Haneke doesn’t spare us much: we see brief extracts from the hardcore porno loops Erika watches, and this progresses to her urinating in excitement as she spies on a couple making love at a drive-in cinema, to a seduction scene that takes place in a public toilet. Needless to say, this isn’t remotely suitable for children or anyone squeamish or easily offended, but none of it seems gratuitous: it seems impossible, but Haneke films his extreme material with some taste and discretion. Haneke remains one of the few European practitioners of the morally serious, challenging art movie, of which The Piano Teacher is very much an example. In an increasingly insular, not to mention dumbed-down, British film distribution environment, we need more films like this.
The Piano Teacher was shot with a mixed French and German/Austrian cast, speaking their own languages, and dubbed accordingly. As the three leads are French, we get the French language version (La pianiste) rather than the German one (Die Klavierspielerin), even if does give the odd result of Vienna being a Francophone city. There are two soundtracks, Dolby digital 5.1 and Dolby surround, with optional English subtitles.
DVD extras: interviews with Huppert, Haneke and Jelinek, a behind-the-scenes look at the film’s post-synchronisation session, and filmographies.

cast: David Boreanaz, Charisma Carpenter, Alexis Denisof, J. August Richards, and Amy Acker

created by Joss Whedon and David Greenwalt
917 minutes (15) 2001-2002
widescreen ratio 1.78:1
20th Century Fox DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 8/10
reviewed by Jeff Young

Without a doubt, Angel is the most surprising and consistently enjoyable fantasy TV show in production today. There are duff episodes, as with any long running serial, but the overall quality of scripting, performances by a highly talented cast playing well-rounded characters, varied locations shot with an avid sense of noir atmosphere, and general production values (with special regard to the sets and props, which are often superior to the show’s digital visuals and makeup effects) is exemplary. With this third season, the actors further develop their roles within the main group. In particular, stars David Boreanaz and Charisma Carpenter – as Angel and Cordelia – display an engaging and comfortable assurance during their lively banter, and within ensemble dialogues, that’s constructively reminiscent of the best ‘pre-romance’ TV couples. In particular, the relationship between Angel and Cordy is like the rapport between the stars of Moonlighting or The X-Files.
Characterisation aside, perhaps what Angel does best of all are the intriguing story arcs that span multiple episodes, or the full season. Featuring 22 episodes of approx 45 minutes each, this season involves the birth of Angel’s son, Conner (played in closing episodes by Vincent Kartheiser), the ultimate fate of Angel’s ex-lover, Darla (Julie Benz), the mysterious appearance of embittered and vengeful vampire hunter, Holtz (Keith Szarabajka, of Stephen King adaptation The Golden Years, 1991), fresh developments in the adversarial connection between Angel & Co. and their darkest enemies at devoutly evil law firm Wolfram & Hart, budding romance between the youthful supporting characters, and lots of mystical wonder and exciting action scenes, with or without assorted weapons. And, in fact, as far as the show’s crime fighting and monster slaying goes, Angel easily outdoes Buffy nowadays, to reign supreme as the best plain clothes’ superhero adventure on TV.
However, in spite of the elaborate telefantasy fun and games, and Dungeons & Dragons inspired role-playing (champion, seer, wizard, oracle, demon, etc) Angel still manages to create and explore a serious, philosophical side, which generates an edginess that every other comparable TV show lacks. Here, the show’s writers are not afraid to address issues of trust, freedom, honesty, conscience and mercy. Not to mention the changing nature of what is right and wrong, or good and evil, in a deeply troubled postmodern society where an individual’s sense of morality is just as much a handicap as a virtue. Any network TV series that questions the ‘humanity’ of contemporary America and, in doing so, critiques the global media establishment that has produced it, while examining such hot issues as parental responsibility and racial tolerance, in a refreshingly imaginative way, really does deserve wider attention and greater acclaim. If you have yet to catch Angel, here’s what to do about it – get thee hence to your chosen shopping site and order all three DVD or VHS box sets immediately. You will not be disappointed, and you can thank me later, okay?
The presentation has Dolby digital surround 2.0 sound, in English and French plus subtitles in seven languages. DVD package extras include featurettes Season Three Overview (30 minutes), Page To Screen (15 minutes), Darla: Deliver Us From Evil, plus an outtakes reel, trailers for both Angel and Buffy, screen tests for Amy Acker (who plays young physicist Fred, and is great as such a charmingly wacky character) and Vincent Kartheiser, and a stills gallery of approx 50 images. You also get commentary tracks on the episodes Billy, Lullaby, and the otherwise lacklustre Waiting In The Wings, and deleted scenes from Birthday and Waiting In The Wings with optional commentaries.

Back when the postwar monochrome had started to bleed into counter-culture Technicolour, back before VHS, before DVD, before LoveFilm, and Amazon, and TV on demand, back then the high school water-cooler moment, before high school water-coolers, was ‘did you see that film on the telly last night?’ And, with only three channels, the chance was the answer was ‘yes’.

In those days, films stayed on the theatrical circuit for much longer; I’m talking years. I think a film had to be at least six years old before it could be shown on television. Consequently, in the 1970s, when I started to take a more individual interest in television viewing, a host of films came onto television from the 1960s. I was able to enjoy films from the likes of Ken Loach, Richard Lester, Lindsay Anderson, Tony Richardson, Karel Reisz, Billy Wilder, Neil Simon, John Boorman, Ken Russell, Sam Peckinpah, Stanley Kubrick, and uncle Don Siegel et al. The BBC used to do ‘film seasons’ on specific directors and, because BBC 2 was a bit arty, there were the joys of foreign language films, the nouvelle vague, and all the glories of European cinema, introducing me to Truffaut, Fellini, Wim Wenders, Chabrol, LeLouch, Antonioni, and Bunuel.

The zeal of the House Un-American Activities Committee in the 1950s meant that America’s loss was Europe, and particularly the UK’s, gain, as blacklisted writers and directors came over the Atlantic to find work in an industry less concerned with someone’s politics. Although never officially blacklisted, the director Joseph Losey made the trip to Britain and soon forged a prominent and successful career in the resurgent British film industry. In Annus Mirabilis, Philip Larkin noted that “Sexual intercourse began/ In nineteen sixty-three/ […] /Between the end of the ‘Chatterly’ ban/ And the Beatles’ first LP.”

Teamed with the playwright Harold Pinter, making his first forays into screen-writing, Losey made The Servant (1963), following it with Accident (1967), and The Go-Between (1971). He had already made the curious 1963 blend of social comment and science fiction thriller (These Are) The Damned, but a run of films, such as those with Pinter, and others like Secret Ceremony (1968), and the later The Romantic Englishwoman (1975), seemed to mark him as a director with a particular felicity in expressing the layered angst of class and sexual relationships. He also made the bonkers adaptation of Tennessee Williams (from Williams’ own screenplay) Boom (1968), with Richard Burton as the Angel of Death, and the great Noel Coward as the Witch of Capri. This overwrought drama is a guilty pleasure; Burton has a speech about something, which ends with the word ‘Boom’, the sound of the waves against Liz Taylor’s island fortress retreat, that I memorised in an attempt to perfect my Richard Burton impression. Although the films mentioned are marked by the microscopic scrutiny of sex, class, and gender, Losey also made the sparse blend of running and helicopter-porn that was 1970’s Figures In A Landscape.

In 1966, in the eye of the hurricane of British pop culture, Losey took the reins of Modesty Blaise, a film based upon Peter O’Donnell’s syndicated newspaper comic strip adventuress. It’s taken me a massive cultural digression to get to the meat of this review, and what can I say about this film? Back in school, after its airing on TV, I think I tried to enthuse, but I had been wrong-footed. Science fiction wasn’t such a big deal for me then, I had slipped into the espionage genre, and was reading Fleming, Le Carre, Len Deighton, and Alistair MacLean. Of course, post-Bond, the tendency had been to spoof the genre, as The Man From Uncle, The Avengers, and the Derek Flint films, all sought to offer spy-fi thrills with a knowing aside to meta-fiction.

Modesty Blaise came hot on the Cuban heels of the Beatles’ Help!, and seems to want to instil some of that hip camp tomfoolery to proceedings, while encouraging us to believe there is a plot of sorts. Sadly, the film tumbles between stools; it is neither thrilling nor very funny; but that is not to say it is completely devoid of charm. In order to secure its oil supplies from the Gulf, her majesty’s British government proposes to deposit a fortune in diamonds with friendly Sheikh Abu Tahir. The conundrum is how to get the gems to the Sheikh, while avoiding the attentions of super-criminal Gabriel?

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Well, given that the representatives of HMG meet with the Sheikh in his London hotel early in the film, the answer would appear to have been hand them to him in a box, however that would have severely curtailed the two hours running time. Hiring ex-criminal and international adventuress Modesty Blaise, after their man in Amsterdam has been blown up while on the trail of Gabriel, the British government in the person of their man Sir Gerald Tarrant employ a host of distraction techniques in order to deflect both Modesty and Gabriel’s attentions onto each other and away from the diamonds. Needless to say, no one is fooled and it is better to ignore the plot and enjoy the performances.

Standout turn is long-term Losey collaborator Dirk Bogarde as the blond-wigged Gabriel. Camp as a field full of girl guides, in an op-art monastery island lair, Gabriel agonises over the death of the family-man pilot in the shooting-down of the RAF jet supposedly carrying the diamonds, “Why can’t they ever be single?” Aided by his troubling female henchman Mrs Fothergill (Italian actress Rosella Falk), and his parsimonious aide McWhirter (Clive Revill in a double role; he also plays Abu Tahir), Gabriel seeks either to eliminate Modesty or draw her into an alliance. Harry Andrews plays Modesty’s controller Sir Gerald Tarrant with a fine disregard for the nonsense he has found himself in, and Michael Craig enjoys himself as British spook and Modesty’s love interest, as you would.

Modesty’s sidekick, reformed cockney crook Willie Garvin, is played by the great Terence Stamp, one of the triumvirate of pretty-boy English actors who came to prominence in the 1960s and 1970s, the others being David Hemmings, and Ian McShane. Still busy in major roles to this day, Stamp and McShane kept their looks and good billing while, arguably the prettiest of the three, Hemmings bizarrely blew up to the size of a barn, grew unkempt eyebrows, and ended up with paltry cameos in The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen, and Vinnie Jones’ remake of The Mean Machine, before his untimely death in 2003. Having said that, Hemmings did have a parallel career as a TV director particularly on The A-Team, and Quantum Leap.

The star of Modesty Blaise, in her first English-language role, is Italian actress Monica Vitti (La Notte). What can you say? The camera loves her. Not conventionally beautiful, she is beautiful and flirtatious in this; for her serious acting go to the films she made with Antonioni, in fact if only they could have got him on board for Modesty Blaise, as he was no stranger to the unconventional thriller. O’Donnell wrote a screenplay for the film but it was almost totally abandoned in the rewrites by Losey and his collaborator. O’Donnell claims only one line survived. O’Donnell did have something of the last laugh, as he produced a novelisation of the screenplay, the success of which encouraged him to write a further series of best-selling Modesty novels.

In a couple of instances in the film, O’Donnell and artist Jim Holdaway’s comic-strip appears, and blonde Monica Vitti dons a brunette wig and Modesty’s tight-fitting black clothes, adopting the Modesty persona like a superhero’s secret identity. Willie Garvin and Modesty even have a song, in which they consider the fact that in all their adventures they have never found the time to hop into bed with one another. Such pop sensibility sits uncomfortably at times with the film’s attempts to be an adventure story, as there are deaths by strangulation, by stabbing, and a hanging. If you want to see how to do this sort of thing better watch Mario Bava’s Danger: Diabolik, made a couple of years later.

Still, despite my considerable reservations, and despite the fact I would not rush to watch this again, I feel it says something about the times, and it does not diminish the stature of O’Donnell’s creation of Modesty Blaise. There have been a couple of more attempts to bring the divine Modesty to the screen, an Americanised TV pilot starring Ann Turkel in 1982, and the Tarantino produced direct-to-DVD My Name Is Modesty in 2003. It seems she may be one of those characters who defy successful adaptation, but arguably Modesty Blaise was a reference point for Lara Croft, although clearly the same proscription applies. I am now waiting for the release of a re-mastered DVD of that other cult phenomenon, fumbled in its cinematic execution, Robert Fuest’s 1973 take on Jerry Cornelius in The Final Programme.

The BAFTAs and the Oscars
have already been and gone.
However, if you need a strong
film fix, don’t despair as the
European Film Academy awards
are still to come. This year it will
feature in Wroclaw, Poland, in
December. The ceremony is
streamed live every year but if
you really are a film fanatic and
plan on heading over to Poland
don’t forget to ensure you get
your E111 card and your
passport sorted before you go.
Every year, the European Film
Academy celebrates a total of 22
categories which include
European film, European
director, European actress and
actor, the biggest award
supports the greatest
achievements in European
cinema. The nominations for the
award will be announced in
November but we have made a
list of the best European
independent movies of 2016, so
far, which could feature on the
nomination list – watch this
space.
Vanitas
Oscar Spierenburg’s drama has
already won the best European
independent dramatic feature at
the ECU Film Festival and it has
a good chance of winning other
awards this year too. It is a
gripping fiction film
commenting on the modern artworld,
and the film addresses
how important it is to know
what is authentic and what is
fake, what is real or unreal. The
film centres on a young woman,
who has followed in her father’s
footsteps as an art-restorer and
is then confronted with the
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forging of masterpieces. With
her discovery she goes about
finding the truth surrounding
the world of art, something she
once adored.
The Session
This short film is directed by
Edouard de La Poeze, and it
portrays Paris in 1988. It
features Fanny Ardant as the
Countess of Castiglione who
requests her favourite
photographer to create her last
portrait. Throughout the session
the two are closely watched by
the aristocrat’s servants, and the
session then proves to be far
more disturbing than ever
expected.
Refugees
This gripping experimental film
is directed by Eduardo
Hernandez Perez and Hans Jaap
Melissen. The film comments on
the largest forced migration
since the Second World War,
and places it in a unique
perspective. Real life drama is
incorporated and portrayed in
revolutionary and astonishing
virtual reality images.
Dennis Rodman’s Big
Bang In Pyong Yang
This film directed by Colin
Offland follows Dennis Rodman
who is on a mission. He has an
unlikely friendship with North
Korean leader Kin Jong-un and
wants to improve the relations
between North Korea and the
US. He does this by creating a
historic basketball game
between the two countries. It
then follows the story of what
happened when Dennis Rodman
took a team of former NBA
players to North Korea. It’s a
strange film but a strong
contender.
The Chicken
Directed by Una Gunjak, this
short fiction drama centres on a
young girl who receives a live
chicken for her sixth birthday.
After realising the creature is
going to be killed to feed her
family, she sets it free. She then
suffers dangerous consequences
for her actions. Although this
film was initially released in
2014, it will be released to a
wider audience this year so still
counts as 2016.

Reportedly the
most expensive
media production
in Norway’s
history,
Occupied (aka:
Okkupert) is a TV
series of ten
episodes, each
one taking place
in a narrative of
consecutive
months. It’s shot
mostly in
Norwegian, but
with some English
dialogue.
At a new thorium
power station,
designed to
replace oil as a
viable alternative
to the near
future’s climatechange
problems
and solve the
global energy
crisis, the Green
Party’s Prime
Minister Jesper
Berg (Henrik
Mestad) is briefly
kidnapped to
warn him of the
European Union’s
backing for a
Russian-led
invasion of his
nation by
countries
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unwilling to shake
off their
dependency on
fossil fuels. Soon,
PM Berg
surrenders his
executive power
to spare the
Norwegian people
the certainty of
death and
bloodshed if their
armed forces
provoke a conflict
over national
security and selfdefence
issues.
Police bodyguard
Djupvik (Eldar
Skar, in his first
starring role)
heroically chases
the hijacked
helicopter to save
Berg, and his
promotion to
investigator
means a rapid rise
so he becomes
involved in highlevel
situations,
like a
Scandinavian
Jack Bauer, that
include
assassination
plots and an
inevitable
Norwegian
resistance
conspiracy. Sadly,
Occupied lacks
the tremendous
pace or energy of
24, trying for
brooding
atmosphere and
slow-burning
tensions instead
of action setpieces
with a
more leisurely
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story-arc that
runs for nine
months.
As has often been
observed,
international law
only exists in law
books.

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The basic
idea here is a
genre notion, but
Occupied is not
particularly
science fictional
although it’s a
futuristic,
speculative drama
trading upon
Norge fears of
Putin’s
aggression, while
the TV show itself
prompted outrage
in Moscow.
There’s a doomed
reporter who is
desperate for
scandal and
notoriety as he
struggles to
uncover state
secrets of
euphemistic
‘European
disaster relief’
efforts by
Russians, and
Occupied explores
many of the
fourth estate’s
ethical concerns
(“The Russians
have eliminated
journalists
before”)
previously
charted by
investigative
news-hounds in
Scandi-noir
movies like the
successful trilogy
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that started with
The Girl With The
Dragon Tattoo.
Unfortunately,
this is drama that
lapses into
sentimental soap
opera routines of
domestic strife,
family problems,
and health
worries, so it
rarely misses an
opportunity for
hand-wringing
with optional
hankies.
Even when the
plot diversions
are mere sundry
crimes, it affects
the main
characters, with a
grim inevitably, as
if for the sake of
giving them all
something else to
do during the
unfolding
situation’s bigger
picture of
realpolitik – in
which, of course,
they are so often
otherwise
technically or
actually quite
powerless. As the
solemn Berg’s
earnest leadership
falters, a coup
seems likely, and
challenges to his
comprised
authority are
certain when the
social contract is
so obviously
broken, with a
progressive
democracy of
environmentalism
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crushed between
train-wreck
collision and a
collusion of
greedy
international
capitalism and
myopic Euronationalism.
An extradition
order for a
Chechen terrorist,
and other
destablising
actions, continue
and escalate a war
of nerves between
Berg and his far
mightier
opponents, led by
Russian
ambassador
Sidorva
(winningly
portrayed by
Ingeborga
Dapkunaite, who
played Lecter’s
mother in that
prequel movie
Hannibal Rising).
Dim-witted ‘Free
Norway’ terrorists
claim to believe
that car bombs
create hope not
fear.
Noisy street
protests in August
become a violent
riot in September
as, for both major
and minor
characters in this
impending
tragedy, questions
of ultimate loyalty
lead official
gamblers to
further personal
confrontations
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when a diplomatic
solution looks
impossible
without American
participation.
With another
hostage crisis
looming for the
beleaguered Berg,
events lurch
towards the chilly
December climax
in a two-part
finale. So, the
only vital
question
remaining is: “are
you ready to fight
for your country?”

Long before Christopher Ray’s Mercenaries
(2014) – an imitative movie that almost revived
the careers of Brigitte Nielsen and Cynthia
Rothrock, and tried hard to beat Sylvester
Stallone’s vanity ensemble franchise The
Expendables at their own game – Hired To
Kill was also a formidable mash-up of British
movie Wild Geese (1978), and German
exploitation flick Jungle Warriors (1984).
Frank (Brian Thompson, perhaps best known
for playing an alien bounty hunter on The XFiles)
assembles a team of women for a
Mediterranean ‘mission: impossible’, where
they are glamorous enough pose as fashion
models before going full tactical on location.
Their task is a jail-break, intended to free a
revolutionary leader named the Brother (Jose
Ferrer, the Emperor in Dune), but does the
local rebellion really need a martyr?
George Kennedy is the big boss of this
enterprise, smartly suited, and gentlemanly, if
only in the manner of a corporate Bond villain.
Oliver Reed is the chief villain Bartos, toasting
“the new magnificent seven,” molesting his motherless trophy-daughter and, in one
notorious scene, snogging the hero. It’s just the
kind of cheesy action movie so effectively
parodied by Andy Sidaris, and it’s pretty good
fun, overall.
Beautifully restored for its blu-ray debut, the hidef
picture and sound quality on this disc are
quite superb. In the extras, the director gives us
the full story of how a tragic helicopter crash –
that occurred during filming on location in
Corfu – almost killed his latest production.
There’s also a new interview (17 minutes) with
star Thompson.

I hate to be
judgemental but I
hated this film.

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After about an
hour, I was
thinking ‘this is
the worst film I
have ever seen.’
Not worst as in
Mrs Henderson
Presents (2005),
or that other one
my late Mum
asked me to take
her to, or
Matthew
Vaughan’s
Kingsman: The
Secret Service
(2014), but just
really bad when I
had such high
hopes.
It seems
appropriate to
note here that
many
commentators
consider this to
be some kind of
masterpiece. The
trailer, included
as part of the
extras package,
includes a
selection of
quotations ripe
with fulsome
praise: ‘jawdropping’
comes
to mind. Peter
Bradshaw in The
Guardian gave it
five stars, made it
his film of the
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week, and
awarded epithets
such as ‘aweinspiring’
and
“beautiful,
brilliant and
bizarre.” When I
watched it I
thought, ‘this has
all the shit from
Jabberwocky and
none of the jokes.’
Shit is the least of
it. There’s shit,
piss, snot, blood,
puke, and
entrails. If we
needed
confirmation of
the noisome
nature of the
medieval world of
Hard To Be A
God (aka:
Trudno byt
bogom), the cast
are perpetually
smelling things –
food, mud, faeces,
clothes, each
other, and then
announcing them
to be ‘stinky’.
After about two
hours I was
pleading for the
film to ‘just end’,
beyond that I
passed into the
sort of quiescent
state Daniel
Craig’s James
Bond achieves in
Casino Royale
(2006), after
having his
testicles lashed to
a pulp. I had
finally become
immersed in what
we are told was
director Aleksei
German’s
ambition, to
provide an
immersive
experience. Then
I watched the
extras.
I have a problem
visiting art
galleries. I
consider myself
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to be visually
literate, I can
respond to
pictures and
images on their
own terms, but I
come from a print
culture; I have to
read the label.
Some images I
can enjoy for
their own sake, I
responded
immediately the
first time I saw
works by Dali,
Miro, Magritte,
Max Ernst, and
Kazimir
Malevich; other
times I have had
to read the label.
That always
bothered me;
shouldn’t an
image, as art,
work on its own
terms? If you
have to read the
label, to have that
‘ah, now I see’
moment, hasn’t
the art and the
artist failed? I
didn’t anticipate
an epiphanic
revelation
watching the
extras package to
Hard To Be A
God, and I’m
pleased to say I
didn’t have one,
but I did feel I
had a better
understanding of
what German was
attempting to
achieve, even if I
remained
sceptical about
the merit of the
enterprise or its
realisation.
The kingdom of
Arkaner exists on
a planet not
unlike Earth, but
while Earth
society has
advanced,
Arkaner is stuck
in the middleages,
a
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renaissance has
been stalled, and
an oppressive
regime is
interring and
slaughtering
intellectuals or
‘smartarses’. The
medieval society
depicted is not
contained within
a Hollywood
image of ‘Merrie
England’, bosky
parkland
interrupted by
thriving market
towns and
dominated by
noble castles, it
exists in a rainsoaked
mire
where the
grotesque
inhabitants wade
through shit,
inflicting various
degrees of
violence upon
each other. A
couple of dozen
Earth scientists
are in situ,
observing the lack
of progress and
reporting back to
their home
planet, an early
image viewed
through a circular
lens suggests that
what we see is
being filmed, and
presumably
broadcast back to
Earth. Embedded
within this
society, and
posing as a local
feudal baron, is
Don Rumata
(Leonid
Yarmolnik), an
Earthman who
has gone native.
Unassailable, due
to his fighting
skills and his
adopted status as
the descendent of
a god, he
attempts to
assuage some of
the perse
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and brutality
within Arkaner by
protecting
scholars and
offering them
sanctuary. A brief
narrated
exposition, which
director German
was reluctant to
include, sets the
scene, but, it has
to be stressed,
nothing which
occurs on screen
is clear or
obvious,
relationships are
obscure and
narrative
progression
excursive to say
the least.
Hard To Be A
God is based on
Arkady and Boris
Strugatsky’s 1964
novel, set in their
‘Noon Universe’,
a utopian society
which imagines
the victory of
communism on
Earth and the
elimination of
most social evils
through
technology and
moral evolution.
Less-enlightened
worlds are
‘progressed’
through gentle
intervention,
although such
intervention is
seen as highly
controversial.
Iain M. Banks’
‘Culture’ novels
seem an obvious
successor. The
Strugatskys,
along with the
Polish author
Stanislaw Lem,
are probably the
best known of
Soviet bloc
science fiction
writers, thanks to
their
championing in
the west by the
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likes of Theodore
Sturgeon,
influential film
versions of their
famous works,
and the sheer
quality of their
output.
Soviet science
fiction has always
had a certain
cachet, perhaps
derived from the
reasonable
assumption in the
west that it was a
literature of
resistance,
smuggling
libertarian ideals
and oppositional
politics, under
the guise of
fantasy, within a
society marked by
oppression and
curtailments on
free speech.
Russian literature
has a history of
influence in the
west, the ‘Golden
Age’ in the 19th
century saw the
likes of Turgenev,
Chekhov,
Dostoyevsky, and
others, having a
profound effect
on nascent
literary
modernism in
England and
Europe (although
the exiled Ezra
Pound apparently
admitted to
Hemingway in
Paris that he had
never read the
‘Rooshians’).
Russian literature
seems to fully
embrace the
speculation and
fantasy that
typifies romance
writing, “fiction
that owes no
allegiance to The
God of Things as
They Are” as
Ambrose Bierce
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defined it in his
Devil’s
Dictionary in
1911. The whole
Russian
experience seems
to have entranced
the European
intelligentsia, an
image of Russia
and the Russian
people as
somehow in tune
with a spiritual
mystical world
denied to the
materialistic
west. Of course
one can be overly
romantic, “if you
are going to tell
me that any
aspect of Russia
psychological,
mystical,
practical, or
commercial seen
through an
English medium
is either Russia as
she really is or
Russia as
Russians see her,
I say to you,
without
hesitation, that
you don’t know of
what you are
talking”, as Hugh
Walpole put it in
his novel The
Secret City
(1919).
The Strugatsky
brothers’
Roadside Picnic
is my favourite SF
novel. It appealed
to me because it
seemed to deal
with the concept
of the ‘alien’ in a
new way. An
awful lot of
science fiction
takes the ‘man in
a reptile suit’
approach to
presenting alien
life, that’s
understandable,
how do you
imagine, let alone
describe,
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something which
is unfamiliar or
unknown?
Roadside Picnic
postulated the
impact on our
society of the
casual discovery
of alien artefacts,
explained
throu
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beauty, a
particular scene
in Stalker used to
pop into my head
like an oneiric
flashback
whenever I
jogged up a lane
which regularly
flooded with runoff
water from
surrounding
fields.
Tarkovsky and
German shared a
mutual respect,
although
German’s hyperrealism
seems a
world away from
Tarkovsky’s
romanticism.
German’s early
films, pre-Hard
To Be A God,
were set in the
Stalinist era. An
earlier attempt to
film Hard To Be
A God was
stalled, as it
coincided with
the Soviet
invasion of
Czechoslovakia.
In fact, the
depiction of a
society in which a
hoped for
renaissance has
been replaced by
state terror, and
the internment of
intellectuals,
seems pertinent
to the early
decades of postrevolutionary
Russia.
Tarkovsky’s
Mirror (1975)
also deals with
incidents of
Stalinist terror
but in an elliptical
way. While
Tarkovsky was
clearly an
influence on
German, the
latter’s debt to
Fellini is clear in
his busy mise en
scene.
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In the first film in
the extras
package,
German’s wife
and collaborator
Svetlana
Karmalita
explains
something of his
technique. She
concedes that it is
hard to follow
which characters
are talking in
Hard To Be A
God, a deliberate
policy derived
from an edit on
Trial On The
Road (1971), in
which the camera
focuses on the
non-speaker in
order for the
viewer to gauge
his reaction to
off-screen
dialogue. In fact
this technique, in
which the speaker
is obscured, and
the mise en scene
is fouled by
obstructions,
hands, weapons,
serving-vessels,
and flowers, and
we struggle to
attach the
random names
we hear to
particular
characters, has an
alienating effect
which evokes
Brecht, except
that German’s
avowed intent is
to immerse the
viewer in the
hyperrealism of
the world of
Arkaner, not to
emphasise the
theatrical
unreality of the
staging. Bizarrely,
I was reminded at
times of John
Boorman’s
attempt at a late
British nouvelle
vague, in his film
Leo The Last
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(1970).
German’s filming
of Hard To Be A
God took six
years, from 2000
to 2006, the
lengthy editing
and postproduction
outlasted the
director, and the
film was
completed by his
widow Carmelita,
and their son
Aleksei German
Jr, a noted
director in his
own right. The
extras package
includes an
interview with
German Jr about
his father’s work,
and Hard To Be
A God in
particular.
Michael Brooke
reviews German’s
career in The
Unknown Genius
as part of the
extras package on
the blu-ray.
In The History Of
The Arkaner
Massacre, again
among the extras,
Daniel Bird
provides an
explanation of the
film which, it has
to be said, owes
more to a
familiarity with
the source
material than
anything which
could be derived
from a viewing of
the film itself.
Bird also provides
an introduction
to science fiction
for SF virgins, in
which he
distinguishes
between ‘hard’,
physics-based
science fiction, a
term he doesn’t
actually use, and
sociological or
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psychological
‘soft’ science
fiction. Bizarrely,
he cites Carl
Sagan as an
exemplar of a
hard science
fiction writer.
Bird sees
German’s film as
fulfilling
Bakhtin’s notion
of ‘carnival’
whereby the
established order
is overturned; in
fact I think Bird
misinterprets
Bakhtin in
relation to Hard
To Be A God,
there is little in
the way of satire
or anarchy,
although there is
a Rabelaisian
emphasis on
scatology. The
irony within the
Strugatskys novel
is that the avatars
of the
communistic
state of the Noon
Universe must
become members
of a bourgeois
hierarchy to
function in the
primitive worlds
they investigate.
Driven to
distraction by the
cruelty he
witnesses Don
Rumata
eventually
interferes in the
world of Arkaner.
He quotes Boris
Pasternak’s poem
Hamlet, and
Hamlet is clearly
a reference point.
The Prince of
Denmark,
informed by the
ghost of his dead
father that his
uncle is guilty of
his murder, is set
on a process of
revenge, but he
hesitates. The
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hesitation in
Shakespeare’s
Hamlet provides
the drama. In
Hard To Be A
God, Don Rumata
hesitates,
hamstrung by the
non-interference
policy of his
Earth culture.
Unfortunately
there is little or
no drama, the
only signifier of
tension is in the
verbalisation of
the dilemma; the
quandary of nonintervention
in
the face of
atrocity and
injustice has been
better portrayed
in episodes of
Star Trek dealing
with the
Federation’s
Prime Directive.
In Hard To Be A
God, a force
known as the
Greys commit
atrocities until
they are replaced
by an invading
force known as
the Blacks, who
are equally cruel.
Rumata explains
that any
intervention he
makes will, by
removing one
generation of
tyrants, simply
clear the way for
another set of
despots.
Ultimately,
Rumata does act,
although we are
denied witnessing
the massacre of
Arkaner we see
its aftermath.
Overlong and
ultimately
pretentious; I’m
reluctant to fall
into a trap of
hating what I
don’t understand;
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my late Mother,
confronted by
something on
television that
disturbed her,
would respond by
condemning
these ‘so-called
intellectuals’. I’m
not averse to
witnessing the
messy underbelly
of life, and I’m all
for challenges to
traditional
narrative, but this
film left me cold.
An earlier version
from 1989 is
described as a
poor man’s Dune,
although the
screenplay was by
the great JeanClaude
Carriere;
I’d quite like to
see it. Although I
bridled having to
sit through the
extras, I found
them informative,
and German’s
1998 film
Khrustalyov, My
Car! sounds like
something I’d like
to see; so not a
complete waste of
time.

As Masayuki
Suzuki’s
comedic/
fantastical
adventure Nin
Nin (aka: Nin x
Nin: Ninja
Hattori-kun,
2004) reminded
us, contemporary
heroic-assassin
movies are,
basically,
superhero
cinema – just
imperfectly
adjusted to the
current phases of
Marvel and DC
franchises,
perhaps until the
Iron Fist and/ or
Shang-Chi
movies emerge
somewhere/
whenever from a
comics
continuum.
Featuring Sho
Kosugi, The
Ninja trilogy
begins with
Menahem
Golan’s Enter
The Ninja
(1981). This once
popular VHS
rental stars
Franco Nero and
Susan George,
and the movie
appears to be
inspired partly by
Enter The
Dragon (1973),
and TV series
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Kung Fu (1972-
5).
Veteran gaijin
Cole (Franco
Nero) graduates
from Japanese
combat school,
and leaves to visit
his old friend
Landers, who has
settled down in
the Philippines.
His stranger-intown
presence
evokes western
formulas with
martial arts a
novelty
ingredient.

Technical analysis studies the action of price and it studies the balance between the sellers and the buyers in the market. All this information on Bitcoin Code is represented in a single technical chart. Technical analysis charts are made available by most of the brokerage firms and thus you get access to these charts easily.

The
flashbacks, to our
heroes’ past as
soldiering
buddies in
Angola and
Congo, are a
clear precedent
of Rambo heroics
in First Blood
(1982). A typical
high-campy
antagonist is
capitalist villain
and Manila
mogul, Venarius
(Christopher
George), the local
kingpin of sleazy
decadence whose
parades of hired
goons don’t
survive very long.
Ultimately, the
real henchman to
watch out for is
Hasegawa (Sho
Kosugi), Cole’s
former rival, who
is recruited by
Venarius for door-die
problemsolving
as a
stealthy assassin.
It eventually
becomes the
violent cliché of a
one-man army
versus army of
one. There’s
vengeance of
merciless zen as
whiplash kicks
sound like
sneezes, punches
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are played on a
cardboard drum
kit, and a local
cockfighting
arena is a wellchosen
venue for
the decisive
showdown.
Sam
Firstenberg’s
sequel Revenge
Of The Ninja
(1983) is not too
dissimilar to be a
jarring follow-up.
Despite getting
his head chopped
off in Enter The
Ninja, Kosugi is
back in action
playing an
entirely different
character – ex-pat
Cho, living in the
USA – whose able
sprog Kane is a
little schoolboy
who takes care of
big bullies,
predating the
Karate Kid
series. Cho
imports Japanese
dolls for a new
art gallery, but
remains quite
unaware at first
that his corrupt
business-partner
is smuggling
heroin.
Whenever plot
continuity or
development
misfires, or
lapses into hokey
dialogue, the
director throws
in another dojo
display of martial
artistry.
Familiar crime
story beats of
robbery, car
chase, and street
fighting –
featuring a
Village People
assortment
undermining the
supposed
individuality of
various stunt
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punks in gang
rumbles. Cho’s
relentless pursuit
of thieves is a
minor classic
sequence of lowbudget
1980s
action cinema.
However, some
unintentional
farce results from
the ninja-granny
murder and most
of the death
scenes have a
melodramatic
flourish. A
rooftop tennis
court’s chickenwire
cage-fight is
only the starting
point for the duel
of good against
evil ninjas.
Notable cult flick
Ninja III: The
Domination
(1984) delves
deep into occult
weirdness and
the supernatural
than previous
movies. Lucinda
Dickey plays
Christie, a
telephone
engineer working
on overhead
lines, and her
hobbies include
cheesy stuff like
pastel leotards
and leggings for
gratuitous
aerobics – so her
character is
obviously
composed of
welder Alex
(Jennifer Beals),
from Flashdance,
and Regan
(Linda Blair),
from The
Exorcist.
Christie’s
romance with a
policeman soon
gives way to the
curse of
possession from
a haunted
samurai sword.
There are smoke
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effects and
strobe-lights that
verge on a
psychedelic laser
show as the
archetypal
American nice
girl turns into a
remorseless
psycho-killer.
James Hong is
good fun as the
Chinese magician
trying to help our
distraught
heroine who only
wants to have fun
dancing in her
bedroom despite
the intrusions of
seemingly
demonic forces
attached to ninja
weaponry. The
eye-patched hero
Yamada (Kosugi,
of course) tackles
the spooky ninja
ghost fiend in a
climactic fest of
mystic fu.
Recently,
bloodthirsty
shocker Ninja
Assassin (2009)
updated this
movie’s horrorshow
antics with
Kosugi in the
supporting cast

In the film
Gigi (1958),
directed by
Vincente
Minnelli, and
based upon
Colette’s
novella, the
title character
played by
Leslie Caron
sees through
her grooming
for society and
confronts the
rich flaneur
Gaston played
by Louis
Jourdan.
“They’ve
pounded into
my head I’m
backward for
my age… but I
know what all
this means. To
‘take care of
me beautifully’
means I shall
go away with
you… and that
I shall sleep in
your bed.” Gigi
is a young girl
pimped out by
her
grandmothers
to Gaston,
although the
film tried to
sidestep the
issue. All ends
happily of
course in the
inevitable
acceptable
marriage,
although much
that was
thought
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charming and
delicately
risqué in a
1958 musical
leaves a bad
taste now, not
least of which
is Maurice
Chevalier’s
signature song
Thank
Heavens For
Little Girls.
Confused and
ultimately
decent as
Gaston, Louis
Jourdan seems
an unlikely
villain,
although he
would become
one as Anton
Arcane in the
Swamp Thing
movies, and as
Kamal Khan in
Octopussy.
Before those
career peaks,
however, he
effectively
transformed
the suave
amorist from
his romantic
leads, into the
sensualist
monster
lurking
beneath, to
play Count
Dracula in this
fairly faithful
BBC
adaptation
from the late1970s.
Adaptor
Gerald Savory
was head of
serials at the
BBC in the
mid-1960s,
and earned his
genre stripes
saving William
Hartnell from
being written
out of Doctor
Who in the
Celestial
Toymaker
serial, and
pushing for
the Dalek
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to get an insight on how the security is performing on Ethereum Code. This lets one judge how the price would move in the future. Technical analysis is just a game of probability like all other businesses are. It is just about taking a trade when the maximum odds are in favor of you.

Master Plan to
be an epic 12
episodes.
For Count
Dracula,
Savory made a
few changes to
Bram Stoker’s
original. Mina
Murray and
her best friend
Lucy Westenra
are now the
Westenra
sisters. The
character of
Arthur
Holmwood is
lost; of Lucy
Westenra’s
three suitors,
Dr Seward, the
aristocrat
Holmwood
whose
proposal in the
novel she
accepts, and
the American
Quincey
Morris, only
Seward and
Quincey (now
Quincy
Holmwood)
remain. Lucy
is engaged to
Quincey.
Whether this
move was to
tempt sales of
the production
in the USA is a
possibility;
Quincey dies
of gunshot
wounds in the
book, here he
survives. The
other more
obvious
change, other
than editing
for pace and
concision, is
that Dracula
does not begin
the narrative
as an old man,
only regaining
youth and
vigour as he
sates his foul
appetites in
England; he
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starts as he
means to go
on, urbane and
in his prime.
The
compression
of the book,
for narrative
pace, means
we are spared
much of Van
Helsing’s
pious
glorification of
the character
of Mina.
Women, for
the Professor,
and the three
younger men,
John, Arthur,
and Quincey,
are there to be
worshipped
and protected.
Dracula views
them in a
different light;
they are his
nourishment
but potentially
his equals in a
companionate
marriage
lasting
centuries. It is
unsurprising
that academic
analysis of the
novel has
highlighted the
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mother and
domestic
paragon. Mina
is clearly
talented and
resourceful,
she teaches
herself
shorthand, she
sets out to be
archivist and
recording
angel for the
fellowship of
vampire
hunters,
despite Van
Helsing’s best
efforts to
sideline her,
both for her
protection and
because once
initiated into
the cult of
blood-letting
she is herself
already of the
vampire’s
party.
The
stereotypical
personification
of women as
either
Madonna or
whore is
exemplified in
Dracula;
contamination
as a vampire
brings out all
the repressed
sensuality in
Lucy as she
comes on to
her fiancé. Van
Helsing
repeatedly
refers to Mina
as ‘Miss’ Mina,
despite the
fact of her
marriage to
Jonathan, she
is Mrs Harker
and one
presumes no
longer a virgin,
but it is in the
Professor’s
interests to
maintain a
conceit of
perceived
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purity as a
bulwark
against the
attractions of
the Count.
While this TV
film spares us
much of Van
Helsing’s
fussing and
fawning, little
of the
psychological
power of the
original is lost.
Jonathan
Harker travels
to Eastern
Europe to the
home of Count
Dracula to
fulfil the
latter’s interest
in a property
in England.
Forewarned by
the
unspecified
concern of
fearful locals
Jonathan finds
himself a
prisoner in the
Count’s castle.
The Count
does not eat or
drink, he casts
no reflection
in Jonathan’s
looking glass
and, strangest
of all, he leaves
the castle at
night by
climbing headfirst
down the
castle walls.
Almost
becoming a
victim of the
Count’s
beautiful evil
‘brides’,
Harker
realises it is
his fate to
become their
victim. Having
been coerced
into writing a
letter to his
employer
claiming he is
returning to
England,
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Harker risks
all in an
escape
attempt. He
manages to
climb down
from his
bedroom
window, and
then makes
the
horrendous
discovery of
the Count and
the brides
sated and
lethargic in
their coffins in
the crypt of the
castle. Harker
attempts to kill
the Count with
a blow from a
shovel but,
instead of
decapitating
him, he only
gashes him
across the
forehead
before
continuing to
make his
escape.
Back in
England, filled
with
foreboding by
the lack of
news from
Jonathan,
Mina attempts
to enjoy her
sister Lucy’s
good fortune
in her
engagement.
Enjoying the
sea-air at
Whitby, the
girls are
witness to the
grounding of a
vessel after a
horrific storm.
Shortly
afterwards,
Mina discovers
her sister out
of bed,
apparently
sleep-walking,
where she sees
her in the
embrace of a
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tall dark
figure. Later,
pinning a
shawl around
Lucy, Mina
believes she
has pricked
her sister’s
neck for there
on the white
flesh are two
puncture
marks. Over
the coming
days, Lucy
sickens and
fails in health
causing Dr
Seward to call
in his old
Professor, Van
Helsing who,
after some
research,
proposes an
unusual cure
decorating the
girl’s bedroom
with garlic
flowers.
Unfortunately,
while this
action seems
to offer the girl
some
protection, her
mother’s
intervention
results in
tragedy when
they are
attacked by a
large dog
causing Mrs
Westenra to
die from a
heart attack.
With news
that Jonathan
has returned
following some
form of
nervous
breakdown,
Mina has
travelled to
join him and
she is absent
when Lucy
finally
succumbs to
the
debilitating
illness that has
left her so
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weak. Mina
returns,
married to
Jonathan, and
Van Helsing
confides in Dr
Seward and
also to
Quincey his
suspicions that
Lucy has been
preyed upon
by one of the
Nosferatu, and
that she
herself has
joined the
ranks of the
undead.
With the death
of Lucy, and
Van Helsing,
Seward and
Quincey’s
intervention to
save the dead
girl’s soul,
Dracula turns
his attention
to Mina,
consummating
their blood
pact while
Jonathan lies
in a hypnotic
sleep beside
them. Van
Helsing
proposes that
they must
destroy the
vampire to
save Mina,
isolating the
coffins he
brought with
him to
England and
sterilising
them with
sacramental
wafers, and
leaving the
Count with no
refuge in the
hours of
daylight.
Having done
so, the four
men and Mina
pursue
Dracula to his
homeland to
attempt to
destroy him
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forever.
A fairly
faithful
adaptation,
then, with
some 1970s
camera
trickery and
effects, the
screen goes to
negative,
blood-red
filters are used
to emphasise
Dracula’s
bloodlust. One
of the most
effective
scenes is
where Van
Helsing
confronts
Dracula with a
crucifix, the
shape of the
cross glowing
on the
vampire’s face.
The rubbery
bats flapping
against the
girls’ bedroom
windows are
pretty ropy but
you can’t have
everything.
The cast is
excellent, the
thoroughly
upright and
dependable
fraternity of
Seward,
Jonathan, and
Quincey are
somewhat
forgettable but
then the
characters
themselves are
merely ciphers
of decency.
Bosco Hogan
is Jonathan,
his first film
role was
George in
John
Boorman’s
terrific
Zardoz. Mark
Burns who
plays Dr
Seward had
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quite an
eclectic TV and
film career
before his
death, making
a final
appearance in
Matthew
Vaughn’s
Stardust.
Susan
Penhaligon
had made her
name the
previous year
playing the
doomed spoilt
daughter of
Frank Finlay,
in ITV’s
controversial
A Bouquet Of
Barbed Wire;
she already
had some
genre
experience
playing
alongside
droll-faced
American
actor Doug
McClure in the
Amicus
production
The Land That
Time Forgot.
The luminous
Judi Bowker
made her
name in kids’
TV playing
opposite a
horse in the
Sunday
afternoon telly
version of
Black Beauty,
but perhaps
she is most
famous for
being rescued
from the
Kraken by
Harry Hamlin
in Clash Of
The Titans
(1981).
Finlay himself
is excellent,
down-playing
Van Helsing’s
foreign
fussiness, and
Louis Jourdan
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is
commanding
as Dracula.
Perhaps the
outstanding
piece of acting
is from Jack
Shepherd as,
the lunatic
would-bedisciple
of
Dracula,
Renfield.
Believing that,
by consuming
the lives of
other
creatures he
can extend his
own life,
Renfield has
started small;
“Flies, spiders,
birds!” When
he is offered
Mina by
Dracula,
Renfield
resists and is
murdered by
the Count. A
tour-de-force
of sulks and
sudden mood
changes
Shepherd
makes
Renfield both
hideous and
pitiful.
Dramatic, and
quite
effectively
scary at times,
and gory in
parts, this
production
still makes
entertaining
viewing some
35 years after
its first
appearance

“Great
scientific
advances are
oftentimes
sudden
accomplished
facts before
most of us are
even dimly
aware of them.
Breathtakingly
unexpected,
for example,
was the
searing flash
that
announced the
atomic age.
Equally
unexpected
was the next
gigantic stride
when Man
moved out of
his very orbit
to a point more
than 20 million
miles to
Earth…” (voiceover
introduction)
Movies are the
art of the
impossible. Since
the very first
faltering
experiments at
projecting images
made of light and
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01
2015 2016 2017
3 captures
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shadow, it has
been a medium
of miracle. If the
photo doesn’t lie,
then the cinecamera
has
always
specialised in
fooling the eye.
Twenty-first
century
blockbusters take
spectacle to
places it’s never
been before. We
take its sense of
wonder for
granted. But long
before CGI there
were visual feasts
to tease your
credulity. Here, a
monster
dinosaur-lizard
from Venus
grapples with an
elephant from
the Rome zoo.
Which is real,
and which
animation? The
alien reptile – the
‘Ymir’, must
obviously be
special effects,
but the
elephant..?
Where does stopframe
end and
reality take over?
It momentarily
fools even the
experienced eye.
And this is 1957.
But first, there’s a
dramatic
narration over
galactic spirals
and star-clusters,
as the title-words
hurl in from left
and right. Before
the film opens
onto the
picturesque
fishing village of
Commune di
Gerra in
southern Sicily,
where local
women in
headscarves
wash their
laundry in the
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river like 1950s’
third-world and
folksy Neapolitan
strings pluck and
swirl. Swarthy
fishermen with
comic accents
pause as an earsplitting
sound
precedes a
planetary rocketship
nose-diving
into the sea. As
other ships flee,
challenged with
“what are we,
children or men
of the sea?” two
men, and a boy in
a small boat,
cautiously
investigate the
ship projecting
from the
bubbling sea.
They climb in
through a hullbreach
to the
steaming
interior. Two
men in U.S. Air
Force helmets,
strapped into
their seats, are
retrieved before
the ‘ship of the
air’ submerges.
Meanwhile, in
the far-off
Pentagon, Major
General
McIntosh
(Thomas Browne
Henry) has a
moving orrery of
spinning worlds
to demonstrate
what’s going on.
His concern is
the XY21, a
single-stage
astro-propelled
ship, initially
with a 17-man
complement,
which was hit by
meteorites on its
return journey
from the planet
Venus. That ship
is now “20,000
leagues under the
sea,” right down
there with the
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fish. So McIntosh
prepares to go to
Sicily by U.S.
flying boat.
On the beach the
boy, Pepe –
convincingly
played by
American Bart
Braverman,
discovers a U.S.
capsule, and
hides it in the
rocks. When he
screws it open, it
reveals a jellylike
slug. He tries
to sell ‘the animal
specimen’ for
200 pre-Euro
Lira to marine
zoologist Dr
Leonardo (Frank
Puglia) who
happens to be
camping in a
caravan ‘houseon-the-wheels’
with his medical
student
granddaughter
Marisa (Joan
Taylor). He
makes the trade
despite calling
Pepe a ‘Sicilian
bandit’, and the
boy uses the
proceeds to buy a
bang-bang
cowboy outfit
from “the great
country of
Texas.” While
Marisa – ‘almost
a doctor’, helps
nurse the two
surviving
astronauts.
Although blond
uniformed pilot
Bob Calder
(William
Hopper)
recovers, his
companion Dr
Sharman (Arthur
Space) soon dies
from warty facial
growths.
Arriving in Italy,
McIntosh is
taken to meet
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Calder, as police
divers prepare to
descend and
search the wreck.
There’s some
amusing
confusion with
the local
authorities about
where the
submerged ship
had returned
from – “Venus –
not Venice!” But
by now events
are well under
way. In the
zoological
caravan, a
twitching claw
emerges from the
jelly-sample, and
a tiny lizard
hatches, hiding
its eyes from the
light. Placed
overnight in a
specimen cage it
rapidly grows to
three times its
original size.
Their work done,
the pair hitch the
caravan – “the
house that
follows like a
goat,” and head
back for Rome
via Messina.
En route,
inevitably, the
creature
wrenches the
cage-bars apart
and escapes,
scares the horses
and stampedes
the sheep,
although a dog
distracts its
attention from a
cutesy-cute lamb!
Alerted by Pepe,
Calder and
McIntosh speed
to the scene in
time for a
dramatic
showdown.
There’s another
encounter with a
dog when the
now man-sized
beast is
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discovered hiding
out in a barn.
Despite being
warned that it’s
“not ferocious
unless provoked”
the farmer does
some unwise
pitchfork
provocation, and
is severely
injured as a
result. Calder
jousts with the
beast, using a
pole in some
impressive liveaction
and
animation
interaction. But it
escapes into the
Italian
countryside,
taking time out to
bask at a scenic
waterfall close by
some volcanic
lava-beds.
William Hopper –
who had already
featured in the
1955 sci-fi movie
Conquest Of
Space, as well as
playing Natalie
Wood’s father in
James Dean’s
classic Rebel
Without A Cause
(1955), is now
Calder, using a
huge brick-like
walkie-talkie
radio to
coordinate
operations. The
creature eats
sulphur, so they
lure it out with
sacks of its
mineral of
choice. In uneasy
alliance with
suspicious Italian
authorities, he
uses two Marine
helicopters with
an electrified net
to capture the
fugitive beast. As
it’s carried off to
the Rome
‘Giardino
Zoologico’,
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strapped down
and controlled by
a continual
voltage charge,
Calder shoves his
cap back on his
head and slots a
cigarette into his
mouth in a jobwell-done
gesture.
Then he gets on
with his
bantering
flirtation with
Marisa,
reconciled with
the promise of a
tryst for two in a
dark café with
candles on the
table. Joan
Taylor –
American, but
with dark
Italianate
features
inherited from
her conveniently
Sicilian descent,
was familiar to
audiences
through
appearances in
TV westerns
Wagon Train
and Gunsmoke,
but could also be
seen in Ray
Harryhausen’s
box-office hit
Earth vs. The
Flying Saucers
(1956).
She’s now
working in the
Zoo labs,
“cooking over a
hot creature all
day.” She decides
the Venusian
beast is “a
mutation, but of
what species?” It
has no heart, no
lungs, and
gunfire has no
effect on it.
However, Earth’s
atmosphere has
accelerated its
growth to ‘King
Kong’
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proportions. And
like Kong, it’s an
unfortunate
victim of human
exploitation.
Retrieved as a
sample of
Venusian fauna,
it’s an unwilling
exile on Earth.
Until, taking
advantage of a
falling arc-light
accident that
interrupts the
anaesthetising
electrical supply,
it wakes, and
bursts free
through the wall
into the adjoining
elephant
compound.
Here,
Harryhausen
himself can
briefly be
glimpsed feeding
the elephants.
And this is where
his beautifully
choreographed
elephant versus
monster battle
occurs. With the
fight spilling over
into the Roman
streets, “loose
and on the
rampage”
causing
predictable
shrieks and
panic, and Calder
hot on its trail.
Both creaturecombatants,
of
course, are stopmotion
animated
and split-screen
integrated into
action-sequences
that define 1950s
state-of-the-art
visual effects.
In the next
century, as a
knowing tribute,
in 2002’s
Monsters, Inc the
CGI beasties
frequent a
Monstropolis
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sushi bar called
‘Harryhausens’.
Because Ray
himself – born 29
June 1920, is
both a
continuity-link,
and an
accelerator in the
evolution of the
movie special
effects that made
it all possible. As
a member of the
‘Los Angeles
Science Fiction
League’ Forrest J
Ackerman
introduced Ray
Harryhausen to
Ray Bradbury,
the three
‘tweenagers’
becoming firm
fan-friends.
According to
Ackerman,
Harryhausen was
inspired, and
encouraged by
Willis O’Brien’s
innovative work
on King Kong
(1933). After
“seeing ‘Kong’
upwards of 80
times in the
intervening
interval, and
always
experimenting to
find improved
methods of
creating and
animating
monsters,” he
advanced the
cinematic art,
devising what he
termed his own
‘Dynamation’
techniques.
He got to work as
O’Brien’s
assistant on
Mighty Joe
Young (1949),
performing much
of the actual
frame-by-frame
animation, but
emphatically
came into his
own with the
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spectacular
creature-feature
The Beast From
20,000 Fathoms
(1953), based on
a story by his
friend, Ray
Bradbury. Caught
up in Cold War
paranoia, a
hibernating
dinosaur is
revived and
unleashed on
New York by an
experimental
nuclear testing
programme. It
was followed by
the even more
impressive It
Came From
Beneath The Sea
(1955), this time
set on America’s
west-coast, with
a giant octopus
attacking San
Francisco.
By now,
Harryhausen had
the ability to
transform his
films into a
medium of
spectacle,
exerting a degree
of technical
control that
enabled unique
integrations of
live-action with
miniaturised
elements. His
increasingly
bankable
reputation also
meant he was
able to take
advantage of new
opportunities. So
that, despite
producer-credit
going to his longtime
collaborator
Charles H.
Schneer, 20
Million Miles
To Earth is very
much his own
project, selecting
Italian shooting
locations because
they offer the
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chance of travel
to exotic corners
of Europe.
The gift of
O’Brien’s ability
with ‘Kong’…
carried over into
Pixar’s Monsters,
is to establish
emotional
characterisation
in their creations.
And the Ymir is a
fully-realised
cast-member in
its own right,
walking upright T
Rex-style on its
hind legs while
constantly
flicking its
reptilian tail to
convey an
expressive range
from curiosity to
frustration. Its
upper jaw-line
even resembles a
kind of
moustache!
Subsequently
colourised – with
Harryhausen’s
active
participation, the
film still works
best in its
original
atmospherically
crisp black-andwhite
print.
To critics David
Miller and Mark
Gatiss, it
“remains a
fantastic sci-fi
fairy tale and
Harryhausen
deserves more
than a fortnight
in Sicily for his
pains” (They
Came From
Outer Space!,
Visual
Imagination,
1996). Among his
subsequent
movie-magic was
visualising the
mythic
masterwork
Jason And The
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Argonauts
(1963), including
perhaps his most
memorably
admired
sequence, the
sword-wielding
seven-skeleton
army; setting
standards that
would, in turn,
inspire later
generations of
fantastic filmmakers.
Meanwhile, with
an eye to the
tourist dollar,
and with the
Empire State
Building not
available, the
monster first
emerges from the
Tiber, smashing
the iconic Ponte
Sant’ Angelo
bridge to rubble
fragments, then
detours to
Rome’s most
famous location,
the Colosseum,
wrecking Roman
columns with
scant
consideration for
their historic
value. In
Ackerman’s
phrase “ruining
what wasn’t
already ruined in
Rome” (in
Nebula #23,
August 1957).
And Calder is
there. Cameras
take panoramic
pans around the
vast ruined
interior of the
empty arena.
Where is the
monster? Calder
bazooka’s it as it
climbs to the
highest point of
the outer walls
where it hurls
stone blocks
down at the
assembling
marines. It
5/12/2018 20 Million Miles To Earth – DVD review for VideoVista monthly web-zine at videovista.net
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stumbles, but
hangs on, until
tank-fire brings
the wall down.
And it plummets
to its death.
As curious people
gather around its
mighty corpse,
and Marisa falls
into Calder’s
embrace, the
Professor
laments “why is it
always, always so
costly for man to
move from the
present to the
future..?” The
film itself
constitutes a step
forward towards
new movie
futures