Wednesday, November 25, 2015

I saw Victor Frankenstein...


As Valerie Martin's "Mary Reilly" allowed us to see Jekyll's strange going-ons through his maid's eyes, Paul McGuigan's "Victor Frankenstein" presents the mad genius' tale through his spry assistant's.


In this version of Mary Shelley's chilling story, Daniel "Harry Potter" Radcliffe portrays the aliased Igor Strausman, a deformed circus clown and amateur doctor, whom Frankenstein physically fixes and then employs. Igor isn't by any means Lugosi's legendary Ygor from "Son/Ghost of Frankenstein", nor is he a variation of Dwight Frye's Fritz from James Whales original, though he occasionally insinuates the two. If anything, he's an impression of Michael Gwynn's unfortunate, physically transformed character in Terence Fisher's "Revenge of Frankenstein", though without the cannibalistic cravings. 


James McAvoy plays the scientific necromancer. His Frankenstein isn't quite as conscientious as Colin Clive's, but neither as incorrigible as Peter Cushing's Baron. Perhaps he's most like Kenneth Branagh's Victor, but why try to pigeonhole the chap. McAvoy makes his Frankenstein his own, though with a hyper Xavier strand which will likely please "X-Men" fans.


Frankenstein wishes to bestow eternal life upon the world, or at least as close to such as he can muster. Max Landis' screenplay bolsters that intent. As in previous incarnations, Frankenstein indulges in experimentation, with Igor's help, of course, and his assistant's reaction to the waking of dead flesh sways between glee and panic: the latter represented by a modified chimp's resurrection. Still, Igor remains faithful to his benefactor as they take the fugitive route, their relationship cheerful and sometimes comedic, at least until Frankenstein decides to build a man.


Guillaume Delaunay and Spencer Wilding occupy that essential spot, though the primary Monster (aka, Prometheus) remains more a phantom than an actual entity throughout much of the plot. Still, once he's revealed, he's a staggering sight to behold: patched, bolted and hulking (and at this point, not included in publicity stills). Too bad he doesn't enter the story sooner; for an extrapolation of his character would have proven quite fascinating. Even so, the giant's significance can't be denied and represents Frankenstein's guilt for the loss of his brother, Henry, though the creature's construction has equal, if not greater, impact on the bewildered Igor, whose conscience eventually gets the best of him. 

Other folks are also impacted (whether directly or indirectly) by Frankenstein's zeal, such as trapeze queen Lorelei (this version's would-be Elizabeth, though more to Igor than Victor; and played with refined grace by Jessica Brown Findley). There's also the righteous Scotland Yard inspector, Roderick Turpin (played with pious conviction by "Spectre'"s Andrew Scott) and a conniving college chum called Finnegan (played by the flamboyant Freddie Fox). Frankenstein's father (the sophisticated Charles Dance) enters briefly to accentuate his son's overcompensating drive.



It's Igor, however, who selflessly throws himself into the monstrous eye of the storm to save his master, but how can he prevent Frankenstein from completing the inevitable? Ah, in that lies the story's rub; and how Igor tackles such is this version's distinction. 

Beyond that, McGuigan/Landis' retelling remains old fashioned (i.e., relegated to the British Industrial Age), with steampunk machinery, flaring electricity, and that famous "It's alive" utterance. These familiar furnishings were obviously added as a safety net in case the film veered too off course, but fear not: "Victor Frankenstein" is nowhere near as extrapolated as the superheroic "I, Frankenstein", let alone that ol' groovy, cult favorite "Frankenstein Meets the Space Monster". Its roots remain primarily planted in Universal and Hammer stylizations. 


This may not be enough to appease all aficionados, but if you love Shelley's tale, if you fancy it no matter how many times it's been retold, regardless of the many twists filmmakers have forced upon it, you'll eagerly leap into this one and because of its content, likely enjoy it.   

"Victor Frankenstein", as with prior takes, warns us to keep our ambitions in check, to take responsibility for them when they go astray. In this instance, it's Igor who learns the brunt of that harsh lesson, but then as the filmmakers intended, his eyes are our eyes, once more experiencing a fable that, like our essential moral compass, will always require revisited contemplation.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

HAPPY THANKSGIVING 2015!!! (Remembering the WOR Giant Ape Marathons)


I recall those glorious days of yore (from the '70s through the '80s) when WOR-TV (Channel 9 of Secaucus, NJ) would show a King Kong/Giant Ape marathon on Thanksgiving Day, followed by a Toho festival on Friday.


The first day would consist of "King Kong '33", "Son of Kong" and "Mighty Joe Young '49"; the second day generally featured "King Kong vs Godzilla", "King Kong Escapes", and "Godzilla vs the Sea Monster" (the latter originally planned to feature Kong in the lead, as one might know), or other various Toho favorites. 


In the final phases of these wonderful marathons, "King Kong '76" made an entrance, and then the festivals catered to "The Adventures of Superman" with George Reeves, as hosted by Jack "Jimmy Olsen" Larsen, giving us at least two years of a different variation of imaginative fun.

Alas, WOR said adios to such beloved, holiday traditions by the late '80s, scheduling "talk show" shenanigans in their place, where petulant folks "conversed" in the name of entertainment. (WOR wasn't entirely to blame, I suppose, having lost the rights to the O'Brien ape movies along the way, and I'm assuming the same situation thwarted the Toho and Superman salutes.)


Nonetheless, while those magical marathons lasted, I was most appreciative and savor all the terrific memories they sprung. With that in mind, I hope your memories are as sweet as mine this holiday. To one and all...Happy Thanksgiving!!!

Sunday, November 22, 2015

FAREWELL, REX REASON...


Farewell, Rex Reason. You were one helluva leading man; and more than made your mark on the imagi-movie scene. Say hello to your brother, Rhodes, for me. God bless you both. 

Saturday, November 21, 2015

GOODBYE, GERMAN ROBLES...


Goodbye, German Robles. You brought utter class to utter villainy: an act that many have sought, but few have ever achieved. 

Friday, November 20, 2015

BEDTIME FOR ROBOTS...MUSIC FROM AN UNDISCLOSED LOCATION


I've no doubt that among those of discerning, musical tastes, a bond of some sort must exist with Bedtime for Robots.  If not, one certainly should. 

Bedtime is the brain child of Love in Reverse front man, Michael Ferentino, and like the legendary rock band that rose into the '90s, this creation is unique, diverse and impossible to shake--not that anyone who's had a Bedtime sampling would ever discard its hypnotic draw. Once you listen, you're enslaved, but in the best possible way, for the mechanical sweeps will entrap, unhinge and coddle you, all at the same time. 


Perhaps the best way to comprehend Bedtime's music is to recall the atmospheric pinnacle of Tangerine Dream combined with John Carpenter's synthesized scores, though seasoned with the shameless smatterings of guitar-licked "industrial noise". Such may, therefore, imply that Ferentino's music is disturbing, which at times it is, but his compositions are also eccentrically whimsical in their diversity, triggering moments of both dark and light, of hope and despair, of life and death...that is, the essence of the of the human (and inhuman) condition. 


"Music from an Undisclosed Location" is Ferentino's latest Bedtime treat. As with Bedtime's "Creepyland", the dark, autumnal side predominates here. That's only because "Undisclosed" wholly embraces the horror genre for its inspiration. Its expansive, prickling chords and sulky dispositions substantiate this deduction.

Such components are most evident in "Motorcycle Death Song: Tampa Chain Saw Mix" (recorded with Craig Manga as a shared effort with Mangabros). The track invokes images of careening wheels and the frantic panic of an early Tobe Hooper film. (Check out the video on YouTube, if you dare.) "Motorcycle" is, therefore, an audio version of an image that's too damn morbid to shun; and that a listener will be inclined to re-experience it only proves the Nietzsche claim: "That which does not kill us, makes us stronger." Ah, what a devilish inspiration, Mr. Ferentino!


The haunting "Oct5", however, might be my favorite among the macabre selections. It sets a disquieting intro that might accompany an obstacle-ridden, Snake Plissken mission. However, as the composition progresses, a clanging, underlying rift numbs the pace and then an ethereal quality ensues, becoming much like a "Doctor Who" anthem (and I'm thinking something akin to "Brain of Morbius", mind you). In any event, "Oct5" is an astonishing concoction, which probably wouldn't click in less talented hands, but Ferentino has the required spark of mad genius to make it work. 

The album's other tracks utilize similar esoteric variances, which spring like unveiled secrets from some Faustian pact, and no better track to epitomize such than the one called "Faust": ever-so-eerie and in the most morose of Murnau modes. 


Sometimes the tracks invoke the shadowed dangers of Mario Bava and Ridley Scott, as in the unnerving title track or with the numbing "Spine"; "Prong" and the extraordinarily escalating "Field of Fireflies", which also plays like a forlorn, jazzy Christmas song of sorts. At other times, they're more in tune with the Euro salaciousness of Jess Franco, as with the sensual "Before"; the hip "Pumpkinfist"; and the exotic "Turn Down the Sky". In other instances, they convey the visceral viciousness of Dario Argento, as evidenced by the foreboding "Missing Face"and the slashing strum of "El Diablo Guitarra"(an indisputable, cruising epic if ever there was one, my friends). 

In each inebriating instance, the fizzing ingredients will both pacify and terrify, prompting all the necessary highs and lows of mortal--or dare I say, robotic?--experience.


Of course, the above assessments constitute only my particular vantage. As with any form of quality music, it's up to the listener to elicit his/her own reactions and consequences from the content. This album will, therefore, make a unique imprint on any open mind, and therefore, it's easy to make "Undisclosed" your personal soundtrack. 

"Undisclosed" is presently available through WEATNU Records and Bandcamp, but will soon expand to other bases, like Amazon.com. I implore you to consider its purchase. By listening, you're certain to explore the range of your inner depths, face your fears, conjure your courage and in the end, be a far better entity for it.

Netflix Introduces Jessica Jones...


Gotta be honest; I'm not terribly familiar with Marvel's Jessica Jones, but that Netflix has branched out again with another comic-based series is just fine by me.

The alluring Krysten "Breaking Bad" Ritter plays Jones, a young woman with super powers, who's tossed flamboyant heroics to the side (at least for the most part) to play private eye. 


What makes "Marvel's Jessica Jones" all the more enticing is that tough guy Luke "Power Man" Cage (Mike Colter) is Jessica's spouse--well, at least in comic lore--and his presence, even as only a potential love interest, at least guarantees some serious two-fisted action. (Hope I'm not wrong.) 


Will definitely check this one out and offer my two-cents worth (and probably then some) accordingly...

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

I saw the Green Girl...


Director/producer George Pappy's "The Green Girl" (scripted by Pappy and Amy Glickman Brown) chronicles the life of an actress many of us have known for decades through television and movies: Susan Oliver. However, as Pappy's film confesses, Oliver never reached big-name recognition in her lifetime and yet twenty-five years after her death, her legacy continues to expand.


To Trekkies, she's embraced as Vina in "The Cage/Menagerie": a woeful, young woman who, but for a moment, is transformed by the Talosians into a green-skinned Orion slave girl for Jeffrey Hunter's uncooperative Captain Pike. To "Twilight Zone" fans, she's remembered as the pretty Martian who hosts a nervous Roddy McDowall in Rod Serling's famous fable, "People Are Alike All Over".


She can be found as well in"The Alfred Hitchock Hour"; "Boris Karloff's Thriller"; "Circle of Fear"; "The Magician"; "Freddy's Nightmares"; "The Invaders"; "Tarzan"; "The Man from U.N.C.L.E"; "I Spy"; and "The Wild Wild West". Oh, and speaking of cowpoke escapades, she's featured in "Alias Smith and Jones"; "The Big Valley"; "Bonanza"; "The Deputy"; "Gunsmoke"; "Laramie"; "Rawhide"; "The Virginian"; "Wagon Train"; and "Wanted: Dead or Alive". 

The intent of my post isn't to rattle off titles, but rather to drive home Pappy's point: for decades, Susan Oliver (born Charlotte Gerke) covered numerous acting bases. Because of that, we all came to know her, even if we weren't always inclined to acknowledge her name or the extent of her skills.


Contrary to what some may believe, she actually co-starred in a number of high-profile, feature-length films: "Butterfield 8" with Liz Taylor; "Change of Mind" with Raymond St. Jacques; "The Gene Krupa Story" with Sal Mineo; "Guns of Diablo" with Charles Bronson; "Looking for Love" with Connie Francis; "The Love-Ins" with James MacArthur; "Your Cheatin' Heart" with George Hamilton; plus "Disorderly Orderly" and "Hardly Working" with Jerry Lewis. She nonetheless grew discontent when further opportunities, including headlining roles, grew elusive. 


This was possibly a long-term effect of her having broken a Warner Brothers contract. Others speculate that her mother, famed astrologist Ruth Gerke, may have restricted her choices; still others speculate that chauvinism and bigotry led to such (a likely cause with the espionage screenplay she co-authored with faithful friend, Ron Wright Scherr). Whatever the case, Oliver sought fulfillment in spite of her continuing disappointments, but no occupation or pastime seemed to satisfy her as much as flying.

To pilot a plane, even of a small variation, would have seemed a ludicrous prospect to Oliver at one point, considering the harrowing experience she and Gene Kelly endured on a jet years prior, but after a hypnosis session, her courage eclipsed fear. She became eager, almost to a fault, in her passion, even having alienated her aviator-ace, gentleman friend, Mira Slovac, when she refused to postpone a solo trip to Moscow when turbulent weather loomed. She forged ahead anyway, and though the Soviets prevented her from landing, her intrepid venture hit the news. Alas, the publicity wasn’t enough to position her further in the limelight, though she at least seized some sense of fulfillment from the impetuous sojourn.


That Oliver had proven herself against the odds in this instance was commendable, though her sadness and quest for higher recognition prevailed, perhaps some might argue unnecessarily. She had firmly established herself as one of Hollywood’s most prolific actresses on the small screen, and her ability to emote higher-ground characterization hit exalted heights on the "The Andy Griffith Show"(as a bewitching manipulator of Taylor and Fife); "Peyton Place" (a fan-loved, five-month stint, no less); "Route 66" (on several significant occasions); and the acclaimed “Fugitive” entry, “Never Wave Goodbye”, allegedly expanded to two parts due to the chemistry she shared with David Janssen. 

Friends and fellow performers (including Gary Conway; David Hedison; John Gilmore; Rosey Grier; Biff Maynard; Lee Meriwether; Monty Markham; Peter Mark Richman; Charles Siebert; Roy Thinnes; and Celeste Yarnall) attest to Oliver's talent and frustrations throughout "Green Girl". Yes, they acknowledge she should have become a veritable, marquee name, that studios should have supported her wish to become a mainstream director (and she surely possessed the potential as proven by her successful "M*A*S*H" episode and the experimental piece, "Cowboysan"), but at the same time, her presence on stage and screen could never be dismissed, even when relegated to the rudimentary level. 


Indeed, Oliver is the "green girl" to many, but Pappy's essay wouldn't have materialized if she was relegated to that sole designation. That people remember her face, her voice, her distinct style is a testament to her legacy. While other performers may have slid into the leads of multi-million-dollar productions, most aren't as cherished or sought out by fans. Like Nancy Kovack and Arlene Martel (fellow "Trek" guest stars), she continues to pique people's curiosity, to be seen, talked about and of course, is now the subject of a distinguished documentary. How many "big names" can boast of that?

Despite her frustrations and insatiable need to prove herself, Pappy's film convinced me that Oliver has achieved the immortality she desired, and I fancy she's now smiling down from some celestial perch, content that at long last, she's become the revered stuff of legend. 

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Man in the High Castle: Amazon Spins Reality in Series Adaptation


Based on Phillip K. Dick’s award-winning, alternate-reality novel, Amazon’s new series, “The Man in the High Castle” presents the unsettling prospect of the Axis forces having won World War II, with a down-the-line focus, circa 1962. 

The result of the Axis victory (finalized by an A-bomb on D.C.) has created a shared U.S., with Germany controlling the east and Japan the west. A Resistance opposes both forces, but there also exists an underlying friction between Germany and Japan: a prospect that the former may attack the latter upon Hitler’s demise.


Produced by Frank Spotiniz and Ridley Scott; directed by Spotiniz and written by David Semel, the series' principles are Alexa Davalos as Juliana Crain; Rupert Evans as Frank Frink; and Luke Kleintank as Joe Blake. 

Crain possesses a film strip that her sister obtained prior to her death, and Blake is a truck driver, who expresses Resistance sympathy, but he also harbors a secret. Rounding out the fine cast is Brennan Brown; Arnold Chun; Joel de la Fuente; DJ Qualls; Daniel Roebuck; Carsten Norgaard; Rufus Sewell; and Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa; with other competent performers also on board. 

Crain’s film shows the Allies winning the war. Is the footage a propagandist ruse? Crain’s boyfriend (Evans) believes it is, attributing the work to the enigmatic Man in the High Castle...whomever he may be. 


Amazon premiered the series' first two episodes in late October, but the official stretch starts on November 20, with all episodes available for viewing at such time. 

From the start, the series prompts us to question what would have fallen through the cracks if the opposing forces had won. Imagine a world weighed by prevailing anti-Semitism, that's bypassed Elvis, the Beatles, Godzilla, Jack Kerouac, Martin Luther King; a world where our most basic, taken-for-granted freedoms are outlawed. It’s a chilling concept dosed in espionage, Orwellian set-ups and the profound notion that "Evil triumphs only when good men do nothing."

I’ll report on the show's progress via replies. I must say, for the long haul, this one looks most promising. 

Friday, November 13, 2015

JESSE GUTIERREZ'S BARRIO BLUES #3 HITS THE SCENE!!!

To read a Jesus "Jesse" Gutierrez's Bandido Studios's comic is to become absorbed in not a mere mainstream tale told in panels, but rather a grandiose Mexploitation storyboard intended to unfurl in one's mind. Barrio Blues #3 is one such fine case in point. 


The voluptuous Tina and Q.T. Pie are back, embroiled in buxom, revenge hi-jinks against old-school villainy. Just keep in mind, the Barrio entries aren't for kids, the squeamish or the narrow-minded. This is a grim melodrama: modernized, stylized and serialized. Gutierrez also adds realistic dialogue and identifiable references to his segments, like Cheech and Chong, Godzilla...a handy drive-in theater: all of it seasoning the adventurous panache.

In addition to Gutierrez's curvaceous ladies, I'm particularly fond of a guy named Slyde: a common enough fella on the outside, but with an inherent cool, keen sensibility. Oh, and then there's the adversarial Hector: a real despicable son of gun, if you catch my drift. Hey, a good villain always adds to the fun. 

No one stirs a mix like Gutierrez, and I've seen my fill of innovative comics over the years. Indeed, whether one starts with the latest installment or goes back to the saga's foundation, it's all good, and to those who know pop culture, this one's gonna hit cozily close to home. 


You can touch base with the talented Gutierrez at Facebook via "Jesse Gutierrez" or the "Bandido Studios Comics and Art" page.  

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

I saw the Vesuvius Xperiment...


Joshua Kennedy (see "I saw Dracula AD 2015": Oct '15) has succeeded again, this time with a moody, black-and-white tribute to the science-gone-awry genre in Gooey Film Productions' "The Vesuvius Xperiment". 

Written, directed and produced by Kennedy, "Vesuvius" makes use of plot devices from such Hammer classics as "The Quatermass Xperiment"; "Quatermass 2"; "Curse/Revenge of Frankenstein"; and "Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell". The film also offers generous doses of "The Alligator People"; "First Man Into Space"; the original "Fly" series and the"Outer Limits" classic, "Architects of Fear".


Kennedy stars as Dr. Vesuvius, a cold, calculating genius with traces of Peter Cushing's Baron Frankenstein under his skin. He has resurrected former astronaut/cancer patient Richard Delambre (portrayed by the sympathetic Giancarlo Caccamo, whose character's surname will surely buzz among "Fly" fans). Vesuvius assures Delambre's wife, Nancy (the sensitive Tomi Heady) that her husband's despondence is but a fleeting consequence of an injection, but of course, there's a catch. 

Vesuvius has implanted a crustacean component into the poor man, which gradually transforms him into a human/crab hybrid. Vesuvius' intent isn't spurred solely by sadistic whim, for he believes Earth’s geomorphic shifts require a new breed of human, and Delambre is its prototype. However, Delambre isn't content to wait around Vesuvius' sanitarium for his transformation to hit fruition and escapes into New York City, killing those he crosses. 


Vesuvius reveals his experiment to the police, in hopes that the crab-man will be seized. However, Delambre still grasps enough of his human faculties to evade capture and along his trek, returns to his bewildered wife.

In homage to "Fly '58", Nancy learns the truth of her husband's condition through the typed notes he slips under a door. Their interaction is tense, poignant and perhaps more than any other sequence, symbolizes the tale's tragic core.


Kennedy, a fine actor who swings seamlessly between tongue-in-cheek and stark seriousness, is excellent as the lazy-eyed Vesuvius: a role that Brian Donlevy; J. Caroll Naish; or Vincent Price may have otherwise occupied.

The rest of the primary cast is (as with any Gooey Film Production) top-notch, with Cody Alvord; Allie Anschutz; Jonathan Danzinger; Nick McNeil; Brianna Gentiella; Cormac Hoffman; Bridget Johnson; Michael Rosenfeld; and Carmen Vienhage, each giving convincing performances. Jeremy Kreuzer, who portrays "Dracula '15'"s resident "Renfield", offers comic relief as an East European photographer, and pigeon-pal Traci Thomas is memorable in an unsettling Central Park interlude.


"Vesuvius" rekindles an effective, old-fashioned style that's missing from most current horror flicks. Its interior and exterior shots (a portion of the latter captured during a snow storm) are equally atmospheric. Also, those moments depicting Delambre's approach via a shadowed claw are reminiscent of F.W. Murnau and Orson Welles.

Once again, I must tip my hat to Kennedy and crew for getting it right. They've constructed a well crafted reminder of how science, despite its ambitions to advance humankind, can often devolve it into blood-curdling disaster.


(BTW: "Vesuvius" is available through Alpha New Cinema/oldies.com and includes insightful commentary by Kennedy, plus hilarious bloopers. The disc also contains Ryan Lengyel's stop-motion, battling-monsters short, "The Beast from 20 Zillion Years Ago": a fun segment worth viewing before or after the main feature.)