Playbirds (1978)

Playbirds (1978)

Film: Mary Millington is best known for being the UK’s best know striptease artist, and, along with Fiona Richmond, was labelled ‘the two hottest sex stars of the seventies. Millington started her career as a glamour model and eventually graduated to sex films and reels. In her life she was contacted pursued by the police, which eventually resulted in her committing suicide at age 33.

(The is a review of Respectable: The Mary Millington Story elsewhere on this very site)

This film, Playbirds, tell of a serial killer who is targeting girls from the men’s magazine Playbirds. The police, Holbourne (Glynn Edwards from Get Carter) and Morgan (Gavin Campbell from On The Buses) investigate the murders, interviewing the magazines owner, Dougan (Alan Lake from Blake’s Seven) before deciding they need a ‘man’ on the inside… you know, putting a female officer in danger by posing as a stripper/ glamour model… standard police procedure.

Speaking of ‘standard police procedure’, the way they decided which WPC should be used in the undercover work is to get a bunch of them to volunteer to strip and show their bodies, the ‘winner’ being an officer named Lucy (Millington), new so she goes undercover to infiltrate the business and try to find the killer… but will she a victim herself?

It’s such a weird film as it really does appear to attempt to be telling some kind of giallo-ish thriller! It’s written by George Evans, who worked on Carry On films and several 70s tv series like Bless This House and the Dick Emery Show, and Willy Roe, also the director, who wrote mainly soft core porn films, including Millington’s Come Play With Me. The combination of TV comedy writer and a porno writer don’t make for a gripping story.

It being 70s soft core though, I expect the story isn’t was the viewer was supposed to be ‘gripping’ – nudge nudge wink wink.

The weird thing about this film is the attempts to be a ‘legitimate’ film, with actors like the aforementioned Edwards, Campbell and Lake, also joined by such well known actors as Dudley Sutton, Alex Mango and Windsor Davies!

It’s little more than a quaint and kitschy curio, but it’s an interesting look at the attempts to legitimise soft core porn as ‘proper’ entertainment. I warn you though, it’s not in the slightest but PC, so it’s not for the easily offended… but I guess the easily offended wouldn’t be watching this sort of thing anyway!

Score: **

Extras: Honestly, I was surprised by how many extra they are on this disc:

Mary Millington’s Striptease Extravaganza is a 45 minute featurette from 1981 celebrating Millington’s life via a striptease competition. It reminds me of Varietease and other strip reels. It’s a quaint, and occasionally awkward when you think these women would all be grans now, look at stripping.

Response (1974) is an 8mm ‘short’ of the type that were sold in sex shops in the 70s. Soundless (because it’s a reel) soft-porn shenanigans.

Still gallery featuring the artwork and media marketing for the film.

Lastly, 4 trailers for other ‘adult’ films: Cool It Carol, Intimate Games, Spaced Out and Secrets of Sex.

Score: ***1/2

WISIA: I don’t think I would watch it again, except to show someone else.

Death of Me (2020)

Death of Me (2020)

Film: I’d like to say I’m a fan of Darren Lynn Bousman, but I just can’t. For me, his output has been massively hit or miss for me. I loved his additions to the Saw saga, and the Mother’s Day remake (was it REALLY a remake? I’m not sure), but films like St. Agatha completely missed the mark.

There’s no doubt he has a great visual eye and he gets good performances from his actors, but I think occasionally the stories are duds, and that reflects on him.

This film, Death of Me sits smack bang in the middle of the two extremes.

Death of Me tells the story of Christine (Maggie Q) and her husband, travel writer Neil (Luke Hemsworth… how many Hemsworths are there?!? There seems to be more than the Baldwins and Daddos combined) are staying at a small AirBnB on a remote island in Thailand when something strange happens.

The film opens with our couple waking up in their room which has been destroyed. There is mud everywhere and they are both filthy. They do some investigation and find a two hour video on the memory card, which shows them both doing shots in a small bar, before finding themselves outside the AirBnB, where Neil rapes Christine, strangles her, and then remorsefully buries her right there and then.

If he killed her though, how is she still alive? Christine seems to be getting strangely sicker too, with her vomiting up grass and dirt initially, followed by a small snake, and the local doctor, suggested to them by the owner of the AirBnB, Samantha (Alex Esso, from Starry Eyes and Doctor Sleep), tells her that there is nothing wrong.

They continue their investigations until Neil suddenly goes missing after Christine seemingly witnessed him committing suicide on a nearby dock, and then it starts to get REALLY weird… but how is it all tied into the weird necklace, and the threat of an incoming typhoon?

Easily the two best things about this film are the location, which was filmed in Thailand and looks so lush and fresh that it’s almost unbearable, and the casting of Maggie Q, an actor I have adored since I saw her in Naked Weapon and followed her career through various Die Hards and Mission Impossibles.

Another point on the location: Bousman does a fantastic job at mixed the wide open spaces and beautiful landscapes, with some really claustrophobic interiors that make for an occasional effectively creepy scene.

Now the problems: the story is somewhat bland. It’s clearly influenced by films like The Wicker Man (even to the point one of the characters even references it) with its ‘strangers in a strange land/ odd locals’ theme but it just doesn’t resonate, and the Carrie styled ending is a little bit daft too. Hemsworth probably wasn’t the greatest companion for Q either; she is far to strong an actor and he is somewhat pedestrian.

It’s a shame. This film could have possibly been great, but it just flapped around, not really doing anything extraordinary.

Score: *1/2

Extras: Nothing. Sorry.

Score: 0

WISIA: No.

Catwoman (2004)

Catwoman (2004)

Film: I have been a comic fan for well over 35 years, and I have to admit that whenever I hear that one of my favourite characters is coming out in a cinematic form, I admit to be fairly excited by the prospect… OK, more than a little excited: maybe, just maybe, on occasion a little bit of wee does leak out.

More often than not that excitement turns to trepidation as I hear of choices made in the casting department, but after being proven wrong with my doubts about Michael Keaton being able to perform a decent Batman, I concede that some ludicrous decisions can actually work. The argument against that, of course, is Daredevil, two Hulk films, Superman Returns and this film, Catwoman.

Catwoman is a character I have loved since I first read of her in a Batman comic, and as her character evolved over the years from a cat-burgling she-foil for the Dark Knight into a love-interest female Robin Hood of Gotham City I always had hopes of seeing her on the big screen, outside of a Bat-film and on her own, so imagine my excitement when this film was originally announced in 1995 to be written by Heathers screenwriter Daniel Waters, as a vehicle for Michelle Pfeiffer after her portrayal of the character in Batman Returns as a psychologically damaged ex-shrinking violet turned super-villain/ spirit of vengeance.

Unfortunately, as sometimes happens in Hollywood, films are put on back-burners and cast and crew are replaced, and scripts are re-written, in this case apparently 14 times (which is a GIANT red flag against quality!). For a film that could have had a real pro-woman stance, the story descended into a story where the main character wanted pretty things, and became involved in a fight against an evil cosmetics company.

This version of Catwoman tells the tale of advertising artist Patience Phillips (Halle Berry), a downtrodden wallflower who works for cosmetic magnate George Hedare (Lambert Wilson) and his wife Laurel Hedare (Sharon Stone). After being told her work is not good enough by George, Phillips redoes some artwork in record time and delivers it to him at one of his factories, only to discover their new product Beau-line has disastrous side-effects. Hedare orders his flunkies to kill Phillips and she is flushed out of a sewer pipe, and drowns, only to be brought back to life by the CPR administered by a bunch of cats, led by a cat previously rescued by her, and some magical cat hoodoo.

She returns from deaths as a flesh eating cat zombie… no, sorry, she returns from death with all the powers of the cat: can always land on her feet, can see in the dark, can wield a bullwhip (hang on, cats can’t do that!!) and is so flexible she can lick herself in places normally only others can reach.

Caution: that last idea tragically did not make it into the film.

What she does do though is dress is the sluttiest leather clothes she can find and both foils crimes and commits them at the same time, and eventually is told by a mysterious cat lady, Ophelia (Francis Conroy) that she is the latest in a long line of vengeful spirits that give women super powers (an idea stolen directly from the Crow, along with some of the dialogue). Eventually Catwoman decides to use her powers to defeat the Hedares and stop their evil plans to copy the Joker’s threat from 1989’s Batman film.

This FILM HAS Absolutely NO saving graces. Bad acting, atrocious CGI, over-glossy production design, and a story SO clichéd and… well, crap that I feel that the cavalcade of writers may not have been responsible for it at all, and instead it was actually written by some kind of super-computer programmed to write the worst film ever! I imagine getting caught by your Mum polishing your dolphin to Playstation 1 graphics of Lara Croft would be LESS embarrassing that being caught watching this pile of steaming cat turd.

Now I guess I should clarify some of the comments made in the previous paragraph.

Academy Award winner Berry truly embarrassed herself, and a good percentage of womankind by appearing in this: the quality of her acting in this is nothing short of dull. I am sure that forever more, comics fans who have seen this film will no longer fantasize about her multi-million dollar mams, instead, the dream of slapping her face has replaced it. Singling her out though is unfair though: Bratt was as flaccid as ever, Stone coated her villainy with an air of boredom and the supercool Wilson was as interesting as a high school science teacher. The only actor in this who truly acted to her abilities was Alex Borstein, who other than her portrayal of Lois Griffin in Family Guy is an affront to both words in the term ‘acting profession’.

The CGI was a huge problem here as well. It is a shame that someone like me, who is a proponent of this cinematic artform, can have the barely good enough to be a console game cut-scene images in this film as an argument against his enjoyment high standards of effects. I certainly hope the team responsible didn’t high five each other upon presentation to the director, as to approve this he must have had no standards, or no budget. The surprising thing about either of those options is that Pitof is normally a Special effects supervisor and has works on such films as Delicatessen and The City of Lost Children.

The production design deserves a huge smack in the face as well. Straight up, the worst costume EVER for the character of Catwoman, and considering in the comics at one point she wore a scaly green outfit, that is saying something. Sure it showed off Berry’s great body, but it also showed what a slut looks like at the end of a big night of B and D. The cityscape was lackluster as well, after the amazing designs used in Tim Burton’s Batman films of Gotham City, designed by Anton Furst these were just uninteresting, standard city skylines.

This film received 7 nominations for Razzies, which are the anti Academy Award, and won 4 on them, which, to her credit, Berry went to receive… it seems to me, upon reflection, she was aware of the travesty in which she had taken part.

There is NO doubt that the image is a good one, and is presented in 2.35:1 widescreen, but don’t’ don’t imagine anyone will ever test their AV equipment by throwing on a Catwoman DVD! Again, this disc has a really great presentation here in Dolby Digital 5.1 but you will never use it as a standard by which to set other discs.

If I were to give this movie a score at all it would be just for the quality of the disc, but the film is SO terrible, I can’t bring myself to even give it a single star.

Score: 0

Extras: The Many Face of Catwoman is an excellent, if brief, look at all the actresses who have played the character, hosted, as it should be, by Ertha Kitt, and with comments from various comic creators, writers and co-stars (the immortal Adam West) about the history of the feline felon. I have to say my favourite inadvertently funny part of this piece is Halle Berry’s whip trailer talking about her impressive ‘horizontal crack’. OooooKay….

Behind the Scenes Documentary is a traditional BTS piece that briefly discusses the making of the film, with a lot of clips from the film. AT best, it is perfunctory.

The deleted scenes were thankfully, deleted, as it shortened a film that already suffers with far too much padding. I would like to especially point out what absolute GASH the alternate ending is, as well.

There is also a theatrical trailer, and some DVD-rom stuff which involves the installation of something called Interactual Player 2.0 which I am not prepared to litter my laptop’s memory with, so I did not review.

Score: ***

WISIA: Why would one choose to abuse themselves in this way more than once?

An Adventure in Space and Time (2013)

An Adventure in Space and Time (2013)

Film: Basically, Doctor Who is a third parent of mine. I don’t mean my mum was once an intern in the 60s at the BBC, but instead, he took care of me by being my after school babysitter and also taught me a general sense of right and wrong when I watched him on the ABC as a kid.

My first experience with Doctor Who though wasn’t the TV series but instead the books, when my mum bought me a copy of the novelisation of Death to the Daleks in the 70s and I was immediately hooked. When I then found out it was a TV series on ABC I became immediately enamoured with it. Since then it has always been a part of my life, and I have a sad and tragic collection that includes DVDs, comics, magazines, books, toys, t shirts… Basically everything.

Having read so much about it though I do have a pretty good foundation in knowing when and where the show came from, but imagine my excitement when I discovered that a TV drama was being made of the genesis of my favourite TV show, written by a writer whose work I admire, being League of Gentlemen’s Mark Gatiss, directed by award winning director Terry McDonough (Wire in the Blood) and starring several actors I like, including Brian Cox (Manhunter), David Bradley (the Harry Potter films)and Jessica Raine (The Woman in Black).

An Adventure in Space and Time is based in the early 60s and tells of then Head of Drama Sydney Newman (Cox) coming up with an idea for a TV show for children called ‘Doctor Who’. He approaches his former production assistant Verity Lanbert (Raine) to be head producer and make the show along with director Waris Hussein (Sacha Dhawan), but can a Jewish girl and an Indian man create a show when it appears they may have been set up for failure by the old guard of the BBC?

You better believe it!

They employ well known actor Bill Hartnell (Bradley) to play the Doctor and we follow the next three years of production, obviously told in a quite abbreviated matter and look at the key elements of the series’ life in those early days if television, and how Doctor Who went from being something that the BBC didn’t have faith in, to a million viewer show.

With the current huge fan base for Doctor Who, this really was the best way to create a historical document about the origin of the show. Sure, there could have been factual documentary made, but essentially, a lot of the people involved have passed and for the rest it would have been little more than a talking head doco that may not have held too many people’s interest except for die hard fans, like your truly.

Having a drama though, written by post millennium who writer Gatiss, and starring a Harry Potter series favourite was definitely to best way to go to get the younger fans involved. The script is fun and the actors are charismatic enough to make what could be a stodgy story about the old Beeb irreverent and entertaining. I must admit to having somewhat of a crush on Jessica Raine now as well.

The story moves along at a cracking pace and a lot is fit into the time, but it never feels rushed. The departures of Hussein and Lambert seem to happen quite suddenly,  though their absence, along with some of the initial costars does lead to Hartnell’s departure as well.

The story is quite well written as well in the sense that it is a show about a TV series, and yet starts as a story about Lambert yet ends as a tale about Hartnell, without taking a breath. The tale ends with a round up of what each character went on to do with their careers.

A special mention must go to the soundtrack by Edmund Butt (Ed Butt… Brilliant: he should have been a WWE wrestler). It is a wonderful combination of cinematic whimsy with a few winks to Doctor Who, and really suits the production magnificently.

Eagle eyed fans should also keep a look out as there may be an old cast member or two turning up here and there.

I really only have two real criticisms of this production. The first has to do with opportunistic, schmaltzy fan service. In a scene where Hartnell ponders his and the show’s future, we are presented with a phantom of the 11th Doctor, Matt Smith. The populous piece of claptrap exists to make sure the current fans get a look at their Doctor, but to this old fan, it seems to be a disservice to all the other people who have played the part of the Doctor. Am I being over sensitive? Possibly, but it essentially served no other purpose.

The second criticism involves a catastrophic bit of miscasting. Reece Shearsmith is put forward to play a young Patrick Troughton, Hartnell’s replacement of the role of the Doctor. He simply looks terrible in his extraordinarily bad wig, and I feel like he only exists in the role as a favour to Gatiss, the pair of them being ex League of Gentlemen cast mates. Don’t get me wrong, I like Shearsmith, and the role is only brief, but it is like fingernails down a blackboard as he plays it like a pantomime caricature which doesn’t sit well within the well executed acting by the rest of the cast.

The An Adventure is Space and Time DVD looks and sounds great, presented in 16:9 with a Dolby 5.1 soundtrack.

All in all though, and even taking those criticisms into account, this is a thoroughly enjoyable drama about an important part of my life, that is, my adoration a silly science fiction children’s television program, and also is an interesting look at TV production in the 60s, told in an amusing and affectionate manner.

Score: ****

Extras: A great deal of extras for the Who fan here as well:

William Hartnell: the Original looks at William Hartnell’s career with interviews of former cast and crew mates, others Doctors, family members and directors.  It is an affectionate look at his life, and includes some wonderful footage of him in an interview from the 60s.

The Making of an Adventure is a good old fashioned making of, though it is hosted by actor Carole Ann Ford, who played Susan, the original Doctor’s granddaughter. It is a combination of a documentary about the original series, and a making of this production.

Reconstructions is a series of recreations of scenes from the original series. They are really clever and include all the faults, dialogue mistakes and miscues of the originals, and also act as deleted scenes (though there are a few of those as well). They include Scenes from An Unearthly Child, Regenerations, Farewell to Susan and Festive Greeting.

The Title Sequences compares the actual original title sequence from Who with the replica titles from this production.

There are also two deleted scenes: the The Radiophonic Workshop and Verity ‘s Leaving Party.

A special mention must also go to the menus and the accompanying leaflet. The artwork on the cover is a recreation of the first Doctor Who Annual. The leaflet itself contains photos from the production, a drawing if William Hartnell as the Doctor and a few Daleks, and an introduction from writer Mark Gatiss.

Score: ****

WISIA: As a dedicated Who nut I found this extraordinary, though a non Who fan may not be as impressed, I doubt though they could not enjoy the production in itself, as it is well written and a lot of fun. Having said that, it may not have the water to regularly rewatch!

Shadow Student Council Vice President Gives Her All

Shadow Student Council Vice President Gives Her All

In general, I like to read a manga before I watch an anime, but Prison School was an exception because, quite frankly, I couldn’t believe the images/ cosplay/ rumours/ spoilers/ vinyl statues that I have seen.

I watched the anime first and what I found was a sexy and hilariously archaic parody of school that wouldn’t have been uncomfortable in the company of 80s teen comedies like Porky’s or Animal House. This led me to the manga, which I found the first collection to be pretty average, story wise, but the art was nice, and I’ll stick with it because I know what is coming from watching the anime.

Of all the characters in both the anime and manga, the one that sticks out more than any of the others, is one of the baddies, the Shadow Student Council Vice President Meiko Shiraki. Why does she stick out? Well, she’s tall, with silver hair and glasses, and an extraordinarily large breast to waist to hip ratio, can’t seem to find clothes to fit her appropriately (well, except for stilettos) and sweats profusely… and I mean SWEATS whenever she is under any kind of pressure.

Of course, this means mangaka, Akira Hiramoto, presents her in the most obtuse of positions, showing off her enormous breasts, buttocks or labia majora, usually covered in perspiration and generally before executing some cruel form of torture on an unexpected male pupil. She is the sexy straight man of the baddies, and is amusing to see in her various displays.

What we have here with Shadow Student Council Vice President Gives Her All, is a series of 14 short manga vignettes showing Shiraki is various high pressure situations, such as a maths exam, trying to get back to a steeping cup of tea before it spoils, eating a mega-curry and several others. Some of the other characters peek in here and there, but these mostly wordless stories show her under pressure and then relieved of it.

It’s ecchi of the highest order for sure, and there is no doubt that the art by ReDrop isn’t sexy and over the top as the idea of the manga would suggest, but the stories themselves just aren’t engaging or, for that matter, very good. Actually they are less than not very good.

Considering Shiraki was the Darth Vader scaled villain of the piece, this is the equivalent of finding that major cinematic villain dancing on stage at Disneyland to MC Hammer’s ‘U Can’t Touch This!’ and it’s a big disappointment. I imagined this to be some kind of a story about other horrible things she has done to people, but it’s just putting her into situations where she gets sweaty, or naked.

I’m not sure how successful this was, but considering that I, as a fan of manga and don’t mind a little ecchi in my comics, am probably the target market, and I don’t like it, when you can probably take that as a pretty big failure.

This manga was published by Yen Press.

Score: *

WIRIA: No.

The Avengers XXX: A Porn Parody (2012)

The Avengers XXX: A Porn Parody (2012)

Film: I didn’t know, until a few years ago, about the so-called ‘77 Rules of the Internet’.They exist, I swear!

The way I was introduced to them was via Rule 34: If is exists; there’s porn of it. No exceptions!

I laughed when I first heard if this amongst a group of friends, and so I whipped out my trusty smart phone and started searching… Overwatch porn: heaps. Pokémon porn: yep. Fidget spinner porn: I kid you not, but yes indeed.

Humans love to get off with the weirdest stuff. As nerdy culture has become more prevalent, it was only a matter of time before it became more regularly available as porn, and us us comic nerds are more exposed to sexy cosplay versions of Captain Marvel and Batgirl, it was certainly only a matter of time before someone in the prom industry came up with the idea of doing a regular series of films with superheroes in kind.

That man was Alex Braun. Honestly it’s not surprising at at all that eventually PornHub would be covered in cosplayers having various forms of intercourses in costume… what can I say, I’m a thorough researcher… but that’s a couple of independent homegirls doing it, Braun’s films are flat out, 100% obviously Thor, and Captain America, and She Hulk etc. There is a disclaimer at the beginning where it’s pointed out that this is a parody and not a genuine Marvel movie.

Anyway, for a film that goes for about 120 odd minutes, but only 15 minutes of that are actual story, whilst the rest is best all the sex stuff.

The story goes that after the Hulk and the Abomination destroy the city, the Hulk disappears with Iron Man in hot pursuit, leaving the rest of the Avengers to hang out at the ‘Avengers warehouse’ with nothing to do.

So basically they pair off and root. First off it’s Black Widow (Brooklyn Lee) with Hawkeye (Eric Masterton), followed by Sharon Carter (Phoenix Marie) and Nick Fury (Lexington Steele). Next, the Scarlet Witch (Danni Cole) and Ms. Marvel (Lexi Swallow) have a bit of all girl action in the gym before She-Hulk (Chyna… yep, from the WWE) and Thor (Brendon Millar) go at it. Finally, because they don’t get to go on a mission to find something in the ice in the Arctic (or Antarctic, I get them mixed up), the non-Spiderman-sounding Spiderman (Xander Corvus) and Ms. Marvel (Lexi Swallow again) decide to end the sexy part of the film before we lead into a shocking revelation…

This film is such a weird thing, and I mean over and above seeing beloved character from comics swapping fluids, as it creates a weird universe with both the comics and the movies, with some elements coming from either. Some of the costumes are on-point for the comics, whilst others are ok versions of the movies ones… maybe even store bought. The effects are surprisingly good too, as I imagine the SPFX on adult movies aren’t normally too high.

This isn’t a great film, but it is t supposed to be. As pornography, it’s sexy and titillating to seeing ’superheroes’ doing the nasty… let’s face it, most nerds have talked about how Superman and Lois would do it, or if Reed Richards isn’t just the greatest lover in the world due to his flexible body, but as a film with a solid story, it’s below average. If you do come across it (excuse the pun), watch it as a curio.

This film was reviewed on DVD, presented in a 1.78:1image, and with a Dolby digital 2.0 audio track.

Score: **

Extras: There are two extras on this disc:

A 47 image slideshow featuring stills from the film, and trailers for The Incredible Hulk: A Porn Parody, Threeway, and Unleashed

Score: *

WISIA: Nope. We’re done.

The All-New X-men: Ghosts of Cyclops

It would be a boring review if it were to start with something as terrible as a ‘look up convoluted in the dictionary, and you’ll find the history of the X-men as an example.’ Yep, boring, and lazy reviewing as well, so we won’t do that.

That’s not to say it’s not the absolute truth though. The X-men was nothing short of an absolute brilliant comics in the 80s, but it’s, and more specifically Wolverine’s, popularity came in the 90s at a terrible price.

Sure, the X-men cartoon was amazing, even though it starred lame jerk Gambit, but the comics were truly some of the worst in the history of comics as Marvel, close to going bankrupt, did everything from emulating comics industry bad-boys Image Comics’ style, to deciding that almost everyone was a bloody mutant.

Thankfully, since the turn of the century, and with the popularity of the X-men films, Marvel have attempted to clean up the mutant part of the Marvel universe… even if the films, also, became someone convoluted and confusing.

One of the interesting things that Marvel did was use their time travel deus ex machina (a cure-all for so many awkward story ideas) to attempt to ‘fix’ things by having the original X-men pulled out of time and transported to ‘now’ so they can not become who they do. Jean Grey, Marvel Girl, could be confronted by her possession by the Phoenix Force, and Scott Summers, Cyclops, could perhaps find himself to not become the seemingly megalomaniacal leader of all mutants.

Unfortunately, the ‘all-new’ Scott Summers is so horrified by his future self, that he wants to avoid being Cyclops at all, so he goes off-grid, separating himself from the All New X-men (whose ranks include the new Iceman, Beast and Angel, Wolverine (ex-X-23), Kid Apocalypse and Idie), until a mutant terrorist group called The Ghosts of Cyclops rise up in an attempt to continue Cyclops’ work, and Scott finds himself in a position where he has to reveal himself to stop them.

Story: This story is written by Dennis Hopeless who has given us an interesting take on the X-Men, and the exploration of a young man’s fear of becoming something horrible is an interesting look at the normally stoic Scott Summers character. Unfortunately, the second part of this trade paperback is a fairly stock standard cliff hanger starring the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants, that only has half the story and therefore becomes somewhat anticlimactic.

Score: ***1/2

Art: The Official Marvel Try-out Book Winner Mark Bagley is Marvel’s version of Yellowstone National Park’s Old Faithful. Bag key seems to have consistently been working for Marvel since the 80s and he offers the same quality of work that he always has, which is reminiscent of John Byrne’s 70s work. It’s is functional, reads easy and looks nice. The end if this book also features some alternate covers by Ron Lim, Ed Piskor, Pascal Ferry, June Brigman, Janet Lee and Rob Liefeld.

Score: ***

The Haunting (1999)

Film: The 90s were a time where horror was really suffering. The idea of creating a franchise rather than good, quality horror, due to the popularity of Jason, Michael and Freddy, had become paramount to the studios and it didn’t kill the genre, but it certainly put it on life support.

The Blair Witch Project was a clever manipulation of the general populace with a crappy film made interesting by the suggestion that is was real, and many people fell for it. It want u til Scream thoigh that Wes Craven really pulled horror back from being like westerns or musicals: only made now and again for nostalgias sake.

Another thing that saved horror in the late 90s and early 2000s was the remake, the idea that taking an older film and redoing it. Not a new idea surely, especially when you consider the popularity of John Carpenter’s The Thing and Chuck Russell’s The Blob. Also, taking a film from another country and making an English version of it seemed to really give the genre a kick in the pants. Yep, remakes were the way to go…

Unfortunately, and I’m burying the lead here, The Haunting possibly wasn’t a great choice.

The Haunting is a close to the book film, based on the novel The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson, and this version was written by Road to Perdition’s David Self and directed by Speed’s Jan De Bont.

It’s tells of Nell (Lili Taylor) who after 11 years of taking care of her ill mother, has joined a group including Theo (Catherine Zeta Jones) and Luke (Owen Wilson) of people with sleep disorders, collected together by Dr. David Marrow (Liam Neeson), at Hill House, a beautiful old mansion with a hidden secret.

The house isn’t the only thing Wilma secret though, Dr. Marrow hasn’t brought them to the house for an insomnia study… no, he had brought them together to study fear, and house suggestions can make the human mind create a false narrative, but what he didn’t expect was that the house MIGHT just actually be haunted…

This film starts of with a casting choice that’s pretty impressive. Taylor, Neeson and Zeta Jones are really quite adept at the character archetypes they create (the shut-in, the nutty doctor and the slut) but unfortunately Wilson sticks out like a sore thumb. Sure he’s fun in the comedies he’s been in, but here he feels like he’s taking nothing seriously. I’m not sure if De Bont thought he could take the bone-headed surfer dude-type and make him a serious actor route again, like he did with Keanu Reeves in Speed, but it doesn’t work here. He seems to take none of it seriously, and that’s a detriment to the story, which is a shame because with the right cast this could have been ok… even a challenger to the other remake about a haunted house that came out at a similar time, The House on Haunted Hill.

It is, however, nice to see cameos from Marian Seldes and Bruce Dern.

Unfortunately the visual aspirations of the film were possibly a little high too. There are several cgi effects that are so bad… SO BAD… that it’s hard to take the film seriously. I’m not a fan of bagging a film too much due to its effects, I’ve seen some films with truly DIRE special effects, but these are really horrible. A product of the time, sure, but terrible.

On the flipside if that, the set design is grand, and majestic, and overdone as some if those old mansions were!

It’s final and main problem is it’s just not good! The story is fine, but the jump scares aren’t jump scares, and the slow burn scares just don’t work. It’s never truly a scary film as a movie about scary ghosts SHOULD be!

Another issue I have with this film is the packaging. Lili Taylor is clearly the star of this film, but she is 4th billed on the cover, and in the original marketing. She’s a fine actor and that’s a bloody crime!

On a good note though is the quality of this Bluray. The image is super bright and crisp and presented in a 2.35:1 image, and the audio, which will really work out your bass channel, is presented in Dolby DTS-HD MA 5.1.

Even though the accuracy to the novel is lacking, the Netflix series The Haunting of Hill House is a more entertaining prospect, you’d honestly be better off watching that.

Score: **1/2

Extras: Absolutely nothing.

Score: 0

WISIA: It’s not really very interesting, so no.

Doctor Stone Volume 1

Doctor Stone Volume 1

I’ve been trying to get through the embarrassing amount of manga I haven’t read, and was reminded, whilst looking at the pile, that a friend of mine had suggested that I, with my interest in science, sci-fi and teen movies, would probably appreciate a series with story by Riichiro Inagaki and art by Boichi called Dr Stone.

It’s just an average, but when a weird flash of light turns everyone to stone, mankind’s history comes to a catastrophic halt. Senku, a super intelligent high school student, kept his consciousness alive by counting nonstop for several thousand years before achieving the will power to burst out of his stone form… but not without his skin maintaining a couple of cracks from his stone form.

A year and a half later, his friend, Taiju, who is super strong but somewhat of a dummy, managed to break out through his not-stop thinking about the love of his life, Yuzurina, whom he was on the way to meet when the flash happened, and is now also stone.

The two start to research a ‘cure’ to the stone disease, and are on the right track when they are attacked by lions, and have to release the toughest fighter they know, Tsukasa Shishio, who subsequently dispatches the lions.

They also release Yuzurina, but soon they discover that Tsukasa and them have different values.

Whilst Senku and his pals are attempting to get life back to where it was all those thousands of years ago, Tsukasa thinks that all adults should be killed so the children can start the world over again… and so he starts smashing the stone adults…

This manga is extraordinarily surprising. At its surface, it’s a sci-fi mystery, but once you start dipping into it, it seems to be a massive moral story, but unusually with the GOOD guy wanting the corporation fuelled society back so he can indulge in his scientific and technological exploits. The writing is extremely tight, though occasionally leans into a bit of American catch-phrase-isms.

The art is extraordinarily beautiful, and all the characters are, probably deliberately, statuesque, and the action scenes are a joy to the eye.

Score: ****

Video Nasties: Draconian Days aka Video Nasties The Definitive Guide: Part 2 (2014)

Film: I wonder if Jake West realised that his first documentary about banned films, called Video Nasties: Moral Panic, Censorship and Video Tape, was going to be such an amazing piece of work. I have to say that there is probably only two documentary films series that I really could watch as much as I watch regular cinema, they are these two films, and a Gary Hustwit series of three films called Helvetica, Objectified and Urbanised (a loose series starting with regular things we see every day, but looked at from a design point of view (if you haven’t seen them, give them a watch!))

The first film in this series, reviewed elsewhere on this very site, dealt with the banned films of the so-called ‘video nasty’ era in the UK, whereas this film deals with the fallout; the censorship and movie classification under the direction of the Secretary of the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC), James Ferman.

It’s an interesting look at the pointlessness of having both censorship and classification, as they don’t work together: why have an age related classification of (18) if you are then going to cut it?

It makes no sense.

The reasoning behind it damaging people psychologically wasn’t proven then, and nor is it proven now… and if these films are so bad, why do the censors get to watch them? What makes THEM above us… and why is age a level for censorship? I know immature 50 year olds (I am one) and I’ve observed 20 years old far more mature than me… and hang on, what is maturity anyways?

It also steeps into the specifics of ridiculousness of some decisions. For example, nunchucks and ninja stars were seen as problematic weapons for films, so those films were rejected or edited. This led to cuts made to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2: The Secret of the Ooze.

Yep.

It would seem that Ferman’s rule seemed to become an excuse for him to exert his lost career as a director and re-cut others films. One of his criticisms claims he made ‘censorship by stealth’.

This film features interviews with everyone involved, from ex-BBFC employees, government officials, film-makers, film journalists and so many others that it presents a quite an even discussion about censorship, especially considering some of the interviewees have such varied opinions about what is ‘good’ censorship, and when does it become borderline fascism? There is also a lot of supplementary material from the time that shows how moral panic can lead to dangerous societal results.

This documentary seems to be far more relevant now with the rise of the so-called ‘cancel culture’. Is it right to delete art because it doesn’t stand up to current standards? If we delete prejudice and violence will it change our state of thought or are those things printed on some of our DNA strands?

I’m just a guy who likes movies so don’t look at me for the answers!

All in all it’s a fascinating look at archaic laws, how some politicians who believe themselves to be better educated than you DECIDE what is good for you, and just how quickly power can corrupt anyone.

The image and sound on this disc aren’t great, but it’s just talking heads so the need for hi-def, 1080hp with super duper surround sound probably isn’t needed.

Score: ****

Video: **

Audio: **

Extras: Oh did you want extras? Well, buckle up, sunshine!

Disc 1 has a series of slideshows: the first is a selection of fanzines who traded in illegal video tapes, then we have DPP72 and DPP82 which show the covers of films banned/ almost banned.

This disc also has trailers for The Playgirls and the Vampire, Grindhouse Trailer Classics 2, Night of the Bloody Apes, Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things, Dead of Night, Cannibal Girls, Teaserama, Varitease, Ghost Story, Bloodbath at the House of Death, Fausto 5.0, Gwendoline, Between Your Legs, Cruel Passion, Escort Girls, Some Like It Sexy, Fantasm, Fantasm Comes Again, The Good Little Girls, Justine’s Hit Nights, Scandalous Photos, Dressage and Education Anglaise. (Though both Fantasm and Fantasm Comes Again attach to the same trailer, which is a bummer)

There is also a couple of Easter eggs that feature images of programs and passes from various film festivals, and a short film “It’s Just A Movie’.

Disc 2 and 3 have, in total, about 10 hours of trailers (which for length-of-review reasons I won’t list them all) of the Section 3 video nasties, with introductions.

Score: *****

WISIA: It’s fascinating and a great supplement to the first documentary, but meanders a little. That hasn’t stopped me from giving it several watches.