Spectre of Doubt: What Makes a Bond Film Soar or Sink and What the New Film Should Have Learned From the Old

Bond and M Spectre
’s big back-half twists play so egregiously that the rest of the film seems pristine in comparison. Nostalgia for the bland airplane/car chase from Act II is totally understandable when set against Ernst Blofeld’s self-parodic monologue (in which Christoph Waltz spouts all manner of bullshit, including a lift of the very plot twist that killed Austin Powers, Mike Myers’s titanic Bond-parody franchise).

But while the execution and implications of the twists are devastating across the board, they are something of a tangible detail when it comes to diagnosing the movie’s failings. For all the pre-release discussion of problems with the script’s third act, the issues with Spectre start at the very beginning, and offer a helpful guide to just what makes the best Bond films work so well.

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You’ll never guess Countess Dracula’s ONE WEIRD TRICK to look younger!

Countess ScreenThe iconic imagery of Hammer Films usually involves Peter Cushing’s Van Helsing driving a stake through (or otherwise murdering) Christopher Lee’s Dracula. The pair made three vampire films together at the studio (and each one several without the other), and indeed these films define one of the most beloved runs in horror movie history.

But while Hammer is rightfully known for vampire films with Lee and Cushing, neither actor appears in Hammer’s best vampire film, and neither do vampires. In 1971, Peter Sasdy turned the historical legend of Elizabeth Báthory into a gothic tragedy rife with the heavy bloodletting and bare breasts that had increasingly marked the studio’s output since the late 60’s, the great Countess Dracula. Continue reading

Cat Power and an Old Trick: Tales from the Crypt Retro-watch Part 2

Cat Screen

Dig That Cat… He’s Real Gone Season 1 Episode 3

Only Sin Deep Season 1 Episode 4

Veteran TV director Richard Donner made his theatrical debut with the Exorcist-ripped The Omen in 1976, and followed that two years later with Superman, the first superhero blockbuster. In 1989, he got to combine his roots in television, horror and comic books as a producer and director on Tales from the Crypt. The show’s first Donner-helmed episode is the most comic-booky, the least horrific, and possibly the most fun so far. Continue reading

‘Tales from the Crypt’ is Grimy as Hell: a Retro-watch Project

Tales Santa

The Man Who Was Death Season 1 Episode 1

And All Through The House Season 1 Episode 2

Moved by the autumn spirit and a cover featuring a man dueling a giant rat at sea, I recently bought a reprint of the 1950’s EC Comic Tales From the Crypt. It’s insane, and reminded me of the 90’s TV show that I always wished I was allowed to watch as a kid.

I saw Tales From The Crypt: Demon Knight at a sleepover and fondly remember it as the second half of From Dusk Till Dawn, but I have no memory of ever seeing the HBO anthology series that spawned it. Although it aired for seven seasons between 1989 and 1996, the premium cable juggernaut seems ashamed of the show now, leaving it off the HBOGO streaming roster that sports nearly every bit of the network’s original programming, forgotten alongside anti-prestige fare like Arliss and Mr. Show with Bob and Dave (you can get the full series on DVD for pretty cheap, though). But while Mr. Show kickstarted the careers of a bunch of today’s most nerd-loved comedians, Tales From The Crypt coincided with career declines of almost as many geek-film luminaries of the 70’s and 80’s.

The show is great, though. The first two episodes, short, manic bursts directed by Walter Hill and Robert Zemeckis, respectively, harness the crude dark comedy of the comic series that inspired the Comics Code of censorship. Continue reading

Pedro Almodóvar and the Dramatic Advantages of Universal Empathy

Pedro Almodóvar’s movies do not have villains. This in itself is not unique, especially in global cinema.

The Skin I Live In

Pedro Almodóvar with Elena Anaya shooting THE SKIN I LIVE IN

But Pedro Almodóvar movies should have villains.  He fills them beyond the brim with kidnapping, rape, attempted rape, and unnatural death, all somehow perpetrated by characters who, even if we don’t outright love them, at least compel our sympathetic interest. Continue reading

Everybody’s Got a Secret, Sonny: The Year in Film Noir

Side Effects

When Steven Soderbergh released ‘Side Effects’ on February 8th, 2013, most of the critical and journalistic chatter surrounded his retirement from theatrical cinema more than the actual film that he went out with.  Publicly, ‘Side Effects’ confused people because no one really knew what the hell it was. The trailers showed some kind of drama with Rooney Mara and Channing Tatum, basically untested young stars of modest hits that had little to do with their names, some talk about prescription medication, and Jude Law hanging out being Jude Law. Not a major box office draw.

But the marketing for ‘Side Effects’ was a bit of sleight of hand, as the movie only starts revealing its true nature about half way through. Which is unfortunate, because it would not hurt one’s enjoyment of the film to know going in that it’s a lean, nasty, twisty film noir that would slap a smirk on the mouth of ol’ James Cain himself. It’s terrific, one of the best February releases that I’ve seen, and the first of the handful of great, (mostly) under-appreciated gems that make up 2013’s film noir revival. Continue reading

It’s always later than you think, Counselor


‘The Counselor’ is Ridley Scott’s best movie since 2003, when he last dove into film noir with ‘Matchstick Men.’ And while that film packed a gut punch unsuggested by its breezy marketing, it did not even approach the depths of noir that this new one hits.

Cormac McCarthy wrote ‘The Counselor,’ a screenplay which seems inspired by the philosophical thriller treatment that the Coen brothers gave his novel in their awesome ‘No Country For Old Men.’  It thrills less and talks more, but it shares an alternating pattern of horrific violence and metaphysical discussion. And it works. Continue reading