Film Feed

Dolores Umbridge is the scariest villain in Harry Potter

Slide1

Yes, you read that right. In a world populated with Death Eaters, Dementors, and Dark Lords, where giant snakes possess the dead and werewolves thirst for the blood of children, the diminutive, frilly-frocked schoolmarm from Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix is the absolute worst.

Don’t believe me? Let’s take a moment to consider the competition. Sure, the Dark Lord is all dark and lordly, but he’s also pretty one-dimensional. His motivations aren’t particularly complex or original. He’s hateful to everyone and everything, so there’s no chance of us sympathizing with him. He’s even hideously ugly, just to hammer the point home. In short, he’s so thoroughly eeeeevil that there isn’t room for much else, and as I’ve argued before, eeeeevil is dull.

Continue reading "Dolores Umbridge is the scariest villain in Harry Potter" »


Wolverine rides off into the sunset - with heart, style, and more than a few scars

Logan

If you’re even slightly interested in seeing Logan, you probably know that it’s getting rave reviews. So much so that for some people, it’s going to be tough for it to live up to the hype. So let me say right out of the gate that Logan isn’t a perfect movie. But it is a very good one, and a significant enough departure from previous instalments in the X-Men franchise that your enjoyment (or lack thereof) of the earlier movies probably isn’t a very good predictor of whether you’ll like this one. On the other hand, if you’re a fan of Westerns – and specifically the gritty, melancholy, washed-up-gunslinger-reluctantly-takes-on-one-more-job trope, this film is for you.

Continue reading "Wolverine rides off into the sunset - with heart, style, and more than a few scars" »


Stark Reviews: Yellow Sky (1948)

Yellow Sky

Stark says: “We sure gonna be mighty rich corpses.”

Yellow Sky is one of those films that I’ve been meaning to watch for ages; mostly because a) it has a female co-lead and b) it’s often referred to as a precursor to that most idiosyncratic of western sub-genres, the Acid Western.

Acids, if you haven’t come across them before, are known, and named, for their counterculture tendencies; the desire to kick the western away from the glowy sunset of manifest destiny and into the dark corners of the soul. Made right on the cusp of the 1950s – the decade of the Western Epic – Yellow Sky is a surprisingly off-beat film. Adapted from a novel by W.R. Burnett, who flitted with ease between Westerns and gangster noir, and directed by ex-World-War-One fighter pilot and all round hell-raiser, William A. Wellman, it’s easy to see how Yellow Sky had the potential to stand out as an unusual Western from the start.

Gregory Peck plays Stretch, the leader of a gang of bank robbers and ruffians, who, after looting a small-town bank, are pursued onto seventy miles of deadly alkaline salt flats. With no choice but to cross, they find themselves dying of thirst in the isolated ghost town of Yellow Sky, inhabited only by an old prospector (James Barton) and his granddaughter (Anne Baxter). Apparently loosely based on Shakespeare’s The Tempest, what follows is a clashing of morals, loyalties and greed set within a claustrophobic, visually compelling pressure-cooker.

The Good

Without a doubt, the setting is the real star of this film. Yellow Sky looks great, almost alarmingly so compared to other Westerns of the same era, which were often forced to make do with B-movie budgets and materials. Even the quality of the film stock is a surprise, incredibly crisp and clear for something shot almost seventy years ago. Working in black and white, MacDonald makes full use of the Death Valley location with its the arid, inhospitable, terrain; boulder fields in the sun are exploited for chiaroscuro effect, pale dust clouds are kicked into dark angles of shade, silhouettes and shadows abound. Perhaps most memorable in this respect is the final duel between Lengthy, Dude and Stretch; rather than showing the shoot-out itself, we’re presented with the outside wall of the saloon, with its broken window, where the silhouettes of two horses rear in fright.

It all adds to the general feel that the town of Yellow Sky is a no-place, like Hellman’s desert in The Shooting or the snow-locked wastes of Day of the Outlaw. A setting that both highlights and reflects the stark, brutal and often arbitrary nature of humanity; how a person might behave when denuded of society and civilisation.

Yellow-sky

But what of the actors? Oh yes, them. Gregory Peck is a decent lead, playing a former hard-hearted bandit who finds his moral compass swinging towards honesty. However, Richard Widmark (who you might recognise as the lead from Jules Dassin’s wonderful 1950 noir, Night and the City) steals the show as Dude, Stretch’s treacherous second-in-command. Neatly dressed in a white shirt and tie where the others are scruffy, Widmark is a wonderful foil. He plays Dude with a casual viciousness tempered only by a lust for gold.

Yellow Sky is a bit of a smorgasbord of Western character actors. John Russell – star of Lawman and, many years later, crooked Marshal Stockburn in Pale Rider – gives a good turn as brooding lout Lengthy, while Harry Morgan, (aka Col. Sherman T. Potter in M*A*S*H) does a decent job with not many lines as turncoat-turned-ally Half Pint.

Anne Baxter (who was, incidentally, the granddaughter of Frank Lloyd Wright!) does a great job here as the trouser-wearing, shotgun-toting Mike. When Stretch attempts to bully her into giving them food, she threatens him with her gun. He swipes it off her, only to get socked in the face. This being 1948, there are plenty more opportunities for Harassment of The Female Character (more on this later), but not without Mike rather skilfully shooting off some of Stretch’s scalp the next time he tries anything. All in all, Baxter is a compelling lead; she plays Mike as tough, resilient and hot-headed, without being too clichéd. HOWEVER:

The Bad

As we might suspect from the grabby-grabby poster, there’s a lot of that ol’ Hollywood favourite: kiss-first-don’t-ask-later. Wellman’s guilty of exploiting this, leaning rather heavily on sexual threats to create tension. The film opens with a scene of the gang leering at a painting of a woman on horseback, commenting: “I sure would like to know what she plans to do after she gets done riding that horse”. The subsequent introduction of Mike, a young woman alone in an isolated town with only her grandfather for back-up, has a predictable effect on the gang. She is mocked by Walrus, quietly idolized by youngster Bull Run, and harassed by Lengthy, subjected to constant not-so idle threats.

Yellowsky3

Again, after seeing that poster, we also shouldn’t be surprised to discover that one of the worst physical offenders is the upstanding Stretch himself. After sternly forbidding his men to bother Mike, he can’t help but break his own rule, firstly by insulting her: “You know if you was prettied up a bit you’d look almost like a female,” and secondly by dive-tackling her to the ground to assault her, just to prove that he can. Although she wins both rounds, shooting him in the head and insulting him right back "You smell. Didn't anyone ever tell you before that you smell bad?" eventually forcing him to – literally – clean up his act, it’s still frustrating stuff. But then, this is 1948. Although she rides off at the end in the company of Stretch, wearing a flowery hat,  I suppose the fact she does it as part of a gang, on her own horse, wearing her usual shirt, trousers and gun-belt is some sort of minor victory.

The Ugly

One thing: don’t let the opening of the film fool you. In the first frame we’re told that this is THE WEST, 1867 while an instrumental version of Oh! Susanna plays. Ignore that. Things are about to get better. Also ignore the first line of the film: “Hey! Look at that!” followed by someone pointing to a skull with an arrow through it. IT GETS BETTER. I PROMISE. Of course, we encounter the usual Native American stereotypes and racial slurs, in this case focused on Apaches. Grandpa does comment that Mike was “raised by Apaches… fine people if you can understand them”, and although there’s some standard nonsense whooping and shooting, it’s mostly offscreen, thankfully.

All in all, Yellow Sky is a mixed bag; a Western of its time that makes a decent attempt to side-step the usual tropes, a visually compelling piece that uses the landscape to reflect its overall themes, and a film that has more than a few hidden currents beneath its surface… As Grandpa says: "Guess the war upset a lot of those boys. Got them off on the wrong foot.” What was true of 1867 could be as true of 1948: yet another group of young men, spat out by war, suddenly adrift in a world that has made its moral fragility abundantly clear. A precursor to the Acid Western indeed.


Jyn, Rey and The Star Wars Experience

Leia

As with all great debates, this began in Forbidden Planet as a discussion about which Funko Pop! figure Jared should buy for his desk at work. We take Funkos very seriously here (an discussion for another day), and, before we knew it, a simple Rey/Jyn decision had spiralled out of control.

Also, contains spoilers for Rogue One, The Force Awakens and, in case you're Kimmy Schmidt, the original trilogy.

Continue reading "Jyn, Rey and The Star Wars Experience" »


Rogue One: Darth Vader is a Scary Dude

Static1.squarespace

There are two things I need you to understand here.

The first is there are many varieties of Star Wars fans, and I’m of the sort whose love for the whole thing is rooted solely to the original trilogy. I never got a proper introduction to the Expanded Universe, I haven’t read any of the new books or comics, and I remember the prequels with the clarity of a fever dream. I’ve seen maybe three episodes of The Clone Wars, which I would’ve adored as a kid but didn’t grab me as an adult. I’ve played the Old Republic games, and enjoyed them very much, but they served as something small and ancillary to the main event: The Millennium Falcon, the Battle of Hoth, philosophy lessons with Old Ben. The small amount of Star Wars tie-in stuff I’ve dabbled in was a good time. The original trilogy — and now, The Force Awakens, which my heart welcomed in with ease — I hold on a different level. That’s hallowed legend to me. That’s my canon.

That’s the first thing. The second is I’m about to throw down some Rogue One spoilers. You have been warned.

Continue reading "Rogue One: Darth Vader is a Scary Dude" »


Villain of the Month: Hans Gruber

Hans GruberIn the evolution of the blockbuster action movie, it’s hard to overstate the importance of 1988’s Die Hard.

Though unmistakably a product of its time, it represented a significant departure from its contemporaries. Most 80s action flicks tended to come in one of four flavours: Spy/Cold War narratives (the James Bond franchise), soldier/ex-soldier stories (First Blood, Delta Force), sci-fi (Alien, Terminator), or buddy cop (48 Hrs).

Die Hard didn’t conform to any of these, yet in spite of this – or perhaps because of it – it became the most influential action film of the decade, spawning so many knockoffs that it practically qualifies as a subgenre all its own.

The 1990s recycled Die Hard over and over again, serving it up Sam-I-Am style in every conceivable location: on a plane, on a train, on a trip and a ship, in the snow and the ice, in a school with a fool… well, you get the idea.* And that’s not even counting the sequels: Die Harder, Die Hard with a Vengeance, Die Already, Why Won’t You Just Die (or some such… I lost track after a while.)

Much the same could be said of the film’s iconic baddie, Hans Gruber, played by the inimitable Alan Rickman.

Continue reading "Villain of the Month: Hans Gruber" »


Pornokitsch's Absolute and Definitive Guide To The Best of Everything in 2016

Dark Souls 3

There are a lot of 'Best of 2016' lists coming out now, but they're all flawed and wrong because they don't include the things we wanted them to include. More importantly, they weren't written by us.

As our gift to the internet - and therefore the world - we've put together the Absolute and Definite Guide to the Best of Everything. It is conclusive and final, and should be used as a reference to settle all arguments.

Continue reading "Pornokitsch's Absolute and Definitive Guide To The Best of Everything in 2016" »


Rogue One: A Star Wars Story - Reviewed

Rogue One

Eggy. Rogue One (2016; directed Gareth Edwards)

[Warning: this review contains traces of eggs. Also many spoilers]

Plenty of movies nowadays contain easter eggs, something particularly true of movies that are part of a larger franchise or sequence. These nods and winks to the knowing audience members are, at root, a reflection of the way DVD, TV and digital copies of movies have changed the viewing experience. To see the original 1977 Star Wars seven times would require schlepping out to your local cinema every night for a week. A fan can watch 2015’s Force Awakens seven times over the weekend without ever leaving her couch. Naturally, this has resulted in a change in the logic of movie-making. Directors, designers and SFX teams now craft their visual texts full aware that fans will watch them over and over, sifting the image for every little nugget.

Continue reading "Rogue One: A Star Wars Story - Reviewed" »


Arrival - of what, exactly?

Arrival

The imaginary must be imagined, accurately and with scrupulous consistency. A fantastic setting requires vivid and specific description; while characters may lose touch with their reality, the storyteller can’t.

Ursula Le Guin, review of The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro

Is there any more point to science fiction?

The history of a genre is driven in part by the dynamic between convention and invention; science fiction, though, seems to have an extra feature. Its USP is meant to be its inventiveness, assumed to be found in a given story’s idea or set of ideas. Fans believe that this is proof of the genre’s vitality as compared to others. Critics believe it’s an excuse for what they see as science fiction’s otherwise more general conventionality.

Continue reading "Arrival - of what, exactly?" »