Thursday, March 05, 2015

What I Watched in February


I was able to get to the theater twice in February and I had a blast both times.

First up was the expensive science fiction adventure epic JUPITER ASCENDING from the Wachowskis. Delayed from a release last year I had fears about this one but I found my fears to be unnecessary as the siblings seem to still have their skills intact. Of course, I'm a defender of the Matrix sequels and I loved SPEED RACER so understand that I did not enter the screening imagining the worst and what I got was a grand pulp inspired space opera - awesome!


The main inspirations for the film seem to have been the mad, galaxy-spanning SF stories of the pulp magazine era, the covers of those same magazines, the book and film of The Wizard of Oz and the entire cinematic output of Terry Gilliam. The storyline is straightforward to the point of simplicity and the characters are basic types that gain depth and nobility as the film zips along. The story is similar to the classic myths of a young peasant who learns of their special birthright and eminence in the ruling hierarchy. This elevates the young person (girl, in this case) to a place of importance but also puts them in mortal danger from which they are protested by skilled warriors and wise advisors. You know - the same tales ripped off by Star Wars!


The film is being slagged by most people as 'at best' eye candy and 'at worst' sci-fi silliness. I would claim that it is both of these things and more- an audacious attempt to craft a new science fiction universe that seems truly alive. It is rare these day that filmmakers are given the latitude to make a movie that builds a crazy futuristic vision wholly out of new (if very familiar) material. JUPITER ASCENDING isn't based on a series of YA novels, connected to the Marvel Universe or part of any previously known property - it is its own rough beast stalking the theater screen, wanting to be seen. It is pure fun from the top of its gorgeously designed visuals all the way down to its SF/fantasy trope bones. It is the kind of movie I am glad can still be made even as I know it will take years before there is a chance the sneering masses will think of it as anything other than some silly crap they were smart to avoid.

My second trip to the theater was even more impressive. I have been a huge fan of director Matthew Vaughn since his debut LAYER CAKE (2004). That film was a razor sharp British crime tale with the future James Bond Daniel Craig proving his ability to carry a movie. In many ways KINGSMAN: THE SECRET SERVICE is a follow up to that film but amped up to a scale that makes the first movie seem reserved by comparison.


As was Vaughn's 2010 graphically violent super-hero movie KICK ASS, this is adapted from a Mark Millar comic book making this his third comic book to screen translation in a row. To my eyes he is getting better and better at this form of filmmaking. His X-MEN: FIRST CLASS (2011) saved that franchise from near death after the mess of the previous Wolverine film but this movie proves that he can bring an entire new franchise to the public successfully. Make no mistake- there will be sequels to this film and I could not be more thrilled by the prospect.


KINGSMAN is a modern spy film about a group of extra-governmental agents that work to destroy threats to the world. Very much a British organization, the group maintains a small unit of spies with Arthurian code names, impeccable dress requirements and unfailing good manners. Although the film hinges on a disturbing worldwide threat from Valentine (a lisping Sam L. Jackson having a ball) the real joys of the movie are our introduction to this world as we watch a young man requited and trained to join the organization. Colin Firth is excellent as the older spy bringing the younger man into the secrets of spycraft and trying to point him toward a more constructive, positive life. Mark Strong is also wonderful as one of the other members of Kingsman and Michael Caine is given a great supporting role as the head of the group as well.


I could not have been happier with this film if I had been given free tickets. Rarely has a spy thriller been more engrossing and fun in such an entertaining way. Yes, the film is violent and at times graphically so but I was surprised by how restrained it was at times, keeping blood out of scenes that might have been very....messy, let's say. The film is funny without being insulting, action packed without being incomprehensible, well plotted but not densely so and emotional without being maudlin. The movie earns its R rating in many ways but its so good natured it is able to movie from scary to suspenseful to goofy to funny without harming the  story or undermining the characters. This is my favorite new movie of the year so far and I wish I could watch it again right now!


THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL (2014)- 8 (wonderful)
MURDER MANSION (1972)- 8 (rewatch)
LONDON BY NIGHT (1937)- 6 (fog bound mystery with some shaky British accents)
JUPITER ASCENDING (2015)- 8
STONEHERST ASYLUM (2014)- 9 (beautiful gothic horror romance)
VIGILANTE (1983)- 7 (well done Death Wish variant with an abrupt ending)
DEMONIC TOYS (1992)- 4 (not very good Charles Band production)
KINGSMAN: THE SECRET SERVICE (2015)- 10 (loved it!)
DOLLMAN (1991)- 4 (another crappy Band production)
COMMAND PERFORMANCE (2009)- 7 (solid Dolph Lundgren action movie)
THE HOUSE THE VANISHED (1974)- 7 (a.k.a. Scream and...Die - solid Jose Larraz thriller)
79 A.D. (1962)- 8 (excellent sword & sandal story - full length version)
INNOCENT BYSTANDERS (1972)- 7 (well done spy thriller)
COLD IN JULY (2014)- 8
THE WILD NORTH (1952)- 8 (rewatch)
JADE (1995)- 3 (slick and stupid)
JOHN WICK (2014) - 8
LUCY (2014)- 5 (based on junk science and dumb as a bag of hammers but kind of entertaining)
THE RUNAWAY BUS (1954)- 6 (fun little British mystery) 

Wednesday, March 04, 2015

Boris Karloff horror comic book covers
















With covers like this you just have to see what lurks inside! 


Monday, March 02, 2015

THE OTHERS (2001)


The time is 1945 on one of the Jersey islands off the coast of England. Even though the war has just ended and the German occupation of the island is over, Grace Stewart (Nicole Kidman) is in a very bad situation. Only a week before all of the household servants deserted overnight leaving Grace and her two children, Anna (Alakina Mann) and Nicholas (James Bentley), alone in their sprawling mansion. The children have a rare disease that causes extreme sensitivity to bright light and makes it impossible for them to venture outside their home. Complicating matters is the sad fact that her soldier husband is overdue in returning from Europe and the children are now asking when daddy will come home now that the war is finally over. Her one bit of good fortune is that, supposedly in response to Grace's newspaper ad, three new servants have arrived and immediately start helping her handle the house. She explains her son and daughter's medical problem and over the next few days begins to unburden herself to the cook, Ms. Mills (Fionnula Flanagan). At the same time, Anna starts talking about the strange people she has been seeing around the house, describing them in great detail. She thinks they might be ghosts, but they don't have the required white sheets and clanking chains. Grace believes Anna is simply trying to scare her younger brother with spooky stories, but soon she too is hearing and seeing things in the house that she can't understand. As she begins to fear for her children's lives, it becomes apparent that something supernatural is happening — and the danger is real. 


The Others was the English language debut of Spanish filmmaker Alejandro Amenábar and it is fantastic. As this was only his third full-length feature it's amazing to find such a sure and steady hand behind the camera. As writer, director and music composer of the film, Amenábar can take the lion's share of credit for what is surely one of the best cinematic ghost stories since The Haunting (1963). Quiet and atmospheric, spooky and hypnotic, beautiful and unnerving, The Others effortlessly does what so many films try to do — draw you in, then actually scare you. Building upon the standard ghost tale setting of an old dark house with dozens of rooms, here it's necessary to keep all of the doors closed and locked to contain the sunlight that could kill the children. This means the huge house is kept in perpetual darkness giving shadows dominion over every corner and hallway. When Anna starts talking about the young boy she has seen in her room it's easy to think that he might be hiding there, just out of reach of the lamplight. The suspense of the story is very well paced, giving just enough information to hook the viewer while keeping things carefully vague and foreboding. The movie slowly builds tension as Grace begins to doubt her sanity, eventually rushing around the house with a shotgun trying desperately to find the intruders she can hear but not see.


Special mention should be made of the brilliant performances from the entire cast. Ms. Kidman is in nearly every scene of the film and is perfect as this strong but fragile woman doing her best to keep herself and her family safe. She has so many standout scenes that I hesitate to pick one, but when she's trying to answer Anna's sharp questions about where people in wars go when they die, Kidman shows a level of acting not many can reach. I still believe this (not Moulin Rouge!) is the film for which she should have been Oscar-nominated. Fionnula Flanagan is just as good as Ms. Mills. With a few sympathetic glances she communicates volumes about what she knows about the house, but won't tell. Alakina Mann as Anna is also superb, in a very difficult role and its a shame she has only done one other film since this one.


Alejandro Amenábar is a very talented filmmaker. His first two films, Open Your Eyes (remade as the Tom Cruise vehicle Vanilla Sky) and Thesis showed great ability and an affinity for horror thrillers. The Others shows that his success in Spain can carry over to the rest of the world easily. Sadly, since making this hit, he has only directed two more movies and I have seen only one of those- AGORA (2009) - which was brilliant. I would hope for more from this man and soon. 

Sunday, March 01, 2015

PULGASARI (1985) poster art




I've known about this legendary monster film from North Korea for a few years but never watched it. For some reason I got curious about it and plan to check out both it and its 1996 remake GALGAMETH in the near future. Here is a good but brief article on the bizarre story of how this film got produced (think North Korean dictator!) and below is the entire film with English subtitles on YouTube. Let's all check this one out together. 



Thursday, February 26, 2015

Beyond Naschy #13 - MURDER MANSION (1972)


After several attempts, Troy and I have finally braved the hellish ice storm weather of February and now bring you a new Beyond Naschy episode! It wasn't easy. After years of speaking about MURDER MANSION in passing, we at long last discuss the film at length even if we may set a new NaschyCast record for conversational tangents. Seriously- we talk a bit about the HIGHLANDER film series as well as the TERMINATOR movies and Joe Lansdale stories before we launch into a navel gazing meditation on the permanence of podcasts as a form. Whew! We need to podcast more often, I think.


If you've never seen MURDER MANSION you really should catch it as soon as possible. This one is fairly easy to come by on DVD and even on several streaming services so, unlike some of the movies we cover, the special antenna isn't necessary. We don't spoil the ending of the movie in this episode but you might want to avoid online reviews of the film if you want to reach the final act with the mystery still intact. The movie is a great combination of several horror themes including the Old Dark House setting, the Agatha Christie Ten Little Indians plot, lurking ghosts, tales of vampires and even a touch of giallo stalker flair to spice up the stew. In incompetent hands this mélange could have been a disaster, but the magic of that amazing year of 1972 seems to have made blending them somehow achievable. All we can do is be happy they once made movies like this!


The mailbag over-floweth this month as several fine folks write in to congratulate us for five years of podcasting. With any luck we'll continue for five more! If you have any comments or questions please write us at naschycast@gmail.com or visit us over on the NaschyCast FaceBook page. 



Wednesday, February 25, 2015

THE MANSTER (1959) poster art






MATURE HORROR SHOW! 


Sunday, February 22, 2015

Brief Thoughts - WHEN EIGHT BELLS TOLL (1971)


When I was a teenager I read several of Alistair MacLean's thrillers and enjoyed them quite a lot. I don't remember if I was very aware of the film adaptations of his work that had been done except tangentially because, at the time, they weren't of much interest to me. I had seen the fantastic GUNS OF NAVERONE (1962) and the amazing WHERE EAGLES DARE (1968) but until recently I didn't realize that MacLean adapted his own novel for the screen for Eagles - a task he repeated three more times over the next decade turning his books When Eight Bells Toll, Puppet On A Chain and Breakheart Pass into scripts. I haven't read a MacLean novel in years but I am becoming interested in doing so now that I have been reminded of his skill in telling well plotted, suspenseful tales. Last month I watched the excellent but (to my eyes) chopped down BREAKHEART PASS (1975) and now I have seen the remarkable film version of WHEN EIGHT BELLS TOLL and color me stunned.


Without a doubt WHEN EIGHT BELLS TOLL (1971) is one of the best and most underappreciated spy thrillers of the 1970's. The fact that this movie is not better known is a damned crime against cinema! I have never read anyone singling it out for praise or even drawing attention to it as a superior thriller and that is crazy. This is a great film ripe for discovery and deserving of consideration for a Blu-Ray release complete with serious extras. I want to hear Sir Anthony Hopkins' memories of making this film as well as Nathalie Delon's. Sadly, the wonderful Robert Morley and the great Jack Hawkings have long since passed away but several bit players are still around and active in the film industry - get them on the record about this movie! Now!


I may be the only person wishing for this film to be noticed and lauded but I honestly suspect that if more people saw it they would be impressed. It's a serious spy story with real wit and humor that doesn't treat the dangerous aspects of the story as jokes. It has the feel of the early Bond films before the degeneration into self-parody that made the Moore films so increasingly silly. Seek this one out, folks - it's an undiscovered classic.