Archive for the Television Category

The Mystery of Atlantis

Posted in FILM, MUSIC, Television with tags , , , , , , , on June 7, 2021 by dcairns

Another mystery solved!

I had this memory of seeing a movie at the Odeon, Clerk Street, when I was a kid. It was a terrible movie. One of many seen at that venue. At a certain point, though, the audience started laughing hysterically during a fight scene.

If you’re British, watch the scene now. If not, read on.

I asked my brother why they were laughing.

“The music,” he said.

What about the music?

“It’s The News at Ten.”

I was small and probably hadn’t seen The News at Ten, which was ITV’s 10 pm news show, as the name implies. But the ridiculousness of a fight scene being scored with news show music stayed with me. The trouble was, I couldn’t remember anything else about the film. Recent Googling of “News at Ten fight scene” got me nothing. The only development in the nearly fifty years since seeing the film was that I figured out that the cheapskates at ITV must have used library music, and the same library music must have been bought up by the makers of the dimly-recalled fantasy thriller.

I searched dumb Jesus Franco movies and whatnot. I had a suspicion this might have been a Philippines-set movie.

Finally — as a result of quasi-enjoying BLOOD THIRST, I was researching the local genre and came across what was described as one of the very few family-friendly Philippine fantasy flicks, BEYOND ATLANTIS. This seemed promising — and the promise was fulfilled.

John Ashley clutches his pearls

Mind you, I’d remembered two guys fighting on a beach, and this movie has two girls fighting in a pond. But it’s definitely the movie. There are beach fights with guys also, but the music cue is played during the underwater catfight. If you didn’t grow up with The News at Ten I can only suggest you watch and mentally substitute whichever news programme soundtrack is most familiar.

Apparently the filmmakers — old unreliable Eddie Romero directing, from a story by Stephanie Rothman — originally planned to have all the Atlantean babes be topless, but then they hired Pat Wayne as leading man and that meant it all had to be PG. But the story is inescapably sleazy and adult — it has Sid Haig as a pimp — so there’s a weird mismatch. No wonder I was baffled by it aged six or however old I was. But had the filmmakers stuck to their original plan I’d never have seen it and been haunted by that curious cue.

Pretty crazy that the same tune would be thought appropriate for the evening news and a battle to the death between two sexy girls, but news shows always try to make everything sound serious and urgent, therefore making the audience stressed out and crazy, so it does actually make sense.

This is definitely Lower Wacker Drive

Posted in FILM, MUSIC, Politics, Television with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 1, 2021 by dcairns

Hadn’t watched THE BLUES BROTHERS since the early nineties, when I watched it way too much. Fiona hadn’t seen it. One benefit of the excess viewing is that the deleted scenes that have been added into the DVD really popped out. The movie is in my DNA, for better or worse. Also, you can really see why they were deleted.

From all those viewings — Edinburgh’s Cameo Cinema used to show this film regularly, and there was one memorable screening at The Playhouse too — I had noticed how cutty it is. I’m not sure if there’s a single shot longer than five seconds in it. In the extras, John Landis attributes this to using amateur dancers in some numbers — which I think works and is very sweet in the Ray Charles sequence — and having artists like Aretha Franklin who never sing the same way twice and therefore struggle to lip-sync. To those reasons we can perhaps add the fact that the Blues Brothers Band are musicians, not actors, plus the fact that the vehicular mayhem stuff was covered with lots of cameras, naturally, and yielded an embarrassment of riches.

The hero of the hour (or two) is George Folsey Jr., editor (son of cinematographer George J. Folsey of FORBIDDEN PLANET and THE BAND WAGON), though I note that Landis isn’t just shooting a ton of coverage, he knows at least most of the time what each angle is FOR.

There’s a particularly nice touch when the Bluesmobile, having transported our heroes 106 miles to Chicago under uniquely trying circumstances, collapses in a heap of scrap at the doors of the Cook County Assessor’s Office, and Folsey cuts to reaction shots from Jake and Elwood and also from the statues adorning the building. So we go from Laurel & Hardy clown car schtick to Eisenstein.

Praise to the editor, but Landis SHOT that statues for that specific purpose. THE BLUES BROTHERS is a film of huge excess — this yields benefits not only in the overwhelming spectacle but in little details like that — imagine a director shooting a statue reaction shot in a huge public location with hundreds of extras and cops and military standing around…

Oh, and the main thing that stood out this time is the reference to Chicago’s Lower Wacker Drive, since that street became painfully familiar to me making WHO IS BILL REBANE? MONSTER A GO-GO “climaxes” in this location. Given that Mayor Daley basically banned filming in his city after an episode of M Squad showed a Chicago cop taking a bribe, we can probably assume that Landis was the first filmmaker on Lower Wacker Drive since Bill Rebane (who also got remarkable cooperation in terms of police, fire engines etc…)

WHO IS BILL REBANE? is now listed on the IMDb.

War Stars

Posted in FILM, Politics, Television with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 10, 2021 by dcairns

Then There Were Giants is a thing I picked up back when the charity shops were open. I was attracted to it because the director is Joseph Sargent and I like his THE FORBIN PROJECT and THE TAKING OF PELHAM 123 a lot. It’s also shot by John A. Alonso (CHINATOWN) and I was certainly intrigued by the casting of John Lithgow, Bob Hoskins and Michael Caine as Roosevelt, Churchill and Stalin.

The disc presents itself as a film, but is really a miniseries originally called World War II: When Lions Roared, an equally bad title.

It’s a product I guess of the reckless early days of HD video. It’s extremely cheap-looking. The impulse is to give a history lesson disguised as drama, with famous actors playing famous leaders, with a lot of stock footage to fill in the blanks. Splitscreen is used wildly to link the action occurring in Washington, London and Moscow. I don’t hate splitscreen but it combines with that cheap video look to create something you really can’t watch — like THE HOBBIT in Higher Frame Rate. Well, you can watch it, but only in the same way that you can gnaw your own leg off.

Lithgow is delightful as always but the show’s hagiographic approach, broadly winked at in both titles, robs Franklin D. of some useful humanity. Bob Hoskins tries hard at being Churchillian and does better than you might expect, but not well enough to make you stop seeing and hearing Bob Hoskins, and Michael Caine has never been exactly a man of a thousand voices…

He proves to be a ludicrous Stalin, I regret to say. Since Uncle Joe would have been speaking Russian, doing him in English with a Russian accent is a silly approach, but doing him Cockney would have been, I guess, unacceptable. So he tries his hand at something vaguely Russian, which blends with his undisguisable and familiar tones to summon up the shade of an East End immigrant from Sir Michael’s dim youth, and suggests that it would be lovely to see Caine play such a character, but not Stalin, whose spirit remains stubbornly unchanneled.

Sargent and Caine also did JAWS: THE REVENGE together so maybe their collaboration was jinxed. Maybe if Caine had played “Hoagie” in the JAWS sequel as Stalin, and vice versa, it would have worked better. I assure you it couldn’t be any worse.

The worst of it is, everybody’s THOUGHT about this thing. Stalin is introduced silently, to allow you to get used to the idea. Caine has noted the impassive affect Stalin presents in film footage, and mimics it accurately, his face becoming a mask, as inexpressive as his moustache. Alonso has attempted to subtly differentiate the different continents with lighting. All the good choices look bad and make the bad choices look worse. Blame it on HD, miscasting, and Rio.

The solution for this show would be at the same time easy and impossible — claw back some of the budget by hiring cheaper, less famous actors (maybe Ed Begley Jr and Jan Triska could be promoted). Spend it on celluloid and better sets: don’t waste it on stock footage, unless you have a plan as weird as HOW I WON THE WAR’s to integrate it. Go for stylisation rather than unsuccessfully attempts at authenticity (the House of Commons is basically some tables in this one). I guess they ARE attempting to achieve stylisation with the splitscreen and stock footage, but what they’re achieving is just cheapness.

Play it on empty, black sets.

Stay in closeup as much as possible. Embrace the televisual!

But the makers of this piece probably had to cast big, inappropriate actors in order to get the thing made. After all, I picked up the disc because I recognised the star names.