What Lisa Marie Watched Last Night #54 (Horror Edition): Fortress (dir. by Arch Nicholson)


Yesterday morning, after I woke up at 3 in the morning and simply could not get back to sleep, I ended up watching a 1985 film from Australia on Cinemax.  The name of that film?  Fortress.

Why Was I Watching It?

The main reason I ended up watching it was because I woke up way too early and couldn’t get back to sleep.  Once I accepted the fact that 1) I wasn’t going to get back to sleep and 2) I was going to be a very tired girl by the time I got off work, it just made sense to watch a movie.  While there were over a 100 films playing on TV around three in the morning, I ended up watching Fortress because it was the only one I had never heard of.  Add to that, the cable guide both identified the film as a horror film and told me that the film was released the same year I was born.  Seriously, how couldn’t I watch?

What’s It About?

Fortress tells the story of what happens when a teacher (played by Rachel Ward) and her class are kidnapped by a bunch of a mask-wearing thugs.  When Ward and her students manage to escape from their captors, they find themselves being pursued through the Australian outback.  Finally, both the teacher and her students start to fight back and, in the best tradition of a 70s grindhouse film, eventually reveal themselves to be just as a savage as their enemies.

What Worked?

I have to admit that I was actually surprised that I had never heard of Fortress  before because it’s a surprisingly well-made film.  Ward gives an excellent performance in the lead role and the actors playing her students are all natural and very believable.  Best of all, the film’s villains are completely believable and sincerely frightening.  The gimmick of having them all wear masks actually works surprisingly well.  Their leader wears a Father Christmas mask and the contrast between his harsh manner and his jolly mask makes for some chilling moments.

I have to admit that, at first, I was wondering why this film was classified as being a horror film.  After all, there were no supernatural monsters and, even if the bad guys were wearing masks, they were still obviously human.  But, as the film progressed, I realized that the film was a true horror film.  It was scary because it was real.  It was scary because, unlike so many other horror films, it dealt with the type of situation that could happen to anyone unlucky enough to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Also, there was a scene where Rachel Ward was attempting to swim to safety and her character nearly drowned.  As regular readers of the site may know, I have a very intense fear of drowning and, needless to say, the sight of Ward underwater and frantically struggling to reach the surface made me go, “Agck!”

What Didn’t Work

It all worked.  Some of that, undoubtedly, had to do with the fact that I was watching the film at 3 in the morning.

“OH MY GOD!  JUST LIKE ME!” Moments

I would like to hope that, if I ever found myself in a similar situation, I would be as strong and courageous as the teacher was in this film.  That’s probably wishful thinking on my part but I like to think that I would at least try to make the effort.

That said, I mostly identified with the poor girl who, while hiding from the kidnappers, bursts into tears and explains to Ward, “Sorry, miss, it’s the curse.” Seriously, that would be just my luck.

Lessons Learned:

I need to work on my swimming.

October Music Series: Смута – Ворон


From the sweeping, epic introduction to the wild guitar solos falling somewhere between power metal and melodic death, Ворон (Voron) is one of those songs that struck me like a brick the very first time I heard it. Смута (Smuta) are yet another band out of Russia, hailing from Rybinsk in Yaroslavl Oblast. I don’t know much about the band, and I’ve been too hopelessly distanced from anything but my (relatively) mainstream folk metal connections to keep up with them lately, but their 2007 debut full-length, Смута Крови (Smuta Krovi), was a surprisingly well-informed album for a band that doesn’t appear to have any connections to the bigger names of the genre.

The death metal vocals are the only consistent factor throughout the album, with musical themes that incorporate Finntroll-esque folk metal, Pagan Reign/Твердь-styled Slavic pagan metal, some power metal and melodic death guitars, and a uniquely tame approach to black metal. It’s got nothing on Falconer’s Armod for perfecting a merger of the myriad metal subgenres, but it’s a worthy effort, and it grants them a unique sound which, with better production and a little more edge, could evolve into something really amazing. They’ve released two albums since Smuta Krovi that I’ve yet to hear, and revisiting the band here has certainly peaked my curiosity.

Voron is definitely the stand-out track of the album, and the intro says it all. It’s the one track in which their lack of an edge can definitely count as a good thing. The brief opening segment is enough to give a solid fantasy essence to a song that really doesn’t fit that bill beyond the thirty second mark, placing it in the odd context of bearing sort of formal, almost royal imagery that you can somehow pull off your best air guitar imitation to.

Which Way Forward For The “Batman” Movie Franchise? Take Eighteen : Costume Survey Results!


 

Well, the votes are in, and the most popular choice among commentators on this blog for the costume that batman should wear in our new hypothetical trilogy is — not the one in the picture above.  By my count we had three votes for the radically different Batman Beyond-style suit, and one for the 1970s-style suit. I can see good arguments to be made for both, but neither, I fear is quite what this new trilogy needs. Nope, the suit that, to me, best fits in with the version of Batman we want to portray here is the costume from Batman : The Animated Series. Let me tell you why —

First off, we’re going for something of a “throwback” iteration of the character here. Less emphasis on physical action, more on detective work. Less grim n’ gritty, and more heroic — but the character should be as mysterious, I feel, as ever. I think the animated series-style suit, as shown above from the Batman : Arkham City costume selection menu, speaks to those qualities a little better than the others. The Batman Beyond suit is too futuristic and too inaccessible to the general, non-Bat-fan public, and  the 1970s-style suit , in contrast, goes a bit too far in the other direction , in my opinion — it’s too closely associated with the comic bookas people remember it from their youth.

Now, there are certainly a couple things I’d change even with the animated series-style suit — I’d ditch the yellow oval around the bat, for sure, and lose the blue trunks, hood, and cape in favor of black — but I would keep the lighter grayish-black of the overall costume and then have the bat, sans yellow oval, be very dark black. But one thing I’d definitely leave as unchanged as possible are the exaggerated, whited-out eyes. Let’s face it — we’ve seen Batman’s eyes in every Bat-film, as well as the 1960s TV series, and it’s getting old. Whiting out his eyes gives him added anonymity and a more fierce and determined look.

But how’s he gonna see, you ask? Good question. remember the scene in The Dark Knight where he lowered those blinders over his eyes, whiting them out, and it gave him a kind of night vision? It looked pretty damn cool, didn’t it? Well, I propose the same thing, only it can be adjustable — he can see infrared-style, or with “heat-sensor” type vision, or with a type of “X-ray vision,” or even just standard — all depending on the verbal command he gives his suit via his cowl mic. In addition, the whited-out eyes will function as a type of transmitter to relay visual information back to the Batcave, something we’ll see in the very next scene that I get into. And yes, I changed the font for this paragraph on purpose just to drive home the point I’m trying to make here in the closest way that WordPress will allow.

So that’s how I see things. Even if you, dear reader, disagree with my choice, I hope I’ve laid out my reasoning for why I’ve decided the way I have in a way that makes both aesthetic and logical sense. To me, this costume is both mysterious and heroic and has a sort of retro high-tech feel without being a goddamn suit of armor like we’re used to seeing him wear in recent films.

So that’s it on the costume front, when next we rejoin this series — which will probably be in about a week or so, I’ve got some horror movie reviews to catch up on before Halloween — we’ll jump back into the story proper, so I look forward to seeing all of you back with me then!

James Bond Film Review: You Only Live Twice (dir. by Lewis Gilbert)


In the days leading up to the American release of Skyfall, the Shattered Lens has been taking a look at the previous films in the James Bond franchise.  Today, we take a look at the 5th official James Bond film, 1967’s You Only Live Twice.

Released two years after the critically derided but financially succesful Thunderball, You Only Live Twice was a step in a new direction for the Bond series.  As Sinclair McKay explains in his brilliant book on the Bond films, The Man With The Golden Touch,  both the world and the movies changed a lot between 1965 and 1967 and You Only Live Twice reflected that change.  Director Lewis Gilbert and screenwriter Roald Dahl were newcomers to the Bond series and the film they created would serve as a prototype for the flamboyant, big budget espionage fantasies that would come to epitomize many of the later entries in the franchise.

You Only Live Twice begins with one the Bond franchise’s more elaborate precredit sequences.  During these first few minutes, the film rather boldly announces that You Only Live Twice is going to be a bit of a departure from the previous Bond films.  The film begins not with Bond but with two anonymous American astronauts orbiting the Earth in a small capsule.  The two astronauts are blandly chatting with mission control on Earth when, suddenly, another spacecraft approaches and literally swallows the American capsule whole.  One of the astronauts is hurled into space as a result and, as his body spins away, it’s obvious that Bond’s not going to be dealing with something bigger than just another guy looking to hold up Fort Knox.

The Americans blame the Russians while the Russians claim that they’re being framed by Americans and the entire world appears to be on the verge of war.  But as always happens in the Bond films, the British are there to keep everyone from overreacting.  A British diplomat is seen calming down the belligerent super powers and assuring them that MI6’s “best man” is already on the case.

(One of the undeniably charming things about the Connery and Roger Moore  Bond films is the way that the United Kingdom is portrayed as being the world’s unofficial third superpower.)

Cut to Hong Kong, where James Bond is lying in bed and asking his latest conquest, “Why do Chinese girls taste different?”  And, at this point, I think it’s fair to say that Bond is really lucky that he looks like a young Sean Connery.  Suddenly, gunmen storm the bedroom and open fire, apparently killing 007.

Oh no!  I guess the world is doomed, right?  We’re left to consider this sad reality as we watch the opening credits and listen to Nancy Sinatra sing the film’s excellent theme song.

Well, of course, James Bond isn’t really dead.  He faked his death so that he can safely go to Tokyo and investigate who was behind the attack on the space craft.  You Only Live Twice was filmed almost entirely on location in Japan and a good deal of the film’s first half is devoted to scenes of Bond simply observing Japanese culture.  It’s a bit like Lost In Translation with an espionage subplot.

After fighting a few random henchmen, Bond meets Tiger Tanaka (Tetsuro Tamba), the head of the Japanese secret service.  Tanaka seems to spend the majority of his time getting massages from the dozen or so young women who wait on him hand-and-foot.  “In Japan,” he tells Bond, “men come first, women come second.”  “I might just retire here,” Bond replies.  Uhmmm…okay.  Thank you, 1967.

In order to continue the ruse that Bond’s dead, Tanaka arranges for Bond to take on an assumed identity.  After being trained on all aspects of Japanese culture and on how to fight like a ninja, Bond is heavily disguised to look like a Japanese fisherman.  Tanaka arranges for Bond to fake marry a local girl named Kissy (Mie Hama).  Kissy is probably one of the least interesting Bond girls in the history of the franchise.  Beyond walking around in a bikini while wearing high heels, Kissy just doesn’t have much of a personality.

Bond and Tanaka’s investigation lead them to a shady industrialist named Osato and his secretary Helga Brandt (Karin Dor).  Helga is about as close as You Only Live Twice comes to featuring a strong female character.  Not only is she an assassin who has no problem with killing a man who she’s just had sex with but she’s also a redhead, just like me!

Anyway, it’s not until very late in the film that we finally meet Helga’s boss.  If for no other reason, You Only Live Twice will always be remembered for featuring one of the great Bond villains.  After being seen in the previous Bond films as just a hand stroking a white cat, Ernest Stavros Blofeld makes his first on-screen appearance here and fortunately, he’s played by Donald Pleasence.

Looking at Pleasence’s performance today, the natural tendency is to compare his Blofeld to the iconic character that he inspired, Mike Myers’ Dr. Evil.  However, one reason that Dr. Evil became such a popular character is because Donald Pleasence’s Blofeld is one of the great film bad guys.  As delivered by Pleasence in his casually off-center way, every line of Blofeld’s dialogue drips with the promise of perversion and hints of the neurosis that fuels his every action.  Blofeld spends most of the movie hiding out in a secret base that’s hidden inside a hollow volcano.  He strokes that ever-present white cat and uses a pool of piranhas to punish failure.  It is a credit to Pleasence’s performance that you never, for a second, doubt that Blofeld could very well be living in a hollow volcano.

I have to admit that You Only Live Twice is not my favorite James Bond film, though there are plenty of things that I do like about it.  Bernard Lee, Lois Maxwell, and Desmond Llewelyn all make welcome appearances and there is a genuinely exciting scene where Bond flies around in a toy helicopter.  Working on his first and only Bond film, Oscar-winning cinematographer Freddie Young captured some beautiful images of Japan and Blofeld’s volcano lair is one of the franchise’s best locations.

That said, You Only Live Twice often moves a bit too slowly for its own good and, with the exception of Blofeld and occasionally Helga Brandt, none of the film’s supporting characters are all that interesting.  Charles Gray, who later took over the role of Blofeld in Diamonds Are Forever, has a nice cameo as a decadent retired intelligence agent but he’s killed off before he can make too much of an impression.  Perhaps worst of all, Connery spends most of this film looking like he’d rather be doing anything other than play James Bond for the fifth time.  By his own account, Connery eventually grew bored with the role and that’s certainly obvious in You Only Live Twice.

Connery’s boredom can perhaps explain why, during the shooting of You Only Live Twice, it was announced that he would not be returning to play the role in the 6th Bond film.  The Bond franchise would continue with On Her Majesty’s Secret Service but it appeared that Connery would no longer be a part of it.

We’ll be taking a look at that film tomorrow.

Horror Scenes I Love: Scanners (by David Cronenberg)


[SPOILERS!!!!]

I’ve already shared a favorite scene from David Cronenberg’s landmark scifi/horror film Scanners over a year ago that saw a head explode. For October’s horror-themed month I picked another great scene from this film that always stuck with me long after I’ve finished watching the film each and every time.

The scene I’m talking about is the climactic showdown between Good Scanner Cameron and Evil Scanner Revok. This scene was filmed before the advent of CGI-effects and Cronenberg never had the sort of big-budgets to hire the top FX make-up artists to work on his films. Yet, Cronenberg ended up creating one of the best scenes ever put on film about two people fighting each other using their minds. We never see their mental abilities shooting off psychic blasts at each other but the performance by both Michael Ironside as Revok and Stephen Lack as Cameron was so believable that it made the scene work when it could’ve turned so cheesy and disastrous in the hands of a different filmmaker and other actors.

The battle ends but we’re left to believe the good guy lost and evil triumphs. This feeling pretty much plays out right up to the final scene before fade to black and even then we’re not sure if the final reveal is true or not. Either way there’s no better way to bookend the exploding head intro than with two psychic beings duking it out mentally with blood, spontaneous combustion and creepy white eyes added in for style.