Monthly Archives: March 2022

The Mystery of Mr. Wong (1939)

*. The set-up to The Mystery of Mr. Wong seemed awfully familiar to me. At a swank party a brief amateur drama is presented after a round of charades. The play has a man being shot at the end, but after the applause has settled the victim doesn’t get up because he’s been shot for real!
*. I was sure that the fake killing that turns out to be real had been done before. I seem to remember it popping up in some old novels, like Ngaio Marsh’s Enter a Murderer (1935). The most likely source here though was a 1931 movie called Murder at Midnight, which I hadn’t seen. So not a new idea, but still a good one. There’s a murder committed in front of a room full of witnesses and nobody knows whodunit. Unfortunately for the murderer. Mr. Wong was in attendance.
*. Mr. Wong was a transparent attempt to piggyback on the Charlie Chan franchise, though given the low quality of many of the Chan efforts the Wong films don’t fall short of the original. That’s particularly the case here, as Boris Karloff’s Mr. Wong is superior to anything Sidney Toler was doing at the time and in this outing we don’t get bogged down with any of the crazy murder methods that became a kind of running joke in the later Chans. This latter point is all the more surprising, as the first Mr. Wong movie had one of the craziest killer scenarios ever. But in this one, perhaps because they were borrowing from an earlier, simpler source, they dialed that part down.
*. The plot is also relatively straightforward. Somebody gets killed and a rare sapphire, the Eye of the Daughter of the Moon, is stolen. There are the usual upper-class suspects assembled — even a Russian named Strogonoff, which you’ll be shocked to learn is actually an alias — but at least I could keep most of them straight. The Asian supporting players are presented respectfully and there’s none of the minstrel-show comic relief that the Chan series adopted.
*. In short, they kept most of what works in the Chan movies (like the trap set for the killer at the end, and a ballistics scene for the proto-CSI crowd) and got rid of a lot that doesn’t. The production is pretty barebones, but some interesting camera angles are thrown in. And for once the killer has a comprehensible motivation. So they ended up with a not-bad old-school mystery that’s maybe a notch above the Chan movies coming out around this time. But does that make it worth watching? No.

Prince of the Himalayas (2006)

*. Shakespeare travels well. Othello has been relocated to the Wild West (Jubal) and The Tempest set in outer space (Forbidden Planet), so why not play Hamlet in Tibet?
*. If nothing else, you know you’re going to get some nice scenery. And indeed the scenery and the native costumes are the main attraction here. The elaborate headwear alone is worth the price of admission. At least, if you’re into that kind of thing.
*. As for the Shakespeare, it’s middling. The basic plot and characters are all in place. Prince Lhamoklodan returns home to find his father dead and his uncle, who is now king, married to his mother. He reignites a romantic relationship with Odsaluyang (Ophelia), hangs out with his friend Horshu (Horatio), is visited by the ghost of his murdered father, vows revenge, and ends up killing Odsaluyang’s father Po-lha-nyisse (Polonius). Odsaluyang’s brother Lessar (Laertes) comes back and there’s a duel and everyone’s dead at the end.

*. A lot of the dialogue is recognizable too, at least as it is rendered in subtitles (apparently it was done in Tibetan, which means that almost everyone who sees it will be reading subtitles). There’s a terrific moment in the scene where Lhamoklodan (Hamlet) asks his mother to compare the pictures of his father and his uncle. In Shakespeare, Hamlet describes his father as having “Hyperion’s curls, the front of Jove himself, an eye like Mars, to threaten and command, a station like the herald Mercury New lighted on a heaven-kissing hill.” In the movie he’s said to look “like a heroic yak.”

*. Other differences are intriguing. In the first place, the Gertrude and Claudius characters here were lovers before Gertrude married Hamlet Sr., and the old king was a right bastard. When he found out that she’d been fooling around with his brother he became abusive and inflicted upon her “the cruelest punishment.” I’m not sure what this amounted to but it seems to have involved some kind of sexual violence. Complicating matters more, Hamlet is actually Gertrude and Claudius’s love child, conceived before she married Hamlet Sr. When he found out about that he planned on killing them both, but Claudius got him first by way of a poisoned lap-dog.
*. All of this has the effect of making Claudius (his name here is Kulo-gnam) a far more sympathetic figure, while the ghost of Hamlet Sr. is an evil spirit just looking for revenge.

*. The other big change is that Lhamoklodan and Odsaluyang fully consummate their love and she is pregnant when she kills herself. Indeed, she gives birth in the river she drowns in, with her baby being rescued by a witchy wolf-woman who looks like one of the Weird Sisters dropped in from Macbeth.

*. I suppose purists might take exception to all this, but I found these new twists on the old tale to be fascinating. They turn it into a new story, but at the same time they also make you think of the old story in a new light. What if the ghost really was just a bitter shit? What if Claudius wasn’t such a bad guy?
*. Of course, the changes mean that the ending becomes something very different. Hamlet now has a death wish and a Laertes to kill him, while Claudius is actually trying to kill Laertes to save Hamlet. Nobody is thinking straight, but the upshot is that there’s a final message that is all about forgiveness and reconciliation and not revenge. A new hope arises as the wolf woman brings out the baby, which also means there’s no need of the Fortinbras character (an Amazon queen here) to be reintroduced.
*. In sum, this is a movie that I think anyone interested in adaptations of Shakespeare will want to hunt down. It is not a great movie. Director Sherwood Hu strikes me as being a little too fond of the historical costume-drama stuff. He doesn’t do action sequences well, and tries too hard to cover up for the fact. Nor does the score help much at such moments (the music accompanying the fight over Ophelia’s body as it lies on its spirit boat at the shore of the lake seemed particularly inappropriate, at least to my ear). Some of the editing struck me as bizarre, as though much more had been shot and big chunks had then been taken out.
*. Still, it’s Hamlet. In Tibet! And it works and it’s new.

It’s Not All Rock & Roll (2020)

*. At the beginning of the twenty-first century there was a sudden take-off in interest in televised talent shows, headlined by the Got Talent franchise created by Simon Cowell. I only ever watched one episode, and Cowell was one of the judges. I could understand the attraction the show had: you might see a star being born or enjoy wannabes having their dreams crushed. Anyway, in the episode I watched a dismissed contestant complained that he or she had talent and Cowell upbraided them, basically saying “So what?” The parking lot outside the audition studio was full of people with talent. The judges weren’t looking for talent, he said, they were looking for stars.
*. Commenting on the Got Talent phenomenon years ago, George Will opined that “American is lumpy with talent.” Stars are rarer. Watching It’s Not All Rock & Roll made me think of this. Dave Doughman is a musician who grew up outside of Dayton, Ohio but now finds himself residing in Hamburg, Germany, where he makes a living stacking shipping containers. Is he talented? On the evidence supplied in the film, I’d say he is. But when I was working the floor in an industrial concern doing work not dissimilar to Doughman’s twenty years ago there were at least three fellows on the same shift as me who had cut their own indie CDs. They were talented too.
*. Is Doughman a star? Or does he have star potential? That’s harder to answer. He has charisma (it would be hard to make a film like this work without it) and his resemblance to Borat gets him work as a model. So he’s a guy with feet in both worlds: a rocker and male model, and a divorced dad stuck in a blue-collar job, the sort of person for whom, as the recording industry cliché has it, “it just isn’t going to happen.”
*. At the very least we have to respect and even admire his persistence. He’s one of those people who were born to perform, going back to putting on backyard daredevil shows as a kid. As for his musical career, in his own words “the film is about how I’m not famous but that I’ve been still doing it for twenty years.” But he also says he doesn’t want to be rich and famous but only wants to be a working musician (that is, someone who goes on the road) and a good father.
*. Honourable goals, though they sound like coping. Still, it’s that coping that I think gives us something of real value.
*. As has been extensively chronicled — I recommend the books Culture Crash by Scott Timberg and The Death of the Artist by William Deresiewicz — the digital revolution has been a disaster for artists across the board. Even well-established visual artists, writers, filmmakers, and musicians have seen their ability to make a living wiped out. Then came the 2020 pandemic lockdown and what was a disaster turned into a catastrophe.
*. I find this background to be important, and it’s something I would have liked to have heard more about. But I don’t know if Doughman even owns a computer or if he has any online presence, and the film was made before COVID shut down all the bars we see him playing at. So while he’s a recognizable type in some ways, how representative is he of the working musician of the 2020s? And what are his survival strategies?
*. One way to cope is by living in a dream. This is something I think every artist has to indulge just to survive. Doughman talks about how he imagines a stadium of fans every time he takes the stage, likening himself at one point to a Method actor: “For me it’s always sold-out Madison Square Garden.” The reality is less glamorous, but what artist wants to settle for reality?
*. As with any documentary profile of this type we’re left to wonder at what isn’t said, or what voices aren’t heard. We see Doughman interacting with his son, but the kid’s mom isn’t in the picture. He always refers to his “band” — known as Swearing at Motorists — but it seems to only consist of himself and a series of drummers he’s gone through over the years. He admits at one point that he can be hard to work with, so I guess these drummers weren’t of the exploding Spın̈al Tap variety but either bailed or couldn’t keep up with Doughman’s continental drift. There’s also an unpleasant confrontation shown where Doughman gets in somebody’s face at one of his gigs, all of which made me think that despite all of his charm Doughman is not an easy person to get along with.
*. The plight of the “working artist” in the twenty-first century is a subject of immense importance, and It’s Not All Rock & Roll gives a valuable street-level perspective on it. Doughman’s eccentricity though might limit what it has to say about the larger problems facing the arts economy. This is a life it’s hard for me to even imagine. Some old advice, however, still has value for struggling artists everywhere: Learn a trade and don’t quit your day-job.

The Incredibles (2004)

*. The Incredibles was a big hit for Pixar at a time when they were a studio that couldn’t go wrong. It spawned a sequel and is still fondly remembered by many. Looking at it with fresh eyes (I didn’t see it when it came out, so mine are virgin) was its success justified?
*. Basically Mr. Incredible is a Superman-type hero who marries Elastigirl, who is stretchy like Reed Richards. They have three kids who also have superpowers: Violet can turn invisible and generate a protective forcefield, Dash is the Flash, and there’s a baby with so-far untapped potential.
*. After a legal meltdown (something similar would be used for the Marvel Civil War plotline) The Incredibles, now known as the Parrs, take up new identities as suburban nobodies. But Mr. Incredible still wants to play the hero and soon finds himself enlisted by a mystery man to do various jobs. Until it turns out that the mystery man is actually a supervillain with a grudge against Mr. Incredible, leading to a climactic battle that draws in the whole family.
*. Acknowledging that this isn’t the kind of thing I’m interested in, I have to say that even so the story let me down. I didn’t find anything about it interesting. The villain is a Bond rip-off (his base is even in a volcano), and aside from one scene where Elastigirl got caught in a series of doorways I didn’t think any of the action was imaginative or new.
*. I also didn’t care much for the animation. Lots of big eyes and plastic-looking faces that double-down on making the characters look like dolls (or toys). I actually found myself enjoying the end credits the most, which were done in the more traditional cel-animation style.
*. But then all superhero movies today are basically CGI animation anyway. The battle with the deathbot at the end here looks nearly exactly the same as the fight with the giant starfish creature at the end of The Suicide Squad. A blockbuster movie today is CGI. It’s not just a tool but what the medium of film has become.
*. Of course there is the usual family-friendly message to it all. They even hit you over the head with it at the end as Dash exclaims “I love my family!” And that’s fine as far as it goes. But I thought there was a more annoying subtext.
*. The point I think they want to make is that being different is good. This is much the same idea you get in Marvel movies. The X-Men, for example, have to overcome society’s prejudice against mutants. But then there’s the extra turn of the screw that wrecks everything. The mutants are actually homo superior (as Magneto has it). Difference isn’t just to be celebrated; being normal has to be despised.
*. This is very much the point being made here. The Incredibles try to fit in but normal life is so boring and normal people so awful. I mean, they aren’t just losers, but they’re bitter about it. They’re like Mr. Huff at the insurance company, or Dash’s teacher. But most of all they’re like the villainous Syndrome: the wannabe superhero who turns heel. He has no actual superpowers so he invents his own. But nerds aren’t allowed to crash the superhero club. That’s a genetic lottery, and normies have to stay in their lane.
*. Is this the sort of message a kids’ movie should be presenting? As I say, it’s one thing to say it’s OK to be different, but quite another to slag someone who is only average as being behind a sinister conspiracy of mediocrity.
*. There were also some stereotypes thrown in that made me shake my head. Frozone (Samuel L. Jackson) seems not far removed from old-school ethnic humour. And why is Elastigirl upset about what her middle-aged ass looks like in spandex? If she can stretch herself into any shape she wants, why doesn’t she give herself a butt lift?
*. I did like the voice work of Craig T. Nelson as Mr. Incredible and especially Holly Hunter as Elastigirl. And though I don’t care for the style of animation it’s certainly polished and easy to look at. So if it’s your thing then have it. But it’s not mine, and I’m not sure the messaging stands close examination.

The Remaining (2014)

*. So we’re at this wedding and there are these three dudes (Dan, Jack, and Tommy) and these two girls (Skylar and Allie, for sure!) which means there’s an odd man out (that would be Tommy) and he’s there to hold the camera and everything is going fine except for the fact that Tommy isn’t just carrying a camera but a torch for the girl who isn’t getting married (that would be Allie) and then people start dropping dead from what the news people are calling “instant death syndrome” and fire falls from the sky and it’s a shaky-cam shitstorm and before you can scream Cloverfield! or Rec 3! someone else with a deeper gnosis says “No it’s not zombies or aliens it’s the Rapture!” and so you think is this Left Behind? and now you’re on the right track because who wouldn’t want some of that Christian end-of-days cheddar? but you’re still thinking this would look better with zombies in it so when the alt-chick who didn’t go to church enough to be hoovered up says not to be afraid of a corpse because it won’t bite, you feel a bit disappointed, but to make up for not having zombies you do get the Fallen who are these creatures from Revelation that have a toxic bite that doesn’t turn you into a zombie but does turn your skin a nasty colour and kills you but it doesn’t matter anyway because you already missed the bus didn’t you? and hiding out in a church isn’t going to help much because even if you go to church (or, LOL!, consider yourself to be “spiritual”) it doesn’t matter unless you’re in a right relationship with Jesus, which is something the pastor of the church has just figured out! so you can choose Jesus and it seems like you probably should but you should also know that in getting baptized or confessing your faith you’re going to be the first (well, after the one Black person hiding out in the church, natch) to get torn apart by demons because faith is blood in the water to demons, churches offer no sanctuary, Bibles turn to ash, and the U.S. military isn’t going to be able to save you from these powers of spiritual darkness that have taken over the world and that can strike you dead any instant with a tentacle descending from a cloud so maybe you should reconsider all of this, including why you’re watching a Christian horror film in the first place when Christian rock didn’t work out that well either and though to give them credit the production values are actually better than you’re probably expecting here The Remaining is a crazy mess in terms of its messaging and not very uplifting either which may be why the MPAA PG-13 warning is for “intense sequences of terror, violence and destruction throughout, and thematic elements” because I don’t really know what thematic elements would need a warning here except for the one that says you need to choose wisely when picking what movie you’re going to watch tonight.

Othello (1922)

*. Silent Shakespeare. There was a lot of it, but what was the point?
*. What I mean is, Shakespeare isn’t known for his great plots, which he often borrowed anyway (as he did in the case of Othello). A Shakespeare play is a text, that is, it’s language. You can present and adapt that language an infinite number of ways, but still it’s an experience built around the spoken word. But a silent film is going to have to be something else. When Orson Welles was asked if Shakespeare would be a film director if he were alive today (this was in the 1960s) he said of course. But would Shakespeare have been a film director in the silent era? I don’t think so. I don’t think he would have thought it worth doing.
*. That said, if you really have to do Shakespeare without dialogue then this early version of Othello is about as good as it’s going to get. The story is essentially the same, but changed in numerous ways in order to make it more visual.
*. To take an obvious example, there’s a wholly original but very effective scene where Iago reveals the handkerchief to Othello to cool him down after one of his jealous rages. This is a nicely arranged shot between the two of them, with both facing the camera and Othello’s eyes only coming open as Iago makes a fuss over his pillows like a knowing lover (the whole thing is done in an almost erotic fashion). It works really well, without any dialogue, but there’s nothing that corresponds to it in the play.

*. Or take as another example the opening. Instead of tossing us into the middle of an argument between Iago and Roderigo (which would be impossible without a dozen dialogue cards), we get a scene of pomp and ceremony of the kind that movies are accomplished with. This actually takes us back in time to an event that occurs before the beginning of the play as we have it, with Othello returning to Venice as a conquering hero and announcing his choice of lieutenant. Iago is confident he’s the man, but Othello adopts Cassio, leading to Iago’s plans for revenge.
*. That’s all there is, by the way, to explain Iago’s much-debated (at least among scholars) “motiveless malignancy.” There’s nothing said about Iago’s own sexual jealousy or any other grudge he holds against the Moor. He’s just angry at being passed over.
*. Another change is that Othello kills Iago at the end, before doing away with himself. Is that because this is a movie, or because it was 1922? Shakespeare was adapted in quite radical ways right from the early going. Nahum Tate’s King Lear, which had a happy ending (Lear and Cordelia both live), held the stage from the 17th to the 19th century. Othello killing Iago was only a minor change, all things considered.
*. So overall I think the way this is a terrific adaptation, turning the play into a fast-moving drama dependent on lots of well choreographed physical action rather than layered language. What’s perhaps most surprising is how restrained it is. The sets look great, but they’re not overwhelming or expressionistic. They look suitably grand but not theatrical.

*. Then there are the performances: Emil Jannings as Othello and Werner Krauss as Iago. Given the conventions of silent-film acting, and the heightened emotionality of the play, you’d be forgiven for expecting them to out-Herod Herod. Instead they are, if anything, underplayed. Jannings is reserved and never flies into a rage. The closest he comes is when he writhes in his sleep while dreaming of Cassio and Desdemona together, or when he tears the handkerchief apart with his teeth (a bit which seems almost restrained in context and was probably a bit of stage business anyway). Krauss gets to ham things up a little more as the Vice of the piece, and when he’s scampering around the palace stage-directing things and even taking a tumble in his excitement he seems only missing a devil suit complete with a tail and a horned hood. But even this manic exuberance isn’t totally out of keeping with some interpretations of the role.
*. In fact, what’s most outré about the two leads are Othello’s loud pyjamas and Iago’s upswept winged moustache. I wonder what the correct name for that moustache is. I tried looking it up online, but couldn’t find it.
*. So all-in-all I think this is a great film. But is it Shakespeare? Only sort of. It’s a tale from Shakespeare made into a movie. Not something less, but different.

Welcome to New York (2014)

*. When you look at the start of Abel Ferrara’s career and films like The Driller Killer and Ms. 45, then middle work like Bad Lieutenant, and stand these alongside Welcome to New York do you see continuity? Evolution? Or only a slightly different kind of monster in a tonier NYC neighbourhood?
*. Welcome to New York tells a story torn from the headlines, being a scarcely veiled fictionalization of the Dominque Strauss-Kahn affair. I won’t go into the details, but it is worth noting that the charges against Strauss-Kahn were dropped and that he threatened the film’s producers for libel. I don’t know how all that worked out.
*. But back to the monster. In this case it’s an apex predator named George Devereaux played by Gérard Depardieu (they kept Depardieu’s initials, not Strauss-Kahn’s, perhaps because Depardieu has had his own issues with rape and sexual assault allegations). Devereaux is a man of ginormous sexual appetites, nicely symbolized here by Depardieu’s gargantuan gut. You get to see all of Depardieu in this movie, including full-frontal nudity, and there is a lot to see. I mean, he’s huge. A veritable mountain of flesh. But it’s what’s inside that counts.
*. And what’s inside? Not much, and what there is isn’t pretty. Is Deveraux pursued by inner demons and addictions, like Harvey Keitel’s lieutenant? Or is he just a hungry, horny hippo in heat? We never find out, and I have to wonder if part of the problem with the role was Depardieu’s obvious difficulty and discomfort with his English lines.
*. I think the point may be however that we shouldn’t expect there to be much there. Devereaux is a balloon, his world the bubble of privilege. The word “privilege” gets thrown around a lot these days, most often attached to “male” or “white.” What it’s really all about is the power to shape and fashion one’s own reality, wherein other people are just support staff. In such a world, what’s the difference between a prostitute, a personal assistant, a cleaning lady, and a wife? None that Devereaux can imagine. When he asks the cleaning lady “Do you know who I am?” you get the feeling he could be asking his wife (Jacqueline Bisset) the same. And does even she know who he is? If she doesn’t she’s just been kidding herself. Shades of Carmela Soprano there.
*. Deveraux is no Tony Soprano though, despite puffing on a fat cigar. He doesn’t have, or isn’t given, the same intelligence or depth. This is a shame, as he might have been more interesting as a lily that had festered. The long speech he gives that shows his slide from idealistic professor to disillusioned World Bank official (“I understood the futility of struggling against this insurmountable tsunami of troubles that we face”) comes across as potted and beneath a figure of his presumed intellect. It’s barroom philosophy.
*. It never seems as though he belongs in a world that he’s apparently only married into. The film juxtaposes high and low and, but (as long as he stays quiet) Depardieu looks more at home in the New York penal system than he does in his $60,000/month rental.
*. And that may be the point. That our elites (political, financial, cultural) are really no different than the shoddy types you’d find in any big-city drunk tank or wandering the street looking to buy drugs or sex. Such figures can call themselves individualists or anarchists (as Deveraux does), but this is just casuistry. Which leads to a final question: Where does Deveraux “belong”? Not in one place or the other, but in both.
*. Stylish in Ferrara’s understated way, and with a strong performance from Depardieu to give it the necessary fleshy anchor, Welcome to New York is the sort of movie that doesn’t make a big impact but nevertheless gets under your skin. Deveraux’s conclusion that there’s no changing the world is based on his belief that people don’t want to change or be saved. Even a gentrified New York City is still a sty from top to bottom because people are pigs.

30 Days of Night (2007)

*. Some opening text tells us we’re in Barrow, Alaska, where the sun goes down in the winter and then stays down for a month. A perfect vacation spot for vampires then. As their leader says on arrival “We should have come here ages ago.” This made me wonder how long these vampires had been alive, or undead, for. At one point centuries are mentioned. So why hadn’t they thought of this “ages ago”?
*. Maybe they just didn’t like the cold. And, in their defence, I don’t think any other vampires had thought of an active hibernation in the Arctic tunnel before. It took author Steve Niles to come up with the idea, which he pitched to various studios. After not getting any bites the story was picked up for a run of comic books which made it an easier sell. Sam Raimi, for one, was impressed and was originally slated to direct before taking a role as producer.
*. Fun facts: (1) Barrow is now known as Utqiagvik; (2) it actually experiences 66 days of polar night; (3) it has a population today of roughly 5,000 (not the 563 on the town sign).

*. Basically this is a zombie movie, as the vampires are undead flesh eaters (or vampire/zombie virus carriers) who can only be stopped by decapitation or extreme head trauma, and the survivors of the vampire/zombie onset do all the usual zombie-apocalypse stuff like barricading themselves indoors (“stay in your homes, lock your doors, and load your firearms!”) while the shit goes down outside. The action scenes also look a lot like what we got in 28 Days Later, which had come out five years earlier. Lots of that herky-jerky movement that helps sell the violence. Which is too bad, because there’s some decent gore here that I wish they had played straight.
*. Josh Hartnett (Eben) and Melissa George (Stella) are the cutest couple in Barrow, possibly ever. How could they be on the outs? So again with the cliché of the couple who are going their separate ways, though no one can understand why, brought back together by adversity. I seem to be seeing a lot of this lately. Totally by coincidence, because the movies I’ve been watching have all been made at different times. Sometimes that just happens.
*. This particular reconciliation is heavily weighted in Eben’s favour. Usually both parties admit to having made mistakes. Here it’s only Stella who says “I’m so sorry, baby. I should have never left you.” To which he has no reply. Apology accepted, I guess. Not that we have any idea what she’s talking about.
*. There are a lot of gaps like that in the plot. And I don’t think that’s a problem for the most part. I didn’t want to know any of the vampire back story, or who the guy was who arrived with them. In other places though it felt like big chunks of the film had been cut, leaving some confusing gaps. One case in particular is the scene where everyone is together in the diner and then the vampires attack and tear the town apart and then you see Eben and Stella coming back to the diner. It really feels like something’s missing there. Also I didn’t know why Eben’s asthma inhaler is introduced a couple of times and nothing at all is done with it. Maybe this is all explained in the comic book, which I haven’t read. So.
*. Another part that had me scratching my head was Stella pulling a gun and sticking it in the back of the Stranger’s head when Eben confronts him at the diner. Eben is impressed that someone working for the fire marshal’s office is packing. I wasn’t, but I was shocked at how quickly that escalated. Wasn’t Eben still in control of the situation? Was the Stranger armed? Pulling a gun on him like that seems like a huge overreaction, especially as Stella’s sure Eben could kick the Stranger’s ass.

*. I wish they hadn’t had the old man in there who was losing his marbles. He is the weakest link, and only introduced to give us an idiot to operate a bit of idiot-plot business. Why do they let him go to the bathroom by himself, telling him only not to flush toilet so he won’t make any noise? They know he’s not all there mentally. Being an idiot isn’t, or shouldn’t be, contagious.
*. Hartnett and George are young, attractive, and capable of looking very serious. That’s all they have to manage. Danny Huston, affecting a widow’s peak in homage to Lugosi, does quite well as his usual all-purpose, low-rent bad guy.
*. Huston’s character is called Marlow. I got that from the credits. Does anyone call him Marlow in the movie? It seems a literary sort of name for a critter that speaks some made-up language with little resemblance to English. I guess he was Marlow in the comic and we were just supposed to know that. That happens. Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange never says where the movie’s title comes from. You’ll only know if you’ve read Burgess’s book.
*. Ah, movie magic. They weren’t shooting out in the cold, which may explain why you can’t see anyone’s breath, and why characters can get away hiding underneath houses for days without freezing to death. The film was shot in New Zealand, and that’s not real snow. It’s not even real night either, as it was mostly shot day-for-night.
*. Nevertheless, it does score some style points. I love the appearance of the death ship (at least that’s what I assume it is) that the vampires arrive on at the beginning. And the overhead shot of the town massacre is a nice touch. Hey, they were trying.
*. It’s easy to poke fun at a movie like this, but to be honest I really enjoyed it. It’s rough around the edges, but for a splatter flick it’s tense, tight, and comes with a fairly original premise. Not a classic then, but I can call it a guilty pleasure.