Universal Horror: The Invisible Man, Creature from the Black Lagoon and The Old Dark House

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When it comes to my home media collection, the Universal Horror franchise is probably one of the longest ongoing ‘relationships’ that I’ve had, perhaps second only to the decade and a half spent picking up classic Doctor Who stories on DVD.

I originally watched the 1930s and 40s horror classics when I was a teenager, when they were shown as a series of late night double bills on Channel 4. Sadly they then disappeared from the schedules (too hokey and creaky for modern audiences, no doubt) and it wasn’t until 2004 that a DVD boxset of 14 assorted Dracula, Frankenstein and Wolf Man films plus one-offs from The Mummy, Phantom of the Opera, Creature from the Black Lagoon and The Invisible Man was released which I eagerly picked up despite the frankly exorbitant price. The rather excellent busts of the three top monsters included in the set actually made it worthwhile, and they still have pride of place on my shelf to this day.

After that it was nearly a decade before Universal released eight of their main classic monster films on the Blu-ray format as the Essential Collection (see review). The high definition restorations were truly spectacular, and far beyond what I had thought possible given the age and quality of the original materials. The only problem was that a lot of my favourite sequels such as Son of Frankenstein that had been in the original DVD boxset had been omitted. Read the rest of this entry »

Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan – Season 1 (2018) [DVD]

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Stories about US federal agencies bravely defending America from global terror threats go back a very long way – even before 9/11, all the way to the days of the Cold War when the ubiquitous bogeyman was the Soviet Union. Times were simpler then, and the situation is much more complex and diverse in the 21st century; although in terms of media representation the menace is usually given a Middle Eastern face.

In print terms, one of the foremost proponents of this type of tale was Tom Clancy, in particular though his series of novels featuring Jack Ryan. The character began his fictional life as a lowly CIA analyst in the 1984 book The Hunt for Red October before going on to become an accidental President of the United States over the course of the 21 titles to date and counting (Clancy’s death in 2013 not having stopped the literary output, as is the modern way in publishing.)

The huge success of the book series inevitably attracted the attentions of Hollywood, with The Hunt for Red October premiering in 1990 featuring Alec Baldwin. Then there were two sequels starring Harrison Ford as an older version of Ryan before the franchise stuttered, two further instalments starring Ben Affleck and Chris Pine also failing to reboot its box office fortunes. That meant it was time for TV to have a go, with Amazon Studios producing a 2018 miniseries featuring the character for its online streaming service in association with Paramount. Read the rest of this entry »

Marvel Cinematic Universe: Phase 1

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Regular readers of Taking The Short View can hardly have missed my many mentions of how far behind I have fallen in my viewing ot the Marvel Cinematic Universe films. For the record, those are the 22 movies to date that have been produced by Marvel Studios in-house since 2008, as opposed to those made under license by other companies such as Sony’s Spider-Man entries and Fox’s X-Men, Deadpool and Fantastic Four films.

After falling off the MCU wagon very early on, I was never quite able to catch up and climb back on. I always intended to do so when I had the time, but the longer it went on the bigger the task became and the more I put it off – especially when the films accelerated from at most a couple per year to the current three or four in rapid succession. The latest, Avengers: Endgame came out just six weeks after Captain Marvel while its predecessor was still in the UK Box Office top three.

Locked out of the main continuity I limited myself to watching those films such as Guardians of the Galaxy that didn’t connect directly into the overarching MCU narrative. But they became few and far between, and when I finally totted up which of the MCU films I had seen, the situation was even worse than I had realised: of those 22 films, I had seen … Four. Ouch. Or epic fail, you might say. Clearly something had to be done! So the last few weeks I’ve been trying to address the situation, viewing an MCU film on average every other week with the aim being to get through the first six films which between them comprise what is currently referred to as Phase 1 of Marvel’s remarkable franchise.

And now I’m here to send dispatches from the front line of that ongoing catch-up campaign. I should add that there are spoilers, but given that these films are so old that they are practically historical texts I dare say that this won’t trouble any up-to-date reader. Read the rest of this entry »

Golden Oldie Movies: Khartoum, The Night of the Generals, The Andromeda Strain, Horror Express

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I’ll be honest, I’ve gone off modern day big screen entertainment in the last couple of years and haven’t made a trip to the local Odeon since Solo – A Star Wars Story. Recent films just haven’t appealed to me, bearing in mind that I’m so far behind in watching Marvel Cinematic Universe films that pretty much the whole genre of superhero films is out-of-bounds to me at this point.

But in recent weeks I realised that I have instead been watching a number of films on Blu-ray from the late 60s or early 70s. That’s around 50 years old in other words, which is actually too far back to have been films I remember from my childhood since I wasn’t nearly old enough to see such fare at the cinema back then – if I’d even born at all!

I thought I’d write up brief reviews of four of these films, which are quite varied in nature while also very much of their time. They certainly won’t be for everyone but hopefully there’s be at least a little something for everyone with the selection… Read the rest of this entry »

Thriller (1973-1976): Possession, Someone at the Top of the Stairs, An Echo of Theresa, The Colour of Blood

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thriller-titleEvery now and again I post a new batch of thoughts on the 1970s suspense anthology series Thriller created by one of the great writers of British television, Brian Clemens. It’s been a while since the last one in 2015 and I only have four more episodes under my belt to write about. However, I figure it’s better to post them now rather than continue to wait until I’ve had a chance to watch some more to feel that I have ‘enough’ to collect together!

So here goes with the latest set of reviews. Read the rest of this entry »

Annihilation (2018) [DVD]

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Contains some mild/implied spoilers

I’m a huge fan of writer-director Alex Garland, whose Ex Machina was one of my favourite films of 2014. So I was a bit irked to find that I’d missed his follow-up offering Annihilation which for the life of me I couldn’t remember doing the rounds at the local cinema.

I was somewhat mollified to find out that in fact the film apparently bypassed a theatrical release in the UK and was offered here instead exclusively via Netflix. Since I’m not a subscriber to that particular streaming service, I would have had to wait for its release on old fashioned DVD and Blu-ray home media in any case, which it turned out happened to be earlier this month.

The film, based on a novel by Jeff VanderMeer, features Natalie Portman as Lena, a former US Army soldier who is now a leading cellular-biology professor. She’s in mourning for her husband Kane (Oscar Isaac) who left on a top secret covert military mission a year ago and hasn’t been heard of again since. Except now he turns up, a shell of the man she remembers and also seriously ill. Lena sets out to find out what happened to him in the hope that she can find a cure, and her search takes her into a strangely warped area of Florida land in which the natural laws of reality no longer apply after a meteorite impacted the shoreline three years previously. Read the rest of this entry »

Doctor Who: The Macra Terror (1967) [DVD/Blu-ray]

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The first part of this year has been good for Doctor Who fans, with no less than four new home media releases in the first three months of 2019. The latest of these hit the shelves on Monday and is a brand-new version of the four-part 1967 serial “The Macra Terror”.

It’s the latest in the BBC’s series of animated reconstructions of ‘lost’ stories, where the original broadcast episodes were wiped by the BBC shortly after transmission and only the soundtrack remains thanks to a fan’s off-air recording at the time. The first of these recovery projects was “The Power of the Daleks” which I reviewed back in 2016 when it originally came out. Since then there’s also been a new version of 1979’s “Shada” in which similar animation was used in place of scenes never actually filmed at the time due to industrial action, meaning that the story was never completed or broadcast. Again, you can catch up with a detailed review of the end result that I wrote a year ago: to be honest, I found the back-and-forth between new line art sequences and the surviving original filmed footage rather jarring.

These are expensive projects and I’d wondered if the sales had been sufficient to justify any more of these reconstructions. But it appears they were, and hence this month Who fans got a brand new release to add to their doubtless already groaning collection of merchandise. However, I confess that I initially wasn’t wildly excited by the prospect of “The Macra Terror”, never having been particularly eager to see the story in question which to me had always sounded rather humdrum in synopsis. Read the rest of this entry »

Shakespeare & Hathaway – Private Investigators S2 [2019] (BBC One)

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I’ll be honest, there’s really very little to be said about BBC Daytime’s light hearted detective show Shakespeare & Hathaway – Private Investigators that wasn’t previously covered in my review of the first season a year ago. While the first run is only now getting an airing in the US, this series co-created by Father Brown alumni Jude Tindall and Paul Matthew Thompson has just returned for a second tranche of ten episodes on the BBC and picks up right where it left off, with the same cast and much the same mix of broad comedy, witty quips and the odd interesting whodunnit mixed in.

Mark Benton returns (now with added beard) as Frank Hathaway, a police officer who quit the force to become a private detective, with former hairdresser Jo Joyner back as his sleuthing partner Luella Shakespeare. They’re aided in their cases by Sebastian Brudenell (Patrick Walshe McBride), a young out-of-work actor who comes in handy when a bit of undercover surveillance work is needed; and by Sebastian’s landlady Gloria Fonteyn (Roberta Taylor) who runs a theatrical costumier store. Expressing continued exasperation at Shakespeare and Hathaway’s interference in her cases is Frank’s former police colleague, Detective Inspector Christina Marlowe (Amber Aga).

While no Father Brown, the show is acceptably entertaining nontheless. Set in Stratford-upon-Avon, it takes great delight in packing in as many Shakespeare related puns as possible, and whether it’s a genuine crime drama or a flat-out sitcom rather depends on the individual episode and the viewer’s forbearance. Certainly several of the episodes seem to drift more into outright comedy than before, so don’t go in expecting anything too meaty; simply put your brain in neutral and enjoy the ride and all will be well. Read the rest of this entry »

Father Brown S7 (BBC One) [2019]

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Christmas and New Year is all over: the presents have been put away, the tree is outside waiting to be recycled, and the decorations are back in the attic awaiting their annual recall in December. That can only mean one thing: it’s time for a new ten-part series of Father Brown on the BBC daytime schedules!

Naturally Mark Williams returns in the title role as the sleuthing cleric, aided once again by his parish secretary and general busybody Bridgette McCarthy (Sorcha Cusack) in the face of opposition from the local police Inspector Gerry Mallory (Jack Deam) with Sergeant Daniel Goodfellow (John Burton) discretely treading the middle ground. Read the rest of this entry »

Doctor Who New Year Special: “Resolution” (BBC One)

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Contains spoilers for the episode

The Doctor Who production team were damned if they did, damned if they didn’t on this one. As soon as they teased “the deadliest creature in the universe” in trailers, fandom was rife with speculation that this could only mean the return of the Daleks, after a maiden season for Jodie Whittaker conspicuously devoid of any of the Doctor’s greatest adversaries of the past. So should the production team deny it – and risk leaving fans disappointed and disillusioned weeks before the broadcast – or simply accept that the surprise had been spoiled?

Unfortunately, in the end the secret simply could not be kept all the way to New Year’s Day, which is the new slot for the annual Doctor Who special after it was bumped from Christmas Day. To be honest, I’m in two minds about this time switch as I found that it really did leave a sense of something missing on the 25th. There’s also an implication of the show losing prestige and no longer having the full-throated support of the current BBC hierarchy, both of which are worrying signs of those of us who are long-time fans. Read the rest of this entry »

Doctor Who S11 E10: “The Battle of Ranskoor Av Kolos” (BBC One)

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Contains spoilers for the episode

And so we reach the end – all too soon. A ten-episode season simply doesn’t feel long enough for Doctor Who, even if we still have one more feature length special to come on New Years Day. But it’s quality over quantity as the saying goes, so how does the 2018 season finale “The Battle of Ranskoor Av Kolos” written by showrunner Chris Chibnall fare on the former attribute? As ever, the answer to that is mixed and not altogether straightforward.

We start with the kind of opening scene that used to be standard in the 1970s series but which has been little used in recent years: with no Doctor in sight, we have two entirely new characters talking cryptically and portentously to each other about a pressing situation in terms that we don’t know nearly enough about to understand. What we can tell is that Andinio (Downton Abbey’ Phyllis Logan) and Delph (Wizards vs. Aliens’s Percelle Ascott) are members of the ultra-rare Ux religious order who possess incredible powers to manipulate reality. Oh, and they’ve got a guest dropping in for tea. Read the rest of this entry »

Doctor Who S11 E9: “It Takes You Away” (BBC One)

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Contains spoilers for the episode

It was the best of episodes, it was the worse of episodes…

Regular readers might recall that I was a bit grumpy last week in my review of “The Witchfinders”. It simply didn’t work for me, although I know the vast majority of viewers appeared to genuinely love it beyond measure. However for me, it was comprised of individually strong elements that lacked an overall coherent vision. The different parts rubbed against each other awkwardly and kept throwing me out of the story so that I wasn’t able to enjoy it at all, and instead ended up frustrated and less than happy. Or to put it another way, you could say that the individual parts were much greater than the whole, at least as far as I was concerned.

This week’s episode “It Takes You Away” is almost the mirror image (pun intended) of its precursor. Like last week, it is also comprised of several distinct parts; and on this occasion the quality of each component was less consistent than the previous instalment, ranging from the brilliant to the near-risible. But what writer Ed Hime and director Jamie Childs are able to manage this week is to wrangle these different elements into one unified end result that was superior to the sum of its parts. The key was a consistent stylistic vision and tone to the overall endeavour, provided by an adherence to overarching universal themes of love, loss and mythic folklore. Read the rest of this entry »

Doctor Who S11 E8: “The Witchfinders” (BBC One)

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Contains spoilers for the episode

We’ve already discussed how new Doctor Who showrunner Chris Chibnall has sought to rediscover and reinvent the ‘historical’, a strand of the show that effectively died out in the 1960s. He did so by seeking stories from modern political history like “Rosa” and “Demons of the Punjab” that could carry a relevant social message for the present day audience at the same time, rather than simply rehashing junior school classic texts on the Aztecs, Romans and the Battle of Hastings.

This week sees the third ‘historical’ story in eight episodes, which seems a little overkill. But this one treads a very different path by reverting to exactly one of those sort of textbooks you used to read as a child – or maybe a Ladybird? – on the witch trials of the 17th century. It’s not worrying too much about the details and doesn’t twist itself in knots making sure that history isn’t changed by the Doctor’s activities. Instead it takes the gist of the period, just a flavour, and then weaves a merry romp out of it. Read the rest of this entry »

Doctor Who S11 E7: “Kerblam!” (BBC One)

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Contains spoilers for the episode

What’s the betting that someone in the Doctor Who production office has just had a particularly aggravating experience getting an order from Amazon? Because the first part of this week’s episode is exactly the sort of light hearted revenge fantasy that you’d expect to come from the pen of an aggrieved creative media industry professional in frustrated response to such a real-life run-in.

In summary, “Kerblam!” is the largest online retailer in the Doctor’s universe. When she receives an unexpected package (a fez, just one of several light touches of fan-pleasing continuity on display this week) that also contains a cry for help from someone within the company’s fulfilment centre (comprised of an entire moon of the planet Kandoka), naturally the Doctor (Jodie Whittaker) and her friends Ryan, Yas and Graham (Tosin Cole, Mandip Gill and Bradley Walsh) can’t resist investigating. They soon uncover a number of unexplained disappearances among the company’s skeleton staff of human workers and set out to find who is responsible – and who raised the alarm. Read the rest of this entry »

Doctor Who S11 E6: “Demons of the Punjab” (BBC One)

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Contains spoilers for the episode

Last month, the episode “Rosa” caught fans out by delivering an unabashed return to the ‘historical’ sub-strand of Doctor Who that had been more or less dormant since the 1960s. The truly surprising thing about Vinay Patel’s “Demons of the Punjab” is that it repeats the same trick just three weeks later, establishing beyond doubt that “Rosa” was no mere one-off quirk but rather a fundamental tenant of new showrunner Chris Chibnall’s vision for the future of the venerable show, despite this being the first time this season that he takes a step back from writing duties.

The destination this week is India in 1947 on the eve of Partition, that typically British pragmatic bureaucratic ‘solution’ to an intractable problem that caused huge upheaval for millions of people and cost a large proportion of them their lives, setting off an onslaught of ethnic cleaning and laying down fault lines in world geopolitics that persist to this day. You have to say this about us Brits: when we put our minds to, we really know how to spectacularly screw things up with a ‘sensible’ solution that makes no sense but causes infinite harm to those on the ground. Read the rest of this entry »