Film / TV


Hawkeye: Consistently enjoyable

Hawkeye on Disney+

Not as ambitious in terms of creative storytelling or theme as WandaVision or as wildly fun as Loki or What If?, Hawkeye is equally good in a different way, though it’s not without its flaws and the ending had its own set of issues. Despite those problems, it may be the most consistently enjoyable of the Marvel shows to date. Spoilers to follow.

Hawkeye tells a much smaller, much more grounded story than its counterparts, with no superpowers, time traveling, or universe hopping, and with relatively low-key stakes focused more on a personal level and with a limited geography versus the world or universe-threatening stakes of other shows. In that way it’s a nice change of pace, catch-your-breath kind of show. Not everything needs to be world-shaking after all; it gets exhausting. After Loki and What If? Read More

Foundation: Season One: A mixed bag, but generally good

Foundation: Season One on Apple TV+

In my first review of Apple TV’s Foundation series, written after the first two shows, I said it wasn’t “great” TV (at least not yet) but ranged consistently between good and very good. Having just finished all ten episodes of season one, I’d broaden that range from “occasionally annoying to occasionally great.” In other words, it’s a mixed bag, which I suppose shouldn’t be much of a surprise for a series that mostly follows three plot strands, has multi-decade time jumps, and is itself based on a series of loosely connected short stories that were later retconned into a larger universal narrative. I’ll send you to my earlier review for the plot summation. Here, I’ll assume you know the basic plot. I will look at the three narrative strands separately, then consider the series as a whole. Some spoilers for various episodes t... Read More

The Wheel of Time: The wheel spins a little too slowly

The Wheel of Time on Amazon Prime

Let’s face it, this is a Big One for sci-fi/fantasy fans. The first three episodes of The Wheel of Time dropped on Amazon Prime, and I promptly watched all three. In the spirit of full transparency, let me say that while I quite enjoyed Robert Jordan’s first three books, I felt the series started to decline at that point and kept going south, such that my final word on the series (which I did finish in masochistic fashion) was that I wouldn’t recommend the time investment to anyone thinking about starting it. So why watch the show? My hope is that it greatly streamlines a heavily bloated series, cleans up the many gender issues, and gets rid of all the writerly tics (if I never see a braid get “tugged” I’ll nominate the show for an Emmy). I can’t tell yet if that’ll be the case, but here are my thoughts so far.

I... Read More

Foundation: First two episodes: Stunningly Gorgeous

Foundation created by David S. Goyer & Josh Friedman

What you need to know first about Apple TV’s Foundation is that it is stunningly gorgeous to look at. Seriously. Gorgeous. Do not watch it on your phone. Do not, if you can avoid it, watch it on your laptop. This deserves, no, it cries out for, as large a TV with as good a screen as you can see it on. Honestly, if Apple released it to a theater I’d happily watch it there. Too many TV shows seem to forget or not care that TV is a visual medium, whether due to expense or lack of necessity or other reasons. Take away sitcoms, cop shows, and medical shows, which, with very few exceptions, rarely even try to mine the cinematic potential of television, and we’re left with very little in the way of visual delight on TV. Foundation doesn’t just mine the medium, it hits the motherlode. Not just eye-candy spectacle, but rich splendor. Now, does that make ... Read More

Dune: Lovely to see, but lacks character depth

Dune directed by Denis Villeneuve

It’s been many a year since I’ve read Frank Herbert’s Dune, so I can’t say with any authority where in the book Denis Villeneuve ends his film version, but I do feel comfortable saying it was too far. Because even at roughly 2 ½ hours, Dune the movie is too short to do justice to Dune the book. In fact, as that became more and more evident, I found myself thinking even more frequently that if Peter Jackson could get three movies out of The Hobbit (ignoring that he really didn’t), then Villeneuve should have been given three movies for Dune, not only a longer work but also a much more densely c... Read More

Earth vs. the Spider: BIG trouble in River Falls

Earth vs. the Spider directed by Bert I. Gordon

As I believe I have mentioned elsewhere, there was more than one reason why Wisconsin-born producer/director/special FX wizard Bert Ira Gordon was popularly known as Mr. BIG. Of course, his acronym alone might have ensured him that title for life, but it was rather the series of remarkable cinematic entertainments that Gordon came out with starting in 1955, many of them dealing with oversized monstrosities, that resulted in this loving appellation. And what a string of films it was: King Dinosaur (’55), Beginning of the End (’57, and dealing with giant grasshoppers), The Cyclops (’57), The Amazing Colossal Man (’57), Attack of the Puppet People (’58, and going small for a change), War of the Colossal Beast (’58), Earth vs. the Spider (’58), Village of the Giants (’65), The Food of the Gods (’76) and Empire of the ... Read More

The Ship of Monsters: Asombroso!

The Ship of Monsters directed by Rogelio A. Gonzalez

There are certain films that are so outrageous, so bizarre, so very unique or dumbfounding, that the viewer cannot believe what he or she is looking at while watching them. Such motion pictures leave the viewer wondering things like: What were those filmmakers thinking? How can a movie like this possibly exist? Some of those films, such as The Great Gabbo (1929), The Shanghai Gesture (1941), Blood Freak (1972) and The Worm Eaters (1977), leave the viewer slack-jawed but with the desire never to see them again; they are unique but either tiresomely boring or unpleasantly repugnant. Others, such as Plan 9 From Outer Space (1959), Gonks Go Beat (1965) and Barbarella (1968), similarly leave the viewer stunned by their outre quality, but with the desire to watch the films again sometime; films that must be placed into that dubious category “s... Read More

Captive Wild Woman: Lions and tigers and Cheela … oh, my!

Captive Wild Woman directed by Edward Dmytryk

1942 had been a very good year for the Universal horror film, with the releases of The Ghost of Frankenstein, Invisible Agent, Night Monster and The Mummy’s Tomb, and as 1943 began, and America entered what was very possibly the bleakest year of the WW2 era, the studio continued to pump out scarifying entertainments for its audiences. In March of that year, Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man was released; June saw the premiere of Captive Wild Woman, the first film in what would eventually be a trilogy; August saw the studio’s rendition of The Phantom of the Opera; October would witness the opening of Son of Dracula; and November would see the studio’s release of The Mad Ghoul. (December ’42, I might add, was also the month in which producer Val Lewton, at rival studio RKO, began to offer the public his own... Read More

The Screaming Skull: Portrait for Jenni

The Screaming Skull directed by Alex Nicol

It was at NYC’s revival theater extraordinaire Film Forum that I first got the chance to see the 1958 horror wonder known as The Screaming Skull. On that day, back in 1990 or so, the film was shown as part of a double feature, playing with another 1958 doozy, Earth vs. the Spider. And really, this was a most apropos pairing, as these two films, when first released in August ‘58, were indeed shown as a double feature. Somehow, though, the passing of three decades had sufficed to allow me to forget pretty much all the incidents in both films, and recent rewatches of the two have made me wonder how I could possibly have forgotten all the many fine qualities in them. (I really do need to start taking ginkgo biloba to improve my memory capacity!) But while Earth vs. the Spider continues to have many defenders today, despite its being a mere “B picture,” The Screaming Skull... Read More

The Giallo Films of Edwige Fenech

The Giallo Films of Edwige Fenech

Born on Christmas Eve 1948 in the town that is now known as Annaba, in coastal Algeria, the daughter of a Maltese father and a Sicilian mother, Edwige Fenech is today regarded as something of a cinematic legend in Europe, although she is still hardly a household word here in the United States. But thanks to the advent of the VHS and DVD revolutions, her popularity and fame have managed to spread even to these American shores. Today, Fenech wears no fewer than two impressive crowns, being known not only as The Queen of the Italian Sex Comedy, but also as The Queen of Giallo … that wonderfully distinctive Italian film genre featuring stylish and often grisly stories of murder, serial killings, and assorted violence and mayhem. But even those laurels hardly tell her whole story. During the 1980s, Edwige also became something of an Italian television personality, and later a film producer in her own right. And, of course, she must... Read More

The Vampire: A novel kind of bloodsucker

The Vampire directed by Paul Landres

Fairly recently, I had some words to say about the excellent Mexican horror film The Vampire (or, as it was known upon release, El Vampiro), which came out in 1957 and starred Spanish actor German Robles as the Count Lavud, a bloodsucker in the very traditional, uh, vein. This South-of-the-border neck nosher, thus, could turn into a bat, cast no reflection in a mirror, could hypnotize his victims from afar, suffered from crucifixaphobia, spent the day sleeping in a coffin, and could only be killed by a stake through the heart. But that same year, in the U.S., another film entitled The Vampire would be released, telling of a very UNtraditional blood feeder with not a single one of the above-mentioned attributes. It is a film that I had long wanted to see, and a recent viewing has served to demonstrate to me what a really fine pi... Read More

Gorgo: Mother and child reunion?

Gorgo directed by Eugene Lourie

Although the Russian-born French filmmaker Eugene Lourie has dozens and dozens of credits to his name as a production designer and art director, it is for the three “giant monster” films that he directed in the early ‘50s to early ‘60s that he is probably best remembered today. I have already written here about the first of that trio, The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms (1953), which, thanks largely to the incredible stop-motion special effects provided by Ray Harryhausen, remains to this day my favorite monster movie of all time, and one that I have watched on dozens of occasions. I have also written here of Lourie’s second dinosaur extravaganza, The Giant Behemoth (1959), which, even as a kid, I found to be second rate as compared to The Beast, featuri... Read More

Night Monster: The silence of the frogs

Night Monster directed by Ford Beebe

1941 had been a very good year for the Universal horror film, during which time the studio released Man Made Monster, Horror Island and The Black Cat in the spring, and the eternal glory that is The Wolf Man in early December. And as America geared up for war at the beginning of 1942, the studio continued to crank out impeccably crafted horror films to entertain the masses. March would see the release of the fourth film in its Frankenstein franchise, The Ghost of Frankenstein; July would feature the well-nigh-forgotten picture Invisible Agent (a very loose Invisible Man se... Read More

Blood of Dracula: “Her name was Nancy, her face was nothing fancy….”

Blood of Dracula directed by Herbert L. Strock

In the memorable cult horror film I Was a Teenage Werewolf, future Bonanza star Michael Landon plays the part of hotheaded adolescent Tony Rivers, who goes to Dr. Alfred Brandon (the ubiquitous Whit Bissell) for help with his temper problems and is turned by the doctor, via a mysterious serum, into the titular monstrosity. Released in July ’57 and written by its producer, Herman Cohen, along with Aben Kandel, the film was such a hit that it induced the team to come out with three more cinematic wonders in a similar vein; films in which a diabolical adult causes an innocent teen to become a homicidal and monstrous killer. In I Was a Teenage Frankenstein, released four months later, Bissell was at it again, building a monster using the young and muscular Gary Conway. In How to Make a Monster (7/58), Robert H. Harris plays a Hollywood makeup artist who turns two teenage bo... Read More

The Nesting: Gloria’s swan song

The Nesting directed by Armand Weston

It sits on the crest of a hill overlooking the Hudson River to the west, a mere 18 miles north of NYC … the truly bizarre-looking structure known as the Armour-Stiner Octagon House. Built from 1859 - 1860 in Irvington, NY by financier Paul J. Armour, and expanded from 1872 - ’76 by tea importer Joseph Stiner, the structure is one of the few remaining octagonally shaped Victorian residences in the world; is now the site of a museum that is open for touring by the general public; and has deservedly been designated a National Historic Landmark. It is a site that I have long wanted to visit. OK, that last bit is an exaggeration. Actually, it is a site that I have wanted to visit for the last five days … ever since I watched the truly superior horror outing The Nesting, which features the Octagon House prominently in its story. Released in May 1981, The Nesting is a film that I never got a chance to see du... Read More

Some Horror Films by Ted V. Mikels: A quintet of horrific trash

Some Horror Films by Ted V. Mikels directed or produced by Ted V. Mikels

It has long seemed to me that Poughkeepsie, NY-born director, producer, screenwriter and novelist Ed Wood has gotten a bum rap over the years. The one-of-a-kind filmmaker has, starting with his very first picture in the early ‘50s, garnered for himself a reputation of the very worst kind, even going so far as to be almost universally regarded as “The Worst Director of All Time.” And indeed, with such films as Glen or Glenda? (’53), Jail Bait (’54), Bride of the Monster (’55, and the very first horror film that I can recall seeing, when I was 5), Plan 9 From Outer Space (’57, and the undeserved winner of the “Worst Film of All Time” prize), Night of the Ghouls (‘59) and The Sinister Urge (’60) to his credit, it is difficult to refute the claim of his being a filmmaker of the very lamest kind. But was Ed Wood actually... Read More

Nightmare: A minor masterpiece from The House of Hammer

Nightmare directed by Freddie Francis

1964 was a very good year for Hammer Studios in the UK. On April 19th of that year, remarkably, the studio released two films, The Evil of Frankenstein (the third entry in an ongoing series) and the psychological horror thriller called Nightmare. The following month, the little-seen entry known as The Devil-Ship Pirates was released, and on October 18th, the cinema juggernaut would do it again, by releasing two films on the very same day: The Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb (the second Mummy movie in that series) and a picture that would go on to become a fan favorite, The Gorgon. But it is of Nightmare that I would like to speak here, a film that this viewer had never seen before until recently, but one that has just made a hugely favorable impression on me. Clocking in at 82 very efficient minutes and impressively shot in ubercreepy B&W, the film is su... Read More

The Snake Woman: Cold-blooded, but not chilling

The Snake Woman directed by Sidney J. Furie

In John Gilling’s 1966 film The Reptile, produced by Hammer Studios, the audience was presented with the spectacle of a young woman (the great Jacqueline Pearce) who, thanks to the ministrations of a Malaysian snake cult, could turn into a serpent at will. The film was set in the Cornwall area in the early 20th century and had been brought in at a budget of over 100,000 pounds … and with terrific and scarifying results. But, as it turns out, this was not the first time that the Brits had given us a story about a young woman who could turn herself into a snake, and who terrorized her vicinity in the early 1900s. Five years earlier, an infinitely smaller and lesser film, nearly forgotten today, had appeared, by name of The Snake Woman, and a recent watch has only served to impress upon this viewer what an inferior product it is, in comparison. Whereas The Reptile had featured sumptuous colo... Read More

Man Made Monster: High-tension thrills

Man Made Monster directed by George Waggner

In the 1956 film Indestructible Man, the great Lon Chaney, Jr. portrayed a character named Butcher Benton, who is sent to the gas chamber after a botched robbery but is later brought back to life by a mad-scientist type who supercharges his body with 300,000 volts of juice. Benton is thus turned into the seemingly unkillable creation of the title, with skin impervious to bullets and even to a bazooka blast. But as many filmgoers have known for decades, this was not the first time that Chaney had played a character who was dosed with an abundance of electricity and turned into a kind of supercreation. Fifteen years earlier, we find Chaney, in his very first horror picture, playing a similar role, but with far more impressive and artistic results. The film, Man Made Monster (the lack of a hyphen is annoying), was initially released as part of a double feature in March ’41 along with another picture fr... Read More

The Return of Dracula: Welcome back, champ!

The Return of Dracula directed by Paul Landres

Contrary to popular belief, the great Hungarian actor Bela Lugosi only portrayed the world’s most famous vampire twice, both times for Universal Studios: first in the creaky yet eternal glory that is Dracula (1931) and next in what many of us consider to be the greatest horror/comedy of all time, Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948). And then, for a solid decade, that infamous character, the dreaded Transylvanian bloodsucker, would disappear from the world’s screens (with the single exception being the little-seen, 1953 Turkish curio Dracula In Istanbul) until the spring of ’58, when two films would mark the character’s return in a very big way. In April ’58, United Artists in the U.S. released a picture with the very apropos title The Return of Dracula, while in the U.K., the following month, Hammer Studios would release its highly influential film ... Read More

Lady Frankenstein: Neri fiddles while the castle burns

Lady Frankenstein directed by Mel Welles

Of all the great quotes ever uttered by Hollywood royalty, one of my favorites has long been a line that was uttered by the great Virginia-born actor Joseph Cotten, who once said, “Orson Welles lists

Citizen Kane as his best film, Alfred Hitchcock opts for Shadow of a Doubt, and Sir Carol Reed chose The Third Man … and I’m in all of them!” And it’s so true … Cotten, at the height of his career, got to work with the cream of Hollywood, and appeared in some of the very finest pictures of the age. But as the actor got older, he found, as had so many before him, that the availability of choice roles was limited (you might recall that the great Basil Rathbone’s final film was, uh, 1967’s Hillbillys in a Haunted House!), and during his final decade, he perforce appeared in any number of questionable/outre projects. Case in point: the 1971 Italian film Read More

Three Great Gialli by Luciano Ercoli

Three Great Gialli by Luciano Ercoli directed by Luciano Ercoli

It seems possible to me that even those fans of the genre known as the giallo film — that uniquely Italian cinematic product marked by stylish mayhem, gorgeous soundtracks, mind-bogglingly recomplicated plotting, outrageously violent set pieces, and fiendishly wackadoodle serial killers — might be unfamiliar with the director whom I would like to shine a spotlight on here. Though they might be very familiar with such giallo mainstays as Mario Bava (whose 1963 film The Girl Who Knew Too Much is often cited as the very first giallo picture), Dario Argento (who has arguably done more for the genre than any other single director, and who remains wildly popular to this day), Lucio Fulci, Sergio Martino, Umberto Lenzi and Massimo Dallamano, they yet might not have experienced the three gialli created by one Luciano Ercoli (1929 - 2015), who also helmed film... Read More

The Black Cat: A very well-done horror comedy

The Black Cat directed by Albert S. Rogell

As the new decade of the 1940s got under way, Universal Studios in Hollywood continued to pump out frightening movies that have since become a distinct film genre unto themselves: Universal horror! The ‘30s had seen the studio get the ball rolling with its Frankenstein, Invisible Man, Mummy and Dracula franchises, and as the new decade began, audiences would continue to be thrilled and amused by their continued antics. The year of 1940 saw four sterling entertainments released: The Invisible Man Returns, Black Friday (starring the studio’s two leading horror stars, Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi), The Mummy’s Hand and The Invisible Woman,... Read More

Night of the Bloody Apes: Eye-popping fun

Night of the Bloody Apes directed by Rene Cardona

Although the Golden Age of Mexican Cinema is generally said to have lasted from the years 1936 - ’59, it wasn’t until the very end of that glorious run that the country really began to excel in the realm of horror. Indeed, it was only in the mid-‘50s that Mexico began to make an impact in the fright arena, but in a very big way; I have already written here of such marvelous Mexican horror entertainments as The Vampire (’57), The Vampire’s Coffin (’58), The Robot vs. the Aztec Mummy (’58), Ship of Monsters Read More

The Monster of Piedras Blancas: A truly memorable monstrosity

The Monster of Piedras Blancas directed by Irvin Berwick

It is truly remarkable how a cinematic image can make a lasting imprint on a young and impressionable mind. Take, for example, the 3-year-old me, who witnessed, in a movie theatre, the image of a man falling on a dynamite plunger and causing a bridge to blow up, resulting in a devastating train wreck. It is an image that I have never forgotten, despite all these intervening decades; one of the final scenes, of course, from the great David Lean film The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957), which I have since verified my folks did take me to see, although why my parents deemed a 2 ½-hour war movie appropriate fare for such a young child is another matter. Flash forward five years or so, and we have another lasting cinematic image from my childhood, this one of a bit more grisly nature: a hideous monster advancing toward the camera, clutching in its mitt the dangling head of its latest... Read More