Category Archives: Cult

Batman: Gotham by Gaslight (2018, Sam Liu)

The first act of Gotham by Gaslight is rough. It establishes Batman (Bruce Greenwood) in the Victorian era. He’s fighting with Fagin-types while “Jack the Ripper” is attacking prostitutes. Jim Krieg’s script, which will go on to impress at times, is rather problematic with the first Ripper victim. Director Liu’s already opened the film with male gaze (on a cartoon) and the whole thing just seems skivvy.

Then Jennifer Carpenter gets introduced (as a costume-less Catwoman) and Greenwood gets more to do as Bruce Wayne and Gaslight starts getting… okay. The animation is cheap and terrible, but a lot of the establishing shots are good. The smaller the scale, the better the visual. And the animation isn’t like an attempt at detail and then a fail, the animation is very, very simple. When the third act does a bunch of action, it’s a shock how well Gaslight executes it; there hasn’t been any good action until then.

The setting helps. And Krieg’s script. It gets smarter once it’s no longer about the real Jack the Ripper but about some Batman animated movie stand-in. It’s a narrative cheat, but it turns out to be fine because then the whole movie becomes a serial killer thriller. Both Greenwood and Carpenter are investigating on their own, their paths crossing, with Greenwood in and out of tights. And if Greenwood and Carpenter didn’t record their banter together, their performances are even more impressive.

Also good is Anthony Head as butler Alfred. Performances get a little less sturdy after him. Scott Patterson, for example, is fine, but Yuri Lowenthal is tiring. Grey DeLisle is annoying in both her roles. Gaslight lets the supporting cast go way too broad.

But the mystery is good. And the characters are good–at least Greenwood and Carpenter’s. There’s character development, there’s light steampunk (very light), there are even occasional neat shots from Liu.

Frederik Wiedmann’s music is another of Gotham by Gaslight’s essentials. Wiedmann gets the right mood every time (though his score does just sound like a riff on Elfman). There’s real suspense in Gaslight, real surprise. And the mystery is barely manipulative in moving the viewer through. It’s cool.

And Krieg’s pacing, in general, is good. There’s quite a bit of setup, then some longer action sequences. Those sequences involve the setting. Because Gaslight is well-conceived. It’s just not well-executed, its production values are too low. Carpenter, Greenwood, and Wiedmann’s contributions are strong enough, however, to win the day.

1/4

CREDITS

Produced and directed by Sam Liu; screenplay by James Krieg, based on the comic book by Brian Augustyn and Mike Mignola and the character created by Bob Kane and Bill Finger; edited by Christopher D. Lozinski; music by Frederik Wiedmann; released by Warner Bros. Home Entertainment.

Starring Bruce Greenwood (Batman / Bruce Wayne), Jennifer Carpenter (Selina Kyle), Scott Patterson (James Gordon), Anthony Head (Alfred Pennyworth), Grey DeLisle (Sister Leslie), Yuri Lowenthal (Harvey Dent), John DiMaggio (Chief Bullock), Bob Joles (Mayor Tolliver), William Salyers (Dr. Strange), Tara Strong (Marlene Mahone), and Kari Wuhrer (Barbara Gordon).


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Incubus (1966, Leslie Stevens)

Incubus is the day in the life of a dissatisfied succubus (Allyson Ames) who, after killing three men in the ocean and condemning their souls to hell, decides she wants a challenge. Her sister, also a sucbus (and played by Eloise Hardt), counsels her against the impulse. But Ames won’t be dissuaded. She wants to condemn a clean soul to hell. How hard can it be.

Well, given the clean soul she comes across is recovering war hero William Shatner, turns out it’s going to be quite hard. Because Shatner has the one weapon Ames can’t defend herself against–love.

So Hardt decides to pay back Shatner for defiling her little sister with love by bringing up an incubus (Milos Milos) to assault Shatner’s little sister. Ann Atmar plays the little sister. While Shatner’s supposed to be this great guy–and he’s reasonably likable (everyone’s speaking Esperanto poorly so it’s a little hard to get attached)–he’s always abandoning Atmar for Ames. And since the film takes place over about a day, it’s a lot of abandoning. And bad things always happen to Atmar when Shatner’s gone, which he never acknowledges.

Shatner doesn’t speak a lot. He’s got a lot of lines, but they’re short. Director Stevens has some tricks to hide the Esperanto–Ames and Hardt have one scene where their mouths are blocked from view during what must have been difficult Esperanto passages. None of the actors are “native” Esperanto speakers; often acting and the actors getting their lines spoken are mutually exclusive activities. Ames is the best. She’s at least sympathetic.

Atmar ought to be really sympathetic but she’s not. Though it’s more Stevens’s script’s fault than anything Atmar does or doesn’t do with her performance. It’s a lousy part.

Great photography from Conrad L. Hall–at least when it’s not day-for-night–and terrible music from Dominic Frontiere.

Incubus’s greatest strength is its straightforward plotting at the beginning–Ames kills a guy, wants a better soul, argues with Hardt, goes for a better soul. Sure, there are a lot of scenes with Ames walking by herself around Big Sur, but Stevens has earned some goodwill after the frankly vicious killing of that first guy. It’s not really disturbing, but it implies Incubus isn’t messing around. At least, not entirely. After the demonic symbol opening titles and, you know, the freaking Esperanto, the film’s already a little goofy. For a while, it seems like it might not end up goofy.

But it’s a story about a succubus who wants to condemn a clean soul so she can become a demon–she needs to show off to Satan, who’s a giant bat in a fog machine–it’d be hard for Incubus not to be goofy.

Stevens’s script runs out of ideas fast. His direction doesn’t. While he does ignore Atmar a little too often, Stevens is otherwise high energy. It’s not always good direction, but Hall shoots most of it well so it at least looks great. And during the bumpier periods, Incubus gets by on the strange factor, which wouldn’t have been present in the same way on release. Even when things start to get real bad in the third act, there’s a pre-Captain Kirk Shatner fight scene. Unfortunately, he’s fighting Milos Milos, who doesn’t get anything to do when he first arrives, then does. Once he does, Incubus starts getting worse fast.

Milos looks like a beatnik doing a Karloff Frankenstein Monster impression. Just the walking and stature, but doing it exaggerated. Everyone in Incubus except Milos can keep a straight-face–including Hardt, who keeps one so long it ends up hurting her performance.

Again, terrible music. It’s hard to say how Incubus might’ve worked without the Esperanto, the Milos Milos, the Dominic Frontiere music. It might not even have needed better day-for-night photography.

Actually, without the Esperanto, Incubus’s script would be way too slight. Even with the Esperanto, there are those long dialogue-free passages… Sed kiu scias?

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Written and directed by Leslie Stevens; director of photography, Conrad L. Hall; edited by Richard K. Brockway; music by Dominic Frontiere; produced by Anthony M. Taylor; released by Mac Mahon Distribution.

Starring Allyson Ames (Kia), William Shatner (Marc), Ann Atmar (Arndis), Eloise Hardt (Amael), and Milos Milos (Incubus).


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Ragnarok (1983)

Ragnarok is a “video [comic] strip.” There’s no animation, though occasionally there are electric crackles, just panning, scanning, and zooming across illustrations while three voice actors perform multiple roles. There are sound effects–minimal ones, which sometimes works to great effect, sometimes doesn’t. There’s no credited director or editor. The illustrators get credit, as does writer Alan Moore. It’s a shame the editor doesn’t get that credit though, because they do a fantastic job. Even when Ragnarok hits the skids, the editing is good.

The video strip is split into three chapters, with the second one just a setup for the third. The first, however, is easily the most impressive. It’s this taut space Western with a prospector and his claim under attack from a gang of hooligans. Will Ragnarok–a peace-keeping regulator–get there in time to save the prospector? The voice acting on Ragnarok is never great, but it’s better in the first part, and the hooligans (and the prospector) are all awesome. Lots of personality both in the performance and in the script.

Moore closes the first chapter with some musing about the universe, man’s place in it, and even a prospector’s song. It’s kind of awesome, which makes what follows all the more disappointing.

The common denominator for trouble is the lack of banter. It’s where Moore shows the most personality with dialogue. The second chapter, which has Ragnarok investigating a distress call and finding a super-intelligent Tyrannosaurus Rex from another dimension bent on conquering the universe, has very little banter. It has some–Ragnarok mouthing off to his computer interface, which has a heavily pixelated female appearance and the moniker Voice–but the well-spoken, psychically-powered, megalomaniac T. Rex hasn’t got any chemistry with Ragnarok. They’re both playing the straight sentient and Moore writes Ragnarok as something of a buzz kill anyway. When he’s got good company, he’s fine; without it, he’s dull.

And that dullness fully eclipses all in the third chapter–except the editing, of course–as the T. Rex finds its way to Ragnarok’s home base and wrecks havoc. Moore introduces a new supporting cast of terrible characters, from an overbearing, questionably talented commanding officer called “Mother”–it’s not clear if she’s actually mother to all the regulators (the bad guy in the first chapter was called “Father”, maybe a further adventure would’ve introduced cloning backstory)–to a dimwitted female sidekick for Ragnarok. The T. Rex appropriately calls her “Simple Jane,” so Moore was intentionally playing her as a dope? Not a good sign.

There’s a lot of lame fight “scenes,” without much detail in the illustrations, and the showdown between the T. Rex and Ragnarok leaves a lot to be desired. Much like the third chapter itself.

Still, it’s competently executed and the voice cast does work at it. It’s just a shame Ragnarok never lives up to the potential of the first chapter’s writing or does justice to whoever did the rather solid editing on the video strip.

1/4

CREDITS

Character origination by Bryan Talbot; written by Alan Moore; illustrated by Mike Collins, Mark Falmer, Raz Khan, Ham Khan, Don Wazejewski, and Dave Williams; released by Nutland Video Ltd.

Voices by David Tate, Jon Glover, and Norma Ronald.


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Escape from Tomorrow (2013, Randy Moore)

Director Moore snuck cameras into Disney World (and Disneyland) to tell the story of a creepy dad who goes insane while on the last day of the family vacation. Moore, who also wrote the tedious script, has reasons for the insanity, but they’re all nonsense because Tomorrow is more about showcasing the guerrilla filmmaking and ogling. And Moore seems to know he doesn’t have a cohesive narrative, so he throws in a bunch of pointless subplots. Almost everything in Escape from Tomorrow seems to be taking a shot at Disney, but it’s more taking a shot at the culture of Disney World guests. Or the lack thereof.

As far as the guerrilla filmmaking goes… Moore’s okay as a director. Given the constraints, some of the shots are impressive. Lucas Lee Graham’s black and white photography is good, though reading about how the shots were planned months in advance as to get the light right since it was an uncontrolled environment actually makes it seem less good. Escape from Tomorrow never looks like it wasn’t digitally desaturated in post. It’s less impressive if these shots were the best they got.

Soojin Chung’s editing is awful. Again, might be Moore’s fault, might be the guerrilla filmmaking constraint, but it’s awful. Especially since it’s supposed to represent protagonist Roy Abramsohn’s descent into madness.

The ogling. Let’s talk about the ogling because it’s the inciting incident of the whole stupid thing. Abramsohn is at the park with his family. Frigid wife Elena Schuber, Oedipus complexing son Jack Dalton, and perfect daughter Katelynn Rodriguez. After being fired and not telling Schuber (she’s a bit of a nag, after all), Abramsohn starts stalking a couple teenage girls, bringing son Dalton along for the trip. Moore’s really bad at the humor in Escape from Tomorrow, starting from the first scene when Dalton locks dad Abramsohn out on a balcony. Moore plays it for Oedipus, not for laughs. Laughs would’ve been better, given the intellectual paucity of the script. Moore also bombs every other comedic possibility, which is even worse considering Abramsohn is far better playing dumb dad than potential pederast.

Now, I’m assuming the actors playing the teenage girls weren’t actually teenagers. However, Moore seems to use that excuse to turn on an exceptional level of male gaze, completely free of irony or even knowing exploitation. Again, the script is many levels of dreadful. Though original. It’s kind of original. If Moore had just ripped off The Shining, Escape from Tomorrow would’ve been much better. Instead, there are similarities and, in those similarities, the film showcases how it’s worse for being original than if it were just aping other movies.

And then there’s the whole subtext about Disney World being gross because of the white trash. Only Moore turns it up to eleven and makes the white trash example an evil disabled obese man.

Schuber is fine in a hard part. She’s supposed to be insufferable and suffering. She’s supposed to be righteous, but she’s also supposed to be frigid (Abramsohn scopes his teenage targets as consolation to Schuber shutting him down). She’s also, the film determines, an unideal example of not just a woman, but a mother.

Oh, and Moore introduces the idea she’s lying to her husband about being the son’s father. Another plot thread Moore completely drops because he’s really bad at the whole writing thing.

There’s occasionally some good music from Abel Korzeniowski. When it’s not good, it’s not Korzeniowski’s fault, it’s because the action is so dumb, nothing’s going to make it right. And by dumb, it’s usually not a dumb turn of events, it’s a failed attempt at conveying something visually. Chung is a terrible editor; Moore’s mediocre composition is the only good thing about his direction.

Tomorrow isn’t even better for being short because the second half of the film, when Abramsohn’s cheating on his wife and taking the daughter around the park to stalk the girls, drags on forever. There are like four endings to this stupid thing, each one worse than the previous.

And, what’s funny… I was onboard with it for a long time. It’s technically pretty neat, though Chung’s editing is even worse when they’re using digital effects to compensate for the shooting constraint, and it could have easily gone somewhere. Instead, it goes nowhere. Because Moore has absolutely nothing to say. Not about madness, not about marriage, not about parenting, not about Disney World. Escape from Tomorrow is a pointlessly offensive juvenile attempt at edginess.

There is no escape.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Written and directed by Randy Moore; director of photography, Lucas Lee Graham; edited by Soojin Chung; music by Abel Korzeniowski; production designers, Sean Kaysen and Lawrence Kim; produced by Chung and Gioia Marchese; released by Producers Distribution Agency.

Starring Roy Abramsohn (Jim), Elena Schuber (Emily), Jack Dalton (Elliot) and Katelynn Rodriguez (Sara).


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