Don’t Mess with the Butler

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A bunch of us comic book geeks watched episode dos of Gotham last night. Man, they’re ratcheting things up. Oswald Cobblepot’s (the future Penguin) already full-tilt psychopathic and getting more so. Edward Nygma’s (the Riddler) on the fringes (in every sense of the word – I like that he works in the police lab at GCPD. Nice touch, folks). Jim Gordon and Harvey Bullock are working together, but with an industrial garbage load of tension. Really love that. And Bruce Wayne is beginning his voyage down that dark path by testing his ability to withstand pain.

One of the surprises last night was the appearance of Carol Kane as Oswald’s mom. I’d recognize her voice anywhere. I still remember her roles in Scrooged (she was the Ghost of Christmas Present, wearing her “… pretty party dress…”) with Bill Murray and as Miracle Max’s (Billy Crystal) wife, Valerie, in The Princess Bride. That’s one of my favorite scenes with Max trying to duck her, shouting, “Witch! Get away, witch!” and Carol shouting back, “I’m not a witch, I’m your wife!” I’m laughing just thinking back to that scene. Anyway, sorry, I got sidetracked. Last night’s brief performance as Oswald’s seemingly sweet but whacked-out mom just was icing to the cake. Glad to see her onboard. I hope they keep her on. One interesting note. I saw that her character’s name in Gotham is Gertrude Kapelput. Did Oswald make the Cobblepot change?

I love the intensity that Donal Logue brings to his Harvey Bullock character. The man can chew through some scenery. Plus, they’re rounding him out with some shades of gray. Is there some good beating in that corrupt heart of his?

Finally got to hear Selina Kyle, aka Cat, speak? I like this kid, she’s got spunk. Street-survivor smarts and attitude. And we’re already seeing the magnetic field that reaches from Bruce to her. Good. Excellent planning, folks.

But the one among our bad guys who intrigues me is Penguin. I couldn’t turn up much bio on Robin Lord Taylor, the actor who plays him, but he’s doing a helluva job. I’m liking this new take on Penguin.

All in all, the biggest, boldest, and so far, my favorite surprise, is this Aussie/Cockney version of Alfred. He loves Bruce and will do anything to protect him, and there’s also an edge to the man. Played with a quiet, raw power by Sean Pertwee, this Alfred looks as though he has a past, and I don’t mean just butlering. Here’s a mystery, folks. And also, perhaps, a solution. He’s now father/mentor to Bruce. What skills can this Alfred bring to the table? I mean, he looks as though he could clear a bar. And what Mr. Pertwee brings is a potent acting background, with 118 acting credits under his belt already. The man’s classically trained, has played in a bazillion British TV shows, playing detectives, and all manner of warriors. The man has class and style. I like this Alfred a lot.

This is the most excited I’ve been about a superhero show (or pretty much any show) in quite some time. The last show I got hooked on like this was Young Justice, which the powers-that-are decided to axe. Let’s keep this one running, folks.

‘til next time… Adios.

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Whaddaya Mean, Access Denied?

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Speaking of media, I’m in the process of tanking my old boat anchor, my desktop PC that still takes up way too much room on my desk. After coming back from our trip up north to Yooper country, I finally have enough motivation to at least attempt deleting (ah, yes, even just saying the word ‘deleting’ is refreshing) and/or moving files from the boat anchor to my presently working laptop. Said laptop is on its way toward eventually becoming a boat anchor, but for now, it’s just fine.

There are files within files and folders within folders. Many of them I have no idea what they do. Others, yes, it’s a surprise, going back at least a decade at times. Some of the stuff is my early writing (a little good, a little bad), and the various incarnations and drafts of certain pieces. Jeez, I’ve found six, seven, or more versions of the same piece of writing. Why?

Then there are pictures and photos I’ve saved, some of which I remember, some I have not an inkling. Wendy and I will look at a few of these photos and go, “Who are these people? Do you remember them?” “Nope. Look, they’re standing in front of the Golden Gate Bridge. Who do we know that’s been there?” Then there are the vast multitudes of text files with their plethora-like file extensions. Most I can’t even open. Out they go.

A couple of years ago when one of our laptops met with a nasty virus, I saved files from the residue on the boat anchor. So, I went through and hunted down any photos or pictures that I thought we might need.

But the majority of the files are things I can’t open, have no idea what they were or are for, or don’t care about. There are folders with important-sounding names that house nothing within their shells. And then I’ve found way too many files that when I try to delete them, I get messages telling me that the computer Nazis dressed all in black will pay me a visit.

Ha! Let them come if they will. I’ll just tell them “Access denied”.

‘til next time… Adios.

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Grab Your Moral Ammo…

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We just returned from our anniversary trip to the U. P. (Upper Peninsula) of Michigan. Yooper country, they call it. U. P. — Yooper. Courageous country, but we were nearing the tail end of when it’s a good idea to go there. Unless we had our snowmobile ready.

We spent three fantastic nights and four days on Mackinac Island, right up there amongst the waters of Lake Huron and Lake Michigan. Wendy and I took a tour of the Grand Hotel on the island. Couldn’t spend a night there — way too expensive for us mere mortals, but it was fun seeing it in all its ostentatiousness. ‘Course, that’s where Christopher Reeve traveled back through time to meet up with Jane Seymour in the film Somewhere in Time (1980). And yes, I know it’s a sappy love story, but I’m just sappy enough to like it.

But also on the island is a building attached to the Mission Point Inn where we stayed that’s used for showing first and second-run movies. At one time, though, it (or perhaps a building nearby) housed a movie studio for the group known as Moral Re-Armament (speaking of ostentatiousness). Never heard of it? Neither had I. So, got my thoroughly incompetent research staff to do a bit o’ diggin’.

Seems this group, the MRA (even the initials sound a little heavy-handed), had some potent ideas and ideals in regards to how folks need to love one another better, practice purity, that sort of thing. One of their big issues was abolishing racism, and they got behind a movie called Freedom (1957), aka Uhuru. This film, written and acted by folks from all over Africa, dealt with the struggles of (then) modern-day Africans. I found some info in TCM’s database, but I couldn’t find it in IMDb, under either title. Freedom caused a lot of controversy in some of the places where it played. I found no reviews, except for one small excerpt on the TCM site. They quoted Hazel Flynn, who wrote a review for the Beverly Hills-Citizen in the February 13, 1957 issues. “Last night I experienced a movie which May change the course of my life…” That’s all the info I found.

MRA continued on with producing and/or distributing films, their next one The Crowning Experience (1960). And, from the title, it seems they’re straying from their non-denominational approach. From what little I could find, it starts off chronicling the life of Mary McLeod Bethune, an educator who started a college for African-American children. Then it heads off into the benefits of Moral Re-Armament and gets in a little public service message about the evils of communism. Hmm… racism’s bad, but prejudice is still hanging around, it seems.

In ‘63, MRA distributed, but did not produce (best I can tell) Decision at Midnight, starring Martin Landau. Listed as an indie Italian film, I found no description.

Next came Voice of the Hurricane in ‘64, and I found no details about this one, either, other than that some shots were filmed in Kenya, and the alternate title was The Hurricane. Could that be about the boxer “Hurricane” Carter. There was the 1999 movie starring Denzel Washington as Carter.

Two other films, Give a Dog a Bone (1965) and Cross Road (1973), also have few details, certainly nothing about a plot.

As far as I can tell, that was the last of MRA’s movie-making ventures. And what of MRA? They’ve morphed into a group called Initiatives of Change, and I’m not sure what their principles are today. But my main interest is in the group’s movies. So, I’m gonna have to fire up my trusty incomprehensible research staff and see what else they can turn up. I’d like, at least, to track down a copy of Freedom, just out of curiosity. I’m also curious about how, supposedly, Lieutenant Uhura’s name in Star Trek was derived from uhuru, which translates to “freedom”. Could Mr. Roddenberry have seen Freedom when it came out? I think he’d have been working in Hollywood at the time, either during his motorcycle cop days or as a TV script writer.

Gotta go for now.

‘til next time… Adios.

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Dark Knights of Gotham

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Continuing on, long-windedly, from yesterday’s Gotham post, I only have one nit to pick. Only a minor one, mind you. They’re setting us up for the long haul (I hope), as they introduce us to most everyone, good and bad, and all shades of gray, who are destined to become the significant characters we love to hate or hate to love. Sometimes they don’t even name these characters or give them many (if any at all) lines. My complaint is that they’ve thrown all of them into the first one-hour episode instead of filtering them in slowly over a period of time. But, that’s a minor issue, and it was fun watching to see who they’d toss in next.

Opening sequence. We see the small teenage girl I mentioned earlier, perhaps homeless, living on Gotham’s streets, clambering on rooftops, stairwells, gutters. Agile like a… cat?

There’s an odd fellow with an awkward walk and a pointed nose. He’s an underling for a wanna-be crime boss named Fish Mooney, and definitely psychopathic. This guy’s a strange bird.

Also working for Fish is a comedian. His whole job is to do a stand-up routine on a stage just for Mooney. He tells really bad jokes.

That’s all I’m giving away. Most everyone will know from the characteristics of these players who they are, or rather, who they become in the Batman story-line. We’ll definitely see all of them again.

I thought everyone did an outstanding job, especially Ben McKenzie as Detective Jim Gordon. Ben has a steady history in TV, and already comes ready-made as a tough city cop (or tough-city cop) in a show called Southland. I like his character already, and look forward to seeing his possibly mentoring presence in Bruce Wayne’s life. Interestingly enough, he did the voice of Bruce Wayne/Batman in the Batman: Year One (2011) video.

The diminutive roof-walking street child was played stealthily by Camren Bicondova. IMDb says she’s “… the youngest actress to have played the role of Selina Kyle/Catwoman”. Not sure why they made a point of her age, as pretty much everyone is going to be the “youngest version of Alfred, Riddler, etc. Anyway, the cat’s out of the bag now. We know who the roof walker is now.

One of the coolest surprises was Sean Pertwee as Alfred Pennyworth, the Wayne family butler. Yeah, he’s all dressed up all nice and proper, but his accent is a lot rougher than any of the previous Alfreds. He looks and sounds as though he could handle himself. Wouldn’t be a bit surprised if he does a little martial arts training with the young Bruce Wayne.

Playing Jim Gordon’s good/bad partner is Donal Logue as Harvey Bullock. Donal is a solid player with a long track record. His performance as the yeah, kinda-sorta corrupt Bullock was outstanding. Excellent range of conflicting emotions he brings to his character.

Finally, there’s David Mazouz as Bruce Wayne. At 13 years old he already has 17 acting credits locked in, both TV and movies. He turned in a terrific performance in the pilot episode as a fractured kid who’s already taking a dark and silent turn.

Well, reckon I’ve yapped enough. Check out the show.

‘til next time… Adios.

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Gotham Knights

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Gotham. Where the hell do I start? We’re mainstream now, folks. I still love to watch my old Pow! Blam! episodes of 1966’s Batman – that’s what I grew up with. But as we’ve headed into the deeper waters of making our superheroes more real, more believable, Gotham, at least starting out, is dead on the mark.

Most of the time I don’t care much for the angst-ridden superhero jag we’ve gotten ourselves into, but Batman’s all about angst. All except for the Adam West/Burt Ward years, of course. But I think our favorite Dark Knight has gone from angst straight into full-out smoldering rage which he takes out on the bad guys.

Of course, we all know the history — young Bruce Wayne is walking home in between his parents, Dr. Thomas Wayne and Martha Wayne, after they’ve been to a play/movie/opera, through the dark Gotham streets, where they’re robbed at gunpoint by Jack Napier/Joe Chill/unknown bad guy. Bruce’s parents are shot dead by the assailant. But Gotham builds around this oh-so beautifully and creatively, weaving those who will become in the future our major players into the Bruce Wayne saga. For example, in most of these origin versions, Bruce is speechless, mute, stoic. He cries, but nothing more. In this latest take, Bruce cries, bends down and touches his father’s blood-stained shirt, draws his hand back and looks at it, all covered with his father’s blood, then lets loose this pure, uninhibited child’s cry to the heavens.

And one young child of the streets, a small teenage girl dressed all in black, hiding in a nearby fire escape, watches it all happen. She’s horrified. Terrified.

That all takes place in just the first few minutes.

It’s this and more that gives Gotham a raw energy with a solid pulse.

One of many things to love about this show is how it takes the original Batman saga and makes slight course corrections here and there. These changes do not detract at all from canon. They augment.

In the most recent Batman trilogy Batman chooses the young Lieutenant Jim Gordon as his contact in the police force, as Bruce correctly assumes Gordon is an honest man. In Gotham the relationship begins earlier as the rookie cop Gordon befriends the young orphan. Gordon confides to Bruce that when he was young, a drunk driver killed his mother. Gordon is an ex-soldier who is a force to be dealt with himself. Apparently fearless.

Fear and fearlessness. These play strongly into the Batman saga, or I should say, the Bruce Wayne saga. There is no Batman yet.

Two scenes drove home for me the dimension and direction of the evolving Wayne/Gordon friendship. Gordon drives to stately Wayne mansion (sorry, had to say it) and sees Bruce standing on the roof edge of the mansion. Alfred comes outside to meet Gordon as they both look up to see Bruce on the edge. Alfred yells up in a heavy Cockney accent (apologies, could be Cockney, maybe Irish, I’m not good on identifying accents) for Bruce to get down. Afterwards, Jim Gordon is talking to Bruce, asking him why he was up there. Bruce explains that he’s trying to conquer fear. Gordon says that we need our fear, that it gives us our edge. So, already we see the beginning of how the two will work to bring about justice to corrupt city. Reminded me a bit of the difference between Charles Xavier (Professor X) and Erik Lensherr (Magneto) in X-Men: First Class (2011), except that Erik goes to the other side of the line. Batman performs a balancing act on the line between bad guys and good guys.

Near the end of that scene in Gotham, Gordon asks for Bruce’s help in tracking down the guy who killed his parents, telling him that the Gotham PD is corrupt, and to keep it their secret. There’s a silent exchange, an understanding, between the two. Gordon says thanks as Bruce stands up and leaves the room wordlessly, his silence the silver bullet that he will always leave behind when he’s Batman.

That’s about all I have time for tonight. I’ll post more on Gotham tomorrow. I feel this is a show to watch, with a good blend of detective cop drama with comic book excitement. Watch Gotham.

‘til next time… Adios.

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Wait, was that the Antidote I Drank, or….?

The Ghost

Wendy and I just got finished watching another Barbara Steele spooker called The Ghost, after watching Nightmare Castle just two nights ago. This one is on a 4-disc compilation titled Horror: Do Not Watch Alone from TGG Direct. Ghost is on the same disc that Nightmare Castle is on and suffers some of the same issues, namely tracking issues. The images are a tad grainy, too, all of which makes me think these were burned from a tape copy at some point. Audio’s still good, which is surprising.
I thought we’d do like we usually do, which is to watch a movie over a several night period at supper, but Ghost hooked us. We both love these Gothic creepfests, and this one delivered. Got to say, we’re late-comers to the Barbara Steele camp, but the more we watch the better we like her. She ranges smoothly from seducer to victim to just plain whacked-out.

First released on March 30th, 1963, it didn’t make it to the U.S. Until February 18th, 1965, in Dallas, TX. Titled The Ghost for American audiences, the original titles were Lo spettro, Lo spettro de Dr. Hitchcock, or The Spectre. Seems that ol’ Dr. Hitchcock just won’t stay buried as this one apparently picks up from 1962’s The Horrible Dr. Hitchcock.

Similar to Nightmare Castle, we have the old dark house setting (or castle), thunder and lightning, creepy housekeeper, and a deadly love triangle. Although, in Castle, it was more of a quintangle. Oh, yeah, and there’s bad love in the greenhouse in both movies. That should be one more guideline for characters in horror flicks, right up there with, “Don’t go off by yourself” – if you’re gonna mess around, stay out of greenhouses.

Ol’ Doc Hitchcock is a-knock knock knockin’ at heaven’s door, although for the doc it’s probably not heaven’s door he’s really knockin’ at. Ghost is the sequel to 1962’s The Horrible Dr. Hitchcock. I’ve not seen that one, but from what little I read, the bad doctor loves playing with dead things, and has a history of dancing around that border country of the black arts and black science. At the beginning of Ghost, Doc Hitch is wheelchair-bound and getting regular injections from young Dr. Charles Livingstone (Peter Baldwin, who’s done more directing in his career than acting) to hopefully cure him from the paralysis that grips him. Unfortunately for Dr. H, young Dr. Livingstone and Dr. H’s wife, Margaret (Barbara Steele) are messing around and Mrs. H wants Dr. Livingstone, I presume, to up Dr. H’s meds so Dr. H will kick off, leaving Dr. H’s fortune behind.

Unfortunately for Dr. Livingstone and Margaret, Dr. H has a lot of experience playing around with that border country between life and death (the whole undead/mostly dead/not dead yet thing), and he’s tougher to bump off than Rasputin.

What follows is a good deal of red herrings as we, along with our players, try to figure out who’s dead, who’s alive, and who wants to off and/or double-cross who. Ghost has a good creep factor, and with the extra mysteries, it makes for a fun Gothic viewing.

Director Riccardo Freda (he also goes by Richard Hamton or Richard Hampton) worked with Barbara Steele on this project and the prequel, The Horrible Dr. Hitchcock, although Doc Hitch went from Dr. Bernard Hitchcock in the first one to Dr. John Hitchcock in Ghost. To make things even more confusing, John Hitchcock was played by Elio Jotta, also known as Leonard G. Elliot; Robert Flemyng (also known as Robert Flemyng) played Bernard Hitchcock. Wonder if he was something like Dr. Who?

‘til next time… Adios.

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Don’t Get in the Bathtub, Doctor!

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We get things rolling immediately with this old dark house spooker — an argument between husband and wife in his laboratory, and the housekeeper lurking nearby. Gotta say, though, they could’ve done a better job with the housekeeper’s makeup. It looks like they coated her face with Plaster of Paris.

Nightmare Castle offers something for everyone — laboratories, a love triangle (or quintangle?), betrayal, immortality, revenge, electricity, torture, storms, an old dark castle, vengeful spirits, and Barbara Steele!

Barbara Steele plays the wife in question, Muriel Arrowsmith, and Paul Muller is her experimenting husband, Dr. Stephen Arrowsmith. She has the money and he has the laboratory. Seems that she’s in love with the stable-hand and Stephen’s in love with Muriel’s money. Of course, there’s Solange (Helga Line), the housekeeper, who we suspect Stephen is messing around with on the side. Dr. A plots to whack the two lovers, removing their hearts, and using Muriel’s blood to return Solange’s youth. Conveniently, Muriel has a sister, Jenny, who looks just like Muriel (who is dead now but oh-so-restless). Dr. A plans to marry Jenny, then off her for the money.

Like I said, Nightmare has it all. Wonderfully derivative at times, we have a touch of Gaslight, a little Tell-Tale Heart, and a Frankenstein tribute, all thrown in to this entertaining Italian Gothic fright-fest. It’s very much Poe-esque as well.

Surprisingly the story flows well and keeps moving, even with all the horror elements in the mix. And that’s considering that the version we watched at our Classic Horror Film Club last night (thank you, Heather, and staff at the Tates Creek Library) is possibly a cut-down, re-edited version. I’d prefer watching it with subtitles as sometimes the dialogue didn’t quite work at times. It was obvious this is also a copy of a VHS version as there were a couple of tracking problems, and we watched it on a DVD. I’d like to see if I could find an original version (or as close to original as possible).

The director, Mario Caiano, has taken on several names over his career. For Nightmare he’s listed as Allen Grunewald (with the two little dots over the ‘u’), but he’s also gone by William Hawkins, Edoardo Re, Fred Wilson, and Manfred Riegert). One of his claims to fame is that he directed the first Italian western, Il segno del coyote (no Clint Eastwood in here), set in California, and sounding very Zorro-ish, as the other title is The Sign of the Coyote, about an avenging masked character called the Coyote.

Barbara Steele started out in a minor, uncredited role in Houseboat (1958), then quickly moved on to more powerful roles, her breakout being in the dual roles of Katia Vajda and Princess Asa Vajda, in the Italian horror classic, Black Sunday (1960). Over the years, Ms. Steele has played several dual roles in films such as The Long Hair of Death (1964), An Angel for Satan (1966), and the reprise of Dark Shadows on television in 1991. Her dual roles in Nightmare are excellent as she melts from the darkly sinister Muriel to her innocent and meek sister, Jenny.

Husband Dr. Arrowsmith, played slickly evil by Paul Muller, is a pleasure to watch. I would love to hear the actor’s voice in the non-dubbed version, though, as each word oozes out so deliciously conniving. Mr. Muller (Paul Miller in Nightmare) has had a long career acting, beginning in 1948 and continuing until 2004. Born in 1923, he’s still alive, with 241 roles to his credit. Most impressive, Mr. Muller.

Almost forgot to mention the musical score was done by Ennio Morricone, famous for so many Italian Westerns (among others), with 527 musical compositions for film to his credit.  So far.  He’s still working, folks!  Now that’s truly outstanding!

If you like old black-and-white Gothic scarefests, don’t miss this one. Though it’s been called a “… sadistic movie”, I disagree. The scenes of torture are mostly off-camera, more implied than anything else. I can turn on network TV at any point and see a whole lot worse, I guarantee you.

‘til next time… Adios.

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