Over the last few years, I’ve really upped my movie-watching game. I’ve gone from watching around 10 movies per week to watching at least 20. I’ve also tried to be deliberate with what I choose to watch. Instead of just throwing something on, I’ve created monthly themes and tried to watch more movies I have never seen before. While I’ve definitely tried to watch more classics, I’ve also enjoyed watching more older films that aren’t necessarily classics. I’ve been helped in this endeavor by boutique labels like Shout! Factory, Arrow Video, and Kino Lorber. These labels and more are putting out really nice sets of films that aren’t in the cannon so to speak, but are well-made and often crafted by really good artists (well, ok, Arrow Video puts out great sets of mostly terrible films, but I still love them.).
This week I binged through several collections of films from Kino Lorber and Shout! Factory. Not all of the films were great but I’m glad they are available and that I got a chance to watch them. But first, some classic Doctor Who.
Doctor Who: The Twin Dilemma
My family and I have been watching Doctor Who on Friday nights since we moved into this house several years ago. It started because the local college station played Tom Baker years then. But they only played the Tom Baker years and so our viewing eventually morphed into watching the new series mixed with whatever new DVD collection I’d recently purchased. A while back, they stopped playing Doctor Who altogether in favor of some British crime series.
With no Classic Who running on the television and my not having purchased any on home video, this has meant that for the last few months we’ve been watching New Who exclusively. I finally obtained this classic story and we watched it last night and it was really nice to go back to the old series. The Twin Dilemma is the very first story starring Colin Baker as the Sixth Doctor. I always enjoy watching the first and last stories from a particular actor and this was no different.
It isn’t a particularly good story, in fact, it is often ranked as fans’ least favorite of the Classic Who stories. Peter Davison’s portrayal of the Doctor was rather quiet-natured, caring, and kind so for the new Doctor, the showrunners wanted to go in a different direction and wrote the character as being more brash, more loud, less caring, and in a word, obnoxious. Colin Baker’s performance often amplified those characteristics, making him one of the least likable Doctors ever portrayed. It doesn’t help matters that The Twin Dilemma comes right after The Caves of Androzani, one of the most popular stories in Doctor Who‘s long run.
So we’ve got an obnoxious Doctor introducing himself on the heels of one of the most popular stories ever. That alone gives The Twin Dilemma difficult obstacles to overcome and unfortunately, neither the story nor the writing do it any favors. At only four episodes in length (or roughly 1 hour 40 minutes), there isn’t nearly enough time to do all the things it needs to do. A rougher, brasher Doctor can work (see Peter Capaldi’s work for an example) but he needs to have some softer edges sometimes, and this story doesn’t give him that. Time needs to be spent working on how the Doctor and his companion – in this case it is Peri – will work together, and they spend large chunks of this story apart and when they aren’t, he’s mostly yelling at her.
The story is weirdly cram-packed with ideas (with mathematical genius twins being kidnapped, an old Time Lord who switches allegiances, an evil slug-man who can give someone an embolism with his eyes, and some nonsense about moving planets around) and yet it also takes its ever-loving time going anywhere. There are multiple scenes in which characters do things that have no relationship to the plot or to really developing character, and the camera lingers. Meanwhile, several important plot points are dropped altogether.
So yeah, I totally get why this is considered to be one of the worst stories, and yet I kind of liked it. I admit I am always soft on classic Doctor Who stories. From a truly critical eye, it would be difficult to call any of the stories from the classic era great. But as a fan, I turn my analytical eye off and just enjoy them for what they are. I always love seeing what a new Doctor can do and while I’ve never loved any of the Colin Baker stories, I still appreciate the opportunity to experience them.
War movies are a dime a dozen. It isn’t hard to make a film relatively interesting when you’ve got bullets and bombs. Great war movies are a little more difficult to come by. Great war movies that depict what goes on after the shooting stops are a rarity. Ones that depict how war affects woman are nearly impossible to find, great or otherwise. Beanpole is one such movie.
Set in Leningrad, Russia shortly after World War II, it depicts the lives of two women who spent time on the front lines. Now they are trying to figure out what it was all for and how to move on in a city that’s largely been destroyed and where starvation is a daily occurrence. It is beautifully acted, directed, and shot. It is moving, heartbreaking, and a triumph. You can read my full review.
Universal Horror, Vol. 5
Shout! Factory has been releasing these collections of classic (and not so classic) films from the Universal Horror vault. For obvious reasons, they bypass the classic monsters (Frankenstein, the Wolf Man, etc.) and continue to concentrate on the lesser-known villains and films. While these films may not be the greatest horror films Universal has, they are mostly quite good and it is always cool to dig into the vault.
Each collection loosely connects the films into one category or another. Volume 5 brings us four films involving large apes/gorillas as they run amok and do a little murdering. None of them are true classics or even really good, but they are an interesting look at an under-studied sub-genre. You can read my full review.
The Devil’s Castle
While doing a little research for my Universal Horror Collection, Vol. 5 review, I came across this little film from 1896 cinema pioneer Georges Méliès. It is generally considered the first horror film ever made and like most of Méliès’ films, it includes a great many cinematic tricks that helped revolutionize the art form. With a runtime of about three minutes, there isn’t really a plot. Inside a gothic mansion, a bat flies in through a window and turns into the Devil (although one could also consider him a vampire, making this the first film of that genre) who terrorizes two men. Various ghosts and ghouls materialize and dematerialize until one of the men produces a giant cross scaring everyone away.
That’s all there is. The film is very short, basically plotless, and the effects are clunky, and yet considering when it was made and how, it is both really cool and historically important.
Western Classics, Volume 1
Kino Lorber has been releasing a series of collected film noirs. Much like the Universal Horror collection from Shout! Factory, these films are lesser-known. I’ve been thoroughly enjoying them (in fact, I’ll have a review of Volume III out soon). They must have been successful too because now they are doing a collection of western films.
The three movies included (Whispering Smith, The Virginian, When the Daltons Rode) range from the pretty good but dull to really quite enjoyable. None of them are knock-outs but much like those Universal horror movies, I’m so happy that these types of films are being released. Between Shout! Factory and Kino Lorber my understanding of older, not-quite classic films is growing and growing. That can only be a good thing. I’ll have a full review of this set up soon.
The second trailer for this new HBO series just dropped and it looks really interesting. It is based on a book by Matt Ruff and is being produced by Jordan Peele and J.J. Abrams. It stars Jonathan Majors, Jurnee Smollett-Bell, and Michael K. Williams. It tells the tale of a black family traveling through the Jim Crow south while looking for their father and battling both racism and monsters.