Tuesday, August 01, 2017

Tuesday's Overlooked Film: Reign of Fire

I didn't see this post-apocalyptic dragon film when it was new, and I got interested only after it had gotten some sort of a cult status. Well, I don't really know if it's really a cult film, but it has its admirers. I searched for the film, but quite haphazardly, didn't really go out for it. I would've watched it via some streaming site, but it doesn't seem to be available in Netflix, at least in the Finnish version. Finally I spotted the film on VHS for 10 cents in a thrift store.

Reign of Fire, directed by TV specialist Rob Bowman, is about dragons set loose in London some time in the present time or in the near future. They destroy the world, and only a handful of people remain. These include Christian Bale (who as a kid was responsible for setting the dragons loose) and Matthew McConaughey, who is an American flying across the Atlantic to destroy the only male dragon. Everything is burned to ashes, and people are living in caves and other barbarian environments.

The film doesn't make much sense (why does killing the male dragon help, when there are still hundreds of female dragons about?), and it's way too serious about its subject matter, when I think it should be done firmly tongue in cheek. The script is not very smart, and only Bale and McConaughey are given something to work on, others are merely extras, which sadly goes also for Izabella Scorupco, who's an flying assistant to McConaughey.

But Reign of Fire was still somewhat entertaining. I'm glad I watched it, but I do hope it would've been better. This didn't become my guilty pleasure.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Tuesday's Overlooked Film: Once Upon a Texas Train (1988)

We just had the annual Summer get-together of the Finnish Western Society. We watched three more or less obscure films, one of them being Once Upon a Texas Train that I had bought earlier on VHS from a thrift store not knowing what it was about.

Turns out it was written and directed by Burt Kennedy, for whom it must've been some kind of a dream project: lots of old Western stars together possibly for the last time. The story is very traditional: an old train robber (Willie Nelson) gathers his old friends together and plans to rob a train. An old friend of the robber, colonel (Richard Widmark) has a hunch of what the robber is about to do and gathers some of their old acquaintances to stop the robber.

The line-up is sure something: Widmark, Chuck Connors, Jack Elam, Stuart Whitman, Gene Evans, Royal Dano, Ken Curtis, Dub Taylor, Kevin McCarthy (in a small role), Dub Taylor, Angie Dickinson, Harry Carey Jr., Hank Worden. But the movie is slow-moving and gets bogged down in the talkative middle. The ending is disappointing, and it seems like they shot two endings shot and used footage of both. Burt Kennedy wrote formidable scripts for Budd Boetticher in the late fifties, but his own films have been disappointing. I don't really care for his better-known films, either, like Support Your Local Sheriff!

Once Upon a Texas Train was made for TV, and it premiered CBS Sunday Movie on CBS on January 3, 1988, being a popular film with over 20 million viewers.

Here's Wikipedia on the film. The film seems to be available on DVD.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Tuesday's Overlooked Film: Always Outnumbered

I haven't read Walter Mosley's novel Always Outgunned, Always Outnumbered (1997), but when I saw a free VHS copy of the film based on it, I immediately snatched it. It's great when there are so many free VHS cassettes around in thrift stores and other venues nowadays.

The film has a shortened title: Always Outnumbered, and it was a HBO production in 1998. It was scripted by Mosley himself, and directed by Michael Apted. Larry Fishburne plays the lead, an ex-convict by the name of Socrates Fortlow who tries to live almost all by himself, but getting mixed up with the every-day troubles of his neighborhood. This is not really a crime movie, even though most of the stuff Socrates meets is crime-related: drugs, killing of a pre-teenage boy, stuff like that.

The TV movie is almost all black (or African-American, if you will), except for the director (Apted is an odd choice for this, though he's made noirish films before). There's gritty and believable realism to all this, but there's almost too much of the macho posturing by Fishburne and some others. When Socrates Fortlow talks to a woman whose husband he's promised to find, he says things like "if he doesn't show up, I'm gonna come up and take you and your kids with me" or "there are dozen men waiting for a woman like you". I'd feel this would be terribly disturbing, if I were a woman and someone was talking to me like this. The ending is sentimental, though it's not a happy one.

Made-for-TV movies don't suffer much when watched on VHS, so I was glad to give this a try. It's clearly an above average movie, though it has its problems.

Tuesday, July 04, 2017

Tuesday's Overlooked Film: Small Crimes

Evan Katz's Small Crimes (2017) is an excellent neo-noir film after Dave Zeltserman's novel of the same name. Nicolaj Coster-Waldau plays Joe Denton, an ex-cop who's been six years in jail for maiming the D.A. with a knife. In the beginning of the film, we see him get out and try to redeem his bad deeds and getting in touch with his two daughters. We see him getting mixed up with his old colleagues in crime, both cops and criminals, we see him being asked to do some favours, we see him getting trapped. There's no escaping the past. Whatever Joe does, it only tightens the rope around his neck. Near the end, it seems he's getting out - but that impression doesn't last for long. This is noir at its noirest, and there are no mystic serial killers or any of that Nordic Noir shit around. What I especially liked about the film is that there's no back story, you have to be alert to see what's been happening.

Small Crimes is available in Netflix.

Had the crime paperback series I was editing for a Finnish publisher six or seven years ago, I would've definitely included Zeltserman's novel in the series. I would've also picked up Zeltserman's Killer, which is even better, if you ask me. Both books come highly recommended.

I hope there are more Overlooked Films coming to Todd Mason's blog here.

Monday, May 29, 2017

The Maltese Falcon, comic book version

Evan Lewis has been posting chapters of the comic book version of Hammett's The Maltese Falcon on his blog. Check them out here.


Friday, May 12, 2017

Just a quick update: election, new books, coming books, a beautiful cover for one

Just announcing I'm not dead yet, though the latest blog post is from, what, two months back! Can this really be? Time flies really fast, doesn't it? 

There have been things going on around here, that's for sure. 

I ran for the city council here in Turku, Finland, in the ranks of the Left Alliance and was elected, almost to my surprise, vice member (or deputy member, I'm not really sure what the right word is). So far, I haven't done much in this official post, but we'll see. 

My publishing house, Helmivyö, has put out new books. One of them is my own "The Short Introduction to Trash/Pulpy Literature" (Roskakirjallisuuden lyhyt historia; it's a tour around the world, focusing mainly on the United States), and one of them is a volume of the the collected short fiction of Kaarlo Bergbom, Finnish writer from the 1860s. There are only four stories, one of them being a Biblical fantasy, one being an almost Westernish story of an old career criminal living as a hermit, and two being psychological short stories. You can check the books out here. (The site is understandably in Finnish.) 

My hands have been full of work, and besides all of the above I've been writing and compiling my own books. I had to postpone one that was supposed to come out next Fall, but the book about the film versions of classic and new Finnish literature is still in the works. It's a sequel to the book I wrote earlier, about film versions of known and forgotten books around the world, not only in Finland. 

And there will also be a collection of fairy tales for adults I edited. It's called "The Hundred Years of Sleep" (or "Dreams"; Sadan vuoden unet in Finnish), according to the shorty story of Johanna Venho that was simply wonderful. I wish someone possibly in the publishing business reading this blog would get excited and ask for a translation sample of some of the stories. Check out the cover above, it's by Charlie Bowater. 

I haven't been reading much hardboiled/noir/pulp/sleaze literature, as I have been deeply immersed in my work, but here's hoping I can squeeze some in during the Summer. So far, it looks bad... 

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Tuesday's Overlooked Film: Shellarama

I stumbled on this Shell-produced documentary almost by accident: I've been preparing a book that collects the writings of the Turku-based film critic Tapani Maskula (a Finnish legend), and reading some of his reviews from the sixties I noticed that he said nice things about a short subject that was shown before a longer movie (I believe it was The Hallelujah Trail). The short film was called Shellarama, and it was supposed to be shown in 70 mm (in Cinerama, to be exact), but there haven't been any 70 mm projectors in Turku, so it must've been shown here in 35 mm.

As the title suggests, Shellarama is, to quote the film's IMDb entry, "a celebration of Shell Petroleum, tracing its manufacture from discovery in oil fields to its eventual use as fuel for modern living across the globe". The film contains lots of breath-taking aerial shots with long camera drives over deserts and jungles, and it's fascinating to watch. Here's BFI on the film, I believe they have released the film - and some other 70 mm short films - on DVD or Blu-Ray.

Shellarama is available via YouTube in its entirety, albeit not with a very good quality, but it's still worth your while. As I watched it, I got to thinking the film reminded me of a much later film, Godfrey Reggio's Koyaanisqatsi from the early eighties. Both films are without dialogue or voice-over narration, and both films are structured rather similarly, as both start from nature and continue on to big cities and their car jams. Both films contain similar shots of industrial enviroments and cities. Both films use people almost only as backdrops. Of course the ideology between the two films couldn't be more different: Shellarama praises Shell and oil that is used to promote modern life, while Koyaanisqatsi criticizes the modern life and the turmoil it brings to Earth. The music in the films couldn't also be more different from each other, as Koyaanisqatsi uses Philip Glass's minimalist soundtrack and Shellarama has some Latin percussion.

It's still entirely possible Godfrey Reggio was influenced by Shellarama. If he wasn't, I'm surprised!

But take a look and see for yourselves. Looks like Blogger crops the embedded clip, here's the direct link to YouTube. (More Overlooked Films at Todd Mason's blog.)