(On Cable TV, January 2019) I can’t adequately explain how much I love “Tiny House of Terror” as a movie title. It’s over-the-top, instantly intriguing and packs the cuteness of “Tiny House” with the threatened menace that is “OF TERROR!” in four short words. Impossible to resist, and probably impossible to live up to as well. This is a made-for-Lifetime TV movie and it shows—watching it on commercial-free Cable TV channels, you can see the fade-out-fade-ins, which is especially amusing in the case when it fades back to the very same shot. While the screenwriter has to be congratulated for the chutzpah of creating a thriller based on the high-concept housing fad of the moment, Tiny House of Terror doesn’t, in the end, have much to do with Tiny Houses—it goes beyond the setting to quickly becomes a sombre revenge thriller where the tiny house becomes an afterthought. The broken chronology of the result is interesting and while some twists can be guessed in advance, the film is filled with so many red herrings that it’s actually a letdown when everything is explained as the resolution does not match our wildest explanations. This Canadian production gets a few extra points for cute lead actresses (Francia Raisa and Nazneen Contractor)—and some applause for casting non-Caucasian actresses for no particular plot reason. In the end, despite a title that overpromises much, Tiny House of Terror is not that good but not that bad either—too bad about the disappointing ending, though.
(On TV, July 2018) Oh wow. I’m not sure you can actually describe Flash Gordon without sounding certifiably insane, so wholeheartedly does it commit to its campy style. 1980 was like a parallel universe when seen through the campy mind of director Mike Hodges, and I’m not sure where to start in order to give you a taste of the film’s built-in ludicrousness. Maybe Queen’s soundtrack with its eponymous FLASH! (Ah-ah-Aaaah) ? Maybe the prologue where a bored supervillain decides to destroy the Earth out of spite? Maybe the hero, a football star thrown in galactic conflicts? Maybe the unrepentant use of musty clichés such as the scientist and his daughter? Maybe the gaudy visual design of the film? Maybe Max von Sydow and BRIAN BLESSED hamming it up, along with such notables as Timothy Dalton and Topol in other roles? Maybe choice quotes along the lines of “Flash, Flash, I love you, but we only have fourteen hours to save the Earth!” I don’t know. Flash Gordon has a messy production history, and the fairest assessment you can make of it was that Dino de Laurentis thought it was a good idea to resurrect a 1930s comic strip, except that the people tasked with writing and executing the project found the thing so ridiculous that they left the throttle firmly struck in the “parody” setting and the result got away from them. Or they all played along. No matter how you see it, Flash Gordon is a terrible big brash loud movie that feels as if it’s an hours-long hallucination. I wouldn’t mind seeing it again.
(On TV, July 2018) Box-office success is fleeting, and you just have to go back fifty years in Hollywood history to find Hawaii, then the second-biggest-grossing movie of the year and now almost entirely forgotten by history. Adapted from a single chapter in James Michener’s eponymous novel (far too long to entirely adapt to the big screen), it’s about the adventures of a missionary trying to settle in wild Hawaii with his new bride. If you’re expecting a rousing adventure story, though, temper your expectations: The film is heavy on religious fervour leading to dumb decisions leading to characters dying—to the point where the film’s religious credentials become almost suspect. The ending is particularly bittersweet. It has not aged particularly well: the movie is ponderous, moralistic, scarcely entertaining to watch and clearly belong to the Old Hollywood era that would be annihilated barely a year later. Max von Sydow and Julie Andrews star as the lead couple, but neither of them are particularly well used. It technically qualifies as an epic film by dint of taking place over decades and a staggering 186 minutes, but there isn’t much spectacle nor complex plot in the film. Frankly, it’s an ordeal to watch these days—although the treatment of the Hawaiian population and myths is slightly more respectful than you’d expect. What will reviewers think of today’s box-office hits in fifty years?
(On Cable TV, September 2014) I applaud any attempt to bring pulp heroes back to life through modern movies, but if the result is going to be as limp and by-the-numbers as Solomon Kane… I can wait a while longer. It’s especially damning given that the first five minutes of the film suggest a far more engaging experience than what we actually get. Here’s a hint: If you have a swashbuckling hero, it’s a good idea not to restrain him with a pacifist oath for the first half of the film. While technically well-made and visually convincing, Solomon Kane simply goes nowhere for much of an hour, and the resulting lack of energy almost kills the film. James Purefoy (looking eerily like Hugh Jackman) isn’t too bad as the hero, and it is kind-of interesting to see veterans like Max von Sydow and Pete Postlethwaite in small roles. Still, much of the film is overly contemplative when it should be far more action-driven: Promised a pulp hero, we’re stuck with a brooding anti-hero dabbling in nonviolence. I don’t mind a bit of depth and introspection, but writer/director Michael J. Bassett takes it too far. By the time the action moves to castle heroics late in the film, it’s too late and too bland to impress –the slight revelations twists are obvious early on, and the film doesn’t take too many chances on its way to a conclusion. It’s not a bad film for its budget, but it is blander than it should have been –the fact that it was completed in 2009 and made its American cable-TV debut five years later does hint at how unspectacular the result is.