Sunday, May 31, 2020

Centennial (A 12 Part Miniseries 1979) PART THREE

(WARNING!!! SPOILERS TO PREVIOUS EPISODES INVOLVED!!!)
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CHAPTER 3: THE WAGON AND THE ELEPHANT

Our story takes us East, to the Pennsylvania Mennonite community and young Levi Zendt. Falsely accused of sexual assault, Levi refuses to abide by the punishment decreed and heads west with his friend Elly and the two are soon married with a child on the way. They are headed toward Oregon to start their new lives together, joining a full train with other travelers; Oliver Seccombe (Timothy Dalton), Captain Maxwell Mercy (Chad Everett) and trail leader Sam Purchas (the ever menacing Donald Pleasance).

The story here takes an interesting turn because so much of the series has, so far, depended so much on our relationship with Pasquinell. But Levi Zendt steps into familiar shoes with a very different journey and approach to life. Where Pasquinel came at life with passion, Zendt is steady with compassion and warmth. Where Pasquinel faced things head and faces the mountains, Levi allows the mountains to seep into him. His road converges at a trading post with McKeag, with whom he will develop a stronger bond as the episode continues.

Of all the characters in Centennial, Levi Zendt has always been my favorite. Gregory Harrison is great in the role, but as an adult I can't quite speak to the quality that brought Levi to life in my young eyes. He was modest, he was secure, and in a later episode he would be described as a "serious man", and none of that usually speaks to a quality that most young men would gravitate toward. But, more than anything, he was also reasonable and courageous and he was just "good"... which appealed to me then and appeals to me now.

It's important to note that this episode acts as an anchoring point for several of the characters who would have larger roles to play in the series as time wears on. We find out that Maxwell Mercy, for example, is the husband to Lissette Pasquinel (The "white" daughter of our series initial lead). His struggle to balance the two worlds of the Native and the Settlers will carry through the next few episodes as well, including strong interactions with the Pasquinel Brothers.

3.5 out of 5, as this is the most episodic of the series so far without a true conclusion- it leaves our main protagonist in a bit of a cliff-hanger and urges continued watching with the fourth in the series.

Thursday, May 28, 2020

Centennial (A 12 Part Miniseries 1979) PART TWO

(WARNING!!! SPOILERS TO EPISODE ONE INVOLVED!!!)
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THE YELLOW APRON

The second episode of Centennial picks up where the first left off, with Pasquinel having married both the daughter of his partner in St. Louis and the daughter of Lame Beaver. Our courier Quebecker is caught between two worlds. And it's that division that forces the story to focus on those who are affected by this division the most.

Clay Basket (played beautifully and brilliantly by Barbara Carrera) is a woman torn between two men that she both loves and respects. Pasquinel, who has given her two strong sons in Jacques and Marcel, and the golden-bearded McKeag, with whom she has always held a special affection. The hope for gold and the free life in the frontier brings her husband back to her time and again.

Image result for Barbara carrera Centennial
Lise Pasquinel (the always fantastic Salley Kellerman) draws the trader back to the "White Man's Civilization", such as it is. She raises a daughter and keeps the home fires burning with love for a man she knows she cannot keep in one place.


Image result for Sally Kellerman Centennial

And, trapped between both worlds is McKeag. He sees the pain and anguish that Pasquinel leaves behind in his desire to have everything and live without compromise. But when the trader tries to bring both worlds together, it leads to disaster that will seep through the series for generations. It drives McKeag away and the Scotsman lives alone for years before finally returning to civilization with a Jamboree where tribes, mountain men, trappers, and traders all converge without need to travel to the big city.

Running at just over an hour and a half, the second episode in the long-spanning series expands and starts to show us the rippling effect that men like Pasquinel and Lame Beaver will have on other characters as they are introduced and take larger parts in the narrative. We also see the corrupting influence of wealth on good people, we see the growing encroachment of european settlers, and we see the tribal divisions that were so brutally exploited. But we also see the efforts of good people to deal in good faith and with well-intentions. But the importance of this episode is to show us how deeply some scars can run, how deeply it can hurt, and how important it is that we find a way to heal.

9 out of 10 and again, a definite must-see.

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Centennial (A 12 Part Miniseries 1979) PART ONE

Based on the novel by James A. Michener, "Centennial" was an incredible television event that featured an all-star cast and over 26 hours of Television. It aired on NBC in 1979, from October through February. Over the next few days (Maybe weeks), I will be re-watching the series in it's entirety and trying to share my thoughts on the film some 41 years after.

I first watched the series around 1985-86 or so... it had been in the video collection of a family member who was very enthusiastic about the show and its characters. She allowed me to come over and watch over the course of some two weeks at a time when I was struggling in my own life. The series helped me get through a rough patch after a particularly traumatic experience. So the series has always held a warm spot in my memory.

EPISODE ONE: Only the Rocks Live Forever

The title is based on an Arapaho saying that the young Lame Beaver is told when his father dies in battle. Some narration provides explanation to the tradition of "counting coup" and that Lame Beaver's father had tied himself to a stake while in war with the enemy Pawney tribe. The young man grows up to be a leader (Michael Ansara) and a great warrior, and it isn't long until he meets a French fur trader named Pasquinel (Robert Condrad). The story weaves through the relationship between these two men and the land that will one day become the town of "Centennial".

Pasquinel is a veritable force of nature and pure strength of will. Conrad commands the screen and we are immediately spellbound, but it isn't until the introduction of his future partner that we start to see his darker side in contrast to that of McKeag. As the first episode follows the two men building a fur trade empire with the aid of a local silversmith investor (Raymond Burr), it cuts with the slice of life experiences of an aging Lame Beaver as he strives for a warriors death against the enemy Pawney tribe. Both stories divest and converge in a gut wrenching finale that foreshadows the dark and light of the American Frontier to come.

Alexander McKeag is played well by Richard Chaberlain, who acts as a sort of surrogate for the audience's experience in learning about the frontier, the various tribes, and the ruthless ambition of men like Pasquinel. Despite the deep guilt McKeag feels for a past transgression, he is largely an innocent and inexperienced man in the world. Without Pasquinel, he would be dead. But how long can the Scottish immigrant exist under the swagger and brass of his best friend?

As the first episode draws to a close (with over two and a half hours of runtime, three hours during it's original broadcast with commercials), there are certainly a lot of unanswered questions and the audience is left cold with expectation for the continued story of both Alexander McKeag and the man only ever known as Pasquinel.

A perfect 10 out of 10,


Sunday, May 3, 2020

Blood Quantum on Shudder

Gory. Brutal.

The title of the film is taken from a Colonial term for the measurement to determine one's indigenous status. In this film the term twists in this zombie film where the members of a distant tribe are rendered immune to the disease, but are quickly overwhelmed by the survivors and the undead both. The Reservation's Sheriff tries to maintain control while his two sons are divided by their approach to the crisis.

This film goes for the jugular from the outset, the film opening in the outset of the crisis with a gruesome exhibition of guts and blood. The film has a lot to say about Colonialism- Too much to unpack in one review, but the film isn't subtle about any of it. But it never allows the message to overwhelm the absolute horror of the story itself.

8 out of 10, strong recommend. 

Sunday, April 12, 2020

The Unholy Four


I found Enzo Barboni's first film streaming on one of those free streaming Roku channels tonight. I was enjoying the film when I decided to look up who he cast and crew were and discovered that first interesting fact. George Eastman I recognized, as well as Woody Stroke . But seeing the name Enzo Barboni really piqued my interest. As a huge fan of the Trinity series and other works in comedy, I was in for a surprise with this decidedly much more serious approach to the Spaghetti West.

Everything about this film speaks to a Barboni's masterful craftsmanship as a cinematographer. He sets his western apart with an immediate departure from the high desert sands with a high summer sun and decides to set this film in the deep autumn, muddy and cold. The characters look cold and the film print on the channel seemed a bit washed out.

After a bank robbery, the thieves set fire to the local hospital and four inmates of the sanitarium escape in the confusion. Among the escapees is a man named Chuck Mool, an amnesiac with no memory of who he is or where he comes from. Recognized by one of the thieves, it's only then that Chuck is told his name that he remembers the town he comes from and the three other men join him in his quest to regain his lost memories.

But it's not going to be a fun or breezy adventure, despite the light-hearted music playing. And the people in town are eager to take advantage of the situation.

6 out of 10

Sunday, February 23, 2020

middle of the road... Birds of Pray +2 streaming films.

 BIRDS OF PREY: or The Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn

A spin-off (of a sort) following the cinematic adventures of DC Comics character Harley Quinn and introducing the Birds of Prey characters. Margot Robbie reprises her performance from the Suicide Squad feature film. While attempting to somewhat crib from Marvel/Sony success with the Deadpool character, Quinn constantly breaks the fourth wall and the film stretches for an R rating in the over-saturated "Super Hero" genre that will certainly please some audiences. Creative set designs, some funny gags, and a charismatic performance from the film's starring attraction are not enough to distance itself from the hackneyed script (Noted "Bumblebee writer: Christina Hodson, who is capable of SO MUCH BETTER!!!) and poor character choices.

Mockingbird (Jurney Smollet-Bell) has the most to do as the driver and part time singer for noted crime boss, Black MAsk (Ewan McGregor, hamming it up WAY over the top). Her Hypersonic Scream became almost an after thought and she was often struggling to find a real purpose in the film itself. Huntress (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) was largely lost in the shuffle and was often treated like the punchline of a running joke. Renee Montoya (Capably handled by Rosie Perez) was a total mystery in that she was never really a Bird of Prey in the comics AND she didn't really become one in this movie either. But the film REALLY drops the ball when introducing Cassandra Cain (Ella Jay Basco), a fairly standard "Street Urchin" who needs to be saved by Quinn and the other Birds when she mistakenly pickpockets the Plot Device.

Cassandra Cain, as a comic book character, is one of the deadliest assassins in the world and would wear the Batgirl cowl for a time. She would later take the Orphan moniker and, while serving as a Bird of PRey at one point, is largely wasted in this film as a damsel in distress for the other characters to rally around.

If you are not fans of the comic book, you are likely to enjoy far more of this film than those who are familiar with the comics themselves. 

5.5 out of 10 and not really a recommend unless you've seen everything else.


THE MARSHES

Released by Shudder in the US market, The Marshes tells the story of a trio of scientists head off on a research project in a maze-like marshland. Originally released in 2018 in it's native Australia, it manages to feel like a murkier and more confusing take on the joint Stephen King/Joe Hill project "In the Tall Grass", complete with a psychopathic killer and all the other reality distortions found in the original short story.

Pria (Dafna Kronental), Ben (Matthew Cooper), and their undergraduate assistant Will (Sam Delich) are collecting specimens out in the marsh. There they encounter a pair of poachers hunting boar, worry about malaria, and taunt one another about the mysterious "Swag Man" killer that lurks in the deep dark murk. The film tries, at various points, to suggest everything may be a fever dream concocted by Pria or that there is something supernatural at hand here. All of it becomes muddled and the tension doesn't exactly fit quite right here.

There are some pretty gruesome scenes once the actual Swag Man enters the scene, but we're already several tropes involved in two different horror stories and the third just feels forced and confusing.

5 out of 10

HUMAN LANTERNS

I have seen much better films from Shaw Brothers, but probably nothing quite as strange, gruesome, and sadistic. When a famous swordsman visits a small town, he is shocked when he is embarrassed by a local noble man named Tan. He vows revenge and turns to a former rival who is now a lantern maker in the same village. But the Lantern Maker as scores of his own to settle, and it isn't long before the village is terrifid by a recent spat of disappearances. The choreography is great, as we come to expect with Shaw Brothers- but it's the creepy vibe the killer sets off that really captures the imagination!

Chia Tang (Shaolin Intruders and Return of the Sentimental Swordsman) handles the fight choreography in this film,  which is notable for the absolutely insane "monkey" style movement of the masked killer. The set design of the Killer's lair uses shadows and gruesome color contrasts. Skin is torn from a living victim in one scene, the flesh draped in a horrifying menagerie throughout the caves.

5.5 and a recommend.

Monday, January 27, 2020

color out of space


WHAT THE FUCK?!?!!

Insanity, madness, horror, beauty, and surreal existential dread thread it's way through this atmospheric nightmare! The movie opens with adapted text from the original work of Lovecraft, setting the mood with his rhythmic prose and a hauntingly atmospheric wilderness where shadows creep and what little light there is streams in on clear beams that catch the pollen and makes them sparkle like stars in the daylight. It is shortly after this that we are introduced to the Gardner family.

Having recently left the "City", the Gardners hope to adapt to their country living and use the rich farmland around them to raise alpacas. First we meet Lavinia (Madeleine Arthur), the earthy and somewhat new age teen daughter. Her older teen brother, Benny (Brendan Meyer) is a pot head sneaking tokes in the barn. Her youngest brother, Jack (Julian Hilliard) is an adorable scamp. Their parents are Nathan (Nicholas Cage) and Theresa (Joely RIchardson). The family has just experienced the prolonged death of Nathan's father by cancer while Theresa is still recovering from her own cancer treatments.

Also living on the property is an aged hippy, Ezra (played to brilliant effect by Tommy Chong). Ward Phillips (Elliot Knight) is a young researcher performing tests on the Water tables in the area for an upcoming project that will dam the surrounding region  and provide a major source of water to the surrounding area.

Into these lives comes a meteor that crashes in the back yard of the Gardner home, spreading an iridescent "Color" that defies description- at times seen in hues of purple, pink, hints of gold, and sometimes even blues- this color seeps into the soil, melts into the water, and slowly begins to transform everything it comes in contact with. And forget what you think you know about horror films- you won't see the quick jumps every ten minutes, you won't be beaten over the head with an explanation, and most of the film barely holds together with a constant thread that allows the viewer to fully understand everything that's happening. This is the real horror of Lovecraft- the inability to describe what the experience is but to know that you are experiencing it. And there's nothing you can do to stop it.

Color out of Space takes liberties with the story itself, but it hits on all the familiar points where the story goes. The vegetation grows quickly, lushly, and large- but it's foul and does not nourish. The animals are changed- at first only slightly, and then more dramatically- and horrifically. The almost slow and methodical burn finally explodes when something happens near the barn, and the film never lets go from there. Cage's performance, which could be over the top and ridiculous, works in a film like this- where his erratic behavior is part of the transformation the entire family is experiencing. The finale is breath-taking, beautiful, haunting, and terrifying.

10 out of 10