Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Recent dips into the DVD pool

Spinning recently - having gone through the Bava Box 2, I'm now attempting to mop up on the rest of the unseen Bava films via Netflix. BLOOD AND BLACK LACE is one of the more famous, being mentioned as one of the forerunners of the giallo films. I can't say that I'm a big fan of the giallo genre, but I find myself liking the forerunners quite a bit -- BABL is very stylish, and was very enjoyable to watch for being an early 'body count' movie.

Followed that up with a much more obscure Bava, THE WHIP AND THE BODY, presented in its fully restored version. Released in the U.S. heavily cut and under the title WHAT!, THE WHIP AND THE BODY plays out as a gothic romance with heavy doses of S&M, and with more than a whiff of Hammer Films ambiance - that due to the presence of Christopher Lee as the lead, with Daliah Levi as the female lead... and probably lot to the kinkiness (rather mild for the time -- but it is fully there.)

Having seen quite a bit of Mario Bava films in the past 2 years, I have to say that I've yet to be bitterly disappointed with anything - even the weaker films at least deliver on being entertaining. Coming up soon will be ERIK THE CONQUEROR and A HATCHET FOR THE HONEYMOON.

Also through Netflix is a big television series I've been waiting to see for sometime, especially since getting the complete series is a hefty $200 price tag. I grew up on Irwin Allen shows, and the one I remember seeing during its first broadcast (and in syndication several times since) is LAND OF THE GIANTS, which lasted 2 years on ABC in the late 60's.

The complete series (along with a bunch of nifty collectors items) is on 9 discs, all flippers, so that's 18 sides with six episodes per disc! A pretty hefty watching commitment, but I'm not really doing anything else at the moment...

LOTG is sort of a combination of LOST IN SPACE with GILLIGAN'S ISLAND played as serious drama. Set in the early 80's, a transorbital flight from the U.S. to London gets sucked into some sort of cosmic storm, and they emerge in a world which is a lot like the contemporary 1960's, only larger. Their ship is damaged, and the show plays out in their attempts to survive and avoid capture by the giants.

Being an Irwin Allen show, it delivers pretty well on the visual side - but as things progress, silliness will ensue, although there doesn't seem to be a lot of it as things start out. And, unlike most of the IA shows, this one has enough meat to it to be rather interesting - once you get over the whole thing of 'scientific accuracy' - but then, Jonathan Swift was able to accomplish that.

Discs 2 & 3 (Disc 1 with the pilot and 5 other eps is listed as being in 'very long wait' - having waited for these to queue up since late last year, I can attest that Netflix doesn't lie) get me pretty close to the halfway point of the first year of the show, and being an adventure fantasy of the 60's, it sticks to formula pretty consistently... most of the main plot is wrapped up by the end of the hour (50-52 minutes without commercials) - but there are intriguing nuggets dropped along the way and it'll be fun to see what gets developed and what gets forgotten.

It's established that the government in the Giant world is a fascistic one; and that humans ("little people" as they're referred to in the show) have been a consistent presence that the government attempts to control. It's also well established that the Giants are technologically about 50 years behind humans, which also feeds into the government's desire to capture them. The government, represented by police, and in some episodes (1 in the batch that I've watched) by the head of an organization called the S.I.D., Inspector Kobick (played by Kevin Hagen, who may be more familiar as the friendly doctor on LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE -- he ain't friendly in this show.) And with so many 'little people' they're encountering, why doesn't it occur to any of them to band together and network?

The show had a big following in Eastern Europe - gee, wonder why?

There's rich material, moreso than for the usual fantasy adventure show... if the writers were more savvier, one could imagine a show that would walk that tightrope of political commentary/satire, and of giving the kids their monster fix, all under the noses of The Powers That Be...

But, one realizes that NO ONE has EVER done a faithful adaptation of Swift's GULLIVER'S TRAVELS, and Irwin Allen is NOTHING like Patrick McGoohan, no matter how much I can twist my mind into what could have been... although I'm not a fan of remakes, LOTG has enough material to mine where someone could re-imagine it as that type of a show.

Ah well... despite all of that, I'm having a fun time with the show, so far --

Also fun is THE MR. MOTO SERIES, Vols. 1 & 2. Mr. Moto is a long running mystery series character of the early part of the 20th Century, sort of the Japanese counterpart to the Chinese Charlie Chan. A popular film series was made of Chan, and likewise, Mr. Moto got the same treatment - 8 films were made in the late 1930's with Peter Lorre as Mr. Moto.

Before you go, "Wha...?" -- this sort of thing was quite the norm in Hollywood, sort of an early "Connery Casting" in which people would play different ethnic groups from their own. It's all over the place in the MOTO films, although Lorre does a great job with the character, who is one of the few 'good' guys that he ever portrayed.

Lorre makes the character his own, and one of the things about it is, for a good guy, Moto seems to be quite at home in the grey areas. He's a master of disguise, is usually the smartest one in the room and knows how to play dumb, a master of judo (there's the usual rough and tumble action in these things) -- and claims to detect as "a hobby". You're not really sure who Mr. Moto is.

This also helps in watching the films - not at all 'politically correct' (though I've yet to encounter anything really overt), it's well established that the white characters - the dashing young man, and the girl he falls in love with, all members of the upper class, of course - are not the brightest bulbs in the room.

The films hold up very well - usually just over an hour, so they move things along - and the extras are fascinating - featurettes about the producer and director of the MOTO series, as well as an interview with Lorre's stunt double, who worked with him throughout the whole series and on other films.

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