TV series review: Arrow, season 3, part 2 (2015)

Posted in TV Series reviews with tags , , , , , , , , , , on May 23, 2015 by Mistlake

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Created by: Greg Berlanti, Marc Guggenheim, Andrew Kreisberg, based on the DC comic Green Arrow. Starring: Stephen Amell, Katie Cassidy, Willa Holland, David Ramsey, Paul Blackthorne, Emily Bett Richards, Matt Nable, Brandon Routh, Colton Haynes, John Barrowman, Grant Gustin, Karl Yune, Katrina Law.

 

Ra’s al Ghul (Nable) is an insistent man. If he has decided that someone, say a green-clad vigilante from Starling City, will succeed him as the leader of the League of Assassins, then succeed him he will. His means of persuasion include treachery, murder and assault, and Oliver Queen (Amell) – not being the finest-tuned instrument in the orchestra – soon decides that al Ghul’s demands are rather reasonable after all.

What is that conflagration in yonder sky? It’s Arrow going off in explosive, many-hued fireworks of stupidity. The technical side of this show has been and remains top notch, its cinematography, special effects and action scenes almost always fine things to see, but the same care has never been taken with the scripts. As a consequence, the second half of season 3 is a wonder to behold, for all the wrong reasons.

Character motivation on Arrow has always been based on the “Why?” – “Because!” school of thought, with actions and decisions on the part of the characters never being even vaguely reminiscent of what a real person would do. People behave in ways that are as dramatic as possible, and this seems to be the sole basis for their reactions. This has, as I said, always been the case, but it has been exacerbated by the previously merely dimwitted plotlines going full retard.

I have no wish to spoil things too much, but Oliver has a cunning plan to neutralize the immense threat posed by this season’s antagonist. I know it’s cunning, because I’m sure my neighbour’s dog couldn’t have come up with something that clever. Almost sure. Luckily for Oliver, his new arch enemy isn’t likely to write any doctoral theses either, what with him being about as dense as your average brick. Oliver’s ally and would-be lover Felicity (Rickards) is supposedly a genius, but I get the distinct impression that she’s just living in a world where everyone is mentally challenged and that she, were she to travel to our world, would be of average intelligence at best.

And it’s not only the characters meandering around, drooling down their bibs. What about those increasingly irrelevant flashbacks to Oliver’s past? They are stretched out bits of desperate filler which could have been dealt with in five minutes rather than dragged out over an entire season. The actual season arc is a mess too, meticulously avoiding the temptation to ever make an iota of sense. Related to this arc is also something else I marvel at, namely how Oliver’s super power must be the ability to turn everyone he knows into a superhero or super villain. Not that one should think too deeply about a show that just makes it up as it goes along.

Are there any valid reasons for watching this failed haggis of a dish? Barely. There is the rather tasty whisky sauce magnanimously poured on Arrow by it oh so much better sister show The Flash in the form of lively crossovers and a shared universe. However, these occurrences really only go to show just how much better The Flash is. Amell gives a good performance in all this tripe, and there’s the new joy of Brandon Routh’s lovely and eccentric portrayal of Ray Palmer/The Atom. Furthermore, we finally see some interesting (if random) developments for ever-superfluous Thea (Holland).

The best thing that can be said for the third season is that it wraps up all its hopelessly entangled threads in a ball of yarn which is then tossed to one side, meaning that season 4 will begin with a more or less blank slate. Please, this time fill it with something more worthwhile than childlike scrawling.

Rating: 3 of 10.

TV series review: The Flash, season 1, part 2 (2015)

Posted in TV Series reviews with tags , , , , , , , , , on May 21, 2015 by Mistlake

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Created by: Greg Berlanti, Andrew Kreisberg, Geoff John, based on the DC comics. Starring: Grant Gustin, Candice Patton, Jesse L. Martin, Tom Cavanagh, Danielle Panabaker, Rick Cosnett, Carlos Valdes, Wentworth Miller, John Wesley Shipp, Clancy Brown, Mark Hamill, Emily Bett Rickards, Stephen Amell.

As more super villains crowd Central City, Barry (Gustin) slowly starts to realise that his mentor Harrison Wells (Cavanagh) may in fact be his arch enemy The Reverse Flash, and that time travel is not only possible, but pivotal to the danger Barry is in.

I like it when my predictions turn out be right (for once). In my review of the first half of the season, I guessed that The Flash might turn into great television before the season was out, and largely it has. I also predicted there would be further filler episodes, and there are, but the important thing here is that the show has fulfilled its early, titillating promise and in some ways surpassed it.

By the time the finale rolls around, The Flash has addressed some of its more pressing issues: it relies less on stand-alone episodes and creates more of an arc, and seemingly superfluous characters like Eddie Thawne (Cosnett) and increasingly annoying ones like Iris (Patton) turn around to become both important and more likeable. Furthermore, the writing has – not least in comparison with sister show Arrow – improved at, um, lightning speed, relying less on lazy nonsense and even lazier characterisations, focusing instead of making the clever solutions actually clever and the people in this impossible world as real as possible. This is not a perfect show, and it still has its share of teenybopper romance plotting and other issues, but you have to be quite, quite jaded not to get pulled along for the ride.

And what a ride it is. The season’s arc piqued my interest already in the first half, but I thought “The same people are responsible for the endearingly retarded Arrow, so this can’t be half as clever as it seems to be”. But it is, or at least almost. The time travel hook upon which the entire season hangs is exciting and, in the finale, opens up gigantic possibilities for the future. It also allows the characters many well-wrought emotional moments, because the time travel and alternate realities have not been tacked on as a gimmick – these things have real, tangible and personal repercussions for every character, some of these personal stakes being both touching and quite inventive.

At the end, there is an unintentional time paradox, but I won’t hold that against the writers, because it’s almost impossible to write a time travel tale without such paradoxes (see X-Men: Days of Future Past for a recent example). Still, if the guy from the future never existed because his ancestor kills himself to erase him, then the guy from the future will exist even so, because his ancestor won’t kill himself if the guy from the future never existed, and so he will exist and so on and so on.

But why quibble? The story is great and intricate, and along the way we meet everyone from criminal/unlikely ally Captain Cold (Miller), giant telepathic gorilla Grodd, Mark Hamill’s Trickster (a part he originally played in the 1990 Flash TV show) and of course Oliver Queen and his friends from Arrow. Even the poorer episodes are rather agreeable to watch, thanks to the sense of bright comic book fun that’s never permitted to recede despite the story and its threats going ever darker.

Also, Grant Gustin is such an affable presence and has shown himself to be such a fine actor that I have serious doubts about DC’s and Warner Brothers’ decision to cast another actor in the forthcoming Flash movie. Speaking of the actors, this season would not have been what it is without Tom Cavanagh, whose unnerving ability to remain simultaneously sympathetic and vile makes for an original villain whom you somehow continue to root for even though you want the Flash to defeat him. Rather unexpected casting choice, too, isn’t it, picking JD’s dorky brother from Scrubs to play an evil genius?

As the season wears on, the special effects and general spectacle grow more ambitious, virtually with every episode, and the same more or less goes for the scripts, most of which sparkle with creativity in this batch of episodes. And if the hints in the smashing season finale are anything to go by, The Flash and its creators are nowhere near the roof of their ambition.

The Flash’s premiere season started out good and ended up great, and the few duds here and there I credit to the network’s insistence on far too many episodes per season. This is a must-see if you’re in any way interested in superheroes and/or time travel.

Rating: 8 of 10.

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Film review: Chandu the Magician (1932)

Posted in Film reviews with tags , , , , , , , , , on May 20, 2015 by Mistlake

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Directors: William Cameron Menzies, Marcel Varnel. Writers: Barry Conners, Philip Klein, based on the radio serial. Starring: Edmund Lowe, Bela Lugosi, Irene Ware, Herbert Mundin, Henry B. Walthall, June Lang (June Vlasek).

It’s magic versus science when newly graduated mystic Frank “Chandu” Chandler (Lowe) tries to stop megalomaniacal scientist Roxor (Lugosi) from activating a death ray which will let him rule the entire world, I tell you!

1930s superhero movies don’t grow on trees, but Chandu the Magician is one, and a fun one too. It’s a rather unusual flavour of hero we get, a man who uses the secrets of the yogi to hypnotize people, create illusions and walk through fire – proper super powers, not just a mask and a cape (Chandu does wear a cape, actually, but his headgear of choice is a nifty turban).

Apart from the magic gimmick, Chandu the Magician has all the trappings of a fast-paced serial (which is how it began on the radio), with much cliffhanging and other narrow escapes, exotic locales, damsels in distress and the villain’s convoluted ways of trying to kill our hero. Buttressing the heady musk of high adventure is some lavish production design (Menzies was a production designer, on Gone With the Wind among others) and a more than ample budget. Egyptian temples, luxurious river barges and desert vistas are just a few of the visual delights, great backdrops for energetic derring-do. It’s also a movie that has its rather risqué elements, thanks to being made before the killjoys at the Hays Office enforced their production code; after 1934, Hollywood saw no more half naked young girls being sold as sex slaves. Not in the movies, at any rate.

Chandu the Magician could have been great, but it has serious balancing issues. In a movie of this type you expect a certain amount of time to be wasted on romance and lowbrow comedy, but while the love story is no more grating than usual, the comedy relief, played by Herbert Mundin, is given so much time and is so unfunny that it paralyses the entire narrative. Instead of a “joke” or two every now and then, everything just stops dead for several minutes at a time as Mundin goes through his staggeringly non-amusing motions, and this does real damage to a story whose very nature it is to be constantly on the move, charging onwards to the next set piece.

Lowe is passable as Chandu. He certainly has the magnetic eyes and, when he so chooses, the commanding voice needed for the part, but he is a little stiff, slow and clumsy for an action hero, and when you think of Hollywood’s love of typecasting and the fact that Chandy spends a lot of time hypnotizing people with his eyes and hands, one can’t help but wonder why Lugosi wasn’t cast in the title role. Someone evidently realised this overlooked no-brainer, because in the sequel The Return of Chandu, it is indeed Lugosi who is playing the hero.

Here, he is nevertheless typecast as a complete lunatic. Roxor (yes, Roxor) is one of Lugosi’s more excitable villains, and it’s fun to see him fly into Donald Duck-style rages and looking positively gobsmacked when Chandu manages to pull one over on him. Other than that, it’s your regular-flavour Lugosi bad guy, all arrogance and measured movements. He is great value for money, and he has a wonderful monologue near the end, so this is an unmissable movie for Lugosi fans.

It’s very easy to imagine a 10-year-old Stan Lee seeing Chandu the Magician in the cinemas when it first came out, and there can be no doubt whatsoever that this film inspired him to subsequently create Dr. Strange.

Good-looking, original adventure that frequently stumbles due to over-emphasis on bad comedy. Well worth a watch.

Followed by The Return of Chandu in 1934, a serial which was subsequently chopped up into two movies, The Return of Chandu and Chandu on the Magic Island.

Rating: 5 of 10. 7 of 10 if you have more patience than I do with the “droll” bits.

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Film review: Avengers – Age of Ultron (2015)

Posted in Film reviews with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 15, 2015 by Mistlake

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Director: Joss Whedon. Writers: Joss Whedon, based on the comics by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. Starring: Robert Downey, Jr., Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Evans, Jeremy Renner, Scarlett Johansson, James Spader, Samuel L. Jackson, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Elizabeth Olsen, Paul Bettany, Don Cheadle, Cobie Smulders, Andy Serkis, Thomas Kretschmann.

Coming into possession of HYDRA research on artificial intelligence, Tony Stark (Downey, Jr.) and Bruce Banner (Ruffalo) use it to create a robotic force, Ultron, to protect the Earth and assure peace. The resulting entity (voiced by Spader) interprets its mission differently: peace is best achieved by making humanity go extinct.

Age of Ultron is at least as loud and packed with action and special effects as The Avengers, and keeps its energy levels through the roof for most of its duration. Despite a 140 minute running time, however, it feels somewhat rushed, due to a script trying to cram far too much into a single film. Apart from the Ultron storyline and some interesting developments for Banner, Natasha Romanoff (Johansson) and Hawkeye (Renner), Age of Ultron introduces Quicksilver (Taylor Johnson), The Scarlet Witch (Olsen) and The Vision (Bettany) while wrapping up dangling plot threads from Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Add to this a Christmas tree full of cameos from other Marvel characters (and Stan Lee), plus story seeds for the upcoming Thor, Captain America and Black Panther movies, and the end result is a film chock full of material.

Some of it gets the breathing space it needs, like the burgeoning Banner-Romanoff romance, but there’s a rather abrupt and virtually unexplained scene with Thor which could have used more exposition, and Quicksilver and The Scarlet Witch get nowhere near enough room to grow into interesting people, not to mention the unceremonious way Baron Strucker (Kretschmann) is dealt with after having been teased in both The Winter Soldier and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

Another character concern: my pet peeve regarding The Hulk is alive and well, thank you. Despite taking a more central role this time, he is given zero lines to speak, and generally behaves, even moves, like a mindless gorilla. Sure, he has a few moments of pathos, but he isn’t within miles of the dynamic and interesting green giant he used to be in the comics.

Others are better served. Hawkeye really comes into his own here, becoming a charismatic and powerful hero with some unexpected secrets. Then there’s Ultron himself, who – like Wilson Fisk in the TV show Daredevil – appears part of Marvels answer to fans who claim the villains are too bland. Ultron is formidable and scary, but he has a sense of humour and a very human way of expressing himself. Even better, he is conflicted and bases his decisions on a lack of life experience which is almost endearing in its evil naïveté. Perhaps my favourite facet of him is how he wants The Avengers to see that he is the one doing the right thing. Spader’s voice work is spot-on too.

I don’t need to go too deeply into the action side of things – it’s pulse pounding and gigantic in scope, and sometimes goes on for a bit long, just as you’d expect. The most memorable spot of effects-driven action is the much-touted battle between The Hulk and Iron Man in his Hulkbuster armour. They don’t exactly pull the punches, and the whole sequence is vibrating with excitement.

With a relatively simple story nicely complicated to the right extent, Age of Ultron is an energetic, visually startling movie that rarely fails to entertain, but it is unfocused, consisting of too many small, fiddly bits rather than a few big, satisfying shapes. In all likelihood, the promised extended DVD and Blu-Ray cut will address some of these issues.

Rating: 7 of 10.

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TV series review: Gotham, the second part of season 1 (2015)

Posted in TV Series reviews with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 7, 2015 by Mistlake

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GOTHAM: Detective James Gordon (Ben McKenzie, L) has a conversation with Oswald Cobblepot (Robin Lord Taylor, R) in the "Welcome Back, Jim Gordon" episode of GOTHAM airing Monday, Jan. 26 (8:00-9:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. ©2015 Fox Broadcasting Co. Cr: Jessica Miglio/FOX

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Created by: Bruno Heller, based on characters created by Bob Kane. Starring: Ben McKenzie, Donal Logue, Robin Lord Taylor, Sean Pertwee, David Mazouz, Camren Bicondova, Morena Baccarin, Erin Richards, Jada Pinkett Smith, Cory Michael Smith, John Doman, David Zayas, Carol Kane, Julian Sands, Colm Feore, Jeffrey Combs, Cameron Monaghan.

 

This review contains some spoilers.

Being demoted to a lowly guard job at Arkham Asylum doesn’t deter Jim Gordon (McKenzie), who successfully uses proper police work (and a sensible supply of ammo) to counter the schemes of his superiors and Gotham’s shady power mongers. Yet more insane criminals parade past during a day’s work once Gordon is back on the force, and while combating them he also needs to find an equilibrium between his innate sense of justice and the need to cooperate with nasty criminals such as The Penguin (Lord Taylor), a symbiosis necessary to stay alive and keep Gotham from anarchy.

The second half of Gotham’s premiere season is wobblier and less self-assured than the first one, but the blame for this can’t be laid solely at the feet of the show’s creators; evidently they had planned for 13 episodes, but due to Gotham’s success, the network kept ordering more episodes until they had a full 22 episode season. Given that new story material had to be created and written within a short space of time, it’s no wonder that the end product feels unfocused and diluted.

Suddenly Fish Mooney (the ever-incompetent Jada “What is this ‘acting’ of which you speak?” Pinkett Smith) is off on her own adventures on Organ Donor Island, where limb-grafting enthusiast Dr. Dulmacher (known to Batman fans as The Dollmaker, here played by Feore) becomes the villain of this TV series within a TV series. Notwithstanding Pinkett Smith’s horrendous performance and the story’s complete lack of relation to anything going on in the main plot, this arc is actually quite fascinating in a horror movie kind of way. It’s good/sad to see Fish finally becoming a highly interesting character – good because she was initially just The Queen of Exposition, sad because I can’t help but wonder how awesome she could have been played by an actual thespian.

Back in Gotham, future Batman enemies come raining down so densely that one fears the city will be flooded with them. Notably, Julian Sands’ character at first appears to be just another freak of the week, before being revealed as the epically insane father of the Scarecrow. We’re also teased with a couple of potential future Jokers, but – as they say in Highlander – there can be only one: Cameron Monaghan nails the character so wonderfully that there can be no doubt that fan pressure, if nothing else, will force the producers to decide on him as the real deal. And finally, near the very end of the season, Edward Nygma (Smith), the future Riddler, gets going with the whole lethal lunatic thing, and it is good.

These things are all fun, but things start fraying at the edges early on and the grow increasingly unsatisfying: there’s nowhere near enough of Gotham’s breakout character, The Penguin; a suddenly introduced serial killer gets two episodes to star in without being all that special; and new tweaks are tried out on the terminally dull Barbara (Richards), who by the end of the season certainly isn’t boring anymore, but neither does anything about her make sense. The same thing goes for Cat (Bicondova), who does a dizzying 180° personality turn in the final episode.

There’s a lot going on here, perhaps too much, in the sense that very few plotlines and characters get the space they need (Fish weirdly excepted). Our nominal main protagonists, Jim Gordon and Bruce Wayne (Mazouz) are featured a great deal, but their activities don’t quite register the way they should in all the clang and thunder going on around them. Bruce does, however, get to end the season with a goose-pimply discovery.

Yes, I have been whining like a disappointed seven-year-old throughout this review, but Gotham is still fun, and I will forgive the shortcomings of the second half for the reasons I stated at the beginning: having to fill nine more episodes than expected could bring any show crashing down, one would think, but Gotham remains standing, if reeling. I have every reason to believe that the second season will be superb: there will be time to plan for 22 episodes, and there will – I think, hope and almost pray – be no more Fish Mooney.

Rating: 5 of 10.

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Book review: Jaroslav Hasek – The Good Soldier Svejk

Posted in Book reviews with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on May 6, 2015 by Mistlake

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Josef Svejk makes a living selling fake pedigree dogs in Prague when his carefree attitude and a series of unfortunate events get him drafted into the Austro-Hungarian army just in time for World War I.

A brief and apt description of this novel would be that it’s an aggressive anti-war polemic disguised as folksy comedy. Every character who is in charge of anything is presented as an idiot and a consummate swine, abusing his underlings, drinking and eating to excess, and being completely incompetent on every level. Hasek’s hatred against authority in general and military officers in particular is entertaining for a while, but swiftly grows monotonous. The various lieutenants, captains and majors Svejk encounters each have their own idiosyncrasies, but largely they all behave the same way: thieving, beatings, whoring, boozing and the constant roaring of insults being their entire repertoire. Add to this Svejk’s endless anecdotes about soldiers and civilians he has known or heard of, and The Good Soldier Svejk becomes a rather repetitious work, no less so because there’s close to 800 pages of this stuff (there would have been more if Hasek hadn’t died before finishing the book).

The picaresque is an excellent genre if you want a broad scope and plenty of varied incident, but Svejk basically keeps doing the same limited shtick throughout, varying only the setting, as our protagonist meanders aimlessly through Central Europe, sometimes of his own volition, sometimes carted about by the army he has been forced to join. The thread tying it all together is Svejk getting closer and closer to the frontlines, seeing more and more misery and devastation left by the war, but in a coincidence that is somehow a perfect fit with the tedious, protracted nature of the novel, Hasek died before Svejk ever reaches the actual war zone.

Perhaps Czech comedy just isn’t my thing, but I’ll try to be fair. The tone remains light and frothy through almost the entire novel, but the earthy humour deals almost exclusively in farts, defecation, vomiting and lewdness, something I personally find amusing only in much smaller doses than this. My thought is that Hasek perhaps wrote in this low-brow fashion to make his novel accessible to the masses, so that his attack on armed forces and national rulers would reach as many people as possible, even those who wouldn’t normally read a book. As far as I know, he succeeded in his intent, and Svejk has remained fairly popular ever since it was published in the 1920s; one case in point being that my copy originally belonged to my maternal grandfather, a man not known for his literary pursuits.

And Hasek does bring his point home roundly. The officers cheating the men of rations and generally treating them as whipped dogs, the emperor and his hangers-on shrugging at the thought of thousands of their subjects being mowed down by machine guns, the official glorification of war contrasted with the ravaged and corpse-strewn landscapes greeting the travelling soldiers – all this paints a telling picture of the insanity of World War I, and any other war for that matter. From underneath Svejk’s cheerful façade comes the stench of rotting corpses, which makes it a rather odd read; no intellectual, droll satire here, just a perky coat of paint over a nightmarish reality. In this way, the novel outstrips its unsophisticated basic structure and genre, and shows that it keeps something growling and hungry in its ideological cellar.

Much of The Good Soldier Svejk’s acerbic commentary is relevant only to a bygone era, satire having an inordinately short shelf life. The European military systems have been modernised and humanized, and Austria-Hungary doesn’t even exist anymore, nor does the aristocratic power web which permitted all the nepotism and maltreatment in the first place. I’m sure we have similar problems today, but not the specific ones about which Hasek writes, and so today his novel and the opinions expressed therein are primarily of historical interest, not the cutting edge critique they were intended to be.

There is, however, one point of interest that remains alive and fascinating, and that is Josef Svejk himself.  He is a man of mystifying contrast, without being in any way more sophisticated than the material that surrounds him. Is he the certified idiot claimed by his service papers? He is cunning and devious, but yes, he may be quite stupid; it’s hard to tell. His happy-go-lucky attitude gets him into innumerable scrapes and scandals, and at the same time he is dutiful to a fault, going to any lengths to aid his superior officers and friends no matter how they treat him. Appearing to be completely open and uncomplicated, there is much going on beneath his contentedly smiling exterior, and it’s quite a bit of fun trying to figure out whether or not he is a hopeless knucklehead or a stoical philosopher. While in many ways he fulfills the expectations of the picaresque’s scoundrel hero, he is a unique creation, cretin and sage rolled into one, respectful soldier and blithe rogue all at once. This character and the enigma he poses is, to my mind, the most interesting thing to take away from The Good Soldier Svejk.

With its mesh of boredom and liveliness, mindlessness and deep thought, the novel is as confounding as its hero. What can be definitely stated is that it’s an easy read and that it gives one a view – exaggerated or not – of what military life was like during the First World War.

Rating: 6 of 10.

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Film review: Glen or Glenda (1953)

Posted in Film reviews with tags , , , , , , , , , on May 5, 2015 by Mistlake

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Written and directed by Edward D. Wood, Jr. Starring: Bela Lugosi, “Daniel Davis”(Edward D. Wood, Jr.), Lyle Talbot, Timothy Farrell, Dolores Fuller, ”Tommy” Haynes, Conrad Brooks, Charles Crafts.

A transvestite’s suicide causes the investigating police inspector (Talbot) to consult a psychiatrist (Farrell) in order to find out more about transvestism and transsexuality. The doctor tells him the story of Glen or Glenda (Wood), who is about to get married but can’t make up his mind to tell his fiancée (Fuller) about his addiction to cross dressing.

No need for an interest in Glen or Glenda’s subject matter in order to enjoy it; all that’s required is a love of crazy filmmaking. What starts out as a sober – and in true Ed Wood fashion rather bungling – exposé on transvestites and other gender benders, soon explodes into a fiesta of lunacy that looks part David Lynch and part German Expressionist silent movie.

I may never have seen anything as disjointed as Glen or Glenda. Initially, it was supposed to be about the much publicized Christine Jorgensen sex change, but a version of that story is tacked on only at the end, after the Glen/Glenda story has already been finished. Wood’s own preoccupation with angora sweaters and comfortable silk undies took precedence, and it’s only natural that he himself essays the title role(s). This part of the story is straightforward, quite sincere and emotional, and somewhat less clumsily put together than, say, Plan 9 from Outer Space or Bride of the Monster. It’s still weird, though, with Farrell’s over-earnest 1950s style narration interspersed with other offscreen voices and random stock shots of traffic. But this docudrama material, happily mixing fact with harebrained, homemade theory, just wasn’t insane enough, Wood apparently thought.

Cue Bela Lugosi. It seems obvious to me that when Wood found out that Lugosi was available, he got as high as a green dragon soaring in the wind and promptly wrote a large number of scenes where the venerable horror actor sits around in a room full of skulls, discharging reams of unmitigated gobbledygook in his most sinister voice. These sections are pure bliss in the conscientious way they make no shred of sense, and they are endlessly quotable, especially if you speak the lines in Lugosi’s accent. Still not demented enough? Oh well, let’s do some double exposure where Lugosi blathers on against a backdrop of randomly charging buffalo.

Then there’s the really deranged part of the film, but I’ll stick my neck out there and say that it’s actually quite good and the closest Wood ever came to real art. In an extended sequence which is, I suppose, meant to show us Glen’s internal turmoil, we see a collage of surreal, dream-like vignettes featuring the devil, a number of ghostly apparitions, symbolic acts (such as Glenda failing to lift a log to save the fiancée, Glen succeeding), and women in various states of undress doing lewd and rather bondagy things. The stripping and tying up and stroking was evidently added by producer George Weiss to give the movie more traction with the grindhouse crowd, but somehow it fits into the rest of the bizarre blend. This whole segment must have been inspired, as I hinted earlier, by the more experimental among the German silents, and Glen or Glenda in turn inspired David Lynch, who quotes it as one of his favourite films. It’s also reminiscent of early Fellini films such as 8 ½, and knowing Fellini’s love of American pop culture, it wouldn’t surprise me if he actually saw Glen or Glenda. I would also mention Bergman’s The Hour of the Wolf in this context. Yes, before you ask, it does feel strange to me mentioning these directors in the same breath as Ed Wood.

While it’s as obvious as ever that Wood didn’t know what he was doing, Glen or Glenda is without a doubt his best film, and on certain levels it is good. I would even go so far as to say that it’s thoroughly engrossing, while giving off the vibe that the level of interest it generates is there purely by happy accident. With its jumbled assortment of disparate elements it certainly never has a chance to get boring, and in a bizarre environment such as this, even Wood’s kooky dialogue and some bad acting (Wood himself gives a good performance, though) fit in snugly. I’d actually watch it again, which is more than I can say for his other films.

Rating: Yeah. Hm. This is one of those movies that are impossible to assign a number on a scale. Looked at soberly in terms of what professional filmmaking is supposed to be like, I guess it’s a 4 of 10. But never mind that – this is fun and original and surprising, so I’ll go ahead and give it 6 of 10.

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