Jonathan Strage & Mr. Norrell

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Catch Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell on Saturdays on BBC!

I am not an anglophile like Damsel Bruja. I find most popular British television marketed to American audiences incomprehensible, but Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell is refreshing, compelling, and dare I say, exciting? The first two episodes aired on BBCAmerica so you can catch up if you start now. I think English viewers are already on episode six?

Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell is an alternate historical story set during the Napoleonic Wars. The main characters, Jonathan and Norrell are two very different magicians destined to make magic respectable in England again. No longer the stuff of parlor tricks, magic can be applied to aid the war effort. Norrell is nervous, introverted, and socially awkward where Jonathan is a likable idiot whose failed attempts to win over his lady friend are used for comic relief. I’ve never seen anything like this! (No, it’s nothing like Harry Potter–thank god) There’s necromancy, supernatural deities, prophecies, and an unusual wit about the whole thing.

Not a fan of BBC? That’s OK. Apparently Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell is based on the bestselling book of the same title by British fantasy/specfic author, Susanna Clark. I’ve only watched the first episode, but my fondness for female sf/f/h/specfic authors will probably lead me to the library this week. Fun fact: it took Susaana Clark TEN YEARS to finish the novel and several failed attempts to get it published. She was told her book was “unmarketable.” Ha. Showed them, right? I love author success stories like these and I can’t wait to read the book.

It’s rare I come across a series with original, refreshing material, but THIS is it. And I’m excited to sink my teeth into Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell. Set your DVRs, run to your library and watch/read with me. Trailer below.

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Gorgo (1961) A Kaiju classic…from ENGLAND???

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Yes, that is Big Ben in the poster. Totally rips off Gamera, Godzilla, and other kaiju films from Japan. But Gorgo is a British classic and capitalized on the “dino craze” before Jurassic Park. So there.

Underwhelmed by Jurassic World’s blockbuster success, I found myself hungering for a true blue, n0-frills kinda Kaiju movie. From England. Because…why not? (Wasn’t in the mood for subtitles, if I’m being entirely honest)

Enter Gorgo (1961) or Britain’s rather lame equivalent to the Gamera franchise.

Director: Eugene Lorie

Writers: Robert L. Richards and Daniel James

Starring: Bill Travers, William Sylvester, and Vincent Winter

The story starts on an Irish island where two British treasure hunters, Sam (Sylvester) and Joe (Travers), discover a baby monster that killed two divers. While they strategize to capture the beast, they meet an incomprehensible Irish orphan named Sean (Winter), who, I shit you not, speaks gibberish for the entire film. Maybe that’s my Stupid American™ showing, but I thought I DIDN’T need subtitles for this film. Like Kenny in Gamera, Sean tries to set Gorgo free and generally gets in the military’s way and is forced to be rescued many annoying times.

Every Kaiju movie needs a monster-obsessed kid who puts everyone’s lives in danger by freeing the kaiju at the last second!

Once Sam and Joe make it to England , they sell the creature, who Sean calls “Gorgo,” to a London circus. And surprise, surprise, discover the creature’s mother has destroyed Ireland while they were away. What follows next is an incredibly long montage of bombers, tanks, guns, explosions, and mass hysteria as British forces fight Gorgo’s mother. She somehow makes it all the way to London, destroying the city and mostly everyone in it. These scenes were enjoyable for their kitsch factor, alone. The movie was done in 1961 and had no real special effects to speak of, save for cheesy puppets and model scales, but I thought they were well done.

The circus people lock Gorgo in an electric fenced cage but Gorgo’s mother breaks through and both escape back to the sea. The End.

What baffled me most was how easily Gorgo was caught. He’s impervious to bullets, fire, and other human weapons, but is somehow defenseless against rope nets. He allows himself (without aid of tranquilizers) to be ferreted across the sea to London and does not try to kill Sean when the kid gets close to him. Gorgo is a typical kaiju monster flick with a lot of action scenes.

Giving it a “B.”

Stewart Granger in “Blanche Fury”

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Don’t you just love these old timey, black-n-white flicks? The breathlessness. The melodrama. The lusty screams of terror. Can’t get enough of it. I’m also a sucker for Stewart Granger. That man can cock his brow like a boss. (Not convinced? Behold. The panty-creaming eyebrow raise)

Just got hot in here, didn’t it? 

Marc Allegret directed this British film. Valerie Hobson plays the title roll, Blanche Fury, opposite of Stewart Granger.  The cinematography is modern for its time, which is impressive. The acting is phenomenal and (since the movie is based on a book) the plot sweeps across the screen in epic glory.  “Blanche Fury” is less a horror and more of a crime-drama or gothic romance. It has the same appeal as a Brontë novel; scowling Byronic heroes and strong-willed heroines.

Blanche Fury is the cruel and ambitious woman, who, once employed as a governess at a mansion, quickly makes the moves on the nearest heir so to marry into wealth. She mistakes Philip (Stewart Granger) as the heir, when in fact he is only the heir’s bastard son. Philip admires Blanche’s cunning. He is a disgrace to the family, which is why he is forced to work in the stables without any money. Predictably, Blanche and Philip fall madly in love and carry an affair long after she marries her Sugar Daddy. However, the closer Blanche comes to inheriting the family’s wealth, the more resentful and unhinged Philip becomes. Eventually he goes insane and murders Blanche’s husband and attempts to murder their child.

I liked this movie a lot. And yes, I’ll shamefully admit it was a lot like watching a soap opera, but hey, I dig psychopathic heroes and infanticide. I recommend “Blanche Fury” for fans of moody cinema and classic, black-n-white film. Granger’s insanely hot eyebrow raise bumps the grade to a B+

Crucible of Horror (1970) REVIEW

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Classic British horror at its finest. I must say, I really enjoyed this movie! This cult-classic flick was directed by Viktor Ritelis and stars Michael Gough, Yvonne Mitchell, and Sharon Gurney.  John Hotchkins provides a deliciously eerie score, and the music reminded me very much of the wailing theremin in Dark Shadows. Is the story supernatural or a crime-mystery? Not quite sure. But I won’t spoil the surprise ending by revealing too much, here.

First five minutes: Not much dialogue, moody camera closeups while patriarch, Walter Eastwood, incessantly washes his hands and stares at his blinking cat. All of this would have bored me to tears if not for the odd camera angles and the characters’ stifled movements. Right away the audience feels a sense of veiled oppression, which is fully-realized once Walter’s daughter, Jane,  kisses a business associate and is savagely beaten with a switch. The camera immediately snaps back to Walter washing his hands again. His wife, Edith, listens to disembodied voices in the attic while Jane sobs from her wounds. There isn’t much dialogue and we’re still not sure what’s going on , but the absence of information only adds to the mounting suspense. We learn Walter is as meticulous as he is cruel. He coddles his son, Rupert, while terrorizing his wife and daughter with physical violence. He seems fixated on his daughter (and her sexuality) most of all.

When she receives a letter at breakfast the next morning, Walter snatches it away and tells his family he will go to the family cottage by himself. Once his back is turned, Edith casually suggests that she and Jane should kill him. Only she’s not joking. The mother-daughter kill-team show up at the cottage that night with poison and a loaded rifle.

I’m not going to write what happens next–but, oh, dear! Things for Walter go downhill from there!

It’s easy to see why Crucible of Horror is a cult-classic. The family is horrifying because audience can relate to them. And the twist ending…you will NOT see it coming! It is strange. Open-ended. And leaves unsettling questions in your mind long after the credits have finished. I didn’t expect to like the movie so much, but I will certainly add it to my collection. I recommend this movie for folks who like mysteries, family horror, British actors, and psychological surrealism. I’m giving this movie an A+ for creeping me out!