The Witchfinder General

January 5, 2015

witchfinder

Internet Movie Database           Movie Reviews

From the novel of the same name by Ronald Bassett

And for some reason, this was also released under the title The Conqueror Worm in its US release; that’s the name of a poem by Edgar Allen Poe that has absolutely nothing to do with the movie, except that it’s about death. What a catchy title! someone was really thinking…

This is about Matthew Hopkins, who was Witchfinder General during the English Civil War under Cromwell, and notoriously abused his power for his own selfish ends. In this, he sleeps with, and his henchman rapes, the daughter of a Catholic priest whom he promises to free but then hangs; her Roundhead fiancee swears vengeance and finally everyone gets what’s coming to them.

For a low-budget British 60s horror film (not thing-coming-back-from-the-dead horror, but torture-and-execution-run-rampant horror) this is actually pretty good. Vincent Price plays Matthew Hopkins, and is rather more low-key than we expected him to be. Ian Ogilvie was handsome and dashing as the Roundhead soldier, and the story actually made sense and had a good plot.

Not a bad choice for the New Year’s Day Videofest 2015 (theme: WITCHES)

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Bell, Book and Candle

January 5, 2015

bell

Internet Movie Database          Movie Reviews

From the stage play of the same name by John Van Druten

A man who lives upstairs from two witches gets drawn into their world when one of them falls in love with him.

It was the 2015 New Year’s Day Videofest, and this year’s theme was WITCHES. I had wanted to put this on the list, but it didn’t stream from anywhere I had access to, and Redbox didn’t have it.

Oh well, I said, I’ll have to pick something else.

But wait! said Spider Jerusalem, I own it on DVD, you can borrow it if you want.

Really? I said, knowing that most of his collection consists of explosions and gunfights, you own this?

Yes, he said, it’s great.

And we held the videofest…but this movie wasn’t chosen. So a couple of nights later, Mr. Otter and I watched it, because 9 times out of 10, if SJ likes it, we will too.

And we did! there were so many things to like:

Firstly, the cast is great: Jimmy Stewart, Kim Novak (gorgeous), a very young Jack Lemmon as the ne’er do well interfering brother, Hermione Gingold, Elsa Lanchester, Ernie Kovacs, a great cast.

Secondly, the costumes and set design are beautiful. Really really excellent.

Thirdly…Pyewacket, the best Siamese cat ever. I wanted to take him off the screen and cuddle him. What a sweetie.

pye

A funny, charming, well-written movie, and we really enjoyed it. SJ is right again!


Maleficent

January 5, 2015

maleficent

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Sleeping Beauty told from the evil fairy’s point of view. Sort of. And badly.

Mr. Otter and I took a long vacation this last summer, and once in a while we would find ourselves with a free evening in civilized environs, at which point I’d rev up my ipad, open the Flixster app, and look for a movie to go to.

This one was playing pretty much everywhere at that time, and we discussed going to see it several times in several places…but we didn’t. I saw How To Train Your Dragon 2, and we saw Snowpiercer and Guardians of the Galaxy…but not this.

And I am now so pleased that we didn’t. Because the reason that we kept going to other movies is that this one got bad reviews. Now, we chez otter really don’t read movie reviews (other than the ones I write; you all know that you should listen to me because I KNOW WHAT’S GOOD. Trust the Otter!) but NOBODY seemed to like this, other than the special effects.

And, as sometimes happens, those bad reviews were absolutely right.

This was one of the entries in the 2015 New Year’s Day Videofest (theme: WITCHES) and it was really, really bad. Not just ‘started out well and lost its way’ bad. Not just ‘meant well but got rewritten a bit too much’ bad. Not even ‘could have been a good story’ bad. This one was a full-blown ‘we decided to pull all the money out of the scriptwriting fund and put it in the special effects budget instead because people will be more likely to come see a badly-written movie with amazing special effects than they will a really good movie with ordinary special effects’ stinkeroo.

And things went south right from the get-go:

  • There was narration. A whole LOT of narration.
  • There was no real thought put into the world-building, they just put stuff in so they could do cool f/x.
  • There were people doing stupid pointless things for the sole reason that it advanced the plot.
  • I hated the idiotic grown women (the fairies, omg.)
  • Not to mention Angelina Jolie’s way over-photoshopped cheekbones.
  • And …oh, what’s the point? you get it.

This was a ridiculous insult to my intelligence. Skip it.


Escape to Witch Mountain

January 5, 2015

escape

Internet Movie Database          Movie Reviews

From the book of the same name by Alexander Key.

There’s a SPOILER at the end, if you care.

It was time for the New Year’s Day Moviefest (this years theme: WITCHES) and I picked this as one of the possibles; I am so glad that we drew it from the Bowl of Movies to watch! (New Year’s Day movies are drawn randomly, we usually start with eight movies and watch five or six.)

I loved this book as a young Otter; I remember reading it over and over and over. There was a sequel, Return from Witch Mountain, but it wasn’t as good. This one was a real favorite.

I was 16 when the movie came out, though, and not only was I too old to go see a Disney live-action kids’ movie, but I really didn’t want to; I figured it wouldn’t be as good as the book had been, and didn’t want to be disappointed.

So I was pleased when we invited a lot of people to the moviefest, and several of them said, Oooh, you’re showing Escape to Witch Mountain, that was one of my favorites when I was a kid!

And it was good! The kids were cute, in that wholesome Disney way. The cat (I had completely forgotten about the cat) was great, and Eddie Albert curmudgeoned like a pro, although you could see his soft marshmallowy insides the whole time.

The writing and acting were good, and the special effects, although dated, were fun.

A very enjoyable return to my youth, even though, as Spider Jerusalem pointed out, the only connection to witches this movie had was the title; the kids are actually stranded aliens. But the title was enough to count for the day, and it was a great addition.


Häxan

January 5, 2015

haxan

Internet Movie Database          Movie Reviews

A seven-part ‘history’ of witchcraft from the middle ages to modern day.

This is a Danish silent movie from 1922; it’s broken into seven parts, four of which are live-action, the others being narrated with illustrations from woodcuts or medieval drawings. The narrator is describing the history of witchcraft from earliest history up to the present, with a lot of the description being enacted by live actors when he reaches the middle ages.

From a modern point of view, this is kind of silly; we were watching it as the first entry in this year’s New Year’s Day moviefest (theme: WITCHES) and it was a good place to start, not too intellectually demanding for early in the morning (well, 9:30 am, but it felt early.)

Some of it is stuff we already knew, about what people thought witches were and did and how they were supposed to have acted. The live-action stuff was actually well done for the time, but was eminently mst-able anyway.

The last section, that comes up to modern times, gives the medical diagnosis of ‘hysteria’ as the modern equivalent of witchcraft, with women being treated for this supposed illness and confined to mental institutions with their ‘cures’ as our version of accusing women of being witches and imprisoning, torturing or killing them. Again, this was made in 1922, so nowadays this is laughable; back then, it was probably thought-provoking.

An interesting and well-made period piece.


The Imitation Game

January 5, 2015

imitation

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From the book Alan Turing: The Enigma by Andrew Hodges

Yet another movie about Turing and the breaking of the Enigma code.

Now, don’t get me wrong. What Turing and his group did was amazing, and they changed the course of the war by figuring out the code. He gets top marks for that Chez Otter.

But is there anything new to say on the subject? Mr. Otter and I have seen at least two or three other movies and TV miniseries about him, his (illegal at the time) homosexuality, his supposed communist leanings and/or info leaks, his difficult personality, and also how he broke this extremely difficult code by inventing a type of calculator/computer that could figure it out in the time frame (it was changed every 24 hours.)

This was a well-made and well-written movie, beautifully filmed and, except for a regrettable scene where white-out was used to correct typewriting (Otter ground her teeth at that one) very historically accurate. Benedict Cumberbatch (who has the BEST NAME EVER in the Otter Family’s opinion) played Turing, and did a very good job of it, giving his extremely difficult personality enough human feeling for viewers to empathize with him.

But…did we really need another movie about this? Well, yes and no, I think. On the one hand, it’s been done before. On the other hand, with fan-favorite Cumberbatch in it, this will introduce Turing and what he did to a whole new generation.

But (and this is where the reality police come in and haul everyone away) it WAS NOT THE FIRST COMPUTER. Yes, they actually said this in the trailers for the movie, which made me shoot steam out of my ears. The Turing machine models algorithms, but is not itself a computer, and even if it were, it was a hundred and fifty years too late to be the FIRST computer.

But those are minor quibbles. If you don’t know this story, or are a Cumberbatch fan, or just like a well-written drama, you’ll enjoy this one.