31 Days to Scare ~ Blood from the Mummy’s Tomb

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The Facts:

Synopsis: A British archaeologist and his team bring an embalmed Egyptian royal back from their latest expedition, and trouble ensues when the archaeologist’s daughter is possessed.

Stars: Andrew Keir, Valerie Leon, James Villiers, Hugh Burden, George Coulouris, Mark Edwards, Rosalie Crutchley, Aubrey Morris, David Markham

Director: Seth Holt

Rated: PG

Running Length: 94 minutes

TMMM Score: (7/10)

Review: I’m still more than a little disappointed that 2017’s The Mummy was such a lackluster bust.  Not only did it stop Universal’s planned onslaught of re-envisioning their classic monster catalog, but it wasted a prime opportunity to use their gender-swapped title character in any meaningful way.  It was more about star Tom Cruise than any gauze-wrapped undead wreaking havoc in modern times.  While Universal making their mummy female was applauded, it was far from the first time that change was made (that would be 1944’s The Mummy’s Curse) and other studios had attempted their own twist on mummy norms over the years.

One studio that gave it a shot was Hammer, this British company that churned out oodles of genre pictures covering every kind of beastie and baddie.  Already three deep in their mummy series and wanting to change things up, they looked to none other than Bram Stoker for inspiration on their next picture, Blood from the Mummy’s Tomb.  Stoker’s The Jewel of Seven Stars was published in 1903 and concerns an ancient evil Egyptian queen, a group of unwise archaeologists, and a young girl that becomes a vessel for the rebirth of the queen’s violent spirit.  This would be a different kind of mummy movie, with the same storyline fueled by revenge but carried out in far more supernaturally obtuse methods and showcasing less rotting flesh in favor of the ample cleavage of its well-endowed star.

Margaret (Valerie Leon, The Spy Who Loved Me) has been having increasingly vivid nightmares about the mummification of a beautiful queen.  Adored in finery and surrounded by key artifacts, not to mention a whopper of a ring, the body is well-preserved save for her hand which is violently cut off but remains fairly…active.  In present day, her father (Andrew Keir) a retired archaeologist gives her the same ring from her dreams as an early birthday present, a coincidence that’s just the beginning of Margaret completing a long-gestating connection to Queen Tera, the woman of her dreams. As Margaret becomes more entwined with the spirit of Queen Tera, her father’s old expedition companions begin to sense what can only be described as a disturbance in the force.  Flashbacks reveal their presence as Margaret’s father discovered Queen Tera’s tomb (of course dust/cobweb free and with her body in immaculate condition) and they all took something from their find.  Now, with Tera controlling Margaret, she needs these pieces back by any means necessary so she may live again and continue her reign of terror.  The bodies start to pile up at the same time Tera’s treasures begin to find their way home, leading to a showdown for Margaret’s spirit.

The production of Blood from the Mummy’s Tomb is legendary.   Original star Peter Cushing left the production after a day to tend to his terminally ill wife, a production assistant was killed, and director Seth Holt died before filming was completed.  Seemed there was a curse of some sort over the film and perhaps that’s why it had a rather lackluster reception at the time of its release, despite it being a fairly enjoyable, if overly tame, ride when compared to its elegantly wrapped series siblings.  There’s just something odd about calling the film a mummy movie when it’s more about possession and reincarnation than anything.  The final image is a great visual and teed up a sequel that, due to poor box office returns, sadly never materialized.

Hammer produced so many films that it can be easy to start writing off the lesser known ones like this…just as it’s easy to call titles that aren’t that great underrated.  I think this falls somewhere in the middle of it all…and at least from what I hear it’s better than The Awakening, the 1980 Charlton Heston version of Stoker’s story.   There are definitely things to improve in Blood from the Mummy’s Tomb but I can’t help but wonder if that change of directors didn’t figure into some of the confusing plot shifts in the final act (a main character leaves a room and dies in such a strange way it feels like a dream) so it’s possible to give the film a pass on that.  Though she’s inexplicably dubbed, Leon is a lovely lead and there’s a slow-motion shot of her walking toward her evil double in the middle of the night that’s truly haunting but also beautiful at the same time.  If you can find this one, I say give it a go because you might be surprised at how much you like it.

Movie Review ~ On the Rocks

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The Facts
:

Synopsis: A young mother reconnects with her larger-than-life playboy father on an adventure through New York.

Stars: Bill Murray, Rashida Jones, Marlon Wayans, Jenny Slate

Director: Sofia Coppola

Rated: R

Running Length: 96 minutes

TMMM Score: (7/10)

Review:  Let’s have it out right now at the start so we can move on.  I’m not a fan of Lost in Translation and I don’t get it’s appeal.  Whew.  There, I said it and I feel better.  Do you?  Sorry, but that film just didn’t land with me and I know I like a bunch of movies that may leave you wondering if I have a sane bone in my body but Sofia Coppola’s Oscar-winning screenplay left me freezing.  I guess I could watch it again and see if my mood on it has changed but…I just don’t think so.  Her subsequent films have been a mixed bag too, with 1999’s The Virgin Suicides being right on target and Marie Antoinette making 2005 buzz with its charisma and style.  I was marginally sold on The Bling Ring but less enthused with her remake of The Beguiled, which is all to say that I approached her new film On the Rocks (which has been playing in theaters and now premieres on Apple+) very carefully.

The story of an almost-40 New York mother of two (Rashida Jones, The Sound of Silence) who suspects her busy husband (Marlon Wayans, The Heat) of cheating on her with his co-worker could have easily been another in a long line of crestfallen big city women in crisis movies that you’d rent from Redbox and then forget about forever.  Yet Coppola has made one of the more interesting films of the year by casting one of the more interesting actors working today and giving him his best role in quite some time.  That moves On the Rocks from the watch it and forget it column to the watch it, talk about it, think about it, tell all your friends about how good Bill Murray is in it sort of deal.

At first, Laura (Jones) isn’t sure her successful husband Dean has strayed in their marriage.  A half-awake Dean has returned from a lengthy flight and when he flops into bed and she greets him, he appears surprised to hear her voice.  She actually writes off the incident and even believes the rational reason he provides when she finds the make-up bag for his co-worker in his luggage.  Then she has lunch with her retired art-dealer dad Felix (Murray, Moonrise Kingdom) and that’s when he plants the germ of a seed of doubt in her mind and proceeds to help her nurture it.  A notorious womanizer that has struggled to stay faithful himself, he seems to know what he’s talking about.  Even though Laura doesn’t want to believe the hard to believe signs, maybe her dad is right…but does she want to risk her marriage on a hunch?

Coppola’s film is mainly a drama, a family drama no-less, but there are elements of a number of different genres present.  It’s a buddy film in the way that Laura leans on Felix for support during this strange period of her life as it doesn’t appear she has any female friends she can open up to, surely not the self-involved women (including a scene-stealing Jenny Slate, Zootopia) at her children’s school.  There’s a road trip adventure quality to it as well when Felix convinces Laura to follow Dean to Mexico to surprise him on a co-workers only trip in the hopes of finding him with another woman.  It’s a mystery too, as the audience is never quite sure how allegiant Felix is to his daughter – we feel like he wants the best for her but it’s also clear that for as much shameless flirting and grandstanding gladhanding as he does, she may be his only true connection and if she remains so devoted to Dean where does that leave him?

I wish Coppola had a bit more to say about these relationships in her wrap-up because the conclusion is definitely nowhere near as interesting as the carefully laid out (and highly enjoyable) first ¾ of the movie.  There is a feeling too that had Wayans been a more dynamic actor the stakes may have been raised a bit higher.  As it stands he’s just not on the same level as Jones who in turn isn’t at the same level as Murray.  So you have three different actors all at differing levels of range – sometimes that doesn’t make a difference but in emotionally fueled movies like On the Rocks it does become part of a make or break discussion.  Murray is fantastic, easily the best and brightest he’s been in years – fingers crossed he gets some recognition for this effort – and I hope Coppola continues to explore this side of her narrative storytelling.  Just work on the ending.