Friday, January 29, 2016

Just Watch Bronson Twice, or Legend with Tom Hardy as The Kray Twins

Tom Hardy is one of my favorite modern actors, he’s bagged some of the most memorable roles of the decade including Bane, Max Rockatansky, Bronson and of course, Handsome Bob from RocknRolla.  And also Shinzon from Star Trek Nemesis (2002) because I’m a big trekkie nerd at heart.
I’ve also been fond of the British Gangster genre ever since Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels (1998).  I love Cockney rhyming slang; trouble and strife, apples and pears and tell me no porkies.  I’ve also seen The Krays (1990) starring actual twins Gary and Martin I Know This Much is True Kemp. Finally, I’ve known all about the Kray twins ever since I first heard The Last of the Famous International Playboys, which I never get tired of listening to. 
Bearing all this in mind, how could Legend starring Tom Hardy in a dual role as London gangsters Ron and Reggie Kray not be one of my favorite movies of 2015, if not of all time?  Why was I left disappointed and indifferent after I watched it?  Let’s explore how the exact same elements that make a film memorable can make it crash and burn.
Actors playing identical twins is inherently narcissistic, and therefore quite popular in Hollywood, from Lindsay Lohan in The Parent Trap remake (1998), Nicolas Cage in Adaptation (2002), Christian Bale in The Prestige (2006) and even Jean Claude Van Damme in Double Impact (1991).  Two of the best performances in these twin-acting challenges come from Jeremy Irons in Dead Ringers (1988) and the great Bette Davis starring in the original Dead Ringer (1964).  And now we can add Tom Hardy to the list.
Legend (2015) is crammed with period correct London East End scenes and swinging 60’s fashions,  the tie clips and slim lapels with share screen time with cigarettes and brass knuckles.  Emily Browning supplies the narration and exposition like it’s a British Goodfellas (1990).  This is the film’s first mistake; her accent is a tad posh for the Lower East End.  You don’t need someone sounding like Eliza Doolittle or Dick Van Dyke in Mary Poppins, but these details make all the difference when you’re setting a tone and telling a story.
It’s a great cast with a not-so great script.  You don’t care about any of these characters and are not invested in anyone’s dramatic arc.  It’s confusing; is this movie a love story, or twin gangsters building an East End empire of crime, or their downfall by a Scotland Yard Inspector? Plot is a delicate balance between story and character and by servicing the three story lines equally everything suffers; the sum is not greater than its parts and the movie collapses under its own weight.
Christopher Eccleston, the Ninth Doctor, is wasted as Police Inspector Reed.  Tom Hardy supplies an adequate performance, but it’s not cheeky, compelling or charismatic like Bronson (2008), which remains Tom Hardy’s greatest performance and film.

There is the trademark casual brutality and violence you have come to expect in a British Gangster film, including a great fight scene at the Pig and Whistle, but ultimately you’re left with a sense of admiration for Guy Ritchie for making this genre look so effortless and fun. You can’t blame Tom Hardy; you have to blame the director.  Film is the director’s medium, just as theater belongs to the actor and TV is the domain of the writer.  Brian Hegelund, who wrote LA Confidential (1997), Mystic River (2003) and Man on Fire (2004), is no stranger to violent drama and should have had little problem handling the Kray Twins.  It could be as simple as he was born in the US and wasn’t paying attention to little things like accents, but those tiny mistakes add up over time and create bad pictures.
Don’t get me wrong; I’m a big fan of bad pictures.  Some movies are so bad they circle around and magically become great.  (I’m looking at you, Troll 2 1990).  But when you have an A-list cast, a big Hollywood budget and a subject like the Kray Twins and you still make something mediocre, well that’s just disappointing.

my first novel? thanks for asking:) I wrote a 4 book supernatural martial arts series concerning the ongoing feud between a group of kung-fu killer witches in san francsico’s chinatown.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

I Watched All Three I Know What You Did Last Summers, So You Don’t Have To

 Don’t ask why.  I miss the 90’s.  And when I say “watch” I should clarify; I have these movies on in the background, like the radio, and then after I’ve “seen” them I sit down and quickly “write” my “observations” for this “blog”.  (That’s a random "Chris Farley" reference to compliment the 90’s theme).
America has enjoyed a long and rich tradition of putting our teens in cinematic jeopardy, ever since The Blob (1958), which featured Steve McQueen in his first role.  Since then we’ve made a whole genre about murdering them in entertaining and creative ways with Jason, Michael Meyers and Freddie Kreuger.  And the tradition extends to today, especially because it dovetails so nicely with the current economic model of obsessively chasing the teen dollar.  Divergent, Maze Runner, and those films about being hungry continue to dominate the box office and are now marketed as action adventures.  But central to all these plots is a society that enjoys murdering teens.  Joss Whedon’s Cabin in the Woods (2012) posed an intriguing hypothesis that we are subconsciously attracted to this genre because we need to sacrifice our children to the Old Ones. I like that idea, it makes just about as much sense to me as a dystopian society that needs to watch 23 kids a year fight to the death on national TV in order to commemorate a failed rebellion.
I’m not ashamed to tell you that I saw both I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997) and I Still Know What You Did Last Summer (1998) in the theater.  I had a huge crush on Sarah Michelle Gellar, thanks to Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and I’ve been a fan of the slasher genre ever since it was created by John Carpenter with Halloween in 1978.  I am however ashamed to admit that in the time between 1997 and now I had killed enough brain cells that I didn’t remember who the killer is and both movies were basically new to me.
A quick recap: four teens on their way to college (including Jennifer Love Hewitt, the actual star of the move, Freddie Prinze Jr. and Ryan Phillipe) accidentally hit a guy with their car on the way home from a party.  Worried about their future, they hide the body and try to forget it ever happened.  One year passes and they start getting messages and then killed off, one by one.
Watching from an adult perspective, I found it difficult to have any empathy for these stupid yet attractively photogenic kids.  The biggest flaw of the first movie is these teens are technically guilty, and they’re fighting a threat that they created.  Also, one thing I remember from my first viewing that persisted, I found it very hard to separate Sarah Michelle Gellar from Buffy Summers and I kept wondering why the Slayer was always running away from the killer instead of dispatching him with a quick roundhouse and a throat punch.
You don’t think you’d get tired of hearing Jennifer Love Hewitt scream.  I’m sure there’s some special acting class where you learn how to do that on command, like stage fighting or speaking in iambic pentameter.  Also, Anne Heche was in this movie?  Apparently so.
I Know What You Did Last Summer was rated R but I bet you the remake will be PG-13.  In addition to the dumbing-down of America, we’re making our films less violent, scary and swear-y so we can appeal to a larger segment of that precious teen audience. 
I Still Know What You Did Last Summer (1998) AKA More Screaming Teens Emoting, part 2 was more racially diverse with the addition of Brandy and Mekhi Phifer.  The killer follows them to an island resort in the Bahamas, where he eventually kills Jack Black with dreadlocks and the great Jeffrey Combs as the Hotel Manager, which I also didn’t remember.
Part 3, I’ll Always Know What You Did Last Summer (2006) came out 8 years later with a brand new cast in a direct to video release.  The franchise moves from a small East coast fishing town to a small Colorado ski town, which makes no sense, because what would a killer fisherman with a hook be doing so far inland?
The writers address the problem of teen culpability getting in the way of being chased by a killer with a hook by having them responsible for an accidental death/murder during viral video stunt. But get this, one year later the killer texts the girl “I KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER” in all caps, instead of leaving a random notes.  Because kids and their cell phones, amirite?
So what did I learn from watching these three movies?  Precious little, I’m afraid.  Jennifer Love Hewitt and Sarah Michelle Gellar were breakout stars, which I had already known.  The killer with the hook seemed like a cheap knockoff of Tony Todd’s far superior Candyman (1992), which spawned 2 sequels that you should know by now I’ve already seen.
I hate sequels, but that doesn’t mean I won’t watch them.  There’s a certain comfort and reassurance in knowing what to expect, not having to meet new characters and having the same story told over and over in a never-ending circle like a snake eating its own tail.  But each new sequel dilutes the power and individuality of the first one, until you forget why you enjoyed this movie in the first place and end up in space like Jason X (2001) or Leprechaun 4 (1996).

Or Hellraiser IV: Bloodline (1996), which I also saw in the theater…

my first novel? thanks for asking:) I wrote a 4 book supernatural martial arts series concerning the ongoing feud between a group of kung-fu killer witches in san francsico’s chinatown.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

A Lovely Gothic Steampunk Dollhouse, Or Thoughts on Crimson Peak

Guillermo del Toro has been on my radar since Mimic (1997) and I'm always eager to see what he does next.  He manufactures memorable worlds that are both horrific and whimsical and still remains an outsider, much like Tim Burton before he got a hold of that Breaking Bad-sized pallet of Disney money.  Every movie he makes is stamped with his unique personal style and his obvious affection for HP Lovecraft, steampunk and exquisitely rendered models.
Which brings us to his latest movie, Crimson Peak (2015), a lovely Gothic steampunk dollhouse filled with gorgeous costumes and sets.  The film is a joy to view; every frame echoes an oil painting and Mia Wasikowska roaming the haunted hallways in a white nightdress holding a candelabra is such a classic image straight out of a paperback romance cover.
There’s a first rate cast to match the sets with Mia Wasikowska playing Edith Cushing, a nod to the great Peter Cushing, who you probably know as Grand Moff Tarkin but also hopefully remember as Van Helsing and Dr. Frankenstein.  Jessica Chastain and Tom Hiddleston portray Sir Thomas Sharpe and Lady Lucille Sharpe, a pair of creepy shabby gentility siblings straight out of an Edgar Allan Poe story.  And then there’s Jim Beaver from Supernatural as Carter Cushing, Edith’s father. (I’m gonna go ahead and say that’s a reference to Randolph Carter, a Lovecraft allusion).
“Ghosts are just a metaphor for the past,” Edith keeps insisting, and at its heart, all ghost stories are murder mysteries as the spirits clamor for justice or to be avenged.  I wouldn’t say that this is a particularly scary movie but it is wonderfully atmospheric with the rattling doorknobs and creaky floorboards.  It becomes more surreal and dreamlike as the film progresses, especially when Lucy arrives at Allerdale Hall, the gothic dollhouse full of oblique angles and slanting floors, sinking into the crimson clay in glorious decay.  The walls, when not bleeding red, pulse with butterfly wings like living wallpaper.
The aforementioned ghosts are CGI enhanced with smoky tendrils that trail behind them as they haunt the halls and torment Lucy.   Guillermo Del Toro prefers to use his CGI in small doses, like a drop of hot sauce to spice things up, a sentiment I heartily endorse.  So much of the story is told through makeup, costume and mood, and the subtle CGI is used sparingly to punch up colors or add a snowstorm.
The violence is sudden, bloody and brutal in a very modern way that is ultimately distracting from a stylistic point of view.  I understand that people were violent in the olden days, they were run through with swords and their heads were chopped off and they often found themselves impaled by Eastern European warlords.  But Guillermo Del Toro goes to a great effort to reproduce the tone, style and mood of the 70’s Hammer Films, and the level of violence only succeeds in reminding the viewer that this is actually a modern movie.
I did enjoy Crimson Peak because it was completely different than Pacific Rim (2013), original, and an emphatic love letter to the great haunted house movies like The Shining (1980), The Innocents (1961) and The Haunting (1961).  However while this movie is undeniably beautiful, it has none of the tension or terror of those previous films.  Without horror Crimson Peak becomes an experiment in aesthetics, a showcase of a director’s favorite actors, scenes and paintings.  It reminded me of Bram Stoker’s Dracula by Francis Ford Coppola (1992), another gorgeous fiasco made by a modern genius, full of sound and beauty but unfortunately, signifying nothing.

my first novel? thanks for asking:) I wrote a 4 book supernatural martial arts series concerning the ongoing feud between a group of kung-fu killer witches in san francsico’s chinatown.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Maybe They’ll Remake Fringe Next, or The X-Files Returns

I reacted to the news of an X-Files reboot featuring the original actors with a certain ambivalence.  On the one hand, as I’ve said before, seeing Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny playing their iconic roles once more is like visiting with a couple of old friends.  But at the same time do I really want to see these two 14 years later and remind myself how old we’ve all become since the first Transporter came out?  Am I such a glutton for nostalgia that I’ll risk disappointment and disillusionment in pursuit of new stories that really don’t need to be told?
The answer to all of these questions is of course yes, I’m all in.  I always have been, I want to believe.  I watched the first episode, “My Struggle”, the literal translation of “Mein Kampf”. Mulder’s looking thick and grizzled, while Scully seems to be aging in reverse, perhaps due to the alien implant she has in her neck.  It’s nice to see Skinner with a fashionable beard, and there are rapid references to Uber, the Internet and Obama to pull this franchise kicking & screaming into 2016.  There’s also a lot of mediocre yet expensive looking CGI, though I have to admit, it was really nice to see the original opening credits in glorious high-definition TV.
“My Struggle” introduces a brand new conspiracy by throwing out the old one.  UFOs seem dated and so 90’s compared to what we have now, and the new story arc does its darndest to tie in everything relevant in 2016 from the erosion of civil liberties, 9/11, the World Bank Illuminati and even high fructose corn syrup.
“It’s fear-mongering claptrap isolationist propaganda,” Scully complains at one point, and I have to agree.  The problem with upending the old X-Files mythos is it negates the previous 9 seasons.  In the struggle to remain relevant the writers are willing to throw away 202 hours of more or less awesome TV.  I honestly think the series would have been better served by keeping it in the past and releasing some shiny new special blue ray edition boxed set.  
So the global conspiracy is back, but then again, it never really left.  However my question for you is how many of the conspiracy theorists online and active today watched the original series when they were in high school or college?  What effect did it have on their subsequent worldview and future politics?  Much like Star Trek’s tech influence on future engineers and inventors in cell phone design and iPads, the original series planted a lot of seeds got a lot of kids thinking outside the lines and looking for patterns.  That’s the real conspiracy.
And as far as I’m concerned, the reboot already happened in 1998 when they moved the show to Los Angeles.  It was never the same in the warm California sun.  Ultimately, seeing Mulder and Scully again is like seeing an ex.  You remember why you fell in love in the first place, but you also remember how they drove you nuts and why you left them.

Some things are best left in the past.

my first novel? thanks for asking:) I wrote a 4 book supernatural martial arts series concerning the ongoing feud between a group of kung-fu killer witches in san francsico’s chinatown.

Monday, January 25, 2016

In Our Lifetime Those Who Kill, or Making A Murderer on NetFlix

I don’t watch true crime in general.  In my view reality is scary enough as it is, and I prefer my monsters to be strictly supernatural.  And while I am happy to voice my admiration for a non-fiction novel like In Cold Blood by Truman Capote, I do have certain misgivings when it comes to these modern TV shows and documentaries that seem to revel in non-fiction murders and actual serial killers.  Crime becomes entertainment, and we as a public eagerly consume it, but in the back of my mind I wonder if it’s any different than watching a public execution.
So when a documentary series like  Making A Murderer comes around, written and directed over a decade by Laura Ricciardi and Moira Demos, and I find myself compelled to watch and obsessed with the crime, my first question is not who’s guilty but rather why am I watching?  What’s my personal motivation here?  And how am I being manipulated?
The facts in the documentary are deceptively simple: Stephen Avery of Manitowoc County, Wisconsin, served 18 years in jail for sexual assault before being exonerated by DNA evidence.  Then, two years after his release he’s arrested again for murder of Teresa Halbach, and sentenced to life in prison.  The documentary relates the tragic miscarriage of justice surrounding Stephen Avery’s first arrest and trial, and presents a compelling argument that the state went after him, perhaps to the point of framing him, for the subsequent murder.  I don’t feel the need to go into further detail because you’ve either watched this series and are looking for my analysis, or you haven’t watched it, and are considering it.  
Regardless of guilt or innocence I see three options for Stephen Avery:  He’s guilty, and he got what was coming to him.  Option two, he’s guilty and the cops can’t prove it, so they manufacture evidence.  And option three, the really terrifying one, is that Stephen Avery is innocent, and the Manitowoc County Sheriff’s Department framed him, in collusion with the prosecutor, the judge, the jury and his defense attorney.
Which brings up another interesting issue for me; we love vigilantes in our pop culture, the rogue cop who takes the law into his own hands because the system is so corrupt.  Batman does this all the time.  But when the state does this in actual reality, as was strongly implied by this documentary, there’s a massive public outcry.  Because who will they go after next?  If an innocent man goes to jail, twice, who’s next?  It could be you, it could be me.  That fear, that paranoia, keeps us watching, invests us in Stephen Avery’s story and sordid life and compels us throughout the entire series to demand answers and some sort of justice.
The agenda and narrative of the documentary also flips the paradigm and makes the victim’s family the bad guys, as if they’re the ones hounding this poor man like Jean Valjean in Les Mis.  But the truth of the matter is someone killed Teresa Halbach, and that fact gets lost in the rush to exonerate Steven Avery, or exposing the larger Manitowoc County conspiracy and the systemic flaws in American Criminal Justice system.
Making A Murderer is so tantalizing to us as viewers because there are no definitive answers or clear resolutions. So many questions are raised; why didn’t he crush the car?  Why did it take the police 7 searches to find a key in plain sight?  Where’s the blood splatter? 
We’re so used to complete stories in fiction, simply because we rarely get clear dramatic resolution in our non-fiction, everyday life.  Most of us have never been handcuffed and arrested, or put on trial, or seen the inside of a jail— in our personal lives.  However we’ve seen those scenes over and over again on TV and in movies.  We can recite our Miranda Rights, we know about courtroom procedure and DNA analysis and we bring that fictional experience, along with the expectation of a clear resolution, when we watch non-fiction true crime documentaries like this one. 
Making A Murderer  obscures this line between reality and entertainment,  presenting a non-fiction crime in a dramatic and cinematic way that only succeeds in confusing the viewer and whipping them into a paranoid frenzy.  But hey, it keeps us watching and complacent, rather than voting for social change and better representation.  And at the center of this a young lady was murdered, Stephen Avery and his hapless nephew Brenden Dassey rot in prison, we’re left wondering why.

my first novel? thanks for asking:) I wrote a 4 book supernatural martial arts series concerning the ongoing feud between a group of kung-fu killer witches in san francsico’s chinatown.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Now That You’ve Seen The Hateful Eight, Go Watch Stagecoach

I don’t foresee The Hateful Eight (2015) ushering in a new renaissance of gritty revisionist westerns; rather the film was an homage to a sentimental and almost forgotten genre of American cinema.  It’s as if popular culture is too self involved with technology and portraying Americans as superheroes than remembering our historical roots of rugged individualism, pioneer spirit and yes, it has to be mentioned, slavery and genocide.
But put aside those contemporary social issues and take a moment to see what the western genre accomplished.  Hollywood took our actual history, the settling of the American West, and turned into myth, no different than Robin Hood, King Arthur and the Three Musketeers.  We took our meager 200 years of history and created uniquely American heroes with a new set of heroic values.  Cowboys became our knights, our noble heroes, carrying six guns instead of swords and fighting for freedom and justice in an untamed wilderness that would one day become our country. 
Which brings us to Stagecoach (1939), directed by the great John Ford, a seminal and genre-defining western that also introduced John Wayne who remains to this day as synonymous with westerns, old Hollywood and a certain political attitude embodied by conservatives and proponents of the 2nd amendment.  It’s hard to write about westerns without mentioning politics, which is a tribute to how deeply entrenched this genre is in our national identity, and what is amazing to me is it was in large part created by Hollywood, and iconic movies like Stagecoach.
The first thing you notice when watching this lovely black and white film from a modern perspective is the verisimilitude, all of this is actually happening in front of your eyes.  They built a western town, that’s actual dust the horses are kicking up, there’s no green screens and now that I mention it, there are horses everywhere.  In 1939 horses were still in everyone’s memory and it was not uncommon to still see them in daily use pulling carts or delivering milk.  I imagine for us it would be like seeing a CD walkman or a landline.
The movie is only 95 minutes long, but John Ford can tell a lot of story in that time; the movie moves at a faster clip than what you’re used to.  The plot is very similar to The Hateful Eight (except with no swearing and far less poisoned coffee); seven strangers ride a stagecoach through Apache territory and have an adventure.
Those seven strangers are a drunken doctor, a pregnant lady married to a cavalry captain, an elitist banker, a southern gentleman gambler played by the inimitable John Carradine (David’s father), a dance hall floozy (it seems unkind to call her a whore), a whisky salesman and the outlaw Ringo, as played by John Wayne.  Up top we have the sheriff who wants to bring Ringo to justice and the driver, played with a whiny cowpoke enthusiasm by Andy Devine, who enjoyed a 50-year career in movies and TV.  Consider that for a moment, can you think of any modern actor who you think will last half a century without imploding?  The only one that comes to my mind who has a chance is Neil Patrick Harris.
There’s a lot of drama crammed into 95 minutes.  The tensions include: the Indian threat, the stagecoach has to race to the next safe town, Ringo wants to avenge his father’s murder and the sheriff is determined to stop him, the courtly romance between Ringo and Dallas, the dance hall floozy, and to make matters worse, that lady’s gonna have a baby at any moment.  All this happens as they ride through magnificent Monument Valley landscapes. This was the image we were presenting to the rest of the world, and you can see our cultural DNA being woven before your eyes.
It’s so important to watch this film in context; John Wayne wasn't an icon, he was just a tall handsome cowboy who lit up the screen with his undeniable star-power.  There aren’t that many actors left who possess that indefinable combination of looks, acting ability, physical presence, charisma and audience appeal.  What we get instead are attractive mannequins that score well with focus groups and accountants and are presented to us as stars.  John Wayne was someone the audience chose, and that makes all the difference.  There’s no way a modern studio would invest in a wild card like John Wayne today, it’s too risky.
The other item is to note is the incredible stunts that would also be impossible to make today.  There are no wires, OSHA or protective pads, what you see is what you get.  When Yakima Canutt, the world’s greatest stuntman, leaps from the roof of the stagecoach and onto a runaway horse, that’s exactly what happened.  It’s almost absurd to watch how unsafe the stunts are from a modern perspective, but that’s yet another reason why you need to see this movie.
The legacy of Stagecoach is how much it resonated and influenced so the movies that came after it, and continues to do so to this day.  Mad Max: Fury Road (2015) was one long chase scene through the desert, but John Ford did it first.  Val Kilmer’s Doc Holliday in Tombstone (1993) is an almost exact recreation of John Carradine’s performance as the elusive Mr. Hatfield.  John Ford’s movies inspired George Lucas, who was created a certain franchise that ultimately led to that one movie that came out last year that you might have heard about.  And when Quentin Tarantino announced the plot for The Hateful Eight, my first thought was “this is his Stagecoach”.

my first novel? thanks for asking:) I wrote a 4 book supernatural martial arts series concerning the ongoing feud between a group of kung-fu killer witches in san francsico’s chinatown.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

I Wanna Tear You Apart, or Thoughts on American Horror Story: Hotel

Golden Globe Winner Lady Gaga as The Countess

I am always surprised at how sentimental American Horror Story gets towards the end of the season.  The viewer gets beaten up, punch-drunk and blood-addled as the series progresses, amped by all the violence and nudity before the roller coaster slows down and takes one final circuit to remind you that you have grown to care about these characters and crave a fitting resolution.  More often than not, that resolution in American Horror Story involves family, in particular the family you create, whether carnival freaks, murderous ghosts or a coven of witches can be more loving and relevant than the one you were born into.
A haunted hotel is a perfect premise.  There’s literally a constant flow of new blood, with guests walking over The Shining-inspired carpeting in the lobby every evening for the supernatural and natural occupants to interact with and torment.  Plus there’s such a rich tradition in haunted hotels, both in cinema and myth.  It’s been said that hotels, along with hospitals, theaters and schools, tend to be the most haunted.  Something to do with all the traffic, the never-ending influx of people creates a nexus or a crossroads for the dead.  Or so they say.
I’ve already written at length on Lady Gaga’s languorous performance as the Vampire Countess, and how she completely distracted me from Jessica Lange’s absence.  Both actresses depict similar characters, just at different stages; from Jessica’s fading glamour to the current full bloom of Lady Gaga’s.  They’re basically playing older and younger versions of themselves.
One of the pleasures of the series as a whole is how self-referential it has become, and watching the characters from previous and perhaps future seasons interact.  As the seasons progress the stories build a pyramid, with each season, character and episode interlocking with the previous in new and intriguing ways.  American Horror Story’s greatest strength has been to craft this cohesive supernatural universe, and compel us as a viewer to participate as we look forward to our favorite actors returning in previous or new incarnations.
As a child of the 80’s American Horror Story: Hotel had the best soundtrack so far, with clever musical cues from The Human League’s Seconds, Peter Murphy’s Cuts You Up and of course no contemporary vampire show would be complete without Bela Lugosi’s Dead by Bauhaus.  In fact Lady Gaga’s introduction and opening montage to Tear You Apart from She Wants Revenge sets the mood and tone of the series to perfection.  If I had to explain the series to someone, I’d show them that clip, starting from the coke-fueled sexy pre-game at the Hotel Cortez, to the outdoor midnight screening of Nosferatu at Hollywood Forever Cemetery, culminating with the murderous menage a quatre back at the Hotel Cortez.  Now that’s how you keep a relationship fresh.
Vampires were the central supernatural theme to this season.  After ghosts, aliens, zombies and witches, all we really had left was werewolves and vampires.  Although these vampires aren’t technically supernatural, it’s a blood virus that makes you hard to kill, allergic to sunlight and extends your life.
The central human horror was of course the 10 Commandments Murders and the evolution and awakening of Wes Bentley as Detective John Lowe, the troubled detective, handsome and flawed with the disturbingly prescient criminal profiles.  What was interesting to me was that although these two stories connected through the hotel, largely from the machinations of Evan Peters as James Patrick March, there were no scenes between Lady Gaga and Wes Bentley.  It’s almost as if they were in the same rooms at different times, aware of each other’s presence, but never confronting one another.
Sarah Paulson returned as Sally, the fried blonde frizzy broken grunge angel in leopard print and also the medium Billie Dean from Season 1.  You can always expect a strong performance from her but to me she will always be Lana Banana from Season 2.  This was Denis O’Hare’s best role so far as Liz Taylor sashaying gloriously down haunted hallways in her silk kimonos.  Angela Basset and Kathy Bates returned as Ramona Royale and Iris, more vampires.  They delivered excellent performances but I personally preferred them in Season 4 as Marie Laveau and Delphine LaLaurie.  I missed Taissa Farmiga and Frances Conroy, who I’ve loved since Six Feet Under, and am always happy to see Chloe Sevigny, this time as John’s wife Alex, the vampire pediatrician.
There are many other articles online that meticulously chart and plot the callbacks and connections to previous seasons; I would like to point out a couple that I haven’t seen mentioned.  And ironically, both involve redheads.  In Season 4 we have another redheaded maid with Mare Winningham as Miss Evers, eternally obsessed with her bloody sheets like Lady Macbeth, echoing back to Season 1’s Moira O’Hara as portrayed by Alexandra Breckenridge and Frances Conroy.  Also an oblique Season 1 reference I noticed while watching Will Drake’s redheaded son Lachlan idly bouncing a tennis ball in the lobby of the Cortez.  He reminded me of Troy and Bryan, the Season 1 twins who break into the Murder House and toss bang snaps at each other.

If I had to poke at Season 4 I would complain that it was set in Los Angeles, a theme and a City that was already explored to great extent in Murder House.  I would have preferred if the season had been set in New York or Philadelphia, or another haunted city on the East Coast.  Even moving the Cortez up north to San Francisco would have been more interesting for me.  But that’s a very minor criticism when you think about how upset I was over the aliens in Season 2.

my first novel? thanks for asking:) I wrote a 4 book supernatural martial arts series concerning the ongoing feud between a group of kung-fu killer witches in san francsico’s chinatown.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Bring on The Gourmet Brain Food Prep Montage, Or Thoughts on iZombie

You know exactly what you sign up for when the iZombie credits roll, and I certainly appreciate that.  From the offbeat indie theme song by Deadboy & the Elephantmen to the pop culture post-Lichtenstein graphics, this is not your father’s zombie crime procedural comedy drama.  In fact, compare these opening credits with the quietly ratcheting tension of the Walking Dead's, or even Z-nation's desperate but bluesy guitar riff.  This is an entirely new sub-genre; let's call it zombie lite, where the undead walk amongst us, not hidden in the shadows but holding down jobs and passing for the living.   Zombie-ism becomes a thing to live with, not quite a disability, almost a lifestyle, like veganism or Crossfit.  And as a consequence the show is more appealing, less of a downer, far less bleak and considerably less dystopian.  This isn’t a zombie apocalypse, it’s as close as we’re gonna get to a zombie utopia.
Whereas most show feature ordinary characters thrust into extraordinary circumstances, or an ordinary character hiding an extraordinary secret, here is a show about an extraordinary character and her struggle to live an ordinary life.  It’s equal parts Dead Like Me, Veronica Mars, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and True Blood (but thankfully not as sexy). 
Also add a dash of the Matrix because Liv Moore, our sassy zombie Medical Examiner acquires new skill sets with each brain she consumes.  It’s a zombie show for the post-video game generation, where everything is a metaphor for leveling up and acquiring experiential points.  And like all video games, no one ever truly dies, you can always return as a functioning, wise-cracking living dead girl.
iZombie features the very charming and very pale Rose McIver as Liv Moore, Zombie MD and her boss Ravi, played with fanboy levels of adoration by Rahul Kohli.   Add her partner to the mix, Detective Clive Babineaux as played by Malcom Goodwich and you have two persons of color in the major cast, not that I’m counting (I totally am).  That’s one more than Arrow.  The entire cast is closer to their thirties, though still young enough to appeal to the sacred teen demographic the CW Network (and the entire Hollywood system) is perpetually chasing.
From an existential perspective, these shows are all about the struggle against one’s own mortality, and how we manage that underlying anxiety.  Though I really do enjoy all those gourmet quick cut montages of the tasty ways Liv prepares her brains.  I find myself looking forward to them.  I don’t know what that says about me.
iZombie also features Steven Weber as Vaughn DuClark, playing a parody of every other character he’s played before, and Jessica Harmon as Special Agent Dale Bozzio, working a missing persons case…   (Get it?  Of course you don’t).
You know, 40 years from now you’re gonna be watching the latest holographic TV show featuring somebody named Special Agent Kanye Skrillix and you'll try to explain the significance on your wetware mind-blog and nobody will understand, and then you’ll know precisely how I feel…

my first novel? thanks for asking:) I wrote a 4 book supernatural martial arts series concerning the ongoing feud between a group of kung-fu killer witches in san francsico’s chinatown.