Friday, September 30, 2016

When Kubrick Faked the Moon Landing, or Thoughts on Room 237

 Room 237 (2012) is a fascinating documentary by director Rodney Asher that is more about Stanley Kubrick’s movie The Shining (1981) rather than the 1977 novel by Stephen King, at least as an initial starting point.  The movie is a series of interviews by critics and crackpots who have invested more thought and analysis in The Shining than the average viewer or even you and I, and arrived at some alarming conclusions, hidden in between frames and underneath the obvious plot.  It’s so much more than a haunted hotel and an alcoholic writer who falls off the wagon, and who doesn't love a good conspiracy theory? 
Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, according to Room 237, is really about the Native American Genocide, according to a shot of a Calumet Baking Powder can behind Jack Nicolson, or the Holocaust, because of the Adler typewriter Jack uses to write his “All Work and No Play” novel.  (Adler, being the German word for eagle and the symbol of the Third Reich, it's a reach but OK).  With interviews interspersed with footage from various Kubrick films including The Shining, Eyes Wide Shut (1999), and even random films like The Legend of Hell House (1973), claims of hidden and subliminal messages, continuity errors and frame-by-frame analysis that leads to more questions, every actor’s action, costume and gesture is open to interpretation and feeds into the various conspiracies.
My favorite conspiracies involve the impossible architecture of the Overlook Hotel; there shouldn’t be a window in Stuart Ullman’s office, and the analysis of Danny’s big wheel scenes (another brilliant favorite in the original film).  The Apollo Moon Landing conspiracy is alluded to with Jack’s lies to Wendy, Danny’s sweater (Apollo 11), Tang orange drinks next to that darn Calumet Baking Powder can and side by side comparisons between the moon landing footage and Kubrick’s 2001 (1968).  Additionally, Room 237 (which was changed from the novel’s Room 217) references the sound stage where Kubrick faked the moon landing, and the fact that the moon is 237,000 miles from the earth. 
How deep does the conspiracy go?  As deep as you want it to, and Room 237 takes you on a joy ride to the outer fringe.  All great art intrigues, poses questions, and is open to interpretation and Room 237 dovetails nicely with the source material.  You don’t have to believe in any of the conspiracies to enjoy the thought processes that developed them, and the fact that they all draw inspiration from the same movie is in itself a testimonial to the genius of Stanley Kubrick and the movies he created.



my first novel?  thanks for asking:)  it’s a the first book in a 4-volume supernatural martial arts series chock full of killer kung-fu witches, haunted carnivals, punk rock assassins, and a 24-hour diner with the best pie in town…
read for free on kindle unlimited or buy the paperback, available at fine bookstores everywhere (amazon).

Thursday, September 29, 2016

One Neon Night in Bangkok, or Thoughts on Only God Forgives

Only God Forgives (2013), by Danish film director Nicolas Winding Refn of Bronson (2008), Drive (2011) and The Neon Demon (2016) stars Ryan Gosling as Julian, a farang gangster in Thailand, in a passive, emotionally muted performance.  The movie was polarizing, even in France; it premiered at Cannes where it was concurrently booed and applauded, critics and audiences didn’t know what to think.  Only God Forgives is in many ways a confusing and operatic mess, a grisly, sordid, blood-soaked, post-noir crime drama with Shakespearian overtones and also a nightmarish vision of the Bangkok underworld.
The movie starts out as a standard revenge thriller; Julian’s brother is killed (for raping and murdering an underage Thai prostitute, I told you the movie was sordid) and Julian and his gang search for his brother’s murderer.  The story descends into murky and surreal depths with the introduction of Kristen Scott Thomas with a coarse American accent, as Crystal, Julian’s hard mother and Thai actor Vithaya Pansringarm, as Lt. Chang, who enjoys karaoke and dispensing his own brand of Old Testament justice by sword.  Vithaya Pansringarm is largely unknown in the US but did have an appearance in The Hangover Part II (2011).
There are so many scenes of seedy hotel rooms and dive bars splashed in red neon as if to emphasize a hidden circle of hell that Julian navigates with quiet introspection.  The narrative fades in and out as the audience sees the film from Julian’s perspective, including his visions of Lt. Chang, his feelings of guilt and loss of control.  Lt. Chang becomes Julian’s vision of destiny or an angel of death as Julian passively accepts whatever fate comes across him, much to his domineering mother’s disappointment.
Kristen Scott Thomas’s performance as Julian’s mother is uncomfortably intimate, with hints of incest and her perception of Julian as the weaker brother.  She comes to Bangkok to avenge her eldest son’s death, and the movie becomes a confrontation between Lt. Chang and Crystal, two opposing forces in varying shades of grey; neither are completely good or evil, with Julian trapped between them.  I get the impression that Julian and his brother went to the other side of the world to get away from their mother, they didn’t go far enough.



my first novel?  thanks for asking:)  it’s a the first book in a 4-volume supernatural martial arts series chock full of killer kung-fu witches, haunted carnivals, punk rock assassins, and a 24-hour diner with the best pie in town…
read for free on kindle unlimited or buy the paperback, available at fine bookstores everywhere (amazon).

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

High School Zombie Sex Slaves, or I Watched Deadgirl, So You Don’t Have To

The opening scene in Better Call Saul introduces the brilliant Bob Odenkirk as the eponymous lawyer defending a trio of teen “knuckleheads” (his words) who broke into a mortuary, cut off a human head and had sex with it.  It’s a humorous scene, both because of Saul’s impassioned speech to the jury and the DA’s wordless response as he presents the jury with the video the aforementioned knuckleheads were stupid enough to make.  Now take that scene and build a movie around it and you get Deadgirl (2008), a movie that is difficult to watch and still manages to raise some interesting questions.
Deadgirl follows Rickie and JT, two high school seniors as they skip class, explore an abandoned psychiatric hospital and discover a naked zombie woman wrapped in plastic and chained to a lab table.  Rickie wants to help her, but JT’s motivations are far darker, and he’s the alpha in the relationship.  It should also be noted that the boys do not realize she’s undead, which makes JT’s initial actions even more reprehensible.  The zombie virus is passed through fluid exchange, and the movie descends into a misogynistic exploitation movie about two morons who start a zombie apocalypse by raping a zombie.
Deadgirl is described by the filmmakers as a horror comedy but it’s remarkably humorless and mean-spirited, however it raises the intriguing question of zombies having rights as former humans.  You can make the legal argument that necrophilia is technically a victimless crime or in Better Call Saul’s case, trespassing and vandalism.  Zombies can’t give consent, but then again, they’re not alive, they’re beyond consent.   It’s interesting because we have no problem as an audience seeing zombies shot in the head or dispatched with lawnmowers but the second we sexually assault one it becomes transgressive and disturbing, as if their humanity is somehow restored.
Most zombie movies deal with the initial outbreak and how fast society collapses, leaving the freedom of a Purge-style anarchy scenario where the world becomes a live-action videogame.  The breakdown of moral values comes later, a theme that has been explored to great effect in The Walking Dead and George A. Romero’s zombie movies. 
Sex and sexuality has always been an undercurrent in horror movies, and Deadgirl is reminiscent of zombie STD movies like Contracted (2013), and Thanatomorphose (2012), and the far superior ghost STD movie It Follows (2014).  If you do happen to watch this particular movie, look out for Michael Bowen, Todd’s Uncle Jack from Breaking Bad as Clint, Ricky’s mother’s boyfriend.




my first novel?  thanks for asking:)  it’s a the first book in a 4-volume supernatural martial arts series chock full of killer kung-fu witches, haunted carnivals, punk rock assassins, and a 24-hour diner with the best pie in town…
read for free on kindle unlimited or buy the paperback, available at fine bookstores everywhere (amazon).

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

If Gregor Samsa Was a Tattooed Hipster Girl (And a Zombie), or Thoughts on Thanatomorphose

Thanatomorphose (2012), has a relatively straightforward plot: Kayden Rose portrays Laura, an introspective artist with a violent boyfriend who contracts an unexplained disease and decays from the inside out.  From Canadian Writer and Director Éric Falardeau, the entire film is set in her sparse apartment, an interesting conceit that traps us as the viewers along with Laura as her health and sanity declines.
Her indifference to her gradual transformation into a full bodysuit makeup reminiscent of Claire in Hellraiser II (1986) is quietly subversive, and the fact that she is nude throughout most of the movie only serves to eroticize her zombification in creepy and disturbing ways.  The movie has a very French-Canadian sensibility closer to Haute Tension (2003) or Kafka’s The Metamorphosis (1915) than Contracted (2013), with a classical electro-violin soundtrack that enhances the European, art-house qualities of the film.
Laura’s condition is never explained, but reminiscent to the bio-virus in Cabin Fever (2002).   In fact, imagine an entire movie based around the leg shaving bathtub scene and you’ll have an idea of what’s in store for you.  It’s hard to watch, and at times it seems the only goal of the film is to make you uncomfortable but it’s a testament to the directing and performance that you won’t look away.



my first novel?  thanks for asking:)  it’s a the first book in a 4-volume supernatural martial arts series chock full of killer kung-fu witches, haunted carnivals, punk rock assassins, and a 24-hour diner with the best pie in town…
read for free on kindle unlimited or buy the paperback, available at fine bookstores everywhere (amazon).

Monday, September 26, 2016

Like You Needed Another Reason to Watch Your Drinks, or Thoughts on Contracted

Written and Directed by Eric England, Contracted (2013) is a humorless, and maybe pointless zombie movie that deals with sexual assault and necrophilia.  It’s difficult to watch and justify as entertainment, but that didn’t stop me from reviewing it for this blog, because I care about you.   To the movie’s credit, the really creepy scenes are implied, rather than shown, a clever and mature directorial twist that you wouldn’t expect in a low-budget exploitation, neo-grindhouse film.
Najarra Townsend as Samantha, an unlucky partier who is date raped by a necrophiliac mortuary worker at a party and contracts the worst possible zombie virus STD.  The symptoms go from worse to disastrous; cramping, bleeding, migraines, hearing sensitivity and before long her hair and fingernails start falling out and she starts craving human flesh.  It doesn’t end well for Samantha, or for that matter, the viewers.
Sex has always been a tacit element of the horror movie and in fact vampirism can also be considered an STD, what with all the blood and biting, and everybody loves vampire movies, amirite?  And it is the duty of art to push the boundaries; something certainly reflected in modern horror like It Follows (2014), Deadgirl (2008), The Human Centipede (2009, now a trilogy), Teeth (2007) or old-school Cronenberg body horror movies like Rabid (1977) or Videodrome (1983).  Contracted is also reminiscent of Thanatomorphose (2012) a Canadian film that explores similar themes.  I’m not certain I can fully recommend it, it’s a rough ride, you have been warned.





my first novel?  thanks for asking:)  it’s a the first book in a 4-volume supernatural martial arts series chock full of killer kung-fu witches, haunted carnivals, punk rock assassins, and a 24-hour diner with the best pie in town…
read for free on kindle unlimited or buy the paperback, available at fine bookstores everywhere (amazon).

Saturday, September 24, 2016

When Andrea From The Walking Dead Met Pyramid Head, or Thoughts on Silent Hill

Silent Hill (2006), written by Roger Avary of Killing Zoe (1993), Reservoir Dogs (1992), and Pulp Fiction (1994, with Quentin) and directed by Christophe Gans of Brotherhood of The Wolf (2001) actually stars Australian actor Radha Mitchell from Pitch Black (2000), Man on Fire (2003), Surrogates (2009) and The Darkness (2014).  She portrays Rose, who searches for her missing adopted daughter, and that search of course leads her to Silent Hill, West Virginia.  Laurie Holden, who starred in The Mist (2006) but will always be remembered as Andrea from The Walking Dead plays Officer Bennet, a motorcycle cop in black leather and silver aviators, but the real star of the movie is Roberto Campanella, who portrays Pyramid Head.  His name should be as famous as Kane Hodder,  Reggie Nadler or Doug Bradley, and if you don’t know who those guys are, I don’t know if we can still be friends.
With a permanently burning coal mine far underground that has rendered the air toxic, Silent Hill is a ghost town cut off from the world and trapped in the past.  Ash falls from the sky like snow and the townspeople live far underground, along with the blind mutants and various creepy crawlies.  It’s a world almost completely rendered out of digital landscapes and green screen sets, which seems appropriate as the movie is based on a videogame. 
I immediately wanted to see Silent Hill based on the initial press release of a single photo; a muscled giant in a bloody apron armed with an oversized sword and wearing a triangular iron helmet.  He appeared to be dragging a pelt of human skin, and I was completely sold on the concept of Pyramid Head, the primary monster and chief Big Bad of Silent Hill.  The stuff of nightmares, I remember being just as initially fascinated in Hellraiser’s Pinhead and his Cenobite brethren.   It would also be remiss of me to not mention the Silent Hill nurses; blind, busty, knife wielding, and a perfect synthesis of sexy horror, especially if you have a nurse fetish. 
I’ve never played the videogame, never even heard of it before that initial press release photo of Pyramid Head, and without playing the game I feel I’m somehow missing levels and nuances that have to be experienced during gameplay.  However the Resident Evil and Mortal Kombat movies stand alone, in addition to the recent World of Warcraft’s Warcraft (2016).  Haunting, mesmerizing, surreal and confusing but also compelling because the monsters are so unique and disturbing, Silent Hill remains an intriguing concept, and I’m all in for a reboot.
Also starring Sean Bean from literally every movie and TV show you love, as Chris, the estranged husband, Kim Coates, most famous for Tig from Sons of Anarchy, as a police inspector and Alice Krige from Ghost Story (1981) but who will always be the Borg Queen as Christabella, the matriarch of Silent Hill. 
The movie inspired a sequel, Silent Hill: Revelation (2012) both of which of course I watched because I’m a completionist (I’ve seen all 10 Friday the 13ths and all 9 Hellraisers) and I can’t get enough of Pyramid Head.



my first novel?  thanks for asking:)  it’s a the first book in a 4-volume supernatural martial arts series chock full of killer kung-fu witches, haunted carnivals, punk rock assassins, and a 24-hour diner with the best pie in town…
read for free on kindle unlimited or buy the paperback, available at fine bookstores everywhere (amazon).


Friday, September 23, 2016

In A West End Town an Undead World, or Thoughts on Cockneys vs. Zombies

Technically, Cockneys vs. Zombies (2012) takes place in the East End of London, but I really wanted to reference that Pet Shop Boys song for this light-hearted (well, as light-hearted as a zombie movie can be) zombie caper movie about some hapless Cockney bank robbers who find themselves in the middle of a London zombie outbreak.  The movie wastes no time in releasing the living dead as it opens with some construction workers investigating a plague-contaminated 17th Century crypt.  After they inadvertently release an old zombie virus strain which when you think about it, puts this movie in the same alternate universe of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (2016), the audience is treated to the opening credits along with the rockin’ theme song Monster (2006) by the Welsh band The Automatic.
The bank robbers in question are Harry Treadaway from Penny Dreadful as Andy with Rasmus Hardiker as older brother Terry and Michelle Ryan, Jamie Summer from the failed 2007 Bionic Woman reboot and Lady Christina de Souza as their cousin Katy.  The only reason the lads are robbing that bank is raise the dosh to save their grand-dad’s nursing home from the evil real estate developers, so they have the audience’s sympathy and they’re not technically bad guys.  Besides, there are plenty of zombies to fight.
Scottish actress Georgia King from HBO’s Vice Principals appears as Doreen, a hostage but the real star is Alan Ford, Brick Top from Snatch (2000) as Ray, the hard man granddad who fought in the War and is not impressed or afraid of a zombie.  It’s also a treat to see Honor Blackman, Pussy Galore from Goldfinger (1964) and Cathy Gale in The Avengers (1962) as Peggy, Dudley Sutton, Tinker from Lovejoy as Eric and Richard Briers, Tom Good from The Good Life (1975) as Hamish, all residents of Ray’s retirement home.  Regrettably this was Richard Briers’ final film, but he steals the scenes while balancing an Uzi on his walker.
You can’t write about a British zom-com without comparing it to the gold standard, Shaun of the Dead (2004) and to be fair it's not as deft or witty as the first flavour of the Three Flavours Cornetto Trilogy.  But the film makes clever use of the mythos surrounding Cockneys with their rhyming slang, Jack the Ripper, The Kray Twins, and classic TV shows like Eastenders and Only Fools and Horses, and the movie is entertaining for zombie fans and anglophiles alike.




my first novel?  thanks for asking:)  it’s a the first book in a 4-volume supernatural martial arts series chock full of killer kung-fu witches, haunted carnivals, punk rock assassins, and a 24-hour diner with the best pie in town…
read for free on kindle unlimited or buy the paperback, available at fine bookstores everywhere (amazon).


Thursday, September 22, 2016

A Pre-Hobbit Zombie Outbreak in Wellington, or Thoughts on Peter Jackson's Braindead

I have to admit, when I heard back in 2000 that Peter Jackson was directing a Lord of The Rings Trilogy my initial thoughts were something along the lines of: “You mean the guy who made Braindead?  Huh…”  (Also, I had no idea who Elijah Wood was). 
I had of course seen The Frighteners (1996) and Heavenly Creatures (1994), based on how impressed I had been with Peter Jackson’s Braindead (1992) or Dead/Alive as it was released in the US and Canada, but it still seemed an odd production choice for what would become my favorite movie trilogy and arguably the greatest Tolkien adaptation to date.  Written by Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh (billed as Francis Walsh), the phrase black comedy doesn't begin to cover it, perhaps a black and blue comedy that succeeds as a gloriously bloody zombie exploitation film juxtaposed against a sentimental portrait of 1950’s Wellington. 
It’s an interesting plot device to set the movie in 1957 Wellington, 4 years before the director was born, and chronologically 11 years before Night of The Living Dead (1968).  It starts off with an Indiana Jones-style chase complete with angry natives followed by multiple dismemberments barely three minutes in, so you know exactly what kind of movie this is, before moving to what looks like the same neighborhoods as The Frighteners (1996) in suburban Wellington.
The bloody, beating heart of Braindead is a goofy love story develops between Diana Peñalve as Paquita works at her family’s grocery store and Timothy Balme as Lionel, who lives at home with his mom.  After a bite from the rare stop motion Sumatran rat-monkey, Lionel’s mother Vera, as portrayed by Elizabeth Moody, is infected by the inevitable zombie virus and the movie degenerates into a surreal, transgressive and boundary-pushing gorefest that keeps topping itself with decapitations, ears falling into puddings, dog-eating, and (my personal favorite), the infamous lawnmower scene.
With Stuart Devinie as Father McGruder, the kung-fu priest who kicks arse for the lord, and a youthful Peter Jackson as the funeral home assistant.  Also look out for Famous Monster’s Forrest J. Ackerman cameo at the zoo.
The closest American equivalent is The Evil Dead, (1981) with a dash of Death Becomes Her (1992) but neither movie approaches the levels of zombie maniac intensity of Braindead, which has become the spiritual inspiration of New Zealand horror, the most recent offerings being What We Do in The Shadows (2014), The Dead Room (2015 with Jed Brophy, who coincidentally had an early role in Braindead as a zombie rockabilly punk), and Housebound (2014).




my first novel?  thanks for asking:)  it’s a the first book in a 4-volume supernatural martial arts series chock full of killer kung-fu witches, haunted carnivals, punk rock assassins, and a 24-hour diner with the best pie in town…
read for free on kindle unlimited or buy the paperback, available at fine bookstores everywhere (amazon).

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Sophie’s Choice vs Private Benjamin, or Thoughts on Death Becomes Her

Proof that Meryl Streep, Oscar winner and America’s Helen Mirren, has a sense of humor, Death Becomes Her (1992) is a movie about a rivalry between two old school Hollywood divas that gets out of hand, like All About Eve (1950) but with magic.  From director Robert Zemeckis, of Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988), Back to The Future (1985), and Forrest Gump (1994), Death Becomes Her features an A-list cast including Bruce Willis (with hair, it was the ‘90s) as Dr. Ernest Menville, Goldie Hawn as Helen Sharp, and Isabella Rossellini from Blue Velvet (1986) as Lisle Von Rhoman.
Meryl Streep plays Madeline Ashton, a fading movie star and a parody of her screen persona.  Bruce Willis, only 4 years after Die Hard (1988) changed his life plays against type and returns to his comedy roots as Madeline’s downtrodden husband.  Goldie Hawn portrays Madeline’s high school nemesis and Ernest’s former fiancé.  
Madeline of course is obsessed with plastic surgery and lucky for her is introduced to Isabella Rosellini’s exotic Lisle Von Rhoman, who has the secret of eternal youth.  Lisle Von Rhoman swans across her glorious Hollywood mansion like a 20’s movie star, and she’s just about as old as one.  Eternal youth comes at a price, and Madeline and Helen’s feud will extend beyond the grave in what degenerates into one of the classiest zombie movies ever committed to film.
All three characters’ remarkable transformations are achieved with fat suits, prosthetics, state of the art (for the ‘90s) CGI, and Death Becomes Her did go onto win an Oscar for visual effects.  However the art direction, set design and filmmaking are also referential of the golden era of Hollywood and Hitchcock, and the movie is equal parts Sunset Blvd. (1950), Dial M for Murder (1954), The Exorcist (1973) and Shaun of The Dead (2004).
There's a clever sub-plot involving every Hollywood legend, from Marilyn Monroe to Elvis being a member of the undead, and watch out for James Dean's death car, the silver 1955 Porsche Spyder, aka "Lil Bastard", in front of Lisle's mansion.  Also cameos by legendary director Sydney Pollack of The Way We Were (1973) and Tootsie (1982) as a confused emergency room doctor and 90’s dreamboat Fabio as one of Lisle’s minions.



my first novel?  thanks for asking:)  it’s a the first book in a 4-volume supernatural martial arts series chock full of killer kung-fu witches, haunted carnivals, punk rock assassins, and a 24-hour diner with the best pie in town…
read for free on kindle unlimited or buy the paperback, available at fine bookstores everywhere (amazon).

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Pretty Much Peter Jackson’s Beetlejuice, or Thoughts on The Frighteners

With a goth-twinkly circus soundtrack by Danny Elfman that immediately adds a Tim Burton vibe, Peter Jackson’s The Frighteners (1996) is a modern ghost story and rom-com where the ghosts can interact in our world and actually threaten living people.  Written by Fran Walsh and Peter Jackson, The Frighteners is sadly Michael J. Fox’s last movie, who dominated the screen with his undeniable charisma and easy physical acting style that made him very likeable to audiences.  He plays Frank Bannister, Psychic Investigator, a con artist who ironically can actually see ghosts, three years before The Sixth Sense (1999).
Frank and his three ghost friends; Chi McBride as Cyrus, the disco ghost, Jim Fyfe, who you may remember (probably not) as Willie Loomis from the 1991 Dark Shadows (the first remake) as Stuart, the 50’s nerdy ghost, and John Astin, the original Gomez Addams as The Judge, the cowboy ghost fake haunting so Frank can swoop in and save the day, for a price.  It’s interesting because the fake hauntings are technically real hauntings, with shaky and distracting 90’s CGI ghost effects mixed effectively with practical effects.
The movie is set in Fairwater, a generic east coast seaside town, with an American cast with American accents, but it’s obviously Wellington.  With Dee Wallace from The Howling (1981) as Patricia Ann Bradley, and Jake Busey (Gary’s son, and if you want to know the exact moment Gary Busey went nuts, look no further than his portrayal of Joshua in Lethal Weapon (1987) as John Charles Bartlett, a serial killer ghost.  Also look out for Trini Alvarado as Dr. Linskey and the consistently wonderful Jeffrey Combs as Special Agent Milton Dammers, a twitchy FBI agent who’s onto Frank.
The Frighteners is a kinder, more mature Braindead (1992), but with the same quirky Walsh/Jackson sense of humor and darkness.  It’s not as gory as their zombie opera, but it’s what The Haunted Mansion (2003) should have been.  Watch out for the Peter Jackson cameo as a drunk punk rocker with a septum pierce who calls Michael J. Fox an asshole.




my first novel?  thanks for asking:)  it’s a the first book in a 4-volume supernatural martial arts series chock full of killer kung-fu witches, haunted carnivals, punk rock assassins, and a 24-hour diner with the best pie in town…
read for free on kindle unlimited or buy the paperback, available at fine bookstores everywhere (amazon).

Monday, September 19, 2016

Cannibal Supermodels in Hollywood Babylon, or I Watched The Neon Demon, So You Don’t Have To

 With a haunting electro soundtrack, and stark symmetrically framed scenes lit in magenta, purple and well, lots of neon, The Neon Demon (2016) is a glossy erotic horror art film by Danish film director Nicolas Winding Refn of Bronson (2008), Drive (2011) and Only GodForgives (2013).  Experiential and surreal, with a quiet, deadpan acting style that can seem off-putting and polarizing the movie follows Elle Fanning, Dakota’s sister, as Jesse, the latest underage aspiring actress/model to hit the mean streets of Hollywood.  She is both awkward and unaware of her jailbait sex appeal and latent star power, an ambitious babe in the woods among the wolves, in this modern fairytale set in the LA modeling industry.
Reminiscent of Tony Scott’s The Hunger (1983), Boogie Nights (1997) with a dash of Daughters of Darkness (1971) and pretty much every David Lynch movie but especially Mulholland Drive (2001), the Neon Demon has all the elements of a photo shoot by David LaChapelle or Pierre et Gilles without any of the narrative impact.  I didn’t exactly like this movie and I really wanted to, it’s very stylish but ultimately not compelling, largely because of Elle Fanning.
Elle Fanning has an accessible, non-threatening girl next-door prom queen beauty, but she’s no Kate Moss or Linda Evangelista.  She’s not super-model attractive, and that ethereal, alien quality is essential to her character in this film.  Most supermodels can’t act (I’m looking at you, Cindy Crawford in Fair Game, 1995) but just because the director and every actor in the film treats you as the most beautiful girl in the world won’t necessarily convince the audience to arrive at the same opinion. 
With cameos by Christina Hendricks as a modeling agent and Keanu Reeves as a sleazy hotel manager, The Neon Demon is an on the nose commentary on how this industry literally consumes these anonymous, small town girls with big eyes and bigger dreams. 



my first novel?  thanks for asking:)  it’s a the first book in a 4-volume supernatural martial arts series chock full of killer kung-fu witches, haunted carnivals, punk rock assassins, and a 24-hour diner with the best pie in town…
read for free on kindle unlimited or buy the paperback, available at fine bookstores everywhere (amazon).

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Sometimes Death is Better, or Thoughts on Pet Sematary

Pet Sematary (1989), from the Stephen King 1983 novel of the same name, is technically a zombie movie, by way of W. W.  Jacob’s The Monkey’s Paw and with a dash of Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things (1972) by director Mary Lambert of Siesta (1987).  The screenplay, also by Stephen King covers all the highlights of the novel; Louis’ dirty feet after he meets Victor Pascow, Church being found frozen to the ground, the Zelda flashback and Gage’s funeral.  It’s like a live-action greatest hits of what the author considers his darkest book, but it’s a lot of ground to cover in 103 minutes.
The movie was filmed in Maine and features two songs by The Ramones, one of Stephen King’s favorite bands, and you can see the author’s influence, or inspiration in every frame.  It remains, along with Brian DePalma’s Carrie (1976) and John Carpenter’s Christine (1983) one of the most faithful adaptations of his books.  Gage’s death while painful to watch, is filmed with sensitivity and taste, or at least as much taste as you can expect from a horror movie, and is a tribute to Mary Lambert’s skill as a filmmaker.
Dale Midkiff from Time Trax (1993) plays Louis Creed, the friendly doctor who never should have moved his family to Ludlow, Maine.  Fred Gwynne, who you will always remember as Herman Munster is perfectly cast as Jud Crandall, while Denise Crosby, (Bing’s daughter, which makes her Hollywood royalty), stars as Rachel Creed.  This was one of her first movies after leaving that show about treks and what has become to date her most iconic role. 
Stephen King has a cameo as the minister at Missy Dandridge’s funeral.



my first novel?  thanks for asking:)  it’s a the first book in a 4-volume supernatural martial arts series chock full of killer kung-fu witches, haunted carnivals, punk rock assassins, and a 24-hour diner with the best pie in town…
read for free on kindle unlimited or buy the paperback, available at fine bookstores everywhere (amazon).


Friday, September 16, 2016

Outback Zombie Steakhouse, or Thoughts on Wyrmwood

 Australians as a general rule seem like a friendly lot that are prone to violence and perfectly capable of taking care of themselves in the event of a zombie apocalypse, and Wyrmwood (2014), or Wyrmwood: Road of The Dead does nothing to dispel that particular stereotype.  A zombie action movie, closer to Resident Evil (2002) than The Walking Dead, the first half of Wyrmwood is a series of flashback stories of the zombie outbreak from Barry, Benny and Brooke (played respectively by Jay Gallagher, Bianca Bradley and Leon Burchill, I didn’t know Aussies loved alliteration so much) and how they all ended up trapped in a garage.
Written and directed by Kiah Roache-Turner in his big screen debut, it’s an orgy of outback zombie violence with multiple story lines, including Brooke’s newly discovered telekinetic zombie controlling ability, an interesting side-plot where the zombies are flammable and can be used as an energy source, and a disco-dancing mad scientist experimenting on humans and zombies alike.  Love what you do and you’ll never work a day in your life, even if it’s with blood born pathogens that turn you into an undead cannibal.



my first novel?  thanks for asking:)  it’s a the first book in a 4-volume supernatural martial arts series chock full of killer kung-fu witches, haunted carnivals, punk rock assassins, and a 24-hour diner with the best pie in town…
read for free on kindle unlimited or buy the paperback, available at fine bookstores everywhere (amazon).

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Grounded For Life and Whatever’s Beyond, or Thoughts on Housebound

Written and Directed by Gerard Johnston, Housebound (2014) is a sly and sarcastic New Zealand horror movie that plays with genres and treads that fine line between comedy and tragedy.  If What We Do in The Shadows (2014), a similar New Zealand film, is a comedy with horror elements, Housebound is a horror movie with comedic elements.  It’s a subtle difference, but the ratio of scares to laughs remains the same. 
Housebound follows Kylie, an unlucky or just plain stupid junkie bank robber who is oddly sympathetic, due to the natural charisma and likeability of the actress portraying her, Morgana O’Reilly.   After a security cam montage of an inept cash machine heist and a quick trial, Kylie is sentenced to house arrest at her mum’s house and fitted with a fancy high-tech ankle monitor.
The movie focuses on the relationship between Rima Te Wiata as Miriam, the thankless mum who believes in ghosts and Kylie, who reverts back to old teen patterns and resentments.  It’s a brilliant setup for a ghost story with sly jump scares that play with the audience’s expectations and keep you guessing and also clever usage of sound to establish mood and tone.  Kylie is continually drawn to the cluttered and oppressive basement that seems to be full of haunted teddy bears and mysterious shrouds.  Kylie’s not your typical horror movie girl, she may be frightened, but her natural response is to fight back.
Glen-Paul Waru portrays Rima, the clumsy amateur ghost hunter who befriends Kylie and supplies most of the physical comedy.   The second half of the movie degenerates (or evolves) into a gloriously hysterical movie slasher bloodbath involving kitchen knives, toy xylophones and laundry baskets.  And also cheese graters.
The film is reminiscent of Peter Jackson’s Dead Alive/Braindead (1992, you didn’t think I could write about New Zealand without mentioning Peter Jackson), the gold standard for New Zealand horror comedies.  Comedy horror is a tricky genre because it’s so much easier to be funny than scary, which is deceptive because humor is a natural response to terror.  Laughter releases tension while the thriller wants to build it, but combining these two opposing forces into something dramatic and creative can be a challenge.  Housebound succeeds in playing with expectations, taking the viewer in one direction before spinning them around in another, and the end result is closer to The Boy (2016) than The Dead Room (2015).




my first novel?  thanks for asking:)  it’s a the first book in a 4-volume supernatural martial arts series chock full of killer kung-fu witches, haunted carnivals, punk rock assassins, and a 24-hour diner with the best pie in town…
read for free on kindle unlimited or buy the paperback, available at fine bookstores everywhere (amazon).

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Kiwi Paranormal Activity, or Thoughts on The Dead Room

New Zealand has a creative and vibrant film industry that is often overshadowed by Peter Jackson and his Wellington mafia; gems like What We Do in The Shadows (2014), Jane Campion’s Top of The Lake TV series (2013), and the quirky ghost story Housebound (2014) can get lost in the storm of dragons and giant eagles.  The landscape is very cinematic, deep lakes hide dark secrets and hint at hidden terrors and in The Dead Room (2015) a team of ghost hunters explore an atmospheric, abandoned farmhouse that seems bigger on the inside with fading wallpaper, long hallways and the requisite creepy nursery and dream catcher wind chime.
Jed Brophy, most famous outside of New Zealand as Nori from The Hobbit (2012) as Liam, the tech expert who sets up all the cameras but this is thankfully not a found footage film.  The movie toys with the idea of what happens when skeptics are confronted with actual proof of the supernatural, and the poltergeist activity starts slow with heavy footprints and slamming doors before graduating to more violent and physically threatening shenanigans.
Laura Peterson portrays Holly, the goth psychic photographer who carries the bulk of the plot, as only she can see the ghost, which comes across as hyperventilating psychic panic attacks, whereas we as the audience only see the slamming doors, shaky chandeliers and the tossed furniture.  Jeffrey Thomas stars as Scott, the intellectual skeptic ghost hunter, which seems like cognitive dissonance but may simply be the fate of every ghost hunter.  He sets up laser motion sensors, measures magnetic fields and attempts to dispel the ghost with sound waves with a machine straight out of The Legend of Hell House (1973).
The Dead Room has been criticized as not scary enough and granted it does not rely on distracting and convoluting exposition, jump scares, POV shots or any of the lazy scares contemporary audiences have become accustomed to with movies like Paranormal Activity (2007) or The Conjuring (2013).  All ghost stories at their heart are unsolved murder mysteries, and while The Dead Room alludes to the events that led up to this haunting, the origin story remains obscured and mysterious and without that resolution the movie remains emotionally unsatisfying.  But it’s a gorgeous haunted house movie, with a real 70’s retro-horror vibe to it, a softer The Evil Dead (1981) with a dash of the UK ghost hunter movie The Borderlands (2013).




my first novel?  thanks for asking:)  it’s a the first book in a 4-volume supernatural martial arts series chock full of killer kung-fu witches, haunted carnivals, punk rock assassins, and a 24-hour diner with the best pie in town…
read for free on kindle unlimited or buy the paperback, available at fine bookstores everywhere (amazon).