Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Just Another Post-Modern, Post-Apocalyptic, Dystopian Cannibal Romance in The Desert, or Thoughts The Bad Batch

Writer and director Ana Lily Amirpour of A Girl Walks Home Alone, at Night  (2014) does her best to make her own vision of a post-apocalypse Mad Max-style action horror movie filtered through a David Lynch lens in The Bad Batch (2016).  Suki Waterhouse from Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (2016) is Arlen, or Bad Batch 5040, (which is tattooed behind her ear), who is quickly processed by anonymous guards and dropped off at the Texas border on the wrong side of the wall.  She’s left in the desert with a gallon of water and a pair of watermelon short shorts. and subsequently captured by a tribe of cannibal bodybuilders living in an airplane graveyard who saw off an arm and a leg before she manages to escape.  Normally this would be the whole movie but dude, all of this happens in the first ten minutes.
The bad batchers are all the rejects from modern society, and at times the movie seems heavy handed and preachy about that.  It’s a slow, meandering, and almost silent movie with the bare minimum of dialogue, the narrative, such as it is, is advanced with great visuals and a cool music festival soundtrack.  Jason Momoa is Miami Man, a nice cannibal bodybuilder (all movies require a certain suspension of disbelief, and it’s a tribute to Jason Momoa’s on screen charisma that audiences are willing to accept him in this role) that Arlen meets in her adventures (I told you it was a romance), and the ensuing love story would be at home in any Jim Jarmush film (and if you don’t get that references, I don’t know if we can hang out anymore).
With Giovanni Ribisi as a madman in the desert, Jim Carrey as another madman in the desert, and Keanu Reeves as a cult leader in the desert.  What with the success of Imperator Furiosa I would suspect that we’re going to see more amputee action movies, partly as a reaction to our current political climate and the veterans who return home.  And let’s not forget Rose McGowan from Planet Terror (2007).  I will concede the excellent use of CGI for Arlen’s stump, but on the whole the Bad Batch comes across as a disappointing Burning Man experience.








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Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Heathers Named Colleen Fight Some Canadian Nazis, or Thoughts Yoga Hosers

Is there such a thing as too much Canada?  From director Kevin Smith, the Canadian Robert Rodriguez, Yoga Hosers (2016) is an affectionate if confusing horror comedy starring the director’s daughter, Harley Quinn Smith as Colleen McKenzie and Johnny Depp’s daughter, Lily-Rose Depp, (who inherited her father’s cheekbones) as BFF Colleen Collette.  High school sophomores, aspiring musicians and clerks (this is a Kevin Smith movie after all) at the Eh 2 Zed Convenience Store, their chemistry and on-screen enthusiasm is easily the best part of the movie, and before the night is over the director will have them singing their little hearts out, fighting Canadian Satanists and the Bratzis; Canadian Nazi/bratwurst clones straight out of Puppet Master (1989).
Equal parts South Park, Ghost World (2001) and Ginger Snaps (2000), which I suppose one could argue is the gold standard for teen girl Canadian horror, the movie was a box office disappointment, owing to the meandering plot and inconsistent humor.  I mean, it''s kinda funny, I appreciate the effort. But if you love Canada, and really, who doesn’t, the movie is layered with so many jokes and references that only our friendly neighbors to the north could truly and fully appreciate.  Stay for the Colleens' Oh Canada rock cover during the end credits (also en francais)!
There are so many cameos, including an unrecognizable Johnny Depp, doing his best Peter Sellers/Inspector Clouseau in disguise impression as Guy LaPointe, Tony Hale, Natasha Lyonne, Vanessa Paradis, Stan Lee, Jason Mewes, Kevin Smith and Haley Joel Osment as Adrien Arcand, the Canadian Fuhrer.  It’s a literal hot mess, and I like it far more than I should, considering the movie currently has a rating of 20% on Rotten Tomatoes, but when did I ever listen to the critics?








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Monday, September 18, 2017

Rick Deckard Cheats on Michelle Pfeiffer With a Ghost, or Thoughts What Lies Beneath

A New England mash-up of Rear Window (1954, a favorite Hitchcock movie of mine), Vertigo (1958, my #1 favorite Hitchcock movie, in case you care, and I know you do), Gaslight (1944) and Les Diabloliques (1955), What Lies Beneath (2000) features Harrison Ford as brilliant scientist Dr. Norman Spencer and Michelle Pfeiffer as his equally brilliant wife Claire.  The scares come quick as Claire dreams of drowning in the bath and sees the neighbors arguing and later that night, loading a body-shaped package in the trunk of their car.  But all ghost stories are murder mysteries at their heart, and Claire also starts investigating the disappearance of one of Norman’s students, Madison, as portrayed by 90’s supermodel Amber Valetta in one of her first big screen roles.  Which I guess explains how a fella could pass on Michelle Pfeiffer.
I’ve often thought of director Robert Zemeckis as a more mainstream, conservative Tim Burton.  He explores the same myths and fantasies in his movies, but he’s reined in and his movies appeal to a more mature audience.  The supernatural elements remain vague and unconfirmed, just like they should be.   They’re there if you want them to be, but with or without the ghosts, What Lies Beneath is a modern gothic romance with some nice twists.  Whatever happened to Michelle Pfeiffer, who is absolutely radiant in this movie?  All you fanboys and fangirls of Jennifer Lawrence take heed; this is your future.  And watch out for Miranda Otto, Eowyn, Shield Maiden of Rohan, as Mary Feur, the neighbor with the healthy set of lungs.








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Saturday, September 16, 2017

Childhood Nightmares Not of Clowns but Wolves, or Thoughts Silver Bullet

Stephen King at his best is evocative of Ray Bradbury, and a great example is Silver Bullet (1985), a quiet coming of age story in a small town in Maine that just happens to have a series of werewolf murders.  From the Author’s 1985 novella Cycle of the Werewolf, 80’s powerhouse Corey Haim is Marty, the young paraplegic and owner of the Silver Bullet, his motorized custom wheelchair.  The film is told in retrospect with a narration from Marty’s older sister Jane, and coupled with the portrait of the typical Stephen King New England Small Town it becomes a twisted version of To Kill a Mockingbird (1962), but with slasher werewolf murders.
And these are great looking werewolves, reminiscent of An American Werewolf in London (1981) with a combination of guys in suits and animatronics.  The town tears apart from the strain of the horror, a theme Stephen King would revisit again and again in movies like The Mist (2007) and Needful Things (1993).
Director Dan Attias would go on to work for HBO and direct episodes from Six Feet Under and True Blood in addition to Buffy The Vampire Slayer and It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.  Watch out for Gary Busey, less crazy in the 80’s but ad-libbing his lines (according to IMDb) as Marty’s Uncle Red, the designer of the Silver Bullet, and Everett McGill, Big Ed from Twin Peaks as Reverend Lowe.  However don't watch out for a Stephen King cameo because, alas, there isn’t one.









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Friday, September 15, 2017

One Egyptian Horror Movie, Hold The Mummies, or Thoughts on The Pyramid

Denis O’Hare, when he was not obsessing over Jessica Lange’s various and memorable characters in the first two seasons of  American Horror Story, found time to star in The Pyramid (2014) as Dr. Miles Holden, who along with his archeologist daughter Nora, as portrayed by Ashley Hinshaw explore, yeah you guessed it, a newly discovered pyramid hidden deep in the Sahara desert.  They’re accompanied by a documentary team, convenient for explaining things to the camera and more people to panic, POV head cams lend a first-person, found footage aspect to the movie, though the circumstances are unfolding in real time.  Of course they get lost, trip a variety of Indiana Jones-y death traps and encounter mutant cannibal cats and the god Anubis, who may be another mutant that the ancient Egyptians worshiped as the god of death, the movie isn’t very specific, but to be fair, they were busy running away from him.
From director Grégory Levasseur, screenwriter for P2 (2007) and Haute Tension (2002), the movie has an unmerited rating of 13% on Rotten Tomatoes, not taking into account the challenge of making an Egyptian horror movie without any mummies.  Maybe the critics demand mummies in their Egyptian horror movies and if that’s true, that seems kinda racist.










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Thursday, September 14, 2017

With Apologies to Mary Shelley, or Thoughts Flesh For Frankenstein


Flesh For Frankenstein (1973), produced by Andy Warhol and also known as Andy Warhol’s Frankenstein, stars German actor Udo Kier in one of his first film roles as the Baron in a mash-up the basic Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein plot.  This time the Baron needs a perfect male specimen to mate with the female he just made, thus creating a super-race of undead zombie minions with which he can presumably rule the world.  It’s a wacky premise, but hey, mad scientist.  In the meantime audiences can expect Warhol muse Joe Dallesandro as Nicholas, the handsome stable boy, and the only member of the cast who speaks English with an American accent, and a whole lot of 70’s porno-chic scenes and giallo-level disembowelments, which makes sense as it was filmed in Italy with an Italian crew.

Much like Andy Warhol’s Dracula (1975), the sex scenes have lost all shock value and seem almost mainstream, and what jokes there were have aged terribly or will seem just plain confusing and surreal to modern audiences.  Written and directed by Warhol collaborator Paul Morrissey, the movie currently has a 91% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, which seems generous.  Gorgeous scenes of the Italian countryside and castles and fantastic set designs, however.  The Baron’s study and lab looks like it was designed by Gustav Klimt, and it’s always a treat to watch Udo Kier ham it up.  Come for the set design, stay for the gall bladder scene.






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Wednesday, September 13, 2017

When Sci-fi Bleeds Into Horror (and vice versa), or Thoughts Dark Skies



I imagine the pitch for Dark Skies (2013) went something like “guys, what if we make Paranormal Activity, but with aliens instead of ghosts?”  The genius of this premise is it works so well with very little tweaks to the script, both scenarios are identical: we have a typical suburban home, a couple with a strained relationship, unexplained lights and bumps in the night, a skeptical husband who sets up a bunch of video cams, night vision scenes, a Google search montage for scary exposition, arguments about aliens and demons and finally, calling in an expert for answers. 
Keri Russell, who does such a great job as the deep cover KGB agent Elizabeth Jennings in The Americans (2013) is Lacy, the suburban mom realtor who ascribes to the alien theory to explain the house alarm going off, her kids sleepwalking, the random nose bleeds and lost time and the flocks of birds crashing into her windows.  Josh Hamilton is the skeptical unemployed husband and JK Simmons is the UFO-ologist (I just made that word up).  I’m amazed how easily all this plugs into the haunted house model; you could easily argue that alien abduction movies are ghost stories for atheists.

From Blumhouse Productions, the producer of Paranormal Activity (2009), Insidious (2011), The Lords of Salem (2013), The Purge (2013), The Green Inferno (2015) and Split (2016), among others, Dark Skies is in their wheelhouse and exactly the type of movie you’d expect them to make.










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Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Stranger Things Meets Breakfast Club and Goes Stand By Me, or Thoughts on It

I’ve often commented that Stephen King’s 1986 novel is a coke-fueled 1138 page metaphor for repressed memories of childhood trauma that contains actual childhood trauma; sexual abuse, physical abuse, bullying, child abduction and murdered kids.  And yet somehow amidst all this heaviness (and this is the genius of Stephen King) he’s able to instill a sweetness; a sentimental innocence for all these horrible childhoods that makes all the terrors, both real and imaginary, far more terrifying.  Those moments are of course missing in a feature film, there’s just no time for it in a big budget production like It (2017).  But in both the book and the movie, the reality is scarier than Pennywise.
 Of course the highlights are there, like Beverly’s haiku, but the Ben’s dam/friendship building scene is gone, and the rock fight was turned into a heavy metal video.  Still, subtle and haunting elements of the novel remain, like the car that doesn’t stop when Ben first meets Henry Bowers, or how Mr. Marsh can’t see the blood around him in the updated and very creepy bathroom scene.  Bill still stutters and rides a vintage Schwinn named Silver, Eddie still has asthma, and Beverly's still a redhead with a cute Molly Ringwald vibe.
And speaking of the 80's, the movie has been updated to 1989 from 1957, giving the audience a more relevant decade to be nostalgic about, but it’s interesting because this was both the time period that the original source novel was published, and the 1990 TV miniseries.  Tim Burton's Batman and Lethal Weapon 2 are playing at the local theater; it’s not much of a stretch to imagine the kids riding their bikes past the Stephen King display at their local bookstore.
Also, not to detract from Tim Curry’s Pennywise, which has become the gold standard for killer clowns, but Bill Skarsgård’s portrayal of Robert Grey is closer to the book’s version, as I envisioned him from Mike’s scrapbook; a 17th Century, pre-Revolutionary woodcut come to life.  The book is problematic, (I always skip chapter 21), and yet it remains one of the only Stephen King books I enjoy re-reading, because of those quiet moments between the scares.






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Monday, September 11, 2017

When Love Costs an Arm and a Leg (or a bit more), or Thoughts Boxing Helena

Students of 90’s pop culture will know the short version (see what I did there) of Jennifer Lynch’s Boxing Helena (1993), an erotic thriller where a doctor removes the arms and legs from the object of his obsession, the aloof and indifferent Helena, as portrayed by Sherilyn Fenn.  Julian Sands was Nick, the brilliant surgeon and closet acrotomophilac with serious mother issues who takes matters into his own hands.
Stylish, with a gorgeous leading couple and competent directing, the movie suffered from an awkward screenplay, the overwhelming shadow of Jennifer’s father David, and an ick factor that 90’s audiences weren’t able to get over.  Viewed from a modern perspective the film is far less shocking and transgressive than say, The Human Centipede (2009) or Saw (2004), and neither of those were even love stories.  The ending seems cowardly but hey, it was the 90’s, and it was a miracle this movie even got made.  Watch out for a very young Bill Paxton as Ray, Helena's toy-boy, and Art Garfunkle as one of Nick's co-workers.

The movie tanked Jennifer Lynch’s career before it even started, and currently holds a rating of 19% on Rotten Tomatoes.  However she went on to become an accomplished TV director working on American Horror Story, The Walking Dead, Psych, Quantico, Hawaii Five-0, and others.







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Saturday, September 9, 2017

Three Americans Go Japanese Blair Witch, or Thoughts Temple


A supernatural murder mystery, or a psychological ghost story, Temple (2017) starts off with a familiar, if cringe-y premise; a beautiful American coed travels to Tokyo with her photographer best guy friend to meet her rich douchebag boyfriend, so they can tour the country taking photos of obscure Japanese temples.  The first two thirds of the movie follows this relationship drama through the streets of Tokyo and on bullet trains until they find the titular temple in a dark and scary forest, protected by a mythical Japanese fox-woman shapeshifter and a bunch of Japanese vampire ghost kids.  Or is it?  The story is told in retrospect in a police interview, so how’s that for a non-twist?
Director Michael Barrett’s first movie, cinematographer from CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005, and arguably Val Kilmer’s last great movie) and Ted (2012), the movie is beautifully filmed but shaky on basic things like plot, narrative and cohesive story-telling.  I would recommend it if you’re thinking of visiting Japan, not for the vampire ghost kids, but the film does effectively capture the tourist experience in Tokyo.  With British actor Natalia Warner in one of her first roles as Kate and Logan Huffman, Tyler from the V reboot (2009) as Chris, the sensitive nice guy/best friend who conveniently speaks Japanese.







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Friday, September 8, 2017

When Your Cyber Stalker is a Ghost, or Thoughts Friend Request


A clever variation on the lSingle White Female (1992) genre, Friend Request (2016) updates the clingy new best friend dilemma with a supernatural twist and a ghost that uses the platform of social media and the Internet to showcase a new, very 21st Century form of haunting.  Alycia Debnam-Carey, Alicia from Fear the Walking Dead is Laura, a psychology major with 800 friends, at least on social media who befriends Marina, a dark and creative goth girl in her class with 0 friends. 
Of course Marina confuses online connections with real life friendships and things get messy fast, leading to a suicide filmed on a webcam and Laura’s friends getting knocked off one by one.  South African actor Liesl Ahlers portrays Marina, the ethereal goth loner and vengeful ghost in the machine complete with supernatural demonic code and an army of killer wasps.
A German production, filmed in English, in South Africa, creates a familiar unfamiliarity for American audiences, which is a credible substitute for a generically bland Southern California, much like the faux FaceBook social media site the film employs.  Director Simon Verhoeven (no relation to Paul) utilizes a montage of screenshots and webcams serve as found footage, and texts on screen, a new narrative shorthand thanks to TV shows like the BBC’s Sherlock.  There are also moody animated segments of Marina’s dreams which are cool, but animation in a feature film always seem like filler to me. 








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Thursday, September 7, 2017

Analog Sci-Fi in a Digital World, or Thoughts on Space Station 76

With beautifully constructed retro-future sets reminiscent of Kubrick’s 2001 (1968) or Space:1999 (1975) along with period perfect vintage wardrobe and hair, Space Station 76 (2014) has the look and feel of a Cold War/pre-Reagan vision of the future but subverts audience expectation by focusing on the crew’s emotional health and personal relationships.  Liv Tyler is Jessica, the new co-pilot who can’t have children so she’s focused on her career (it’s essential to the plot) and Patrick Wilson is Glenn, the closeted, chain-smoking and borderline alcoholic captain.  There’s a low-rent R2 unit psychiatrist along with Matt Bomer as a handsome space mechanic with a robot hand, and a cameo by Kier Dullea as Jessica’s father.

From director Jack Plotnick, who you may remember as Deputy Mayor Allan Finch from Buffy, Space Station 76 is an exploration of feelings and relationships, much like a 70’s self-help book, but in the framework of a mostly automated space station.  Quiet and thoughtful, (maybe a little too thoughtful, in the sense that nothing really happens or comes together), the movie is not as funny as Red Dwarf (1988) or as bleak as Silent Running (1972).  Or for that matter, as harrowing and intense as Alien (1979).   But if you ever wanted to know what happened to Arwen from Lord of the Rings, here you go.









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Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Freddy Interrupted, or Thoughts Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors

Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (1987), is arguably most remembered now as Patricia Arquette’s first movie in which she portrays Kristen, a psychic teen that’s been dreaming of a certain abandoned house from 1984.  After a Freddy attack in the bathroom mirror that leaves her wrists slashed, her mother commits her to an institution where all the teens in the ward have all been having, coincidentally, the same nightmare featuring the same crispy killer in that familiar red and green striped sweater.  And even more coincidentally, Heather Lagenkamp returns as Nancy, now all grown up and a psychotherapist at the very same hospital.
Robert Englund’s Freddy Krueger amps up the ironic punishments as he kills the kids off one by one (it was a lot more dangerous for teens in the 80’s, at least in the movies) with a variety of analog special effects and an emphasis on stop motion and good old-fashioned animatronics, which is a fancy name for puppetry.  There’s a lot of the old wake up from your nightmare but you’re still in the dream trick, which wasn’t so old in 1987.
 The screenplay was written by Wes Craven and Frank Darabont, and you should already know what he went on to do, while director Chuck Russell is probably most remembered for The Mask (1994) and Eraser (1996, with Arnold).  Also watch out for Laurence Fishburne in an early but not his first role, (dude, he was in Apocalypse Now (1979)) as Max, a sympathetic nurse and the John Saxon cameo as Nancy’s dad.  John Saxon will always be Roper from Enter the Dragon (1973) to me.








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