Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Some Reviews... short and sweet. Halloween Fest 2019

HOUSE OF THE WITCH

A fairly standard and formulaic horror flick. A couple of teens head out to the local "haunted" house where they are systematically killed by the ghost of a Witch that had died some hundred or more years prior. Look, the story wasn't all that compelling but the film wasn't actually very bad. Nor was it very good. It was just sort of there and was a decent hour and a half spent for a horror fan. There's no reinvention of the wheel, here.

5 out of 10.

THE FURIES

Is the game over? Is there an escape?

The monsters are coming... one after the other, the monsters will come and they will kill them all, one after the other. When Kayla wakes up in a box, she finds herself the target of a hunt. But she's not the only one, as other women are also waking up locked in boxes and being hunted by masked maniacs. Each maniac is linked to the victims in a way that is revealed through the film.

High gore meter ups the ante of what looked like a fairly standard torture-porn slasher flick. The film makers probably thought they were making some sort of statement regarding misogyny, but I think they missed the mark and wanted the film to be more than it was. But as a fun gory romp, the movie delivers on the goods.

8.5 out of 10.

IN THE TALL GRASS

Around this time last year I was watching "Gerald's Game" on Netflix. And this year they repeated the success of that film with another King adaptation, though this one also receives a co-writer credit from King's son, Joe Hill. The two crafted a brilliantly claustrophobic story that could almost happen to anyone- getting lost in a field of tall grass. But there's something dark about this field, something very twisted, and everything becomes lost in this film where neither time nor space continue to play by the rules.

And if there is one thing I love, it's the twisting reality of cosmic horror and the fear of the unknown.
Vincent Natali is no stranger to claustrophobia, having previously explored the subject in Cube. He masterfully take advantage of the surrounding field and builds on the suspense endangering the pregnant Becky (Laysla De Oliveira) and her brother Cal (Avery Whitted). While trying to help a young boy find his way out of the field, they find themselves separated and hopelessly lost. But most of the film's menace comes from the boys father, unnervingly played by Patrick Wilson.

If you're looking for a pretty decent halloween jaunt, this one won't lead you astray.

8 out of 10.

CROCODYLUS

 Some sort of gator-croc-humanoid hybrid thing that just doesn't make a whole lot of sense. Over acted, underfunded, and unfortunately available on Amazon Prime this creature feature makes the Asylum films look like big budget Hollywood features. A small town sheriff has to contend with devious scientists, distraught(?) parents, crooked politicians, and a monstrous creature of dubious origins. Ancient Indian rituals are involved, so is toxic waste, so is genetic experimentation, as is medical testing, and the list goes on- and people are incapable of speaking like actual humans while reciting lines written by someone who has definitely seen the movie JAWS a few times in his life.

You can skip this one unless you really enjoy bad creature flicks.

2 out of 10

EAT LOCALS


Adding to my Halloween 2019 list, I'm not entirely certain how I managed to miss this entertaining vampire romp from across the pond but I'm glad I found it streaming on Amazon Prime tonight. Charlie Cox (Daredevil), Freema Agyeman (Doctor Who), and Eve Myles (Torchwood) are among the well established cast fanging it up in this campy horror-comedy.

Every fifty years or so, this small council of vampires meet to discuss old feuds, territory, debate food quotas, and vote on new members to the council. On this evening, there will be a few unexpected guests and arrivals. Primarily, the group is introduced to a young Romani man (Billy Cook) brought in as a guest by the seductress, Vanessa (Eve Myles, noted above). And then, a group of vampire hunters waiting in ambush surrounding the farmhouse where the group is meeting.

Who you root for throughout the film may change throughout various moments, as we get to know all of the characters involved. Peppered with the rather typical dry British humor you might expect, the film doesn't flinch from the grue and gore that horror fans just love to see.

Satisfying 7 out of 10.

Keep up on the rest of my 31 Days of Halloween Horror Flicks through Letterboxd.

 31 DAYS OF HORROR

And as always, feel free to leave comments below. 

Friday, September 13, 2019

Ready or Not!


Count to one hundred Mississippi's while I find a neat little place to tuck myself in. Which is exactly what I did a few weeks later than intended and certainly a bit more lonelier than I expected. But with an early bird ticket at the local theater, I found myself alone in an empty theater as the music played and the credits rolled- and I fucking loved this movie!

Firstly, let's get the preliminaries out of the way. Grace (Samara Weaving) is set to marry into the incredibly wealthy Le Domas Family "Dominion" by marrying younger son Alex (Mark O'Brien). It's the event of the season and the whole family is there to celebrate the nuptials. Alcoholic brother, Daniel (Adam Brody) seems to be the only family member still on speaking terms with the rebellious Alex. Mother (Andie MacDowell) is just happy to have her son back and the rest of the family is eager to start the evening's festivities which always includes a game to be played whenever someone marries into the family. The game is never planned in advance and Grace must pick a card from a mysterious box, and when she pulls "Hide and Seek" the world might as well have dropped out on her.

You see, the Le Domas family has a secret pact with a mysterious being and picking THAT card means that she has to hide while the rest of the family tries to hunt her down and kill her. And while it may be cliche to say, hilarity does ensue. When a maid is accidentally killed, it tips off the bride to the truth and her husband fills her in on the rest of the details as he tries to get her out of the house and to relative safety. (Pun intended) But all is not a clear cut path for our lovers, as revelations expose more family secrets and consequences for both wife and husband.

Samara Weaving OWNS the screen from start to finish. She's working up quite the genre resume the past few years and is no less astounding and downright charming in this story. Which is good, because we really need to cheer for Grace throughout the film. But we also wind up cheering for one other character, Adam Brody instills pathos and depth to Daniel, giving us a brilliantly layered performance throughout the film. He could have just coasted on one-liners and odd jabs here and there, but this is the one Le Domas family member who truly seems to understand Grace's humanity and the lack of that humanity in the rest of the family.

10 out of 10, a perfect film for me with great energy throughout.

Sunday, September 8, 2019

It: Chapter Two


Pennywise returns and the brings the gang all back together.  It's been 27 years since the "Losers Club" had defeated Pennywise, but the evil clown returns to wreak more chaos. So the calls go out and the children, now all growed up, return to their hometown and prepare to do battle once more with the terrifying entity that lurks beneath the cursed town. And while the events of the previous film may still hin bright in my mind, the minds of the other "Losers' don't have the same luxury as most don't even know why they feel such a compulsion to return. They've all (With the exception of Mike Hanlon) forgotten many of the events of the previous film and must now recall those events in order to stand a chance against the evil clown.

But Pennywise hasn't forgotten them. In fact, he's eager for their return and spends the rest of the film reminding them just why they should be terrified. Bill Skarsgard is still chilling and creepy as the monstrous clown. But he's also licking his wounds from that previous loss and the gloves are coming off this time. He doesn't waste much time in peppering his meals with fear, and goes for the gruesome horror with a vicious thirst for carnage. He opens the film with a brutal killing after picking an already brutalized victim- CRUNCH!!! He devours the poor victim with glee as he forces someone else to watch, completely helpless.

We receive several flashbacks featuring new scenes with the older cast, but that often serves to confuse the current story and undermines the stakes. And, with the exception of Hayder, Chastain, and James Ransone, the rest of the cast don't really succeed in capturing the same camaraderie that made the first film so successful.  James McAvoy doesn't really capture the spirit of the original film's "Bill" and seems less charismatic and connected with the rest of the cast. It's a small downbeat, however as the direction and storytelling is pure nightmare fuel.

But the film does a truly terrific job in reflecting the most horrible of terrors- that there's no going back. That once innocence is gone, it is gone forever. It was the major underlying theme of the original novel and the film reflects that theme beautifully. The now adult members of the Club face that reality as they wander the town and face their previous traumas and the terrors they thought they'd left behind. 

Let's get to the elephant in the room- the film opens with a moment that seems to be causing a bit of a ruckus on social media and includes a subtle change to one of the films' main protagonists. This opening and the character alteration are gaining some steam with the LGBTQ community with accusations of homophobia and bigotry. For what it's worth? I'm not  member of that community and can't speak to the offensive nature of the material- what I can say is that I thought the opening scene was horrific and spoke to real life terror that community may face. I felt the change was subtle and built a tasteful arc for the character, though probably wasn't a necessary change when all was said and done.

There is, however, an even deeper change that troubled me in the film's final narrative. One of the Losers is unable to make the reunion and leaves a letter- the letter offers an explanation that undermines the lingering terror IT leaves behind. It was a little frustrating to have the post script, but it made sense with the ending that the director likely intended. 

9 out of 10 and a definite recommend.


Saturday, August 24, 2019

STAGEPLAY: Halfway to Hell


HALFWAY TO HELL

An original stageplay.

Sofia Peterson is an ex-con fresh out of prison. Adapting to life on the outside will be difficult, to say the least. But she's moving into an old halfway house with a haunting atmosphere and bible-thumping landlady who walks and talks in her sleep. Her parole officer is a scumbag and the only friend she's managed to make has a history of mental illness and drug addiction.

This gothic horror story is ideal for the Winter season, featuring an intended cast of primarily mature women, HALFWAY TO HELL is mind-bending horror in the tradition of the best ghost stories.

Monday, August 12, 2019

STAGEPLaY: An Adaptation of The Dunwich Horror by HP Lovecraft

The Dunwich Horror: A Stageplay


This may never be produced, but I have sat on it for a couple of years and hoped to one day find a place with which to put it on display. I t would make a great regional production for Halloween... but I currently lack the funds. So I'm putting on here so that my readers might have a chance to read it-

This is an adaptation for the stage. It is not an original work. If anyone would be interested in performance rights, the only thing I ask for is credit in the program. HP Lovecraft has been a huge inspiration for me and I wouldn't actually feel right about profiting from what many consider to be one of his greatest works. I also have no copyright on any of the characters or on the plot in general.

Thank you for reading.


Tuesday, July 30, 2019

ZATOICHI and Shintaro Katsu


Several years ago, around 2004, I discovered Samurai Chambara (sword fighting) Films with nearly everyone's usual introduction- Akira Kurosawa. He'd been named a heavy influence on some of my favorite film-makers and my (future) wife introduced me to The Seven Samurai. I'd never seen such an epic and masterful tale of honor, loyalty, respect, duty, and dignity. And while I had seen the American Western remake, The Magnificent Seven, it truly did pale in comparison to the original. And so began a fascination with Chambara films-

Zatoichi is a blind swordsman and part of the Yakuza tradition during the Edo period of Japan. He makes his living as a masseur and/or as a gambler. He carries a cane sword and his flashing blade is often quicker than the eye can follow. He is a skilled warrior- and an often cheerful and unassuming champion to the downtrodden. Thematically, Zatoichi is about a flawed and sentimental hero trying to bring justice in a world threatened by corruption and tyranny.

Oh, and there are 26 films in the series.

And a television series.

And two additional films made several years after the original actor's passing...

And a live stage show directed by Takashi Miike.

I spent the month of July viewing 25 of the films, currently streaming on the Criterion Collection streaming service. That's 25 of the original films... 1989's "Zatoichi, Darknless is his only Ally" was unavailable. This last film also had a lot of very negative associations- the films villain, played by Shintaro Katsu's son, had accidentally killed a man during filming when a prop sword was mistakenly replaced with the real thing.

The Twenty Five original films are too staggering a task to review one after the other and that was not my intent when I undertook the task. They all follow similar formulas and features the same actor playing the role all 25 times, with several plots borrowing liberally from one another. Zatoichi delivers children to absent parents some distance away after the untimely death of one parent a number of times, helps maidens' pay off their family debts to the corrupt yakuza or government official, and usually befriends another skilled swordsman that he will face in a climactic battle toward the film's climax. The formula itself isn't bad, despite it's occasional repetition. In fact, it's often charming and comforting to know that Zatoichi is getting into the same bowl of trouble again and again.

Shintaro Katsu is a skilled performer who has a bit of a reputation as a bit of a "bad boy' in Japanese Cinema. The son of a Kabuki performer, Katsu was classically trained as a Shamisen player, and it was the influence of his blind teacher that acted as the inspiration for his performance as the folk hero of the series. He was the focus of a documentary on Japanese film making, where an American in Japan followed three Directors with vastly different styles in order to show-case the direction of that regions film industry. Katsu Productions was started when Daiei Studios shut down.


Zatoichi starts with "The Tale of Zatoichi" and never really finds an ending- though the twenty-fifth film in the series would see Zatoichi return to the town of his birth and have him defend it from a child-hood friend in "Zatoichi's Conspiracy". Notable films for me have been "Zatoichi's Flashing Sword", "Fight, Zatoichi, Fight", "Zatoichi and the Chess Expert", "Zatoichi's Cane Sword", and "Zatoichi Meets Yojimbo".

"Zatoichi Challenged" also served as a basis for the American remake, "Blind Fury" in which Rutger Hauer plays a blind swordsman who lost his vision during the Vietnam conflict.

But my favorite in the series, and it's saying a lot, is "Zatoichi at the Fire Festival" in which the Blind Swordsman goes against another Blind Yakuza boss. It is one of the most intense, brutal, and exciting films in the long-running series and places the swordsman in peril. He is betrayed, lured into various traps, and the scheme is clever. Zatoichi's reputation finally catches up with him and he is not as underestimated as he had been in previous films.


Zatoichi is a treasure to Japanese cinema and Katsu is a charismatic wonder in the role. Take advantage of the opportunity wherever and whenever it arises to catch some of these beautiful Chambara films.

FULL LIST:
1 The Tale of Zatoichi 1962




2 The Tale of Zatoichi Continues




3 New Tale of Zatoichi 1963




4 Zatoichi The Fugitive



5 Zatoichi on the Road




6 Zatoichi and the Chest of Gold 1964




7 Zatoichi's Flashing Sword



8 Fight, Zatoichi, Fight




9 Adventures of Zatoichi




10 Zatoichi's Revenge 1965




11 Zatoichi and the Doomed Man




12 Zatoichi and the Chess Expert




13 Zatoichi's Vengeance 1966




14 Zatoichi's Pilgrimage




15 Zatoichi's Cane Sword 1967




16 Zatoichi the Outlaw




17 Zatoichi Challenged




18 Zatoichi and the Fugitives 1968




19 Samaritan Zatoichi




20 Zatoichi Meets Yojimbo 1970




21 Zatoichi Goes to the Fire Festival




22 Zatoichi Meets the One-Armed Swordsman 1971




23 Zatoichi at Large 1972




24 Zatoichi in Desperation




25 Zatoichi's Conspiracy 1973




26 Zatoichi: Darkness Is His Ally

Monday, July 22, 2019

L5R Fifth Edition

My son has recently fallen in love with Rokugan after playing a few sessions of the second edition game that I ran for a game store. But he wanted the latest edition, and finally whittled us down to pay for the new Beginner's Box Set I, myself, was always stuck running the games since I started playing in 2001 and made a condition be that he ran the game and let me play as a character only helping a little with the rules. (He's just turned 14)

So our usual gaming group got together this past weekend and picked our characters, with me picking Isawa Aki. At first I thought it strange the Shugenja didnt have access to any spells, but was intrigued with the role-playing aspects of the character as we entered the town. I decided to play her as overly talkative, very arrogant, sweetly condescending, and superior in every way. As the other characters scrambled to help this poor peasant upright his cart, I stood to the side and questioned him and examined the road for what must have done this terrible thing that would inconvenience us in such a way. To learn this was a servant to the house of the recently deceased Emerald Champion was very concerning.

Next, we watched as a Mantis attempted to bully the local innkeeper into renting him a room. While he may have been Samurai, he was merely a minor Clan representative. Doji-san, however, had a personal stake in the matter. He truly did not wish to share a roof with such a man. There may have been some personal malice involved, not that Isawa Aki would have been interested in such petty matters. But we were later visited by an honored spirit who tasked us with watching out for the young mantis, and perhaps even protecting his life. Such is the way of things I suppose. I was grateful for the opportunity myself.

Then came the trials themselves, and of course the first would be a display of physical skill and intense personal combat. We were given advice from our judges, but when Aki stood across from the well-fed monster that stood across the ring she understood she could either lose gracefully or give her all and try to shock her opponent into a misstep. So she charged with all she was worth, screaming "BANZAI!!!" in a very unseemly manner... truly, it caused her much embarrassment but did succeed in unnerving her opponent who staggered back at the sight of the frail shugenja charging toward him. Though she gave her best during the trials that relied on her skill and superior approach, she fell back on pure moxie to overcome her perceived weakness.

Emotionally drained after the contests, Aki and her companions found themselves in a nearby Sake House where the charming Phoenix toasted to the lasting friendships that would be born through these trials and struggles. Unfortunately some ill mannered Ronin approached their table, and after a series of personal insults the proud Phoenix could no longer bear the strain of the days activities. Falling silent, tears spilling from her features, Aki was the first to lash out violently and smashed her staff into the teeth of the offending Ronin. With nothing but pure pluck and a distinct lack of true skill, she next sent her staff into a crippling blow that took out another Ronin's knee. The rest threw down their weapons at the command of the Lion, and the Samurai were able to retire for the evening. 
:::
 
I truly enjoyed the new system and found a lot of potential in it. I guess finding additional dice sets for the other players will be difficult as we had to share the single set among five players and a GM. None of us took damage so we're a little confused regarding how that will work when it happens, but it feels mostly straightforward. While Aki seemed to be focused on casting spells, she had no spells to cast until we were told to level up our characters. My son, who has struggled to run a few previous game systems found this one fun and easy to maintain pacing on. So we're looking forward to later sessions.

MECHANICS: Utilizing a "roll and keep" engine, the latest L5R changes things up by relying on unique custom dice to determine results. No longer using numbers, the results vary between "Success", "Opportunity", "Strife", and "Explosive Success" randomly distributed between Ring Dice (6 sided)and Skill (12 sided) dice. Characters roll a number of dice equal to their rating in the given Ring or Skill, keeping a number of those dice equal to the Ring number. The results are less "Success vs failure" but precisely HOW one succeeds and fails. Some results are a combination of both success and "Strife". 

Strife is the most interesting element of the game. In keeping with the tradition of Samurai drama, it is very important for them to maintain their dignity and stoicism. Often the greatest struggle is the one within the Samurai- watch Yojimbo, 7 Samurai, or even Lone Wolf and Cub to see the way th Samurai maintain their "face" and what happens when the emotions are too much to contain- whether good or bad. Strife accumulates, building stress until the characters are forced to react in an emotional manner that reveals the Samurai's true Face to the world. An embarrassing loss of glory and honor can result. 

Opportunity is another interesting aspect that allows the players to add a few narrative pieces and gain non-successful advantages that will do little to affect a task but will result in some interesting moments. We struggled with this element a slight bit, but did try to explore the possibilities. (In the above, I had rolled two explosive successes and an opportunity with strife, allowing me to add the shocked and somewhat impressed reactions of the judges during the wrestling scene.)

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Hellboy 2019

This is a much more complex film to review than I thought it would be going in. Firstly, it will draw comparisons to Del Toro's vision of Hellboy, featuring iconic actor Ron Perlman in the lead, and a terrific supporting cast.

This film has none of that.

But that doesn't make it a bad film on it's own. In fact, there are plenty of things to enjoy about this version of Hellboy. The practical effects are wll done and provides a gorier backdrop to the adventures of the demon spawn. It features deeper elements of Mignola's core material, including Hellboy's connection to Arthurian Mythology, vampires, faeries, and plenty of supernatural weirdness. It even features an appearance from The Lobster!

But while there is plenty here that DOES word, there is a lot that does not. Much of it seems to have been developed in post production, including CGI that doesn't feel fully rendered and an incredibly dry and boring performance from character actor Ian McShane and performance that goes all over the place from Milla Jovavich. David Harbour puts a decent enough spin on Hellboy, but it feels a little schozophrenic at times. When he does nail it, though... he really nails it.

In closing, Neal Marshall has a very specific style and feel to his films... and this movie lacks even that. It feels like a film that was taken away from it's primary vision and director and went through a post-production where the studio and it's producers cobbled together THEIR vision of a film that forgot there was source material and relied on too many tropes in the footage that was shot.
Despite all that's essentially "wrong" with the film, I found more to enjoy than there was to dislike and had a good time with it. While it won't hit my top ten of the year, it will be seen again and it's good b- grade monster munching goodness with gore and blood and all the fun stuff I personally enjoy.

Comments? Leave them below.

Monday, April 1, 2019

CAPTAIN MARVEL REVIEW

 
CAPTAIN MARVEL
 
Being fairly late to the party, most people have likely seen this movie and already formed their own opinions on it. To describe the build-up to the film as divisive (Among the "Geek Chic" sect) is an understatement. Marketing choosing to focus on Brie Larson’s aspirations to make the film “Socially relevant” left a sour taste in the mouths of many fans. I count myself among them. Toss in the fact that Marvel Comics have repeatedly tried to boot, reboot, re-issue, and alter modern comics so that Captain Marvel would be the poster child over the past few years, replacing "Spiderman" as the flagship character. My own feelings on the matter are that I look to these films and comics as escapist fun and really don’t enjoy being lectured. So I wasn’t the first person on line to see the film, yet see it I must!
 
So my kid and I decided to check out a Saturday matinee and kicked our luxury recliners back and munched some popcorn as the credits rolled. What was my reaction.
 
Wow! There was actually a pretty good movie underneath all that politicized marketing. We had an extremely complex backstory streamlined and carved down to it’s most basic components to give a character with well over thirty years of history a somewhat decent run at the ball. Samuel L Jackson’s “Nick Fury” is on a major solo adventure, made to look 20 years younger with the use of some CGI and practical affects. Lashana Lynch steals the show as Maria Rambeau, Carol Danver’s best friend and the mother to a prominent character in the history of Marvel Comics. And Ben Mendelsohn is at turns charming and menacing as a Skrull commander, Talos. Annette Benning, also, delivers solid as a mentor seen in Danver’s flashbacks with a nice twist to the familiar story of Captain Marvel.
 
As the film opens, we’re introduced to Vers; she is an elite soldier in the Kree Star Force- a legion of peacekeepers and noble warrior heroes pit in a deadly war with the shape-shifting Skrulls. Six years ago she woke up with no memory of who she truly was and access to the ability to fire photon blasts from her fists. When a Skrull ambush separates her from her unit (led by Yon-Rogg (Jude Law)), she awakens while trapped in a Skrull machine designed to probe her memories- and the Skrulls have opened a Pandora’s box of memories that simply do not fit with the story she’s been told. Crash landing on a planet the Skrulls saw her in her memories, Carol finds herself on the backwater planet of Earth where she quickly encounters Agents of Shield. The race is on to unlock the rest of her memories and discover the link she has to a mysterious scientist. The story is sparse and moves quickly- We know very early on that the Kree have lied to Vers, and it isn’t long until she finds out she was once an earth pilot by the name of Carol Danvers. 

A major sticking point with this film is that it would have served itself better and stood up on it's own had fewer audiences seen the previous Marvel films. Audiences familiar with Guardians of the Galaxy already know that twenty years down the line the Kree are not seen as "heroes" or "protectors", but rather a militant force at odds with much of the universe. The film attempts to subvert the audience expectations of the previous movies, but at the cost of diminishing some of the mystique and tension within those films. Nick Fury, seen as a serious and dedicated head of Shield, is shown to be a much more jovial and less intense character than he's ever been shown to be in the films or television series. Jackson pulls it off believably enough and shows us a few peeks at the man he would become, but the nurturing approach he takes to Danvers is a far cry different than the callous and often confrontation approach with the rest of the Avengers; IE Tony Stark, Steve Rogers, and Bruce Banner. 
 
Directed by Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck, a film-making duo known for Mississippi Grind. They navigate the complex history of Danvers and create a story of personal growth and an exploration of what it means to make a choice. Carol’s story (In the film) is a good one- marred by two performances that threatened to drag the film down on several occasions. The first is the performance of Brie Larson, who we are repeatedly told is very “funny” and needs to “stop joking” around so much. Her humor was largely lost on me, though this may not actually be the fault of the film itself. Much of her delivery reminded me of my wife’s show “The Gilmore Girls” and the performance of the Rory character. My wife would crack up laughing at her comments, and I largely never understood the comedic elements that she saw. My son, who largely shares her sense of humor, was also laughing. So this just may be a case of my not “getting” the humor. In large part, Larson is an actress I've never been particularly impressed with. She's often that character I couldn't care less about in a movie.
 
The other performance was Jude Law’s “Yon Rogg”, a Kree soldier. Jude has never been more smarmy and forced than he was in this film. He was so forced and awful that every scene he is in is nearly a waste of time.He threatens to chew up the scenery at every turn, his hunger for melodrama and sudden bursts of anger a thing of such awkward energy that it defies both logic and reason. 

Still, be it as it may the film is a largely middle of the road Marvel film. It doesn't drag like Thor: The Dark World or Iron Man 3, but it never reaches the heights of a Black Panther or Guardians of the Galaxy.
 
7 out of 10.

Thursday, January 31, 2019

Escape Room / Glass


Fear not, faceless reader- for I am still maintaining my blog as I reset my personal and professional priorities. The last few years have seen some great changes for your ranting typist with a penchant for the over statement, but I’m still here and still watching, reading, and experiencing things that I feel the need to rant about.
 
No, my dear faceless readers, I am not going to turn to politics, religion, or any sort of deep introspection on how we can improve our lives. I have facebook, twitter, and all sorts of other social media for that nonsense which is really none of your concern and of absolutely no interest to anyone but me and the few who get ornery about such things.
 
This is about entertainment! And with that, let’s get to it.
 
ESCAPE ROOM
 
It happens more often than not, but this film truly captures the “Well, it wasn’t bad” emotional release I find myself having after many experiences. What elevates the film is that there is some great set design, some spectacular effects, and some truly bland and unimpressive performances. And it’s not the performers that are at fault as much as the script and the direction seems to be to give off as bland a performance as possible. One actress manages to deliver an impressive physical performance, but ultimately falls a little flat. It fails to really capture the emotion needed.
 
We open “In Media Res”, as a lone man drops into the final room of the puzzle before rewinding the story by a couple of days earlier. Six strangers are invited to participate in an “Escape Room” contest with a $50K prize for the one who is able to solve it. We are introduced to our three primary characters with a prologue sequence, setting up that the other three will not matter or play any important role with the climax of the film. So we know the shy physics nerd, the ruthless stock salesmen, and the alcoholic stock-boy are in for the long haul and we have no real reason to care about the gaming nerd, the Iraqi Veteran, or the blue-collar Miner. And the film sets off the place the right colors in the parameters of the coded box. The mystery plays out- and we are asked to question the motives of Dr. Wootan Yu. And the fact that this is the name of our villain just speaks volumes to the stupidity of the script itself.  With that note, the mystery is fairly obvious- from the very beginning.
 
But the film is stylistic enough that it’s never really “bad” to watch as much as it’s visually appealing and entertaining throughout. The actors are trying to put more into their performances, but it feels as though the director is holding each of them back with an almost iron grip. As though he’s afraid their charisma may overshadow the spectacular settings or the traps themselves, and it hurts to see that limitation. Tyler Labine feels especially comatose given previous works I’ve seen.
 
6.5 with a mild recommendation. You won’t be sorry you’ve seen it but it won’t crack a top ten list.
 
 
GLASS
 
And in this corner we have M. Night Shyamalan’s finale to the trilogy set up more then a decade earlier with “UNBREAKABLE”, shocked with a continuation from “SPLIT”, and set this viewer on pins and needles with anticipation. And I’m going to go on record as saying that M. Night did NOT disappoint!
 
I WILL FIGHT YOU ON THIS!!!
 
Regularly excoriated for being self-indulgent and paced at the pouring speed of molasses, the film has seen some brutal reactions from critics and audiences alike. But this is the third part of a trilogy and it acts as the finale to the previous Acts. And it’s a story he wanted to tell- and in the telling, he held me in complete anticipation for the results that were fairly well telegraphed throughout the film but ultimately placed in a way which would turn the story in on itself. Because “Glass” is not just some comic book villain we’re here to jeer and hiss at- he is a world-class mastermind and architect that takes more than a few matters into account and has such a sense of fragility that he necessarily removes his own ego from the equation. It ultimately forces a deep thinker to ask: “What makes a villain?”
 
8.5 out of 10. I recommend, but with the added advice that you not expect this to be a Superhero Blockbuster film. Nor should you come and expect the breaking down of the tropes one might see in a “Watchmen” or “V for Vendetta” piece, geared to undermine the philosophical views that elevate heroism and exceptionalism. This film takes those to task for the corrupting influences that they truly are. Enjoy this film for what it is, and not what people have come to expect in Superhero movies today.
 
 
 

Saturday, January 12, 2019

2018 Blog In Review


2018: THE YEAR IN REVIEW
As we wind down 2018, I’m approaching a major turning point in my life.
 
I’m not the man I was in 2017. I started the year in a deep depression with suicidal iterations. I took time off work and attended a day program for mental health and worked through several problems over the course of several weeks, balanced my medication, and ultimately saw where a lot of my issues were coming from. The fact of the matter is that I was 42 and my body was going through major changes with the onset of diabetes, the continuing struggle with my weight, rising blood pressure, and my mind forcing me to relive the traumas of my youth. The social landscape was tense, with people placing their politics before their families and their relationships.
 
Things have to change.
 
I focused my energy into a few creative endeavors and am still exploring those. But I guess I should just rip the bandage off this bad boy and settle something for casual readers.
 
In the interest of FULL DISCLOSURE- My local theatre reviews will actually be fewer and further between. There is very little to interest, challenge, or amaze me. Two years ago, the local theaters experimented with more cutting edge shows and didn’t find the financial success that they hoped for. As a result, all of the theaters are going back to the much more traditional favorites to please their wallets and bore me to tears. So that doesn’t leave me with too many options and a quick glance at the upcoming schedules are disappointing.
 
And with a slight bow, I will be surprised if I even attend a quarter of the shows I attended last year. I genuinely enjoy live performances, but I’m struggling to find a reason to see a show these days. I’ve seen Rocky Horror so many times that I’m honestly just tired of the show in general. I attended twice this year, once because there was a secret event taking place and the second time in order to see the final performances of my two friends. Even now, I get choked up knowing that I’ll never see them perform those roles on stage again.
 
The best show of the year that I had seen was Evil Dead: The Musical, in San Jose. Gory, fun, and hilarious! It’s productions like that which still drive me to have some interest in live theater despite recent feelings. Triassic Park: A Dinosaur Musical, was a fun and wild ride with some catchy tunes and terrific performances. It was one of the few experiments in cutting edge attempts to bring something new to the coast, and it flatly topped the list for the shear balls it showed. (get it? Well, not if you didn’t see the show… nevermind.) “Terms of Use” touched the cutting edge of science fiction on the live stage, interweaving use of digital effects to tell it’s story of a virtual reality experiment gone wrong. And, finally, the surprise encounter for me was “Boxcar”. Written as a political thriller with a focus on humanizing the victims of an illegal border crossing gone awry, the play felt much more in tune with a few Horror tropes along the lines of SAW and Cube.
 
I didn’t get to near as many books as I wanted to. The second book in Brian Keene’s barbarian king story, Throne of the Bastards, was a fun throwback to the style and tone of Robert E Howard’s “Conan” series. Mary SanGiovanni scored a win with a smaller novel “Savage Woods”. It was definitely a year of Cosmic Horror as she also started a podcast and continues to explore the theories on fear which drive that sub-genre.
 
Speaking of “Cosmic Horror”- Here is a brief glimpse to my year’s top films.
 
10. Annihilation
Starring Natalie Portman and based on a series of novels, this film is a surreal and trippy experience. A bit of a cross between “The Thing” and “Altered States”; It also has a definitive Lovecraftian element as the characters are shown the full scope of what it is they just don’t know or understand. There is a great emptiness in that knowledge.
 
9: Aquaman
Eking in just under the wire, Aquaman was the perfect film for the DCEU. And, in keeping with the year’s bizarre exploration of Lovecraftian Myth; the film actually explores an alternative take on the macabre author’s fears. The offspring of a human and a deep dwelling denizen of the sea, Arthur Curry is every bit the antithesis to the fear and xenophobia of Lovcraft.
 
8. Avengers: Infinity War
No Lovecraft here, just balls to the wall superheroes doing superhero things.
 
7. Upgrade
Whether you see it as sci-fi, vigilante action, or deep diving body horror, “Upgrade” hit the right notes and left me gobsmacked at the end of the year.
 
6. Halloween (2018)
Not so much for exposing the emotional scars of PTSD, living with trauma, and trying to overcome a brutal past- this movie just brought back Michael Meyers and had him hack and slash his way through the Halloween season.
 
5. Mandy
And we’re back to tripping balls with this one. A deliberately paced film that shows us everything our main protagonist has to lose before he loses it. That makes his bid for vengeance so much more fulfilling and extremely twisted. Nicholas Cage at his best.
 
4: The Ballad of Buster Scruggs
The Coen Brothers latest venture was rumored to be an anthology series, but was released as a stand alone film through Netflix. Poignant, amusing, at times depressing as all heck; I honestly feel cheated to not have seen some of these vignettes on the big screen. They were filmed for the big screen and had such wide and crisp shots that it staggers the mind to limit them to a home screen.
 
3. A Quiet Place
A parents worst fears… I can’t even begin to describe this film. See it.
 
2. Isle of Dogs
Directed by Wes Anderson, an obvious love letter to the love of pets, and filled with the idiosyncratic characters of most Anderson films; Isle of Dogs is pure loving schmaltz… which would normally not wind up nearly this high on my list. But what the film isn’t being recognized for is the loving tribute to Akira Kurosawa. The film was paced more evenly with the style of the Master, rather than Anderson’s awkward moments and performance filled emptiness. Each shot is beautifully crafted artwork, each scene demands movement. I’m not the dog lover my wife is, but the emotional connections and driving character arcs kept me more than engaged and I wept at the end.
 
1. The Endless
No film has ever truly managed to capture the fear, absurdity, and utter helplessness one should feel when faced with the Cosmic Terror that they are insignificant and foolish at best. The Endless captures those feelings beautifully with a twisted tale about two brothers returning to visit the UFO death cult they abandoned nearly ten years previously. This one is a must-see.
 
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There are some glaring absences in my top ten- but for a full listing of films I rated 4 and above, you should probably check out my letterboxd.com account. I also maintained a list of all the 2018 distributed horror films I had a chance to see, topping the list at a whopping 52. Well, maybe not that impressive when compared with some but I have limited means and limited time. All of this is under the username redcapjack, of course- give it a follow and I’ll likely follow you back when I check my connections once in a blue moon. I do read other peoples reviews and follow others- Ian West is one of my favorites, so check him out if you get a chance.
 
I do find it necessary to speak about one film, however- Hereditary. One of the most gruesome and emotionally crippling films it’s been my “pleasure” to view in a long time, if I were creating a top ten list of the year based solely on craft and mission this movie would definitely be near the top. But the truth is that I had a rough time coping with this film during the experience and then the feeling afterward made me feel as though I had seen something I shouldn’t have. My top ten list encompasses the craft, the enjoyment, and the experience on the whole. Unfortunately, “Hereditary” probably worked far TOO well and deserves an extremely honorable mention without actually making the grade. It landed at 26 overall and #12 on my Horror List.
 
My least favorite film sported an interesting and captivating role from Cory Feldman, but offered little else to justify such a performance. “Corbin Nash” was a lackluster wannabe to the Vampire Hunting Vampires sub-sub-SUB Genre of horror films. Theatrically, the Dark Web was an experience made a little better by the company I kept but was ultimately one of the more ridiculous concepts. It found some promise with a scene that utilized the phenomena of “SWATing” to some effect. But the film ultimately failed to do much beyond that one scene.
 
So with a fairly brutal year out of the way, let’s look toward 2019 as a year for new experiences.