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.
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.
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!
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

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 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.