Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Star Trek Discovery

2017, Space/CBS All Access (5 episodes reviewed)

I'm not a Trekker. I'm not even a Trekkie (the less hardcore of the franchise's fanbase).  I'm an admirer, from a distance.  The Next Generation was my Trek.  I watched the pilot when it aired and each subsequent episode weekly for 7 seasons and 3 movies (I only recently watched the 4th).  I watched a scattering of the first few seasons of Deep Space 9, I watched Voyager sporadically, I never made it past the pilot of Enterprise and I've only seen random episodes of the original series ("TOS").  Every movie, though, I've seen every movie, many multiple times.  So yeah, I've put some time in with the franchise, but this is all to quantify what comes next.

I freaking love Star Trek Discovery.


I don't care what the continuity gripes are for a show taking place ten year prior to TOS.  I really don't.  Would this have been maybe better if it were 30 years past the end of Voyager?  Sure, it would help to resolve that stabbing dagger in the back of many fan's brains that make it impossible for them to resolve the better looking sets, the much different looking Klingons, the better technology, the nicer outfits...all the things that modern day television can do so much better than 50, 20, even 10 years ago.  But the showrunners, Gretchen Berg and Aaron Harberts, are operating in this time frame to tell a very specific story, which is the war between the Federation and the Klingons. 

The easy fix though would be to have the Federation at war with another, newer civilization, given that we know tenuous peace between the Federation and Klingons is the eventual outcome.  But that presupposes the fanbase, both hard core and casual (and new) would care as much about the conflict between a new alien race versus an established -- nay notorious -- adversary like the Klingons.  Beyond that, just because we know the outcome of a battle has never stopped anyone from recounting stories from that time.  Every major war has millions of stories to tell.

The opening salvo for Discovery is a 2-parter, a full-blown movie, essentially, and as a movie it is one of Trek's best.  Sonequa Martin-Green is the show's de-facto lead as Michael Burnham, the first officer of the starship Shenzhou under captain Captain Philippa Georgiou (the always welcome Michelle Yeoh).  The show immediately thrusts us in the mix of Burnham and Georgiou's almost familial relationship, it should be noted the first ever female captain-first officer pairing in Trek.  The dynamic is incredible, with spot-on writing that hints at how incredible Georgiou is as both a leader, mentor and person, as well as how Burnham is so utterly capable and yet flawed.

As a child, Burnham was rescued from a Federation space station by Vulcans after a Klingon raid that killed everyone else on board.  Burnham was raised by Sarek (yes, Spock's dad, making Burnham Spock's adoptive older sister...probably the most flagrant attempt the show makes to pander to the fanbase by tying it to TOS), giving her a superior educational experience as well as teaching her to suppress her emotions.  She's no Vulcan though, and her humanity is sometimes at odds with her calculating nature, which keeps others at a distance.

The opening "movie" also introduces us to the Klingon side of the conflict, largely a cultural quest by one Klingon, T'Kuvma, to unite the scattered 24 houses against the threat of the Federation and their gentrification of the galaxy.  Long story short, by the end of the movie, the war has begun, Burnham is jailed as a traiter, the Shinzhou floats lifeless in space, and T'Kuvma is martyred, making him a rallying point for the Klingon armadas.

There's a sense of "where do we go from here" by the end of the gripping two-parter.  With over half the cast gone -- dead, or left for dead, or imprisoned --  there's a thrill of the unknown, especially with the titular starship Discovery yet to be revealed.   It's easy to underestimate how exciting this is both as a movie and the opening act of a new ongoing series.  To establish a cast, to build an exceptional rapport among them, to get the audience excited for the future adventures of this crew together, not to mention their contention with a particularly dedicated adversary, and then rip not one, but both away, it's rather unprecedented. 

The third episode opens 6 months later with Burnham in chains, pleading guilty to her crime (the Federation's first ever traitor) and ready to accept her punishment.  What an amazing point of view character for a Trek show.  Burnham as a human-raised-by-Vulcans, female, person of colour as lead of the show was a marvelous feat on its own, but this turn for her makes her journey a thousand times more fascinating.  Her guilt looms large, though the public blames her for starting a war, her guilt is in not actually finding out whether her treasonous act would have actually stopped it or not, and saving the lives of her crewmates.  When her prison transport ship encounters problems, she's rescued (not by chance) by the Discovery, where she meets a few familiar -- though no longer friendly -- faces from the Shenzhou.  She meets its difficult captain, Lorca (a wonderful Jason Isaacs), who has taken pains to recruit her to help her with the ship's mysterious experiment.

The third episode effectively acts as pilot after the "movie" and it does a good job of establishing all the new and returning crew, giving them distinct personalities from the outset, and then playing with the expectations of those personalities within the next two episodes.  This is a crew of scientists and explorers being led by a military captain during wartime.  Needless to say, no one is particularly thrilled with the situation, least of all Burnham who is trying to both atone and fit in.  Meanwhile, things are no easier on the Klingon side.  In the wake T'Kuvma's death, the outsider Voq has taken the helm of the only ship with cloaking technology, but it's dead in space and the crew is getting desperate, so when another house comes to claim T'Kuvma's cloaking technology, Voq has to determine what he compromises first, his leadership or his convictions in the teaching of the martyred T'Kuvma and Klingon traditions.

Many complaints are lobbed at Discovery... "too focused on action and not enough on science" is one of the main ones early on.   This particular season is meant to focus on the war, so action will be a part of it.  But the focus is never of a particular action set piece, it's always on the players involved, and science (if really comic-booky science) is still a mainstay in exploring the Discovery's new spore drive.  Recently, "Captain Lorca abandons another human on a Klingon prison ship ...that's not the hopeful Trek I'm used to"... because you haven't had a warmongering Captain before.  Lorca is cold, Lorca is calculating, Lorca is shrewd... he's given his command because the Discovery is trying to engineer a weapon, a tactical advantage against their enemy, and they need the most hard-bitten man to get the job done (which flies in the face of the traditional "peaceful explorers" model of Trek's past).  Ultimately Discovery is telling a much different tale, one that is effectively exploring how war impacts a society's tenets (both Federation and Klingon) and the impact it has on the people involved.

This is easily the best looking Trek, the costuming, make-up, effects, and sets are all amazing.  Despite not advancing the Trek chronology, it does advance some of what we see in Trek culturally.  From more people of colour and women in positions of power to gay relationships, it's full of long-overdue progression (even off screen with women and people of colour directing, writing, costuming, and beyond).  As well, the bulk of Trek is episodic in nature, where as this is highly serialized.  While the two-part opener definitely stands on its own, what comes next builds and builds, and is set to make a fascinating season as a whole.  The showrunners have said the war will be resolved by the 15-episode season's end and what happens for season 2 is still a mystery.

As I said, I love it unabashedly.  It's fascinating, it's exciting, it's one of the better looking shows on TV (well, on TV in Canada at least, it's the inaugural show of CBS's "All Access" streaming service), which isn't wholly unexpected when much of (now expunged) showrunner Bryan Fuller's crew is involved.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

31 Days of Halloween 2017: Ouija: Origin of Evil

2016, Mike Flanagan (Gerald's Game) -- download

From a bland movie by a first time director, to a inventive sequel by someone we already liked. We have done his previous movies HushBefore I Wake, Oculus and one of my favourites Absentia. If there is anything that ties together Flanagan's style is that he infuses a mythology, a structure behind the horror & terrors he gives us. Where the first just tossed in some scary aspects of evil ghosts from a family of occult hucksters, Flanagan goes back and explores that family.

The Zander family run a psychic business bilking people with fabricated seances and readings. They are down on their luck, having lost the man of the house. Its the 60s so that made things all the more difficult. One of the daughters brings a Ouija board back to the house and things go awry, as the youngest daughter becomes the conduit for dark forces.

In most movies, like the first, the dark spirits would be just that -- bad people who died but are still doing bad things. Or good people who died horrible deaths and are vengeful. But this one finds darker things drawn to a house where dark things had been done. Its not just the spirits of the dead, but worse things that were never people to begin with. We are given a world to think about, to ponder, while we are given the requisite jump scares.

Monday, October 9, 2017

31 Days of Halloween 2017: Ouija

2014, Stiles White (effects guy for Stan Winston Studio) -- download

I commend a guy coming up from the effects side of the business to direct his first horror movie, but sorry dude, that was the most formulaic, boring thing we have seen in a few seasons. Good thing we were only watching it, so we could watch the sequel.

Olivia Cooke, who we know from The Quiet Ones and The Signal, joins us again as an American highschool student with a close knit group of friends who are about to be fucked by the supernatural. Her best friend Debbie seems disturbed by her Ouija board (under license from Hasbro; was this movie part of the string of boardgame movies like Battleship?!?!) and hangs herself. The rest of the movie is around Laine (Cooke) trying to find out why. But she does a terrible job, as the rest of her friends are picked off one by one. How were they to know they were in a formulaic horror movie?

Formulas are fine, as long as they do something creative, trying something new, or are well directed or shot. This is not. This is typical, not terrible, just so blandly typical.

I wonder if it led to a drop in sales of the Hasbro game?

Sunday, October 8, 2017

31 Days of Halloween 2017: The Devil's Candy

2015, Sean Byrne (The Loved Ones) -- netflix

Hey, its that guy from The Walking Dead; no it's THAT guy from The Walking Dead. That guy is familiar face Ethan Embry, one of those guys who is in everything, but never in a major role. I remember him starring in FreakyLinks, a short lived (very short) series that spun off the popularity of Blair Witch Project. Interestingly enough, he is not at all recognizable as himself with the full on metal look -- straggly hair and a beard.

Jesse is a struggling painter, forced to do butterfly commissions and move his family to the country. The house to buy is, of course, that one that no one else will buy. So the Metal Family buy it because, Metal ain't afraid of no ghosts. Almost instantly Jesse is hearing ghostly evil whispers and begins painting truly Metal horrific stuff, which catches the eye of the owner of the local gallery Belial.

You might think I am mocking the Metal aspect of this movie, but really, its great. Jesse and his family are tight knit, and he keeps on trying to do right by them, despite the creepy voices driving him to distraction. When the even creepier son of the family that originally owned the house, a decidedly scary Pruitt Taylor Vince in a red track suit, who has already succumbed to the voices, sets his eyes on their Metal daughter, Jesse must fight all the influences to protect them.

This is a great movie! As the followup to the wonderful The Loved Ones, Byrne does a masterful job, not really seeking to capture any particularity that made his first one so popular. Embry really stands out as Metal Dad cum Jesus, but even if you don't like his performance, you might just be distracted by his buff tattooed torso, as she spends much of the movie shirtless.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

31 Days of Halloween 2017: Pet

2016, Carles Torrens (Apartment 143) -- download

Well, I didn't expect that.

I knew this was a kidnap movie, one where a creepy stalker guy (Dominic Monaghan) fixates on a waitress (Ksenia Solo) and puts her in a cage... so he can help her. I knew this was a movie where she turns the tables on him, and I assumed it would be a psychological thriller with lots of dialogue between the two, eventually leading to her outwitting him. We have long passed the point where we question if we can include those in our Halloween watching. They work.

What I didn't expect was... well, if you care to see spoiler free, move on to my next movie... holy crap, she's the psycho. Oh, they don't lessen the fact that he is a stalker guy who was being overtly creepy to begin with, but you know, bus crushes and all. But the cage, the cage had a defined purpose. Solo is a psycho killer and his stalking revealed that to him.

The movie does a masterful job of giving us hints that something is not right about Holly the waitress. At first we think her stress has created an invisible roommate, and we go with that. Sure, something tragic happened in her past, and her best friend hangs around. But then we learn that her best friend was her first kill. And it just kept on going. Stalker Boy wants to convince her of how wrong she is, how his love can reform her. Yeah, not so much dude.

The tables are turned, but not in the way we expected, and in the end Stalker Boy is almost the most sympathetic character. So much for love wins all.

Friday, October 6, 2017

31 Days of Halloween 2017: Under the Shadow

2016, Babak Anvari -- Netflix

Under the Shadow is a Farsi language horror movie set in Tehran during the Iran-Iraq war, written and directed by Iranian born Babak Anvari and shot in Jordan. Other than the fact it is primarilt British produced, there can be nothing further from Hollywood than this movie. And that's always a breath of fresh air.

The movie is unrepentant in its upset at the political regime at the time, placing at the centre a young woman who was studying to be a doctor when the Iranian Cultural Revolution happened. She is resentful of her loss and her imposed new life as only a wife and mother. Like in The Babadook, she is not presented as a saint, but a woman living through her challenges as best he can, which are not helped at all by the fear of shelling and rocket raids from Iraq. So, her life is a little tense, and probably not the best time to be haunted by a dark spirit.

I love how the idea of a haunting can be transplanted from country to country with pretty much the same structure. The the west, it is a ghost or demon. In Japan or China, we have a multitude of evil spirits to choose from. And in Iran, we get a djinn. But no, not a fancy wind spirit willing to give out wishes, but an evil air sprite that wraps them-self in the image of the dead or a voluminous blanket. But wind spirit, nonetheless -- they are able to switch a gentle night's breeze from the common branches battering window panes to a chilling example of a fluttering curtain. And the jump scares are classic, literally had me diving to the other side of the sofa.

Loved it.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

31 Days of Halloween 2017: The Exorcist S1 and Channel Zero S2

2016, Fox -- Netflix

Its nice that you can rely on genre TV of late to plug in some viewing time, when you don't have a chance to watch another movie. Even if you leave out the ones we do not watch (American Horror Story) there is always something we haven't seen or caught up on yet. The Exorcist was one such.

Critically acclaimed usually means there is a good reason to watch it, especially so in genre, triply so in horror. And damn does this show earn it. It takes the original premise of the movie(s) and turns its head (ba dump bump), expands upon it and one up's everything.

It gives us the typical upscale Chicago family, tosses in some family tragedy, a couple of priests and a conspiracy of demons. In many ways, it reminded me of Outcast in that demons are in more than just one little girl, but scattered about, in the streets and in the homeless and in the... well, let's just say its more pervasive than anyone expects. This is not just about exorcising one girl, but so much more.

The world building in this show is grand. It sets itself apart from the movie by expanding the scope, and then draws itself BACK into the canon with the most startling reveal. It gives the demons... motivation? And while it never once leaves its Christian background, you can easily see that this show includes the rest of the world. The only thing missing is the seasoned exorcist Marcus reaching out for demon hunters from other religions, as he begins expanding his understanding of what his power is vs His power.

2017, SyFy -- Download

Last year we watched season one of Channel Zero, sub-titled Candle Cove. This year we have No-End House. They are not connected.

The No-End House is an internet phenomena, much in the way creepy pasta is, but in this world the cool kids are aware of a haunted house attraction that you only learn via social media posts and direct SMS messages. Nobody knows who runs it, nobody knows how they connect to you so savvy, but fi you get an invite, how can you not go? And it just shows up somewhere in your town, somewhere in the world. People never know where.

The house itself has six rooms. Each room is scarier than the last. Each room seems drawn from your own psyche, personally tailored to what frightens you to your soul. Our main characters speculate how they do it, but everyone thinks it has to be some massive marketing campaign or just skilled social media hunters. Until they end up in the last few rooms.

And then there is room six. Boom, the premise just explodes. Room six is its own world, a world built around the handful of kids who makes it through -- their neighbourhood in fact. But its not OUR world, its a pocket dimension where the dead come back, the hungry dead that do not want your brains but your memories. They want what you have, the outside world.

This show is fucking creepy, earning the moniker quite easily. The visuals are again, like first season, bizarre and disturbing and often unlike anything you have seen, unless you are well versed in genre horror from every possible source. There is Asian horror there, there is Manga and European stylistic choices and good old American horror in the suburbs.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

31 Days of Halloween 2017: It Comes at Night

2017, Trey Edward Schults (Krishna) -- download

Damn, when I am coming home work stressed and tired and upset and suffering sleep deprivation, maybe the first thing I watch shouldn't be a psychological thriller with shades of post-apocalyptic malaise and .... wait for it... scary wooded areas after dark. Really, the latter is fine, but the human interaction of people living in a tough situation, and just making the worst of it, really pushed my personal anxiety through the roof. But I am ok, we did a Brooklyn 99 palate cleanser.

It Comes at Night is a plague story. Paul, Kim and Travis live in a secured house in the wilderness. There is a disease ravaging the world, and the movie starts with them putting down Travis's grandfather, covered in sores and barely coherent. Travis was obviously close to his grandfather but also affected by his father's seemingly cold pragmatism.

They live alone having no outside contact. Everything is boarded up and there is only one entrance, a mudroom with a single well locked red door. This protective solitude is interrupted when Will breaks in. After some zealous overreaction, Paul allows Will to bring his family to live with them. Maybe protection in numbers will help.

We know its a mistake; its always a mistake. But how? Most of it centres around Travis, a 17 year old obviously suffering loss and isolation anxiety. His constant nightmares and fixation on Will's young wife don't help the matter. And then there is the paranoia of the disease. Even though they constantly wear gas masks outside and wash and cover themselves, and check for ... cracks between the fingers (??) ... they don't really seem sure of how it is transmitted nor how to properly check. The dark outside is terrifying and full on danger, but from what? Anything.

Living with constant fear and anxiety is not easy, especially when everything is out of your control. Paul tries his best with his controlling measures, but you can see the weight it has on him. Travis is broken by it and the new family is not sure of what they have come into. Where is the horror, what comes at night? Fear. Just fear, sticky and more contagious than the disease.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

31 Days of Halloween 2017: Blair Witch

2016, Adam Wingard (You're Next) -- download

In case you haven't guessed, this season we will be doing a number of series. Marmy wanted to see the previous movies, leading up to this one by a director we have come to enjoy. His previous flick, The Guest, might be drawn from the "seen before October" pile to round out any nights we might miss. Yes, I cheat. Sue me.

So, thankyou but this one forgets the second one existed, but for some light inspiration. It picks up almost 20 years later with James, the younger brother of Heather dragging along some friends, one of who is making a documentary -- well, duh, that's the schtick. The best bit is the comparison, as we see all the current tech that she is using including earpiece cams, drone cams, small portable cams, etc. They are meeting up with a local Burkittsville couple who claim to have found a lost tape connected to Heather. James has been obsessed with finding his sister, since she disappeared when he was four. Or at the very least, finding out what exactly happened to her.

The funny thing about this one, is that it is actually about the Blair Witch. The first never gave us any real antagonist, unless you count the woods themselves. The second only had hallucinations and visions, but who knows and who cares where they came from. But this one delves deep and adds a mythology to the series.

While the movie does the expected stuff, of weird things happening in the woods and a state of constantly being lost, it adds in some metaphysical and timey wimey bendy wendy stuff that was a lot of fun. Not long after the crew drives off the local flavour couple, they do a roundabout in the woods, and end up right back at the camp they had spent the night before. And then out of the dark woods, the local couple appears, all frazzled and half way to nuts --- they claim to have been wandering the woods for five days, or more accurately, five nights; no dawn has ever come. Ooooo, pocket dimension!

After some rather tension pushed to 11 time, they end up at That House, the house from the first movie, not the Rustom Parr house, cuz that was burned down. So, the unexplained house that is definitely 20th century, but... who built it? But this is the house where Heather disappeared so in go James and the documentarian Lisa. And who is after them? Yes, the actual Blair Witch, who seems more monster than wicca woman.

What I really liked about this one, besides some novel ways of referencing the last two movies (even though the second never really happened) was the creepy world it built. The Witch is drawing people in, and when she finds appropriate sacrifices, they are not allowed to leave the wood. It becomes impossible. I gather she enjoys their fear, maybe it tastes better. And then, of course, she makes sure the tapes and digital footage can be found (or we would not be watching a movie) so they next cycle can pick up.

Also, neat way to hide the fact he was making the third --- by doing all the initial hype as a movie called "The Woods".

Monday, October 2, 2017

31 Days of Halloween 2017: Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2

2000, Joe Berlinger (mostly documentaries) -- download

Umm, I am not even sure there is any book in the movie.

That was just terrible. It starts off decently enough, throwing back meta to the popularity generated by the first movie, but assuming that most of the viewing fans thought it was a true documentary. Burkittsville has become a haven for people who want to wander the woods and experience the scares. Jeff (a very young Jeffrey Donovan) has a thriving business doing tours. This one gathers Stephen and Tristen, researching a book, Erica the Wiccan who wants to commune with the Blair Witch to calm her down (she is giving witches a bad rep!) and Kim the Hollywood Goth, who claims to be a medium.

 They spend their first night in the woods, near some ruins, only to waken in the morning to find their camp trashed. Cameras are smashed, tents are wrecked and all the book research is shredded into confetti. Umm, why did you bring ALL your book material into the woods with you? Nobody remembers what happened the night before. Then Goth Girl has a vision of where tapes are hidden and the accusations begins, a small nod to the first as tension quickly rises. And then Tristen has a miscarriage (!!!).

The rest of the movie is spent at Jeff's abandoned warehouse turned crash pad. Why? The bunch must be tired and traumatized; why didn't they just go their separate ways, i.e. go home? But whatever, the bulk of the movie is not in any woods, but focused around hallucinations and paranoia and ghostly visions and owls while they hide out inside the warehouse. Its all rather boring Straight To Video horror movie.

From what I learned, Berlinger had a movie more focused on mass hysteria, but the studio wanted something more in the way of a traditional sequel. So, they just re-shot and re-edited his movie and produced this trash.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

31 Days of Halloween 2017: The Blair Witch Project

Starting in 2011 we (Marmy and I, as Kent is not that much of a horror fan) enjoyed celebrating the Halloween season (as soon as the candies hit the stores) by watching too many horror / Halloween related movies, most of them bad.  2012 had a few flicks but not the full month. Un/Re-employment kill 2013. Apathy killed 2014. But we returned in 2015 with a full run. 2016 had a good start, but stalled in the last few days, likely due to work life. This year almost started with a fizzle, but then I remembered last night, "It's October 1st !"

1999,  Daniel Myrick, Eduardo Sánchez (not really much since) -- download

I saw this movie in the initial run, blind, via a free ticket from Marmy's TV station. I had no idea what was going on when I went in. Remember, in the late 90s, there was Internet Hype but the machine wasn't yet all pervasive. And there was not an established genre of "found footage". I fell right into the plot, the rough style and the fear. I was a guy brought up in the woods, so I knew very well the idea of being in a tent and getting spooked by every crack, cry and whistle in the woods. And I didn't even need myths or folk tales to make me scared.

But here I am almost 20 years later watching a bad download of a fullscreen format movie (was it fullscreen back then? really? it was a video camera, so....) with the weight of almost two decades of people trying to recreate the hype AND almost two decades of listening to people who didn't buy into the premise, especially if they didn't see it during the original run. Post-hype, the movie just does not stand up. This is a movie best scene with little to none background on it. It does not hold up well to scrutiny now.

But I still liked it. I like how they let the stress of these filmmakers ratchet up the tension in you so that when they start to break down, it seems natural, and you may buy into it. Face it, these kids are dicks. They go into the woods unprepared, without any real plan of where they are going. She never admits she doesn't know where they are going, and they never actually find the graveyard where the witch was known to haunt. In fact they never find anything really witch related. Sure, there are all the fetishes and stone cairns that cement the fear in them, but nothing truly witchy happens. Its more psycho hillbilly stuff, owing more to the followup story about the man who killed children in his basement and the ... woodsmen who are found murdered.

Much of the post release hype has been around the ambiguous ending and what exactly happened. It left it to the viewers to explain themselves, and while I am eager to buy into the explanation that Josh (the camera man) was the likely culprit and murderous friend, I am not sure you can truly accept that from what we get. For one, who would have done all the weird sounds of children crying and cackles in the dark? And of course, if we are going to go with that, we need some sort of motive. We are never given that.

I am left knowing we will continue with the sequel and the NEW one, but already knowing the second sucked. But tomorrow will tell.

Saturday, September 30, 2017

3 Short Paragraphs: The Intern

2015, Nancy Meyers (What Women Want) -- Netflix

From White Saviour to Old White Guy Saviour. Robert De Niro is a wealthy retiree who takes a senior internship at the wildly success Internet startup owned by Anne Hathaway.  I can only assume Hathaway is playing a younger role, as 35 is not all that young to be running a successful web-business, and the premise is that she is supposed to be young and inexperienced, despite her success. He comes into the company at the same time her VC investors want her to take on a CEO, to handle the business side of stuff, while she steps back and focuses on .... other things? She is not too keen on that idea.

For most part, the movie is typical chick flick charming and surprisingly, Robert De Niro, whom we are more used to playing cantankerous or intimidating, is rather convincing as the affable old business guy. Much of the movie has him bolstering her confidence, making sure she understands she was the founder and that the company couldn't be where it was without her. But there are some off inserts of him and his old school business acumen coming to the rescue. I preferred him as mentor, not saviour, especially as he makes friends with the other interns hired at the same time as him.

Hired? I got a strong feeling, though it was never said outright, that these were classic interns, i.e. no or little pay; below entry level. For him, presented as a classic business man who worked hard and earned success and money, its fine. But for the others, I doubt they could afford their NY / Brooklyn digs on such money. The idea that even today people are supposed to be happy for the "opportunities" presented to them, secondary to the economic compensation they deserve, irks the fuck out of me. But American Dream and all, blah blah blah. Still, a decent light little movie.

Friday, September 29, 2017

3 Short Paragraphs: The Legend of Tarzan

2016, David Yates (Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them) -- download

I knew little of this movie but that Margot Robbie was a breathless, sweaty Jane, and Alexander Skarsgård was a shirtless, ripped Tarzan. So, something for everyone. What I didn't know was that the movie was basically a sequel to all the modern Tarzan movies that never existed. Its like Yates went to the table with this movie as a reboot slash sequel slash homage to a popular franchise that never existed. What have we had from the Rice Borough stories in the past 30 years? A handful of incredibly bad movies with beefcakes (Caspar Van Diem, Christopher Lambert and Miles O'Keeffe) that you would not heard of, and that Disney cartoon. The last one was the best.

The movie begins with Lord Greystoke in England, after the Tarzan years, living his Lord-ship with his American (???) wife Jane. They are being encouraged to head back to Africa, the Congo, either as an envoy for Belgium (which has just taken control of the Congo) or for America, which has suspicions that Belgium is making slaves of the Congolese people to help pay of debts. Its a convoluted story worthy of a Bond script. What is happening behind the scenes is that Belgium can collect a massive amount of diamonds from a tribal leader, if they bring Tarzan back to Africa so he can extract revenge.

The movie is actually rather successful in its use of flashbacks, to remind or introduce us to what Tarzan was. It is not successful in dispensing with the White Saviour trope, though it tries. We live in an age where I am not sure we can take a Tarzan Lord of the Apes seriously. Only a white man can come along and make friends with the animals AND the black locals, and save them from other white men? I get that stories from past ages are rife with the social constructs that existed at the time, but I am challenged of what their places are in today's story telling. But putting that challenge, this movie looks so good, a truly epic looking view into an Africa long gone.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

3+1 Short Paragraphs: The Hunt for the Wilderpeople

2016, Taika Waititi (Thor: Ragnarok) -- Netflix

Marmy made me watch this, as she had watched it prior during one of my Boys Night Out. We both watch stuff alone, usually me and my disaster flicks or Star Trek and she and her "ghostie shows". But if she recommends I watch something, it is with good reason. And damn, again with the best praise I can come up with is to swear. Waititi makes a movie that is funny, poignant, sad and entirely engaging. See? Weaksauce praise sentence. I need to work on those; pointing out the terrible bits of a movie is so much easier.

Ricky is a tough little troublemaker in the foster child system. He is sent by a zealous child care agent to live with a couple in a remote part of New Zealand. After a rocky start, Ricky sees that Bella really wants things to be better for him. His gangsta attitude doesn't really fit into the rural area, but she doesn't care and gives him love anyway. Her cranky old coot husband Hec (Sam Neill) barely tolerates Ricky. Then she dies. Holey crap; I did not expect that.

With a return to the system as his only choice, Ricky tries to run away but gets lost in the woods, found by Hec, who in turn injures himself. In the weeks they camp out, while Hec recovers, they get to understand each other more. But the outside world has assumed Hec has kidnapped Ricky. Comedic misunderstanding ensues.

Normally I hate the bratty gangsta kid. But damn, if Julian Dennison as Ricky is just downright charming. He wants to be that urban kid, but like most of them, only seems to know the sub-culture from American TV. He stylizes everything he does, even when presented with the Kiwi wilderness. And carries it through the hero's journey he is presented with. Totally wonderful movie.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

3 Short Paragraphs: Baby Driver

2017, Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead) -- download

This is the movie Edgar Wright got to make when he walked away from Ant Man. And damn, good on him! This is the kind of movie where the director / writer got to do what he wanted to do, exactly what he wanted to do. And again, DAMN. In case you haven't guessed, I loved this movie. It is in no way perfect, a bit lop-sided and unfocused, but so what, every disconnected bit was just wonderful on its own, adding up to a fun experience that I may just go see again in the theatre, just because, owing to the world we live in, where a proper download exists even before the movie disappears from the theatres. And because, of all the movies from this summer, this one is just sticking around, which means its making constant money. Good on Wright!

Baby is a driver (duh!), a driver for thuggish bank robbers, bank rolled (pun intended) by mastermind Kevin Spacey. Spacey hires a different gang every time, but keeps Baby on the payroll to drive, and to pay off his own debt to Spacey. Baby has a condition, rather benign (tinnitus) but because he keeps earbuds in his ears all the time, and is constantly being drawn along by the music, people think he is .... odd. He is, but not in a bad way. Baby distracts himself with music, not just from the ring, but from the harsh reality of it all. The world seems to play along, building musical montages that seem made for him and the song on his iPod. Either that, or he choreographs every element of his life to the songs playing, like he does his driving plans. This movie loves music as much as Baby does.

Like all caper and/or driver movies, Baby wants to redeem and all because of a girl. But Spacey needs him to continue working, despite having paid off his debt in the first job starring Jon Bernthal, John Hamm and Eiza González. But his obsession with the girl, and getting out, ruins the Next Job which you could say begins ruined by having psychopath Batts along, and re-using Hamm and González. But damn, are we glad they are back. Jamie Fox may be annoying as the kill happy Batts, but Hamm and González (From Dusk Til Dawn [TV]) are just so grand to watch on screen, we knew they HAD to be back; too bad about the jinx it causes.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

3+1 Short Paragraphs: Free Fire

2017, Ben Wheatley (High-Rise) -- download

Wheatley is one of those directors my brain has told me I have to see, but I don't really know why. We started to watch Kill List but, unlike Kent, we never got through it. I remember Michael Smiley being in it, and that is about it. And when the hype came out about High-Rise, I remember thinking I should see one of his movies. But I didn't come to this flick as his, more as a comedic high-violence romp in the Tarantino-light direction.

Small film. Blah blah, I have talked it through before; you can go Google that. Closed room movies are one type of a small movie, and if everything takes place inside a ruined warehouse during a botched arms deal, that certainly qualifies. But, I think this movie would have benefited from being even smaller, as while I rather enjoyed it, it seemed to want to sprawl further than it's plot allowed, as if the canvas of blood & bullets & crazy characters demanded.

Two sides show up to an arms sale. On one side, you have four members of the IRA, two boobs and their bosses (Cillian Murphy & Michael Smiley). On the other side is Vernon (Sharlto Copley), his partner and their two boobs. I am saying boobs instead of mooks, as these guys are purposely shown as fidgety and ineffectual, and you know they are only written to be catalysts. Each side also has an intermediary, Justine (Brie Larson) and Ord (Armie Hammer). Of course, each side doesn't trust the other, and eventually it leads to bullets flying.

As Tarantino-lite goes, this was a rather fun movie. Once the guns start going off, everyone is crawling and hiding and peeking and shooting. But before that, we got a lot of snappy one liners and quips. Ord (Hammer) is the best at that and outshines the rest, while completely nutty Vern is my fav. Honestly, I would watch Copley do anything; he never disappoints in just being an odd character. The thing about the movie being so light is that nothing really stays. People shoot each other, say funny things and almost everyone dies. It wasn't stylish enough to be a game changer, but palatable enough that I might see Wheatley's next flick.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

10 for 10: the "Old Things" edition

[10 for 10... that's 10 movies which we give ourselves 10 minutes apiece to write about.  Part of our problem is we don't often have the spare hour or two to give to writing a big long review for every movie or TV show we watch.  How about a 10-minute non-review full of half-remembered scattershot thoughts? Surely that's doable?   ]

This time on 10 for 10...it's old things...things from my childhood or older.

1. The Maltese Falcon (TCN) - 1941, d. John Huston
2. Spartacus (most of it, anyway...grr PVR/TCM) - 1960, d. Stanley Kubrik
3. Ladyhawke (Rip) - 1985, d. Richard Donner
4. Atlantis: The Lost Continent (TCM) - 1961, d. George Pal
5. House (TCM) - 1977, d. Nobuhiko Obayashi
6. Panic in Year Zero (TCM) - 1962, d. Ray Milland
7. The Ice Pirates (TCM) - 1984, d. Stewart Raffill
8. Grey Gardens (TCM) - 1976,  d. Albert Maysles, Ellen Hovde, David Maysles, Muffie Meyer
9. Romancing the Stone (netflix) - 1984, d. Robert Zemeckis
10. Breaking Away (netflix) - 1979, d. Peter Yates

...and go...

Sigh... I don't know how many times I've seen The Maltese Falcon, and yet I still don't really remember it.  It's a famous film, one of those revered pieces of cinema that people still bring up quite often, and yet, it never really sticks in my brain.  It wasn't even that long ago that I watched it.  A few months back maybe.  There's some noirish spy stuff going on, and Bogart in his quintessential PI role.  But what the hell.  Do I need to Wikipedia this for a refresher?  That's going to eat into my writing time...
Okay, back... yeah, Dashiell Hammett adapted, that great scene with Sydney Greenstreet and Peter Lorre...man, Lorre was just so great in everything, wasn't he.  Such a unique presence.  Man, still not remembering the particulars.

What may make The Maltese Falcon so great is it's forgettableness.  I remember being fully engrossed in the film while also not recalling a single thing about it even though I'd seen it a few times before.  So what could be better than a fully engrossing noir that is just as engaging the fourth time you watch it as the first, just as surprising?

Really, I'm just filling white space here.  I have nothing to say about this of value.  Moving on.



Oh, Spartacus.  Epic Spartacus.
You know, I bought a rather pricey Stanley Kubrick blu-ray collection a few years back (it was on a cheap one-day sale from Amazon) and it didn't include Spartacus.  Now of the films in that collection, I'd only seen maybe 2/3rds, so there's still some fresh watching (as well as some intense re-watching) to do, but the one film I wanted to see most of Kubrick's was Spartacus.  I wound up PVR-ing it off Turner Classic Movies, the channel that keeps on giving, and waited for the right time to set aside two and a half hours to watch it.

That Kubrick fellow sure knows how to make a film don't he?  There's such a masterful lens happening in every one of Kubrick's films, such precise shots, such immaculate execution.  Everything has its right place.  It's like staging action figures for a photo shoot, each detail pristine, only these action figures move, and emote like mad.

I didn't realize there was such depth to the Spartacus story, how tied to civil rights and religious persecution it was.  For some reason I was just thinking "gladiator epic", like Ben Hur or Gladiator, but no, it's just an epic in the truest sense, the kind of bloated 1960s film that requires patience, attention, and an intermission for sustenance and relieving one's self.  It's a long-ass film is what I mean.

It's at once engaging and tedious, really taking its time to sit in its scenery and establish its setting.  It draws an audience in, and is perfect for the theatres where people go to escape, and be held captive by an experience.  It's a shame then that its score is so damn overbearing.  It's amazing how a control-freak director like Kubrick could allow a soundtrack to so dominate the aural atmosphere.  It's a great, difficult film, but the score at times makes it unpleasant to watch.

My viewing of the film was cut short by a mis-classification of run-time by TCM, so the PVR cut it off after the 150 minute mark and there was still 1/2 hour to go.  Without a copy in my Kubrick set, I'll just have to wait until TCM runs it again to catch the finale.


This poster is somehow both iconic
and really, really awful

I have a distinct memory of going to a birthday party around age 8 or so and part of that party was sitting down and watching Ladyhawke.  I also distinctly remember getting very bored, very quickly and going into another room and playing with the birthday boy's G.I. Joe figures while they watched the movie.  Even at 8, I found fantasy direly boring.  I was a Star Wars and superheroes kid.

About two years ago the wife and I got talking about childhood movies and this came up as one that she'd like to see again.  Having had the aforementioned distinct memory, I thought maybe I would find a used DVD copy somewhere for 5 buck or less and we could watch it.  Well, dammit if Ladyhawke isn't one of the hardest-to-find movies on DVD...not just used, but new too.  So, long story short, we got a downloaded copy from a friend (see what happens when you don't make your catalog available Movie Studios?) and, well, thank god I didn't pay for this.

I'm not sure who thought this soundtrack was a good idea, but this sub-par Jethro Tull synth bullshit kills the film, to the point that I can't see it for what it is other than a janky fantasy movie with an atrociously unlistenable score (seriously, it's worse than Spartacus' times infinity.  Just listen to this and tell me you want to have anything to do with the movie that accompanies it...



Man, what to say about this pile of utter mediocrity.  Atlantis: The Lost Continent was made in the early '60's but has that 1950's flavour all over it.  It's old fashioned and goofy, with an utterly simplistic take on romance that is so persistently laughable.  These kinds of lower-tier genre movies from that era were all about funky sets, big ideas and special effects (no matter how bad).  Most wind up being just as bad as this one.

A fisherman finds a woman washed up on shore.  Turns out she's the princess of Atlantis.  The fisherman returns her home, only to be enslaved.  He then leads the slave rebellion.  Atlantis is destroyed, and he returns home with the princess.  I mean, stuff sort of happens in between but that's about the gist of it.  It's as uncomplicated as that.

 The film starts with a narration which establishes a grand scope for this film that it doesn't even try to live up to:
It's a series of mysteries about how disparate populations across the glob have such weird similarities, intoning that Atlantis is the missing link between these...and yet this concept is never approached again.  Oy.

The sets and minatures are the money shots for films such as these, but they're unimpressive. George Pal has a history as an effects wizard, but in the director's chair, this is a much lazier affair.


Oh my god, House.  What the hell do I say about House.

As unintelligible as movies get, House is.

It's effectively a live-action anime, but done with all the craft low-budget 1970's Japanese Cinema could provide.

Somehow House has taken on cult status.  I get most cult films, generally like most of them too, but sometimes they're just too outre for me.  Like this one.  After about 40 minutes I couldn't take it anymore and watched the rest of it in fast forward.  I mean yeah, it's bizarre AF, but it's also nonsensical AF.  I think if I watched Anime, like, at all, it might have been more entertaining as I think House is both an homage and a lampoon of the cliches of 70's Japanese cartoons.

So much soft-focus melodrama and flashbacks and melodramatic flashbacks, horror that's not really horrific so much as it's just weird and goofy (utterly laughable at times) with a soundtrack that is part Looney Toons, part novelty album.  The girls all have odd names (Gorgeous, Prof, Melody, Kung-Fu etc) but they don't seem like nicknames, such an anime trope.

There's nothing scary or horrifying about this movie, except the amount of time you'll lose watching it.  Good lord, man, why.  Why does this exist?  This is a film that is a test of patience (says the guy who could sit through 18 hours of Twin Peaks: The Return] and offers very little in reward.



Looking back over 50 years ago, we see what we see now, an obsession with the end of the world.  We've been fretting over the end times since the start of time.  Societies would panic that eclipses were the end of the world.  Religious leaders would predict doomsdays that would never happen.  The Rapture is a perennial favourite, hopefully keeping the flock loyal and in line.  In the 50's and 60's (and 70's and 80's...oh and 90's up through today) we're still pretty paranoid about the whole nuclear holocaust thing.

Panic in the Year Zero (which totally seems like something different if you write it as Picnic in the Year Zero as I keep doing for some reason) finds a family heading out of Los Angeles with a trailer in tow on vacation only to have some strange events occur around them.  Soon they catch wind of the fact that LA has been nuked, and the family desperately tries to find solace and sanctuary in the midst of the chaos.  They find themselves in desperate scenarios, doing things they can't believe they're doing (mostly it's just writer-director Ray Milland in the lead role doing these things, but compared to the young punks, he's still acting saintly.

As far as end-times movies go, this one is rather light on the grim realities of societal collapse, because it was the 1960's and the true horrors of human nature were best suggested then, not visually realized so literally on screen, like they are today for all the dum dums who wouldn't get it otherwise. Enough happens that it's like a lite version of, well, every one of these types of movies since, from Night of the Living Dead through to It Comes At Night.  Panic is actually quite watchable, if thin, and of course, too patly resolved as was expected at the time.




There are some gems in 1980s sci-fi that never hit it big, but have their own distinct flavour and style that makes them more and more intriguing as they age.  Films like Lifeforce or 2010 or Dune are well-executed effects extravaganzas that have failings elsewhere but are still wonders to behold.  Ice Pirates so wanted to be that, but man, is it awful.

Water is scarce and tightly controlled so our heroes shanghai and rob transports, stealing their ice, when on one mission they manage to kidnap a princess.  From our first look of the utterly horrendous models of the poorly designed, poorly constructed, poorly shot spaceships to the hinky special effects, to the absolutely atrocious costume design, it's mere minutes before one realizes how stupendously crappy this movie in (let's not forget seeing an alien on the toilet...never forget).

The film tries for high-spirited pirate adventure attitude, but never commits fully to the premise.  All the actors are game in their roles. Bob Urich, Mary Crosby, Angelical Huston, Ron Perlman, and Michael Roberts all try to sell the hell out of this just atrocious, poorly visualized, shoddily constructed movie.  I have to give it to the film though that it does come up with a pretty spectacular (at least conceptually) final battle sequence where everyone's life accelerates at an astonishing rate (not just aging, but moving through moments in their life) as they fight for whatever it is they're fighting for.  It's a fun sequence, though still utterly campy and badly done.

There's a good movie here somewhere...concepts are sound, but man this is not the way to do it.  If there were a big budget modern remake, it's very possible a good space-comedy-pirate-adventure movie could come of it.


I've heard of this movie a number of times, quite often referenced in comedy as a "Grey Gardens" situation.  This is a documentary film about two relatives of Jackie Kennedy Onassis, a mother-daughter duo who Edie and Edith, who live together in utter squalor in an otherwise highbrow Long Island estate, dubbed Grey Gardens.

Modern television has covered troubled personalities like these ad nauseum. Turn on any episode of Hoarders, and you will see Edith Bouvier Beale.  Only Hoarders and its kin tend to exploit the lower class in their exposition of mental health disorders, while Grey Gardens is a look at the troubled upper class (not that Edie and Edith are upper class any longer).

It's a captivating film, piecing together the status of Edie and Edith's relationship. Who is dependent on whom?  At first it looks like Edie was dragged down into Edith's squalor, but it quickly comes around that that they're both enabling each other in their dire situation.  Edie is constantly talking about her former suitor, all the boys who asked her to marry them, all the men who her mother scared off.  Edie still has a sense of glamour about her, having been a part of the upper crust, but it's trashbag glamour now, as she tries to conceal all that she dislikes about herself, and deflects any of her known issues on her mother.

Edith, meanwhile, revels in the past, of her life as a singer, and is constantly singing in the 1920's-style warble that is like knives in the ears but was popular at the time. Edie often joins her, when she's not telling her to shut up.  They live in one room of the manor, cooking on a hot plate, eating out of cans.  Cats are everywhere, having the run of the house which is one sneeze away from being condemned.

As I said, fascinating.  But as much as this film could have been exploitative, one becomes very concerned about this duo, and Grey Gardens and the Edies history is extensively documented online.



Oh my god, I watched another Robert Zemeckis film.  I had sworn off of his movies after...what was it called?  What Lies Beneath perhaps?  I dunno.  There's not another director whose films grate on me so cloyingly and consistently.  I just can't with him, I just can't.

But then there's Back to the Future.  That's a (mostly) great trilogy.  It has its problems, and its Zemeckis-isms, but it's (mostly) great.  Same with Romancing The Stone.  It's such a Spielberg-lite film, and yet how can you not just get behind Kathleen Turner's romance novelist-turned-action hero Joan Wilder?  I mean she writes novels about women who long for a roguishly handsome, dashingly complex man-of-action to rescue them from their boredome (or whatever perilous situation she devises) but even after meeting Michael Douglas' Jack Coulton (fitting the rogue bill to a tee) as she tries to navigate the Columbian jungle in order to pay her kidnapped sister's ransom, she's the one who leads, fights, and figures out the solution to her problems.  Jack's more support than savior. 

It's unexpected, such women's liberation even from a film in the 1980's.  Today there's still a need for heroic female leads, but certainly far more movies with tough heroic women come out these days than ever before.  But its refreshing to look back and see from time to time a Ripley or Joan Wilder, a woman doing it for themself.



Man doing these 10 for 10 things are a slog.  I'm exhausted, and so unenthusiastic about Breaking Away, a perfectly decent and enjoyable coming-of-age film, that I kind of just want to leave it at that.

This is a film about a kid obsessed with Euorpean bicycle racing, and about his friends, and his family in the college town of Bloomington, Indiana.  It's a well-stocked cast, with young Dennis Quaid,  young Daniel Stern, young Jackie Earle Haley, and Paul Dooley as the dad, all working to deliver a very fine light drama about growing up in a town where the educated class and the working class are often in conflict.

There's not a tremendous amount of serious drama, and the comedy is sparse, but it all works together for a gentler teen movie than your Fast Times or Dazed and Confused or Superbad.  It's kind of a template for the John Hughes era of teenager movies in many ways, though less quotable for sure, but essential viewing for fans of this genre.  For a film from the late 70's though, it holds up tremendously well.  The themes of belonging and worrying about the future are kind of timeless.

The big bicycle race that the film leads up to is a hot mess, though, logically and practically.


Sunday, September 17, 2017

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2

2017, James Gunn (Super) -- cinema

I have decided that each cinema viewing will never get relegated to the "3 Short Paragraphs" nomenclature, whether I have more or less than three paragraphs to say about the movie.

If you recall, I wasn't a huge fan of the first one. And no, that is not the typical passive aggressive way of saying I didn't like it; its just that, not a huge fan. The best thing about the movie is that it generated a lot of conversation between Kent and I. In his own write up, he says it best, "it was just the condensed, Reader's Digest-light version of what felt like it should be a much longer story." I have seen it half dozen, half paying attention times on Netflix since; I have softened to it, more enjoying bits than the movie as a whole.

But surprise surprise, I really completely fell into this one.

Where the first one introduced the characters, letting them save a planet from a Big Bad, and established themselves as the self-named Guardians of the Galaxy, this one picks up with them hiring out on that name. In a brilliant opening sequence, where Baby (but growing up!) Groot does a dance number to E.L.O. while the team (badly) fights a toothy alien monster in the blurry background, we are reminded to smile when we watch this movie. James Gunn wants us to have a good time.

If they didn't really save the galaxy in the first, they do this  time round. This is a truly grand scale movie, that doesn't just explore Peter Quill's mysterious past (why was he taken from Earth) but also shows how this team will fit well into the cosmic story coming. Even if we accept that the characters are not their mega-powered counterparts from the comics, they show they can hold their own against cosmic powers here.

<spoiler>Do I really have to say this now?</spoiler>

And that cosmic power? Ego, the Living Planet. Yup, Peter's dad was a god (small 'g') who wandered around the galaxy impregnating aliens. Based on his name (apt) and his attitude, I wouldn't be surprised if he stuck with planets where he could be male, and could be portrayed as a handsome example of such. Ego's life-force is tied to the planet of his origin, whereas his humanoid body is just an extension, as he desired to understand these beings that were everywhere.

He reconnects with Peter, dialing into Quill's desire to have familial connections, a past and a family. That is why I connected with the movie; because of the emotional quotient it allowed itself to have. From Peter and his dad, to Peter and Gamora exploring what they have, to Rocket and his anger, to Gamora and Nebula and finally, shifting Yondu and the Ravagers from background characters, to the forefront. In case you don't know, Yondu is actually a member of the original Guardians, in the comics. There was just so much emotion in this movie, and that roped me in.

I also found that Gunn balanced the humour and the action better in this one. I found that the humorous elements were more extensions of the way the characters would really act, instead of funny bits to make us chuckle. The way Rocket deals with the Ravagers was pure Rocket, and of course, Groot is always am Groot.

Its funny, where Kent saw this one as the lesser of the two, I saw this as the better. I think they were able to dispense with the setup the first required, and just dive into the characters and their dynamic. That didn't require them to be together the entire time, but when drawn together for the final battle with Ego, they all worked together like the dysfunctional machine they are.

And and and, Ego had legit, fleshed out motivations for his properly galaxy wide actions. So, this time they really guarded the galaxy from a proper super villain.

P.S. Would someone explain to me why rainbrow brite colours are so prevalent in this one? Why is the galaxy so neon?

P.S.S. What's wrong with a Zune? I love mine. But really, Peter just needs to get over it and visit Earth properly to grab an iPod and someone's external HDD with thousands of songs.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

3 Short Paragraphs: Here Alone

2016, Rod Blackhurst (Alone Time [short]) -- download

I didn't realize, until I began to recall this movie for the writeup, that it sunk rather thoroughly into my psyche. For the past few months since I watched it, I have had a recurring half-awake morning dream. In it, I am living alone in an Airstream trailer near the shoreline of the Bras D'or lakes where I grew up. Its an isolated spot, always shrouded in mist, in a rural area where few lived, even before a zombie apocalypse depopulated it. Its not so much a zombie dream, as it is a living entirely alone dream, a hermitage kept tense by the ever present chance of either the murderous walking dead, or other people who may want what you have. This movie was all about that mood.

Ann lives alone in the woods, after escaping the fast-zombie-probably-not-undead plague that has destroyed the world. She escaped with her husband and infant son, but they are not around. Key the memories of those tragic events. She scavenges from surrounding homes, through the woods under the fence and across the fields, but not before covering herself in filth (her own filth) to mask her living human scent. This is one of those indie introspective movies, something my own story vignettes always seem to degrade into, less about the zombies than it is about a woman alone with her loss. It is interrupted, as it has to be, by her bumping into a man and his teenage step-daughter and making the choice to hide & protect them.

The Road set the stage for all further post-apocalyptic movies about isolation and loss. In much the way this one sunk into my own brain, there is something in ever social humans, that must always consider what it would be like to be forced to live alone. The poignant bit that this movie tries to make, is that it is sometimes harder to choose to return to the world... well, what is left of the world. Ann lost everything that was dear to her, but that shouldn't force her to end her life. The problem is that while the point of the movie is very apparent, it isn't presented well enough for us to really care. But it was a decent effort, that atmospherically captures the idea if the acting and plot couldn't.

Friday, September 15, 2017

20/20: #20 The Tick

[Like the "10 for 10" series but a little longer.  It's my endeavor to clean the backlog slate (with some things watched well over a year ago now) "this" month with 20 reviews written in 20 minutes (each) over 20-ish days...
That went well.]

2017, Amazon Prime - 6 episodes

The Tick comic book, when it emerged in, I want to say, 1989? was an underground success, to the point that Tick comics have been in continual creation ever since (though largely as a series of mini-series with sporadic publishing dates).  The Tick cartoon emerged in 1994 on Saturday morning Fox programming, and was a moderate hit with kids, but likewise a moderate hit with the college crowd.  I came to Tick with limited exposure through the comics and cartoon, but was fully on board with the Barry Sonnenfeld-produced, Patrick Warburton-starring live action the Tick in 2001, which, unfortunately, didn't even air all its episodes before Fox gave up on it.  It's had a healthy existence on DVD, which is more than I can say for the cartoon (where only 2 seasons have been released domestically, and even then each of the seasons is missing at least 1 episode).

Still, the Tick is kind of evergreen, it's a sort-of satire of superhero comics, but also just a straight-up lighthearted superhero tale.  It's never all that serious and it's genuinely fun.  Both my kids, with a 7-year-gap between them, love the Tick cartoon and they get it when my wife and I make casual or offhanded references from the show.  While the Tick is no Spider-Man or Batman or Mickey Mouse, the character and his strange, weird world have penetrated popular culture, and will continue to do so so long as its small and loyal fan base continues to dig what it dishes out.

The latest the Tick live action series from Amazon Prime certainly fills that need, but changes the scope of how the Tick has typically operated.  For the most part, in any media to this point, the Tick has been largely episodic, with self-contained stories and little narrative through line, but this run, which reunites the character with its creator Ben Edlund as showrunner, is servicing televisions modern, binge-minded nature. 

Arthur is, as he often is, the central focus, the grounding point. Here he's fleshed out as having some psychological disorders, anxiety and the like, which his sister Dot has made it her mission to keep in check.  Most of this stems back from childhood, where Arthur witnessed the super-villain the Terror force his favourite superhero team's ship to crash land on his dad, and then murder the super team in front of him, and then eat his ice cream.  Decades later Arthur is obsessed with the Terror, believing that he faked his own death, and spending most of his spare time looking for clues to his existence and whereabouts.  On one stakeout, he meets the Tick, and at first is unsure whether the Tick is a product of his own psychoses, or if he is actually the Tick, or if the Tick is indeed real.  He's very surreal, whatever the case.

The first episode was produced as part of Amazon's annual pilot projects, and was popular enough to be greenlit.  Nearly a year passed between the pilot and production of the remaining episodes but it's fairly seamless with the one major exception being the drastically different, and vibrantly bluer look to the Tick.  In the pilot the costume on Peter Serafinowicz is meant to evoke an insectoid feel, and a bit more of a natural sensibility, but going into production they wisely made him more flashy, bulkier and vibrant, more fitting with his place in the show.

The main thread of the 6 episodes has to do with Arthur and the Tick bonding, all while establishing the tremendous cast and their relationships with one another, and seeding in a bunch of background items, like the "Dinosaur Neal" analogue in "the very large man".  It's a darker version of the Tick, more cynical, more violent, plenty of swearing, but the Tick himself remains virtually unchanged.  From comics to animation to both live action, the big, blue dope has been fairly consistently written, exceptionally altruistic, equally oblivious, and utterly high spirited.  The endless enthusiasm Tick exerts would be exhausting if it weren't so amusing.  Here the Tick is used sparingly, perhaps too much so.  I really craved more and more Tick as it went on.

I've loved Serafinowicz since first really noticing him in an episode of Black Books, he's got an amazing charm and presence and I've enjoyed absolutely everything he's done, from Big Train to Spy to Guardians of the Galaxy to the little seen Will Arnette series Running Wilde.  That said, I was worried about him as the Tick... but then I shouldn't have been.  With incredible comedic timing and instincts, as well as a penchant for mimicry, he's able to replicate the Tick from the cartoon almost perfectly (a hint of his Britishness cuts through from time to time) but with his own panache to it.

Sure the effects are Janky and it's not as bizarre as the cartoon, but it remains boundlessly entertaining.  My biggest complaint would be the season is just too damn short.  Just like the last live action version of the Tick, I just want more.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

3 Short Paragraphs: Life

2017, Daniel Espinosa (Safe House) -- download

This is one of the long list of current movies I should have seen In Cinema. But, I am just Not That Guy Anymore. I am not the one from Ottawa who saw every movie that was in the theatres at the time. I am not the one from Ottawa and Montreal who loved the rep cinemas and their collections of older well-loved movies, the crowds who were often more fun than the movie choices themselves. I am not even that guy who created the blog with Graig Kent, because we were strolling out to film fest movies, and genre premieres and arguing over drinks about why a movie was great or greatly terrible. I am now that guy who just wants the couple behind me to shut the fuck up, that the old guy to my left to just turn off his fucking smartphone and the audience to just generally settle in and watch the trailers. So, I don't get out to The Movies as much as I used to, and often when I do, I am not sure I really wanted to.

Life is one of those movies where the paranoia of extra-terrestrial life being a killer alien is proven accurate. The ISS is awaiting the return of a probe from Mars, which has a sample of soil that could and does contain dormant, amoebic life. You know, safe stuff that we can observe under a microscope in a box with those gloves. Of course, it immediately grows bigger and after they zap it a few times, to inspire life, it gets hostile. And bigger, and more hostile. From a plot, its been seen a dozen times. Kill it, before it kills all the astronauts on the ISS.

What makes this movie, and I am not sure how they got them all in there, are the stars. Jake Gyllenhaal and Ryan Reynolds, and some recognizable B's like Rebecca Ferguson (the spy in the yellow dress, from Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation) and Hiroyuki Sanada ("that Japanese guy"), make this an enjoyable cast in a C-grade movie. Ryan is Rory Adams, playing a typical Reynolds likable asshole. Unfortunately he is first to die; I guess he got some good money to do a short bit. After his death, the rest of the movie is about containing the homicidal giant amoeba while maintaining the protocol that, should it escape, they are to sacrifice themselves before letting it get to Earth.

[added 9 hours later?]

Bonus Paragraph: Oh oh oh, I completely forgot to add in why I actually thought I should have seen this in the theatre. One of the tag lines for this movie was Alien meets Gravity. Its not exactly accurate as it is pithy, but its an apt description. Gravity just looked good, from all the tech space mashup stuff to the beautiful use of lighting; this movie does a enthralling job of envisioning an active ISS and crew.  I love that kind of stuff. From the Alien point of view, its less xenomorph than it is The Thing with its amorphous blob creature doing all sorts of "where the fuck is it" shit. And all of this just fits better on a large screen, in a dark dark room. Alas, I know that I would have had to find a time when nobody else was watching (which shouldn't have been hard, considering it bombed) to truly enjoy.