Mini Reviews, Vol. 7 ~ What I’ve Been Watching Edition

MiniReviews

Oscar Standouts from Last Year

alt textThe Big Short (2016)
Director: Adam McKay
Writers: Charles Randolph (screenplay), Adam McKay (screenplay), Michael Lewis (book)
Stars: Christian Bale, Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling, Brad Pitt

Winner for best adapted screenplay, based on the book by Michael Lewis. How do you make a movie about financiers and the mid-2000’s housing bubble? 1.) Pick some characters and tell their stories. The four leads in The Big Short are all great. 2.) Don’t fear the occasional educational digression. (That link? NSFW due to a little language.)

Spotlight (2015)
Director: Tom McCarthy
Writers: Josh Singer, Tom McCarthy
Stars: Mark Ruffalo, Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams

Based on the true story of how the Boston Globe uncovered the molestation scandal within the Catholic church, this movie was obvious Oscar bait. It won best picture and best original screenplay. It is a solidly written and acted movie, fairly compelling, but I thought The Big Short was probably more inventive in its storytelling.

Weren’t Oscar Contenders in Any Year

Black Sea (2014)
Director: Kevin Macdonald
Writer: Dennis Kelly (screenplay)
Stars: Jude Law, Scoot McNairy, Ben Mendelsohn

A submarine captain gathers a crew to plunder Nazi gold from a lost WWII sub. Man, this story, an undersea heist, had so much potential. Alas, this movie is the opposite of competence porn. From the very beginning, dumb decisions are made. The rest of the movie’s narrative is watching those dumb decisions play out.

Green Room (2015)
Director: Jeremy Saulnier
Writer: Jeremy Saulnier
Stars: Anton Yelchin, Imogen Poots, Alia Shawkat, oh, and Patrick Stewart

I’ll admit, this is probably my favorite of these four films. A punk band ends up witnessing a crime at backwoods neo-Nazi club. This is pretty much a straight-up non-supernatural horror flick, but it’s well written and really well shot. A good deal of the film takes place in the club’s green room, a locale that is infinitely more claustrophobic than Black Sea’s submarines.

#RIPXI ~ Pits, Pendulums, and Extraordinary Tales

season-of-the-witch-button-2016Season of the Witch

“The Pit and the Pendulum” by Edgar Allan Poe

“The Pit and the Pendulum” was another of the Troll Communications adaptations stocked in my grade-school library. The Haunted Closet has a great bunch of scans from it.

While “Masque of the Red Death” has some clear allegorical content, “The Pit and the Pendulum” is a pretty straight-forward tale. Our first-person narrator is a heretic (of some sort) and sentenced to death by the Spanish Inquisition. Except, since an auto da fé has recently taken place, his punishment is actually to be tortured until he dies or until the next scheduled “sacrifice” by fire. Our narrator is put in a very dark room with a pit in the center. When he fails to fall in, he’s tied down with a gradually lowering razor sharp pendulum. When he manages to escape, the walls of his cell become glowing hot and begin to move inward, forcing him toward the pit. Each torture is more phantasmagorical than the last, each requiring more complex machines and architecture. Our narrator is then rescued at the last moment by a General Lasalle, placing this Spanish Inquisition in the early 1800s.

Really, “The Pit and the Pendulum” is more like the “torture porn” movies of the the early 2000s. Now, I have nothing against those kind of movies, I even enjoy them on a certain level. Indeed, I enjoy “The Pit and the Pendulum” as well. There is a certain satisfaction to characters attempting to use ingenuity to extricate themselves from hopeless situations.

ripnineperilfirst
RIPXI Info | Reviews

Extraordinary Tales (2013)
Directed by Raul Garcia
Narrations by Christopher Lee, Bela Lugosi, Julian Sands, Guillermo del Toro, Roger Corman, Stephen Hughes, and Cornelia Funke.

Extraordinary Tales is an animated anthology of five Poe stories, each animated in a different style with different narrators. The wrap-around involves the spirit of Poe still on earth as a raven as Death tries to woo him.

Some of the adaptations are more successful than others.

The first tale is “The Fall of the House of Usher” narrated by Christopher Lee. This was one of Lee’s last pieces of work and I can’t think of too many people more up to the task. The angular animated caricatures and rich, dark colors are pretty wonderful.

My personal favorite is the mostly black and white animation of “The Tell-Tale Heart,” visually inspired by the art of Alberto Breccia. The slick animation is a great contrast to the hiss-and-pop recording of Bela Lugosi as our narrator.

Being a fan of Julian Sands, I wanted to like “The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar” more than I did. The narration was fine. The animation style is evocative of EC horror comics, but the color palate seemed off to me. Plus, there’s not too much story to “M. Valdemar.” It is a curious choice for adaptation.

I didn’t care for the animation style of “The Pit and the Pendulum” at all. While shooting for realism, the presumably computer generated characters felt unsubstantial and somewhat fell into uncanny valley.  The being said, Guillermo del Toro was a great selection for narrator.

I’m sort of torn by “The Masque of the Red Death.” The animation is like vivid water color paintings brought to life, but it actually lacked narration. Other than a couple words spoken by Prince Prospero (voiced by Roger Corman), the story is told in images and music only. “Masque” is an incredibly visual story and is well-“told” in this format, but I did miss the beauty of Poe’s language.

Through out this anthology is music written by Sergio de la Puente. It’s a soundtrack worthy of any Halloween or writing playlist.

Mini Reviews ~ All Sorts of Peril

MiniReviews

From the Dust Returned

From the Dust Returned by Ray Bradbury
William Marrow, 2001, Hardback

In 1946, Charles Addams (of Addams Family fame) illustrated “Homecoming,”  a story Ray Bradbury sold to Mademoiselle magazine. This *almost* began a continuing collaboration  between the two. Both got busy on other projects, though Bradbury occasionally added stories to the history of the Elliot family, residents of October Country. Where Addams’ family is “creepy” and “kooky,” Bradbury’s is more in the realm of uncanny and maybe even evil. Many of the stories are told through the eyes of Timothy, the normal and unfortunate one of the family. While strong on atmosphere, the plot of the book is rough, stitching together a collection of short stories.

A Vampire Quintet

A Vampire Quintet by Eugie Foster
Self-published, 2013, Kindle edition

Simply, five pretty darn good vampire tales by one of my favorite authors. The settings are diverse, from a fairy tale land to a cyberpunk cityscape, and all present a new little twist to vampire mythos. A shock to no one, my favorite was “Ascendancy of Blood,” a retelling of Sleeping Beauty.

Ghostbusters Poster

Ghostbusters (2016)
Directed by Paul Feig
Starring Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, Kate McKinnon, Leslie Jones

The 1984 Ghostbusters is one of my favorite films; the only way that the new Ghostbusters could possibly “ruin my childhood” would be if it were so superior that I’d have to have a new favorite Ghostbusters. And that’s win-win, you know? Alas, the new Ghostbusters isn’t that good.

The best thing: This movie is about four grown women and in no way involves weight loss, marriage, or motherhood. These female characters get to be geeky about science, tech, and history. I’ll admit it, that’s cool to see in a movie.

Mixed things: Most of the comedy was what I expected—not very funny to me—but I was really surprised by how much I liked Leslie Jones’ character. Patty is pretty funny. I loved all the actor cameos, and not just from the 1984 cast. You don’t need Michael Kenneth Williams to play a DHS heavy, but it doesn’t hurt. I thought the ghosts looked great. I don’t think the up-ing of tech and action did anything good for the film. The derivative bits were very flat.

All in all, I wish this were a better movie. I wish it would have been so good that its critics had nothing to criticize. As it is, the fact that the characters are female isn’t what makes the movie not very good.

ripnineperilfirst ripnineperilscreen
RIPXI Info | Reviews

What Else Wednesday ~ Peril on the Screen edition

ElseWedsI watched/rewatched a couple of Peril on the Screen eligible movies this past weekend:

The Sixth Sense (1999) – Written and directed by M. Night Shyamalan; Starring Bruce Willis, Haley Joel Osment, and Toni Collette

Reading “Smee” put me in the mood to watch the quintessential story of people and ghosts. I hadn’t watched The Sixth Sense in a few years and I was reminded of how really well crafted this movie is. It’s slowly and deliberately presented, and all the parts fit together. And, even if you know the twist, there are so many little details that are noticeable on rewatch. This time, I paid attention to the times when Shyamalan uses the viewer’s assumptions of what is going on and what has occurred—to the viewer’s detriment. The only thing we can trust are the images on the screen.

Cinematography Trivia: In addition to working on many of M. Night Shyamalan’s movies and Silence of the Lambs, cinematographer Tak Fujimoto also worked on Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and Pretty in Pink.

The Last Witch Hunter (2015) – Directed by Breck Eisner; Starring Vin Diesel, Rose Leslie, and Elijah Wood

On the other side of the movie coin from The Sixth Sense is a movie like The Last Witch Hunter. I’ll admit, when I first saw the trailer I figured this film was another in a long line of loud, non-stop action, CGI-laden behemoths. But actually, The Last Witch Hunter is fairly well paced with even a little bit of plot. It’s by no means a great film, but it’s was enjoyable. I liked the nature-driven magic effects and Vin Diesel played a refreshingly non-emo immortal.

Cinematography Trivia: Cinematographer Dean Semler won an Oscar for Dances with Wolves.

 

ripnineperilscreen RIPXI Info | Reviews

What Else Wednesday ~ What Am I Watching, Vol. 1

ElseWedsWhat Am I Watching: an occasional series.

alt text Peaky Blinders (2013-present), created by Steven Knight

After watching two seasons, there isn’t anything I don’t love about Peaky Blinders. The cast, the writing, the setting, and especially the anachronistic soundtrack are all great. I guess I’m okay with giving up accuracy for style. My only problem is having “Red Right Hand” stuck in my head for extended periods. If you can call that a problem.

alt text Stark Raving Mad (1999), created by Steven Levitan (Modern Family)

Remember that sit-com with Tony Shalhoub as an eccentric horror writer and Niel Patrick Harris as his germaphobe  editor? You don’t? Not surprising. Though it did well critically, Stark Raving Mad only lasted a season. Despite the image at left, the series doesn’t seem to be widely available, so I don’t feel too bad sharing a link to a VHS rip of the series.

alt text Tubi TV

Not a show, but a streaming service. Like Crackle, it’s totally above board and free, but with commercials. The offerings are varied; there are some pretty good movies mixed in with some dubious stuff.  It’s kind of like visiting Blockbuster late on a Friday night if you’re old enough to remember that. Their streaming on PC isn’t as good as Hulu, but it’s decent and they’ve shown improvement in the last few months.

Currently, I’m enjoying their horror selection which includes such solid classics as An American Werewolf in London, Rosemary’s Baby, Candyman, Audrey Rose, and Jacob’s Ladder.

#RIPX ~ Peril in SPAAACE!

ripnineperilscreen

In Space No One Can Hear You Scream

That, of course, is the tagline of the movie that kicked off one of the scariest, most suspense-driven science fiction franchises of all time: Alien. In horror, isolation and the unknown are prevalent themes; ones that can be explored well in science fiction.

To bring this around to my RIPX celebration, here are a few perilous sci-fi offerings that I’ve enjoyed lately.

Aliens3: The Novelization by Alan Dean Foster

I don’t listen to too many audio books, but I wanted add some RIPX spice into my life while I did silly things like dishes and laundry. This is the novelization of the oft-maligned third Alien movie. Personally, I think the movie is pretty okay, directed by one of my favorites, David Fincher (Se7en, Gone Girl). The story adapted by Alan Dean Foster isn’t half-bad either. The slam-dunk factor here is the narrator, Lance Henriksen. Henriksen is known for his many genre rolls as a character actor, including Bishop in Aliens and Aliens3.

Ghost Ships

The sea-faring age had ghost ships, vessels that had met strange and mysterious ends and continued to sail without a crew and brought doom in their wake. Space-faring science fiction has often taken that concept and blended it with the horror theme of meddling with forces beyond human understanding.

Event Horizon (1997)

A rescue ship is sent to investigate the Event Horizon, a space vessel that had disappeared seven years prior. Event Horizon, unbeknownst to the general public, had been fitted with an experimental gravity drive that creates an artificial black hole in order to interdimensionally travel long distances in space. The rescue party finds an empty ship. The last video log graphically depicts the insanity of the previous crew. Is the Event Horizon haunted? Or has is breached dimensions better left unknown?

This is a pretty tense film. Featuring Sam Niell (Jurassic Park), Laurence Fishburne (The Matrix), the acting is solid and so is the direction by Paul W. Anderson. It isn’t for the faint of heart though. Some of the most disturbing footage is only flashed for a few seconds, which leaves plenty of room for your mind to fill in the gaps.

The Black Hole (1979)

I’m going to admit it right now, this film might only be scary to me, and five year old me at that. The Black Hole was released in 1979 by Walt Disney Productions. I was a big Star Wars fan at the time (a fan of any science fiction, really) and my grandpa thought to to see it would be a perfect outing. (Grandpa and I went to see pretty much every Disney release/rerelease.) While it included a couple of cute, anthropomorphized robots, it was also Disney’s first PG release. I ended up having a few nightmares about the scary, anthropomorphized robot that ends up in “hell” with its creator on the other side of the black hole… (This didn’t stop me from owning a read-and-play record/book combination that I’m sure drove my parents up the wall as much as I played it.) On rewatch, the ending is still a little discomfiting.

Neil deGrasse Tyson has called The Black Hole the least scientifically accurate movie ever, but I wonder if he’s taking into account that it was made in 1979. It does have the distinction of having the longest computer generated sequence ever (up until that time) included in its opening titles.

#RIPX ~ Peril on the Small Screen

ripnineperilscreen

What I’ve Been Watching

Penny Dreadful, season 2 -If ever there was a TV series that embodies RIP and Gothic September, it’s Penny Dreadful. Take Victor Frankenstein (and his monster), Dorian Gray, and the cast of Dracula (minus the eponymous vampire) and add in witches, werewolves, spiritualism, and sinister wax works—basically every Victorian horror trope. Mix them all together; what do you get? A show that is less of a mess than you might expect. Sure, Penny Dreadful is a little melodramatic, that’s part of the fun, but it somehow avoids being completely over the top. The only thing missing are Victorian era magicians!

Arthur & George – This is a three-part series currently airing on PBS in the US. (Check your listings or online!) It’s based on a novel by Julian Barnes (haven’t read it…yet) about Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s investigation into the accusation leveled against an Indian solicitor. It’s based on a true story, although I have a feeling the truth (and probably the book) has more to do with advocacy than Sherlockian detection. I’ve only watched the first episode, but Doyle and his secretary make a great team and there are a few honest-to-goodness creepy moments.

What I’m Looking Forward To

Sleepy Hollow, returning Oct. 1st – Sleepy Hollow *is* soap-operatic and over-the-top, but the friendship between Abbie and Ichabod is so appealing. They’re my favorite TV duo. And you’d think that Ichabod dealing with the 21st century would get old, but it really doesn’t.