24 April 2018

Tales from the Darkside Season 2

Tales from the Darkside Season Two Provides More Bizarre
by Kristin Battestella

Producer George A. Romero's 1985-86 Second Season of Tales from the Darkside is the series' longest year with twenty-four episodes of oddities, scares, and morose mood. Of course, the night club comedy act in “The Impressionist” is stale – but mysterious G-men offer a has been comedian a special job communicating with gestures amid secret labs, spaceships, and sympathetic aliens. Our slight of hand performer picks up the interstellar mimicry, but refuses to reveal the alien's secret to fusion power. While the weak effects are a little laughable, this alien touch gives a once sarcastic man a piece of something more. It's business as usual, however, for harsh workaholic Bill Macy (Maude) in “Lifebomb” until an insurance salesman presents a deal on an unique medical safety device that's too good to be true. After sudden chest pains, he accepts the titular offer, but that little implant on his back leads to more scary medical situations and company control over what could be life saving technology. This is an interesting plot on stress, aging, and our career servitude made fantastic before inventor John Heard (Home Alone) recounts the earthquakes and mini volcano rising through the floor to deliver extraterrestrial Penelope Ann Miller (Carlito's Way) for “Ring Around the Redhead.” The jailhouse frame condenses the pace for the romance, reduces the need to show action the series can't afford, and grounds the what ifs with electric chair shadows and noir mood. Remodeling and rent control versus eviction unfortunately carry a touch of racism in “Parlour Floor Front” as the upstairs alligator on the polo shirt snobs insult the elderly voodoo practitioner downstairs. A few curses lead to damaged antiques, broken wrists, and falls off the ladder. Mischief, disrespected coffins, and evil-tainted gold escalate to fatal lies as Tales from the Darkside does a lot of scary with very little. Likewise returning director Tom Savini's “Halloween Candy” adds vintage costumes and candy bags to the holiday hate and cranky old dad hoping the kids have a sugar overdose on the doorstep. Threats to call the police or telling the trick-or-treaters to go to hell result in an incessant doorbell buzz and a devilish little goblin peeking in the window. Broken watches at midnight, bugs in the candy, blue hues, and freaky monster masks stand out thanks to the well edited suspense.

Romero himself pens “The Devil's Advocate” starring ornery radio show host Jerry Stiller (Seinfeld). He makes his callers cry amid vintage soundboards and flashing red studio lights, but the engineer falls asleep, the studio grows increasingly darker, and call ins come from all over history before a chat with the boss from below himself in this superb one man parable. A man in shades also has an exclusive offer to revive an old sixties network series for the film within a film of “Distant Signals.” The show Max Paradise was unfortunately terrible, but a hefty gold investment reminds the crusty Hollywood suit, writer's block writer, and drunken actor how inspiring television really is. Although this nice Galaxy Quest story follows several scary tales, it's made all the more bemusing thanks to today's reboots and revivals ad nauseam. By contrast, the self involved yuppie parents in “Ursa Minor” don't believe their daughter when she says her antique teddy bear is responsible for the household mischief. Occult experts warn them of Native American magic and ancient worship of the eponymous bear constellations, but the muddy little paw prints and tool mishaps create some chilling moments before the faulty gas stove, ambulances, crutches, and karma for “Effect and Cause.” Starving artist Susan Strasberg (Scream of Fear) believes in synchronicity, tarot, and astral charts, leaving her reluctant to paint over unusually awful found canvases. Unfortunately, the esoteric heavy and chaos debates leave her trapped, helpless in a home that's working against her in this Mandela Effect meta mind bender. Baby Seth Green (Buffy) has something creepy under the bed on Christmas morning in “Monsters in My Room,” too. The boy prays against tentacles, saw blades, and boogie men in the closet out to get him with scary nighttime lighting and every toy, ticking clock, or floorboard creak adding to the terror. However his stepdad wants to toughen him up, giving him beer and trying to make the boy a man in a whiff of subtext as real world and horror merge.

Shakespeare quotes and an antique telescope invoke a renaissance touch for “Comet Watch” – a lighthearted entry obsessed with the cosmos once an Edwardian babe pops into the attic after taking a long celestial trip. The dated science and charming love triangles set off what was then a timely January 1986 airing ahead of the forthcoming Halley's Comet. Yes, this again far beyond the Darkside theme. However, this is probably the last time a genre television series could address such fanciful fears with such innocence as we're too scientific and overly cynical these days. “A New Lease on Life” provides a new apartment with all the trimmings and supposedly no catch for an uber cheap $200 a month. Unfortunately, the wall groans when an against the rules nail is hammered in, and handymen against newfangled microwave radiation fix the bleeding sheet rock with peroxide. Neighbors denied water warn our tenant while cries with in the walls and giant garbage disposals suggest there's a price to pay for eating meat. One could have it all forever if he just follows the rules and do what he is told, making this a freaky little statement on human horrors and arrogance. The desperate writer with the empty refrigerator in “Printer's Devil” follows an ad to one creepy agent's office where voodoo dolls, mystic tomes, and animal sacrifices promise Pulitzers. Publication and success soon follow, but the so-called inspirational pets also increase as the literary riches must be maintained. When his new girlfriend starts sneezing over his apartment zoo, well, our devilish agent suggests one final sacrifice. “The Shrine,” by contrast, presents a mother offering her estranged daughter milk and cookies. She doesn't want to talk about the past or her daughter's breakdown, but she keeps her daughter's room in untouched childhood perfection – yet phantom winds and nursery rhymes suggest someone else is living among the ribbons and pom poms. Can a mother be so disappointed in how a child grew up that she would try again with the same daughter? The who does mommy love more contest could be silly, but the warped women's roles are played serious amid the taboos. Motel manager John Fielder (The Bob Newhart Show) reluctantly lends the Room 7 key to a cruising salesman for “The Old Soft Shoe,” and a vintage radio plays jazz while a woman in black lingerie draws a steamy bath. She calls our salesman by a different name and insists they'll never be apart while they dance cheek to cheek. However, 1950 newspaper clippings and dusty corsages lead to gunshots and jilted dames as the nostalgic personalities and ghostly femme fatales bring the blood and stockings full circle.

On Thanksgiving eve an ingenue waits on the desolate platform for the late train in “The Last Car.” Once onboard, the eponymous passengers warn her she can't travel between cars – they fear the upcoming tunnels, nobody likes to talk about time, and the so-called train to Providence isn't stopping like it should. Lost watches, a shoe box full of all the foods they desire, and a nonsensical conductor create an askew Twilight Zone perception with memorable revelations before a cocky doctor is happy to diagnose mob boss Abe Vigoda (The Godfather) with cancer for “A Choice of Dreams.” Fortunately, a more radical scientist offers him the power over death for a cool ten million. Ticking clocks count down as the murderer faces his own mortality while black and white offices with futuristic technology keep the brain alive as the memories flashing before our criminal's eyes catch up to him. The 1935 noir, moonlight, pale skin, and hints of red in “Strange Love” tell us what fangs are afoot. Marcia Cross (Melrose Place) has no heartbeat and a cold touch to match her seduction, power, and beauty as this saucy love triangle leads to betrayal, a double wide coffin, and a bloody good time. The video will left by a fire and brimstone televangelist for his sister Connie Stevens (Hawaiian Eye) in “The Unhappy Medium,” however, isn't the riches she hoped. The hypocritical pretenses and greedy true colors come out thanks to neon lighting, purgatory traps, and devilish possession. The family that sins together, stays together in this timeless Tales from the Darkside parable. Meanwhile, the empty army recruiting office receives an unlikely man not signing up but asking for sanctuary in “Fear of Floating.” He unbuckles his boots and floats every time he lies – a gift the army would love to use between the zany standoffs, tall tales, delusions, deceptions, and one low hung ceiling fan. Splattered sheets and bloody babes set off frequent Tales from the Darkside director Frank de Palma's finale “The Casavin Curse” amid homicide detectives, suspect servants, and ancient gypsy curses turning a tiny heiress into a deadly demon with killer claws. She always ends up hurting the one she loves!

Tales from the Darkside's half hours often center around one or two characters, and episodes are slightly better when there's a more recognizable name to anchor the fun. Indeed, viewers have to take these gonzo tales with a sense of humor, for even amid the serious parables there are laughable things. Scribble on a piece of paper isn't an alien language nor is one earring and a few crystals in a gal's hair outer space couture – actually, it's just totally eighties! A calm granny offers chicken soup to the possessed little girl who'd rather eat souls in “The Trouble with Mary Jane,” and local amateur exorcist cum con artist comedienne Phyllis Diller is going to use tea leaves and tarot cards to put this demon into a pig and make her fortune. This could be something scary, but it's tough to tell if the humor is intentional and we should roll with it or just laughably bad. Several juvenile shows and household scares in a row sag mid-season, and daughter Lisa Bonet (A Different World) tries to inspire her angry composer father in “The Satanic Piano.” His record company is unhappy with his latest album, but a mysterious man offers the family a computerized keyboard with telepathic connections and a sinister price to pay. Can a machine capture the purity and essence of one's soul and music? This contemporary tale is waxing on something innocent, however the execution is off the mark in a series where youth in terror befits the Darkside content. Dated phrases like “rad,” “far out,” or “right on” I can dig, yet I can't say the same for “Dream Girl” as film shoots and pin ups help a creepy janitor live out his sexist misogynist fantasy. While fog, distorted angles, and fake props set off the warped titular haze, the Inception play within a play meta is too nonsensical and confusing with abusive shouting and characters trapped in an overlong, dry predicament. Certainly the computers and alien designs are primitive. The empty sets are gray scale abstract with wild faux marble luxury meant to be eighties high end but it's all so obviously cardboard fake today. One may argue the backdrops beyond those false windows create a more stage-like setting allowing the bizarre per tale to shine, however the redressed cheap is often too apparent – an office from one episode is easily a jail cell the next. Most special effects seen are also hokey but brief with major fantastics largely left to off camera imagination. Though the jury may be deliberating on the eighties silk blouses and pussy bows back in vogue, those bright yuppie pinks and thugs in sport coats with the sleeves rolled up were never good looks!

While there may be no subtitles for the Tales from the Darkside: The Complete Series set, the always chilling greeting and opening theme speak for themselves. Old tape recorders, rotary phones, and typewriters add nostalgic décor alongside retro ice boxes, doilies, and static on the big boob tube. Blue lighting, silver accents, moonlight silhouettes, firelight, and candlesticks invoke mood as increasingly dark schemes, shadows, dreamy photography, and cigarette smoke frame the spooky atmosphere. Some of that white leather furniture and mauve pastiche does have the right swanky, and Tales from the Darkside's production values increase slightly during the season with latter episodes featuring real homes and locales rather than mere set walls. Tiny white lingerie and steamy nightgowns and some side boob close calls also push the envelope, yowza! Art Deco tone on tone designs add an Old Hollywood simmer while choice reds and brains in jars never let us forget the horror at hand.

Sure, Tales from the Darkside has a certain amount of dated silliness. Bemusing weirdness is more often featured than full on frights. However, the scares are superb when they happen and the spooky fun doesn't overstay its welcome. Tales from the Darkside Season Two is easy to marathon for nostalgic creepiness and all manner of bumps in the night.

08 April 2018

Short SFF to See or Skip

Short SFF to See or Skip
by Kristin Battestella

Some recent but short lived science fiction and fantasy series are a pleasing quick binge – while others are disappointing hard passes, to say the least. 

Worth A Look

Awake – After a car accident, Detective Jason Isaacs (Harry Potter) begins living dual realities in these thirteen episodes from 2012– one where his wife survives and the other with his living son. The graphic opening gets right to the two fold funeral and therapist per reality with B.D. Wong (Law & Order: Special Victims Unit) and Cherry Jones (I Saw the Light) differentiating each environment alongside varying hues – warm reds with his wife and blues or greens for his son. Are these double dreams merely a coping mechanism to relieve his mind from facing death? Names, numbers, and clues crossover between each reality and help our detective solve cases despite both doctors thinking this dual life is unhealthy rather than positive and ultimately unsustainable. Intercut conversations with the therapists point/counterpoint almost like a three-way debate on selective hearing and conditioning the mind to bend facts to our opinion. A hospital hostage situation adds schizophrenic routines, insomnia, unstable harm, and more convincing oneself to hide the problem. Our cop relates to a delusion mental patient with similar distorted realities amid explosives, hallucinations, and meta fantasies further blurring what's real. Is there really a distinction between fantasy and reality and do you insist upon the one piece of information that will shatter the illusion? Is it better to lie or let the fantasy resolve itself? Drive thru clowns provide clues to cold cases, missing files, and bodies in the basement cement. Informants, stakeouts, and unmarked vans return to the original schism as Detective Malfoy passes out, spiraling over changes in his reality patterns and talking to himself in public. Foot chases, vehicle crashes, and on the street hysteria lead to sketch artists and police connections as denial, grief, and blame come to forefront with consequences and suspensions. Is he paranoid or protecting his dual fantasy? Evidence needs to prove his unreliable memory, and the desperate husband/father goes after someone guilty in his red reality – but that doesn't mean his quarry did wrong in the green reality, does it? Switching realities at just the wrong time reveals “they know that we know that they know that we know” secret meetings, hackers, and manhunts. Suspicious storage lockers, corruption, and shocking executions provide cliffhangers in the later episodes alongside gunshot wounds, holding cells, and surreal visions that perhaps solve the source behind his accident and answer which reality is real – maybe. What hurts is when this series falls prey to the superficial case of the week filler with cliché cinematic timing and on the nose action, shaky cams, or fast zooms crowding unnecessary bookies, arson, and teen pregnancy scares. The cerebral aspects are more interesting, and this show needs to hold firm on its format rather than deviating from his unique points of view or carrying unnecessary regulars when longer serving guest Laura Innes (ER) provides the more critical performance. Although each entry is decent entertainment, the forty odd minutes aren't enough time. Episodes Three, Four, and Five are wasted on saccharin dialogue and sentimental resolutions, and broadcast versus production order dumbs down the complexity by giving away conspiracy details too soon. Episode Six “That's Not My Penguin” should have happened immediately, and airing Episode Eleven “Say Hello to My Little Friend” four slots earlier would have saved the show. NBC's mishandling here reminds me of the similarly short-lived Journeyman, and American networks must adapt to having shorter themed Sunday SF specials rotating in themed blocks rather than shortsightedly canceling genre properties. This series should have been a ten episode event, and it deserved to see another Inception-esque season.

Didn't Finish 'em!

HelixRonald D. Moore (Deep Space Nine) produced two seasons totaling twenty-six episodes of this 2014-15 SyFy original starring CDC doctor Billy Campbell (Lizzie Borden Took an Ax) in the Arctic amid contamination suits, retrovirus outbreaks, and private biotech companies operating in international territory with no official jurisdiction and the nearest help 200 miles away. Patient attacks lead to body bags, throwing up in one's helmet, mutations, veiny infections, and black blood yet everyone's hush hush about what's being researched. Vials, gloves, assorted masks, and microscopes reveal freaky frozen evidence while escaped infected multiply, people panic, satellites are sabotaged, and oxygen systems are compromised. Arguments over who is in charge interfere with antidotes, gruesome incubators, and researching the RNA sequences. Encoded messages, toxicity risks, stealth syringe assaults, and burning evidence lead to bleak vegetative states, morphine, silent scenes behind sealed glass, detailed procedures, red lighting, and danger signs. Quarantined doctors are unprepared to face these monsters– er infected patients, so good thing the base is conveniently huge with numerous levels and random victims each week. Some are attacked and quarantined, others up close to the infected lie about their encounters, supposed lockdowns are actually out of control, and it's tough to grasp what's happening. Windows with iceberg vistas detract from any sense of claustrophobia, and going outside the base is a mistake when the undefined logistics are continually bent. Uneven somber and loud actions compromise the pace, and what should be isolated tension doesn't feel potboiler enough. Scientists uncover data another scientist found two episodes ago but didn't share, so we have to see everyone's shock twice amid twin twists, mirrored wall sex, and easily dismissed infected used as contrived scares. One on one debates become soap opera pissy with unresolved ulterior motives within yet more tangents. Our good guy remains one step behind while his hallucinating ex-wife wastes time by blindfolding herself, removing the bandage, being re-bandaged, and taking the blindfold off again. The mole is revealed early before leaving him out in the arctic overnight to be rescued by a police babe and taken to her lair shirtless and handcuffed – and then Jeri Ryan (Voyager) is brought on as another contradictory CEO. La dee da quirky music almost mocks the serious presentation, and unnecessary slow motion, jump cuts, shaky cams, and shock editing cancel out any tense body horror by creating a visual for the audience rather than letting us see people afraid in camera. A lack of intercoms, walkie talkies, smartphones, and tablets is unrealistic, and nobody covers their face when they venture outside below zero. People camp on the open ice with just a parka and a blanket! Daily timestamps chronicle the series in real time, but an onscreen week into the show, humorous flashback fantasies break any internal focus. Eleven different writers over thirteen episodes as short as thirty-seven minutes with seven directors often in two episode blocks equal a lot of cooks without a handle on their own viral premise playing at science fiction while using shock attempts at horror. After dragging out aspects that should have happen immediately, the initial outbreak turns into something else entirely, and the original concept should have been a six episode miniseries or even a television movie. Viewers can skip two or three episodes and not miss a thing, and I no longer cared enough late in the First Season. 


Intruders – John Simm (Doctor Who), Mira Sorvino (The Buccaneers), and James Frain (The Tudors) star in this 2014 eight episode BBC America co-production based on the 2007 novel, but the opening prologue of break ins, muffed screams, and a fatal bath tub already seems unrelated to the Seattle FBI visits, gunshots, and house fires. The set up remains busy, bouncing from a wife who hasn't been herself to Nevada conspiracy theorists broadcasting on analog and CB radio rather than a website or podcast. The back and forths between young Millie Bobby Brown (Stranger Things) being pursued and Simm's poorly accented cop with a bad history jar for importance – so much time is spent on making the unknown science suspicious when enough's happening with spouses not showing up for work or people being called by one name and claiming that isn't who they are. Thanks to the title, we know appearances are going to be deceiving, which hurts the ominous despite cult books and magic number nine motifs. Mysterious re-appearances and foreign languages waste time building up a body switch we all saw coming. The kid stuff is also laughable – evil intruder memories and nice little girl switch-a-roos are embarrassingly obnoxious rather than menacing. An entire episode is wasted on a child not being able to travel unaccompanied, and aging the role up to a teen would have made a huge difference to the northwest convergence, quotes on death, and murders made to look like suicides. Meanwhile, our former cop is searching for his wife amid empty offices, fishy bosses, and runaround taxi driver messages but he never checks her phone for photos or texts nor contacts authorities or police friends. These are short forty-five minutes shows yet the plot feels as if it should be more feature oriented with just one missing embodied person and the secret gun toting man in pursuit – who security cameras somehow never see. The history montages and voiceovers read by a child are over the top reincarnation exposition that don't explain anything, the separate stories don't come together, and nothing happens in the current narrative – begin with the secrets before or get to the resolution. Flashbacks on who killed whom or who makes the rules topple alongside the evil kid tropes and drunken changes paralleling the struggle between these past and present lives. In fiction you can juggle multiple storylines but this idling all over the place makes the television mystery nonsensical. The characters remain clueless or in denial, it's difficult to suspend disbelief when so many contrivances underestimate the viewer, and I had to quit halfway through.


Atlantis – I was totally confused three episodes into this 2013 fantasy series from Johnny Capps, Julian Murphy, and Howard Overman (Merlin) purportedly about the eponymous lost continent. Somehow, Mark Addy's (Game of Thrones) Hercules, Alexander Siddig's (Deep Space Nine) King Minos, a Jason of Argonauts fame, a geeky Pythagoras, and more decided Ancient Greek motifs are part of this submarine gateway to the underwater but still dry island. There are oracles mixed with modern science, gay humor, and cliché destinies, but I was looking for, you know, some kind of original catastrophic Atlantis mythology epic that begs to be told – not a retelling with a twist of heroic youths in Greece. I probably expected too much, but coming for one and finding the other feels like this series totally misrepresents itself. If I wanted to see Greek myths, I'd watch the original Clash of the Titans, so why should I stay if there's no Atlantis as we know it here?

31 March 2018

Penny Dreadul: Season 3

Penny Dreadful Season Three a Disappointing Finale
by Kristin Battestella

I loved me some Penny Dreadful. Previously, I watched the First Two seasons twice or more before writing my reviews a few months after I had simmered in the immersion of all things sophisticated Victorian macabre. I re-watched the entire series again when finishing this obviously late review, but Season Three's still blindsiding finale and haphazard resolution of the series undermines the glorious potential that was yet to be found in Penny Dreadful.

Year Three hits the ground running with some delightful circumstances in “The Day Tennyson Died.” Our quirky little family of evil fighters – Vanessa Ives (Eva Green), Sir Malcolm Murray (Timothy Dalton), Ethan Chandler (Josh Hartnett), Victor Frankenstein (Harry Treadaway), and His Monster (Rory Kinnear) – is scattered about the globe from London to the Old West and Africa to the frozen north. Their townhouse base is shabby with covered furniture and piled mail before the titular solemn and lovely poetic references reconnect old friends with tenderness and sympathy. After all they've been through, those in London are allowed to stew and cry – unlike the unforgiving railroad and lawless land of the New Mexico Territory. Though blindingly bright compared to the British bleak, there's an underlying ominous to the witches and werewolves among the lawmen. Letters from Africa with burials made right also find Chiricahua Indians in the most unlikely Zanzibar alley while faraway frozen trawlers debate cannibalism and melodies remind monsters of when they were men. Famous names face racism at Bedlam as pale minions with anemia excuses lurk. Penny Dreadful has a lot to do but does it with superb conversations, new allies, and bloody vignettes. “Predators Far and Near” adds vintage photography, jurisdiction technicalities, a modified barber's chair for experimenting on patients, and fear of the gramophone cylinders recording one's sin. Therapy confessions recount prior indiscretions, but the prescription for godless loneliness is doing something innocent and happy no matter how small. Women debate on light and dark souls while men bond over their love of daughters and a son not birthed to them but bound with their suffering. Talbot family history, ritual chanting, and colorful vision quests counter the sophisticated Victorian science lectures and whimsical memories of adventures the likes of 20,000 Leagues under the Sea. Unfortunately, our dreadfuls are more familiar with lunatics and monsters rather than childhood heroes, with Jekyll and Hyde-esque transformations on crazed victims, deceptively charming courtships, a wise Apache woman reminiscent of the fortune teller in The Wolf Man, and a desert full moon to aide one's bone cracking escape.

Unholy alliances between witches and the Wolf of God continue in “Good and Evil Braided Be.” Is it the beast or angel, good or evil that's the real persona? Does the mind create phantoms and demons to explain the darkness and pain? Do you bury the animal inside or unleash it? Between the werewolf curse, divided locales, tug and pull father figures, and hints of Hyde, Penny Dreadful creates superb dual themes alongside several racial moments and of the time derogatory Native American comments. Sophisticated light and dark visuals and good and evil motifs are interwoven against crudeness, triumphing over those who define what's black and white or right and wrong solely based upon skin tone rather than soul. The audience isn't hit on the head with the social commentary, but one scene beautifully addresses the sadly still lingering attitudes upfront. New, risky hypnosis techniques further retrace past darkness and despair in Episode Four “A Blade of Grass.” Memories and present offices blur in a dreamy act with current doctors and familiar faces in unexpected places uncovering new revelations of a forgotten padded white room. In camera foregrounds and backgrounds accent the confined or expanded four walls as needed with overhead views, zooms, face to face close ups, and wide angle warped. Finite descriptions of precious few details, amplified sounds, and demon shadows match the kindness of an orderly or the evils that await. Precious blankets are taken away amid growling, crying, straight jackets, and water torture. Can God find you in a place like this or are you alone? Our patient fears the evil within and wants to die over the betrayals and sins committed, yet the tender bonding with her jailer turned poetic advocate provides an unlikely compassion. Whether you can face yourself in the mirror or not, these fugue state manifestations overcome evil with the truth at Christmas in one excellent parable. The least amount of effects, minimal characters, and few locales leave nothing but the emotion and anguish upon their faces. It's divine, just everything television should be and perhaps the best episode of the entire series.

And then, somehow, Penny Dreadful went to shit.

Series writer and creator John Logan hands Penny Dreadful over to new writers mid season – a maneuver suggesting a viable transition rather than leaving unknowns to resolve your planned finale with rushed characters and compressed stories. Andrew Hinderaker (Pure Genius) pens “This World Is Our Hell” with The West as a barren purgatory full of symbolic multi-layered pursuits on who the righteous should save or whom the evil would kill. Water is scarce among the grave sins and shame worn as redemption; forgiveness versus temptation comes in revealing fireside chats recounting past ambushes and the difficulty of serving multiple masters – fathers, duty, Lucifer. Unfortunately, these lofty topics are undone by nonsensical mysticism. Witches can summon snakes to conveniently wipe out pursuers but cannot heal injured mounts or conjure water and dying people somehow have enough energy for awkward evil sex after days of thirst. The Victorian mad science and desert shootouts jar in an anchor-less back and forth when the confrontations between our converging father figures are more interesting. Lengthy exposition on past horrors feels odd in a series that often shows rather than tells. Why not have an entire Talbot past hour the way “Closer than Sisters” showed us how Penny Dreadful really began? Otherwise the audience is left confused over who's really at fault for the faithful turning evil. It was Ethan's dad's fault for making it the army's fault who made the Apaches to blame??? Penny Dreadful always had pacing issues and uneven characters, but this Old West excursion could have ditched the dead weight characters and been back to London in half the time. I don't think it is necessarily Hinderaker and newcomer Krysty Wilson-Cairns' fault, but “No Beast So Fierce” throws even more at the screen with too many threads regarding who's evil or who's the law amid busy shootouts, vampire minions, Bedlam serums, how to kill a man tutorials, Egyptian wonders unrealized, and new steampunk introductions. What's supposed to be important – monsters being kind to sick children or sassy sword wielding new characters? If the key to defeating evil is holding fast to loved ones, why has our family been apart all season? Perhaps one writer should have been responsible for one set of characters the entire year, as Dracula's apparently content to wait out the cowboy adventure while other isolated and aimless immortal plans go round and round and pull Penny Dreadful apart at the seams. 

Penny Dreadful has an innate melancholy – cemeteries, grave digging, mourning shrouds – but the dark romance is used for unnecessary preachy in “Ebb Tide.” Separated characters finally meet, but one knock on the door and a brief scene reconciling the past and present is not enough. Friends that could fill this empty manor and fight the bloodshed are pushed away while our team in the West doesn't heed ancestral warnings. Despite insisting London is home, characters remain obstinate just for the sake of creating drama, leading to contrived betrayals and more speeches begging for the fast forward button. Touching conversations on who will bury whom are interwoven with weaker plots, straying from the core and repeating exposition we already know. Visions unite players who have been apart but such mystic conversations and wisdom on rescuing one another from darkness should have happened much sooner – two episodes ago, nobody cared. Krysty Wilson-Cairns writes the quick at forty-three minutes “Perpetual Night,” and it's the shortest episode of Penny Dreadful when the series desperately needed more time. The boys rush back to Londontown amid foggy cityscapes, morbid voiceovers, tasty frogs multiplying, and rats amok. Dead wolves and toothy minions everywhere require swift blade work and fireplace pokers to stave off vampire infections – but no one thought to call Dr. Frankenstein away from Bedlam's dungeon when people are said to be dying by the thousands? Penny Dreadful bites off more than it can chew, takes too long to achieve what matters, and spits out the excess when there's no time left. Ironically, the “The Blessed Dark” finale also delays, saving choice moments with its stars rather than going full tilt with the dream hazy, bodies on hooks, and bats as sad lullabies over the special credits recap the sad state of our separate characters. It's very exciting to see the reunions and werewolves fighting vampires in true monster mash up fashion as it should be – Dr. Jekyll passes by as Dr. Seward hypnotizes Renfield! As a season finale, this hour provides closing moments on some toiling plots. However, as a series finale, it barely resolves anything. Brief mentions on her destiny, his destiny, and previous prophecies don't make sense anymore, and Victor literally bumps into the gang at Bedlam. The team is together again by accident! Major moments with his monsters earn one scene each, and none of those super strong immortals join the End of the DaysTM battle. Instead, bad ass walking down the street filler and a few ridiculously outnumbered pistols struggle with conveniently confusing action choreography. Bitter ties to the First Season become unrealized tangents, and new characters are inexplicably more steadfast than our original crew. Four episodes ago, life was worth fighting for but now isolated characters give up because the script says they should in a one hundred and eighty degree turn that's painful to see end this way.

Vanessa Ives begins alone, a recluse living in squalor before rising thanks to words and wits with her therapist. Eva Green's heroine cleans up and humbly restores the manor. Despite losing her faith, Vanessa is inspired by Joan of Arc's confidence and says she will remain resolute. Oddly, she doesn't seem as psychic or intuitive anymore and fails to recognize evil tendencies she previously pegged so astutely. It's sad to see Vanessa open herself, revisiting innocent things that make her happy or having a man's company once again end in terror. She's willingly hypnotized to face her repressed psychiatry treatment, addressing her past doubts, regrets, and battles with Lucifer. “A Blade of Grass” shows her at rock bottom before a ray of hope and renewed prayers – if you believe in evil, then you must believe God is there to defeat it. Unfortunately, Penny Dreadful squanders the Lucifer issues, fast tracks Dracula, and circumvents Vanessa's body and soul versus the fallen brothers with a past event cheating viewers out of a current victory. Vanessa can sense and see Kaetenay when the plot says so, but her lack of psychosexual possession and failed insights inexplicably have her give up despite knowing overdue help is on the way. Green saves this sloppy writing and deserved more hardware for Penny Dreadful. I don't blame her if she recognized the tone had changed and was ready to depart. The series could have continued in searching for an evil Vanessa as an absent lead a la Blake's 7 rather than two scenes with bad girl red eye shadow trying to make up for rushing to resolve Vanessa's story. Josh Hartnett's Ethan “Lawrence Talbot” Chandler is also not only reluctant to see his real father, but he's angry at being adopted as Kaetenay's Apache son. Ethan knows there is blood on his teeth and his soul deserving of punishment and wears his guilt on his sleeve. Unfortunately, his history comes from three different sources – so for all this New Mexico excursion, we don't get a clear picture. The Wolf of God also spends about fifteen minutes being evil, standing up for Hecate over Malcolm because he won't repent and belongs in hell. Ethan speaks evil prayers at the dinner table, but isn't this the guy who's Latin single-handedly exorcised Vanessa? His reciting of the Lord's Prayer in the finale feels hollow thanks to his satanic reversal just a few episodes earlier. Was Ethan's western escapade and Vanessa's evil each meant to be it's own season storyline? They both have a scene or two of darkness, and one moment in the finale doesn't make up for Ethan's back and forth. Meanwhile, Sarah Greene as Hecate travels in white, an unassuming Gibson girl who loves horses and animals but loathes people. She wants to be evil beside Ethan, but her powers are both handy or nonsense as needed. Hecate kills unnecessary to teach him a lesson and lingers too long in this uneven capacity – crowding an already busy Penny Dreadful while not being a character in her own right. The English Sean Glider (Hornblower) may be an unusual choice as a U.S. Marshall, but his crusty ways balance the British tidiness of Douglas Hodge as Inspector Rusk as they pursue Our Mr. Talbot. Rusk may ask for tea in the bar car and insist Scotland Yard Inspectors do not carry firearms, but he doesn't underestimate the ruthless West. He begins to believe the Occult upon his case and does take up more violence as the blood on their path increases – before a thankless end, of course.

The beard is back for Timothy Dalton as Sir Malcolm, and even if he doesn't know all the details, he's ready to respect Wes Studi's (Geronimo: An American Legend) Chiricahua Kaetenay if it will help save Ethan. Like an oasis in white in the mostly unlikely place, it's wonderful when Malcolm and Ethan finally meet up for some shootout action. However, Malcolm really doesn't have a whole lot to do this season beyond listening to Kaetenay. Most of his dialogue is responsive filler, and even before the surprise series finale, I suspected Dalton would not be returning for Season Four. You don't keep a talented name without giving him quality writing, and Malcolm ends up repeating the same plot. Chasing after lost lamb Ethan, fighting a vampire to rescue Vanessa – he's again saving his family even as his travels keep him from his home and any relationship with Victor. Malcolm could have returned to London post-Africa, maybe to meet Catriona sooner or dislike Dr. Sweet, as it's a disservice to reduce him to little more than Kaetenay's sidekick. That said, yes please to more of Studi's set in his ways Apache. He still scalps because old habits die hard, but he doesn't drink and believes one can't die until his purpose is served. Granted, Penny Dreadful is trading the mystical negro trope for the mystical Apache stereotype, but the moonlight visions and enigmatic destiny talk tie the blood, suffering, and wolves together. Kaetenay pushes on after Ethan no matter what – he and his people have endured much but he's prepared to face this darkness over London. There should have been more time for his revelations, and Penny Dreadful only makes use of Kaetenay when needed. It takes seven episodes for Ethan to heed his warnings about what is to come, and he should have mystically connected with Vanessa from the start. As Ethan's father, Brian Cox (Coriolanus) also has some great one on one's with Malcolm. They are wonderfully alike, right down to the conquest map on Jared Talbot's wall, the mountains named after him, and an empty home as the cost. However, a boat load of family history that Ethan already knows is repeatedly told rather than seen, leaving Talbot Senior unevenly written with sorrowful or crazed exposition amid one gunshot and stand off after another. Had we seen the first terrible shootout that has him so angry, then this second battle in his ranch chapel would have had much more meaning. Kaetenay provided connecting visions when necessary, so why not have some kind of mystic Talbot dream that showed the betrayals and horrors causing all this pain?

Fortunately, Rory Kinnear's Creature aka Caliban aka John Clare has some superb redemption on Penny Dreadful. He won't harm a dying cabin boy, recalls more about who he was, and realizes who he may yet be after touching moments in the Fourth and Fifth episodes showing his life before his death and resurrection. He is again at the window or in the eaves, on the outside peering in on those that think he is dead. The Creature risks rejection and reaches out despite the pain, blossoming from being an angry violent child to almost the man he used to be. His resurrection allows Caliban to find his family – only to loose it again thanks to innocence versus the unnatural. This season, Clare is almost totally separate from everyone else, alone on this sympathetic journey beyond too brief moments with Vanessa, erroneously on the fringe without even seeing Dr. Frankenstein. He may piece together his past, but not enough was done with the connection between Vanessa and the Creature. She recognizes him, but not him her, and Penny Dreadful cops out by resolving their past in a flashback. Again, just because we the audience saw it does not mean the characters themselves received any current resolution. Why didn't Caliban ever knock on Malcolm's door? He would have been welcome in this misfit family dang nabbit! Reeve Carney's Dorian Gray and Billie Piper's Brona cum Lily Frankenstein, however, should have stayed home. By his very nature, Dorian is a supporting character that never changes. They aren't missed when absent but Penny Dreadful uses him and Lily to shoehorn in some kind of modern feminism vengeance that goes nowhere fast with repetitive, ad nauseam speeches. Whether it is justified man hate or not, the appearance of Jessica Barden (The End of the F***ing World) as Justine perhaps a la the de Sade wastes time with back alley torture, nudity, and bloody threesomes. The warped justice is all over the place with even less to do Dorian getting stabbed for funsies before he gets bored from having seen such depravity already. Episodes grind to a halt with their round and round male behavior psychoanalysis, briefly tossing in suffragettes and violence that makes them just as bad as the abusers from who they claim to rescue women. Penny Dreadful has done better psychosexual themes, and compared to Caliban's soul searching, Lily realizes her humanity too late in one great soliloquy that should happened the moment she was reborn, and Ethan never finds out Brona has been resurrected!!!!

Harry Treadaway's junkie Victor Frankenstein becomes a mopey little piss ant bent on proving his superior science can conquer death, and he arrogantly thinks he can perfect on Jekyll's methods. Maybe there's a parallel between his wanting to create angels instead of monsters and Lily's superior woman army, but their uneven storylines barely intersect beyond a few redundant stalker scenes and never factor into other plots. Victor goes about getting Lily back in the worst way possible, becoming like his originally angry Creature in a fitting poetic justice. He's deluded in thinking Lily owes him anything, and it should be a great destructive character arc. However, rather than having him freaking call on Vanessa while they are both in London twiddling their thumbs, Penny Dreadful treats Frankenstein as an afterthought before one last lesson on how to be a human rather than the monster. One poetic voiceover from Victor such as, “Sir Malcolm, I hesitate to confess it now, but I must inform you I have a singular talent for defeating death as we know it...” could have ended Penny Dreadful in a uniquely twisted vein. Sadder still is that Shazad Latif (Mi-5) as Dr. Jekyll somehow turns into a handing Victor the scalpel lackey. He has history with Dr. F. – roommates and dare I say something more – and faces much “half breed” Victorian racism. Jekyll despises his white father but wants his acclaim and title to help prove his serum on anger and duality. Simply put, there is no way he was intended as a throwaway character and we deserved to know him more. Although scheduling conflicts necessitated the departure of Simon Russell Beale as Mr. Lyle, his being written off as going on assignment to Egypt just begs to be told! Did everyone forget all the prophecies on Amunet and Lucifer or the hieroglyphics carved onto the vampire bodies? Of all the friends still about London who never bother to visit, it's Lyle who draws Vanessa out and into therapy because thanks to his closeted sexuality, he understands what it is like to be unique and alone. Of course, he might have mentioned Perdita Weeks' (The Tudors) thanatologist Catriona Hartdegen when they were studying all that Fallen Angel and Mother of Evil stuff. She's a woman of occult science fencing and wearing pants who doesn't blink at the thought of Dracula being in London. Her one on one scenes with Vanessa are well done with possible replacement or lover vibes, “It's 'Cat' for you, as in cat o' nine tails.'” Wink! She calls Malcolm “Sir M” and I would have liked to see more of them together, but Catriona's style provides a steampunk cum The Time Machine and albeit meaningless potential. Her cool fighting skills are ultimately convenient and inexplicable – if we weren't going to learn more then all these superfluous characters should have never been introduced.

We are however given some divine new characters with Patti LuPone returning to Penny Dreadful as Dr. Florence Seward – an alienist said to have distant Clayton ancestry due to her resemblance to LuPone's previous cut-wife role. Though rigid and progressive, Seward is there to heal the ill, who aren't bad or unworthy, just ill. She calls out every politeness or mannerism, pegging Vanessa's loss, isolation, and depression in delicious two-hander scenes with award worthy dialogue and delivery. A moving session recounting Vanessa's tale, however, makes the doctor strike up a cigarette. She refuses to believe the paranormal causes or that vampires are after her patient, but she does understand pain and has some murderous history of her own. Samuel Barnett's (Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency) seemingly innocent Renfield is Dr. Seward's secretary, but his red light district cruising leads to bloody encounters and insect snacks. Where Penny Dreadful initially had to dance around the Stoker limitations, these superb character interpretations deserved more than this season's rushed attention. Christian Camargo (Dexter) as zoologist and charming widower Alexander Sweet is a man smitten using rapid fire science references to woo Vanessa, but his reveal as Dracula is too darn early. This romance seemed so happy and Sweet is almost empathetic, but evil lurks in the House of Mirrors of all places! He doesn't want Vanessa's submission, just to be seduced by she, the Mother of Evil and serve her. Sadly, unraveling toppers instead go unresolved. After admitting he was directly responsible for Mina's demise and all of Season One, Penny Dreadful lets Dracula exit stage right and we aren't supposed to notice? What is worth noticing are the trains, dime western action, and steampunky flair alongside our usual penny blood, gore, buzzing flies, broken necks, and bat silhouettes. The cobwebbed and boarded manor opens the windows and clears the dust as the camera focuses on the period touches – vintage motion picture cameras, spectacles, brandy decanters, nibs, and ledgers contrast the hay, canteens, wagons, saw dust, and Native American motifs. The fashions are a little more modern, but the museums, taxidermy, skeletons, and specimens in jars invoke Victorian sciences amid the carriages, cobblestone, and tolling bells. Although some CGI backgrounds are apparent with a foreground actor and fakery behind, the desert vistas, mountains, and ranch compounds create bright lighting schemes to contrast the British grays, developing a unique style like nothing else on television. 

Unfortunately, with NBC's Dracula long gone, Crimson Peak's less than stellar box office, and Penny lost too soon, the promise of more Victorian horror and a new dark romanticism appears short-lived. Whether the cast or Logan wanted to depart or Showtime disliked the production expenses, something behind the scenes was the final nail in Penny Dreadful's coffin. The two hour finale burned off the last episodes yet advertising promoting the event as a season finale later backtracked with the series' fate. More merchandising opportunities never seemed capitalized upon, and there was little award campaigning. Having had Season One available on other streaming platforms might have helped the show find more audiences, however Penny Dreadful wasn't available on Netflix until after its cancellation in a tidy Three Season binge package. The series' props have been auctioned off, so it appears no one shopped Penny Dreadful to any other networks. Call me a conspiracy theorist, but in late 2015 while this Third Year was filming was also when Tom Cruise swept in to take over The Mummy and start Universal's highly anticipated but ultimately D.O.A. Dark Universe monster revival. Did somebody squash the competition? Maybe it isn't as simple as that, but I will always be skeptical of Logan and Showtime's he said/she said claiming that this was always how Penny Dreadful was supposed to end. With new locales and more colorful literary characters among our beloved team, why couldn't Penny Dreadful sustain itself? Previously, one could overlook any small inconsistencies because the sophisticated scares and morose design far outweighed any negatives. This season, however, becomes a chore to continue and is best left at Episode Four. After finishing Dexter and losing interest in Homeland and Ray Donovan, we've canceled our Showtime subscription since Penny is no more. There were other ways to do Penny Dreadful justice than this, well, what seems like internal sabotage, but gothic viewers shouldn't let this rushed Season Three dampen what has otherwise been a stellar and macabre program.

16 March 2018

The Magnificent Seven (2016)

Recent Magnificent Seven Entertaining but Safe
by Kristin Battestella

Director Antoine Fuqua's (Olympus Has Fallen) 2016 The Magnificent Seven has all the hallmarks of the original 1960 western with a motley 1879 crew of cowboys, gunslingers, outlaws, and gamblers defending the town of Rose Creek against a ruthless industrial baron. Although the shootouts and genre action are entertaining, unfortunately this endeavor lacks inspiration thanks to an uneven narrative that plays it safe.

Dynamite mining, strangleholds on crops, and meager offerings of $20 per station lead to town meetings amid fears of this new businessman and his hired guns terrorizing churches and burning buildings. How can these pioneers defend themselves against such violence and shootouts? Although a wicked scene in itself, the all for show opening of The Magnificent Seven is extreme and over the top compared to the otherwise safe tone of the picture. Why not meet the town and its charred church when our eponymous heroes do and let the audience imagine the horrors happening for themselves? The serious western start and subsequent lighthearted adventure are mixed window dressings with little depth – even town names onscreen as they ride on to shooting contests and recruit more heroes is a superficial way to create scope. A slow ride toward the saloon with a man's reputation preceding him provides The Magnificent Seven with more western spirit. Poker, ordering whiskey, asking the barkeep for information – the gun clicks, cigarette smoke billows, and shotgun below the bar are tense! Our charming and ornery enlistees face-off against gunslingers on the roof and dodge bullets as they vow to protect Rose Creek. Of course, so many shows have already rifted on this famous heroes teaching farmers with pitchforks to fight plot, and this almost willingly plays into that generic western familiarity rather than adding anything new. The middle of The Magnificent Seven feels like one big montage as defense preparation builds – they walk, they plan, they booby trap trenches and magically train ridiculously bad townsfolk unable to throw knives or aim at any targets. Granted, viewers wouldn't accept a simple cut to the final battle with everything easy peasy, but the pace is forced and disoriented. We meet people for an hour and practice for another half hour before the titular boys get drunk and have some laughs over naming their guns women's names. If we knew their personalities equally, the bonding humor would happen on its own. Instead, cheery scenes are out of place amid brooding characters who do have history, religion, and reasons for doing what they do. The sardonic moments are better once we're under siege with our team shoulder to shoulder for one more huzzah. People are seriously wounded with well done blood and fire while tolling bells and prayers accent the lengthy but sometimes chaotic or confusing finale that squeezes three acts into one – the surprise defense, bleak enemy firepower retaliation, and the last sacrificial inspiration. The Magnificent Seven has serious and touching moments in the end, but the heroics come as we always knew they would, deflating some of the fine one on one justice and cathartic catching the bad guy entertainment.

Well, the piano player stops when Denzel Washington (Best Actor for Training Day but should have won for Malcolm X) walks into the saloon, oh yes. Sam Chisolm is an authorized warrant officer and man of the peace who would rather not use his quick draw unless provoked. He claims he isn't for hire but hears the proposition to help Rose Creek and assists without taking the gold they offer. His simmering rage suggests there must be a reason why, but Chisolm's going to see this through because he says these people deserve their lives back. The Magnificent Seven provides Washington some great dialogue for his on point delivery, even if that's because Chisolm speaks the most and tells others what to do. It's disappointing that the side eyes he receives and the racism of the era aren't addressed more, and the final scene explaining his history deserved a better thematic build. However, The Magnificent Seven really only has time to show his story and mostly does it right alongside heroic leaps through windows, a cool rearing horse, and a great cowboy silhouette. It might have been interesting to see a prequel of Chisolm alone becoming licensed to vendetta, but unfortunately, I'm not feeling Chris Pratt's (Jurassic World) gambler Josh Faraday. His old fashioned dialogue doesn't sound natural, and jokes about Koreans, American Indians, and Mexicans are unnecessary. The card tricks and fast draws don't hide the fact that Pratt's just playing the same cool guy he always does, and The Magnificent Seven wastes time on him being the funny pretty white guy when other characters have more interesting tales to tell. It's tough to take Faraday seriously even when he shoots off an enemy's ear, as Pratt's casting purely for the appeal is apparent. I shudder to think about some of the in-development casting rumors: The Magnificent Seven featuring Tom Cruise, Matt Damon, and five other guys you don't need to worry about playing cowboys! In contrast, Shakespeare quoting sharpshooter and southern gentleman Ethan Hawke (Daybreakers) sits at the campfire with Chisolm, reflecting on their history while increasingly reluctant to fire a rifle thanks to his own infamous Confederate past. They've been through these kind of hurrahs before, and this personal PTSD arc deserved more than just being a few somber moments amid lighter banter and gunfire.

Likewise, Lee Byung-hun (G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra) and Manuel Garcia-Rulfo (From Dusk till Dawn: The Series) each have their own specialty as Billy Rocks and Vasquez. There's a whiff of Asians in the West stigmas and Spanish dislike, too. However, the colorblind castings feel superficial – roles not for the historically accurate representation or to detail the discrimination they face but still little more than token appearances. We need more films like Posse addressing minorities in the West, but neither knife wielding Korean nor Mexican vigilante talk much and hardly receive up close shots or any camera focus. The blade action is cool, and a sword wielding nod to the Seven Samurai origins may have been on the nose, but seriously, why couldn't any of the minorities in The Magnificent Seven have been Pratt's second lead? Unsurprisingly, the appropriate casting of Martin Sensmeier (Salem) as Comanche warrior Red Harvest is also delightful to see yet under portrayed, resorting the character to always being hungry, eating raw meat, and disliking beans alongside typical mysticism fears from the rest of the team. He only speaks Comanche – or so they think – and the use of the bow and arrow amid all the rifle love deserved more showcasing. There should have been more to his rivalry with the Comanche counterpart fighting on the bad side, too – a Snake Eyes versus Storm Shadow one on one rather than a late blink and you miss it confrontation. The almost unrecognizable Vincent D'Onofrio's (Law & Order: Criminal Intent) spiritual mountain man Jack Horne is old, a bittersweet remnant of past ways. He's happy to do what's right and fight alongside men he can respect, and once again, deserved more attention. Righteousness won't do barely there Matt Bomer (Magic Mike) any good, but his wife Haley Bennett (The Girl on the Train) is almost part of the seven. Although her red hair, rosy cheeks, low cut shirts, and boob illumining lanterns aren't striving for costuming accuracy, Emma can shoot without Faraday's trying that flirtatious gun lesson cliché. Maybe it would be typical to have her be a teacher or nurse, but she deserved something stronger a husbandly connection. Of course, it's not shocking to see Peter Sarsgaard (Flightplan) as the villainous Bartholomew Bogue. He looks coked out, a snotty little asshole who hides behind Gatling guns and isn't much of a man when it comes to fighting himself. Bogue makes scary examples of children in the name of his so called industrial progress, however, his brutally over the top ruthless is absent for over an hour. Between all the permeating sarcasm, what should be personal terror strays into caricature – Bogue's almost there just because we need somebody to hate, and we don't discover his history with Chisolm until their final scene.

Blue skies, colorful prairies, and green valleys in The Magnificent Seven also look too modern, a scheme digitally over saturated rather than the dirty and dusty western rugged audiences expect. Rustic buildings, wagons, stagecoaches, and horses better set the mood amid fitting hoof beats, dynamite explosions, and gunfire. There's not much indoor action, but the dark saloon adds tension while real outdoor filming with windswept riding, rocky outcroppings, and mountain echoes build Old West atmosphere. The enemy charge is well done with steady zooms, choice slow motion, and upward horseback angles alongside unique knife battles, ax work action, riding feats, and fancy precision shooting. However, some transition scenes and silent montage moments are useless, and the pacing tries to keep up with today's in your face yet falls back on old strategies and cinematic tricks – the rope across that unseats a rider, a hidden trench with a surprise, or decoy ammunition distractions. A ridiculous amount of camera work also focuses on our men and their gun belts, panning up to the holster as one spins his six shooter or sweeping down as he bends to pick up the shot gun. Whether its to show off the bad ass gear or the tight chaps, once was enough – it's not sexy, just more like over compensation or penis envy. o_O The music for this Magnificent Seven is also woefully uneven. If this is supposed to be a heroic adventure, let's hear the theme! The unfinished score from the late James Horner (The Wrath of Khan) borrows cues, remaining contemporary and standard rather than instantly recognizable and rousing. Not until the movie ends are viewers treated to the familiar upbeats and a fun credits design that should have set the tone at the beginning. After such basic plots, hearing the music coda made me want to watch previous incarnations of The Magnificent Seven more than anything else. Therein is the trouble with all these reboots, sequels, and remakes today. Why tune in to these when you can just enjoy the original nostalgia again and again? Of course, I love the 1960 film, enjoy the follow ups, and really liked the brief 1998-2000 television series. Heck, I taped them of television on chewed up VHS, and wow, I feel really old by admitting I signed up for one of those early internet campaigns to save the show!

Westerns are ripe for a comeback because this is a genre that can encapsulate all our current gritty cynicism or let the good guys win when we need it. Rather than inserting superficial diversity with little time to explore all the characters, it's surprising this project wasn't another Magnificent Seven serial with time to address the history, racism, and personality of each hero. Were they hoping to make a movie franchise with the latest cool guys varying the seven each time? Unfortunately, this Magnificent Seven wavers between lighthearted adventure and innate lawlessness in a try hard PG-13 attempt more concerned with safely appealing to all audiences rather than balancing the cast and the heroics versus grit tone. At two hours plus, The Magnificent Seven delays a story we know and have seen many times – this picture needed more polish or substance and isn't as good as it should be. It's worth seeing through for fans of the cast, but this doesn't have a lot of repeat value. The gun violence may not be for young viewers, however, The Magnificent Seven can be a fun yarn for a movie night if you expect nothing more than temporary popcorn entertainment.