27 May 2015

Classic Rock Documentaries!

Classic Rock Documentaries!
By Kristin Battestella

Are you displeased with modern tunes? Then let's relive the sounds of decades yore with these classic groups and music heavyweights! 

Classic Albums: Fleetwood Mac – Rumours – This 1997 hour from the Eagle Rock and VH1 series focuses on the behind the scenes turmoil, relationships, and technicalities invigorating Mick Fleetwood, Stevie Nicks, Lindsey Buckingham, and John and Christine McVie in making the famed 1977 Rumours album – the second from the group’s revitalized incarnation. The genesis and creation of hits such as “Go Your Own Way,” “Dreams,” “Gold Dust Woman,” “Don’t Stop,” and more are dissected from the initial writing to changes in the recording sessions and album finalization. While the before and after samplings of the tunes and the conversations on the ups and downs are interesting, the tone sometimes wavers between being overly tender or laid on heavy in some spots. Perhaps the band members aren’t exactly orators in discussing their musical thought processes either, and their accents may confuse some viewers, too. However, classic rock fans will enjoy the nostalgic behind the scenes, and music students interested in the mechanical aspects or songwriters relating to the emotional translations involved can definitely learn plenty here. This is a fun, informative, introduction to the saga that is Fleetwood Mac, and perhaps most importantly, it gives you an itch for a complete Rumours listen.

Fleetwood Mac: The Dance – After a hiatus, Christine McVie returned to the lineup for this 1997 concert video chock full with “The Chain,” “Dreams,” “Gold Dust Woman,” “Gypsy,” “Rhiannon,” “Don’t Stop,” “Go Your Own Way,” and many more. It’s nice to hear lesser-performed compositions – those that depend on McVie’s appearance such as “Everywhere,” “You Make Lovin’ Fun,” and “Over My Head” as well as then-newer tunes like “Temporary One” and “Bleed to Love Her.” Stevie Nicks sounds slightly different of course, but McVie sounds the same, everyone looks good, and its great to hear the entire incarnation together with a fun moment for John McVie on “Say You Love Me.” The subtitles are also helpful with the sometimes cryptic, poet lyrics, and Nicks, McVie, and Lindsey Buckingham give some information on several songs. Though well edited, entertaining, and swiftly filmed, this concert isn’t a big spectacle production like more recent shows. Technical music audiences may even find this under produced despite the subdued nineties norm and intimate, small session feeling – which is as it should be with essentials like “Landslide” and the intense “Silver Springs.” However, Buckingham provides the rock outs and guitar genius with “I’m So Afraid,” “Big Love,” “Go Insane,” and “My Little Demon,” and Mick Fleetwood makes his usual crazy extreme drumming faces, too. Granted, this 90-minute performance has some confused vision – is this a comeback tour of past hits or a new release of special material with some classics for good measure? The companion CD has a different track listing and I could do without the USC Marching Band finale, but “Songbird” is a lovely coda for the piece. Fans of the band can certainly delight, and younger audiences newly discovering Fleetwood Mac can take the next step with this complete lineup and unique performance.

Freddie Mercury: The Great Pretender – This full-length 2012 retrospective focuses on the lead singer of Queen and his more unusual successes, missteps, and solo projects apart from rock groupdom including early ballet concerts, musical performances, and operatic tours in his final years. From the decadence of the seventies club scene, career heights, and questionable associates to frank discussion on criticism of Mercury, his generally closeted media approach, and reaction to his untimely AIDS related death; new interviews from friends, fellow musicians, and industry alums help paint an intriguing picture. Rare archive footage, music videos, and interview segments both shed light on Mercury’s shyness regarding his private life and contribute to the alluring dichotomy of his flamboyant stage persona. It’s interesting to hear his own thoughts on living it up in comparison to his admitted difficulty in trusting people or talking with others, “The more I open up, the more I get hurt.” How could Freddie Mercury think he was boring and be terrified of being alone? The accents may be tough to understand for some, but live renditions of songs such as “Bohemian Rhapsody,” “Somebody to Love,” and “Barcelona” are simply delightful along with unreleased demos; home recordings; samples featuring Michael Jackson, Luciano Pavarotti, and Montserrat Caballe; and more lesser seen or heard solo compositions from Mercury’s Mr. Bad Guy album. Longtime rock fans or budding Queen enthusiasts seeking an astute peek at Mercury’s musical legacy will love this.

In Dreams: The Roy Orbison Story – Take a lesson 21st century whippersnappers! I’ve finally been able to see this complete hour and a half 1999 special focusing on the man to whom even The Bee Gees, Bono, and Bruce Springsteen bow. It’s simply glorious to see vintage footage and interviews and hear the late too soon Orbison speak of early Sun Records anecdotes, his childhood musical inspirations, devastating family tragedies, and his final resurgent success. And let’s not forget all those awesome, quintessential tunes such as “Pretty Woman,” “Only the Lonely”, “Running Scared,” my favorite “Crying,” and more concert scenery amid conversations with contemporaries like Johnny Cash, George Harrison, Chet Atkins, Tom Petty, and next generation stars like Elvis Costello and Chris Isaak. If one wants to learn how music should sound, one must digest as much Orbison as possible. It’s that simple, and this set is a great place to begin. I could go on and on and on – some of the first CDs I ever had were Orbison albums – but I’ll stop now. I mean, Barry Gibb calls Orbison “The Voice of God.” Yeah, that about says it.

24 May 2015

Mid-Century SF Adventures!

Mid-Century Science Fiction Adventures!
By Kristin Battestella

The budding sciences of the sixties and beyond may seem bemusingly simple to us in the seemingly so sophisticated twenty-first century. However, these mid-century science fiction delights remain classic adventures of space, science, and technology for the whole family.

Fantastic Voyage Stephen Boyd (Ben-Hur), Raquel Welsh (One Million B.C.), and Donald Pleasence (Halloween) take this 1966 microscopic, heart-stopping adventure full of wondrous snap, crackle, pop mid-century science – what could possibly go wrong? The technical talk, quick debriefing, dated military missions, political intrigue, and seemingly aimless golf cart tours through the clean, blue and white streamlined designs are perhaps slow to get going today. Some waxing philosophical or poetic soul and creator versus science talk amid the medical jargon feels like old hat exposition, too. The procedural scenes also seem more like an awe-inspiring museum demonstration, and a crowded inside and too many anonymous, unnecessary people outside at control creates confusion. Fortunately, all this build up smartly puts an unbelievable situation in the realm of the then possible. Although the whole mission seems totally impractical and perhaps causes more damage than the operation at hand, the wild journey along the way forgives the rushed ending or any plausibility issues. The models, miniatures, and visual effects look dandy and remain decidedly charming, and nostalgic body system graphics, paper overlays, and Morse Code add simplicity to the high tech while a real time ticking clock ups the claustrophobic tensions and medical perils. Colorful plasma, bubbles, tubes,and pink pustules bring the titular spectacles to life along with a variety of sounds, laser lights, attacking antibodies, psychedelic mosses and even gross scales. It's an interesting mix of submarine, under the sea currents and exiting outside the airlock space. So what if it's all totally unrealistic – the young at heart and science minded kids can still enjoy the wonderment here.

Marooned – Gregory Peck (To Kill a Mockingbird), David Janssen (The Fugitive), James Franciscus (Beneath The Planet of the Apes), Gene Hackman (The French Connection), Richard Crenna (The Real McCoys), and more stars anchor this 1969 NASA nail biter. Real footage from the Apollo heights and of the time mission control look great without the need for abundant CGI and special effects as we know them today. There aren't that many sets either, allowing for tense action at home and claustrophobic capsule hysteria as one thing after another spells disaster – retro rockets malfunctioning, low fuel in orbit, hurricanes over the Cape, daring rescues in experimental craft, and precious, precious oxygen running out. Though slow to start and at times tedious with minuscule, technical details and procedures; a desperate ticking clock, presidential pressure, wives on the ground, and Russian friends or foes add to the peril. Yes, there is an American mid-century gung ho, yet it's somewhat surprising that such a heavy, all things go wrong picture would be made amid all our spaceflight glory. It's also interesting to see how this film has become both inaccurate and prophetic. They were unprepared for this calamity and thought such accidents would doom the space program, but we haven't progressed much further in the decades since – let alone gotten to Mars, which they talk of as an imminent event. Though the finale feels rushed compared to the slow, by the book, space happenings shown along the way, all the intensity of a modern disaster flick is here along with a then impressive realism. No camera tricks, edgy film making, or punched up orchestration is needed to tell the viewer how desperate the situation is, and with these good looks, classy cast, and yell at the TV entertainment, this one shouldn't be as seemingly obscure as it is.

Westworld Androids run amok in this 1973 sci-fi western written and directed by Michael Jurassic Park Crichton. Granted, the slow explorations of then-futuristic empty white sets and technobabble gibberish feel like filler; once cool computer monitors and pixelated robot viewpoints need updating. The debut direction is also somewhat simplistic, with of the time slow motion violence and aimless running to and fro amid the shootouts, feasting, brothels, and bar fights. Modern viewers will expect a catastrophic resort meltdown to be, you know, catastrophic instead of a straightforward, one on one tame, and despite a great premise, it's tough to overlook the safety ignorance, preposterous logistics, and an abrupt finale. Guns, swords, mechanical malfunctions – the sex robot models are supposed to be totally detailed yet nobody can perfect the android hands? Fortunately, while there's little character development, we know enough to like cool best friend James Brolin (Hotel), fear the gloriously unyielding Terminator before Terminator was Terminator Yul Brynner (The King and I), and feel for divorced if insipid lawyer in need of a vacation Richard Benjamin (Catch-22). The social possibilities are here, too, from an ultimate vacation where man can have his decadent and violent desires to seemingly in control behind the scenes technicians who eat while they watch the depravity unfold. Suspicious nighttime activity resets the excess while guests sleep unaware, but man made machines or machines making androids in the mirror of men will surely misbehave. Sentience among the robots is also suggested – are they fed up with human seductions and taking matters into their own hands for one destructive hurrah before their batteries fail? Medieval games and Roman hedonism aren't fully shown, but for a $1 million odd budget, the colorful designs aren't bad. The Old West facades provide nostalgia to match the amusing saloon times, creating humor and comfort with over the top tropes. Although the theme is under cooked, this still fairly unique genre twister was ahead of its time and remains delightful for young and old seeking western lite or SF perils.

20 May 2015

Recent Horror Pros and Cons

Recent Horror Pros and Cons
by Kristin Battestella

Sometimes new and unique independent horror rises up and surprises you with its impressiveness, and other times the scary intrigue leaves you wondering what could have been. Here's a recent horror quartet with some varying degrees of success – from thought provoking interest and clichés made fine to rehashing redundancy and mishmashed missed opportunity. 


The Babadook – Up close screams, distorted past accidents, bad dreams, and checking under the bed make sleep uneasy for mother and child in this 2014 Australian thinking person's horror. Kid gadgets, magic tricks, a locked basement filled with memento mori, and the wonderfully freaky eponymous but anonymous book have us believing in gruesome children's stories once again as the pop up contents become a bit too interactive. Forget school and social pressure, a boy has to defend himself and his mom against those monsters! The youthful fears, wise for his age, and natural innocence are immediately endearing, as is the much lauded Essie Davis (Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries) as our kind, relatable, working widow. Her life has been difficult, lonely, and getting worse– a scared kid climbing into bed all the time ruins the 'me' time, doesn't it? Paging Doctor Freud! Close cut, intimate editing builds suspense, keeping the pent up, internal focus as the child's play turns dangerous. Instead of desensitizing thrills, we feel the real life fears as the seemingly supernatural blends with seven years of escalating grief. Family abnormalities, paranormal possibilities that psychiatry can't handle, monsters that manifest on such daily traumas – is our pair too attached to each other in this battle or fighting alone? Where is the line between evil possessions and their own warped reality? Dark corners and a depressing, monochromatic home allow for unseen horrors to brew and fester over the 94 minutes alongside a progressively unkempt style, insomnia haze, here or not there bugs, overnight gaps in time, and floating under the covers apparitions. A lack of sisterly help, snickering police, and truant officers accent the late night television parallels, further blurring the lines between monsters and actuality. In the absence of empty shock moments, immediate adrenaline, and jump scare spectacles, the scary sounds and shadows simmer. Some viewers may predict the dog worries and a bit of the tables turning, but the intense times and maternal power use horror to say what can't be said and create discussion as good scares should. Female-centric horror not done for the titillation, who knew?

Would You Rather When Jeffrey Combs (Re-Animator) says he can make your sick brother better if you win a dinner party game, run people, run! The intercut interview slash opening credits of this 2012 dare-fest inexplicably lengthen exposition that was cleverly shortened, making for a redundant, overly ominous start – we know they are in a horror movie more scary than Clue even if they don't. Unnecessary flashback snips and more jarring editing stilts a first half hour that keeps explaining the game before finally providing some electrocutions, gunplay, whips, and ice picks. Forcing a vegetarian to eat meats or a recovered alcoholic to drink scotch is only the beginning of the discomforting desperation and morals versus money at stake, and Brittany Snow (Pitch Perfect) is believably mature as a twenty something fallen onto tough family times. John Heard (Home Alone) and June Squibb (Nebraska) add fine elder pleas, and unlike other recent torture porn trends, upscale interiors and sophisticated dread accent the titular question. This isn't dumbed down to a teen party boobs and gore fest, yet cliché character expositions linger alongside some stupid actions, a few loose ends, and one trite prick. Our game players must ally and do no harm or comply and compete. None apologize for playing, however, and that depravity hampers some of the entertainment value. After all, people really get off on this kind of pain – look at that dumb and dangerous Kylie Jenner lips dare – and longtime horror viewers will find the unexplained, gruesome generosity predictable. Thankfully, the built in ticking clock and process of elimination keep the smartly congested parlor panache moving, and the crafty cynicism carries through to the end.

Polite Split Decisions

As Above So Below – The disorienting, chaotic start to this 2014 found footage tale compromises the danger of all its tunnels, statues, catacombs, and artifacts because we can't see much less appreciate them thanks to the sideways camera or off and on flashlights. Young and reckless Perdita Weeks (Lost in Austen) rattles off her credentials and always assures the documentary is paramount while risking harm to others. She heeds no warnings, argues with the more experienced, and audaciously accuses others while she destroys priceless discoveries for her own transformative gain. Instead of Dante food for thought, the wrongfully determined, spelunking hipster plot comes off ala National Treasure – complete with a first clue action start, a break in to inspect the back of a marker, begrudging allies who only want gold, going underground via a tomb, and following historical riddles through one hidden chamber after another. Our cameraman is also a wise cracking, injury prone, token black guy whom we hardly see. His future bodes so well! And hey, there's no cell phone service underground, obviously. Parisians inexplicably speaking English instead French, obligatory claustrophobia, Indiana Jones rats and knights, and random cult worshipers add to the borrowed contrivances, and it's tough to make the cliches and busy footage both work due to the increasing demands on our suspension of disbelief. The finest parts here are when the camera remains still with one person in panic. Creepy old phones and broken pianos below add to the dread and maze like inability to escape, creating enough forlorn without the gimmicks. Real cave interiors add to the Egyptian booby traps, however the jump scares, supernatural hell horrors, and a much too much rushed finale abandon the established rules. Was all the metaphysical worth it? Are we supposed to be glad that one got the rectification she desired at the expense of others? This is entertaining for viewers who fall for the frights in the Halloween fun house, but despite attempts at literary and historical allusions, longtime horror audiences and wise cinema fans will see everything coming.

Deliver Us from Evil – Hectic explosions, desert warfare, and soldiers discovering an ancient tomb get this 2014 supernatural thriller off to a rocky start before more random restarts further delay the actual horror. Important snippets given early are better reiterated later, making this opening a redundant fifteen minutes that could have been cut. A creepy nighttime power outage at the zoo and a spooky house where candles won't burn reset the chilling mood, but ridiculously weapon happy, trumped up macho, backwards hat wearing cops who look more like ball players chomping on chewing tobacco make us feel like we're in the wrong movie again. The cinematic realism is also styled like a cop show, which would be fine except the nighttime seedy and flashlight lighting is too damn dark to see anything. An annoying score also ruins the viewer immersion, as does convenient, all seeing HD surveillance footage and easy smartphone cameras with on hand evidence – not to mention there is never any back up or proper police procedure. Though not miscast per se, what kind of Australian doing Bronx Italian accent is Erica Bana (Troy) trying? Please don't. And Joel McHale? Of The Soup? As a bad ass cop in a horror movie?! Fortunately, The Doors' music signifying gateways to hell is much more fun, and Sean Harris (The Borgias) is always a delightfully gruesome creeper. Too many genres are combined and condensed here, making the balance and pacing uneven, and the potential for digging deeper motivation in the intriguing one on one dialogue and good versus evil debate remains superficial as a result. Tighter editing would have stopped the meandering, but this might have been better as a longer serial where time could be taken for the Iraq fallout, our guilt ridden ex-faithful cop with terrorized family tropes, and the buddy sergeant meets noble padre religious investigations. Is this all just too many clichés tossed at the screen? There's a great exorcism before a somewhat limp finale, but cops and a priest battling possessed veterans with devilish clues from Jim Morrison? If you don't expect much from the mixed vision, this may actually be crazy enough to see through to the end. 


17 May 2015

The Deep Blue Sea (2011)

The Deep Blue Sea is a Fragmented but Fitting Drama
by Kristin Battestella

Fractured people are trying to fix themselves and more in this 2011 British adaptation of the 1952 post-war play by Terrence Rattigan. While some of the symbolic, broken framework and mid century pace will deter viewers, the intersecting character studies here provide plenty of modern intrigue and social examinations to discuss.

Hester Collyer (Rachel Weisz) has left her older husband Sir William (Simon Russell Beale) and has been living with former Royal Air Force pilot Freddie Page (Tom Hiddleston). The aristocratic Hester, however, has found living with the devil may care Freddie is not as she expected. While her husband vows there will be no divorce and wants to keep this scandal quiet, Hester contemplates suicide thanks to her emotional upheaval and the turbulent consequences of the post-war times...

This is London, 1950, and director Terence Davies (The House of Mirth) opens the 98 minute melodrama with a bleak suicidal monologue. The old fashioned dialogue will be difficult for some, and silent establishing montages with snippets of sunny memories or outdoor happiness may be confusing as well. The first half hour does eventually catch up in real time before more redundant stalling recaps what we already saw, and the entire drive by start seems unnecessary, a dry delay in the telling of the tale on top of stuffiness and suicide as a crime that today's audiences will already find tough and unfamiliar. The whirlwind recollections highlight the blissful, but they are intercut with a slow, lingering, dreary reality, and the result is uneven rather than a balanced pre-war etiquette versus breaking free conflict. I understand the intentionally broken narrative structure symbolizing the fractured minds and hearts of its players, but for modern speedy viewers, The Deep Blue Sea will be a little too arty in the summary of its affair. Ironically, The Deep Blue Sea is rushed in its disjointed timeline, too – this liaison has been happening for months yet the skipping around viewpoint creates willy nilly emotions. It's tough to appreciate the anger and regret from moment to moment, and we might have understood the passion and pain more had we seen the bad marriage, felt the swept up romance, and then saw the cracks of the arrangement in linear fashion. Fortunately, once you get through the fifties styled constructs, the script is delightful. Actual, uninterrupted conversations blossom into character development, and hearing the players express themselves truly tells the audience what a tumultuous time this has been. The Deep Blue Sea is a day in the life of an affair, but getting to know the characters replaces the fallout because we can't see the behind closed doors action. Affairs, alcohol, clinging to the old aristocracy – how does one rebuild themselves and a nation when talking about shell shock and sex is stiff upper lip taboo? The rigid, unyielding pre-war society that sustained these people during The Blitz is now festering an inability to cope with the war's unknown aftermath. 

Oscar winner Rachel Weisz (The Constant Gardener) beautifully captures this post-war era and looks the classic and reserved part needed for The Deep Blue Sea. Women weren't supposed to be so shocking back then – though we know they totally were – and Weisz delivers sophistication alongside being scandalous and seemingly carefree in a slip or robe. We may not see much saucy beyond lightweight lingerie and sideview nudity, but Hester is enticed by Freddie's reckless abandon and clings to him, desperate to consume him and get her kit off. When her minister father tells her to go back to her husband, it isn't what Hester wants to hear – she is done with dull safety and intends to speak her mind. No, she shouldn't be angry or ashamed for having gotten what she wanted – a man to make her feel better – but she can't have it both ways and therein lies the titular dilemma. Hester is too accustomed to aristocratic style, and this dalliance can't be sustained once physical or emotional needs turn the passionate into an arrangement that is just as stuffy, non-talkative, stilted, and awkward as her marriage was. Looking through our modern lense, this back and forth, uneven behavior can make Hester seem bitchy and high horse. It's tough see what either man likes about her when she is too busy blaming Freddie for her problems. Does she love him or just need him to love her? There is a difference, and Hester is too confused within herself to accept Freddie for who he is.

She expects him to remain simple and fill her needs, be a big man and fix her mess, or conveniently come up to her high society perfection. Hester never considers that these things won't happen, much less the notion of giving a little his way. Her extraneous pressure makes their good loving damn depressing. Did she think this relationship would be no less turbulent when turbulence and passion go hand in hand? By comparison, was her marriage really so bad then without such love and lust expectations from Sir William? Hester is put to the test as an honor and hold, sickness and in health missus, but she only compliments Freddie, asks if he wants breakfast, and shines his shoes when their torrid is at its end. She has the conversation about where they aren't going when it is too late – just like her husband did with her. Hester is both strong and progressive in a time when women weren't supposed to be so gung ho, yet she never learned how to be herself and thought another man would make it better. Can she make it on her own? This is a superb performance from Weisz, and it's wonderful to see an unhappy woman's perspective and mid life awakening – reflections so often dismissed in favor of some blossoming young love phooey. As I asked after seeing Weisz in Agora, why aren't there more roles like this? Where are the movies that make room for female performance and character movement rather than superficial babe spectacles?

Hello. Tom Hiddleston (The Avengers, Crimson Peak) has the first line in The Deep Blue Sea, and it is a keeper! He looks great in a period suit with a fedora and slick fifties short hair, too, when most of today's actors simply can't carry off this past debonair much less relate the mix of excitement over war glory and its lingering pain. Freddie hides his shell shock with drinking and a lot of fun – mocking the toughness, joking with sound effects, and telling tall tales with jolly good chap RP punctuations. We understand why Hester would be swept up in this adventure and take such a wonderful risk, but what are Freddie's needs in this relationship? He goes golfing and expects their playing house to go smoothly – forgetting that running away with a married woman won't be so dandy. Freddie needs Hester to take care of him – he notices when she doesn't look at him when he enters the room but seems oblivious to how upset she is and wonders what he's done wrong. Freddie ignores her request not to read her suicide letter to him, for it is addressed to him and therefore his to do with as he pleases. He wears his emotions on his sleeve but that doesn't disguise the fact that he is also stilted within himself and childlike stunted by the war more than he cares to admit. He's no doubt passionate, but Hester expects him to shut off his pain. She wants him to man up, drink, and not reveal the barbarism of war, but Freddie is correct when he says he is not a villain for wanting to express himself in more than just the accepted alcoholism of the time or when it is convenient for her.

While the audience probably expects weighted roles from Weisz and Beale, Hiddleston more than holds his own with the elder dramatists thanks to an honest and tearful but no less simmering and manly performance. With less screen time and little room to maneuver in the period constructs, his kettle about to boil over character adds a much needed counter point zing to The Deep Blue Sea. Freddie is just as damaged – and perhaps more traumatized – than Hester is yet he makes no demands on her when she berates, bullies, and calls him childish. It isn't okay for her to insult him as uncultured and groan when she doesn't want to hear about his bravery. He's right in calling her extreme for contemplating suicide over his forgetting her birthday. After Freddie has already seen a war far worse, he is still trying to live it up and smile scars and all. Why can't he share that turmoil with her? Hester wants to get her O on all well and good, but remember, men of this time weren't supposed to talk about shell shock or share their fears and war trauma just as women weren't supposed to be so sexually taboo. Freddie is capable of the softness she wants, but he needs her nurture in return. Whether he's uncouth or not shouldn't matter if you love him, but Hester ignores his tender need to sing, dance, and ground himself with their romance. She needs one fix, he needs another, and neither knows how to give an inch to the other. This affair could save Freddie, but whether he is drunk and still a good pilot or not, he returns to daredevil flying because he realizes their lust may be just as destructive. It pains them both, but he loves Hester enough to let her go into an unknown but better fate than their would be lethal passion.

Well, it's twin beds for Hester and Simon Russell Beale (Falstaff to Hiddleston's Hal in The Hollow Crown) as her older, mummy's boy husband Sir William. Immediately the audience wonders why they are even married, but this stuffy, tea time, and tennis watching very British and totally mid century way was the utmost of society before the war. William wants everything to go back to the way it was, where topics of conversation never go beyond the lovely garden or milk in first – everything remains sanctimonious and insufferable, so naturally, no one really says much of anything. Had he noticed her juicy phone calls and unhappiness sooner and loosened up some, maybe this saucy might not have happened. We don't spend enough time in the bad marriage to see how things turned ill, but we can't accept his stagnant views any more than William could reconsider his rigidness. No divorce, no admittance to scandal, just the expected, stalwart notion that this carefree will pass. The disjointed timeline hampers Beale's characterization somewhat – ten minutes after he vows no divorce, ten months have passed and he's mellowed considerably. However, while William knows this type of fling can't last, he too is going about keeping his wife the wrong way, the only way he knows how. We can't expect him to change overnight even if he himself knows there must be a new path. William also isn't the villain by any means, but his very station makes him unable to simply talk to Hester and admit there is a wrong much less resolve it. This is a lovely, classy, reserved performance from Beale in what is not an easy role to play. Likewise, landlady Ann Mitchell (EastEnders) neither condones nor condemns Hester and Freddie's supposed living in sin, balancing a brief but fine line in looking the other way and letting what's private be private. As part of an elderly couple that has grown strong and overcome ills with dignity, she understands how past pain and loss will make each person love more, not less. That is a true match, not passion that fills the vacuum created by war's chaos. Through its small ensemble, The Deep Blue Sea parallels how society was before the war, dares to accept things are different, and asks, 'Now what?'

Fittingly, the palette for The Deep Blue See is subdued and dark. Though not colorless thanks to traditionally scandalous red lips and nails or patterns of the period, there is a post-war sense of dreary, an ongoing recovery from a time when flamboyance and excess were rare and rationed. Clutter, books, pearls, and nostalgic styles, however, create warmth and patina along with old lamps, sunlight, and fireplaces. Smoking mannerisms, hazy air, long drags, and deep exhales also indicate fractured nerves while looking out windows and filming through glass makes for a trapped perspective. The weeping violin score matches the melancholy, but the music disappears or reappears in old fashioned, intrusive swelling like a tragic opera over what cannot be said. The group pub singing of some great classic tunes has much more impact – remember, there were few records to go around and they had to sing what they wanted to hear. Walking to the phone booth to make a call, needing the exact change, and more such sentimental flavor, however, feels hampered by budget restrictions or the original play foundations. Thankfully, The Blitz sequence is perfection, a parallel that does everything it has to do using very little, and these minimal sets and locations do keep The Deep Blue Sea intimate, even quaint. Maybe the torrid doesn't go far enough for today's audience considering the sexual impetus of the tale, but there is something to be said for this fifties styled chaste compared to the new millennium tawdry. The blu-ray edition's commentary, cast interviews, and director master class shed more light on the history for this melodrama– as do the subtitles for anyone who may not fully understand the colloquialisms of the era.

Yes, The Deep Blue Sea would have had a larger audience had its structure not paralleled the constraints of the time and simply told its naughty straight in real time with no back and forth disruptions. The deliberately compromising design will be too arty and overly noticeable for some, stifling spoon fed viewers out of the fine performances with this uneasy narrative on top of at times unlikable character behaviors. Despite condensing its heavy into a short time, this is uncomfortable to watch and not for casual viewing indulgences – mislabeling The Deep Blue Sea as a romance probably hurt viewer expectations as well. The reflection of the era and its mirrored upheavals, however, make The Deep Blue Sea an interesting starting point for viewers not in the post-war know. Classic film audiences will not be bothered by the mid century framing design and subdued tone of The Deep Blue Sea while upper education sociology and psychological classrooms can discuss the lingering historical effects anew. Were the post-war passions and turbulent realizations worth the pain and love lost? Just because the subject matter is strained by design doesn't make the dilemma any less difficult or uninteresting. Thinking film lovers, fans of the cast, and those interested in complex character studies should give The Deep Blue Sea a thorough examination.

30 April 2015

The Lost Future

The Lost Future Gets a Little Lost Itself
by Kristin Battestella

Young tribesman Kaleb (Sam Clafin) and Savan (Corey Sevier) protect their village against violent, mutated humans affected by a unknown virus. Their people, however, are starving while the beasts increase. Tribal leaders fear the disease and do little as they become prey – much to Kaleb's protest. A mysterious outsider Amal (Sean Bean) aides the young warriors in battle and tells them of a yellow powder antidote developed by Kaleb's late but literate father. Unfortunately, the cure and its formula have been stolen by Gagen (Jonathan Pienaar), who lords over an abandoned city. Will Kaleb – who is also able to read – be able to retrieve and recreate the yellow powder in time to save his people from death and monsters?

With its 2010 European via SyFy Channel production, the odds were already against The Lost Future. However, it is the clouded action before promising story approach that truly dampens the potential of this post apocalyptic tale. I know it isn't saying very much when The Lost Future feels like a poor man's 10,000 B.C – which I did like – but neither the double talk tribal angst nor the hunting action cold opening fool viewers into thinking that The Lost Future is in caveman times. We know the title of the picture and the not cool misleading of the audience isn't as clever as producer Jonas Bauer (The Pillars of the Earth), the numerous writers, and longtime television director Mikael Salomon (Nash Bridges) think it is. Wooden dialogue is immediately indicative of the primitive meets future mash up, and this stilted mix of attempted speaketh fancy with leftover modern lingo is at times so jarring that it sounds like a bad dub job. Awkward “What's a book and what do you do with it?” conversations highlight this first draft script design, and the lies about the status of this post apocalyptic community which should be at the forefront of The Lost Future falter as a result. Though underdeveloped, starving hunters fearing a killer virus and a monster perimeter thanks to speculation on God's will, justice, fate, and generational punishment are intriguing topics. Place these alongside a spying outsider and debates on remaining stagnant and clinging to fear or trying to proactively save one's people, and you have story and suspense. Unfortunately, The Lost Future doesn't fully explain its who, what, and why and instead favors several assorted battles and beastly fights before mentioning its confusing goings on in the minutes between the would be spectacles. Three supposedly important deaths happen in first fifteen minutes, but we can't much care about nameless fatalities when the action has already been proven as more important that the plot. Mutants, diseases, past information, immunity – a lot's being thrown at the screen to deflect us from the superficial writing. Intercutting between trapped villagers, the journey for a cure, and more split action means to trick the viewer into not seeing the aimless happenings but instead leaves the audience without an anchor. It's not the best option, but opening with a prologue explaining the science and experiments gone awry would have gone a lot further in grounding the nonsensical and putting the premise at hand in focus.

How will I ever unlock the secret of the yellow powder?!” cries the lackluster Sam Clafin (The Hunger Games) as our hero of the hour Kaleb. He doesn't look the part, has heaps of bad dialogue, and seems insignificant thanks to a too similar rival turned best friend. If he's the tribe's only hope, whelp this is Miscasting 101 all around. The post-The Tudors Annabelle Wallis as Dorel isn't made to be too sexy a cavewoman at least, but everyone else does wear more and her fabrics cover up everywhere except where they are needed. More sad however, is that she remains a useless love triangle damsel who, considering the hunting and gathering society in which she lives, shockingly can't do anything like, you know, maybe hunt or even row the fricking boat. By contrast, Eleanor Tomlinson (Poldark) as Kaleb's sister Miru is made overly gung ho and supposedly strong, but unfortunately, her convenient and contrived plot points lead to exactly what she hoped to prevent. Good job! Although he uncharacteristically changes his tune because the plot says so, prospective antagonist Corey Sevier (Cedar Cove) as Savan at least looks brutish and bearded as The Lost Future requires. He also gets slightly more to do than have sex with Dorel while Kaleb watches. Awkward! Going with these primitive teenager perspectives to steer an already muddled script hurts The Lost Future when the apocalyptic divisions and dystopian strata could have been much more nuanced.

No, I didn't only watch The Lost Future for Sean Bean, but he adds a much needed classy to a production that knows he is the best they have. The DVD designs all feature Bean (Game of Thrones) over everyone else, he is top billed despite having less screen time than others, and most importantly, he looks smashing with a bow and arrow. As the wise outsider Amal, his voice alone raises the tone of The Lost Future, and his smooth delivery adds authority even if he's stuck with a lot of mutant exposition. Was Bean the only person who took the much maligned script seriously or simply the only cast member with the know how to do so? Amal's introduction advances the tale more in five minutes than a half hour of action, and the irony that this one man is doing better than an entire village helps make some of the unintentional chuckles slightly explainable. The cowering superstitious folk flounder while Amal and his family make their home in a ruined church with re-purposed past gadgets – but his comfort isn't enough to him so long as others are without a cure. He has the titular focus in mind rather than the immediate struggle, and The Lost Future plum seems like it would have been a great sociological science fiction film had it been told from Amal's point of view. Man doing science with consequences, antidotes stolen, mutant results, apocalyptic separation, a brotherhood to protect human tribes – the back story Bean is telling sounds a lot more interesting!

Ironically, other elder statesmen support in The Lost Future provide more bad acting instead of maturity. The old speaketh, out of touch adults don't jive with the protesting teens, and everyone feels like they are in the wrong movie. The Lost Future styles itself as a would be television pilot with unnecessary village B and C episodic storylines and too many characters that should have been removed. Capable men on horseback arrive out of nowhere to help in the final half hour when it's too late, and smarmy villain Jonathan Pienaar (To the Ends of the Earth) hams it up a bit too much amid the rushed industrial finish. Once again, The Lost Future misplaces itself by introducing a city, new population, and more characters far, far too late in its 90 minutes. How are viewers supposed to get our bearings when someone new comes along every fifteen minutes? This backdoor pilot mood really piles on the people and possibilities yet simultaneously gives away everything that could have been done in a series season. Unfortunately, The Lost Future unfulfills on most of this blink and you miss it, fast moving potential – there's simply no time to digest whether we like any of these players or not.

Yes, the CGI sloth monster is poorly designed and the actors are woefully thrusting spears into thin air before looming over cheap looking faux animal carcasses. The zombie virus makeup and yellow powder designs are poor, too, and the hectic fight scenes make it tough to tell who is who – unless there is a cool slow motion moment with the appropriately cued music swells. Those fast, seemingly superior and parkouring mutant humanoids are also conveniently and nonetheless defeated, and some of the action looks distorted, as if the camera speed was altered for some kind of misguided special effect. A cave exploration side plot is likewise ridiculously small scale and poorly edited to cover up the rock reuses, however, the up close, through the leafy foliage filming smartly hides outdoor limits. The distant cityscape graphics also look fine, and the Life after People damaged set pieces with piles of dusty rubble, rampant vegetation, old technology, and abandoned libraries look the part. Though perhaps misused thanks to a lot of meaningless walking to and running fro, the South Africa locales are quite lovely with a fitting, untouched bleak beauty. The Lost Future may look rocky to start with an over reliance on battle graphics, but overall, the practical designs look natural and any slightly hokey visuals are not the deterrence here. Indeed, a half hour behind the scenes feature on the blu-ray release proves the production wasn't without its merits, but the absent subtitles – which would have helped tremendously with names and unclarified plot points – highlights the decision to go with the gimmicks instead of fully executing all the script possibilities.

I saw The Lost Future when it first aired on SyFy, and although I haven't watch the channel much before or since thanks to its lack of actual science fiction, this one does seem a bit more sophisticated than the hear tell likes of Sharknado and the other monster of the week knockoffs. Granted, the cerebral post apocalyptic possibilities go unexplored at the expense of more action or a speedy run time while the script spends most of its time on muddled, disjointed storylines and distractions that proceed accordingly just because they should. Ironically, The Lost Future can be humorously viewed as an educational tool on how to not botch a good story with what modern television and film says we should have rather than what the tale needs. One may prefer something more serious, but this is still somehow a fun picture. If you accept The Lost Future as is for the superficial entertainment, Bean fans and science fiction audiences can have a good time. Viewers may even see this as a gateway to search for similar but better realized dystopian adventures, and ultimately, I like to think that the point of The Lost Future is that the ability to read can save the planet. Who knew?

17 April 2015

More Mario Bava Horror!

Bava Horror, Again!
by Kristin Battestella

What's not to love for the classic horror viewer when it comes to the stylish scares, tempting thrills, and colorful chills from that giallo master Mario Bava?

A Bay of Blood – Signor Bava directs this 1971 plot of heiresses, real estate, and murder – you know, the usual – with his expected mix of upscale cinematography and unsettling panache. Storms and classical melodies create a sadness to start as nasty deaths disrupt a would be old time gentility. There's no dialogue for the first ten minutes, but the silently designed kills are tantalizing nonetheless. Add swanky affairs, alluring secretaries, and skinny dipping run afoul to the zany fortune tellers and partying teens, and all today's quintessential horror ingredients pack these eighty-four minutes. Pretty outdoor designs give way to blue nighttime hues and noir lit interiors add mood while red accents ominously treat the eye. Eerily framed bodies, hallways, and faux suicide notes add layers as those seventies zooms mirror the characters' swoons and fears. Although this is more bloody than Bava's earlier works – which some may like and others may not – the bodies here are normal compared to contemporary bimbos. The gory chase, squeamish squidworks, and nasty hatchet slices are artistically juxtaposed with sunshine, birds chirping, and that Bava delicacy. Of course, the weak script is certainly not perfect, the English audio is too low, the subtitles don't quite sync, and who is who or double crossing whom can be very confusing. Thankfully, the inheritance battles, illegitimate mysteries, and one by one eliminations mix well with the sex and violence. The bodies pile up in unique ways, and Friday the 13th certainly copied a kill or two! Some scenes may feel slasher for slasher's sake, but the stylish, somewhat melancholy tone remains strong. Everyone is fighting over this lovely land whilst also ruining it with ghoulish mayhem, and this deadly mystery is still an exciting grandpappy for the slasher genre.

Blood and Black Lace – Sweet, jazzy rhythms, classy titles, and a suspicious tone open this 1964 ninety minutes – one of Bava's earlier saucies full of secret diaries, scandal, drugs, hysterical dames, and murder. Though a little slow to get going thanks to confusing lookalike women, uneven or hampered dubbing, and misogynistic “I don't believe in permanent, exclusive relationships” two-timing men; the violence here is carefully styled and well filmed whilst also being rough, haphazard, congested, and disturbingly intimate as such horror risque should be. It is chilling and uncomfortable to watch as these women are attacked, abused, and tortured – this is real world scary violence not the fantastic or fake monsters. Ripped garments and blood marring the pretty faces add enough skin and gore suggestions alongside a vivid palette of flashing lights, shadow schemes in multiple colors, and symbolic reds matching the illicit. Rome exteriors, layered décor, and fancy frocks accent the mid century behind the scenes fashion drama, and delightful editing, interesting camera framing, and multi action intercutting raise the tension. The viewer side eyes these naughty women going off alone at night with obsessed, lusty men, yet it's fun to suspect as the screams and crazy turns add surprises. Who is this fedora wearing masked killer so desperate to keep the off the time racy hidden? Sure, the lethal planning and police investigation are a little sloppy; the subtitles don't match and thus send some of the details amiss. However, the deadly vignettes progress into a intriguing mystery rooted in a realistic setting and simmering schemes – making this little thriller a wild, must see precursor to slice and dice horror as we know it. 

5 Dolls for an August Moon – A swanky, sunny, coastal start with groovy records, spinning beds, and heady parties full of glitz and glamour quickly leads to bad business deals, isolated island danger, and mysterious science experiments in this 1970 thriller. Jokes about virgin sacrifices and saucy torture make way for kinky seductions, skimpy skin, juicy gold digging dames, and shady millionaires. No price – such as a life or two – is too much for this elusive formula, and smartly used darkness, silhouettes, and flickering lights accent the fine editing and carefully placed zooms. Though perhaps dated, now period flair and colorful Bava style don't look budget, and early genre staples add panache. From a false scary start to a scantily clad running beauty and a group of people trapped with a high stakes killer, the eighty minute suspense moves quickly as the players fall. Some of the back and forth money double talk might get lost in translation amid the Italian audio and English subtitles and too many Jacks and/or Jacques do make it tough to tell who is who. However, the dead piling up in the freezer adds a touch of humor, and it's amusing how the money and formula are more important to these people than finding the killer! Interesting lady leaning innuendo, character turnabouts, missing money, and finger pointing accusations accent the deadly competition, and red herrings lead to some excellent ante ups for the final twenty minutes. No, there isn't a lot of outright slice and dice scary or gore as may be expected, and calling this horror feels slightly mislabeled. Fortunately, there is a lot of entertaining tension here to match the interconnecting intrigue, and it's fun to guess who's behind the 'formulaic' foul play.

Hatchet for the Honeymoon – Romantic scoring and stylish red designs over the opening credits of this eighty eight minute 1970 slasher deflect the killer scares to come, but arty, distorted deaths and dreamlike swirls are edited in time with the eponymous slices, shiny blades, symbolic wedding night blood, and bridal voyeurism. Unique camera shots and frames filmed through the mirrors or the internal fashion photo shoot lenses add to the quality, non herky jerky camera movements, and creepy mannequins, seances, secret rooms, askew sexuality, marital dysfunction, and beautiful roses create heaps of atmosphere along with lovely locales, lush interiors, and a spooky speeding train. The killer narration is also bemusingly honest – this psychopath nonchalantly admits where the tallied and once pretty bodies are buried and how he hates his brow beating but unaware spiritualist wife Laura Betti, also of A Bay of Blood. The struggle against the urge to kill escalates as painful memories and seductive, tempting models help piece together this deadly psyche and the murderous source. Brief mentions of a faltering business and rocky inheritance, however, seem of little importance, and the police investigation feels too weak, even easy. Obviously, there are also perhaps too many motherly roots and Psycho parallels, but strangely, partway through the time here, the murdering mayhem turns into something more paranormal. The audience is intrigued by the killer and the surrounding twistedness, but this seemingly rushed double plot tries to do too much. Thankfully, there is a wacky, whimsical mood and internal wink to the deathly love and saucy subtext without the need for excessive skin or gore. There are some fun spins here to keep the bridal butchery entertaining, and I'm surprised this one seems a little unloved.

Kill, Baby, Kill – From the period start with bloody spikes, evil child laughter, and coffins to the superb crumbling locales, bleak landscapes, and foggy cemetery – Maestro Bava invokes the total gothic formula for a macabre, dreadful mood in this 1966 mystery. Horrendous deaths, a foreign doctor's arrival, the mysterious baroness on the continent, suspicious townsfolk, village curses, and carriages complete with fearful drivers blossom amid an impeded investigation, reluctant autopsies, scared girls, and scary ladies. Eerie rituals and specters tapping at the window escalate the suspense while a dizzying spiral staircase and carefully placed zooms increase anxiousness – be they fast, hectic ascents or slow, simmering tracking shots. The print would show its age and low budget, but there are no faded visuals here thanks to the intentionally lush dimension, well lit design, smart shadows, strategic cobwebs, and spooky chic interiors. The hazy dream sequence isn't over the top yet remains disturbing alongside an orchestra of scary sounds, cat meows, and tolling bells topping off the atmosphere. While those familiar with the gothic Hammer productions or our recent American in another country versus juvenile phantom trends may find some elements predictable or the expositions convenient; skin suggestions and hints of blood do enough without the need for excessive nudity or gore. The English audio and subtitles are pretty good, too, and the players are quite fine over the fast moving eighty-three minute duration. Whichever of the assorted distribution titles you find this one under, there's no reason not to like the creepy mysteries, spooky revelations, paranormal fun, and sorcery shocks here.

07 April 2015

Horror Addicts Guide to Life Available Now!

Hello Everyone! 

Just a Public Service announcement for fellow fans of the horror genre!  Several of my reviews, lists, and interviews are featured in the HorrorAddicts.net's Horror Addicts Guide to Life anthology Available NOW!!!

Here's the Blurb and Where to Buy:

Horror Addicts Guide to Life – Available Now!


Cover art by: Masloski Carmen
Editor: David Watson

Do you love the horror genre? Do you look at horror as a lifestyle? Do the “norms” not understand your love of the macabre?

Despair no longer, my friend, for within your grasp is a book written by those who look at horror as a way of life, just like you. This is your guide to living a horrifying existence. Featuring interviews with Midnight Syndicate, Valentine Wolfe, and The Gothic Tea Society...

Authors: Kristin Battestella, Mimielle, Emerian Rich, Dan Shaurette, Steven Rose Jr., Garth von Buchholz, H.E. Roulo, Sparky Lee Anderson, Mary Abshire, Chantal Boudreau, Jeff Carlson, Catt Dahman, Dean Farnell, Sandra Harris, Willo Hausman, Laurel Anne Hill, Sapphire Neal, James Newman, Loren Rhoads, Chris Ringler, Jessica Robinson, Eden Royce, Sumiko Saulson, Patricia Santos Marcantonio, J. Malcolm Stewart, Stoneslide Corrective, Mimi A.Williams, and Ron Vitale. With art by Carmen Masloski and Lnoir.

For more information, visit Horror Addicts.net or join the gang on Facebook!