12 August 2018


Geostorm Undermines Its Own Potential
by Kristin Battestella

Independence Day writer Dean Devlin's 2017 directorial debut Geostorm undermines its own science fiction disaster movie possibilities with trite characterizations and convoluted conspiracies.

Dutch Boy satellite creator Jake Lawson (Gerard Butler) is called back to the space station he designed by his brother Assistant Secretary of State Max Lawson (Jim Sturgess) when the climate control systems that previously saved the planet malfunction – perhaps due to a saboteur. Weather all over the planet is drastically changing, leading to natural disasters and more catastrophes. Jake performs perilous space walks to root out the satellite's virus and uncover the onboard culprit while Max and his Secret Service agent fiancee Sarah Wilson (Abbie Cornish) investigate which of their superiors is behind the plot, be it President Andrew Palma (Andy Garcia) or Secretary of State Leonard Dekkom (Ed Harris).

Despite thunder, lighting, droughts, and hurricanes leading to planetary destruction, the opening of Geostorm is already problematic thanks to a juvenile narration with overly serious enunciation and extra emphasis that's almost laughable when viewers today have already experienced enough catastrophes. The audience plays catch up on the initial disasters necessitating this weather control as senate committees argue over who's in charge after the fact before changing their tune fifteen minutes later. Then, Geostorm restarts again three years on with the politicians still arguing after the satellite malfunctions when meeting the global scientists coming together to build a climate control satellite in the first place would have been a better place to begin. Learning the science on how all this might be possible is more entertaining than a kid explaining why the system is called Dutch Boy as if that's all we need to know to suspend our disbelief, and Geostorm plumb takes place at the wrong point in the story. Intriguing space station sabotage, airlock disasters, and hidden files are put on hold as Geostorm jumps from location to location to show eggs sizzling on the sidewalk or anonymous people outrunning lava in the streets. Possible moles, cover ups, and whispers of critical failure are less dangerous when such important information comes by phone, and the dialogue is so millennial they talk about how millennial they are. Geostorm needs to be cool or sarcastic because it is so afraid to be dramatic lest it be perceived as boring or slow. Massive equipment run amok set pieces are okay, however scientists with evidence add better depth than high tech screens or corrupted gear, and Geostorm cuts away from risky upside down spacewalks for ominous jerks on earth stealing White House servers – deflating its story about a weather satellite saving the planet from disaster when it should never leave the space station's tampering and gunpoint confrontations. Granted, bullets in an airtight environment are problematic, too, but so is having the system's access codes hinge on the current president's thumbprint. Of course America would do everything to keep a weather control satellite system from being turned over to international power. Revealing that as some secret shock just so one can kidnap the president in an orange mini cab and drive backwards while shooting at the pursuing bad guys unfortunately makes Geostorm laughably inferior to the Cobra Commander's Weather Dominator on G.I. Joe.

Throw away lines about being born in the UK but raised in the US don't let the bearded Gerard Butler (300) use his full Scottish burr, but he's entitled to some sassy after having saved the day by designing Dutch Boy. Jake is angry at the red tape and scoffs when his undermining brother needs his help. He's sad to leave his daughter with tearful promises, but Jake's happy to be back in business onboard the station. He's cocky but takes charge, knowing how to put what's wrong right whether it's revealing secret codes or getting physical with the bad guys. Jake acts tough but is also a big softy, and Geostorm should have focused on the space heroics at its core. Likewise Talitha Bateman (Annabelle: Creation) as Jake's daughter Hannah should have been more involved or not been in Geostorm at all. She says don't treat me like a child when she totally behaves like one, and after the annoying narration and early departures, she's only seen briefly watching the drama on the television before ending Geostorm with another hamfisted voiceover. Jim Sturgess' Max (Across the Universe) is also an unlikable hypocrite screwing his brother when it suits him before quoting him to the committees and buttering Jake up so he'll return to the project from which Max excised him. His cryptic calls in the night, snooping about security clearances, and trite hacking exposition muddle the picture with brotherly angst and motherly manpain, and I suspect Geostorm may have been better if his entire subplot were removed. It never feels as if he genuinely cares – Max wants to be in charge so he can dispense information to his big brother in an I know something you don't know ego trip. The characters work together because the picture says so, and Max's beady eyes won't let viewers forget his selfish motivation. 

Whether she's obvious in being suspect or going rogue when it matters, Abby Cornish's (Elizabeth: The Golden Age) Secret Service agent is not believable either. She's portrayed as a poor at her job and introduces herself as Max's fiancee as if their lack of chemistry is more important than her work. Although he's also presented as suspicious and wants this climate satellite fixed because it's an election year, I'd be here for Andy Garcia (The Godfather Part III) as President Andrew Palma if Geostorm didn't blatantly play into his red herring. Ed Harris (Appaloosa) likewise seems stiffer than usual as the Secretary of State orchestrating events behind the scenes. Familiar back and forths on men playing god with no real reason for the villain to be so evil become a cop out for the sci-fi disaster. It'd be great to see Harris scene chewing in a no holds barred drama about a corrupt politician's rise to power– but it doesn't belong in Geostorm. All this action was over a crooked politician? As they sing in Newsies, “That ain't news no more!” Rather than providing sophisticated technological insights or intelligent, realistic dialogue; numerous cliché characters litter Geostorm, too, including the geeky but hip black lesbian hacker and the nerdy Asian guy in glasses. Such utilitarian roles are only here because the personnel had to be, and making those placeholder characters minorities creates false diversity onscreen. There's a Mexican scientist who gets blown out the airlock, a French astronaut with a swarthy accent, a sassy British programmer, and a shopworn betrayer motivated solely by money. These characters are often seen and not heard, as if the flags on their sleeves are enough to hit home that international feeling. 'Scusi?

The storm clouds, satellite images, weather graphics, and frozen eerie in the wrong environment can be great. Spacesuits, weightlessness, solar panels, and spacial switchboards invoke the sci-fi mood amid countdowns and power reboots while the futuristic yet old fashioned shuttle launches sentimentally recall those vintage NASA flights we don't see anymore. However, Geostorm has an unrealistic and jarring digital gradient, as if the print has been through too many filters and we can see the Photoshop. Lighting changes as people stand near windows in separate cross coverage are apparent, and up close shots almost look like graphics themselves – overlays hiding if actors weren't in the same place at the same time with Ed Harris particularly appearing as if he was digitally inserted into his scenes. Where space should be drifting or quiet, Geostorm's look is both stilted and fast with hip music and cool action giving no pause for the audience to awe. Every scene transition is an unnecessary establishing pan – we don't need the obviously fake D.C. townhouse swoop when we know the character inside is earthbound. Such expensive but poor shots make Geostorm look wasteful on top of uneven sound and contemporary redundancy. Characters say silly things about Chromebooks, but will Chromebooks still be around in seven years? It might have been neat to only see the natural disasters from the space station's point of view as crew tap into satellite footage or watch the global devastation from above– as compared to the typical in your face disaster action with babes outrunning snow on the beach. Fittingly, the trailers on the Geostorm rental disc also look the same with fast editing and that boom...boom....boom... music. From ominous set ups, cool slow mo action, silent money shots, and a comedic stinger; Ready Player One, Tomb Raider, Justice League, and Blade Runner 2049 become a seven minute advertisement for one long interchangeable CGI fest. In a world where all films use the same CGI company and trailers follow a broad, formulaic pattern, there was one man who could save the movie marketing industry from itself. His name: Don LaFontaine...

Viewers can tell Geostorm had multiple writers and re-shoots with a different director across two years, as it really is two movies in one. Audiences looking for science fiction will be frustrated by the pedestrian conspiracies – that's not what it says on the tin so expecting one movie and getting another is not a pleasant surprise. The messy script and faulty framework provide humorless flavor to the popcorn, and shoehorned plots with unnecessary characters detract from the disaster action. Geostorm was already up against the wall with shuffling release dates; it's tough to enjoy such weather fantastics after so many real natural disasters, and the tacked on White House conspiracy is now tone deaf, too. Although fun for fans of the cast or those seeking late night action kicks, Geostorm doesn't embrace its entertaining space station moments, remaining cliché and cynical when viewers are in desperate need of a feel good, heroic piece.

03 August 2018

Alien: Covenant

Alien: Covenant is a Confusing Disappointment
by Kristin Battestella

Alien: Covenant – the latest film in the Alien franchise and the 2017 sequel to Prometheusstruggles with its franchise identity crisis, leaving the potentially interesting science fiction parables and body horror monsters wanting in the confusion.

When the colonization vessel Covenant is damaged by passing neutrino blasts, the android Walter (Michael Fassbender) must wake terraforming chief Daniels (Katherine Waterson) and the rest of the crew. After receiving a nearby signal from a mysterious, too good to be true planet much closer than their original vetted destination, leader Oram (Billy Crudup) decides to investigate. Unfortunately, inhaled alien toxins on the surface birth beastly parasites, and David (also Fassbender) – the android survivor of the lost research vessel Prometheus – has been living alone on the planet for the past ten years, studying the remaining Engineer evolution techniques and perfecting their monstrous designs with terrifying results...

Whether it's Prometheus 2 or Alien 5, Alien: Covenant is immediately frustrating. If this is really an Alien movie, then Prometheus never should have held anything back in hopes of a sequel and just told its tale in one movie. However, returning director Ridley Scott and screenplay writer John Logan (Penny Dreadful) play it both ways as Alien: Covenant opens with android quizzes on The Statue of David, Wagner gems, and Valhalla. Such meaning of meaninglessness threads from Prometheus will confuse viewers who didn't see it, and Alien: Covenant restarts with the titular colony vessel and its android custodian, Mother computer, and crew in stasis almost as if it's trying to reboot said predecessor. Fortunately, pod fatalities, charred bodies, memento mori, and offline systems build suspense while radio chatter, spacesuits, and rogue transmissions create science fiction atmosphere. Eerie forest destruction, Pompeii-like remains, and crashed ships add mood but drop ships and lost contact are similar to Aliens while inconveniently convenient planetary storms mirror Prometheus. An entire team trots off for an expedition – leaving only one person behind to make lander repairs – before separating further so a careless guy taking a leak can get infected by some spooky alien particles. Educated people ask obvious questions to which they should already know the answers, adding stilted dialogue on top of back and forth scenes deflating the body horror when not acting stupid for the plot to proceed by willfully scratching and sniffing mystery polyps and not reporting when they feel sick. Friends insist on taking the infected back to the ship, but there's no procedure amid the hectic radio calls and blood splatter. Women are on the mission just to whine – one tries to lock in another when both are equally contaminated and the visual hysterics don't let the viewer actually see the out of control. Cutting to what's happening elsewhere is a mistake when it leaves the bloody reveal a blink and you miss it special effect. It's scarier when people are trapped with a fast growing monster building claustrophobic fear toward fatal ship explosions. However, the paired off crew members react so over emotionally to death yet barely at all to the creature shocks, necropolis infrastructure, and the suspicious survivor found there. Flashbacks and exposition detailing the pathogens, crashes, and destruction post-Prometheus ten years prior is really where Alien: Covenant should have began, but we're watching a woman strip down to wash her open wound in what hopefully isn't contaminated water instead. After objecting to flying the colony ship down to the planet, minutes later the crew changes their minds once the route is more dangerous while fast action scenes, convoluted lingering, and rushed quality scenes contribute to the unevenness, hampering creepy encounters with new aliens, familiar eggs, and delicious facehugger revelations. From the prologue to the ship and the planet to the necropolis, rival androids, and onboard terrors; Alien: Covenant is an overlong and confusing two hours with cargo bay trucks, out the airlock solutions, and unnecessary sexy showers littering a nonsensical Aliens copycat finale. What should be wonderfully chilling – gagging up mini alien eggs for the incubator to the Ride of the Valkyries – treads tires because between all the Prometheus rewrites, the four credited writers here, and who knows what more behind the scenes meddling, nobody mapped out where this disappointing prequel plot goes.

There was a time when I was excited for whatever film Michael Fassbender did next. Unfortunately, somewhere around Macbeth or Steve Jobs, Fassbender sold out with all these non-starters and uninteresting flops. Despite this superb dual performance as the poetic, T.E. Lawrence obsessed android David and the clueless but loyal and supposedly inferior model Walter, it's difficult to look back at Hunger and believe this is the same actor who once so bled for his craft. It's totally obvious what David is going to do, and the entire homoerotic flute fingering sequence is the invisible car of Die Another Day franchise rock bottom. Surely, there was a better way to show Walter as a stunted childlike machine designed as lacking creativity expressly because David was so disturbingly human in his desires. It might even have been more interesting to not reveal Walter as an android until the xenomorph acid destroys his hand when he protects Daniels. Walter naively thinks he can gain the details from David regarding their creator Weyland and how the Prometheus survivor came to be on this planet. However, David waxes on Lord Byron and thinks himself Crusoe, admonishing Walter for serving the unworthy, dying humans. He preys on Walter's potential, saying it is love not duty he feels for Daniels, revealing himself as an abuser who already destroyed the life on this planet. David wants to communicate with the neomorphs and earn their respect while he experiments with the hybrids. Walter knows this is wrong, but David is pleased with himself for creating the perfect organism – and he's very disappointed in Walter for standing in his way. David has at last procreated, and it's chilling to see his views realized in several wild births, radical experiments, and violent assaults. Sadly, Alien: Covenant's clunky exposition and trite script ruin the intriguing android developments with ridiculous encounters and not so secret switcharoos leaving no resolution for Walter when both characters deserved more. Alien: Covenant may awe over David's ambition and chew on the possibilities, but there's so much happening the audience doesn't have any time to revoltingly enjoy the villainy.

Although Sam's daughter Katherine Waterston (Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them) is supposed to be the lead, Danny doesn't do a lot beyond wearing her deceased husband's iron nail around her neck in a messianic loose thread similar to Shaw's cross in Prometheus. She's made less pretty than the other women, and when she officially protests stopping at this perfect planet, she's presented as a moody bitch only sharing her emo grief misgivings because there's no point in a home now without her man. Naturally, all the men are allowed reckless manpain over their ladies while Danny easily discovers what David has done when the script bothers to have her look. By the final act she conveniently wants a 2,000 strong colony ship to rescue her just because the plot says it's time to let the xenomorph on board and make her a kick ass action hero. Billy Crudup's (Inventing the Abbotts) reluctantly in charge supposed man of faith Oram only decides on this planet to prove he's up to snuff and doesn't realize he messed up until it personally affects him. Tennessee cool pilot Danny McBride (Your Highness) recognizes John Denver music in the alien signal amid all his sexist jokes before risking the entire mission for his woman – whom viewers already know to be dead. Of course, shortly thereafter, he's laying the groundwork for his next hook up. A brief prologue appearance from Guy Pearce (Brimstone) returning as Peter Weyland should have come at the end of Alien: Covenant to fully accent David's twisted achievements, and Noomi Rapace's Elizabeth Shaw is unceremoniously written off post-Prometheus with only a few effigies. We're told she put David back together, he loved her for her kindness, and that's that. The movie should have started with the Prometheus characters on this unknown planet and then met the colony ship only upon their arrival. Alien: Covenant is from the wrong perspective and over crowded with far too many unnecessary characters – mostly screwing up husbands or similar looking wives raising the body count. Anonymous people being in relationships may make excuses for their behavior but it isn't character development and doesn't give viewers reason to care. Showing two guys with matching wedding bands as an attempt at gay inclusion is also embarrassingly homophobic when their only scene is one dying after ejaculating a neomorph from his mouth. Sneaky James Franco (Tristan & Isolde) moments are silly as well because... it's just James Franco in a promotional campaign for Alien: Covenant.

Thankfully, Covenant is a cool looking spaceship with solar sails, blue hues, green lighting, touch screens, and interface graphics along with red alarms, spooky chains, dangerous ladders, and perilous equipment. Unfortunately fiery damage leads to CGI spacewalks and noticeable animation intruding upon the interstellar fantastic. Crowded submarine style rooms and music motifs from Aliens are also apparent amid waterfalls and mountain vistas borrowed from Prometheus. It's also flat out dumb to waste time on a cool drop ship water landing when there is terra firma everywhere, and what's with all the dang hoodies? Blood, gore, and creative reverse alien births are appropriately disturbing, however the surrounding CGI is again weak. Dark scenes and hectic firefights also make it difficult to see all those potentially intriguing hybrid creatures, twisted deliveries, and scary designs. The contrasting advanced ship technology and stranded apothecary research are likewise nice touches that deserved more time – embryos and stasis versus dissections and bestiary drawings. Facehugger scares, acid effects, and freaky attacks are always fun to see, yet more than anything, these Alien homages cum knockoffs makes one miss the originality and practical design advancements from Aliens. The spaceship action is very messy in Alien: Covenant with pointless, drawn out action sequences littering the narrative, and it's not surprising to read interviews with the film's editor recounting the post-production struggle to balance these multiple storylines each playing at their own pace. Alien: Covenant needs to be re-watched for all its Alien movies pieces trying to bring together the creation theories from Prometheus via confusing Engineer goo, deacons, or xenomorphs yet this entire piece is also in dire need of a re-cut.

Instead of running with what was good from Prometheus, Alien: Covenant plays with its Prometheus connection the way Prometheus played with its Alien connection. Unfortunately, such inconsistent and contradictory carrots string along loyal franchise fans and won't gain viewers who haven't seen Alien. As with Prometheus and Alien 3 before, Alien: Covenant can't serve both its masters and ultimately provides little repeat value, which ironically can be said for Alien 3 and Alien: Resurrection. Once again, we have no connection to LV-426 when all people ever wanted to know was how the Space Jockey got there in the first place. Frustration on such could haves or should haves being saved for yet more sequels compromises Alien: Covenant's potentially entertaining science fiction, religious warnings, and monstrous possibilities with ennui.

25 July 2018

Appaloosa (2008)

Appaloosa A Quiet, Character Western
by Kristin Battestella

Co-writer, director, and producer Ed Harris (Pollock) also stars in the 2008 western Appaloosa. Based on the Robert B. Parker (Spencer for Hire) novel, this quiet character piece invokes a nostalgic, sophisticated atmosphere with period detail and fine performances.

It's the New Mexico Territory, 1882 and the town of Appaloosa calls in peacekeeper Virgil Cole (Harris) and his deputy Everett Hitch (Viggo Mortensen) to bring in murderous, power hungry rancher Randall Bragg (Jeremy Irons). Cole's reputation for the law proceeds him, however neither he nor his deputy know how to handle the affections of widow Allie French (Renee Zellweger) – much less interference of hired gun Ring Shelton (Lance Henriksen) amid train raids, corrupt trials, Chiricahua standoffs, and betrayed alliances.

Quick shootouts are the real law here, immediately setting the reckless tense as the narration tells of bitter soldiers post War between the States choosing sides in The West. Viewers must pay attention to the dialogue, for information happens fast amid the sophisticated conversations and legalese agreements. Despite rugged airs as enemies sit down at opposite sides of the table to share a whiskey, there's a civilized code of honor to the violence – chit chat on the law versus the outlaw as two sides of the same coin. Dual layers, rivalries, and subtle jealousy keep this character piece classy rather than embellishing the drama with try hard cool. However, Appaloosa gives our gents enough cowboy fun even if the buddy moments, verbal spars, and chuckles have a certain gravitas. Tender scenes between the fisticuffs don't hit the audience over the head with scandal, and good or bad, everybody wears black hats. The raids at dawn, jailbreak vigils, circuit judge, and sheriff escorts are common to the genre – Appaloosa feels similar to a lot of John Wayne or Richard Widmark pictures – but this isn't a knock off or spoof playing into the western winks. Appaloosa is also not a slow piece, however the film making itself may be pleasingly perceived as quiet. Players converse in reasonable length scenes, polite two-shots let the cast be, and no noticeable editing intrudes on the debate. Where today's movies often over rely on physical action replacing plot progression, here conflict happens with introspective character movement rather than crescendos. Dangerous bridges, abductions, and nail-biting negotiations are done in camera without zooms or bombastic antics. Personal and professional love triangles collide via the symbolic framework of an unfinished house, and horseback pursuits ride on alongside standoffs and treachery as enemies must work together before the final shootout.

Gruff in his beard Viggo Mortensen's (Eastern Promises) Everett Hitch may have quit his West Point commission but he's still never without his eight gauge shotgun. He may follow Virgil Cole, finish the shootout, pull him off in a fight, or back him up whichever hot or cold is required, yet the lawmen seem more like an equal pair rather than marshal in charge and obeying deputy. Townsfolk prefer discussing their predicament with the more amicable Hitch, and he's silently barters with a Chiricahua raiding party. Despite any bust ups on the case, he apologizes for Virgil's sandpaper ways because he gets the job done. Hitch refuses to debate whether he's a better gunslinger since Virgil is the undisputed best, but Cole says it's Hitch's emotions that keep him from the top. What will it take for him to step out of Virgil's shadow?Audiences today aren't used to seeing men talk about their sensitivity onscreen, but lawmen catching feelings can only lead to trouble and the emotion is a dynamic change of pace. Although Hitch chooses to be second fiddle, several critical scenes are from his point of view, and his larger than life shotgun posturing is often the center of the frame – visually, he is the true star of Appaloosa in the unspoken spirit of The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. Of course, black hat suave Ed Harris as Virgil Cole insists town leaders sign his way into law and warns victims he is a fast draw but will pistol whip a cowboy to get answers. Virgil's a cold killer but doesn't like a lady teasing him about being socially awkward. He's not well spoken and has a poor vocabulary but educates himself. While Cole is not without compassion, apologizes when warranted, and insists on being straight with Hitch; he's unaccustomed to the personal interfering with the professional, refusing to think about anything else until their quarry's caught. Can Cole give up his stubborn marshaling and idly retire in Appaloosa? Though not intended as homosexual, there is a deep, comforting trust between these characters – an inseparable bat man relationship with humor and caring a woman can't understand. Unfortunately, Virgil's blind to any jealously and needs Hitch's aide thanks to the hitherto unknown domestic.

Renee Zellweger (Chicago) as piano playing widow Allie French, however, has the men looking twice as she talks sassy and makes Cole blush. She wants to be with him but dislikes how his work will always be first. Allie doesn't want to be a part of his profession – especially when her life is at risk – and thus turns her flirtations toward the equally besotted Hitch. She's wise to the two men competing even if they don't seem to really know women at all. Hitch insists they are both “with Virgil” and not “with each other,” unaware of the deliberate game she is playing. Allie is not a foolish lady and does what she has to do. A woman in this era must stick with the nearest man to survive, and the higher the man, the better. Such pretty is going to be problematic, and Allie resents how a woman can't be the real boss outside of playing house. Although the character is meant to be wishy washy, the portrayal is too uneven and falls flat amid the stronger leads. Allie comes between the men because the plot says so, not because she is really going toe to toe with them in a shrewd, feminine game of chess. Despite unanswered questions about her, the character is unlikable rather than mysterious and there's no reason to care about her mixed motivations. The name Bragg, however, fits Jeremy Irons' (High Rise) power hungry rancher. He contests the lawmen at every turn, teasing Virgil about reading Emerson while gloating about their at odds social standing and his friends in high places. The one on ones are great when we get them, but Bragg needed a little more to do than bookend the piece with his crimes and swindles. There's no real reason why he goes from rancher to sheriff killer – refusing to surrender his rapist work hands doesn't create villainous dimension. There's more to his and the town story in the deleted scenes and behind the scenes discussions on the Appaloosa blu-ray set, but in a western, the bad guy just has to be the bad guy, so any added class from Irons is a bonus. Likewise, there should have been more to gun for hire Lance Henriksen (Near Dark). He's willing to fight at the Chiricahua raid or hold up a train – but the price influences which side he defends.

Ranch emblems, wooden buildings, and traditional western front architecture establish Appaloosa's Old West atmosphere along with numerous gun belts and cowboy hats. Desert vistas and mountainous scenery make those on horseback tiny on the dusty frontier while contrasting Victorian décor, wallpaper, oil lamps, and tea sets keep the interiors civilized. Carriages, outhouses, and saloon doors complete the expected western style yet Appaloosa remains colorful and bright without the commonly associated fifties pink or mid-century garish design. The muted look and old fashioned patina, however, is not so modern bleak, dark, and grainy that viewers can't see the nighttime action. The gunshots are also not outrageously loud, preferring a more natural pop and the resounding thud when a man drops. It's a surprising natural choice that makes the gun violence more ruthless, for these shootouts aren't rad cool action scenes but a fast draw where the killer doesn't bat an eye. Precious little language, nudity, brief horse injuries, and blood likewise refuse to bow to sensationalism. Instead Appaloosa has an amazing attention to detail with vintage costuming and period trains. Choice music is only used for otherwise quiet scenes and riding transitions, adding to the lawless beauty with guitar strings and Spanish motifs. Appaloosa is impressive for its mere twenty million dollar budget, again questioning why such mid-sized pictures have fallen out of Hollywood favor.

While underwhelming to some who think nothing but too much talking is happening, Appaloosa has an audience in fans of the cast and viewers seeking quality westerns. Granted, the plot could have been more well rounded between the law and the villains. This won't be a gritty two hours as some expect nor have enough lighthearted moments for others. Appaloosa is more about the character relationships and takes several viewings to pick up all the subtle dynamics. The straightforward story of buddy marshals versus bad guys and a woman coming between them provides enough layered nuances. Compared to the recent The Magnificent Seven remake that has all the extra bells and whistles yet felt lacking, Appaloosa has personality, quirks, and man versus man, man versus nature, and man versus himself conflict that better states the unspoken man's man without all the in your face. There are sequels to the source novel – today this would be a television series for sure – but I'd love to see this stock company continue doing more western character pieces. Appaloosa has a charming cast, location, and style with both western motifs of old as well as maturity and a modern sophistication worth a look.

20 July 2018

We're Mad About Musicals!



I Think, Therefore I Review has stepped out once again this summer as part of Turner Classic Movies and Ball State University's Mad About Musicals online course through the Canvas Network!

This was yet again a delightful course revisiting classics I hadn't seen in a long time. Special thanks to Professor Vanessa Theme Ament and Professor Richard Edwards for this lively escapade! Whether you are a writer, film, enthusiast, or just a fan of classic cinema, I highly recommend these opportunities from TCM and Company. I can't wait to see what vintage subject they tackle next! 



16 July 2018

Tales from the Crypt Season 4

Tales from the Crypt Season 4 Continues the Scary Quality
by Kristin Battestella

Summer of 92's fourteen episode Season Four of Tales from the Crypt once again sources the titular comics alongside Crime Suspense Stories, Haunt of Fear, and Vault of Horror for more choice frights, spooky guests, and cheeky thrills.

Director Tom Hanks cameos along with fellow The 'burbs alum Henry Gibson and boxer cum grave digger Sugar Ray Leonard in the “None but the Lonely Heart” premiere as Treat Williams (Everwood) endures the old lady lipstick before a little poison and another funeral. Killing rich dames is good business, but he needs one more gal to make his fortune before his past comes back to haunt him. Unfortunately, anyone wise to the fatal gigolo might have his head mashed into the television or tie stuck in the paper shredder. Our Crypt Keeper host, meanwhile, is a 'boo it yourselfer' hitting his thumb with the hammer and building a swing set so he can 'hang around' for “This'll Kill Ya” with scientists Dylan McDermott (Olympus Has Fallen) and Sonia Braga (The Rookie). Medicine bottles, insulin injections, long legs, and dead bodies in the trunk don't mix! These radical experiments aren't ready for human trials, but love triangles and mixing business with pleasure make for unreliable antidotes, erroneous injections, and steamy bad habits. Zooms, neon flashes, and rapid montages add to the virus paranoia, patient delirium, boils, and oozing skin. Although the initial edgy music and bad ass language falls flat to start director William Friedkin's (The Exorcist) “On a Deadman's Chest,” C.K. does his Elvis impersonation amid the heavy metal arguing and groupies in leather. Tia Carrere (Wayne's World) is the new bride coming between the band, but freaky snake tattoos lead to a magical artist who says he can solve our musician's problems. There's more graphic sex and nudity this half hour, and the old fashioned needling and talk of putting what's on the inside on the flesh set off the voodoo-esque parlor as the music tensions spiral out of control with fatal bathtubs and gory skin peels. I dare say, there are also some slightly homoerotic themes, too, with mesmerizing snakes, a woman coming between men, a man unable to escape who he really is, and body dysmorphia horror. Likewise, older actress Mimi Rogers (Ginger Snaps) is being replaced by her younger, willing roommate Kathy Ireland (Alien from L.A.) for the behind the scenes meta of “Beauty Rest” with 'Ball Buster' perfume commercials and little creaky push ups from the Crypt Keeper. The seductive, sassy start turns into pageant rivalries and poisoned cookies as the ladies argue whether sleeping to the top or killing to get ahead is worse – but the unusual contest questions and the secret winnings remind the ladies that it's really what's inside that counts. Shady landlord rocker Meatloaf pressures restaurant owner Christopher Reeve (Somewhere in Time) in “What's Cookin',” however bus boy Judd Nelson (The Breakfast Club) has some new barbecue recipes for the bodies hanging in the freezer. Local cop Art LaFleur (House Hunting) also develops a taste for flame broiled flesh at the booming steakhouse, and the superior turnabout is set off with red lighting, sizzling grills, and all the expected puns from our host.

Bad ratings and the threat of cancellation thanks to shock jock Robert Patrick (Terminator 2) leads shrink radio host David Warner (Wallander) to make an on air visit with frequent caller Zelda Rubenstein (Teen Witch) in “The New Arrival.” His The Art of Ignoring Your Child book, however, doesn't help the screaming girl thanks to the masks and booby traps in this spooky manor with dark stairs and a dangerous attic. Not to mention the attacker points of view, deadly twists, and ceiling fan mishaps. C. Keep is looking for a home on 'derange' marked 'souled' in “Maniac at Large,” but meek Blythe Danner (Huff) doesn't feel safe in her library thanks to trouble causing ruffians and newspaper reports of a serial killer on the loose. Creepy music by Bill Conti (North and South) adds to the unease as late night cataloging and book piles in the basement build paranoia. Suspense editing and strategic lighting escalate the alarms, knives, vandalism, and possible intruders as the headline hype spirals out of control. Producer Joel Silver directs the memorable “Split Personality” as Joe Pesci (Goodfellas) romances twins by pretending he is also a set of twins where one always has to be away on business. Split screen camera work and intercut conversations accent the double talk, but these possessive ladies are not to be taken advantage of by anyone. Everything has to be fifty-fifty, and despite swanky tunes and casino style, the luck is going to run out on this con thanks to Tales from the Crypt's unforgettable brand of saucy, graphic, and cheeky. The Crypt Keeper has some therapy on the rack to open “Strung Along” because he's 'a little stiff everyday,' but recovering puppeteer Donald O'Connor (There's No Business Like Show Business) is nostalgic for his old black and white kids show. Heart attacks and sentiment, unfortunately, clash with his younger, bikini clad wife. His creepy clown marionette also seems to have a life of his own, and increasingly dark designs set off the affairs, love letters, and shocking betrayals before the full moon of “Werewolf Concerto.” Chanting music and infrared animal perspectives add to the chases, howls, and hairy attackers as sexy guest Beverly D'Angelo (National Lampoon's Vacation) is trapped in a hotel with wolf hunter Timothy Dalton (Penny Dreadful) amid piano compositions, double crosses, and gunpoint standoffs. The werewolf revelations and race to beat the moonrise are superb, surprises again combining for some of Tales from the Crypt's best winks, scares, and star power. The wilderness solitude for Kevin McCarthy (Invasion of the Body Snatchers) and the late Margot Kidder (Black Christmas) in the “Curiosity Killed” finale only acerbates the marital insults. However, their fellow campers have a special tonic that might curb the catty aging. Excellent interplay and fountain of youth sympathy build to the inevitable topper with night blooming jasmine, bugs, graves, moonlight madness, disturbing gore, and all the irony to match.

Unfortunately, Tales from the Crypt does briefly sag mid season with the double dealings, blackmail, and swindling resets of “Seance.” The candles, incantations, and Old World atmosphere of the psychic parlor are just a smokescreen for mid century hustles and colloquial put ons with Ben Cross (Dark Shadows) and even Crypt Keeper Investigations doing a Sam Spade spoof with 'No headstone left unturned.' The noir aesthetic looks great, but this is another typical crime plot with lawyers, money, and a tacked on supernatural bookend. Our Keeper's wearing adorable little chaps and a cowboy hat as Tales from the Crypt producer Richard Donner directs “Showdown.” Sunsets, haze, bleak shadows, and dry orange vistas add a surreal, hellish look to the horses and gunslingers. There are quick draws, snake oil tonics, and ghosts in the saloon, but this non-linear tale is dark and tough to see with a distorted passage of time and too much confusion about what should be an interesting question on who's dead or alive. The pace both drags over nothing yet maybe it's also a story worthy of more than a half hour. Star power is also surprisingly lacking, however, the next episode “King of the Road” has Brad Pitt (The Counselor), hot rods, and disturbing street racing collisions yet also misses the mark. Even the Keeper is too busy doing 'A Mid summer Night's Scream' instead. Both these episodes come from original scripts with loose ties to a Two-Fisted Tales movie adaptation, and the hooking up with the cop's daughter, blackmail, kidnapping, and spiders in the mailbox are pointless torment. Cool veneer, music montage filler – it's scarier that there are no English subtitles on the bare bones Season Four DVD set!

Thankfully, the full opening intro once again plays with each Tales from the Crypt episode, and macabre soul that I am, I love studying it for home décor ideas. Word processors, big old retro televisions, vintage cameras, video dating services, and VHS stuck in the VCR add to the mod eighties style, all white designs, and old lady mauve. Older blue nighttime lighting invokes the cemetery mood, and purple hues or Art Deco black and white tones create flavor with very little. Forties styles, long stem cigarettes, and big hats go far while fire, candles, and thunderstorms provide atmosphere regardless of setting. Bright luxuries contrast the dark dated nineties clubs, but there are still high-waisted jeans and the occasional shoulder pads on the ladies alongside the lingering one giant earring trend and big blowout hairstyles. The language and gore are also a little tame to start the season – perhaps the producers were already thinking of the future syndication reruns beyond HBO. However, black lingerie, thongs, nudity, and further saucy actions are still somewhat risque. Jump cuts and repeat zooms both cover production corners as well as build onscreen intense while heart pulsing rhythms and sound effects accent the bloody prosthetics and horror makeup. Several practical monster effects remain surprisingly good, and creepy old homes, dangerous antiques, and spooky staircases join the slimy recently deceased or skeletons from the grave. 
There are a few slip ups in this short but otherwise choice season. However, once again Tales from the Crypt turns out a fun little marathon with Season Four's campy chills and scary stars making for some of the series' best.

13 July 2018

Horror Movie Cliches I'm Tired of Seeing

Horror Movies Cliches I'm Tired of Seeing
by Kristin Battestella

Thanks to my wonderful gig reviewing and discussing horror movies in print, podcast, and video at HorrorAddicts.net, year round I watch a lot of horror – and I mean a lot. Unfortunately, there are numerous cliché and trite elements I'm tired of seeing in scary movies, and I suspect you are, too. Here's a list of ten such lame things horror needs to ixnay toot sweet.

1. A Prologue – Pre-credits scenes that ultimately don't have anything to do with what happens later in the movie set the audience off on the wrong foot. Here at the beginning, viewers don't know this unrelated ghost encounter, past horror, or cool death may only earn a meager mention henceforth if anything. We get to know somebody only for them to die ten minutes later, forcing the picture to start twice while disrupting audience immersion. How did this become such an oft copied, opening shock obligation?

2. Time Wasting Opening Credits – Most recent pictures begin with little more than a title card and save the cool credits for the exit music, but horror for some reason, makes sure to have cool title sequences that do nothing. Maybe they are trying to be stylish within the movie's theme. However the audience can't appreciate the ephemera because we don't yet know what the horror entails. What we do notice is that the picture is going to be five minutes shorter in actual screen time thanks to this slow filler.

3. Driving to the Horrors Scary movies apparently have a mandatory “Are we there yet?” ride to the horrors complete with loud, hip of the minute music, and childhood friends who share irrelevant backstory each already knows just for the audience's benefit. It's a cheap way to create faux character development and an in-camera journey when we already know the destination is a scary experience. The aerial shots, zooms around the bend, and scenic views are just that – the delaying route again wasting precious time an eighty minute movie doesn't have. 

4. Stereotypical White People – I hope this is changing in recent independent horror, for much too often it's the rich and usually blonde driving from the big city to the country scares and claiming they can't leave their haunted house because their money is tied. Of course, they nonetheless maintain unrealistic means – especially if the movie goes out of its way to mention a fancy profession yet never shows one at work. What prevents the family facing the horrors from being not well to do, African-American, Hispanic, Asian, interracial, LGBTQ, or anything else? N-O-T-H-I-N-G!

5. Bathroom Mirror Shocks You know what I mean. Our blonde in the towel wipes the steamy mirror, opens the medicine cabinet, and then closes it for a jump scare behind her that wasn't there ten seconds ago. There's also the dozed off in the bathtub dream fake out, irrelevant sexy glass showers, or hearing something that's nothing and leaving the water to overflow. Sometimes that's used for another drip aesthetic and other times it's forgotten. Either way, you've totally pictured what I just described because we've all seen it so many times. 

6. Generic Jump Scares – Rather than spending time building a taut, simmering atmosphere that keeps viewers on edge, so many just for cool graphics and creative horror scenes are wasted on hollow fakes and false moments. That creepy noise in the basement is just the cat! Once or twice, such silly safeties can alleviate audience tension or save a bigger surprise for later. Unfortunately, more often than not these jump scares are only for show with one right after another never giving us a chance to breath. It's a tired excuse deflecting on a loosely strung together plot, and it's insulting that we aren't supposed to notice. 

7. Modern Teens and Cool Technology – The latest barely there fashions, hip lingo, and rad gadgets of right now are obvious grabs appealing to today's young instant audience. Unfortunately, such fluff is as immediately dated as the with the quickness it represents. Instead of being down with the latest swag, why not spend time developing an atmospheric location and characters not identified by their high school clique? The instantly forgettable dumb cheerleader, black best friend, and Asian nerd are not relatable just because you have the same smartphone – especially when none of it leads to long lasting, memorable chills. 

8. Contrived Research Montages – Once, there was something investigative in scary movies– the library, traveling to a spooky location, speaking to the first hand horror folk. Though clichés in themselves, progressive action and character effort provide audience investment. Unlike the up close shot of the Google search bar, unrealistic newspaper clipping pop ups, a crappy Geocities website, or a Youtube video. Today's ease of access wastes no run time as characters literally and conveniently pull a resolution out of thin air. Blink and you miss critical details that deserve more attention on and off screen. What's next, asking Alexa?

9. Formulaic Slashers as the Face of Horror– Audiences are accustomed to an October released slasher – we all love them and studios bank on the box office of predictably bad scares trying to wink at the genre by playing into the very things that make them cliché. However, this dulls us into thinking it's how horror should be, confusing spoon fed viewers into disowning a scary movie when it breaks the mold. Such acclaimed pieces are not marketed as horror, but thriller, suspense, or now elevated horror a.k.a. drama with fear. Which, anyone who has been watching horror for the last eighty years, can tell you is nothing new at all.

10. Pulling Out the Rug – Audiences have certain expectations once we're halfway into a movie. So it's not cool when filmmakers think they are shrewd with a so-called twist that plays the viewer. If it's completely illogical to what we have seen already and has nothing to do with all that's happened, it's not a great twist. Such shocks make us aware of the movie making try hard rather than actually scaring us – cheating the viewer out of the suspension of disbelief critical to our flight or fight immersion. It isn't clever when we're looking for nonsensical answers, just a bait and switch that leaves the audience aghast for all the wrong reasons.

What clichés in horror movies are YOU tired of seeing? 


08 July 2018

Science Fiction and Fantasy Collisions

Science Fiction and Fantasy Collide!
by Kristin Battestella

These adventures retro and recent intermix the sci-fi and fantasy facts and fiction. Whether the co-mingling crossover is good, bad, or ugly...now that's a different story.

Outlander – No not that one! This 2008 international science fiction adventure starring Jim Caviezel (The Passion of the Christ), Sophia Myles (Tristan & Isolde), John Hurt (The Field), and Ron Perlman (Blade) is a loose a la Beowulf with rousing music and fitting onscreen fonts looking both metal futuristic and iron age old for this alien warrior crashing to earth in Norway, 709 AD. Rustic mountains and misty forests contrast the coastal spaceship debris, flight suits, and alien computer interface downloading the local language. Mission goodbye memories, burying fellow crewman, no response homing beacon – this lone survivor is stranded sans high tech weapons and there are signs of something monstrous at the nearby burned village. Timber and thatch designs, mead halls, ancient trees, Norse names, furs, and shield maiden styles set the Viking scene as the titular captive is questioned about his unusual name. Standing stones, Frankish enemies, and fear of dragons accent the leadership tensions as the elders rule with safety over risk-taking young warriors while new priests think the violence is Lucifer's wrath on their old pagan ways. The dialogue is decent – our outsider tells the king of his crashed ship and dead crew without the interplanetary details, but the king suspects his “up north” origin is untrue even if his revenge is genuine. Of course, there are typical orphan bonding cliches, woman made tender by nursing tropes, and would be rival warriors become friends so one can be a sacrificial BFF later. Certain fight scenes also cheat with odd speeds and hokey CGI imitations of Predator, and the saturated night time blues with orange firelight schemes are commonplace. The unseen alien cum Grendel attacks are better ominous as monster silhouettes, oozing mouths, red flashes, fiery tentacles, and blood splatters shock the otherwise chilly palette. Tracking blood trails, carcasses, and beheadings are not for the faint yet there are some bemusing moments as our astronaut can't hold his mead or ride a horse. His harsh tone and clipped military manner matches the out of place as the vikings look and sound oldeth. They accept him with animal trophies and feasting games before giving him a cloak that does indeed look like a sci-fi viking mix, building the culture with people and relationships before special effects. Celestial reflections keep the interstellar touches alongside clan wars and revenge raids. Chieftains argue on how to trap a monster with typical villagers build and learn how to defend themselves preparation scenes and a go to the bathroom and you miss him Ron Perlman. However, this outlander becomes handy with the rustic tools and uses whale oil for his explosive plan. Seeing his primitive engineering is also fun speculation compared to the over the top Ancient Aliens – maybe early people did have extraterrestrial metallurgy! Although there should be no cutaways to other clans when the monster is feasting, for the more you leave to the imagination, the better. Frankly, I've always wanted to see Beowulf done with Grendel as nothing but sound – the scratching at the door while the people inside fear – and it may have been even cooler had this followed Beowulf more closely. This outlander's people were conquerors, too, and about the campfire emotion and surreal flashbacks of his alien home accent his ironic warning on colonialism when vikings would pillage all the way to North America. Here, however, this outsider finds a place to belong not by conquering, but defending amid well done deceptions and fatal action twists with underwater battles and fantastically forged swords from spacecraft salvage. Unfortunately, the waterfall finale is messy with thrashing people, confusing action, a woman warrior still needing her man, and obvious slow motion. An earlier, seemingly more damaging attack on our alien monster doesn't kill it, yet this simple end does just because the run time says so. Said monster, however, is better looking once the sci-fi effects are lost in the water and he becomes a sympathetic, last of his kind dragon. This could have really shined as something spectacular, and forty minutes of deleted scenes (!) provide a different opening clarifying the viking conflicts and narrations with more Norse focused character scenes. Flat out, this is another butchered and barely there theatrical release that deserved more, but that mother fucking shit bag scum maggot pervert don't want to pollute my blog with his name Harvbumfucksteinasshole sabotaged it. Fortunately, this remains a surprisingly enjoyable and unique blend of futuristic meets medieval.

Zardoz – John Boorman (Excalibur) directs this 1974 international production featuring Charlotte Rampling (Cleanskin) and the red undies clad Sean Connery (Goldfinger) amid a 2293 science fiction surreal complete with the titular disembodied head. A floating statue worshiped by post-apocalyptic horseback warriors spews forth ammunition from its giant mouth as the immortal Eternals play god, telling the Exterminators to kill the lesser Brutals with gun is good and penis is evil mantras. Population control and weapons fired directly at the spectator audience are heavy allegories, but the statements are slow to start thanks to the unnecessary, laughable beginning. Our flying head cruises along the clouds before landing in the quaint English countryside with old fashioned homes featuring skeletons, relics of the past, and scientific charts on how homo sapiens begat eternals. Conversation explains this immortal vortex and the divided outlands while psychic flashbacks detail previous violence. These isolated rely on an advanced computer intelligence, talking to it with a cool crystal ring each wears as they study Connery's ruffian Zed, a surprising presence polluting their hedonist equilibrium. Jealous women seem coupled among fey, impotent men who put Zed to cataloging formerly priceless works of art. Idle exiles so apathetic they become catatonic, trials where the penalty is aging, psychic induced strokes– there are seriously intriguing nuggets amid the goofy happenings but saucy images and intercut montages make for strung together steamy or cool vignettes in what should be a straightforward culture clash parable. The eternals realize the outside world isn't as bad as they have been lead to believe, and their corrupt society has become what they were trying to prevent thanks to the mentally and physically superior exterminators seeking truth and revenge. Tree of knowledge osmosis, jacking into their matrix revelations, and snake in the garden sex make man both savior and destruction in a somewhat rushed action finale with nonsensical screaming and obvious deus ex machina as wizards come out from behind the curtain and man shoots at himself in the mirror to destroy his fallible god. Although one can see the ahead of their time statements attempted here, the silly design proves high concepts such as artificial intelligence, cloning, reverse eugenics, and euthanasia can really be compromised by messy seventies limitations and an overlong, trippy production. Too much is happening that doesn't always work, yet modern viewers have to laugh at the ridiculous as well as watch more than once for what is trying to be said amid the surreal kaleidoscopes and psychedelic crystals. Besides, I need the recipe for those giant green pretzels.

A Bonus Documentary

Awakening Arthur – From the birth of Arthur with Igraine and Gorlois ruses to possible Avalon tombs said to the hold sleeping King Arthur waiting to return; scenic castles, stone ruins, jousting images, and medieval chalices match the romance and chivalry chronicled in this 2001 documentary hour. Welsh folklore, neolithic cave bears, and dragon legends of similar Gaelic origins accent on location tours of Stonehenge, other megalith stones, and 3,500 year old barrows. Early maps parallel local mythology and constellations with Merlin myths amid historical composites, Roman exits, Anglo-Saxon raids, and purported Druid sacrifices. Red Dragon of Wales mantles provide Uther pendragon backstory and Cornwall beginnings with lovely Tintagel photography and Tennyson quotes recreating Merlin's cave rearing of Arthur. Although some segments are quicker than others or more fiction than fact, archaeological discoveries of fifth century Arthur inscriptions offer concrete evidence alongside sword in the stone depictions, Excalibur, Lady of the Lake healings, and ancient fertility rituals. Medieval Christianity overtaking pagan symbols lead to a mix in the Arthurian canon of ancient springs and Madonna image infusion; symbolic sun king life, death, and rebirth; and regal quests chasing the Holy Grail. The Guinevere marriage, Round Table origins, Lancelot and Original Sin, and Galahad heroics grow from later eleventh century Brittany writings while Geoffrey of Monmouth recountings add Glastonbury Tor, Chalice Well, and rumored sites of Camelot at Cadbury. Further mixing of local French folklore with giants and Celtic gods elevate Arthur to something more mythical despite deadly betrayals, possible Camlann locations, and Mordred battles. Ongoing solstice rituals, contemporary druid revivals, and New Age predictions combine with light defeating dark religious motifs, literary vengeance tales, and Arthur's Seat hilltops as Avalon journeys of slumber rather than death, new poetry, and purported abbey skeletons add to the legends. While the narration and onscreen host are somewhat stuffy for some viewers today and certain information may be dated, the segment title cards breakdown the timeline and there's a welcome lack of in your face background music to the straightforward rather than frills. This isn't anything new to scholars yet remains a quick Arthurian introduction for younger audiences.

I'm not Even Sure...

Immortal – It's Charlotte Rampling again alongside eugenics warnings, dystopian riots, organ harvesting, and helicopter crashes for this 2004 English-French co-production. There's a pyramid in the sky above this futuristic city, too, and the God of the Dead Horus possesses the body of a cryogenically frozen escapee to find a mate. Sadly, the mixed animation design is embarrassingly hokey with live actors in an unpolished and unrealistic entirely CGI setting. The cartoonish news reports, jarring pyramid animation, and video game style characters intercut with real people look they were done by different nineties start ups – taking away any attempt at sophistication as the audience wonders who each person covered in graphics is or if any animated character is essential or not. Important Horus animations look the worst, as his throat moves when he talks instead of his beak. Ironically, it's like a man wearing a mask on his head, which would have looked better. Non-human prejudice, alien metamorphosis, and population extermination get lost amid the busy graphics, and crowded storytelling leaves the internal logic nonsensical. Writer/director Enki Bilal is also the author of the source comic book, and he knows everything the audience doesn't. Unless you are familiar with the materials prior, nothing is explained – we're too far into the in media res with illegal government experiments on aliens and failed revolution martyrs bending to psychic piecemeal and convenient bar encounters. Blue hues and green lights better suggest the alien weird and graphic novel colorful, and hey, blue nipples are all the exotic needed. Indeed, the simplest visual elements work best when they are allowed to be without all the design intrusions. Intriguing characters and romantic interactions blossom when people are free to discuss who they are and ultimately find out who they are meant to be. This picture proves why there aren't many films made in entirely digital environs, for a muddle story throwing everything at the screen can't compensate when it's all too noticeable for any suspension of disbelief. I'd love to see this tale remade today, for what should be a potentially interesting and straightforward tale of humans, aliens, and gods fighting for their existence is compromised by the flawed designs, uneven presentation, and messy happenings with questionable consent sex scenes. Too many CGI characters that could have been regular actors really don't mean anything, and fine moments with the main characters in the second half aren't enough to save a finale with no answers. Pity.

'Twas Embarrassing!

King Arthur: Legend of the Sword – Charlie Hunnam (Crimson Peak), Jude Law (The Talented Mr. Ripley), Eric Bana (Troy), Djimon Hounsou (The Tempest), Aidan Gillan (Game of Thrones), Annabelle Wallis (The Tudors), and a three minute Katie McGrath (Merlin) star in director Guy Richie's 2017 over the top retelling immediately copying Lord of the Rings with giant elephants and destruction set pieces. Arguing amid good mages versus evil magic flashes are confusing and the story already feels muddled with Camelot, Uther Pendragon, and Mordred mismatching the general Arthurian canon. Assassinations provide little reason to care when we don't know what's going on as one death after another punctuate disjointed prologue scenes before restarting again thanks to Londinium pans and super speed 300 boyhood montages with pulsing music. This raised in the brothel Arthur is pick pocketing on those mean medieval streets like Robin Hood – change the names and you would not recognize this as anything Camelot! CGI Siren/octopus/Macbeth witches tell the evil Vortigen what to do while backroom conversations on graffiti are spliced with viking heists, camera swipes, and quick editing. It's fast, it's in your face, it's the streetwise clever we've been waiting for in a follow up to RocknRolla – but it does not belong in a fantasy picture. Richie fans won't care for the period framework and audiences tuning in for Arthurian fantasy will be totally irritated by such modern sarcasm and self important structure. Arthur is the only person wearing white so we know its him when David Beckham – yes, David Beckham – yells at him to pull the sword from the stone. Every scene has camera movement, zooms, or up close slides, never letting the conversation, heroics, or villainy simmer as no shot is longer than four seconds and no intercut conversation more than a minute. The hectic plot and breakneck pace deliberately won't stay still so viewers neither see how unArthurian this is or note how much it borrows from elsewhere. The tunics are more like leather blazers or biker vests, and behold, prophecy, or legend jargon feel out of place amid the non-linear voiceovers and laughably modern dialogue spliced with inconsequential action from unimportant moments prior. Arthur pulls the sword from the stone, his uncle the king tells him he's the true king's son, and his father's men want to follow him yet pissed off Arty wants to go back to being a brothel pimp? People argue about sending him to some dangerous Darklands while we see him in said Darklands defeating a CGI snake, dragon, and some water wolf thing in another 300 style yadda yadda yadda montage. What should have been a critical character connection from the beginning is instead used for a flashback action sequence, indicating that the writing here was more interested in holding back for count 'em five planned movies after this inexplicably expensive franchise non-starter. Why isn't there a truly Lord of the Rings proper Arthurian telling in this television golden era? Why do all Arthurian films and series need to repeat Arthur origin tales? Somebody please put together a writer's room that culls the story resources into a respectably interwoven adventure. Who in the heck decided this destroyed tower, forged sword Excalibur mash up, and Vortigen Witch King of Angmar were going to happen after they start Camelot with Mordred, the character who traditionally kills Arthur? This Game of Thrones meets Sons of Anarchy in the style of 300 rotten idea should never have made it all the way to being box office bomb. It's angering, dizzying, headache inducing, and I turned it off after the first hour.