25 April 2013

Yet More 70s and 80s Horror!

More Horror from Decades Yore!
By Kristin Battestella

Low budget, bad, so bad they are good, or downright scary and entertaining – here’s a quick selection of good, bad, ugly, and macabre from those glorious seventies and eighties of yesteryear. 

Dracula (1979) – Frank Langella (Frost/Nixon) takes the Bram Stoker mantle for this update co-starring Laurence Olivier (hello) and Donald Pleasence (Halloween). The streamlined action gets right to it with the turbulent bound for London Demeter, and there are further changes from the 1924 play adaptation – including a Lucy Steward and Mina Van Helsing switcharoo. The howls, thunder, sound effects, and mood music by John Williams (Star Wars) match all the horror visuals, gore and ghouls, transfusions, transformations, chases, fog, and lightshow graphics perfectly.  Not the usual Victorian as expected, the costumes and early cars are an Edwardian treat, and it’s quite nifty to see the traditionally Transylvania happenings take place in Britain instead. Unfortunately, the drab, dark, and surprising not colorful picture might make viewers today dismiss this as old and cheap. I understand the antique black and white-esque designs director John Badham (Saturday Night Fever) was attempting – and the patina does look nice.  However, one expects a certain amount of grandeur with these otherwise wonderful art and set dressings.  Some scenes are too flat and plain when they should have visual depth and be treats for the eye. Thankfully, the action, scares, and a decrepit Carfax Abbey work. The camerawork is creepy, with hypnotic zooms and suspense editing, too. Also of the stage revival, Langella, ironically, has the least accent of anybody. The other Brit cast seems to have a put on classic RP, but his delivery isn’t the clichéd Velcome one may expect. The suave Langella commands your attention nonetheless, and unlike today’s all action or teen dream vamps, the romance and predator balance here is just right. His charisma and the adaptation twists keep us tuned in to whatever new sensuous but oh so wrong treats will unfold next. By contrast, the ill Olivier is somewhat off. It’s amusing to see such a classy actor do horror, yes, but he’s more Velcome put on than Dracula.  He reminds me of the Dracula: Dead and Loving It spoof! I wish there was a new blu-ray release with both this devoid and a colors galore version, and the changes here might displease traditional Stoker fans. Nevertheless, there’s still enough gothic, stylized, and fast-paced drama to make this one worth a gander.

Dolls (1987) – The demented little music and titular creepy, absently staring disembodied heads are immediately effective in this 1987 eerie from director Stuart Gordon (Re-Animator). The British style is also bemusing, with bad English punk chicks and yuppie Dynasty then-sophisticates creating a lovely little ensemble accented by askew filming angles and individual agendas.  I know it all seems corny and passé, but the suspiciously broken down car on stormy night outside a spooky manor with a creepy kid, peculiar old people, and a wicked toy or two premise and gothic atmosphere more than make up for any datedness. Great candlelight, maze like interiors, and antique décor forgives any bad effects and doll animations – which are actually quite good considering the era. The seemingly obvious killer dolls may be cliché, granted, however, the unseen camera perspectives and slow reveal on who or what is doing all the slice and dice violence keeps the suspense and scary just this side of campy. I can see how some of today’s drinking game horror audiences could find this wonderfully humorous, and some scenes are indeed funny and charming, yet the witty and freaky morals are balanced wonderfully. Some viewers may also feel this is merely a supersized Tales from the Crypt episode. After all, there have been similar anthology tellings – Tales from the Hood immediately comes to mind, but more recently Dead Silence and of course, Chucky. Fortunately, at only 77 minutes, the spooky pace and fearful timing are just right here.  

Prince of Darkness – Director John Carpenter reunites with Donald Pleasence (Halloween) and Victor Wong (Big Trouble in Little China) for this 1987 companion piece to The Thing and In the Mouth of Madness, and his pulsing score adds to the freaky atmosphere. Although some of the eighties hair, big mustache hipness, and thirty something college feeling has not stood the test of time, other old technologies and the abandoned church designs are nostalgia cool. The foreboding religious implications and science secrets are also a fine premise, but there’s not a lot of dialogue to start and perhaps too much time is taken to clarify all the metaphysical and theoretical backtalk. Unfortunately, the younger cast delivering the supposedly heavy or likeability is as stiff as their Aqua Net – the forced romancey or hip scenes drag down the picture. I can’t believe that’s Jameson Parker from Simon & Simon!  Rocker Alice Cooper, thankfully, is duly disturbing, and Carpenter has left a few Hammer references and hints to his other films amid the creepy crawlies, evil slime, and sinister symbolism.  There are a few good scare moments and a great ending to set off the underlying ominous, yet this one feels as if it should be better than it is thanks to the slow pace filled with too many characters and poor intercutting.  Even if this one isn’t quite up to what one expects from Carpenter, it’s still a fun watch for enthusiasts on a late night.  

Watchers – An adorable, super smart, pc using dog you can’t help but love and so wish you could have stars alongside Michael Ironside (Total Recall) and the late Corey Haim in this 1988 teen horror chase based partly on the Dean Kootz novel and produced by Roger Corman (The Pit and the Pendulum). Thanks to a secret government science experiment gone awry, an evil monster is on the loose, too, and the vintage news reports and huge old equipment are also fun to see. Although, wow, Haim’s hair is bad, the early make out session is stupid, and the dark farm scares are a little slow to start; the steady variety of kills, frantic mash ups, and point of view editing heighten the scary build. Our monster isn’t revealed with a big CGI panoramic swoop or needlessly cool graphics, and screams, sound effects, and growls add to the rural location fears. It’s nice to see an ungraded or color tweaked picture and the photography adds to the old scares. However, the dated fashions and presentation make this one seem more juvenile than it probably is – a pink wearing, mulleted Jason Priestly (Beverly Hills 90210) calling a computer class teacher a dweeb from atop his BMX, yeah. Likewise, it’s funny to see Haim talking to a dog, because we’ve see him break the fourth wall in classics like Dream a Little Dream and License to Drive sans four legged pals. Though Barbara Williams (Thief of Hearts) is woefully unbelievable and Ironside may seem hokey, he delivers his expected badass.  The writer’s strike and behind the scenes troubles are apparent in the iffy dialogue, but there’s enough twists and entertainment here and in the 1990 direct to video sequel starring Marc Singer and Tracy Scoggins for slightly older tweens or family horror nights.

Now Here’s a Skipper!

The Devil’s Rain – William Shatner, Ernest Borgnine, Tom Skerrit, Ida Lupino, and John Travolta star in this somewhat infamous 1975 horror clunker. Things begin well and good with creepy music, eerie paintings, and lots of moans and groans over the main credits. There are scary storms, fearful ladies, and the Satanist dilemma gets on its way quickly enough. Unfortunately, bad makeup begets seriously corny gore effects; the picture is often too dark, and the sound is poor. One might like to call this a horror western due to the setting, but the dusty middle of nowhere just looks old and cheap boonies seventies instead. Unnecessary camera shots of movement from one place to another and slow, confusing scenes where nothing happens don’t help, either. Snails pacing is not foreboding, and the iffy mystery at hand amounts to a lot of double talk and threats but no real explanation. Poor editing between the storylines, visions, and shock photography are literally little more than a flash in the pan in attempt to shake up what seems like a convoluted, overlong episode of a bad horror anthology.  The creepy rituals and black masses are perhaps too realistic, granted. However, segments that should be scary aren’t because the audience is too busy figuring out what the heck is going on.  Can I get an exposition, people! The Puritan flashback might have been more interesting as the whole movie, but otherwise, one should only tune in for the cast amusements. This is just too nonsensical for anything else.  

23 April 2013

Ruby Gentry

Ruby Gentry Misses the Mark, to Say the Least.
By Kristin Battestella

I like Charlton Heston and I like Karl Malden, and thus I was willing to hold my less than love for Jennifer Jones in check for the 1952 southern melodrama Ruby Gentry. Unfortunately, the clichés and bad acting make this one a not so enjoyable hot mess.

Dr. Jim Gentry’s (Malden) invalid wife Letitia (Josephine Hutchinson) dies and he quickly marries the poor, socially unacceptable Ruby (Jones). Of course, Ruby is in love with Boake (Heston), of the once high and mighty Tackman family. Unfortunately, his family disapproves of Ruby and he must marry rich to save their plantation. Once fate has given Ruby the means to have her cruel way with the townsfolk who previously despised her, however, then not even Boake can stand in her way.

Ruby Gentry starts off on the wrong foot with unnecessary narration, a whole lot of telling instead of showing, and flashbacks that suggest the story told before the movie begins is the one we want to see. These tools and all the repeat dialogue reiterating the social divides and back story seriously slow down the 80 minutes here and confuse the current events. What is the point of this tale and where is it headed? Director King Vidor (The Champ, War and Peace) takes too long to introduce the players and the budding love triangles, yet Ruby Gentry never fully clarifies its outlandish circumstances and incoherent plot. Is this film about Ruby and Boake, Ruby and Jim, or Ruby’s bitchy takeover and lame revenge? As soon as the audience remotely cares about a situation, Ruby Gentry haphazardly moves on to the next soap operatic element. With Jennifer Jones at its fulcrum, Ruby Gentry patterns itself exactly like Vidor and Jones’ Duel in the Sun, right up to its ridiculously similar finale. Personally, I would have much rather seen a film solely about Boake and Jim with an absentee Ruby haunting their antagonism. It doesn’t seem like there would be a lot there, but it has to be better then the feigned tawdry or would be classic comeuppance here. 

Prior to his Ben Hur and The Ten Commandments fame and glory, Charlton Heston was very young, almost too young in Ruby Gentry.  Though not grown up in appearance or southern dictation, Boake is still dangerous to encounter on a dark, swampy night. He’s jonesing for Ruby, but it’s too creepy instead of romantic or scandalous. Chuck Heston knocking on your backwoods bedroom door late at night – it’s played too stalker for the viewer to enjoy this increasingly ridiculous would be couple. We know this relationship won’t end well thanks to this headstrong, cat scratching violence, and the turbulence grows stupid fast.  Boake is smart to not marry the titular crazy. However, after they’ve apparently been getting it on, Ruby Gentry somehow switches to a rapacious buildup before sending the duo hunting together where somebody else shoots at them. I just don’t see the hair brained character motivations here.

Likewise, the young Karl Malden (I Confess, Streets of San Francisco, On the Waterfront) doesn’t have much to do and what Jim Gentry does have is all over the place. The good doctor seems a step above this backwater crowd, yet there’s an amoral touch in his marrying Ruby while his first wife lies barely cold.  Unfortunately, the bizarre narration takes over most of Malden’s action, allowing no room for character development, and ultimately, a barely there presence in the movie. Jim Gentry is hardly seen even liking Ruby, yet he just has to have her so badly.  Why?  Likewise, Barney Phillips (12 O’clock High) as fellow doctor and narrator Manfred is fairly pointless, and Ruby’s creepy guitar playing relation James Anderson (To Kill a Mockingbird) is too dirty and touchy feely. Ironically, Josephine Hutchinson’s (Son of Frankenstein) first Mrs. Gentry is the nicest, classiest character – but she is done away with far too quickly in Ruby Gentry. 

I admit to not being a fan of Jennifer Jones (The Song of Bernadette, Love is a Many Splendored Thing). Film after film, I see her woefully miscast against better leading men, and her Ruby looks and sounds totally out of place against Malden and Heston. Granted, that may have been intentional here. However, her southern accent and immature ways are stereotypical, even offensive. The performance feels very inappropriate, indeed, as if Jones is mocking slow persons and insulting southerners. How old is Ruby supposed to be? To see her knowingly or unknowingly lead men on isn’t alluring in any way.  It’s uncomfortable to watch these backwater men drooling and even feeling up what appears to be a special needs minor. Unfortunately, this aspect fills the majority of Ruby Gentry, and those who were able to get past the Duel in the Sun parallels might be put off by this element.  A more skilled actress could have brought more conflict, sympathy, or even an Oscar worthy performance, but as Ruby grows in her cruelty, Jones becomes more annoying. What exactly is the audience supposed to like about Ruby?  Temptation incarnate and wild or sexy my foot!

Though fitting to the film, the looks old and invoked poor production really feels too backwoods dusty for the audience to enjoy. The southern locales and wildlife scenery are charming, yes, but Ruby Gentry isn’t a colorful, sprawling epic looking the part of the torrid swamp. Cool cars and too little too late upscale dressings and typical fifties finery can’t save the cliché melodrama. The instrumental guitar chords, sweeping music, and onscreen ballads are also misused thanks to some seriously over the top soap opera crescendo cues.  I must say, this exaggerated fail doesn’t even qualify Ruby Gentry for my beloved Hokey Heston category, for it’s neither corny enough nor badly bemusing to enjoy. Once I realized the level of negativity in my composition, I almost didn’t want to finish this review – that’s never happened before!

If you like bad fifties films or need an example of run of the mill mid century melodrama, this is it. Even bad old horror movies can be a lot of fun, but after watching Ruby Gentry again, I seriously wonder why this near pointless excursion was even attempted.  Fans of the cast will especially cringe.

15 April 2013

Enterprise Season 1

Enterprise Season 1 Shows Promise
By Kristin Battestella

More than a decade after its 2001 debut, I still feel as though the last Star Trek television spinoff Enterprise is somewhat unloved. Despite its relatively short for modern Trek four seasons and plenty of pressure thanks to timeline continuity and fan expectations, this first season provides a lot of potential, solid core players, and room to maneuver in an untapped area of Trekdom.

Captain Jonathan Archer (Scott Bakula) and his Chief Engineer Charles ‘Trip’ Tucker III (Connor Trinneer) are reluctant to have the Vulcan Science Officer T’Pol (Jolene Blalock) assigned to Starfleet’s first Warp 5 vessel, the NX-01 Enterprise.  It’s been a hundred years since First Contact, but Archer believes the Vulcans have held back Earth’s warp development. When an injured Klingon crash lands in Oklahoma, Starfleet is forced into further politics both past and present. Archer fills out his crew with a Denobulan Doctor Phlox (John Billingsley) from the Interspecies Medical Exchange, a British Armory officer Malcolm Reed (Dominic Keating), a space boomer pilot Travis Mayweather (Anthony Montgomery), and linguist Hoshi Sato (Linda Park) as Enterprise launches into its first intergalactic adventures where they encounter friends and foes both familiar and unknown.

Enterprise is a little uneven to start, which is understandable for a series trying to attract new audiences whilst also toeing the line of past Trek lore. Poor science, bumbling dialogue and mistakes, and retreads of Star Trek staples that the core fans will already know, however, are tiresome – as in the introduction to Klingons in “Sleeping Dogs.” “Strange New World” also comes to early in the season for people we just met to get their alien crazy on, and “Unexpected” can’t decide if it is boldly going where no man has gone before in a serious science fiction examination or as premature comic relief.  “Civilization” does much better in placing our crew in a pre-industrial costumed escapade, but “Terra Nova” already feels like a Voyager rehash with hokey dialogue and unrealized values. “Oasis” also resorts to near 24th century hologram uses and a guest appearance by Deep Space Nine star Rene Auberjonois just a little too soon. Likewise, alums Clint Howard, Ethan Phillips, and Jeffrey Combs make technical appearances as Ferengi in “Acquisition.” Sometimes it’s as if longtime Trek showrunners Rick Berman and Brannon Braga can’t or won’t let Enterprise spread its wings without these precursor training wheels and ham fisted sex and humor attempts ala “Two Days and Two Nights” getting in the way.

With the exceptional Vulcan, Human, and Andorian relations in “The Andorian Incident” and “Shadows of P’Jem” – Combs is wonderful as the Andorian Commander Shran – there is no need for such rocky reliances on 24th century easy. Ironically, any internal flaws on Enterprise are quite refreshing. So, people one hundred years from now aren’t as badass as Kirk or so put together as The Next Generation, who knew? These humans mess up in galactic relations, are fearful of new technology, they watch movies, and make civilization altering mistakes thanks to the lack of the future Federation’s Prime Directive. Archer even has a beagle named Porthos on the ship! While we love The Original Series for its groundbreaking idealism and applaud TNG for its often seriously mature sci-fi retellings, Enterprise is, well, normal. We can relate to a crew that doesn’t exactly know what its doing and isn’t so far removed from us in so many ways. The season premiere “Broken Bow” establishes where we are in the journey, and  early transporter touches and nods towards developing future technology like force fields are quite fun to see. Yes, the jizzy white slime everywhere in “Vox Sola” is hokey. However, there is also a lot of Star Trek charm in this show’s design. Each of the crew pairs off for a unique alien problem-solving dilemma, and “Dear Doctor” provides plenty of ethical debates and needs for space faring delicacy. 

Don’t lie, I’m sure there were a boatload of Quantum Leap fans who tuned into Enterprise just to see Scott Bakula again, and his long time Al pal Dean Stockwell also takes it to Jonathan Archer in “Detained.” We like Bakula, so by default we like Archer, even if he isn’t always as suave as Kirk or perfect as Picard. Sometimes, he’s even a bit of an ass with his Vulcan resentment and naïve explorer perspective, but Archer tells it like it is and is ultimately trying to do what is best for his ship, crew, and Earth.  Fans of Connor Trinneer’s (Stargate Atlantis) Trip Trucker also have plenty of opportunities to see him in his Starfleet undies, which both works in some episodes and yet gets old quick.  Despite this underlining push at some bizarre unresolved sexual tension, the dynamics between Trip, Archer, and T’Pol are nicely done.  Archer ways the pros and cons from each, and there is a bemusing banter and healthy antagonism as need be, particularly in “Desert Crossing” – although “Rogue Planet” is an alien iffy attempt to give Archer some chick action. Playing an emotionless alien is never easy, but Jolene Blalock (Jason and the Argonauts) does well as T’Pol.  We can’t quite compare this female addition to prior onscreen Vulcans and the catsuit forced sex appeal is apparent, granted. Yet T’Pol’s unconventional ethics and multi dimensional Vulcan histories and experiences in “Fallen Hero” and “Fusion” are solid SF tales.

Enterprise mirrors TOS with its main triumvirate, but Dominic Keating (Heroes) as Malcolm Reed and John Billingsley (True Blood) as Doctor Phlox create a strong secondary presence.  Where everyone is mostly happy to be tripping the life galactic on prior Trek ships, Reed is an often uncomfortable crew member with fine technical expertise as seen in “Silent Enemy.” There are times when his utilization as security chief is grossly underwritten by the powers that be, however – although this lack of military preparedness often becomes a critical plot point, as in “Cold Front.” Audiences will scream at the television that security should always be present when meeting alien guests or going on strange away missions, but thanks to Reed, the development behind these protocols is also an interesting dimension on Enterprise. Indeed, their exploratory mission is not going to be as friendly as they had hoped, and we get to see a lovely friendship develop between the contrasting Reed and Tucker in “Shuttlepod One.”  Likewise, Phlox provides humor in “Two Days and Two Nights,” wisdom in “Fight or Flight” and even antagonism in “Vox Sola.” I wish they had made the character a not often seen previous species rather than a new Denobulan, but Phlox is a delight because we don’t quite know what nugget or wrench he will contribute each episode. Together, Reed and Phlox both provide alternate pros and cons to the Big Three of Archer, Trip, and T’Pol.  Phlox doesn’t always get along with Archer, but as Enterprise’s resident aliens, he and T’Pol develop a kinship.  I myself like the awkward suggestions between the somewhat geeky Reed and the svelte T’Pol.  After so many years of a lack of character development on Voyager, these cast elements are well done.

Unfortunately, I cannot say the same about Anthony Montgomery (Popular) as the boomer pilot Travis Mayweather and Linda Park (Crash) as linguist Hoshi Sato.  I love the idea of their being obstinate, archaic space privateers hating the fast, new Starfleet, and I love the idea of an unreliable universal translator and the need for realistic communication buffers with new alien species. Sadly, neither of these potential intriguing plots works because these roles anchoring them are absolutely lethargic, and it is ridiculous that the minority players end up so under developed and clichéd. Simply put, Mayweather and Sato should not have been regular characters in Season 1. Always screaming and squeamish Hoshi has the simplest, most obvious analogies possible, and it took my husband 10 episodes to realize that the blank, always-staring forward helmsman was even there. Ouch! The Next Generation got by with not always having significant ship personnel positions as main cast members. If Enterprise was knowingly pursuing a TOS Big 3 format with strong alternating Scotty styled support, then these translator and pilot roles should have been semi regular as needed. Outside of the weak spotlight episodes “Fortunate Son,” “Breaking the Ice,” and “Fight or Flight,” these characters aren’t that significant, and their short end of the stick inclusion takes away from far more interesting early Starfleet dilemmas and brewing alien politics. I mean, they are junior officers but senior staff? Enterprise should have built its foundation first, and then once we were secure in where the show was going, these lower decks developments could have come later.

Of course, part of Enterprises problem is that, like Voyager and Deep Space Nine, the series spends half its time deciding what it wants to be. All the positive characters and unique time and place potential that is going for Enterprise and yet the bane of the show will end up being this stupid Temporal Cold War storyline. Begun in “Broken Bow” and then shoddily treated until “Cold Front” and then the season finale “Shockwave,” this dumb time travel crutch on top of all the other beforehand future after the fact Trek franchise helps and hindrances is exactly the wrong way to start your prequel series.  What the hell kind of fail-safe future connection are the producers trying to pull? I am not a wholehearted fan of the new Star Trek reboot, but I applaud its intelligent way to both canonly sanction and keep their alternate universe adventures. It seems the writers had no such forethoughts with the Temporal Cold War on Enterprise, and had they tossed this plot, I seriously think Enterprise would have gone on to additional seasons and further success with no franchise film reboot required.

Despite newer, grandiose Trek designs and CGI wizardry this decade, the special effects, make up, and dressings on Enterprise still look great.  Some familiar with 24th century Star Trek looks may complain that Enterprise is still too futuristic in design, but the darker, submarine style lightning and sets are indicative of this middle space flight era. The uniforms – complete with away jackets, NX-01 hats, sunglasses, and desert get ups – are also a lot of fun and much more in keeping with our current astronaut jumpsuits and patchwork. Some of the futuristic casual clothes, however, are bemusing. The design of the opening credits, on the other hand, is dynamite.  Seeing the Enterprise premiere the first week after 9/11, I choked up at the montage of exploration, aviation, space aspirations, and human ingenuity. Although Enterprise would later struggle to find its brand of Trek positives in a contemporary world so grim, the one strike against the series that automatically dates its presentation is that friggin’ ass theme song.  Science fiction demands a certain universally symphonic score, a sweeping standard theme.  While the instrumentals and old Trek sounds on Enterprise are just right, the lyrics to the “Faith of the Heart” intro are so, so nineties wrong.  Have you ever known a science fiction show to have a lyrical pop song like this as its theme? Of course not, but I’ll be fair. Even if you like the tune, it simply does not belong as the anchor of a dramatic genre pursuit, much less a Star Trek series.

The use of this “Faith of the Heart” theme is indicative of everything that was wrong with Enterpriseall its forced need to be hip, new, edgy, not your papa’s Trek. For those who were hoping to get back to quality Star Trek after the disappointment that was Voyager, this insult has the exact opposite effect and ultimately, there were many viewers who wrote off Enterprise solely because of that stupid song. If you let go of the Decon Chamber undressings and sexy attempts, forgive the underdeveloped side plots and lesser players, and get over the Temporal Cold War, there is a damn lot of good brewing on Enterprise.  Fans who burned out on Voyager or disagreed with Deep Space Nine can return here. Those growing tired of the same desperate for youth in your face of the reboot can also find some SF maturity on Enterprise, and non-Trek audiences may like its new, honest precursor approach.  With streaming options and affordable DVDs with plenty of features and extras, there’s no reason for sci-fi viewers to not give Enterprise a chance.

14 April 2013

Silent Hill: Revelation

Silent Hill: Revelation is Really Stinky!
By Kristin Battestella

When we settled in for a marathon of both Silent Hill films, we debated some of the plot holes and designs from the first film, sure, but nonetheless, Silent Hill is an enjoyable and scary little movie. Unfortunately, the 2012 sequel Silent Hill: Revelation is a retconned mess of running thru the motions and bad 3D escapades.

18-year-old Sharon (Adelaide Clemens) and her father Chris Da Silva (Sean Bean) have been on the run under assorted assumed names since Sharon escaped from Silent Hill as a young girl – although her mother Rose (Rahda Mitchell) remains trapped in the alternate reality.  The Order of Valtiel pursues Sharon in her latest incarnation as Heather Mason, along with her fellow new in town boyfriend Vincent (Kit Harington). The Order soon abducts her father, forcing Sharon to return to Silent Hill where she must unite the Seal of Metatron and do battle with Priestess Claudia Wolf (Carrie-Anne Moss). 

Yeah, I confess I gave up on trying to do a decent plot summary. Understandably, Silent Hill’s Oscar winning writer Roger Avary (Pulp Fiction) was unavailable to pen a sequel thanks to his vehicular manslaughter conviction. However, new writer and director Michael J. Bassett (Deathwatch) wastes all the intriguing possibilities of Silent Hill and instead creates a weird, unnecessary, near remake in his rewriting of the original film’s history. Silent Hill: Revelation is neither a sequel to the first film nor a sensical adaptation of the video game franchise, and I’m seriously thinking that writers and directors should no longer be one and the same – we have some George Lucas midi-clorians single moms here!  And let’s not forget the all new, entirely different from the first film cult, oh yes. Revelation would have its zealots using mystical relics to summon gods instead of burning witches at the stake. Pieces from the first Silent Hill are awkwardly kept or reintroduce thru clips, flashbacks, and new scenes, but these elements feel like a trailer to something completely different. It’s as if Silent Hill: Revelation is meant for teens that would happen to take in this scary movie at the cinema, for this audience isn’t expected to know or care about the first film.  What the hell kind of sequel is that?  The task of fulfilling both the previous film and the video game series is already near impossible, but the bad dialogue and very poor script here are not happening for either purpose. Considering how the first Silent Hill concluded, I’m not sure how this story could possibly be its successor. The maturity quotient of a mother searching for her child as in the first film has become a completely moot point in this picture about a teenager. It’s totally obvious that everything possible was done to make Revelation a fast paced teenquel, regardless of what either the film or game precursors needed. Can’t we have movies about adults instead of kids for a change? Even if you dislike the first Silent Hill, I think everyone would have preferred seeing a step up of its atmosphere, continued horror maturity, and scary video game graphics possibilities before…this.

I freely admit my bias for the newly Bafta nominated Sean Bean, and he was the only thing that kept me tuned in here.  How he can do such magic like Accused and then this drivel is beyond me! A sequel to Silent Hill with Bean starring as a father researching the alternate dimension of Silent Hill and pursuing his lost in the town’s abyss wife ala the second video game seems like a far, far more interesting movie than the piss poor Revelation take on the Silent Hill 3 game. Here, Bean ends up chained beneath a squatting Atlas-esque demon god statue for most of the film after his daughter does the stupid thing he expressly says not to do and sets all the crappy in motion. I’m glad that he’s playing unique or fatherly characters and he still looks great, but I’ll be damn Bean has made a few ten minute appearances in some serious clunkers recently and his accent is all over the place here. Fellow Game of Thrones House Stark Kit Harington is also one walking cliché after another. This Vincent has an obvious inside cult connection, yet he’s willing to die for a girl he’s only known for two days- although she has to save the boy who’s supposed to be helping her. Silent Hill: Revelation actually doesn’t collapse into an excuse for make outs and sex scenes, thankfully. However, this boy toy ridiculousness would be bad enough, except for the fact that our couple is related!

Unfortunately, stellar performers like Malcolm McDowell (A Clockwork Orange), Carrie-Anne Moss (The Matrix), and brief appearances by the returning Rahda Mitchell and Deborah Kara Unger are absolutely wasted.  I don’t think any one of them has more than 5 minutes of screen time before being replaced by a lame monster or inexplicably disappearing altogether. Why was this massive accumulation of talent, the scary game design, and monster action quest for adults potential wasted for a retcon for teenagers? Even if one let’s go of the erroneous approach, Revelation is not that good of a teen horror film. The relatively tame gore and imagery and one ridiculous count of nudity warrant an R rating? Hardly, and I must say Adelaide Clemens (Love My Way) is decidedly unimpressive.  Granted, she keeps her clothes on and is neither a sexy bimbo or bad ass bitch. However, she’s also like every other girl or boy unknown lead taking over in these newer horror films – indistinguishable from the pack.  The mish mash of source pieces from the first film and the video games only create a more muddled mess of character motivations, and the players can’t stand out. The viewer is supposed to care about an evil cult in an alternate dimension, yet these utmost evil people need to hire Martin Donovan (Weeds) as their PI? This weird mix of characters from the first Silent Hill and the video games just does not work.

Now, about those graphics.  Where the first film may have positively or negatively divided audiences due to its video game-esque design, Revelation looks like every other horror movie made this decade.  Actually, it sort of resembles a high end haunted house tour – from a demented circus and merry go round and a cannibal burger joint to a people turned mannequins shop run by some sort of body parts spider, a slice and dice asylum, and finally a monster Ultimate Fighting Championship. These scenes are pointless and disjointed, merely going thru the motions of each set piece in order to fill up the expected 90 minutes. Every death, blood splatter, elevator, and overturned piece of furniture is utilized for a 3D angle.  Despite the latest design and 3D effects work, Silent Hill: Revelation doesn’t look good on blu-ray and the multi dimensional attempts are obvious, ridiculous fakery. This is my precise problem with 3D film making.  Maybe Avatar had groundbreaking graphics and state of the art animation, sure. Unfortunately, in the rush for everyone to copy the formula, this new 3D has quickly returned to the exact same desperate fling things at the camera 3D of old.  Too many times during Revelation I was reminded of Jaws 3 or Friday the 13th Part 3 – not good company! 

Perhaps it is unfair to compare and Silent Hill wasn’t a perfect movie, but it had good scares and was most definitely watchable.  Silent Hill: Revelation, on the other had, is not. I don’t normally fiddle with the remote during a show, but we kept checking the running time and hoping it was padded with credits!  While fans of the cast can enjoy their individual clips, Silent Hill: Revelation unfulfills on its predecessor and the gaming franchise – to say the least. 

10 April 2013

Silent Hill

Silent Hill an Entertaining Horror Treat
By Kristin Battestella

 I like the 2006 video game-based horror film Silent Hill, yes, it’s true. However, I suspect the convoluted plot and unconventional video game-esque effects may be divisive to audiences expecting a more simplistic slice and dice pursuit.  Gamers and fans of the Silent Hill franchise, on the other hand, will delight.

Rose (Rahda Mitchell) and Chris Da Silva (Sean Bean) are concerned by the increasingly disturbing behavior of their young adopted daughter Sharon (Jodelle Ferland). In addition to horrific artwork, the girl sleepwalks and dreams of a place called Silent Hill.  Against Chris’ wishes, the desperate Rose researches an abandoned town of the same name and takes Sharon to this mysterious Silent Hill. There, a coal fire continues to burn underground and the nightmarish darkness brings forth deadly monsters, fiery hysterias, and cultish quests.

Director Christophe Gans (Brotherhood of the Wolf) provides a great, hefty atmosphere – both in the darkened threats and ash falling bizarre of Silent Hill and the real world desolate and desperations. Of course, with some of the abysmal video game movie adaptations abound, we might not expect so much despite a story from Oscar winning writer Roger Avary (Pulp Fiction, Rules of Attraction). The who is who, why fors, and evil dream world ala purgatory back story is muddled at best and certainly confusing at times. Though the tale benefits from those lowered video game expectations and provides above average horror, the plot suffers from this increasingly obvious trend of making your scary set up and horror graphics more important than a clear story resolution.  Implication and speculation are nice, yes, as are the flashback expositions here. However, the cool, old fashion reel camera effects can’t hide the plot holes hampering the script. Religious iconography, sin, fire, and hell motifs sometimes come off as a lot of double talk. When chicks end up throwing stones at other chicks, you wonder why nobody just came out said, ‘Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.’  These potentially high concept Inquisition parallels, anti religion, and fanaticism hints never receive their due revelations in Silent Hill. 

Fortunately, we have a talented cast to help us forgive Silent Hill’s flaws. Radha Mitchell (Pitch Black, Man on Fire) is very likeable as a mother searching for her daughter. Yes, she makes some stupid mistakes in her search- including bringing her daughter back to exactly the place she isn’t supposed to be. However, Rose is understandably desperate for her child, realistically strong in her search, and believable enough for the action.  We don’t need her to be uber badass, and I’m glad Silent Hill didn’t become some sort of Rambo chick cliché. Besides, Laurie Holden (The Walking Dead) fits the bill as Rose’s semi-warrior woman and bitchy cop sidekick Cybil – although her haircut, mannerisms, and attitude do feel a little stereotypically butch at times. I don’t understand Cybil’s weird offshoot Mother is God mama love fest vibe, either.  She’s action good, effective in her police work, and there’s a teamwork build between her strong and Rose’s sensitive. Enough is happening in Silent Hill – we don’t need these extra feminine examinations littering the story if there is no follow thru for them. Thankfully, Cybil doesn’t go off the Xena deep end, as there aren’t many cool for the sake of cool weapons uses or outlandish CGI stunts here.  Most of the time, our gals are only armed with flashlights and six bullets, and its refreshingly frightening.

Although, there are more female arch types to be had in Silent Hill – it seems like one of each thanks to the zealous Alice Krige (Star Trek: First Contact) and a bad mother pariah Deborah Kara Under (The Game). Both gals are on form as always and fun to watch, but unfortunately, they aren’t given much to do beyond sin and dark, who is right and who is wrong backtalk before the special effects take over for the finale. Likewise, the obligatory horror I was there! investigator Kim Coates (Sons of Anarchy) is sadly not given more to do with the historical pieces. Today, a film based upon a video game could have been set solely in the past, and Jodelle Ferland (The Twilight Saga: Eclipse) is asked to do some freaky stuff for her alternate reality, past and present multi faceted role. Unlike those other early 21st century blonde American woman with a creepy kid horror pictures, Sharon and her incarnations are neither annoying or goofy and unintentionally humorous.  In fact, the audience is both concerned and freaked as Sharon’s history unfolds.

Of course, Silent Hill is also a bit of role reversal for Sean Bean (Game of Thrones, Lord of the Rings) as Chris.  This film’s dynamic is special in that it is a mother and daughter quest – as opposed to the much more often seen husband, father, or all around man hero. Chris is a dad on the sidelines, butting heads with police and getting fraught in his research montage. He’s the out of the loop stay at home wife who’s side tangent doesn’t exactly do anything to help. It’s also interesting that this plot was added to Silent Hill not from the gaming source but rather as a studio insistence to break up the chick fest for the mostly male dominated viewing demographic.  Not so long ago, a leading lady was the one shoehorned in as a mere wife or required romance.  Although Bean also played a similar role in The Dark the same year as Silent Hill, it’s nice to see a leading lady have a realistic, supporting husband – and in a horror movie no less!  Besides the Bean factor, I like Silent Hill because it doesn’t go for today’s horror brand of naked teens in peril with a lot of sex, drugs, and rock and roll.  Even with its video game approach and patchy writing, there is a familial maturity and close-knit fear to keep the audience on the edge of our seats.

Pleasing cast notwithstanding, I do however fear the special effects in Silent Hill may polarize modern audiences.  Despite our big and expensive CGI 3D hysterias, the smart uses of darkness, light, sounds, and derelict dangers here still make for a great mood and atmosphere. The creepy, stilted slice and dice mobs add to the scares, too. However, some scenes and visual shots expressly look and feel just like a video game. Perhaps it is only noticeable to those who pay attention to movie effects and watch a lot of video games being played, but this design will be either ‘These effects look so crappy like a video game’ or ‘Awesome visuals like a video game!’ for the viewer. Rose has to unlock doors in a school, jump over grates and holes in the floor, find hidden hotel rooms, and weave thru frozen undead nurse monsters. Although these scenes advance the plot of finding Sharon, they also feel like quests done in a video game, and thus make Silent Hill seem thinner as it goes on. Are these critical events or mere checkpoints needed to accomplish your search? Are we playing a game or watching a movie? Likewise, Cybil feels like a non-playable helper in these sequences, another piece to help one along the way. Though this simplistic style is relatively harmless, occasionally character motivations are sacrificed because one has to do an action rather than stick to his or her persona. For some serious horror fans, Silent Hill won’t be worthwhile thanks to these repetitive searches, staged accomplishments, or running to and fro scenes. Then again, to the 18 to 34 gaming demographic, Silent Hill plays like a freaky movie and supersized video game combination.  As video games have become increasingly realistic and as well designed as films thanks to motion capture and mainstream voice talent, maybe Silent Hill isn’t dated in its game design, but a bit ahead of its time. Outside of some archaic cell phones, one wouldn’t know this wasn’t a more recent picture.

If the focus of Silent Hill had been the horrific errors and transgressions of the plot at hand and not it’s very scary looking build up of video game action and effects, this could have been a seriously good and freaky piece for this talented ensemble. As is, Silent Hill is a little bit of both – an action horror picture with sweet effects and better than expected characterizations, maturity, and casting.  Ideally, Silent Hill should have decided to be one or the other – a scary period piece or an all game horror action – but this creepy and unusual mix of both is still entertaining if you accept the movie for what it is. Despite a confused vision and the resulting flaws, fans of the cast, atmospheric horror audiences, and gaming lovers can delight in this surprisingly special video game turned movie. 

04 April 2013

Voyager Season 7

Voyager Limps into Its Seventh and Final Season
By Kristin Battestella

After all its ups and downs, cast changes, and 75,000 light years from earth trials and tribulations, Star Trek: Voyager somehow goes even further off the deep end and apathetically rushes thru its seventh and final year.  

Captain Katherine Janeway (Kate Mulgrew) and the lost in the Delta Quadrant starship Voyager are close enough to home to signal Starfleet, and the crew anticipates returning to earth with both excitement and uncertainty. The holographic Doctor (Robert Picardo) must fight for photonic rights while ex-Borg drone Seven of Nine (Jeri Ryan) struggles with attachments to her Borg past.  Pilot Tom Paris (Robert Duncan McNeill) and Chief Engineer B’Elanna Torres (Roxann Dawson) face difficulties with their Human and Klingon courtship while alien friends and foes old and new disturb Voyager’s final approach towards home.

With all its action, Borg, and multiple places both real and virtual, “Unimatrix Zero Part II” opens the season with a confusing, all over the place, and far-fetched load of iffy. Folks are able to be assimilated and completely restored problem free and with no after effects yet “Imperfection” adds more Borg happenings and it is all so inconsistent. The Borg kid storylines are fortunately resolved, and Manu Intiraymi as Icheb creates a nice family dynamic for Seven. I’d like to think he’s Wesley Crusher as he should have been, but it’s too late in the series to waste yet another character like this. Dwight Schultz as Barclay and Marina Sirtis as Deanna Troi also return for the uneven “Inside Man.” The novelty of old friends and Ferengi hijinks wears off quickly, and it’s weird that after all this time, Voyager is still reaching for Alpha Quadrant clichés. I still think an unknown character should have been used for the ‘phone home’ Pathfinder connection, otherwise these Next Generation names takeover and ultimately don’t help Voyager. Likewise, the big “Endgame” double episode series finale is a letdown. Unlike The Original Series’ cut short five year mission, here we have an obvious conclusion for a series ending – the only worthwhile reason to see Voyager now is to see Voyager get home. Unfortunately, too much time is wasted on cliché dialogue and time travel. Instead of delivering on all of Voyager’s potential, the finale feels like an afterthought with no homecoming pay off whatsoever. Longtime fans may very well be angry at this unfulfilling, “That’s it?” conclusion.

Kate Mulgrew does fine work in Janeway’s efforts to stick to her Federation morals in “The Void,” but the interesting alien prospects and opportunity for Voyager to get some real damage so close to home is gone easy peesy by the next episode. Though fine photography and dark filming add some seriousness, Voyager repeatedly uses this trapped in a dark anomaly thing way too many times. Thankfully, the “Workforce” two-parter gives everyone his or her moment. Time is taken to get the whole ensemble involved – rather than leaving the flawed characters along the wayside – and this is how the show ought to have been all along. It’s a big arc that’s not Borg related!  Yes, the subject matter becomes dry – this is an idea stretched too long and not well thought out in the end.  Once again, all of Voyager’s problems are resolved with a handshake and no consequences. Pity. “Q2” also has some fun thanks to the cast, but surprise, surprise we’ve seen the unruly kid Q treatment before. I take this episode as definitive proof that the production team is merely going thru the motions, filling an episode order, and tossing anything at viewers ahead of the finale.  Q gives Janeway specifications to shorten Voyager’s journey but refuses to take them all the way – and we never get an exact count of how many years his information takes off the trip. Once a long time ago, this light year clock was so important to Voyager’s identity and its Starfleet ship lost in space premise. Now, however, they don’t care, and by default, neither does any remaining audience. Way to drop the ball on the one yard line! “Friendship One” almost redeems Voyager with its mission from Starfleet to find a lost probe, but the pre-prime directive consequences and aftermath are dropped completely – after all, the show would be over in five more episodes, no time to do anything significant, oh no. 

Once again, Robert Picardo stands out in the lovely “Critical Care.”  There’s Trek dilemma and some commentary on today and “Flesh and Blood” is a supersized hologram escapade, too. The evil holograms and stereotypes on the photonic versus organic parallels may be typical, but the Doctor is always good fun. “Body and Soul” has nice moments between the Doctor and Jeri Ryan’s Seven as the Doctor, but most of the episode is just too awkward. Seven’s appearances have become increasingly gimmicky by this point. The girl stands out in a crowd and viewers notice when she is standing on the bridge just for the sake of being there. Her tossed in one or two lines techno babble appearances often have nothing to do with plot, and you noticed the absence of more qualified players at her forced in presence. Where other regulars hardly appear, Seven never misses an episode. “Human Error” is so wrong in so many ways. Not only do we see yet more familiar TNG concepts like holographic addiction and rights of the crew, but Seven is getting it on with a holographic Chakotay? Oiy. “Author Author,” by contrast, does a fine job of hinting at the reception the Doctor will receive at home, and his slightly off holonovel is a fun mirror way to depict Voyager. We have seen these kinds of character on trial shows and alternative simulations before, oh yes indeed, and fine player performances are hampered by Voyager’s now overly convenient contact with Starfleet. Again, wasn’t the point of the show supposed to be that an Admiral or a JAG weren’t handy? Ethan Phillips’ exit as Neelix in “Homestead” and the Doctor’s dénouement in “Renaissance Man” are charming little shows, finally. Sadly, they come too late for Voyager.  

“Shattered” is also a weird time travel attempt revisiting scenes from the series’ past thanks to Voyager’s barely there First Officer. Robert Beltran’s Chakotay has been the wooden bane of this series, we know. Why do they go there? The wool is pulled over him yet again, and this repeating, one trick Maqui stuff is beyond old. Unfortunately, “Repression” erroneously reduces Tim Russ’ Tuvok to Vulcan misuses and excuses. So much more could have been done with Tuvok, indeed.  His pon farr –the Vulcan of Vulcan issue we’ve been waiting for- is relegated to a blink and you miss it B storyline in “Body and Soul.”  Ironically, “Nightingale” tries to strengthen Garrett Wang’s Harry Kim by making an onscreen acknowledgement of how he’s been screwed for the past seven years – and then screws him again. Robert Duncan McNeill and Roxann Dawson as Tom Paris and B’Elanna Torres also internally diss Harry Kim in “Drive,” but it is nice to see the couple have their moments in “Lineage” and “Repentance,” too. These sci-fi death penalty dilemmas and the Klingon pregnancy woes in “Prophecy” get unfortunately lost in the shuffle of Voyager’s too little too late.

I feel like I’ve been overly critical of Voyager’s run, but there was a lot to criticize. The consistency and quality problems of Deep Space Nine ballooned into glaring flaws in this subsequent spin off.  Star Trek got worse thanks to Voyager, not better as a new series should do for its franchise.  Viewers and fans can’t even ignore this installment because it is the one that drove the franchise into the ground thanks to it’s under developed characters, overuses of aliens and science fiction standards, and overall short sightedness.  Though tolerable thanks to a few shining players and episodes, I’ve long been ready for Voyager to end. Despite it’s rehashing of common 24th century pieces and plots, the merely basic SF at best here often doesn’t even resemble what one expects from Star Trek. Where there was once such promise, Voyager ends with no backbone, and that’s a damn shame. Casual audiences looking for a touch of non committal Trek, science fiction background noise, or a few hours in which you don’t really have to pay attention too much can take Voyager’s final season for what it is, meh.