25 April 2017

Top Ten: Shakespeare!

Welcome to our new Top Tens series in celebration of I Think, Therefore I Review's Tenth Anniversary! These monthly lists will highlight special themes and topics from our extensive archive of reviews.

This time I Think, Therefore I Review presents in chronological order...

Our Top Ten Shakespearean Shows!

Do Please see our Shakespeare Viewing Lists for more!

I Think, Therefore I Review began as the blog home for previously published reviews and reprinted critiques by horror author Kristin Battestella. Naturally older articles linked here may be out of date and codes or formatting may be broken. Please excuse any errors and remember our Top Tens will generally only include films, shows, books, or music previously reviewed at I Think, Therefore I Review.

22 April 2017

Macbeth (2015)

This Latest Macbeth is Unfortunately Disappointing
by Kristin Battestella

Director Justin Kurzel (Snowtown) helms this 2015 adaptation of William Shakespeare's Macbeth starring Michael Fassbender as the titular Thane of Glamis and Marion Cotillard as his grieving wife. Bleak child funeral pyres and a misty atmosphere match our witches' prophetic rhymes, and opening scrolls recount the Scottish war. Calm face painting rituals escalate to war cries, shouting rage, brutal swords, and battle chaos while slow motion torches and an intercut sense of stillness add to the trickery and kingly feasting. At times, these two hours move fast by showing the usually off screen killings – bringing the Bard's suspense alongside symbolic rain for the washing of blood, tense confrontations over fatal discoveries, and one suspicious coronation. Cathedral echoes mirror the growing power, but our soldier turned king spirals downward with his wife at his leash. Macbeth's contemporary grief and traumatic stress are best when the court intrigue brews, letting the play's innate zing overcome the pretentious, too arty for the sake of it voiceovers. There's a somewhat surprising lack of dialogue for, you know, Shakespeare, yet subtitles are a must to discern all the mumbling and grumpy who is who. The modern issues aren't a bad addition, but the contemporary stylishness becomes counter intuitive to the original drama and period setting. Though it holds fast to the well done historical locales and the ensemble is capable of doing clear spoken, straight Bard; this Macbeth never chooses what it really wants to be, ought to be better than it is, and doesn't seem Shakespearean enough. Had there been updated dialogue for the recent themes or a present setting with the original text as in Ralph Fiennes' Coriolanus, Macbeth may have hit home the relevancy for Shakespeare today. Instead, what begins as a promising take becomes slow, tiring, subdued, and at arms length. This tale is not untouchable, but if you are going to deviate, run with it. 

Certainly, Michael Fassbender (Shame) looks the battle field bearded, painted, gruff, and game on as Macbeth. There's no doubt of his warrior skill, but he's confused by the cryptic coming to pass. Why should Glamis stop at becoming Thane of Cowdor when the witches also said he would be king? Macbeth loves his wife and listens to her ambitions, however, their strain is apparent on top of his battlefield stress and conflicted flashbacks. He's caught between what's said about him and told to him, what he wants from his wife, his hidden cowardice, and a whipped position at home. Macbeth's supposed to be king yet he's repeatedly proving his manliness as he descends into madness. The dark picture and voiceover asides, however, make it feel like we don't see Fassbender embodying the turmoil enough. The language seems unnatural when his accent waivers, but Macbeth's lack of scenes actually talking to people adds to the isolation over what he has done – only the camera comes close as he messes up the kills and leaves his wife to handle the weapons. Although, I almost would rather not see the king's killing onscreen, just the traditional daylight discovery and a shady Macbeth washing. The suspicious snips of the deadly action as he is crowned are a nicer accent to his sullen deed is done and fair is foul change as Macbeth festers over the scorpions in his mind. He's losing control he never had, and Macbeth's a man meant for the battlefield as his leader commands or the bedroom when his wife says – but not worthy to be king. Is that his own weakness or the puppeteer wife behind him? Maybe a bit of both. The unmerited interplay is better than the arty interference, and the narration in the final battle scene feels unfair. Use those words for some crazy desperate trash talk! The lack of a beheading is disappointing, too, an unsatisfactory end when this Macbeth is all about his unraveling headspace. Fassbender was filming Macbeth amid the awards flurry for 12 Years a Slave and some personal tabloid fodder – preoccupations that also perhaps show. I like the uniqueness of Frank and Slow West, but without the refreshing take from First Class, I'm disinterested in the latest X-Men films. The Counselor fell flat; I have no desire to see Steve Jobs, The Light Between the Oceans, Assassin's Creed, or Song to Song, and after years of waiting for Trespass Against Us, I'm in no rush now. Instead, I find myself increasingly enjoying films Fassbender left or lost, such as Only Lovers Left Alive or The Force Awakens. He seems to be at a career crossroads – an indie darling franchised with Alien: Covenant but unknown to the mainstream with precious little box office success. It's ridiculous he's against today's new, superior scene chewing television platforms, and had the upcoming The Snowman been a serial caper, I might be more intrigued. While newer viewers may have found Fassbender over some sort of heartthrob status, I'm more and more aware that I miss his prime acting and dislike his recent, disappointing movie making choices.

Of course, a dead baby adds to Marion Cotillard's (La Vie en Rose) warped Lady Macbeth as she waits at home in the dark to hear tell the news of victory. This Mrs. is vicariously pleased with her husband but angry, wishing to be unsexed with her milk taken. She's unhappy at home and stronger in the scheming department than her man – Lady Macbeth has had to sit back from the glory, but now she has the chance to take matters into her own hands. She's cruel with nothing else to do but aide her husband's rise to the top as her own, and the grief of an heir lost contributes to her twistedness. The childless angle is implied in the text, and its a relatable connection today. However, I kind of rather like not knowing why she is so poison bent. I can't see Natalie Portman for Lady Macbeth as originally cast either, but Cotillard has no problem with the language barrier as our wife admits her deceptions. She says she's done her marital job, using her sex to trap her husband into violence. She wears white for the coronation, almost appearing in an angelic disguise, putting the crown on Macbeth and egging him on when he doubts. He reminds her how her barrenness ruins their monarchy progeny, but the intercut table top panting and killer planning is an unnecessary sexual visual. There's enough reading between the lines to know Lady Macbeth manipulates him by not putting out and refusing his touch. She is in charge, not seeing them have any sexual intimacy is a better indication of his emasculation. Yet for all her behind the scenes power, Lady Macbeth is a fallen figure, an unwelcomed mother with no child save her corrupt ruthlessness. She faces her guilt in a tearful church soliloquy where the camera rightfully remains on her mea culpa realizations.

Sadly, Macbeth's supporting cast feels wasted, and we hardly see usual bad boy Sean Harris (The Borgias) as good guy Macduff. He's enraged over the king's death, throwing up and shouting. He's battle ready and on his game for the finale yet never really built up as a proper rival. Likewise, I feel like I didn't even see Paddy Considine (Hot Fuzz) as Banquo until he died. His ghost is hardly present in favor of other anonymous dead boys on the battlefield apparitions, leaving the internalized Macbeth with no real friendly reflection or sounding board. Is it even really Banquo's ghost at the feast or just a figment of Macbeth's madness? Elizabeth Debicki (The Night Manager) as Lady Macduff is also just sort of there, and though his delivery is fine, David Thewlis' (Harry Potter) King Duncan is made lax, a distant, inept king who should be deposed to make us relate to Macbeth as his sad, victorious stand-in. David Hayman (Trial & Retribution) is made irrelevant as Lennox, and the unique witch potential added to this Macbeth never fully embraces its surrealism, which is surprising amid a visual display that could have gone for the ultra bizarre seen in Julie Taymor's Titus and The Tempest. Ultimately, it feels as though the ensemble is here because they have to be – a guy to kill, a friend to betray, another usurper to fight. If Macbeth could have been done with just the unhappy couple, this version would have done so. Actually, now that I think about it, that would have been a two-hander tour de force update I'd like to have seen!

Fortunately, authentic filming locations, Scottish castles, and gritty leather costuming invoke the historical atmosphere alongside slicing sharp sword sounds and blustery winds. Basic wooden structures are fittingly small against snowscapes, mountains, and rustic waters, and the women's costumes are likewise drab, minimally adorned robes with simple braided hair styling. The blue nighttime schemes are realistically grim but also incredibly picturesque, and a lot of time in Macbeth is spent outdoors with orange battlefield heat. However, the vintage candlelit interiors and firelight designs can be tough to see – viewer eyes must continually adjust to the flickering flames with each surprisingly traditional crosscut edit – and the artistic scene transitions are pretty but unnecessary. Again, the phantoms in the mist and witches mirages contrast the historically accurate approach, adding a whiff of fantastic whilst remaining reluctant to totally embrace the surreal. Instead, our Wood that moves becomes molten fallout ash – a shrewd and unique but too contemporary rather than theatrical twist. Macbeth plays at the mentality of its characters in a modern cerebral bend, but the impressive look and internal circumspect disconnect more than accent each other. Why not have Macbeth's traumatizing soliloquies become side by side Smeagol and Gollum split screens, faces in the fire, or watery reflections? Despite the beautiful design, I wonder what the dailies covering each actor looked like. Did the production not really like Shakespeare, so they felt the need to ramp it up by dropping most of the text for awe-inspiring visuals?

All my complaints, yet Macbeth didn't deserve a blink festival tour and miss it cinema release with no award hopes – like Coriolanus, The Weinstein Company distributor strikes again in squashing Shakespearean competition. Maybe it was asking too much to be blown away, but this is not the best introduction to Macbeth thanks to too much artistic unevenness for the purist and a lacking straightforwardness for classroom. Macbeth is one of my top three Billy favorites – competing with Othello and Julius Caesar for number one. However, I wasn't looking forward to this version after it sequestered the long gestating Enemy of Man production from Vincent Regan and Sean Bean. The 2010 Patrick Stewart version also better retained the source material with complimentary fascist parallels. If you are going to add back story changes and stylish designs with such a fine cast, be an intimate multi part serial taking its time with the ensemble in this unique world and its titular head space. The gritty realism for today's audiences is too try hard, a dry, modern psychosis jarring to the play speech and historic setting. Polarizing at best, Macbeth tries to have its cake and eat it too but halves the retelling's own changes, remaining mumbly timid while unnecessarily treating Shakespeare as too stuffy and in need of meta trauma.

11 April 2017

The Omega Man

The Omega Man Remains Relevant Science Fiction
by Kristin Battestella

After 1964's The Last Man on Earth but before 2007's I am Legend, there was The Omega Man, a loose 1971 adaptation of the Richard Matheson novel that remains a fine science fiction parable for today's audience.

Former military scientist Colonel Robert Neville (Charlton Heston) is immune to the plague that has ravaged the world after biological warfare between The Soviet Union and China has made him the last man on earth. He's spent the last two years alone by day – shopping where he may and driving the empty Los Angeles streets – while at night Neville avoids the mutated brethren cult led by former newscaster Matthias (Anthony Zerbe). Matthias sees Neville as the last remnant of the old technological ways that caused their suffering, but when Neville discovers Lisa (Rosalind Cash) and her small group of young survivors resisting the mutative turn, he's determined to use his immunity to develop a cure.

Directed by Boris Sagal (Rich Man, Poor Man) and adapted by John William and Joyce Hooper Corrington (Boxcar Bertha), The Omega Man opens with silent, distant shots of tall buildings and one small car on a quiet drive. No hustle, no bustle, no need to worry about traffic lights or speed limits on these open streets! Gunfire breaks this solitude as our eponymous man shoots at any sudden movement without hesitation, reminding viewers this isn't a pleasant empty but catastrophic fallout and germ warfare for a more jaded generation. The Woodstock footage in the empty cinema is a shrewd way to add more music and dialogue to The Omega Man, and the happy hippies and split screen designs create a sad commentary as the lonely Neville quotes the bittersweet lines before racing home to his foolproof penthouse and its “No Admittance” sign. Such humorous moments anchor the audience amid the well paced bleakness, and intercut overlays of past news bulletins, retro clips, missile footage, and Cold War updates sell the disaster. The specifics on how the then future 1977 got this way aren't completely spelled out, nor are they necessarily that important, for montages of overrun hospitals and bodies left in front of the television as they succumbed are enough. The apocalypse happens quickly though, it's been only two years and now there's one man on foot and no one to hear his echoes – or is there? The Omega Man has some lurking in the shadows surprises, and it's a great moment when our last man discovers he isn't as alone as he thought. While the style and casting admittedly capitalizes on the budding Blaxplotation movement, the interracial romance remains impressive, for the last people on earth wouldn't be so hung up on race anyway. Of course, The Omega Man is also silly at times with white men still screwing everything up, iffy Anglo Saxon versus Harlem jokes, and Jive talk laid on a little too thick. Cults and religious fanaticism sweep into the vacuum civilization left behind, and the confrontations are great when they do happen alongside well balanced action, dangerous rescues, and chases. Potentially resistant child survivors come out of the woodwork with innocent questions on The Family coming to steal their souls at night and if Neville's cure makes him God. At times both sides each represent death and savior with arguments over the new brethren's extremism and zealousness versus proper organization, cures, and scientific answers – although it was technology run amok that caused the problem in the first place! There's still a chance for science to save the day, man fixing what he put wrong with plans for a rural restart and hopeful Eden possibilities. However, this cataclysm may be too far gone to turn back, and some just won't let it. Despite a slightly abrupt and perhaps on the nose finale, The Omega Man offers multi layered interpretations for then and now amid heaps of Messianic symbolism – a man from the lit above brought mortally low with lances, pierced sides, crucifixion, blood, and a setting out to do what must be done legendary remembrance with a title to match. 

Charlton Heston aka Moses is a little older in The Omega Man but remains gritty. After all, if anybody would survive an apocalypse, we kind of know it would be good old Chuck and his guns. He's shirtless too, as if there was any doubt he would be. Neville has a sense of humor about his situation and has delightful one liners or bitter quips as he talks to his reflection – “There's never a good cop around when you need one!” However, he's also a little zany by this point, hearings phantom noises and yelling at them to shut up and leave him alone. He plays chess with a Caesar statue, drinks, makes a car deal to himself, says excuse me to nobody, and dresses for Sunday dinner in a swinging green velvet jacket and ruffled collar when not in then hip leisure suit safari styles or mod military athleisure. The former scientist and retired colonel jogs with a rifle and notes safe areas on his map with a tape recorder – he's outnumbered and holding out but mentally slipping. Is he imagining it when he sees a girl? He claims he's a narcissist by default and Neville's reputation proceeds him, but the idea that his self injected experimental vaccine could be a cure within his blood makes him reconsider the staunch defense of his lonely home. Not to mention Neville puts on the gentlemanly charm as the only boy in town despite generator scares and a few close calls. He goes from saying the only thing people should build is coffins, as that's all we'll ever really need, to risking the cure from his body to save others. Should Neville exhaust his healing supply on the brethren whom he perceives as more vermin than human and half dead already? If he won't save them, does he kill them or leave them to die? Neville himself was once half crazed and entombed in his own fortress, so is his hope of leaving The Family behind to be with new people elsewhere too good to be true?

In The Omega Man's flashbacks, Anthony Zerbe's (License to Kill) brethren leader Matthias was a news anchor, a familiar face and voice to and for the public informing citizens of the Soviet versus China nuclear war. It's an eerie, though not surprising leap – especially today – that a television celebrity could rise as the leader of this plague cult called The Family, uniting victims with warped religion and distorted views on the error of our ways. Matthias waxes on the ills of technology and views Neville as a relic of destruction that must be purged. He uses this plague as an opportunity to cleanse and set fire, becoming obsessed with getting rid of the refuse of the past – obsolete oil, engines, and artificial light. From his ironic perch in the abandoned civic center, Matthias is ready to erase history and begin civilization anew. While his methods are extreme and twisted, we viewers unfortunately know he is scarily not wrong in how we are the cause of our own destruction with germ warfare and biochemical weapons. Maybe some of our technology is better off burned – but lynch mobs, torches, and Inquisition revivals are not the answer, leaving Matthias' destructive ways no better than the leaders who came before this apocalyptic plague.

Rosalind Cash's (Tales from the Hood) badass Lisa, however, has survived the apocalypse without talking to herself like Neville or power tripping like Matthias. She has some sweet red leather suits and remains prepared with guns and a motorcycle. Lisa warns Neville she'll bust his ass if he tries anything, and we believe it faster than he can say, “Yes ma'am.” She doesn't care about the world and has kept to herself just fine, only seeking out Neville for his scientific expertise once her brother has begun to turn from the plaque. However, Lisa does make herself at home in Neville's place, giving life to his museum with her panache and using her hustle to steal a red dress from its late owner and make a move on Neville as well. All this bleakness and morose on the run, yet when you put a man and woman together, they still know how to flirt! Her third perspective between Neville's cling to what was lost and Matthais' Dark Ages revival opposites add fine conversation on how a new existence need not be mere survival or retribution, there's a fresh world out there for the taking to make what they choose. While there is a whiff of black woman fetishism in her nude scenes, Lisa's on top and the next morning nakedness makes no mistake on what has happened. Neville and Lisa have a bittersweet laugh when they find birth control pills in the pharmacy, too – an irrelevant need to them post-apocalypse but a then recent liberation in 1971. Lisa jokes she's going out shopping and will be borrowing Neville's credit cards, but takes a gun as he reminds her his only rule is to shoot first – progressive banter for their situation that remains refreshing. Blaxplotation trappings of the time aside, it's exceptional to see a black woman take charge, kick ass, and look divine doing so. Why do we still not have enough characters like this? By contrast, Eric Laneuville (St. Elsewhere) as Lisa's young and innocent brother Richie naively thinks the potential cure developed by Neville will be for everyone – the youthful more slowly infected as well as the turned brethren. He foolishly thinks everything can simply go back to the way it was and make the world all right, but who could blame him? Unfortunately, this is exactly why we can't have nice things, for even after such a catastrophic fallout, there will always be someone to take advantage of a child's hopes.

While not as bad as some of my earlier, laughable Hokey Heston favorites, The Omega Man has its share of dated seventies designs. The albino make up, sunglasses, and Afro hairstyles are bemusingly memorable – creepy thanks to the hooded robes, red lesions and white out eyes but odd rather than truly scary as intended. The rad music swells before the fine action scenes, but there are swanky melancholy tunes on the radio and warped organ music heralding the dead afoot. Not to mention the eight tracks! The Omega Man isn't a quiet film but common alarms or phones ringing are surprising noises breaking the isolation. Neville abandons a cool red convertible, stopping in the used dealership to help himself to a blue one before using a giant remote for that spiffy garage door opener. His townhouse is tricked out with elevators, spotlights, generators, old laboratory equipment, and a gunnery on the roof – a nighttime fortress holding out against fire bombs and primitive catapults. The penthouse is a mix of mod and baroque with candelabras, marble busts, paintings, and other pleasantries now mere relics of a civilization's lost sophistication. The luxurious hotels sit derelict with red velvet and waiting place settings overtaken with cobwebs, corpses, and ghoulish reveals. This is a bright and colorful film – the Ω lettering in the title is neat, too – yet the gritty, dark mood increases with eerie mannequins in empty department stores free for the shopping. Though the park scenes and winding motorcycle rides are lovely, the benches are rusted and the outdoors overgrown as nature reclaims itself without people. Such visuals look especially renewed on blu-ray along with a retrospective introduction and vintage behind the scenes featurettes.

Some purists may dislike the changes from the novel or find The Omega Man's seventies updates too of their time. However, believable characters anchor the audience alongside social statements that sadly still ring true, providing religious undercurrents and continued contemplation as good science fiction should do. The Omega Man remains a fun action thriller as well as a cerebral and mature fable. This is a superb story able to stand on its own as a separate entity from its source that keeps the conversation going long after the movie is finished. 


09 April 2017

Polarizing Recent Horrors

Polarizing Recent Horrors
By Kristin Battestella

This batch of supernatural scares and science fiction fears both foreign and domestic serves up some interesting ghosts and literary twists alongside some meh, skip-worthy, and polarizing frights.

Unique Ghosts

I am the Pretty Thing that Lives in The House – Ruth Wilson (Luther, The Affair) stars in this 2016 Netflix original written and directed by Oz Perkins (The Blackcoat's Daughter). Poetic voiceovers tell of a house being borrowed by the living while dark screens and period silhouettes come in and out of focus, creating an aged feeling for our colonial house, ailing horror author, and her jilted live in nurse Lily – who must always wear white, can't be touched, and slaps her own hand for snooping. Certainly there are obvious implications with repeated phrases, solitary scenes, one side phone calls, whispering voices, and no outdoor perspectives to disrupt our attention from the suspect footsteps and undisturbed décor. Old music with ironic lyrics, cassettes, rotary phones, typewriters, static TV antennas, and Grateful Dead shirts also invoke a trapped in the past mood implying that the thin veil between life and death is soon to be broken. Shadowed, almost black and white shots and doorways framed in darkness make the audience question which side of the looking glass we are on – slow zooms peer into the dark frames or blacked out night time windows. There are shock moments, but the one woman play design is intense without being loud or in your face. Blindfolds, old fashioned dresses, mirrors, musty papers, and mysterious boxes increase amid moldy walls and suspicious characters from our author's 1960 novel The Lady in the Walls – creating slow burn literary flashbacks, parallel self-awareness, ghostly uncertainty, and feminine duality on wilted old age blooms versus forever beautiful flowers. Is this a linear story or are the past, present, living, and dead blending together? Again, the answers are apparent with book titles and name hints hidden in plain sight. No one eats, sleeps, or bathrooms yet this ghostly rot and repetition may take multiple viewings for full discussion, interpretation, and analysis. Although there are some pretentious arty for the sake of it moments – not the papa Anthony Perkins scenes on the TV! – knocking on the walls, a flipped up rug, buzzing flies, and a will requesting another woman writer come to chronicle this “House of Stories” are atmosphere enough without run of the mill wham bam effects. This individual horror experience remains can't look away intriguing for old school horror fans not expecting thrills a minute and those who enjoy a seventies, no concept of time mood.

Interesting Oddities

Twixt – Washed up horror writer Val Kilmer (The Doors) stars in this 2011 Francis Ford Coppola directed askewer set in a sleepy town featuring zany sheriff Bruce Dern (The 'burbs) and a belfry with seven clocks each telling a different time. One hear tells of twelve ghostly kids playing at midnight and a thirteenth child damned, and bodies in the morgue are free for the viewing since the serial killer's calling card is a giant wooden stake. Bat houses are totally different from bird houses, and the abandoned hotel once sheltered Edgar Allan Poe. Val's ponytail, fedora, and drinking hit home the hoofing it, down on his luck author – his bookstore signing is in the bookshelf half of the hardware store! He's asking for advances so his estranged wife won't sell priceless literary collectibles, and Joanne Whalley's (Willow) angry video chats tops off the backwoods humor. Old fashioned lanterns, fax machines, radios, split screen calls, tolling bells, clockwork groans, and wonky camera angles accent the weird nighttime blues, silver patinas, eerie woods, and decayed buildings. Distorted movements, slow motion fireplaces, skyline perspectives, exaggerate neon signs, specific red accents, and individual lighting schemes become increasingly distorted, and Elle Fanning's (Maleficent) a mysterious porcelain doll-like girl. At times, the Sin City-esque style seems odd for odd's sake, but the onscreen editor wants a vampire book with a story not just bullshit visuals, and a portable table and chair, ritual writing space, and blank computer screens wink at the select all delete that perhaps only writers can understand. Yes, it's obvious we may be in an onscreen fiction thanks to the maybe maybe not dream quality, moonlit breakfasts, and imaginary conversations with Ben Chaplin's (The Truth about Cats & Dogs) Poe blending the titular sense of time together. Is this the creative subconscious, a story in progress, or a purgatory limbo for our author? The interpretive subtext layers the warped atmosphere, but the busy tale within a tale, life imitating art twists end abruptly with typical creepy minister prayers, snakes, mea culpa, and literary catharsis. This isn't perfect and probably too full of itself – nobody is going to red pencil Coppola – but this didn't deserve to be a festival blink with a delayed video release. In fact, Coppola's intentions as a live interactive film with different versions depending on audience reaction remain intriguing, making the picture either all dream, all reality, or all inside story rather than a patchwork narrative with pieces of each. Today, this choose your own adventure concept would be a water cooler Netflix event! Of course, the industry doesn't embrace out there film making, and one also needs Coppola's Godfather clout and financial freedom to do this kind of hobbyist release. Many will hate such uneven indulgence, but the oddities here are worth a look.

One Science Fiction Horror Questionable

The Last Days on Mars – This 2013 science fiction horror British co-production boasts a fine cast including Liev Schreiber (Ray Donovan), Olivia Williams (Manhattan), Elias Koteas (Chicago P.D.), and Romola Gari (The Crimson Petal and the White). Their six month Martian stay in claustrophobic habitat buildings has nineteen hours left, yet some work up to the last minute while others dread the coffin-like sleep and ride home. It's been a testy unglamorous trip with little scientific research to validate their efforts, and sunny swing music contrasts the dust, sandstorms, rocks, and bitter mood. Realistic effects, spacesuits, equipment, and rovers fall prey to patchy communications, offline systems, and flickering lights – adding more tension to the mundane repairs, decompression, and radiation. Everyone's already frazzled before the hidden evidence, deceptions, and accusations over scientific credit lead to maydays, disappearing crew, bottomless caverns, and underground organisms. Depressurizing airlocks, contamination, monstrous attacks, and gruesome drill uses enforce the perilous environs, quarantines, and suit tears. Pointing fingers at who's infected, proactive antibiotic experiments, and intravenous versus vapor distribution accent the race to the exit rendezvous and radio chatter horrors heard but not seen. However, the helmets and dark, hectic scenes make it tough to tell what's happening, and one can certainly argue that no alien zombie morph mutations were necessary when the isolated people on edge is SF horror enough without bringing the Z word to Mars. Somber moments also come off as too pretentious, trying to be more sophisticated than the Alien and Aliens imitation – strong women defending protocols, travel through a pipe to restore communication, and only one person able to contact the incoming ship amid double crossings and cliché panic attacks. Such derivative cheats proceed as expected, claiming any moody atmosphere with too many endings resulting in unsatisfying cop outs. While initially entertaining, too many wrong turns just run out of steam in final act.

And a Skipper!

White Settlers – A city couple moves to a too good to be true Scottish fixer upper on a medieval battle site in this 2014 British snoozer also called The Blood Lands. After the usual cool opening credits, are we there yet driving to the horrors, a somewhat shady estate agent, no phone signals, and a move in montage; the very unprepared wife realizes she's afraid of being in an isolated handyman house without power. Of course, her jerk husband makes Scottish jokes, refusing to let up on his bullshit attitude even when there's a scary break in and unseen attackers. The outdoor saucy, surprisingly immature and incompatible couple, and nighttime suspicious are typical clichés, and the divine scenery, historical references, and great house are never used to their full potential. When the description refers to ancient battles, one sort of expects something wild like ghosts or cults and past meets present horror – not guys in pig masks angry at the new neighbors. It's tough to feel any of the supposed English versus Scottish subtext because the horror is so substandard. Eden Lake had better us versus them twists, and I swear I just saw this terrorizing hooligans in animal masks trope in at least three other horror house siege movies. Although flashlights and fog make it difficult to see much of anything here, and our wife has to apologize to her asshole husband for her being afraid even while she's the superior fighter. Maybe this isn't that bad on its own, but it's certainly disappointing if you are expecting anything more than Brits chasing some other Brits through the woods in the dark. Nothing here is horror sentient – people go back to check the still body, bads talk rather than act to create a contrived victim escape, and who trusts the creepy little boy for help? Hello, McFly. If you didn't want any English buying your Scottish property, why not blame the real estate lady who sold it to them? Or the bank that made the price so high? How is unrealistically terrorizing and ridiculously kicking out the new owners so you can move in going to get rid of any of the real world consequences?

Despite tens of thousands of newer horror movies available between Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, HBO Now, Showtime, Starz, and other free streaming sites; I find its becoming increasingly tougher to find the small percent that's quality horror thanks to an overwhelming saturation of low budget yarns, unimaginative knockoffs, no name derivatives, and second tier rehashings with woeful video covers and abysmal ratings or reviews. I feel like I need to do an essay alone on how to spot a bad horror movie, as there is just a ridiculous amount of sludge sinking the genre – and drowning its viewers. I protest such drivel!

07 April 2017

Top Ten: Michael Fassbender!

Welcome to our new Top Tens series in celebration of I Think, Therefore I Review's Tenth Anniversary! These monthly lists will highlight special themes and topics from our extensive archive of reviews. 

This time I Think, Therefore I Review presents in ranked order...

Our Top Ten Michael Fassbender Movies!

8. Frank
6. 300
3. Shame
1. Hunger

Visit our handy Michael Fassbender Review Guide or our Fassbender tags for much more!

I Think, Therefore I Review began as the blog home for previously published reviews and reprinted critiques by horror author Kristin Battestella. Naturally older articles linked here may be out of date and codes or formatting may be broken. Please excuse any errors and remember our Top Tens will generally only include films, shows, books, or music previously reviewed at I Think, Therefore I Review.

03 April 2017

Friday the 13th The Series: Season Two

More Freaky Good in Friday the 13th The Series Season Two
by Kristin Battestella

The 1988-89 Second Season of Friday the 13th The Series boasts twenty-six more episodes featuring antiquing cousins Micki Foster (Robey) and Ryan Dallion (John D. LeMay) alongside occult expert Jack Marshak (Chris Wiggins) as they face increasingly scary retributions in their ongoing quest to retrieve the evil objects sold from the Curious Goods store by the late Lewis Vendredi (R.G. Armstrong).

The snakes, violent patients, and rowdy mental wards escalate in “And Now the News” as one greedy doctor uses an innocuous looking old time radio to scare patients to death and pin the rising fatalities on those in the way of her medical glory. Retro hospital greens and white uniforms add to the paranoia, analysis in fear, and suspicious research for a warped dose of self-fulfilling prophecy. Sure there's electroshock therapy, but our collectors have become a little more professional, making an appointment, handing out business cards, and explaining how they buy back antiques for their shop – if not why. Grave diggers and thunderstorms accent the robes, chanting, torches, and rituals of “Tails I Live, Heads You Die” while one handy gold piece raises decomposing bodies from the dead. Black masses and alchemy history hit home the occult danger and gruesome horror movie atmosphere for our bold team as backward prayers and coin tosses determine one's fate. Granted, the concert with a ghoulish monster below in “Symphony in B#” immediately screams Phantom of the Opera knockoff. However, the masked, mostly hidden and morose villain matches the well-edited suspense, and the cursed violin music creates a melancholy theater mood as doubts about a lovely violinist luring Ryan put him and Micki on opposite sides of the case. More behind the scenes strife, jealousy, and temperamental stars make for a fun picture within a picture in “Master of Disguise.” Curious Goods rents their non-cursed décor on set, and the dolly zooms, soft focus, and back glows play with the movie making charm while a handsome actor with a sinister make up kit is desperate for fresh blood. Gossip rags, lookalike costumes, toasters in the bathtub – the Chaney 'Man of a Thousand Faces' and William 'Karloff' Pratt references wink at the steamy smoke and mirrors and life imitating art. Only on Friday the 13th could one drop studio lights on an extra's head and bludgeon an actress with her own award.

Wax Magic” pulls out all the Freaks meets House of Wax eighties carnival stops with Gravitron and music montages updating the familiar horror themes for this boys night out including eerie effigies, Lizzie Borden weapons, and murderous handkerchiefs. The sculptures hide warped love, magic tricks, and some good old fashioned murder, but it's nothing a little fire and icky good melting special effects can't fix. Ventriloquist dummies in horror are always suspect, and this one takes on a sassy little life of his own for “Read My Lips” by getting too fresh with his handler's fiancee and driving him to murder and madness just to keep their act in the spotlight. Talk about biting the hand that feeds you! Is it the dummy itself – there's no such doll in the Curious Goods manifest – or killer clothing used to reanimate something monstrous? Naturally there is some bemusing dummy violence with heads in the freezer and puns to match – “Death is easy, it's comedy that's hard” – but while some delight in their cursed objects, most are destroyed by them indeed. Elaborate bee boxes, swarming visuals, and buzzing audio lead to rural honey stands, proprietary blends, and killer insects in “The Sweetest Sting.” Although this perhaps isn't an unusual plot – and the real thing is frightful enough to many – the youth elixirs come with elaborate elevator deaths and fatal farm equipment mishaps. The abusive home of two destitute children, unfortunately, is just as bad as the deceptive allure of the titular Victorian charmer in “The Playhouse.” Ominous facades and warped fun house visuals answer the desperate necessities of the tender young players, making this curse a not so cut and dry reluctance with true to life horrors, abductions, and inept investigations. Will the police believe the evil truth? How's that big, indestructible playhouse going to fit in the Curious Goods vault anyway?

Confederate letters, battlefield hospitals, and a greasy doctor who's really a contemporary collector stealing Civil War artifacts anchor “Eye of Death” as an evil lantern's three hour visits to the past creates some greedy antiquing competition. Rather than black and white, this episode has a gritty wartime and old photograph patina to match the captured moment in time and the power trip it provides. Instead of being an episode any series can do, Friday the 13th shows its unique investigations and eerie artifacts with the well done history and horrors here. Likewise, “Face of Evil” returns to the killer compact of last season's “Vanity's Mirror,” although enough is happening with models fearing wrinkles and has been status without the flashbacks to the previous episode. The team races to stop the photo shoot disasters and on set accidents while addressing our ageism obsessions, for a few lines and second best won't do. Of course, there's nothing a wicked syringe can't solve in “Better Off Dead.” Classical music irony accents the science abominations, brain fluids, and creepy transfusions for the AIDS era while a wild tumble down the staircase, shocking car accident, and freaky experiments threaten Micki and company with twisted serial killer medicine and Jack the Ripper tools. Along with winking clips from The Wolf Man, “Scarlet Cinema” provides more film within a film scares, school lectures, youth escapism, and old fashioned projector glows. The mockery of nerdy students and onscreen lycanthropy debate early film superiority and underrated horror film milestones while addressing the blatant rip offs and copycatting homages even as the episode does the same thing. Although the emo student can be annoying, and maybe Friday the 13th does rely too much on the archival footage, the vintage cameras, gray-scale touches, and retro framing techniques reveal the killer wolfy in a bemusing be careful for what you wish for turnabout. Plus that silver nitrate film comes in handy!

Swanky jazz, hot dames, risque kills, and then steamy near nudity spice up “Mesmer's Bauble” alongside the late singer Vanity, a music montage or two, and wow look at that record store! A lucky charm making an obsessive fan's dreams comes true isn't all that different from today's star worship in new mediums coughtumblrcough, but being a talented artist and selling a lot of records are not necessarily the same thing – except to the number one fan who's not like all those other crazies. Screaming crowds knock each other over to be one step nearer, and our trinket inches toward Single White Female in her skin insanity. Buenos Aires crimes, passions, and a rare snow globe also spell trouble for “Wedding In Black.” The devil is pissed that Curious Goods is collecting his tricks, and a disembodied voice, hellish scenery, and inside or outside the snow globe twists escalate the vengeance. Although this episode has an unusual format, it might have been neat to see this evil rival trio out to undo our team more often, and it's superb to see a cast-centric hour dealing with the consequences of their collecting complete with rapacious revenge and what you don't see worse. The eighties modern interpretative dance and off the shoulder Fame get ups in “The Maestro” won't be for everyone. However, the ballet scenes are lovely – if fatal as this eponymous choreographer drives his talented but imperfect subjects to risk life and limb with music from an old symphonia. Is sacrificing for great art and success worth it? This music box embellishes a ruthlessness already present, and it's deadly demands cross the line between brilliant artistry and abusive fanaticism. Satanic effigies and parallel white magic up the ante in the “Coven of Darkness” season finale, pitting shaman energy and protection spells against Uncle Lewis' former coven and a witch's ladder omen. A little cut from a witch's ring or some blood on a ritual handkerchief and our trio is arguing on who's bewitched, whether they are safe in the store with their evil relics, or if one of them has possible magic powers. Did they expect no retribution for their good works against evil? Possessions, counter spells, candles, and great horror imagery strengthen the character focus, and I wish Friday the 13th had spent more time with its players rather than the curses of the week. Warring covens fighting to get their cursed curios back and developing psychic strengths for the battle could have been ongoing storylines. But hee, calling the object of your incantation on the telephone right in the middle of the chanting, oh how eighties!

Yet this Sophomore Season is tough to get rolling with a rocky “Doorway to Hell” premiere referring to the First Season's finale, which was itself a bottle episode clip show with a weak frame. Ghostly reflections, broken mirrors, cobwebs, and dark realms fall prey to stereotypical gas station crimes and nonsensical goons. Likewise, the Caribbean clichés, unacceptable racial misunderstandings, exotical fetishism, and snobby white boys playing at real magic in “The Voodoo Mambo” gets lol wut with a montage explaining voodoo like its something rare and mysterious. The what would you do with an extra hour premise of “13 O’Clock” is very cool with a fine technical execution mixing color, black and white, stills, and film movement for its freeze frame pauses in time. Unfortunately, the seedy music, back alley bludgeons, and standard daddy's princess gold digger with a side piece planning murder compromise the freaky pocket watch with eighties obnoxiousness. I mean, gangs having dance offs on the subway platform? Such filler makes Friday the 13th feel like it should have been a half hour show with only the good horrors necessary. Traditional in store antique sales and Uncle Lewis connections are lost among the laughably bad acting, chicken races, hot rods, and cursed car keys in “Night Hunger,” and the killer zapping qualities of a 1919 World Series ring in “The Mephisto Ring” are just goofy. A bum villain and anonymous heavies beating up old ladies over bad betting tips can't carry the double duty sports and crimes, and too much is happening between the odd A/B plots in “A Friend to the End.” Is this about the bittersweet sepia and undead child tales or the edgy pain as art with a sculptor turning models to stone? These aren't the worst stories – though the middle school bike tricks are silly and the evil lesbian subtext typical – but the curses here are stylistically too different and each deserved its own hour. There's merit in the bickering surgeons and alternative Native American medicines with “The Shaman’s Apprentice” and an Indian grandson caught between his calling as a native healer and his job as a white man's doctor. However, the outsider belittled for his ideas is a repetitive story with redskin insults, warpath jokes, and dated racism on top of another misfire object and ethnic spins made evil.

The crimped hair, victory rolls, and retro fads also don't do Louise Robey justice, and former gymnast Micki puts on some giant glasses to go undercover as a journalist when not skimming the fashion magazines for new looks. She repairs and redecorates the store, doing the research and leaving the boys to the big action, but Micki says Curious Goods has no charm. She still hopes to get on with her life, be happy, and not battle evil forever. Her visiting BFFs often pay a terrible price, and each loss is tougher on Micki than the next. Her nephew is also ditched at the store by her divorcing sister, and the family interference in the curio collecting could have been dealt with more. Micki's jealous and sometimes suspicious of Ryan's dalliances, but her saucy times are filmed in much more romantic detail. Unfortunately, she is attacked by a creepy mental patient, leaving Micki throwing up and quite shaken before more terrible close calls late in the season. I don't like that Friday the 13th went there – the fantastics are enough without real world violence. However, these experiences give Micki more doubts about if what they do and the risks they take are worth it, and she even argues the morality of letting an evil doctor die so her friend can live in a slightly uncharacteristic but consequential request. The eighties white shirts with big belts and skin tight pants early in the year also switch to loose fitting darker fashions, big overcoats, and objects in front that seem like television hiding pregnancy tricks. It's a noticeable one-hundred and eighty degree change, yet it's nice to see Micki become more than just being there to look sexy with psychic opportunities and white magic potential in the season finale.

Everyone always presumes John D. Le May's Ryan Dallion is Micki's boyfriend, and although he apparently carries her picture in his wallet, he's always ready to party or romance the lady of an episode. He's bored at the symphony and afraid he'll fall asleep – until he spots a babe at second violin, that is. Ryan gets over one girl and moves onto the next one in a few episodes as required but can move even quicker, sometimes putting on the ritz in the same show! Thankfully, he does get into vinyl, putting on some records for his music education, and he dresses up eighties fancy, too – with a then rad ear piercing. Though prominent in the weak cool cars hour, it does feel like Ryan is here much this season. However, he doesn't suddenly become a Civil War expert when he's caught in the past. Some future knowledge would have helped him for sure, yet he can't remember anything but the burning of Atlanta. He's strangely reluctant to believe in werewolves even after all they've seen, but he can still be reckless – like climbing the fence of a high security institution and getting electrocuted. He says he remains so loose and celebratory after facing such evils because they got through it, but Ryan is seriously effected when loved ones are presumed dead. He blames Jack and increasingly contests what they do and why. The characters here don't stand pat, as Friday the 13th plays with their fates early and often. Ryan says Curious Goods puts him through enough pain and he's had enough of these cursed antiques and the deaths they cause.

The late Chris Wiggins' Jack Marshak saves the day to start Year Two but is referred to with a postcard by the third episode, and his absence is apparent in several weaker shows mid season. Jack's reputation as an occult expert precedes him, but the heavy mantle of their righteous collecting often puts him and his friends in mortal danger. Despite the risks, he puts on a brave face, often rescuing our cousins – who are somewhat aimless without him – or sends them to cover while he handles the beastlies alone. Jack dictates the course of action and delineates the team, however, he can be wrong about the object they seek and what it does. Fortunately, his old magician ties and show biz connections are more fun, and the trio has a lighthearted, teasing banter – sick in bed Jack is stuck with the paperwork but he rings a bell so Micki will wait on him but his awkward stuffiness drags down his boys night out on the town with Ryan. It would have been neat to see more of their in store dynamics, and why does Jack get the crappy cold room downstairs next to the vault? Occasionally his absence isn't even addressed, but brief mentions of him off collecting Nazi materials remains interesting. I would have loved to see these occult aspects or secret societies and paranormal investigation plans as Friday the 13th allegedly intended to include, and “The Butcher” provides such German quotes, period accents, Norse mysticism, frozen Nazi escapes, and resurrection amulets. Torturous dreams delve into Jack's World War II past as he's reluctant to investigate the strangulation revenge, Neo Nazi thoughts, and extremist talk show hosts turned politicians unfortunately eerily relevant today. It's a frightful mix of real world horrors and fantastics explaining why Jack does what he does at Curious Goods and there should have been more episodes like this.

Unfortunately, Steve Monarque's (Under the Boardwalk) appearances as Johnny Ventura in two episodes this season don't bode well for his regular status to come in Season Three. It's odd to place “Wedding Bell Blues” back to back with a similar title, as the episodes are drastically different and the empowered pool cue, smoky billiard halls, and big haired bridezilla spend too much time away from team. The cliché hustling and filler, almost a spin off tone are apparent and so is Johnny's street wise attitude. He says he's not some dumb kid and wants to immediately know all the curse details – but he looks eighties old and figures out the secrets by breaking doors down, asking questions later, and missing the body in the freezer. The brief mention of Ryan and Jack on the hunt for evil snow shoes sounds more interesting than this laughably bad debut, for the best thing about this episode was my husband and I debating whether a mere pool cue stab through the torso could actually be so quickly fatal or if a good jam through the eye into the brain would have been better. Of all the ways for Friday the 13th to bring on a new character, the basic cool guy is the lamest way to go, and the robberies, shootouts, and penitentiaries gets worse in “The Prisoner.” Inmates trading a bloody invisibility bomber jacket, oh my! Johnny's nondescript in the joint solving a phantom murder over double crossed loot, everybody talks like James Cagney, and I don't care about a ridiculous crime of the week with a curse afterthought. R.G. Armstrong's lone appearance as the late Uncle Lewis is better trouble in the uneven premiere, and Elias Zarou's Rashid should have become a regular, creating a second mature duo with Jack to investigate more Old World occult. Likewise, Joe Seneca (Silverado) deserved more as a recurring voodoo expert. Certainly the budget was low, but more Curious Goods staff would have made recovering artifacts faster and built in more adventures to keep Friday the 13th going with the forthcoming cast changes. 

Understandably, the Friday the 13th: The Series – The Complete TV Series DVDs are not perfect remasters with an often dark print and uneven, low volume. The then-rad cars, bedazzled leather jackets with sleeves rolled up, and big sunglasses at night are still eighties steeped alongside tight white leggings, off the shoulder shirts but giant shoulder pads, and high-waisted acid wash jeans. But wow those poofy huge wedding dresses and patterned ties on top of super shiny dress shirts and striped sports jackets – woof! When not faced with crimped side ponytails and convertibles driven by yuppies with yellow sweaters tied over their shoulders, the forties-esque glam and Stray Cats mini fifties revival create a neo noir mix with moody red lighting, blue neon, flashlights, and spooky fog. Basic green screen effects, old school shadow schemes, and the somewhat unfinished looking visuals remain eerily effective while the gray-scale moss, webs, and vines hit home the swampy underworld design. Sepia tints, snap shot still frames, and old style filming techniques add to the retro reels, classic clips, and pop music photo shoots – and folks had to go to a camera shop to rent a giant camera! Piles of papers, dusty old books, undeveloped film rolls, newspapers, mini cassettes, and tape recorders did research pre-internet the hard way, but record players, horseshoe phones, hefty televisions, and big answering machines invoke a bemusing nostalgia. Listening to the radio for news! Pharmacies that deliver? That car phone is just a receiver with a cord?! Look at that old five dollar bill as evidence one is from the future! Although some houses and locations are clearly revisited and the Fred Kreuger pizza face gore is good but common, the slightly cheap and fun styling embraces its low budget horror roots. That racy lingerie on the prostitutes, however, is actually a lot of clothing compared to today's uber skimpy!

Friday the 13th's Second Year is slow to start with more of the same cool cursed objects of the week repetitiveness thanks to a lot of episodes and a few letdowns. Despite its syndication success, the series missteps slightly by not going far enough with character developments or the full potential of its evil love, greedy wealth, and eternal youth opportunities. Fortunately, Friday the 13th's mix of horror, humor, nostalgia, and dark morality plays remains impressively ghoulish for old school audiences and scary anthology fans.