25 July 2018

Appaloosa (2008)

Appaloosa A Quiet, Character Western
by Kristin Battestella

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

20 July 2018

We're Mad About Musicals!



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

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



16 July 2018

Tales from the Crypt Season 4

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

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

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

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

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

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

13 July 2018

Horror Movie Cliches I'm Tired of Seeing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What clichés in horror movies are YOU tired of seeing? 


08 July 2018

Science Fiction and Fantasy Collisions

Science Fiction and Fantasy Collide!
by Kristin Battestella

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

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

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

A Bonus Documentary

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

I'm not Even Sure...

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

'Twas Embarrassing!

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