28 February 2019

We're Beatles Certified!

Hello Music Fans!

I Think, Therefore I Review is now "Beatles Certified" thanks to my completion of The University of Rochester's The Music of the Beatles six week online course. 🏆

Since taking part in Turner Classic Movies' classes the past several summers via Canvas Network, I've been looking for similar online programs. The Music of the Beatles is presented through Coursera in a self-paced program that's extensive but not beyond semi-casual learners like me.


For The Music of The Beatles, Professor John Covach presents several videos each week, going album by album with historical information and song close ups breaking down the music craft and artistry of John, Paul, George, and Ringo. I didn't do as well on the final test as I should have - I missed some of the music theory questions on several songs from early on in the course. However I'm not perfectionist enough to retake the quiz for a higher score, although that is a nice option for students who are trying to maintain a much more professional level of achievement than little old me.

I need to clear my calendar, as I'm looking forward to joining the History of Rock & Roll and Music of the Rolling Stones courses also available from the University of Rochester.

Thank you Professor Covach for a fun and informative lesson!


18 February 2019

New Video Reviews at HorrorAddicts.net!

Hello, hello to all the Fellow Horror Lovers! 

Have you seen my latest Video Reviews for HorrorAddicts.net? Recent Topics of Discussion include Edgar Allan Poe and Dark Shadows!

Don't forget to follow my "Kbatz" tag at Horror Addicts for all my "Frightening Flix" reviews or visit My YouTube Channel for more videos. 

Writers near and far can also join me at the HorrorAddicts.net Online Writers Conference February 24-28 for more Author Videos, Workshops, and Chats. All Genres are included, not just Horror!

Local Frightful Enthusiasts will also be able to find me March 29-31 covering the NJ Horror Con for Horror Addicts. Can't wait to see you there! 

15 February 2019

Why I'm Disinterested in Awards Season

Why I'm No Longer Interested In Awards Season
by Kristin Battestella

I write a film blog.

However, for the past several years – perhaps longer if I'm honest with myself – I have had no interest in covering or following awards season. I don't watch red carpets or ceremonies nor wait for the fashionista and party reports. Afterwards, I barely notice the winners lists anymore. Often I don't notice if a film has won awards until after I come to review it, which is often months, even years after its initial success. Gasp!

I know what you're thinking: “You can't be a real movie blog if you don't live tweet every single award show! How dare you be late on a current film. Timely! Timely! Timely!”

Read on as I address the reasons behind my seemingly shameful award season fatigue, which I suspect audiences and fellow bloggers may have felt themselves but won't admit.

There are so Many Awards

The gala dinners, all the major awards shows, every single film critics association, all the best of lists, every film websites' polls voted on by you the viewer, all the twitter handles hashtagging their favorites....I am one film fan with a real life in addition to blogging and writing work. There's no way to keep up with each and every instance of all the acclaim. Stick to the biggies or go with your local critics? Favor a go to film website or live tweet yourself? Certainly, a real movie media professional should maximize that timely hit count with as many 300 word posts as possible and virtually grin over every single award moment with all the likes, follows, tweets, and shares. I no longer have neither the time nor the inclination to stay informed, and you have to choose carefully on which clout does earn your focus because...

Omnipresence equals Overrated

Maybe there aren't outrageous awards campaigns as there have been in the past, however that's because the contender uses social media instead. Every film creates a case for itself as the latest instant darling. In addition to advertising, merchandise, and tie ins, this puts all the awards favorites more so in your face than say, when you only saw the TV Spots or full page consideration ads in the trade papers. If I have no desire to see a movie, should I be pressured into seeing it because all the trending twitter topics put that picture in my inescapable view? Even if I want to see a piece, all the at your fingertips promotion creates an award bait fatigue long before a piece hits mainstream audiences. By time the major awards roll around, the hype is overrated and passe. I'm more likely to dismiss a piece that was overly popular and once talked about but now quickly forgotten.

But Contenders are few and far Between

Then again, there are often many critically acclaimed pieces that never reach wide release before awards season. Quiet, elusive films are consistently overrun by the blockbusters at the box office and thus become invisible releases no matter how decent they may be. Granted, it is easier to enjoy the awards if you have a horse in the race – one of these indie darlings to seek out because of the cast and director. However, my awards enthusiasm wane further reveals my increasing lack of viewing recent pictures. Though they have their purpose, I'm not crazy about all the popcorn flicks, and when I do watch something timely, it's often a clunker and I shouldn't have wasted my time. It's frustrating to see a faulty mainstream piece earn popular acclaim while an unusual release I did enjoy goes unnoticed. In spite of personal movie preference, when the nominations are so distorted in representing an askew box office increasingly sectioning off its pie between tent pole films and midsize or obscure offerings, its just downright dizzying to find good movies to watch.

Critics Lists are Just as Inaccurate

Every organization, city, state, region, website, YouTuber, and/or #filmtwitter has a yearly favorites list, poll, vote, or awards that likewise run the gamut between specialization or favoritism, and the great disparity between what the critics choose and what people like compromises the criticism. Why are old white men critics reviewing teen comedies or women's pictures? How can they accurately reflect the opinions of audiences so drastically different from who they are? Why are there so many old white male critics who's opinions are raised above all other voices when their views seem so grossly out of touch with cinema viewing habits? Diversity in film criticism has improved somewhat, however women and minorities still have too small a voice, and there needs to be a much more realistic range between the right critics watching the right films for the right audience. Rather than adoring their faves or marring their dislikes with nasty opinions, the old white guys should say if a film is not meant for them and who the audience should be, because believe it or not a lot of decent films are made for diverse viewers, and such pictures shouldn't have to fall on unwarranted opinions.

Watching Awards are a Chore

Trying to find an obscure channel for a secondary award show trying to prove how different and special it is, struggling with livestreams on a facebook page with floating likes hearts and stupid comments, or refreshing twitter every minute for live updates that aren't actually coming in real time each make it tough to enjoy the winners. On television there are commercials, stunts, comedy, songs, drinking, and flubs – and it is all so dang unnecessary. Ratings desperation and a false need to appeal to the latest cause, honor, or humor are completely obvious. Has no one every considered that people don't want to waste three hours on fluff and just want to hear the winners? If stars skip out to the parties and we at home read the results online, for whom then are these hackneyed ceremonies? Nobody knows how to present awards in a timely manner that both maximizes live viewing and instant answers. Every stage stunt, commercial, or crashing website only gives one another reason to tune out. Why should I bother to watch film ceremonies that leave the most critical technical awards to happen during television breaks?

Celebrations are in Bad Taste

In addition to all the in your face gimmicks, there are custom one time gala wears, luxury jewelry, outrageous gift baskets, gourmet foods, and deluxe liquor all priced in the thousands if I'm polite but really in the millions if I'm honest. Rather than being glamour we love and all aspire to emulate, the glitter and gold are just tacky in these austere times. Movie star luster is failing at the box office because their sassy twitter pages and strategically posed instagrams are ridiculously out of touch with the everyday audience. Mom, dad, and three kids with snacks and 3D pricing is not a weekly outing to the movies many families can afford. We are too busy worrying about paycheck to paycheck bills, healthcare, politics, violence, education, and so much more. Ultimately it's tough to applaud or even take some actors seriously as they project emotional truths however imaginary onscreen because they are all so let them eat cake living in a completely different world.

Hello Category Fraud

Let's not forget also how many trophies are awarded on you scratch my back and I'll scratch yours convenience rather than merit. Categories are toyed with to suit the seasonal favorites as lead actresses steal supporting categories and dramas compete in the musical or comedy groupings. Anonymous ballots from the governing bodies admit they don't see all the nominees, don't know who many of them are, and confuse the technical categories – letting ignorance and favoritism declare a default winner. This combines the hype for one, lack of attention for another, dismissing honors within the ceremonies, and carelessness of the numerous awards to be swayed, fudged, or gifted. With the right campaign or backer, awards are easy to come by at best and at worst flat out bought. Why should I take any of the accolades where they didn't really belong as legitimate when the associations won't uphold the merits themselves?

Too many Creeps have Praised Films

In the end, it's damn daunting to want to see a movie only to find it is surrounded by a terrible scandal. It's gross as a viewer tiptoeing around taboos, touchy as a film blog praising art, and downright uncomfortable for one and all. Who's problematic? Are there degrees of lesser evils where we defend those who aren't that bad in comparison to the criminally egregious? It's awkward at best to applaud the alleged or ambiguous and simply wrong to happily hand them gold as if there's been no trouble at all. You know who I mean without mentioning their names; we wonder if everyone is guilty by association or suspect films we enjoy even if they seem stain free. I want stars who received awards for working with nasty people to auction their trophies in support of charity. I want women to not attend ceremonies so all can see just how many seats are empty without them. I want minorities to storm the red carpets and show Hollywood just how many non-white employees there can be. I'm tired of lip service that honors victims on stage and then turns around to reward a statue to a creeper. Rather than making impressive strides to balance the abuses in their industry, each awards body lowers the bar by acting like no real world or behind the scenes problems exist. When Hollywood can't or won't accurately illume all its highs and lows, really what is there to cheer?

11 February 2019

Slasher: Season 1

Slasher is Macabre Mystery Fun
by Kristin Battestella

The eight episode 2016 Canadian cum Netflix anthology series Slasher provides potboiler mysteries and atmospheric scares in this debut season called The Executioner featuring Katie McGrath as Sarah Bennett, the baby survivor of a 1988 Halloween double murder who's return to town has inspired a new killer to don the original Executioner mantle.

Cowboy costumes and masked visitors lead to machete stabbings, pools of blood, gutted pregnancy bellies, and sirens to open “An Eye for an Eye” before contemporary drives, newspaper headlines, and nasty locals a flutter. Punk kids on the street and taunts from one dressed as the killer escalate to violent beatings and bodies in the woods. The original culprit is locked away, but tense prison chats raise more questions than answers on this copycat. Hidden basement cameras and video tapes featuring some surprising saucy intertwine our ensemble of friends and foes then and now amid fresh victims, serrated blades, and gory reveals. Despite some necking in the woods, “Digging Your Grave With Your Teeth” proves a killer on the loose is no joking matter thanks to cryptic notes and bloody fingers in the mail. Moving in montages and art gallery fix ups try for a fresh start, but homes where people were chopped up in the master bedroom aren't exactly hot on the market. Police ignore biblical clues, and ill advised party invitations begat power outages, back alley traps, and knife attacks. Many are on edge but others seem too cool in spite of mystery coordinates in the woods, overgrown caves, bones, and forensics. Voiceover flashbacks recount which husbands were caught on those homemade tapes, but newspaper scoops, gossiping neighbors, and jail cell religion aren't enough for police. Arguments show how haunted one and all still are by these crimes, and red light hospital emergencies only lead to more bleeding eyes, foaming mouths, and body contortions. Seemingly important characters don't stick around long on Slasher, and 1968 cruising, nostalgic tunes, and bridge disasters open “Like as Fire Eateth Up and Burneth Wood” while funerals and press conferences add to present guilt, arguments over absolution, and rat poison. The Executioner is still out there as bad business decisions come to light and bar room make outs turn sour. Subtle nods to Halloween's in the closet finale and When a Stranger Calls cranks layer the weird art gallery visitors and lackluster police protection. We don't know what the killer wants, but every victim has a past that's caught up to them thanks to highway scares, desperate confessions, and effective horrors as townsfolk point fingers at who's to blame or should be next. Stranded in the woods attacks and fatal dockside debts repaid are well filmed as this quaint town's interwoven secrets provide both red herrings and suspects begging for mercy.

Cremation, camouflage, and hunting scopes in “As Water is Corrupted Unless It Moves” seemingly reveals the murderer before more gunshots, traps in the forest, snakes, and search dogs. Friends debate the Old Testament over drinks, questioning the Seven Deadly Sins patterns and testing suspects with a process of elimination. Who is smart and dangerous enough to do such violence or is there more than one, a brains behind the brawn? Past mistakes, missing teenagers, and re-opened cases help pinpoint the next victim, but prayers for forgiveness only equate more deaths on Slasher. Strolls through the meadow in “Ill-Gotten Gains” stumble upon decomposing bodies as more family ties come to light and news reports question if the Executioner is a vigilante cleaning up a town where everyone seems to be hiding something. Jealousy, lust, and sloth become motives for crime, and on camera call outs lead to notes from the killer and twisted interviews. He only kills those who deserve to die – his victims are not innocent and the on air scoops toy with the truth. The body count rises, and repentance comes too late for sinners thanks to greed, hot oil vats, and chopping bodies into seven pieces. Upsetting abductions and assaults set off “The One Who Sows His Own Flesh” as basement revelations, knives, and escapes bring new accusations close to home. Reporters angle for a book deal while drug overdoses, prison fights, and prostitutes complicate the inconsistencies as former scandals and current cases collide with gunshots and fiery retributions. “In the Pride of His Face” revisits the revelations behind the 1988 Halloween stabbings, and big decisions need to be made between a divided marriage and career pride – the final, cardinal sin. Lists of who's next and suspicious websites lead to standoffs, seizures, and lumber saws despite unlikely father figures and flirtations. Kinky flashbacks establish the backward righteousness and twisted sense of justice among killers with self-sacrificing gore. Fake outs in broad daylight would suggest the crimes are over, but tokens from the killer lead to an interesting aftermath. Slasher doesn't just end with the last kill but shows how this town still can't quite move on in “Soon Your Own Eyes Will See.” Their darkness brought this murderer to light thanks to Halloween tears, regrets, and confrontations. Slasher's most chilling crime is done silently – a disturbing act answering when one asks for truth and forgiveness. Obsessions and one final piece of evidence tie the slicing and dicing retribution together as all Slasher's secrets come full circle.

Katie McGrath's (Merlin) likable child survivor Sarah Bennett just wants to put the past behind her, but the truth about her swinging parents doesn't help ease the shocks lingering from their murder. Sarah doubts if this move home was the right decision and she tries to paint again, but the unraveling juicy history keeps her on edge. She's suspicious of everyone and wonders if the murders have begun again because she tried to kill herself in the past. Is she a target of this new Executioner or an object of his obsession? Nasty neighbors blame her for willing out their shady – Sarah learns how to blackmail and snoop where she shouldn't. The cops don't like her Nancy Drew interference either, but she know the toll these lies have cost her and her loved ones. Sarah wants revenge, and rather than running away, she chooses to take matters into her own hands. Brandon Jay McLaren (Graceland) as Sarah's husband Dylan likewise hopes settling here is the right choice, however his job at the local newspaper quickly conflicts with his wife being part of the story. He respects whatever Sarah wants to do, but his publisher Mayko Nguyen (ReGenesis) wants him to hobnob with national reporters coming to cover the murders. These television interviews turn into competitions on how far one is willing to go for the big headlines, and Dylan enjoys being on camera. He says he can work with the police in sharing this story or tell the murders his own way, and leveraging death to advance compromises his integrity – as does interference from Sarah's sassy grandmother Wendy Crewson (Saving Hope). She dislikes Dylan and wants to protect Sarah, but she has a history of her own full of regrets, lies, and guilt. Of course, a murderer's insights are best for catching this new copycat, and Patrick Garrow's (Killjoys) original killer Tom Winston says he can be Sarah's catharsis. He tells her the truth – if only because Tom still thinks his actions are righteous and bringing sinners like her parents closer to light. Although her visits to him are at times repetitive with an as needed philosophical nugget or some leaving things cryptic cat and mouse for the sake of it, this isn't a hammy villain. Tom has some multi-dimensional demons and creepy obsessions, helping Sarah think like a killer yet wanting a a lock of her hair in exchange for a newspaper exclusive. It's pleasing that Slasher also has some gay representation, but our sassy, snobbish couple enjoys it when people get confused by one of them having a gender neutral name. While Christopher Jacot's (Eureka) realtor Robin talks about paint and potpourri, his husband has video sex behind his back before showering Robin with gifts. Our gay BFF helps Sarah snoop on the interconnected community history, and Slasher stereotypically uses the shady business transactions, hefty price tags, and fatal drug use as its gluttony and hedonism sins. Steve Byers (The Man in the High Castle) as policeman Cam Henry comforts Sarah and offers his support despite his own marital problems. However, he too warns her about looking into things best left undisturbed – including the naughty proclivities of his minister father. Likewise Dean McDermott as (Due South) Chief Vaughn belittles Cam and admits he doesn't care if the Bennetts think he stinks at his job, but he has disturbing secrets, too.

Blood, Halloween scares, and shocking slices add atmosphere to the sleepy neighborhood of Slasher. Real houses with vintage brick and woodwork should be quaint and safe – everyone walks from place to place, but bloody limbs, gory bedrooms, hidden cameras, and saucy VHS tapes accent the murderous real estate history. Fireworks build fear as frenetic editing reveals sinister amputations, tied up victims, and screams contrasting the smooth tracking and on location camerawork. Distorted voice effects for the killer set off this askew sense of righteousness while every snapping twig or stumble in the woods makes nature seem suspect alongside snakes, medieval hoods, and creepy taxidermy. Although tablets, Skype, convenient CCTV footage, and smart phones used as flashlights, recorders, and microphones keep the audience at a somewhat technical arms length; red lighting, spooky silhouettes, and shadows in the background frame create suspense. The occasional herky jerky scares and warped distortions are unnecessary, but there's no in your face boo shock when the killer walks unseen behind the victim. The audience sees and fears for the intended, and that innate is chilling enough. Water filming and violence are well done as are more creative deaths fulfilling biblical punishments, yet Slasher doesn't waste time with anything overly flashy or artsy. Despite the disturbing subject matters, there aren't many scandalous visuals or outrageous gore for the sake of it extremes. One should, however, avoid eating at the local fast food place lest one finds an ear, and instead of Google, these Canadian protagonists must use the fictitious “Colossal” in their abstract rural town. The cell phone will ring loudly to make one and all jump if need be, too – or vibrate gently when a message is to be missed. One poor cop is always strangled or knocked unconscious when on stakeout duty, but others joke about it onscreen. We notice these winks, but Slasher plays upon those horror movie cliches rather than falling prey to today's typical genre styles thanks to creator Aaron Martin (Degrassi: The Next Generation) and director Craig David Wallace's (Todd and the Book of Pure Evil) focus on one cohesive whodunit. Episodes and plots aren't constrained by toppers per act or commercial break hooks the way American network television relies on the old “same Bat time, same Bat channel” returns.

While there's time for a resolution – so often horror ends without giving us any authorities or what happens next response – Slasher may not have a lot of repeat value once you figure out who the killer is. I had suspicions, dismissed them, suspected again, and was right all along. Like others in the increasingly popular seasonal or speculative anthology format, it might be easy to call Slasher an American Horror Story knockoff. However, the shorter episode order here keeps Slasher a more taught, multi-layered mystery without toiling or fantastical tangents dragging on for those aforementioned stay tuned frights. Slasher has chilling scares, choice gore, and creative kills accenting intriguing, shout at the TV mysteries perfect for an event night marathon with macabre friends.