18 February 2021

Disappointing Science Fiction and Fantasy


Disappointing Science Fiction and Fantasy 😕

by Kristin Battestella

Sometimes you just want a good science fiction tale, comic book cuddle, or fantasy escapade. Unfortunately, none of these shows, adaptations, or recent films fit the sci-fi action or magical adventure bill. Pity.

Bloodshot – I used to love Valiant Comics such as Eternal Warrior and Timewalker, but their Unity crossover was one of the chases that really put me off collecting comic books and I'm still jaded about shared universe ambitions because of it. Likewise, this 2020 adaptation feels better left in 1994 where tween me wouldn't notice the PG-13 ripoff of Universal Soldier. International locations and exotic looks were for foreign market appeal pre-COVID, and the sun kissed sexy remains tame teen fantasy. The juvenile bad guys in socks with sandals dancing to “Psycho Killer” are terribly hip for a young audience yet the bound torment and physical violence would be for an adult viewer more familiar with an older comic book. Intruding humor and slow credits over the titular revival thirteen minutes in cut any momentum or mystery while voices and dialogue stay low as if to assure we can't hear the script and delivery are sub par. Tough one on one attacks, crunching bones, and personal assaults are real world grim compared to rah rah cool gunfire and grenades, and the successful resurrected realization feels hollow against the seemingly more interesting but unseen Frankenstein trial and error prior. Fast moving conversations leave little time to reflect; the camera is always on the move even when people are standing still, and personnel are defined by their enhancements instead of who they are. The evil organization is cool or screws up as needed, and the quirky IT support are stereotypically Black, Indian, or Asians incompetent for using open source code or geniuses for hacking the system. Aerial views, cityscape transitions, swimming babes, and pointless scenes without our subject break the point of view nightmares and no memories angst, but he can lift really heavy weights and punch through the sand bag so that makes all the trauma super! Serious debates are too brief as uninspired writing and direction place cool over substance – internal conflict and implanted recollections are less important than montages filled with facility tours, cutting edge equipment, biochemical tissues, neurons, microscopic zooms, computer screens, instantaneous travel, downloaded knowledge, and technological cheats. Snow versus fire, colorful red flairs, and overhead panoramas can't save anonymous shootouts, typical action chases, and same old road rage amid impersonal, overly complicated, and poorly choreographed fights that are slow motion banal or sped up in apparent post production compensation. The memory resets get old fast, and the overemphasis on unbelievable CGI and insipid world building matches the surprisingly uninspired Vin Diesel's (Pitch Black) chewing glass graveling. Egocentric doctor Guy Pearce (Brimstone) is fine as usual, but one on one scenes between them feel like they are in two different movies with Pearce standing out enough for us to wonder why this isn't told from the mad science perspective. Choices and consequences or commentary about America making dead soldiers daily when not selling technologically advanced warfare to the highest bidder get lost in the team laughing over the repetitive mission stories and penis jokes, and all the faux revenge to eliminate the competition seems like such convoluted work when the augmented team could have just grown to question the falsified intel. The dead revival revenge isn't as emotional as it should be, and ironically, if this had been a hard R in the nineties sans CGI with Pearce as Bloodshot and nothing to rely upon except the eponymous pain, it would have been sweet!

Cursed РThis 2020 ten episode Netflix season based on the Frank Miller comic retelling a young Nimue Lady of the Lake starts with clich̩ music and styles. The fantasy greenery, ruins, and fey magic, however, show promise as Nimue struggles with her budding powers, fearful village, and running away from her priestess mother. Castles, colorful bazaars, royal courts, and paladins versus fey folk set the scene, but the graphic novel, 300-esque scene transitions are disruptive and unnecessary in a medieval narrative with pyres, full moons, rituals, and magical people. Fiery flashbacks detail corrupt priests and burning violence, but it's tough to tell who or what's important between a drunk Merlin, shouting Uther, convenient powers, and poor action choreography with random running to and fro. Helpful weapons are both ignored or the basis for a mystical quest that doesn't really happen once the focus cuts away from Nimue too soon. Without the redundant bears, wolves, chases, and crap men, this would have been a much shorter four hours or even a Nimue movie. Anonymous henchman and undefined demons go back and forth while pieces of flashback events and everyone talking about what happened make for a sluggish pace and dragging structure. Villains in red and a headhunting Lancelot are defined simply by their garments, and all the fey wear weird brain braids to distinguish their characters as cryptic awe, blood rain, three headed babies, and flashback memories out of Nimue's point of view waste time. Interesting allies and refreshed Arthurian relations don't go anywhere because previous episodes' actions are constantly reiterated. Attention spans aren't that short Рespecially if we have built trust in the main character Рbut it seems like the show doesn't trust its lead when she is the best part. The modern, hooded, and emo men are jarring against fey remedies used to heal a paladin who attacked our Lady, a fine character moment lost amid bullies in pubs and who's got the sword hot potato. The first three episodes toil but skipping to Episode Six only begats stereotypical lesbian deaths and heterosexual triangles that again won't let our heroine stand on her own. Parental twists aren't shocking, and there is no attempt at holding the sword properly or training in any kind of skill or magic because the past Рwhere we apparently should have been thanks to sooo many flashbacks Рis more important. Rather than a character telling his murderous regrets where there's a chance for growth, the tires just keep treading between gory adult fantasy moments, redundant flashbacks, and young romance that don't go together. Had this not had Arthurian names, you wouldn't even recognize Camelot thanks to this formulaic Netflix mold. I kept watching more episodes than this deserved hoping it would get better but it doesn't.

Underwater – Maps and Mariana Trench headlines with obvious keywords such as dangerous, mystery, and anomaly open this 2020 sci-fi horror thriller starring Kristen Stewart (Lizzie) before an existential narration, contemplation over a spider circling the drain, and sexy camera gazes over her skimpy sports bra. Cluttered interiors, old hospital green, and crummy locker room congestion better set the silent ill at ease isolation before water cascades, structural breaches, and compromised pressure. Hectic running, rig damage, and bulkhead malfunctions are fine; herky jerky camera moments are okay. However both together aren't in media res destruction when we have no idea what's happening. Buckling metals, intercom static, and the frazzled viewpoint of our strung out engineer contrast the trying to sound hip tech lingo, and the poor science underestimates today's informed audience. The “I can't” women are shaky, weak, and coddled, and it's really weird that their tiny panties are one of many Alien imitations here. Captain Vincent Cassel (A Dangerous Method) provides facts on the situation as if he's in a different movie, and the lack of knowledge from the others make them seem like coeds on a tour that must be escorted to safety rather than adults who worked on the rig. Rising waters and airlock apprehension are relatable aquaphobia and claustrophobia, but unnecessary comic relief hampers heavy breathing, distress signals, and growling unknowns – breaking the inside and outside intercut tension before it's started. Repeatedly shouting, “Did you see that?” like this is Ghost Hunters does nothing when viewers can't see anything amid the murky darkness, hectic camerawork, and fast editing. Strange creatures are carried inside sans procedure or even a pair of gloves while they poke at the gooey tentacles. The supposed plan to exit across the perilous sea floor to another station seems forgotten as the survivors somehow stop inside every few minutes to remove their helmets – obviously so we can see the actors compared to something more practical like sliding up or locking down face shields. In 1986 Aliens had their bottom barrel marines outfitted with better gear, but this team has no cameras, infrared, or tracking equipment. Of course, there's time to point out product placement Cheetos and Moon Pies in the flotsam, yet speculation about this being their fault for drilling too far down is a throwaway line rather than true foreshadowing. The camera refuses to stay still as intriguing creatures attack the suit sacred while spins and whooshes divide the team for cliché sacrifices and derivative dangers. Visual suggestions that our emo engineer is cracking amid further separation and radio silence would be understandable except she was already frazzled before the disaster and not because of any ominous discoveries. Any reference to seemingly precious glasses or necklaces is dropped, for wearing elbow and knee pads with your tiny bra and panties is apparently more important than having our protagonist struggle, and having her solo on the trek or having known the creature truth all along would have been better intense. What happens next is left to classified files and cover up headlines as the credits roll, and conspiracies explaining it was all Cthulhu were post-production decisions only realized on the movie's Wikipedia page. This could have been a harrowing tale, but the mishmash encounters, inexplicable characterizations, and poor action amount to a whole lot of nothing.

Couldn't Get Passed the First Episode

Beowulf: Return to the Shieldlands РThis 2016 thirteen episode British production starring Joanne Whalley (Willow) and William Hurt (Children of a Lesser God) aired stateside on the now defunct Esquire Network of all places. Opening beaches, chases, leather, axes, and swords show promise, but terrible and I mean terrible CGI monsters intrude upon the horses, medieval village, mead hall, and beautiful scenery like a bad cartoon. Rather than seeing the clich̩ boy hero raised by Hrothgar properly, Hurt is relegated to deathbed and flashbacks as grown up Beowulf returns with a serious chip on his shoulder, clashing with the modern banter and contrived who is who introductions. The court intrigue is frustratingly forced, and dear me oh my the music and opening titles are major, major, embarrassing Game of Thrones copycats. Guyliner ruins the smoke, banners, capes, and effigies while undynamic players struggle with weak dialogue. The setting the scene information dumps are much too much, people we just met get killed, and there's barely room for half the crowded cast. The trying to be suspicious or ominous tone is all over the place, creating villainous people and contemporary women when we already had one of literature's original villains Рand his mother. I know students may struggle with the epic in school, but the original is the best gateway compared to this running of a thousand year old story into the ground. If you don't have the budget for CGI, don't base you entire fantasy around it. Especially Beowulf, which I would love to see done without a visual Grendel, only the sounds at the door and the fear in the hall. Then again, why can't somebody just tell the poem like it is before they go and fuck it up? I hate being scathing, but names aside, nothing about this resembles Beowulf.

12 February 2021

Spanish Monsters and Mayhem

Spanish Monsters and Mayhem

by Kristin Battestella

Spend a late night with this retro trio of scares de España featuring saucy creatures, vampires, and wild heists...

Graveyard of Horror Heavy digging gets the camera dirty as lightning flashes and hearts pound in this immediately atmospheric 1971 Spanish twister likewise known under such juicy titles as The Butcher of Binbrook and Necrophagus. Dreary stonework, torches, ancient family castles, and gothic style set off the gloomy narration telling of desperate escapes and late wives. When our scientist returns home on the train – with an old lady who has a dead pig dripping blood in her suitcase for some random reason – his in-laws aren't exactly forthcoming about the fatal circumstances. They blame him for choosing his career over family, but shady doctors and a suspect death certificate acerbate the cemetery scares and dug up coffins. Hooded and masked figures roam the family vaults, and rumblings underneath the loose earth lead to creepy hands, monstrous eyes, growling, and screams. The bizarre is well done with what we don't see as the metamorphosis experiments gone wrong unleash mauling creatures to terrorize the kids playing in the snow. Sacrifices and boiling barrels get rid of the bones and heady evidence while the jealous ladies look over their shoulder as secret love letters and saucy dalliances come back to bite, stab, and slice them. Of course, all the nonsensical back and forth is terribly confusing and stereotypical dubbing with no original language and subtitles option hampers all the lookalike people. Zooms upon everyone's squinting eyes and heavy handed voiceovers laughably assure viewers know to be suspicious! I'm not even sure I know what's really happening here, yet somehow the spooky mood and eerie visuals provide a few fun surprises for a late night viewing.

Human Beasts – Paul Naschy (The Werewolf vs The VampireWoman) writes, produces, directs, and stars in the delicious sounding 1980 Spain/Japan co-production Carnaval de las Bestias. A knife sharpening Naschy at a candlelit dinner introduces the gangs, ferries, international intrigue, and diamond heist planning as grim portraits, skeletons, and chanting music set the macabre mood. With theft training, massage parlors, and a whiff of romance, this has a little bit of everything! Location transitions and exposition on the hold up technicalities move fast, and the decoy motorcycles, gunshots, and blood lead to double crosses, broken hearts, and vows for revenge. A girl can only take so much amid shootouts, sieges in forested ruins, and explosive booby traps. Perilous pursuits, river rapids, scorpions, injuries, and buried fortunes escalate as the action stumbles into suspicion and horror. Seemingly demure ladies come to the rescue, daughters of a doctor with a fine home, medicine, nudity, and seduction. Brief flashbacks of the love gone wrong mix with the voyeur point of view – someone is always watching, peering through the cracks between sisterly cat fights, horny veterinarians, and the master whipping the topless maid while she begs for more. A lot's happening for a seemingly low budget foreign production, but the gothic revival furniture, creaking rocking chairs, ticking grandfather clocks, antiques, and statues accent the amateur archaeology, scenic locales, and rural festivals. It's also nice that the Japanese people don't speak Spanish when no one else is around just for the sake of the audience. Squealing pigs, curing hams and sausages, more pills for the patient – our family doesn't care about our crook's past, he just needs to eat up and get healthy! What's a little spilled wine, thunderstorms, knives, and gory meat hooks? Ghosts aren't what they seem but dangerous staircases lead to attic surprises, leather aprons, and killer mysteries. Graveside visions of the doctor's late wife, nightmares, tolling bells, skulls – good girls go saucy and screams rise from the pigpen as the animals finish off the bodily evidence and it's wild stuff! While recent films often miss the mark in trying to get this mix right, the interwoven steamy, action plots, horror history, and cleaver scares here are surprisingly fun and well done.

A Naschy Bonus!

The Vampyre: Images from a Nightmare – This short twenty-four minute 2007 film starring Paul Naschy in one of his final appearances is included on the Human Beasts DVD. Although the credits and onscreen intertitles take up a few valuable moments and stereotypical strobe is overused, quotes based upon Dr. Polidori lend authenticity to the obviously low budget lighting and inadvertent shaky cam as a naive poet stumbles upon the sinister Lord Ruthven. Top hats, cloaks, candles, cobblestone streets, shadows, and iris tricks provide period flair and nods to silent horror, and even the faux Victorian ladies clothing looks okay as they strip down while under the vampire's spell. The Swan Lake music and little dialogue continues the silent homage, but the fade ins and outs between scenes that only last a few moments make this not so much scary, just weird – a group of odd, existential, arty, creepy vignettes as the titular neck nibbles mount. Despite feeling somewhat light on the actual The Vampyre story, this can be fun for fans of Naschy or viewers who like good gothic atmosphere. I feel like this is the kind of thing that should be projected on a billowing curtain at a spooky party.

08 February 2021

Home Invasions and Family Horrors


Home Invasions and Family Horrors

by Kristin Battestella

It's time for another round of contemporary family dramas mixing home invasion horrors, haunted houses, and supernatural intruders – the good, the bad, and the ugly.

Us – Lupita Nyong'o (12 Years A Slave) and Winston Duke (Black Panther) star in Jordan Peele's (Get Out) 2019 doppleganger chiller. Warnings of underground unknowns, VHS, retro boob tubes, and ye olde 1986 commercials for Hands Across America set the scene before Santa Cruz carnivals, Thriller t-shirts, dark beaches, thunderstorms, and fun house horrors. Her parents' banter was already strained before the trauma, and the now adult Addy hasn't told her husband of the experience, either. They return to her family home, but their daughter's too busy with her phone, the son's really too old to be playing with toys, and her oblivious to her discomfort husband wants to keep up with the Joneses with a cool boat. The spooky basement, cabinets big enough to hide in, and mirrors with reflections that seem to look back at you lead to the same eerie fun house, crazy beach folk, repeated twin moments, elevens, jinx, and double jinx. Peering through dark windows and talking with your back to a person layer visuals and dual suggestions while our husband jokes about what was in the hall of mirrors coming to get Addy and their rich white friends remain out of touch snobs more interested in alcohol and plastic surgery. Our Mr. thinks he can handle trespassers with threats and a baseball bat, but power outages and unresponsive lookalikes banging at the door make for a fearful home invasion. This unarmed, mid century beach house and its many windows aren't exactly secure, and the entire break in happens in real time without frenetic cameras and zorp boom music. Croaking, unaccustomed to speaking accounts tell tales of the tethered and shadowed receiving pain below while we have light and warmth above, and each of the underground confronts their compatriots with disturbing torments, freaky pursuits, and mimicking pantomime. Ironic Beach Boys cues and sardonic smart home devices are no help at all! Addy starts timid, but this threatened mother turns bad ass, angry, and desperate to save her son as the bizarre deaths and replacement reveals escalate with distorted reversals, fractured experiences, and not quite right through the looking glass. The timely titular we and the American initialization mirror the united privileged for some but underbelly torment for many. We kind of know what's what going in here and the wither tos and why fors aren't as important as the underlying social statements. However, drawn out, unnecessary moments and repeated, uneven showdowns make this a little long. Chases, defeats, and hard violence are easy or contrived depending on if the tethered is conveniently primitive and animalistic or agile and adept as needed. Elaborate underground talk and random fights don't explain how big this takeover is. Police are called but never arrive, both a horror trope as well as a commentary on the system, but the supposedly self aware genre send ups make characters stupid or erroneously humorous. Homages don't upend but play into the horror cliches as car keys are forgotten, no one worries about food or weapons bigger than a fireplace poker, and they get out of the car in the middle of the woods. And how did they get so many pristine, matching underground supplies? The final act explanations and intercut dance parallels descend into stereotypical horror with quick editing and that obnoxious zorp boom music, but with so many great things here, there's no need for generic horror designs. There are flaws, the audience must take a lot of leaps, and final twists should have been told in the big reveal rather than montaged at the end. Our writer/director/producer needed a tighter edit in the last act, but the excellent foreshadowing, dual visuals, and social commentary make for repeat viewings and scary entertainment.

An Unfortunate Skip

Marrowbone – An ill mother on the run with her children moves back to her dilapidated Maine home in this 2017 Spanish production co-starring Anya Taylor-Joy (The Witch). Old toys, vintage fashions, and retro cameras set the sixties scene as the family reverts to the titular house's maiden name, starting over with forest explorations, beach side fun with the pretty girl next door, and a summer to remember. Their dying mom insists they bury her in the garden and hide her death until the soon to be twenty-one oldest can legally keep the children together. Unfortunately, the terrible father they're fleeing arrives, and six months later the isolated children live in fear of ghosts, cracked and covered mirrors, stained ceilings, and a bricked up attic. A visit from the family lawyer needing house funds and paperwork signed provides forgery suspense and close calls on the ruse amid pesky raccoons, creaking sounds, and something moving upstairs. A lot of what's seen and heard is the kids scaring themselves, but they hide in a blanket fort and play The Beach Boys' “Wouldn't It Be Nice,” which are always good choices. The middle siblings, however, are unhappy at the oldest having all the fun while they're trapped at home, and they wonder if his girlfriend would be interested if she knew the truth. Newspaper clippings fill in the details, but the point of view should never leave the house. Contrived, jealous lawyer out to get them love triangles and blackmail are unnecessary, padding an already long run time with too many deflections. The nonsensical, non-linear revelations have both little foreshadowing yet obvious blackouts and head injuries cast doubt. What is real, supernatural, or unreliable? Within, within, around and around, leap after leap deaths, ghosts, delusions, truths, and twists descend into some kind of knock down, drag out fight yet the romance survives it all as the scares fall apart. If they never really happened, what is the point? This very thin concept would have been over fast if we saw each trope and twist in real time, and once again, maybe an outside eye should have told writer and director Sergio G. Sanchez (The Orphanage) enough is enough.

This Should Not Have Been A Horror Movie

The Darkness – Orange deserts, blue skies, Bear Grylls quips, and ancient evil stones ruin the sunny Grand Canyon vacation for Kevin Bacon (X-Men:First Class) and Radha Mitchell (Silent Hill) in this 2016 Blumhouse misstep from director Greg McLean (Rogue). Their son wanders away, falling into an underground cave and taking its ominous rune stones home. Mom works at home amid the hectic appliances and electronics but we don't know what she does beside grocery shop for liquor and let her son pick out any balloons or toys he wants while dad's at the office with a hot young thing. Creaking attic scenes and teen girl in the shower scares are unnecessary because not only are they never referred to again, but mom also has bathroom and swimming pool moments that amount to nothing. Most of the scares are fake – a startling reflection, loud television, dreams, the boy being weird, or the daughter screaming at her parents when they finally notice she's bulimic. The family doesn't discuss their issues, just sends the boy to grandma's house for snakes and cat shocks that the parents refuse to believe. Mom continually defends her son even after he sets his room on fire, wondering if this is karma for something they did but her husband thinks they shouldn't blame themselves for their children's behaviors because his autism is at fault. o_O The product placement for everything from Absolut Vodka to Diamond dollar store matches is bemusing and the photoshopped spirit in the family portrait is lolz, however the mystical Asian friend, making autism itself part of the scares, and blaming evil Native Americans are so, so not cool. But hey, an internet research montage explains that bad smells are demonic manifestations and there's even a grainy online video! A video which our wife sends to her husband's work email so he can look up supernatural autism abilities at the office! They head to the presidential hotel suite and make Gideon Bible jokes while admonished Spanish speaking healers wear turquoise to prove they can handle these bad Anasazi, and the research montage is shown again because nobody bothered to watch the end of video explaining about the stones. This playing at Poltergeist is a chore to finish, and the horror of a bad family would have been better as a straight drama with no supernatural try hard. If these parents had been paying attention before everything hit the fan, there wouldn't have been a problem. And who pays the price? The neighbor's dog dagnabbit.