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April 1, 2020

Static Age #9: Ultra Q (1965 – 1966) [Complete Series 01]

Ultra Q (1965 - 1966) [Complete Series 01] BD box art.
This Static Age is focusing on Ultra Q (1965 – 1966), ‘The classic series that launched the Ultraman franchise’ as per the back cover of Mill Creek Entertainment’s excellent Region A Blu-ray box-set [Complete Series 01], which contains of all 28 episodes in their original Japanese language (DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0) with optional English subtitles and a stunning 1080p High-Definition 1.33:1 transfer. The set also comes with a gorgeous booklet that is featuring the ‘Tsuburaya: A History’ article which is an excellent introductory piece to the series, and several guides (episode, monster, character, and technology).

Toho Studios alumni Eiji Tsuburaya, one of the legends behind celluloid monsters such as Godzilla and Mothra, jumped into the small screen in order to create a mystery/sci-fi series, but the networks to which he sold the production while still in developing stages demanded for monsters and finally monsters he did deliver. This was the most expensive Japanese television series up to that point, and it spawned spin-offs (more than any other series in the history of the medium) and merchandize that is still celebrated to this day.

‘Defeat Gomess’ is about the titular bipedal monster that unexpectedly comes out of an excavation site and is keen on destroying props and sets, until the flying monster Litra shows up and aims to stop it. ‘Goro and Goro’ takes place in Wild Monkey Research Institute which is located at the Amagi Mountains, where a mute worker accidentally feeds a monkey with some hormones that turn him into a gigantic monster and is quick to escape and visit the city in order to find his old pal. ‘The Gift from Space’ is about some Martian capsules that arrive on planet Earth and are mistaken from gifts, but they turn out to grow in spherical manner into some sort of eggs that give birth to a snail-like monster called Namegon. ‘Mammoth Flower’ tells the story of Juran, the flower that becomes gigantic and attacks the city of Tokyo, while the army wants to destroy it and the scientists to study it. ‘Peguila is Here!’ is about the titular monster and its dirty deeds in Antarctica. The comedic ‘Grow Up! Little Turtle’ is about a schoolboy that dreams of its pet turtle becoming big enough to carry him on its back; when he is kidnapped by armed bank robbers, the pet turtle does indeed grow large and saves him from the criminals. In ‘S.O.S. Mount Fuji’ the titular volcano erupts and gives new life to the monster Gorgos. In aptly titled ‘Terror of the Sweet Honey’ a group of scientists invent a special honey, the side effect of which is gigantism; when it falls on the hands of the wrong person, he uses it in order to create the Mongula monster. ‘Baron Spider’ is an awesome episode about gigantic spiders. ‘The Underground Super Express Goes West’ is about the titular new train, in which Ippei mistakes his suitcase with one that contains the M1 substance, which of course turns into a monster onboard. ‘Ballonga’ is a creature that materialized out of blob and it now feeds upon fuel and energy while threatening the streets of Tokyo.I Saw a Bird’ is about – well, a bird, named Kuro, part of the Larugeus species, that turns gigantic. ‘Garadama’ is featuring one of the most awesome monsters in the series, that was spawned by two falling meteorites, no less. Peguila returns in ‘Tokyo Ice Age’, only to find the Haneda airport completely frozen, in the middle of the summer, which is probably due to the work of the nearby nuclear reactor. In the blatantly anti-capitalist ‘Kanegon’s Cocoon’, a kid that is always thinking about money (the root of all evil?) turns into the money-eating monster. Garamon Strikes Back in – ahem! – ‘Garamon Strikes Back’ in which a mysterious man in black straight out of classic noir films steals a Tilsonite sample from the Astrophysics Research Center labs, while a bunch of Garadamas are about to crash to earth. In ‘The 1/8 Project’, Yuriko enters the facilities of a size reduction science project in order to find an interesting story, but instead she becomes the experiment’s subject and turns into a small person; is there a way back? The spectacular ‘The Rainbow’s Egg’ episode is featuring the awesome Pagos monster. The – amusingly relevant to watch now – ‘Challenge from the Year 2020’ is about a series of disappearances initiated by a mysterious blob, that had been predicted by an equally mysterious book. ‘The Primordial Amphibian Ragon’  is about the titular Jill Man-like creature that may have something to do with the sinking of the Japanese archipelago.

And now, let’s switch our focus towards some recent shows…

Gotham (2014 - 2019) - Season 5
It’s all-out war in the 5th season of creator Bruno Heller’s Gotham (2014 – 2019) as every arch villain and semi-good guys join forces or part ways against a variety of menaces that force everybody to arm themselves and their friends, or their enemies as well, or people that are both, in this tired final outing in the series. The set and costume design are top-notch (and the only time Gotham echoed Tim Burton’s excellent 1990s take on it), but the awful CGI hurt the end result a lot.

In the 3rd season of Netflix’s Chilling Adventures of Sabrina (2018 – ongoing), the titular teenage witch (the alarmingly gorgeous Kiernan Shipka) is now the leader of hell (after inheriting the place from her father, the Dark Lord, in the previous season), but her newly found power is not enough to help her overcome a variety of mortal and immortal struggles such as school problems and competition from other demons and such. And if all that is not enough, somewhere along the middle of the season, a bunch of uninvited Pagan believers show up and threaten the existence of our beloved Satanists in this time and place. Created by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, the series are full of Satanism and feminism and other isms that make the world a better place, and as such it should be cherished.

Doctor Who (2005 - ongoing) - Season 3
The 3rd season of Doctor Who (2005 – ongoing) finds the eponymous alien protagonist (the immensely sexy David Tennant) with a new sidekick in the form of medical student Martha Jones (the beautiful Freema Agyeman), and together they will fight all sorts of monstrous menaces and the Daleks, of course. In ‘The Shakespeare Code’ the leading duo gets to meet the legendary British author (Dean Lennox Kelly), who turns out to be a womanizer. ‘Gridlock’ finds the leading duo against clawed space monsters that resemble crabs. ‘Daleks in Manhattan’ and ‘Evolution of the Daleks’ takes place in 1930s Depression era New York when the Daleks are involved with the construction of the Empire State Building; the episodic duo is also featuring some exceptionally stylish period stage dancing, led by the gorgeous Miranda Raison, as well as future Spider-Man Andrew Garfield in the role of Frank. ‘The Lazarus Experiment’ is a spectacular episode about the titular doctor (Mark Gatiss) who is using a de-aging machine that aside from making him younger also turns him into a spider-like monster underneath. ‘Human Nature’ and ‘The Family of Blood’ are two very interesting episodes about The Doctor goes back in time to 1913, where as a human he falls in love with a nurse (Jessica Hynes) while he also has to battle against a mob of scary-looking scarecrows. The season finale is quite amazing as well.

And finally, please allow me to speak a word or two about some recent mainstream films…

Rambo: Last Blood (2019) poster
Rambo: Last Blood (2019), directed by Andrian Grunberg, is following the last (as per the title) adventure of Rambo (Sylvester Stallone), which finds him in Mexico, looking for his kidnapped protégé girl (Yvette Monreal), whom the local drug cartels turned into a heroin-shooting junkie prostitute. Of course he manages to free the young woman (and killing a few johns in the process), but she soon dies in her arms. With the gangsters now looking for him, Rambo is transforming his secluded barn into a warzone field in which he will slaughter an army of Mexican baddies in many inventive ways. Boring at times, and exciting at others, and even occasionally racist, the white gunman that republican America loves has seen better days as this is the weakest opus in the franchise. It’s a pity though, as the pitch sounded promising.

Jumanji: The Next Level (2019), directed by Jake Kasdan, is yet another sequel in which the titular game (this time a video game, rather than the original’s board game) sucks in a bunch of players that are subjected to all sorts of comedic adventures in its jungle. Many stars are cast (Dwayne Johnson and Jack Black, as well as the leggy Karen Gillan) but the screenplay is too weak, resulting in a boring product. However, it went on to gross $790.9 million on a $132 million budget, so unfortunately we should expect more of the same.

Doctor Sleep (2019) poster
Doctor Sleep (2019), directed by one of the best directors of the last decade, Mike Flanagan (who also penned the screenplay, based on Stephen King’s novel), is following the adventures of the adult Dan Torrance (Ewan McGregor) who is trying to protect people that can do ‘The Shining’ from the immortal gypsies of ‘The True Knot’ that feed upon them. The extended version that I watched was 3 hours long, making it one of the longest horror movies ever (if not the longest). It is a bit of a problematic film, mainly because the villains are not that interesting and we do spend a lot of time with them seeing them talk to each other. However, thanks to the talents of Flanagan the scares are creepy enough to give you shivers.

Yet another mediocre entry in a franchise that is much too tired by this stage, director J.J. Abrams’ Star Wars: Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker (2019) has some of the best CGI you are likely to see (and how could it not with such a mammoth budget?) but not much else, and the less said about it the better. Daisy Ridley is a doll, but she still can’t salvage the end result.

The Nightingale (2019) poster
Set in 1825 (and in the Tasmanian area in particular), writer/director Jennifer Kent’s The Nightingale (2018) is a ‘rape and revenge’ art-house drama unlike anything you have seen before. The female lead, an Irish convict (the immensely beautiful Aisling Franciosi), is gang raped in front of her husband and baby child by a group of British soldiers (led by Sam Claflin) that then proceed to kill both her man and their baby, leaving her for dead as well. She then hires black man (Baykali Ganambarr) to guide her through the forest wilderness in order to track down the soldiers and extract revenge. Art horror at its best, both feminist and anti-racist, this epic (exceeding the 2 hour mark) is one of this year’s most important releases.


Director Cathy Yan’s Birds of Prey: And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn (2020), featuring a title that gives a certain Ray Dennis Steckler feature a run for its own, is another superhero film that takes the R-rated approach combining violence with inappropriate humor. The plot concerns – of course – Harley Quinn (the ever so beautiful Margot Robbie) who in order to save her life from the evil Roman Sionis (Ewan McGregor, looking great as a villain) agrees to find him a diamond that he lost. Featuring the best costume design I’ve ever seen in a superhero movie (the aforementioned female lead and male lead wear stunning rock star-like pieces), this essentially a chase movie that is suffering from a boring first half but gets redeemed by an exciting second one.

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March 23, 2020

Olivia (1983)

Movie Review by Greg Goodsell

Directed by Ulli Lommel

Five-year-old Olivia lives with her prostitute mom (Bibbe Hansen) in a rathole apartment near London Bridge. She later views her mother’s brutal murder at the hands of a john through a keyhole while refusing help. Olivia (Suzanna Love, Mrs. Ulli Lommel) grows up to be a young housewife, routinely abused by her mechanic husband (Jeff Winchester). Still residing in the shadows of the bridge, she is drawn to the prostitutes who regularly congregate there. On a whim, she dresses up as a hooker and lures a customer back to his mannequin-strewn apartment (similar to Joe Spinell’s digs in Maniac, 1981) and kills him. In the meantime, architect Mike Grant (Robert walker, Jr.) works with local authorities to relocate part of London Bridge to Lake Havsu, Arizona as part of a planned community and tourist attraction. While scouting locations, Mike becomes entranced with Olivia’s prostitute persona, and the two begin an affair. Olivia’s husband catches wind of the affair and angrily confront Olivia and Mike at the bridge, and is thrown into the Thames and is presumed drowned. Overcome by emotion, Olivia runs tearfully away …
 
Until four years later, when Mike, after successfully transporting the bridge to Arizona, takes note of a young real estate agent (love in her natural brown locks). Confronting her, Olivia confesses her masquerade and begins sporting her stringy blonde locks and slinky clothes in order to please Mike. Things are going just swell, but as usual a menacing figure from her violent past returns.

Director Lommel began as an actor in Werner Fassbinder’s films, his directorial debut being the exceptional serial killer film Tenderness of the Wolves in 1973. He would migrate to the United States and make the striking The Boogey Man in 1981. Olivia, also known variously as Prozzie and Double Jeopardy is generally considered his last great film before he descended into execrable shot-on-video horrors before his death in 2017 at the age of 72.

As can be expected, Olivia takes Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo (1958) and mashes together bits of other thrillers popular of that era. What is remarkable is that it seems to have indirectly influenced the works of later films by other directors … Olivia’s hooker drag seems to have inspired Kathleen Turner’s China Blue character in Ken Russell’s Crimes of Passion (1985). Working with less than peanuts, Lommel here expertly mixes up an atmosphere of dread, lust and eroticism and makes his budgetary limitations work for him. Using no less than five cinematographers, Olivia looks great, contrasting dreary London exteriors with the desert beauty of Arizona. The film’s finest feature is Joel Goldsmith’s music score, mixing in ominous synth soundscapes with delightful piano concertos. This cries out for a separate music release! While Vinegar Syndrome has done a stellar job with its restoration (including a knockout limited slipcover edition) by its own admission, parts of the audio was sourced from VHS sources, leading to some muffled moments and dropout.

Extras on the DVD/Blu-Ray release include “Becoming Olivia,” a fascinating interview with Lommel’s former muse and ex-wife, who offers tidbit on the director’s traumatic childhood and how it informed his work. Another interview, “Taking on Many Roles,” with screenwriter John P. Marsh explains the creative processes used by both him and Lommel and how he was called upon to be an art director later on in the project. “A Chance Meeting” features cinematographer Jon Kranhouse and how he had to wring lighting miracles out of thin air. “Learning from Ulli,” a chat with the film’s editor Terrell Tannen sums up the fact from the previous interviewees that one worked with Lommel for the fun and the experience, and not for the money and details one of the director’s ethically challenged, “creative financing” techniques.

The packed DVD and Blu-Ray combo also includes Super-8 behind the scenes footage and the film’s theatrical trailer under the Double Jeopardy title. Fans of the unusual and marginal should make Olivia an essential purchase.

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March 4, 2020

Inhumanwich (2016) Movie a Review


About 98% of the time I watch modern, indie horror films, I’m disappointed. The kind of disappointment your mother feels whenever you leave the house in your cut off sweats, the raggedy-ass Iron Maiden t-shirt from high school, and that damned baseball cap you got free for being the millionth customer at the local Choke and Puke.

So what about the other 2%? That, my friends, is an ever-widening circle that’s filling with pleasant surprises and genuine delight at the few indie horror movies I’ve enjoyed. I’m actually  starting to compile a list of these films, as I think they will deserve a future shout out.

And this film, ridiculously titled but so apropos, has made that 2% list.

Inhumanwich tells us the story of Joe Neuman, astronaut extraordinaire, flying in a rocket that employs the latest in artificial gravity technology. When it’s functioning, he can engage in all sorts of activities normally impossible in zero-gravity space, including eating his favorite sandwich, a Sloppy Joe. Unfortunately, this new tech is powered with radioactive materials and, as you might guess, something goes wrong.

After the rocket is pummeled by meteors, the artificial gravity device ruptures, and radioactive material leaks into the cockpit. In the resulting tumult, Joe falls on top of his Sloppy Joe, right smack dab in the middle of a puddle of Danger Fluid, as the capsule crashes to earth. Joe mutates into a giant blob of meat that devours everything and everyone it his path.

It’s up to the crack scientists and analysts back at the space shop to figure out what the hell happened, and how to stop Joe’s ravenous rampage!


This is one of those films where you can tell the people making it are just having the time of their lives. I don’t think anyone planned to make a movie that was groundbreaking, thought-provoking, life changing, or explored any deep thoughts of human nature. This was 100% pure entertainment. (think Blown, with CHC’s very own Kevin Moyers, Jeff Dolniak, and David Hayes)

It’s shot in black and white, so it has a nice throw-back feel to the monster movies of the fifties and sixties. The dialogue is super corny, which also adds to the vintage feel. The jokes themselves don’t just poke at the Velveeta cheese humor, but goes so far as to make that chili cheese dip from the commercials, and everyone swims in it with great gusto. In fact, I had to pause the movie TWICE because I was laughing so hard.


The sound, editing, and cinematography are of a much higher quality than I expected. So often the sound effects are louder than the dialogue; editing is sloppy; and many film makers don’t know what cinematography is, let alone know how to execute it. This film was well made from start to finish.

Now, does that mean it has no flaws? What, are you new here or something?

Most of the acting is pretty bad. The top three characters – Ed Farley (Matt Laumann), Dr. Chang (Michael Peake), and Floyd (Jack Burrows) – were the best of the bunch. Lisa Neuman (Kayla Clark) wasn’t too bad, and she actually stole a scene where she never spoke, but kneed an overzealous soldier in the nuts. Most everyone else was over-acting, just there as a favor to the filmmakers, or so awkward he kept half smiling at every line of dialogue or looked into the camera. coughcoughMattSpahrcoughcough. But in indie horror, I don’t really expect Gary Oldman levels of talent, you know?

The CGI is, obviously, terrible. But even in low-budget, I’ve seen better. I can only speculate they did that on purpose. Gods know the technology of the classic monster movies is rather crap, so it could be a nod to that. Or it was the best they could afford and has nothing whatsoever to do with nostalgia or paying homage to the bygone era of film.

I don’t want to end on a negative, so I’ll share with you one of my favorite jokes from the movie (I’d spoil the climactic ending if I shared my second favorite):

Lisa finally arrives at the space institute after hearing about Joe’s accident:
“I got here as fast as I could.” “Well, maybe you should try harder next time.”

Maybe that doesn’t sound super hilarious delivered so dryly on paper, but trust me, within the context of the film, it’s HIGH-larious.


3.5 hatches (out of 5)



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March 1, 2020

A Binge too Far #9: 30 Days of Night duo (2007 – 2010)

Josh Hartnett as Eben Oleson in a frame from 30 Days of Night (2007)
In the 9th installment of A Binge too Far I am offering you some brief thoughts on the 30 Days of Night duo (2007 – 2010) which I criminally neglected seeing until now.

Reviews:

30 Days of Night (2007) poster
30 Days of Night (2007)

Set in a small town in Alaska where each year the sun doesn’t rise for 30 days once every year, director David Slade’s film is focusing on the struggle the town’s habitants face when they are attacked by uninvited strangers that look like vampires and slaughter everything that’s alive in order to drink blood.

Based upon the same-titled comic book, this is featuring monstrous and animalistic vampires that offer brutal scenes of excellently-done gore. More importantly though its atmosphere is echoing that of Fargo (1996) and not just because the snow setting.

30 Days of Night: Dark Days (2010)

Stella Oleson (Kiele Sanchez) lost her husband in the events of the first film, and after spending a year travelling the world making a fool of herself preaching about the existence of vampires, she returns to the same small town in Alaska in order to fight the leader of the vampires Lilith (the ever-gorgeous Mia Kishner).

Slow, tedious, and boring, director Ben Ketai’s film cannot be salvaged by the occasional interesting set-piece. Its practical effects may be great, but its CGI are awful. Maybe its most memorable aspect is the great soundtrack by Andres Boulton.

Afterword:


Back in 2007, the spin-off series 30 Days of Night: Dust to Dust, consisting of 6 episodes, and 30 Days of Night: Blood Trails, consisting of 7 episodes, also saw the light of the day (although it was obviously dark days), on FEARnet, but I haven’t seen those, nor am I planning to.

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February 21, 2020

Clownado (2019) Movie Review


I’m not exactly sure when the tipping point came in the horror/comedy genre, where filmmakers felt the need to incorporate weather phenomena into EVERY FUCKING STORYLINE that involved some kind of predatory animal, usually sharks. Well, not to be outdone, the carnival circuit wants in on the fun, too, and so we have...

CLOWNADO.

I. Shit. You. Not.

Writer, director, and editor, Todd Sheets, brings us the tale of a traveling circus and its troupe of murderous clowns. Head clown, and circus owner, Big Ronnie, finds his darling wife, Savanna,  having an affair with Cash (a guy, not a pile of currency). The two are planning to rob the circus, then run away to start a new life together with their unborn baby. As you might imagine, Ronnie has a problem with that plan. He murders Cash, but keeps Savanna around to humiliate and abuse her.

Well, Savanna ain’t having that shit, so she asks her friend to perform a spell to trap Ronnie and his clown crew in a giant tornado. Might have been more generic, as in ‘get rid of that asshole for me’ but that’s how the magic interpreted it. Either way...it’s a weird way to go. However, it works. The group is swept up into Mother Nature’s vacuum cleaner, and Savanna hits the road, hoping to never see Ronnie again.

Unfortunately, she can’t run far enough. The clownado rips across the country, wreaking havoc and killing everyone, as the clowns seek revenge against the woman who cursed them.



*wipes hand across face*  Where do I begin...

The problem with films that have a multitasking crew member (writer, director, and editor comes to mind...) is that one, or all, of those jobs are weaker for it. To me, the editing and writing have suffered here. The film looks and feels choppy, particularly during the kills. Editing is a great way to save funds on special effects and whatnot, but maybe a separately dedicated editor could have done a better job, and made me feel less seasick.

What the hell are we watching, dude?

The general story itself is clear, but Todd adds in way too many moving parts. Character  development is rushed and incomplete; plot holes abound, or aspects to the cursed clowns are brought up once then never explored; and the whole idea that the heroes need to stop the tornado itself to end the killer clowns’ destructive spree, but once the clowns are killed off by good old-fashioned guns or some stabby-stabby with a knife, then the absolutely ridiculous “scientific” method of ending the tornado becomes a moot point, doesn’t it?

The dialogue is so cringe worthy. A lot of similes and metaphors are thrown around, and the cadence is more in line with the noir gangster films of the 1940s (or Rocky from Bugs Bunny). In line with that, the acting is (wait for it....) less than stellar. It’s not the most horrible I’ve seen; I never felt the need to turn off the film because the performances were so terrible, except perhaps during Big Ronnie’s scenes. I don’t know if he was trying to channel The Joker (whichever incarnation you want to imagine, or maybe all of them) but he chewed up his scenes with more gusto than a rabid hyena.

And, unfortunately, the ninety seconds of screen time Linnea Quigley brought to the bar owner character was not enough to save...anything. Neither did the gratuitous naked titties, nor the lesbian make-out sesh.

Now, all that said, there are a few things I did enjoy. The kills are about 95% practical effects. There are a few blood splatters that are CGI, along with the storm footage and the final kill, but the rest is a good mixture of rubber, silicone, fake blood, and gooshy stuff to entertain, even in their “that’s not how the human body is built or works but whatevs” extremity.

The Gacy Fan Club Board of Directors

And there were two points in the film where I laughed out loud. This is a comedy, so it was planned that way, I’m sure, though most of the humor was more dad than pro comedian. One joke: “This storm is nastier than a $2 hooker on $1 Thursdays.” And just near the end, as the survivors each pop out from behind a wall, in time with an accent in the music, felt very Three Stooges - and I mean that in the best way possible.

Overall, this is a pretty shit film. Maybe if the clowns had been left on the ground and just traveled around being nefarious, it would have been better. I feel like the tornado aspect put a damper on something that could have been more interesting and less trend-whoring. The dissonance between the subject matter and dialogue was too jarring to work well. And the underdeveloped characters floundered in an over complicated and unbelievable story (and that’s leaving out the clowns-traveling-in-a-tornado thing).

I say skip it.

1/2 hatchet (out of 5)





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February 1, 2020

Static Age #8: The Flash (1990 – 1991)

John Wesley Shipp as The Flash (19990 - 1991)
This Static Age is focusing on The Flash (1990 – 1991) which lasted for one season only and 21 episodes in total (not including its awesome pilot episode). It is of course about the titular superhero (John Wesley Shipp), a cop (coming from a family of cops) that gained his super power – i.e. running faster than anybody (and eating insane amounts of food) – during an accident and fighting since then against it as well as several criminal elements. He is approached by scientist Christina McGee (Amanda Pays) who is doing research on the effects of the accident. Based upon the comic books from DC, this is amazing and quite reminiscent of Sam Raimi’s and Tim Burton’s superhero epics from the era. The theme song was composed by Danny Elfman.

The feature-length pilot episode is about a gang of bikers led by a maniac ex-cop who wants to get revenge from the force that betrayed him and in order to do that he organizes a series of terrorist attacks within the city and most of them targeted towards police officers. ‘Out of Control’ is about a series of disappearances of homeless people that may be connected with a mutated monster that resembles a werewolf. In ‘Watching the Detectives’, Flash is recruited against his will by the mob; starring Dick Miller. ‘Honor Among Thieves’ is about a bunch of professional thieves that target a museum. ‘Double Vision’ finds Flash experiencing blackouts that may be connected with black magic. In ‘Sins of the Father’, Barry Allen’s father (M. Emmet Walsh) is in trouble because a bank robber that he had convicted escapes and is looking for revenge. ‘Child’s Play’ is about two homeless kids that get involved with the drug-pushing underworld. In ‘Shroud of Death’ a judge is killed while the murderer leaves behind a piece of a medal; is a female ninja involved? ‘Ghost in the Machine’ is about the titular villain from the 1950s (the episode goes on the extra mile in order to provide some atmosphere by recreating that cherished decade for a scene or two) that comes back and intends to use technology (video and computer in particular) in order to blackmail his way of getting millions of dollars by the city council. ‘Sight Unseen’ is about Star Lab’s (the science lab in which Christina is working) latest problem, namely the sudden appearance of a murderous invisible man that is offing scientists related with the facilities. ‘The Trickster’ is about the eponymous illusionist that became an arch villain. ‘Tina, Is That You?’ is about the Christina, Flash’s sidekick, that starts acting weird and for a brief amount of time becomes the superhero’s enemy. In ‘Be My Baby’ The Flash ends up babysitting. In ‘Fast Forward’ Barry Allen goes to the future only to find out that he’s not The Flash anymore and that Central City has been taken over by the order of Nicholas Pike (Michael Nader). ‘Deadly Nightshade’ is about the titular vigilante that takes out criminals, until The Flash teams with the original Nightshade in order to stop the panic in the streets, but he also finds the time to flirt with a psychologist weirdo (Denise Crosby) and kidnap Fosnight (Dick Miller).

And now, let’s switch our focus towards some recent shows…

The Handmaid's Tale - Season 3 art
The 3rd season of The Handmaid’s Tale (2017 – ongoing) is offering further dystopian aesthetics when the plot is following American women and children immigrating to Canada in search for a better life, away from the Trump-ish nightmares of their homeland in which they have to surround their bodies to an ultra-conservative and religious system that turns them into birth-giving machines. Although creator Bruce Miller’s is one of the most astounding series we have seen the last decade, it is still a bit problematic in its politics; its heart seems to be in the right place, but plot choices such as the sanctification of Canada (a country that has been not entirely innocent in regards to its handling of immigration), or the depiction of futuristic supermarket and faceless and soulless consumerist institutions (as if they are not already like that in the present day and haven’t been since their beginning), or the implication that Darwin’s ‘The Descent of Man’ may be a tool for people of power (why not for people of the resistance that seems to be around the corner?), seem a bit biased. Maybe the series’ most thoughtful idea is when the main characters visit Washington where the handmaids are forced to wear a bounding veil on their faces that is covering their shut-by-rings mouths, essentially completely silencing them (both figuratively and practically), which is a clear nod to the world of Islamic fascism. The series would be better off without its endless flashbacks that provide origin stories of most members of the cast. Living in Greece and writing for a U.S. blog during these dark times when insane conservatism have taken over both countries, I unfortunately am in the position to understand that this is science fiction, but it is not that far away from the realities that may be coming. Let’s hope that the series become a warning textbook for the people, rather than an instruction manual for governments.

Dracula - Season 1 art
Consisting of 3 episodes (all of them of feature length), Dracula (2020), broadcasted on BBC and now streaming on Netflix, is offering a brand new spin on the classic book by Bram Stoker (the screenplay was written by Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat) but maintains its beautiful atmosphere as well. By being scary most of the times and also occasionally gory, not to mention Claes Bang’s excellent performance as the Count, it is a great addition to the endless list of vampire shows. Plus, it may be the first time we see the de-aging progress on Dracula, since Jess Franco’s filmic version.

And finally, please allow me to speak a word or two about some recent mainstream films…

Director Johannes Roberts’ (who also penned the screenplay with Ernest Riera) 47 Meters Down: Uncaged (2019) is about four girls that decide to go scuba diving in an gorgeous but secluded location, that once they enter a cave they are attacked by a bunch of great white sharks. This sequel to the unexpected 2017 hit is boring, but thankfully lasts for less than 90 minutes so it doesn’t really outstay its welcome.

And finally I caught up with a couple of Blaxploitation revival films from Netflix [Craig Brewer’s Dolemite is My Name (2019) with Eddie Murphy in the title role (as well as an array of excellent supporting players that include Snoop Dogg and Wesley Snipes; and Tim Story’s Shaft (2019), in which the titular legend (Samuel L. Jackson) is now a hard-boiled detective, whose softy son (Jessie T. Usher) works as a data analyst for the FBI and is now working (against the orders from his superiors) on the case of a synagogue that might be involved with the death of his veteran friend and drug smuggling from Afghanistan].

In the Tall Grass (2019) poster
Speaking of Netflix, director Vincenzo Natali’s (who also penned the screenplay, based on a novel by Stephen King and Joe Hill) In the Tall Grass (2019) is about, well, people that get lost in a tall grass field and they cannot get out. This horror programmer invests in the excellent act one’s build-up, it loses steam when twist after twist take away its potential.

Still speaking of Netflix, the best film they have produced so far is definitely Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman (2019), in which aged mob hitman Frank Sheeran (Robert De Niro, acting with great maturity) recalls his days in the ranks of organized crime, when he was ordered by his mentor Russell Bufalino (Joe Pesci, coming out of retirement for this particular film only) to watch out for union leader Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino, better than ever); whereas Scorsese’s previous gangster epics were mostly about the fun these people had with killing and stealing, and living the life in general, this one is about loss and grief (a very dark picture indeed), and how if you don’t  lose everything by the force of law, you will lose them thanks to your choices, and you will die a lonely piece of shit – a true masterpiece that comes highly recommended.

Joker (2019) poster
And speaking of Robert De Niro, he of course is co-starring as Murray Franklin in Todd Philips’ Joker (2019), an origin story of the titular villain (Joaquin Phoenix). We get to see how Arthur Fleck (Joker’s real name) went from a trouble childhood (there is a question of whether he was adopted or not) to being bullied on the streets of a faceless city (New York posing as Gotham) that has space only for Wall Street scumbags and none that doesn’t fit into the normativity’s rules. Sure, the Joker is psychotic, but there really is no need in pointing a finger to him; if you are still a human being, you must point the finger towards the people that made him one. After all, the Joker’s ever-relevant motives for revolution of the oppressed are much more ethical than the motives of rich and corrupted idiots such as the Wayne people. A lot of controversy has surrounded the film since its release, but although the people that staged such reactions are claiming that they found its violence needless and meaningless, in reality those people are afraid of the film’s message, which is that we will fight back! And guess what, if society rejects us, we will become kings of the misfits.

The Addams Family (2019) art
In the animated The Addams Family (2019), the titular family is forced (by torch-wielding rednecks) to relocate to a New Jersey haunted Castle. Their new home is satisfactorily horrible, but their problems start when a nearby town’s real estate television star wants the dark family’s aesthetics to vanish. Directed by Greg Tiernan and Conrad Vernon, this is the perfect homage to both the series and the films that preceded it, and of course the comic strips, but it had me wondering, who’d be its audience in this day and age.

Terminator: Dark Fate (2019) poster
In director Tim Miller’s Terminator: Dark Fate (2019), Dani Ramos (Natalia Reyes) is hunted by an advanced robot model (Gabriel Luna), and a half-human/half-robot (Mackenzie Davis) is there to protect her. It seems that they will need all the help in the world and that comes in the form of old-timers Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton, hamming it up like there’s no tomorrow) and a T-800 (Arnold Schwarzenegger). Quite possibly the most meaningless film in its cannon, it is not even good enough to count as a decent fan-pleaser; no wonder it put the final nail in the franchise’s coffin.

Directed by Travis Cluff and Chris Lofing (the duo that also penned the screenplay), Blumhouse’s The Gallows Act II (2019) is a rehash of the first film’s storyline (Charlie is haunting the titular stage-play which results to the death of its cast), but it is much better than its predecessor (a task that wasn’t that difficult, considering that the original was a subpar ‘found footage’ programmer that became a hit for reasons I cannot understand).


Set in the industry fashion (the clothes on display are particularly stunning), the Soska sisters’ Rabid (2019) is following the young wannabe Rose (the immensely beautiful Laura Vandervoort), whose career is seemingly cut short when she is badly hurt in a car accident. Disfigured and suffering she agrees to become part of an experimental steam cell project that essentially gives her life a much-needed reboot, but there are consequences. This remake of the same-titled David Cronenberg body horror classic is visceral and gory but it is also pretty much needless, although it makes for a decent enough viewing experience to not make you angry.

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January 1, 2020

A Binge too Far #8: Jack Frost duo (1997 – 2000)

The titular killer snowman from Jack Frost (1997).
This column is reserved for (somewhat) popular films that I had not seen previously, but this time I made an exception and re-visited the Jack Frost duo (1997 – 2000) for the purposes of the Christmas spirit. Because, you know, who doesn’t love a murderous snowman?

Reviews:
Jack Frost (1997) VHS box art.

Jack Frost (1997)

During a snowy winter night, the titular serial killer [Scott MacDonald from Jarhead (2005)] is transferred from prison to medical facilities in order to become a guinea pig of a scheduled experiment. Combining the forces of the weather and his own evil nature he manages to kill the guards and escape, but a terrible accident mutate him into a snowman creature. He is now after the people that caused him his troubles and will murder his way into destroying them.

Based upon a story by Michael Cooney (who also penned the screenplay and directed) and Jeremy Paige, this is boasting hilarious one-liners and it combines the Christmas spirit with inventive snowman kills. It is actually so much fun that I couldn’t help thinking that Troma would love to have done a movie like this. Also starring Shannon Elizabeth, who later became famous via American Pie (1999).

Jack Frost 2... (2000) DVD box art.
Jack Frost 2: Revenge of the Mutant Killer Snowman (2000)

Jack Frost (the voice is provided by returning Scott MacDonald) returns in order to get revenge from the people that wronged him and this time he has for support his little snow children as well that are as much murderous.

Writer/director Michael Cooney returns with an insane sequel in which the kills become even more inventive than those of the original. Some primitive CGI are employed as well (mostly in the form of mutant snow children) but the main work is still achieved by the aid of good old-fashioned practical effects (something that was becoming a rarity already in early 2000s low budget genre cinema). The snowman looks more menacing than the first time around which is mostly due to its appearance resembling the original film’s poster which was not the case in the first film. The end result resembles an homage to Critters (1986), Child’s Play (1988), and The Blob (1958), and as such it is very welcome.

Conclusion:


While nowhere near as good as I remembered them from when I first watched them almost twenty years ago, the Jack Frost (1997 – 2000) films are a worthy addition to b-movie outrageousness and more than fun enough to guarantee an entertaining one-view experience. There is a sequence during the sequel’s end credits that left the door open for another sequel that would feature a gigantic snowman, and that was indeed the intention of Michael Cooney, but – much to our disappointment – the plans failed to materialize.

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December 1, 2019

Static Age #7

Carl Kolchak (Darren McGavin) in a frame from Kolchak: The Night Stalker (1974 - 1975)
This Static Age is focusing on Kolchak: The Night Stalker (1974 – 1975) which lasted for one season only and 20 episodes in total. It continues the story of the two well-known TV-movies that became a phenomenon and bears the same aesthetics. Carl Kolchak (Darren McGavin, who played the same character in the movies as well) is a reporter who investigates a series of crimes or events in Chicago that may be or may be not supernatural. The only issue I have with the series is that in most episodes the conclusion is lasting for only a few seconds, and you may miss something if you blink; but that was a common thing in television series back then anyway.

The first episode, called ‘The Ripper’, is pretty much a rehash of the first film, but this should be expected as viewers that had not seen the films would have wanted a bit of familiarizing. ‘The Zombie’ is about voodoo and the resurrection of the dead, although the most jaw-dropping scene is the one in which the protagonist puts a female reporter in the trunk of his car, in order to get rid of her after the suggestion of a police officer; man, the 1970s were weird. ‘They Have Been, They Are, They Will Be…’ is a very clever episode about a series of murders of both humans and animals whose bone marrow is missing, what could possibly be the connection between those hideous crimes and a series of metal deposits thefts by an invisible force? ‘The Vampire’ is an excellent episode about a super strong female vampire. ‘The Werewolf’ is set on a ship and it is about a – you guessed it – werewolf that causes mayhem for no apparent reason; Paul Naschy would be proud. ‘Firefall’ is about the ghost of a gangster that has a taste for classical music and a series of bizarre explosions that trouble the protagonist. ‘The Devil’s Platform’ is about a dog that is involved in a political conspiracy that includes several suspicious explosions (and maybe a bit of good old-fashioned Satanism). ‘Bad Medicine’ is a really boring episode about a Native American that can turn into a crow, and the connection he may have with some stolen diamonds. ‘The Spanish Moss Murders’ is about a sleep clinic that accidentally unleashed a Cajun monster that lurks in Chicago’s wells. ‘The Energy Eater’ is about the eponymous ghost that feeds on the energy of a hospital that was built upon its grave. ‘Horror in the Heights’ is about swastikas that mysteriously appeared in the walls of a Jewish neighborhood, while its streets are terrorized by a demon that can be transformed into your most-trusted person. ‘Mr. R.I.N.G.’ is about an A.I. anthropomorphic robot that is malfunctioning and quite accidentally kills people. ‘Primal Scream’ is about an ape that goes into a killing spree. ‘The Trevi Collection’ is about a series of murders that are happening in the fashion world (it was so fashionable back then anyway) that may be connected to witchcraft. ‘Chopper’ is about a headless biker ghost that is beheading its victims with a sword! ‘Demon in Lace’ is a particularly scary episode about a succubus. ‘Legacy of Terror’ is about a bunch of Aztecs that remove the hearts of their victims. ‘The Knightly Murders’ is about a medieval museum that when it is about to be turned into a discothèque, a knight is resurrected and kills people. ‘The Youth Killer’ is about a lady that sacrifices people to ancient Greek gods in order to stay young and beautiful. The final episode, ‘The Sentry’, is one of the best, and it is about a human-sized reptile monster that is killing construction workers in a miles-long underground tunnel site.

And now, let’s switch our focus towards some recent shows…

Black Mirror - Season 5
The 5th season of renowned British series Black Mirror (2011 – ongoing) consists of 3 masterful episodes. ‘Striking Vipers’ is about two childhood friends that have moved on with their lives, until they meet again within an updated version of their favorite video game, in which instead of fighting they discover their sexuality, that is being gay and having an attraction for each other. ‘Smithereens’ is about a bitter man (that is high in intelligence and low on income), that kidnaps a man, but it will take a while for the authorities to figure out his motives. ‘Rachel, Jack and Ashley Too’ is about pop star Ashley O (the gorgeous, real-life pop star Miley Cyrus) and her evil aunt that controls her life and career via the aid of pills and manipulation, but it is also about fandom and how it can save the people it worships. Highly recommended.

Genny Savastano (Salvatore Esposito) in Gomorrah
The 4th season of Gomorrah (2014 – ongoing) continues from where the last one ended, with Genny Savastano (Salvatore Esposito) mourning the death of his childhood friend Ciro and haunted by nightmares. Additionally, with pretty much all the older crime bosses dead as well, the landscape of power and control in Naples and its provinces will change, with Genny’s messenger Patrizia (Cristiana Dell’Anna) now appointed the head of his businesses, while help from the gangster’s broader family will be sought; that is, in order for the crime boss to purse more high profile projects, such as the construction of an airport and other endeavors that require influence in the Italian government. Italy’s ultra-successful series continues its drama of backstabbing and murder, proving that the illicit businessmen are no different at all to employees of a company that try to put each other down if only to merely win a little more money, and the only reason we don’t get to sympathize with the gangsters, is because we – the civilians – are as much terrible human beings as they are. Combining art-house sensibilities and the practicality of the television format, this is a unique experience that is highly recommended to all fans of the genre.

Set in a world where superheroes are a commodity, generating millions from appearing in movies and saving the world in general, the 1st season of The Boys (2019 – ongoing) is about store clerk Hughie Campbell (Jack Quaid) who lost the love of his life by one of the costume-wearing freaks. He is approached by mystery man and overall tough guy Billy Butcher (Karl Urban) who wants to take down the Supes and have them pay for all the collateral damage they cause and expose the life of excess that they live in secret. After so much superhero mythology from Marvel and DC and the billions they made for the film industry, it was inevitable that something like this would get made, namely a high profile comedy with glorious special effects and splatter. What’s more, the soundtrack employs classics such as ‘Neat, Neat, Neat’ by The Damned, and ‘Cherry Bomb’ by The Runaways. It is fun, and maybe more so than many of the myriad brand superhero series that are out there right now. Simon Pegg plays the protagonist’s father.

Iron Fist - Season 2
Set in New York, the 2nd (and thankfully final) season of Marvel’s Iron Fist (2017 – 2018) is only barely better than the previous one and it finds the eponymous superhero, battling Chinese organized criminals, as well as the scum that have taken over his father’s company, while employing martial arts and his superpowers. The main arch villain is Davos (Sacha Dhawan), essentially another iron fisted (a double one at that) warrior with whom the protagonist was affiliated in the past. A strong contester for becoming Netflix worst series ever.

In the 5th season of Peaky Blinders (2013 – ongoing) the titular gang’s head, Thomas Shelby (Cillian Murphy) doubts himself in regards of his power and control, and goes as far as having suicidal thoughts. Taking place amidst the Wall Street Clash and the impact this has, the Black Country criminals get involved with politics (taking a socialist stance in particular, of all things), but their problems come in the form of Billy Boys, a Scottish gang of criminals that is known for backing up fascists, as well as putting their dead enemies on a cross. The series, taking the approach that tells us that the other gangsters are worse than the protagonist ones creates the expected interesting dramaturgy, but not much else. So, will the good bad guys win the baddie bad guys this time around? On a final note, the soundtrack is excellent as always, and aside of the title song (Nick Cave and the Bad Seed’s ‘Red Right Hand’), it also includes Black Sabbath’s ‘Planet Caravan’.

And finally, please allow me to speak a word or two about some recent mainstream films…

Dark Phoenix (2019)
Jean Grey (Sophie Turner) develops unmatchable powers and becomes the titular menace in Marvel’s Dark Phoenix (2019), and it is now up to the X-Men, and Professor Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) in particular, to control her before she becomes a greater danger to herself and others. This is nowhere near as bad as mainstream reviewers wanted you to believe it is, and it is quite unfair that it didn’t do well at the box-office (it grossed $252.4 million, on a $200 million budget), because in reality it is an excellent superhero drama that is very often enjoyable too. Sure, the special effects are the standard stuff you expect from this sort of thing and they had me thinking that they could have been achieved by any of Marvel’s TV series on half the budget the present film had, but what we have here is still above average.

Distributed by Blumhouse, The Gallows (2015) is awful, but clocking at 80 minutes (including end credits) it is short enough to not become a torturous experience. An introductory video lets us know that during a school play in 1993 tragedy ensued leaving one actor hanged. Fast forward to the present day (i.e. 2013), a bunch of students of the same school attempt to perform the same stage-play, and as it is to be expected by such fare, the consequences will be deadly. This employs the dreadful ‘found footage’ format, which is fine for 1 minute long Instagram videos (especially when the subject matter is cute cats or funny dogs), but it is simply way too boring when it is stretched to feature length. I really don’t understand how this blending of conventional narrative with amateur video aesthetics could appeal to anybody, but what do I know, as the film grossed $43 million on a $100,000 budget, which means that – you guessed it – a sequel is in the works. Maybe the best thing about it is the validation that happy endings are now passé.

Iron Sky: The Coming Race (2019)
A sequel to the same-titled film 2012, Iron Sky: The Coming Race (2019) is set twenty years later and after the near extinction of human kind which resulted to the inhabitation of a base in the moon that was previously under Nazi ownership. If you find plots about evil Nazis that were secretly refuging in the dark side of the moon (and why should you not, if you tend to like fare that is similar to the usual SyFy material), you may like this, but I couldn’t help myself thinking that all this massive budget (17 million euros – the film does indeed look like a super-production) was wasted on crap like this. The best thing about it is Udo Kier, playing once again a German.

Happily married couple of successful professionals Scott (Michael Ealy) and Annie (Meagan Good) buy a house from Charlie Peck (Dennis Quaid), in The Intruder (2019), but the problem is that the seller has a sketchy past and will not let go of his house at any cost, even if this means murder. Although it is actually well-cast, this standard thriller is laughable at times (the plot is often unbelievable) and the end result is nearly unwatchable.

Ma (2019) poster
The titular middle-aged lady (Octavia Spencer) in Blumhouse Productions’ Ma (2019) lures a bunch of teenagers from the local high school to party at her house, but it soon becomes apparent that her motives are not that innocent. Inducting discussion about bullying and its consequences as well as being left out and the desire to fit in, this horror film is both intelligent and entertaining. Plus it stars Diana Silvers (quite possibly her generation’s cutest girl) and Juliette Lewis (actually her generation’s hottest woman). Made on a modest budget of $5 million, this proved a winner at the box-office as it went on to gross $60.6 million.

Spider-Man: Far From Home (2019) poster
The titular superhero (Tom Holland, excellently cast, despite complaints by many fans) of Spider-Man: Far From Home (2019) travels to Europe, where he will fight with (at first) and against (finally) Mysterio (Jake Gyllenhaal), assisted of course by the ever-knowledgeable Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson). This is tedious at times (at over 2 hours long it is oftentimes boring) but the fights are Marvel-ous and they feature the best CGI money can buy, which only makes sense when your budget is $160 million.

Crawl (2019) poster
Ultimately though, the coolest film of the year is Crawl (2019), which is set in Florida, amidst a Category 5 hurricane. The story is focusing on Haley (a very gorgeous Kaya Scodelario), who ignores the police’s orders and goes on a mission to save her estranged father Dave (Barry Pepper); the duo will join forces in order to fight against the many hungry alligators. Produced by Alexandre Aja (who also directed), Sam Raimi (no introduction needed), and Craig J. Flores, this is expectedly full of impressive visuals, but what was not expected was that a little ‘nature attacks’ horror flick that cost $13.5 million to make, would gross $88.5 million! If you fancy crocodile movies, you really can’t find anything better these days, and the crocodiles do indeed look amazing here.


There really is no plot to speak of in writer/director Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood (2019), which is essentially a movie about 1969 (a setting) and not much else. However, the cast is great (Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt, Margot Robbie, Dakota Fanning, Bruce Dern, Al Pacino, Michael Madsen, and so many others) and the overall aesthetics employed are so pleasing, that you can’t take your eyes of it for its two and a half hours. The ending is bananas as well.

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