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October 1, 2020

Static Age #12: Battlestar Galactica (1978)

Battlestar Galactica (1978) poster art

 

This Static Age is focusing on Battlestar Galactica (1978), created by Glen A. Larson and its sole season consisting of 21 episodes. Taking its cue from George Lucas’ then-recent Jedi epic (the titles as well as Stu Phillips’ score are almost identical, but further inspiration can be found to have come from old serials), this is the classic that spawned the television franchise, but whereas it is now mostly remembered for its drama (and even its humor), for me its real strength lies on its groundbreaking special effects that are a joy to watch and make you feel as if you are inside a 1980s sci-fi video game; a great experience indeed. Starring Ray Milland, the feature-length ‘Saga of a Star World’ (which was in fact edited into a feature film release as well) is set a thousand years after the War and finds the Twelve Colonies’ human population attacked by the evil Cylons, whose murderous spree left only the titular ship standing. Battlestar Galactica is now on a mission to find the notorious planet Earth. Colonial Warriors are mysteriously infected in ‘Lost Planet of the Gods: Part 1’, which leads to the discovery of the planet Kobol in ‘Lost Planet of the Gods: Part 2’. In ‘The Lost Warrior’ Cylon fighters force Apollo to crash on Equellus, which is basically a planet that resembles a Western movie. All common sense should be suspended in order for the viewer to believe ‘The Long Patrol’ in which Lieutenant Starbuck (Dirk Benedict) finds himself in the Proteus a prison planet where the hostages are kept in unlocked cages for generations, yet they have developed some very social skills such as cheering when drinking; other gags in this otherwise memorable episode include the introduction of CORA (Computer Oral Response Activated) which is a futuristic Alexa, and Starbuck womanizing both Cassiopeia (Laurette Spang) and Athena (Maren Jensen) at the same time. Starring Britt Ekland, ‘Gun on Ice Planet Zero: Part 1’ and ‘Gun on Ice Planet Zero: Part 2’ take the action to planet Aracta and are reminiscent of a certain alien takeover in the snow classic sci-fi film from the 1950s that was remade by John Carpenter in the 1980s, as well as the 1970s avalanche epics from Roger Corman. The western-like ‘The Magnificent Warriors’ is featuring ugly alien dwarfs riding some horse-like creatures and it is quite creepy as well as among the best episodes in the series. The title of ‘The Young Lords’ is referring to a bunch of children that rescue Starbuck when he crashes to planet Attila. The Battlestar runs short on fuel in ‘The Living Legend: Part 1’ and ‘The Living Legend: Part 2’, when it has to attack planet Gamoray in order to continue its journey. ‘Fire in Space’ is about Cylon arsonist-style suicide attacks. ‘War of the Gods: Part 1’ and ‘War of the Gods: Part 2’ find the Battlestar crew landing on a red planet, which gives the cinematographer a chance to pursue some very unusual and gorgeous lighting options. ‘The Man with Nine Lives’ is about an old con artist who claims to be Starbuck’s father. Starbuck is framed for murder in ‘Murder on the Rising Star’ and he and his friends spend the entire episode trying to clear his name.

 

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

 

Doctor Who - Season 5

The 5th season of Doctor Who (2005 – present) is introducing Matt Smith as the eponymous character (a more tongue-in-cheek and quite playful approach by the actor is on hand) and the drop-dead gorgeous Karen Gillan as his sidekick Amy Pond. The series appear to having grown up at least visually as is made apparent by the re-designed titled (now looking more mature) and the cinematography (that is echoing a certain Chris Carter sci-fi show from the 1990s). The hour-long ‘The Eleventh Hour’ brings the dynamic duo against the evil Atraxi aliens that resemble the familiar otherworldly creatures from a well-known Ridley Scott film from the late 1970s. ‘The Beast Bellow’ finds The Doctor in a U.K. starship in the future where he comes against the creepy-looking Smilers, some human-sized mannequins that are a predecessor of the recent horror films’ eerie dolls and the like. Set in WWII, the ‘Victory of the Daleks’, The Doctor and Amy join forces with Winston Churchill (Ian McNeice) in order to defeat the Daleks, now disguised as British soldiers. ‘The Time of Angels’ and ‘Flesh and Stone’ mark the return of the creepy Weeping Angels, this time amidst a Byzantium spaceship setting. ‘The Vampires of Venice’ sounds promising, both due to its setting (in 16th century, no less) and its monsters, but the former leaves much to be desired as the actual shooting was mostly studio-bound. ‘Amy’s Choice’ is a fascinating episode about scary old folk that are alien within; starring Toby Jones. Silurians, the ancient reptile-like monsters, are featured in the ultra-creepy ‘The Hungry Earth’ and ‘Cold Blood’. The very sweet and emotional ‘Vincent and the Doctor’ is about master painter Vincent Van Gogh (Tony Curran) fighting his (alien) demons. The Tardis has escaped The Doctor, who must now find it in ‘The Lodger’. The titular Van Gogh painting in ‘The Pandorica Opens’ is found during WWII in France as it was meant for Prime Minister Winston Churchill; the action then moves to Roman Britain and Stonehenge in particular where the work of art’s prophecy of the exploding Tardis comes true as all sorts of villains from the Doctor’s past (including the Daleks, of course) are conspiring for his destruction. The story as well as the season conclude with ‘The Big Bang’, which had me thinking that had creationists been ever a little bit clever, they would have by now turned the term into a punch-line of pornographic jokes. Jokes aside, this season is offering one of the most intelligent and condescending approaches to love triangles ever seen on television.

 

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. - Season 7

The 7th (and final) season of Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (2013 – 2020) concludes the adventures of the titular heroes and their battle against the evil forces of Hydra, this time-traveling to the 1930s prohibition-era New York in order to change or maintain history (whichever is more suitable) amidst a cultural chaos of misogyny and racism. The series eventually go back and forth in time, namely in the 1950s and 1970s (when the appropriate title cards are also appear) when things are not that much better. The state-of-the-art special effects of the show are only matched by the impressive costume design.

 

On the mainstream movie front, I caught up with the following…

 

The War with Grandpa (2020)

Director Tim Hill’s The War with Grandpa (2020) is a lousy attempt at emotional comedy, in which a kid (Oakes Fegley) and his grandpa (Robert De Niro) fight for the same room in a big house. The film benefits from some very high profile star actors (Uma Thurman and Christopher Walken) but is suffering from some very tired gags and a predictable script. You will laugh a couple of times, but you’ll forget ever seeing the flick quickly after it’s over.

 

And finally, I enriched my bookshelf with the following additions…

 

Kier-La Janisse’s already landmark House of Psychotic Women: An Autobiographical Topography of Female Neurosis in Horror and Exploitation Films (2012, FAB Press) is about the author’s journey from foster homes to abusive relationships and from pill-popping moments to festival screenings organizing, all through the support of viewing several horror and exploitation classics. Having suffered many stigma-inducing situations, it is a joy that the book makes it apparent that salvation can come via the aid of our favorite genre films. The first section reads like an autobiography (albeit one offered through the eyes of a person obsessed with cinema, like the readers) while the second section contains dozens of capsule reviews of the films already discussed and other related outings. In my entire life of reading film related books, this is the most original I ever come across, and the fact that it is also so well-written makes it an undeniable masterpiece.

 

Jasper Sharp’s excellent and astonishingly well-researched Behind the Pink Curtain: The Complete History of Japanese Sex Cinema (2008, FAB Press) is divided onto several chapters, each one of them dealing tackling tent pole topics of the evolution and triumph of the notorious Pink genre of erotic cinema. The amount of detail and work that went down is apparent, as well as the crisp writing talents of the author, resulting in a work like no other that is unacceptable to be missing by any exploitation movie fan’s bookshelf. What’s more, the book also proves that in order to understand cinema (and society and history as well) you can never underestimate the importance of porn. And although it becomes clear that the genre tackled within the pages of the book is not all about rape and torture (as many people falsely believe), you will still need a good shower after reading it.

 

Edited by Robin Bougie (and otherwise written mostly by him, save for the contributions of a few talented writers), Cinema Sewer Volume Seven (2020, FAB Press) consists of two issues of the author’s same-titled magazine as well as 80 previously unpublished pages, making for a good 180+ pages of sleaze. From underrated 1990s flicks to – ahem – fisting epics, this volume has you covered, but it really shines when it tackles whatever that has to do with 1970s New York porn, where it is apparent where its heart is.

 

Part memoir and part film review book, fanzine editor and online columnist Nick Cato’s Suburban Grindhouse: From Staten Island to Times Square and all the Sleaze in Between (2020, Headpress) is taking us on a journey through various exploitation movie classics. The author is writing strictly from memory, making each review unique.

 

And finally, I had the chance to tackle the Frightfest Guide quadruple bill (all published by FAB Press) which includes Alan Jones’ Exploitation Movies (2016), Michael Gingold’s Monster Movies (2017), Axelle Carolyn’s Ghost Movies (2018), and Gavin Baddeley’s Werewolf Movies (2019). Lavishly illustrated and gorgeously designed, these books are not in-depth as their back covers claim as only one paragraph is dedicated to each capsule film presentation, but for pop items they do their work as they’re fun to read through both for newbies (who without doubt will learn a thing or two and will also be introduced to an amazing new world) and those in the know (who will have fun revisiting the classics).


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September 1, 2020

A Binge too Far #12: John Travis duo (1990 – 1991)

Ronald L. Marchini as Omega Cop (1990)
John Travis (Ronald L. Marchini) in Omega Cop (1990)

The main issue I have with most ‘beat them up’ actioners is that they feel unrealistic because in real life you don’t just kick people’s asses and the problems automatically solve themselves. If you are keen on using violence, most likely this violence will come back to haunt you and so on; the problem/s won’t go way. Additionally powerful people have found more effective ways in answering violence and it is called money. It is not that the most muscular guy will win, but rather the most rich. But, aside from this analyzing, I enjoy these actioners as much as the next guy, and here I offer you my sincere views on the John Travis duo (1990 – 1991).

Reviews:

Omega Cop (1990) poster
Omega Cop (1990)

This is set in the futuristic 1999 when people still had audio cassettes because apparently the apocalypse happened thirty years ago; which chronologically still doesn’t make sense. Many things don’t make sense here, as this has to be the post-apocalyptic genre’s poorest offering [the notorious Warrior of the Lost World (1984) is nowhere near as bad]. It is about the titular cop (Ronald L. Marchini,who looks nothing like an action hero, yet had just such a career in the 1990s when he starred in about a dozen such epics) whose next big mission is to eliminate an evil operation of slave traders, only to discover that their web of corruption runs way too deep.

 

Featuring one-liners that could have only been written by school kids (and possibly mentally challenged) and uttered by people that appear to be non-actors, this entire attempt at an actioner is salvaged by director Paul Kyriazi [Death Machines (1976)] who – in all honesty – appears to have put at least some (ultimately unnecessary) effort into this. At least, the big spaces and buildings as well as the uniformed men with guns (not to mention the occasional shootout or explosion) make this resemble a real movie, even if it looks like Troma’s idea of a post-apocalypse outing (the aesthetics are often too similar to those of a Lloyd Kaufman vehicle from the era). In the end though it all falls apart because plenty of scenes are simply about people running or driving from one place to another, seemingly in order to stretch this into feature-length. I don’t know how stars like Adam West and Stuart Whitman were convinced to join the cast.

 

Karate Cop (1991) poster
Karate Cop (1991)

Ronald L. Marchini returns as ‘Special Police’ (as per the badge on his uniform) officer John Travis (in reality acting more like a soldier in a warzone), and this time he has to employ his karate skills (as per the title) in order to eliminate arena-fighting martial arts gangs.

This sequel was helmed by Alan Roberts [The Happy Hooker Goes Hollywood (1980)] and it must be noted that at least some effort was put into set design and costumes, although the end result is still very ridiculous, especially when we are introduced to a teleportation device (don’t ask me, I don’t know). David Carradine makes an extended cameo as a bartender.

 

Afterword

 

A Binge too Far is offering you everything, from the glamour and slickness of Hollywood releases (recent and classic) to the seedy and unpredictable world of exploitation cheapies. So, come on next time to check out what we’ll have in store for you.


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August 2, 2020

Static Age #11: The Green Hornet (1966 – 1967)

Van Williams and Bruce Lee in The Green Hornet (1966 - 1967)
This Static Age is focusing on The Green Hornet (1966 – 1967). Created by George W. Trendle and based upon the same-titled D.C. comic books and superhero, this series lasted a mere one season (consisting of 26 episodes, originally aired on ABC) eclipsed by the much better and more campy Batman counterpart. Van Williams plays newspaper publisher Britt Reid whose crime-fighting alter ego is The Green Hornet and his sidekick is Kato, played by Bruce Lee. The problem of many of these series is that they are very much of their time, essentially 1960s television producers’ idea of a comic book adaptation rather what could ideally be achieved (in movie theaters for example) and as such they may be difficult to resonate with millennial audiences; although the very same reason (those era and aesthetics specifics) are pretty much why people like us do find this stuff so charming.

‘The Silent Gun’ is about an exquisite silent gun and an overall James Bond-like plot. In ‘Give ‘Em Enough Rope’, Britt Reid has to get rid of an obsessive female reporter and at the same time expose a fraud injury insurance gang. ‘Programmed for Death’ is about a conspiracy that involves death by a tiger and a fake diamonds smuggling operation. In ‘Crime Wave’ Abel Marcus (Peter Haskell) is a sophisticated (at least for the 1960s) ‘computer operator’ (as per the words of Green Hornet) that commits a series of heists (presumably based on some ancient form of engineering and programming) that he is trying to pin on the show’s superhero. The past comes to haunt the Green Hornet in ‘The Frog is a Deadly Weapon’ when the gangster that might have framed and killed the superhero’s father seems to have returned from the grave. An alcohol bootlegging gang is terrorizing liquor store owners by bombing and other means of crime, in ‘Eat, Drink, and Be Dead’. ‘Beautiful Dreamer: Part 1’ and ‘Beautiful Dreamer: Part 2’ are about a series of crimes committed by citizens above suspicion that have no memory of performing them, because in reality they were programmed to do so by an evil mastermind. Helmed by William Beaudine (one of my favorite directors of 1940s cheapies) ‘The Ray Is for Killing’ is about a gang of thieves that employ a laser beam weapon in order to steal expensive paintings from the protagonist’s home. In ‘The Preying Mantis’ a Tong war has just begun in Chinatown, and naturally Kato wants to take the gangsters out by himself. In William Beaudine’s ‘The Hunters and the Hunted’ some gangsters are getting murdered by an unknown assailant that employs bizarre weapons. A series of robberies in ‘Deadline for Death’ seem to be somehow connected with Reid’s employee Mike Axford (Lloyd Gough) but there may be more to it than what meets the eye. ‘The Secret of the Sally Bell’ finds the heroic duo battling the – quite adult for the show – war against drugs. ‘Freeway to Death’ is another daring episode (the opening scene is very violent, considering the television standards of the time) about a construction company insurance racket.May the Best Man Lose’ is set during the election time, and one of the few people that know The Green Hornet’s true identity, District Attorney Frank Scanlon (Walter Brooke), is set up for assassination. My favorite episode in the series is the very dark ‘The Hornet and the Firefly’, in which our superhero has to stop an serial arsonist that sets fires (insert stock footage of real fires here) to several locations with unpredictable methods, unfortunately the same cannot be said of his identity as well, which becomes apparent very early on. On the other hand, ‘Seek, Stalk and Destroy’ is much too ridiculous as The Green Hornet and Kato have to fight a tank, operated by a small army of veterans; it’s as if the filmmakers had a tank at their disposal and wanted to make the most of it and fit it in the series somehow. ‘Corpse of the Year: Part 1’ is a fascinating episode about a Green Hornet impostor that unleashes a series of terror attacks against the Daily Sentinel newspaper, but it is mostly curious for having our superhero checking ever so blatantly an exotic waitress’ ass, as well as including the unbelievable Scanner gadget which is basically a proto-drone; it was concluded by ‘Corpse of the Year: Part 2’. In ‘Ace in the Hole’ our superhero tries to prevent two gangster families from connecting in order to become one giant mob. ‘Bad Bet on a 459-Silent’ is about corrupt beat cops that when they investigate robberies, they keep some of the loot for themselves.

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

Doctor Who - Season 4 poster art
The 4th season of Doctor Who (2005 – present) is featuring once again the excellent David Tennant as The Doctor, while Donna Noble (Catherine Tate) becomes his (quite unlikely) sidekick. ‘Partners in Crime’ may well be the series’ best episode so far and it is about Adipose Industries that mass produced a weight-loss pill that really does work miracles (customers are spared of their extra weight in record time), but unfortunately it is connected to an evil alien scheme involving little fat monsters jumping off the consumers’ bodies. ‘The Fires of Pompeii’ is such a boring episode (due to a bad script) that it is a pity that loads of money were seemingly wasted on CGI. ‘Planet of the Ood’ might well be the most emotional episode of the season, as it tells the story of the titular scary-looking but good-hearted aliens that have been taken advantage and led to slavery. ‘The Sontaran Stratagem’ sees the return of Martha Jones (Freema Agyeman), this time assisting the Doctor in the investigation of the ATMOS System, employed by every car on Earth, and created by Luke Rattigan (Ryan Sampson). ‘The Poison Sky’ continues from where the previous episode left, providing further boredom. The appropriately titled ‘The Doctor’s Daughter’ is about – you guessed it – the Doctor’s daughter, played by the gorgeous Georgia Moffett, who turns out to be so militant that she has to learn a thing or two about life (and death). ‘The Unicorn and the Wasp’ takes place in 1926 when a dinner party turns into a whodunit, in the presence of none other than acclaimed author Agatha Christie. ‘Silence in the Library’ and ‘Forest of the Dead’ are two eerie episodes set in a futuristic library. In ‘Midnight’ the Doctor takes a vacation to the titular planet, but he is entrapped in the airplane with a group of people and a mysterious alien entity whose intentions are not good; the episode being a love letter to classic sci-fi films from the 1950s. ‘Turn Left’, an episode that is taking a look to alternate realities and possibilities within and outside the already established plots, is also asking us to think of the scenario in which The Doctor is dead; it marks the return of Rose Tyler (Billie Piper), but Donna Noble is stealing the show with the beetle that is crawling on her back and is representing the things in life that we either postpone or don’t do. ‘The Stolen Earth’ is a masterpiece in which the Daleks manage to vanish planet Earth and Richard Dawkins provides the show with a cameo.

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

This time around I enriched my bookshelf with the following additions…

Troy Howarth’s So Deadly, So Perverse: Giallo-Style Films from Around the World, Volume Three (2019, Midnight Marquee Press) which is the final chapter in Howarth’s massive research on the giallo film, this tome dedicated to non-Italian efforts from the world over. Following introductions, the main core of the book is dedicated to length reviews of these films, many of them ultra-obscure. A worthy volume that needs to be part of all genre film fans.

I bought the limited edition hardback version of Dario Argento’s Fear: The Autobiography (2019, FAB Press), the design of which is simply stunning. Argento’s book is small (amounting to only 280 pages, it could have easily been double that and never become boring) but his storytelling skills shine throughout as he takes us on a long journey of his adventures in his Italian world of gialli and other escapades. My favorite story is the one in which Luigi Cozzi and Michele Soavi slapped an Argento impostor when he had become threatening.

Now a classic, Louis Paul’s excellent guide Italian Horror Film Directors (2005, McFarland) is divided in two main chapters; the first is tackling in detail the careers of the ten Italian directors more associated with the horror genre, and the second takes a brief look at the careers of various other directors that contributed to the genre. Filled with detail and passion, and rounded up by forewords by Jess Franco and Antonella Fulci, this is a must have for all connoisseurs of European exploitation cinema.

Josh Alan Friedman’s Tales of Times Square: Expanded Edition! (1986, 2018, Feral House) is exactly what it promises to be; namely an odyssey of adventures as lived and/or witnessed by the author during his days in New York’s sleazy 42nd Street and its surroundings when pimps and prostitutes as well as grindhouses that screened pornos or kung fu epics were the order of the day, before Disney managed to buy-out even the organized criminals that ran these seedy places. It is a postcard or a love letter to another time and another place, and considering how much we all here at CHC love this era of depravity, we can only cherish this classic.

Written by William Fowler and Vic Pratt, the people that curate the BFI Flipside screenings and DVD & Blu-ray releases of underground and unknown U.K. genre films that have rescued and showcased the unknown story of British celluloid, The Bodies Beneath: The Flipside of British Film & Television (2019, Strange Attractor Press) is a book like no other, and one that we most definitely needed as it takes us on an enjoyable journey full of information about the missing links of both the big and small screens.

All I ever wanted to know about celluloid filone, I learned from the McFarland’s wonderful trilogy Italian Gothic Horror Films, 1957 – 1969 (2015), Italian Gothic Horror Films, 1970 – 1979 (2017), and Italian Gothic Horror Films, 1980 – 1989 (2019), penned by Roberto Curti, the world’s authority on Italian genre cinema and possibly the best writer our wonderful community ever had.


Finally, I very much enjoyed two small books from the Cinema Classics Collection; Mark Schilling’s No Borders, No Limits: Nikkatsu Action Cinema (2007, FAB Press) and Kier-La Janisse’s A Violent Professional: The Films of Luciano Rossi (2007, FAB Press). Short and sweet, stunningly designed, and brilliantly researched, they both work as excellent introductory pieces to their respective subject matters.

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July 2, 2020

A Binge too Far #11: A Blumhouse duo (2020)

Betty Gilpin in The Hunt, also starring Hilary Swank and Emma Roberts.
 Back when we had the ‘mom and pop’ video stores, it was up to Jason and Freddy to scare the shit out of us if you dared to rent those tapes. Of course that was only until you graduated to Faces of Death or Guinea Pig. Nowadays things are a bit different because whereas independent film is losing people over its no-budget shot-on-video non-quality, people get scared by A24 and/or Blumhouse, the latter of which offers the two great films reviewed bellow that you should not miss.

Reviews:

Elisabeth Moss is prominent in The Invisible Man poster.
The Invisible Man (2020)

Cecilia (Elisabeth Moss) is a victim of abuse. Her husband, an ultra-rich optical illusions specialist is a controlling monster that hits her and could have been raping her as well but this doesn’t become very clear (it wouldn’t matter anyway as the extent to which one is abusing is secondary to the fact that he is actually an abuser, essentially a monster). He is controlling the way she lives as well as the way she thinks (and in order to achieve that he goes as far as drugging her), the archetypical domestic prison scenario that is so common. One day she manages to escape and seek solace to a friend’s place (the sympathetic Aldis Hodge), leaving everything behind and cutting all connections to her previous life. A few days later she learns that her monster of a husband has killed herself, leaving her a fortune as well. However, it soon becomes apparent that she is stalked by an invisible assailant that destroys her life. Could it be her dead husband?

From the 40 or so movies that were spawned by the ‘Universal Monsters’ period, The Invisible Man (1933) remains one of my very favorite ones, so I was really curious to see what Universal Pictures (credited here as a presenter) had to offer with this remake from Blumhouse Productions, written and directed by the modern master of the genre Leigh Whannell [Upgrade (2018)]. The end result does not disappoint.

More of a psychological thriller about abuse, rather than a straight-out monster movie (there is no monster, the assailant is human), this utilizes an excellent performance from its female lead (it is really a one-woman show), who is essentially the ‘scream queen’ of the present generation, a term that shouldn’t be used lightly and for all b-movie non-professional actresses, but rather for Oscar-worthy artists such as Elisabeth Moss. Her portrayal of an abuse victims that is so wounded and destroyed that she appears to be out of her mind is the best acting I’ve seen in ages.

Filled with artistry (the long scene in which the Invisible Man is offing many guards in a psychiatric ward is the work of a master), this is engaging horror at its best and it should be missed by none. Made on a $7 million budget, it grossed an impressive $126.1 million.

The Hunt (2020) poster.
The Hunt (2020)

Strangers that they only thing they have in common is being ‘simple folk’ or otherwise Republicans, are hunted by rich Liberal elites for sport, in what appears to be the middle of nowhere, U.S.A., but it’s actually Croatia dressed up as Arkansas, in this modern take on The Most Dangerous Game.

The plot sounds simplistic, and at times it is thankfully so, but there is a big twist in the middle that will leave you in awe. However, its strengths lie in its clever satire of the Liberal and Republican stereotypes, from rich C.E.O.s to conspiracy theorists, essentially making a dystopian portrait of modern America.

The fact that director Craig Zobel [Compliance (2012)] plays many proportions of it in ‘tongue in cheek’ manner (the outrageous gore, or some of the humorous acting) never makes this a comedy, as what it really is in its heart is the greatest modern Orwellian film we’ve seen.

Made by Blumhouse on a budget of $14 million, this was originally scheduled for release on September 2019 but due to the mass shootings in Dayton the previous month, the release was held in order to not cause further controversy, essentially becoming ‘The most talked about movie of the year is one that no one’s actually seen’ as per the tagline, until it was released in March 2020 when it grossed a mere $6.5 million, a flop that is attributed to the Covid-19 pandemic.
  

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June 2, 2020

Static Age #10: Ultraman (1966 – 1967) [Complete Series 02]

Ultraman (1966 - 1967) [Complete Series 02] BD box art.
This Static Age is focusing on Ultraman (1966 – 1967), ‘Protector of the universe’ as per the front cover tagline of Mill Creek Entertainment’s excellent Region A Blu-ray box-set [Complete Series 02], which contains of all 39 episodes in their original Japanese (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 ‘The Birth of Ultraman’ and ‘Series History’ articles, both excellent introductory pieces to the series, and several guides (episode, monster, character, and key technology).

The show is about the titular giant alien that arrives on Earth from the Land of Light in Nebula M78 when he was hunting a monster. However, when Ultraman comes in contact with Science Special Search Party he comes to the understanding that he must stay on our planet in order to assist us with the threats of more giant monsters and the like. This is Tsuburaya Production’s first series in color and its remarkable success both in its homeland Japan and abroad in the U.S. spawned a franchise unlike no other, one that is churning up good product to this day.

It’s funny how the voice-over takes Ultraman’s side, sounding a bit like a speaker of a sports match that supports one of the competing teams. The episodes were shot in three blocks (each shooting block responsible for turning up with 13 episodes), and Ultraman had a slightly different costume for each block. ‘Ultra Operation No. 1’ is the origin story in which Ultraman arrives at Lake Ryugamori where he will also fight his first enemy, the monstrous Bemular. In ‘Shoot the Invader’, the Baltan monsters spread terror by freezing humans but as it is to be expected Ultraman is on the rescue. In ‘Science Patrol, Move Out’ the monster Neronga that was buried by a samurai in a well is apparently still alive and also has the power to make itself invisible! In ‘Five Seconds Before the Explosion’ an atomic bomb brings to life a mutated monster called Ragon, and now Ultraman must destroy it and also prevent the detonation of further atomic bombs.The Secret of the Miroganda’ is about the titular flower that is protected by the Greenmons monster which looks like a combination of a plant and a green blob. Guesra, the amphibious Brazilian monster attacks the coast of Tokyo in ‘The Coast Guard Command’. ‘The Blue Stone of Baradhi’ is featuring an overtly ambitious plot that takes its action from Turkey to France, only to settle in the titular ancient city where an Ultraman statue has kept the Antlar monster buried in the sand; that is until now, when the aforementioned monster that resembles a beetle with a mouth that looks like a vagina and is guarded by two claws, essentially creating an overall uncomfortable ‘vagina dentata’ situation. As its title suggests, ‘The Monster Anarchy Zone’ is about a mash-up of many monsters, the most terrifying of them being Red King. It is in this episode that the series, despite how children-friendly they are, started employing the occasional gore scene and the monsters bleed. ‘Lightning Operation’ is an unremarkable episode starring a Gabora monster. ‘The Mysterious Dinosaur Base’ is about a mad scientist (is there any other kind?) that fascinated with his experiments goes as far as to create dinosaurs; it is now up to Ultraman to put things back to order but he will also find time to detach part of a monster and to utilize it as a provocation in the style of Spanish bullfighters. In the comedic but thoroughly entertaining ‘The Rascal from Outer Space’ a shooting star stone that took liquid form managed to create the Gango monster. The first half of ‘Cry of the Mummy’ is fascinating because it is actually about a mummy-like monster, but the second half is introducing us to the ridiculous Dodongo creature that Ultraman gets to ride rodeo-style and the entire thing falls apart. ‘Oil S.O.S.’ is about the titular monster Pestar that consumes great amounts of – you guessed it – oil, and sets miniature facilities on fire; that is until Ultra man employs his (literally) handy Ultra Water Stream power and extinguishes the fires. ‘The Pearl Defense Directive’ is about the Gamakugira monster that has an appetite for expensive pearls. In ‘Terrifying Cosmic Rays’ the pathetic Gavadon monster comes to life thanks to a kid’s drawing. In the amazing ‘Science Patrol Into Space’ episode, a whole lot of Baltans (the awesome bipedal monsters with claws) attack and it is now up to Ultraman to save us, but he will need to employ his teleportation power, something that drains a lot of his life level as shown in the light on his chest. ‘Passport to Infinity’ is featuring the laughable Bullton monster. In ‘Brother from Another Planet’, the Zarab monsters transforms into an evil Ultraman (essentially the same suit, but with modified and differently colored eyes) who will of course fight the good Ultraman; the episode is particularly well-lit, especially during the foggy scenes in the shadows that play like a thriller. In ‘Demons Rise Again’ the Banila and Aboras monsters fight each other in a spectacular battle. ‘Terror on Route 87’ is suffering by the employment of some very awkward-looking stock footage with which the main actors interact sans proper eye-line matching. ‘Breach the Wall of Smoke’ is featuring some of the most spectacular scenes of (miniature) destruction in the series, courtesy of the turtle-like creature Kemular, or as is also known the Poison Gas Monster. ‘Overthrow the Surface’ is atmospheric and creepy, featuring the eerie Underground people that have no eyes and that unleash the Telesdon monster. ‘My Home is Earth’ is featuring the spectacular Jamila monster that throws flames from its mouth! The fascinating ‘The Undersea Science Center’ is featuring a shark-like monster (before they were cool) with a driller-like nose that can dig a hole in the ground and cause destruction as well; it is of course up to Ultraman to save the day again, but the episode is mostly memorable due to its brief but breathtaking underwater sequences. Three monsters, Guigass, Dorako, and Red King II show up in ‘The Mysterious Comet Tsuifon’ and it is up to Ultraman to bring things back to order. ‘The Monster Highness: (Part 1)’ and ‘The Monster Highness: (Part 2)’ feature the Gomora creature, not to be confused with the same-titled Italian gangster series.

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

Freud - Season 1 poster art.
Set in 1880 in Vienna, the 1st season of Netflix’s Freud (2020 – ongoing), a German/Austrian co-production, is about the titular psychoanalyst (played par excellence by Robert Finster) and his input in the investigation of a series of gruesome murders, among the ridicule of his profession by fellow doctors. In the meanwhile, a mysterious and beautiful woman Fleur Salome (the immensely gorgeous Ella Rumpf) as well as her personal demon Taltos (from the Hungarian mythology) will become Freud’s first real patient and by working in this case he will be shaped into the professional and human being that he was. These series don’t really know what they want to be, as sometimes they bear the sensibilities of a gothic melodrama and others opt for gross-out gore, and what’s more sometimes they go for a supernatural and dreamy approach, while others they opt for violent realism, but whatever they do, they do it great.

Based upon a graphic novel, Netflix’s Locke & Key (2020 – ongoing) is about the Locke siblings that after the mysterious murder of their father, they move with their mother to a secluded house, in which they discover a number of magical keys that help them enhance the dimensions of their lost one’s world. This modern gothic melodrama is never tiresome at only 10 episodes long, and it is also good proof that comic books are nowadays much more intelligent than the basic super-heroic and comedic stuff that my generation was reading back when we were kids. The series’ cutest aspect is the Savini Squad which is basically a group of nerdy filmmakers that try to make a splatter/monster movie and while doing so they also offer tons of geeky horror movie references; what’s more, Tom Savini himself also provides a cameo. The season finale is genuinely creepy.

Unorthodox (2020) art featuring Shira Haas as Esty.
Based upon a real story, Netflix’s limited series Unorthodox (2020), consists of four episodes (about an hour long each), and it is about the story of young bride Esty (Shira Haas, delivering what has to be the most powerful performance in a television series of the last decade – I simply can’t imagine how she copped with its demands) who flees from an arranged marriage (I consider those to be forced marriages in one way or another) and her strict and orthodox Jewish community in New York, in order to find a new life in Berlin (the city and its culture are portrayed very realistically here) as a pianist where her lesbian mother also lives. Stressful and stomach-churning, this is important story-telling and these excellent series should be seen by all, if only in order for such dreadful cultures to be exposed. If you thought only Christians and Muslims are bananas, wait until you see this.

The Mandalorian - Season 1
The 1st season of Disney Plus’ The Mandalorian (2019 – ongoing), created by Jon Favreau and consisting of 8 episodes, is about the titular helmet-wearing and cape-boasting pistolero (Pedro Pascal) who comes to the rescue of baby Yoda, and as a result the internet breaks down, overwhelmed in cuteness. Owing more to spaghetti westerns of the 1960s and 1970s, rather than anything George Lucas ever directed, this is featuring a version of the New Republic that resembles the old west, rather than the space opera aesthetics that the franchise had us used to. It is only occasionally exciting and visually pleasing, but most of the times it is tedious and boring.


The 6th season of Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (2013 – ongoing) finds the titular heroes where the last season left them, namely all around the galaxy looking for Phil Coulson (Clark Cregg) who this time returns as the mysterious Sarge and along with his team of aliens they have evil plans. The real villain of the season though is Izel (Karolina Wydra), who has already destroyed many planets and won’t hesitate to perform the dirty deeds again. The concept is tired at this stage, but the special effects keep getting better and better, and they do include anything imaginable, from spaceships to mummy-like baddies and from bat-like creatures to zombie-like abominations. The plot is all over the place, but strangely it works.

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May 1, 2020

A Binge too Far #10: The Haunting in Connecticut duo (2009 – 2010)

Creepy frame from The Haunting in Connecticut (2009)
I was staring at the television when I caught an talk show in which the interviewer asked the interviewee if he is ‘refreshed’. Because I don’t watch television shows, I asked my wife to help me understand why the interviewer does not ask the subject something about his probable recent doings (maybe he appeared in a film, released a music record, or starred in a series?), only to receive the explanation that this sort of people don’t do anything really and they are simply celebrities (mainly popular on social media platforms of one variety or another). This amazed me, to say the least. A Binge too Far is about people that actually do something on screen, and this time around we get to have a brief look on The Haunting in Connecticut duo (2009 – 2010).

The Haunting in Connecticut (2009)
Reviews:

The Haunting in Connecticut (2009)

Set in 1987, when a troubled family (the son is a cancer patient and the father is an alcoholic), moves to a Connecticut house with a history, probably of the supernatural kind. Based upon the real-life story of the Snedeker family that moved to a Connecticut house in 1986 and investigated by the famous Warren couple, the screenplay was written by Adam Simon and Tim Metcalfe.

The extended version that I opted for viewing this runs at 102 minutes (a considerably 10 more minutes than the theatrical version) is suffering of a few padding issues, as we get to witness long periods of time in which not much is happening. When things do happen, they are either of the ghost activity kind or the torture porn variety (both trends very relevant at the time this was released), and as such confusion ensues and the viewer does not know when to be scared and when to be disgusted. Director Peter Cornwell’s film is genuinely frightening at times and terribly boring at others. Made on a $10 million budget, it went on to gross $77 million, despite the bad reviews, and therefore it was super-natural for a sequel to follow.

The Haunting in Connecticut 2: Ghosts of Georgia (2013)
The Haunting in Connecticut 2: Ghosts of Georgia (2013)

This sequel is connected only in title with the original, and other than that director Tom Elkins (who also cut the picture, as he is an editor by trade) is offering a completely new story; one that is featuring the youthful Wyrick family (father is played by Chad Michael Murray, mother by Abigail Spencer, and daughter by Emily Alyn Lind) that just moved to a secluded house in Georgia that has a bit of history that goes back to the days of slavery and which in turn might have something to do with the origins of local ghost Mr. Gordy (Grant James).

When you have a 100 minutes and a witty screenwriter (David Coggeshall, mostly known for his TV work) at your disposal you can offer loads of character development, as is the case here. However, the rest of the movie is ‘by-the-numbers’ (this explicitly the case with its editing, for example) and it is only somewhat salvaged by its very attractive cast (another player, Katee Sackhoff is a joy to watch). It is at time genuinely creepy, but it mostly relies on grotesque aesthetics (the imagery is occasionally gross), rather than actual scares.

Based upon a book called The Veil: Heidi Wyrick’s Story which is about the events of the titular house in Georgia, the film’s attempt at connecting with some sort of ‘true story’ reality will appear credible only to the most hardened fans of such stories. The film received a limited theatrical release before being dumped into V.O.D. where it can be rented or purchased on the cheap, as is the case with its physical media release. Another sequel of sorts followed, The Amityville Murders (2018), which I had previously reviewed over at Weng’s Chop.

Afterword:


I just discovered ‘Tik Tok’ which appears to be an app in which teenagers sing and dance. Their videos – all shot with high-end mobile phone equipment – often get very creative, as these aspiring ‘content creators’ (dare not to call a new age videographer, an actual filmmaker) discover the secrets of cinema, pretty much filmmakers did so back in the age of silent cinema. The vast majority of those teenagers never saw the old black and white films that broke grounds and invented tricks, so they just discover them now all by themselves. How peculiar! Be sure to come back next month, when I’ll try to be less off-topic.

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