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September 1, 2018

Static Age #1

Static Age (named after The Misfits’ song about television is a new column in which I will be talking to you about all sorts of genre television.) Each installment will start with its spotlight in some classic or not-so classic title that doesn’t get the love it deserves and I had neglected seeing so far. Then we’ll proceed on discussing more recent shows. And in the end, we’ll be chatting about all sorts of random stuff, from mainstream film to film books. I hope you enjoy!

This Static Age’s spotlight goes to the 1st (and only) season of RoboCop: Prime Detectives (2000) which is essentially four one hour and a half movies, and whilst their satire is welcome, its predictions did not prove very accurate, while the special effects have not aged very well. Often, the soundtrack is reminiscent of westerns. However, it contains a lot of action and it is much better than what people have told you.

I also managed to catch up with the following recent shows…

The 2nd season of Peaky Blinders (2013 – present) find the same-named Birmingham gang and its leader Thomas Shelby (Cillian Murphy) coming up against with “bigger fish” as their reputation reaches London.

The 1st season of Narcos (2015 – present) is about the real-life story of infamous smuggler Pablo Escobar (played here in excellence by Wagner Moura) who used to make a lot of money smuggling a variety of goods, but really made millions when he started exporting cocaine from Columbia to the United States of America. I am a scholar of the real-life case of Escobar, and rarely have I seen a TV show being so true to the facts (real news photos and videos from the era are employed as well, making for a peculiar blend) while also remaining very entertaining.

Witch-hunts are aplenty in the 2nd season of Salem (2014 – 2017) which is better than the previous one, but there is still not too much story to keep you interested, so the creators rely mostly on scares, and they are very successful on those. Lucy Lawless appears as a rather morbid guest star on several episodes, whilst Joe Dante directs one of them. Still, Janet Montgomery steals the show with her unmatchable beauty.

The 1st season of French television sensation The Returned (2012 – 2015), created by Fabrice Gobert, is about a school-bus road accident that left many kids dead, that several years later return from the dead, much to the terror of the people that knew them. The beautiful and haunting score is by renowned band Mogway. Aside from the violence, there is also a lot of nudity and sex to be found here. This slow-burn subtle horror masterpiece is a remake of Robin Campillo’s same-titled movie, and it went on to be remade as a series for U.S. television as well, but we’ll discuss this in a subsequent installment of the present column.

The 2nd season of The Handmaid’s Tale (2017 – present) is set in a near future, in which women have been bared of all human rights and are enslaved and forced to reproduce, because… religion! This is June Osborne’s (Elisabeth Moss) tale of survival against a totalitarian state of fundamentalist lunatics. By far this year’s most intelligent show, it raises questions on the dangers of organized religion and how easily it can turn to terrorism and eventually take control. It also doesn’t hurt that it is in essence the most feminist series in the history of the medium.

In the 1st season of In the Flesh (2013 – 2014) we are introduced to a post-post-apocalypse world where the zombies have rehabilitated and they try to fit back into the wretched society. However, trouble is still prevalent as a paramilitary group of vigilantes is roaming the streets, hungry for the blood of the undead. Severely British (be aware that it goes as far as having an aunt talking about having tea, with a zombie, no less), but also quite original, this three-episode masterpiece will have you rooting for the living dead, rather than the despicable humans.

But, I also caught up with a few mainstream films…

Director Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther (2018) is about the titular hero (Chadwick Boseman) who is the King of Wakanda, a peculiar African country, and his struggles against a very powerful opponent who seeks for revenge. Groundbreaking for being one of the very few superhero films in which the male lead is black, it was a hit with audiences as it grossed more than $1.3 billion, proving that even mainstream audiences like diversity, even when it comes to race.

A film I fell asleep while watching it was Alfie (1966) directed by Lewis Gilbert and starring Michael Caine in the eponymous role (a pathetic womanizer). It actually reminded me how sad British cinema is.

Director Johannes Roberts’ The Strangers: Prey at Night (2018) may be a very good and strong sequel, but it came a little too late and not many noticed and even fewer bothered. Still, it is even darker than the previous entry and it must be seen by fans of realistic horror.

In Gerald’s Game (2017) middle-aged white yuppie couple Gerald (Bruce Greenwood) and Jessie (the ultra-gorgeous Carla Gugino) attempt to spice up their sex life by spending a little time on their own in a secluded house, with the help of Viagra and handcuffs. Unfortunately though Gerald dies before the act and Jessie is left handcuffed on a bed in the middle of nowhere, facing death by starvation and dehydration. However, things are not that simple as paranoia lurks and the poor woman starts talking with herself and the dead husband. Right now cinema is going through a Stephen King renaissance, as more and more of the author’s works are adapted into successful movies, which is stunning, considering that King’s books were believed to be an 1980s thing, even if he never stopped churning out product. This is another adaptation of one of his works, this time by screenwriters Mike Flanagan (who also directed) and Jeff Howard. The same-titled 1992 book was also thought to be King’s most un-filmable one, but the filmmakers did miracles here, because although it is essentially a drama about two actors in one room, what we have here is great material, nicely delivered. Sure, most of it is an art-house exercise in subtle terror, but the ending becomes a full-on horror affair. It is slow and even a bit boring at times, but nonetheless the work of a master.

Director Kevin Philips’ Super Dark Times (2017) is about a small group of high school students that go on about messing in the woods with weed and a deadly weapon (a sword, to be precise), but the fun and games end up with an accidents that leaves one of them dead. Driven by fear and panic the rest of them cover up the crime, but paranoia lurks, essentially giving them the message that you can’t get away with murder and from murder. This is a slow-burn affair that got a lot of love from prestigious film festivals and critics alike, but other than its expert cinematography (by Eli Born), I couldn’t find much else to like here.

My Friend Dahmer (2017) by writer/director Marc Meyers is based upon the 2012 same-titled graphic novel by John Backderf and is about the childhood and teenage life of convicted serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer (here played by Ross Lynch) before he went on a murder spree during which he offed at least 17 young men. At 107 minutes long I found it to be boring and overlong, without adding too much to a character that true-crime aficionados already know pretty much everything. The whole film feels a bit too comic book-like for its own good as well, making the end result seem awkward. Premiering at the prestigious 2017 Tribeca Film Festival, and gaining positive reviews and audience reactions, it strangely bombed at the box-office, grossing a mere $1.5 million.

Truth or Dare (2018) by director Jeff Wadlow is about a bunch of American teenagers that holiday in Mexico during Spring Break, when a mysterious man (Landon Liboiron) proposes a game of – you guessed it – truth or dare. The problem though is that the game results in the death of those who play it. What’s more, even after stopping playing the initial match, the kids are followed back by it and they are forced to engage in it again. This is a typical meta-slasher, in the vein of Final Destination (2000) when the air of doom is a little bit more inexplicable than, say, a regular serial killer, but the unfortunate fact that the eponymous game itself is really boring, the outcome couldn’t be a great film. Still, although it is Blumhouse’s weakest entry in a series of recent exciting horrors, it is way above the similar films of its ilk from competitor studios. Overlong at 100 minutes, this becomes torturous when some of the ‘truths’ and ‘dares’ have to do with who slept with who or who loves who. Essentially, this is an actors’ screenplay, but the acting personnel on display is not strong enough. Made on a modest budget of $3.5 million, this went on to gross an outstanding $94.8 million. Truth or Dare?: A Critical Madness (1986) was way better.

Kung Fu: The Movie (1986) by director Richard Lang, finds Kwai Chang Caine (David Carradine) meeting the father of a man he had killed, and who will seek revenge by using Caine’s son Chung Wang (Brando Lee, in his acting debut). A lot of so-and-so choreography will be employed in order to solve the conflict, and much more bullshit philosophy that seems hilarious, now, more than thirty years after this TV-movie’s initial airing. Also featuring Martin Landau (no introduction needed) and William Lucking (whose acting skills are lacking). This is my first foray with the franchise, and although I’m not quite excited about it, I understand its historical importance in the 1970s and 1980s martial arts-craze, and therefore I promise to come back soon with a lengthier text in regards to its television series, via this very column.

John Travolta plays legendary gangster John Gotti in the aptly named Gotti (2018), which is nowhere near as bad as reviewers have told you, nor is it anywhere near as good as its marketing department has told you when it went on to attack the critics back in a surprising if original tactical move. It is simply meh, and quite boring at that too. As far as gangster biopics go, you should give this one a pass. Directed by Kevin Connolly.

BH Tilt’s The Belko Experiment (2016) is about the same-titled social experiment which finds 80 office workers unwillingly trapped in their job’s yuppie building where they will have to eliminate each other in order to survive. James Gunn’s screenplay (who also produced, with Peter Safran) is anti-capitalist at its core, and it comes complete with anti-corporate irony when it uses relevant signs/messages as a backdrop for mayhem and cruelty. Director Greg McLean delivered quite the masterpiece here.

In director Mark L. Lester’s Commando (1987) a South American gang makes the mistake of kidnaping John Matrix’s (Arnold Schwarzenegger) daughter along with killing some of his friends from his time in the Black Ops. Now they will have to face the consequences of the armed commando who will kill all their peers in an amazing spectacle of shootouts and explosions. A crescendo of hard-boiled action, probably the best of its kind.

Writer/director Ari Aster’s Hereditary (2018) is about the loss of a child (and it echoes the you-know-which film from the 1970s), but it goes even deeper, when the leading family has to face sĂ©ances and the revelation of dark secrets. It is surely the slow-burn horror masterpiece of the year, and it doesn’t even become tiresome at over 2 hours long. Another winner from game-changers A24.

In Djinn (2013) Salama (Razane Jammal) and Khalid (Khalid Laith) have recently lost their child in its infancy and after a bit of consulting with a psychiatrist Soumaya Akaaboune) they decide to move to Ras al-Khaimah, only to get terrorized by their neighbours that are actually monsters. Or, is the female lead going mad, as David Tully’s screenplay so cleverly is teasing? There is no doubt that this is Tobe Hooper’s worst film but it is unfair to expect from a 70 year old man to make masterpieces in 2013 the same way he did them as a 31 year old youngster in 1974 – these were/are different times. However, the film is not without its merits, as when the horror settings become familiar, such as in the car trap scene, the fear becomes realistic and quite effective too. Produced by Tim Smythe and Daniela Tully on a $5 million budget and shot on location in the exotic Dubai, it was then acquired by Fortissimo Films in 2011 with a plan to be released in 2012, but this plan was never materialized. There is a lot of speculation on why the release was held up, with contradictory information being all over the internet if you are interested. However, sales were finally launched at 2013’s Berlin International Film Festival Market. It officially premiered in Abu Dhabi Film Festival later in the year. To this day, it has only be released on physical media in Germany (on BD), although it is available on V.O.D. in the U.S – you can rent it on Amazon, which is what I did.
In Pet (2016), Seth (Dominic Monaghan) is the usual pathetic loser that is stuck on a dead-end $9/hour job, feeding animals in a small (and quite seedy) Animal Control facility. Upon returning home one day he meets gorgeous waitress Holly (Ksenia Solo) at the bus and charmed he tries to start a conversation but she politely ignores him. Seth has a friend at his job, security guard Nate (Da'Vone McDonald) who gives him advice on how to approach women, and this just what he does when he visits the diner that Holly is working, but things still don’t work and he is left disappointed. The stalking continues, until one day Seth breaks into Holly’s apartment, drugs her, puts her in a box and drags her to the Animal Control facility’s basement in which he locks her in a pet cage. As he says, he will try to save her by keeping her there. The screenplay by Jeremy Slater is centering on the psycho at hand, but is he the only true nutcase here? Whichever is the answer (which you’ll not get from me, you’ll have to see this for yourself) this is still an one-man show by Dominic Monaghan and contrary to what the poster would have you believe, it is a film about performances. This goes even further, as the audience is asked to keep an eye out to the various dynamics and mechanics that are built between the brilliant cast. If you watch Pet, you agree to be taken on a journey to a study of the psyche of loneliness, essentially an assessment of how a paranoid person proceeds with his stalking business (the second half is indeed about imprisonment, but the first half is about the hunt of the prey – and in none too adventurous way at that, the mood and the tone here are low-key). The dialogue is kept at a minimum as this is a totally visual (and thereby cinematic) experience; all set-pieces are brilliant, and it is made quickly apparent that director Carles Torrens is a true master. As such, the deeper we go into the concept of how (if we are not too careful) one day we may wake up in some sort of a jail (and frighteningly it seems that not only the state has the power to do that). Still, it is a film about a girl in her underwear locked inside a cage, which may be too strong imagery for certain audiences, but I take my hat off to the filmmakers for avoiding to employ the expected by such films rape scene. Produced by Nick Phillips and Kelly Wagner, Pet after premiering at South by Southwest, was a major box-office disappointment, as it grossed a pathetic $70 bucks from one theatre; this makes it the lowest grossing film of the year, which tells a lot about us, as audience members, and how much we don’t appreciate original material such as the one under review.
In The Visit (2015) Loretta Jamison (Kathryn Hahn) is a divorced mom and she decides she needs a little bit of time of vacationing with her current boyfriend. To ensure her privacy, she sends her young son (Ed Oxenbould) who is an unprofessional rapper (although I don’t know of any professional ones) and her teenage daughter (Olivia DeJonge) for holidays in the middle of nowhere, to their grandparents’, who they have never met. It is not long before one weird event comes after the other, in what is essentially one of the creepiest films from 2015, while also managing to maintain a necessary amount of humor throughout. The film’s original title was Sundowning and it was indeed under this title that it went into principal photography in February 2014. Shyamalan went to press commenting about the many different cuts that he had at several stages in post-production that were totally different among each other in regards to tone, and that the version released is an amalgam of all of them. The theatrical trailer debuted in April 2015. It was distributed theatrically by Universal Pictures in September 2015. It was released on disc on January 2016. It grossed more than $98.4 million, making it financially one of the most successful horror movies of the year. The festival circuit was equally generous as the film enjoyed a very healthy run.

Leatherface (2017) is set before the events of the first film and working as a prequel to that this is about a bunch of mental patients that just escaped from a mental clinic somewhere in Texas. We follow them on their wild and violent trip towards freedom and carnage, which is only matched by the similar story arc of a local ranger who is on a mission to avenge the death of his daughter. In essence there are not any distinctive bad guys or good guys here, just violent people trying to achieve their goals. And for once in a modern horror film, yes, the main characters have goals here and purpose behind their actions. The main mystery though is, who, among all the escaped mental patients will grow up to become Leatherface. This also happens to be the film’s greatest fault, as you don’t know who the focal character or villain is – all of them (including the cops) seem to be pretty terrible people. The film doesn’t seem to know what it wants to be either, but for once, again, in a modern horror film, this works on its favor, as Leatherface is a stuffed salad that is mixing so many good ingredients that somehow the end result is delicious. And yes, I used the word ‘delicious’ for a film about a chainsaw wielding maniac that slays so much raw meat that I may get sued by vegans. Actually, this – with its Texas BBQ-flavored taste – is the one film you should not show to a vegan this year. Seth M. Sherwood’s screenplay is not so much impressive for its ‘coming of age’ sensibilities (this is a piece about a man growing up from being a maniac to more maniac) but for the research that it is apparent that was conducted as there is so much attention to detail here that every little character we have seen before is carefully represented and accurately portrayed. On the other hand the direction by Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury is so stylish and calculated (in a very raw way) that it less reminiscent of any recent horror reboots/remakes/whatnot, and more in tune with the works of Quentin Tarantino or Rob Zombie. It also keeps you on the edge of your seat at all times and it has you biting your nails as this is the most stress-inducing modern film I’ve seen in a while. The truth is that it is cruel for cruelty’s shake (although it never breaks into the so-called ‘torture porn’ territory) but it is also so inventive with its violence (most of the kills or the overall violence is impeccably innovative) that you can’t help it but love the material. Sure, its approach is also style over content, but I don’t see anything wrong with that. Is it the best Chainsaw film we have seen in ages? Absolutely. Do not fail to see this.

And finally, I enriched my knowledge and bookshelf by purchasing the following books…
Mike “McBeardo” McPadden’s Heavy Metal Movies is an enjoyable read and a massive tome really (more than 550 pages long) which aside from reviewing pretty much every movie that is about heavy metal (or any other kind of metal music) it also includes several other genre films, simply because they are awesome (the word metal here is often used as a synonymous for being awesome). Buy this and you will learn a lot of things, but most of all you will be captivated by the writer’s energized prose.
James Pontolillo’s The Unknown War of Edward D. Wood Jr. 1942 – 1946 is as you might have guessed about our favorite filmmaker’s time in the army. A lot has been written (and said by Eddie himself) about how heroic of a soldier he was, but this book proves otherwise, as documents reveal that Eddie was not much else other than an office clerk, whose most dangerous stunt was contracting syphilis from a prostitute. The amount of research that went into this study and the vast section of scanned documents provided is impressive, but unfortunately the little prose that can be found within its pages is suffering from the absence of an editor. Probably not too many would care about what a 1950s schlock director was doing in the army, but I did, so maybe a few other may too.
Kim Newman’s Video Dungeon: The Collected Reviews, as its title makes plain, collects many of the renowned writer’s previously published capsule reviews from his same-titled column that runs for several years now. As the writer admits in the end of the book, what presented here is only a small fraction of his output, so I hope we will see sequel books. Benefiting from Newman’s signature style, this is a blueprint of how short reviews must be written, wasting no space whilst delivering the necessary information. In fact, the writing here is so strong that the absence of pictures (strange for a film book) is almost unnoticeable. 560 pages long and quite inexpensive for its size, this is a must-buy for genre film aficionados.

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