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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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