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December 1, 2022

Static Age #23: Dead of Night (1972)

Dead of Night (1972) DVD cover


This Static Age’s spotlight goes to BBC’s classic horror series Dead of Night (1972). Unfortunately only three episodes survive out of the seven that were made, but these are now available from BFI on Region 2 [PAL] DVD that comes with an informative 28-page booklet featuring short essays on the series, each available episode, and several key creative personnel. ‘The Exorcism’ is the stronger episode and is about two couples in their mid-30s who upon hanging out in a secluded villa, strange incidents occur. ‘Return Flight’ is about an airplane pilot (Peter Barkworth) that encounters the ghost of a World War II bomber. In ‘A Woman Sobbing’ a housewife (Anna Massey) is hearing a woman crying in the attic, but is it hallucinations caused by paranoia or is the house in desperate need of an exorcism?

 

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

 

Into the Dark - Season 2

Executive produced by Jason Blum and made available on Hulu, the 2nd (and final) season of Into the Dark (2018 – 2021) consists of another 12 feature-length, most of them second-rate when compared to Blumhouse’s theatrical output, but very entertaining nevertheless. ‘Uncanny Annie’ is set during the Halloween celebrations and is about a group of students playing a board game that is about to turn deadly. When re-enactors are invited at a family dinner table to celebrate Thanksgiving in ‘Pilgrim’, things go south with religious lunacy! ‘A Nasty Piece of Work’ is about to highly paid employees and competitors (Kyle Howard and Dustin Milligan) that get invited to their boss’ (Julian Sands) mansion and are prepared to do anything in order to get a bonus or a raise. ‘Midnight Kiss’ is modern giallo about a black-gloved and masked serial killer that is targeting a group of gay friends; but could the assailant be one of them? ‘My Valentine’ is about the battle of two pop stars, featuring music video aesthetics that pop out of the screen, but come with very little substance in what resembles a musical for the social media generation. ‘Crawlers’ is set during the St. Patrick’s day and night celebration, when an alien invasion takes place featuring green-blooded human-shaped impostor aliens! The titular demonic toy returns in the highly entertaining ‘Pooka Lives!’. The nightmarish ‘Delivered’ is about young pregnant woman Valerie (Natalie Paul) who gets abducted by psycho woman Jenny (Tina Majorino) who is about to claim her baby. In ‘Good Boy’, struggling 39-year-old journalist Maggie (Judy Greer) is desperate to become a mom but her dating life (mostly generated by an app) does not go so well, so she gets a dog that ends up not being man’s best friend exactly. ‘The Current Occupant’ is asking, what is more likely, the president of the U.S.A. to be hospitalized against his will in a psychiatric ward against his will as a part of large conspiracy or that a mental patient believes he’s going to save the world? ‘Tentacles’ is an utterly boring episode concerning the love story between photographer Sam Anselm (Casey Deidrick) and the mysterious Tara (the gorgeous Dana Drori, offering some nudity) that turns dark once secrets of the doll’s past are revealed incrementally. In ‘Blood Moon’ single mother Esme Rawls (Megalyn Echikunwoke) and her son Luna (Yonas Kibreab) move to a small town in order to make a fresh start, but there is something mysterious about them.

 

The Sandman - Season 1

Based on the same-titled DC Comic’s graphic novel by Neil Gaiman, Netflix’s The Sandman (2022 – present) is about the Goth-styled Dream (Tom Sturridge) who upon escaping the eternal prison of a magus is now ready to reclaim his kingdom. As fairytale-like as it is to be expected from shows based on Gaiman’s works, this dark fantasy delivers and we can’t wait for more.

 

The 3rd (and final season) of the ill-fated and weak Scream (2015 – 2019) is bringing more ghostface against teenagers action to the table as expected, as well as Tony Todd in a desperate attempt to elevate this to something better than a pop aesthetics-obsessed standard slasher, but doesn’t succeed too much. Most of the slashing action takes place in the ‘hood and the college, and is featuring amateur acting and awful dialogue that delivers sentences that make no grammatical sense aiming to sound ‘hip’; atrocious at most levels, this should be avoided at all costs and should also be removed from Wes Craven’s filmography who supposedly ‘executive produced’ it. It is silly fun, but it is mostly silly and very little fun.

 

Slasher - Season 4

In the 4th season of Shudder’s Slasher (2016 – present) dying businessman Spencer (legendary director David Cronenberg, giving a much-needed credibility to the proceedings) sets up a series of games for his family, the winner of which will inherit his fortune. Filled with splatter scenes you could only see in theaters a few years ago, this is an enjoyable addition to the long list of recent television horrors.

 

American Crime Story - Season 3

The 3rd season of the based-on-true-events crime series American Crime Story (2016 – present) tells the story of the Bill Clinton (Clive Owen) and Monica Lewinski (Beanie Feldstein) scandal that shook the political 1990s turmoil. Amazingly well-done and with a clear sense of aesthetic identity (all seasons have the same pace and tone despite telling entirely different stories), this series is a winner; although I couldn’t help but thinking that Americans seem to be very frustrated when it comes to sex.

 

Based on the 1990s sex tape scandal that shook the American celebrity foundation and changed forever the way superstars would manage their careers as well as the nature of pornography, hulu’s miniseries Pam & Tommy (2022) with Lily James and Sebastian Stan in the titular roles is fun (the comedic moments work perfectly) and interesting.

 

Westworld - Season 3

The 3rd season of Westworld (2016 – present) is continuing the journey of several humans and robots, the conjunction of the stories of both will interfere with the future of the projected matrix that they co-habit. Technophobic or visionary, whichever way you see it the series has gotten tired and outstayed their welcome. The more complicated the screenplay becomes the more boring the show becomes; it has the occasional interesting hook, but it isn’t enough. It is the sort of thing that would apply only to computer engineers, but that is a very limited audience. The scarce action scenes are occasionally outstanding, but not enough to save the day.

 

Following the death of the first two seasons’ protagonist, the 3rd (and final) season of Lethal Weapon (2016 – 2019) pairs old cop Roger Murtaugh (Damon Wayans) with ex-C.I.A. and current copper Wesley Cole (Seann William Scott) for another round of police action (albeit this time a little more contained at a run of a mere 15 episodes). Roger struggles with thoughts of retirement while Wesley tries to make up for his past that is filled with guilt, and both will employ a series of unorthodox and spectacular methods of crime fighting. More problematic than usual because this aired in recent years when the glorification of police excesses is wrong to say the least, this is strangely entertaining as long as you don’t take it seriously.

 

The Irregulars - Season 1

The sole season of limited series The Irregulars (2021) – all eight episodes of which are readily available on Netflix – is set in the deep underground side of Victorian times London, amidst poverty, seedy pubs, and even prostitution, as we witness the story of a gang of juvenile delinquents that perform dirty deeds for Doctor Watson (Royce Pierreson) and Sherlock Holmes (Henry-Lloyd Hughes). Not grounded in reality at all, and with a very heavy-handed fantasy flavor in it, this is visually interesting most of the times, but rarely entertaining enough.

 

Based on the ‘Lonely Boy’ autobiography by Sex Pistols guitarist Steve Jones, the miniseries Pistol (2022) are about the birth, rise, and fall of the legendary U.K. band that came like a storm as a result of the unique characters that formed it and surrounded it, as well as the sociopolitical climate. Although punk rock did not begin with Sex Pistols, nor did it end with them, their importance to that subculture’s landscape is immeasurable. Written and created by Craig Pearce, and directed by Danny Boyle, these 6 episodes opt for the full screen format and occasionally employ archival footage in order to project a better picture of the era.

 

Guillermo del Toro's Cabinet of Curiosities

The 1st season of the anthology series Guillermo del Toro’s Cabinet of Curiosities (2022) has the titular creator/director introducing the standalone episodes in Alfred Hitchcock manner, and all 8 of them have a special ‘Eerie’ comics-styled air and moralist angle about them that is both nostalgic and awesome; plus, all of them are directed by some of the genre’s current top directors. ‘Lot 36’ is about the discovery of four rare black magic books in a recently auctioned storage lot. Vincenzo Natali’s ‘Graveyard Rats’ tackles the subject of grave robbing and the deadly consequences that may come with it. David Prior’s visceral masterpiece ‘The Autopsy’ spends so much time in the morgue that you’ll forget you’re watching something made for the small screen and it will be stomached only by members of the audience who are familiar with extreme visuals. ‘The Outside’ is a macabre masterepice about an outcast woman that will do anything to fit in with the popular crowd of her work environment, even if what it’d take would be using a dangerous and possibly deadly lotion. Based on a short story by H.P. Lovecraft, ‘Pickman’s Model’ is about an art student (Ben Barnes) who meets a very skilled colleague (Crispin Glover) whose paintings may be of demonic qualities. ‘Dreams in the Witch House’ is also based on a short story by H.P. Lovecraft and is about a mysterious drug that may be able to bring back the dead, but the real terror is an anthropomorphic rat creature. Directed by Panos Cosmatos, ‘The Viewing’ is a cosmic horror masterpiece about an eccentric rich man that hosts an exclusive party for four peculiar guests. Starring Andrew Lincoln, ‘The Murmuring’ is about a middle-aged couple that mourns the death of their child by reclosing themselves in an old house in which the previous tenants might have died tragically. Like Alfred Hithcock before him, del Toro’s television is better than his films, and frankly I cannot wait for the next season.

 

Marvel’s television special Werewolf by Night (2022) tells the story of the titular monstrous superhero and does so by employing the aesthetics of the old Hollywood horrors, relying mostly in black and white cinematography (red is the only color you see, and only the epilogue is in full color) along with some fan-service qualities that include superbly choreographed action sequences and stunning gore set-pieces. Possibly the best thing you can now stream on Disney+.

 

Written and directed by James Gunn, Marvel’s The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special (2022) follow Mantis (the stunning Pom Klementieff) and Drax (Dave Bautista) on a mission to planet Earth in order to claim Kevin Bacon and bring him as a Christmas present to Peter Quill (Chris Pratt). Sweet and touching, and with a rocking soundtrack to bone, this is the perfect holiday special and should be missed by none who has access too Disney+.

 

And now, please allow me a word on some recent mainstream film releases…

 

Thor: Love and Thunder (2022) promotional art

Marvel’s Thor: Love and Thunder (2022), directed by Taika Waititi, has the titular hero (Chris Hemsworth, looking like a rock star) build bridges with his ex-girlfriend and lady Thor herself (Natalie Portman, looking as gorgeous as ever) in order to fight the Gorr, the God Butcher (Christian Bale), who as his name reveals is set out to destroy all gods. Made the same way these things are (featuring the standard cinematography, editing, CGI, etc.) but with all actors hamming it up in order to generate comedy, this is a weak entry in the long string of recent superhero movies, but Guns N’ Roses is constantly blasting in the soundtrack appropriately enough and manages somehow to save the day.

 

Samaritan (2022) poster

Since Sylvester Stallone failed to get the call from either Marvel or DC (and he’s better off without them, in my opinion) he produced (as Balboa Productions, with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer) director Julius Avery’s Samaritan (2022) – now available for streaming on Amazon Prime – in which he plays an aged superhero teaching a young kid (Javon ‘Wanna’ Walton) a life lesson or two, while anticipating the rise of a local villain (Pilou Asbaek). Well-done action-fest in the realm of a Gotham-like setting, this is possibly the first movie I see in which the CGI fires don’t suck.

 

Directed by Luca Rea (who also wrote it, with Steve Della Casa) Django & Django (2021) is a documentary on legendary Italian director Sergio Corbucci (who as readers of this blog know had great success in genres such as westerns and peplum) is not as informative as the many good books on the spaghetti westerns that were published in recent years (it is running for a mere 77 minutes and plays better as a nostalgic homage) but it is absolutely entertaining, thanks to its talking heads (Quentin Tarantino, Franco Nero, and Reggero Deodato) and archival footage.

 

Nope (2022) promotional art

Written, produced, and directed by acclaimed filmmaker Jordan Peele, Nope (2022) is about a small group of people that are employed in the trenches of the film industry and that are about to capture Oprah-level footage of alien activity in their secluded ranch. At 130 minutes this is much too long and with a first half that drags a lot, but the finale is rewarding, and the sci-fi/western mash is so good and original that makes the whole thing for a very entertaining experience.

 

Directed by Kevin McDonagh, Leviathan: The Story of Hellraiser and Hellbound: Hellraiser II (2015) is a documentary on the making and releasing of the two titular 1980s horror classics, and it is good to see all these talking heads intermixed with footage from the films and behind-the-scenes material, but there is not much added here that fans didn’t already know and there’s zero artistry involved as well, resulting in something as plain as a TV news episode, albeit one that lasts for much longer.

 

Halloween Ends (2022) wraps the Blumhouse-backed and David Gordon Green-directed sequel trilogy on a high note, as it is a crescendo of Laurie (Jamie Lee Curtis, who also executive producer) vs. Michael Myers (James Jude Courtney) violent antics, concluding their long history of violence. This time though another killer (Rohan Campbell) is also introduced, and while you may think you know where this’d go, it takes a left turn and surprises everyone. Masterful in all departments, from delivering the thrills and suspense, to actually being scary and intelligent at the same time, this is the best entry this franchise has seen in many years. John Carpenter served as one of the composers and executive producers.

 

DC’s Black Adam (2022), directed by Jaume Collet-Serra is about the titular superhero (Dwayne Johnson) who is resurrected and is lured to saving his people. Bombastic and featuring enhanced CGI fights every few minutes, this light adventure is raising some questions about good and evil, and even imperialism, but in childish manner. It is not groundbreaking by any means, but a very welcome addition to the long list of recent superhero films.


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November 1, 2022

A Binge too Far #27: A duo of Scott Derrickson's Cursed Films (2015 & 2021)

Frame from The Black Phone (2021) featuring Ethan Hawke

 

I don’t understand people that find it special watching horror films on Halloween. I watch horror films throughout the entire year, and I try to celebrate Halloween by dressing up or scaring people as much too. But to keep up with the trends, and since yesterday was Halloween, please check out my brief thoughts on two Scott Derrickson horror outings.

 

Sinister 2 (2015) poster

Sinister 2
(2015)

 

Hot M.I.L.F. Courtney (ShannynSossamon) has taken her kids Dylan (Robert Daniel Sloan) and Zach (Dartanian Sloan) away from their abusive father and to a vacant farmhouse in the middle of nowhere, kindly provided by a friend. The meathead father (Lea Coco) has found the farm, but he is late, because before him Ex-Deputy So & So (James Ransone, who brings with him a Shaggy kind of quality of the Scooby Doo, Where are you! TV series [1969 – 1970]) arrived there and befriended the family, and manages to send the bad guy away, duo to a law technicality that the policemen he brought with him did not foresee. So & So is the only returning character from the first film [Sinister (2012)], in case you live under a rock; the character had worked in that film’s Ellison Oswalt case) and this time around he arrived at the aforementioned location with a mission to destroy it, because an antique ham radio (antiques are a theme here, as the female lead works in restoration of these things, although she’s only telling us so and we never see her in professional action) came to his attention (its original owner was the disappeared Professor Jonas from the first film) and its recordings of young kids’ voices connect it to the franchise’s main attraction demon Bughuul (stuntman Nicholas King, also returning from the first film, and getting closer to becoming a new Kane Hodder). If that is not enough, Dylan is also visited by a gang of ghost kids led by Milo (Lucas Jade Zumann) that share with him the projection of a few snuff movies on 8mm (these segments were actually shot on 16mm, but they pass for 8mm) accompanied with some vinyl music. How on earth young kids would know how to work with this technology now that their lives without physical media prevent them from even using a CD player is beyond logic, but then again, these are ghost kids. The snuff films themselves are quite interesting, one of them has a family eaten alive by crocodiles, another one has a family buried in the snow, another one has a family electrocuted, and two more are just featuring plain torture [old movies is another theme here, and we even get glimpses of Night Of The Living Dead (1968)]. This grotesque imagery may look shocking to young audiences today, but we grew up with Joe D'Amato’s Emanuelle In America (1977) and we do know better.

 

As you may have already guessed from the synopsis above, this is more of a family drama rather than a horror film, and it is a great one at that; it is a good movie, just not a scary one. The screenplay (penned again by returning writers C. Robert Cargill and Scott Derrickson) is cleverly devised and convincing. One good example is when So & So tried to keep the family in the house, because tradition has the families dying after leaving the cursed houses, he did so by using a fake legal excuse in regards to the kids’ custody. It is a logical way to keep the family confined to the house (to build suspense and scares) and still look like you have a reasonable script on your hands. If you survive the boring start, you will be rewarded with some very interesting dreamy imagery too [courtesy of cinematographer Amy Vincent {Black Snake Moan (2006)}]. Other than that, the casting is pitch-perfect, but the moment of greatness came with the visually compelling end credits.

 

Shot in six weeks in Chicago, this was produced by Jason Blum and Scott Derrickson, on a $10 million budget and it grossed $52.9 million. It was directed by CiarĂ¡n Foy on the strength of Citadel (2012) in which he also had to work with kids.

 

The Black Phone (2021)

The Black Phone
(2021)

 

Set in 1978 Denver (and with plenty of references to the era’s drive-in horror hits), when a masked assailant called The Grabber (Ethan Hawke, in a career-defining role, even as he takes his mask of only for the finale) abducts young kids and leaves behind a trail of black balloons as his signature. His latest victim, Finney (Mason Thames) is locked in a seedy basement with the titular non-working black phone attached to a wall that will become a catalyst to the story. In the meanwhile, Finney’s sister Gwen (Madeleine McGraw) has dreams that may help the police with the investigation, much to the annoyance of their abusive father (Jeremy Davies) – a subplot that doesn’t add much to the proceedings.

 

Based on the same-titled short story by Joe Hill, and directed by the master of current horror Scott Derrickson (who also penned the screenplay, with C. Robert Cargill – the two of them also produced, with Jason Blum for Blumhouse Productions), this stunning motion picture creates an uncomfortable environment – not only due to the sensitive subject matter of the abduction of minors, but also to the violence among kids that it frequently depicts – and blends footage, reality, and expectations with such artistry that it wouldn’t be an exaggeration to call the end result one of the finest horror films of the last ten years. Made on a modest $18 million budget (after its director departed a Marvel production), it premiered at the Fantastic Fest, before receiving a theatrical release from Universal Pictures, and it went on to gross a glorious $161 million, resulting in discussions of a sequel.


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October 1, 2022

A Binge too Far #26 - A Quiet Place duo (2018 - 2020)

A frame from A Quiet Place (2018)


Reviews:

 

A Quiet Place (2018) poster

A Quiet Place
(2018)

 

The tagline pretty much explains the plot here (the screenplay was written by John Krasinski [who also directed], Bryan Woods and Scott Beck [based upon the duo’s own story]). Set in a post-apocalypse world, where disgusting and big alien creatures have taken over, this is focusing on a family that tries its best to survive; meaning they try to remain quiet at all times (they employ the sign language in order to communicate with each other), because the monsters may be blind (an advantage to the few human survivors) but they have extra sensitive hearing abilities (a disadvantage to the few humans left alive) and will attack anything that makes the slightest sound.

 

Not a lot has been left that hasn’t been already said about this, which is essentially the cinematic sensation of the year, so I’ll keep it short and simple, in the tradition of this column. The project was originally developed as a Cloverfield (2008 – present) sequel, one that would be inspired by the many silent films the filmmakers are fans of, but somewhere along the road it was decided to make it as a standalone feature with no connection to that franchise. It was mostly filmed in November 2017 in New York, and a teaser was quickly released, albeit to not too many views. Then in March 2018 the film was premiered at the South by Southwest Festival to huge critical acclaim which worked as a domino effect and had everyone talking about this new original piece, resulting to several online hits and queries for further screenings. It went on general theatrical release and it grossed more than $334.5 million, which considering its $21 million budget is impressive to say the least and a sequel is already in the works (it is said that it will see the light of the night in 2020).

 

But is it as good as the word of mouth says it is? Yes, and more so! It is featuring the best sound design in the history of the medium, and it actually is the most original and intelligent horror film that we have seen in ages. Sure, it is awkward in the sense that all its set-pieces are long, so we do not get too many of them in its short 90 minutes running time (and some 7 minutes of that is the end credits, leaving us only with approximately 83 minutes of monster mayhem), and maybe the whole idea would be more appropriate for a longer film or as a matter of fact, an event TV series, but there are so many moments of great drama on display here that you should be forgiving with such small faults. The end result is not entertaining per say, and it should probably be mostly observed as a great work of art. But even if you are here for the monsters and the monsters alone, fear not, the ones here are both terrific and terrifying. The bottom line is that if you need to see only one horror film this year, this should be it.

 

A Quiet Place Part II (2020) promotional poster

A Quiet Place Part II
(2020)

 

Follow Emmett (Cillian Murphy), Evelyn Abbott (Emily Blunt), and a fistful of kids under their protection, as they try to survive an alien invasion featuring big and gross creatures that cannot see you, but do instead have very sensitive hearing, not to mention a desire to eat you alive. For a chase film with overtones of horror (don’t look for too much character development in here), this is competent enough (the air of professionalism is top-notch in every department), but I prefer films that have something to say, and this does not.

 

For a film about monsters that attack when you make a sound, the sound design in particular is outstanding, especially when it changes its point of view (or is it point of hear?). Directed by John Krasinski, this dialogue-free for most of the time, which is its most original element, but its overall silence also boosts the jump scares when those happen and help them become more effective. The end result is very similar to television’s most successful zombie show, but this is not a bad thing. Made on a $61 million budget, this went on to gross $297.4 – an impressive amount, considering the Covid-19 pandemic factor – so it was natural that more of the same has already been announced.


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September 1, 2022

Static Age #22: Legends of the Superheroes (1979)

Promotional frame from Legends of the Superheroes (1979)


This Static Age’s spotlight goes to Legends of the Superheroes (1979), a two-episode television special (each episode runs for a full hour) made by Hanna-Barbera Productions and aired on NBC. Loosely based on the Super Friends animated series (that I may cover one day via this column) and featuring several DC superheroes and super-villains, most notably the ones from the 1960s Batman kitsch-fest. By employing a standard TV show approach (complete with a laugh track and stand-up comedy antics that range from sexist to racist – I mean, ‘Ghetto-Man’, seriously?), the first studio-confined episode (‘The Challenge’) is unbearable, but the second one (‘The Roast’) is featuring several vignettes that makes it a bit more sustainable.

 

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

 

Stanger Things - Season 4

Netflix’s crown jewel series Stranger Things (2016 – present) returned with its 4th and most epic season offered in two volumes (the first becoming available in May and the other in July 2022) totaling 9 feature-length episodes (the finale alone is almost two and a half hours long) that reveal an increase in budget and inspiration. The Duffer brothers have done it again, offering a solid story that takes us back to our favorite 1980s amidst a chaos of alien threats and banal fashions. This is landmark television, master storytelling, killer pop aesthetics, and it should not be missed by fans of the genre.

 


Daredevil - Season 3

It used to be the case that if you were dark you’d most likely be in the DC Universe, but Netflix changed things and the 3rd season of Marvel’s Daredevil (2015 – 2018) is violent and bloody, as we find the titular superhero (Charlie Cox) in a new round of battles against Wilson Fisk (Vincent D’Onofrio); it’s a pity though that the end result is boring as well, and after you’ve finished with its 13 episodes you feel like it’s for better that we didn’t get more. The angle with the Albanian mob and the arc with Daredevil as a wanted man from the FBI are both interesting, but not enough to save the day.

 

Executive produced by Jason Blum for his own Blumhouse Television and made available on Hulu, the 1st season of Into the Dark (2018 – 2021) consists of 12 feature-length holiday-themed episodes, most of them so well-done that could have easily played theaters. ‘The Body’ is about a hit-man (Tom Bateman) who after offing somebody gets mixed-up in some circumstances that have him lose the dead body to some Halloween partying teenagers (each one of them more annoying than the other) and now has to retrieve it on time and deliver it to his unseen boss (they only talk on the phone), a task that will also require the help of data analyst Maggie (the gorgeous Rebecca Rittenhouse). ‘Flesh & Blood’ is about agoraphobic teenager Kimberly (Diana Silvers) who is mourning the recent death of her mother, but her dad (Dermot Mulroney) may be hiding a terrible secret or two. ‘Pooka!’ is about a struggling actor (Nyasha Hatendi) who strikes gold when he signs up to play the titular toy character in a television commercial and his life changes completely, but is it for the better or for worse? ‘New Year, New You’ is about healthy lifestyle influencer Danielle Williams (Carly Chaikin) who gets invited at a house party set up by her old friends from school, but unbeknownst to her the setting is a trap and all they want from her is to confess to the bullying she had initiated that resulted in the suicide of a young girl several years ago. ‘Down’ is about two people (Natalie Martinez and Matt Lauria) stuck in an elevator, but there’s more to the situation than what meets the eye. ‘Treehouse’ is about a TV chef (Jimmi Simpson) who is about to get punished for his sinister past. ‘I’m Just F*cking with you’ is about a resentful internet troll (Larry Adams) who spends a night in Bates-like motel where the jokester clerk (Hayes MacArthur) may be a bit too dangerous. In ‘All that We Destroy’, a geneticist Victoria Harris (Samantha Mathis) creates several clones to satisfy the violent urges of her son (Israel Broussard). A family mourns the passing of the mother in ‘They Come Knocking’, until things get a paranormal twist. ‘Culture Shock’ tells the story of a group of people crossing the Mexico/U.S. border in order to find the American dream, but all they find is nightmares. A group of students in detention are about to face nightmares of both the real and supernatural kind in ‘School Spirit’. A dodgy purity camp featuring a creepy pastor is the setting of ‘Pure’, but religious fundamentalists may get what they deserve in this one.

 

Castle Rock - Season 2

Based on characters and settings created by Stephen King and executive produced by J.J. Abrams, the 2nd season of Hulu’s Castle Rock (2018 – 2019) is about a nurse (the gorgeous Lizzy Caplan) who is struggling with her own personal mental demons, but things will get worse once she moves into the titular location where she’ll find herself amidst a beef between local businessmen and Somali migrants. Featuring a near-perfect performance by the legendary Tim Robbins, this may not be a small screen masterpiece, but it is quite enjoyable. Its main weakness are the several flashbacks that have become mandatory these days, but drag the proceedings.

 


Peaky Blinders - Season 6

The 6th season of Peaky Blinders (2013 – 2022) has ruthless gangster Thomas Shelby (Cilian Murphy) getting involved with more gum than he can chew (his limitations are often a matter of discussion among some of the main characters), eventually involved with politics and bigger businesses, essentially suffering from delusions of grandness. He will also get to question his faith and superstitions, as well as lose more things that he loves and possibly more than he can stand. A dark hero’s journey in six episodes, this is less of a gangster epic and more of a western-like grotesque poem that although not really entertaining, always a thrill to watch.

 

The Boys - Season 3

The 3rd season of Amazon Prime’s The Boys (2019 – present) starts with the sups returning to their old evil ways (complete with fame and corporate shame) and it is now up to the real good guys to get things back in order. Troma-style humor that includes exploding body members and a guy getting inside another person’s anus, this is a big-budget excess of grossness and toilet humor.

 

The 13th season of Doctor Who (2005 – present) is the last one featuring Jodie Whittaker in the titular role and she goes out with a bang, as the mere 6 arc episodes are amongst the best we’ve seen so far from the series. Facing the threat of an evil force that may end the universe, the Doctor along with her remaining sidekick (Mandip Gill) need to save the world once again, while the production finds the space to throw in all of our favorite villains from past seasons.

 

The Deuce - Season 3

Set in 1985, HBO’s 3rd (and final) season of The Deuce (2017 – 2019) is about the decline of New York’s 42nd Street smut-peddling, drug-pushing, and trick-turning empire, detailing how the dirt was defeated by the AIDS epidemic, the transformation of the porn industry from chic films to plot-less scenes shot on videocassette, as well as the invasion of capitalism and real estate that resulted in the gentrification of the world’s greatest sewer. This is great television and my favorite series in the history of the medium, so it is a pity that it didn’t last for longer, pretty much like the story and the characters it depicts.

 

And now, please allow me a word on some recent mainstream releases…

 

Spider-Man: No Way Home

Marvel’s Spider-Man: No Way Home (2021) directed by Jon Watts, has the titular superhero (Tom Holland) accidentally revealing his identity and sees the world turning against him, thinking of him as a vigilante and a threat. Spider-Man asks for the help of Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), but when he doesn’t play by the magician’s and the universe’s rules, things get even worse. An array of super-villains including the Green Goblin (William Dafoe) and Otto Octavius (Alfred Molina) target the web-slinger, but the biggest enemy he has is himself. Made on a massive $200 million budget, this is as big and epic as these things get, and it went on to gross a stunning $1.8 billion, making it one of the most successful films in cinema history, and what’s more the critics and the fans alike loved it; deservedly so if I may add.

 

DC’s The Batman (2022) directed by Matt Reeves, is not an origin story per se, but we get to learn a lot about the titular superhero (the excellently cast Robert Pattison), as it is to be expected by a reboot of sorts. The main thing however is that gangsters like The Penguin (Colin Farell) and nut-jobs like The Riddler (an outstanding performance by Paul Dano) have brought chaos to Gotham city, and since the police is corrupt and controlled by the underworld, the Batman vigilante will have to take the law into his own hands, albeit with a little bit of help from the Catwoman (Zoe Kravitz). Noir-ish in its approach, and epic in its scope (and clocking at almost 3 hours long), this is an unforgettable masterpiece that will forever be cherished as one of the best superhero films ever made.

 

Morbius (2022) poster

Marvel’s Morbius (2022) directed by Daniel Espinosa, tells the tale of the titular vampire superhero (Jared Leto) and its struggle against his mean brother (Matt Smith) who is also a vampire. Putting a lot of effort into presenting its protagonist as the new poster boy for gothic fandom, this is a mediocre film that relies too much on its CGI that are not that well-done anyway.

 

Old-timer maverick director Sam Raimi, responsible for iconic horror aesthetics as well as some of superhero cinema’s greatest innovations, brings fresh air to the tired Marvel formula in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (2022), in which the titular sorcerer supreme (returning Benedict Cumberbatch) changes universes with the frequency most people change their underwear, only to find out – once again – that his (as well as the world’s) greatest enemy is himself. Looking like exactly what it is – a canon Marvel movie directed by Sam Raimi – this brings the best of both worlds on the table and succeeds on almost every level, going as far as even scaring little kids a little bit.

 

Jurassic World Dominion

Colin Trevorrow’s Jurassic World Dominion (2022) takes the iconic 1990s franchise’s story forward (some of the original cast returns) and in a world where dinosaurs now live peacefully – and sometimes not so peacefully – amongst us and the rest of this planet’s animals, until the central evil science corporation sets up a locust pandemic that is threatening to extinguish all life. Clocking at a massive – and at times tiring – 2 hours and a half, as is the norm for most blockbusters nowadays that unleash as many character arcs as possible and then fails to tie them together, this is spectacular as expected (even the CGI are surprisingly stunning for this sort of thing) and biology students will have a field day with.

 

BJ McDonnell’s Studio 666 (2022) is about the struggle of stadium rockers Foo Fighters to find inspiration for their tenth album, until they acquire a haunted villa, resulting in the demonic possession of their lead singer (Dave Grohl, playing himself) that assists him in discovering a new musical note and writing an epic song. For a horror-comedy – a very difficult genre to find balance in – this is not very funny, nor very scary, and it even drags at times as its pacing is not its strongest asset; however, its heart is in the right place, the attempt seems sincere, and the gore effects are gruesomely entertaining, so it is not without its merits. Featuring cameos from John Carpenter (who also co-wrote the score) and Kerry King (from Slayer).

 

Netflix’s feature-length true crime documentary Girl in the Picture (2022) directed by Skye Borgman, is looking at the mystery behind a – you guessed it – girl in a picture that was taken with the man that pretended to be her father, ended up marrying her, pimping her to a strip club, and eventually killing her. But who was she, and what was her real name? For such a rich and captivating story, the documentary is not as strong as it could be, but it is still a more than a worthy addition to the annals of the genre.

 

Minions: The Rise of Gru

Illumination Entertainment’s Minions: The Rise of Gru (2022) are about the rise of the titular villain (voiced by Steve Carell) with the help of the beloved minions, and for such a late addition to the franchise it is surprisingly strong and funny. Featuring voice acting by Julie Andrews, Michelle Yeoh, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Dolph Lundgren, Danny Trejo, Lucy Lawless, and Steve Coogan among others, hyper-realistic and stunning animation, as well as a bombastic soundtrack (featuring artists such as Ted Nugent and The Rolling Stones), this is a thoroughly good time.

 

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

 

Not as thorough or definite as it could have been (I can think of several films that could be included and were not, and a few franchises had some films tackled and others not) David J. Moore’s massive 560-pages-long coffee-table hardcover edition of The Good, the Tough & the Deadly: Action Movies & Stars, 1960s-Present (2016, Schiffer) is still a work to behold, written with a lot of passion and affection for the genre. This being a guide book, most of its hundreds of reviews consist of a total of two paragraphs (usually a synopsis and a few comments), but where the book really shines is with its numerous interviews of action stars that are informative and entertaining.

 

Katherine Coldiron’s Midnight Movie Monographs: Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959) (2021, PS Publishing) at a mere 97 pages long is a tiny but highly intelligent tackling on Edward D Wood Jr.’s infamous atrocious cinema classic that manages to become what amounts to the most accurate thesis I have ever read on why we watch bad movies. Highly recommended both for fans of the director as well as anyone that is even mildly interested in theorizing about film.

 

Alan Jones’ Frightfest Guide 5: Grindhouse Movies (2021, FAB Press) is actually the author’s second volume – within the same book series – to tackle the same subject (the first volume was labeled ‘exploitation’), although this is a much more interesting outing both for widely relying on notes he wrote upon the first viewing of the films and for focusing on largely more obscure titles. Short and sweet, this is informative, entertaining, and well-illustrated in glowing color.

 

Tim Lucas’ The Man with Kaleidoscope Eyes (2022, Electric Dreamhouse, PS Publishing) is the novelization of the same-titled unproduced screenplay that the renowned film critic co-authored (heralded as one of the greatest movies never made) and it takes a deep but entertaining dive into the making of The Trip, one of Roger Corman’s finest pictures and a 1960s milestone. Based on interviews the author had conducted over the years with several key people involved, this is truer than fiction, but most importantly it is masterful storytelling and a very special treat for us, Corman super-fans.


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