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Sunday, October 14, 2018

Titans (2018) – Pilot Review

Do you like your superhero stories dark and gritty, with angst-ridden heroes fighting their tragic history? Well have I got a show for you. Creators Geoff Johns, Greg Berlanti, and Akiva Goldsman have brought forth a new DC television show that makes the Suicide Squad movie look warm and fluffy by comparison. This series is definitely not aimed at the kids who recently went to see Teen Titans Go! To the Movies, as not only are “F” bombs dropped here, but these heroes also brutally murder their enemies, with levels of violence one does not expect to see on a television superhero show. Is this a bad thing? Not necessarily, but it will certainly be interesting to see what direction the series takes.


We are first introduced to Rachel Roth (Teagan Croft), a troubled teen who is plagued by nightmares of a circus trapeze act that ends in tragedy when two of the three “Flying Grayson” fall to their deaths, leaving their son an orphan. Those familiar with Batman lore know this to be the origin of Robin, and we do get a glimpse of Bruce Wayne placing his hand on the grieving boy, but like the series Gotham, don’t expect to see Batman ever making an appearance.

Question: Wouldn’t having a trapeze act without a net, one where part of that act is a young boy, be the definition of Child Endangerment?

We quickly learn that Rachel isn’t your typical troubled teen, that she has her mother lock her in her room at night – with a door covered in crucifixes – is our first clue that she’s more than your run of the mill goth girl, but when a strange man arrives at their home, murders her mother, and tries to take her away, she sends him flying with a telekinetic attack. Turns out that Rachel – who will later be known by her superhero name Raven – is a mystical empath who is the daughter of a demon, and the strange man was part of some cult that believes she has to be sacrificed to save the world from evil forces. Rachel flees the scene and ends up on a bus bound for Detroit.

 

Thank god she never got invited to the Prom.

Lucky for her, Dick Grayson (Brenton Thwaites), the poor orphan boy from her vision, is now a police detective in Detroit, but even luckier is the fact that he’s also the ex-partner of the legendary vigilante known as Batman, so taking on an evil cult should be no problem. This is a pretty good set-up for a show, and Teagan Croft gives us a very sympathetic character to root for, but then Titans goes and makes a big comic book misstep by having adult Dick Grayson dressing up as Robin, when at this point in his career he would have become Nightwing already. Later in this series, Jason Todd is apparently going to make a cameo as Batman’s new Robin, which only compounds the issue of Grayson still wearing the Robin costume — why not just introduce Grayson as Nightwing? Well of course the answer to that stems from the fact that your average television viewer wouldn’t know Nightwing from a hole in the ground, so they stick Dick in a Robin costume and call it a day. And sure, as Robin, he was a founding member of this team, but that was back when it was the Teen Titans, and Dick Grayson was first stepping out from under Batman’s shadow.

 

This is not how you step out from under Batman’s shadow.

Brenton Thwaites is a fine actor, but this portrayal of Robin could put some viewers off; we get the cliché cop element where we learn he doesn’t like working with a partner – though his history with Batman does add a nice level to this trope. However, when we see him fighting as Robin, it is bloody brutal, and I do mean bloody – he drags one crook's face across a brick wall, another across broken glass, and treats rib cages like cheap piñatas – and what makes this a strange choice is later, when we get Dick explaining to his new partner on the force, Amy Rohrbach (Lindsey Gort), that he doesn’t like partners because his last one solved everything with his fists. Not only is that an unfair description of Batman, but all we see out of this Robin is a brutal psychopath who bloodily maims people in the name of justice.

 

"Am I dark and gritty enough for you?"

Now to be fair, these guys were drug dealers, and one of them got on Robin’s radar because he was a child abuser, but there isn’t much on display here that sets him apart from his old mentor when it comes to doling out justice. The key problem I had with Robin’s introduction here was not so much the level of violence on display, but his overall attitude, because though this fight sequence was wonderfully choreographed, it was also horribly undercut by Robin’s final retort, “Fuck Batman.” And what brought on such a hostile reaction, you ask? Well, when Robin bursts in on the scene, the crooks immediately look around to see where Batman is, assuming if Robin is around Batman can't be far behind, but when they realize there is no guy in a cape and cowl, they comment, “The little birdy's alone,” as if Robin by himself isn’t a threat. Given that this takes place in Detroit, I’ll try and let slide how dumb the assumption is that Robin isn't a badass, but it seems as if this comment is what really sets Robin off on his violent assault — not just because they are drug dealers and child abusers.

 

Apparently disrespecting Robin is the bigger crime here.

This bitter violent Robin is the only element I found a tad off, the rest of the show fires on all cylinders, and the introductions of Dick Grayson and Raven is nicely intercut with events happening over in Austria, where we are introduced to our third member Kori Anders (Anna Diop), who awakens in a bullet-ridden car wreck with amnesia, where she immediately has to flee some gun toting thugs.  Eventually, she makes it back to her hotel to learn that she is super rich – having rented out the entire top floor of the hotel – has a dude locked in a closet, and that she has super powers to go along with being super rich. Her little mystery will lead her to a gangster named Konstantin Kovar, who she apparently faked a love interest in so that she could track down Rachel – see things are tying together – but Kovar doesn’t take being betrayed lightly, and he tries to shoot her. this does not go well for Kovar as she quickly immolates him and his goons in a firestorm.

 

Trying to kill Starfire is not conducive to a long life.

This show is dark, and I don’t just mean the blue filter that DC tends to paint on all their projects, but its whole tone is vastly different than what their other television shows are producing at the moment, and is more in keeping with what we see in the theatrically released stuff of the DC Extended Universe. Being that DC has been doing great with shows like The Flash and Supergirl, while their movies are critically drubbed, this may seem like a strange tactic, but one can’t really tell what direction this series will take just from seeing the pilot, and a lighter tone could easily be introduced to counterbalance the dark. We do get a glimpse of Beast Boy (Ryan Potter) at the end of this episode and his shape-shifting character is a chief comedic element in the Teen Titans comics, so hopefully he will bring a little levity to the proceedings here as well.

 

We can also hope they get better CGI for his transformations.

Overall, I’m optimistic going forward with this version of Titans; the cast they’ve assembled all show great promise, the mystery behind Rachel’s demonic parentage and her connection to Starfire opens up countless opportunities for action and drama, and if the showrunners can just let Dick Grayson get over himself we could have a really good series on are hands. I honestly look forward to see in what direction they take these characters, as they certainly aren’t quite the ones I grew up loving, but once again that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.


Note: Teen Titans fans probably noticed the lack of Cyborg in this show, but his involvement in the DC Extended Movie Universe most likely precludes his involvement here.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Venom (2018) – Review

How does one go about making a Venom movie without even mentioning the name Spider-Man? This was the challenge Sony Pictures set for the three screenwriters that were tasked to salvage a character the studio had previously ruined in the third Raimi Spider-Man movie; and just to make it a little tougher, Venom’s first solo outing would also have to be a PG-13. This is like telling someone to enter the Daytona 500 but with a soapbox derby car that doesn’t even have wheels. Venom is a movie that was clearly the victim of committee decision making, with massive editing overhauls that seemed hell-bent on making the film into a nonsensical mess. Yet the end result wasn't the flaming dumpster fire I'd expected — don't get me wrong, it's still a pretty bad movie — but it managed to be somewhat entertaining at times.


The film’s protagonist is edgy investigative journalist Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy) – we know he’s edgy because he always has a five o’clock shadow and drives a motorcycle – and he is damn sure that billionaire CEO, and founder of Life Foundation, Carlton Drake (Riz Ahmed), is doing some evil shit in his super-secret lab – think Doctor Octopus meets Elon Musk – and of course, Eddie is right. An exploratory space mission has returned with four symbiotic lifeforms – though only three make it back to the lab as one decides to body-hop across Asia for some reason – and Drake immediately jumps to human trials, which seems to involve tossing homeless people into a sealed room with an alien symbiote. Unfortunately, the hosts keep dying so trips to Alpha Centauri will have to be put on hold. Now, why would Drake do such a thing, you ask? Well, to put it simply, it's because he's EVIL, and that is basically his sole character trait. Drake's whole deal is about improving humanity so that we can survive in space, but this is nothing more than a screenwriter's smokescreen to hide the fact that they are clearly making things up as they go, as we spend so much time with evil Elon Musk and yet learn nothing.

 

We can now check off the box labeled “One Dimensional Bland Marvel Villain.”

Eddie gets a little overzealous with his edgy journalism and he accuses Drake of things he has no evidence to support, while also abusing the trust of his fiancée Anne Weying (Michelle Williams), getting her fired from her law firm. This leads to Eddie also getting shit-canned and him eventually sneaking into Life Foundation, with the help of a scientist who suddenly developed a moral compass, and while stumbling around the lab, Eddie is infected with a symbiote.  This results in Eddie being able to smash through doors, shoot out tentacles to fight off goons, and bite the heads off bad people.  Not your typical hero stuff, but he seems to have fun with it, and Tom Hardy's back-and-forth arguments with the symbiote is this film's main saving grace.

Due to some atrocious editing, this film is heavily front-loaded with character development that we really don’t need; I mean, how much backstory does one need for a vigilante-alien symbiote anti-hero? Now when the film finally gets down to some decent Venom-fueled action, there is a lot of fun to be had, most of this stemming from the aforementioned verbal banter between Eddie Brock and Venom, with the film almost becoming a buddy picture of sorts (but one where half of the team likes to eat people’s heads).

 

“We’re a Lethal Weapon!”

The highlight of the film is Eddie/Venom’s first night out, which entails a high speed chase through the streets of San Francisco, with tons of generic goons and exploding drones at every turn. Unfortunately, this is also Eddie/Venom’s last night out, as the movie then races to the big showdown with the Big Bad without bothering to work out what the plot is about, or actually having one for that matter. I’m not sure how much overall control Zombieland director Ruben Fleischer had with the end product — I'll be generous and assume not much — but Venom is a structural mess with tonal shifts that give the viewer whiplash; one minute we get a goofy moment of Eddie taking a bath in a tank full of live lobsters, and the next he and the symbiote are murdering an entire SWAT team. Whenthe film careens wildly towards its big climax, we are once again stuck watching two computer generated creations fighting each other endlessly with the only danger being in my jaw locking up during one of my long yawns. Not only is it insanely boring to watch two computer cartoons punch each other over and over again — I'm looking at you Black Panther — but the whole thing is all shot in the dark with shaky-cam, so we don’t have a clue as to what exactly is happening.

 

I dare you to explain what is going on in this shot.

I’ve been a huge fan of Tom Hardy since I saw him in Nicolas Winding Refn’s Bronson, a true tour de force of acting, and by god he truly swings for the fences in this movie as well; not only is he incredibly entertaining as the “out-of-his-depths” Eddie Brock, but he’s also the film’s only redeeming quality. The CGI drifts between passable to lackluster, while plot and character motivations shift and change like the wind with no context whatsoever, and the supporting cast is given nothing to do but either spout or receive expository dialogue whenever the script is in danger of going off the rails. There is an especially egregious example of this in the scene where Eddie/Venom are in Anne’s car – as they race off to the hospital – and we get Venom explaining his weaknesses to the two of them, for no bloody reason.

Venom - "Sound harms us."
Anne - "So it's like your Kryptonite?"
Venom - "Fire also hurts us...and shellfish...we're also lactose intolerant."   * I’m paraphrasing

This is akin to Venom stating, "Hi, I'm an alien parasite that eats people, but if you want to get rid of me you have two options, sound and fire." There is absolutely no purpose for Venom to volunteer such sensitive information, especially to the two people who are currently racing to the hospital to find a way to remove the symbiote, and that is just one of many clunky moments the film suffers from. There could be a 180 minute cut of this film out there that makes some semblance of sense, but the 114 minute version that hit theaters is a garbled mess — to be fair, at times it was at least an entertaining garbled mess. If the film had been played as hard “R” dark comedy we could have had something special here – with Hardy giving us a blend of Jim Carrey’s The Mask and Bruce Campbell in Army of Darkness – but instead the script consistently kneecapped itself when it should have been going balls-to-the-wall crazy.

 

“Good. Bad. I'm the guy with the symbiote.”

In conclusion, I’ll say that making this Venom movie without even mentioning Spider-Man was a pretty stupid idea, but making a PG-13 Venom standalone movie – where most of the action is muddled and dark – was an inexcusably moronic decision, and is also another example of Tom Hardy’s talents being greatly misused. So even though Venom was not the dumpster fire I was worried it would be, and as entertaining as Mr. Hardy was, it’s still another case of Sony Pictures dropping the ball big time, in what seems to be their ongoing mission to shit on the Marvel Universe.

Sunday, October 7, 2018

Down a Dark Hall (2018) – Review

Setting your gothic horror movie in an “old dark house” is almost a prerequisite – Robert Wise’s The Haunting and Peter Medak’s The Changeling are prime examples of this done well – but if all you have is dark halls and spooky noises to offer, there is a good chance your film will be forgotten, and there are many films guilty of using this crutch while doing nothing original with it. Enter Rodrigo Cortés's adaptation of Lois Duncan’s young adult story Down a Dark Hall, which deals with an all-girl Hogwarts, if Hogwarts was designed by Dario Argento and housed juvenile delinquents instead of wizards, and for his film, Cortés decided to add a little mystery to spice up the proceedings.


Kit Gordy (AnnaSophia Robb) is your typical troubled youth: her father died when she was young and she has been acting up ever since, facing expulsion for setting fire to her school, she is offered a spot at Blackwood Academy, an exclusive all-girls school that headmistress Madame Duret (Uma Thurman) ensures will bring out one's hidden talents. Packed off by her beleaguered mother (Kirsty Mitchell), and sad sack stepdad (Jim Sturgeon), poor Kit soon finds herself in a situation far beyond her control; stranger yet is finding out that there are to be only four other classmates at Blackwood.

 

A student body of five for this place is a big red flag.

Joining Kit at Blackwood is a small collection of misfits, Izzy (Isabelle Fuhrman), Sierra (Rosie Day), Ashley (Taylor Russell) and Veronica (Victoria Moroles) who will be Kit’s primary school antagonist, that is until the supernatural shit hits the fan. The amount of staff on hand is equally small, there being only four teachers, with Madame Duret teaching art, Professor Farley (Pip Torrens) mathematics, Lit Prof Miss Sinclair (Jodhi May) and music is to be taught by Duret’s hunky son Jules (Noah Silver).

 

I’m not sure if this is an appropriate teaching technique for young girls.

The only other staff member, Mrs. Olonsky (Rebecca Front), is the powerful right arm of Madame Duret — but bullies and imposing matrons are the least of these girls’ problems, for suddenly Kit is playing the piano like a virtuoso, Sierra is quickly painting like an old master, Izzy becomes a math prodigy – despite previously having failed algebra – and high romantic prose is gushing forth from Ashley as if she was the offspring of Byron and Shelley. Now becoming suddenly gifted may not seem like a problem – and at first it seems pretty damn cool – but soon the obsession with these new abilities devolves into mania where sleep, food and sanity are left in the rear-view mirror. These newfound gifts seem more like possession than anything organically achieved, and Kit starts to suspect that something more devious is at work here.

 

I wonder if the forbidden wing of the school could be important.

As Kit’s classmates become drained, as well as fearfully plagued by night visits by their dark muses, she eventually teams up with Veronica to go full on Nancy Drew, with late night researching of the library and explorations of the forbidden wing. Can these two uncover the mystery of Blackwood before the forces of evil destroy them? Could Madame Duret be some kind of educational succubi?  As secrets are exposed – and villains uncovered – we are treated to several suspenseful and unnerving moments, all stemming from the fact that we do actually care if these misfits survive.

Down a Dark Hall offers a nice spooky atmosphere – phantom figures dancing in out of the edge of your vision – and the young cast all give very good performances, Victoria Molores’s hard bitten bully is a particular delight, and Uma Thurman does her best in what is a pretty traditional role for this kind of film. As the film is based on a book for young readers, it’s not all that surprising that there isn’t a plethora of scares – plenty of creepy moments but not much else to give young viewers nightmares – but the mystery behind Blackwood Academy is really what sells this movie.

 

The film doesn’t stint on ghosts, but their agenda is what makes the story interesting.

When the film’s supernatural elements go into overdrive, we truly feel for these poor girls – being seriously outnumbered as they are is totally unfair – and Madame Duret makes for quite the villain. The costumes by Patricia Monne are simply beautiful and the sets are also quite extraordinary, which is pretty much required in this type of film, but Víctor Molero's production designs are really something to behold, and could be held up against even the most prestigious films. Hardcore horror fans may find this move a little quaint at times, and it certainly doesn’t hold a candle to similar films like Dario Argento’s Suspiria, but overall, this is a solid horror/mystery movie, one that I can recommend to parents as a good entry into the genre.

 

Your kids may need a nightlight on after watching this.

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Delirium (2018) – Review

What is reality and what is a delusion? This quandary is the heart of many psychological/horror movies, and Blumhouse Production's Delirium (formerly known as Home) does its best to tap into that primal fear of, “If you can’t trust what you see, who do you trust?” But then, the film drops the ball with a horrendously complicated plot, one that does its best to fool the protagonist as well as the audience, and fails.


In director Dennis Iliadis' latest film Delirium, we get the story of a man recently released from a mental institution who inherits his late father’s mansion – to hopefully get a fresh start – only to discover that his past isn’t quite done with him yet. Our protagonist is Tom Walker (Topher Grace), the man being released from said mental institution – which he spent years there for an undisclosed crime – and the good doctor sends him off into the world with the simple advice of “Trust your brain not your eyes.” Now is Tom being sent to a halfway house to ease him back into the real world – having been incarcerated since he was a young teen, that would seem to be a good idea – or is he going to live with a surviving family member? Nope, apparently he just inherited his dad’s sprawling mansion – good ole dad, having committed suicide mere days ago – and so he is packed off to live inside the place that could very well be the seat of his personal psychosis.

 

He’s haunted by serious daddy issues.

So, right off the hop we are asked to swallow a pretty ridiculous premise – if the doctor was later revealed to be part of some sort of conspiracy, that would have helped, but alas, we never see that quack again – and the factors revolving around Tom’s release get even worse as we learn the terms of his parole, terms that make little to no sense.
• He is under house arrest in the spooky mansion his dad just died in. I’m not sure what legitimate doctor would find that a healthy environment for a mental patient.
• His ankle monitor will go off if he so much as steps one foot outside the front door of the house, yet the mansion’s grounds are incredibly expansive. So he can’t even walk in the bloody garden?
• He is allowed no visitors – other than his parole officer – for the entire run of his house arrest. How is that even legal?

To make things even worse, his parole officer (Patricia Clarkson) tries to make out with him – this comes so out of left-field, it’s almost comical – and when Tom rebuffs her sexual advances, she storms off, taking his meds with her, and leaving him alone with his delusions. And just what kind of delusions does Tom suffer from? Well, aside from seeing his dead dad – with a horrifically chewed up face due to the combination of his body being found days after his suicide and a hungry dog – we are kept guessing as to what is real and what is an illusion. The key factor here is director Dennis Iliadis attempting to keep the audience wondering “What is real and what is just in Tom's head,” and this comes not from clever writing but from the fact that all the supporting characters act in such an unbelievable fashion that you have to assume they are all part of Tom’s mental breakdown.

• There is the aforementioned hard-assed parole officer full of sexual misconduct.
• We get Tom’s older brother Alex (Callan Mulvey) popping in and out of rooms like a ghost, even though he is supposed to be in prison.
• Then there is Lynn (Genesis Rodriguez), the delivery girl from the local grocery store, who apparently has a thing for guys recently released from mental institutions.

 

“Hi Tom, I’m your delivery girl/sexual fantasy.”

Aside from surprise visits – which at least gives us a break from Topher Grace’s rather unconvincing acting – we get Tom discovering that his father (Robin Thomas) – a respected senator – may have had some dark secrets of his own. Tom finds a hidden passageway behind the walls, that lead to peep holes that his father obviously used to spy on his family, and most damning is a two-way mirror in the master bedroom that reveals a hidden camera, one that has recorded some very bizarre shit.

 

Was his dad into a bizarre sexual fetish or was he auditioning for the lead in Saw?

As the movie goes on, we learn more about Tom’s past – what particular horrific crime landed him in a psych ward and why his brother is in prison – but the mysteries really don’t add up to anything we actually care about. Who is that mysterious caller on that private line? Is Alex a hallucination or did he actually escape prison? Why is there a severed tongue hidden inside the indoor pool's control box? Did Tom’s mother really abandon her family all those years ago? Is this house actually haunted? All of these questions are sort of answered – some of which you will have guessed well in advance of the big reveal – but overall I didn’t care enough about Tom to make the effort.

 

Why is there a secret room under the pool? The bigger question is, who cares?

Delirium is well shot – cinematographer Mihai Mălaimare Jr. should get most of the credit for what does work in this film – and the supporting cast does the best with what they were given, which to be fair, wasn’t much, but the film’s protagonist Topher Grace’s Tom Walker is just too unlikable of a character for a viewer to get behind. Delirium crumbles under a shaky premise – that even the most talented cast would have had a hard time holding up – resulting in a film that has, at best, a few creepy moments, but overall is just forgettable.

Sunday, September 30, 2018

The Changeling (1980) – Review

When it comes to horror movies, nothing beats a good ghost story. Sure, axe-wielding psychos and limb rendering monsters can be fun, but give I'd take a creaking haunted house over those any day of the week. For me, the most quintessential examples of this specific horror genre is Robert Wise’s 1963 film The Haunting – a film to this day that still gives me the shivers – and the other is, of course, Peter Medak’s The Changeling. What makes these two films stand out amongst their peers is that they aren’t so much horror films, as psychological-thrillers that just so happen to include a supernatural element.


The film’s protagonist is John Russell (George C. Scott), a composer who after losing both his wife and daughter in a tragic roadside automobile accident decides to rent a massive secluded mansion, where he can compose and grieve in peace. That the place is a massive sprawling gothic mansion does seem a little odd – just how much space does one need to grieve – but the sets designed by Trevor Williams are fantastic, and they, along with the haunting music of Rick Wilkins and cinematography of John Coquillon, all create one of the best haunted houses in movie history.

 

I certainly couldn’t see myself staying in this place all alone.

The one major hurdle filmmakers of haunted house movies all have to overcome is the question every audience member is going to eventually ask, and that is, when the occupants of said haunted house start to encounter supernatural activity, “Why in the hell are they still hanging around?” When walls start to bleed, and demonic eyes peer in from outside the window, as they did in The Amityville Horror, I pretty much lose sympathy with the family for not just getting the fuck out. Now, in the case of The Changeling, when Russell first notices creepy goings on – doors opening on their own, loud rhythmic banging, and ghostly whispering – it’s possible that he thinks the ghost could be that of his recently deceased little girl, and his bereavement could easily make him wish that to be the case, despite the events not seeming to hold up well to that theory. It’s on one night when he follows the sound of water running, and sees the apparition of a drowned boy in a bathtub, that he finally concludes that this haunting has nothing to do with his daughter.

 

Unless his daughter was a boy and drowned in a tub.

Russell then wholeheartedly dives into the mystery of the house, with the help of Claire Norman (Trish Van Devere), who works for the historical preservation society that rented him the house, and the two of them start digging through old newspapers and archives to find out about previous owners. At first, they believe the ghost to be that of a girl killed by a coal cart in 1909, but after a séance – using automatic writing or psychography – they learn that a crippled boy named Joseph Carmichael was murdered in that house by his father. This leads our two heroes to cross paths with powerful Senator Joseph Carmichael (Melvyn Douglas), and this is where things get very complicated very quickly, as the horror behind the mysterious ghost is finally revealed. It’s this element that puts The Changeling into one of my favorite kinds of ghost stories, the murder mystery one, and with no Scooby gang to aid our heroes, it’s up to Russell and Claire to confront the living and the dead.

 

Who was kept in this hidden attic room?

One of the most outstanding things about The Changeling is how truly terrifying it can be without relying on loud musical stings or cheap jump scares — the very atmosphere of the house builds on an almost primeval dread, with us as the viewers practically screaming at the people on screen to get the fuck out of that house. And if you were to ask anyone who has seen The Changeling what scene freaked them out the most, it wouldn’t be the creepy séance, or even the ending where Claire is chased by the little wheelchair, it would be the moment when the rubber ball, that belonged to Russell’s dead daughter, came bouncing down the stairs. Just typing these words has given me goose pimples.


The Changeling is simply a masterpiece of the genre, with many of its scariest moments blatantly lifted by later filmmakers, and though it didn’t manage to make a killing at the box office at the time of it’s release – mostly due to  a poor distribution deal in the US – it has managed to remain on many top ten lists of Scariest Movies year after year. With today’s recent boom in horror movies – with the likes of The Conjuring and Ouija: The Origin of Evil raking in box office gold – it’s nice to able to look back at a film that managed to terrify audiences with simple practical effects and zero gore. In fact, the only blood in the film comes when a police detective (John Colicos) threatens Russell’s investigation into that long ago murder, and he is decidedly stopped for his efforts.

 

Do not screw around with this ghost.

The specter in The Changeling is certainly not of Casper the Friendly Ghost variety, and when things don’t seem to be going it’s way, the ghostly entity turns violent, even against those that were trying to help, but this all makes perfect sense when you consider that the angry spirit is that of a child, and thus prone to nasty temper tantrums. The only moment in the film that completely lost me was when Russell re-enters the house – after it had just tried to murder Claire – to apparently yell at the ghost for being a dick.

 

There comes a point when you just have to cut your losses and get out.

Simply put, The Changeling is one of the scariest horror movies ever made, almost forty years later and the film is still terrifying audiences with its incessant dread and chills, with not an ounce of its age lessening its impact one bit. If you like creepy mansions, spooky séances, hidden rooms, murder mysteries and supernatural shenanigans, then The Changeling is the film for you.

Note: The film is loosely based on the alleged haunting of Henry Treat Rogers' mansion in Cheesman Park, Denver, Colorado, while playwright Russell Hunter was living there during the 1960s.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Radius (2017) – Review

Take a high-concept idea, throw in a heaping helping of dread, and then mix it all up with some nice existential quandaries; the result of such a concoction would be the film Radius, a science fiction/thriller by Canadian directors Caroline Labrèche and Steeve Léonard — a film that keeps the viewer guessing along with the film’s protagonists. Pulling off such a feat is not an easy task but Labrèche and Léonard, who also penned the movie, manage to construct a masterpiece that is a throwback to the days of The Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits.


We are first introduced to Liam Hartwell (Diego Klattenhoff) as he staggers bloodied from a car wreck – though he doesn’t know who he is as he’s also suffering from amnesia – but things get even worse for poor Liam when he tries to flag down a passing car and the driver suddenly dies, with the car just sliding to a stop. From here things get even worse, with dead birds plummeting from the skies and a diner full of unexpectedly dead patrons; it doesn’t take Liam long to realize that he is the cause of all these deaths, and that he seems to have acquired a "field of death" with a fifty foot radius.

 

As super powers go, this has to be one of the worst.

While hiding out in his backyard shed – even afraid of calling the police – he is found by Rose Daerwood (Charlotte Sullivan), a woman who apparently was in the same car accident as Liam and is also suffering from amnesia, but more startling is the fact that she doesn’t fall down dead when she approaches Liam. At first, Liam assumes that whatever strange affliction was causing him to end life around him is over, but that would be too easy. Turns out, Rose isn’t exactly immune to his death field but while she is around, it's cancelled, that is until she steps too far away and his killing field returns. Thus, we have two characters – who haven’t a clue as to who they are or what's happened to them – having to work together to solve the mystery behind Liam’s condition, all exasperated by hearing news reports that Liam is the chief suspect in what the authorities assume to be a terrorist attack.

 

“Google says you’re screwed.”

Not only does Radius give us a very cool conundrum – a pair thrown together under extreme mysterious conditions – but it also deals with the more philosophical idea of identity, offering up an interesting debate on how much of us is wrapped up in our memories and history, and if we lose them does that give us a clean slate? As the mystery unfolds, the cosmic origins of Liam’s “Radius of Death” almost moves to the backburner, with the more important enigma of Liam and Rose’s relationship moving to the foreground, and more importantly, what it was before they stepped into the Twilight Zone. Radius has a supporting cast of characters that either aid or hinder our heroes – at one point they get help from Rose’s husband (Brett Donahue), who is rightly concerned about his wife’s amnesia and her new “terrorist” friend – but the film is mostly about Liam and Rose, which puts a heavy burden on Klattenhoff and Sullivan, and these two actors do a fantastic job exploring the horror and drama of the situation.  As their feelings towards each other swing wildly across a spectrum of emotions as the mystery slowly enfolds, the film rests solely on their shoulders, and they pull off a remarkable job with such tricky material.

 

When you both have amnesia, who do you trust?

The concept of a “Death Radius” is nothing new — Labrèche and Léonard were inspired by an old Superman comic book storyline, and there was an Ultimate X-Men story where Wolverine had to make a tough decision when he encountered a young boy who radiated death – but what these two filmmakers managed to do here, and with a very limited budget and small cast, is truly remarkable. So if you are a fan of dark and twisty science fiction – with a good amount of hard edged drama – then this venture into The Twilight Zone is highly recommended.

 

Sci-fi doesn't get much better than this.

Sunday, September 23, 2018

Flood (1976) – Review

Movies such as The Towering Inferno and The Poseidon Adventure marked Irwin “The Master of Disaster” Allen as a big-budgeted disaster film artist. But he also brought some of his movie mayhem to the small screen with his 1976’s made-for-television movie Flood. Of course, the problem with taking the disaster genre to the small screen was in creating all that thrilling carnage on a small television budget.


Due to a lesser running time, 1976’s Flood has a smaller cast of characters, at least when compared to what you’d find in the typical disaster movie of the time – had to make room for those commercial breaks – so the numerous soap opera subplots that we would normally be forced to suffer through were cut down dramatically, but not completely. We are first introduced to charter helicopter pilot Steve Brannigan (Robert Culp) as he ferries well-paying tourist Mr. Franklin (Roddy McDowall) up to the lake for some fishing, but when town councilman Paul Burke (Martin Milner) learns from Steve that another leak has sprung in the earthen dam, the massive one that overlooks the town, he organizes a quick council meeting to demand they open the sluice gates before the dam fails. Mayor John Cutler (Richard Basehart) is quick to point out that the town of Brownsville’s economy depends on tourist fishermen, and if they drain the lake the town could die. Thus, we have a mayor who is your standard cliché of a politician weighing the safety of his constituents over economic forces, that he is wrong and the hero is right is pretty much his only defining characteristic.

 

“We can’t close the beaches; it’s the Fourth of July.”

Despite Paul's passionate arguments, the council vote against opening the sluice gates – having not yet received the official word from the geological surveyor who examined the dam – and thus, Paul is forced to handle things his own way. He races to the local hospital, where his fiancée Mary Cutler (Barbara Hershey) works, to warn them to prepare for massive casualties when the dam breaks. The Mayor is Mary’s father, and despite Paul’s fact-based claims, she doesn’t believe her father would endanger the town, but luckily the hospital’s doctor (Whit Bissell) agrees to evacuate patients that couldn’t survive if the hospital were to lose power. Lucky for him, that is only old Mrs. Parker (Gloria Stuart), who Brannigan is able to helicopter over to another hospital, one that is not endanger of being washed away.

 

“I’m the real Greatest American Hero.”

Things get even more complicated when Paul learns from Sam Adams (Cameron Mitchell), the guy who manages the dam’s operations, that the Mayor did in fact get the geological report, and that he lied to the council because he doesn’t believe in the surveyor’s findings. So basically, the mayor is a raging asshole, and worse is the fact that Mary won’t take a stand against her dad, ignoring all the evidence that Paul lays before her, stating that even if there was such a report, her father probably does know better. Mary’s insane trust in her dad seems stuck in a 1950s “Father Knows Best” attitude, and it is truly ludicrous, especially considering the fact that if he is wrong, many people will die.

 

Want to take bets on her being right to trust her father?

As this film is called Flood, and not The Chronicles of Honest Mayor Cutler, the dam does fail and a torrent of raging water races to town. The film’s remaining thirty minutes is spent dealing with Paul and Brannigan as they race from one end of the town to the other rescuing various idiots, culminating in them having to dynamite a bridge, which had been clogged with debris, and was preventing the flood waters to run off. This also results in the saving of Mary’s idiot brother Andy (Eric Olson), who was found washed up against the bridge just as they are about to blow the thing. The film also has a ridiculous subplot of expectant mother Abbie Adams (Carol Lynley), wife of the soon to be dead dam manager, who goes into some kind of bizarre debilitating labor that causes her to fall to the floor and repeatedly pass out.

 

Carol Lynley clearly went to the William Shatner School of Over Acting.

As Flood had no reasonable budget for a disaster film – going by what we see on screen, I’m guessing it couldn’t have been more than $45 dollars – we don’t see much in the way of flood carnage. The collapsing earthen dam is a pathetic looking model — shot at night to hide how lame it really is – and aside from the rare shot of water rushing around, which somehow kills the town hall secretary like some kind of stealth flood, there isn't much on hand to offer fans of the disaster genre. We do get idiotic moments such as the rising water drowning Mary’s even dumber mom (Teresa Wright), as she tries to save Leif Garrett, thinking he was her missing son, and that she fails to save the kid – though he does show up alive later, rescued by someone else – is just another weird moment in the movie, and her death is basically payment for her husband’s hubris.

 

Are we supposed to feel bad for him?

The only real positive thing I can say about Irwin Allen’s Flood is that the camaraderie between Paul Burke and Steve Brannigan comes across as quite genuine, providing a few decent laughs, and the chemistry between the two is even more believable than that of Paul and his fiancée Mary. Richard Basehart’s pompous “I know I’m right” mayor may be the film’s chief human antagonist, but his daughter Mary was so infuriatingly stupid that I had hopes the flood would wash her away as well. The film ends with Paul and Steve flying off into the sunset, apparently to get medical supplies, but I’d like to believe that they never return to that stupid, stupid town.

 

“Fuck this town, let’s go to Vegas.”

Disaster Pedigree:
• Roddy McDowell and Carol Lynley were aboard The Poseidon Adventure.
• Whit Bissel was in the 1974 Alex Hailey’s Airport.
• Richard Basehart was aboard the 1953 Titanic.
• Gloria Stuart was aboard the 1997 Titanic.

 

Note: It’s clear they didn’t even have enough money to properly blow up a bridge.