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Monday, February 27, 2017

Santa Clarita Diet: Season One (2016) – Review

Just when you think the zombie genre has reached an over saturation point, and that if you see one more zombie movie or television show you will surely explode, along comes one that not only takes a nice little spin on the genre but is so goofily charming and downright delightfully hilarious that you can't help but enjoy it. Santa Clarita Diet is a Netflix original series created by Victor Fresco who moves the zombie genre into the world of sitcoms where it would fit right in with shows like I Love Lucy or Father Knows Best, but with a lot more gore and death than Lucy or Ethel ever got into.


Now a comic take on the zombie genre is certainly nothing new, Edgar Wright’s Shaun of the Dead and television's iZombie have well illustrated that this horror subgenre is rife with stuff to laugh at, but with Santa Clarita Diet it’s a more straight up situational comedy, iZombie though comedy is also a police procedural/mystery show, while Santa Clarita Diet is a classic “single-camera” sitcom where the typical hijinks of your average middle American family have been supplanted by mom and dad having to go out and murder people so she can feed.

 

Not quite Ozzie and Harriet.

The premise to Santa Clarita Diet is as simple as it is bizarre, one day while showing potential buyers a house Joel (Timothy Olyphant) and Sheila Hammond (Drew Barrymore), who are a husband and wife realtor team in Santa Clarita, California, their sales pitch is put on hold when Sheila starts vomiting as if she were auditioning for a part in The Exorcist. Discovering that she may also have vomited up an organ Joel rushes her to the local Emergency Room but after a long and excruciating wait to see a doctor, the admitting nurse not being too impressed by the vomit story, they decide to go home. Joel soon notices some radical changes in his wife; before the vomit incident getting some bedroom playtime was an effort but now his wife’s libido seems in overdrive, she also seems rather overly energetic and with almost no impulse control. When Sheila points out that she no longer seems to have a heartbeat, and that when cut her blood comes out as a congeal black ichor, the family becomes duly concerned. Not wanting to try the hospital again they seek answers from Eric (Skyler Gisondo), the nerd next door who is madly in love with their daughter Abby (Liv Hewson).

 

Nerds, win Wikipedia isn’t able to help.

Eric informs them that, “One thing we do know about the undead is that they are completely driven by their Id.” Which explains her increased sex drive and shift in personality, but he also warns them that Sheila must always be fed, and if she degrades they may have to kill her. Not your typical heartwarming family discussion, yet at first it seems her eating raw hamburger and chicken can sate her lust for flesh, but when Gary (Nathan Fillion), a new realtor in town, aggressively comes on to her, not taking no for an answer, he finds himself quickly on the menu.

 

Started out as finger food and then got seriously out of hand.

What makes this show work brilliantly is Timothy Olyphant's beautiful portrayal of a suburban dad desperately trying to hold his family together despite the complete insanity of the situation, it's downright hilarious, and there hasn’t been a better straight man since George Burns faced off against Gracie Allen. Those who know Olyphant from his tough guy roles in shows like Deadwood and Justified will be pleasantly surprised to see how good he is in the comic arena, sure having Drew Barrymore as your co-star helps but the stand-out comedian in this show is clearly Olyphant. His deadpan delivery and exasperated looks at his wife’s undead antics are priceless and had me laughing out loud multiple times each episode.

 

Timothy Olyphant is the beleaguered husband.

Santa Clarita Diet is certainly not for everyone as the gore does reach extreme levels, but if you can get passed that and the violence you are in for a real treat. The first season is ten half hour episodes that just fly by as we follow the zany happenings of the Hammond family as they try to keep mom fed while hiding the murders from their neighbors, both of whom are cops, while Eric’s asshole stepdad Rick (Ricardo Chavira) makes things especially sticky as not only is he a cop but he’s a corrupt one as well.  The central problem with having a zombie in the family is of course solving such interesting problems such as “Finding bad people to kill to keep Sheila fed” and “Convincing their daughter college is important while trying to get a dead body out of the house unseen” you know, typical sitcom stuff.


Drew Barrymore as the housewife with an eating disorder.

Showrunner Victor Fresco keeps ratcheting the tension up throughout the season with Joel manically searching for a cure while Abby’s condition goes from bad to worse, all while dealing with nosy neighbours, suspicious cops, and an asshat school principal. As a rule I avoid most modern sitcoms like the plague but Santa Clarita Diet is a brilliant breath of fresh air and one I can highly recommend.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Who Remembers Saturday Afternoon Children’s Matinees?

Movies were a big part of my life growing up, and certainly why I’m such a lover of them now, but there was something special about going to movies when you were a kid, the magic on the screen was a real to you as your parents were and mostly likely more interesting. To put some context as to when I was a kid let’s just say I saw Star Wars in theatres before it had “A New Hope” attached to it and a child’s admission price was about two dollars. At that time going to a movie for me was a big deal, there was only one theater in my town so the options were limited, and every week part of my allowance was the two dollars required to go to the children’s matinee at The Strand Theater ever Saturday afternoon.


This was before every home had a VCR and the only regular children’s programming available was either Sesame Street or Saturday morning cartoons, while today kids have access to all kinds of shows aimed at them through dozens of cable channels or their parent’s libraries of DVDs and Blurays. When I was a kid if you wanted to watch The Wizard of Oz with Judy Garland you had to wait to Easter weekend for whatever Network was airing it that year. That is why those Saturday afternoon matinees were so important as not only was it getting us out of the house, and away from our nosey parents, but it also allowed us to see a plethora movies that we would otherwise most likely not see. It didn’t matter if it was an old adventure film from the fifties because it was new to us. When our parents dropped us off, with enough money for a ticket, a large pop, licorice and Milk Duds, a whole amazing world opened for us, and the people putting these matinees together really made it an event. These matinees were a whole afternoon affair that often included games and such before the houselights went down, and then when those lights dimmed we would first be treated to a cartoon. It was hear that I first was exposed to the hilarious antics of the Looney Tunes gang and I’ve been a fan of them ever since.


 

We all wanted to grow up to be Bugs Bunny but most of us ended up being Daffy Duck.

After the cartoon we’d then get a chapter from a serial from the 40s or 50s. Each week we’d be able to see the latest installment in the adventures of Captain Marvel, Zorro or Flash Gordon, and it certainly didn’t matter to us that they were in Black and White as many of us didn’t even have colour televisions at home. These chapters would all end in a nail-biting cliffhanger that would ensure we would be in attendance next week, much as it did to those who saw those serials when they were originally run.

 

Commando Cody: Sky Marshal of the Universe (1953)

Then after the serial we’d finally get the movie we came to see, sometimes two movies if we were lucky, and I can remember sitting surrounded by hordes of likeminded kids as if it was yesterday, we laughed at the antics of Kurt Russel’s Dexter Riley in The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes or cheered as Blackbeard’s Ghost thwarted a bunch of gangsters who were trying to foreclose on a bunch of old ladies, and even hide behind out mittens as the horrifying Green Slime threatened to barbecue our hero.

 

The Green Slime (1968)

It’s amazing what scared you as a little kid and now looks absolutely laughable, yet when you were in the darkened theater the dangers were real even if it was just a guy in a terrible rubber suit. It didn’t matter to us that the plot of movies such as One of Our Dinosaurs is Missing made little to no sense because gosh darn it we believed it. Sometimes I am able to briefly recapture that feeling when I sit with my little nephew and nieces as they get enraptured by one of these classics, letting me see it through their eyes as I once did my own.

 

One of Our Dinosaurs is Missing (1975)

Of course the multiplexes today show countless movies on Saturday afternoons, they even set aside showings for mothers and their babies, but the halcyon days of the Children’s Matinees I grew up with are long gone. I guess it’s a more dangerous world now than when I was a kid, spree shootings and terrorism certainly were not in our lexicon back in the day, and our mom’s had no fear of dropping off their kids and getting a break from us as well. I’m not saying times were better back than, predators of all kinds have existed throughout history, but something was lost when those theaters stopped bringing an afternoon of magic to us kids.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Murder Party (2007) – Review

There are no shortages of Halloween themed horror movies but Murder Party by writer director Jeremy Saulnier stands out from the crowd not only for its incredibly low budget (almost non-existent budget to be frank) but for its bizarre off-the-wall characters and nonsensical plot. There are no unkillable killers wearing William Shatner masks in this outing, no demons from Hell to terrorize the local teenage community, and no vengeful spirits using Halloween as their evil Spring Break, instead we have a hapless schmoe fighting for his life against a group of pretentious idiots, this is Murder Party.


The central character of Murder Party is Christopher S. Hawley (Chris Sharp), a parking enforcement officer who lives alone with his cat Lancelot, when coming home from work one Halloween he spots a fancy “goth” envelope lying on the sidewalk and in it he finds an invitation to a Halloween costume party entitled "Murder Party" and without further thought Chris decides to attend. That the invitation only reads “Murder Party, Tonight!” followed by an address, located deep in the heart of the warehouse district, doesn’t raise any flags in Chris’s cranium, and after he quickly whips together a knight costume using an old cardboard box, and making a loaf of pumpkin bread from the remains of the pumpkin he found smashed on his stoop, he heads to the party.

 

Our Hero.

When Chris arrives at the location, a place that looks more in keeping with mob hits than parties, he is confronted by those throwing the party; Paul (Paul Goldblatt) in period vampire attire, Macon (Macon Blair) in a werewolf mask, Sky (Skei Saulnier) as a zombie cheerleader, Lexi (Stacy Rock) as the Replicant Pris from Blade Runner, and Bill (William Lacey) as a Baseball Fury from The Warriors. This group of misfits have set up this party to murder someone as an art project to impress Alexander (Alex Barnett), their wealthy and sinister patron.  That their entire plan hinged on someone finding that invite and being dumb enough to show up is a big clue as to how dumb these guys are. Lucky enough for them Chris came along.

 

If no one showed what was their back-up plan?

Macon keeps Chris distracted while Macon sneaks up behind the poor bastard with an axe, but when the axe gets caught on the pull string of a light bulb, spoiling the surprise attack, which is just the beginning of the incompetence this group will show. The group manage to subdue Chris and tie him to a chair but before any murdering can get started Sky eats some of the pumpkin loaf Chris brought and she has an allergic reaction to the non-organic raisins it contains. She dies and the group quickly stuff her in a fridge so as to not alert their patron to their incompetence. And what is so important about Alexander? Well he apparently has offered up a large grant to someone in the group whose art moves him. How a group murder works into this is never made clear, and when Alexander does arrive each member tries to win him over with their individual art projects while murdering of poor ole Chris kind of gets forgotten. This is for the best as they are very bad at murder. After the death of Sky, which the group blame Chris for, Macon proceeds to dump acid all over Chris. Unfortunately no one explained the difference between Sulphuric Acid and Acetic Acid (vinegar) to these idiots.

 

It may not kill you but it would really sting if it got in your eyes.

When Alexander finally arrives, accompanied by his Russian drug dealer Zycho (Bill Tangradi), we find out that this mysterious patron is just as big pretentious idiot as any of them. After the group fails to impress him with their varied ideas of who to murder Chris he comes up with the idea to play a game of ultimate Truth or Dare that involves each member of the group, excluding Alexander and Zycho, being injected with Sodium Pentothal (truth serum). This was not a good idea as this just brings out their petty insecurities and ends up pitting one against the other, and when the murdering finally gets going only it turns out to be each other and not so much their planned victim.

 

Some real brutal murdering.

Murder Party is not your glossy Hollywood movie, this is the kind of thing put together on the basis of offering free beer and pizza to your friends, which could result in something like Birdemic or The Room but luckily here we get fun and charmingling goofy that has enough surprises and nice character moments to warrant the time spent with these idiots. Chris is not your average hero, he starts out like a bit of a hapless loser, and then you start to think he’s going to MacGyver his way out of things, but then it’s really luck and the ineptitude of the killers that keep him alive.

 

“I rely on the incompetence of strangers.”

As low budget films go this one is a bit of a treat, and what money they got does show as the gore effects are rather good, so if you go into this film with the right attitude you are most likely going to have a good time.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Max Steel (2016) – Review

This movie is based off a cartoon that was designed to sell toys from the Max Steel action figure line, this kind of marketing tool is nothing new, but the last time Mattel got involved in a live action version of one of their cartoons it was when they sold Canon Films the rights to He-Man and the Masters of the Universe. Sadly this version of Max Steel makes the Dolph Lundgren Masters of the Universe look like Lord of the Rings.


In 2013 Mattel and Disney teamed up to make a cartoon about 16 year old kid who gained an alien-tech symbiotic partner and became a superhero, which if you’ve seen a Blue Beetle comic from DC Comics or read the book series that I Am Number Four was based on then this premise may seem rather familiar. Even the Japanese manga Guyver had the same premise, which also got a shitty movie adaptation, but none of those three ever tried to sue over plagiarism because everyone is terrified of Disney’s lawyers.

The movie opens with sixteen year old Max McGrath (Ben Winchell) and his mother Molly McGrath (Maria Bello) moving back to their hometown, which they had left when Max was just a baby, the reason for their leaving stems from the mystery surrounding the death of Max’s dad (Mike Doyle) who was a brilliant scientist and co-founder of an energy research company with his partner Dr. Miles Edwards (Andy García).   Dr. Edwards is also instrumental in Max’s mother returning after all these years and he also seems to know about the "mystery" of the dead dad.  After living in eight cities over the past sixteen years Max is ready to settle into another hick town but two things change his attitude; the first key factor high is the school hottie Sofia Martinez (Ana Villafañe) who knocks him off his bike and steals his heart, but secondly and more importantly is that his body now begins to emit strange waves of energy.


As is standard in stories of this kind he doesn’t inform his mother of this startling sign of either latent puberty or mutant powers, but instead he decides to keep this bizarre development to himself. Lucky for him his strange power output awakens a parasitic silicon based lifeform that was in a state of stasis over at the company Dr. Edwards now runs. This alien lifeform is called Steel (Josh Brenner) and it informs Max that it’s job is to keep him alive, and this is very important because if Steel does not syphon off the energy that is constantly building up within him then Max the poor teenager will explode. This is an important tidbit of information and it's lucky that Steel even remembered this fact as he also suffers from movie amnesia, this cinematic aliment means he is only able to provide information to Max piecemeal as the “plot” allows.

 

Steel is literally this film’s Deus ex machina.

The major problem with Max Steel is it doesn’t know quite what kind of film it wants to be, does it want to be a superhero film and get some of that green that Marvel and DC are raking in? Is it a science fiction adventure movie about a boy and his robot? Or is it a Young Adult movie where the hero will team up with a beautiful and spunky girl to help him outwit the authorities? Sadly Max Steel is none of those things. Max does get a cool Iron Man suit to fight evil alien invaders with but it’s screen time is very limited and almost not worth mentioning, we do get some fun moments between Steel and Max as they try to learn just what awesome abilities they will have if their energy can align harmonically but those scenes are choppy and often ruined by the annoying flashbacks as Steel remembers his past with Max’s dad.  As for the Young Adult romance aspect of the film, well they tend to forget Sofia even exists for the bulk of the movie, her character serves no purpose to the plot and exists solely because the writers are under the misguided assumption that if a movie takes place partly in a high school the hero must hook-up with some free spirited hottie.

 

That she likes cars and can fix a bike is the extent of her character.

I won’t go into spoilers here just in case someone out there wants to watch this movie but the mystery surrounding the death of Max’s father is such a convoluted mess that it almost needs a prequel movie to explain it, and the film’s chief villain is so terribly telegraphed that he may as well have been wearing a shirt stating I’M EVIL. How poorly written this movie can be summed up by describing one scene in particular, after overhearing his movie and Dr. Edwards arguing over telling Max the truth about his father Max decides to go on his computer to look up what went down that fateful night. Seriously, we are supposed to believe that in the sixteen years since his father’s mysterious death Max never once googled his dad’s name? Max even complains that his mother has never told him about his father, but his dad is a famous scientist and after ten minutes of research on is laptop he’d know quite a bit. Of course this is the movie universe where information can only be provided at appropriate dramatic times. This thing is a mess right out of the gate and as it hints at a greater story we can tell they’d hoped to turn this thing into a franchise, but there is no real danger of that.

 

Oh, and Max, the Power Rangers want their suit back.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Underworld: Blood Wars (2017) – Review

By this fifth installment of the Underworld series we must come to the conclusion that it will continue as long as Kate Beckinsale will agree to wear leather and a corset, the series offers little more than that for returning fans, and the subtitle “Blood Wars” is about as meaningless as the previous installment title “Awakenings” did, and honestly by this point it should be called “Underworld: We’re Making This Up As We Go.”


When we last saw Death Dealer Selene (Kate Beckinsale) her and her daughter Eve had vowed to track down Michael Corvin, Selene’s Lycan/Vampire Hybrid lover and Eve’s father, but this film picks up with a group of Lycans trying to capture Selene to learn the whereabouts of her daughter.  And exactly where is her daughter?  Has the mission to find Michael, who was wanted by both Lycans and vampires, been put on hold? We learn that Selene has separated from her daughter, for her own good apparently, and even she doesn’t know where Eve is. Marius (Tobias Menzies), the new leader of the Lycans, doesn’t believe this and spends the bulk of the movie sending wave after wave of his warriors after her, but he isn’t the only threat to Selene as vampire council member Semira (Lara Pulver) is able to convince the other vampire leaders, with the help of Vampire Elder Thomas (Charles Dance), that they need Selene to train the neophyte Death Dealers if they are to have any hope in defeating the Lycans, “You need Selene. Her prowess, her leadership, her intimate knowledge of Lycans, and her combat skills are second to none.”

 

“Did I mention how hot she looks in leather?”

Thus begins the mess that is Underworld: Blood Wars. After being constantly betrayed by pretty much everyone Selene, for some reason, agrees to help out.  Maybe she couldn't find anything decent on Netflix to watch.  Nevertheless she returns to the headquarters of the Eastern Coven with David (Theo James), the son of Thomas and is the vampire that she magically saved in the last movie by giving him her blood, and almost immediately after her arrival she is betrayed by Semira and her generic lover Varga (Bradley James). Turns out that Semira really wants the power that lies within Selene’s blood just as a badly as Marius wants Eve’s blood.  Marius wants the blood so that his Lycans can finally defeat the vampire clans while Semira wants Selene's blood so she can walk in the daylight, and I want a series that can come up with a less ridiculous plot.

 

The film does take a break so Selene can train a bunch of escapees from a Young Adult movie franchise.

All this fighting over Eve and Selene's blood is obviously what the subtitle “Blood Wars” alludes to but it barely has any real point to the proceedings, sure Selene’s blood gives one the ability to withstand sunlight but that only highlights how lame the vampires of this series are.  This cinematic version of vampires seem almost easier to kill than a regular human. In fact what can and cannot kill a vampire or Lycan is constantly in flux throughout this series, in the first Underworld movie Selene was stabbed in the shoulder and crashed her car into the lake due to blood loss, and she almost drowned. Wait, can vampires drown, aren't they supposed to be the immortal dead?  Then for this series's take on werewolves we see numerous instances where Lycans are pulling or popping out silver bullets and throwing stars as if they are minor annoyances.  This all makes one question how the vampires subjugated the Lycans in the first place?

 

Does this look like an easily domesticated servant?

Then we have Marius and his desire for Eve’s blood because it is apparently the key to making his army of Lycans strong enough to take down the Eastern Coven, we are told that the defenses of the Coven would decimate the Lycans without this upgrade, but when the attack does take place, and without the precious blood Eve would have provided, they seem to do just fine. The tactic they choose was to attack during the day and shoot holes through the walls thus letting the sun in to incinerate the vampires (a pretty good tactic but why they insists on doing this hole punching from inside the vampire fortress opposed to from the outside in the sunlight is still a mystery to me) and proves that the whole “We need Eve's blood” thing was just a stupid MacGuffin.

 

“Sir, we know where the vampires live so how about we just bomb the place?”

Then if that wasn’t lame enough we have betrayals stacked on top of betrayals, not only does Semira betray Selina but she hopes to overthrow the council itself, but wait there’s more as it turns out Alexia (Daisy Head), an Eastern Coven vampire sent by Semira to track down Selene is actually in love with Marius and is working with the Lycans. How this constant state of betrayal exists among beings who can access each other’s memories simply by tasting one another’s blood is beyond me. If I was a head vampire I’d be constantly tasting my minions blood to ensure none of them were planning on stabbing me in the back. This incessant political infighting and betrayal is the heart of the series and is its most boring element.

 

“You have betrayed me, but ha-ha I’ve betrayed you first.”

And just when you think the mythology of the Underworld movies couldn’t get any dumber we are introduced to a Nordic Coven who have long known that there is more than just this world and that they have a ritual that allows a vampire to die and visit the “Sacred World” and then return with super powers.  Selene is told by Lena (Clementine Nicholson) that she herself has visited the sacred world many times, “My eyes see beyond the surface of so many things.” This visiting of other realms also gives one the ability to kind of “Ghost teleport” in combat, a handy tactic that is only randomly used here when if you could do such an amazing thing you'd use it at every possible opportunity.  If you think Selene will at some point gain this ability give yourself a cookie.

 

Vampire or Witch, does anyone care at this point?

We also get a bullshit reveal that David is also the son of Elder vampire Amelia, and thus the rightful heir to the Eastern Coven, but by this point I’d gone well passed not caring. Underworld: Blood Wars has the familiar slow-mo combat in a blue tinged world that has gone on well passed its “Best Before Date” and Kate Beckinsale spends much of the time looking as bored as I felt. Originally this movie was going to reboot the series, and not star Beckinsale, but instead she returned and producer Len Wiseman is threatening more bland stories starring his super-hot ex-wife. This year we saw the end of Resident Evil franchise (we hope) with Resident Evil: The Final Chapter if only Sony Pictures could retire this one as well.

 

Selene will return in "Underworld: The Boredom Wars"

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Blair Witch (2016) – Review

The woods at night are truly frightening, it’s a primordial fear that has been carried down through the ages since early man first stared out of his cave and listened to the creatures of the night, and this is something horror filmmakers gleefully prey on when they give us their versions of “What goes bump in the night.” In 1999 a low budget movie called The Blair Witch Project was a prime example of this and not only did it make a shit ton of money it is pretty much responsible for the current glut of found footage movies. Now 17 years later we have another trip into the spooky woods of the Black Hills Forest where another group of intrepid investigators try to unravel the mystery of the Blair Witch.


The first question we must ask is whether this film is a sequel, a remake or a reboot; ostensibly this is a remake as it take place years after the original with the James Donahue (James Allen McCune), brother of the missing Heather from the first film, looking to find out what happened to his sisters all those years ago. It also could be considered a remake as it basically covers the exact same ground as The Blair Witch Project did all those years ago, many plot points beat for beat, and only adding few additionally elements to avoid plagiarism charges. But mostly it’s a reboot because with the end of the Saw movies, and the Paranormal Activity series having run out of steam, Lionsgate Studios desperately needed a new franchise.

 

In Search of a Cash Cow.

This “sequel” Blair Witch follows James as he brings college student and documentarian hopeful Lisa Arlington (Callie Hernandez), two friends Peter Jones (Brandon Scott) and Ashley Bennett (Corbin Ried), to the woods surrounding Burkittsville in the hopes of uncovering the truth about what happened to his sister. What has spurred him on is that a local guy named Lane (Wes Robinson) had posted a video that he claims he found in the woods and possibly captures what could be Heather’s last moments in that creepy ass house. Lane and his girlfriend Talia (Valorie Curry) offer to take the group to where he found the footage but only if they bring them along.

 

Who wouldn't trust these two yahoos?

Do you enjoy endlessly long scenes of unlikable characters hiking through the woods, all brought to you via constantly edited shaky-cam shots? If so that this is the film for you, but if you are like me you will be screaming for the Witch to show herself and kill these idiots. The film teases us with originality by showing us that this group is better prepared than Heather was; they have mini-cameras with built in GPS, mounted surveillance cameras to record their campsite while the sleep, and they have a quad-copter drone to give them eye in the sky views of their surroundings, but then the GPS immediately fails, the cameras die, and the drone crashes. Where the original film had Heather’s idiot companions throw the map in the river this sequel relies on the powers of the Blair Witch to remove any advantages our heroes had, and make no mistake these mechanical failures are due to the Witch because this film is not subtle about showing her powers. And boy does she have powers as this film reveals that the Witch has the ability to manipulate the woods and the very fabric of time itself.

 

At least they never hear any banjo music.

When the group learn Lane has never been this far into the forest, and during their first night hat he was also is responsible for hanging those creepy stick figures around the camp, he and Talia are sent packing, but then later that night they show up back at the camp claiming that for them five days have passed, not the one day our core group has experienced, and worse is that it has been actually five “nights” with no sunrise. It was at this moment I finally became invested in the film, an entity with this kind of power opens up all kinds of possibilities, but then it immediately devolved into people running into the dark screaming in panic and any hope that this film could turn things around vanished.

 

The horror of shaky-cam at night can never be understated.

Why Adam Wingard, director of such fresh and riveting films as Your Next and The Guest, would attach himself to something as tepid and unoriginal as this movie is a bigger mystery than whether the Blair Witch is real or not. In fact this film has no interest in being a mystery in the vein of the original, though we never get a look at the Witch herself (apparently she is like Medusa and if you see her you die) we do get evil creatures and possessed minions to stalk our heroes on her behalf. I will admit the film does create some moments of suspense, Wingard is a very talented director, but at no point was I invested in any of the characters, and without that or any vestiges of originality we are left with a rather pointless affair.

Monday, February 6, 2017

It Came From Outer Space (1953) – Review

The motive behind aliens visiting the Earth in movies varies from the benevolent and often misunderstood aliens to the outright malevolent creatures with the destruction of mankind on their evil little minds. In 1953 Universal released their first 3D picture with extra-terrestrial beings that kind of fell in the middle of that spectrum, they weren’t here to conqueror the Earth but they also weren’t collecting for the Intergalactic Red Cross either. Based on an idea from producer William Alland, which science fiction icon Ray Bradbury fleshed out into a taught little sci-fi drama, It Came From Outer Space deals with an average man trying to deal with an extraordinary situation, while also being heckled by the locals for his beliefs.


Prior to this film the scientist character in movies were rarely portrayed in a good light, either they were of the “mad scientist” variety working on some experiment that was an affront to God and nature or they were blind to the dangers of alien invaders.  They tended to ignore the advice of the hero by wanting to learn from our cosmic cousin instead of killing them, even if said cousins were plant based and seemingly bent on eating us. With It Came From Outer Space we were introduced to amateur astronomer John Putnam (Richard Carlson) who for years afterwards would be the model for the “hero scientist” a man who could come up with a way to defeat the alien menace with his brain without relying on just brawn. The appearance of such a man in these movies was almost standardized, he was good looking, smoked a pipe, had patches on the elbows of his jacket, and normally came attached with a cute assistant or cute girlfriend.

 

Richard Carlson, man of science.

When Putnam and his schoolteacher girlfriend Ellen Fields (Barbara Rush) witness a large meteorite crash near the small town of Sand Rock Arizona the two become the Nick and Nora Charles of alien investigations. Unfortunately Putman is new to the area and thus not to be trusted by the locals, the residents of the nearby town mostly laugh at his claims that he saw an alien craft imbedded in the crater the “meteor” left, but when people start to disappear Sheriff Matt Warren (Charles Drake) starts to take Putnam seriously. The fact that the sheriff rather dislikes Putnam, which seemed to be based on his jealously of Putnam’s relationship with Ellen, results in the two becoming reluctant partners. The odd thing here is that once the sheriff gets on board with the whole “aliens walk among us” idea Putnam then insists they do nothing. In an almost regression to the “blinded by science” character Putnam informs the sheriff that the aliens mean no harm and that once their ship is fixed they will go home.

 

“Should I call Triple A for you guys?”

Unlike the invaders from War of the Worlds these aliens haven’t come to kick us off our planet, but they are also not of “benevolent” nature of say Klatuu from The Day the Earth Stood Still, the visitors in It Came From Outer Space simply crash landed on Earth and are just doing their best to repair the spacecraft so they can get the hell out of Dodge. To fix their ship they’ve been snatching the locals so that they could assume their form so as to make the “acquiring” of parts a little easier, small towns being notorious for not helping illegal aliens.  The key issue here is that aliens never asked for help they just took what they needed and screw those backward yokels for a bag of crisps. Worse is that when Putnam finally learns from the aliens the truth of the situation, aliens who have also just kidnapped poor Ellen, they inform our hero that only non-interference will result in the safe return of the townsfolk and if they are interfered with things would get rather unpleasant.  This point is hit home when an alien wearing his girlfriend's face basically states, “This is a nice planet, shame if something were too happen to it.” So these aren’t your typical good aliens, picture E.T. The Extra-terrestrial holding Elliot’s family hostage until he was able to phone home and you get the gist of this story. Now the reason the aliens have to sneak around stealing people is that they are horrific one-eyed creatures and as they are also of an intelligent race they know exactly how mankind would reactor to outer space visitors who look as they do.

 

They’d be speed dialing the military in record time after one glance at them.

These aliens aren’t so much evil as they are dicks. Not only do they kidnap people and steal their identities but when poor beleaguered Putnam tracks them into the mine they attempt to kill him while wearing his girlfriend’s form. Which is totally not cool.  Not to mentioned the fact that these shapeshifting one-eyed aliens aren’t able to reproduce the clothing of their abductees so they are forced to later break into their victim's homes and steal some of their duds, and that’s beyond rude.

 

“Damnit, they took my favorite jacket!”

It Came From Outer Space is the kind of solid science fiction story one would expect from a treatment written by Ray Bradbury, though the screenplay is credited to Harry Essex most believe he simply changed some of the dialog and put his name on it, and with director Jack Arnold at the helm it’s no surprise that this film has become a classic. Despite the studios insistence that we see the aliens, both Bradbury and Jack Arnold were against the idea, the film manages to be as thought provoking as it is fun, and this is also the film that Spielberg said most inspired him to make Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

 

Though Spielberg decided to forgo with the shapeshifting and death ray threats in his film.

Of course one of the more memorable elements of this film is the 3D effects and I'm happy to say they are quite good, rarely going for the “coming at ya” gimmick that plagues most films of this kind, but instead revelling in the sense of depth the 3D process can provide. At eighty minutes it’s a fast moving story that never gets bogged down, Richard Carlson is constantly rushing from one crisis to the next with the untrusting sheriff hot on his heels, until the film reaches its Earth shattering conclusion, or I should say non-Earth shattering if our hero succeeds. It Came From Outer Space is a genre classic that has earned it spot amongst the greats and one I can highly recommend.

Special shout out to Russell Johnson who plays a telephone lineman that gets abducted by the aliens. Kids today would most recognize him as The Professor from Gilligan’s Island.

Bad Science Moment: It’s not a 50s science fiction movie if somebody isn't spouting off some scientific gibberish that makes little to no sense, in the case of this movie we get a local university professor who disputes Putman’s claim that an alien craft made the crater and not simply a meteor that everyone else assumes it was. The professor states all the evidence points to it being a meteor, “There’s no sign of excessive radiation anywhere in the area. Odd, wouldn’t you say for something coming from outer space?” Umm, I I'm not mistaken don’t meteors also come from outer space?  Somebody really needs to check that dudes credentials.