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Showing posts from January, 2018

Let Us Prey (2014): Review

Let Us Pray (2014) by Brian O’Malley is a cross-cut narrative, largely accreting from its Final Girl protagonist. She’s tough, but inexperienced; wears a tank top and sports a perpetual, brunette ponytail. As a movie gimmick, this character archetype hasn’t changed much since Ellen Ripley and Laurie Strode helped make it famous, in the late 1970s. Still, it’s been indiscriminately trotted out, over the years, by self-aware outings like Wes Craven’s Scream (1996). Others were less transparent when utilizing it—even if remaining somewhat tongue-in-cheek, amid the solemn act. Let Us Prey is one of those.
To be frank, it doesn’t jump the rails; it adheres to a formula, executing it straightforwardly as it focuses on the gory mess (the star of the show apart from Cunningham). The movie doesn’t deign to concern itself with parody or pastiche, instead treating the act of shooting blood and goo as an art, in and of itself—an art form perfected by the likes of Stuart Gordon in his early days, …

Green Room (2015): Review

The moment I saw Macon Blair, playing a gangster "custodian" in Jeremy Saulnier's Green Room (2015), I thought he looked familiar. As it turns out, he also starred in Saulnier's Blue Ruin (2013), a movie I very much loved; it was muted, bleak and driven, a gritty tale of revenge exposing the kind of rugged, criminal violence normally found in places off the beaten track. It's jarring because it worms unexpectedly into normal, innocuous settings, similar to the Coen brothers' Fargo (1996), Sam Raimi's A Simple Plan (1998), David Cronenberg's A History of Violence (2005) or Peter Chan's Dragon (2011).

Note: It's also worth noting that Blair, himself, directed the pitch-black comedy I Don't Feel at Home in This World Anymore (2017). It's both equally shocking and laugh-out loud funny, combining Hamlet-level violence with off-beat humor as heroes, hopelessly out of their depth, square off against equally incompetent (albeit totally ruthless…

In the Flesh (2013): Season 1 Review, part 3

Here is part three of my three-part review of season one, from Dominic Mitchell's In the Flesh (2013). Whereas the other two focused on positives and negatives in the show, this portion of the review is mostly concerned with the larger themes at work, in and out of it.




Many zombie narratives make the undead truly dead, in the sense that nothing human in them remains; thus, they become mere echoes of the dear-departed, tormenting those who remain as all-too-familiar shades.

What makes In the Flesh somewhat different is how it shifts some of the human struggle onto the undead without sacrificing what's at stake: survival. Granted, it feels inevitably more pedestrian when displayed in an immediate, everyday setting. These are not fantastical wastelands; neither civilization nor its inhabitants are presented as some kind of abject, faraway husk. Instead, they mirror or parallel our lives, as they exist, in the present.

I enjoyed this comparison in that it seemed less remote than t…

In the Flesh (2013): Season 1 Review, part 2

Here is part two of my three-part review of season one, from Dominic Mitchell's In the Flesh (2013). In part one, I discussed the show's positive qualities. Now, I'll dig a little deeper and see if I can't find any flaws. I'll save the larger thematic analysis for part three.

In the Flesh isn't perfect. Details, such as the medicine having to be administer daily (or else) don't quite add up, given the hero's tendency not to stay at home. Does he take the injection with him, and if so, who applies it? He can't do it, himself, but the show conveniently leaves little details like that to our imaginations. I found its best not to think too hard, concerning them. To its credit, the narrative doesn't focus on them, the reliably-engaging drama helping to distract me from such potentially-deflating retrospection.

At the same time, there were some less-inspired moments that can't be ignored. In the Flesh does delve into the inevitable "humans are…

In the Flesh (2013): Season 1 Review, part 1

This three-part review is on Dominic Mitchell's In the Flesh (2013). For it, I will be reviewing season one, in its entirety.

Note: I've decided to divide the review into three parts, here. Part one will summarize, and focus largely on the positives; part two will criticize more deeply and explore any potential negatives; and part three will examine the thematic material more broadly. Also, the entire series is my homework, so I will inevitably get around to watching season 2. I will potentially review it at a later time.

In the Flesh is a somewhat different take on the zombie premise. It takes what I expected, in hearing the word "zombie," and turns it inside out—not in a gory sense, but an emotional one. At the same time, it still feels largely like a zombie tale in that it's occupied with survival—just a different sort than usual.

Rather than kick off the narrative in medias res, or "in the midst of things," everything has gone back to normal. That is…

The Killer (2017) Review, Part 2

Here is part two of my review of Marcelo Galvão's 2017 Western, The Killer (2017):


I've often wondered about the Western, as a genre. Does it have to be made in the West to actually be a Western? Likewise, I've often heard it said, "the Western is dead." Yet these kinds of films continue to be made well into the present, set in places far removed from the West as it supposedly existed in the United States. The fact of the matter is, the Western is a folktale, a legend; it never quite existed in reality and thrives in the hearts of those telling it.

For a Western, all one really needs is a desert, and these can be found all over the world. Simply populate them with a bunch of poorly-dressed, morally-dubious characters motivated by money or revenge; then, make these persons willing to settle their scores through improvised, highly-dramatized contests of speed, by means of rifle or pistol, and you have yourself a Western (don't forget the music). If these brutal…

The Killer (2017) Review, Part 1

Marcelo's Galvão's Brazilian Western, The Killer (2017), is both clever and visceral—as cursed and mercenary as its title character(s). Note: Before I proceed, I wish to note that this article will serve as part one of a two-part review of the movie.

Moving on.

The movie starts with a tense confrontation in the middle of the road, somewhere (where this is isn't explicit, but seems familiar, regardless): A man sits down, seemingly forced to do so by two dangerous men. His boys are with him, and his would-be adversaries plan to use them as leverage. Meanwhile, they tell the father to make coffee; when he cannot do that, he offers to tell them a story, instead. As he does, he appears callow and awkward.

Here, all the power seems to be with the opposing men: They ask; he obeys—as simple as that. Then again, perhaps not.

The sheepish narrator embarks on a fable, concerning a land that seems never to have been. We're unsure of the time or the place. He simply calls it…

Dissecting Stranger Things 2, Episode 5's Subplots

When looking at episode 5, from Stranger Things 2 (2017), I enjoyed the main narrative, but the subplots were, of themselves, reactive. However, they weren't always positively so. The two that I'll be looking at are Dustin and Eleven—though mostly Eleven, who I feel the show continues to criminally misuse, in season 2.


I'm not neglecting Dustin, though. The reason I have less to say about him is due to him simply being reliable. As usual, he gets the job done. In episode 5, he plays an admittedly-grim situation for laughs, avenging his dead cat (cat-murder being taboo in our current cat-obsessed culture) by containing its killer in a bomb shelter, out back.

First off, his interactions with his cat-crazy mom are all hilarious (season 2's secret weapon). On top of that, it's worth noting that the scene works whether or not I know why Mom is the way she is. As much as I wonder why or if she's a widow or divorcee, I don't really need to know either in order for…

Stranger Things 2, episode 5

Episode 5 of Stranger Things 2 (2017) was primarily an episode of uncovering, exposing and convincing: Lucas tries to convince Max; Joyce doesn't try to convince Bob; and Jonathan and Nancy try to convince Murray and, with his help, eventually the World—"Them, with a capital T," as he puts it.



"Nothing you've told me is simple," Murray shouts. I liked this. Given the incredible nature of what we're dealing with—monsters, ghosts, and aliens—the resultant truth is so absurd compared to what's normal that unveiling it requires a certain level of finesse. In other words, to try and tell it straight-up isn't always the best idea, because it's too much to take in, or too different; the mind won't be able to process it because it's too alien, and thus will reject it.

So, when Lucas tries to spell things out to Max, she thinks he's pulling her leg (or is totally insane). Without any proof, his incredible tale is easy to dismiss. Point-i…

Stranger Things 2, episode 4

Episode four, I feel, demonstrates some of the arguments I've made about Stranger Things up to this point—chiefly that it works just as well to hint at something, rather than explain or show it outright. This is especially salient concerning special effects that aren't immediately convincing, for one reason or another.

I'm not just championing the old-school, here. However, the technicians of yore (at least sometimes) understood that hiding or partially-concealing their creations generally helped add to the effect, because it left whatever the audience saw as incomplete. As a result, viewers' minds would be left to fill in the blanks, themselves.

This is because our brains take whatever data our sensory organs supply us with and convert it into images; when the data is inadequate, the brain makes its own interpretative leaps, resulting in "visual" effects stronger than any technician's. The Gothic novelist Ann Radcliffe spearheaded the notion of terror a…

Stranger Things 2, episode 3

With episode 3 of Stranger Things, I found matters to be somewhat pedestrian. There were things I enjoyed... and things I didn't. Generally the tone of the show continued to surpass any disdain I had for shoddy visual effects. That being said, your mileage could vary depending on your own tolerance. Can kids today even tell the difference? Do they care? I wonder.

To its merit, episode 3 provides season 2's biggest surprise, up to this point: Sean Astin's character, Bob. He doesn't look like much, at first glance. However, his seemingly-timid stories about bad dreams and bullies are surprisingly impactful and genuine. They feature a smaller, meeker heroism derived from someone obviously lacking a square jaw and chiseled physique. He's not breaking any new ground, here, but for some reason his reprisal of Samwise the Brave caught me off guard. It probably has as much to do with how the show treats him: goofy and awkward, the everyday man who works at RadioShack. Yet,…