Archive for the ‘horror’ Category

Teenage high-schooler Tina Gray (Amanda Wyss) is having nightmares about a guy named Fred Kruger (Robert Englund) coming after her to kill her.  At a sleepover, Tina invites her boyfriend, Rod Lane (Nick Corri) and her best friend Nancy Thompson (Heather Langenkamp) and her boyfriend, Glen Lantz (Johnny Depp) to stay the night, because her nightmares are getting to her.  Nancy falls asleep and wakes up to hear Tina screaming, Glen and Nancy break Tina’s door down, and find Tina in a bloody heap, and Rod gone.  The police immediately suspect Rod, and Nancy’s father, Lieutenant Don Thompson (John Saxon) sets a trap for Rod, using his daughter as bait, and the police arrest Rod shortly thereafter.   

Everything should end after Rod gets arrested, right, but now Nancy starts having nightmares.  Nancy’s concerned mother, Marge, (Ronee Blakely) takes Nancy to a sleep clinic.  After some unexplained events occur at the clinic, Nancy presses her mother about the identity of Fred Kruger.  She adamantly denies knowing anything about Fred Kruger, but seems nervous about the whole subject.  Is Marge hiding something from her past? 

What distinguishes Freddy Kruger from other horror villains is that Freddy exists in the nether regions of a person’s subconscious.  It’s the psychological aspect of this film that adds suspense.  At its heart, Nightmare on Elm Street is a suspense film, that raises intriguing questions. Is this Freddy Kruger a manifestation of the stresses of teenage life, is he a manifestation of the teens lack of sleep, or is he real, and if he is real, how do the protagonists kill someone who attacks them in their dreams?  At its worst in’s a slasher film with buckets of blood, but unlike other horror films this one has a very interesting character at its center, and learning about Freddy is what makes this movie so entertaining to watch.  Nancy’s parents are typically oblivious, but there’s even a twist on that usual horror movie staple.  And Nancy realizes that she has to fight Freddy, real or imagined herself, and that leads her to be more independent than the other “scream queens” of the 1980’s.  It’s far from perfect, most of the characters are not developed, sometimes Nancy behaves older than her years, sometimes younger, but all in all it’s much better than the horror movie dreck that Hollywood turned out in that era. 

The acting varies greatly in this film.  Heather Langenkamp, who no one had heard of at the time is perfect as Nancy Thompson.  She plays Nancy with the perfect mix of innocence, and both mental and physical toughness.  She literally built a career playing Nancy Thompson.  This was Johnny Depp’s first movie role and he plays it straight, no accents no pirate costumes, he’s just Nancy’s jock boyfriend.  He does a pretty good job of holding the audience’s attention, with nothing really distinctive about the role. Robert Englund doesn’t have lots to saw in this movie, but his backstory is firmly established, and he has 6 more films to build the iconic Freddy Kruger character.  Ronnee Blakely doesn’t bring much to the role of Marge despite being nominated for an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for the movie Nashville in 1975.  She reads the lines with no emotion, and that bland reading detracts from the importance of the character, and she is a pivotal character in this film.  John Saxon, plays the strong silent police officer, as he had in many 1970’s movies, he’s silent until he finds his daughter might get hurt then he erupts in a volcanic temper tantrum. 

Director Wes Craven doesn’t really make this an 80’s style slasher film.  He is more interested in blurring the line between reality and the dream world, so the viewer doesn’t know were reality ends and the dream begins.  Even Freddy emerges in one sequence with elongated cartoonish arms, an exaggerated reality, like Tim Burton would effectively do in his movies. The effect is to not really scare the viewer, but to make him or her afraid to fall asleep, which is almost Hitchcockian in its motivation.  The real genius of this film is that Craven created a horror movie icon on a shoestring budget of a million dollars. When he made 50 million dollars on a million-dollar budget, Hollywood was bound to come calling again.  And it did. 

A Nightmare on Elm Street: Glove to Glove Ya Freddy!

A teen named Charley Brewster (William Ragsdale) who loves horror movies is convinced his new next-door neighbor, Jerry Dandridge, (Chris Sarandon) is a vampire.  Charley’s girlfriend Amy, (Amanda Bearse) his mother, Judy (Dorothy Fielding) and his best friend Evil Ed (Stephen Geoffreys) are all skeptical. But, just after Jerry moves in, a number of women are murdered, and Charley is sure he’s seen Jerry’s roommate, Billy Cole (Jonathan Stark) carrying a coffin with Jerry.  Charley tries to enlist a police detective, Detective Lennox (Art Evans) to try to help catch Jerry.  Unfortunately, the detective is as dubious about Charley’s claims as everyone else seems to be.   

With nowhere else to turn, Charley turns to late night horror host Peter Vincent (Roddy McDowell) to try to convince him that Jerry is a vampire.  Peter thinks Charley is crazy, but Peter is also down on his luck, having just been fired from his fright Night tv gig.  So, after being bribed by Amy, he agrees to try to convince Charley that Jerry is not a vampire.  Just as he is about to leave, Peter sees something that may change his mind about Jerry.  What is it?  Does Peter finally help Charley?  Is Amy safe from Jerry’s charming personality?   

With movies like Halloween, and Friday the 13th dominating horror movies in the 80’s, Fright Night would have been easy to miss.  There are a lot of similarities to standard horror films and even standard vampire movies, but there are elements that distinguish this movie from the run of the mill vampire film.  First, Peter Vincent is a satire of Peter Cushing, horror actor in the British Hammer studios movies.  Also interesting is how Jerry tries to win both Amy and Ed over to his side, with an interesting wrinkle about Amy thrown in.  The most interesting aspect of this film is the role of faith, both in believing that vampires are real, and believing in the power of the tools to destroy them.  That is something that’s never been explored in vampire films.  There was a sequel to the original, there was a remake, and a sequel to the remake, and none of them were as good as this movie.   

As good as the script is, there are some cliches.  The first victim is a prostitute, Hollywood’s favorite profession.  Two of the other victims are black, following an age-old horror movie trope.  Finally, the teen characters are stock 80’s characters.  The hero, who no one believes, the damsel in distress, and the outcast.  And the adults, who should take the hero] seriously, dismiss his claims without even checking them. 

The acting was impressive, especially by two of the actors.  Chris Sarandon plays Jerry with equal parts charm and ominous foreshadowing. and what makes his performance effective is that the ominous part of his performance was also laced with charm.  Roddy McDowell is great in his role, as Peter Vincent, washed up horror actor, desperately trying to hang on to whatever semblance of fame he’s got left.  Does he become the hero he played in those movies?  The rest of the cast plays standard teen roles.  William Ragsdale plays the teen, who no one believes, and who has to both fight the vampire, and protect his girlfriend and mother from the good-looking guy next door.  Amanda Bearse plays the love interest, and would later go on to fame in Married With Children, and Stephen Geoffreys plays the nerdy outcast.  The teen roles are pretty standard issue. It’s really Sarandon and McDowell who carry this film. 

The direction is good, it keeps the narrative and action going, while relying on a relatively few special effects, compared to today’s CGI extravaganzas.  The director lets the dramatic tension rise to an exciting climax, and ends the proceedings fittingly.  He gets great performances from Sarandon and McDowell.  The director gets decent performances from the 20 something actors playing teens.  The one aspect of this movie that sticks out like a sore thumb is the background music.  It is cheesy.  It sounds like it was played on a cheap Casio keyboard. The best background music is one the viewer doesn’t notice, or in horror films heightens the tension, this music does neither. 

Fright Night:  Bloody Good! 

Arash (Arash Mirandi) lives in Bad City with his father, Hossain (Marshall Manesh) who’s an addict. Saeed, (Dominic Rains) Hossain’s supplier and also a pimp want payment for his heroin and takes Arash’s car instead of money. For good measure, Saeed beats up on one of his prostitutes, Atti (Mozhan Marno) and calls her an old hag because he’s such a nice guy. Then Saeed meets the Girl (Sheila Vand) and takes her to his apartment, after snorting some cocaine, and lifting some weights, Saeed thinks The Girl is ready for sex. But The Girl has a surprise in store for him.

Later, when Arash goes to Saeed’s apartment, and Saeed is gone, he takes his car back, and Saeed’s money and drugs for himself, and sees The Girl leaving Saeed’s house, and thinks nothing of it. Arash meets The Girl again, after getting high on Ecstasy, and she takes him to her house, they listen to music and fall in love. Hossain’s drug habit gets worse, but not to worry, The Girl has a solution for Hossain. Arash’s romance gets more intense, until Arash finds Hossain dead on a Bad City street corner. What happened to Hossain? What about Arash’s burgeoning romance with The Girl?

This movie is disappointing on many levels. The writer/director was born in the U.K. of Iranian ethnicity, but lives in America. The film is all in Farsi, so this movie could have used the sci-fi horror backdrop as a palette to comment on many social or moral or economic issues, of the country of her choice, but when The Girl is asked who she is and why she’s in Bad City, she demurs. So, what is the film about? Not a heck of a lot. It’s not even much of a horror film. The Girl could have been a kind of avenging angel, but the plot is not even that engaging. Arash could have been a flawed anti-hero, but there is no final confrontation between Arash and the Girl, or the Girl and anyone else. Naming the character The Girl is evidence of how little writer director Ana Lilly Amirpour thought about plot or character development. This movie whimpers to a weak finish. There is a conflict in the story, but for some reason, Amirpour avoids it, and just ends the film.

The acting is much better than the writing. Arash Mirandi plays a disengaged rebel, a James Dean type character, and does it well. He’s probably one of the more sympathetic of all the characters. Sheila Vand is mesmerizing as The Girl, when the camera does a closeup of her eyes, the viewer can get lost in them. She’s also quite menacing when she wants to be, but then at other times looks quite innocent. Credit to Dominic Rains for playing a drug dealer and a pimp so convincingly, he’s a rotten human being and he revels in it. The viewer wants something bad to happen to him. Kudos also to Marshall Manesh for playing a difficult role, and making his character sympathetic.

The one aspect of this film that is worthy of praise is directors Amirpour’s use of black and white to film this movie. Black and white film is evocative of horror, with its use of light and shadow, and Amirpour uses these techniques with great expertise, but the rest of the movie is what gives art-house films a bad name, aimless, pointless plot, featureless characters, and meaningless repetitious symbolism. Somewhere Fellini is rolling over in his grave. The music is ok, a mix between Madonna and European house music. Amirpour uses the music well.

A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night: All bark no bite.

Episode 1 Sundown:
After returning home from the Korean War, to search for his missing father, Atticus Freeman (Jonathan Majors) receives a letter saying that his father is in Ardham Massachusetts. Tic, as his friends know him, takes his uncle George (Courtney B. Vance) and friend Leti Lewis. (Jurnee Smolett) Leti is a down on her luck singer who needs a place to stay and as a rocky relationship with her half-sister, Ruby. (Wunmi Mosaku) Tic, Leti, and Uncle George encounter family drama and racism as they enter Ardham County, where the racism doesn’t end. Ardham is what’s known as a sundown county, meaning black people aren’t welcome after sundown. The sheriff and his deputies threaten to shoot Tic, Leti and Uncle George unless they leave Ardham County in minutes. What happens to Tic, Leti and George?

This is a very good opening episode of what looks to be a promising series. There is an undercurrent of paranormal or supernatural events going on, on top of the overt racism against three African American protagonists, and it’s an open debate as to which is more frightening to the main characters, the racism or the paranormal elements. The series comes in the wake of Watchman in featuring a story with black characters in the forefront at a time of overt racism. Each of the main characters, and even the ancillary characters are so well-written and acted that it makes the whole episode so much fun to watch. All the characters are multi-dimensional, well-rounded people. It’s a pleasure to see such intricate writing on television.

The acting is superb. Courtney is the steady, calm, reassuring figure of the three, Vance exudes all these qualities and adds some humor to the role. Johnathan Majors is the quiet, contemplative, bookish Tic, but he’s fresh from the Army, and has muscles, but prefers not to use them in case of trouble. Jurnee Smolett stands out as the take no prisoners Letti. She’s willing to fight anyone, friend or foe, who crosses her. Smolett brings a lot of passion to this character and carries this episode for as long as she;s on screen. Even smaller roles like Leti’s sister are well-acted. Wunmi Mosaku adds a lot of fire as Ruby, giving Leti an earful on responsibility. Mosaku also has a great singing voice.

The direction melds the fear of racism with the fear of paranormal activity into one cohesive narrative. The pacing is brisk, The special effects enhance the story, not overwhelm it. Great performances, all packed in a little over an hour.

Episode 2 Whitey’s On The Moon:

Tic, Leti, and George wake up in a lodge owned by the Braithwaite family in Ardham county. Leti and George have no memory of what happened the night before. Tic remembers the night before all too vividly, and remembers the blonde who saved his life on the road to Ardham. She is Christina Braithwaite (Abby Lee) daughter of the patriarch of the Braithwaite family, Samuel. (Tony Goldwyn) Samuel has a plan of his own, it involves Tic, but what is the plan, and how is Tic involved?

Unfortunately, both the story and the characters receded a bit since the first episode, one of the big mysteries from episode one is resolved, which makes this episode immediately less interesting, and the character of Leti, who was so string-minded in the first episode becomes a more conventional female architype. Whitey’s On The Moon was disappointing in as many ways as the opening episode was exciting. The story seemed to put forth mixed messages throughput, and was therefore not as compelling as the first episode. Hopefully, the next episode will be better

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Episode 3 Holy Ghost:
Leti buys an old mansion on the North Side of Chicago, with the intention of fixing up the house and turning it into a boarding house, and also bonding with her half-sister, Ruby. But she faces resistance to moving in, from her neighbors, and from some spirits that are restless in the house. Tic feels guilty about not telling Hipppolyta (Aunjanue Ellis) about what happened to George in Ardham.

The problem with the last two episodes is definitely the writing. The haunted house is standard issue haunted house lore with some Tuskegee type experimentation thrown in for good measure. But it’s odd that Misha Green gives the perpetrator of these experiments a Jewish surname, given the Jews own horrific experience with similar experiments during the Holocaust. The character of Leti is inconsistently written, sometimes strong and daring, sometimes overwhelmingly needy. Finally, all the exposition tying the haunted house story to the central story is saved until the final few minutes and sounds rushed and forced.

Episode 4 A History of Violence:
Leti Tic, Montrose (Michael Kenneth Williams) Hippolyta go to a museum. Tic Leti and Montrose want to find missing pages from a book. William (Jordan Patrick Smith) makes promises to Ruby after she loses a job opportunity, can he keep those promises?

This episode feels like one of the Night at The Museum movies or maybe one of the Mummy movies, and of course black people have free run of the museum in the 1950’s, nobody’s asking questions, right? The Ruby/William storyline makes even less sense. But the central question is why would Leti, Tic and Montrose want to help Christina Braithwaite? And why do Tic, Leti, and Montrose seem to succeed where so many others have failed?

Courtney B. Vance is a much better actor than Michael Kenneth Williams. Both his overacting and the character in general are grating. Jurnee Smolett is also chewing the scenery quite a bit in these past three episodes. Yelling is not acting.

Episode 5 Strange Case:
Ruby wakes up a whole new woman after spending the night with William, but there’s a price she has to pay for her newfound status, is she willing to pay it? Tic and Leti research the clues the found in the depths of the museum. Montrose continues to prevent Tic and Leti from finding more about the lodge and their members.
This episode tries to discuss race, gender and orientation issues using the guise of science fiction or horror as a genre. When done well, like the Watchmen series, science fiction can be the perfect vehicle to discuss thorny social issues. When done badly, like this episode, and sadly, most of this show, the writing begins to bludgeon the viewer over the head with its point of view and the episode and the show becomes unwatchable.
The producers cast an older actress to play Wummi Mosaku’s alter ego, why is that? Is it that any actress will do? That speaks more to Hollywood’s racism than racism in society. Ironic isn’t it?

Episode 6 Meet Me In Daegu:
In 1950, during the Korean War, Tic did a lot of unconscionable things, including shooting and killing a nurse, Young Ja (Prisca Kim) suspected of being a Communist spy. Tic is wounded and meets another nurse named Ji-Ah, (Jamie Chung) the two fall in love, despite Ji Ah knowing that Tic killed her friend. Ji-Ah has a secret of her own, will she tell Tic? What about her visions of Tic’s future? Do they come true?

This is perhaps the best episode since the first episode. Each of the characters are compromised and conflicted in very complex ways. Tic has killed without remorse, Young-Ja is unapologetically in love with a Communist from North Korea, and Ji Ah loves Judy Garland movies, but hides a dark secret, and knows about Tic’s horrific deeds. The story even adds some Asian horror elements, so even though its only tangentially related to the main story, this episode stands out for depicting the horrors of war simultaneously with a love story.
The acting is excellent Johnathan Majors turns in an emotionally gripping performance as a soldier trying to forget the horrors of war and let himself fall in love. Jamie Chung stands out as a tortured soul, needing to find love. She really pours all her emotion into this role and it’s a very complex performance. Prisca Kim is also very good as the nurse with Communist sympathies.

Episode 7 I Am:

Hippolyta finally finds out what happens to George in Ardham. She also has a crucial piece of the lodge’s hardware in her possession, and she’s learned how to use it. Christina tries to explain William’s fascination with Ruby to Ruby, but Ruby doesn’t seem convinced. Tic finds out something about his father, and it drives them further apart.

This is Hippolyta’s journey of self-discovery, but the writers get it wrong, they try to raise Hippolyta up by tearing others down. There seems to be a lot of repressed anger in Hippolyta’s character, and that plays into a pernicious stereotype about black women. So instead of being an uplifting journey, the narrative gets loaded down by the baggage of anger, and even self-loathing. The anger may even be justifiable, but her actions and the lessons she learns are the wrong ones. More racism is not the way to end racism, more racism only perpetuates racism. The writers also do the same with Christina storyline trying to justify the chip on her shoulder in different ways This is another tangentially related episode, but unlike Meet Me In Daegu, the writing is weak, and so is the character development.

Episode 8 Jig-a-Bobo:
Diana is upset by the death of her friend Bobo. If that isn’t bad enough, Captain Lancaster (Mac Brandt) puts a curse on Diana. Ji-Ah finds Tic and once again tells him about her vision. Tic asks for a favor from Christina, which she grants to Leti? Tic and Montrose bond after Tic tells Montrose something about his future.
The use of historical fiction in this episode is sloppily written, and doesn’t fit the story. If the writers used a historical figure as a plot device, that’s inappropriate. And where did Ji-Ah come from? The last time the viewer saw of Ji-Ah, she was a nurse in Korea, now she’s in Mississippi? Why is no adult helping Diana when she is clearly terrorized, and why did the writers steal a concept and a visual from Jordan Peele’s Us? Since he’s one of the executive producers of this show, the use of those scenes wasn’t a problem. Even with all these shortcomings, this episode is more like what the series should have been about fear of racism coupled with fear of the unknown. The interpersonal relations between the characters is the stuff of soap operas and seems like filler at times, finally the writers got to the heart of the theme of this show, they took a lot of detours to get here, let’s hope that the remaining episodes use the theme again.

It was nice to see Ji Ah again, but this time Jamie Chung sounds more like a Californian, which she is instead of a recent immigrant to the U.S. That detracted a little from the role, which she played very well in the Meet Me In Daegu episode. It’s nice to see that Michael K. Williams finally shows some subtlety in his acting. Montrose was becoming a one-note character. Speaking of Montrose, it was not necessary to make him dyslexic, he’s got enough on his plate.

The use of “Cruel Cruel Summer” by Bananarama seemed like an odd choice to lead this episode, it’s a pop song, it’s not about anything in particular, to give it the weight that this episode gives it is unnecessary.

Episode 9 Rewind 1921:

Tic makes a pledge to Christina that Leti doesn’t want him to keep to try to save Diana’s life. Hippolyta comes back from her journey of self-actualization just in time to send Leti, Tic, and Montrose on a mission to try to save Diana. Does it work?

This was stone cold plagiarism by the writers of Lovecraft Country, who took a script right out of Watchmen, and didn’t even blink. Well, Watchman did it first and did it better. Rewind 1921 seemed like leftovers compared to the Watchman episode, which was moving and powerful. This episode was another misuse of historical fact, and why decide on this time and place when it was already done so exquisitely before? The writers never mentioned where Montrose or George were born, so this episode has no real resonance.

Episode 10 Full Circle:


Christina has a spell, but she needs Tic’s blood to make it operational. Tic has a spell to cure Diana, but he needs Christina’s blood to make it work. Ruby’s stuck in the middle and has divided loyalties. Whose spell will work, and what does it mean for Christina and Tic?

This was the finale, so it was supposed to resolve a lot of issues, and it seemed to have resolved a lot of issues, but because magic is involved, nothing is really final. The resolution of Ji Ah’s issues with Tic was written badly, and still she’s expected to help Tic with his grand plan. The resolution of Chritina’s plot line was most disappointing, because she was made a one-dimensional character with no opportunity to evolve or grow. How she met her final fate is equally disappointing, because of who was involved. This show is marred by episode after episode of sloppy, undisciplined writing and the finale is no exception, anyone expecting an uplifting episode to cap matters will be left wanting.

My Impressions of Season One:

After getting off to a truly splendid start with the Sundown episode, the writing went slowly careening down a cliff. Sundown was a wonderful mix of mystery, elements of horror and the horrors of racism in Jim Cow America. But then, as soon as the second episode, the focus of the story changed, one of the main characters changed, and the sole focus became racism. The black characters had this seething underbelly of anger within them, which was unappealing, and the white characters were so one-dimensional that they don’t even deserve mentioning. That does a disservice to the way progress was made in America in the eras of slavery and civil rights. For every Fredrick Douglass, there is a John Brown, for every John Lewis, there is a Michael Schwerner. That’s what Lovecraft Country misses, for there to be real and lasting change in any era in America, there has to be buy-in from all races, the writers missed an opportunity to make at least one of their white characters learn and grow and evolve.

After the Sundown episode, Lovecraft Country almost seemed like an anthology series, there was no cental theme holding it together, so one episode would be centered on Leti, and her new house, or the museum or Hippolyta, or Ji-Ah, and there was there was the thinnest of threads tying them to the writers alleged theme, but often the narrative became obscured, and the Lovecraftian elements are almost nonexistent in some episodes. The characters vacillate between strong and brave and weak and weepy, and some episodes focus almost exclusively on who’s sleeping with whom. And by the way rape is never acceptable, whether it is a male or female being raped, and anti-Semitism is never acceptable, no matter how it’s dressed up.
There were a few standout episodes after, like Meet Me In Daegu, which is a love story with many conflicted characters, but again this story was barely tangentially related to the central character, Jig a Bobo, with its many flaws, finally gets around to what this show should have been a mixture of supernatural horror and the all-too-common horror of racism. The show that it will be compared to is Watchmen, but Watchmen was much better written, and once Watchmen came together, it was a marvel to watch. Lovecraft Country even ‘appropriated’ the Tulsa Massacre from Watchmen, which was first masterfully captured on screen in Watchmen’s first episode. It is the height of irony to use H.P. Lovecraft’s themes as a palate because Lovecraft was a virulent racist. Misha Green and her co-writers could have done a much better job of it, by not telegraphing her verbal punches, and toning down the anger of the black characters, and by not making the white characters so uniformly hive-minded.

The acting varies greatly. The good performances are very good, the not so good performances are pretty scenery-chewing bad. Johnathan Majors is excellent as Atticus Freeman, he really showed all of his emotions, but he knew how to modulate his emotions, when Tic got angry, it was through clenched teeth, when he felt sadness, the viewer felt his pain, it was a difficult role, but a wonderfully well-rounded performance. He should have a bright future in Hollywood, he’s already making a name for himself with a solid perfrmance in The Last Black Man In San Francisco. Courtney B. Vance was wonderful as the gentle, kind caring, uncle George. He was woefully underused, the writers brought him back, only to lay a guilt trip on him. Bad writing abounds with respect George’s character. The show needed more of the understated grace and charm of Vance’s performance. Michael K. Williams tried to pick up\ the slack for Courtney Vance’s absence, but he overdid his angst. It was a 10,000-decibel performance that required some subtlety.

Jurnee Smolett was terrific in the first episode, and then her character changed from stong and confident to weak and weepy, and she was not able to modulate her performance as Leti, as well as Majors did as Atticus, so she was either screaming in anger, or screaming in terror, and generally overacting. Wunmi Mosaku is a multitalented singer, actress and force to be reckoned with as Ruby, she’s not afraid to step on some toes and give half-sister Leti advice about Leti’s place in the family It’s the bold performance that this show needed. The remainder of her storyline was written badly, but she made the most of it. Abby Lee had a very difficult role, making someone like Christina Braithwaite a likeable character, and she almost succeeded, until the writers torpedoed her best efforts. Every series needs an antagonist, and Christina is this series main antagonist, but Lee does her best to make her somewhat sympathetic. Jamie Chung gave the performance of her life in three or four episodes, she ran the emotional gamut from kind innocence to anger and hatred. It was an illuminating performance and should show Hollywood that they shouldn’t typecast actors, especially female actors. The depth of emotion in her performance in Meet Me in Daegu was incredible. Again, the character’s role in the last episode was poorly written, but that’s not Chung’s fault.

There were 10 episodes mostly directed by different directors, so it’s easier to select two episodes and talk about each director’s work. Episode One was the best episode of the bunch so Yann Damange gets some of the credit for that. He perfectly blended traditional horror themes with elements of mystery and the real-life horrors of racism. He manages to balance the three elements and not let one overpower the other two. The pacing was good, and the special effects were perfectly used especially in the opening dream sequence. He gets great performances from everyone, and even stages a musical duet between Smolett and Moskau.
Episode 6 was the second-best episode, and that was directed by ex-actress Helen Shaver, who had a lot of roles in horror movies like the Amityville Horror, Poltergeist The Legacy and the Craft. Shaver uses those roles in horror well, as she blends elements of Asian horror with war movie and believe it or not Hollywood musical, and comes up with a great narrative, the special effects aren’t overpowering, the interspersing of clips from Judy Garland movies and horrible acts of war create a roller coaster of visuals that leaves the viewer as conflicted as the characters in the episode.

Lovecraft Country: Not crafted as well as it should have been.

Veronica, (Jenelle Monae) is a successful author living in Washington D.C. with her husband Nick (Marque Richardson) and their daughter Kennedi. (London Boyce) This should be a happy time for Veronica, but she is troubled by persistent nightmares of being a slave named Eden during the Civil War. She and other slaves are planning to break free from this plantation in Virgina. A slave named Eli (Tongayi Chirisa) seems most willing to lead the insurrection, but is the suicide of a pregnant girl named Juila (Kiersey Clemons) that spurs Eden to action. But before she can act, she wakes up, and continues in her book tour, where she has a strange Skype meeting with a headhunter named Elizabeth (Jena Malone) but soon forgets about that incident with a girls’ night with her friends, Sarah (Lilly Cowles) and Dawn. (Gabourey Sidibe) After the dinner, Veronica gets an Uber, and drives away. She soon realizes this is not her Uber driver at all, where is Veronica headed?

The moral of the story, always know your Uber driver. Jokes aside, this is a premise with potential, but again, a good premise is badly executed. The writers have two questions to answer, what is happening, and how could it happen? They do a pretty good job of explaining what happened, but not so good a job of explaining how it could happen. And the writers do the unforgivable, they put so many hints in the story that they reveal the twist long before the twist actually happens, which makes the twist and the reveal anticlimactic. With the advent of social media, the events of a place such as the place depicted in the movie would have leaked a long time before the events happened to a famous author. No one can keep a secret today. This film aspires to be a Jordan Peele type commentary on racism in the Trump era, but it is instead violence and revenge porn for wannabe revolutionaries of every stripe. The ending resembles The Village, if the writers are going to go to M Knight Shyamalan for inspiration, that’s a sure sign of desperation. For a better version of this story, read Olivia Butler’s book, Kindred. Here’s a link to the review.

https://reviewswithatude.wordpress.com/2018/08/31/classic-book-review-kindred-by-octavia-butler-kindle-version/

The acting is subpar. Janelle Monae alternates moods from a multitasking superwoman world beater to a wordless cypher who is under the thumb of people she despises. Because she is the “big star” in this movie, Monae tries to make this a one woman show, and the writers acquiesce. This movie works better as an ensemble piece. Kiersey Clemons at least added a different mood to the film, but her appearance in the film was too short. Gabourey Sidibe is genuinely funny as Veronica’s fast-talking friend looking for a booty call, but again she is in two or three scenes, and that’s all. If this is Monae’s chance to shine, she fails.

The directors, who are also the writers, try to disorient the viewers with a lot of visual tricks long takes and different angles to try to distort the visuals, but the visual tricks do nothing to quicken the pace of this leaden film, The directors don’t seem to want to turn down the violence, that’s fine, slavery was violent, but instead of careful planning by many, they pour on the violence by the central character in the guise of revenge. The cast is fine, but the all-encompassing nature of Monae’s role blots out some good performances.

Antebellum: Not worth the Monae that was spent on it.

Movie Review: Train to Busan (2016)

Posted: September 27, 2020 in horror
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A South Korean fund manager Seok Woo (Yoo Gong) is separated from his wife, but shares custody of their daughter, Soo-An. (Su-An Kim) Soo-An is with her father, and tomorrow is her birthday, after trying to buy the child’s affection with a present, which she already had, Seok Woo agrees to take Su-An to see her mother. On the train, Seok Woo and Soo An meet different passengers, train employee Sang Hwa (Dong Seok Ma) and his pregnant wife, Seong Kyeong, (Yu Mi Jung) a baseball player, Yong Guk, (Woo Sik Choi) his girlfriend Jin-Hee (Sohee) and elderly sisters, Jong Gil (Myung Shin Park) and In Gil (Soo Jung Ye), and a selfish older businessman, Yon Suk (Eui Suk Kim)

However, one of the people on the train is infected with a disease that turns her into a flesh-eating zombie. It doesn’t take long for the disease to spread, and zombies to quickly take over certain cars of the train, and at one point, Seok Woo and Soo-An get separated, and it’s up to Seok Woo, Sang Hwa, and Yong Guk to find Soo An, Seong Kyeong, and Jin Hee, and they’ve got to fight through hordes of zombies to get to them, do they find their loved ones, and do the people who are relatively safe from the zombies let the survivors in?

It’s fascinating Train to Busan begins with a South Korean soldier enforcing a quarantine given the global pandemic that has been underway for at least six months. Train to Busan is filled wit cultural touchstones that make it recognizably Korean, class resentment, baseball, and respect for the elderly. Class resentment is clearly represented by the relationship between train porter and the fund manager. In fact, class resentment is a feature of other South Korean films, like Parasite and Snowpiercer. What this film illustrates better than those films is fear, and how different people react to a stressful situation. The characters different reactions to fear and stress might make Train to Busan more prescient today than either Snowpiercer or Parasite. But the writing does have flaws, the secondary characters, the baseball player, the porter’s wife, and the older businessman are little more than one-dimensional characters, even the primary characters could use more facets to them. The ending is far too sentimental, and really detracts from the central theme of the film.

The acting is above average. Yoo Gong makes a tough transition from a self-absorbed fund manager to a caring father. Dong Seok Ma is effective as the blue-collar porter, who makes a good foil for Yoo Gong’s character, and there is still tension between them, even after they team up to fight the zombies. Su-An Kim is a little too weepy as Soo-An, but that’s the performance the director wanted, so that’s the performance she gave. Myung Shin Park gives a good performance as one of the grannies on the train, she had good chemistry with the little girl who played Su-An. It was a nice collective performance by this group of actors.

The direction is good, the zombie scenes are fast paced and frenetic, but the director makes sure there’s enough time for exposition to give certain characters more backstory. The director gets good performances from the cast, children are not easy to direct, so he gets extra points for directing Su-An Kim, there are no big budget special effects to get in the way of the story. The only qualm with this story is the ending, had he ended it sooner, he could have made all his serious points, without the mushy sentimentality.

Train to Busan: Zombies training to eat your brain.

jaws

Police Chief Brody (Roy Scheider) has had it with big city crime, and so he moves his family from New York City to Amity Island in New England.  Before he has time to get settled, a girl named Chrissie(Susan Becklinie) has died while swimming, the medical examiner (Robert Nevin) at first says it’s a shark attack, which Brody puts on the police report, but under pressure from Mayor Vaughn (Murray Hamilton) the medical examiner changes the cause of death to boating accident.  The mayor wants Amity’s beaches open for the big summer tourist season.  Uncomfortable with the mayor’s pressure, Brody calls in an expert from the nearby Oceanographic Institute Matt Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss) who tells Brody that Chrissie’s death was definitely a shark attack.  Despite that news, Brody succumbs to the mayor’s pressure and this time a young boy dies, and there’s no doubt that this death was caused by a shark attack.  After some local fishermen catch a shark, Brody feels reassured, despite Hooper’s nagging doubts that this is not the shark responsible for killing the young woman and boy.

Chief Brody keeps the beaches open on July 4th, this time Hooper is on patrol in a boat, despite the increased scrutiny, the shark kills yet another man, and Brody’s son is in the water in the vicinity of the shark.  As the deaths mount, Brody has one final alternative.  Captain Quint, (Robert Shaw) a local shark hunter has offered to catch and kill the shark for 10,000 dollars.  Brody agrees to give him the money, on the condition that he goes along, Quint agrees and wants Hooper along “for ballast.”  Do the three men catch the Great White shark or does the shark make a meal out of the men?

Jaws is a superb film.  Not only does it hold up after 45 years, the themes discussed still resonate today.  The theme of economic prosperity versus public safety is a prominent theme in Jaws, and one America is still struggling with during the Covid 19 pandemic.  If Brody makes the wrong decision, people die.  If Governors make the wrong decision today, people die.  Class themes also emerge in Jaws, with Brody and Quint representing the blue collar working class, and Hooper represents the college educated elitist.  The tension between Quint and Hooper in the film is palpable, and tensions between blue collar workers and college educated workers in the US seem to be growing.  On top of these overarching themes, Jaws is an exciting seafaring adventure.  Quint’s name even sounds like Captain Queeg, and he’s chasing his own Moby Dick. There’s a palpable sense of terror at the thought of an “eating machine” in the water feasting on humans, the terror is made more real as viewers see the shape of Quint’s boat as the battle between man and shark rages.  There is also a good deal of comedy between the characters, which eases the dramatic tension.   Put all these elements together and a classic film takes shape and one that stands the test of time.

The acting is just as good as the story.  Roy Scheider was well cast as the stoic Police Chief Brody, he was the straight man to the two more loose cannon characters of Hooper and Quint, and he played off Shaw and Dreyfuss perfectly.  Scheider was good at playing policemen, having played one in The French Connection and the Seven Ups.  He ad-libbed the line, “You’re going to need a bigger boat.” which became one of the most iconic lines of dialogue in film history.  Robert Shaw was perfect playing the cranky, crabby, hilarious Quint.  He has one of the most memorable entrances in film history, scratching his nails on a chalkboard to get everyone’s attention.  Shaw played Quint mostly for laughs, but then turns on a dime and gives one of the most chilling monologues in film about being aboard the USS Indianapolis during a shark attack, it is still as sobering a monologue today as it was then.  Richard Dreyfuss plays the quirky bookish, irritating Matt Hooper mostly as a foil to Quint’s working class bounty hunter character,  Dreyfuss and Shaw didn’t get along on the set, and the bad blood worked,  because their characters weren’t supposed to like each other. Even the minor actors were great.  Murray Hamilton played Mayor Vaughn just the way a local mayor  would act, listening to the needs of local merchants and putting economic interests first, Hamilton’s hair was perfectly coiffed, and he wore the polyester suits that most local officials wore back un the 70’s.  Even Lee Fiero makes the most of her one dramatic scene as Mrs. Kitner.

Jaws was Steven Speilberg’s second Hollywood feature, and he made the most of it.  The visuals are amazing, the first attack is at dusk, and the viewers never see the shark, they see a camera underwater, and the rest is a reaction shot from the actress, it’s a great scene.  Other great scenes are just as thrilling, a dock collapses and the man is swimming for his life, his feet slip on the remaining wet dock, does he make it out of the water alive?  In one scene the shark attacks, and Brody’s son is in the water and the last image the viewer sees before the next scene is Michael Brody’s feet, are they unscathed?  That beach scene was the first time I saw a dolly zoom  shot, it’s been used many times since, probably overused now, but it was exhilarating to see  it in 1975.

Speilberg is able to maintain the dramatic tension in the film with these scenes, and John Williams score colors the moods of the film beautifully, when the film is suspenseful, the well-known Jaws music rises, when the film is jaunty, the music is more playful.  The creativity with filming the shark was necessitated by the mechanical shark not working all of the time, so viewers actually didn’t see the shark until late in the film, but seeing it so late also ratchets up the tension, and that makes Jaws work better.

Jaws:  A lot to chew on.

 

Movie Review: Doctor Sleep (2019)

Posted: July 4, 2020 in Drama, horror
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Dr. Sleep

It’s been a tough life for Dan Torrance (Roger Dale Floyd, Ewan McGregor) he lived in Florida for a while with his mother, Wendy (Alex Essoe) to try to forget the memories of his father Jack, and the Overlook Hotel.  Danny’s become an alcoholic because of all the  trauma, and wants to start fresh after hitting bottom.  So he moves to New Hampshire, joins a 12 Step program, and becomes a hospital orderly.

While Dan is slowly putting his life back together, The True Knot, a gang of hippie vampires, led by Rose The Hat (Rebecca Ferguson) is feeding off people’s steam, or their psychic energy while they are dying.  The True Knot has already tortured and killed little league baseball player Bradley Trevor (Jacob Trembley) and they are looking for more steam, when Rose discovers Abra Stone (Dakota Hickman, Kyleigh Curran)  Abra’s steam is off the charts because she has the shining, the ability to communicate psychically combined with telekinesis as well.  What Rose the Hat doesn’t know, is Abra is talking to Dan, at first psychically and then in person, and they are setting a trap for The True Knot.  Does Rose fall for the trap?  Or does she capture Abra and her steam?

Doctor Sleep was a good book, it stood on its own as a story, it wasn’t scary like Shining, but Stephen King probably wanted the story of Dan Torrance to stand on its own, despite being a sequel. The problem with the movie is that it tries so hard to be a sequel to the Shining, that it makes Dr. Sleep fail. It makes too many references to the original story, so that the new characters don’t get to stand on their own, including the adult Dan Torrance, whose recovery from alcoholism is a very interesting part of the book.  The True Knot seemed like a reference to the Manson Family, the movie should have played up the aspect of psychotic cult killers much more than it did, made them more menacing, but it didn’t.

The acting is good.  Ewan McGregor is one of the best actors in Hollywood, and he really got to stretch, playing a not so nice guy in the beginning of the film, and playing a flawed antihero type by the end.   Rebecca Ferguson was not that scary, or menacing, maybe it was her hat, but she seemed like she was trying to be scary, instead of actually scaring people.  Kyleigh Curran was good, but she looked a lot younger than the teen she portrayed. She didn’t play the role like a smart mothed teen, just someone wise beyond her years.

The director, Mike Flanagan, seems to pay homage to Stanley Kubrick’s Shining far too much in this film.   He seems to take some scenes shot for shot from Kubrick’s version, and that didn’t seem very original or the best use of time.  Kubrick’s Shining was an example of form over substance, it was very visually arresting, but in all the visual fireworks, the narrative was lost.  And Flanagan in his rush to imitate Kubrick goes back to the well of scenes from the Shining, all too often, ruining the narrative of his own movie in the process.  Flanagan also seems to think that Doctor Sleep should be some sort of epic, clocking in at a hefty 2 ½ hours, there is a 3 hour directors cut that must be excruciating to watch. He also uses annoying gimmicks like a heartbeat sound effect when the vampires are near, to amplify the scariness.  It doesn’t work.  The pacing is slow, there is too little reliance on the source material, the book, and the ending is disappointing.

Dr. Sleep It’s hard to Overlook similarities between this film and The Shining.

The Invisiblw Man

Cecelia Kass’ (Elizabeth Moss) life should be idyllic.  She lives in a beautiful home with a wealthy scientist husband, Adrian Griffin, (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) but Cecelia’s life is far from perfect. Adrian is an abusive husband, and Cecelia is planning to leave him.  She drugs Adrian, and leaves, and moves in with her friend, policeman James Lanier (Aldis Hodge) and his daughter, Sydney. (Storm Reid) Shortly after moving in with James, Cecelia’s sister, Emily, (Harriet Dyer) tells Cecilia that Adrian is dead.  Not long after that, Cecelia is invited to Adrian’s lawyer’s office to read the will.  Cecelia is left millions in the will, if she signs the document, and agrees to Adrian’s terms. Adrian’s lawyer is also his brother, Tom, (Michael Dorman) and he assures Cecelia that Adrian is dead.  Cecilia signs the will, and immediately gives some of the money to Sydney.

Everything seems to be going well for Cecelia, but then strange things start happening, which alienate Emily, James, and Sydney from Cecelia.  Can Cecelia prove that these strange things are happening, and that Adrian may not be dead after all?

The Invisible Man is a suspenseful movie for about 40 minutes, then the odd things start happening and the movie starts to display some very old and tired horror movie tropes that anyone who has seen a horror movie can easily identify. The script actually asks an interesting question in the middle of the proceedings, why did Adrian choose Cecilia to be his wife, but it never develops that plot point and instead goes on its formulaic way.

And this movie shouldn’t be labeled a “me too” or women’s empowerment film either, because the whole point of me too is that a woman should have friends and family believe her, no matter how rich and powerful her husband is.  This movie is me too only in the Hollywood marketing department, in every other way it treats the female protagonist rather stereotypically.  It’s not enough to have a woman endure a traumatic experience, but to emerge stronger from her experience, The Invisible Man does not do that, despite  what seems like a quickly cobbled together ending.

The acting is fairly good.  Elizabeth Moss tries her best but is victimized by a script that makes her just another victim.  Moss, who is a very good actress, as Mad Men proves, is not given any room to make the character interesting, there is no depth to her character, it is one dimensional through and through.  Similarly, Oliver Jackson-Cohen  is hamstrung by playing a one dimensional character, with no explanation or backstory as to why he is the way he is.  He is not allowed to be funny, or charming or even slightly empathetic, so he does the best he can. Aldis Hodge could have had a very interesting role, but he disappears for large parts of the film, and only reappears when it’s convenient to the story.

The direction is visually flashy, the opening scene of Cecelia and Adrian’s home is impressive, the house is both futuristic, creepy, and opulent and the direction shows that off, but the creepy things happen far too soon for a good suspense movie, and once the reveal happens, the movie slides precipitously downhill from there.  Characters appear and disappear as needed, and that interferes with the narrative.  So as good as the visuals look, there are many things wrong with the direction.

The Invisible Man:  The suspense disappears too soon.

Movie Review: Midsommar (2019)

Posted: December 13, 2019 in horror
Tags: ,

Midsommar

After going through an unspeakably shattering family trauma, Dani (Florence Pugh) literally cries out for help from her boyfriend, Christian.  (Jack Raynor)  Christian is more interested in going to Sweden with his friends than consoling Dani, but after talking to Dani, and weighed down by guilt, Christian invites Dani to go with him to Sweden.  He thinks that Dani will turn him down, but she agrees.  After seeing some strange ritualistic behavior by the people living in the commune in Sweden , Dani starts to have second thoughts about the whole trip, but Christian’s Swedish friend, Pelle (Vilhelm Blomgren) assures Dani  that there is nothing to be concerned about.  Separately, Christian and Josh are fighting about their thesis papers , and both Simon (Archie Madekwe) and Connie (Ellora Torquia) visitors from England, announce they are leaving.  Does Dani want to leave, does Christian want to stay?

Midsommer is without a doubt a movie completely devoid of logic.  Dani, a woman, overcome by grief agrees to go to Sweden because, this will ease her grief? Sure, why not?  Christian asks Dani to come because what’s healthier for a relationship than taking your grief-stricken girlfriend to a commune to study midsommar festivals out of a sense of guilt? Is it really wise to drink and take hallucinogenic in a strange country, in a strange commune, populated by strange people, doing strange things? And nobody, not even Josh, who is doing his thesis on midsommar festivals, speaks Swedish, except for  Pelle, and he’s not translating.  When Dani starts seeing strange things take place, does she leave? No.  Because the movie hinges on her a) going to Sweden, and b) staying in Sweden, if she doesn’t there’s no movie.  What remains is violence porn, porn porn, and revenge porn, along with a tired trope about minorities in horror movies to boot.

If anyone thinks this is a women’s empowerment film, because of the ending, it’s not.  If it was, why would the writer make Dani so needy?  Where are Dani’s female friends?  Why does she rely on Christian’s friends fir comfort? Why are the Swedish women so submissive?  Why is the nudity so gratuitous and unnecessary?  It only serves to further objectify women in the male mind.  Whatever this movie aims to be, it’s not empowering to women. On top of all this, none of this movie is the least bit scary.

The acting is ok.  Florence Pugh has one emotion on display and that is grief, either she’s holding it in or letting it out, she does a lot of crying in this film, a LOT.  It’s not her fault that this is a one-dimensional performance. It’s Ari Astor’s.  Jack Raynor is good at playing a jerk, because he does it so well in this film, but Christian, who is supposedly a main character in this movie, is very badly written.  Vilhelm Blomgren gives Pelle a touch of humanity, but he also has ulterior motives so it’s hard to know what he’s up to.  Pelle also knows what’s going on, and doesn’t tell anyone.  Blomgren does a good job of playing the duality of the role, but there’s not enough in the secondary characters for the actors to sink their teeth into.

The direction is just average, while the external shots of Sweden are colorful and inviting, that visual beauty is mitigated by close-up shots of extreme violence for shock value.  There are lots of crane shots,  tracking shots, and one upside down shot , to try to foster  a sense of disorientation.  The pacing is very slow and the script is too damn long.  This often happens when the director and the writer are the same person.  Arii Astor is that person and he thinks the ideas presented in this movie are worth two and a half hours of the viewer’s time.  The are not.  Astor gets flaccid, boring performances from his actors, because the characters are badly underwritten.

Midsommar: More like Mid-Dumber.