Archive for the ‘TV/Movies’ Category

Thoughts on “The Cellar”

December 8, 2022

This is the second movie that features a recognizable female lead, which this time is Elisha Cuthbert.  I never actually watched any of her shows, as it turns out, but she was such a pop media presence that I, and almost everyone else, knew who she was.  She looks quite a bit different here, and I could really only recognize her by her voice.

The main plot here is that a family moves into a house that they got for an incredible price, which should always be some kind of warning for the people who buy it.  Sure, in the real world it usually means that there’s some kind of rot or structural issue that’s going to take a ton of time and money to fix, but in the horror world it usually means that there are some kind of ghosts or demons in the mix.  That’s the case here as well, as the previous family that owned the house had almost everyone disappear without a trace, and creepy things start happening.  Soon enough, the teenage daughter — who didn’t want to move into the house in the first place — is home with her brother while the parents are at a business meeting and after the lights go out is told by the mother to go into the basement to check it, and since she’s freaked out about that the mother tells her to count the steps to get over her fear, and is freaked out when the daughter mindlessly keeps counting long past the number of steps, and then disappears.  At least partly out of guilt, the mother obsessively investigates the house and discovers that the previous occupant left behind some equations that link to alchemy and to Baphomet, a demon who wants to bring about the apocalypse.  The rest of her family ends up getting caught up in the mindless counting, and she ends up discovering how to open the way to Baphomet’s domain and manages to rescue the daughter, and then tries to get everyone to leave the house but discovers that outside the house is a wasteland, and then all the family starts doing the counting again and she starts doing it herself, which ends the movie.

I admit that I found the ending a bit disappointing.  I actually did want this to be a happy instead of a Downer ending, but worse than that was the fact that it isn’t clear what happened.  Early on, it’s stated that Baphomet wants to use these things to bring about the apocalypse, and so the wasteland outside the house could be reflecting that he succeeded.  Or, it could be the case that they are simply trapped in that dimension and can’t get out, and that the house itself in our reality is still the same, since it was also established early on that these are different dimensions.  It kinda blunts the Downer Ending a bit if we don’t know just how much of a Downer it really is.

That being said, this is a movie that shows that all you need is a decent plot and some decent performances to make a credible horror movie.  I could easily nitpick the fact that the movie doesn’t explain anything about Baphomet and his goals or methods.  Why is counting so important?  How does that allow for the dimensional shifts?  How would that cause the apocalypse?  None of these questions are answered, but what’s important is that the answers aren’t important to the plot, and the movie itself doesn’t really draw attention to that.  So we can go along accepting that these are the way things are and then use that to build the horror without worrying too much about what it all means.  Thus, the movie has just enough plot and exposition to get us to the scares and so we know to be creeped out when people start mindlessly counting without either keeping things way too obscure and hidden or spending too much time on exposition.  This leaves us able to enjoy Cuthbert’s performance — which, though not as good as Christina Ricci’s — and the tension that the movie at least competently builds.

Given all of that, this movie is somewhat on the cusp between a movie that I would definitely rewatch again and one that I might rewatch again.  But on consideration, I think it is at least as good as “The Changeling”, and for a lot of the same reasons, and that one is in my closet.  So this one goes there, too.  And this clearly shows that for horror the important thing about the plot is not having something complicated or deep or that gives a wonderful message, but instead to have a plot good enough to do what you want to do, filling out just enough that we know what’s coming when the creepy things start to happen but not necessarily explaining every little thing.  This movie does that, and when you add in the strong production values and Cuthbert’s strong performance, you end up with a horror movie that’s better than most of the horror movies I watch.

Thoughts on “Monstrous”

December 1, 2022

This is the first of two movies that I picked up at least in part because the female lead — and the main protagonist — was a recognized actress that I kinda liked.  This time it’s Christina Ricci, who is no stranger to creepy roles and movies, but who at least recently has done a few more “normal” things as well (“Pan-Am” for one, which I didn’t watch).  The idea also sounded somewhat interesting, as it was about a woman and her son moving to a new house and facing some kind of threat, so it was worth taking a chance on it since it was, again, relatively inexpensive.

The movie is set in I think the 50s, and she has moved away and is renting that house because of something her husband did to her son, that the movie is very cagey about mentioning.  She also has dreams and visions that include a woman that she seems to recognize.  At the same time, her son sees a monster coming from the lake, and it seems to enter his room, but later he starts talking about it not being a monster but instead being a “pretty lady”, even though Christina Ricci’s character still sees it as a monster, and ends up stabbing it once.  As things progress, her son doesn’t seem to be making any friends at the school she drops him off at every morning and when she throws him a birthday party no one comes, but it is revealed later that he didn’t give out the invitations, which ticks her off.  Soon after, she comes to pick him up from school and he isn’t there, and no one knows who he is, and then a police officer comes and takes her into the station, and as she is questioned about what really happened to her son her “phone” rings, and it is revealed that she has a cell phone and it isn’t really the 50s at all, and that she’s been living in a delusion the entire time.  It turns out that her son drowned, possibly because she left him alone with his father who didn’t watch him closely enough and she then returned to find him already dead.  The reason that’s possibly is because while she implies that that’s what happened, it isn’t clear that that’s what happened because her retreat into delusion is out of guilt, and the scene that shows it doesn’t include him.  At any rate, it turns out that the woman she was seeing was her grandmother, who talked about how much simpler things were in the past which is what spawned her retreat into that as a delusion, and she was living in her grandmother’s old house and driving her old car.  She ends up driving away in the old car, seemingly having accepted her son’s death but perhaps to simply move away to retreat into delusion again.

The premise here is actually a pretty good one.  While someone retreating into a delusion isn’t a new idea — in fact, the movie “The Turning” did it a while ago — in general what happens in these sorts of movies is that someone is in an insane asylum or something and everything is a complete hallucination.  What’s interesting here is that she is living in the real world and is at least mostly functioning in that world, but her delusion is interpreting the modern world in 50s terms.  This opens up all sorts of ways to hint that she’s in a delusion and to play out the plot and the interpretations.  So it’s both a pretty standard premise and also one that the movie has a potentially interesting spin on.

But the main problem with this movie is that it takes this simple and interesting premise and makes it way, way too complicated, and in ways that leave things open that the movie didn’t need in the first place.  They have the relationship to the grandmother — which they hint at enough that I suspected that it was all a delusion long before the end — the delusion itself, the monster, the monster becoming a pretty lady, the incident with her son, a conflict with her landlords, and her motivations for the delusion itself.  The actual monster idea gets barely touched on, and is quickly replaced with the “pretty lady”, and we never do find out the details of what happened to her son.  What you really want in a movie like this is to build things slowly and drop hints that things aren’t right and that she’s living in a delusion without spoiling it, and the movie spends too much time on other things to leave room for that.  Sure, it might be — and likely is — the case that some of the things she sees aren’t accurate to the time and so would provide such hints, except that we get into what Shamus Young referred to as “Trust the Storyteller” and so any inaccuracies that people familiar with the time would notice will be easily explained by the writer simply making mistakes about what would happen in that time.  It’s actually really difficult to drop these sorts of hints without giving anything away, and so what we’d need is for the character herself to note it and then explain it away, which would allow us to accept that explanation but then be reminded of it later.  But with all the additional complications the small details get lost — like the people at the school looking at her funny — in the overwhelming little details.

If it was me, what I would have done was remove the monster part entirely.  Make it into a more classic ghost story by keeping the “pretty lady” angle, which ties into the grandmother angle.  Yes, you’d probably have to name it “Pretty Lady” or something, but that would create an interesting pun and red herring for the plot of the movie, since at first blush that would seem to refer to her and not to the ghost/monster.  This would also allow them to avoid showing the monster early in the movie like they did here, which would be good because once you introduce and show a monster you can’t easily go back to showing the everyday routine, since the actual known threat from the monster will overwhelm that.  And for a movie like this, what we really, really want is to see the everyday routine so that we can find the hints that this is all a delusion, and so making us wonder when the monster will appear again works against that.  Once the monster is eliminated, the movie can mostly proceed as it does, although while I’d keep the hints that it was the father who was responsible for the drowning I’d make a clear statement at the end that she left the son alone for a short time and he drowned because of that, which explains the enormous guilt that she’s feeling that causes her to retreat into her delusion.

The sad thing is that, as noted above, this isn’t all that novel a concept.  This is a concept that should really be a slam dunk.  Even if they fumbled on the hints — which they did — the premise is interesting enough that all you need is a sympathetic lead and a remotely interesting sequence of events combined with a simple ghost story to keep the audience’s attention through the movie until the end.  But things are so confused and so complicated with a number of unnecessary things that it can’t really be enjoyed on its own, and the fact that nothing gets settled at the end doesn’t help.  It boggles my mind that in terms of plot the movie fumbles things so very, very badly with a premise that is both so simple and so familiar and thus should have been easy to pull off.

Now, normally a plot fumbled so badly would get me to toss this into my box of movies to sell.  I mean, I was indeed actually bored at times while watching it, which is a bad sign.  But Christina Ricci puts on a wonderful performance, which makes me really feel for her character and interested in how things work out for her.  It’s a shame that that wonderful performance comes in such a poorly realized movie, but her performance is so good that I can easily imagine myself rewatching it just to see her performance again.  If they had managed to even provide even a simple, basic plot, her performance would have easily made this a move that I would rewatch on a fairly regular basis, but since they didn’t, it will go into the box of movies that I might rewatch at some point in the future, although it is probably at the top of that list.

Thoughts on “Silent Night”

November 29, 2022

This isn’t a movie that I picked up to start watching to get into the holiday spirit.  No, I actually watched this movie many months ago when I watched “The Fifth Element” and had a rough plan to watch that stack of Sci-Fi movies that I have (and never got around to doing that).  As I’ve wound down watching TV shows, it’s a good time to clear the stacks of things that I want to talk about and so finish off the two Sci-Fi movies that I had watched and never written about in preparation to watch some more Sci-Fi movies and write about them.  Maybe.

As it turns out, I wasn’t really sure how to classify this movie anyway.  The basic premise is that it’s Christmas and a strange storm has been brewing around the world that causes people to be infected with some kind of disease that kills them rather quickly.  It’s just about it hit the U.K., and the citizens have been given suicide pills so that they can kill themselves before it hits and they die horribly.  So they are spending their one last Christmas trying to get in one last gasp of frivolity and togetherness before the end.

Now, this could easily be a horror plot, except that the actual plague isn’t shown much at all (there are a couple of scenes with it).  It could be a straight drama, but the premise seems to be at least slightly futuristic given that it tracks events that might follow from what we’ve been doing to the world but that no one expects to actually happen, at least not that way, right now.  So I think it works better as a science fiction movie.  One thing that is clear, though, is that it’s meant to be a black comedy, with the plague hovering over them and the somewhat goofy events that happen as they try to ignore it for their own last gasp of happiness.

Which makes it a shame, then, that it’s not all that funny.  They did try, however, by contriving all sorts of situations where the preparations for the holiday and for the suicide go wrong in somewhat slapstick ways.  The best part is at the end when one family is preparing to down their pills and the kids are complaining that they were promised a full can of soda apiece and that it’s warm and the father has to run around trying to put all of this together.  But scenes like this are few and far between, which means that for the most part the humour is them sniping at each other which isn’t followed up on or them acting like idiots and dancing around which in a movie like this is more drama than it is comedy.  There’s just not enough humour in the movie for this to work as a great black comedy.

The movie does take the time to add some political commentary, with one girl talking about how this was caused by Russia when it wasn’t and with a couple of other characters talking about how the government didn’t get the pills to illegal immigrants and things like that.  This isn’t actually a bad thing in a movie like this, but what it is supposed to do is get a bunch of people together with radically different political views to spend their time together trying desperately to ignore that in light of the fact that they’re all going to be dead by New Year’s.  But outside of the dinner scene with the comment on the Russians that doesn’t happen, and it seems like we’re supposed to accept that the things they say are correct (except for the Russian thing), which means that it can’t be used as simply a thing they disagree on that they are trying to suppress but instead comes across as more like the writer winking at the audience about the things we obviously all know and agree on, right?

So without the comedy, we have to evaluate the dramatic moments, and the movie flubs that by making the drama nonsensical and yet correct anyway.  The big drama is that the one boy thinks that they could survive the plague, and in the one couple the woman is pregnant and starts to think that maybe she should stay alive to have the baby.  The boy ends up invented and seems to die, which then settles it for everyone and they all decide to take the pill and die, but then the boy wakes up later proving that in theory some people can live through it.  This should be triumphant on his part and cause us to feel that the deaths of everyone else was a tragedy … except that the way the story is structured even with that we know that in-universe the boy got luck and out-of-universe the writers contrived the story to produce that outcome.  As the movie establishes, the storm hit other parts of the world first, such as Africa if I recall correctly, and they would therefore have had lots of time to study it and see if there was any kind of reasonable survival rate, and since they decided to go with the suicide pill option they had to conclude that there wasn’t.  Also, we know that in any kind of plague like this some people will have natural immunity or fight it off so that he manages to survive doesn’t mean that he was right that there’s any reasonable chance of surviving.  And if the pregnant woman had tried to live, perhaps the baby would have lived but she wouldn’t have and then it would die anyway since no one would take care of it.  Even their own political statements work against them here since while they say that the Queen and some others are hiding in a bunker until it passes by the fact that the kills are being given to citizens and not immigrants means that the sort of government that would deny that to immigrants clearly thinks that the better option is to die peacefully from the pills than from the storm, and that they don’t expect anyone to survive the storm since they’d want their citizens to survive and not the immigrants.  And, again, they had lots of time to study its effect in other areas so that they could put this plan into place and decided that the suicide option was the better one.

So the boy surviving isn’t triumphant and isn’t proof that he was right.  He was still wrong but in-universe got lucky and out-of-universe benefited from writer fiat and contrivance.  So the ending is stupid and meaningless, but is trying to seem meaningful and important.  Any work where that happens leaves a bad taste in the mouths of the audience, and yeah, for me one of my main takeaways is that it had a really, really stupid ending.

Given all of that, this isn’t a movie that I want to watch again.  It had its moments, but not enough of them to redeem its ridiculous ending that contradicts its own story.  So, yeah, it goes in the box to possibly sell if I get a chance.

Thoughts on “Slapface”

November 24, 2022

So this is another Shudder exclusive, and the basic plot revolves around a young boy and his older brother, who is trying to raise him alone because their parents died in a car accident.  One ritual that they have is a game called “Slapface”, where they slap each other in an attempt to work their frustrations out on each other.  The young boy is also being bullied by a group of young girls, one of which — Mariah — seems to like him but since the other girls dislike him she participates in the bullying.  The young boy is also obsessed with a local monster called the “Virago” who is supposed to live in an old insane asylum.  On a dare from the bullies, he goes inside and ends up awakening the monster, who then starts defending him from things like a dog that was sicced on him and some other threats.  At the same time, the older brother starts dating a woman named Anna, who starts to get concerned about the young boy.  It also turns out that the young boy has gotten in trouble with the law which has the Sheriff on their case.  Eventually, the Virago kills Anna and then the young boy is being chased by the young girls and the Virago ends up attacking Mariah for taunting and puts her in the hospital, which ends up getting the young boy put in jail.  Later, he wakes up and finds everyone slaughtered in there, and returns to his house, where he ends up confronting his brother and the Virago attacks the brother as well, ultimately killing him, but after the young boy seemingly kills the Virago the creature disappears, implying that maybe it never really existed in the first place.

The big problem with this movie is that it seems to be aiming at making a point, which is about bullying, as that’s the message it displays at the end of the movie, calling out bullying and noting that it can come from family members as well.  That seems to be why we have the ambiguity at the end where it tries to imply that the young boy was doing all the things himself, and that’s actually not a bad way to present the issue (it’s also not an uncommon tack to take, with the monster actually being the repressed rage of the main character).  But the way it is presented doesn’t work here.  First, the way they set things up makes it unlikely that the young boy is actually the killer.  Mariah seems to see the monster before she is attacked, and it seems unlikely that the young boy could have killed everyone in the police station on his own.  Given that, it isn’t all that credible that there wasn’t really a monster, and if that’s not the case then the bullying point falls a bit flat, as while he would be being bullied the monster’s reactions would indeed be over the top.

This is only compounded by the fact that while the bullying is indeed generally bullying it’s pretty weak as bullying and the points would work better as family drama points rather than anti-bullying points.  While you can make a point about the bullying of the young boy and Mariah’s falling into line and being mean to him to avoid being bullied herself, it works better as an issue for him to deal with and a rather strange relationship and friendship than as something focused on as a bullying plot.  Also, the movie tries to present the game of “Slapface” as terrible bullying — mostly by having Anna be incredibly bothered by it — but while it could be interpreted that way it could also be interpreted as a creative way for the two of them to work out their issues with each other, yet one that’s tragic because it’s one that isn’t particularly healthy, and only reflects that neither of them really know how to cope with the loss of their parents.  So as an anti-bullying message the girls are bullies but he could in general avoid them and the impact it has on his relationship with Mariah works more as a drama plot than as a bullying plot, while the case of the brother is generally more a case of attempting to cope with the situation and maybe failing than as bullying.  For a movie that clearly wants to be a message about bullying, it doesn’t establish the bullying enough to work as a message movie.

Beyond that message, there isn’t really much to the movie.  We don’t really find out what the purported motive of the Virago is and don’t even know if it’s real, and most of the movie is spent on the relationships instead of the horror.  But they reveal the “monster” way too early to return to and settle into normal domestic issues after we know that there’s a violent monster out there, which colours the entire rest of the movie.  There might be some interesting domestic issues here, but we can’t really focus on them while we are trying to figure out what the deal is with the monster and when it will strike again.  So the horror is revealed too early for us to go back to the simple domestic issues that the move wants to explore, but those issues run for too long afterwards and so sideline the monster plot that was already established.

As you might expect, I didn’t care for this movie.  The structure doesn’t work for either the horror or dramatic parts of the movie, and the anti-bullying message doesn’t work for the plot and structure of the movie.  I’m not going to watch this movie again.

Thoughts on “The Fifth Element”

November 22, 2022

It’s been a while since I said I’d talk about this movie.  About five months, to be exact.  I had lots of other things to talk about and so this fell out of the schedule, but with my catching up with all of my other movies and video games and TV shows it really seems like it’s time to finally talk about it.

The basic plot of this is that an alien race has set up a defense against another alien race in ancient times and then left, leaving behind an order to preserve it.  In the future, the enemy aliens finally arrive and one female alien from the defending race (played by Milla Jovovich) arrives on Earth to activate the device, with the one remaining member of the order seeking her out.  Meanwhile, a former special forces agent (played by Bruce Willis) who now drives a cab ends up getting caught up in all of this when she tries to escape from the government agents that revived her and ends up in his cab, which spawns a long adventure to save the day.

Now, from what I understand this movie wasn’t that well-received when it launched but has become a cult classic to some.  The reason for this, I think, is that this movie doesn’t at all do what you’d expect from this movie.  I don’t mean that it deliberately tries to subvert expectations, because it doesn’t seem like it’s actually trying to subvert expectations.  Or, at least, if it is it’s not setting these things up to be things that we expect and then subverting them.  Instead, it really seems like it just isn’t doing what you’d expect not only from such a movie but also from what the movie itself sets up.   For example, when the alien shows up in Willis’ cab, what we’d expect from such a situation is that he’d join her then and just go along with her on her mission.  However, he ends up making a pass at her which ticks her off, and so he ends up having to leave.  And so you’d think that he’d be convinced by her mission — and his attraction to her — and so push his way back into her mission.  Except he seems content to leave things as is until he is recruited by the government to check this all out, which is the first time that we really understand what his role was with the government, who then arrange for him to win a contest to get onto the exclusive resort that they need to get to to get what they need, at which point the alien and her keeper push their way into his win so that they can all do that together.

You would have expected that the first part where he meets her would have been skipped entirely and he would have met her on the resort and joined her then, or that as noted above that he would meet her in his cab and then use his government influence to get them both there.  Instead, both plots are used as the first one is started, dropped, and then the second plot picks up the slack.  It’s not a problem, per se, but it does come across as a bit convoluted, and again because it goes against what we’d expect given how the plot was structured it can be a bit disconcerting.

More minor and yet amazingly more of a problem is a comment that Willis’ character needs to be careful with the alien because she’s not as strong as she seems.  Given that he was attracted to her and wanted some kind of relationship with her, and that she had up until that point shown incredibly strong physical prowess, this would seem to imply that she is weaker mentally and that his pushing her for the relationship might cause problems or that she’ll need emotional support on this mission, but soon after she gets shot and ends up being physically weak.  That’s the only weakness she shows and what forces him to do the action heavy-lifting in the rest of the movie, and there is no hint of any mental or emotional weakness that belied her physical powers.  It’s more minor because it’s not a main element of the plot and we can easily ignore it, but it’s more of a problem because it sets something up that it either tries to pay off against expectations or else simply drops.

I also found Chris Rock’s character quite annoying.  Well, he’s supposed to be since he’s a bit of comedy relief in the typical Chris Rock style, but that’s not why I found him annoying.  No, I found him annoying because he’s pointlessly annoying.  He doesn’t do anything except let Chris Rock be a motormouth and act annoying in some of the big action scenes.  He’s not a real sidekick.  He’s not someone who was supporting the enemy unwittingly who converts.  He doesn’t do anything of any importance.  He, well, doesn’t do anything.  So he’s just there to hopefully make us laugh a bit, and since he’s doing that in the serious action scenes or in the tense lead up to the big mission he’s actually doing that at the worst possible time.  If he was more prominent in the movie or had less time when he does appear, he would have been better, but the movie focuses too much on him when he arrives on the scene for us to ignore him but then we also can’t ignore that for all the time spent on his character the character, ultimately, plays no important role in the plot at all.  Essentially, he’s a “Please laugh!” character and is only the more annoying because of that.

So, ultimately, what did I think of the movie?  I think that how it doesn’t do what either the genre or what its own plot would have us expect does hurt the plot since it leads to things being more convoluted and we can’t help but think that it would have been easier if it had just stuck to what it had outlined originally or to the standard plot, and Chris Rock’s character’s annoyances can’t be ignored.  Beyond that, it’s a fairly serviceable sci-fi movie with some good moments, but not enough to redeem the rest of it.  I don’t hate it and didn’t hate watching it, but I can’t imagine myself rewatching it on a regular basis, although I can indeed see myself rewatching it at some point, as it’s definitely entertaining enough for me to give it another shot at some point.  So it goes into the box of things to maybe rewatch at some point.  It’s not a bad movie, but has just enough flaws that I would generally rather watch lots of other things than it.

Thoughts on “The Seed”

November 17, 2022

“The Seed” is another Shudder exclusive, that I hesitated on buying the first time I saw it but ended up buying it anyway.  The main reason is that from the cover it seems like it would be at least trying to mimic the old exploitation type of alien pregnancy type movies, where you have some kind of creature using strange powers to seduce women sexually where that’s the main horror.  While I’m not really opposed to that sort of thing, it didn’t sound like it would make for all that interesting a movie and in these times a lot of the charm of those sorts of movies — their openly admitting that the main reason for the movie is indeed the sexual fanservice, for one — would be lost since, well, they would have to try to fit into the new model of that sort of thing.  Even with that, I couldn’t expect much of a plot, and without that there wouldn’t even be its ridiculous campiness to play along with.  So the movie would likely just be bad instead of being so bad it’s good.  But it was cheap and a Shudder exclusive so I decided to give it a try.

The plot, as it turns out, is indeed that sort of alien seduction type of movie, although it oddly tries to mix a bit of an action alien invasion plot in as well.  Three comely young women go out to a secluded mansion to shoot a photoshoot for the one’s social media page, and also to watch what is supposed to be an impressive meteor shower.  The meteor shower seems spectacular, but at least one meteor seemed to zip around in the sky oddly and crashes into their pool.  They fish it out and find that it’s some kind of creature that seems to be dead.  The next day, they find that it has moved, but still seems dead (and rather smelly, as they note).  They encourage a local boy who is taking care of the place — for his brother, who is sick — to take it away by paying him lots of money and having the most conservative of them — who is also an animal lover — give him a kiss.  This seems to cause the creature to wake up and it ends up scaring the boy away.  They try to drag it away themselves but that doesn’t work as it’s too heavy.  Later that night, the animal lover goes out and brings it in after hearing it cry, and feeds it.  This does not please either of the others, but again they can’t move it.  They don’t have cell phone service anymore and so two of them head out to find a neighbour — who, it turns out, has disappeared — while the other stays behind.  She wants to confront and kill the creature, but it somehow hypnotizes her and she changes her tune entirely.  That night, the other woman whose parents own the house heads down in the middle of the night and sees the creature using a whole host of tentacles to bring the first woman under its lower body to sexually stimulate her, and then hypnotizes her as well so she joins in.  The animal lover, of course, is quite puzzled by their change in attitude but goes off to find the neighbour again or at least the keys to her truck, and finds that she has been killed (possibly by suicide).  When she returns, they have moved the creature into a bedroom and are lounging around unconcerned by any of this.  When the animal lover goes into the room, the creature tries to hypnotize her but she breaks free, and when she confronts the other two they argue over it until the other two transform with black liquid coming out of their eyes and the like and also becoming very pregnant.  The animal lover tries to attack the creature, but it calls the other two in who knock her out.  When she regains consciousness, the other two have run off and she does manage to kill the creature, and sets out after them.  She kills the one girl and then gets into a fight with the other, but a local sees them and shoots the animal lover thinking that she was trying to kill the other girl.  Of course, that girl kills him but the animal lover recovers — she was shot in the shoulder — and shoots the other girl before she can finish giving birth … and then looks up to see a host of meteors heading towards the Earth.

There are two basic ideas you can have for an alien invasion story:  a subversive invasion or an overwhelming force invasion.  You can try to bridge the two — the original miniseries “V” did that and moved from one to the other — but in general they rely on different things and can almost be different genres.  The overwhelming force invasion works well for action-packed stories, and ultimately “V” ended up there, while something like, say, “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” works well for horror as it ramps up the paranoia and delivers most of its horror not from the gore of an overwhelmingly physical attacker, but instead from the idea that people are acting strangely and so something is happening to them, but we know not what.  You don’t need to have multiple aliens for the former, as “Alien” and “Predator” showed.  In those, you have a strong physical presence stalking the crew and picking them off one-by-one.  If you go for the latter, then you don’t need a physically imposing alien, and it actually works better if you don’t have one so that it can stay hidden longer.

The ending as I relate it above is the sort of ending that works for an overwhelming force alien invasion in the mold of “Alien” or “Predator”:  the woman has just spent a lot of time gruesomely killing the alien and her friends, she’s bloodied and injured, and she looks up to see a host of other aliens arriving.  That sort of ending is supposed to invoke a feeling of “It took this much effort to kill one of them, and now we have to face hundreds or more?!?“.  The problem here is that it didn’t really take that much effort for her to do that because the alien is not physically imposing.  Once she gets a free shot at the alien, she kills it rather easily and it doesn’t even seem to be able to move to stop her.  She tracks down her friends rather easily, and while it might be implied that they are given a strength boost from their alien pregnancy they are slow-moving and awkward and the strength boost isn’t sufficient that she can’t, all on her own, overcome it.  Her worst injury comes from the idiot local who despite being able to see the other girl attack the animal lover shoots her anyway.  The alien and its thralls are in no way a physical threat, so seeing a lot of them arrive is not going to invoke that “Oh, crap!” feeling.

Especially since the movie breaks away from the infiltration aspects which is what the movie really should have focused on.  The alien seems to be quite manipulative and given its weak physical state is going to have to be to make any of this work.  Converting the two girls from people who hated it and, in one case, wanted to kill it to unconcerned thralls is genuinely creepy and that sort of quiet subversion works really well.  However, when the movie has the animal lover break its hypnotic spell without explaining why she was able to do that and when it never tries to hypnotize her after that, we have to wonder how easy it is to resist it.  There is never any indication that it can hypnotize men, so that would strike against a successful bulk invasion, as the men would notice the changes and be able to act against it.  It’s physically weak, and the movie already established that one of the girls wanted to kill it outright, which will be repeated across the country and the world, especially if they land in bulk.  And the argument that happens between them talks about the one girl suddenly wanting to make money off it and and then the two of them being shocked at their transformation, implying that they were not fully under its control at that point.  Given all of this, it really doesn’t seem like such an invasion could work out.

If they wanted that kind of ending, what they really should have done was show the last girl giving birth to an alien and the animal lover killing both, but then when she left showing that there wasn’t just one birth but two, and that creature is still alive and moving on to try to reproduce on its own.  This would give the decided image that this is not over yet while continuing the idea that the main threat is subversion, not an overwhelming invasion.  Yes, there still would have been some of the issues raised above, but they could have been ignored more since if the alien was sneaky enough and chose its victims carefully enough it would be able to succeed for quite some time.

The sad thing is that when the movie is focusing on the subversion angle, it’s actually pretty good.  The changes in personality are pretty creepy and would have worked to build an interesting mystery if they were focused on more.  Another thing the movie does really well is set things up to pay them off later.  They set up the cricket bat as a weapon that the animal lover uses at the end to fight the other two.  In the argument, the one girl accuses the animal lover of not having the killer instinct and at the end she kills the two of them off (and the movie is clever enough not to have her comment on that and let the audience get that themselves).  About the only thing they don’t pay off is that the animal lover is a bit too into being kissed by the local boy which doesn’t get followed up on.  But there are a lot of these little moments which are quite nice.

So, would I watch this one again?  This is a question that I’ve gone back and forth on for quite a while.  There are enough good things in this movie to consider putting it into my closet of movies that I would rewatch again, but then keep reminding myself about how it messes up the subversion which would make a rewatch less interesting.  Then I note that there are worse things in that closet, but then I note that most of those are comedies which I can be more forgiving off than this.  Ultimately, I’m going to stick it in my box of movies to maybe rewatch at some point.  As I said, there are enough good things in it to rewatch it but it not paying off its best element of the subversive alien means that rewatching it can’t be a regular occurrence.

Thoughts on “Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog”

November 15, 2022

So, recently I was heading out to get a haircut and needed to look in an area that I used to do a bit of shopping in for a few things, and decided to hit a couple of stores in the area to see a) if they were still there (it’s been a couple of years) and b) if they had anything interesting.  So there’s a comic book/board game store and a couple of stores that sell DVDs and CDs.  I also had to pick up a couple of calendars for next year.  In one of the DVD/CD stores, I found a copy of “Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog”, the Joss Whedon musical.  I had heard a lot about it and thought it would be worth taking a look at, especially since I was getting it for less than ten bucks.

The plot is based around an aspiring supervillain named “Dr. Horrible”, who is trying to get into the Evil League of Evil but keeps getting his plots foiled by Captain Hammer and, well, the fact that most of his gadgets don’t work as well as he thinks they will.  At the same time, his human alter-ego has a crush on Penny, a girl he sees at the laundromat.  At about the same time as she ends up talking to him, the scheme he had in motion at that very time goes awry and almost kills her, at which point Captain Hammer saves her.  He is then revealed as being a bit of a fake, trying to date her but only pretending to care about the homeless, and then when he discovers that Dr. Horrible has a crush on her he wants to make her his “girlfriend” just to spite him.  Meanwhile, the failure of Dr. Horrible’s latest plan means that the ELE is demanding that he kill someone or else never be able to get into the ELE ever, so he decides in his anger that the victim will be Captain Hammer.  Of course, he gloats too long when his plan actually starts to work and the freeze ray he built wears off and Captain Hammer decides that he’s going to finally kill Dr. Horrible, but the Death Ray that Dr. Horrible built backfires when Captain Hammer tries to use it and hurts Captain Hammer … and the shrapnel kills Penny.  Dr. Horrible then gets onto the council of the ELE because he publicly defeated Captain Hammer and killed Captain Hammer’s girlfriend, and seems locked into the idea of being a villain.

I had thought that this was more a film/movie length work, but it turns out that it’s about as long as a normal TV episode.  This, then, contributes to the fact that it feels like an episode of a TV show ripped out of its context than as a complete work on its own.  Given how things end, it really makes you feel that there should be more to it than this one work, meaning that either it’s a prequel to an existing story showing how the main villain became one, or a flashback episode of an existing series doing the same thing, or a first episode of a series written as an introduction to the main series.  While the performances are good and it all works, it really does seem like we’re missing an emotional connection to these characters that we would have had if it was part of a larger work or was itself a longer work.

When it comes to the singing, Neil Patrick Harris works pretty well as Dr. Horrible and while Nathan Fillion isn’t a professional singer he manages well-enough, especially given how his songs seem written to let him ham the songs up a bit more than normal.  For Felicia Day’s Penny, however, I found that things didn’t work as well.  Day has a weaker voice, and so her songs tended to be quiet and monotonic.  Yes, the character is supposed to be a little shy — although that gets dropped way too quickly to maintain that — but even at times where she should be more excited her songs are quiet and monotonic.  The fact that I, who is not an aficionado of musical, noticed it suggests that she was a bit weak there.

Now, of course, everyone knows that for me the big question when it comes to such works is “Would I watch it again?” and that is an interesting question for this one.  I tend to like a lot of Whedon’s stuff and it is comparable to “Once More With Feeling” from “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”, but I think that highlights the issues with this one.  The Buffy episode was inside a context and, as I’ve discussed in the past, was an interesting way to get a bunch of stuff out in the open that the audience already knew but the characters didn’t.  That gave it that emotional connection that this lacked.  It’s entertaining and light for the most part, but it’s too short to stand on its own as a musical and isn’t connected to anything else to make it more interesting.  So, ultimately, even though I liked it well enough, I don’t think I’ll watch it again.  It’s not a good enough story to want to watch it again, and there’s no real themes or emotional connections to explore either, so there’s really just nothing there to interest me on a rewatch.

Thoughts on “The Last Thing Mary Saw”

November 10, 2022

This is another Shudder original (yes, I still do pick them up when I see them).  When I talked about “Our House” and “Get Out”, I noted that they were movies that had a premise and plot that would work well as a straight drama, and that the attempt to shoehorn in the horror aspects worked to their detriment as they didn’t align very well.  Here, my impression is that this movie is, in fact, actually a drama and not a horror movie at all, despite being attached to a horror streaming service.  This has interesting implications for what it means for something to count as a horror movie.

The movie is set in Puritan times, and starts with a young woman with blindfolded eyes being questioned by a priest over being in league with the devil and a witch, which she denies and ultimately disproves by being able to recite a proper prayer.  The movie then moves into flashback mode, where we discover that she was in love — and in a sexual relationship — with the young female servant of the family, and the family, on discovering this, uses religious penances to try to force them to abandon the relationship.  However, they end up sneaking around to be together and make a deal with the guard — who was crippled by the family when he tried to run away from their service — to let them be together in the chicken coop.  They are discovered and the matriarch somehow damages the tongue of the servant so she can’t speak, after they discover some poison and make a sort of plan to poison people in the family in revenge.  The family abuses the servant and reduces the young woman to being a servant, and so the young woman poisons the family but her lover is killed by a servant from another homestead who tried to rape the servant and had his finger cut off for it, and then the matriarch, who had died, comes back as a ghost and blinds the woman, who ends up being hanged for her murders.  There’s also a hint about the family having a terrible secret that plays into the sinfulness but is never really developed or paid off, and there’s a story where there’s a hint that the matriarch was some kind of spirit from that story, but again that’s not really developed or paid off.

The movie is pretty much devoid of supernatural or horror elements of any kind.  The matriarch might be a ghost or some kind of supernatural entity by the end, but for the most part she’s just a religious head of the family trying to break up the lesbian couple.  When she dies and is lying in state her finger changes colour and twitches a bit, and the deaths of the family at the end is pretty horrific, but is this really enough to call this a horror movie?  After all, “Hamlet” has ghosts and “Macbeth” has witches, but surely that’s not enough to classify them as horror as opposed to the tragic dramas that they really are.  And yes, the end scene is gory and a bit horrific, but “The Birthday Cake” had a fairly horrific poisoning scene at the end and again that was a Mafia movie, not a horror movie.  Dramas can have supernatural elements and can have torture and gore and even be horrific, so there must be something else that is required to make something a horror.

For me, it seems like what makes a horror movie a horror movie is similar to what, to me, makes art art, which is that it intends to produce an aesthetic experience in us.  For horror, that is in fact a very specific aesthetic experience, in that horror always has its primary intention to make us feel fear.  The ur-example of horror would be horror works that make us feel afraid while engaged with it but also would even make us feel a little bit afraid about the world outside (which “Tales from the Darkside”, to me, tried and failed to do).  But you can have more fantastical or more shallow horror that is too divorced from reality to make us feel afraid about the things that might be lurking in reality would still count as horror as long as its intention is to make us feel afraid as long as we are immersed in that world.  As long as its main intention is to scare us, a work counts as primarily horror.

I don’t think that applies to this movie.  One might think that since it was an original work created for a horror streaming service that that would indicate that its primary intention is indeed to be horror and so to scare us, but if that’s the case then it would have completely failed to do so and so would be a complete failure as a horror movie.  While this has certainly been the case for a few of the horror movies I’ve watched, I don’t think that applies here.  To me, it really seems like what we are supposed to take away from this is not the horror of the situation to make us afraid of the world or entities either in or out of that world, but instead the horror of what the beliefs of the family ended up doing and causing.  The father has done and countenanced horrific things, but he isn’t at all portrayed as someone to, in general, be afraid of, and isn’t even necessarily a bad man.  The matriarch’s actions don’t seem to be there to scare us, but instead are there to ensure the tragic outcome of the movie.  We aren’t afraid of her or even afraid of her for them, but instead see her as a being who commits the terrible acts necessary to result in Mary ending up blind, so that the last thing she saw before she died was her lover being killed.  This isn’t just a Downer Ending for a horror movie, but it seems to me is what the movie was building up to and trying to convey.  We are supposed to, it seems to me, see this situation as pointless and tragic, a reflection of the blinkered ideas of the family over nothing, as opposed to something that we are supposed to fear.

So, as horror I would find it a massive failure.  What do I think of it as a drama?  I found it to be reasonably competently crafted, and so for someone looking for that sort of drama it might be worth giving it a shot.  However, I myself am not that interested in that sort of drama and so didn’t find it all that interesting.  I don’t think it was bad, as a drama, and so I didn’t mind watching it, but at the end of it all I have absolutely no interest in watching it again.  There just isn’t anything that really interests me, as I didn’t care that much about the situation or the family, which might be chalked up as a failure on the part of the creators, except that part of the reason that I didn’t care is that this sort of progressive drama has been done a number of times and so seems like old hat.  Which might be the most damning thing about it:  it takes a common progressive idea and simply presents it without adding anything interestingly new to yet,

So, I think this is going into my box of DVDs to sell at one point.  I think the writing and performances are such that it probably deserves better, but at the end of the day it’s just far too “Meh” for me to keep.

Thoughts on “The Nanny’s Night”

November 3, 2022

The basic premise here is that a young woman and her friend are looking to sacrifice a virgin to gain supernatural power.  After their first intended victim reveals that she probably isn’t one, the titular nanny decides to sacrifice her charge instead.  However, the course of virgin sacrifice never did run smooth, and so they end up encountering a host of complications including the victim trying to escape and at least one other serial killer sort of person wandering around that stops them from completing the sacrifice.  At the end, the two of them are supposedly dead and the charge is hustled off to another strange cult-like group, presumably to be sacrificed again, but the end credits scenes reveal that the nanny’s body is gone and an urban legend killer is also wandering around.

This, obviously, is a light horror movie, and as such it’s all right.  That being said, at the end I actually wanted them to succeed in the sacrifice not because I really liked them or hated their charge, but because otherwise the entire plot would have had no point.  Thus, to have the charge spirited away to be potentially sacrificed by another group makes the rest of the movie pointless.  If the movie had made it clear and focused on the competition among the various groups for the victim, that would have been a lot more fun and given the movie far more of a point, which is desperately needed.

As a light horror movie, I feel about the same way about it as I did about “Black Friday”:  I didn’t mind watching it but because there’s nothing really to it I don’t have any interest in watching it again.  The problem with these two movies, I think, is that they aren’t funny enough to watch for the jokes but there’s nothing more to them to watch later.  They’re just fun enough to get through once but not fun enough to watch again.  That’s the risk, I think, with light horror:  if it isn’t really, really funny then there isn’t really anything to them and so nothing to hang a rewatch on.

So, this is going into my closet to maybe rewatch at some point.  It’s just good enough to maybe rewatch for the humour, but doesn’t really work otherwise.

Thoughts on “Doom Patrol” (Season 3)

November 1, 2022

So, after finishing off “Pretty Little Liars:  Original Sin”, I decided to take a run at the third season of “Doom Patrol”, which I arrived at through a rewatch of the previous two seasons.  Sad to say, while I liked the first season and wasn’t as fond of the second season, after watching the third season I can confidently say that I’m through with “Doom Patrol”, even if there is a fourth season.

What I liked about the first season was how it married the goofy main plot and villain to the darker and more emotional traumas of the main characters.  In rewatching it this time, I noted that while towards the end I found that they dropped the goofy main plot too much for my tastes the structure worked really well to provide that sort of experience, as the main plot was unapologetically goofy and the character plots were equally unapologetically dramatic, which meant that we always knew which of the two that we were in for which help avoid mood whiplash, but more importantly allowed us to accept the things in those plots as they were.  Thus, we weren’t likely to react badly to seeing the puppet show at the power monger’s compound or the guy who gets information by eating hair because those were clearly in the main plot and the main plot was constantly and deliberately ridiculous, so we have to expect such things.  Yes, sometimes the goofiness and seriousness bled between the two halves, but they were pretty good at keeping the two parts separate enough that the main plot’s insanity didn’t impact the seriousness of the character plots.

In the later seasons, there wasn’t really an incredibly goofy main plot that they could do that to.  The main villains were far more serious and so didn’t lend themselves to those sorts of ridiculous ideas.  And yet the show still wanted to do the goofy and insane things, which to be fair are what made the show good so I don’t blame them for doing that.  However, now the goofy elements were showing up more and more in arcs that were supposed to be serious, and so started to look out of place.  There were a number of times where I rolled my eyes and said “This is just stupid!” in the third season, and not through laughter.  I rarely did that in the first season, again because the stupid things fit where they appeared while in the third season they didn’t seem to fit where they landed.  In short, I noticed how stupid they were instead of just accepting them as being the normal sort of thing I’d see in that plot or from those characters.

The third season actually makes this worse because they do, to some extent, seem to be trying to make the villains more goofy than the main villain, at least, was in the second season.  The problem is that they do this with the Brotherhood of Evil — the Brain and Mallah, along with Madame Rouge — who in all other adaptations are much more serious threats and villains.  Coming from them, it didn’t work, and even here I felt that it made them too goofy to be taken seriously as a threat or to have a real plan that the team needed to foil.  This makes them pretty much an aside, although Madame Rouge kinda gets a redemption plot.  But I didn’t care for her character.  She never did enough to earn any kind of redemption — especially since she killed the man Rita loved which made Rita, who ended up stepping into the leader role, absolutely hate her and we’re going to side with Rita over her — and was too goofy a villain to work as a serious character, but wasn’t goofy enough to just be comic relief.  She’s played by the same actress who played Missy on Doctor Who, and there were a lot of references to that which would have made fans of that character happy, but I didn’t care for Capaldi’s run on Doctor Who and didn’t care for her character, so it did nothing for me.

As I had noted before, I didn’t care for Cliff or Jane as characters, and they’re even more annoying in Season 3.  I found that I didn’t mind Jane as much during the arc where she’s facing off with the supposed Miranda and in the aftermath where she is facing doubts about her ability to protect and foster Kay (which is the job of those personas), because showing her not as a completely in control jerk who cared about Kay made her far more sympathetic and worked to soften her abrasive personality.  And then she settles it and is joining in with Cliff in mocking a discussion of one group of people (maybe villains?) when they are talking about having to save the world.  By now, both Cliff and Jane should have faced enough threats to take the world-ending threats more seriously.  As for Cliff, he is given good reasons to be angry but as usual he, and the show, take it way too far for way too long, which means that I really wanted him to just shut up and go away.  Giving him Parkinson’s as a drama element for his character didn’t really thrill me either.

Two characters that could have made things work better for me personally leave in this season, as Timothy Dalton’s Niles and his daughter start the season and there are some hints of plots that might have happened — Niles’ magic using “friend” digs up his body to claim his head for some purpose — but that gets dropped and they pretty much exit, leaving us with only the main cast to work with.  Again, they did try to put Rita and Madame Rouge into his spot — and the Madame Rouge character is definitely meant to be that kind of replacement — but neither of them worked.  I think it’s fine for them to evolve the show away from him, but the show really does lose out from losing those potentially interesting characters.

I always liked Larry and Rita, but their arcs are hampered by the shorter length of the seasons from the first one (the first season had 15 episodes and the third one has 10),  as it takes the time to explore their relationship with each other, as they were together the longest and were very close.  Larry’s Negative Spirit wants him to go explore something, but given that things are not good for Rita at the moment Larry wants to stay and help her, but she tells him to go and so he does.  The problem is that this is all handled in the space of one episode.  Rita is having some issues, Larry tells the spirit that he wants to stay to help her, which she overhears and then tells him that he should go, which he does.  It would have been so much better if they had been able to stretch this out across a couple of episodes, so that she comes to realize that she was relying on him too much and decided that she needed to stand on her own more without his support, and certainly without his needing to support her getting in the way of what he needed to do.  Even worse, Larry is away for about one episode which makes it almost not worth the trouble.  All of these things were too monumental to be dealt with so quickly and could easily have been entire character arcs for the season, but were pushed aside in favour of arcs of Rita going back to the past and to the organization about the supernatural that Niles was a part of — which spawned her doomed love interest — and Larry getting a baby Negative Spirit and dealing with that.  None of these really fit with the main plot or with their other character arcs whereas the two of them working out their relationship did.

Ultimately, though, at the end of the day I don’t find “Doom Patrol” fun anymore, which was what I liked about it originally.  Given that, I don’t want to watch any potential fourth season and don’t want to rewatch any of it anymore, even the season I liked.  So, yeah, I’m done with “Doom Patrol”.

I won’t be watching new shows until the New Year, so something else is going to have to fill this slot.  Fortunately, I have some things in mind already …