Monday, August 31, 2015

TV Scum: Fear the Walking Dead - So Close, Yet So Far

There was much complaining in the wake of last week’s finale that the pace was too slow with too little to justify its bloated runtime. While I can see the argument, I disagreed with that assessment. This, the second episode, should more closely match fan’s expectations: more zombies, more carnage, more collapse of society. As is stated in the episode: “it all goes quickly.”

Madison, Travis, and Nick are mostly in shock at the start following the close of the pilot with Nick’s dealer, having been shot and twice run down with a truck, still giving them the glance-over with that glazed, zombified look in his eyes. Madison’s daughter, on the other hand, is concerned with her boyfriend who flaked on their last meetup and decides to go to his house. There she finds a house torn to pieces and Matt with a high fever and an unknownst to her bite on his shoulder.

After finally prying Alicia away from Matt without any damn good explanation of why, the group heads back to their house only to split up again. Travis goes to collect his wayward son while Madison leaves in search of meds to help with Nick’s heroin withdrawl.

Travis runs into interference, first with his ex, with whom he is apparently not on the best of times. And then with the sprawl of LA and its traffic issues. There he sees a cop, not helping defend the citizenry or clear up any misunderstandings, but stocking away a small bodegas worth of bottled water in the back of his cruiser. After finally reaching his ex, Liza’s house Travis finds out his son is embroiled in a civil protest of the police shooting of what we know to be a zombie.

Madison, not having been able to reach a doctor, decides to head back to her high school and raid the police confiscation locker for Nick’s meds. There, she meets up with pimply-faced Tobias from last week who politely asks for his knife back before he raids the school’s pantry full of food. All is well on their way out until Madison and Tobias run into Artie (otherwise known on the internet as Principal Obama) in a not-quite living form. With that same glazed, zombiefied look in his eyes, Madison attempts to reason and help him until ... well, he tries to eat them forcing her to fire extinguisher his zombie ass.

Much of the push-back from this week’s critisms are the actions of the characters but that is an argument I do not share. Spared the horribleness of the initial outbreak, I’d imagine scenarios like this episode happened the world over in the parent series. A father goes desperately searching for his son. A mother goes to find help for her son. They don’t really have the words to tell people (especially poor Alicia who’s still in the dark at the end of this episode) “Hey, Zombies! Don’t go near them!” In a world where zombie fiction is not a thing, Madison and Travis are at a loss to describe what is happening to express their concerns.

Travis is smart enough almost immediately to recognize safety is outside of the city. He is also smart enough to take refuge in a barber shop when the civil protests turn violent and riot-y. Madison isn’t dumb that she doesn’t tell Alicia her boyfriend is already dead and to stay the hell away. She’s not only dealing with the return of her drug-addled son but is in shock and disbelief over what has happened and what has to be done.

So when Mr. Parker, their next-door neighbor, stumbles across the street and attacks the other neighbors, Madison just forces good-hearted Alicia inside and blocks the door.

If the biggest asset to this show is that no one is an inherent hero like a Rick or Shane, just regular people figuring things out, it would be preposterous for Travis, Madison, or anyone else to start speaking with any authority on what the hell is going on. There is no word from the police other than stay inside, at this point most people are only seeing the periferals of the outbreak if any, and this is all unfolding in the matter of an afternoon.

Call me an pessimist but that’s how things would unfold if this happened in a world without Night of the Living Dead. People making the best decisions they can based on the limited knowledge they have. That’s why I can’t fault or complain when these characters do something stupid. You or I would likely do far worse.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Wes Craven Dies But Forever Haunts Our Dreams

According to Hollywood Reporter, Wes Craven has died at the age of 76.

Likely only in stature to John Carpenter, Craven and his work has had a remarkable impact on not only my movie-going experience but life in general.

Beginning with his first feature Last House on the Left, Craven has had the remarkable ability to inspire and horrify viewers for over 40 years. He dreamt our nightmare with A Nightmare on Elm Street. He made slasher films relevant again in his Scream series. He brought to life so many various stories of despair and trouble through voodoo, incarceration, and even robotics.

While admittedly his output has been very hit-or-miss (more miss in his later years), Craven was always held up as a professor of the genre that he helped create. He, and his works, will be sorely missed.

Wes Craven 1939-2016

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Random Movie: It Follows (2014)

Adulthood is scary. An imaginary foe constantly stalking you is even worse.

Monday, August 24, 2015

TV Scum: Fear the Walking Dead - Pilot

Whereas the pilot episode to The Walking Dead began with a bang and a shuffling zombie girl clutching a stuffed bunny, Fear’s pilot takes the more nuanced approach of showing us the world of despair and decay, only for the sake of watching it be torn down even further.

Opening in dank, darkened church but strange sounds, heroin addict Nick stumbles around to find a few of his mates eviscerated and his friend Gloria munching on a dude’s face. Unsurprisingly, Nick is shocked and appalled and runs his ass right out of the church into oncoming traffic.

Nick is the son of Madison, the level-headed guidance counselor, who has long given up on her son’s drug problems. When Nick turns up in police custody after the accident ranting about what he has seen, Madison is quick to renounce them as ravings of a drug addict and not a looming threat to the world at large. Oops.

For as much as this series was built upon the premise of a first-hand report of the collapse of civilization, very little happens as of yet. Of course, this is just the pilot and just getting things started but the lead characters of Madison and her live-in boyfriend Travis only learn of, and finally believe Nick, when a man with a gunshot wound and multiple major injuries continues to pursue them, even glancing in their direction after his ambulatory ability is removed.

The rest of the episode is mostly getting to the know the protagonists and their living agenda which also plays into AMC’s emphasis that this series is at its core about the family unit. Madison and Travis appear to be relatively new to their live-in relationship, much to the chagrin of Madison’s daughter Alicia and Travis’ son Something-or-another. But they do sell the genuine feeling of a family, whether it be sitting beside Nick’s hospital bed or out scouring the city after Nick disappears again.

There are some fleeting moments of zombie carnage, though the biggest reveal (to the world at large at least) is fleeting as a squad of police attempt to take down a walker only for him to get up and keep coming. Perhaps as a commentary on the permeation of social media in the lives of youth today, Alicia and her friends see the footage and think it to be a hoax. Little do they know.

Like I mentioned, this is very much a slow-burn for a pilot as the threat and dangers seem to be peeking around the corner but not yet ready to reveal themselves in full-force yet. But we still have five more episodes to go this season and a commitment for an entire new slate next year to keep society crumbling as the zombies rise.

All in all, the pilot alone doesn’t carry the same weight as that of the original but the promise of what is to come will keep me tuned in.

Random Movie: Bad Boys (1995)

Remember way back when Michael Bay wasn’t responsible for teenaged-fantasy films of semi-nudity, explosions, and gratuitous slow-mo? Yeah, me neither.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

In a World of Superhero Glut, Only Deadpool Can Save Us Now

At this point where potential blockbusters are fizzling faster than an opened 2-liter soda and the Age of Superhero Glut is rapidly approaching with a list of theatrical releases that only rivals the Republican candidates, when will the general public become as oversaturated with superheroes as they were slashers in the 80s or Haley Joel Osment in the 90s?

Enter Deadpool. No doubt by now you’ve seen the Deadpool trailer and the awesomeness it brings along with it. But even though Deadpool is not a household name (at least not in my comic-book reading household), the film seems to strive to break the monotony of heroes, gods, larger-than-life villains but not a lot of substance.

Of course, Deadpool’s biggest draw over it’s crowded marketplace is that Fox has committed to releasing a Hard-R picture which not only can provide the blood and guts that tameless PG-13 films have had to curtail, but also to showcase Deadpool’s very iconic and abrasive personality with all the F-bombs and M-F’ers the movie can withstand.

Even though all we have to go on is a trailer at this point, all signs point to Deadpool being a fun and action-packed movie but some worry that its March release date and R-rating will hurt profitability which likely then will dovetail into another Fantastic Four abortion of celluloid.

Marvel may be the superhero juggernaut with it’s never-ending streak of hits and next year’s Captain America looks to continue that trend while it stuffs just about every member of the MCU in that cereal box. But Marvel tends to play its narratives safe and straight and family friendly which Deadpool most definitely does not appear to be.

Perhaps Ryan Reynolds in disfigured makeup and a smart-ass sense of humor will show audiences, and studios, that superheroes don’t have necessarily be heroes. They just have to be funny, entertaining, and a little blood, gore, and foul language in moderate don’t hurt either.

But anyways, let’s watch the Deadpool trailer goodness again.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Random Movie: Sinister (2012)

Well damn if Sinister isn’t a gut punch, even for hardened horror fans like myself.

Sinister carries similar traits as other Blumhouse Productions such as Paranormal Activity or Insidious. Blumhouse films tend to be far more suspense than horror, using fear, dread, and general anxiousness over stupid, vapid villains and unearned jumpscares. Sinister, focusing on a true crime author who finds himself way in over his head in horrendous crimes against families follows suit. And it’s probably one of the better horror films to come out this decade.

Ethan Hawke is Ellison Oswalt, the aforementioned writer, who is so desperate for a hit that he uproots his family and moves them into a house where the previous occupants were suspended from a hanging tree limb for quite a while. Of course, Oswalt, being the good caregiver he is, declines to tell his family they are living in the murder capital of their quite county.

Oswalt stumbles upon a box in his new attic innocuously marked “Home Movies” with a Super 8 camera and some film. Yet those home movies are self-made snuff films of entire families murdered by drowning, burning, or having their throats slashed.

Co-writer and director Scott Derrickson slowly shows Oswalt’s mental deterioration as he stumbles further and further into a possibly decades-old murder plot of families quite effectively. At first, the tapes represent nothing more than grisly crime footage before quickly becoming more macabre and taking Oswalt’s hit-novel determination and turning it quickly into a quixotic task of understanding the unthinkable.

Derrickson and co-writer C. Robert Cargill show much of the crime footage early on to then focus on Oswalt as he deals with the underlying issues the move has had with his kids, his marriage, and his sanity as he cradles a bottle of whiskey just to bring himself down. In spite of being a relatively low-budget horror affair, the frights and chills are aplenty without resorting to stock options of spring-loaded cats or shapes appearing in mirrors. But all in all, the film is a slow-burn with no “on-screen” violence, just the psychological torment Oswalt puts himself and his family through.

With the help of local Deputy So-and-So (James Ransone) and a university professor (an uncredited Vincent D’Onofrio), Oswalt begins to piece together the string that ties all the home movies together and the potential Babylonian deity named Bughuul (or more commonly known as MR. BOOGIE!) that are influencing these heinous acts.

And even though no one in their right mind (I guess) would move into a house where multiple murders have taken place, Oswalt’s determination never seems forced or insecure as he honestly believes he is the one to uncover something big and be handsomely rewarded for it. Needless to say, that doesn’t quite go as planned as Oswalt reaches his breaking point and rushes out of town in the middle of the night. Assuming that is that Mr. Boogie couldn’t still find them.

There are so many surprises and jumps in this film that to this day after watching it probably four or five times there is still one scene in particular (those of you in the know, you know which one I’m talking about) that literally make me jump out of my seat in horror.

That is not an easy accomplishment and I give all the kudos in the world to Derrickson, Cargill, and Blum for concocting such a deeply disturbing film that stays with you long after it’s over.

Now, will the sequel be any better? I doubt it but I’m certainly willing to give it a try.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Random Movie: John Wick (2014)

Hell hath no fury like a dog owner scorned.

Harkening back to uber-violent action films of the 80s and 90s, Keanu Reeves as titular character John Wick is cold, calm, collected, and quite badass assassin as he single-handedly takes down an entire underground syndicate and the crime boss Tarasov’s son kills Wick’s dog while stealing his car. Being that the dog was a gift was his late wife, Wick does not take this too well and soon is running around whatever unnamed metropolis decimating the legions of bad guys working for Tarasov who are protecting his son.

While he typically gets much grief for his limited range and acting abilities, Reeves absolutely shines here as the withdrawn, broken Wick. Many fight scenes and shootouts occur during the film where Wick executes those in his way in a cold, brutal fashion and Reeves looks mighty creepy with his blank, emotionless face while pulling the trigger point-blank at a man.

Co-directors Chad Stahelski and David Leitch make what would otherwise be a silly tale about a man and his dog and play it completely straight with plenty of gratuitous violence abound. It is very tightly pieced together with a number of ancillary characters (including Willem Dafoe, Lance Reddick, and Adrianne Palicki) popping in and out to give the story more twists than a simple shoot-em-up flick.

Supposedly, John Wick is supposed to kickstart a trilogy of films about the character and I would not be opposed to that. Wick is the grim-dark version of Jason Bourne and James Bond with no qualms to put a bullet in the heads of those who wrong him. He isn’t exactly a hero (no one in this film is arguably a hero) but at the very least, he is a compelling character that I’d like to see more of.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Calling All Run Aground Horror Series!

After the news of Michael Myers’ triumphant return in the stupidly titled “Halloween Returns,” Myers’ contemporary slasher villains are not going to sit on their laurels.

I wonder where the saturation point of dredging up old 80s and 90s franchises will land but apparently not here as both Freddy and Jason have rumored continuations in the near future.

A Friday the 13th series is apparently in the works at the CW which will feature the masked zombie/undeadish thing rather than whatever that anthology bullshit was that the previous series tried to pass off.

According to IGN, the series will take place around the infamous Crystal Lake that “takes a more “sophisticated” approach as a horror/crime thriller.” There is also talks of gritty and grounded. To that I say: how the hell can one make Jason Voorhees a gritty and/or realistic/ and/or grounded character considering he’s been dead for about seven movies?

The series will apparently focus on a detective searching for his brother who is presumed missing after visiting Camp Blood. An interesting premise for sure but wasn’t that basically done in several movies in canon? We’ll have to see how this one plays out on a weekly basis with a broadcast network. I’m guessing there won’t be any nudity.

On the other hand, Freddy’s back! Maybe that is.

The source is “The Tracking Board” (which I’ve never heard of before but whatever) and they claim that New Line (or whatever part of Warner Brothers they’ve been folded into) is looking to reboot the series even though that was the point of the completely terrible remake from 2010. Thus far, only David Leslie Johnson, writer of Orphan, is attached so perhaps this will flame out before it does anymore damage.

I’m still waiting on the Critters reboot.