Why Sucker Punch Is Smarter Than You!

The first op/ed piece I wrote for This Is Infamous some six and a half years ago, now, was the result of a challenge. Billy The Kidd Donnelly, the site’s owner, and editor,  hosted a movie review podcast. And he shit on Sucker Punch, hard. The night’s topic was the release of MAN OF STEEL and the beginning of the Snyder-verse of DCEU films. I called in to defend Sucker Punch, explaining to him WHY he didn’t like it. And the end result was this article. Something to note, this was written long before the Justice League or BvS films were even pipe dreams:

With the release of Man of Steel, I’m hearing the same scapegoat come up again and again in nearly every review I read, watch or listen to. We have to say something negative about Zack Snyder, so we dig for it. We can’t blame him for David Goyer’s shitty script, can we? Absolutely not, goddamnit, the movie was made so well despite the misfortunes of its TV movie of the week screenplay. So, in a move of desperation, it seems people have been falling back on acknowledgment of Snyder’s small portfolio in order to find something bad to say about him. 

They like Dawn of the Dead. They suddenly love 300 after a few years of mocking it. A sudden reversal on Watchmen. Once a long, boring mess, they now say it did the best it could at telling a difficult story and captured the visual essence of the venerated graphic novel. The cartoon with the owls (Guardians of Ga’Hoole) was neat, albeit a bit un-family friendly for an adaptation of a children’s story. That brings us to Sucker Punch, which, according to most every person with a professional opinion, literally sucks goat piss through a CG straw and is more than likely the worst movie of all time. Are you kidding me? We have to go there because you, Mr. Movie Critic, didn’t get it? For fuck’s sake, people, this is NOT Last Action Hero or Howard the Duck we’re talking about here! Those are truly bad movies and deserve every ounce of shit they get thrown at them. 

Sucker Punch is aptly named. Zack Snyder’s first original screenplay adaptation is by far his magnum opus. This movie is deeper on more levels than Nolan’s Inception, with as many twists and turns into surreal dream worlds. It tells two stories in three planes of fantasy warping reality. Thus, very few people get it. We are Americans. Of course, we don’t get it. Why? Because Sucker Punch, my friends, is a live-action Japanese anime with a Zen plot that most of us rooted in static reality can’t fathom. 

It’s easy to pass the movie off as loud and perverse, a fetish fantasy played out on the silver screen. OK, I can see how the imagery can form that opinion; but there is zero nudity or sexual scenes in the film! It seems so simple to just shake your head and proclaim the film as disjointed as its narrative and assume it objectifies women. We’re so used to The Hero’s Journey and Hellenic methods of story-telling, that we’ve forgotten that there are other ways to do it. 

Still, most everyone who allegedly dislikes the film cannot deny its beauty. I’m of the opinion they are so engrossed by its imagery, they miss the point. The movie makes you think because it is told unconventionally. Too many Americans don’t like to think during their movies anymore. It’s a symptom of how the Michael Bays of our modern motion picture industry have perverted the legacy of directors like Russell Mulcahy. Highlander had a story. It had character development. It was also panned during its release by critics for the techniques used in making the film: the quick editing cuts, the use of rock music to enhance the visuals, calling it a mess. Sounds like a review for Sucker Punch, doesn’t it? Funny that Highlander is now a classic movie.

For those unfamiliar with its plot, Sucker Punch tells the tale of a young woman trapped in a mental institution who fantasizes about escaping. To those ignorant to its secrets, our protagonist seems to be one Baby Doll, who accidentally kills her sister with a bullet meant for their perverse and sexually abusive step-father. He has her committed to the institution to hide his carnal secrets and concocts a scheme to silence her by paying off an orderly at the hospital to arrange a lobotomy. She is brought in to a common area, on the way we meet all the players that will be represented in our tale. Then, abruptly, the movie cuts to Baby Doll strapped to a chair; a physician hovering over her and sizing up a surgical ice pick to scramble her brains ala Frances Farmer.

A flash of light and an immediate change in the color palette is the first clue that something is amiss. During the prologue, and that is what the movie is up until this point, the colors are muted and gray. This is the moment where the movie changes ever so subtly that the general public misses it. The film essentially becomes Jacob’s Ladder meets The Wizard of Oz. We’ve left Kansas, people and are on a fucked-up ride to the Emerald City.

It is here that we also encounter the first problem many people have with the movie. The argument is “Why would women in a mental institution fantasize about being a stripper in a fetish club?” This is a common misconception. The reality is not all of the girls are sharing this vision! It’s a fantasy concocted by an emotionally damaged, dying brain reacting to a sharp object. She is having the assumed flashback of her life that one has upon death, just as Jacob’s Ladder was a “flash forward” upon death. In Baby Doll’s case, she is recalling the events leading up to that point, but they are influenced by the psychological grooming and sexual abuse inflicted upon her by the step-father. This is why the corrupt and depraved orderly, Blue, is interpreted as the club owner, it is why the step-father is represented as a priest and it is why the institution’s naive on-site doctor translates into a manipulated Madame and dance instructor. They’re all caricatures of their true natures.

Shortly after reaching the strip club we learn of another of Baby Doll’s defense mechanisms to protect her fragile mind from sexual abuse: hide it in a deeper fantasy. We enter the third level, featuring fantasies of battle and fighting back. It is during these points where the movie’s visuals take off full steam. Each and every sword-swinging, gun-firing, ass-kicking moment is Baby Doll’s way of blocking out horrible things that have been done to her. Instead of focusing on the abuse, she instead focuses on the items required to facilitate success for her escape. Her fantastic interpretations of this are what we see. 

Then comes the “twist” ending, the “reveal” that pisses more people off than you can imagine. Remember I said this movie had two tales to tell, it features two protagonists. Quickly, from this moment, it is no longer told from Baby Doll’s point of view . . . we’ve now moved on to the movie’s other protagonist, Sweet Pea, the girl who wasn’t supposed to be in the sanitarium to begin with. This left American audiences sitting in the chairs, shaking their heads. The Baby Doll they had bonded with doesn’t even get away? She gets the ice pick and the scrambled gray matter? WHAT? WE WERE ROBBED! Not paying attention were we, clowns? From the moment we go to Oz, the first character we see is Sweet Pea, not Baby Doll. Each scene in the club centers around or includes Sweet Pea. Sweet Pea calls the shots, tells them if she says it’s over, it’s over. Finally sounds like the Hero’s Journey to me, but with her story told from Baby Doll’s perspective! Baby Doll’s eventual self sacrifice to find enlightenment and happiness is a common Zen theme in Asian film. Baby Doll knows she killed her sister and could no longer live with that memory, she also knows that Sweet Pea doesn’t belong there. By allowing the lobotomy to happen was her salvation. She even tells Sweet Pea, “This was never my story, it was yours.” The thing is, we see and hear this from Baby Doll’s fantastic perspective, another storytelling point that drives Americans batshit, they feel they have to bond with the face most often on the screen. Forcing them to do otherwise causes mental implosions.

With the strike of a mallet, the color pallet again mutes and we return to the real world, bringing us to blissful closure for Baby Doll, a reckoning for the institution staff and Sweet Pea’s liberation.We close to the movie’s credits as it opened, calmly fading to black, sending the movie out with a whisper with Sweet Pea’s narration quietly questioning her place in the world. American’s hate anti-climatic endings. A need is felt to end action movies with big explosions and a ton of people dying. Not here. Sometimes a gentler approach is required, especially in a movie as epic with its internal scope as Sucker Punch The movie paced itself with over the top action throughout. Ending it on a softly played note was brilliant.

Zack Snyder is a genius. He has unlocked the secret to adapting animation and comic books to the screen. He is the master of this realm. Regarding Sucker Punch, we see nearly every element present in an anime from Japan. Foremost, they share young women with big tits and owl-sized eyes in schoolgirl uniforms kicking ass with samurai swords. Think of an amalgam of Sailor Moon and Blood, The Last Vampire and you have the template for Baby Doll. Anime and manga (on the comic book level) tend to jump between realities frequently; we have plenty of that here with Sucker Punch, delivering in a surrealistic manner not dissimilar to a dream. We’ve got more hot chicks with guns and swords to make Robert Rodriguez jealous, armies of robots, a mysterious mentor, giant mechanized battle armor, and a seemingly impossible quest with an enigmatic riddle for its final test. All ingredients to most any random anime, we’re only missing tentacle demons and Kaiju. Snyder was smart and other than the first fantasy combat that has a decidedly Asian theme (Most likely another hint that this is a live-action anime!), he incorporated familiar Western visuals and myth, and instead gave us German zombies and Dragons. This is another reason I believe that people tend to center on the visuals. We tend to latch onto what feels familiar to us. In the case of Sucker Punch, it is these very fantasy segments that distract the common American from the movie’s true story and leaves them dissatisfied with the movie as a whole. For myself, however, Sucker Punch is a masterpiece of subtle storytelling and visual imagery. The movie will gain notoriety and popularity over time. I rest assured, knowing the day will come when it is given four stars, not one, on a cable channel guide.

2020, the Year of Hindsight and How 13 Minutes UNDERWATER Can Make a Difference

It’s a new year, the year of hindsight… 2020, and with it comes another promise from me to blog more. As much as I enjoy critiquing movies on The Necrocasticon, my reviewing roots lie within the written word. So expect weekly, if not daily, updates on this site now.

When I don’t write something new, I’m going to republish out of print, old reviews and Op/Eds I wrote at This Is Infamous and Rue Morgue here. I’ll populate this site with stuff for you to read… some people have this incorrect assumption of me. They seem to think I’m “some new indy writer” who “doesn’t know what he’s talking about.” 

They couldn’t be further from the truth. 

For a decade, within roughly half a million words, I’ve covered entertainment news. I’ve grown as a journalist with integrity and clear objectivity of the products in question. I’ve reviewed and critiqued hundreds of hours of music, television series and films. Throw in some thousands of pages of novels, comic books, and games, and you’ve got an impressive resume. It’s time I remain consistent with my strengths. If nothing, blogging and reviewing are writing. I found my voice in this medium, where better to continue the maintenance?

You have to admit, 2019’s crop of horror films was a stale offering. Aside from a few stand out movies, including MIDSOMMAR and DOCTOR SLEEP, horror took a huge hit on the big screen last year. Jordan Peele’s follow up to GET OUT, US, fell to the sophomore slump. The MCU set the tone for the year, with Superhero blockbusters AVENGERS: ENDGAME topping all the charts and making box office records. Supervillains, too had their time in the limelight, as JOKER surpassed all expectations to become the highest-grossing R-rated film of all time and gather an Oscar nomination for Best Picture.

In order for a horror film to be successful, it must bond with its audience in some manner. Too many of the films of 2019 fell victim to this. The cast of MIDSOMMAR wanted you to kick them in their babymakers. Even Danny in DOCTOR SLEEP was a reprehensible person. And what about the adult cast of IT? Who cared what happened to them.

UNDERWATER, the first horror film to hit in 2020, nearly suffers from some of this same malady. It’s no fault of the actors or the director. They do a great job, and it’s this work that keeps the story together. William Eubanks gets every bit of emotion he can out his cast. Even the often panned Kristin Stewart delivers her character in a believable manner. Sorry, but if you came here to see me shit on Ms. Stewart you will be disappointed. She sold me with her portrayal of Joan Jett in THE RUNAWAYS. Even though writers Brian Duffield and Adam Cozad screwed the pooch on this one, by forgetting a time tested storytelling technique. If they had utilized it, UNDERWATER would be a summer blockbuster, making a respectable amount of cash. Hashtag talk about that later.

Even the crop of NETFLIX films of 2019 fell well below where they could have gone. Streaming hits like BIRD BOX, THE SILENCE, and ELI, though successful on the platform, would have flopped at the theater. Exactly like UNDERWATER has done, only taking in $14 million it’s opening weekend. I feel UNDERWATER would have been a hit on NETFLIX in much the same manner as BIRD BOX. But the Evil Mouse Eared Empire wants to see returns on their investment.

Made three years ago before FOX sold out to the Mouse, Disney execs are relieved. They’ve done what studios traditionally do with shit films, dumping it in the winter dead zone, that first weekend of the new year. The numbers didn’t lie. They’ve popped another TWENTIETH CENTURY FOX zit on its face, acquired when they bought the struggling studio. DARK PHOENIX was the expected flop, and THE NEW MUTANTS is rumored to be as bad, if not worse, than a 70’s live-action X-Men TV would have been. 

Why did it fall on its face and drown? The answer is simple. When you go seven miles to the bottom of the ocean, you need thirteen minutes.

I’ve seen a few of my peers compare this movie to ALIEN or THE THING. Let’s not go there, please. It’s got a monster or two in it, yes. But is it a Lovecraftian Cosmic Horror movie? I’ll leave that up to you to decide. I’ve not made up my mind yet on this. I refuse to spoil the movie by revealing what I think has gotten some of my peers all giddy like toddlers at a petting zoo. With that being said, I know one thing about this movie that separates it even further from the aforementioned Cosmic Horror classics. It’s the film’s only flaw, albeit a mortal wound for a theatrical release.

Thirteen minutes.

UNDERWATER’s run time is 94 minutes.

ALIEN’s run time was 117 minutes.

THE THING’s run time was  109 minutes.

UNDERWATER is missing an opening sequence. A sequence familiarizing you with the characters you will follow in this adventure. This plagues many modern films, as a result, many of them come off as cheating for their “twists”, as they are often foreshadowed in an opening set-piece as I mention. It also prevents you from bonding with the characters. As a result, you don’t care when people die. There is no sense of urgency.  

ALIEN did it beautifully with the wake scene to open the film. THE THING executed it with skill as we followed a dog through OUTPOST 31. You witnessed ticks and quirks and personality traits of all your cast, each one allowing you to bond just a little with each of them… before they get killed before your eyes. Imagine how fucking bad JOHN WICK would have been if they didn’t establish the death of his wife and kill the dog?

Kristen Stewart stars in Twentieth Century Fox’s “Underwater”.

For as good as the movie is, ultimately UNDERWATER is JOHN WICK without a puppy. It needed a 13-minute scene in the beginning, introducing us to our cast, telling us their flaws, their motivations. Establish Norah’s mourning of losing her fiance in this part of the film. The Captain’s death wish and remorse for his daughter… The love and the marital bond between Emily Haversham (Jessica Henwick) and engineer Liam Smith (John Gallagher Jr). The Godamned bunny TJ Miller’s Paul Abel plays hot potato with throughout the film. And all the dead… make a couple of them marquise names, like DEEP BLUE SEA did with Samuel L. Jackson. Kill a kid or a big name in the opening of a movie and all bets are off. You’re telling me TJ Miller couldn’t have talked Ryan Reynolds into a cameo?

“Ryan, you die in the opening, like Steven Seagal in Executive Decision!”

“Great idea, TJ!”

Thirteen lousy minutes and a cameo. 

That’s all it would take to put UNDERWATER on a higher level. Thirteen minutes of exposition.  Show it through a dinner table dialogue, or a rec or break room work out scene. How much would this have cost? A few days of shooting? When the movie’s budget was an estimated $80million, they had the space to do it. Thirteen minutes would have gotten their money back. 

In spite of this dire flaw, UNDERWATER is well made, the special effects are top-notch. Because the cast excels, you are able to bond with the characters, more so than any other film from 2019. The story is simple and straight forward, it moves at a brisk pace. The monster effects are great, and they use the dark of the ocean depths to give them more life. 

Much like THE RITUAL from a couple of years ago, which kicked off the 2018 year of fantastic horror, UNDERWATER is a worthy start for the new decade’s crop of horror films. And with Cosmic Horror being the new darling sub-genre of horror, who knows where we will go next.

-30-

A Quiet Place, Jim and the Smell of Home

John Krasinski’s third directorial outing and first genre film, A QUIET PLACE, has taken America by storm. The survival horror film, focusing on a family living in fear of someTHING in a post apocalyptic Adirondack mountains setting, has been able to suspend disbelief with Middle Americans. Making over $50 million in its opening weekend, it becomes the first original horror movie to reach this summit and continues the trend of well made horror films dominating the screen. I’ve seen the film twice since it opened last Thursday. My second viewing was on a Tuesday evening. Each time the theater was packed. And silent. You could hear every bag crinkle, cough and sniffle for 90 minutes.

This seems to be the most common statement a person makes after seeing A QUIET PLACE, now being heralded as the movie that made Millennials shut up in the theater. But there’s much more to this film than this superficial indicator. The film’s story is simple, which allows for basic understanding by the masses inhabiting Middle America. As is the case in most horror films, we establish the rules early on. Much like last year’s IT, the first incident our family encounters lays the foundation that all bets are off and nobody is safe. Unlike IT, which is a well made and entertaining movie but is missing something (like a second half?), A QUIET PLACE pays off in spades.

Like any good horror story there are rules. In this case, they are a titular establishment. A QUIET PLACE indicates sound will be an element and play a key role in the story and it’s the story that propels this film. Screen writers Bryan Wood and Scott Beck, with a little help from Krasinski, keep it simple and stupid. They don’t waste a moment of screen time, either. Each and every thing that happens on screen is for a reason. Some of it is blatant foreshadowing, some is little moments of character development. No matter what a scene establishes, all of it moves the narrative along at a brisk pace. The trailers for A QUIET PLACE are misleading. This is not a slow burn.

There’s also the “Jim Factor.” John Krasinski’s long time role on TV’s THE OFFICE has made him a darling among the Amy Schumer-something female demographic. He’s everyone’s favorite guy. No attempt to hide Jim works for Krasinski. He’s like an action figure. Give him a beard, he’s still Jim with a beard. Stick him in a war movie (13 HOURS), he’s still Jim, with a gun. Make him angry on screen, he’s still Jim, being angry. In this movie, we get to see Jim as a loving Dad and husband at the end of the world. The natural chemistry he has with his wife, Emily Blunt, on screen also contributes to this movie’s success. She’s no Pam, thank God. Quite honestly, everyone hates Pam for dicking Jim around for the better part of a decade. The young actors playing their children are also outstanding. The entire cast contributes to making this believable.

For me it was more than a sense of familiarity with Jim. It was a feeling of home. I’d like to welcome the rest of America to upstate New York. I’ve called it my home most of the past 50 years. There have been a few times I’ve left for extended periods of time, all of them paid for by Uncle Sam and the United States Army. Missouri, Indiana and Arkansas were nice, but they weren’t New York. They smelled different. The flora and fauna was different. Even the weather. As a teenage in boot camp in Missouri I witnessed my first storm coming across the plains. It resembled a demonic gateway to another dimension, floating in space in the distance, lightning erupting from its black, clouded heart. Of course it wasn’t a rift in time and space, it was an illusion created by the horizon. Locals assumed I’d never seen such a spectacle before because I came from the big city of New York. That wasn’t the case. Where I grew up had mountains. Up until this point in my life, I’d never seen a horizon except on water.

There’s something about upstate New York. It’s rolling hills, its corn fields and cow pastures. We’re blessed with two mountain ranges. Our mountains aren’t your traditional mountains. They’re lower peaked than the high, snow-covered points of the Rocky’s, more like hills in the grand scheme of things. The southern tier’s Catskills are a spur of the range that includes the Poconos of Pennsylvania and the Berkshires of Massachusetts. The Castkills are one of the most commercialized mountain ranges in the country and densely populated to the point where they are nearly a suburb of New York City. Further north, our claim to fame becomes the world famous Adirondack range. Where as most mountains are formed when two plates crash together, the ADKs (as we call them) were formed when a massive glacier ground down a massive volcanic dome over a few million years. As a result, beach sand is as prolific in the Adirondacks as clay earth is in the foothills close to the mountains.

Nestled in the heart of the river valleys surrounding the Adirondacks lies the small town of Little Falls, NY, where much of A QUIET PLACE was filmed. Like most small towns in New York, it’s felt the economic crunch most of New York has been under the past few decades. Many businesses have closed over the years as people have made a mass exodus from the harsh winters and humid summers, leaving brown fields scattered about the terrain. These temperature extremes bring about distinct scents, many of which change with the seasons. Spring, for example, smells of mud and pollen. Summers are a cornucopia of aromas. Rust and mildew mixed with mowed grass, corn and cow shit. Fall brings the distinct scent of dead leaves. By winter, the combined odors of vehicle exhaust and salt are so thick you can taste them.

I made a similar comparison to Ted Geohagen’s WE ARE STILL HERE three years ago, filmed in Palmyra, NY. Geohagen’s follow up, MOHAWK, was similarly filmed in Highland forest near the towns of Tully and Fabius, NY – no more than a twenty minute drive from my house. POTTERSVILLE, last year’s Netflix Bigfoot comedy featuring Michael Shannon, was filmed in Hamilton, NY. Now, with A QUIET PLACE, the rest of America is finally seeing how beautiful upstate New York is.

Much like the under appreciated BOOK OF ELI, a movie that utilized sound as a factor in its story, A QUIET PLACE is a unique film you should enjoy in a theatrical setting, wherein a complete sensory experience awaits you. You’ll smell and taste this film as much as you see it and hear it. When a good movie is made, the public will follow, and man have they followed this movie. After the award winning success of genre films GET OUT and THE SHAPE OF WATER, A QUIET PLACE stands firmly on my short list of Oscar contenders for 2019.

Close Encounters of the Mythological Kind

There are two constants on entertainment, and both contribute to a property’s overall appeal. One: Great art has many different interpretations, and two: Great stories transcend genres.

I got to see Annihilation this past week. Alex Garland’s adaptation of Jeff VanderMeer’s 2014 novel is a visually stunning, thought provoking film that will leave the audience polarized. You either like this or you don’t. People are comparing it to Kubrick’s 2001 A Space Odyssey or Scott’s Blade Runner. I don’t see why or how.

I’ve always found 2001 to be a bore fest, and (throw stuff at me now) I’ve never been a big fan of Blade Runner. Ridley Scott’s film lulls me to sleep with its imagery. Yes, its visually stunning. Face it, though, Blade Runner is poorly paced. It damn near requires carbon monoxide alarms to periodically wake you from the inevitable moments of narcolepsy you will find yourself suffering. Now, if the caveat of your comparison is Annihilation is everything people said Blade Runner or 2001 was without putting you to sleep; then you and I share the same assessment.

The secret is the sense of wonder and fear of the unknown that Garland’s script builds. As you watch the team move through the Shimmer, the narrative set up has you wondering what is behind the next tree up ahead. Plus the colors are vivid popping out at you, keeping your interest. Enough suspense has been built that you, as a viewer, want to know what the fuck is up with the Shimmer and why and what it is doing. This keeps you engrossed in it.

By contrast, 2001 had a lot of exterior space shots, basically black and white back grounds and not much going on except space ships docking with one another. And the classical music score, though iconic and great, can also be used for pre-surgery relaxation therapy. Then there is Blade Runner and Ridley Scott’s godamned light filters, plus Vangelis’ Muzak synth wave soundtrack, were a lethal cocktail of GO TO FUCKING SLEEP. And, in both cases, the story plodded along with no real suspense. Not so with Annihilation. Garland keeps you awake. He knows how to weave a mystery box with out cheating (I’m looking at you with a lens flair, JJ!).

Garland is destined to be heralded as one of the greatest early-millennial directors. I see many parallels between him and Stephen Speilberg, more so than I see with the man who has been accused of wanting to be Speilberg, JJ Abrams. Superficially, all three men have made a career out of fantastic speculative fiction. They blend tropes from horror and science fiction into what can only be described as genre defying adventures. All of their films are modern commentaries on social studies using a fantastic platform to tell their story.

Speilberg’s have been more grounded in our world and the suburban development he grew up in. JAWS, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Jurassic Park. Indiana Jones. Saving Private Ryan. Horror, science fiction. Adventure. All of them seen through the eyes of Speilberg as a child.

Abrams has been all over the map, dipping his chips into each bowl of dip. He’s the ultimate fanboy who sees what he likes, but doesn’t understand the broader appeal of it. As a result, many of the protagonists and supporting characters in JJ’s films are one dimensional and uninspired.

Garland, on the other hand, he’s stayed true to intimate portraits of what makes us human, using them to drive his stories. They work each and every time, without fail. He keeps the scope small. His interactions are with small numbers of characters, not fitting typical story archetypes, but psychological profiles of common people we can relate to and bond with. He is masterful at creating suspense. In spite of how personal his foundations may be, there are worldwide consequences for the action or inaction of the characters in his stories that would require assembling the Avengers in a Marvel Studios popcorn movie.

Alex Garland slowly infiltrated our popular culture and tapped into our basic fears nearly 20 years ago. He’s as much responsible for you watching the Walking Dead as Kirkman, Keene or Romero. All the while, he’s fully embraced Greek story telling and myth, using them as templates for his stories, shaking them up just a bit so you don’t recognize the source material. He’s constantly showing us the ramifications for opening Pandora’s Box, and all of them are ugly. Zombies, clones, killer AI’s, alien manifestations, to name a few.

Garland is in tune with what scares us. In the past decade, with both the written word and motion pictures, he’s has proven he has a finger on the pulse of the human psyche. And a strong appreciation for the basics. You see, Garland has been retelling Hellenic myth all along, and that’s part of the appeal of his work. His screenplays laid the foundation for what has come with Annihilation and Ex Machina.

28 Days Later helped establish the modern zombie craze was his first dip into what happens when Pandora’s Box is opened, something he revisits in Ex Machina. Never Let Me Go is dystopian Sci Fi, and it’s the myth of the Elyisum fields. Sunshine is so bold it tells you it’s the flight of Icarus, as well as a commentary on global warming and climate change. Even Dredd, a fantastic adaption of the 2000 AD comic book and reboot after the horrible 90’s Stallone vehicle, is Greek. It gives Theseus a bad attitude and a badge as he traverses a sky scraping Labyrinth to kill Ma-Ma’s interpretation of the bullish minotaur.

Now we come to his most recent entries. 2015’s Ex Machina is an amalgamation of the Pandora and Prometheus myths, while also being a study in human survival. Brothers in coding, Bateman is Prometheus,  Caleb is the sibling Epimetheus, who later falls in love with Pandora, er, I mean Ava. Prometheus gets chained to a rock and is stabbed in the chest by a vulture that eats his liver every day for eternity, Bateman gets stabbed in the liver by Ava. We all know what happens when Pandora opens that box, which is tantamount to Ava’s exit from the facility in Ex Machina’s horrifying climax.

 

Annihilation is the myth of Orpheus and proof that love transcends change. Is the Shimmer the Underworld, or is our world? That is the question this movie has left me asking. It also questions our perceptions of individuality. Who are we and what is it that makes us… us.

Annihilation is smarter than most people will give it credit for. In fact, it’s probably smarter than most of the people going to see it. For modern “smart” hard sci fi, it’s everything Arrival and Interstellar both wanted to be, but failed to capture in their third acts. I’m eagerly awaiting Garland’s next offering. Annihilation transcends and defies. It’s art of the highest caliber, and its divisiveness if the evidence.  

Nightmare on Elmo Street

“Nightmare on Elmo Street” is the latest creation brought forth from the mind of indy flimmaker and “King of the B Movies,” Bill Zebub. Bill Zebub is a metalhead, a magazine editor, a radio personality, a social commentator and a self proclaimed clown who has been making movies since the early 2000’s. Such movies include comedies like “Indie Director” and “Stereotypes;” sexually explicit works like “Loving a Vegetable;” documentaries like “Death Metal: Are We Going to Watch You Die;” and straight up horror movies like “Night of the Pumpkin” & “Holocaust Cannibal.”

So what is “Nightmare on Elmo Street” about? In this film, you have a world where puppets and humans are living together but not necessarily in harmony. You see, some people don’t like puppets and treat them as second hand citizens. But some people do like puppets and have relationships with them. Like Lydia. Lydia, portrayed by Lydia Lael, is a starving artist who has recently hooked up with a puppet but her lesbian roommate, portrayed by Erin Brown, isn’t too keen on the idea as she is not a fan of puppets and also has a major crush on Lydia. Most of the movie revolves around these ladies relationship and it’s ups and downs. By the way, one particular puppet Erin doesn’t care for is Jesus. Yes, in this movie, Jesus is a puppet. Oh and don’t forget about the cable guy, Barbara, who is played by Bill himself. Barbara is a felon who installs cable as part of his community service. But Barbara also has a dark secret; one that gets revealed at the end of the movie. Just be wary of anytime Barbara asks if you don’t like puppets because if you don’t, something is going to happen to you and you won’t like it. There is a lot more to it, but I don’t want to ruin anything or give spoilers away. That’s not what this is for.

Simply put, Bill Zebub makes fun movies. Sure they are full of weird, quirky humor; they are loaded with gratuitous female nudity; and there is a lot of anti-religious dialogue, but overall….they’re fun. “Nightmare on Elmo Street” has all these things and more. A lot more. What you ask? How about Teddy Bear rape, girl on puppet sex and a ton of pussy………cats. Oh and it has a message. Wait….what? A message? Yes……A MESSAGE! Now basically, this movie looks like a weekend project for a film class. Some of the camera shots are static, the editing is not very tight and a few of the acting performances come off as rushed. Not to mention it also has a fecal matter consuming puppet called “The Cocky Monster.” Get it? Instead of “The Cookie Monster?” Yeah it’s got all that. Now don’t get me wrong, I like Bill’s movies. But there are some things you’ll probably end up fast forwarding through. Like the fight scenes for example. The fight scenes in this movie, and several of Bill’s other films, are usually produced in slow motion which drag them out in my opinion. Plus there are some scenes which seem to move the film away from it’s main focus. But  if you can get through all that, you get to the message. And what is the message you ask? Well I’m not going to tell you. You’ll have to see for yourself. But trust me, when you get to the message, it will be a big WTF moment.

You see above the editing and the slow mo fight scenes, that’s the thing I really enjoy about Bill’s movies. He has all these weird things happening on the surface that normal people will turn their noses up at and ignore but just under the surface is some intriguing dialogue that indiscreetly exposes religious hypocrisy and also engages in breaking down our common American English language for it’s inconsistencies. What a concept? A movie featuring a woman having oral sex with a puppet also includes these highly thought-inspiring themes. Well, not to mention, the lovely ladies that adorn this film like, Lydia Lael, Erin Brown, Scarlett Storm, Vanna Blondelle & Dangrrr Doll.

So if you don’t have the attention span to make it through the 2 hours and 7 minutes of this movie to get to that message I mentioned, don’t bother. If you want to look at some beauties in little to nothing, go for it. If you want to have a film that you and your friends can let roll while you polish off a few bottles of Jack, Jim & Crown, this is for you. Or if you’re like me and can appreciate the time, work and effort it takes for an indy film to be made and want to see how the director did it with very little resources, then you should see this movie.

If you want to see it, go to Bill’s Vimeo page where you can rent or buy this movie and stream it online: https://vimeo.com/billzebub/vod_pages

As of this writing, Bill has an Indiegogo page up to help fund his next project, “Dickshark.” https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/dickshark#/story. I made my donation so why don’t you.

Here is one final clip for you. It’s an outtake featuring Bill and Dangrrr Doll. And as a former Pro-Wrestler, Bill, my advice to you is learn how to bump. It will still hurt but not as much.

The Maxx Axe can be found on line on Facebook.com/TheMaxxAxe and Twitter @themaxxaxe.

The Paradox of TERMINATOR GENISYS

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I remember seeing the first James Cameron TERMINATOR film as a young man, 17 years old. We had heard the scuttle on the film, mind you this is an era with instant news and the internet, and advance word through magazines indicated the film was revolutionary and would make a star out of Arnold Schwarzenegger. Now, we all loved Arnie in CONAN: THE BARBARIAN from a couple years before, so he was fast becoming a genre action hero. Knowing how excited we were, my friend’s Mom felt we should see it, and sneaked us into the R rated flick. The deal was we never tell. I think the statute of limitations has expired on that, some thirty-one years later. Needless to say, I was amazed at what I saw. THE TERMINATOR told a simple story, the themes engaged me and the special effects amazed me. I’d already been exposed to the nihilistic, post-apocalyptic fair of ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK, THE ROAD WARRIOR and BLADE RUNNER during the preceding few years. But as the opening sequence of THE TERMINATOR unfolded with a tank tread crushing a road of human skulls, my life changed. From that moment forward, nothing could top THE TERMINATOR or my adoration of the film. It also encouraged my interest in time travel, something we’ll do through out this essay. Starting… then…

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Last night I watched TERMINATOR GENISYS. IMAX 3D, of course. If the advance word I had on this entry into the venerable series held any truth, I would need the 3D. The theater was empty, for the most part. I blame that less on critics panning the film than the actual advertising campaign. Here’s where we add TERMINATOR GENISYS to a select group of films that aren’t actually bad, but suffered from a marketing faux pax, ala JOHN CARTER, and are now prejudged to be awful in advance. The advertising for TERMINATOR GENISYS has been off the mark since day one. Couple that with revealing the “twist” of the story three months prior to its release, and you have a recipe for disaster. Now, I can picture the pitch to the studio, “In this one, John Connor is the Terminator!” And the studio heads approved the film. It looks good on paper, right? When initial reactions to the first trailers were met with fanboy hate, an unwise marketing rep decided to make an executive order to cut the infamous twist-reveal trailer. If it worked with the studio, it will work with John Q. Public, right? Wrong. When people watched that trailer, they shook their heads, proclaimed, “John Connor is a Terminator?” And checked out. Why bother watching it, we found out all we needed to know in the trailer. And that’s a shame. TERMINATOR GENISYS isn’t exactly a horrible film, it’s certainly flawed without a doubt, but it doesn’t deserve the vehement hate it has received. At least that’s how I felt after watching it and during my ride home. Time to go… there…

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I got home and started making notes for this review. What I liked, what I didn’t like. Something didn’t sit right with me. So I watched THE TERMINATOR again. This wasn’t good for TERMINATOR GENISYS. I found myself very unhappy with TERMINATOR GENISYS for the same reasons I dislike 300: RISE OF AN EMPIRE. Someone, and I’m not sure if it was director Alan Taylor or writers Laeta Kalogridis and Patrick Lussier, forgot what made both THE TERMINATOR and TERMINATOR 2: JUDGEMENT DAY, work. The blame does not lie with Arnold, oh no.  He plays the Terminator like a pro. He’s the most refreshing thing of the film, and he’s oldest part of the franchise! The in jokes surrounding this are abundant. Part of the blame lies in the casting of Jai Courtney as Kyle Reese. Courtney is a solid actor, but he’s not the right actor for this part. Kyle Reese, as given life by Michael Biehn, is an embodiment of The Man With No Name, he’s gritty and flawed, a man of few words. Jai Courtney transforms Reese into a wise cracking motor mouth and he’s not very likable. His presence on screen often took me out of the film, wishing for Biehn. By contrast, Emelia Clarke’s Sarah Connor is done very well, but it’s almost over the top, she’s less morose than Linda Hamilton, and acts somewhat like a spoiled teenager. Yet it’s not either of those that bring the film down. It’s the dick whipping Terminator count and time traveling run amok.

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More Terminators doesn’t mean better, and this is where they forget what made both T1 and T2 work: the Terminator films are horror films, simply put. The Terminator is a scary, unstoppable force. It is supposed to frighten you. Yet in TERMINATOR GENISYS, they’re plentiful and get knocked off left and right. It’s like a porn convention of Terminators. Everyone is a Terminator. Even John Connor. And that is the ultimate problem with TERMINATOR GENISYS. Starting with TERMINATOR 2: JUDGEMENT DAY, John Connor became the series protagonist. He was the hero we bonded with. Making him into a Terminator caused a disassociation with the audience, predicating the film’s imminent failure. Yeah, it looked good on paper, but it didn’t play out that way on screen. It also doesn’t help that Jason Clarke has played the least likeable John Connor since the franchise launched.

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Just as more Terminators are bad for business, so is more time traveling. It’s a cop out plot MacGuffin when you answer your problems with a hop on the time travel machine. But more so, the time traveling issues are an ironic representation of the movie’s inherent pacing problems. There’s no sense of urgency in the narrative, no suspense. We aren’t given an opportunity to build any, and that’s due in part to the plot line. There’s so much going on, we can’t waste a moment for any development. This is evident from the opening credits, as we get story from the opening frame. Which leads us to… now.

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TERMINATOR GENISYS has come out, people are hating on it. There’s no doubt that the TERMINATOR franchise has hit some bumps in the road, and TERMINATOR GENISYS is one more but as a film on its own, it really isn’t that bad. It’s certainly better than TERMINATOR 3: RISE OF THE MACHINES, which can be machete cut out of your viewings of the saga. TERMINATOR SALVATION is solid stand alone film, albeit misguided in its McG-ness, and I would say TERMINATOR GENISYS is a notch better. But when comparing modern films to classic cinema such as THE TERMINATOR and TERMINATOR 2: JUDGEMENT DAY, the bar is already set so high, it is nearly impossible for the newer film to achieve any positive notoriety. Plus, keep in mind that THE TERMINATOR ascended its B-Movie status to become much more than it was intended to be. So give TERMINATOR GENISYS a chance. You might enjoy it for what it is, a B-movie homage. I did.

Edgar Rice Burroughs, Starlord & Raptors

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They say in advertising that if you have a boxom, bikini clad lass holding a baby and walking a puppy dog that you can sell people deep-fried cat shit and they won’t care.  Why?  Because the advertising had a sexy, bikini clad lass, holding a baby and walking a puppy dog. That’s mostly true for any product in general, except for fiction. With fiction’s mediums, be they on the page or the screen, we’ve got a broader field. They’re all imagination stimulators that bring forth immediate recognition, allowing the audience to bond with the narrative. Your choices include Knights in shining armor, Vikings, Pirates, damsels in distress, Cops & Robbers, Cowboys & Indians, flying machines and automobiles, and, of course, dinosaurs.  

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With me it has always been the latter, the dinosaurs. They’ve caught my imagination since I was a little boy. My earliest recollections all link back to two sources: KING KONG and Edgar Rice Burroughs. Kong put a sympathetic face on the giant monster, and yes, he fought dinosaurs. The works of ERB took me to outer space and back to our inner earth, with stops at lost islands and hidden valleys along the way. One of those places was the aforementioned lost island, called Caprona, the titular THE LAND THAT TIME FORGOT. The adventure story of the survivors of an U-Boat attack and how they end up on a lost island jam packed with dinosaurs is one of my favorite, ever. In 1975, a theatrical adaptation of the book hit screens, and I was enamored. The next year, a modernized KING KONG came out. There wasn’t a comic book, View Master or coloring book I didn’t have that was somehow tied to one of those properties. This is because dinosaurs are cool.

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Jump forward 20 some odd years from 1975 and author Michael Crichton once again captures my imagination with JURASSIC PARK. The hard science behind the book allowed suspension of belief and I suddenly felt like a pre-teen again, awash in the prehistoric glory of dinosaurs. The movie adaptation that followed a few years later did not disappoint me in any manner, well, unless you include that little issue with Muldoon. Nitpicking aside, the dinosaurs were amazing and far removed from the puppets and back screens of THE LAND THAT TIME FORGOT. Special effects had reached a pinnacle in achievements with the Stephen Spielberg movie. Travel another 20 or more years, while circumventing a pair of sequels that failed to live up to the awe and wonder of the first, and we find a new entry into the JURASSIC PARK franchise. This past weekend, JURASSIC WORLD defied the average critical response, which has been a resting bitch face “Meh,” and opened to record box office receipts and smiling moviegoers by the boat load. Making over half a billion dollars at the multiplex was a feat unheard of, until last weekend. I happily contributed to its coffers and I’m about to happily tell you why I enjoyed the movie as much as I did.

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I’ve finally accepted that we won’t get a proper remake of THE LAND THAT TIME FORGOT, thanks to JOHN CARTER’s marketing team.. Edgar Rice Burroughs has a stigma attached to his estate, one that says the movies won’t be very good.  It’s not a slight on the source material at all. Burroughs’ stories were action packed pulp adventures, he was a superstar of his time, a pop culture phenomenon. Shit, Tarzana, CA, is even named after his most famous creation. His characters were smart, the good guys good, the bad guys bad and the women, be they antagonists or protagonists, were strong. And sexy. But time and time again,  Burroughs adaptations fail at the box office. I’m fine with that, because, you see, JURASSIC WORLD is every bit as much an Edgar Rice Burroughs story as it is the fourth film of the JURASSIC PARK franchise.

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You see his influence throughout not only JURASSIC WORLD, but through JURASSIC PARK, as well. From the remote island setting to the dinosaurs themselves, the JURASSIC franchise is ripe with Burroughs-esque Easter Eggs. The intelligence of raptors is a modern incarnation of the evil Mahars from AT THE EARTH’S CORE, for example. The themes of conflict between the military and civilians can be seen in any ERB story, and is often established by having our protagonist be a member of the military itself. And that’s what makes JURASSIC WORLD the most Burroughs of all the films, its lead male star, Chris Pratt, and the character of Owen Brady. You see, Owen Brady is the quintessential Burroughs hero. He is brave and intelligent, he has a sense of humor and is he ever a ladies man. You can even see a slight Burroughs take on his character name, Owen Brady easily translates into Tyler Bowen, the hero of THE LAND THAT TIME FORGOT, as well as nearly every other ERB protagonist from John Carter to Tarzan. Owen even channels Tarzan himself when he communicates with his “trained” raptors. Brady is an archetypical throwback to the heroes that have endured through time. Even Bryce Dallas Howard’s Claire Dearing could be ripped straight out of any number of Burroughs narratives. She is strong, yet she is also beautiful, and alluring to our hero, making her Jane Porter or even Deja Thoris in a power suit.

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Word has it that there are already talks for a fifth film in the franchise. As long as they bring back Chris Pratt and his portrayal of Owen Brady, I’ll be on board, too. Nothing spells a good time like Starlord and the Raptors.