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Quick Movie Review: The One I Love (2014)

January 12, 2015

the one I loveOver the years, I’ve become a huge fan of Mark Duplass. The League is one of my all-time favorite TV shows, but he’s also done amazing work in movies like Safety Not Guaranteed, The Puffy Chair, True Adolescents and behind the scenes on Jeff Who Lives At Home.

I can’t think of many other actors who can be crass and awful in one part and then so emotionally devastated (and devastating) in another. So, any time one of his movies pops up on Netflix Instant, I get excited.

At some point along the line I saw the trailer for The One I Love, which also stars Mad Men’s Elizabeth Moss and Ted Danson. I only remembered that this couple goes to a secluded property on vacation and some weird stuff starts happening, like Twilight Zone-level stuff.

I could go into more details on the subject, but I really think the less you know about the film, the better, but this trailer should give you enough to know whether you’d dig it or not.

Without getting into the nitty gritty of the larger story, the smaller bits revolve around Duplass and Moss, a married couple who have been having a hard time lately and discover that their supposed retreat includes an uncanny guest house with seemingly supernatural properties that may or may not exist to help with their marriage. As the story progresses you not only learn more about these two — including the major source of their problems — but also the rules and boundaries of this mysterious manor.

I loved how I got bits and pieces as the movie progressed. I found myself wanting to know the rules while also feeling really worried about these two people, which is something I can’t say about many other stories. Hitting my mythology-loving buttons at the same time as my relationship ones is fairly uncharted territory. Duplass and Moss get huge mountains of credit for this as do writer Justin Lader and director Charlie McDowell who do a stellar job of taking what might seem like an Outer Limits episodes and filling it with heart and care, but also mystery and intrigue. These are two filmmakers I will definitely be keeping an eye on going forward.

The Librarians Is A Lot Of Fun, Though Very Familiar

January 8, 2015

the librarians

For Christmas, we all piled into the car and headed to New Hampshire to spend the holiday with my wife’s parents. After all the festivities of the big day were over, my wife, her mom and the two kids went out to do some shopping. Not even remotely interested in that plan, my father-in-law and I remained at the house where we watched the first four episodes of TNT’s new fantasy adventure show The Librarians. My mother-in-law had seen a few episodes, liked them and so we decided to go on a mini-binge.

If you’re not familiar, this new hour-long show takes place in the same world set up in the 2004 TV movie The Librarian: Quest For The Spear and it’s follow ups 2006’s Return To King Solomon’s Mines and the 2008 offering Curse Of The Judas Chalice. If that means absolutely nothing to you, don’t worry. I’ve never seen the movies either and had no trouble following the two part series openers called “And The Crown Of King Arthur” and “And The Sword In The Stone” that introduce us to this world and also establish the new status quo for the show.

The deal is that there’s this extra-dimensional place called The Library that has one guy going out and retrieving magical artifacts so they don’t fall into the wrong hands. He or she is dubbed The Librarian. The main Librarian is Flynn Carsen (Noah Wyle), but as the series kicks off someone is trying to kill previous candidates for the job. That’s how newbies Eve Baird (Rebecca Romijn), Jake Stone (Christian Kane), Cassandra Cillian (Lindy Booth) and Ezekiel Jones (John Kim) join in on the fun.

After the first two episodes, they’re the main focus along with their mentor Jenkins played by John Larroquette with Wyle set to pop up here and there. Thanks to a magical book in their annex, the group finds out about mysterious happenings around the world and deploy to keep regular folks safe from misused magic. So far those dangers have included the mysterious Serpent Brotherhood organization, a minotaur, dragons and a conclave of mystical beings. The Librarians - 109"And The Apple of Discord"

Basically, if you like Doctor Who or Warehouse 13, The Librarians is probably right up your alley. That is if you don’t mind a fair amount of similarities to those other shows. At times Wyle plays Flynn much like Matt Smith or David Tennant portrayed the iconic BBC Time Lord. You could also argue the similarities between Librarians and Doctors, but they feel different enough to me to get a pass. Along similar lines the story engine here — retrieving special objects with complicated stories behind them — is very much like the one fueling Warehouse. To be fair, the first Librarian movie predates Warehouse by a few years, though I don’t know how many of the elements I just mentioned were in those films.

These damiliar elements don’t bother me because I feel like the Librarians group offers different dynamics thanks to the new blood brought one. One’s a mathematical genius with synesthesia, another is an expert on historical artifacts but doesn’t want anyone to know it. You’ve also got a world class thief and a grounded soldier dealing with all of these fantastical aspects of reality.

My only real complaint is related to the Christmas-themed episode called “And Santa’s Midnight Run” in which it’s revealed that Santa (Bruce Campbell) is a mystical being who collects good will throughout the year and then basically releases it down on humanity to replenish their goodness. The episode is fine from a story perspective and Campbell was a delight as Santa, but my problem comes from this supremely negative approach to humanity which basically says that we’re all too evil to actually be good on our own. I don’t think that idea is reflected through the rest of the series — especially because you’re dealing with very flawed human characters going up against the fantastical every week. It seems to me like a good idea that was hatched in the room possibly without thinking about the greater meaning.

All in all, I dig The Librarians and will keep coming back for more because I enjoy the characters and want to not only learn more about them, but watch them grow in their new roles. Plus, there’s a solid sprinkling of mystery in there so it’s not annoying like some shows, but intriguing enough to keep me hooked.

Hellblazer Trade Post: Original Sins & The Devil You Know

January 7, 2015

john constantine hellblazer vol 1 original sins John Constantine, Hellblazer, Vol. 1: Original Sins (Vertigo/DC)
Written by Jamie Delano with Rick Veitch, drawn by John Ridgway, Brett Ewins, Jim McCarthy, Veitch & Tom Mandrake
Collects Hellblazer #1-9, Swamp Thing #76, 77

At the beginning of October I had two ideas that turned out to be pretty good ones: first, I should read some of the Hellblazer volumes I had sitting around and, second, I should see if anyone wanted to pay me money in conjunction with the first idea. As it turned out, I came up with an idea to run down John Constantine’s most dastardly moments from the early days of his solo series and it ran over on Topless Robot. It worked out well because of the premiere of Constantine on NBC, though I haven’t actually watched more than a few minutes of the show.

What I soon remembered after diving in to these books is something I noted when I reviewed Jamie Delano’s “The Fear Machine” arc as well as the more recent graphic novel Pandemonium and that is just how rich, robust and literary Delano’s text boxes are. Comics just don’t have that quality anymore and it took me a little while to adjust, but once I did, I realized I was reading something dark and special. As my list notes, Constantine makes some very difficult and awful decisions, but the more you read of him, the more you understand that no one else will make those choices and they weigh heavily on him.

Specifically speaking, this first batch of issues might seem like a series of one-offs, but they’re building off of themselves and each other leading towards the larger story coming to light in the next volume. The first two issues deal with an old friend accidentally unleashing a hunger god that leads John to NYC where he visits franchise stalwart Papa Midnite. From there you get a Yuppie-loving fart demon, a child murderer, a town that gets its boys back from Vietnam in a very unexpected way, a multi-armed soccer hooligan, a cyber mage, a deal with a demon, a terrible 35th birthday and a crossover with that other Vertigo mainstay Swamp Thing where the title character borrows John’s body to have sex with his lady Abby.

This volume is the perfect example of what Hellblazer was in its early days and not just because it’s the first. You get the sense of humor Delano instilled in the character as well as his intrinsically tragic nature. Plus, while you might not see them on the first read, there are a lot of seeds being planted that grow and bloom as the series progresses. I should note here that I haven’t read Constatine’s first appearances in Swamp Thing yet, so I’m sure some of that came from Alan Moore, but I credit Delano with creating something truly wonderful here in these issues.

john constantine hellblazer vol 2 the devil you know Hellblazer, Vol. 2: The Devil You Know (Vertigo/DC)
Written by Jamie Delano, drawn by Richard Piers Rayner, Mark Buckingham, Bryan Talbot, Dean Motter & David Lloyd
Collects Hellblazer #10-13, Hellblazer Annual #1, The Horrorist #1-2

After all the build-up in the previous volume, issues #10, 11 and 12 hit like an atom bomb. #10 features an issue-long astral plane trip while Swamp Thing’s using John’s body. #11 explains why Constantine’s been having such a rough time in one of the most disturbing comics I’ve ever read. By #12, everything comes to a head, characters come crashing together and Constantine comes up with a particularly devious way of dealing with his nemesis.

The last regular issue of this collection is one of the craziest, dream sequence things I’ve ever experienced in any medium. Set against the looming threat of atomic mishaps, John deals with everything he’s caused and gone through leading up to this point. It’s not the easiest thing to understand, but then again, neither is the annual which switches time between John looking for a tape of his band Mucus Membrane and a past/future version of himself intertwined with Arthurian legend. It’s a lot to take in. The book closes out with the mid-90s two issue mini The Horrorist which finds Constantine drawn to a woman from a photograph who is wreaking havoc across the country.

Altogether these first two volumes don’t just set up the groundwork for a series that would go on to last 300 issues, continue on in a different form in the New 52 and make the jump to the big and small screens. One of the things that surprised me most about these two books is that Constantine doesn’t use magic in the way you might expect having seen things like Harry Potter films. He knows all about demons and monsters and angels, but instead of casting spells, the action is far more physical and more in line with a detective story. I like that take because it grounds the supernatural elements which can be off-putting at times.

Before closing out I want to say a few things about covers. First off, the ones for these trades are amazing. Getting Jim Lee and John Cassaday to do these covers is ingenious because they might help bring in new readers, but also because the original series covers are pretty insane. I mean, just look at them. These might be the most surreal, difficult-to-describe covers I’ve ever seen. It’s actually kind of shocking that they were used to try and sell a book back in the day.

2014 in review

December 29, 2014

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

Madison Square Garden can seat 20,000 people for a concert. This blog was viewed about 61,000 times in 2014. If it were a concert at Madison Square Garden, it would take about 3 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

Halloween Scene: V/H/S (2012) and V/H/S 2 (2013)

November 13, 2014

vhs poster While on my journey to watch new horror movies from this decade, I very quickly came across the anthology film V/H/S. It and its follow-up both share the same basic concept: a group of people in a framing sequence stumble across a house filled with video tapes and start watching. As they begin, we start seeing short segments directed by different up-and-comers from all kinds of horror subgenres, but each featuring a character holding or carrying a camera of some kind.

I wasn’t so sure if I was down with this concept. Like just about everyone I know and listen to, I’m pretty much done with found footage on all levels, but much like Europa Report, the majority of these segments offer clever reasons for the character(s) to carry a video recording device.

And yet, I still almost turned the first one off. After the fact, I realized that I was not down with the overly “bro” nature of the guys in the framing sequence who run up on women, lift their shirts up and record it and the ones in David Bruckner’s kick-off segment called “Amateur Night” who pick up a woman who is far more dangerous than she seems at first. All of that grossness combined together to taint my opinion of the movie, but after that it got a lot better.

First off, the framing sequence is actually pretty creepy. I wasn’t expecting much from that because, hey, this is a horror anthology and that part is almost always padding, but this one helmed my Adam Wingard (You’re Next) offered its own unique scares. Aside from “Amateur Night,” though, I thought the rest were really well done. Ti West’s “Second Honeymoon” worked super well as a short — and also starred the great A.J. Bowen — Glenn McQuaid’s “Tuesday the 17th” did something really fun and unique with the slasher genre while also making the camera’s presence an integral part of the action. I’ll admit, I had to look up “The Sick Thing That Happened to Emily When She Was Younger” by Joe Swanberg (Drinking Buddies) because I did not catch what happened at the end. Finally, Radio Silence’s “10/31/98″ featured my favorite incorporation of the camera — the guy is dressed as a teddy bear nanny cam, which is pretty ingenious — and also a rapid fire short that rockets somewhere pretty crazy, pretty quickly.

V-H-S-2_PosterWhile I definitely had my problems with the first V/H/S, I was interested enough to check out the follow-up which, like I said, kept the same basic premise while upping the game when it came to story diversity and special effects. This time around, Simon Barrett, who wrote You’re Next, directed the framing sequence which finds a pair of PIs breaking into a house trying to find a kid who was obsessed with the same kind of tapes seen in the first film. Though it features the same kinds of scares seen in its predecessor, they’re still effective.

Wingard returned for another super clever use of the format called “Phase I Clinical Trials” which saw a guy with a robot eye plagued by ghosts who meets up with a woman with a hearing implant. This one had a super deep mythology that was presented very succinctly and also included a few definite scares that worked well. After that Blair Witch Project vets Eduardo Sánchez and Gregg Hale did a nice little zombie thing I dug called “A Ride In The Park” that’s probably my favorite zombie thing since Dance Of The Dead.

The last two segments, The Raid‘s Gareth Evans’ “Safe Haven” and the Jason Eisener (Hobo With A Shotgun) directed “Slumber Party Alien Abduction,” were stellar shorts that had me going and absorbed from the jump. Huge kudos to both of those for being interesting, fun, scary and all-around fantastic. While so different, both of these parts felt perfectly executed and written for this kind of film.

Overall, I liked the stories in V/H/S 2 better than the original, but I will say that I had more problems with the actual set-up of the films. If you’re buying into the conceit, these videos were shot and then distributed amongst collectors like the people inhabiting the houses in both framing sequences. And yet, in the zombie bit you’ve got multiple sources incorporated (the Go Pro mainly, but then the camera held by parents at a kid’s birthday party). It gets even crazier in “Safe Haven” where you get a mix of the documentary crew’s raw footage (complete with levels and whatnot), plus compound security footage AND subtitles to boot. These elements kind of ruin the suspension of disbelief I had with people trading these simple tapes by putting a lot of editing into the process. On their own, they’re not a big deal, but I kept finding myself ripped out of the story itself with thoughts like “Hey, who subtitled that? Why didn’t they remove the levels and whatnot?” Maybe I over-thought them, but it seems like a pretty simple thing to fix in order to make these movies make sense within the world that’s set up.

Finally, how crazy is the world presented in these two movies? Everything from demon women and zombies to aliens and cults take place all in the same world with only these tapes as proof. I haven’t seen V/H/S Viral yet, but I would love it if that one dug a little deeper into the overall mythology instead of just presenting more cool bits and pieces of short horror.

Halloween Scene Trade Post: Afterlife With Archie

November 12, 2014

afterlife with archie Afterlife With Archie: Escape from Riverdale (Archie Comics)
Written by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, drawn by Fracesco Francavilla
Collects Afterlife With Archie #1-5

Between work and the impending move, I haven’t had a lot of time to sit down and read comics. However, I inexplicably requested a pile of books from the library which came in much quicker than expected. One of them is Afterlife With Archie: Escape From Riverdale, a book I’d heard a lot of interesting things about. So, with the little bit of free time I had, I banged this one out and had a great time doing it.

There’s basically two ways to dig into this book. The first is, how does it work as a horror/zombie story? And the second is, how does it work as an Archie story? I think the answer to both questions is “pretty great,” though I think the main reason it got so much love is because of the latter instead of the former. That might sound like a dig, but it’s not. Actually, it’s the opposite because I think that it took a lot of guts for Archie Comics to let Aguirre-Sacasa take their characters into such adult territory. This isn’t the cartoony version of Archie you might have seen at the grocery store, but one who knows all the ins and outs of Veronica’s house because he wanted to make out with her. There’s also the matter of zombies. Lots and lots of zombies.

So, the story kicks off after Sabrina helps bring Jughead’s dog back to life with some spell-casting. That doens’t work out quite so well, leading Hot Dog to bite his owner, turn him into a zombie and kick off a nasty bit of carnage. Archie and the gang all happen to be at a costume dance at school when this goes down and the rest of the book finds them trying to figure out ways to survive as the world comes crumbling down around them.

I’ve read and seen a lot of zombie material in my time and I was impressed with where this particular story went. I liked the simple origins of the undead in the book and the idea of the looming threat hitting such a small town. Aguirre-Sacasa also throws in some nice touches involving flashbacks and quick asides to other characters that I thought added a lot to this story. It could have easily focused just on Archie, Betty and Veronica, but instead this feels like a whole world of characters to worry about.

And worry I did, even though I’m far from familiar with these characters. Sure, I read a few Archie Digests here and there as a kid and know about some of the newer characters like Kevin Keller from reading the internet, but Aguirre-Sacasa did a great job of getting me to care about these characters while also poking fun at a few of the tropes like the never-ending battle within Archie when it comes to choosing between Betty and Veronica.

afterlife with archie old schoolAll of the story elements work really well together, but one of the main reasons this book succeeds so well is that Francavilla doesn’t hold back when it comes to bringing the scary tones. The zombies look awesomely gross and, while you don’t necessarily see the full gory details every time, there’s plenty there to squirm over. His use of blacks, oranges, shadows and darkness makes this a moody, creepy work that fits right in with the other book of his I read this year, Batman: The Black Mirror (speaking of which, Mr. Lodge and Jim Gordon look like twins, right?).

All of these pieces come together to tell a really fun, sometimes scary story that would work without these characters, but is a lot more fun with them involved. I will also say that, seeing a company like Archie go down these different avenues, makes me want to dig a little deeper into the other books they’re putting out. Afterlife With Archie continued on and there’s also a Sabrina series I want to check out.

Halloween Scene: American Mary (2012)

November 3, 2014

american mary

In my new horror movie roundup post, I mentioned watching American Mary. Here’s the review I originally wrote back in September when the weather was still super warm!

Even though I’m still wearing shorts and T-shirts when I head out of the house, I’m ready for the cool fall crispness and the spookiness that ensues! With that in mind, I started combing Netflix Instant’s listings, adding a lot of movies from the past few years that I’ve heard things about.

American Mary, written and directed by Jen and Sylvia Soska, definitely fits in that category. It’s about a young woman named Mary (Katharine Isabelle of Ginger Snaps and Freddy Vs. Jason fame!) who just wants to be a surgeon, but a lack of money leads her into a world where she fixes up people for a local bar owner and does some pretty intense body modifications.

I was all over the map with this one. At first I wasn’t sure if it even counted as a horror movie or was more in line with a medical-based psychological thriller populated with all kinds of crazy, unique and deranged characters. That question soon got thrown out the window. From there, I had problems with the sexual assault of Mary by one of her teachers because it felt like a cheap, overly easy way of getting her to fully embrace the life she’d only brushed up against up to that point. Even that came back around in a way that showed Mary’s progression (or possibly regression) as a character, though so it at least worked with the story being told in a way.

One of the things this movie does particularly well is show people from various facets. American Mary is filled with all kinds of different people, many of them incredibly awful, and yet there are times where you feel bad for even the worst of them. Isabelle does a lot of this as the title character as she goes from struggling med student to full-on murderer. But, even as she goes through her downward spiral, she has moments where you can see her examining her life and how she got to where she’s at.

Some of those smaller moments might make the movie feel a bit slow — which it is at times — but at the end of the day, I feel like American Mary is put together in such a way that you’re not just seeing the lead character’s quick descent into madness or whathaveyou, but instead many of the steps that got her there as well as what they mean to her. This descent is handled realistically in that it covers so many of the emotional bases, even while being set in a dark, dangerous world that feels alien at times.

Be warned though, this is a DARK movie. I mentioned the sexual assault above. That’s an incredibly disturbing scene. So is what it leads to. There’s a lot of body modifications that move past the tongue-splits, devil horns and gauged ears and easily move into body horror. But, it certainly made me go on plenty of ups and downs as I watched, which is not something I can say for a lot of movies. In that regard it was a good viewing experience, but one I’m not likely to repeat.

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