Halloween Scene: Stung (2015) & Return Of Count Yorga (1971)

stung posterA good buddy of mine sent me a box of awesome horror Blu-rays leading up to Halloween. I wrote about a few of them last week, but also wanted to give Stung and Return Of Count Yorga some blog love.

Stung was actually a bonus tossed in the box without warning. At first I wasn’t super interested because it sounded like a bit of Syfy or Asylum craziness with a plot revolving around giant wasps attacking an upscale garden party. But this Benni Diez-directed, Adam Aresty-written film is actually pretty damn delightful.

Our heroes are the owner of a catering company and her slacker employee who can barely handle himself when she switches from one shirt into another on the way to the event. He’s a bit too much of a goofball for my personal tastes (haven’t we seen enough of this character?) but he gets tangled up in the craziness of the events around him and starts adapting in the process.

Anyway, they wind up working some local bigwig’s party when these insane wasps start attacking. The stings are bad enough, but they also make their targets transform into gigantic wasps. Our heroes are joined in their drive to survive by Clifton Collins Jr. (who starred in Capote) and friggin’ Lance Henriksen, both of whom play against type a bit and also last much longer than you might expect.

I give Stung a lot of credit for not only featuring some impressive special effects (yes, there’s a lot of CGI, plus a fair amount of practical grossness) but also playing with expectations with what many would assume is stunt casting. I also thought it worked quite well as a nature-run-amok movie along the lines of Frogs. My own personal scare factor was boosted because I’ve been dealing with wasps under our siding all summer and hate those damn things. Whether you have wasps diving bombing your table or not, I highly recommend checking out Stung. It just went up on Netflix Instant, so it’s even easier!

return of count yorga posterI also gave The Return Of Count Yorga a watch. I feel like I’ve always known about these movies (or at least the original one from 1970), but just never got around to watching either of them. I think I saw part of the first on Netflix a while back, but who can remember?

Anyway, in this film, Yorga (Robert Quarry) makes his come back because of the Santa Anna winds (sure, why not) and he soon gets to work turning the gorgeous Cynthia — played by Mariette Hartley — into a fellow undead minion. Along the way his vampire brides also turn an orphan boy who then leads them to Cynthia’s family. Soon enough everyone in the family is turned aside from a deaf woman. She goes to the police about the attack, but no one believes her because the vamps cleaned up the mess and the kid is on their side.

As I mentioned, Hartley is just captivating, but so is Quarry. When he’s just hanging out in slick guy mode — at a costume party no less — he’s mesmerizing. But when he’s in vamp mode? It’s a bit laughable. Instead of sneaking up on his victims, he puts both arms straight out and just charges at them (complete with white pancake makeup). Even with that, though, there are some pretty scary moments, though they mostly revolve around people telling the truth and not being believed or voices coming from nowhere potentially driving folks crazy.

So, yeah, it’s a little goofy at times, but there’s also enough cool in this movie for me to recommend it if you dig on early 70s movies with some psychological scares and great actors.

 

Revisiting The Incredibles (2004)

the incredibles poster My folks came in for a visit this weekend and after watching a few of Lu’s favorite movies, my dad put on Pixar’s The Incredibles. After the difficulty I’ve had showing my daughter Wall-E and Cars, I thought this might be a lost cause, but she was into it, so we wound up watching the whole, nearly two hour movie. I’d seen this flick maybe once before when it came out in 2004 and have fond memories of playing the video game with my wife when we were newlyweds, but aside from that, only remembered the basics: after being retired by the government, a superhero comes out of retirement to face an evil guy on an island. He can’t handle it on his own, so his superpowered wife and kids come to help save the day.

The first thing to hit me while watching this movie is how freaking dark it is. The script gets into some really heavy areas like Mr. Incredible getting sued by a guy he saved who was trying to commit suicide. The deaths of dozens of other heroes at the hands of the movie’s villain as a way of testing his killer robot also get mentioned several times. These deaths or near-deaths might not hit as hard as Nemo’s mom in Finding Nemo or Carl’s wife in Up, but there are a heckuva lot more of them.

There’s also Elastigirl/Helen’s fear that her husband Mr. Incredible/Bob is cheating on her, something their kids, at least older daughter Violet, pick up on. As it turns out, Bob’s been playing hero for what he thinks is a super secret branch of the government trying to build some kind of powerful attack robot, but there’s definitely some romantic tension between him and go-between Mirage. Anyway, as it turns out, Mr. Incredible’s actually just one of a number of heroes brought in by the villain Syndrome to test his killer robots against. Each hero either defeats the robot, offering more data to build a better one, or gets killed in the process. When he’s got it right where he wants it, Syndrome wants to release it on a big city and then swoop in to save it, using a remote to shut it down and look like a hero.

All in all it’s a well put together film with strong family ties and various characters offering emotional relationships to form with the audience. You might not be the middle aged person wanting to relive the glory days, but maybe you’re the repressed youngster who wants to let lose or the teenager who wants to figure out the world or the one trying to hold the family together. Add in healthy doses of superhero fun — from the look at Edna’s costume-testing system to seeing each Incredible use their powers — and there’s a lot to love about this movie. As a long time James Bond fan, I also appreciated the many Bond villain nods that came from seeing Syndrome’s various villainous lairs.

And yet, I don’t know if I love The Incredibles. After watching with my wife and parents, they were totally into it and I was the one voice of dissent, noting the similarities to existing comic book teams, characters and stories. It was a silly discussion to kick off with non-comic fans because I couldn’t possibly make them understand where I’m coming from without laying down lots of evidence that they probably wouldn’t care about anyway. The best I could do was saying to my dad, “What would you think if another band put together a great pop record that actually borrowed a lot of hooks from The Beatles.” It’s not the best analogy and I’m probably confusing terminology, but it works to an extent.

The main problem I have with the film comes from the power sets and how they relate to the Fantastic Four. Sure, Mr. Incredible isn’t rocky, but otherwise he’s The Thing. They also swapped out Human Torch for the Flash, but the main aspect that bothers me comes with Violet’s powers. Sure, it makes sense that the shy teenager can turn invisible, but why does she also have force field powers? Those aren’t organically linked abilities, but were put together for the character Sue Storm by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. It’s not like having super speed and the ability to vibrate through things because you can shake your molecules. Those both come from the ability to move quickly. Invisibility and force field projection aren’t related making Violet’s powers a direct lift from Invisible Woman/Girl.

To a lesser extent, you’ve also got elements of Watchmen in there as well with the government outlawing superheroes, a theme that had been played with throughout comic book history. I guess what bums me out about The Incredibles is that it could have been more original. Writer/director Brad Bird could have done a lot more to make a completely new story, but by compounding various elements that comic book fans are already familiar with, it kind of bogs things down. Sure, I’d compare any original superhero fiction to my internal library of comic knowledge, but this one hit off so many notes from things I’ve read and seen before that it can somehow overshadow the general feeling of fun that came from the film.

Incredibles poster 2At the moment, I’m feeling more positive about the movie. Seeing Mrs. Incredible use her stretch-y powers on screen was a real treat, the kind of thing I haven’t seen so much done with since the old school Plastic Man cartoon. I also really enjoyed how the Incredibles used their powers together. There’s a more seamless nature to the way husband and wife play off of one another’s abilities — which not only refers to their past as heroes, but also the bonds that form through marriage — while the kids need a little more coaching as they learn how to use their own abilities to stay alive. Combining powers has always been a favorite aspect of team comic books for me, so I enjoyed scenes where Mrs. Incredible turned into a boat and Dash kicked them towards shore at super speed or Violet made a ball and Dash ran them around hamster-style.

If I could just forget about all the comics I’ve read, I’d be fully in love with The Incredibles. Since that’s not happening without a head injury at this point, I guess I’ll remain on the fence with this one.

Season Premiere: Parenthood Season 2

Parenthood was one of my surprise favorite new shows last season. I shouldn’t have been too surprised because I liked cast members Lauren Graham (Gilmore Girls), Peter Krause (Sports Night, Dirty Sexy Money), Dax Shepard (hey, he was good on Punk’d), Craig T. Nelson (Coach), Mae Whitman (Arrested Development) and Erika Christensen (she had a great turn on That 70s Show as a girl who had a crush on Red instead of Eric). I also really like the movie the show is based on (and much of the first episode and ongoing story is based on). And, of course, there’s the fact that Brian Grazer and Ron Howard had a hand in creating the show and as many of you know, they helped create the greatest American comedy series, Arrested Development. What surprised me isn’t so much that I liked the product, but what kind of show it is. Thanks to AD, I expected something a little whackier but I found myself really getting absorbed in the complicated dynamics of the Braverman family.

So, the second season just premiered, earlier than most other shows on NBC (Tuesday’s at 10PM). The major plot points included the terrible-at-being-a-handyman patriarch of the family Zeek (Nelson) working with Julia’s husband Joel who was a contractor before the economy tanked. After watching while Zeek practically destroys the garage that Sarah (Graham) and her two kids (one of whom is Whitman, are you getting all this?) live in, Joel finally blows up on him, telling him to back off and treat him like a man. That’s not all the problems facing Joel and Julia though as their daughter’s questions about where babies come from lead to Julia wanting to have another kid. More on that in the next episode.

While Sarah’s roof is getting fixed, she deals with the fact that she gave Adam (Krause) an idea for a tracker that locates missing shoes. She’s understandably pissed because Adam’s boss loves the idea he swiped from her. In the end, Adam feels bad and arranges for her to have an internship at his company. I’m not sure how a company that seems to be struggling has the money to bring on an intern, but whatever.

All the while Crosby (Shepard) misses his girlfriend/mother-of his-child Jasmine, who is supposed to be bringing Jabbar for a visit which will include a sleepover between Jabbar and Adam’s autistic son Max. Jasmine has to cancel the visit because of an audition (she’s a dancer), but only after a hilarious scene where Jasmine tries to have Skype sex with Crosby and the tech gets in the way. Crosby then has to break the news to Max, who doesn’t take it so well. Oh, Adam’s wife Kristina is also trying to teach their daughter Haddie how to drive, but Kristina’s being a little crazy and overbearing. I love my mom, but we had the same problem when I was learning to drive. In fact, my dad had to pull her aside and tell her she needed to relax in the car with me or I’d never relax myself. There’s a scene where Haddie goes to Adam’s office and explains what her mom is doing and I was laughing HARD because it all felt very familiar.

So there you have a fairly detailed recap of what went on in the episode. There’s no way I even remembered all the characters’ names, but IMDb helped me out big time. I like the show because of its family-like feel. My family back home isn’t quite this interrelated (at least not my section), but my wife’s is a little bit moreso, so I know that families can be like this. I also like the chaotic nature of things, which really do capture family gatherings. There’s a scene in the beginning of the show where Crosby comes over to a very busy kitchen in Adam’s house with his entire family running around, getting ready for the day and talking over each other. It’s fun to watch the show for the main plot points, but I would imagine it’s also fun to watch a few times on DVD with an ear towards the background lines. I caught one today that I can’t remember, but it made me chuckle with Haddie doing a crossword puzzle.

I dig this show a lot and probably won’t write about it every week, but I wanted to let you guys know it started early and what happened in case you missed it yourself. There’s a  pretty crowded TV season about to hit us. The missus checked several sites and made up a TV schedule that looks pretty solid. I’m excited for some new shows like Hawaii Five-O and also returning faves like Big Bang Theory (though it’s move to Thursday is problematic).