Thursday, November 16, 2017

Superman Movie Outline - Written in 30 minutes


"He's boring."

"He's invincible."

"There are no good Superman stories."

I tire of people slagging this character. Superman is
a dated concept, and yet one that's quite appealing with how preposterously cynical our culture has gotten. I'm exhausted with all the claims that there's nothing left to do with him except kill him. If hope is boring, then you're telling the story wrong.

T
his led to me joke around on Twitter last night about a Superman movie that wasn't so gloomy. Something truer to the vision of Superman a lot of us hold. Things got out of hand.

Back in 2013 I played a little game: I was given thirty minutes to write as much of a Wonder Woman movie as I could. People liked it. Allan Heinberg and Patty Jenkins certainly nailed their vision this year, and if there is a good Wonder Woman movie in existence now, then why not move onto the world's most famous and least popular hero?


Here comes a Superman movie written in thirty minutes. Because these stories are *so impossible* to write.

Up, up, and away.

Monday, October 30, 2017

The Halloween List: Stranger Things 2!



It's been fifteen months, but Netflix's most popular show is back. It sounds like we may not get another season until 2019, so savor this while you can. If you've watched the first season a dozen times, I recommend going into this one with moderate expectations. The second season cannot match the surprises of the first because we all love it now. Stranger Things 2 is more Stranger Things: more creepy crawlies preying on the small town, more lore of the Upside Down, and more character development for one of TV's most lovable ensembles. It's another order of that fun meal you had last time.

The season puts its weakest foot forward, taking about four episodes to really get in motion. It’s a hard contrast to the first season, which in one episode set up everyone’s motivations and half of the major plot threads. The difference is that now the Duffer Brothers know exactly how much pop culture loves their kids, and so they don’t mind having them hang out, slowly get into needless conflicts with each other, and lather up in 80s references. The slower early episodes are thickly decorated in Punky Brewster and “vintage” and KFC product placement.

In both seasons, Stranger Things is at its best when it uses its influences quietly. The first season was highly influenced by Spielberg’s E.T. and Stephen King’s Firestarter. It honored its influences by doing things like the bicycle escape scene where Eleven used her powers to save them – flipping a van rather than making the bicycles fly.

At its best, this season handles its influences in the same way. One particular episode dives deeply into visual queues from Alien and Aliens, but no one brings it up, and the outcomes are very different. In another plot thread, Dustin tries to adopt a little monster of his own, promptly feeds it after midnight, and the synth-heavy soundtrack echoes notes from the theme to Gremlins. These are homages embedded in the plot without derailing it. It’s much defter, say, than when the kids scream at a Dragon’s Lair arcade cabinet, or watch a vintage commercial for Oreos and The Terminator.

Friday, October 27, 2017

The Halloween List: Stephen King's 1922 and Creep 2



Stephen King’s 1922 (2017)

After the shocking hit of Gerald’s Game, I had to watch Netflix’s other big King adaptation. I am a huge King fan. A decade ago I began limiting myself to reading one King book per year so I wouldn’t run out. Yet I honestly don’t remember this novella from Full Dark, No Stars. Even by the end of the movie, nothing shook loose.

It is certainly a King story. A loveless farm marriage threatens to break up when the wife wants to sell a large chunk of the land that’s legally hers. The husband (Thomas Jane) bides his time, then kills her and dumps the body in a nearby well, covering his tracks and manipulating their son into being an accomplice. The law wants to know where she was, and while the father keeps them away, rats have started climbing out of the well and following him.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

The Halloween List: Sadako Vs. Kayako (AKA: The Ring Vs. The Grudge)


Sadako Vs. Kayako (2016)
If you were expecting reviews of two modern classics, I've got a surprise for you! This isn't contrasting the two films. It's a review of the much-overlooked movie in which their monsters actually fight. This is a real movie that really happened.


This is a campy and totally amusing crossover that’s almost as perfect as Freddy Vs. Jason, and has very similar sensibilities. If you enjoy the two franchises, it’s a blast to see people thrust through the paces of both hauntings, trying to survive both having seen the haunted tape and trespassed in the forbidden house.

Some people said Sadako (Samara in the U.S.) and Kayako aren’t in much of the movie, but both show up early on, and neither franchise has ever been about the two being lingering on-screen presences. They are slow hauntings that lead towards huge catastrophes. What our heroes have to do is cross the streams – to get both ghosts to follow them, and clash, in the hopes to destroying each other and sparing the living.

Monday, October 23, 2017

The Halloween List: Dog Soldiers and Area 51



Area 51 (2015)

This is the part of October where I defend Found Footage movies. This is a niche of Horror that I continue to enjoy. Sometimes one is truly awful (see: The Pyramid), but somewhere amid making the camera part of a character, letting us see the environment in ways we otherwise couldn’t, and the tease of where antagonism will come from, this approach to filmmaking gets past my defenses in ways even excellent traditional film can’t. Googling around, it seems Area 51 is universally reviled. But I had a surprisingly good time.

Yup. It’s another case of John liking an unpopular Found Footage flick!

Friday, October 20, 2017

The Halloween List: The Bird With The Crystal Plumage, Bay of Blood, and Blood and Black Lace


The Bird With The Crystal Plumage (1970)

These movies have been my first exposure to Italian Giallo, a sub-genre that feels like an evolutionary link between Murder Mysteries and Slasher Films. The Bird With The Crystal Plumage follows Sam Dalmas, an American writer living abroad in Italy, who one night stumbles across an attempted murder inside a museum. Although he’s trapped in the antechamber, he manages to call the police, and then has to wait, just feet away from a woman he can’t help further.

Shockingly, the victim survives passing out from her injuries. More shockingly: she isn’t the only assault victim to live through the movie. The Bird With The Crystal Plumage doesn’t view death like a contemporary film. People survive reasonable injuries, and people like the writer are haunted by what they see. Death isn’t easy to achieve, and it’s also too weighty to shrug off. Sam can’t forget the horrible imagery, and spends the rest of his time in Italy trying to track down the attacker where the police have failed.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

The Halloween List: Final Destination and "Death Note"

Final Destination (2000)

This is a series I utterly missed out on in the 2000s because I was stuck-up. How lazy was it to ditch a proper Slasher killer and use an invisible hand of Death itself?

Not lazy at all, actually. The movie follows a teen whose vision of his flight exploding causing him and a few friends to leave. The plane does explode, and our teen becomes a suspect of the bombing. Meanwhile, the teens begin to die in a series of ludicrously complicated coincidences. The first features a kid slipping on water from a leaking toilet, falling into a bath tub where his neck catches on wire, and spilling shampoo under his feet so he can’t stand up. It quickly becomes apparent that Death itself is after the survivors, seeking to fix what went awry in its plan.

It’s a fun idea that fits right into the classic Slasher formula with one major change. Slashers historically thrive on either having a killer with a strong personality, or on having the identity of the killer be a mystery. Here instead we have a killer that is as absent as it is present, and one that uses entirely unconventional.

A friend called it “Rube Goldberg’s Death Traps,” and that’s apt, because the fun lies in trying to guess what things in a room are going to wind up being dangerous. Is turning on the record player going to lead to her demise? Is the electrical outlet going to short out at the right moment?

Monday, October 16, 2017

The Halloween List: The Devil's Candy, The Disappointments Room, and Lake Mungo


The Devil’s Candy (2015)

A family of Metal Heads move to a remote farm house and run into the same demon that killed the previous tenants. It’s a demon that loves the arts; it manipulated the love of music of the previous tenants’ son, and now works its way into the new tenants’ father.

My favorite facet of the movie is that the Metal Heads aren’t hard-drinking freaks; they’re misfits, sure, but they love each other, drive a cheap station wagon, and screw up in relatable ways. As they move into their idyllic little house, our soundtrack is screaming Metal. What they do is make their aesthetic feel mundane and human. It’s delightful to see the music culture applied to different life styles.

Metal Heads are people, too. And like all people, they occasionally have to repel the assault of a serial killer who hears the same voices as their father. 

The movie ramps up well after they family sets down their roots. The father, a painter of morbid art, starts feeling “the inspiration” – but an inspiration all too close to what led the previous tenant to go murderous. As the father paints disturbing scenes that even his family thinks are weird, the old killer reappears, confused how anyone else could live there. There’s high tension as both the killer and father stir up, like two kettles on one stove, and you just hope for the sake of the family that they don’t both boil over.

I’ve been harsh on most of the IFC releases that I’ve seen, but between this and Apartment 143, I’m going to have to give their catalog another look.

Friday, October 13, 2017

The Halloween List: Raw and The Void


Raw (2017) (AKA Grave)

Julia Ducournau’s gift to us from French-Belgian cinema, a riveting and intimate portrait of a vegetarian who has her first bite of meat and suddenly can’t stop craving more. It’s an abrupt addiction, not a satire mocking vegetarians, but a pathological Horror story about her descent.

Justine is just starting at a veterinary school with harsh hazing rituals. Her bed is tossed out her window, and she has to crawl on her knees through the courtyard, and her seniors force her to swallow a rabbit kidney. Ever afterward she finds herself ravenous, and biting into meat on a shish kabob makes her forget the rest of the world exists. Those cravings quickly darken as she watches boys around campus. As a vegetarian, she argued human life wasn’t any more sacred than that of animals. If anything, she’s consistent.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

The Halloween List: It Comes at Night and The Autopsy of Jane Doe



It Comes at Night (2017)



No movie in 2017 more understands what film doesn’t have to do than It Comes at Night. It opens on a family putting down their terminally ill grandfather and burning his body in the wilderness. We don’t know what his disease is, but he is in awful shape and they are terrified of touching him.

Then we follow the family back to their boarded up house in the woods, seemingly with no one else around. They only go outside in pairs. They have strict protocols for locking and unlocking their doors. When a stranger shows up at their house in the middle of the night, they treat it with a terrified coolness, both clearly rattled that someone is out there, and forcing themselves to focus.

Monday, October 9, 2017

The Halloween List: A Trip to the 70s with Duel, Frenzy, and Picnic at Hanging Rock


Duel (1971)

That Steven Spielberg sure earned his career. This was the movie that earned him Jaws, but rather than the tale of a shark, it’s one long car chase that’s truly harrowing. A salesman is out trying to make a meeting in another state when he tries to pass a slow moving truck; the truck responds by pulling ahead of him, then slowing down again. It’s a moment of impatience and tension a lot of us have driven through, but it begins a game of cat and mouse, out in the middle of nowhere, where no one can help him.

Especially for a 1970s made-for-TV movie, Duel is masterful. How do you keep such a simple film from getting visually boring? He films the cars from all angles, and ___ gives a riveting performance as a man falling behind the wheel. The use of music is sparing, often subtle, elevate the rumble of engines and the wind of the wilderness. The movie always knows when to take you in closer to our driver, or when to focus on the enigma of the truck. We never see the man that’s chasing us. There’s only his titanic vehicle.

Friday, October 6, 2017

The Halloween List: Killer Dolls! Annabelle: Creation and The Cult of Chucky



Annabelle: Creation (2017)

A serious step up from the first Annabelle, and a film that generally feels closer to the universe of The Conjuring. This is a prequel explaining the tragedy in a doll maker’s family that led to the creation of the eponymous toy, and why it was possessed. After the loss of their daughter, the family opens their house as an orphanage, and we follow Janice, a disabled girl who keeps finding clues that something is amiss in their house.

One of the biggest differences between the first and Creation is that so much more happens in this movie. Both the exploration of the house and creepy events fill much more of the film, giving the kids and their loyal nun attendant agency and investment. It also holds just enough back, such as the creepy well in the back of the property, which merely has to exist in the background of a few scenes and leave you waiting for something awful to come out of it.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

The Halloween List: The Transfiguration and A Dark Song


The Transfiguration (2017)

I was utterly unprepared for this movie. It was an amazing get for Netflix, which scooped the film up from Cannes and recently released it on its streaming service. It’s the sort of highly poignant thing we can’t get enough of in Horror.

Milo is many things. A high school student. A son whose mother died when he was young, and whose father is long gone. He’s a serial killer who has no idea what to do with his compulsions.

Most of all, Milo is a fan of vampires. He thinks he is one, and uses their sanguine lore to rationalize his impulses and how strange he feels. He doesn’t fit in anywhere; his older brother offers no empathy, and he can’t communicate with the gangs that dominate his block. Instead he hides in his room, watching Nosferatu and Lost Boys. His notebooks are full of diagrams and lists of lore, figuring out how different vampires worked, as he tries to figure out why he is the way he is.

Monday, October 2, 2017

The Halloween List: Get Out and Gerald's Game


Get Out (2017)

Surely you’ve heard of Get Out by now. The movie about an African American dating a white girl, and going to visit her parents in their creepy gated community? Where black people have been disappearing, and later reappearing as meek  community members without any memory of their old identities?

If you didn’t know, it’s good.

I was unfair to Get Out at the cinema. I made the mistake of reading writer/director Jordan Peele’s artist’s statements about how this movie would subvert tropes like why protagonists never leave the house. Artist’s statements are dangerous, and the movie doesn’t give compelling reasons for its hero to not get the hell out of there.

But there’s no reason to get hung up on details like that unless you’re holding a grudge against a film’s creators, and Jordan Peele did a hell of a job on this movie. Even in the theater, with my petty biases, I was utterly won over by the end of the movie, which has one of the most satisfying series of reveals and knockdowns in Horror history. It keeps unfolding all its mysteries and gives people some necessary receipts.

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