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Monthly Archives: March 2013

Beyond the Black Rainbow (2010): Logan’s Amble

Beyond the Black Rainbow (Panos Cosmatos, 2010)

 

photo credit: Dread Central

If you have clue one what’s going on in this poster before you actually see the movie, you’re way ahead of where I was…

Panos Cosmatos is George’s son, and if you remember nothing else about George P. Cosmatos, he’s the guy who directed the immortal Tombstone. Which gives his kid some purt’big shoes to fill. (Unless you remember that George P. was also responsible for some of the eighties’ most brainless action pictures, culminating in the godawful—but ridiculously watchable—Stallone vehicle Cobra.) I’d like to say that Panos’ first feature, Beyond the Black Rainbow, does it. But, well…

 

photo credit: Bloody Disgusting

“You’re free to leave whenever you like. But the rest of the world doesn’t have chairs NEARLY as cool as the one you’re sitting in right now.”

Plot: we start off with a TV ad for Arboria, a Utopia-style community founded in the sixties by New Age-y guru Mercurio Arboria (Earthquake!‘s Scott Hylands). Fast-forward a couple of decades, and, well, Arboria is almost deserted. In fact, as far as we can tell, its only inhabitants are Arboria, now in his dotage; Barry Nyle (The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford‘s Michael Rogers), who rules the place with an iron fist, and his mother Rosemary (The Exorcism of Emily Rose‘s Marilyn Norry); Barry’s assistant Margo (Mermaid‘s Rondel Reynoldson—I’m assuming Cosmatos’ direction to make-up artist Kyla Rose Tremblay was “make her look as much like a high school lunch lady as possible”); and Elena (The Big Year‘s Eva Allan), a teen about whom we know absolutely nothing throughout the film; while Barry tells her bits about herself, specifically about her parentage, we find out very quickly that Barry is, to put it mildly, the most unreliable of narrators.

photo credit: Rotten Tomatoes

“Look who’s crawling up my wall…black and hairy, very small…”

 

You may contend that what’s in that last paragraph isn’t a plot at all, and I’m not going to argue. A plot does eventually appear—in the last seventeen minutes of the film—and Netflix, in their infinite wisdom, chose to highlight that seventeen minutes in its description, which sets up some pretty unreasonable expectations on the part of the viewer. I don’t think Cosmatos, who also wrote the script, was in any way interested in plot, though. I think he was interested in creating a nostalgia piece, an homage to early-seventies sci-fi-psychedelia flicks like THX-1138 and Solyaris, both of which are clear influences on the look, feel, and especially sound of Beyond the Black Rainbow. It’s a very, very beautiful movie, full of bold colors and that sort-of futurist look that seventies sci-fi movies figured the world would have by 1983 (I’m not entirely sure the movie is set specifically in 1983, but the two pieces of recognizable music on the soundtrack, Venom’s “Angel Dust” and SSQ’s “Anonymous”, which plays over the end titles, were both released in 1983, if memory serves [discounting Venom’s early “Angel Dust” demo, which didn’t see the light of day until the nineties]). In this aspect, the movie is simply pitch-perfect. It is an absolutely lovely nostalgia trip for anyone who grew up on that stuff.

But—and this is a big, big “but”—that plotline does creep in at the end, and when the viewer examines that aspect of the film, Cosmatos fails. Miserably. We get seventeen minutes of actual action, and oh my sheep-shearing, the incredible potential contained within those seventeen minutes!—and then the movie just ends. (Hearing SSQ on a movie soundtrack for the first time since, IIRC, 1985 assuaged my frustration, but not nearly enough.) That second bit could have, and should have, easily been as long as the first. The movie would have stretched to Bollywod-length, but who cares? Cosmatos throws us the bones of what could have been a really solid action thriller, and then does nothing with them. I think I actually yelled at the screen when the end credits started rolling, after that admittedly beautiful final shot that tied up no loose ends at all.

It is a film that is well worth watching, but be prepared for endless frustration. ** ½ 

 

Official trailer.

Needles and Sins (2007): Carry Out My Sentence, I Get What I Deserve

John Everson, Needles and Sins (Necro Publications, 2007)

photo credit: tower.com

“Suction please, nurse.”

You’ve read the reviews. You may have even already read Charlee Jacob’s intro. You don’t need me to tell you that Needles and Sins is a barnburner, the kind of book of horror shorts that will keep you up at night munching on chips and finishing just one more story the same way EverCrack had you finishing just one more quest. So what am I going to do different? Everyone else is focusing on the horror stories here. And they’re good, though I’m not quite sure some of them are all they’re cracked up to be (“Mutilation Street”, in particular, which Jacob singles out in her intro, strikes me as a gimmicky one-trick pony that could have been so much more than it is). I’m going to focus on the two non-horror stories here, which are, perhaps not coincidentally, the two stories that kick this book up from being good to being in the realm of Greg Gifune good and Vincent Sakowski good and Thomas Ligotti good and Richard-Christian-Matheson-when-he-wrote-“Red” good.

Read the rest of this entry

Devil in the Flesh (1998): The Bad Seed Grows Older (If Not Up)

Devil in the Flesh (Steven Cohen, 1998)

 

photo credit: Wikipedia

“I was young! I needed the money!”

The whole “erotic thriller” thing is a movie that manages about one pearl for every thousand swine. Not that it stops studios from pumping them out like M&Ms. The late nineties were an especially fertile breeding ground for the erotic thriller, and pretty much all of them were awful. Case in point: Devil in the Flesh, which has as its only selling point these days a nubile Rose McGowan looking quite delectable. Too bad the rest of the movie doesn’t measure up.

photo credit: stomptokyo.com

“You think this is good, you should see me with a four-wood!”

Plot: after some nastiness at her old school, Debbie Strand (McGowan, recently of the Conan the Barbarian remake) is sent by the state’s foster care system to live with her grandmother (Imitation of Life‘s Peg Shirley). No sweat, she thinks, until she finds out the grandmother is a crazy religious nut who expects Debbie to be her personal slave girl. Worse, she’s also got a couple of detectives (Wag the Dog‘s Phil Morris and Gigli‘s Robert Silver) nosing around trying to figure out what happened at her former school. All that fades into the background, though, when she sets eyes on hunky Peter Rinaldi (Conspiracy Theory‘s Alex McArthur), an English teacher at her new school. Debbie sets her sights on Peter, and god help anyone who gets in her way…

photo credit: histoiredelisbonne.blogspot.com

“Yeah, but wait till you see how I peel it!”

To put it simply: this is ridiculous. The script tries to marry horror story with teen sex comedy and does neither with any competence. The acting is baseline, but barely that; given the talent assembled for this movie, I have to give director Steve Cohen grudging respect for being enough of a director to get this entire cast to act this badly. And the erotic aspects of the script are… well, nonexistent would be the best way to describe them.

Unless you’re a huge fan of someone who was involved in this production (I watched it solely because of Wendy Robie, who was in it for far too little time), you should not only pass it up, but flee screaming in terror. *

 

WARNING: this is not an official trailer, and it contains major spoilers. But it’s the trailer that SHOULD have been, starting right about the title card that says “a flaming shit-pile of a film.” Truer words, etc.

Monsters (2010): Down Mexico Way

Monsters (Gareth Edwards, 2010)

 

photo credit: notanotherscreenwritingblog.blogspot.com

Do-o-o-o-o-own in Ju-u-u-u-u-ungle…laaaaaaaaaaaaaaand!

The BAFTA-nominated Monsters is a very, very good film that a lot of people didn’t seem to get. There’s a lot of venom directed at this movie on the IMDB boards. A lot of folks are passing it off as mismarketing, but having read between the lines here, I’m going to advance a little hypothesis: many, many people went into this movie expecting a ripoff of District 9. It is nothing of the sort, and they are therefore displeased. Don’t be that guy.

photo credit: notjustnewmovies.com

Do you think perhaps Edwards was making a comment on the proposed US-Mexico border wall here? Naaaaaah…

Plot: six years ago, a probe returning from Jupiter’s moon Europa crash-landed in Mexico. It was not alone. Fast-forward to the present, and aliens have turned northern Mexico, previously a desert wasteland, into a steamy tropical jungle where humans don’t go if they value their lives, for the most part—not only because the area is inhabited by aliens, but because the American and Mexican governments have been waging war on them the entire time. Through a long series of misadventures (which is not at all wasted, as it sets up the character dynamics for the rest of the film), photojournalist Andrew Kaulder (Argo‘s Scoot McNairy), who’s been hired to chaperone heiress/tourist Samantha Wynden (All the Boys Love Mandy Lane‘s Whitney Able), finds himself having to cross the infected zone to get her back to America.

photo credit: bigfanboy.com

“I dunno WHAT it is… but I’m gonna shoot at it!”

All of which should tell you that what you’re looking at is a road movie (with a romance subplot) that happens to contain monsters, not that the monsters are the center of the action as they were in District 9. If it helps, think of it more as a zombie movie; it’s structured more like one than it is a traditional monster movie, in that it focuses more on the humans and their interaction than it does on the external bad guys. (Though I haven’t yet found a way to use the aliens as a parallel to consumerism. If anything, they’re the opposite—they’re actually improving the world through terraforming.) One way or the other, however, it is very much above the average flick, and very much worth seeing if you get a chance. *** ½

 

Trailer!

Dread Father (2013): From the Depths of the Black Marsh

Mehrunes Dagon, Dread Father (self-released/bandcamp, 2013)

photo credit: bandcamp

All the Dread Magnificence of Bloodgrass…

Dread Father can be had for free at bandcamp; it’s a name-your-price download. But you know what? I paid for it anyway, though I paid a pittance (and I feel bad about how little I gave ’em, to be honest). Why? Because they deserve more for this incredible little five-song EP.

The easy way out would be to tag Mehrunes Dagon (for those not up on your role-playing geekery, Mehrunes Dagon is the name of one of the daedra (demonic) princes in the Elder Scrolls series of CRPGs) as stoner metal; they definitely wear their Clutch- and Kyuss-loving hearts on their sleeves throughout most of this demo. But “Mysterium Xarxes,” the initial track, reminds me a lot of Maurce de Jong’s various projects (especially Aderlating); it’s much more keyboardy and dark-ambient, with a long sample from Anton LaVey’s infamous 1968 album The Satanic Mass running through it (a fun little twist, as Mysterium Xarxes is the name of Mehrunes Dagon’s holy book in the Elder Scrolls games, while LaVey, in the sample, is reading from The Satanic Bible). Meanwhile, the center track, “Deadlands”, has the kind of psychedelic hard-rock/throwback bent that puts me in mind of Ghost (now Ghost B.C.)’s Opus Eponymous album from a couple of years ago. This is not a one-dimensional piece of work at all, and that is much to its creators’ credit.

If you’re a fan of stoner metal, this is a no-brainer, but others would not be doing themselves a disservice checking this out, either; you can stream the entire thing free while deciding whether or not you want to download. (Note for the easily-offended: as should be obvious from the above, this is overtly and unapologetically Satanic, so if you have a problem with that, pass it by.)

 

Because I couldn’t resist: a let’s-play video from The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim that shows how to get to the Shrine of Mehrunes Dagon (which is almost bloody impossible in Skyrim unless you know exactly where you’re going, and that damn Clairvoyance spell doesn’t help one bit) and what you have to do to score Mehrune’s Razor, which despite being kinda nerfed in the last two games is still one of the most powerful artifact daggers you can wield. ([font=”cranky old man”]But in my day, sonny, back in Morrowind… now THAT was a dagger…[/font])

Mila 2.0 (2013): The Worst Spoilers Are Those on the Book Jacket

Debra Driza, Mila 2.0 (Katherine Tegen Books, 2013)

Full disclosure: this book was provided to me free of charge by Amazon Vine.

 

photo credit: deadline.com

Though I have to admit it’s a cool cover.

The biggest problem I have with Mila 2.0 has not thing one to do with the manuscript that Debra Driza turned in, and for that I am heartily sorry. You see, Driza spends the first circa 100 pages of Mila 2.0 trying to keep secret what thoughtless copywriters and marketing agents—not to mention more than one reviewer—trumpet on the book jacket, in its ad campaign, etc., which by default makes it no longer a spoiler that our titular heroine is, shall we say—not to be spoily myself in case you have somehow managed to miss all that—not exactly what she seems to be.

(non-spoilery) Plot: Mila and her mother Nicole have recently relocated to Nowhere, Minnesota, to regroup after a house fire in Philadelphia claimed the life of Mila’s father. Mila hasn’t taken it well, not just for the obvious reasons, but, well, city-kid-in-the-country syndrome is in full swing. Sure, Kaylee, one of the popular girls, has taken Mila under her wing, even if her sarcastic-bitch best friend keeps prophesying doom on that relationship, and not long after Mila appears, here’s Hunter, an ultra-hunky transfer student from California. Kaylee sets her sights immediately, but Hunter seems to only have eves for Mila, creating a triangle that culminates in the car accident that sets up the remainder of the book—which is where I’ll stop, though you can pick up after that by simply reading the jacket copy, because that car accident reveals the major spoiler emblazoned all over same.

Simply-put: it’s a genre sci-fi-thriller, and as long as you’re okay with the predictability that brings along with it, you’ll find this as enjoyable a ride as I did. The criticisms I’ve read of the book in other reviews all hold water—most of the minor characters are one-dimensional, and some of the majors aren’t much better yet (but I’m assuming they’ll be fleshed out in later volumes, so am not counting off for that at all), the plot never goes anywhere an astute reader wouldn’t expect it to, etc.—but I’m okay with all that. This is meant to be a quick, fun read, and it delivers. ***

The King in Yellow (1895): If I Had Not Caught a Glimpse of the Opening Words in the Second Act I Should Never Have Finished It…

Robert W. Chambers, The King in Yellow (Project Gutenberg, 1895)

 

photo credit: Adventures in Nerdliness

…but as I stooped to pick it up my eyes became riveted to the open page.

The King in Yellow is best-remembered these days for being one of the seminal works behind the formation of the style of H. P. Lovecraft. Well, part of it, anyway (more on that later); as such, it’s must-reading for Lovecraft fans, and its current public-domain status means it can be had for free from Gutenberg, not to mention the many, many companies who take Gutenberg tracts and repackage them (usually also for free, but be wary of paying for a Gutenberg file!) to circulate at Amazon, B&N, and other web outlets. Hey, free is a wonderful thing. And the unprepared Lovecraftian may appreciate that, given the dual nature of the book.

The King in Yellow is divided into two sections. The first is the one the shallower Lovecraft fans are going to want to read, a series of loosely-connected (sometimes very loosely-connected) stories centering around the titular tome, the first part of which, we are told, is deadly dull, but the second part of which is capable of either driving people mad or gifting them with unimaginable power. (Or, possibly, both.) At least, most of them are; the first clue you’ll find that the thing is not a thematic whole is “The Demoiselle d’Ys”, a (this is a minor spoiler, but only a minor one; most modern readers will pick up on it immediately, though readers in 1895 may not have) parallel-time story that has nothing at all to do with The King in Yellow. Then comes the second half of the book, which is entirely different. It, too, is a series of loosely-connected vignettes, this one concerning an artists’ enclave in Paris. The stories are much more realistic, slice-of-life pieces about young passion, artistry, and war (one might argue that Chambers—almost supernaturally, if one believes in that sort of thing…presaged the devastation of Paris twenty years later in “The Street of the First Shell”). There is a minor connection between the two parts, in that the protagonists of most of these stories are artists of some form or another, but one would do well to simply consider them separate cycles brought together for the purposes of coming up with a full-length, publishable manuscript.

This is not to say the Paris cycle is in any way inferior to the King in Yellow stories. In fact, as much as I liked those, and would be thrilled to find myself a package cruise that would swing by Carcosa and Lake Hastur, I have to say I ended up liking the Paris cycle better; perhaps because Chambers was striving for more realistic tales, his characters are somewhat better-drawn, and (oddly; one would think this true of the supernatural characters) quirkier, more individual. They sometimes do irrational things, but at no point does one equate “irrational” with “out of character”, and that’s a lesson any number of writers would do well to learn. This is good stuff indeed, and stands equal to any number of solid short story collections published since. Check it out (for free!). *** ½

 

It seems there is also a free audiobook version, and you can find it in two parts on Youtube!