Sunday, December 2, 2012

Rabies / Kalevet (2010)



Director: Aharon Keshales, Navot Papushado
Writers: Aharon Keshales, Navot Papushado
Genre:  Human horror, black comedy
Recommended to: Fans of unconventional foreign horror films
Characters:
                Tali and Ofer – Sister and brother– Ofer’s sister
                The Killer
                Menashe – The ranger
                Adi, Shir, Mikey, Pini – The tennis players
                Danny, Yuval – The cops
Synopsis:
While fleeing through the forest, Tali stumbles into one of the killer’s traps. Ofer seeks help from the four tennis players, the police are called and a park ranger comes to her rescue. Chaos ensues.

The Ramble:
Famous (infamous?) for being the first Israeli horror film (and really, what took so long), Rabies is absolutely nothing like I expected, and, sadly, that makes it very hard to talk about as half the fun is seeing how the film unfolds. I will say this about the plot – the killer is taken out of action very early in the film; the real conflict comes as the fears and insecurities of the “normal” people. Yes, there is a body count, but not one is at the hands of the film’s nominal villain.

I really enjoyed Rabies. It is a dark and pessimistic commentary on humanity (with some political overtones as well), but even without that it would have much to offer genre fans. It is very well directed and edited, often surprising this horror veteran with the timing and methods of the kills. My only hesitation in recommending this is the number of vehemently negative reviews I’ve seen on the internet, which seem to have been expecting a more traditional slasher film. If the framing of expectations really is the culprit here, then I would say to remove them completely, because I simply haven’t seen anything like this before.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Everyone Must Die (2012)



Director: Steve Rudzinski
Writers: Steve Rudzinski, Derek Rothermund
Genre: Comedy Horror (Slasher)
Recommended to: Any fan of slasher film with a good sense of humor and tolerance for the eccentricities of budget film making.
Characters:
MC Pink (Seth Joseph)
Jennie (Nicole Beattie)
Pete (Steve Rudzinski)
Wanda (Aleen Isley)
Kyle (Nick Lamantia)
Guy (Zoltan Zilai)
Carol (Rebecca Campbell)
News Reporter (Clifford Lynch)
The Killer 

Synopsis:

A slasher's rampage across the USA is brutally stopped, but the brother of one of his victims doesn't believe the carnage has ended, and sets his mind to revenge.
  
The Ramble:

(Note: Forgive me, it is late, and I have already packed away my copy of the DVD. The film premiered this evening, with much of the cast and crew in attendance. I suck at remembering names and so there are some people who won't get credit until I can edit this later.)
 
I didn't get this film at first. I was expecting a straight homage to a slasher film, and that isn't what this film is. That was my mistake, but eventually its weirdly perverse humor bubbled through my thick skull and I ended up having a blast.

The clever conceit of the film is that this could be the fourth or fifth installment of a long running franchise. We pick up at what could be the final moments of the prior chapter, the killer seemingly stopped, for good this time. But we know the genre, we know the formula, we know the killer is alive and so does Kyle, the brother of one of the victims who vows to stop the nameless killer when he next surfaces (a plot element Steve Rudzinski readily confesses to stealing from F13 pt IV).  Kyle is pointed in the right direction by a distressed newsman (a charmingly quirky performance by Clifford Lynch) who's "seen this before."

We then cut to a pair of couples on a camping trip. Again we're following the formula, and at this point I'm still expecting this to be a straight horror film. The couples, again typical of the genre, comprise of four people  that I could not imagine being friends in real life. And to say they are two dimensional characters would probably add an extra dimension to them. There is MC Pink (a white rapper) who always speaks in rhyme, the info-dumping know-it-all nerd, the new age dimwit, and Carol the girlfriend. 

I was initially disappointed to see such thin, stock characters, but as the scene wears on, and the dialogue fell into a rhythm of escalating ridiculousness, it finally sank that the joke was on me. I finally got that it was a comedy first and foremost, and Rudzinski and Rothermund were having a blast with stock characters (with a very fun twist that I won't spoil).

Again, if you've seen a slasher film you know the fate of these characters, which brings us to the next group of twentysomethings, most of which again could be described in a single sentence and one of them has a personal obsession so absurd, it serves as a giant flag that the writers understand how silly it all is. 

It is very hard to review a film like this for two reasons. First, it is hard to discuss the gags without spoiling them. Second, it is a very low budget film, shot in just five days with a newly minted cast and crew, and all that does show on the screen. There are sound issues, unpolished performances, weak fight choreography and so forth, but none of that matters because the film is flat out clever and fun. 

Rudzinkski and Rothermund clearly know their genre films. They have fun with horror conventions throughout (most delightful to me being the handling of cell phones), and the film is sprinkled with funny and often absurd dialogue.

The cast also throw themselves into their parts, and milk the absurd characters for all they are worth. The gags are delivered well and resist the temptation to toss a wink to the audience.  Each character gets their moment, which I attribute to a well balanced script and an unselfish cast. 

Everyone Must Die was a delight and I highly recommend it to anyone looking for something new and different.




   

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Bitches

(Spoilers below for The Walking Dead, Breaking Bad, the Sopranos, and Sons of Anarchy, but I tried to keep the details to a minimum).

Anyone else noticing there's some undeserving hate going on for the female leads on some very good shows? The two I'm thinking of in particular are Lori Grimes (The Walking Dead) and Skyler White (Breaking Bad).

Look I get the "bitch problem." Writers have long known, and feminists have long complained, that strong women often get slapped with the b-label. Of course, many times they were supposed to be bitches - I empathize, and I don't think its new, but what's unusual in this case is that I don't think the show runners intend for them to be bitches, like, say, Joan Collins on Dynasty,  Jessica Lange on American Horror Story, or all the women of Desperate Housewives. Heck, those characters became popular because of their bitchiness. But poor Lori and Skyler, their "fans" hate them. 


 Let's start with Lori Grimes. The Walking Dead has been a huge hit for AMC, featuring some great zombie gore, morally complex situations, and some very solid characters, yet its most popular and persistant meme is "we hate Lori" (Google count: 17,600) Why?

Honestly, I can see some of the complaints. The writers have had issues with handling some characters, and sometimes they have the characters do stupid things to move the story forward. In this case, its the fact that Lori just can't keep Carl out of trouble. But is that the cause of the hate? Probably not.

The one thing many people come back to is her affair with Shane. The writers definately hurt her case here - they never told us how much time had passed, making it seem like Lori couldn't wait for the zombocalypse to bone her husband's deputy. They also changed the relationship - in the comic, it was a one time roll in the grass. On the show, they're acting like newlyweds. But when Rick shows up alive she drops Shane faster than Dale can pass judgement, and turns icy cold towards him. In her defense, she thinks Shane lied to her, and Shane is a bit of a nutjob. It doesn't help that in debates she often vacillates between Rick and Shane's side of an argument. I think that can be explained by her own conflicted emotions over what she did, but I can see how it would frustrate the audience.

Then there's Skyler White. I was honestly surprised to find how many fans hate Skyler (Google count: 23,700). Woman's in a tough bind - just gave birth in her 40s, son has cerebral palsy, husband gets cancer, and after months of lying, she discovers he's slinging meth. By the fifth season she is clearly falling apart. I feel nothing but sympathy for her, but again, she's "a bitch". I get her son feeling this way (he even says it to her), but he doesn't know what a giant bastard Daddy has become. But the audience should know better.

The easy answer here is that she too had an affair. Critics point out she had the affair knowing her husband was dying of cancer. But this was in the third season of the show. The cancer was in remission and she had discovered the truth about Walt. She was angry for his lies, terrified for the danger he put her children in, and frustrated Walt wouldn't grant a divorce or separation. She sleeps with her boss for one reason - revenge. It is the one and only way she can get back at Walter, and hopefully push him into granting the divorce.  Sure, sleeping with a guy for revenge is pretty much the definition of bitch, but given the circumstances, how can you blame her?

Support for the "affair" argument can be found in one of the Queen Bitches of television: Carmella Soprano. In a show filled with unsympathetic characters she was one of the most hated. And while she never actually had an affair while with Tony (she "dated" during a trial separation), she sure put  the moves on Father Phil and henchman Furio. But then, her husband was a serial philanderer and a crime boss - doesn't that get her any slack?

In contrast, the Gemma Teller-Morrow, the "Old Lady" of Clay Morrow, President of the SAMCRO motorcycle club in Sons of Anarchy. Now here's a character who would probably be proud to get "bitch" tattooed on her bosom. When we first meet her, she threatens the mother of her grandchild. She is a fierce manipulative... well, bitchBut fans seem to love her (Google search for I hate Gemma: 232). The network even sells shirts asking "What would Gemma do?"

So what's the difference? 

The easy answer is that Gemma is also fiercely loyal to her husband, her son, her grandchildren, and to the club. She stands by her men, where Lori, Skyler and Carmella did not. Of course, we later find out that she was probably sleeping with Clay before her first husband died, but we never met him, so the betrayal doesn't matter. Besides we don't learn that until late in the series.

So is that it then? We will like the women so long as they don't stray? It would certainly play into common feminist critiques. I certainly think its a factor, but allow me to propose another.

I said earlier that these shows share a certain moral ambiguity. Three of them are about criminals, and the last, the Walking Dead, is about surviving an apocalypse.  Viewers tune into these shows with certain expectations, and will forgive things that allow them to see what they tuned in for. We certainly want to see Rick and Shane kill some zombies. We route for Walt to go deeper into the criminal underworld. We expect Tony Soprano to be a glamorized mob boss. And therein lies our problem - Lori, Skyler and Carmella all are working at cross purposes with the audience.

Remember how I said Lori only had one impulsive shag with Shane in the comics? Well, in the comics, Shane was also a much bigger ass hole, and he died much earlier. The whole affair thing was a comparatively minor point. And fans still  hated her. Why? I think in large part it was because she kept reminding Rick of his duty to be a good father, to protect his son, to not risk his life needlessly - which is exactly what a good wife and mother probably should do. But of course, that's not what fans want. Fans don't want to watch a Rick Grimes that plays it safe for his family. We want him out there risking his life, shooting zombies, and if he hands Carl a gun and takes him along, so much the better. We don't want Lori tossing a wet blanket on our fun.

Over on Breaking Bad, Skyler is trying her best to save her family from a husband who keeps pissing off drug lords. If this was your sister, I guarantee you'd be telling her to get away from him. But we're watching for Walter. We're rooting for Walter. We've watched Walter do some horrible, horrible things for his family and now she wants to take them away? Even worse, she wants to take him out of the meth business. Why? So we can watch 3 seasons of teaching Junior to drive? No, if Skyler wins, the show is over. Our fun is over.

Carmella? Sorta the same, just deeper. After all, from the start we know she's complicit with Tony's actions, even his affairs. She knew who she was when she married with him. She knew about the women. That was her choice, and ours. But later she wants out - she wants Tony out. But we don't want to see Tony Soprano, suburban father. Even worse she spends a good part of the series condemning what Tony does while embracing the comforts that gives her. She wants all the benefit without taking the blame. No one likes a hypocrite.

And Gemma? Yep, she supports her husband, son and gang. And while she rarely gets directly involved in the "club business" we tune in for, she does some seriously Machiavelli shit to make sure that we'll keep getting what we want. She not only doesn't work against the audience, she's joining in the fun.

I don't want to minimize the infidelity issue or the double standard applied to female characters. I just think the "wet blanket" factor compounds the "mistakes" that turns fans against them. If writers don't want us to hate these characters (and to be fair, there are times when they do), they need to take greater care not to pit them against their audience. I've seen many fans wishing that Skyler would just join in the meth business and stop complaining. Of course, there's just eight episodes left so its a little late for her. But Lori? She still has time. She could have years left on the show. Maybe letting her have a gun and blow away a zombie or two would help audiences warm to her. At the very least, have her helping in Carl's training rather than shield him, support and encourage Rick's leadership, rather than keep him home. The absolute last thing the writers want is for audiences to cheer if and when her time comes.   


Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Supernatural Rewatch: Season 2

Supernatural was coming into its own at the end of the first season, and its great to see that the creators didn't drop the ball going into the sophomore year. The series starts with a bold move, killing off John Winchester. This event will reverberate through the season, as the boys not only cope with their fathers death, but it also introduces the Winchesters' penchant for bargaining their lives away in order to protect their family.

Even though the search for daddy was officially over, the Yellow Eyed Demon was still around, and his plans for Sam moved to center stage. Picking up the thread introduced in "Nightmare" we discover Sam is one of hundreds of potential leaders for a demon army, destined to fight Highlander style until there is just one left standing. We meet more psychics in "Simon Said" and "Hunted" but the real grist for the story mill comes from Sam's self doubt and Dean's burdens.

Sam's arc plays out well in the end, but along the way I had doubts. He seems too ready to believe he'll turn evil, without much reason for it. There are also a few too many episodes that deal with his conflict in a heavy handed manner ("Heart" being a prime example). Dean's arc feels more natural, perhaps because it doesn't get the spotlight until the end of the season. But when the time comes, I had no trouble believing that he would take the drastic measures he does.

This season also introduces us to characters and plotlines that will carry over at least another season. Bobby (introduced at the end of season 1), Ellen, Jo, Ash and the Roadhouse serve as common touchstones throughout the season, "Crossroads Blues" gives the brothers a quick way to make a deal with the devil, "Nightshifter" puts FBI Agent Victor Henrikson on the boys' tail following the events of "Skin", twisted hunter Gordon Walker is introduced in "Bloodlust", and "Tall Tales" is the first episode to feature the Trickster. This mythology building goes a long way towards fleshing out the Supernatural universe, and from keeping the series from getting bogged down in a single story arc.

With all of these developments there aren't nearly as many true stand alone episodes as last year. Werewolves, hell hounds, rakshahas, demigods, and djinn join the ghosts, demons, vampires and shifters that theaten our heroes this season. While the budget limitations often shine through here (the werewolves basically have a fright wig, claws and fangs), the point is not so much to create awesome monsters but to let them serve as living metaphors for Sam and Dean's turmoil. The werewolf, for instance, is (rather bluntly) used to illustrate Sam's struggle with his own dark half. It doesn't always work, but the decision to keep the focus on the boys remains the right one more often than not.

In an attempt to pick up ratings, Kripke consciously embraced stunt casting, tapping some familiar genre faces in an attempt to lure in fans. Amber Benson (Buffy the Vampire Slayer), Chris Gauthier (Eureka, Smallville), and Tricia Helfer (Battlestar Galactica) each had significant roles, but the coup was landing Linda Blair (The Exorcist) in the role of a St. Louis detective. One guest they coudn't land was Summer Glau (Firefly, The Sarah Connor Chronicles), originally envisioned as the zombie in "Children Shouldn't Play with Dead Things."

For my money the show's biggest "get" was Tick creator Ben Edlund. Edlund had experience with genre television, having written and produced for both Firefly and Angel, but his best gift is his wicked sense of humor. While Supernatural did not lack for scares, it also ramped up the humor. His touch is evident in the three episodes he scripted - "Simon Said," "Nightshifter," and "Hollywood Babylon", but it is likely no coincidence that other episodes seemed to have a sharper wit than in the first season.

The season ends with "All Hell Breaks Loose," a two part episode that brings the Yellow Eyed Demon and psychic children arc to a close, while laying the ground work for season three. If you don't know what happens, there's no sense in spoiling it here. Suffice it to say the wrap up is satisfying, and once again leaves fans on the edge of their lay-z-boys.

Overall this was a very good season that really opened up the series' potential. It managed to both flesh out Sam and Dean as well as the world that they live in. It was also remarkably even in quality - there weren't many jaw dropping shows, nor any that stuck out as being offensively stupid. Picking a top five list and a season stinker proved difficult, but here they are:

Top Five Episodes From Season 2:

2.8 "Crossroad Blues": I love the Robert Johnson legend, so this was right up my alley. Invisible hell hounds could have been eye rolling, but good direction and sound design makes them unforgettable. Dean's battle of wits with the demon is a standout.

"Yeah, MySpace, what the hell is that? Seriously, is that like some sort of porn site?"

2.12 "Nightshifter": Conspiracy theories, shape shifters, and a standoff in a bank come together in a show that shifts from hysterically funny to intense and creepy. Gauthier's Ronald is one of the show's best guest characters, and the final scene, played to Styx's "Renegade", is one of the series' best denouements.

"You working for the Mandroid?"

2.15 "Tall Tales": Enter the Trickster. Supernatural's first straight up comedy is flat out funny. Such a tonal shift could have fell flat, but the execution is superb. I'll never hear "Lady in Red" without thinking of this episode.

"They probed me... again and again and again... (drinks)... and again and again and again.... and one more time."

2.18 "Hollywood Babylon": Another comedy, this time filled with injokes for the fans and loaded with barbs aimed at the entertainment industry.

"Not married to salt, what do you want? still sticking with condiments?"
"Just sounds different, not better. What else would a ghost be scared of?"
"Maybe shotguns."
"That makes even less sense than salt."


2.20 "What Is and What Never Should Be": I'm a sucker for alternate realities, so this already had a leg up, but what stands out is how it shifts our perception of Dean from the cool as a cucumber hunter to a guy who just wants a normal life.

"Son? You been drinking?"
" Everybody keeps asking me that. But no."


Season Stinker:
2.13 "Houses of the Holy": It's not terrible, but it is forgettable and as happened so often this season, a bit too on the nose when dealing with Sam's issues. On the other hand it has Dean and the vibrating bed.

"There's a ton of lore on unicorns too. In fact, I hear that they, they ride on silver moonbeams, and they shoot rainbows out of their ass."



  

Thursday, August 9, 2012

The Divide

Director: Xavier Gens

Writers: Karl Mueller, Eron Sheean
Genre: Post Apocalyptic Thriller

Recommended to: People who think people suck
Characters: Eva (Laura German): Our lead, Sam’s girlfriend
                          Sam (Ivan Gonzalez): Eva’s boyfriend
                          Mickey (Michael Biehn): Building super
                          Josh (Milo Ventimiglia): Adrien’s brother
                          Adrien (Ashton Holmes): Josh’s brother, Bobby’s friend
                          Bobby (Michael Eklund): Adrien’s friend
                          Devlin (Courtney B. Vance): Just a guy
                          Marilyn (Rosanna Arquette): Wendi’s mother
                          Wendi (Abbey Thickson): Marilyn’s daughter
                      
Synopsis: Tenants take refuge in their building’s bomb shelter during a nuclear strike, only to find themselves trapped together with dwindling resources and no WiFi.

Ramble:
Spoiler Warning!
The Divide’s best sequence revolves around the abduction of Wendi by mysterious people in biohazard suits. We get a small glimpse of the new world order, and taste an enticing mystery. Then the door gets shut, our characters sealed in, and we wait for them to die. This is what makes it hard for me to recommend the film. We’ve seen such “Lifeboat” stories before (including 90% of the zombie movies ever made), but those usually offer some hope of escape, and some measure of camaraderie among the trapped bastards, but I found the Divide relentlessly pessimistic.

The only character I could sympathize with was Devlin, as he was the one trying to pull them together, the one trying to be proactive, but then he’s dispatched early (and you know why that was), and we just watch the characters rot. I couldn’t even root for Eve, the viewer surrogate, as her most appealing trait was that she wasn’t as awful as the others.
Dramatically we should have had a three way power struggle, with Martin holding onto his stash, the Peter Petrelli trio trying to take over, and Devlin trying to pull the others together for safety. Killing off Devlin leaves the others anchorless, and Martin is too reclusive to be a good foil to the three men. And outside Marilyn’s acknowledgement that sex was her best way to survive, I didn’t find the interpersonal politics all that interesting.

It also hurt that we never again went to the outside. A tantalizing mystery is dangled before us early on, and just dropped. Sure, if this was really happening it makes sense that our characters never learn the truth. But as a viewer it was incredibly frustrating.
The Divide is not a bad film by any measure. It is just dark and bleak and uncomfortable, too much so even for me. Of course not everyone will respond to the characters as I did. If you have an interest in survival stories or post-apocalyptic tales, there is enough here to warrant a viewing. The direction and performances are solid, and there are some very tense and disturbing scenes. If the characters happen click with you, you could very well love this film. 

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Supernatural Rewatch: Season 1

In preparation for a future Dark Discussions podcast, I decided, finally, to revisit Supernatural, starting from the beginning. You see, while I am an unabashed fan of the series, I have never made an effort to revisit episodes as the series has progressed. Buffy, Star Trek, Battlestar - those I would frequently watch and rewatch. But with Supernatural, it was DVR, watch, delete. Perhaps it is because I was a reluctant fan at first, and never expected it to last more than a season or two, or maybe my life has just gotten too busy, or because I keep looking at that huge pile of unwatched DVD's and BluRays, or, most likely, a combination of all of the above.

Anyway, while I was not enthused by the series at first, I am now an unabashed fan, and have managed to miss only one episode in its (so far) seven year run. I don't think that it has ever been the best show on television, it has been one of the most consistently entertaining.

For those who are not fans, the show follows the exploits of a pair of brothers travelling America fighting the things that go bump in the night. It's the latest series to follow in the footsteps of Kolchak: The Night Stalker, continuing where X-Files and Buffy left off. Yet the show is its own thing, featuring more testosterone driven rough and tumble than its kin.

Pilot

"Don't be afraid of the dark? Of course you should be afraid of the dark! You know what's out there!" - Dean

The pilot does what the pilot should, introducing us to Sam and Dean Winchester, their world and their conflict. This is an effective episode, moving swiftly and efficiently despite the dense info dumping, and packing in an effective scare or two.

The first half of the show sets up the series. We see the death of Mother Winchester, which leads John (Dad), Dean and Sam to a life of demon hunting. Flash forward 20 years to find Sam has left "the life" behind, working to get into law school. Dean arrives in the middle of the night to drag Sam him into helping find their father, who has gone missing. This is the most awkard part of the pilot, loaded with exposition, but it works to establish the Supernatural universe, with hints of a world teeming with creatures in dark corners.

"When I told Dad I was afraid of the thing in my closet he gave me a .45."

The remainder of the pilot serves to show what we can expect week in, week out, as Sam and Dean try to banish a "Woman in White" - the series take on the vanishing hitchhiker legend. Very quickly the rules are laid out - the boys know what's what, most civilians do not. They have a trunk full of weapons, live off fraudulent credit cards, and ghosts can be banished by burning their remains. The ghost herself is effectively done, creating a tangible threat out of an intangible entity, and the means used to dispatch her both logical and disturbing. This storyline also gives the boys a chance to find their Dad's old journal, which also features prominantly in the show for the next several seasons.

"Sammy is a chubby twelve year old. I'm Sam."

The core of the show is the relationship between Sam and Dean. Ackles and Padalecki have a genuine fraternal chemistry that sells what the writers are slinging, and this line essentially lays out the relationship - Sam is trying to be his own man, but Dean has trouble thinking of him as anything other than the kid he used to protect. It is this relationship that will drive the series and its mythology for years to come, and the (once) young actors are more than up to the task.

"What I said earlier about Mom and Dad..."
"No chick flick moments!"
"All right... jerk."
"Bitch"

The Winchester fraternity gives the show a texture different from the shows that preceded it.Muldur and Scully sizzled with sexual subtext, Buffy wallowed in teen angst, and Charmed was soaked to the bone with estrogen. Sure the show will have its weepy moments in the future, but these are guys, guys with guns, driving a guy's car, and listening to manly music.

"It's the greatest hits of Mullet Rock."
"Driver picks the music, shotgun shuts his pie hole."


One of the shows signatures is its use of a classic rock soundtrack. This immediately distinguished it from former WB series such as Buffy and Charmed, which often relied on alternative pop ballads (from the Warners label, naturally). Choice cuts in the pilot include Highway to Hell, Back in Black and Ramblin' Man.

Season 1

While the first episode is an effective hook to reel in viewers, the next batch of episodes were mixed, at best. The main story - the quest for John- is put on the back burner (though often referenced) as the boys drive through America killing what ain't right. The emphasis is on the monster of the week, and obvious "homages" to modern monster films only serve to remind the viewer of better things. There are certainly winners in the early mix - Dead in the Water and Skin stand out for me - but had the series continued on this path I suspect it would be short lived.

Episodes 1.9 (Home) and 1.11(Scarecrow) put the series on its feet. In "Home," the boys return back to their home in Lawrence, KS, in the hopes of finding and vanquishing the demon that killed their mother. Though the quest is mostly fruitless, it gives them some clues, brings back both Mom and Dad, and most importantly tells the audience that there will be some forward momentum.

"Scarecrow"expands the storyline further. The nominal A story about a killer scarecrow serves as a metaphor for sacrifice, something that will have greater resonance in coming seasons. More important is Sam's B story, in which he leaves Dean for the first but not last time. In his wanderings to find his father (just how was he going to do this without a car, the journal or any other clues is a mystery), he hooks up with young hitchhiker Meg. As it turns out, Meg is working for "the Demon" and will play an important role.

Most of the remaining episodes continue to move the ball down the field while still providing mostly entertaining monster of the week stories. By this point the writers have realized the monsters work best as metaphors for the brothers and their relationship, so the weekly crisis often dovetails into the larger story arc.

All the pieces come together in the final three tales, "Dead Man's Blood", "Salvation" and "Devil's Trap", as boys are reunited with their father in order to find a holy weapon to vanquish the Yellow Eyed Demon, and culminating in a showdown between Sam and his possessed father.

With viewers still suffering blue balls from X-Files, and scratching their heads over Lost, Supernatural was delivering actual resolutions to their arcs, and doing so in an entertaining fashion. Though there were some rough outings in the early episodes, the series found its footing, and had most of its most important elements in place before the shocking final moment (which had my wife and I wondering if the show had been cancelled!).

Top 5 Episodes From Season 1:

1.3 Dead in the Water: Well told ghost tale that offers little to the mythology but effectively sells the daily horrors the boys are fighting.

I'm Agent Ford, this is Agent Hamill.

1.6 Skin: A solid take on the tried and true "evil doppleganger" tale. I think the first "gross" episode in the series, it is the first to shake up the show's format, and is the first episode since the pilot to have long term ramifications (Dean's official "death").

Well, he's not stupid. He picked the handsome one!

1.12 Faith: First episode to feature Reapers (left unemployed since Dead Like Me was cancelled), and featuring Julie Benz (Buffy, Angel, Dexter). Well shot in sepia tones (to hide bad makeup) the sequence in which a Reaper stalks and kills a jogger is one of the best in the first year.

I'm not gonna die in a hospital when the nurses aren't even hot!

1.20 Dead Man's Blood: Reunites the Wincherster boys with their Dad, gives us the Colt, and our first look at Supernatural's vampires.

Whatever happened to that college fund?
Spent it on ammo.

1.22 Devil's Trap: Season finale is always a cliched pick but in this case its earned. Meeting Bobby, exorcising Meg, the confrontation between Sam and John, and one shocker of a finale - what's not to like?

Oh, we're going for it, baby. Head spinning, projectile vomiting, the whole nine yards.


Season Stinker:

1.13 Route 666:  Admittedly a neat idea of a road haunted by a ghostly truck, but by drapping it in racial metaphor it fails under its own self importance. And if the preachy dialogue wasn't enough, there is a total lack of chemistry between Dean and the supposed love of his life. Strong contender for the worst in the entire series.

 I miss conversations that didn't start with "this killer truck"!

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

The Cabin in the Woods (2009/2012)

Director: Drew Goddard              

Writers: Joss Whedon, Drew Goddard

Genre: Horror-Comedy

Characters:

Dana (Kristen Connolly) – “The Virgin” just getting out of a bad relationship
Jules (Anna Hutchinson) – Dana’s roommate

Curt (Chris Hemsworth) – Jules’ boyfriend

Holden (Jesse Williams) – Jules teammate and potential love interest for Dana
Marty (Fran Kranz) – Jules’ stoner friend

Sitterson (Richard Jenkens) and Hadley (Bradley Whitford) – Project managers

Lin (Amy Acker) – Project chemist

Truman (Brian White) – Security guard

Synopsis: Five college friends spend the weekend at cabin in the woods. Shit happens. People die. Others watch. A genre is upended.

The Ramble:

(Spoiler warnings)

The movie The Cabin in the Woods will likely be compared to the most is Scream (I’d toss in Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon as well). The comparison is understandable – clever dialogue, riffs on classic horror films and nods to the genre’s tropes- but there is a key difference which only becomes clear in the film’s climax. Scream was an homage, a love letter, an attempt to update a forgotten genre. Cabin is an intervention.

Whedon and Goddard clearly love the genre. A glance at the blackboard proves that, a hellacious elevator ride confirms it, and the furious third act is carnage that only a true fan could have conjured. But being fans does not make them uncritical – if anything it makes their criticism sharper.

The movie’s title is its first joke, a stunningly unoriginal title that evokes untold numbers of horror films, yet the first scene completely upends audience expectations by revealing that the events of the film are being orchestrated by a pair of middle managers. As the movie unfolds, we watch these two manipulate events to craft the perfect horror standard. They are our filmmakers, walking us through The Formula, where the only variable allowed is the instrument of their victims’ demise. They speak of what is allowed by those Above, and having to satiate those Below. The children must die to appease the Elder Gods, but it is not enough that they die – they must die in entertaining ways, as prescribed by the ritual.

But who are the Old Ones? Is it Cthulu? Azathoth? The Star Mother?

No. It is us.

The fans are the ones Hadley and Sitterson must appease. We are the ones who watch. We are the ones that demand the deaths of the actors, the adherence to convention, and if the beast is not fed, we will show our displeasure.

Scream reveled in The Formula, and largely stuck to it even as it was mocked. Cabin mocks those who stick to the formula and, in its ending, shows that the conventions are not worth saving.

In truth this can be applied well beyond the horror genre. Much of our entertainment is kept safe and formulaic, and decisions are made by corporate heads rather than artists. There is far more interest today in wringing every last dime out of 20 year old franchises than making something original, and original ideas struggle to get a chance unless they have franchise potential themselves.

And the truth is the fans ask for it. WE ask for it. When was the last time Sam Raimi or Bruce Campbell gave an interview without being asked about Evil Dead 4? How often does a fan say “Mr. Raimi, please make something I have never seen before?”   Hell, people are already asking Whedon about The Cabin In the Woods 2, completely oblivious to the irony.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

The Walking Dead - Killing Randall


I don’t know what will happen on tonight’s installment of the Walking Dead, and wanted to weigh in on the present issue before it is (or, more likely) is not resolved.

At hand is the fate of Randall, a young man… rescued? Captured? By Rick, Glen and Herschel 3 episodes back (my God this show does move slow). The show’s small band of survivors have been hotly debating (or not) what to do with Randall. Kill him? Free him? Take him in? I’m not sure what the right choice is, but I have come to one conculsion.

Rick cannot shoot Randall.

Not that Randall can’t be shot. Just that Rick can’t be the one to do it. He simply hasn’t earned it.

Think about it – what exactly justifies Rick being at the point where he can shoot a kid who, so far as we know, has done nothing to deserve it?

The rest of the survivors have been through hell, or so we have been told. There’s about a month or so of missing time that we missed, and Rick slept through. From what we’ve been told, those were dark days, and it is possible that Shane, Lori, Andrea, Darryl and the rest have been traumatized enough to justify precautionary executions.

But Rick?

I get Rick is a cop, and I’ve known many people involved in the law (police, parole officers, corrections officers, lawyers) that have become very cynical based on their daily run ins with scum. But Rick doesn’t seem to be one of them. He’s more Andy Taylor than Dirty Harry. Whatever his experiences in Mayberry, it doesn’t seem to have soured him on humanity, even after he was shot in the series opener.

And let’s look at what he has been through since he woke up from his coma. He met Morgan, a very nice man (shovel aside) who nursed him back to health and showed him how to survive in this new world. He rode to Atlanta, and met up with a nice group of survivors who immediately took him in and, almost as quickly, make him their new leader. He met a friendly gang of latino health care employees. He met the nice man at the CDC. And then there was Herschel and his family.

Yes, he met Merle, who was dangerous and crazy, but that resulted in a brief scuffle, and Merle hasn’t been seen since. And there’s Randall’s friends in the bar, who may well have been ****s, but is that reason enough to kill Randall? I mean, didn’t Dale, Glen, and Andrea hang with Merle and Shane?

Really when you think about it Rick hasn’t suffered much at all because of the zombie apocalypse. The only 3 people he seemed to care for are still alive and healthy. Before Dale, he didn’t really know anyone who died in the show long enough to feel their loss (even Sophia, who disappeared probably a week after Rick actually met her), and ALL of those lost up to now have died either by suicide or zombie. Carl almost died thank to Otis, but that wasn’t due to malice. At this moment Rick has far more reason to trust the human survivors than to distrust them, let alone kill them. If the writers have Rick kill a young man like Randall on only the thinnest of suspicions, they are doing the character a great disservice.