Monday, May 21, 2018

Good Gas Masks Make Good Neighbors

A wildly divisive plague thriller?


Quick Plot: A lethal sickness has ravaged the country, leaving the survivors to head to to unoccupied areas and avoid contact with the infected. One family, led by Paul (Joel Edgerton) has carved out a safe enough existence in woodsy isolation, at least until one fateful night when a mysterious man named Will tries to break in.

Thankfully, Will is simply a fellow family man trying to find water for his own wife and son. With a few chickens and goats to trade, he moves his clan in for a new six-person (plus one dog). Everything is going well enough...until it's not.

Written and directed by Trey Edward Shults, It Comes At Night had one of those complicated debuts, wowing some festival goers but leaving genre fans disappointed. The best way to approach it is to forget its occasional classification in the horror section altogether.

Once you get past the idea that this isn't Carriers or the tragically underseen Dead Within, It Comes At Night can play out as intended: essentially, a play or sorts with a nightmarish sense of foreboding. Yes, there is a plague but no, we as the audience don't get to see much of it or the world it has ravaged. We don't have violent scavengers or the zombie-like infected breaking in. Instead, it's the tale of two families learning to trust and distrust each other. Quietly.

High Points
It would be easy for everyone to be miserable in a movie like It Comes At Night, but there's a great bit of brightness to be found in Kelvin Harrison Jr. as teenage Travis. The actor and character bring out a certain sense of hope and the idea that there's still something to be enjoyed in a world where everything has gone to hell

Low Points
It's hard not to watch a movie like this without imagining a more exciting version, especially when one exists that is currently streaming on Instant Watch

Lessons Learned
Chopping wood is best understood when compared to pooping

When watching any post-apocalyptic thriller, do yourself a favor: never get attached to the dog

When there's no more machinery or bustling human sounds, always remember that house walls are incredibly thin

So long as you know the type of film you're getting (i.e., a quiet, almost theatrical interpersonal family survival drama), It Comes At Night is a well put together tale. It just might not be what you want out of 100 minutes of life, particularly since it's bound to leave you feeling fairly miserable about life. But you know, miserable in a way that was inspired by quality, if that makes it any better?

Monday, May 14, 2018

I'm Doing a Thing! A MURDER, SHE WROTE THING!!!

There are few things in this world more perfect than Jessica Fletcher.

Strike that: there is nothing in this world more perfect than Jessica Fletcher.

If you agree and happen to be anywhere near the New York area on May 31st, come on down to the Nitehawk Theater for another edition of Kevin Geeks Out, the monthly variety show thingy hosted by the grand Kevin Maher and filled with funny people gushing about...


Obviously, I'll be discussing 12-time Emmy nominated Angela Lansbury's alter ego, the grand dame of Cabot Cove and more importantly, my heart. Get your tickets and be sure to say hi after the show!

Monday, May 7, 2018

My Hood Is Like a Shark Fin

Morgan was one of those films I like to call "the eternal trailer," a distinction it shares (for me) with the Wolfman remake and Shutter Island. All three, possibly due to adjusted release date, seemed to be included in the previews for just about every film I saw in the theaters in the months (and sometimes years) leading up to their release. 

That plus the general apathy that seemed to accompany Morgan put it low on my watch list. Had someone sold it the right way -- i.e., a reimagining of Renny Harlin's Deep Blue Sea -- I may have actually paid for it.

Quick Plot That's Essentially Just Deep Blue Sea Without Sharks: In an isolated green forest (replacing the blue sea), a team of pretty good-looking scientists have spent the last five years raising and monitoring Morgan (The VVitch's treasure Anya Taylor-Joy), a genetically modified young woman who is sadly not quite a shark.

Stepping in to Stellan Skarsgard's shoes as the most physically abused of the scientists is Jennifer Jason Leigh, who opens the film with her eye gouged out by her charge and is later beaten to death with about the same level of pain as having your arm eaten by a shark, then your body rammed against glass underwater.

This initial Macbethian incident is what summons Samuel L. Jackson stand-in Kate Mara as Lee, a risk assessment manager brought in to evaluate the Morgan experiment. Sporting Saffron Burrows strictly serious haircut, Thomas Jane's combat moves, and Jackson's corporate doubt, Lee regards most of the team suspiciously, particularly the too-soft behaviorist Amy (Ygritte the Wilding, aka Rose Leslie). On the flip side, Lee seems most positive towards Skip, the handsome nutritionalist (aka chef).

No, he does not have a pet parrot, but SPOILER ALERT yes, he does (almost) make it to the end, so OBVIOUSLY, he is LL Cool J.

The poor white man's LL Cool J. 

You might think I'm stretching the Deep Blue Sea comparison, but when the REAL Samuel L. Jackson (in the form of Paul Giamatti) strolls in for one scene to be essentially eaten by the super smart, super fast, and super strong Morgan, it's hard NOT to see the parallel. 

It is very possible that forcing this comparison made the exceedingly mediocre Morgan an exceedingly more interesting film. Directed by Luke Scott (son of Ridley), Morgan has a great look and unfairly great cast, most of whom are essentially wasted. The action offers some thrills, especially when the film takes a not-that-surprising turn and delivers entertaining fight scenes. Then again, nothing you see here is that much more exciting than, say, an episode of Agents of SHIELD.

The point is, pretend Morgan the character is a super smart shark and Morgan the movie is okay.

High Points
Hey, I'm an easy mark for a powerful female lead who's good at her job and also happens to fight like a ninja

Low Points
The dire lack of actual sharks

Lessons Learned
Everyone loves lasagna!

Comfort can be a thorn in the side of revelation

Genetic experimentation companies invest a lot in training employees in hand-to-hand combat

Eh, Morgan, in one word, is an "eh" of a review. With its high production values and good action, it's not a waste of 100 minutes, but it's hard to summon much enthusiasm without relying on, you know, Deep Blue Sea. Then you remember that Morgan doesn't end with anyone rapping and everything is terrible once again. 

Monday, April 30, 2018

I Spit On Your Robot

A rule of thumb: any film that mixes fonts in its title credits is not playing a straightforward game.

Strap in.

Quick Plot: Steel and Lace opens on what usually would be the 42 minute mark of a Law & Order: SVU episode, wherein a pretty young pianist named Gaily watches her yuppie rapist and his white collar enablers be found not guilty. A good SVU episode would use the remaining 18 minutes for some vigilante justice, perhaps involving Elliot Stabler looking the other way while Olivia urges the victim to find peace from within.

A great movie incorporates sexy robots. 

Gaily can't take the strain, leaping off the courthouse building while her loving brother Albert (Bruce Davison) watches in horror. Five years later, those involved in the case have moved on. Ponytailed rapist Daniel Emerson (Broadway's Michael Cerveris) has continued to grow his real estate empire, with his four accomplices installed as the kind of vice presidents primarily utilized to shake senior citizens down in order to build mini malls on their property. 

After a particularly cruel buyout, one of Emerson's pals experiences car trouble. When a beautiful, scantily clad blond offers him a lift to the nearest sex motel, Steel and Lace takes the most beautiful turn you can ever hope for from a film: the scantily clad blond tears her robot face off to reveal A SECOND robot face, this one of Gaily. With a propeller shooting from her chest to tear her tormentor apart, justice reigns. 

It. Is. Glorious.

AND, it doesn't stop there. The next Emerson groupie meets up with a tall and strapping federal agent who pulls a Fear No Evil breast reveal that then--you guessed it--changes his robot body to that of Gaily. 

Look, I know you think you're living your life the right way, but if you haven't experienced robot shapeshifting, do you even know the wonders this world has to offer?

I haven't even touched upon the fashion, which proves once and for all that while the '80s might get all the press, it's the very early '90s where the combination of giant hair, neon skirts, and oversized jackets with a print of dogs playing poker truly changed the world.

In case you haven't figured it out, Steel and Lace is a damn high recommend. 

This is the kind of movie that casts a sexy court sketch artist as its heroine, has her ex-boyfriend (David Naughton!) essentially be pimped out to her by his captain. Director Ernest Farino has worked steadily in the visual effects field, but by golly, this


is clearly his masterpiece. 

High Points
Aside from the grandness of, you know, the kind of movie wear a robot wears multiple masks, Steel and Lace has some genuinely funny moments, particularly in the slimy camaraderie of our villains who play things off with a perfect balance of comic timing

Just when you think you've seen perfection, Steel and Lace tosses in a dummy death for good measure

Low Points
This might sound very wrong, but there are clearly some strange incestuous undertones to Davison's relationship with his sister, and considering just how far this film goes elsewhere, it almost feels coy to not push that a tad further

Lessons Learned
A good artist knows to trace a notepad with pencil in order to reveal the last page torn off, but a great one's pencil reveals the note before it even touches the paper

Stay informed by joining the Southern California adult hotel mailing list

There are no decent restaurants within 2 miles of Capitol Records

The Winning Line
"Don't call me Clippy."
As someone who used Microsoft Word in the early 2000s, I get it

The Winning Score
I need this soundtrack yesterday

Amazon Prime's genre film selection continues to make life worth living. Steel and Lace is bonkers in the best of ways. Get on it. 

Monday, April 23, 2018

Actually, It's an UNdead Pit

Earlier this year, Long Island said goodbye to 112 Video World, the magical realm of VHS tapes that once filled my childhood weekends with everything from hot new releases to Gourmet Zombie Chef From Hell. As we film fans of the '80s mourn the loss of those strip mall palaces, we must accept that the world has changed and while there are no more physical doors to open to find our long-lost movie treasures on shelves, Amazon Prime continues to answer the call, no matter how shoddy the video quality might be.

Quick Plot: We open on a montage of mental patients doing all the typical things mental patients of movies made in the 1980s do. Somewhere between the drooling and head banging, the institution's senior psychiatrist Dr. Swan discovers one of his doctors, Dr. Ramzi, is conducting dangerous experiments on his patients. Luxuriously slow motion violence ensues. 

Twenty years later, a pretty young woman dubbed Jane Doe (stuntwoman Cheryl Lawson) is admitted to the same facility due to her amnesia and possibly, ability to cause earthquakes with her temper. Before long, Jane begins to see visions of the long-dead mad scientist. Not so coincidentally, a wave of violence spreads throughout the hospital. 

Well, WE know there's violence as patients and nurses are brutally torn apart by Dr. Ramzi. Only Jane seems to witness said murders, while the rest of the staff thinks little of its population dwindling. 

Eventually, Dr. Ramzi (or his ghost or whatever) uses Jane to awaken an army of zombies, who promptly chomp their way through everyone but Jane, Dr. Swan, a mad nun with a talent for making holy water, and Chris, Jane's inmate pal who happens to have a talent for bomb-making. Who says you can't make quality friends in '80s mental institutions?

The Dead Pit is the directorial debut of Brett Leonard, who went on in the '90s to specialize in the ubiquitous subgenre of technology amok movies (The Lawnmower Man, Virtuosity) and later, the very small niche of obesity-based horror (Feed). The Dead Pit is unmistakably '80s in its parts. Just try to add up the high-waisted panties, Fulci-esque undead, cranky mental asylum nurses, and obvious-but-surprise parent reveals and not calculate 1989.

That's the strength of The Dead Pit, which ultimately isn't a very good movie. It's made on the cheap and shows it, but seems to understand that its audience is there to see messy-faced ghouls hold slippery butcher shop animal parts up to the camera for their closeups. 

What a golden age of cinema. 

High Points
There's certainly some smiles to be had when watching the gooiest of '80s practical zombie effects

Low Points
You know, if you're picky, the script and acting and blah blah blah

Lessons Learned
Not remembering your past doesn't make you crazy (though constantly shouting that at people evaluating your sanity just might)

Double the time, double the money

Junk drawers of '80s era psychiatrists were typically stocked with scotch and loaded revolvers

Eh, The Dead Pit will certainly scratch your itch for 1980s horror, but it doesn't really crush it in the zombie department. It's a decent way to pass 90 minutes on Amazon Prime, but it won't necessarily leave you with anything special after. 

Monday, April 16, 2018

Save the Last Interpretive Dance

When the world seems to make a universal decision that a mid-budget studio genre film is so bad that its hot young director is fired from the unrelated bigger budget studio film he's about to make, you can bet my HBO subscription that I'm going to eventually watch it.

Quick Plot: Meet the Carpenters, a strange little family that functions in ways no human beings typically do. Single mom Susan (Naomi Watts, who is incapable of giving a bad performance even when placed in an unreasonably bad movie) works as a waitress at a '50s style ice cream shop/diner that gets a ridiculous amount of customers on weekday mornings. When not playing video games or the ukulele, Susan enjoys getting drunk with BFF Sarah Silverman (who styles herself like Amy Winehouse and flirts with teenagers like any normal human being), 

You might be concerned that Susan's two sons are in irresponsible hands, but fear not: 11-year-old Henry (Jaeden Lieberher of It) is an unearthly intelligent little boy who knows everything about everything, be it financial investments, building Rube Goldberg-esque contraptions that put Pee-Wee Herman to shame, or meticulously planning the murder of a police officer.

Yes, that's a thing. See, all that brainpower seems to literally be hurting poor Henry's brain, which develops some kind of lethal tumor. Thankfully, he's given just enough time in the hospital to get his family (which also includes adorable younger brother Peter, played by Room's Jacob Tremblay)'s affairs in order.

This includes laying out a plan for Susan to murder Walter White's brother-in-law.

Henry's biggest regret in his short life is that he's unable to protect Christina, his classmate who lives next door and is being abused by her stepfather Glen (Dean Norris). Thankfully, he's scoped out the neighborhood carefully enough to lay out the perfect 45-minute murder plan for mom to carry out during Peter's and Christina's upcoming school talent show.

Guys, this is a weird, weird movie.

The Book of Henry didn't make much of a killing at the box office, but it likely killed a good deal of momentum in director Colin Treverrow's career. Hot off the success of Jurassic World, Treverrow was tapped to direct Episode IX in the Star Wars saga. Everything seemed to be in order until either script issues tore the production team or, possibly more believably, enough LucasFilm higher-ups witnessed the mess that is The Book of Henry.

Look, there have been plenty studio releases that rank lower than The Book of Henry in the quality department, but few that are quite as...odd. IMDB's only real illuminating trivia point claims the original script was more a black comedy, which makes sense considering the plot of this movie involves, you know, a 12-year-old boy drawing up plans for his childlike mother to murder their neighbor while his stepdaughter reveals his crimes to the school community via interpretive dance.

Yes, that happens. 

Part precocious child tale, part dead precocious child tragedy, and part complicated murder plan, The Book of Henry would be perfectly fine had it aired on Lifetime. Unfortunately for Treverrow (and really, everyone else involved and the audience) it came to theaters and expected people paying $10+ to watch it leave feeling satisfied. Considering how many Lifetime movies I've seen done better, that is almost criminal. 

High Points
I'm not being sarcastic: the cast of this movie truly does its best with whatever the hell it has been given

Low Notes
The fact that this movie has such good performances is ultimately the thing that hurts it the most, as you see crumbs of a decent story about grief amidst, you know, the movie about a 12-year-old arranging murder from his Tim Burton treehouse

Lessons Learned
Dodgeball isn't an Olympic sport...yet

Lee Pace is an incredibly tall and incredibly attractive human being

You have to watch tech stocks closer than the rest

You might think you're a prodigy, but you can't really prove it until you master one of the nation's few remaining payphones in 2017

The Book of Henry is currently on HBO Go, and let's face it: you should watch it. I mean, you shouldn't if you're one of those strange creatures who only looks for quality in their entertainment, but for the rest of us curious cats too dumb to know better, this is...something.