Monday, October 18, 2021

Let It Go

If you are one of those people who watched Adam Green's Frozen and said, "this is all well and good, but they look so cold, and if only they were inside a cable car but still stuck in the middle of the winter sky, this would be more for me, and also, can they be Russians dubbed over into English?" then kids, have I got something for you.

Quick Plot: It's New Year's Eve, and a group of fairly bland but mostly attractive young people are trying to catch the last (what IMDB calls) gondola lift to the top of a mountain for a big party. They're late, but the grumpy operator accepts a few extra bucks to send them on their way, then promptly has a heart attack and dies without leaving any record of their trip.

Naturally, things get worse from there. The car is stuck in the middle of mountainous Russia, far out of cellular service and with no record of their whereabouts. Thankfully, influencer Katya's jerk boyfriend Kirill stormed away from the group before the gondola left, meaning after he sleeps off toxic male rage, he just might care enough to raise some alarms about his missing friends.

That is, of course, if other toxic male jerk Roman doesn't murder everybody onboard first.

Remember how I said Flight 666 was both refreshing for not having the Mr. Cooper-ish over-the-top villain, but also a tad dull for it? Well, Break is the exact other side of that needle: without Roman immediately escalating their plight into every-man-for-himself mayhem, Break would be damn boring. With it, it's just not that good.

I can't blame the film itself for being dubbed or the actors for giving performances that were probably far more interesting in their native language, but Amazon or the studio's decision to only have the dubbed version streaming is just disrespectful to everyone involved...particularly the audience that chooses to watch.

That being said, flat line readings aren't the only thing dragging Break down. Being stuck amid an avalanche should be terrifying, but the effect is dulled a bit when our characters are able to stand exposed to intense winter air with a light coat and no gloves and not, you know, immediately get blown away. The randomly inserted soft pop songs certainly don't help, nor does the fact that nobody onscreen is actually worth rooting for. 

It's a slog. 

High Points
Winter horror! I love a good snowy setting!

Low Points
Kirill, who ultimately emerges as something of a hero, is clearly terrible partner material (he all but stomps his feet when Katya chooses to take the tram instead of abandoning all of her plans with her friends and followers). It would have been nice for the movie to recognize this, and it's honestly a tad scary that we're instead supposed to accept that Katya was wrong (witness her punishment) and this man is a hero

Lessons Learned
The party's over when the clementines run out

Bribery is for cops, not ski lift operators

I say it every time, and they never listen: never, and I truly mean never, make a big point of taking a hopeful group picture before venturing into unguarded nature. Whether you're a sassy spelunker or aspiring filmmaker, your chances of success, much less survival, will plummet double digits the minute you put your arm around your pal for the perfect pose

Sadly, Break is not an enjoyable watch, though it would probably get a full grade bump if shown in its original dialogue. If you're a completist on snow-set thrillers, this is a movie that might end up on a checklist...but towards the bottom. There are at least two movies called Frozen that are more entertaining.

Monday, October 11, 2021

Black Mirror Revisit: The National Anthem

Last year, I compiled a non-definitive ranking of Black Mirror episodes. Once a month, I revisit an episode, starting from the bottom. Today we go way back to where it all started with Black Mirror's series premiere and my #9: The National Anthem.

The Talent: 
As would be true of most Black Mirror episodes, Charlie Brooker turns in the script. Otto Bathurst, a television director with mostly British credits, takes the reins. While there are some familiar character actor faces, the cast is fairly unrecognizable (at least to your average American). 

The Setup: 
In what is most likely Black Mirror's least altered universe, everyday London is shaken when a beloved member of the royal family is kidnapped. The ransom video is chilling...and odd. For the return of the United Kingdom's Princess Susannah, Prime Minister Michael Callow must have sex with a pig, on camera, for the world to see.

The Ending: 
After sorting through every possible attempt around the terms (body double, CGI, police investigation to locate Susannah), know...

has sex with a pig on camera for the world to see.

Susannah is returned unharmed, the kidnapper found on a noose of his own tying, the first lady still disgusted by her husband one year later, and the world pretty much continuing as it was, the whole ordeal a footnote in Callow's now successful term. 

The Theme:
There are a few ways to look at what The National Anthem is trying to do: a damnation of a highly connected world that forces the general populace to take part in something as awful as pig rape, the clinically detached laws of politics that put the latest polling numbers ahead of anything as trifling as a human life or pig's dignity, and, if you want to be meta about the whole thing, a sort of thesis for what Black Mirror intends to do: hold a slightly skewed reflecting device up against our own society and challenge our own morality. 

The Verdict:
Considering where Black Mirror would go over its 6 season (and a disappointing interactive movie) run, it's rather fascinating in hindsight that The National Anthem serves as the pilot. It's the least fantastical in terms of its world, with really no science fiction or slightly altered technological leaps that would become so expected in later episodes. 

But in a way, that's kind of perfect. The National Anthem feels raw, as if it's Charlie Brooker's barebones introduction to a world on the other side of the pond of The Twilight Zone. There are some plot threads that feel slightly messy (the journalist's ill-fated scoop was apparently supposed to connect us to the hospital staff's whole facility pause to watch the event, which perhaps explains why both character groups feel slightly unfinished) but on the whole, this episode wastes little time and manages to throw out its questions without demanding any answers. 

Technology Tip:
While The National Anthem's drama is heavily affected by the prominence of social media, there's not really much that could have been done that differently in order to change the outcome of events. There is a rather hilarious moment where traditional news media outlets are working through what language can be used on air, only to be outscooped by the internet, where no rules apply.

The Black Mirror Grade
Cruelty Scale: 
Can I really quantify this with a number? Those who suffer here, to a wide variety of degrees: PM Callow, his in-name-only wife, anyone with a television screen...and the pig, who never consented to intercourse with a human, much less for said act to be televised. I don't know...7?

Quality Scale: 
Let's stick with the theme and go with a 7/10. For the premier of a series, The National Anthem is a confident, blackly funny introduction to the Brooker universe that wisely doesn't aim to do too much. 
Enjoyment Scale:
While it's far less flashy than most of what would come after, there's some clever humor that manages to settle the action without ever minimizing the fact that this is a pretty awful moral situation. Is it fun to watch? Kind of. We'll stick with what's working: 7/10
Up Next (Month): We'll keep the October spirit pumping in November for Black Mirror's most horror-themed installment, Metalhead

Monday, October 4, 2021

We All Have a Bad Side

Readers, I have a very important question to ask, and I expect honest, relationship-killing answers:

Did you know about Doppelganger?

If you responded "no,", then have I got a treat for you!

If you said "yes, yes Emily, I've always known about this 1993 mashup of dissociative identity order tropes, mannequins in face/off masks reveals, gooey unexplained demon exoskeleton attacks, and nuns running phone sex businesses, but I guess I forgot to tell you", then you are dead to me.

Unless you added "oh! I didn't tell you because there's a dead cat." Then I'd say, well golly, you truly do understand.

Quick Plot: Holly Gooding is a poor little rich girl with a 5'4 problem: her titular doppelganger is making life VERY difficult.

After maybe stabbing her mother to death in the wealthy family's New York City penthouse, Holly flees to LA to sort out her trust fund and visit her institutionalized brother (who just might have murdered their missing father). Despite being, you know, NYC penthouse/trust fund wealthy, Holly decides to rent a spare room from struggling screenwriter Patrick Highsmith and his ill-fated cat Nathan.

Patrick is your typical nerdy earnest good guy writer type hero, meaning he's blander than the grape jelly toast he dresses up with mustard. Thankfully, he has a far sassier writing partner named Elizabeth who lends some fast-talking pop when needed.

As you can expect from any movie about a heterosexual man and woman suddenly living in close quarters, Patrick and Holly become intimate...or do they? After a wild night of dirty kitchen floor sex, Holly is apalled by Patrick's memory of the act and is forced to explain that her double sometimes slips into her life.

As Elizabeth cannily points out, men will put up with a lot of insanity if the sex is good. Maybe it's that Drew Barrymore's doe-eyed innocence is naturally irresistible, but Patrick accepts A LOT: her wild mood swings, a fast-talking FBI agent hiding out in a laser-lit empty apartment next door, and Holly's arrest for the murder of her brother.

I know I've gone into what seems like a lot of detail about the plot of Doppelganger, but it's necessary to explain just how insane this story becomes. Things start getting weird when Sally Kellerman (who I have to assume owed writer/director Avi Nesher a large, "I know where the bodies are buried" favor) shows up in a cameo as, I kid you not, a former nun now running a phone sex operation but still the preeminent LA expert on the subject of doppelgangers. For whatever reason, she keeps a Raggedy Anne doll on her work desk.

What. Is. Happening.

I'm going to spoil the ending(s) of Doppelganger, because I'm terrified I haven't sold it hard enough for anyone to sit through a few commercials on Tubi and stream it free of charge, and that would be a true shame. It's not every day that you stumble on a '90s thriller that whiplashes from soap operatic multiple personality disorder saga to latex face/off disguise reveal and ends with Drew Barrymore being ripped into two gooey monster halves that resemble what the spinal structures of the creatures from Mac & Me would look like in that famous Bodies touring display.

Didja get all that?

Doppelganger's poster looks like it's selling a sleazy pre-Lifetime-but-totally-Lifetime sexy thriller. The fact that Greg Nicotero and Robert Kurtzman's names show up in the opening credits should alert you that some practical FX are going to ooze onscreen, but when you're 80 minutes into a 90 minute non-supernatural film, IT'S A LITTLE BIT SHOCKING. Especially when you're still trying to come to terms with the fact that a half dozen characters (including The People Under the Stairs' Sean Whalen) have actually been Dennis Christopher's abusive psychiatrist in face puddy. THAT'S NOT HOW IT WORKS.

Avi Nesher showed up once before here: for the Cryptkeeper-less Tales From the Crypt movie Ritual, another film that had a lot of ambition in its style. Like Ritual, Doppelganger doesn't fully work as a film, nor does its gender politics age well in any way. There's a lot to squirm about in how the barely 18-year-old Barrymore is ogled by both the camera and every man she encounters, particularly her very own psychiatrist. The film considers him a monster because he dresses up in latex faces and murders at will, but you never get the sense that his lust is actually on trial.

Still, it's pretty hard to discover such bonkers and not walk away elated by its grand strokes.

Why has this movie been forgotten?

High Points
I'm a sucker for a grand, ridiculous reveal, and it doesn't get much wackier than a mannequin club...followed up by...
...whatever the hell this is supposed to be

Low Points
Seriously. This poor teenager has been sexually abused and exploited by her therapist, but it seems to only be considered a crime because he also went on a very bloody killing spree. Eff you, the '90s

Lessons Learned
The best prosthetics can do wonders with altering your facial structure, height, and voice

Common writers' afflictions include weak eyesight and being bad with names

The key to identifying which Drew Barrymore is nice and which Drew Barrymore is here evil doppelganger/rapist-murderer psychiatrist can best be identified by measuring the darkness of her lipstick

Your Moment of Zen
I was a teenager in the '90s, which meant I attended my share of awkward school dances where I, like so many of my peers, attempted to move my body to mediocre music in a way that made me look attractive. It's incredibly refreshing to watch actual hot people do the same and realize, in a true moment of enlightenment, that yes, I did indeed look stupid, but so does Poison Ivy-era Drew Barrymore because you know what? THERE'S NO WAY TO DANCE SEXY TO '90s PARTY MUSIC

The Winning Line
"You don't own me. You're not my father!"

Look! It's -
A fresh-faced (well, as fresh a face as I've ever seen) Danny Trejo as the sexually harassing construction worker whose catcalls are ickily subtitled "foreign language" as if no one in California has ever heard of this thing called "Spanish"

In case you couldn't tell, I realllllllllly enjoyed Doppelganger. It's terrible, dated, offensive, and possibly not that good a movie, but it's also WILD. You can survive a few ads for stock apps on Tubi. Give it a go.

Monday, September 27, 2021



Logistically, it must be pretty tough to set a movie entirely in an airplane. You can't just use one out of rotation as a set, and building interiors that need to feel cramped but offer enough room for a camera crew can't be cheap. So while the glorious possibilities of claustrophobic tension and fiery crashes should be a no-brainer for the horror genre, I imagine budgetary restrictions limit our output to the handful of plane-set genre flicks out there. 

It's a shame, because as the overrated Snakes On a Plane, underrated Flight of the Living Dead, and barely rated Quarantine 2 show us, trading out a summer camp or apartment complex for 45 ton capsule of metallic engineering will always make things a bit more interesting. 

Quick Plot: A credits sequence gives us glimpses of a serial killer's souvenir collecting, but put a pin in that: it's time to board the redeye from LAX to JFK.

We get sprinkles of conversations that introduce us to the passengers and crew: a newlywed couple with incoming in-law drama, a returning army veteran ready to reunite with his family, an armed air marshal, rookie co-pilot, sweet flight attendant, sassy flight attendant, and to kickstart the plot, token "there's a man on the wing of the plane!"-guy whose fears seem completely out of line.

I mean, there's no one on the wing of the plane: it's a batch of female ghosts haunting the airplane restroom, of course!

Welcome to Flight 666, the rare original non-mockbuster produced by The Asylum Studio, with a cast and crew of Asylum veterans who clearly know how to make a movie on the cheap. It will likely shock you to know that Flight 666 is, well, fine. 

There's nothing terribly scary about the CGI toilet ghosts, but when you see "The Asylum Studio" float by in the intro, savvy genre fans will inevitably lower their expectations at the same ratio that the price of a water bottle increases the minute you step foot in an airport. 

But for all of their Atlantic Rims and Titanic 2s, any Asylum film's quality is ultimately in the hands of its filmmaker, and on more than a few occasions, the people behind the camera clearly care about the final product. Flight 666 is directed by Rob Pallatina, an editor who has 71 credits to his name since 2021. Take THAT, Thelma Schoonmaker!

Yes, those credits include titles like Pool Boy Nightmare and 2, 3, & 5-Headed Shark Attack.

And yes, I instantly Googled "4-Headed Shark Attack" and thank the kind folks at Reddit for answering what must be a commonly asked question.

I can't speak to Pallatina's other 5 directing credits (which seem to involve more Nazis and killer doctors than shark heads) but as a debut, Flight 666 suggests solid workmanship. He wrangles a large cast to deliver perfectly decent performances, and makes acceptable use of B-level CGI. The screenplay (by Jacob Cooney and Brandon Stroud) is shockingly patient, taking a good hour to reveal its ghostly secrets and giving us something of a surprise with its villain reveal. 

No, Flight 666 isn't Shakespeare or, say, Hereditary, but it's an adequate time waster that makes the best of its limited resources. There aren't many other haunted-house-on-a-plane movies, so if that's an itch you've had, this might be the only viable scratch. 

High Points
It's so easy to rile up your conflict by including the token a$$hole in your ensemble, so credit to Flight 666 for managing to avoid the usual eye-rolling arguments and allow its cast to mostly function as we'd imagine human beings would in the situation of, you know, being trapped on a haunted plane

Low Points
The flip of the above statement is that none of the passengers are especially interesting

Lessons Learned
First class passengers are extremely cooperative and will have no objection to moving back to coach if the air marshal asks nicely

The word "terrorism" just gets everyone worked up

A copilot's most important job is to relay the information that's been spoken out loud on the intercom to the pilot sitting in the same small space as that intercom


Flight 666 isn't necessarily a good movie, but it kept my attention for 90 minutes and even managed a few surprises along the way. One could do worse (especially on Amazon Prime).