Tuesday, November 12, 2019

A(n almost certainly incomplete and at-best-marginally-worthwhile) History of Stephen King Audiobooks, Part 2

Picking back where we left off last time, we come now to:
1993 -- Gray Matter and Other Stories from Night Shift
(read by John Glover; produced by Bantam Doubleday Dell Audio)

The first -- first so far as I know, at least -- audio version of Night Shift appeared in 1993 with a selection of stories read by John Glover.  This first set contains the following stories:
  • The Boogeyman
  • I Know What You Need
  • Strawberry Spring
  • Gray Matter
  • The Woman in the Room 
  • Battleground

Glover is an exceptional narrator, with one caveat: he occasionally feels the need to do weird character voices, mostly when he's going for some effect.  For example, when Lester Billings in "The Boogeyman" begins speaking in a high voice during stressful moments, Glover sends his voice into the stratosphere.  Then, when the infected father in "Gray Matter" speaks in his monster phase, Glover puts a sort of creak into his voice to try to sell the alienness.  Neither of these affectations (nor the handful of others that pop up) work for me very well; your mileage may vary.

Sunday, November 10, 2019

A Review of Joe Hill's ''Full Throttle''

Not all King fans agree with me on this, but here's a thing I've come to feel is true for me: a book or story by Joe Hill may as well be a book or story by Stephen King.  This is not to say that the two men are identical; they aren't.  I only mean to say that Hill's work scratches much the same itch as King's work scratches, and when you add to that the fact of Hill's parentage, I see this much the same way as I see the relationship between Star Trek and Star Trek: The Next Generation.  Two different crayons from precisely the same box.  If you told me that I was allowed only to color with one of them, and somehow had the ability to enforce it, I'd grab that King/TOS crayon.  I'd spit in your eye while I was doing it, though, and anyways, ain't nobody got the power to restrict my crayon usage in that way.
So am I going to review the new Joe Hill collection, Full Throttle?
Indeed I am.  Not at much length; this will just be a series of brief reactions to each story (most of which I've read before, many of which I've probably covered elsewhere on this blog).  It won't cut deep, but I definitely wanted to cover it in some way, so here we go.

Introduction: Who's Your Daddy?
This marvelous introduction spans sixteen pages, and is of great interest for King fans due to its biographical information about Hill's youth, which (obviously) involves Stephen King in rather a key role.  Hill is every bit as good at writing this sort of thing as King himself is, and his introduction is sort of a quick survey of his entire creative life.  He talks about watching laserdiscs with his dad when he was a kid, including Duel, which then turned into sojourns in which he and his father would go for drives pretending that they were being chased by the malevolent trucker from that movie.  He talks about being read the Narnia books by his mother, whose voice he describes as a doorway into a cathedral.

Saturday, November 2, 2019

What I Watched This October (2019 edition), part 14

We'll kick off our final post of the Halloween season with a remake nobody seems to much care for:
A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010)

Me?  I thought it was alright, personally.  There's nothing much in it that I would single out as being bad.  There's also nothing much in it that I would single out as being inspired or anything more than good; it doesn't particularly distinguish itself from the original in a way that justifies its existence, I can't deny that.  But is it bad?  Nah, it's alright.
Its biggest problems are these:
  • Jackie Earle Haley, who is good in the movie, simply cannot measure up to Robert Englund.  Recasting an iconic role is tough, man.  The wisest approach is to find different ways to delineate the character, and the screenplay for this remake does not do that.  If anything, this Freddy is even jokier than the Freddy from Wes Craven's original.  Some of the wisecracks work -- I liked the one where Nancy hollers "Fuck you!" at Freddy after he asks her what sort of game she'd like to play, and he responds with a pitch-black "A little fast for me" -- so it's not a completely failed attempt, but it can only serve to invite comparisons to Englund.  Why do that?  If you were going to do that, you should have just hired Englund for it.
  • The teen performances are good, but the casting approach is a failure.  That's an odd opinion, so let me justify it.  I really like Rooney Mara in general, and I even like what she does in this movie from an objective standpoint.  However, she -- like much of her generation (said the old man) -- has a sort of hangdog, disaffected look to her that reads as defeated.  So does Kyle Gallner as Quentin, and more or less everyone else in the teen roles.  In a sense, that serves to emphasize the idea that these kids are hunted and do not have a prayer of surviving.  But in practice, it results in a movie that doesn't have much zip or fun to it.  It's hard to root for these kids; why should we, since they don't even seem to be rooting for themselves?
  • By the way, not that this matters, but why is Nancy still Nancy, but Glen is suddenly Quentin?  Why is Rod now Jesse?  Those are pointless changes...
  • ...given how slavish the screenplay is to the original in most other regards.  Some moments are direct lifts from Craven's original, such as the glove-in-the-bathtub bit.  And that's fine; it still works.  But it's another sense in which the remake fails to distinguish itself, and as those begin to add up, it takes its toll.

I did like the riff on the final jump-scare, though; same idea as in the original, but executed differently enough to be effective.
All things considered, though, I thought it was a decent movie.  It drives home the essential effectiveness of Craven's original concept and screenplay, and is painless enough.  I wouldn't rank it terribly high among the other films in the franchise, but it's better than Freddy vs. Jason, that's for sure.

Friday, November 1, 2019

What I Watched This October (2019 edition), part 13: Shudder's ''Creepshow''

For the lucky-thirteenth part in this year's chronicle of Halloween-season viewing, I've got a post focusing solely on Shudder's new Creepshow series.  Produced by Greg Nicotero, it is an attempt to bring the EC-inspired vibe of the King/Romero/etc. original films to a weekly-series format.
Perhaps even more than that, this is an attempt to bring subscribers to Shudder.  And hey, it worked on me.  I'd been aware of Shudder prior to their announcement of Creepshow, but had never been quite tempted enough to lay down a monthly fee to stream it.  Creepshow reeled me in, and I suspect it got quite a few more new subscribers for Shudder in addition to me, given that a second season has been announced for next year.

It's an honorable reason to have made a series; don't anyone think for a second that I resent it.  "Hey, we've got this service we think you might like, and in order to sweeten the deal, we're going to make a thing you can only see there which would not otherwise exist," says Shudder.  "Okay, great!" says I.
Join me for a review of the six-episode first season to find out how I think they did quality-wise.
But first, I feel obliged to offer my thoughts on Shudder itself.  I call 'em like I see 'em, and you know what?  I'm not impressed.
I signed up maybe six weeks prior to Creepshow launching, and while I didn't watch that much on it, I did sample a few things.  I watched all six episodes of James Cameron's Story of Science Fiction (originally produced for Shudder's parent network, AMC); I watched a couple of episodes of NOS4A2 for a second time (I watched them through Amazon via a season pass originally); and I watched Horror Noire, the Shudder-exclusive documentary.  All of them looked awful, from a video-quality standpoint.
Let me try to explain what I mean by that.  I'm no expert in the terminology for this sort of thing, so bear with me as I blunder my way through faking it.
What I mean is that so far as my eyes can tell, Shudder does not stream in HD.  I've done a small bit of research on the issue, and there seems to be a possibility that this is due less to Shudder itself than to my method of streaming: an Amazon Fire Stick, which streams wirelessly to my television.  I've seen chatter from other Fire Stick users about Shudder's streaming quality, so it might be some sort of problem of one service not meshing well with another.
I'll leave it to greater minds than mine to figure out whether that's acceptable or not.  All I can say is that while I've had occasional issues with the Fire Stick and its ability to play nicely with other streaming services, those issues have been isolated and relatively rare.  For the sake of completeness, allow me to catalog what sort of experiences I've had with other streaming services through the Fire Stick:
  • Prime Video: Amazon's own service comes through in beautiful hi-def quality, and I can't recall having ever had an issue with playback.
  • Netflix: I've had isolated instances of something dropping briefly from HD to SD, but for the most part, Netflix looks and performs great.
  • HBO Now: HBO is more prone to HD-to-SD dropouts, but generally speaking, looks good and performs well.
  • Hulu: good HD video quality, can't remember any playback issues of note.
  • CBS All Access: frequent playback issues (sometimes won't load, and has relatively frequent issues transitioning from ads to content), but good HD video quality.
  • YouTube: I've watched a few things via YouTube, including most of Cobra Kai, and the video quality and playback quality are both excellent.

So generally, I've been pleased with the Fire Stick.  It could work more smoothly, I guess, but it's mostly reliable.  The device itself has a problem once in a while, but typically a reboot clears that up.  And as far as HD video quality goes, I've had no substantial problems with any service other than Shudder.
Despite this, I'm switching to a Roku in the next few days, and there are two reasons for that.  The most important is that when Disney+ launches on November 12, it won't be available through Amazon devices; so if I want that -- and I do -- I'll have to get a new device, or else stream it through my PC.  (I'm not wild about watching long-form content on a PC, though, so I won't do that unless I've got no better option.)  But also, I decided to get one before November 12 -- it's September 28 as I write this preamble -- it see if I could get better video quality from Shudder.  We'll find out the results of that once we reach the section of Creepshow episode 2.
In any case, for the video quality, my Shudder experiences up to this point have been very poor indeed.  I sent them an email about it, and their customer service made a few suggestions, but none of them yielded different results.  (Speaking of customer service, I also had to get them to fix a billing error which caused my account to be charged twice for the first month's service.)
I say all of this not to take a crap on Shudder, but just to offer some context for the rest of the review.  Which begins now!

Thursday, October 31, 2019

What I Watched This October (2019 edition), part 12

We begin part 12 -- 12! -- with one of the titles I was really hoping would come out of the hopper this year:
From Dusk Till Dawn (1996)

And come out of the hopper it has, so we'll see if that turns out to be a thing I'm as pleased with after as I am before.
Prior to this, I'd only seen the film a couple of times.  I saw it on opening night in 1996, with a group of work friends; we all went to a late show, and were having a grand old time with it until the film melted during the big turn that the movie takes partway through.  They got it fixed, but it took a while; years later, once I became a projectionist, I retroactively diagnosed the incident as a brain wrap (I'd love to spend a paragraph or two trying to explain what that means, but nope, not gonna -- it involves the film bunching up and becoming unable to move through a crucial 35mm-platter-system device called the brain).  Anyways, after that, I can't honestly say I enjoyed the rest of the movie; I got the DVD when it came out, and still felt like it fell apart during that scene and never got its mojo back, so I don't blame the experience of the film melting -- I blame the film.
I was not a horror fan at the time, though, apart from enjoying King books and movies.  Now that many, many years have passed, I'm anxious to see whether my ongoing love of Tarantino combined with my (relative to this film's release) newfound appreciation for the cinematic genre as a whole might combine to turn this into a movie I can finally embrace.
The verdict:
Nope.  I just don't like this movie.  I like parts of it; I like the enthusiasm which seems to power it.  But as a whole, it doesn't work for me.  And to be honest, I find it to be really icky.  The Gecko brothers are gross, awful people; Seth less than Richie, but Richie -- played quite effectively by Tarantino, if you ask me -- is utterly loathsome in every way, so Seth being a step up from him is an awfully low bar to clear.

We return now to the question which dogged me a bit when I revisited The Devil's Rejects: what are the ethics of me being okay with these characters being the protagonists of a movie?  If I follow the chain of rational self-examination I opened up there, I suppose I ought to come to the same conclusion: namely, that there's no real need to worry about it, because the characters aren't meant to be taken as anything other than the device by which the horror is delivered.  Richie is probably no more loathsome than Otis.  Otis, in fact, could be seen as a combination of Seth and Richie: Seth's verbosity and charisma mixed with Richie's penchant for sexual perversity and cruelty.

But I'd much rather spend viewing time with Otis, as opposed to the Geckos.  Why?  I'm really not sure.  All I know is, the scenes in From Dusk Till Dawn in which we have to spend time inhabiting Richie's perversity are genuinely gross.  I think maybe I'm worried that Richie shares more with the real Tarantino than I'm comfortable with.  After all, we know Tarantino is a foot fetishist, so when we get a scene in which Tarantino as a screenwriter writes a scene in which Tarantino the actor "has" to have one of the world's most beautiful women stick her foot in his mouth and pour whiskey down her leg into it, that seems as if in the real world a line has been crossed.

I could likely write a very long post discussing the movie from this standpoint and others similar to it, but that seems like a waste of my time.  Suffice it to say, the movie bummed me out from multiple such angles; and I'm not super PC myself, you know, so if it's bumming me out then it must be appalling to those more sensitive than I.

Even with such considerations ignored, though, I really just don't like the movie.  The shift to cartoonish horror doesn't work tonally.  If it had shifted to a serious balls-to-the-wall vampire-focused action movie, I think that might have worked, and possibly quite well.  For it to shift to one which takes itself as non-seriously as this one does is sloppy at best; at worst, it smells like a squandering of money on a boys-being-boys playground of exploitation.  I suppose the argument could be made that the entire movie is that, but I'd argue that if it was shooting for that, it failed.  Want to see that done right?  As your physician, I prescribe House of 1000 Corpses, and good luck not getting worn out by it within half an hour.  But at least there's some clarity of approach there; the result is overkill, but that's an appropriate result for the approach, so it's at least consistent.

There are some charms within From Dusk Till Dawn, though.  Here are a few:

  • Tarantino's screenplay isn't one of his best, but it's got occasional great lines.
  • George Clooney is great.  I wish his character was better-written, but he gives a strong performance.
  • Salma Hayek.  Jesus God Almighty.  She is apocalyptically, mind-meltingly hot in this movie.  During her character's dance scene, you can see Tom Savini's character in the background sitting there looking at her with his jaw literally dropped.  I do not believe this was acting.  There's also a bit when Hayek is on the table with her back(side) to Clooney when she backs up toward him quickly.  You can see Clooney react with stunned and appreciative surprise, and I don't think this was acting, either.  I strongly suspect that Salma Hayek strode onto the set of this movie and time stood still for anyone who was susceptible to her charms, which was probably just about everyone.  (I can only imagine the impact it must have had on the kid who plays Scott.  You could probably hear the sound of him entering puberty.)
  • It's kind of fun to have Tom Savini playing a large-ish role.  He's squandered; Savini has buckets of charisma, and little of it is utilized.  Still, nice to see him.
  • A few of the gore gags work well.  It makes no sense, but the guitarist inexplicably having an instrument made out of a human torso and limbs is kind of funny.

Mostly, though, I think the gore gags are a bust.  They are weakened by virtue of the vampires' blood being green, and there's also a kitchen-sink approach to the mayhem that strikes me as a vastly-less-successful version of what Peter Jackson did in Dead Alive.

So for me, I think a final opinion has been reached on this film: it doesn't work.  It doesn't work as a horror movie, it doesn't work as an exploitation movie, it doesn't work as a Tarantino movie.  It's got the Salma Hayek scene to its credit, but even that is compromised by Tarantino's acting role within it.


Tuesday, October 29, 2019

What I Watched This October (2019 edition), part 11

Six more days til Halloween, Halloween, Halloween, six more days til Halloween, let's watch movies!
Fuck, that was lame.
Riding the Bullet (2004)
Speaking of lame, I've been banging the drum for years and hollering about how sucktastic Riding the Bullet is.  I only ever saw it once, though, and a friend has been telling me about how it's one of his favorite King movies.  So when we (and his wife, who I've known even longer than I've known him) decided to have a movie night tonight, he picked Riding the Bullet.  Fine by me!  It was on my list for the season, anyways.
And I'll be gosh-darned if that movie isn't quite a bit better than I remembered it being.  In fact, I ... I, uh ... I kind of dug it.  Does this mean I have a bunch of apologizing to do to Mick Garris?  Shit, man; it might.  If so, I also owe David Arquette and Barbara Hershey apologies for things I've said about their performances over the years.
So what gives here?  Was I wrong about the movie all along?  Am I simply extra receptive to things this year?  (After all, I became a quasi-apologist for mother-scratchin' Trucks, of all things, in my previous post.  Trucks!)
I think I lean closer to thinking the former is true.  The fact is, this is an imperfect movie, but one which has a big heart that it wears on its sleeve the entire time -- and that's a good look for a King movie.  King pretty much always wears his heart on his sleeve, both in life and in fiction, and most of the best adaptations of his work beat with that same sentimental heart.  It doesn't always work -- for every Shawshank there's a Hearts In Atlantis, and Riding the Bullet isn't even as good as that.  But it's not bad.  Or I didn't find it to be tonight; that's all I can say with authority.
The film's biggest problem lies in its overuse of an editing conceit that is designed to offer us peeks into Alan's imagination, which is almost always overflowing with negativity.  It's a neat device, and Garris uses it very effectively a few times; but he pops the cork on it way too often -- seemingly about a thousand times.  My friend's wife was audibly annoyed by it by the end of the movie (although she liked the film overall).  I don't blame her.
Apart from that, though, this is a fairly effective film.  The performances are good; Jonathan Jackson is solid as Alan, Barbara Hershey is good as his mother, and David Arquette is effective as the ghost (?) George Staub.  I remember Arquette being absolutely dreadful, and I can imagine somebody watching the movie and thinking he was kind of campy; but dreadful?  No way.  He's actually kind of great in a few scenes.
The 1969 setting is effective, too.  It leads to some quality -- if stereotypical -- songs being on the soundtrack, so there's that.  But Garris's decision to set the film in that decade -- in its waning months, which in some ways were the waning months of an entire movement, and entire way of life -- brings into contemporaneity with King's own real-life college career (and Garris's, if I'm not mistaken).  And the way the movie links its notions about facing life and death on equal measure have some interesting things to say in conversation with, for example, the previously-mentioned Hearts In Atlantis.  (The novel/collection moreso than the movie.)
Whether any of that is enough to vault one past the movie's iffier moments is a matter of personal preference; for me, it did, this time.  
I was especially struck by a brief conversation Alan has with his two roommates in which one of them talks about how weird an idea it is to think about the future, when their rock idols of the moment -- Lennon, Hendrix, Joplin, Morrison -- will be fat and old.  It's kind of an obvious and cheesy observation to toss into a modern movie, which I'm sure is how I took it back in 2004, with an accompanying eyeroll.  Thing is, those are precisely (a few of) the people you'd mention if you were going to have that conversation in 1969.  How could you know that none of them would make it?  Why would you even guess at such a thing?  How would you know you yourself wouldn't make it?  Many people who had a thought of that nature in 1969, or in any year, didn't.
I'm at the point where 2004 -- goddamn fucking 2004, man -- seems like the distant past.  Know why?  Because it is!  That was fifteen frigging years ago!  Good lord.  So maybe it's that adjusted relationship with mortality which sparked a reappraisal of this movie.
Beats me.  All I know is, I'm suddenly a bit of a Riding the Bullet fan.
2019 really IS a wild year, man.

Saturday, October 26, 2019

What I Watched This October (2019 edition), part 10

2019 is the third consecutive year I've done these "What I Watched This October" writeups.  I enjoy them greatly, but I remembered last night that the first year, I wrote a mere three posts in the series; last year it was ten, and by way of cheating and beginning in early September this year, I've already hit ten.  With nine days off coming up at the end of the month, there's no telling how many I'll hit.  I hope this isn't taxing anyone's patience, but if it is then allow me to reassure you somewhat: the 2020 edition is likely to be briefer on account of how I'm planning a trip to Disney World.  (Although if that trip ends up happening -- and I expect it will -- then there's likely to be a trip to Universal's Halloween Horror Nights, my first ever.  You think that isn't going to get blogged up a storm?  Sheeeeeeit....)
Anyways, this year's Part 10 begins with a movie I'd never even heard of until relatively recently:
Dead & Buried (1981)

The screenplay for this one is credited to Alien co-writers Ronald Shusett and Dan O'Bannon, but Wikipedia informs me that O'Bannon disavowed the movie, claiming that Shusett rewrote it extensively and removed all of his ideas.  Well, that's how it goes in Hollywood, I guess.

This one is about a small coastla-Californian town -- Potters Bluff -- where vicious murders begin happening.  The sheriff begins investigating, as sheriff are wont to do, and stumbles into a morass of voodoo, witchcraft, and mortuary cosmetology.

The setup isn't bad, and there are numerous effective moments strewn throughout the movie, beginning with the opening scene, in which a photographer is ambushed on the beach by a woman who flirts with him before setting him on fire in a very different way.  There's a good deal of inventive suspense in this scene, and when the movie hits notes like that (as it does occasionally throughout), it's on solid ground.

However, on the whole it makes little sense, and it's weighed down by a weak performance from James Farentino in the lead.  I was more interested in Melody "Dale Arden from Flash Gordon" Anderson, who plays his wife; she's pretty great, and is underused compared to Farentino.  I'm somewhat torn on the subject of Jack "Grandpa Bucket from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory" Albertson, who plays -- spoiler alert! -- the bad guy; he's good, but he's also hammy, and I don't think I think he helped the movie all that much.

My opinion of the movie is also worsened by two factors, one of which is fair and one of which is not.  The fair one: holy crap is there a lot of dubbing in this film, and holy shit is most of it terrible.  If you notice dubbing at all, it's a bust; if you notice it enough to have a negative opinion of it, it's a disaster.  This is a disaster.  So is my unfair criticism, which is that the video quality on the Blu-ray (from Blue Underground) is quite poor; it looks like a mediocre DVD transfer that has been slapped onto a hi-def disc.

So all in all, Dead & Buried was a bust for me.

Saturday, October 19, 2019

What I Watched This October (2019 edition), part 9

We'll begin this one with an eighties classic that doesn't qualify as horror, but which is of interest to us nonetheless:
Clue (1985)

"Classic" might be a bit of a stretch on this one, actually.  It was a complete flop when it first came out, and while it's developed a cult following over the years, I'm not sure describing it as a classic is a bucket that holds much water.
I'd never seen it before now.  I remember it coming out; it had a big marketing presence.  I never did actually see it, though.  In fact, to this day I have yet (as far as I can remember) to ever actually play the board game upon which the movie was based.  Clue altogether seems to have just sort of escaped me; or perhaps I escaped it, who knows?
I thought the movie was pretty amusing, though.  It gets by almost solely based on the charms of its exceptional cast, which includes:
  • Tim Curry, who is manic and delightful as Wadsworth the butler;
  • Lesley Ann Warren, who is bright and slinky as Ms. Scarlet;
  • Christopher Lloyd, who is a bit more reserved than normal, though still fun, as Professor Plum;
  • Eileen Brennan, who is mildly cuckoo as Mrs. Peacock;
  • Martin Mull, who is greasy and somewhat dull as Colonel Mustard;
  • Madeline Kahn, who is mostly wasted (though occasionally funny) as Mrs. White;
  • Michael McKean, who is bland but eventually effective as Mr. Green (the character most likely to not work with modern audiences);
  • and Colleen Camp, who is required to wear a rather short dress as Yvette, the maid.

The movie (which was produced by Debra Hill, who also produced films this blog holds dear such as Halloween and The Dead Zone) is set in 1954 and is shallowly set against the backdrop of the Red Scare from American politics of the period.  The screenplay wrings some decent humor out of that element, and I give the movie credit for even trying to do such things during the process of being based on a freaking board game.  The set also deserves kudos, as do the costumes.
Really, though, this is one is all about the acting for me.  Nobody does Oscar-worthy work or anything like that, but everyone has fun and gets their individual jobs done in memorable fashion.  Overall, I'd say the movie is a low-key charmer; perhaps not more, although it's entirely possible it will grow on me over time.
Either way, I'm happy to have seen it.

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

What I Watched This October (2019 edition), part 8: All-Romero Special

As you may have gleaned from the title of this post, I'm devoting part eight entirely to the films of George Romero.  I'm going to be tackling all of the ones I've never seen before, as well as a few that I have seen but have not covered on my blog.  We begin with one of the latter:
Day of the Dead (1985)

Rather than march chronologically through all the films I'm covering, I thought I'd cover the remaining Dead films first.  That way, we don't have to end with Diary and Survival, which I've been assured are doggy doo.  I've seen neither, so I cannot comment ... yet.
I have seen Day of the Dead, I think only once.  I thought it was pretty great, but this rewatch only kind of reinforced that opinion.

The good: I'm onboard for the concept (underground scientific-research bunker guarded by increasingly dissatisfied soldiers) and for the zombie action (which is pretty damn gnarly).  I like the main character (Sarah) and the score (by Creepshow composer John Harrison).

The bad: I dislike most of the acting.  Quite a bit, actually.  Lori Cardille is very good as Sarah, and Howard Sherman gets close to being great as Bub the zombie.  Almost everyone else is a complete washout.  Let me single some folks out:

  • Terry Alexander puts on what I assume is a ridiculously false Jamaican (?) accent as John the helicopter pilot; why he was allowed to do this is a mystery to me.  
  • Joe Pilato as Rhodes, the leader of the soldiers, has some good moments in which he's appropriately scary; but he also gets way overwrought at times.  Maybe this is the idea; I could sort of buy that, I guess, but it doesn't play that way for me.
  • Richard Liberty, playing "Dr. Frankenstein," is simply incompetent.  He's trying things that are well outside his limited skillset, such as aiming for a mixture of instability and knowledge-based superiority.  He's bad in every scene he has.  An argument could probably be made stating that this helps to make the untrustworthiness of the doctor come across, and I'd tentatively buy that if it didn't also make everyone working with him look like a chump for doing so.  But it does, so it hurts the movie.
  • The guys who play Steele and Rickles (the perpetually-sarcastically-amused soldiers) are aggravating beyond belief.  They may as well be there purely to cause audience members to cheer when they -- spoiler! -- are killed by the zombies.  Yeah, sure, I guess; you get on my nerves for an hour and a half, I'm glad when you're gone.  Well done...?

Everyone else is basically fine, including John "Martin" Amplas as a scientist.  But those five performances listed above really drag the movie down a notch for me.  I still like it as a whole, but this feels like a movie I ought to have loved, and it isn't, quite.

A few individual moments I did love:

  • That jump scare at the beginning is still effective (and was put to good use at the beginning of Stranger Things 3).
  • Every scene with Bub.  It's arguably a silly idea, but remember, Romero invented this type of zombie; so if he wanted to progress the concept to this point (and, potentially, beyond), then that's okay by me.  A zombie getting googly-eyed over hearing a bit of Ludwig van?  Yes sir.  A zombie snapping off a sarcastic salute?  Sure, why not?
  • The standoff scene where Rhodes orders Steele to shoot Sarah is pretty great.
  • The zombie whose head is gone except for the brain and spinal cord is a hell of an effect.
  • Miguel freaking out and slapping Sarah -- twice -- and immediately regretting it is well-played.  Cardille's reaction is shocked and hurt but still determined to help; she's great there.
  • Rickles's head being pulled off is also a great effect.  Pretty obvious how that was done, but effective all the same.
  • Ditto for Rhodes's death.
And probably all sorts of other stuff I'm not immediately remembering.
So yeah, all in all, I like the movie.  But gosh, some of the performances hurt it.

Saturday, September 21, 2019

What I Watched This ''October'' (2019 edition), part 7

Wasting no time, we jump right in, beginning with:
Jennifer's Body (2009)

This art came with my Blu-ray as an insert.  Pretty cool.

I don't know if y'all remember this, but Megan Fox was a pretty big deal for a while there.  She blew right the hell up thanks to Transformers, what with Michael Bay encouraging everyone man in the world to rub one out while fantasizing about her.  Implicitly, if not explicitly.  I have no doubt that an entire generation of boys -- and not a few girls -- have now grown up with her in mind as some sort of pinnacle of hotness, and who can blame them?
Being not of that generation, I always kind of felt indifferent toward Fox, myself.  This was based largely on how much I detested those Transformers movies (especially the godawful second one, beyond which I saw no farther); I just flat-out rejected every bit of that crap.  So when Jennifer's Body came along, what it looked like to me based on the marketing was a standard-issue hot-girl-sploitation horror flick, but written by the lady who'd written the somewhat overrated (in my opinion) Juno.  Put those things together and for me, that equals taking a pass.
I've been hearing things over the past year or so that made me feel as if I might have had the wrong idea of what the movie was.  So I put it on my list for this year, and having now seen it, I'd have to say that I was VERY wrong about what the movie is; I mean, it is what I thought it was, but it's also much more than that.
Here's what it's about.  Needy (Amanda Seyfried) and Jennifer (Megan Fox) have been friends since childhood, but are very different people; Jennifer is like the Wikipedia page for "hot," whereas the surprisingly-not-very-aptly-named Needy is ostensibly a bit dowdier and geekier.  She's not, really; but she kind of seems like she is.  Actually, she doesn't even really seem like she is; she just seems like she seems like she is.  There's an undercurrent of sexual attraction between the two, as well.  Everyone seems to be aware of it, but neither of them seems particularly inclined to worry about it or to act on it, with the implication being that Jennifer uses it as a tool against Needy in order to get what she wants.  For example, if she wants Needy to go to a "club" with her to see a band even though Needy has plans with her boyfriend, Jennifer pulls out a wee bit of non-flirtation flirtation and the next thing you know, they're going to the club.  Once there, Jennifer begins trying to pick up the lead singer of the band, who is more than happy to be picked up, especially since the band is on the prowl for a virgin to sacrifice to Satan in order to catapult themselves out of the realm of struggling indie-rock group and into the level of Maroon 5 type stardom.
If any or all of that sounds dumb, well, I get it.  I mean, who could possibly look at Megan Fox's Jennifer and think that girl is a virgin?  We overhear two of the band members discussing that very thing, and the lead singer's hypothesis is that she's just like every other girl like that he's ever met in a small town: she's nothing more than a surface appearance of wildness.  His bandmate is rightly skeptical of this.  Unbeknownst to them, Needy overhears the conversation and is rightly angry on her friend's behalf, but she makes a crucial mistake: she thinks they are talking about Jennifer potentially being a virgin as a bad thing, a thing that would cause them not to want to pick her up.  So she confronts them and says, hey, you know what, my friend is a virgin, you creeps.  She reports all of this back to Jennifer, who amusedly reveals that she's "not even a back-door virgin" anymore (a young Chris Pratt apparently took care of that in his role as a police cadet).  She ends up going with the band in the wake of a fire that burns the bar down (!), and, as well will find out later, they sacrifice her to Satan.  However, since she wasn't entirely a virgin, she stays alive, cohabitating with a demon that drives to feed on human flesh.  Let the murders of high school boys commence.
There's a lot of interesting things going on in this movie, one of the first of which comes back to the conversation in the bar about Jennifer being a virgin or not.  Jennifer prior to the demon possession or whatever is kind of a c, but she's also unmistakably that.  You don't know this girl without knowing who and what she is; so if you can't or don't deal with that, that's probably on you.  And in this scene in the bar, EVERYONE makes an assumption about who Jennifer is and what she wants.  None of them get it right, and thanks to the fact that the resultant miscommunication dooms Jennifer to being partially murdered (I don't know how else to put that), in many ways Jennifer's Body is a tragedy with her as the victim.  She can't be held liable for her actions post-possession; she can only be held liable for what she does prior to that, and she's blameless.  She's manipulative, yes, and she's clearly a slut.  So what?  Man, sluts are a godsend.  I assume; they never would have anything to do with my lame ass, so I wouldn't really know.
The point is, Jennifer is super hot, yes; and she's super confident, yes; and she's proactive in going after what she wants, yes.  How is any of this a bad thing?  Okay, fine, underage drinking and whatnot, illegal, yada yada yada.  Beyond that, and the mildly treacherous way in which Jennifer manipulates Needy, I can't find any fault in the way she behaves.  But because the lead singer sees her and assumes the way she behaves must be a deception, and because Needy then feels the need to lie about who Jennifer actually is, Jennifer's ability to control her own image is removed from her hands; and she pays a steep price for it, as, eventually, will numerous other people.
Pretty much the entire rest of the movie plays out in similarly thought-provoking fashion, with Diablo Cody's sometimes razor-sharp and sometimes too-eager-to-please dialogue backing it up.  I'd say the dialogue is about 75% great and 25% swing-and-a-miss, but any screenplay that contains the observation "I've got the cops in my back pocket, Needy; I'm fucking a cadet, remember?" is a winner in my book.  Elsewhere, a guy invites Jennifer to go see The Rocky Horror Picture Show with him and she declines on the grounds of not liking boxing movies; great.  One of the band members makes a sort of approving indication when he finds out that Jennifer is going to be killed with a Bowie knife, and the movie is smart enough to not spell out the fact that he clearly thinks it's got something to do with David Bowie.  Jennifer denounces PMS as a myth started by the "boy-run media."  
There's some fucking gold in this screenplay, man.  And some pyrite, too, but enough gold that I do not care one bit about the moments that don't work.
In case you can't tell, I loved this movie.  Top to bottom, just great stuff.  Yes, yes, Megan Fox is lava-level hot; but she's also really good in this movie.  It would be easy for Jennifer to come off as a stereotype or a cartoon (I'm thinking of late-series Robert Englund performances as Freddy, all posturing and playing to the back of the auditorium), and she never does.  Even in her most monstrous moments, Jennifer never ceases to be an individual, one who is complicated and shallow at the same time, one who both is and isn't all surface.  It's a great role, and Fox kills it.
Amanda Seyfried has the less showy role, but she's also great.  She clearly cares about her friend but is also palpably jealous of and resentful toward her.  Much of this seems to me to be the result of the sexual feelings she possesses for Jennifer but has never gotten around to working out, but I think the larger issue is that she just hasn't figured out who or what she is in the broader sense.  Hey, some people never do; so if she's still in high school and hasn't, well, that's no mark of shame, is it?
It all ends in a satisfying manner, too, which is always a welcome note.
Finally, I'll add that I watched the theatrical cut.  There's an unrated cut which is five minutes longer; no idea what it adds.  The next time I watch the movie -- probably next year -- I'll check that out.
So part seven is off to a strong start indeed!  Let's see if we can keep that momentum going with (pulls title out of the hat)...