Thursday, April 18, 2019

WonderCon 2019: Alien Short Films

For the 40th anniversary of Alien, six filmmakers were chosen to expand the universe with their own short films. At WonderCon, two of the shorts premiered: Alien: Specimen and Alien: Ore with interviews with the directors, Kelsey Taylor and the Spear sisters. Overall, I was very impressed with the quality of both films.

* Alien: Specimen

A greenhouse in space is filled to the brim with plants. When a woman gets in a contaminated shipmen of earth, she seals it up and quarantines it, following protocol even though it significantly sets back her work. She works through the night with upbeat music, coffee, and her dog to keep her going until she sees the containers of earth spilled open and an empty egg inside.

Specimen is visually very different from the typical Alien film. The entire greenhouse is full of trees and plants, giving the film a much warmer, organic feel compared to the industrial or sterile space age feel. We are on the woman's side right away because we see how hard she works and how she copes with few words spoken. The facehugger chase is similar to the one in Aliens with Ripley and Newt. However, this one has the lights going out, creating an even deeper sense of suspense as it could be hiding anywhere. The alien itself is seen in glimpses until the very end, where it looks pretty decent. Not a second is wasted anywhere in the film and it does what it sets out to do.

My rating: 5/5 fishmuffins

* Alien: Ore

A group of miners delve deep into the earth, desperate to find ore to get their bonus. The planet is desolate and poor with everyone eager to get some money to move. When a eggs are found instead of ore, Weyland-Yutani shows its true colors.

Lorraine is the main character of the film, strong and hardy on one hand and a loving grandmother on the other. She and her daughter work in the mines to give her granddaughter a better life. She has the other workers' respect and supports them when push comes to shove. I love that this goes back to the blue collar roots of Alien, where Ripley and her crew are essentially space truckers seen as disposable. There's also a amazing older woman who shows great emotional and physical strength.The caves feel a weird combination of claustrophobic and terrifyingly vast with seemingly interminable, dark corridors. The atmosphere is top notch and creepy. The only tiny complaint I had was one detail of the very end. With such a short film, even sounds are significant. The sounds at the end seem to indicate one specific ending over ambiguity.

My rating: 4.5/5 fishmuffins

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

WonderCon 2019: The Future of Horror and Child's Play

* Terror of the 2020's: Where Horror is Heading in the Next Decade

Rebekah McKendry, James Sabata, Jared Rivet, and Vincent V. Cava have a round table discussion about the near future of horror. The current state of horror is first established. Horror tv is where the money is even though it tends to be less extreme with few outliers like Hannibal and Channel Zero. They see more different formatted shows in the future like The Terror. Horror has been known since its inception as a financial sure thing. There are a huge amount of films made on tiny budgets that are released on VOD even though much less money is made per film than with DVDs or BluRay.

For the future, keep an eye out for shows like don't fit into conventional formats like The Terror. So-called "elevated" horror is on the rise, specifically $5 to $10 million films that deal with higher brow issues and become critically acclaimed. Reboots aren't going to die because even though we complain, we all go see them anyway. Hopefully existing IPs are changed in tone like Hannibal or The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina. The zombie trend is on the way out. Zombieland acted as its bookend with the first at the beginning and the second at the end. People have been claiming fatigue for years, but Santa Clarita Diet is going strong along with Kingdom, Black Summer, The Walking Dead, its spin-off, and the star studded The Dead Don't Die. I think it might still have some life in it. They predict that filmmakers are moving away from anthologies and towards serials.

This panel was more of a casual conversation with some audience participation. I enjoyed it, but I'm not sold on some of their predictions.

* Child's Play (2019)

I am not super enthused about this reboot. Most are unnecessary, but this one is just insulting. The last Chucky movie was literally made two years ago with a TV show in development and Don Mancini, the creator, has been involved in every installment of the franchise as writer and/or producer. He was not asked about the remake or consulted at all and it leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

The panel consisted of director Lars Klevberg, producer Seth Grahame-Smith, producer David Katzenberg, writer Tyler Burton Smith, and actors Aubrey Plaza and Gabriel Bateman. The most exciting announcement that made me consider watching the film is that Mark Hamill is the new voice of Chucky. The film focuses more on technology such as Google Home or Siri, which is always connected and watching you, linked with a doll going haywire and deciding to kill you. The concept is interesting, but pretty far removed from Child's Play and seemed unnecessary to use the title. I appreciate that the filmmakers decided to use as much practical effects and animatronics as possible. Andy is a teenager here with Chucky, more of an AI than just a doll, being his first friend. I find this concept creepy. A doll like this would make sense with a much younger child than a teenager.

I like Aubrey Plaza as an actress, but she said some weird things during the panel such as coming to set with a real knife and hiding outside of Gabriel's house for hours as pranks. Honestly, I think it was an awkward way to try to fill up the time since this was literally the only panel to not take any audience questions. Other than that, it seemed like a fun set. Klevberg had a stoic nature that everyone had fun with. The only other thing troubling me was the short amount of time the film was made. From conception to the first day of filming was only 6 months and it's a concern that it may have been rushed. I will probably see the film. It seems like an interesting concept, but I still have reservations about its quality.

Friday, April 12, 2019

WonderCon 2019: Twilight Zone and NOS4A2

* Reimagining The Twilight Zone for a Modern Audience

I arrived to this panel a little late. It had the longest line of any panel I saw and I got in about 15 minutes late. (Small side note that many more people would have fit into the room if people would have sat in all chairs instead of putting bags and stuff there instead.) Anyway, the series producers (minus Jordan Peele) talked about the show moderated by Ginnifer Goodwin, who stars in one of the episodes. They claimed that none of the episodes are remakes of old episodes, despite some similarity in episode name. Each episode has its own musical language and can be deceptive in what it's influencing the viewers to feel. The show takes place in the modern day with stylistic nods to the original. They spoke at length about Rod Stirling and how he created the show to talk about social issues that he wasn't allowed to portray plainly in drama shows. The writers came up with the sci-fi concept first and then talked about the deeper concepts that would work within that. I missed the footage from the show, but I'm excited to see what's in store with the Twilight Zone.

* NOS4A2

NOS4A2 is going to be airing on AMC on June 2 and is based on Joe Hill's chilling novel of the same name. The two main stars are Zachary Quinto as the villain Charles Manx and Ashleigh Cummings as Vic McQueen, a girl with mysterious powers.

Before the panel, the entire first episode was played. I am impressed. There are few drastic changes, like starting Vic as a teen (played by an adult) and accelerating the discovery and effect of her powers. Her home and life are established. As she enters her senior year of high school, she struggles with her financial situation and her dream to go to art school. I especially loved the portrayal of her parents. Her father seems to be support and affable, but is revealed to be a wife beating alcoholic who drops his family in favor of a hot young woman. Her mother seems to be negative and unsupportive, but she's being realistic about how the world treats people like them and doesn't want Vic to dream about things she can't have. Charlie Manx and his MO are shown, as well as the parallel transformation of Manx from ancient to young and a child from human to soulless monster. It's a promising first episode that captures the same scenes in the books well.

The showrunner, Jami O'Brien, stated that the book itself would probably take about 3 seasons to cover and hopes to continue past the book. Joe Hill was hilarious talking about his famous father, their collaborations together, and easter eggs in the first episode. He didn't seem to have much control or say in what goes on in the show, but he was very complimentary about their work. Jahkara Smith talked about learning a lot on set as a first time actress. I loved her in the first episode and I can't wait for Maggie and Vic to meet. The show looks pretty amazing. I'm a little concerned that the horror elements will be pulled back to appeal to a wider audience, but we'll see. I will definitely be watching on June 2. 

Thursday, April 11, 2019

WonderCon 2019

Over this past weekend, I went to 2 days of WonderCon! I saw a surprising amount of panels, awesome cosplay, spectacular art, and droolworthy collectibles. I didn't take a ton of pictures this time, but here is my favorite cosplay. The hand puppet is magnificent and completely handmade.

Artist Katie Cook was a special guest. I saw her a few years ago at Comic Con and she painted mini-portraits of all my cats. She was so popular this year that whenever I went to see if I could commission another portrait, she was either in panels or the line was so long it was already cut off. I purchased one of her premade watercolors instead.

The convention room floor was crowded with artists, authors, comics, books, movie and tv stars, and other merchandise in booths. The most popular one was the Exploding Kittens booth. This giant vending machine shaped as a cat complete with fur had buttons on the front to purchase items or receive a random item. I was playing games nearby and saw people stand for hours to watch and the line was always massive. Check out the awesomeness below.

I also got to try out a few games in the gaming area. My favorite was Unstable Unicorns where you build an army of adorable, deadly unicorns. The gameplay reminds me of simplified version of Magic: the Gathering, which feels super fun. The other games I tried out seemed like they needed a bit more development and variety within the games.

WonderCon was so much fun. Keep an eye out for converage on the panels I got to see.

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Us (2019)

Adelaide Wilson, her husband Gabe, and her two children Jason and Zora all pile in their station wagon for summer vacation. The family has a bayside summer home near Santa Cruz beach, where Adelaide was traumatized as a child. She is uncomfortable from their arrival and doesn't want to go back to the site of her trauma, but her husband convinces her. Throughout their day on the beach, weird coincidences happen over and over and Adelaide is on edge. The rest of the family is oblivious, but as night falls, a family looms at the end of their driveway and breaks into their home, revealing themselves to be deranged doubles.

Us is a suspenseful, tense film that preys on our childhood fears, fear of the unknown, and imposter syndrome. Adelaide meets her double as a child and lost her speech as a result. After years of therapy and dance training as a child, she recovered her speech but the anxiety and probable PTSD are still there. While everyone else blithely plays or relaxes on the beach, Adelaide tries to see in every direction on high alert to protect her children from any threat. Later on, she's the first to dial 911 before they even know the people are a threat. She is driven by love and fear in equal measure. The other Adelaide, named Red, has experienced many injustices and atrocities including being forced to live underground roughly mimicking Adelaide's actions, forced to be with Gabe's double Abraham, and forced to be pregnant with two monstrous children. Red doesn't have the same attachment to her family, but her reasons for fighting for freedom are also understandable. Having both main characters at odds with understandable motivations makes the film so much more complex.

** spoilers **

Adelaide's reactions and trauma take a different meaning when we find out at the end of the film that she is the underground doppelganger who switched places with and imprisoned Red when they were children. Adelaide's trauma is from being underground and knowing what it was like to essentially have no free will, cooked food, or open air. However, even though she knew people were trapped underground, she did nothing to help them and only lived in fear of her double coming for her. This fact with the failed Hands Across American campaign (that was supposed to help homeless people) being the double's inspiration points to the hidden doubles being symbols for impoverished and underprivileged communities. On the flip side, the affluent people, the Wilson's and their friends the Tyler's, are largely bored and have frivolous concerns like getting more luxury items. Even though they are largely decent people, they still represent the ideals of greed, boredom, excess, and apathy. Many of the doubles were more talented than their counterparts, namely the acrobatic twins and Zora's faster double Umbrae. They are driven mad by captivity and don't have access to opportunities that the surface people are free to reject. They could surpass the surface people if they had the same opportunities. Their decision to conquer the surface world with violence also exposes the violent origins of  and continued violent practices in dealing with people deemed "other" of the United States.

Us is an amazing film that kept me guessing. Jordan Peele has such a unique view with rich imagery and symbolism within a frightening and entertaining story. I watched the film twice in a weekend and I would love to watch it again because I see something different each time. Every aesthetic choice is so interesting, referential, and adds to the tapestry that makes up the film. The film is gorgeous to look at and listen to. Moments of humor break up the tension and feel like authentic conversations between family members. The home invasion scene backed by Fuck the Police by NWA gave me heavy Funny Games vibes and made the scene morbidly funny. The only tiny problem I had with the film was villain monologuing acting as heavy handed explosition. Us will inevitably be compared to Get Out, but they are such different films. It is much more open to interpretation, but still informed by the social and political climate in the US. I can't wait to see the Twilight Zone reboot and any other movie he creates.

My rating: 4.5/5 fishmuffins

Friday, March 29, 2019

My Sister the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite

In Lagos, Nigeria, Korede works as a nurse and lives with her mother and younger sister Ayoola. She is fastidious in her job, but doesn't really have any friends due to keeping her sister's secrets and cleaning up her messes, literally. Ayoola's third boyfriend in a row has died, stabbed to death. Ayoola herself is dismissive of the entire thing and claims to have been attacked. Korede cleans up the mess effectively and has to monitor Ayoola's behavior. The one thing she has is a crush on a handsome doctor at her work, but even that comes crashing down when Ayoola just so happens to meet him and catch his attention. Korede must decide if she's going to live her own life or stay in her sister's shadow and clean up her messes forever.

My Sister the Serial Killer is a short novel about the toxicity of family and obligation versus freedom. Korede does what needs to be done without complaint or discussion (at least out loud). She's direct, practical, competant, knowledgeable, and obsessed with cleanliness, all excellent qualities for a homicidal sister to take advantage of. Inside, Korede is much different with a lot of understandable resentment and bitterness. Not only does she have to clean up the grisly messes, but coach Ayoola in how to act in person and online to stave off suspicion. Her one outlet is to confess everything to a comatose patient and just vent out her feelings about everything because she literally has no one else. What keeps her beholden to her sister is familial obligation and a shared trauma about their abusive father that unfolds throughout the novel. 

Ayoola is Korede's opposite in every way. She is a clothing designer who has murdered at least three people. There is always a good reason, but once their bodies are out of the way, she just goes on with her life without sparing a thought to the possibility of being caught. I have no idea what goes through her mind, but her actions are so frustrating, purposefully sabotaging Korede's efforts to keep her out of jail as if to make her work harder. She gets everything she wants only to discard it like garbage when she loses interest. Her mother babies her and blames Korede for all of her shortcomings. It's completely frustrating to see her blithely expecting all of this and being favored over her sister while literally getting away with murder.

The novel is a frustrating read because of the relationships involved, but it's well written with complex characters. The setting in Lagos played a large part. Even though their father was awful and abusive, they are expected to have a party to remember him every year. The cultural traditions is lovely for someone well remembered, but seems like salt in the wound to celebrate an abuser. The police are portrayed as corrupt and easily swayed by bribery or stroking their ego. Even though the ending was a bit disappointing to me, I understood why the choice was made. My only criticism is some predictable elements in the story. Other than that, I enjoyed the short novel and I look forward to more from Oyinkan Braithwaite.

My rating: 4/5 fishmuffins

Thursday, March 28, 2019

Upcoming Horror Films

* Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, August 9 in theaters

Plot: It's 1968 in America. Change is blowing in the wind...but seemingly far removed from the unrest in the cities is the small town of Mill Valley where for generations, the shadow of the Bellows family has loomed large. It is in their mansion on the edge of town that Sarah, a young girl with horrible secrets, turned her tortured life into a series of scary stories, written in a book that has transcended time-- stories that have a way of becoming all too real for a group of teenagers who discover Sarah's terrifying home.

I read this series as a kid and the art especially was so memorable, chilling, and strange. Seeing it replicated so lovingly onscreen is surreal and I can't wait to watch this movie. The horror of the book is obviously not being pulled back at all with the body horror of the poster below. I had the wonderful opportunity to go to a press event for this film, where I got see a clip, see the new trailer, and hear directly from Guillermo del Toro, Andre Ovredal, and the cast. The film will have the most memorable stories in Scary Stories such as The Red Spot, Harold, and The Pale Woman melded into one story. The concept of the story book writing itself as it occurs in real life is awesome. It seems like each character will be affected by one story based on their personality and background. Del Toro said they are aiming for a PG-13 rating, which completely makes sense. I can't wait for this adaptation.

* Suspiria, May 3 on Amazon Prime

Suspiria, on of my favorite films of last year (read my review here), premieres on Amazon Prime May 3rd. If you haven't seen this film, I highly recommend it. I personally loved it, but it is lengthy and can be polarizing.

* Body at Brighton Rock, April 26 on VOD

Plot: Wendy, a part time summer employee at a mountainous state park, takes on a rough trail assignment at the end of the season, trying to prove to her friends that she's capable enough to do the job. When she takes a wrong turn and ends up deep in the backcountry, she stumbles upon what might be a potential crime scene. Stuck with no communication after losing her radio and with orders to guard the site, Wendy must fight the urge to run and do the hard job of staying put-- spending the night deep in the wilderness, facing down her worst fears and proving to everyone- including herself- that she's made of stronger stuff than they think she is.

Body at Brighton Rock looks a bit like Last Shift mixed with The Ranger with a twist of its own. I'm immediately on Wendy's side despite her naivete. Her determination to do her job and prove herself are admirable. I am completely intrigued to know what's going on and I already have a list of theories about what's going on. I loved Roxanne Benjamin's work in anthologies such as XX, Southbound, and VHS 2, so I'm eager to see her first full length film.