Saturday, December 2, 2017

Horror Movie Mini-Reviews: The Invisible Man (1933) and Vamps (2012)

* The Invisible Man (1933)

Dr. Jack Griffin stumbled upon a serum to make himself invisible, unaware of the toxins that are driving him insane. He goes to a remote town to figure out how to turn himself back, but he doesn’t get the privacy he needs. Flying into a rage, he terrorizes the town and plans to commit more murders and larger atrocious acts. Can his loved ones get him to listen and stop his reign of terror?

The Invisible Man is a late entry into the Universal Monsters and feels different than the previous entries due to the time period and the mood. It feels much more modern than its time and more malicious, on a larger scale than other Universal films. The special effects are impressive and revolutionary for the time. Jack is invisible for the entire film save for the last few minutes and it isn’t hidden. The technique looks like today’s green screen effects, but was achieved with a black velvet, a black velvet background, and a matte process.

Like almost all the others, the main character isn’t a flat villain, but the nice, normal person is never seen. All we see is the deranged doctor hellbent on creating as much death and chaos as possible. He gets worse as the film goes on, starting as generally ill tempered and rude and ending homicidal. His plans get larger and more elaborate, making him the most dangerous and mean spirited Universal monster. Trains The others focused on a small scale or didn’t even mean to inflict pain on others. They never went into full fledged terrorism, maliciously affecting anyone and everyone on a large scale like Jack. The Invisible Man is a wild ride for a Universal film and Claude Rains does an excellent job of embodying Jack's insanity without really being seen on screen.

My rating: 4/5 fishmuffins

* Vamps (2012)

Goody and Stacy are two vampires who found each other in New York City. Goody was turned into a vampire in 1841 by Ciccerus while Stacy was turned by the same person in the early 90's. Both view their transformations as a net good because Goody was able to advocate for important issues over the years and raise her family while Stacy was cured of her drug addiction. Neither vampire drinks human blood. Instead, they opt to drink animal blood, usually rats. The downside of their vampire state is being at the beck and call of their maker who has no problem drinking human blood and doesn't care about leaving huge massacre tableaux around. Vampire hunters set their sights on Goody and Stacy when Stacy dates Van Helsing's son. Can they convince the humans that they hold no threat and destroy their maker before more innocent vampires are killed?

Vamps is a goofy, adorable horror comedy that puts female friendship and romance before any horror elements. Stacy is just starting out as vampire while Goody has seen over 200 years of human history. Goody lies about her age and claims to know so much about history from The History Channel. She is tired of trying to keep up with technology and fashion trends in addition to looking for love every night in clubs and bars. Her nostalgia for the past and her views on activism give the film a bit more meat and dimension. Goody is shown in many different stages of her life and when she looks at part sof Manhattan, she sees and muses about what used to be there. Stacy finds love in Joey Van Helsing and struggles to prove to his family that not all vampires are evil. The conflict comes from two sides: the Van Helsing patriarch trying to eradicate all vampires and Ciccerus killing people left and right and putting the other vampires in danger.

Where the film falls flat is in the over the top goofy elements and the poor writing. The makeup for every vampire except Goody and Stacy is downright ghoulish with white cake makeup and dark circles around the eyes. The vampire effects beyond the fangs are cartoonish digital effects. The writing is servicable for the most part, but Sigourney Weaver is absolutely wasted as Ciccerus. She isn't able to be completely evil and ends up being childish and more whiny than sinister. Other than that, Vamps is a heartwarming horror comedy that's worth a watch.

My rating: 3/5 fishmuffins 

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Ms. Marvel: No Normal

Kamala Khan is a teenage girl, living in New Jersey with her family and struggling with her identity. At school, she's teased for bringing food that "smells weird" and condescended to about her own faith. The mocking nature of this concern troll goes over Kamala's head because she wants to be More than anything, she wants to belong and be comfortable, not an outsider who doesn't belong. One night, she sneaks out to go to a party which she was expressly forbidden and feels rejected once again. The partgoers assume that since she disobeyed her family, she rejects everything they stand for including her Pakistani heritage and Muslim faith. This friction between her culture and the schools dominant culture wears on her.

Each of Kamala's family members put their own expectations on how she should be behave and what she should become as well. Her father Yusuf wants her to focus on her studies and become a doctor. Her mother Muneeba is more worried about her becoming pregnant and keeps her away from boys. Kamala fulfilling her familial duties out in public is also very important to her. Kamala's older brother Aamir is incredibly devout and strict in his religious beliefs, much more than their parents, and wants her to live as he does. With all these people pulling Kamala in different directions, she has to decide what she wants for herself.

On the way home from the party, a fog engulfs her and she emerges with shapeshifting powers, looking exactly like Carol Danvers' Ms. Marvel. With this transformation, Kamala gets everything she thought she wanted. She becomes the norm she sees around her with blonde hair, pale skin, and a skin tight revealing outfit. However, her emotions don't match her expectation. She feels uncomfortable and exposed instead of confident and comfortable. Over the course of the book, Kamala becomes more comfortable with herself. She creates a unique costume, gets more used to her new polymorph powers, and decides that she wants to save people. Her first super hero act is saving the girl who was so mean to her because that's the right thing to do.

Kamala is just learning to be a superhero so she makes quite a few mistakes. She gets shot and accidentally discovers that shifting back to herself makes her heal instantly and simultaneously exposes her identity to a friend. Second, she fails trying to save her friend from Robot Spiders. Her perseverence is eventually rewarded in victory, but it took a few tries. Then, her commitments to her family suffer as she tries to save Jersey City from various threats. Through it all, Kamala doesn't lose herself and finds inspiration from her faith. She's a relatable character struggling to see who she wants to be and I can't wait to read more of her story.

My rating: 4.5/5 fishmuffins

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Pulse (2001)

Two separate groups of people discover a mysterious website. Kudo Michi is introduced to it when a co-worker casually commits suicide while she's in his apartment and finds images of it on a CD of his. Ryosuke stumbles upon the site when connecting to his new internet and sees videos of people acting strangely. Both people struggle to find out about the website and what it means.

Pulse is a strange movie that doesn't feel as familiar as others in its genre. The two parallel stories are a little odd because they don't have anything to do with each other save the website until extremely late into the movie. Both main characters are nice, well meaning people. Kudo wants to know why her coworker committed suicide and in such on odd way, leaving behind a black grease mark. Ryosuke wants to know more about the website that seemed almost like snuff films. He understandable shut off in terror after a man put a plastic bag over his head. He befriends a woman named Harue who drastically changes since he introduced her to the site.

The film brings up the fear of death and the possibility of contacting the dead. Harue is one of the people that can't handle being faced with her own mortality, but becomes comfortable with it when she's convinced she won't be alone as she feared. The situation worsens until it's a complete apocalypse situation. I didn't completely enjoy it because this aspect seemed to come out of nowhere. We follow these two characters' stories and then suddenly Tokyo is deserted. The film also moves glacially slow and didn't have enough scares or interesting events to keep my interest throughout the movie. It started off so well with unnerving images, but couldn't keep up the momentum for me.

Pulse is a unique film in it's approach, tone, and story telling. The concept of the dead returning to create a world wide situation is interesting, but the actual story lost me somewhere along the way. There are interesting concepts and images, including this red duct tape that somehow denotes the involvement of the dead and the stains left on the wall by the dead. However, they didn't seem to connect and weren't explained at all. They came off as a not well thought out collection of unsettling images. It might be a cultural reference or concept that I'm not familiar with. I can't say I recommend it.

My rating: 2/5 fishmuffins

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Thor: Goddess of Thunder

Thor is no longer worthy to wield Mjolnir, his hammer, and it's stuck on the moon with no one being able to lift it. He desperately tries over and over, but can't due to some comment Nick Fury whispered into his ear. A woman comes to the moon and takes the hammer when Frost Giants invade Earth. The leaders of Asgard act as if it's been stolen and react accordingly, making pacts with dangerous beings. This mysterious woman may be Earth's only hope of survival.

Thor: Goddess of Thunder is quite a controversial comic. Many fanboys didn't even bother to read it and automatically rejected the new character out of principle, citing that Thor can only be male and writers can't just slap the name on another character. Many of them also said that it's somehow disrespectful to the history of the comic and the myth alike. If they had actually read the book, many of these points are addressed except the "disrespect" issue. Only misogynists thinks it's disrespectful to have a female character in a traditionally male role and I don't see them condemning other stories that change ancient mythological characters around. The Mjolnir wielder didn't want the name Thor, but Thor gave it to her. Of course not before blaming her for his own incompetence and fighting her for the hammer. After his initial rage cooled and he saw reason, he stated he was no longer worthy of the name. I especially enjoy how all of these complaints are addressed clearly within the plot.

The new Thor is an admirable character and her identity remains a mystery throughout this book. She has to adapt to the powers quickly in order to address the emergent situation with the Frost Giants. Mistakes are made at critical times, like having the hammer trapped in a vibranium room which will eventually sap her supernatural power on top of revealing her identity. Her wonder and delight at the newfound powers are refreshing to see and her strength and power are formidable. However, she's automatically dismissed and underestimated due to her gender by the Frost Giants who see her as an easy meal and a mockery of the previous Thor. She beats them handily and, as many women do, she simply shows It's nice to see Freya in a place of power as well. Before this story started, Freya became the All-Mother in Odin's absence. When he returned, she refused to cede power to him and came to Midgard's aid when Odin refused to, much too distracted by his son's failure and teaming up with old enemies to care.

Thor: Goddess of Thunder lays out the tone and reasoning of the haters and has Thor smash through them, showing her to be maybe even better than the previous Thor (as he admits himself).So many comic book characters give the mantle to someone else and it makes sense to reflect the current time and culture. Gatekeeping fanboys can whine all they like, but the male Thor still exists as a character as do Peter Parker and Carol Danvers even though Miles Morales and Kamala Khan have their own comics. This is honestly the first time since I was a child that I read a non-Deadpool non-zombified superhero comic and this new trend of much more relevant characters makes me want to read them all.

My rating: 4.5/5 fishmuffins

Friday, November 24, 2017

The Innocents (1961)

Miss Giddens becomes a governess for two adorable children, orphaned and financially cared for by their rich and uninterested uncle. At first, she is delighted to care for Flora while Miles is away at school. When he's expelled and returns home, both children have bouts of odd behavior. Unexplained noises and visions of a man and woman haunt Miss Giddens, increasing in intensity as time goes on. She is convinced the children are possessed by spirits of the dead and vows to save them.

The Innocents is first and foremost a beautiful film. In a time when color was the norm, the black and white color sets the mood of the story as well as the dramatically lit scenes, crumbling statues, and mysterious figures. Miss Giddens is the story's unreliable narrator who grows convinced that the children she cares for are possessed by the ghosts of a valet Peter Quint and the previous governess Miss Jessel, who were in love and had a very public affair. She sees their figures and Quint’s face clear as day, but no other character acknowledges them. The film never confirms or denies the existence of the ghosts and cases can be made for either side. I personally find it a little more interesting if the ghosts are merely figments of  Miss Giddens' imagination.

The title could refer to the children, who are by definition innocent. The odd behavior that puts off Miss Giddens is in Miles' almost flirtatious manner and both children's acting as if they have a secret. Flora nonchalantly described a spider eating a a fly in a creepy manner. These can be fairly normal children's behavior. They imitate grown ups, spontaneously kiss people, describe things without being aware of the connotations, and have their own secrets. Miss Giddens may be coloring the situation with her own meaning that comes from someone fairly innocent herself as a spinster in the suppressed Victorian era. Whether the children are possessed or just precocious, the tragic ending is the same and equally heartbreaking.

The Innocents is a beautiful movie that is a gothic horror classic. The atmosphere built and maintained is masterful at capturing Miss Giddens’ mental journey as the house and spirits grow more and more oppressive. Miss Jessel’s figure on the edge of a river is iconic. The scene occurs in broad daylight, but her face is slightly blurred. It amps up the tension and has been copied over and over in film. This film is well worth a watch.

My rating: 4/5 fishmuffins

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

The Belles

Camellia Beauregarde and all of her sisters are Belles, who have the power to make people beautiful. They rise to power as the previous generation retires to provide services to the rich and powerful. She desires above all else to be the Favorite, the most famous Belle that will live at the palace to serve the royal family. When the time to show off her skill comes, Camellia completely ignores instructions to partly to deal with a difficult situation and partly to put her above the other girls. Her plan backfires and she's named second to her sister. Crushed and overwhelmed by her demanding career, she works at a prestigious place until her sister is ousted as Favorite. Camellia is thrilled, but this world of beauty isn't as frivolous as it looks.

I honestly wasn't expecting a lot from The Belles. The world is rife with gowns, beauty, and luxury, but it has a science fiction premise and a dark, horrific underbelly. The people of this world are born with grey skin, red eyes, and straw-like hair, known as Gris. The Belles and their power are the only way they can look what they would call beautiful. Skin and hair color change with the fashion trends, the same as colors or cuts of clothing for us. The society seen in the majority of the novel is the upper class because they are the only people who can pay for Belle services. Their concerns are largely superficial especially when worth is measured by beauty. I am interested in seeing how the poor live. The only glimpse seen of them is in the little girls changed during the Belle debut demonstration where one of the girls isn't shy about condemning the beauty treatment as useless to her situation.

The Belle mythology and treatment by the public are at odds. The people are polytheistic and believe that the Belles inherited their power from the goddess of beauty. Their power includes the ability to change others' appearance (from hair color to their size to bone structure) and emotions. As children, the Belles are separated from the outside world to grow up and hone their skills without their parents. As adults, they are forced to provide their service no matter how the rebel or resist. Edelweiss in particular hates being a Belle and purposefully fails and offends whenever possible. They aren’t allowed to marry or have romantic relationships. Men aren’t even allowed to be alone with them. The Belles are revered and coveted in public, objectified and exploited behind closed doors.

Camellia experienced the realistic fatigue of working a demanding full time job. She is supposed to be guided by a seasoned Belle to learn the clients’ preferences and the ins and outs of the house. This doesn’t actually happen, leaving her to sink or swim on her own, which feels pretty realistic to how jobs usually go. Changing one’s appearance is a painful often disgusting endeavor with an opiate tea needed to sit through the procedure. She is understandably distressed when unwilling, screaming children are subject to her treatment (while their parent cruelly derides their appearance) and adults who refuse to recognize their own limitations. These rare encounters can be horrific, but the real horror comes in the wailing each Belle hears every night and the cruel, demanding princess. This adds and horror and mystery element that surprised and delighted me.

The Belles is a well built world that feels different than others of its genre. I enjoyed the story, but the ending fell apart a bit. The main villain is too flat compared to the other nuanced characters and her exploits went way too extreme. It went into ridiculous territory for me. The Belle powers also aren’t completely defined until convenient to the plot, which felt messy and unplanned. Other than that, this novel is a look into a unique world with a horrific underbelly. I am interested to s ehwere the next book goes.

My rating: 3.5/5 fishmuffins

Monday, November 20, 2017


Derek Cho is slowly climbing up the corporate ladder at his work by finding loopholes to save his clients money. He’s not very happy, but he’s successful so he doesn’t think much about working constantly and not spending time with his family. It all comes crashing down one day when a toxic but influential coworker frames him for a huge mistake and he’s fired. At the same time, the whole building is under quarantine due to a dangerous contagion that reduces people to their base emotions. Can Derek get his job back? Will he even want it back when the disease runs its course?

Mayhem is so much fun. I expected it to be a carbon copy of The Belko Experiment, but it was so
much better. Steven Yeun as Derek Cho is so likable despite being a soulless corporate tool at the outset of the movie. He came into the job so fresh faced and hopeful only to become jaded so quickly when faced with reality I felt so angry for him that his coworker (the Siren) constantly disrespected him because of her position and then get him fired to save herself. The coffee cup theft was particularly infuriating because it symbolized her entitlement to all that is his and her disdain. Even when Derek is affected by the virus, he remains sympathetic because of his righteous fury and charming nature.

The disease rampant in this office unleashes the infected people's base desires and emotions. They have the urge to brawl, kill, cry, scream, eat, do drugs, or have sex depending on their mood, all without the usual filters that prevent us from doing so. One eye of the infected looks like a blood vessel burst and it eventually spreads to everyone in the building. A precedent has already been set legally that any crimes done in this state are not responsible for their actions even in cases of murder. As a result, the bosses hole up on the inaccessible top floor with their drugs, luxuries, and relative peace while chaos reigns everywhere else. It also puts a time limit on Derek's mission.

The violence has a cartoonish, over the top quality with humor and a video game formula that keeps the film from becoming too dark or serious. Derek has to go through mini-boss figures to get to his true target, John Towers AKA the Boss. At first, his goal is to make his case and get his job back. When it's clear they have no interest in hearing his side and he becomes infected, he wants to kill the Boss. The first mini-boss is the Reaper, a sardonic man who carries out firing employees. The next is the Siren who whispers life ruining lies into the Boss's ear. Derek is accompanied by Melanie, a woman caught in the building after he refused to help her get her house back from foreclosure.

Mayhem is a blast to watch with humor, over the top gore, and biting social commentary. It was seriously one of the most enjoyable films of the year and close to the movie I wanted The Belko Experiment to be. Steven Yeun and Samara Weaving are so fun to what and remain sympathetic no matter how many people they kill. Anyone who has worked in a corporate job will relate to him and cheer for them cutting down the corporate ladder to get to the boss.

My rating: 4.5/5 fishmuffins