Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Brightburn (2019)

Brandon Breyer isn't like twelve year olds his age. He has never been bruised or bled and his parents found him crashed in an alien spacecraft when he was a baby. Now, puberty hits him the same time as his powers start to develop in earnest and the spacecraft draws him closer with a message. Brandon has to decide how he will use his powers and if he goes with his human family who raised him or the people who sent him there.

Brightburn takes the familiar story of Superman, where in an alien boy is dropped on Earth with special powers, and makes it a story of horror and violence instead of heroism. Because the story is so familiar, the crash and discovery of the child are shown and then it fast forwards to his teenage years. My biggest problem with the film is that we don't get to see Brandon acting "normally." We see him being quiet and knowledgeable in class (and being teased as a result). The discovery of his powers coincides with puberty, but where boys are becoming interested in girls and growing hair, Brandon is curious about the insides of humans, experimenting with his indestructible skin, and discovering his superhuman strength. His mother goes on and on about how nice and sweet he was before the transformation, but we never see it. Maybe it was never there as plenty of people are delusional about the merits of their children.

The story is fairly straight forward without many twists and turns. Brandon discovers his superiority to humans and decides what to do about it. Unlike Superman, he chooses to be much more self serving and starts killing people who get in his way. Imagine an entitled white boy having the power to do what they want. He creeps on the girl he likes and hurts her when she rightfully rejects him, removes people who have authority over him, and shows no remorse for any of it. Of course, he insists on signing each scene with his symbol and leads a mounting police investigation in his direction. The atmosphere and death scenes are the best part of the film. The violence comes in unexpected ways as Brandon toys with his prey. Superhero films usually downplay brutal violence and do everything they can to detach the viewer from most deaths, but this film doesn't look away. For a fairly mainstream film, the gore much more than I expected and seen in extreme closeup in some cases. It's cringe inducing and one of the highlights of the film for me.

The other thing the film does well is in the human characters, particularly in Brandon's mom Tori. Tori is a mom trying to do her very best. Her parents gave up on her when she was a teenager and she vows to never do that to her son. Even when he does the most horrific things, she clings to some kind of hope that she can help turn him around and that he's good deep down inside. It's frustrating to watch from the outside, but it entirely makes sense to her character. Caitlyn, the girl Brandon harasses, is nice to him at first, but becomes creeped out when he sneaks into her room uninvited at night and then completely terrified when he breaks her hand for rejecting him in a game. Her mother is understandably angry at Brandon, that his counselor is going to be his own aunt, and the school's general lack of response to her daughter being assaulted. These two characters, though seen as villains to Brandon, are entirely understandable and I felt for them especially in this society that doesn't see men and boys like Brandon as the problem they are. Each death that happens is a bit of a gut punch because we know these characters and their motivation.

Brightburn is the superhero horror film that I wanted. It included social issues in a subtle waya dn portrayed human characters in a varied, relatable way. It has its problems like the predictable ending, the lack of development in Brandon, and the father seeming to be super willing to kill his kid without solid evidence. I would love to see a sequel or follow up because I think the story has more to give. I would recommend this film if you don't mind gore and are looking for a film kind of like Superman mixed with The Omen.

My rating: 4/5 fishmuffins

Thursday, May 9, 2019

Manga Mini-Reviews: Tohyo Game: One Black Ballot to You by G.O., Chihiro, and Tatsuhiko

Shuusuke Takayama starts at a new class where Kazuto Satou creates a popularity concert targeting the girls. While it's just a joke, people start dying due to mysterious circumstances. The vote is at fault and the stakes keep getting higher and higher while the class size shrinks.

* Tohyo Game 1

Tohyo Game feels familiar, combining elements of The Ring, Battle Royale, and Final Destination. The concept of a popularity based fatal vote is interesting, but comes off as exploitative of one side. The popularity contest is bad already but on top of that, invasive photos of the girls in states of undress are posted alongside their names. This veers into disgusting territory that isn't really addressed. This and random nudity serve no purpose other than fan service that just annoyed me. In addition, Kazuto is only seen as a well meaning joker even though he invaded these girl's privacy and subjected them to humiliating public scrutiny. I couldn't help but roll my eyes at this boys will be boys crap. The girls are seen as to blame for the second poll even though they were victims of bullying, harassment, and exploitation in the first poll. The boys are not given near the same treatment and it's pretty misogynistic.

The characters are paper thin with little introduction  and even less development. I wasn't attached to them at all when they died. The story didn't have much substance at all beyond interesting kills. The only positives are the detailed, gruesome deaths with some unique methods and the mystery. Every prediction they made was wrong and it was pretty fun to see total failure over and over from awful characters. I'm not impressed with this at all, but I bought all three volumes at the same time, so I may as well finish.

My rating: 2/5 fishmuffins

* Tohyo Game 2

In the second installment, the rules are finally cemented, but they are a bit numerous to remember without flipping back to it. On the bright side, the action starts right away. The group debates about sacrifices to minimize the deaths. Marina is the only one with a flippant attitude and completely willing to murder people to win. The method of voting gets more and more specific and varied, leading to loopholes, and unexpected revelations.

Unfortunately, there are way more things that bothered me. Suddenly, one of the classmates, Shougo, is the grossest character ever. His exploitation and rape of a vulnerable classmate are graphically portrayed for no real reason and persists through most of the story. I don't remember him at all from the first book. When he seemed like a clear choice to kill, others would say that no one deserved to be killed after they just picked a sacrifice that was an innocent girl. Their sudden change of heart had me rolling my eyes. There are moments of nudity and Marina in her bra for no reason. It's just gross. Parts of the story improved like the pacing, but the misogynistic parts are magnified.

My rating: 1.5/5 fishmuffins

* Tohyo Game 3

In the last installment, events are at their most extreme. There is so much insane weirdness smashed between the covers of this book, it's ridiculous. It begins with the boys delivering their million yen to the girls as their vote. Then, the girls have to have sex with the boy they vote for. This is disgusting on so many levels. First, the boys have to get around $8,000 which is no small feat, but the girls have to either have sex with one of the five boys chosen or die. And they still might die if that person has the lowest amount of votes. It really goes off the rails after this with reveals about the previous games, incest, and escalating to murder and dismemberment. Cops finally get involved, but they essentially do nothing besides filling in some exposition. Otherwise, they were useless when there are dead bodies popping up at that school all the time. One reveal at the end was unexpected, but the rest was a mess of offensive and poorly thought out. At the very end, a meaning to be humorous cartoon compares all the high school students' breasts in the most objectifying, dehumanizing way. I won't be reading anything else by these creators.

My rating: 0.5/5 fishmuffins

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