Sunday, April 23, 2017

Horror Movie Mini-Reviews: Life and Cabin Fever (2016)

* Life

The International Space Station is home to 6 astronauts from all over the world. A probe returns from Mars and is narrowly caught flying through space. Exobiologist Hugh Derry sifts through all of the samples and finds the first instance of extraterrestrial life, named Calvin by an adorable elementary school class on Earth. Calvin rapidly grows and turns sinister when it views the crew as a threat to its existence. I thought life would be a complete Alien rip-off, so I was pleasantly surprised when it was quite different and the characters weren't all complete morons as they usually are in this genre (looking at you, Prometheus). Each of the characters has something to humanize them to the audience so we care when they start dying. Sho's child was just born. Hugh shares his feelings about his paralysis and why he wanted to be an astronaut. Rory is the loveable jokester while David is much more serious and obviously more at home in space than on Earth. Ekaterina and Miranda are the type of women I like seeing in these movies. They are no-nonsense people who don't let their emotions get in the way. Both do everything they have to in order to keep others safe. All of them are intelligent people who do everything from following set protocols to even sacrificing their own lives in order to save others.

The alien in the film is unique in that all of its cells act as muscle, brain, and nervous system. It starts out as a single cell and quickly develops into a large multicelled organism similar to a flower mixed with a jellyfish. It turns violent when it lies dormant, possibly dead, in a lab accident and Hugh shocks it to revive it. Perceiving it as an attack, Calvin lashes out and crushes his hand. From there, it's a cat and mouse game to either trap Calvin, suffocate him, or keep him out of the space station. The creature swims through zero-gravity with deadly grace. Blood in this atmosphere looks pretty awesome and is used with restraint. I didn't like that as the creature grew bigger, the front and back are defined and it has a sort of face. There's no reason for that at all, especially when it was symmetrical on all sides up until then. I'm also curious as to how it would fare in Earth-like gravity. The moments of romance between Miranda and David were completely unnecessary and out of character for Miranda. That was at least 10 minutes that could have been used to figure out the problem threatening their lives. Other than that, Life is a textbook sci-fi horror creature feature that ends up being enjoyable but forgettable.

My rating: 3/5 fishmuffins

* Cabin Fever (2016)

Awful teens go to party in a remote cabin, pissing off the locals and inadvertantly spreading a flesheating virus. This is the remake of Eli Roth's 2002 debut film that I enjoyed for all its cheesiness. This version is borderline unwatchable and I'm very confused about some of the choices made. First, the teens are the worst and make the dumbest decisions ever. Bert is the most horrible with his "barely legal" gun that he shoots to stroke his ego even though he accidentally discharges it next to people multiple times. If only he had just shot himself. That gun causes so much trouble. He shoots the drifter infected with the virus. When that drifter goes into their car, Bert succeeds in shooting the car a bunch of times, causing it to break down and cutting off their only mode of escape. The others aren't much better.

In the original, the teens are kind of awful, but they had distinctive personalities plus Paul and Karen were the two to root for. In this one, they may as well be interchangeable. Bert is only distinctive because of his stupidity. Jeff was hilarious in the original with his obsession with drinking beer instead of water and staying away from everyone else. His death was funny because he worked so hard to stay uninfected. New Bert was infected early on and ruined the humor. The Deputy is an attractive woman using similar humor as the last, but the delivery was terrible, making her character boring. The only part I liked of the new movie was the extended view of the locals. When looking for help, they stumble upon a woman butchering a pig, ranting crazily. She actually turns out to be helpful, but also serves them glasses she covered in pig blood. The pig blood gets in her hair, on her face, on her shirt as she obliviously touches things with her bloody hands. It's the only moment of real humor in the whole movie. Everything else is tired cliches, horrible decision making, and paper thin characters. The Cabin Fever remake is a carbon copy of the original with nothing to add. The comparison only makes the remake look even worse than the cult classic that I thoroughly enjoy.

My rating: 1/5 fishmuffins

Monday, April 17, 2017

The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America

The Devil in the White City tells the stories of two men who made a big impact during the time of the 1893 World Fair held in Chicago: architect Daniel H, Burnham and serial killer H.H, Holmes. Most of the novel focuses on the planning and building of the World Fair by Burnham and all of its problems, pitfalls, and successes. Practically everything that could have gone wrong did, including the poor health and death of his partner, the great economic downturn, the growing demand to pay workers a living wage, the interference of government officials, disastrous weather destroying buildings, and hard to work with land. With all of these obstacles, its opening was a bit lackluster with so many things incomplete. Later on, it proved to be successful anyway, spanning 690 acres, breaking the record for outdoor event attendence, and welcoming over 27 million visitors. The biggest innovations were in the use of electricity to power the fair and the original Ferris Wheel.

While the fair is entertaining in its own right, the more interesting part of the book was about H.H. Holmes, amateur architect, opportunist, and serial killer. He started out as a con artist, using his charm and manipulative nature to start businesses and never pay any debts. His murder spree either targeted people who were in his way financially or women he dated and/or married after he had grown tired of them. After masquerading as a doctor and owning a pharmacy, he took advantage of the World Fair hype to build his own hotel. He built it over a long time, hiring and firing many workers without paying any of them. The resulting building was dark and odd with apartments and retail spaces. Unbeknownst to the occupants and employees, many hidden chambers, hidden passages, heavy duty locks, and hidden gas lines. The basement was outfitted with a huge furnace, lime pits, and acid pools to dispose of bodies when he was done with them. The building surprisingly attracted many people wanting to go to the fair. He only allowed women to stay and redirecting male customers to nearby hotels.

When people started disappearing around him, Holmes claimed they moved, eloped, went back home, or just left in the night with no word. It was years before he was even suspected of anything because of his manufactured, affable personality. It's chilling to think that people could disappear without a trace and it could be months before anyone would even look for them at that time. After he killed, Holmes would dissect the bodies, then sell the skeletons to medical schools as they wouldn't ask any questions about where the body came from. This whole situation with the fair seemed like a coincidentally perfect situation for him to be able to target numerous people and go unnoticed for so long. At his trial, he confessed to murdering 27 people, but it could have easily been many many more. He was suspected of killing his associate Pietzel for insurance money and then killing Pietzel's three children in especially grisly ways. The investigation of these murders was the most interesting part of the novel as it was written more narratively to show the detective's journey.

The Devil in White City is an easy book to read, but it's deceptive. I expected it to mostly be about H.H. Holmes because of the title. At least I expected half of the book to be about him, but it was much less. While the Chicago World Fair is engaging, I read this book for the true crime aspects and they were lacking. H.H. Holmes is a horrific person who got away with a shocking amount of crimes before being put to death. His audacity and the volume of his murders are both shocking and fascinating, making the fair chapters eventually tedious to get through.

My rating: 3/5 fishmuffins

Saturday, April 15, 2017

The Belko Experiment

* spoilers *

In rural Bogata, Belko Corp employs numerous American people who are the only ones allowed in the building one day. New security search cars and belongings while turning away the local Columbian employees at the gate. 80 employees are left and they go about their day as normal until a voice comes on the intercom to inform the employees to kill two people or four would be killed randomly. People dismiss it as a joke, but soon after, the doors and windows are sealed with giant metal blinds. They panic and four of them die by the exploding tracker in the base of the skull the company implanted supposedly in case of kidnapping. Now, the employees either have to do what the voice says and kill whatever number is chose or wait for more to randomly die.

The film starts out with establishing the relationships in the office after the imported employees are allowed in the building. Mike is quickly established as a nice if a bit cheesy guy who loves Leandra. They are clearly dating, but Wendell constantly harasses her whenever he can, convinced that she should be dating him instead. Dany is the new hire on her first day while Barry, their boss, seems to be pretty sensible but firm. There are a bunch of others, but these are the main ones. When the announcement comes to kill 4 people, most treat it as a joke and go on with their day until heads start exploding. When the danger becomes real and all of their escape routes are cut off, the employees split into 3 groups: the rich white men (including Wendell and Barry) who try to take charge and want to actively kill, Mike and a lot of others who want to try anything else, and the rest of the employees who have no plan at all, but merely want to survive. The rich men group take charge only so they won't be chosen to die plus they seem pretty comfortable with killing later in the film. The rest of the people kill for survival, but shy away when they can.

Mike quickly establishes himself as an enemy of team rich guys by first loudly proposing an alternative to their plan and ruining their chances of breaking into the security armory. He also opposes the unseen voice by trying to cut out his transmitter and putting up signs asking for help. It does seem like he got special treatment because he wasn't killed immediately after the second infraction. Dany spends a lot of the film hiding and survives way longer than I expected. She kills someone accidentally in defense and shows innovation in her idea to hide in the elevator shaft and turn off the power. I was cheering for her because everything was against her. She would have been the best winner to subvert expectations if this is to be taken as a violent metaphor for corporate America, but it didn't turn out that way. After much back and forth, Team Rich White Dudes decides to organize people by arbitrary categories and starts shooting them. The submission to being killed is believable because panicking people in shock will follow authority figures and so many more lives are at stake. Dany subverts this by turning out the lights, allowing people to escape, but her death was the result of the dumbest decision. It wasn't realistic with how her character was established at all.

The story continues as more and more people are expected to die. The conflict between peace and violence doesn't even matter because the end rule is that whoever kills the most people at the end gets to live. The gore flows freely and looks realistic. However, when it's down to Mike against Barry, it seems to be saying that corporate America boils down to two white dudes against each other, which is pretty tonedeaf. I couldn't really care much about which one won even though Barry is terrible because Mike honestly isn't much better. He seems too much like guys who insist they are nice and deserve things as a result. I loved the ending and thought it was clever, but Mike as the final guy is too expected. We glimpse other Belko experiments where an old woman won, which would have been really interesting, but we just get this predictable plot. It seems like James Gunn wrote a fantasy movie for the guys that see themselves in Mike. He seems to think they make up most of his audience. Michael Rooker and Sean Gunn are criminally underutilized and so many much more interesting characters than Mike died well before they should have.

The Belko Experiment merges aspects of Battle Royale and Office Space to make a pretty entertaining movie. I appreciate that the marketing made it clear that it was referencing Battle Royale with its use of Verdi's Requiem, which is featured in the dramatic beginning of the Japanese film. However, Mike as the main hero is problematic and pretty boring in a number of ways. I didn't care about him or his lame shoehorned romance and it really brought down the film for me. The film addressed other office issues that effect people of color and women, but the ending just shows that it didn't really matter at all.

My rating: 2.5/5 fishmuffins

Thursday, April 13, 2017


Sixteen year old Kaye Fierch is used to moving to different places at odd times with her mother, a musician in Stepping Razor. When her mother's boyfriend of the moment suddenly tries to stab her, they flee to Kaye's grandmother's house in New Jersey. Kaye reconnects with old friends from when she used to live there and can't shake the memory of her old imaginary friends, Lutie-Loo, Spike, and Gristle. She starts to believe they really were imaginary figments no matter how vivid until she runs into Roiben, an injured fairy knight who she helps in exchange for his full name. Her childhood friends in addition to a whole world of faeries are revealed to be true with Kaye playing a key role in the freedom or subjugation of many.

Kaye is used to a lot of things no sixteen year old should be used to: moving around, working instead of going to school in order to survive, taking care of her mother, and cleaning up her mother's messes (literally and figuratively). She is the authority in her family who makes sacrifices to provide for her family while her mother follows her dreams, a sad reversal of what should be happening. She is also used to strangers' fetishized or flat out racist assumptions about her with her Asian features and blond hair. I love this detail because it points out socially acceptable racism and shows how it hurts people first hand. Corny, her best friend's older brother, befriends her in an unlikely friendship because they have practically nothing in common. Both are outsiders in a way, Corny being gay and antisocial while Kaye is Asian and prone to repelling people with her stories and weirdness. Small things have always happened around Kaye that she couldn't explain, but she dismissed them time after time. Until one day, she makes something happen too big to dismiss and she runs into faerie knight Roiben which sinks her and Corny deep in the faerie world.

The faeries of this world can be good or evil, just like humans. However, the magic is in the shades of grey in between where most of the characters lie. Some are truly evil and some good, but most are stumbling through trying to do the best they can with huge obstacles and supernatural powers which puts them in between. At first, I thought the plot would be pretty straight forward. It's presented as Kaye saving the faeries outside of the Seelie and Unseelie courts from being enslaved by submitting to be the tithe or sacrifice. Unseelie is evil; Seelie and outsider faeries are good. About midway through the book, deceptions are revealed where the faeries inhumanity at a basic level is shown. Faeries are not human and don't hold human morals. Good is seen in the midst of the depravity of the Unseelie court and corruption is shown in the Seelie court despite its perfect facade. Kaye navigates this world imperfectly, but Corny finds himself lost in it, manipulated by a powerful faerie. The stakes are high as the human world hangs in the balance. Some of the most tragic, emotional scenes are when her human friends clash with the faerie world.

This novel came out when I was a teen and I've waited years to read it for some reason. I love every book I've ever read by Holly Black, but for some reason I always put off this series. Now, I wish I had read it when it came out because it would have introduced me to a more realistic, nuanced version of fantasy. Both the teen experience and the faerie world are illustrated realistically. The teens drink, curse, have attractions to each other, and aren't perfect. The faeries have their own sets of rules and laws based in mythology that feel alien to us. Tithe is still a wonderfully dark faerie novel that defies expectations at every turn and brought progressive elements to the teen genre.

My rating: 5/5

Monday, April 10, 2017


An ultra conservative is elected as the French president, giving rise to riots in Paris. A gang of Arab Muslims that include Tom, Alex, Farid, Sami, and Yasmine steal money to escape the regime, but Sami is shot. They split up, hoping to meet up in a remote location later on. Yasmine takes her injured brother to the hospital with Alex, where he dies and she escapes the authorities. Tom and Farid with the money go to an in run by a strange family near the border. The people are welcoming in an uncomfortable way and something is deeply wring. They have no idea the inn contains horrors that they never imagined.

I watched Frontier(s) years ago and felt underwhelmed maybe because of its similarities to other films. However, upon rewatching, it's a powerful, intense film that's part Hostel, part Texas Chainsaw Massacre and pushes it further than either of those films. The film starts with the riots in Paris, establishing the city as dangerous. The drama within the Muslim gang is quickly revealed as Yasmine is pregnant with Alex's child and thinking of having an abortion because they aren't together anymore. Yasmine and Sami are the most likeable of the entire group, which makes it all the more tragic that Sami dies at the hospital. I was completely outraged when the hospital staff opted to notify the authorities of possible criminals rather than helping the man bleeding out. This shows how the world won't help them due to some brand of bigotry because there was no indication that they committed any crimes beyond the color of their skin. The imperative of the hospital to help people is secondary to that bigotry. Alex and Yasmine have no time to mourn Sami before they are forced to flee and meet their friends at a remote inn.

This brings us to the Hostel segment of the film where Tom and Farid arrive at the inn, greeted by Gilberte and Klaudia. The women offer them rooms free of charge and seduce them. Tom is completely into their offer, but is also quick to insult them when they reject sexual advances later. Farid rejects them at first, but then ends up videotaping their encounter. Like Hostel, the seduction proves to be a way of luring and distracting the men for more nefarious purposes. Through all of their seduction, it's pretty clear that Klaudia and Gilberte feel scorn at best or hate at worst for them.Then all of them plus the women's brother Goetz and their mother have the most awkward family dinner ever. Farid and Tom FINALLY get the hint that they are in danger, but their escape foiled by Goetz who runs their car off a cliff. They survive, but they wander into a mine shaft full of horrors. Meanwhile, Yasmine and Alex arrive at the inn, but aren't as easy to seduce or as gullible as their friends.

Yasmine is eventually captured by the family who are revealed to be Nazis. Their patriarch, von Geisler, stayed in France after World War II and created his twisted family by capturing children and having his own children to raise as Nazis and to carry on luring and killing people for their possessions and for their meat. He decides to use Yasmine to save them from inbreeding, as many mutated products of it live in the mine shaft. He isn't bothered that she is already pregnant and plans to force her to wed his son Karl who will eventually take his place as patriarch. This neo-Nazi family is the product of France's complicity in their occupation during World War II. Some resisted, but others gladly participated. The focus on moving forward afterwards led to the nation refusing to acknowledge the atrocities committed on French soil. In the present day of the film and of real life France, this also led to conservative, racist ideals to fester over time, leading to the election of President Sarkozy and the horrible treatment of immigrants, especially of Muslims. The Geisler's aren't shown to be odd outliers, but a product of ignored French history left to develop in a remote part of the country.

The Geisler family isn't completely devoid of good people. The most sympathetic member is Eva, a child-like woman underestimated by her family. As a child, she was kidnapped and told that she might be returned to her family if she was obediant. Her own children are the monstrous mutants in the mine shaft, but she loves and cares for them as she would any other child. Her kindness sets her apart from her family even though she is complicit in their crimes. Yasmine and Eva reflect each other in a way, as pregnant mothers doing their best in the midst of criminals and being criminals themselves. Both go to extraordinary lengths for their children even in the face of great opposition and they help each other. As von Geisler resolves to teach Yasmine's child to hate its own history and people (echoing Sarkozy's recent comments of immigrants rejecting their own culture to become truly French), she resolves to make her baby safe and allow her child freedom in the face of a toxic society. It's clear right from the beginning with her treatment at the hospital that if she does return to conventional society, her treatment would not be much better.

Fronter(s) does have familiar elements seen in other films, but the basis in French history and society plus additional elements such as Eva sets it well apart from American horror films. It's a particularly brutal film in the New French Extremity movement and one of the best in my opinion. Alexandra West's book on the subject was instrumental for me to gain historical and social context for this films and others in the movement. French history is much more tumultuous, dark, and bloody than a lot of media will have you believe and it's fascinating that the horror genre is the one to show that dark underbelly.

My rating: 4.5/5 fishmuffins

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

A Court of Mist and Fury

Feyre can't sleep or eat since her horrific experience Under the Mountain where she defeated Amarantha, died, and resurrected as a High Fae. Her new state as an immortal with unknown power doesn't do anything to help since she no longer knows her own body or abilities. She tries to help Tamlin, who is almost as emotionally broken as she is, but he shuts her out again and again for her own protection. Time and time again, others in the Spring Court tell her to get in line and blindly obey even though her mental and physical state deteriorate daily. When Tamlin literally locks in her in the house with magic, Feyre loses herself in her powers until  takes her to his realm, the Night Court. Their bargain to spend a week with him every month also interrupted Tamlin and Feyre's wedding, but this was an answer to her distress. Is Rhysand more than the depraved, arrogant High Lord that he appears to be? How serious is the incoming war and what can Feyre do to stop it?

Feyre starts out the novel as a shell of her former self, tormented by traumatizing memories of Amarantha and her minions. Every night, she wakes up terrified and sick to her stomach. Over months, her body is hallow and thin while her mind is tortured. Her relationship with Tamlin suffers because of her insistence on being free to go where she wants and being involved with every aspect of ruling, not just the parts Tamlin deems appropriate. I loved Tamlin's character in the last book, but his actions in this one are horrible. He slowly shows his true colors as an abusive person when he consistently refuses to allow her to have freedom of almost any kind. I understand his reasoning to make the tough decisions in order to keep her safe, but he treats her like an object instead of as an equal. His entire court falls in line behind him, making Feyre even more physically and emotionally broken with no one to even confide to except Rhysand. All of them tell her to simply follow orders to make Tamlin look powerful instead of doing what would be benefit her in any way.

Rhysand is arrogant and infuriating, but hides his dreams of a world where all elves and humans live in harmony. His past is full of trauma, violence, and abuse, but he never let it break him or turn him into a monster. His Nightmare Court of atrocities and sadism is a front to hide his idyllic city Velaris, where the people have been hidden safe for thousands of years and cultivated a society of art and music. He accepts his reputation as cruel and monstrous in order to preserve something truly good. Rhys holds Feyre to their bargain to save her from her wedding day, taking the time to teach her to read and how to protect herself from mental attacks. He's the first person to treat her like a person and teach her useful things even knowing she would report everything to Tamlin. When he saves Feyre a second time, he asks only that she keep his secrets about the city and his movements. She can do what she likes with no ultimatums or demands. Tamlin's treatment of her contrasts starkly as abusive, selfish, and thoughtless. Feyre starts to heal both physically and mentally, slowly learning how to harness her unpredictable new powers. She gains her agency back and helps with the fight against the King of Hybern, just as she always wanted.

A Court of Mist and Fury is just as addicting as its predecessor and even better. The world is explored beyond Tamlin's Spring Court and Under the Mountain. We see the beautiful Summer Court, the human world from a different perspective plus the powerful queens, Velaris, the actual Nightmare Court, and even the castle of Hybern. Feyre, Rhysand, and Tamlin are all much different than they were in the first book both due to events and changes in perspective. Much of the past is dredged up to show why Rhys and Tamlin hate each other so much and how Rhys came to be surrounded by his band of trusted friends, most rejected by their own homes and families. His confidants are a whole new cast of characters that I grew to know and love. They trust each other completely, but aren't afraid to call each other out when one is out of control or making the wrong decisions, another stark contrast to Tamlin's Court. The ending had me on the edge of my seat and I couldn't believe what happened. I'm glad I waited so long to read it because the third book is out in about a month and I need to know what happens!

My rating: 5/5 fishmuffins

Monday, April 3, 2017

Upcoming Horror Sneaking Up Behind You: It and The Mummy

* It

It, the miniseries from 1990, introduced Pennywise into film with an iconic performance by Tim Curry. Of course I don't expect the new portrayal to be the same, but what I've seen of it in the trailer is underwhelming. His look is offputting already and not conducive to luring children in to scare and consume. The outfit brings to mind medieval jesters which is an odd reference that I hope will eventually make sense. The most disappointing part to me is that jump scares have replaced the deep unease that Pennywise used to bring. I truly hope it's just how the trailer was cut, but all of Pennywise's appearances are jump scares. That only stays effective for so long and it's a cheap way to keep the audience on edge. I liked Curry's interpretation of approaching Georgie and striking up a normal conversation even though he's standing in a storm drain. Pennywise's voice will also be key, which isn't heard here.

The Loser's Club looks great and I like setting the kids' story in the 80's so it's a little more updated. The dilapidated house looks awesome and the ominous red balloons are chilling. I believe the town of Derry with a dark secret that has people disappearing at an alarming rate with the adults turning a blind eye to it all. I hope my doubts are unfounded and it's really good because everything besides Pennywise looks amazing. He will make or break the movie. We'll see if the film leans more towards jump scares or creating and maintaining suspense.

* The Mummy

I've always loved mummy stories from Boris Karloff's film in the 30's to Brendan Fraser's film in the 90's to the Mummy's Alive animated TV show. This remake of The Mummy looks like a steaming pile of garbage. Tom Cruise plays the same character in everything he does now and I hate to see this franchise start with this type of action movie. Brendan Fraser's movie was a fun mix of action and horror, but this looks like literally Mission: Impossible with a supernatural enemy. There's no reason for military to even be involved with this story. Cruise's "acting" is hilariously bad especially in the screams in the plane crash. I think the studio thought it was being clever by gender swapping the mummy and the heroine, but there's nothing unique about it. I hope it miserably fails to let them know that people want real horror instead of this action crap.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

The Lure

Mermaid sisters Golden and Silver decide to join human society in the 1980's, using a seedy nightclub as their gateway. They start off as strippers and backup vocals until the crowd is so ravenous for their performances and transformations that they become the main event. The mermaids have a good time at first making new friends and experience all the human world has to offer, but their desires start to diverge. Golden's hunger for human flesh grows while Silver falls hopelessly in love with guitarist Mietek.

The Lure is a unique film that merges a dark retelling of The Little Mermaid with an 80's setting and a musical. These mermaids aren't like Disney creations. Their tails are impossibly long and powerful and their teeth are razor sharp. They lure humans with their beautiful voices, which seem to have a magical element that compels their prey, in order to eat their throats and hearts. The difference compared to to most lore is in their ability to appear human with legs, but with no sex organs. Too long without water makes them weak and sick, but they adapt comfortably to living on land. After so many years of boring mermaids, these ones are a refreshing change.

The mermaids are one hand beautiful, impressionable teenage girls and on the other hand inhuman monsters. Golden and Silver are exploited as sex workers by the band and the nightclub management despite the acknowledgement of their young age. They don't seem to mind as they earn their keep and receive the increasing adoration of a growing group of fans. Through their experiences, they are torn in different directions. Golden embraces her true nature by eating people and seeking creative outlets with other groups where she can write her own lyrics and sing with others of her own kind. She also has love affairs with humans, but it seems more like experimentation and fun rather than anything lasting.

Silver, on the other hand, is the more innocent and emotional one. She tries to deny her true nature because of Mietek, who makes it clear that he likes her but will always view her as an animal. Her voice seems to make him forget it for a while as they build a romantic relationship that stops short of sex because of her mermaid body. She opts to surgically trade lower bodies (from just above the navel down) with a human woman in a delightfully surreal scene. Afterwards, she's a shade of herself as her voice is completely gone and her body is weak from the surgery. Mietek deigns to have sex with her, but recoils, disgusted when she bleeds on him. Her humanity repels him just as much as her inhumanity and he quickly rebounds with a beautiful singer. Through all of this, Golden supports her sister even if she doesn't agree with her decisions, which was an especially beautiful aspect of the film.

Some aspects of the film fell flat for me. Most of the songs were good, but either the translations of the lyrics were bad or the lyrics are just bad in some of them. Other aspects of the film are scattered and don't make sense. For instance, the band was pretty clearly dead in their aparment and then suddenly come to life with some drugs in their system. The drummer punches out the mermaids and then dumps their bodies in the ocean as if they are dead. Golden and Silver return with a minimum of vengeance and still perform and live with them. A few random events like this don't add anything to the story and serve to make the plot more convoluted than it needs to be. Also, all of the human men are terrible, either being physically or mentally abusive and using women for their own ends. I wish these characters had more nuance, but I get that the focus was on the mermaids and their journey.

The Lure is definitely an experience. It's much different than any other film I've seen this year. The plot meandered a lot before it got to anything resembling The Little Mermaid and then the fairy tale ended up being the main story. It's definitely more good than bad, but the messiness takes away from the unique tale.

My rating: 2.5/5

Friday, March 31, 2017

Podcast Friday: My Favorite Murder

My Favorite Murder is an amazing true crime podcast hosted by comedians Georgia Hardstark and Karen Kilgariff. You might think "murder and comedy? That sounds awful!" but you would be wrong. Georgia and Karen are a hilarious duo that casually discuss a variety of murders, their own lives, mental illness, flaws of our legal system, and so much more. I've listened to every single episode and I want more. The humor isn't at the expense of murder victims or anything offensive like that. They find humor in dark situations to combat the horror and shock they feel.

The murders they discuss come from all time periods and places. Some are infamous like the unsolved JonBenet Ramsey case, the murders of serial killers such as John Wayne Gacy and Ted Bundy, and near murders plucked from the show I Survived. Some of the lesser known ones are the most shocking like the Lululemon murder where a woman murdered her coworker, then attacked and tied herself up to make it look like an intruder. It was all over the coworker witnessing her left of crazy expensive yoga pants. The hosts are quick to say they are not well researched. They get most of their information from Wikipedia, Murderpedia, TV shows, or documentaries on the events, but the conversations are what I value more than the events reported.

Karen and Georgia usually talk for at least twenty minutes before they get to murders. Often, they talk about their own journeys in therapy and struggles with anxiety, depression, and past abuse of drugs and alcohol. Their transparency about their struggles with and treatment of mental illness has been instrumental for numerous listeners to go out and get help for themselves. It's refreshing to hear people talk so frankly about this because there are still social stigmas despite so many people being affected. They are quick to admit any mistakes they made in their corrections corner and keep listeners informed about merch, live shows, and whatever else they want to talk about.

The murders bring about a lot of surprising discussions about a variety of different subjects. They criticize social pressures that condition women to be polite at the expense of their personal safety. Karen and Georgia coined the phrase "Fuck politeness" and "Stay sexy. Don't get murdered" to encourage more people to put their safety first, be a little rude, and apologize later if it turns out they were wrong. Blame for crimes is always firmly on the perpetrator and never on the victm, but they encourage people to look out for themselves and recognize danger. Both women have shared stories where they made poor decisions that put them in dangerous situations eerily similar to many of the murders they cover. They also discuss the sorry state of our justice system that often botches investigations, doles out way too short sentences for murderers, leaves thousands of rape kits unprocessed for years, doesn't take the murders of sex workers and people of color seriously, and doesn't seek to treat people with mental illnesses.

These ladies aren't perfect and they strive to better themselves and do something about these horrible attitudes. Some of the money from their merchandise is donated to End the Backlog to test those rape kits and advocate for comprehensive rape kit reform legislation and policies at all government levels. When they first talked bout sex workers, Karen and Georgia used the word "prostitute" and said some callous things about them. A listener called them out and it led to a good discussion on how sex workers' murders are often dismissed because they are not seen as people to not only law enforcement, but also to the general public. They realized their mistake, apologized, and changed their behavior. Now, they are quick to criticize reports that describe a woman as a sex worker before anything else and even changed the story to identify her as a mother first to show how just a little word change makes a huge difference.

Their podcast has led to a huge force of "murderinos" who total over 120,000 on Facebook. They share hometown murders (which Karen and Georgia do present during their Minisodes), organize meetups, discuss various murders or TV shows or documentaries, ask about finding a therapist, and so much more. Karen and Georgia encourage people to make their own My Favorite Murder merchandise, so many Etsy pages are shared with cool creations. Murderinos are mostly women and I have seen very little craziness or rudeness while on their page. (Except this one crazy lady who insisted atheists are evil and Muslims will enslave everyone. She's not the norm and exited the group quickly afterwards.)

Each episodes ends on a cheerful note as Georgia asks her cat (not goat or baby) Elvis if he wants a cookie. It's so charming to hear him meow down the hall and run over for his cookie. (Once her other cat Mimi meowed for it and I almost died it was so cute.) It serves to let the listener (and the hosts) recover from the often depressing subject of murder. Listening to these ladies every week is one of the things that makes my miserable hour long commute to and from work just a little brighter.

My rating: 5/5 fishmuffins

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Beauty and the Beast

Maurice and Belle live in a small French town. He goes to sell some of his inventions and gets lost along the way, stumbling upon a dilapidated castle. Unseen people give him food and shelter until he leaves frightened at the animated teacup. He takes a rose from the garden as a present for his daughter, but the master of the castle known as the Beast, cursed for refusing to help a beggar woman, throws him in a dungeon as punishment for the theft. Belle saves Maurice by willingly taking her father's place. Maurice frantically tries to gather people to save her, but succeeds only in angering Gaston, the man dead set on marrying Belle even when they have nothing in common.

This version of the fairy tale obviously shares a lot with the cartoon version, but the magic is in the differences. The Beast's past is a little more fleshed out at the beginning. His greed, lust, selfishness, and decadence, portrayed in a lavish party with only women in attendance, show that his punishment is at least a little more reasonable. He was also an adult when this happened rather than the eleven year he was in the animated version. Belle's story is also more detailed with her talent for mechanics and her mother's tragic death due to the plague. The added plot of the town being hostile towards her when she tries to teach a girl to read or when she uses her new inventions in public also fleshed out her character and her relationship with the townspeople more than the "Bonjour" song does alone. These added details of realism for the time period make the story come to life and set it apart from the animated version. The sets and costumes are amazing and make the cartoon version look terrible in comparison. The grandeur of the castle and the quaint air of the town are better depicted and constrast well.

The other improved aspects of the film are in Gaston, LeFou, and the relationship between Belle and the Beast. Gaston is not the overexaggerated, stupid character in the cartoon. He's a war hero who is only interested in Belle because she resists him. Belle's opposition is sport for him as he doesn't view Belle as a person, but a prize to be won. Every other woman in town fawns over him, offering no challenge for him to overcome. For the first part of the movie, he seems like a decent person. Le Fou keeps his ego stroked, even stooping to bribery to get people as excited about Gaston as he is about himself as seen in . When Maurice refuses to give permission to marry Belle, it's the first time Gaston has been opposed by someone with power over him. Gaston is quick to tie him up and leave him to die, showing his cowardice and more realistic villainery. He shows the same attributes when he later turns the townspeople against Maurice to discredit him and put him away in an asylum. Le Fou has numerous doubts about Gaston's  evil actions and tries to counsel him away from them. He ends up following anyway because of his unrequited crush on Gaston.

The romance between Belle and the Beast is much improved. The Beast is less prone to screaming and bonds with Belle over saving each other and literature. Their discussions are beautiful and give him a new perspective on his surroundings. The story is inherently problematic (detailed in this article from Tor but the changes make it a little more palatable. We accept it because it's familiar and don't give much thought to the fact that Belle probably would have died if the cursed staff hadn't intervened. I enjoyed the new songs, the filled plot holes, and more realistic situations, but some things still put me off. The CGI, in particular with the Beast, looked off especially when next to real people. The extra castle staff added color, but only made the film a little more bloated time wise. Overall, Beauty and the Beast is a beautiful movie that really portrays the grandeur of the story. I honestly felt more emotion than I expected with such a familiar story. It is largely unnecessary and has some flaws, but manages to be enjoyable.

My rating: 4/5 fishmuffins

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Capture Kill Release

Couple Jennifer and Farhang plan to kill a random stranger. They buy a camera to document the entire process plus the more mundane parts of their lives. Together, they plan the specific ways to get it done that include fine details to obscure the body's identity and strip it of evidence. At first, both seem equally excited as they shop at the hardware store for needed supplies and discuss who they would want to murder while people watching in their car. However, when Jen seriously wants to choose a specific person, Farhang gets cold feet and tries to protest everything from her choice of person to their methods that he helped plan. Jen secretly won't let him ruin her plans.

Capture Kill Release is a found footage film that has a much different story than usual. So many in this subgenre focus on supernatural elements, but this one is completely based in reality. It's simply two people planning to kill others. Jennifer and Farhang use a modern digital camera as well as old camcorders to document their whole journey from the planning stages to collecting supplies to carrying out their plans (not always together). Their plan to kill someone is chillingly specific. Jennifer wants to knock them out and strangle them to death while they are conscious (so they are aware of what is happening to them). Farhang comes up with the idea of how to dispose of the body: draining the body of blood and dismembering it in the bathtub. Jennifer thinks of the fine details like removing and destroying the teeth and burning the fingerprints off. They have thought of almost everything and prepare well. Their nonchalant discussions, detailed descriptions, and obvious arousal about the plan make their conversations all the more disturbing.

The best character in the film is Jennifer, a slight woman with a hidden bloodlust. Outwardly, she seems normal, even pleasant. It was a little jarring to hear her talk about how she would kill someone while she was animated and excited about it. Jennifer Fraser imbues the character Jennifer with joy about every aspect of planning and carrying out the murder. Her sunny facade breaks a few times, especially when Farhang is opposing her in some way. She isn't afraid to lie, cheat, manipulate, command, and scream to get her way. The horror of her plans and actions never affects her at all.  She seems to have a fundamental disconnect with other people and emotions. For instance, she considers a cat cute and kills it anyway. Farhang's horror and sadness about that situation doesn't impact her at all because she doesn't understand it. She can also easily plan to kill either someone who has angered her or someone she's friendly with. It makes no difference to her. I think she loves Farhang as much as she is able to. He seems to be the first person to love her for her real self. He can hear all her true desires and love her anyway. She seems to mistake him for someone just like her, which proves to be untrue.

Farhang at first seems excited about their plans, but then shoots them down at every turn when it seems close to becoming reality. Through the events of the film, it becomes clear that his motivation is mostly likely Jennifer's interest and arousal. When they play with the camera in their bedroom, Jennifer falls asleep even though she was the one to suggest videotaping them having sex. Alternatively, when they are discussing draining and dismembering bodies in their bathtub, they passionately make love. He let it go way too far and spin out of control. What did he expect after buying the supplies they talked about and planning in such detail? If he wasn't into going the whole way, he should have been honest and said something much earlier instead of trying to undermine her. Farhang is a bit of a spineless worm. He refuses to participate in the murder, but then he chooses to do so when Jennifer insists. Afterwards, he takes no responsibility. His way of coping is pretending it never happened, freezing Jennifer out, and going on with his life, which proves to blow up in his face.

Capture Kill Release is an interesting film with aspects that oppose convention. From the non-supernatural subject matter to the beautiful and cheerful but sinister killer, each aspect has surprising elements. The last act has the most flaws in logic and execution. It doesn't completely fall apart and the ending still feels powerful. Overall, the film feels raw and realistic, especially in its violence. Farhang acts as a proxy for audience in his reactions and his struggle to cope. I love that both characters have dimensions that I can relate to and also repulse or exasperate me. They feel like real people trying to balance staying true to themselves with what they think is best for their relationship. Capture Kill Release is memorable and I will definitely be revisiting it in the future.

My rating: 4.5/5 fishmuffins

Monday, March 20, 2017

Get Out

* spoilers *

The film opens with an African American man walking through a wealthy neighborhood at night, obviously lost. A white car blasting an out of place and cheery 30's song, Run Rabbit Run. The man immediately decides to leave, but he's attacked, bludgeoned, and dragged into the trunk of the car. This scene is reminiscent of most slasher movies where a woman is killed at the outset of the movie walking alone at night to show that danger is imminent. This scene functions in the same way, making the racial tension in the forefont without the attacker's skin being seen with the clean white car and rabbit hunting song that makes it apparent that he views the black man as prey. It's odd because a man alone at night isn't seen as that vulnerable, but men of color have different worries of police being violent and trigger happy.

Then the story goes to the main characters Chris Washington and Rose Armitage who are preparing to meet her parents together for the first time. Chris is apprehensive, but Rose reassures him. On the way, she hits a deer with her car, obviously shocked but otherwise unaffected. He finds the injured animal and stares, lost in thought about his mother who died in a similar fashion after a hit and run. Obviously saddened by the incident, he waits with Rose for the police to arrive. The police officer tells them who they should have called and then demands to see Chris' ID. Rose resists because he wasn't even driving even though Chris doesn't make any complaints. The officer relents and leaves. This scene shows an interesting power dynamic where Rose has the luxury of arguing with a police officer as a white woman while Chris knows that it's safer for him to comply with what they say even if their actions are questionable.

Rose and Chris finally arrive at the house to be greeted by Dean and Missy Armitage and her brother Jeremy. Small talk quickly becomes awkward when Dean tries to sound hip, Missy is rude to Georgina, the Armitage's maid, and drunken Jeremy tries to fight Chris while making racist comments about his genes. All of this contrasts with their attempts to seem inclusive by showing artifacts from their travels around the world and sharing their family history that includes Rose's grandfather almost reaching the Olympics, but being beat out by Jesse Owens. This film could have featured an overtly racist family, but the Armitages could be any upper class white family. Dean condemns Hitler and praises Owens, but reveals that his father never got over it. Their cultural artifacts show that collecting items doesn't mean that they understand different cultures beyond using those aesthetics to make their home more beautiful. Rose condemns their behavior and identifies it as not usual.

At night, Chris gets up to smoke and regrets it. He sees Walter running at him and Georgina eerily staring. Both of them seem a little too perfect like Stepford people, especially in their endlessly cheery attitudes and careful, dated speech. Missy forces him to undergo hypnotism supposedly to quit smoking, but he's compelled to talk about his mother dying. He sat watching television for hours, afraid to call anyone to help because she might actually be hurt. He blames himself for her death because no one was looking for her while she lay in the road like the deer from the beginning of the film. This moment was so human and realistic, but the fact that it was being ripped from him involuntarily was horrific. Missy forces his subconscious in "the sunken place" where Chris is aware and able to see what's going on, but unable to act. This is one of the most frightening concepts I've seen in film and it's well illustrated here.

The next day has numerous members of the Armitage's family and close friends flocking to the house for a yearly get together. Chris is conspicuously one of the few people of color there, further shown as out of place as the only person wearing blue. Literally everyone else is wearing white and red in some way. He feels increasingly ill at ease as he has uncomfortable conversations with numerous people. Some are a little awkward like when they latch onto his race as a talking point to make him feel comfortable but it has the opposite effect. One man sings the praises of Tiger Woods while another asks him if he plays basketball. Others are outright rude and racist like when a woman feels his bicep appropos of nothing or an Asian man asks how the "black experience" is. These events, while cringeworth, rang true coming from uneasy white people trying not to seem racist. The only person acting remotely normal is a blind art dealer Jim Hudson who praises Chris' eye for photography.

When Rose and Chris go off for a walk, the insidious nature of those awkward conversations becomes clear. They were engineered to be that way to get Chris to leave. In a chilling, silent scene, Dean conducts an auction for Chris (next to a large picture of him) where the participants use bingo cards already marked with bingo as paddles. This of course parallels slavery auctions. Chris tries to leave, but is incapacitated by hypnosis. Rose reveals herself as a villain, making her previous actions much more sinister. She fought the cop seeing his ID so there would be no record of him there. She didn't care about the deer they hit and gaslighted him about the awkward party situation. He wakes up tied to a chair in front of a television, just like he felt when he was a child, too afraid to move.

In a side plot, Chris' best friend Rod works as a TSA agent and recognizes that his friend is in danger. His first line is complaining that he was reprimanded for patting down an old white women as if she couldn't be a threat, which is an interesting view of the wider plot. He researches the missing black men in their area and approaches police when necessary. His voice is the one of reason and humor that simultaneously tells the truth, gives excellent advice, and breaks up the very tense film with humor. Jordan Peele is so adept at humor that it would have been a shame to omit it from the film. Rod uses his intelligence, TSA training, and research to view the Armitage's as a legitimate threat.

The whole process of putting him in "the sunken place" and having an elderly white person implanted into his brain is explained to him by a retro style video and Jim, the winner of the auction. The video shows that it's been a family tradition started by Rose's grandfather, presumably started as revenge for his loss against Jesse Owens. Jim wants his eye for photography, but it comes from his perspective, history, and culture. Jim would still be taking mediocre nature photos in Chris' body. This process is a science fiction version of cultural appropriation. Some of the partygoers said that "black is in fashion" and view African Americans as being stronger and faster, showing that they want these perceived benefits without having any of the drawbacks. That's why Georgina, Walter, and Logan (the man who breaks out of the hypnosis to warn Chris to "get out!" at the party) seemed so unnatural.

Chris stuffs cotton in his ears to keep from being hynotized and proceeds to attack the enture family. For the first kill, he takes mounted head of a stag on the wall (a symbol of the other victimized black men and himself) and kills Dean with it. In a very satisfying slasher fashion, he dispatches each of the family except Rose, who is eating fruit loops and drinking milk separately (to segregate them), listening to "Time of My Life" from Dirty Dancing, and scouting out her next victim. Her appearance has completely changed from relaxed to a severe ponytail, a white and khaki hunting outfit, and riding boots showing her true predatory nature. Chris tries to escape in the white car, but hits Georgina. He sees his mother in her as she lays on the floor and saves her, but she forces them to crash and dies anyway.

A fight ensues involving Rose, Chris, and Walter that leaves Walter with a hole in his head and Rose with a hole in her gut. Chris goes to leave, but a police car rolls up. I was cheering Chris on in his quest for vengeance and escape, so I was so scared for him in this moment. Police, who are notorious for targeting and abusing people of color, would look at the situation and probably throw him in jail no matter how much evidence was in his favor. The presence of dead white people in their rich neighborhood with a living interloper and an injured "victim" makes his situation dire. However, it's actually Rod in his TSA car, coming in to take Chris away and leave Rose bleeding in the street. I heard others in the crowd breathe a sigh of relief.

Get Out is an incredibly complex and well written film that has no unnecessary scenes. It's a powerful film to watch that shows what fear looks like from an African American perspective when so very many movies are from that of upper middle class white people. The reaction to it has been overwhelmingly positive except for a vocal minority that deem it anti-white and racist. Welcome to how people of color have felt throughout film history. They are very often villains, supporting characters, the first to die (specifically in horror films), or lesser in some way to show that the white hero is better. It seems that some white people who are used to being depicted as heroes can't handle the one film critical of them. Get Out shows run of the mill white people gaining wealth and prestige at the expense of people of color, showing the insidious effects of white privilege and institutionalized racism. This is my favorite recent horror film because of its topical and relevant themes as well as being well constructed at every level. If you haven't seen it, I highly recommend it and I wouldn't be surprised if it was my favorite film of the whole year.

My rating: 5/5

Friday, March 17, 2017

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

It's Saint Patrick's Day and everything is green! Here are some things to make your holiday more horrific!

* Shudder's Chilling Collection from Ireland

Shudder has some fun horror films from Ireland that include Grabbers, Wake Wood, Stitches, Dark Touch, Cherry Tree, Citadel, and Outcast. Obliquely related because of Catholicism, they also released the historically censored and banned Ken Russel film The Devils. So many movies, so little time!

* The Scare Review episode on Leprauchan: Lore, St. Patrick's Day and Jennifer Aniston's Debut

Sarah and Maggie discuss Leprauchan, its lore origins, bad acting, nonsensical buildings, and cheesy jokes. I hadn't seen it since I was a kid, but I remembered being scared of this creepy guy even when he's chasing people in a variety of small vehicles in fast motion and dropping puns left and right. I loved their commentary and criticism of this nostalgic film.

* Nightmare on Film Street, Irish Horror: The Canal vs. Citadel (Head-to-Head)

Jon and Kim compare two Irish horror films. I actually can't talk about the episode because I haven't listened to it yet. This is the very first head-to-head episode where I haven't seen or even heard of either film. I want to watch them and formulate my own opinion before listening. If you've seen them, go over to their site (or your favorite podcatcher), listen to the episode, and see which one reigns victorious.

* Rick and Morty segment Strawberry Smiggles

This is the very first clip of Rick and Morty that I ever saw and it charmed me with its morbid humor. A leprauchan eats Lucky Charms-like cereal and bets its safe from the kids who stalk him for it.