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.

Podcast Friday: Buffering the Vampire Slayer

Buffering the Vampire Slayer is a different podcast than usual. Musician Jenny Owen Youngs and her wife Kristin Noeline Russo discuss every episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer in order. They are big fans of the show that choose to talk about what's great about the show and about it's very many flaws.  For a show from the late 90's, it was progressive for its time with its well drawn characters, kickass women, turning tropes around, and commentary on social situations through a supernatural lens. However, it still suffered from dated effects, out of character actions, and racial insensitivities just to name a few. I've watched the show almost 3 times through, dating back to the original run of the show, and they have pointed out quite a few things that I didn't notice. Xander in particular has a pretty rough start in season 1. A lot of his insensitive and misogynistic actions are glossed over in my memory because of his character development later in the show. It is jarring to hear them talk about him slut shaming Buffy while trying to oggle her undressing. Ick. It's nice to see the show celebrated, but also called out for its flaws.

Jenny and Kristin have a few different things they do every episode. First, they do a one sentence recap of the episode to jog the memory and then go deeper into the events and characters. They give a couple the Sexual Tension Award who usually isn't a canon or a conventional couple like Ethan Rayne and Giles (so much sexual tension) in any given scene with them together or Cordelia and Willow hiding in a closet during School Hard. One of them points out the effects of the PATRIARCHY in each episode that ranges from rich men considering women disposable as sacrifices for income in Reptile Boy or Xander and Blayne's masculinity contest in Teacher's Pet. Their friend Kate Leth (pictured below with Cordette and Slayerette pins in her collar) occasionally drops in with her informative 90's fashion updates, the best of which talked about Giles' different kinds of tweed. 

My favorite part of the show is the music. Characters sometimes earn jingles, the first being Cordelia's that celebrated Jenny and Kristin's love for her. They truly changed my mind about season 1 and 2 Cordelia because of how strong, honest, and unflappable she was despite all her mean girl bullying. Drusilla has her own spooky jingle and Spike will probably earn his soon. Kristin recently mentioned that Spike and Dru love should have its own since it's the strongest relationship on the show at this point. At the end of every episode is an original song recapping the episode usually from Buffy's perspective. These songs are so amazing because they are written by Jenny and Kristin weekly with good production value, thoughtful lyrics, and varied styles. I'm considering becoming a Patreon supporter just to get the songs before they are released as a complete season CD. (They are also available to listen to on Spotify and for purchase practially any site music is sold.) I had coincidentally seen Jenny perform when she opened for Amanda Palmer a few years ago, so I was already a fan of her music. However, the quality and variety of songs written in such a short amount of time made me an even bigger fan.

Occasionally, Jenny and Kristin have episodes that don't follow an episode, but answer fan questions or interview actors from the show. The fans are very knowledgeable and offer their own view of things, answer questions, send gifts, and are all around pretty awesome. My favorite interview episode was with Armin Shimerman, famous for playing the odious Principal Snyder. I loved his frank account of how he thought himself above Sarah Michelle Gellar because of her background as a soap opera actress. He cam to respect and befriend her over time, but his initial feeling about her helped solidify his interpretation of Principal Snyder that had him coming back long after he was expected to. The best non-recap episode is the one titled Happy 20th Anniversary, Buffy! where they talk about how they came to the show and what it means to them even after so many years. Jenny and Kristin released their song Demons to Fight about the shows meaning. It's available for free forever.

I love this show that challenges and celebrates Buffy the Vampire Slayer. They are only currently on Season 2, Episode 9 so there's still plenty of time to start another rewatch of the show to go along with the podcast. I hope Jenny and Kristin will cover the entire series because this show brings me joy and an awesome song each and every week. 

My rating: 5/5 fishmuffins

Thursday, March 16, 2017

A Cure for Wellness

Lockhart works in a large New York financial firm and has dreams of moving up the corporate ladder. When a co-worker dies, his dream comes true, but not in the way he expected. His own dirty dealings are discovered, so he has to retrieve the CEO, Roland Pembroke, from a wellness center in a remote area of the Swiss Alps. The company plans to pin the illegal activity on the CEO and make him sign to approve merging with another company that would make them gobs of money. Lockhart, assuming that it would be a simple task, goes to the sanitarium fully expecting to leave the same day. Unfortunately, on the way back to his hotel, his car collides with a deer and he wakes up in the sanitarium as a patient with a broken leg. While he is forced to stay there, his investigation uncovers the hospital's disturbing past and present.

The first impression of A Cure for Wellness is its visual beauty. The hospital itself has a World War II era feel with the costuming of the employees, the dark and antiquated machines, the blue and white floor tile, and the blue walls. The muted teal is ever present in the hospital. Clinical, bright white would be everywhere if it were modern, but the teal gives it a shadowed quality and makes it seem like we stepped into another era entirely. The other part of the hospital is a castle that is the opposite in almost every way. The stones, shadows, candles, and artifacts inside the castle are no less beautiful and call forth the medieval era, which is also relevant to the story. Water factors in heavily in the plot and the visuals. Reflections are shown everywhere, most notably in the side of the train as Lockheart nears the town near the hospital and in the water when he talks to the mysterious Hannah. Every scene of this movie is gorgeous even if it has something disturbing in it. While this film isn't perfect, the visuals are the most memorable part.

The plot itself is fun. Lockhart is an insufferable corporate cog, but he's the most relatable person in the film, so we follow him as he descends into the rabbit hole of the hospital history. It has numerous twists and turns that I didn't see coming. I expected the whole thing to be a dream or some sort of fountain of youth, but it wasn't. Red herrings are plentiful, but I enjoyed trying to figure out what was really going on. Lockhart sees crazy things like horrific eels and bodies floating in water balanced with normal things like way too pleasant elderly people, rich food, and an enigmatic director Dr. Volmer. The comparison between the hospital and the nearby town is stark. The town is poor, modern, and varied, pretty much the exact opposite of the hospital. These people seem so different than the Stepford hospital patients because they have real emotions and work hard for their livelihood. The film clocks in at just under two and a half hours, but I was never bored because it's paced pretty well. I found the ending unexpected and had some issues with the end. Many didn't like it and I can see why.

The ending is my big point of contention with this movie. First, it has a few false endings. My main problem is with Hannah, who is portrayed as odd, young girl through most of the story. At the end, she has her first period and then a character attempts to sexually assault after a huge reveal of their true identity. Not only does it go into soap opera and melodrama territory, but Hannah's portrayal is awful. She is just an object to the men. The only modernization of her character is her reaction to the attack at the end. Other than that, she's a textbook one dimensional damsel in distress treated as much younger than she is with no agency whatsoever. A Cure for Wellness is a beautiful film with a mysterious plot. The ending and Hannah are the only blots that messes it up. I was along for the ride up until then and I was completely enthralled with the film. The combination of a '40's era sanitarium combined with the medieval castle right next to it made for interesting aesthetics and a unique story. It's worth a watch, but prepare to be disappointed by the ending.

My rating: 3/5 fishmuffins

Tuesday, March 14, 2017


* spoilers *

Julia sees her boyfriend Holt off to college while she stays home for her senior year. When a frantic woman contacts her through Holt's Skype account saying he's missing, she makes an impromptu trip to his college and doesn't receive a warm welcome. Holt is missing and his friends refuse to talk to her beyond telling her to leave. After snooping around and encountering a lying professor named Gabriel, she discovers that he is conducting an experiment involving the infamous Ring video that kills you a week after you watch it. The experiment also included Holt. Can she find him and save him from Samara?

Rings is only slightly better than The Bye Bye Man only because a few scenes are actually effective. When Gabriel watches the video, he looks out the window and notices the rain is falling up. A fly that had been flying around the room is now on the other side of the window when he tries to crush it. It's little things being off kilter like this that makes an atmosphere. When Skye is set to be killed by Samara, modern CGI makes her look scarier. Of course Skye tries to destroy her flat screen TV, but while it's face down on the floor, water comes pouring out of it. Samara lifts it and crawls over, looking like she's in the VHS with static and tracking errors. Very cool. The only other good thing is Vincent D'Onofrio because he's always good.

So much of the film is boring, horrible, or nonsensical. The beginning starts with Samara killing an entire plane of people. I thought this meant she was raising the stakes and expanding her rules, but she never kills a large group of people again. Gabriel's experiment has a lot of holes in it. It's never shown how Gabriel knows that he has to make a copy or that he has to have someone else watch it. Each person in his study seems to wait to the very last second to have their "tail" watch the video, which is asinine and supposed to create tension but fails. The video is now digital and when Julia copies it (to show she is so special), a video in the metadata is revealed inside the video. They wanted to introduce an new creepier video and thought of a ridiculous way to do it. I can't muster any emotion for any of these characters. The young actors, namely Matilda Lutz and Alex Roe as Julia and Holt, were about as animated as cardboard with no emotional connection.

My other problem with the film is how much it rehashed material from previous films. Again, a person is investigating Samara's past and finds a family member. We already know about Samara's past. We already know that Samara is inherently evil in life and in death, so no placement of her body is going to fix her or make her move on. It doesn't even make any sense for Julia to investigate. The film's pace stagnates and drags. The film ends with Julia turning into Samara and Samara sending the video to everyone at her school. Two things are wrong with this. First, Samara seems to be doing just fine with no body, so why would she want to be restricted to one vessel. Second, Samara uses e-mail and instant messages to send the video. Why not Twitter and Facebook? It would spread faster and just looks like the people who conceived of this part of the film aren't technologically savvy. Rings is a boring, infuriating film that brings nothing new to the horror genre.

My rating: 1/5 fishmuffins

Monday, March 13, 2017


* spoilers *

Kevin has 23 distinct personalities. After a traumatic event, previously banned personalities take over and kidnap 3 girls to serve as "sacred food" for the fabled 24th personality called the Beast. The three girls Casey, Claire, and Marcia try to escape from Kevin as some of his personalities try to contact their therapist Dr. Fletcher, who realizes something is wrong and tries to figure it out while advocating for her patients with dissociative identity disorder. Only time will tell if Casey, Claire, and Marcia can escape before they are eaten.

M. Night Shyamalan's latest films have not been awful. For a while, I refused to see it if his name was attached to it due to the awfulness of Signs, The Village, and The Happening. The Visit was ok and Split is also firmly in ok territory, not spectacular but not awful. It starts out with promise as Dennis, one of Kevin's more intense personalities with aberrant predilections, knocks out and kidnaps best friends Claire and Marcia plus outsider Casey. Right away, it's clear that Casey was a pity invite to go shopping and the only reason she was there was because her uncle 's car broke down. Dennis puts them in a room and they have no idea why, but the flowers seem to indicate that they are special in some way. Casey is more analytical and quiet while the others want to attack right away because their not as observant. I really enjoyed that none of the girls was portrayed as dumb, but they had different approaches that were pretty well thought out.

The scenes in Kevin's underground lair are tense as Casey tries to exploit his more vulnerable personalities like Hedwig to escape. This leads to a hilarious scene of Hedwig's dancing, which is nice comic relief that didn't take up as much time as the rapping in The Visit. James McAvoy does a wonderful job making each personality distinct with their own voice, gestures, expressions, and mood. They have different genders, age, likes, dislikes, allergies, medical conditions, and even strength. We only see glimpses of many of the personalities, but we see Hedwig, Patricia, and Dennis the most. His performance is comparable to Tatiana Maslany as all of the clones in Orphan Black. One of the things that detracted a bit from the film was Dr. Fletcher's extended speeches convincing people the DID is a real condition that gives people what sometimes looks like supernatural powers. It halts the trajectory of the plot and seems too much like convincing the audience over and over of this.

My other problem is with the ending. We finally see the fabled Beast and he does eat some of his sacred food (although leaves most of it behind which I thought was super wasteful). His reasoning for targeting those specific two girls (Claire and Marcia) were because they were untouched by trauma. He ends of sparing Casey because of her physical scars from lifelong abuse from her uncle that we see intercut into the film. Kevin makes huge assumptions about the girls and doesn't take into account that trauma often leaves emotional scars and not physical ones. The film has a weird inconsistency there that distracted me. I get that he values people who have seen trauma but his methods are frankly dumb. This film is a slight step in the right direction as the only personalities condemned as aberrant are The Beast and his followers, but it's still not great as someone with a mental illness is demonized and yet again put in a villainous role.

Split held my interest throughout the film even if parts of it were uneven and not well thought out. M. Night Shyamalan is back to making decent films and I would probably see his next film. However, it seems like he's gearing up for a kind of superhero/supervillain confrontation that goes outside the horror realm. I didn't really expect that and the ending fell a bit flat to me as a result. Other than that, it was a pretty decent film. Anya Taylor-Joy plays Casey wonderfully and I hope to see her in many genre films to come.

My rating: 3/5 fishmuffins

Friday, March 10, 2017

Happy 20th Anniversary to Buffy the Vampire Slayer!

It's been 20 years since Buffy the Vampire Slayer first aired on television with Welcome to the Hellmouth. I was 11 when it came out and I watched it live for the first 6 seasons with my family. It means a lot to me and helped shaped me as a person. Buffy, Anya, Cordelia, Willow, Tara, and so many other female characters showed me that there were so many different ways to be strong, capable, and human. Even though the first season is now a little hard to watch, it's instrumental to forming the solid relationships moving forward in the series. All the bad acting and bad effects can't hide the solid origins of the show.

Season 6 in particular has changed for me as I got older. When I was a kid, it seemed too depressing, too messy, and too different especially compared to the rest of the series.  I related more to the earlier seasons when the themes in high school and early college were more topic for me. Now, season 6 is so raw and realistic. It didn't really have a Big Bad until the very end. Life and reality were the true villains of that season. Characters dealt with toxic relationships, attempted rape, depression, becoming a parent, dealing with debt, dropping out of college, losing loved ones, and above all feeling hopeless. It acknowledged all of these feelings instead of stamping them down.

This show is so many things to so many people because it's still very relevant today. Anyone who has felt like an outsider can relate to the Scooby Gang. Awesome articles have been coming out for the anniversary including the AV Club's interview series, The Atlantic's praise of The Body, and io9's 20 Things We Still Love about Buffy 20 Years Later. Google anywhere and you will find the love of Buffy, especially from the stars of the show like Sarah Michelle Gellar, David Boreanaz, and Clare Kramer. Go forth and celebrate Buffy!

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

The Bye Bye Man

* spoilers *

If you know about the Bye Bye Man, your thoughts and fears power him. Elliot discovers him just as he moves in with his best friend and his girlfriend. I had so many problems with this movie. First, the Bye Bye Man is a terrible name and he's essentially a way worse rip off of Freddy Krueger. Second, the mythology of the character is never established. Sights and sounds of trains, coins, and his very badly CGIed and badly designed dog are his harbingers, but we never know why. The dog seems to only eat the victims eyes when he's massive and doesn't really make sense. We only know that not thinking of or saying his name should defeat him which never works. Third, his whole modus operandi is really off. He seems to force people to kill other people who have heard of him, but this is totally counterintuitive. Why not have them kill random people and then keep the amount of people who are susceptible to your mind games alive to spread the word and kill more people. Killing people who know of you just serves to keep your name in obscurity. Even the portrayal of the Bye Bye Man is awful. He comes into physical contact with a character and doesn't or isn't able to hurt them, Very weird and I do not fault Doug Jones who is always very creepy and awesome. The look is also pedestrian with a slightly stylized hoodie, normal clothing, and a weird looking face.

The characters are not much better than the figure they are running from. Elliot becomes obsessed with thinking his best friend John is sleeping with his girlfriend Sasha. Why get drawn into that drama when people are dying? Sasha gets a bit of a cold and coughs pathetically through the movie as if it's a debilitating, supernatural disease. John sees a few hallucinations that turn him into a chauvinist. He sleeps with one of Sasha's friends and he can't perform. Then he hallucinates maggots on her and calls her names even though they disappear. I simply don't care about their stupid drama about fidelity and miscommunication. This isn't a romantic comedy. These dull characters go nowhere throughout the film. It feels like almost nothing really happens. They go seeking information and don't get very far. They figure out that if they don't fear him, the Bye Bye Man's power diminishes (much like Freddy Krueger), but it wasn't enough. These characters are shockingly useless and didn't hold my interest. The only good things about Elliot are his cool band shirts and him singing along tearfully to Bye Bye Love, which is ironically accurate to his situation. Overall, The Bye Bye Man has some fun individual scenes, but most of the movie drags on aimlessly. Too much teen drama; not enough plot. I would recommend seeing something else.

My rating: 1/5 fishmuffins