Thursday, May 26, 2016

I saw the Mutant, Apocalypse...

In a season of mega-budgeted hero contention, it's refreshing to find a more traditional approach of dissension: the type that comes from within, but in the end aims exclusively to thwart villainy. Such characterizes Director Bryan Singer's "X-Men: Apocalypse", which isn't much different than previous chapters, except that it presents its expected turmoil in spades, with our young, mutant favorites confronting the conniving first of their kind. 

This founding father is the brain-battering, matter-altering En Sabah Nur, otherwise known as Apocalypse, portrayed by rising, imagi-movie man, Oscar Issac. He desires to destroy the world in order refashion it to his own insidious image, but his dictatorial presence forces the variables against him, uniting the mutants for a new common cause. 

En Sabah Nur, we learn, ruled ancient Egypt, but was betrayed and entombed by those he dared rule. Centuries later, he's sprung from his prison by a wayward sect and immediately proceeds to assemble a new group of henchmen, or more precisely, Horsemen, to help him regain command. The participants are Elizabeth Braddock/Psylocke/"Pestilence" (Olivia Munn); Warren Worthington/Archangel/"Death" (Ben Hardy); and (as a surprise to many film fans) Ororo Munroe/Storm/"Famine" (Alexandra Shipp). All the while, "War"-prone Erik Lehnsherr/Magneto (Michael "Prometheus" Fassbender) waits in the revenge-ridden wings, embittered for having lost his family due to human bigotry, while the fickle, mutant-tracking Caliban (Thomas Lemarquis) offers his shifty services. 

Our virtuous favorites are at least quick to oppose the devil and consist of old and new: Charles Xavier/Professor X (James "Victor Frankenstein" McAvoy); Raven Darkholme/Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence); Jean Grey/Phoenix (Sophie "Game of Thrones" Turner); Jubilation Lee/Jubilee (Lana Condor); Peter Maximoff/Quicksilver (Evan "American Horror Story" Peters); Agent Moira MacTaggert (Rose Byrne); Hank McCoy/the Beast (Nicholas "Jack the Giant Slayer" Hoult); Alex Summers/Havok (Lucas Till); Scott Summers/Cyclops (Tye Sheridan); and Kurt Wagner/Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee).

Mystique, having redeemed herself in the alternate-reality/saving-Nixon "Days of Future Past" is now a mutant liberator, who pulls her fellow breed from trapped and tortured circumstances, whereas Storm, whom we've always associated with compassionate pursuits, is reintroduced as a young, misguided puppet, but the question is, for how long will such last in a world wracked by infinite danger? There are wrongs committed well beyond those of her spiteful "god", proving he's not the only zealot aboard this tumultuous ride. 

There's also the militaristic William Stryker (Josh Helman), who in respect to his mythology, has a knack for kidnapping and experimenting on mutants, including Logan/Wolverine (Hugh Jackman), who we find in the agonizing throes of Weapon X alteration. To flee Stryker's lair is as important as breaking Professor X from out Apocalypse's grasp (a significant plot component in its own delightful right), but before the epic battle can be fought, terrestrial torments must first be squashed, giving the film a dynamic duality: not necessarily making this two movies in one, but thematically, close to such.

There comes a point in Simon Kinberg's latest X-Men script when the complications settle, particularly after Magneto's mass magnetic disruption, and the focus falls upon the title villain. From there the movie makes a smooth, if not predictable, turn, but its unpretentious shift is refreshing, not oh-hum. Through the garish destruction, the fable instructs us never to let our desires grow so strong that they impede upon those of others: a fundamental concept that En Sabah Nur and his entourage, for all their uncanny knowledge and skills, fail to accept, at least at first. Revelation isn't far away within this war, even among those inclined to embrace evil.

The cumulative effect is all quite Biblical, in a redemptive, fall-from-grace way, with disguised angels and demons battling for and against human salvation. However, "Apocalypse" is also a freewheeling, nostalgic piece, with the reality-altering "Days of Future Past" acting as its catalyst.While the previous film tripped us back to the '70s, "Apocalypse" escorts us into the Reagan-era '80s, accompanied by its pop-cultural garnish, which ranges from the synthpop sounds of the Eurythmics to "Return of the Jedi'"s stellar premiere. 

As fun as it is to travel down this pseudo memory lane, the rich character interaction is what makes the voyage worth while.

Scene-stealing Peters again harnesses the fast finesse of Quicksilver: Marvel's answer to DC's Flash. His casual gait contrasts well against his sublime jaunts, and his inevitable need to unite with his estranged father (guess who?) is quirky and poignant, thanks to the thespian's versatility. 

McAvoy and Fassbender are once more convincing, clashing as both friends and foes, spiritually joined at the hip, with one trying to control (or suppress) the other, in a Jekyll/Hyde play for power: an X-Men staple that never grows strained, and in this instance, perhaps hits its sterling summit. 

As for Mystique, Lawrence remains alluring in her good-girl mode, redirecting her character toward an ethical plane, even if her persona is more human than what she (or Rebecca Romijn) have previously projected: an arguable shame, considering the rebellious charm of the character's bold, naked blue. 

Helman and Issac, on the other hand, are brilliantly cruel as the philosophically opposed villains, with the former getting more screen time, and Issac spreading his Kinski-esque devilry accordingly, while adding another fantasy-film character to his expanding line, which includes "Ex Machina" and "Force Awakens". (It's also nice to see his mutated scowl rendered through traditional make-up effects and not hollow computerization.)

Alas, we get shortchanged on Wolverine. Though there's much more of Jackman here than in "First Class", why must we wait until "Wolverine 3" to see him seize the day?

Despite the latter misstep, and the fact that this chapter may not be as innovative as some prior (let alone as irreverent as "Deadpool"), "Apocalypse" is still the best sort of reboot, acknowledging its past, while keeping a keen eye on its future. Some may say that's not enough to make this sequel great, but in delivering the tried-and-true goods (and isn't that what any true fan fancies?), "Apocalypse" more than covers the required bases.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

I saw the Night of Medusa/Slave Girls on the Moon...

I can't help but praise Joshua Kennedy's filmmaking finesse, especially the loving manner in which he recaptures the Gothic essence of Hammer Studios. He did a marvelous job in his homage, "Dracula A.D. 2015" (see Oct '15) and flavored his science-fiction opus, "The Vesuvius Xperiment (see Nov '15) with many of the studio's finest traits. 

Now, Gooey Film Productions brings us Kennedy's "The Night of Medusa": a heartfelt homage to Hammer's atmospheric classic, "The Gorgon". The latter is a Kennedy favorite, but instead of merely rehashing a film he holds near to his heart, he's distinguished his tribute with spellbinding friction and ample angst. 

The story focuses on a Greek exchange student, Elaine Carlisle (Haley Zega), who upon entering prestigious Pace University encounters unfounded disdain from her roommate, the snooty Courtney Ambrose (Carmen Vienhage), who has no idea that the meek Carlisle is the reincarnation of the dreaded Medusa, but then neither does Carlisle know least not at first. 

Before long, Carlisle experiences a series of weird, sleepwalking sessions and ultimately returns to her deadly roots to attain revenge, but she's not alone upon her terrifying trail. The mysterious and mystically stationed Count Saknussemm (played by none other than Kennedy) guides her along the maddening stretch of discovery. 

Though Carlisle invokes Stephen King's downtrodden youths, her circumstances also capture the delightful tension of such teen horror classics as "Blood of Dracula", "I Was a Teenage Werewolf" and "Twisted Brain", with perhaps a layer of Edward L. Cahn's "She-Creature" paving the way, occasionally bridged by elements of William Castle, Alfred Hitchcock and Coffin Joe. 

Also, like Hammer's "Gorgon", "Medusa" is, by its basic design, an unpretentious monster tale, though rendered with a shadowy trepidation that would make even the likes of  Terence Fisher and Freddy Francis envious. Still, Kennedy never lets the shadows stand in lieu of what's promised. Our celebrated Titan eventually surfaces from out Carlisle's comely guise, snapping at the screen with her trademark serpentine strands and as a result, stirs the required scares. 

Zega and Vienhage are perfectly cast, staging their opposing roles with passion and conviction. Of course, Kennedy's script is a strong foundation upon which their performances can grow.

Kennedy, in particular, makes a strong impression as Saknussemm, administering the right commanding tone and highbrow posture. Through an ominous, mostly mute persona, he channels Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee, but also one might argue, enlists the distinct, menacing panache of Vincent Price and Michael Gough. (For further proof of Kennedy's villainous projection, check out "Vesuvius".)

The rest of "Medusa'"s cast, which includes Jonathan Danziger; Nick Ries; Madison Reiske; Traci Thomas; and Liam Wildes, is also believable in its varying roles; Femforce contributor Mark Holmes even cameos as a security guard. (BTW, the stately Metropolitan Museum of Art acts as a major backdrop in the film, adding to the eerie air of scholarly sophistication.)

I've already watched the film twice in one sitting and have a hankering to leap in again, but I suppose the same enthralling quality can be found in any Kennedy endeavor, including "Medusa'"s joyful DVD accompaniment, "Slave Girls on the Moon": a science-fiction spoof, which also serves as a companion piece to Kennedy's equally tongue-in-cheek "Voyage to the Planet of Teenage Cavewomen" (see March '15).

In "Slave Girls", we learn that nuclear scientist Genevieve Fonda (Devin Dunne) has bolted through time to the year 8888, where she's imprisoned in the moon-based Bestwick Penitentiary.

Fonda is tracked by her assistant, Chloe Trustcott (Madelyn Wiley), but when she, too, is captured, the duo plans an escape with fellow prisoner Mai-Ling (Tomi Heady), a combat-skilled (and later peg-legged) rebel. (Incidentally, "Medusa'"s Vienhage also plays one of the inmates, in this instance supplying an effective comedic tone.) To ensure success, the gals decide to throw a talent show to distract their sadistic warden (the brilliantly expressive Kennedy) and his "Invaders from Mars"/"Man from Planet X"-ish henchman, Lobo (the joyfully lustful Jeremy Kreuzer). From there, the crazy hi jinks spread like wildfire, nicely capped by yet another Holmes appearance. 

"Slave Girls" is a loving, nostalgic homage to space operas ranging from "Buck Rogers" to "Barbarella" (sprinkled with a dash of Stanley Kubrick, Jules Verne, and a generous heaping of Edward D. Wood, Jr.), but even more so, the adventure acknowledges the women-in-prison genre, popular during the '70s drive-in scene. The film's crossover elements blend remarkably well, so much so that they won Kennedy "Best Comedy" at the 2016 Miami International Science Fiction Film Festival Awards.

Each film (whether viewed separately or back-to-back) creates a pleasant, throwback experience, offering further proof that Kennedy is one of the most versatile, indie filmmakers going today. (For those interested in his perspectives, the Alpha New Cinema DVD release supplies insightful commentary on both installments.) 

Don't deprive yourself of the fun; order this dandy, Kennedy double feature today at

DC/Vertigo's Preacher Arrives via AMC...

AMC continues its trek into the bold and unique, this time with a ten-episode adaptation of Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon's "graphic novel" epic, "Preacher". 

"Preacher" made its mark in the '90s as an offbeat DC/Vertigo title. The Sam Catlin/Seth Rogan/Evan Goldberg produced version (commencing 5/22) stars Dominic Cooper as Jesse Custer, an uncertain cleric who decides to take over his father's Texan church: a nice idea, except that he's destined for possession by an angel/demon hybrid called Genesis. The entity could rival God's otherwise infinite power, and conscientious Custer decides to venture forth to attain a face-to-face meeting with the Lord, so that He may help squash Custer's Hyde side. However, Custer's path is no quickie, and along the stretch, he encounters a variety of dangerous and ethereal entities and circumstances.

Custer is accompanied by his tough-as-nails gal, Tulip O'Hare, played by Ruth ("Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.") Negga and his best buddy Cassidy, played by Joe Gilgun, who just so happens to be a vampire. The series also stars Tom Brooke and Antoli Yusef  as guardian angels; W. Earl ("Deadwood") Brown as a roughened sheriff; Ian Collotti as the lawman's deformed, forlorn son; Derek Wilson as a raucous, church-going adversary; and Lucy ("Constantine") Griffins as an organist/single mom, who backs Custer's cause. Acclaimed character actor Jackie Earle Haley also has a recurring role. 

Cooper is a swell choice for the lead, holding a sturdy fan base as Marvel's Howard Stark in "Captain America: First Avenger" and "Agent Carter". His present presence in the DC dimension is likely to draw the same fantasy-friendly following. 

Considering AMC's track record with such groundbreaking shows as "Walking Dead", "Hell on Wheels" and "Breaking Bad", "Preacher" looks like a clinched hit. Time will tell, though, but I, for one, will be checking in, avidly absorbing the off-kilter proceedings. 

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Time Travel Time #17: The Tomorrow Man (2002)

In "The Tomorrow Man" (not to be confused with the '96 film of the same name), violence and mayhem meet a Dickens-esque voyage that starts in the mid-seventies and travels to an alternate future, where the estranged relationship of a father and son reaches a remarkable fruition. 

Per this description, one can infer that writer/director Doug Campbell's 2002 adventure is a tad different than most time-travel tales, and because of this, "Tomorrow Man" remains a unique, emotional triumph. 

Like “Timecrimes” (see “Time Travel Time” #6: July '14), "Tomorrow Man'"s ramifications are seemingly small, but not for those they impact, with a dangerously wayward son, Bryon, otherwise know as Mac (Morgan Rusler), jaunting back in time with his fellow ruffians (via a stolen, remote-control structured device) to eschew the abuse inflicted upon him by his dad (Corbin Bernsen). Mac plans to kidnap his younger self (Adam Sutton) and raise his timid counterpart in a respectable way, so he'll grow into a fulfilled, law-abiding citizen. On the other side of the coin, his father, Larry, we learn, was once an average, hardworking guy of high principle, but after a stroke of bad luck, fell upon drunken times. The father/son animosity, therefore, creates an explosive mix, but through the woeful consequences, a chance for redemption rises for both. 

Much of the the movie's success comes from Bernsen's passionate performance. He convincingly makes Larry a man who, though temperamental, doesn't hesitate to stand up for a friend, as we witness when a bigoted boss bullies his pal, Griff (Stevie Johnson), who it should be noted, fatefully figures into the time-travel scenario decades later. Also at the early level, Larry ardently believes that his diligence and conviction will pay off, that he'll do right by his family and harness his flaws, but as we all know, the best laid plans...

However, when Larry witnesses Bryon's kidnapping (via a flashing, blink-of-an-eye teleportation), he frantically tries to unravel what's happened and get his boy back. Meanwhile, a time agent named Vick (Beth Kennedy), who's tracking Mac, unwittingly carries Larry into the future. This is a complicated turn, since Mac has killed her fellow officer/boyfriend (Zach "Gremlins" Galligan), but Larry's heartfelt zeal proves contagious, and before long, the two form an unsteady allegiance.

Alas, the time-twisted path is a confusing one for Larry. He learns there are restrictions to how far one can travel, and it's implied that aspects of any given timeline can be changed without significantly disrupting the overall pattern. The manifestation of parallel outcomes, therefore, is nonchalantly shrugged, as if (in "Quantum Leap" lore) only the best possible outcomes can ever occur through any given trek, or can they? Larry senses that there's still enough danger in the circumstances to make the mission a precarious one. 

Larry eventually finds his wife, Jeanine, who he remembers as a vibrant, young woman (Elizabeth Sandifer), but in older form, she's a distraught recluse (portrayed by "Young and the Restless" legend, Jeanne Cooper, who's also Bernsen's true-life mother). Through Jeanine, Larry begins to understand how his temperament turned Bryon into a criminal: a harsh revelation that makes Larry all the more determined to set things right. (Griff, Larry's old friend, now a high-ranking time cop, also resurfaces to reinforce Jeanine's claims, informing the frenetic father that by abandoning hope and rejecting opportunities, he caused the predicament he now sees before him.)

Eventually older Bryon and Larry cross paths, which inspires the former to take his father back in time (in a "Christmas Carol" type sojourn) to witness one of their bitter exchanges. This moment (wherein Rusler's pensive subtlety plays well off Bernsen's high-strung agitation) becomes a sobering one for Larry. He accepts the error of his ways and vows to become a better man. With this settled, "Tomorrow Man'"s events race toward their climax: some ironic, some jubilant, and in the end, all inspiring. 

"Tomorrow Man" is, after all, a story of salvation, of setting wrongs right, of seizing a second chance and making the best of it. Campbell's approach is refreshing, identifiable and wisely relies on realistic sentimentality. In fact, the story would have made a memorable "Twilight Zone": the highest compliment one could hope to pay any fanciful fable. 

Sunday, May 15, 2016


Here it is folks: from the imaginative mind of Ash Arceneaux...the cover for my upcoming Caliburn Press novella...THE HYDE SEED!!! (As you may recall, Arceneaux created the creepy cover for my monster-rally tale, FLASK OF EYES.)

Arceneaux's imagery for THE HYDE SEED represents my lead character well: a rising welterweight called Pepe Rodriguez, who throws it all away in the name of unrequited love...well, more or less. Pepe, like most of us, struggles with an inner demon: a spawn of heartbreak and self-doubt, which in his case, springs from out his battered brain to establish its own insidious existence.

Can Rodriguez defeat the horrid thing he's sown? Only time will tell, but until my Robert Louis Stevenson tribute reaches print, I trust Arceneaux's wicked artwork will more than than fill the gap. 

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

I saw the Boy...

I fancy weird doll/puppet/mannequin stories, whether they're supernatural or psychologically based. My interest piqued in my younger years upon viewing such ventriloquist-dummy movies as “Dead of Night '45”; “Devil Doll '64”; and the "Psycho" structured “Magic”, not to mention such creepy offshoots as "Dead Silence"; “Child’s Play”; “Puppet Master”; "Pin"; "Annabelle"; and “Dolly Dearest." Oh, and then there were all those terrific television shows with their fine variations on the theme, like "Twilight Zone"; “Alfred Hitchock Presents"; "Goosebumps” ; "Mrs. Columbo"; "Boris Karloff's Thriller"; and "American Horror Story".

The latest in this eerie sub-genre, "The Boy" (now available for home viewing), is produced by imagi-movie filmmaker, Tom Rosenberg and directed by "Devil Inside'"s William Brent Bell. It stars Lauren Cohan (yep, dear ol’ Maggie from “The Walking Dead”) as Greta, an American nanny hired by an elderly British couple, the Heelshires (Jim Norton and Diana Hardcastle), to work in a gloomy, old mansion  to tend to...well, this particular doll. 

It’s actually a realistic representation of a boy, thus the film’s title: a kind of uncanny-valley, porcelain-headed thing, which due to its finely sculpted detail, looks almost alive. Greta learns that the eccentric couple lost their son, Brahms, in a fire, and the doll now occupies his spot. In fact, the couple instructs Greta on Brahm's care, ensuring that she treats the fabrication like (in the Pinocchio vein) a real-live boy. That she follow instructions is most important since the couple plans to go away on "holiday". 

The doll actually insinuates behavior, moving from one place to another about the abode when Greta grows lax in her care of it. This prompts her to wonder if the doll isn't, in fact, inhabited by a spirit, and naturally Brahms comes to mind. 

Greta's new boyfriend, Malcolm (Rupert "Man in the High Castle" Evans), enlightens her on the boy's background, which helps explain the Heelshires' ritualistic lament. However, the more Greta tries to come to terms with the situation, the stranger things become, and before long, she finds herself frightened out of her wits by an entity that insists on her love. To complicate matters, Greta's old boyfriend, Cole (Ben Robson) comes to visit, but his need for renewed affection only irritates the odd bond. 

What ultimately develops doesn't quite slip into the territory of a rampaging Chucky or Zuni Doll; but in its own right, "The Boy" does become as relentless as any prior devil-doll incarnation, though with an unnerving, psychological twist, which leaves the conclusion wide open for a sequel. 

Bell makes excellent use of Stacey Menear's haunting script, carefully staging matters so that even when the film borders on familiarity, it still commands one's attention. Though it's hardly a Val Lewton imprint, it also employs enough of the famed filmmaker's shadowy nuances to be a throwback of sorts, raising it above most modern horror fare. 

For Cohan fans, the film will surely satisfy. Like her television persona, Greta remains resourceful throughout and in the home's ominous corridors, wavers between maternal instinct and the desperate need to stay alive. 

The big star of the film, of course, is the doll: an unforgettable entity for all of its simplicity. Daniel Pearl's photography helps much this regard, capturing the prop in such a way to make it look like a catatonic child.

Perhaps, "The Boy" is more an exercise in atmosphere than a cinematic ground breaker, but for those who fancy this sub-genre (and again, I'm one such admirer), this entry will more than hold its own.