IO, Review By Case Wright


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New beginnings and adventure versus intimacy and connection is the theme of Netflix’s latest straight to stream scifi think piece- IO.  It makes sense that human connection is the main theme because this movie was written by a team.  Rule of thumb: if you see Writer 1 and Writer 2 that was rewritten because writer 1 kinda sucked, BUT, if you see Writer 1 & Writer 2, this was written as a creative team.  In this case, there were three writers working together: Clay Jeter, Charles Spano, & Will Basanta.  I can’t imagine how challenging that would be for a film script mostly because I’m very solitary as a writer.  I’m an extrovert in every other way, but my ideal writing space is a well-lit isolation cave.  What is impressive to me  is that Netflix took a chance on these writers because it was their first real feature.  Normally, I would make a parenthesis next to the writers’ names, but here they haven’t really done anything prior.    The director, Jonathan Helpert, has done short films, never a feature. Despite this being everyone’s first feature, they executed well and attracted some real talent to their piece: Margaret Qualley (The Leftovers) and Anthony Mackie (Captain America: Winter Soldier).

The film takes place in just two locations, has two principles, and essentially just a cameo by a third actor.  The special effects were so minimalist that it made Another Earth (Lisa’s Review) look like Star Wars.  90% of the film takes place on a campsite, 5% in an empty neighborhood, and 5% in a museum. This film really ratchets up the intimacy and nothing can make two people closer than not having any other human beings around to distract them.

At first, I thought I was in for some Al Gore environmentalist porn because the film begins with a mass exodus of humanity from earth to an outpost to IO because runaway pollution changed our air to ammonia.  Obviously, there’s not enough fabreeze in the world to get rid of that smell.  Our heroine, Sam (Margaret Qualley) is up on a mountain campsite where the air is still breathable.  She is working alone to further her father’s research to adapt bees and plants to the new atmosphere in order to make the world habitable for humans again.  She makes trips down to the city below to scavenge for parts and to finally get decent tickets to see Hamilton.  This sounds like it would be dull, but it’s totally engaging because Margaret Qualley is such a talent that she plays the claustophic loneliness so you can feel it yourself.

Sam has a REALLY long distance relationship with Elon her engineer boyfriend who is determined to find humanity a new home.  His life is in the unknown and the stars; whereas, Sam’s is one earthbound and lonely.  Her loneliness is ended with the arrival of Micah (Anthony Mackie) a much older man than she, but there are obvious sparks.  They share an interest in the humanities and mourn our lost paradise.  Micah followed Sam’s father’s advice and attempted to stay on earth and survive and adapt, but doing so cost him his wife’s life and anyone else’s who listened to him.  He spent years floating around earth on a hot air balloon, seeing humanity’s fall from above.  When Micah met Sam, their age difference, the poisoned earth, or the uncertain future didn’t matter because they made a connection and developed concern for one another.

A lot has been discussed about the quasi-ambiguous ending because I suppose people are really good at missing the point.  It never was about whether humanity retook the earth or colonized a new home beyond the stars; it was about humans rediscovering their humanity.  In fact, the last lines of the film discussed exploration, coming to where you began, and re-discovering your starting point as if it were new because it is: you have changed, you have grown, the meaning has evolved.  By the end of the film, Sam and Micah had learned that they were still human.  These connections are why we fight a Trojan War to bring our loved ones home because we are connected to them, they matter, and because we are human.  The end was not about whether she survived and lived on earth on not; it was heartbreaking because alive or dead, we knew that the roads Micah and Sam would walk would not be together.

 

Trailer: The Punisher – Season 2


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The first season of The Punisher on Netflix ended up being better than what had been advertised. The series and it’s ultraviolent tone became a divisive factor in how the show was scene.

Some saw it as the true adaptation of the titular character and his anti-hero status within the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Others saw it as poor taste considering the rash of mass shootings and gun violence that’s plagued the country the last couple of years.

There was no disagreement in that Jon Bernthal owned and seemed born to play the role of vengeance-fueled and grief-stricken Marine veteran Frank Castle. His portrayal not just of Frank Castle but his vigilante alter-ego, The Punisher, was like watching a force of nature on screen.

It was a no-brainer that a second season of the series would be set into production and Netflix didn’t hesitate. It’s a bit bittersweet knowing that no matter how good season 2 turns out there’s a high probability that this will be the final season of The Punisher on Netflix as every Netflix-produced Marvel show has been cancelled the past year with only the upcoming seasons of The Punisher and Jessica Jones left.

Season 2 is set of a January 18, 2019 release date on Netflix worldwide.

Trailer: Netflix’s Kingdom


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Yes, I know it’s another trailer for a zombie series. Even with my love for all things zombie fiction, I must admit that we’ve reached beyond the point of oversaturation. There’s more and more bad zombie fiction (in TV, film, books, etc.) than there are good ones. Once in awhile we will get something that puts a new spin or adds something new to the zombie genre.

We saw this with 2016’s The Girl with All the Gifts and South Korea’s Train to Busan. Even the darling of all things zombie fiction, AMC’s The Walking Dead has hit a new low in ratings (yet still continues to be the highest rated cable series).

Netflix is now jumping into the zombie pool to take it’s pound of flesh with it’s South Korean production of a zombie series set during Korea’s medieval Joseon dynastic period. It’s a blend of court intrigue and survival horror.

The series is called Kingdom and from all promotional materials released since it was first announced, the series looks to bring the zombie genre into a time period we rarely see the genre appear. Rarely do we see zombie fiction on the big or small screen set in a time period other than modern times.

Netflix will release Kingdom worldwide on January 25, 2019 with a second season already set for production early 2019.

The Christmas Chronicles (Dir: Clay Kaytis), Review by Case Wright


Netflix is known for taking risks and “The Christmas Chronicles” is no exception. There are six felonies in this film: 2 Grand Theft Autos, a kidnapping, money laundering, attempted murder, and whatever they did to that partridge in the pear tree.  Yet, it worked! I will admit that I am of the Y-Generation and Kurt Russell remains forever cool in my book, but this movie had some good story writing, great acting from veterans like Kurt Russell and Stevie Van Zandt, but great performances by up and comers Judah Lewis (The Babysitter) and Darby Camp (Big Little Lies) as well.

Clay Kaytis had his directorial debut with this film.  He is famous for being an animator for a panoply of films that you have taken your daughters to see: Frozen, Tangled, and Mulan…etc.  Clay was a pretty good choice considering the amount of animation that is in this film.  Honestly, it was a family movie that would have been a HUGE box office draw.

The film begins with a series of home movies featuring a classic nuclear family enjoying Christmas over the years…until 2017.  We learn that the father was a fireman who lost his life saving a family, leaving his family grieving and without the spirit of Christmas.  The mom is now taking extra shifts as a nurse, the daughter is REALLY into Santa, and the son is now a no-kidding degenerate car thief.  There are enough dark scenes in this film to classify it as Film Noir.

The family is trying to live as best they can and the daughter Kate is trying to reconnect with the memory of her late father by watching old home movies.  In one of the films, she sees a mystery arm delivering a package.  She convinces her brother that it could be Santa in the film and they decide to set a trap for him…..and IT WORKS!!! Not only do they catch Santa on film, they stow away onto his sleigh and cause Santa to crash.  He loses his sleigh, reindeer, bag of toys, and his magic hat.  The main ticking clock for the film is that Santa needs to get his presents delivered before christmas is up or christmas spirit will tick down to zero and it will be like the Hills Have Eyes or something.  The rest of the film is spent helping Santa retrieve these lost items and busting Santa out of jail to prevent the After Times.

And yes, Santa ends up in jail, charged with multiple felonies, and does a pretty amazing blues number with the E Street Band.  Yes, the E Street Band.  I know that a lot of this movie is starting to sound like a Christmas fever dream, but it works and my 7 and 9 year old girls were riveted and didn’t hurt each other for the duration of the film.  Thank you, Clay Kaytis…THANK YOU!

I would recommend this film and for you to subscribe to Netflix.  Otherwise, how will you understand half of my reviews?!!!!!

Merry Christmas!

 

Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, S1 Ep 9: The Returned Man, Review (Dir Craig Macneill)


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Happy Devil’s Eve.  I will be doing the last episode on Halloween- Bwahahaha!

The Returned Man – directed by Craig Macneill is all about the failure! Since both Episode 8 & 9 were directed well, I’d like to get into their differing styles just a bit. Maggie Kiley built suspense with camera moves and slowing ratcheting up tension like a Hitchcock thriller or The Shining. Craig Macneill’s work feels more like an Italian horror film that relies on music, gore, and lighting to convey confusion, horror, and fear.

This episode is the reckoning of Sabrina’s necromancy.  She did raise Tommy, but he came back….different.  Tommy doesn’t speak, eat, or catch footballs normally.  What he does do is be very still and yet menacing.  Also, Sabrina’s clever plot to cheat death and have the witch return from death after 10 minutes isn’t really working out.  The sister is coughing up gravel.  All and all everything is going horribly horribly wrong.  When Sabrina returns the necromancy book to Ms. Wardwell, she feigns surprise that Sabrina went on the necromancy path.  This cements the sole culpability for Sabrina.

Why isn’t Tommy eating?  When the dead miners are delivered to the Spellman house, we learn that there is a good reason Tommy isn’t hungry; he was chowing down on the corpses of the other miners.  Yes, Tommy is a ….. ZOMBIE!!!! This is cut really well with a scene with Tommy attacking their POS dad.

Sabrina realizes that Tommy came back without a soul and that his soul is in limbo.  She thinks she can just waltz into limbo and get it. No muss no fuss.  Well, nope.  The Spellmans are now all aware of Sabrina’s shenanigans and think she is beyond reckless because she is.  No one wants to help Sabrina go into limbo except…..Ms Wardwell.

The limbo scene is excellent.  It reminds me of Phantasm or The Beyond. We pierce the veil and it’s filled with confusion and a terror called a Soul Eater!!! Sabrina meets her mother in Limbo, but she can’t recognize Sabrina.  This reminded me of The Beyond because if you make it to Hell in that film, you go blind from the revelation. Then, she does find Tommy, but as she is about finish Tommy’s rescue, the soul eater devours him.

Ms. Wardwell is conveniently near Sabrina for this scene and all others that can compromise Sabrina.  Wardwell convinces Sabrina that Harvey must know the truth. Sabrina agrees and we see Harvey’s love for Sabrina shatter.  He doesn’t seem angry as much as he is disgusted by being completely overruled in any of the decisions that affected him directly.  This causes them to break up, which isolates Sabrina completely from the human world.

I enjoyed how the characters were allowed to be diminished.  Sabrina failed in every way possible and lost everything.  This allows her to be prepped for a full corruption.  See you on Halloween!!!

*SPOILERS* Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, S1 E8: The Burial, Review (Dir Maggie Kiley)


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Happy Devil’s Eve!!! I would like to take a moment to tell Jason Blum to hire this Director A LOT!!! From Jumpstreet, she throws us off and builds suspense with her camera angles and moves.  We’re right there with the characters in the thick of suspense in the first seconds!  It almost has a found footage feel to it.  THAT TAKES SKILL! JASON, HIRE HER! A LOT!!! SHE’LL DO A GREAT JOB AND MAKE YOU LOTS OF MONEY!

Back to the review!

Maggie Kiley understood the theme of the episode immediately: Corruption.  Mostly, she uses close-in one-shots and two-shots, drawing us into these conversations where all of our characters are being slowly cozened into full darkness.

We quickly learn that Harvey’s brother Tommy is trapped in the mine and presumed dead. The drunkard father moves ahead with funeral plans right away to get insurance money.  All of these characters are under stress, which is when the easy corrupt always seems to present itself.  We learn from Hilda that their ground brings people back from the dead and in no way should give Sabrina any ideas to commit necromancy.

Furthering the theme of corruption, as the funeral is held, Sabrina violates Harvey’s will for the third time in the season.  She has used her power to make him forget, make him safe, and make him strong.  As pressure mounts, she continues to become more and more comfortable in overriding Harvey’s will.  The series is amazingly complex in that none of the characters end the season with clean hands.  They all are slowly corrupted in some way.  It brings home the slow pernicious temptation that humankind always faces in times of a crisis: To do right thing or the easy thing.  In this show, everytime Sabrina overrides Harvey’s will, we bear witness to it sending her going further down the path of darkness, giving up more and more of her humanity and bringing her closer to Satan.

And who is there at every turn to nudge Sabrina down the easy path of darkness: Mary Wardwell.  She never tells Sabrina: Raise Tommy From the Dead!!!  No, that’s not how temptation works.  She presents the means and opportunity, allowing Sabrina see this viable opportunity to make things all better.  Mary does it over coffee.  It’s innocuous, but the option is presented.

Throughout the episode, it’s brought up that she never asked Harvey if bringing Tommy back from the dead is what he would want. Once again, she is being tempted to substitute her will for his.  In going down the path of resurrection, Sabrina is not only substituting her will in place of Harvey’s, she is substituting her will for the very will of God himself.

Why is this working on her? Evil is attractive.  I have met people that were actually evil.  They appeared normal, but they were not.  They committed terrible acts. Why? Each time I was confronted with these men, their actions were done out of arrogance and expedience.  They knew the act work and because they knew could do it.  That’s the heart of evil: convenience and arrogance.

Ambrose is given clemency from his house arrest by Father Blackwood. With it, comes fealty.  The shot is pulled closer and closer just more actively to bear.  Then, once proposed, the shot backs off.  As if to say, I’m just here to help.

Aunt Z is corrupted as well, but hers is a lot more direct and in keeping with the show’s raging hormone.  She has a torrid affair with Father Blackwood.  It is STEAMY! Honestly, this is the most relatable bad act on the show.

Sabrina learns that the sisters were responsible for Tommy’s death. She conflates vengeance with justice.  They caused harm, so I can use them and harm them in order to correct a greater harm.  In doing this, Sabrina convinces herself to commit murder.  You could argue that it was temporary, but it was pointed out that it was still murder in order to bring Tommy back.

When you hear presumably Tommy banging on the Harvey’s door; it’s straight up terrifying.  The last shot is the hand on the doorknob- Brilliant!

I’ve written about this before how you could have a great director who can’t direct horror.  Maggie Kiley knows what she’s doing. I was riveted.  I can’t wait to see more of her art!

 

*SPOILERS* Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, S1 Ep 7: Feast of Feasts, (Dir. Viet Nguyen) Review-


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Happy Horrorthon Home Stretch!!! Devil’s Eve is today.  Devil’s Eve is the day before the Great Samhain rises from the ground and goes door to door selling auto insurance at competitive rates…as the Druids taught him.

Those last reviews by Lisa were awesome as usual- Check them out, like them, and get Mia Farrow to live tweet while reading them!

Episode 7, Directed by Viet Nguyen, focuses around jealousy, betrayal, and corruption. Viet Nguyen is typically a film editor who occasionally directs.  I’m not sure if horror is where he is best suited to direct.  He usually directs action iZombie/The Flash/Legends of Tomorrow, camera shots that zero in on main characters with long still shots from below to reflect their larger than life hero or villain status.  The problem is that these long shots tend to diffuse the suspense that horror needs.  Take a look at the horror directed by Guy Norman Bee or Josh Stolberg.  The shots are at eye level with a slow push-in.  These people at your level and can get YOU.  Viet has done great work, but as I have written in other reviews Horror directing is a specialized art form where building suspense is its beating heart.

The story focus was narrowed.  Instead of an overarching drama piece where Sabrina straddles two worlds like a witchy Gilmore Girls, it’s a personal story of a father betraying his daughter with courtly intrigue.  The Feast of Feasts commemorates the bodily sacrifice to her fellow starving witches to eat her.  This story gives another piece to the backstory of the town vs the witches and how the townsfolk massacred the witches years ago.  It’s like the Taylor V Sutton feud, but with more goth makeup.

Each witch family in the coven in Hunger Games style has to send in a tribute to be “Queen”.  The Queen embodies Freya by getting massacred and eaten by the coven to celebrate Freya’s sacrifice.  The main course is chosen by lots.  Sabrina’s annoyed that her Aunt Z participates in the drawing and insists on being part of the drawing to see if Aunt Z will speak out that the ritual is barbaric.  Does it work? Not so much.  Sabrina and Prudence go head to head and Sabrina is picked to be Prudence’s servant and Prudence draws the dinner card.

The storyline meanders a bit and it focuses around courtly intrigue and headmaster ascension… yawn.  Turns out the drawing was rigged by the Headmaster’s wife who knows that Prudence is the Headmaster’s illegitimate child and threat to her kid because of a possible inheritance dispute….boring.  When I reviewed Stranger Things, there was a mediocre episode too.  Overall, this episode is not perfect, but good enough. The episode ends with Prudence’s toadies causing a mine cave-in, which sets off a very cool story arc!!!!

Cheers!!!