Here’s The Trailer for Night Teeth

Hey, look! It’s a vampire film, just in time for October!

Are there any poverty-stricken vampires? Have you ever noticed that every vampire is rich, sarcastic, and really into EDM? You never catch vampires driving a truck or working in the grocery store, I guess. I’d like to see a movie about blue-collar vampires. They could ever call it Blue Collar Vampires. I don’t care, I won’t sue.

Until then, though, Night Teeth loos like it could be fun. We’ll find out soon!

As for what I would do if I know it was my last night on Earth …. I don’t know. Probably cry, to be honest. That would be kind of a depressing thing to know.

Here’s The Trailer for Afterlife of the Party

Cassie’s dead but she still has a chance to do right in her life …. actually this sounds familiar.  Oh well, no matter!  We all love Victoria Justice around here.

The party comes to Netflix on September 2nd.  Try not to die while watching.

The Things You Find On Netflix: The Sons of Sam: A Descent Into Darkness (dir by Joshua Zemen)

For a little over a year, from July of 1976 to August of 1977, New York City lived in fear of a killer.

Carrying a .44 caliber handgun, this killer — or, some thought, killers — preyed on the young. Though one victim was shot while walking by herself, the rest were all gunned down while sitting in parked cars, often while kissing at the end of a date. It was said that the killer’s main targets were young women with dark hair, leading to a run on blonde wigs and dye jobs. While the media originally called him the .44 caliber killer, he wrote two letters in which he requested to be known as the Son of Sam. He was one of America’s first celebrity serial killers, a dark force who moved through the night and inspired nightmares.

When he was arrested, the fearsome Son of Sam turned out to be a rather goofy-looking postal worker named David Berkowitz. Berkowtiz confessed to all of the shootings, with the initial story being that he believed he was ordered to do it by a dog named Sam. Even at the time, though, there were doubts as to whether or not Berkowtiz acted alone. Some witnesses claimed that they had seen more than one gunman at a few of the shootings and the pudgy Berkowtiz didn’t look anything at all like some of the early sketches that had been released on the gunman. Were the witnesses just confused or was Berkowitz a part of a larger conspiracy?

Journalist Maury Terry believed that Berkowitz was a part of a bigger conspiracy. He dedicated his life to trying to prove that Berkowitz was a part of a Satanic cult. Terry claimed that the cult was not only responsible for the Son of Sam murders but he also claimed that they were connected to everyone from Charles Manson to Arliss Perry, a 19 year-old college student was brutally murdered in a California church. Eventually, Terry wrote a book about his investigation and his theories. The Ultimate Evil was a best seller during the Satanic panic of the late 80s but Terry’s conclusions were never taken seriously by the NYPD. Even after Berkowitz himself gave Terry a televised interview in which he said that he wasn’t the only gunman, the case remained closed. Terry spent the rest of his life obsessing on his theories and with that obsession came a litany of self-destructive behavior. Terry died in 2015. Berkowitz remains in prison, claiming to be a born again Christian. The murderer of Arliss Perry apparently committed suicide in 2018 after DNA linked him to the crime. Among his possession was a copy of The Ultimate Evil.

Sons of Sam: A Descent Into Darkness is a four-part Netflix docuseries about the Son of Sam murders and Terry’s investigation. Featuring archival footage, interviews, and Paul Giamatti reading excerpts from Terry’s work, the documentary details not just Terry’s theories but also the way his relentless quest to prove them took over his life. We hear from detectives and reporters and Maury Terry’s ex-wife. There’s also plenty of footage of Berkowitz, both from his initial arrest and his subsequent interviews.

The documentary itself clearly believes that Berkowitz was a member of a cult and that he worked with other gunmen. Myself, I came away from the series unconvinced. Some of the evidence that Terry uncovered was indeed compelling. Particularly when it comes to the mysterious Carr brothers, two shady men who Terry believed were involved in the shootings, it’s hard not to feel that Terry was right to feel that there was more to the story than was officially accepted. Far too often, however, one gets the feeling that Terry allowed himself to be motivated more by what he wanted the evidence to show than what was actually there. The attempt to connect Berkowitz to Manson especially feels vague. As is the case with most conspiracy theories, we’re expected to consider only the evidence that confirms that conspiracy’s existence while ignoring anything that might suggest an alternative solution. We’re asked to believe in a conspiracy that could apparently take out everyone except for the one journalist who was very publicly trying to reveal its existence. At times, the Cult is portrayed as just being a bunch of maladjusted losers and, at other times, they’re at the heart of a massive drug, pornography, and human trafficking cartel. Terry’s own conception of the cult and their plans seems to change as each new piece of a “evidence” is uncovered. Finally, as happens with many conspiracy theorists, Terry refuses to accept the simple truth that coincidences are a huge part of life.

When Berkowitz finally does give an interview to Terry, it’s hard not to notice that Berkowitz allows Terry to lead him to the answers that Terry wants to hear. Instead of answering Terry’s questions immediately — as someone with firsthand knowledge should presumably be able to do — Berkowitz instead waits until Terry has offered up enough details for Berkowitz to know in which direction Terry wants the answer to go. Often it seems that Berkowtiz is just agreeing with what Terry says or simply answering Terry’s questions by rephrasing them. Berkowtiz isn’t particularly clever or slick about it, either. One gets the feeling that, by the time the interviews happened, Terry had allowed his obsession with the case to cloud his instincts as a journalist.

Terry’s obsession is the most compelling part of the series. Much as with Michelle McNamara’s I’ll Be Gone In The Dark, Sons of Sam works best as an examination of how one person can become so obsessed with exposing the darkness that they allow that darkness to take over their lives. At times, Terry is described as almost being an Ahab-like figure, obsessively pursuing the prey that he insists is somewhere waiting for him. Much as how McNamara obsessively pursued a version of the Golden State Killer who didn’t actually exist outside of her own theories, Terry spent the final decades of his life trying to expose a conspiracy that may not have actually existed outside of his own mind. His obsession may have been self-destructive but, the series argues, his motives were sincere

As you may have guessed, my feelings about Sons of Sam are mixed. Maury Terry is a compelling figure, even if his theories don’t really hold together. I guess the ultimate lesson of Sons of Sam is that, eventually, every conspiracy will get its own Netflix series.

Here’s The Teaser For tick, tick …. BOOM!

Some things just make you cringe and that was kind of my reaction after watching the teaser for the upcoming musical adaptation tick, tick …. BOOM! I say this as someone who likes musicals, though I should admit that I usually prefer to see them on stage as opposed to on film. On stage, it’s very easy to get caught up in the magic of the music and the dancing. On film, it’s more of a balancing act. Just one misstep on the part of the filmmakers can doom the entire enterprise.

Despite my own less than enthusiastic reaction to the teaser, there are quite a few people who do seem to be looking forward to tick, tick …. BOOM! Not only is it the feature film directorial debut of Lin-Manuel Miranda but it’s also based on both the work and the life of Jonathan Larson, the writer and composer of Rent whose tragic death contributed in no small amount to that show’s legendary and rapturous initial reception and continuing popularity.

While I’m sure some people initially assumed that this musical was an adaptation of the 1970s Jim Brown film, tick …. tick …. tick, it’s actually something very different. In tick, tick …. BOOM!, the very talented and guaranteed-to-win-an-Oscar someday Andrew Garfield plays Jonathan Larson, who is portrayed as being nearly 30 and frustrated that he has yet to write a masterpiece. He can hear the time ticking away. Well, you can see for yourself in the teaser below. Now, as I said earlier, this teaser made me cringe but it’s hard for me to explain why. I think some of it is because the trailer has a definite Smash-feel to it. In case you’ve forgotten, Smash was the heavily-hyped and ultimately very poorly planned NBC series that spent a good deal of it’s second season following the production of The Hit List, a show that was obviously very much based on Rent. The scenes of Garfield exhorting the wonders of bohemia have a very Smash/Hit List feel to them. My other problem is that “Boy Genius” line which is just such an obnoxious line.

But who knows! There’s a lot of musicals coming out this year and tick, tick …. BOOM! does look a bit better than Dear Evan Hansen. Here’s the teaser:

tick, tick …. BOOM! will be released on Netflix this fall. Considering the wonders that Netflix did for The Prom, well …. let’s just hope for the best.

Here’s The Trailer For Fear Street!

I will admit that I was a little bit concerned when I first heard about the upcoming Fear Street trilogy, just because the whole thing sounded a bit like American Horror Story and I was worried that the end result would be more Ryan Murphy-like than R.L. Stine-like. Even though Murphy wasn’t actually involved in the production of the film, American Horror Story, with its heavy-handed approach and it’s somewhat condescending attitude towards the genre, has influenced several recent horror films and series and very rarely has that influence been for the better.

However, I just watched the trailer for the Fear Street Trilogy and it looks pretty good. It looks like they captured the feel of Stine’s books while also thematically updating them a bit for the present age. It also looks like they avoided most of the overly cutesy stuff that often makes American Horror Story such a struggle to slog through. The trailer features plenty of scenes that will warm the heart of any regular reader of R.L. Stine’s. There’s Sunnyvale! There’s Shadyside! There’s a witch! There’s a dark and haunted night! There’s mayhem on a school bus! There’s a mall massacre! There’s a haunted camp! There’s a bloody murder! There’s teenagers in danger! There’s a man with an axe! There’s a landline phone!

Anyway, Fear Street is actually three connected films. Much like the Red Riding Trilogy, each film takes place in a different year but they share certain characters in common and they all add up to tell one big story. They were originally scheduled to come out last year but, like so many films, they were delayed by the pandemic lockdowns. (Ironically, they were delayed because they were originally meant for a theatrical release. However, the delay was so long that 20th Century Fox’s deal to distribute the films expired and they were then picked up by Netflix. So, even with the pandemic ending, the Fear Street Trilogy will still mostly be seen by people sitting in their living rooms. Seriously, just think about how much fun your lockdown would have been last year if you had three new R.L. Stine movies to watch. Sometimes, life is unfair.)

The three films will be released during the first three weeks of July, on Netflix! Here’s the trailer:

Here’s The Trailer for Resident Evil: Infinite Darkness

Resident Evil is back, I guess.

Resident Evil: Infinite Darkness is an upcoming CGI animated series, dealing with all of the usual Resident Evil stuff. Personally, I’m a fan of anything that features zombies in the White House. The series will be available to stream on July 8th, 2021 on Netflix.

Here’s the trailer!

The Things You Find on Netflix: The Serpent (dir by Tom Shankland and Hans Herbots)

Some shows require a bit of patience on the part of the viewer and that’s certainly the case with The Serpent, an uneven but ultimately rewarding 8-episode British miniseries that can currently be viewed on Netflix.

The Serpent tells the true story of Charles Sobhraj (played by Tahar Rahim), a career criminal who spent the 70s smuggling diamonds and killing hippies. Living in Bangkok, Sobhraj and his two associates — his French-Canadian lover, Marie-Andree LeClerc (Jenna Coleman) and his henchman, Ajay (Amesh Edireweera) — preyed on travelers who had come to Asia in search of adventure and sometimes enlightenment. Using the name Alain, Sobhraj would befriend his victims and then drug them. When they were violently ill, he would nurse them back to health. He would also steal their money, use their passports, and he ultimately killed a huge number of them. Sobhraj was a serial killer but, unlike other serial killers, he didn’t kill for pleasure as much as he just killed because it was a part of his business. Sobhraj was also frequently described as being charming and witty, a sort of real-life Bond villain. When he was captured, he would inevitably find a way to escape. When he had finished serving his sentences, he would go to the media and give self-promoting interviews. Indeed, his need for notoriety would ultimately be his downfall.

It’s an interesting tale but it’s also not an easy one to break down into a collection of easy story beats. Sobhraj committed so many crimes and victimized so many different people in so many different countries that it’s hard to know where to ever start with him. The Serpent focuses on the time Sobhraj spent in Bangkok and the efforts of a Dutch diplomat named Herman (Billy Howle) and his wife, Angela (Ellie Bamber), to prove Sobhraj’s guilt and to bring some justice to his countless victims. Working with Herman and Angela are a cynical Belgian named Paul Seimons (Tim McInnerny) and, ultimately, Sorbhaj’s French neighbors, Nadine (Mathilde Warnier) and Remi (Grégoire Isvarine). Throughout the film, we get to know not only Sobhraj’s gang and the people investigating him but also Sobhraj’s victims, the majority of whom were just happy to see a seemingly helpful and friendly face in an unknown land.

As I said, The Serpent requires some patience. The show makes heavy use of flashbacks, continually going back and forth from Sobhraj first meeting his associates and his victims and Herman and Angela investigating his crimes months later. Especially during the first two episodes, it’s difficult to keep track of what’s happening in the past and what’s happening in the show’s present. As the series progresses it becomes easier to follow the plot and the show’s flashback structure actually starts to pay off. You find yourself watching the same scene a second or a third (or even a fourth time) but this time, you have new information and what once seemed odd or obscure suddenly makes terrifying sense. The show’s third episode — which deals with a French tourist (Fabien Frankel, giving a harrowing performance) who finds himself practically a prisoner of Sobhraj and his associates — is especially powerful and suspenseful. It’s the type of thing that will make you wonder about every time a stranger has ever offered to help you out. At its best, The Serpent is a hell of a paranoia generator.

The show divides it’s attention between Sobhraj and Herman. That Herman becomes obsessed with capturing Sobhraj and understanding his crimes is not surprising. That often happens to amateur sleuths. (Michelle McNamara’s self-destructive obsession with the Golden State Killer comes to mind.) Unfortunately, as played by Billy Howle, Herman comes across as being slightly unhinged before he even starts investigating the murders and, as such, we’re kind of left wondering whether it’s his obsession that’s destroying his career or just his own self-righteous personality. As for Tahar Rahim, it took me a few episodes to really appreciate his performance. At first, Rahim’s performance seemed almost too restrained for a character who was charismatic enough to fool an untold number of victims into trusting him. But, as the series progressed, I came to see that Rahim was essentially playing Sobhraj as being an empty but attractive vessel, someone upon whom his eventual victims could project their desires. For those who wanted a lover, Sobhraj projected charm and sensuality. For those who wanted a friend, Sobhraj projected compassion. But, ultimately, it was all projection because there was nothing going on underneath the surface. Sobhraj knew how to manipulate humans but he didn’t know to actually be one.

For me, the series was pretty much stolen by Jenna Coleman, Ellie Bamber, and Mathilde Warnier. Coleman, especially, does a good job of playing Marie-Andree. It’s easy to just say that Marie-Andree was brainwashed by Sobhraj but Coleman suggests that Marie-Andree knew exactly who and what Sobhraj was but chose to pretend otherwise because the glamorous fantasy of their life was preferable to the drab reality of her life back in Quebec. Mathilde Warnier is the story’s often unacknowledged hero, as she repeatedly puts her life in danger to find and photograph evidence of Sobhraj’s crimes. She’s at the center of the majority of The Serpent‘s most suspenseful moments. Ellie Bamber, meanwhile, brings Angela to likable life despite the fact that the script often seems to be trying to sabotage her by giving her some of the show’s worst lines. (In real life, Angela played as active a role in investigating Sobhraj as her husband. In the show, though, Angela is often just portrayed as being wearily supportive even as she worries about Herman’s growing obsession.)

That said, the heart of the show is with Sobhraj’s victims, all of whom are portrayed with more compassion and respect than one typically expects from a true crime series. All of them, from the American girl looking for one night of fun before becoming a nun to the Danish tourists who make the mistake of trusting Sobhraj and Marie-Andree, are portrayed with compassion. Your heart breaks for them and also for what their deaths represent. All of them are too trusting. All of them are, in the beginning, too naïve. All of them are looking for something more than what they had in the boring safety of their old lives. In the end, their murders represent the death of innocence.

As I said, The Serpent requires some patience but it’s ultimately more than worth watching.

Film Review: Operation Varsity Blues: The College Admissions Scandal (dir by Chris Smith)

In Operation Varsity Blues, Matthew Modine plays Rick Singer, the real-life “college admissions consultant” who was one of the many people involved in the 2019 College Admissions scandal.

Singer was the former basketball coach who helped the rich and famous get their children into the right Ivy League schools. As the film shows (and as you probably already know), he did this by faking test scores, faking athletic activities, and often arranging for money to exchange hands. The film not only features Modine and others actors acting out the actual conversations that Singer was taped as having with his wealthy clients, it also features interviews with a few of Singer’s acquaintances and with the various journalists who covered the scandal. It’s a documentary with dramatic recreations.

And that’s fine. Modine does a good enough job portraying Rick Singer, playing him as essentially being a sleazy salesman who knew exactly what to say to the parents who were desperate to get their child into a prestigious university. (The film reveals that Singer would often lie to his clients, brainwashing them into believing that there was no way their children would be able to get into USC or Harvard without his help.) Unfortunately, with his gray hair and, his nervous smile, Matthew Modine as Rick Singer bares an odd but definite resemblance to the great Eric Roberts and, as I watched Operation Varsity Blues, I found myself thinking about how great it would be to see a film in which Eric Roberts did play Rick Singer. (I mean, seriously, Singer just seems like a perfect Eric Roberts role.) That may sound like a petty complaint but it does get at a bigger issue. Operation Varsity Blues is 100 minutes long but, despite its slightly different narrative format, it still doesn’t tell us anything that we couldn’t have learned from all of the other documentaries and dramatic adaptations based on the college admissions scandal. Even with the reenactments and the chance to hear Singer’s own words, Operation Varsity Blues still doesn’t tell us anything new about the scandal or why it happened. If nothing else, Eric Roberts and his neurotic screen presence would have put a new spin on a now-familiar story,

To be honest, the hybrid, docudrama format actually works against the film. On the one hand, you’ve got the real people telling their story in talking head interviews. But every time you start to get into their stories, the film cuts away to a reenactment and the film goes from being a documentary to being a low-budget Matthew Modine film. The film would have worked better if it had chosen to be either a documentary or a drama. By trying to be both, the end result is a movie that often seems disjointed and leaves you still feeling as if you haven’t actually gotten the entire story.

Finally, Lori Loughlin and her husband are featured in the documentary, though only in news footage. At one point, it’s revealed that after their daughter was accepted to USC, her high school guidance counselor called the college to tell them that Olivia Jade was never on her school’s rowing team, regardless of what her application said. Apparently, Lori and her husband got very angry about the counselor doing this and you know what? They had every right to be pissed off. Why is a guidance counselor trying to keep one of his students from getting into a good college? I mean, how was it really any of his business to begin with? That’s something that I would have liked to have seen explored in a bit more detail. Instead, the film just hurries along to another reenactment of Rick Singer explaining how to cheat on the ACT. (I’m still amazed that people spent that much money to do something as easy as cheat on a standardized test. I mean, it’s not that difficult.)

Unfortunately, the entire film is like that. It raises some interesting points but it ultimately leaves you frustrated by its refusal to do anything more than scratch the surface.

Here’s The Trailer For The Mitchells vs. The Machines!

Amazingly enough, on the exact same day that I reviewed all three of the original Robocop films, Netflix has dropped a trailer for its upcoming animated film, The Mitchells vs. the Machines! This is a film about a family on a road trip who find themselves in the middle of the …. ROBOT APOCALYPSE!

Seriously, I’m hoping for more Robot Apocalypse films. I think the Zombie Apocalypse has been played out while there’s still plenty left to do with the Robot Apocalypse. I mean, I know that The Terminator franchise is all about a robot apocalypse but that’s just one franchise. There’s hundreds of zombie apocalypse films released every month so I think there’s definitely room for at least a few more films about people trying to survive being stalked by robots.

For that reason, I’m hoping that The Mitchells vs. The Machines is a big success!

This film drops on April 30th on Netflix! Here’s the trailer: