Thursday, September 03, 2015

Lucy


Other than being an action flick with a strong female protagonist, I have to admit that Lucy was never really on my radar as a movie I wanted to see. I do like Scarlett Johansson, both from Ghost World and as the Black Widow - yeah, I know, nerd alert - but the film's premise of someone gaining superpowers by accessing 100% of their brain just turned me off. It's just an absurd concept, even for science fiction, the ten percent brain myth is just nonsense.

Two things got me to watch however when Lucy came around to cable. Writer/director Luc Besson, who dazzled me with a similar female protag in The Fifth Element, was one reason. The other was the opinion of a female friend whose opinions on film I usually respect. She is notably an art film fan with a disdain for blockbusters, action, science fiction, and pop culture. But she loved the movie Lucy. Yep, I had to see it. And curiosity killed the cat.

While Morgan Freeman lectures on the ten percent brain theory in alternating scenes, we watch Johansson in the title role accidentally infected with an experimental designer super drug. As Lucy quickly ups her percentage and becomes smarter and more powerful, she goes to war with the drug cartel that put her in this predicament.

While she's doing that, Lucy goes after more of the drug, and seeks out Morgan Freeman to help her with her own dwindling mortality. It's at this point the story starts counting down, or up considering what percentage of brain power she's using. Among her powers are invulnerability to pain, remote viewing, telekinesis, and time travel. Yeah, this movie is a trip.

Lucy is very show rather than tell, colorful, vibrant, and visually stunning - just what one would expect from Besson. This is not a film you can casually watch as it requires your full attention. That type of storytelling requires a top-notch performance from Johansson, and she does not disappoint.

There's a whole lot of cool special effects, some wink-wink nudge-nudge philosophy, a little bit of religion, and a whole lot of back alley pseudo-science. Yeah, I kinda liked it. Lucy wasn't perfect by any means, but it was mindless fun. And no, I have no idea what my friend saw in this flick, but it's still worth checking out.

Monday, August 31, 2015

Wes Craven and Fear the Walking Dead


We've lost one of the giants of the horror field this weekend, filmmaker Wes Craven. The writer/director/producer/actor passed away from complications of a long battle with brain cancer. He changed the game for horror, more than a few times, made us think about it differently, and in the process made some of the scariest movies there are. You can see more of my thoughts about the late Wes Craven and those of the staff at Biff Bam Pop! right here.

I found it ironic that I first heard of Wes Craven's passing while I was watching last night's airing of the second episode of "Fear the Walking Dead," mostly because one of the characters in the show, Tobias played by Lincoln A. Castellanos, reminded me of Craven's work. Castellanos is a young wunderkind on his own, a young actor who also writes, directs, produces, and dances - an amazing man both in front of and behind the camera, both on screen and stage. In the zombie spin-off he is Tobias, a high school student who is hip that the zombie apocalypse is coming.

Now despite the fact that the Z word does not exist in the Robert Kirkman Walking Dead universe, it doesn't take much to figure out by the second episode that the dead are coming back to life and biting on the living, continuing a cycle of infection that in turn kills and resurrects for ill intent. Tobias has it down, he knows, more than that, he is self aware of his universe. He knows what to do to survive in the zombie apocalypse. In other words, he's us.

And that's where Wes Craven comes into the equation. One of his more brilliant turns, and one that, pardon the pun, resurrected the horror genre, was Scream, a self-aware horror movie. Scream was a slasher flick inhabited by characters who were well versed in the horror genre, and knew the ins and outs of the slasher flick - just like Tobias leading the way in "Fear the Walking Dead." I like the kid, but odds are, just because of that fact, I predict his odds of survival are slim. After all, why use a knife, when you could have a sword?

Another aspect that I intimated in my last blog entry about "Fear the Walking Dead" was the Ferguson comparison. In the second episode, police brutality and protest play a huge part in the acceleration of the living turning into the walking dead. People see the police shooting citizens multiple times for apparently no reason angers the mob.

Let your inner conspiracy expert out, because the cops have special suits, are taking headshots, and are hoarding water. The powers that be know the crap is about to hit the fan, and they are prepping for it. This revelation adds a new dimension to the world we have seen in "The Walking Dead." Are the police and the military the majority of the survivors out there? We know Rick Grimes is a cop, but are all the other human monsters we've seen former authority… former good guys? That's the real horror.

And speaking of horror, rest in peace, Wes Craven, without whom, we wouldn't have much of the genre we have today. We have lost a visionary in the field. For a different view of the "Fear the Walking Dead" series, check out my friend and fellow writer Marie Gilbert's reviews over at Biff Bam Pop!.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Heroes Reborn: Dark Matters


So many television series are returning from the dead, "Twin Peaks" and "The X-Files" are probably the most high profile of them, but there are others out there, like the inexplicable "Coach," and one that should have been given a better chance, one that was mishandled and ruined by the powers-that-be... I'm talking about "Heroes."

I loved "Heroes," and so did everyone else, for the first season at least, and then it lost its way. Personally I blame Jeph Loeb, who similarly ruined the Marvel Animated Universe. I made some too-little-too-late suggestions hoping to save "Heroes," but the writing was on the wall, the show was doomed. Now it's getting a second chance. Perhaps the bad taste of the second and third seasons have been washed away, and that old magic is possible again.

"Heroes Reborn" begins five years after the start of the original series, with a special series of webisodes called "Dark Matters." This is really only fitting as the show was one of the first to be actively interactive with other media, why not ease us back into the "Heroes" universe in this way, right?

If you haven't watched yet, be warned, spoilers ahead.

Reconnecting the audience with elements that did work from the first season we meet Phoebe Frady (Canadian actress Aislinn Paul), who can 'steal light' and manipulate shadows. Like the Cheerleader, she documents her power discovery on YouTube. Unfortunately we are now in a world well aware of powers. Super-powered individuals, or EVOs, are watched carefully and discriminated against.

If you're feeling the heavy Civil War and X-Men vibe, you are not alone and it's probably on purpose to cash in. Substitute mutant or superhero for EVO, and you've got Days of Future Past and/or the Superhuman Registration Act all over again. It's pretty blatant, and as cool and engaging as Phoebe's story is, the shadow of the unoriginality of her world covers it up.

Phoebe is spurred on to show her powers by the HeroTruther, whose YouTube rants not only update the viewers on the new world status quo, but encourage those EVOs who have gone underground to show themselves. As we follow Phoebe's journey of discovery and she learns to use her powers, we learn that EVOs are being put in camps and sterilized in Russia and China, and that here in the States, some companies only hire 'humans.'

Phoebe's disappearance and reappearance in Odessa TX, at a EVO terrorist attack that destroys the city, kicks her brother into action investigating her apparent death. As it turns out, the attack was blamed on Mohinder Suresh, and the PrimaTech Paper Company now called Renautas is behind it all. HeroTruther is similarly revealed as an old friend. The story continues in "Heroes Reborn."

"Dark Matters" is available on YouTube and OnDemand, and "Heroes Reborn" premieres on NBC September 24, 2015. I'm giving it a second chance, are you?

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

The Unauthorized Full House Story


Full disclosure up front here, I don't think I've ever seen an entire episode of "Full House." The Bride was/is a fan, so a full episode may have been on while I was in the same room, but... it just was never my thing. I just wasn't watching all that much TV in the late 80s and early 90s, especially sitcoms.

I was aware of the show however. How could I not be, right? It was huge, even before the Olsen twins exploded. And I knew John Stamos, from "General Hospital" of course. But to me, it just seemed like another innocuous sitcom. I like sitcoms, don't get me wrong, but not the unsurprising formula ones like this - or so I've heard.

After the success of the 'unauthorized' treatment of "Saved by the Bell" by Lifetime, it seems as if this type of production will be appearing more often on the network. What's really frightening about this one is that every actor seems to be doing really bad and over the top impressions of the celebrities. But then again, earlier unauthorizeds for "Three's Company" and "The Partridge Family," among others, have done much the same.

Here's the thing though, "Full House" has something special other previous unauthorizeds did not - a unified cast currently working together on a new version of the show to comment on this movie. The cast is presently working on the new Netflix update of the show, "Fuller House." They expressed mostly disdain and disappointment. Having watched it, I'd have to agree.

So where was Alanis Morissette? Wasn't "You Oughta Know" about Dave Coulier? If there's one story from behind the scenes at "Full House" that needs to be told it's that one...

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Blunt Talk and Tunes


This past week featured the premiere of the new Starz series "Blunt Talk" starring Patrick Stewart and created by Jonathan Ames. I was looking forward to this one more for the creator than for the tenuous Star Trek connection. While it was fun to see Brent 'Data' Spiner show up in the first minute of the opening episode, I'm sure that the adventures of title character Walter Blunt, played by Stewart, may well turn off most Trek fans.

Stewart plays Blunt, a British war vet and newscaster who's come to America to do a news/opinion show, the kind that I hate so much. One drunken escapade with a transgender prostitute, and Blunt is in trouble, and continuing his downward spiral as he takes drugs and lies to his employers. This dark humor is what I tuned in for, not Star Trek.

I'm a big fan of Jonathan Ames. His novels, columns, and especially his HBO series "Bored to Death" are full of this type of sarcastic darkness, and I love it. Stewart plays well in this world, and is a comic delight to watch. One particular scene in an airport bathroom in the second episode had me in hysterics. Stewart has a real talent for physical comedy.

The real bonus for me watching the first few episodes was the song "Miss Cindy" by The High Decibels in the first one. Sort of a hip hop rockabilly, it grabbed me right away, so after Shazam-ing and SoundHound-ing it, I sample-listened to the two albums by the band on iTunes. I dug it, a lot, and bought both. Seriously, there's not a bad song in the bunch. When was the last time you bought an entire album where you liked every track, let alone two? Great stuff.