Haunter — a review

I died waiting for you to get out of the bathroom. So now, for the love of all that's holy, GET OUT OF THE FRICKING BATHROOM, ALREADY!!!

I died waiting for you to get out of the bathroom. So now, for the love of all that’s holy, GET OUT OF THE FRICKING BATHROOM, ALREADY!!!

Warning, spoilers ahead: Vincenzo Natali, the visionary director who gave us Cube and Splice, is back with Haunter. Abigail Breslin (Signs, Zombieland) stars as Lisa, a teenage girl in the 1980s who’s bored with her everyday life. It’s a densely foggy day, with no sign of the neighborhood out the windows, and when she does the wash, Lisa hears strange sounds in the basement, and while she’s playing her clarinet, Lisa also hears someone else playing along with her. Lisa senses there’s someone, or something else in the house she shares with her family. But that night, she ignores it so she can go to sleep–only to wake up the following morning to relive the entire day once more.

This is so lame. Excuse me, while I go get myself scared spitless.

This is so lame. Excuse me, while I go get myself scared spitless.

Those of you thinking this is yet another take on Groundhog Day will be relieved to know that Natali has far more in store than that. Haunter is a haunted house story that’s told from the ghost’s point of view, and while it uses some of the same trappings as other films with a similar twist on the haunted house, Natali kicks things into high speed as Lisa finds herself battling a supernatural villain known as The Pale Man. Played to creepy perfection by Stephen McHattie, The Pale Man emerges as one of the better horror movie villains in the last ten years.

Oh, this was so NOT a good idea...

Oh, this was so NOT a good idea…

The Pale Man began life as a serial killer, stalking young women and then killing them in his house. Yet even after his death, he not only manages to resume his killing spree, but he uses his supernatural powers to enlarge his scope by slaughtering entire families. Lisa is determined to stop him before he strikes again–he’s got a new, unsuspecting family in his crosshairs–and thus begins a cat and mouse battle between these two characters, both played by superb actors, that’s enthralling to watch. Breslin is great in her leading role, but McHattie has never been better.

Boy, that waiter is really taking his time in bringing the damned check, isn't he?

Boy, that waiter is really taking his time in bringing the damned check, isn’t he?

Stephen McHattie is a great character actor who’s been in everything, bouncing back and forth from features to TV (he played The Rev in the second season of Haven). In some scenes, Natali expertly films McHattie so that he comes off looking like a smarmy reptile. In addition to having many genuinely scary moments, Haunter is also a nuanced mystery that un-peels layer after layer as Lisa digs deeper into the true story. This is a good one; a great horror film that can be enjoyed with a group at a Halloween get-together, or on any dark night when you feel like exploring the haunted house story from a completely different angle. Highly recommended. –SF

But what about Scarlet?

Just yesterday, I posted a fanboy squee-filled essay about the news of one of my favorite actors (Benedict Cumberbatch) from one of my favorite TV shows (Sherlock) playing one of my favorite childhood comic book characters (Doctor Strange).

Today I take to task the same movie company (Marvel) in a rant about their recent announcement of upcoming superhero movies, a list of films that you can see here.

Admittedly, it’s a nice line-up, featuring the Guardians sequel, Black Panther, and Captain Marvel–with the latter being touted as Marvel’s first superhero film with a female in the lead. And yeah, that’s nice; good for Captain Marvel (whoever the hell she is), it’s really nice, but…but…

What about Black Widow?

Yeah, what about her?

Yeah, what about her?

She made her first appearance in Iron Man 2, which wasn’t one of the better Marvel movies, but she still rocked hard in that. Then she went on to hold her own against the superhero boys club in The Avengers. And, as if that wasn’t enough, Black Widow was so good in Captain America: The Winter Soldier that she damn near stole the movie.

And let’s not forget that the actress who has been playing Black Widow, Scarlet Johansson, is a veteran of stage and screen who has been acting since she was a kid. Her most recent movie, Lucy (which I haven’t seen yet), was a solid hit, proving that she can carry an action film by herself.

What's this I'm hearing about there being no Black Widow flick? Lemme pop a couple of knees here and see if they feel any differently....

What’s this I’m hearing about there being no Black Widow flick? Lemme pop a couple of knees here and see if they feel any differently….

But no…oh no, Marvel’s first superhero flick will be Captain Marvel. Not the guy from DC Comics who says “Shazam!” a lot and fights a super-intelligent worm bent on world domination (don’t you just hate worms who’re like that?!), not that Captain Marvel…oh no, this is the Marvel Comics version of Captain Marvel, who will be their first female superhero.

Let’s just ignore Black Widow altogether, why don’t we, Marvel? Yeah, sure, why not? She only saved the world a few times, I mean it’s not like she was a real superhero, or anything, right? What the hell…?

Looks like Doctor Strange is finally cast

The inner-net is buzzing with stories about how Benedict Cumberbatch (Sherlock) has been cast as Doctor Strange in Marvel’s upcoming movie about their comic book sorcerer. One blog went as far as making up a cool picture of Cumberbatch as Strange:

The game is afoot!

The game is afoot!

The link and story where this came from is right here.

Some of the sites are saying that he’s definitely cast, while others are stating that talks between Cumberbatch and Marvel have begun. Whatever, I think he would be the perfect choice to play this part, and if he is cast, then I’d really like to see this one. It’s being directed by Scott Derrickson (Sinister), so I already had high hopes for this flick to begin with.

I was first introduced to Doctor Strange as a kid when I watched the TV movie that aired back in the late 1970s. (You can see it right here.) This made me seek out the character in the comics, and I was not disappointed. Doctor Strange and Jonah Hex were two of my favorite weird comic titles to read way back when I was a little spud.

Horror and superheroes, all in one movie…where’s the popcorn? 🙂

A Nightmare On Elm Street — the thirty year nightmare

Like the place? I spiffed it up just for you....

Like the place? I spiffed it up just for you….

Almost thirty years ago this year, I wound up with a little extra time on my hands one afternoon and decided to see a movie. I decided to give a flick called A Nightmare On Elm Street a shot. I don’t recall if I caught the very first showing, but I did see this on opening day. Before the movie began, I had noticed a long line of ushers, about six of them, all standing behind the concrete counter behind the last row of seats, waiting for the film to begin. In all my years of movie going, I’ve usually seen one or two ushers sneaking a peek at a film, but this was the first time I’ve seen so many gathered at one time. Judging from their seriously stoked expressions, I wondered if this movie would turn out to be something special.

I think I made a wrong turn at the furnace back there....

I think I made a wrong turn at the furnace back there….

It was something special. And I liked it, very much. Unlike the banal, blunt force brutality of the Friday The Thirteenth films, A Nightmare On Elm Street introduced a supernatural element to the slasher genre. And while depicting its menace, a ghostly child murderer named Freddy who’s returned from the dead for revenge, Elm Street brought forth a certain visual panache that was rare to see in the eighties (except for the countless Elm Street sequels that followed, but that’s another story). Robert Englund managed to evoke a real sense of malice and dread as Freddy, all while being barely onscreen in most of his scenes (his onscreen time is about seven minutes overall in the first movie).

The fact is, my darling daughter, you are being haunted by Willy, the nice alien from V. Dun...dun...dun....

The fact is, my darling daughter, you are being haunted by Willy, the nice alien from V. Dun…dun…dun….

Despite the goofy dialogue and campiness, the original Nightmare flourishes under the guidance of director Wes Craven, then best known for The Last House On The Left and The Hills Have Eyes. He expertly used the classic horror movie tool of keeping his monster hidden while building ample suspense and terror, so that when we finally do see Freddy–usually while he’s in a position of power in his dream realm–he is a truly fearsome creature. But it’s not completely Freddy’s movie; Heather Langenkamp also shines as the strong-willed Nancy. If Freddy threatens to overwhelm us with his dream world shenanigans, Nancy keeps us firmly grounded in reality; thanks to her fearlessness, she’s the perfect counterpoint to the fear mongering Freddy.

When I get my hands on that Freddy...oh boy, I'm gonna...wait, what's that sound behind me?

When I get my hands on that Freddy…oh boy, I’m gonna…wait, what’s that sound behind me?

The first Elm Street film was a huge hit for the fledging New Line Cinema studio; afterwards, the studio would be nicknamed “the house that Freddy built” and rightly so. The sequels were by and large pretty bad–starting with the second movie and leading all the way to the ridiculous grudge match between Freddy and Jason Vorhees from the Friday The Thirteenth films. Out of the sequels, the third, Dream Warriors, is probably the best in a fun, cheesy way, featuring a young Patricia Arquette, as well as containing the best line of the series that perfectly describes Freddy: “The bastard son of a hundred maniacs!”.

The things ya gotta do to get ahead in this biz....

The things ya gotta do to get ahead in this biz….

They tried to make lightning strike twice by remaking Elm Street back in 2010, but the remake was a limp, timid movie that tried to rehash the exact same effects scenes as the original. The remake should have used today’s effects to boldly take Freddy in a new direction, much like how the original film blazed a new pathway for horror in the eighties. But Freddy Kruger, living as he does in our dreams, is truly unstoppable. Happy thirtieth anniversary, Freddy, and here’s to thirty more years of your pleasant nightmares. –SF

Oculus — A Review

Hello, Doctor? Rory? Oh, I think I'm on my own in this one...

Hello, Doctor? Rory? Oh, I think I’m on my own in this one…

I really wanted to see Oculus more for the fact that it starred Karen Gillian, who was so memorable as Amy Pond on Doctor Who, as well as Katee Sackhoff, the geek goddess who played Starbuck on the revitalized Battlestar Galactica TV series. Oculus is the latest effort in the new supernatural horror trend that hit movies in recent years–and it’s one that I’m very happy to see, because you can only watch teenagers get sliced and diced so many ways and so many times before it gets dull (horror films without variety makes Jack a dull boy). Gillian plays Kaylie Russell, one of two survivors (with her younger brother) of their father’s murderous rage.

Here's the deal, kids: the haunted mirror demands a sacrifice. If neither of you wanna be it, then we need to go get the dog....

Here’s the deal, kids: the haunted mirror demands a sacrifice. If neither of you wanna be it, then we need to go get the dog….

It seems that daddy (well played by Rory Cochrane) murdered his wife (Sackhoff) and was about to do the same to the kids before his son Tim (played as a child by Garrett Ryan) shoots him dead. Because of this, Tim has spent the last ten years in a mental health facility, where he’s released as an adult (now played by Brenton Thwaites)–but only to be recruited by the adult Kaylie (Gillian) into a showdown with what she considers to be the true murderer of their parents: a haunted mirror that has seemingly killed its owners throughout the ages, leading up to Kaylie and Tim’s parents.

Oh haunted mirror on the wall, please tell me: does this make me look fat?

Oh haunted mirror on the wall, please tell me: does this make me look fat?

Working at an auction house, Kaylie has tracked down the mirror and manages to wrangle it away for a weekend, where she plans to prove that her father was in fact possessed by the entity within the glass with video cameras and other high tech equipment. While Oculus starts out very strongly, with the highlight being Gillian’s commanding performance as a woman determined to get her vengeance against the supernatural, it soon turns into a muddled mess, thanks to the inter-cutting between present day scenes and back when Kaylie and Tim were kids. The filmmakers should have just had the flashback scenes at the beginning of the film, or at least have them spread out sparsely throughout the film.

You prefer the '78 version of Galactica? Seriously?

You prefer the ’78 version of Galactica? Seriously?

Instead, we get scenes from both past and present, with both adult and child versions of the same characters dealing with the same mirror running side by side, and after a while it got pretty confusing as to who was doing what. Perhaps it was the intent of the filmmakers to show the power of the mirror on the minds of their characters as it confused the hell out of them; I can say it worked pretty well on me, because I was so turned around near the end that I simply stopped caring to the point where I was grateful when the film was finally over. Looks like I’ll have to keep looking for a decent new project featuring Sackhoff and Gillian. –SF

Edge Of Tomorrow: a review

Wait, none of this was in the recruitment commercial on TV!

Wait, none of this was in the recruitment commercial on TV!

You know, I never really liked Tom Cruise as an actor–because I never really thought of him as being a great actor. Granted, he’s a competent, sturdy performer, but he’s basically playing the same guy over and over in every film he does. But one thing you’ve got to give Cruise is that he’s got a talent for spotting a good script–particularly a science fiction film. He’s done two superb SF films with Spielberg, Minority Report and War Of The Worlds, and now Cruise has teamed up with director Doug Liman (Mr. And Mrs. Smith, The Bourne Identity) for Edge Of Tomorrow, which sounds like it should be a bad soap opera. Based on the novel All You Need Is Kill, by Hiroshi Sakurazaka, Edge of Tomorrow uses a familiar trope that was used magnificently in Groundhog Day.

Look out for...whatever the hell that thing is!

Look out for…whatever the hell that thing is!

Yep, Cruise stars as a guy who relives the same day over and over again. Before you let out a groan, consider this: when he starts out, Cruise’s character, Major Cage, is a major sleaze ball who’s usually in the rear with the gear, busy with public relations. Earth has been invaded by aliens who have occupied the majority of Europe, and the human armies are massing for a Normandy-style assault from England. When he’s told by his new commanding general (Brendan Gleeson) to report to the front for the big invasion tomorrow, Cage tries to weasel out of it, including trying to blackmail the general. When this fails, Cage is arrested and sent to the front as a private.

Don't worry, Tom, I'll protect you. Now come out from under the bed....

Don’t worry, Tom, I’ll protect you. Now come out from under the bed….

I have to say that Cruise is very good at playing against his usual heroic type; he’s so sleazy here that when the “Groundhog Day” plot twist kicks into gear, it’s really a lot of fun seeing him get killed over and over again like Wild E. Coyote. Liman seems to understand that not everybody loves his star, and actually uses this to great effect in this film. But as good as Cruise is in this change of pace role, Emily Blunt is simply marvelous as his sidekick, a super heroic trooper who previously gained the same ability that he has, and is the only one who truly knows what he’s going through. The repeat of the same day is done dynamically enough, with the right cutting, so that it doesn’t feel repetitious.

Look, you don't think I'm tough enough, I get that...but the woman behind me, she's the real badass here, and you really don't want to piss HER off....

Look, you don’t think I’m tough enough, I get that…but the woman behind me, she’s the real badass here, and you really don’t want to piss HER off….

The aliens truly feel “alien” enough to be both realistic as well as visually interesting, and the CGI is outstanding in both their depiction, as well as the battle-scarred landscapes of Europe. But while the wall to wall action is well-handled, the script is still smart enough to answer some tough questions (like why doesn’t Cage just call it quits and walk?), as well as cover the more quieter character moments–all of which Blunt really shines in; she tackles the hard-ass soldier action and the more vulnerable moments with equal aplomb. Despite its goofy title, Edge Of Tomorrow is an outstanding and fun SF film that combines the best of Groundhog Day with Starship Troopers. –SF

The USS Seer–a starship with a big dish

The USS Seer "sees" you.

The USS Seer “sees” you.

I reworked a 1/1000th scale model kit of the USS Enterprise into the USS Seer, a long range scanning vessel that can pick up stuff from really far away, thanks to the big dish on its back.

No tribbles allowed.

No tribbles allowed.

I cut off the neck between the saucer section and the lower body, and then lowered the pylons to the twin engines so that they stuck straight out. I figured the dish would be so powerful, that the ship that carried it would be reconfigured so its normal operations wouldn’t interfere with the dish.

We can hear the flapping of a butterfly's wings...from across the galaxy.

We can hear the flapping of a butterfly’s wings…from across the galaxy.

Since I dropped the saucer, there was no room for the regular deflector dish, so I placed it on the edge of the saucer itself.

To boldly eavesdrop where no man has eavesdropped before….

To boldly eavesdrop where no man has eavesdropped before….

I figure this was used during the Prime Kirk era.

Star Wars: Rebels — a review of the first episode

A little to the right, Charlie...No, your other right, Charlie! You're gonna hit the pole, Charlie!!!

A little to the right, Charlie…No, your other right, Charlie! You’re gonna hit the pole, Charlie!!!

Having been a HUGE fan of Star Wars: Clone Wars (and sorry to see that series go) I was really looking forward to watching the first episode of Star Wars: Rebels. Taking place after the Star Wars prequel films and before the original three Star Wars films, Star Wars Rebels made its debut on Disney XD over the past weekend with Spark Of Rebellion, the first episode written by co-creator Simon Kinberg, who also co-wrote and produced the most recent two X-Men films. Spark of Rebellion is a fast-paced, enjoyable ride that introduces us to the Star Wars universe through the eyes of Ezra Bridger (voiced by Taylor Gray), a young con artist living on the Outer Rim world of Lothal.

I'm Captain Stubing. Welcome to the Love Boat!

I’m Captain Stubing. Welcome to the Love Boat!

While trying to steal crates of contraband, Ezra stumbles across a crew of brigands aboard the Ghost, a Millennium Falcon-like starship that’s just as cool in its own way. The Ghost is owned and flown by Hera Syndulla (Vanessa Marshall) a Twi’lek (no, she’s not a fan of Twilight; she one of the SW aliens with two big tentacles on their heads). Along for the ride is the enigmatic Kanan Jarrus (Freddie Prinze Jr.), who turns out to be a Jedi knight who survived the Order 66 massacre; Garazeb “Zeb” Orrelios (Stephen Blum), a hulking alien, would best be described as the “muscle” of the crew; and my personal favorite of the new bunch: Sabine Wren (Tiya Sircar) a female explosives expert who wears a far more stylish version of the Boba Fett armor.

Take back what you said about Firefly! Take it back now....

Take back what you said about Firefly! Take it back now….

But what really sets this version apart from Clone Wars is two things: the production design is based upon the original concept artwork created by the late Ralph Macquarie (the Zeb character is taken from his original drawings of the Wookies; Kinberg even creates a great in-joke with this in the episode), and we’re finally no longer in prequel territory, thanks to Rebels taking place just before the original trilogy. The Empire’s Star Destroyers are on full view here (though they look a little small; maybe they’re an earlier version?) The Stormtroopers are back, and the glorious Tie fighters, along with their screeching engines, once more stalk the skies and space ways of the galaxy.

Yes, the Stormtroopers are back...and they still can't hit the broad side of a Bantha.

Yes, the Stormtroopers are back…and they still can’t hit the broad side of a Bantha.

The writing is very smart, with plenty of surprises and excitement along the way–all set to the accompaniment of John Williams’ classic SW score. This series, much more so than Clone Wars, amply recreates the classic Star Wars feel, and not just by using snippets of Williams’ score. The writing seems to suggest that a larger, epic story is in motion, as this ragtag band is slowly congealing into the nascent Rebellion. The group aboard the Ghost is also beginning to come together like a family–they remind me of the crew of the Firefly in a good way, and I was pleased to hear this series already has a second season coming down the pike. Looking forward to seeing more. –SF

Space Station 76: a review

Hello, anybody home? Maybe they're in the basement; hit the horn....

Hello, anybody home? Maybe they’re in the basement; hit the horn….

In the years after the release of 2001, every science fiction film and TV show seemed to have been emulating Stanley Kubrick’s SF masterpiece. Whether it was the solemn drama of Silent Running, or the very goofy melodrama of The Starlost, most SF projects of this time were infused with the unyielding realism of 2001 (with many of them missing the point completely). Of course this only lasted until the super nova success of Star Wars in 1977, but up until that time, science fiction in this age had jettisoned the space opera silliness of Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers in favor of a new found seriousness–or, at least they tried to be serious. Some projects from this era, like Space: 1999, were so plain silly they wound up being comedies in their own right.

I came here to speak to Tom Servo, not some low-rent imposter like you...are you even listening to me?

I came here to speak to Tom Servo, not some low-rent imposter like you…are you even listening to me?

That was why, when I first heard about Space Station 76, I really wanted to see this. Directed by Jack Plotnick and based on a stage play, Space Station 76 aims to be a take off on the 1970s, pre-Star Wars films that came out. It’s got a great cast, led by Patrick Wilson (The Conjuring) and Liv Tyler (The Lord Of The Rings), and a production design that features a dead-on mimicking of the Space: 1999 sets. It looked like it was going to be a really enjoyable riff off of the classic 1970s SF cheesiness–like an Airplane for the SF crowd (granted, Galaxy Quest was a great SF comedy, but that was geared more for Star Trek fans).

I'm performing my interpretive dance: ode to boredom....

I’m performing my interpretive dance: ode to boredom….

But when I finally saw it…oboy….

While I went in expecting a great spoof of 1970s science fiction, what I got was a deeply personal relationship movie that just happened to be set aboard a space station, but with lifeless, cardboard characters. It just lays there, piling on humorless scene after humorless scene, until I wondered just what the hell I was watching. The science fiction elements almost appeared to be secondary as we deal with the incredibly lifeless drama of unhappy people leading desperately unhappy lives in a tedious, exceedingly dull movie that felt way too long–and it was only 93 minutes!

Welcome to the cafeteria of lost hopes and dreams….

Welcome to the cafeteria of lost hopes and dreams….

Granted, Space Station 76 tries to be a spoof…at least I think it was a spoof–I honestly couldn’t tell, because it was one of the most unfunny things that I’ve recently had the displeasure to sit through. But by focusing solely on the interpersonal relationships, it also misses the point of being a satire of ’70s SF films: some of the movies of that era tried to use SF to push big ideas in an epic fashion. Instead, this film winds up being nothing more than a very bad soap opera that wastes any chance to make fun of one of the most cheesiest eras in science fiction. If you’re looking for a night of high flying 1970s SF cheese, then look no further than the adventures of the men and women of Moonbase Alpha in the extremely (unintentionally) funny Space: 1999. –SF