Now Fear This: Cube

Yes, that is Death from Supernatural.

One of my favorite filmmaking stories centers around the production for the movie Saw. Director James Wan and writer Leigh Whannell had five thousand dollars to make a movie, but no idea what to make. With such a small sum, they kind of threw their arms up and were like, “Guess it’s a movie about two guys in a room.” After shooting began, executives saw they had something and added money to that microscopic budget and produced the first in what would become one of the more lucrative horror franchises in recent memory. As the budgets got bigger and the sequel numbers higher, the movies declined in quality, forgetting the spare, sadistic inspiration that made the first one interesting. A strong argument could be made that budget size is inversely correlated to quality: just look at Lord of the Rings versus The Hobbit. This isn’t true across the board — historical epics sort of have to be big budget and they’re often quite good — but unlimited money has never translated to a better film.

As you might have guessed, I have a special fondness for low budget filmmaking. That’s one of the reasons I love the (generally fairly reviled by fans) first season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. It was a half-length, low budget horror flick with sharp writing and creative takes on classic monsters. I am far more interested to see how filmmakers can work around a limited budget, and if they can make a fascinating movie out of “two guys in a room,” then they have my respect. This week’s entry, the 1997 SF-prison horror film Cube is fiendishly inventive and has a premise almost as limited. Despite the sprawling nature of the locale, only a single 14×14 set was built.

Six strangers wake up trapped in a series of perfectly cube-shaped rooms, with doors on every wall, plus the floor and ceiling, leading to other nearly identical rooms, some of which are trapped. These basically look like the inside of a combination Rubik’s Cube and Lament Configuration. The main characters, who have no memory of how they got there, naturally decide they should try to get out, but this place doesn’t come with an instruction manual. Through often deadly trial and error, they learn to navigate the maze, while the stress breaks each one of them down. The best part of the film is that at no point is the prison explained. There are several debates over who is behind it, and even one compelling (if nihilistic) theory, but there is no confirmation. Writer/director Vincenzo Natali (co-writer/director of the queasy horror coming-of-age Splice, a storyboarder on Ginger Snaps, and frequent director of the incredible Hannibal) has pledged never to reveal what’s outside of the titular cube, and he is absolutely correct in this.

The first clue that there is some method to the madness in the cube-creators comes with the selection of the people imprisoned. Though we only have their stories to go on, and there is evidence that at least one of them is lying, we learn enough to know why each of them is here. We’re venturing into spoiler territory, so FYI if you’re planning to watch it (and you totally should). There’s Quentin the cop, who is used to high-stress situations, is physically formidable, and can calm and motivate those around him. Holloway the doctor can can treat the injured, knows the long-term hazards of starvation and dehydration, and perhaps most importantly is willing to coddle Kazan even before his utility is discovered. Leaven the math student can decipher the numeric codes on the threshold of every door, which turn out to not only be indicators for traps, but coordinates on a cartesian map. Rennes the convict has escaped seven prisons and is ideal for teaching the basics of getting out of there. Worth the cynic and Kazan the autistic at first appear to have no purpose beyond weighing them down, but Worth designed the shell of the cube and thus knows how large it is, and Kazan can do insanely complex math in his head, helping Leaven navigate. In addition, all six characters are named for prisons, with each name giving some clue as to their personalities.

So the mysterious makers of the cube gave them the perfect crew to get out, they just have to figure out what everyone can do. Or not. There are a couple problems with this, and that ambiguity makes the movie more than the disposable bit of entertainment it initially appears to be. Holloway was some kind of conspiracy theorist on the outside, and she instantly chalks this up to the actions of the military industrial complex. Quentin thinks it’s the work of a crazy rich guy looking for kicks. The idea of aliens gets floated, though dismissed mostly because if it’s aliens, they’re fucked anyway. When Worth’s background comes out (in a room dyed in red light for maximum discomfort), he offers the most terrifyingly nihilistic take of all: that the cube has no purpose, no designer. It was built relatively on accident because everyone wanted a job and no one was going to question a source of money. Now it’s being used because to do otherwise would be to admit failure. There is no conspiracy, just a bunch of drones lurching blindly in the dark. Worth seems to be there only to give Leaven the size of the cube, which is far less than any of the others. Was he placed there as punishment? To tie up a loose end? It’s never revealed.

Meanwhile, Quentin grows more and more unhinged, eventually exploding into violence. When I first watched the movie, I was convinced that Quentin was a plant, as the only one of the group who did not have a clear and necessary skill set. I believed his story about the rich asshole using this for entertainment, except Quentin was that rich asshole, tagging along for a close up look. Now I’m not so certain — and that is the mark of a good movie, or at least one that stays with you, constantly being able to re-evaluate it for new meanings and interpretations. His leadership is extremely useful in the beginning, getting everyone motivated and moving them along (although a third act twist renders this deeply ironic, leading me to question whether or not he is a plant). Maybe it was an experiment? Maybe they wanted to see how an unbalanced man could guide the perfect team through the maze?

“Hello? Pinhead?”

Huge spoilers now, but what the hell. My favorite part, although it is a gut punch, is that the only one to make it out is the severely autistic Kazan. He is barely capable of understanding what is going on around him, and is the only one who could not comprehend finding something even mundane on the outside. Worth says the world is full of boundless human stupidity, so it’s perfect that the one to make it out would be mentally handicapped. Kazan is entirely unable to communicate what he’d just seen, so even letting him go would keep the cube secret. If it has a master, and I lean toward Worth’s interpretation that it doesn’t, this is an acceptable loss. The theme of the film is fundamentally one of bleak nihilism, where there is no understanding simply because there is nothing to understand. Empathize with the void, and you come back mad, even if you’re following Kazan into the light.

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Yay for Comics! December 2014 Edition

yaySo, a million years ago, Paul Pope drew an illustration of his THB protagonist, HR Watson, jumping for joy and exclaiming “Yay for Comics!” It is a reminder that the medium is filled with excitement. Yet, it can be difficult to enjoy comics with the sexist and violent tirades of certain fans, the thin margins under which the industry operates and the continuing racial and gender inequality in the creative sector of the business, but there are still things to love about it. Things that make me jump for joy, just like HR Watson.

You may have noticed I missed a month. I’m not entirely sure how that happened because I read me some comics.  I’ll blame Thanksgiving and an ill-timed cold. That said, I’ll double up this month and give you this regular edition and an End of Year spectacular, summing up this first year of loving comics again. In the meantime, let’s go with what I teased in October and discuss Paul Pope, offer one last look at Fatale and talk some Batgirl, but first …

The Fade Out: Brubaker and Phillips bring their crime comics skills to Hollywood of the 50s, an era of witch hunts, possible communist infiltration, people hiding lives that used to be open and the last gasp of the studio system. At its heart is a dead starlet and writer looking for the truth. Phillips’ art, aided by Elizabeth Breitweiser on colors, extenuates the Southern California feel. Though only three issues in, I’m ready to keep reading and see what Bru and Philips can do with the era and setting. The characters are not as immediately memorable as Josephine in Fatale, but reading at the monthly pace, I’m sure they’ll come into focus soon.

From The Fade Out #1

From The Fade Out #1

Batgirl: Though Gail Simone is the definitive writer of Barbara Gordon, the fresh look of Cameron Stewart, Brenden Fletcher and Babs Tarr intrigued me from the start. Tarr’s art is great. The simpler, hipper costume and a stripped down approach seemed bold and different … and for the first few issues, it was. Though they completely replaced the supporting cast for new characters of their own creation (and Dinah Lance), it was an interesting take on the character. Moving her to Burnside — the Gotham equivalent of Brooklyn — also gave the team a new world to establish with its tech-savy young people focus.

And then Dagger Type happened.

I was planning to sing this books praises because there is much to praise, but after the most recent issue saw the creative team blindly stumble into a predictable and reprehensible trans stereotype — not to mention Barbara’s reaction to the revelation — I’m not so sure. (And to be honest, as a cismale reader, I failed to see the problem until I heard oblique references to fan outrage.) It stings doubly for Batgirl as Alysia Yeoh, one of Barbara’s supporting cast during Simone’s tenure, was a transgender woman (who even makes an appearance in this issue!). Stewart issued a classy apology and the team has pledged to do better, but it underscores one problem with the Batgirl relaunch: two men are writing it. In the first couple of issues, that didn’t seem to be an impairment. It was fast-paced, poppy and fun with a satirical take on social media and youth trends. Now, everything stands suspect and one can’t help but wonder if Simone can be brought — even just to co-write — to help heal the damage wrought to one of DC’s more progressive titles. I still want to shout yay, though, because this book looks more distinctive than it ever has. It just needs a perspective that matches.

From Batgirl #37

From Batgirl #37

Fatale: Bru and Phillips also finished up Fatale just before the first issue of The Fade Out was released. The book ended with a … worthy enough ending. Split into five volumes, the third and fourth are spectacular. The last seems to lose some momentum as Josephine is finally seen in a modern context. I don’t want to spoil too much, but I was left underwhelmed even though the ending makes perfect sense. Despite that, it’s well worth your time as Bru and Phillips create interesting characters and worlds. The last volume also features a spectacular head trip that reveals what Phillips can do when not confined to conventional reality.

The Rise of Aurora West: The first in a two-volume series, Aurora West expands the world Paul Pope devised for his 2013 book Battling Boy by focusing on that books support character Aurora West. The daughter of a Doc Savage like explorer/monster fighter named Haggard West, we see her comes to grips with the part she may have played in her mother’s murder and the series of events that led to their world being invaded by monsters. Co-written by Pope and J.T. Petty with lovely art by David Rubín, it feels different from Pope’s solo efforts — perhaps a little conventional (mind you, Rubín’s art is only conventional in comparison to Pope), but certainly worthwhile. Where Battling Boy felt distant and its characters obscured by Pope’s amazing talents for action and design, Aurora West is more intimate with Aurora, Haggard and even the monsters becoming more rounded. Both books are part of a larger platform Pope intends to work in for the next several years and I’m more willing to follow him there with Aurora West as my tour guide.

From The Rise of Aurora West

From The Rise of Aurora West

That wraps it up for now. I’ll be back on New Year’s Eve with a look back at some of the titles that may me shout yay for comics and where they stand now …

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Yakmala: Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li

That’s a… masculine silhouette for Chun-Li.

There are three kinds of people who give me bad movie recommendations: the devotees, who have seen all the usual suspects, and can name something from the stranger hinterlands I’ve never heard of; the dilettantes, who have a well-meaning if casual approach to bad cinema; and the haters, who can’t even understand why anyone would want to watch a bad movie. This is why when I get a bad movie recommendation from a hater, I take it seriously. Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li was one such recommendation.

Tagline: Some fight for power. Some fight for us.

More Accurate Tagline: Some fight for real estate. Some fight for pianos.

Guilty Party: This is a tough one, since it reeks of soulless studio calculation. Hell, it feels like Warner trying to play catchup with Marvel’s cinematic universe, yet it came out in 2009, when the latter was nothing but a dollar signed-shaped gleam in Kevin Feige’s eye. I’m going to go ahead and blame director Andrzej Bartkowiak, though. He’s a reasonably respected cinematographer, but his directing resume is littered with Uwe Boll also-rans.

Synopsis: Chun-Li has to have some kind of magical racism powers right off the bat. When she’s little, she’s obviously Chinese, but when she grows up, she somehow becomes more Caucasian. Is she slowly turning into Meryl Streep? Sadly, the world will never know for sure.

You haven’t lived until you’ve seen the first lady of American cinema throw a helicopter kick.

Anyway, she’s moving around with her businessman dad and rich lady mom, training to be a classical pianist, and in her spare time learning kung fu with dad. And in case we miss anything, she tells the whole story in voiceover. It’s… exhausting. So one day dad is getting something out of the fridge when he gets attacked with arrows and Michael Clarke Duncan. I know, right? Every goddamn time.

Sadly, dad’s kung fu is no match for Balrog’s (that’s MCD) martial art, which appears to be HGH-Fu. Seriously, he’s got so much bull semen in his bloodstream, he can get a cow pregnant by scent alone. While Balrog beats Chun-Li’s dad like he just told that joke, creepy Irishman Bison (Neal McDonough) walks in, tells Chun-Li to go upstairs, then kidnaps her dad.

Fast-forward to now, when Chun-Li is a lot whiter and being played by Kristen Kreuk with every ounce of gravitas that the former star of Smallville can muster. So like one. One ounce. Her mom dies of Movie Cancer, and Chun-Li gets this creepy scroll in the mail. She’s like, fuck it, time to go on a quest. She then fires the large staff of her father’s mansion because fuck them I guess. The scroll will lead her to Gen, who is the master of the Order of Web, this shadowy organization whose chief goals appear to be affordable street food and hand tattoos. Gen used to be a criminal, but now he helps people. At least that’s the story he’s using. Anyway, he’ll train her to… do something, I guess. It’s not too clear. It’s not to rescue her dad either; later in the movie she’s shocked he’s still alive.

Meanwhile, Bison is the head of an organization named Shadaloo (pronounced Shadalao for no reason I can determine) based out of Bangkok, and he’s attempting a real estate scam. Seriously, his big plan is to drive up crime in the waterfront slums, buy the land at a low price, then turn it all into middle class housing. It’s probably the most mundane scheme any kung fu supervillain has ever had. I really wanted the scene where he was cheating on his taxes.

“HAHAHAHAHA! NOW I CLAIM BALROG AS A DEPENDENT!”

Bison’s first task is having masked assassin Vega murder the heads of all the Bangkok crime families, who are the most multinational group outside of a Captain Planet team. These dead guys are found by the local Bangkok PD in the person of homicide detective Maya Surnee (O-hoarder Moon Bloodgood). But then the movie makes a turn for the magical when Interpol agent and total fucking lunatic Charlie Nash (Chris Klein) rolls up. He’s on the trail of Bison, and is the only one who believes Shadaloo is more than a myth. He’s also the only one who has apparently been mainlining tiger shark adrenaline.

Chun-Li finds Gen — well, he kind of finds her — and says he’s been watching her. Weirdo. The training begins, and that’s really what you want in a movie about crazy martial artists who throw fireballs. You want endless scenes of them not throwing fireballs. Gen reveals that he used to be Bison’s pal, but realized he was a dick. Also, he claims Bison wanted Chun-Li’s dad because the guy had relationships that could be used. So… while being held captive, Chun-Li’s dad is schmoozing his old contacts? That’s a scene I want to see. Bison is also totally preoccupied with a package arriving from Russia called the White Rose, which manages to make even less sense.

Chun-Li follows Bison’s henchwoman Cantana to a nightclub, and then with the power of sexy dancing, gets her into the bathroom. There they have a really clumsy fight. Imagine wire fu, if the guys operating the flight harnesses had crippling vertigo. Nash and Maya were staking out the club but because they’re completely incompetent, only notice something is wrong when people start running out. They rush in, and catch a glimpse of Chun-Li before she escapes.

Gen relates Bison’s origin story, and the important part was that he wanted to get power, so he went to a cave. This is seriously the line of reasoning. I like that the writer of the film thinks that’s where you get power. Want to be president? Gotta find a cave, young man. Maybe he thinks the electoral college is entirely composed of bats? So Bison took his pregnant wife into this cave, karated their baby from her womb, then magically put his conscience in the baby. In this movie, those words are sentences that have meaning, and not something a crazed hobo whispers right before putting you in his chili pot.

Balrog and a bunch of goons show up at Gen’s hideout and shoot it with a rocket. I guess they knew where it was, but hadn’t gotten around to killing the guy. Like it was on Balrog’s itinerary, but he kept forgetting, or running out of time at Bed, Bath, and Beyond.

“I told you, Bison, Sundays are Balrog time.”

Bison sends Vega after Chun-Li and she just rolls him up. It’s embarrassing. It can’t help that Vega’s mask looks big enough for three guys. She finds out when and where the White Rose is coming into port as well. Unfortunately, this is a lie and she’s captured. Bison reveals that he has her dad, but then kills him, then he and Balrog leave Chun-Li with two mooks, trusting that they’ll kill her. Well, we all know what happens next. She gets out, and at the end of a chase, Gen rescues her. So he’s alive.

Chun-Li reaches out to Nash for some backup, and they all raid the cargo ship with the White Rose. For that one person that hadn’t figured it out, the White Rose is Bison’s daughter. I have no idea why she’s being shipped anywhere. He was able to keep Chun-Li’s dad in prison for what, ten years? He can’t look after his own daughter? Gen fights Bison and wins by stabbing him to death with a steam pipe. Then Bison kicks the shit out of Gen. Chun-Li shows up, uses her fireball and then straight up breaks Bison’s neck in front of his horrified daughter.

Good triumphs.

Life-Changing Subtext: Conscience is your weakness, so you should keep it in Russia until the moment before the culmination of your schemes. Then bring it back.

Defining Quote: Bison: “Your father has been the milk of my business.” Bison says this like it’s a thing. It’s totally not. Nothing has ever been the milk of anything.

Standout Performance: This was why the film was recommended to me. Chris Klein does some truly incredible work as Charlie Nash. He’s this unholy mashup of Nicolas Cage and Keanu Reeves I am forced to christen “Cageanu.” He somehow manages to look completely disengaged and psychotically intent in every scene. He consistently appears to be making aggressive eye contact with someone offscreen, mentally trying to figure out if he plans to fight them or fuck them, or some bizarre combination of the two. This is one of my favorite terrible performances in any movie ever.

What’s Wrong: Bartkowiak went with a gritty aesthetic, and if there’s one thing the Street Fighter franchise is not, it’s gritty. Guile’s hair alone violates every law of taste and physics with the glee of a clown discovering canned ham. Chun-Li never once wears her iconic costume, and somehow manages to be a less convincing kung fu fighter than Drew Barrymore. Lastly, no one cares about origin stories. Just tell the actual story.

Best Scenes: Everything with Nash. In one scene, he and Maya are staking out Balrog to tail him to a meeting. Balrog steps out of a hotel, and even though Nash and Maya are a good fifty feet away and Balrog never once looks at them, Nash does the “let’s kiss for cover” routine. They promptly lose Balrog, but a supremely smug Nash is like, “It had to be done.”

It’s a plot point that Bison grew up in the Bangkok slums, yet he has the kind of Irish accent not commonly found outside of bogs, fairy circles, and Lucky Charms commercials. In a stab to explain this, they say he’s the child of Irish missionaries who died when he was young, but then they show a baby… implying that he was a baby when his parents died. Sure, the kid looks Asian, but this movie has already shown that ethnicity is something that can be grown out of. So the Irish accent is genetic apparently. Good to know.

Because of the cop subplot, there has to be a scene where they’re thrown off the case. This happens, and Nash walks into an entirely empty office, all, “What happened?” Maya tells them they’re off the case. But the office is empty? Does the Bangkok PD change offices every time they wrap up a case? That might be the cause of some budgetary woes.

Transcendent Moment: After seeing Chun-Li at the club, Nash wants to track her down. When a cop behind him offers a totally reasonable suggestion, Nash, total madman that he is, does this:

Eat him? Kill him? Fuck him? All three?

Street Fighter: the Legend of Chun-Li was obviously positioned as the first of a series of films each starring one of the characters. Since it’s terrible, this never materialized, but I will always hold out hope for a Nash movie. He’s awesome.

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Thoughts on Assassin’ Creed: Rogue

CoverI’m near 100% sync on Assassin’s Creed: Rogue and having completed the story sequence, I can say this game is, in fact, Assassin’s Creed V. It continues plots began in the first game through to last year’s Black Flag, from the Pieces of Eden to the intrigues at the Templar’s public-facing Abstergo Entertainment. It also, in its odd way, leads into the next-gen Assassin’s Creed: Unity. It’s an important distinction as the entire AC series is, all business-minded decisions aside, a compelling experiment in serialized storytelling.

And because Unity seems to reset the story, but more of that later …

Rogue‘s most interesting development in terms of the ongoing plot is the switch to a Templar hero. This has huge implications in the present-day meta-narrative at Abstergo’s Montreal campus. A new team leader named Otso Berg is intent on getting an unnamed analyst (the player) to relive the life of Shay Cormac, an Assassin who sees the dark side of their plans and switches teams. It’s an interesting notion to take everything we know about the AC world and flip its perspective. Shay comes to see the Assassin’s as a dangerous band of criminals out to shake the world apart if they can’t have the “freedom” they claim to espouse. He also gets to see the Templars as a force dedicated to taming the wilds of the world. It’s a viewpoint he immediately gets. Meanwhile, in 2014 Montreal, the analyst is being groomed for induction into the Order by Berg.

Also, the destruction of Lisbon is one of the best Assassin's Creed missions ever.

Also, the destruction of Lisbon is one of the best Assassin’s Creed missions ever.

Since the 2014 analyst is intentionally left as a cipher so we can role-play in the situation, let’s talk about Shay. While not as charismatic as Ezio Auditore da Firenze or Edward Kenway (or even my favorite AC character, Haytham Kenway), he grows to become a fairly compelling character. He’s close to being the Templar version of Ezio and I’d be willing to spend another game living his memories.

Although, I’ll admit part of what makes him compelling is the fact he’s at the center of the Assassins’ defeat in the New World. That means he comes in contact with people like Achilles, Adewale and Haytham. That said, he does hold his own amongst these interesting folk.

He also holds his own on the open seas. Piracy makes its return in the game and it never stops being fun. In fact, after the third sequence, I abandoned the storyline for a good six hours to let Shay become the most prosperous privateer in the North Atlantic. With boats to sack, storehouses to pillage and whole Assassin communities to raid, there’s plenty to distract you from answering Colonel Monro’s summons to Albany.

Oh, and that darn White Whale is back, too.

Oh, and some humpbacks gotta be whaled, too.

Which is probably a good thing as the main sequence is achingly short. It’s only six memories (version the usual 12-14) not including the present day sequences or the “broken”memories you encounter at the end of each excursion to Abstergo. Even in doing 99% of the side quests and collectibles (the last Legendary Battle is proving to be a beast), my total play time is just over 20 hours. That probably speaks to business issues and should annoy me more since the game costs as much as the twice-as-long Black Flag did at release last year. Still, the experience (and presumed last hurrah of the current-gen Assassin’s Creed) was worthwhile to me and will absolutely be praised by those who can wait for it to become a $20 title.

But even those Ubisoft business decisions seem to be part of the narrative. Collectables found in at Abstergo Entertainment include inter-office memos about “strong female protagonists” and “reusing assets” and other completely justifiable criticisms of Abstergo’s real-life publishing partner. It almost seems as though the writing team assigned to Rogue knew how things would play out and worked it into their goofy gaming company Easter Eggs. There’s even a handful of reference to Unity’s protagonist Arno Dorian in the inter-office chatter.

Between that and a few other spoilery things, it’s clear that Rogue is meant to be played first. The public version of the Animus, the Helix, is referenced several times in the game, as are the locked memory options the player confronts during the opening moments of Unity. Considering the meta-narrative, it’ll be interesting to see where Unity actually lands. As of now, I’ve completed six of the twelve memory sequences, but the player in Unity‘s relationship to the Templar and Assassin struggle is still vague … as is the issue with the Sages and the Precursor entity Juno. Perhaps all will become clear the closer I get to the end. Well, once I conquer all of the side missions Paris has to offer.

Looks like I have work to do.

Looks like I have work to do.

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Lifetime Theater: The Assault

Normally, when I’m looking for a Lifetime movie to review, I head over to the channel in question and flip through the options until I find a synopsis that sounds agreeably bananas. Of course, it’s common knowledge amongst my friends that I’m the Lifetime Guy — and believe me, that’s led to at least one long, dark night of the soul — so if they happen across something they like the sound of, it gets sent my way. That’s the extent of the vetting process. Not that this week’s entry, The Assault, is bad by the standards of the network. It’s just that it’s Lifetime’s version of the Steubenville rape case, and writing a funny review about a rape movie isn’t exactly easy. I don’t want to seem like I’m making light of the real problem of sexual assault, but in my defense, Lifetime created a fucking hashtag for this one, so I’m at least at their level.

That… that doesn’t help my case.

I’ve tackled rape before on my Very Special Journey, with the Afterschool Special “Did You Hear What Happened to Andrea?” It wasn’t really anything I was eager to come back to, but since this particular movie begins with a sobbing girl walking out onto a football field in the middle of a game, dousing herself in gasoline, and attempting a gritty reboot of the Human Torch, it was sent my way. The scene is totally worth it, just a gonzo moment where the Lifetime network threw up its collective hands and were like, “Yeah, we set girls on fire now here. Lifetime… TO THE EXTREME!”

It’s a shame they couldn’t get the rights to that Cult song.

The young lady putting herself on trial for witchcraft is cheerleader Sam Gleason, and she’s saved by QB Reed Johnson, who full on tackles her. Two things here. One, good on the coach for teaching his quarterback how to tackle. That lack has bit a certain Texas team in the ass before (too soon, Dillon fans?). Secondly, Johnson really plows into Sam, to the point that it’s mildly surprising when Johnson gets up, and he’s not in the middle of a blasted crater filled with splattered cheerleader parts. He doesn’t even spike her severed head. As it turns out, Sam and Reed used to date, but they broke up. At one point, a character is like, “Why did you save her? You were broken up.” So, yeah… that’s the kind of monsters you’re dealing with in town.

Sam has an injured arm, and the doctors uncover evidence of a sexual assault, which leads me to believe these doctors don’t know what arms are. Don’t they cover that on like day one of med school? “These are arms. Notice how they are not inside the vagina? Note that down, it will be on the test.” Sam fingers the guy responsible (not like that), the tailback Christopher Burch. However, punky girl Frankie shows up at the hospital asking Sam why she only dropped the hammer on Burch and not “everyone else.” That’s pretty much the worst scenario to hear those two words in.

This town is one of those places that revolves around high school football, and that is never a healthy kind of community. Elevating a bunch of hormone-crazed kids whose chief pastime is head trauma to the level of gods is guaranteed to cause trouble. So when Sam accuses first Burch and then “everybody else” of raping her, she’s the problem. Not the rapists. It’s strongly implied that the only reason anything gets done at all is because Detective Jodi Miller (Newsradio’s Khandi Alexander) is a newcomer, and that she has some assault in her past. She’s also the sister of the coach, Tim Miller (Malik Yoba, who will always be bounty hunter/party planner Ice from Arrested Development), further complicating matters.

You can’t have a… actually, let me pull the ripcord on that joke right now.

It initially comes down to he-said she-said. Burch says it was consensual and Sam can’t remember anything from that night (she was extremely drunk). Coach’s position is that he has college scouts coming to the next game, and players shouldn’t lose their careers over whatever happened, which was due to poor judgment and alcohol abuse on everyone’s parts. Sam watches her friends dwindle to nothing — literally, this installment features yet another ersatz Facebook, and it makes a hilariously sad booping noise when she loses a friend. I kind of want Facebook to adopt this. I’d post more political/religious/gardening rants just to hear the noise. Sam loses pretty much everyone, other than Frankie and Reed.

Frankie, though, knows the conspiracy goes all the way to the top. By which I mean Burch. Basically, there were a bunch of posts on Twitter and Fakebook with the hashtag #cheerleader detailing that night that suddenly got taken down. Frankie saved every bit she could, because as it turns out she and Sam used to be best friends, but Sam went the popular girl cheerleader route, while Frankie went the awesome internet vigilante way. They try to build a timeline of the night and fight a disturbing dead period between 2 and 3 in the morning. Sam begins a blog reaching out for more information, doing her best to own the hashtag, which she does by getting it tattooed onto the back of her neck. I feel like that’s one you’ll regret later on, just because no one is going to know what a hashtag is in twenty years, and everyone will think she wants a number of cheerleaders to be specified later.

Things get really bad when a vine surfaces of Sam saying “Take on all of you. Every single one.” One look and we know it’s out of context. That’s how the Lifetime network works. Sure enough, it is. Eventually, one of Sam’s cheerleader friends who initially abandoned her, leaves a phone in the police station with the full version of the video. This one clearly has Sam saying, then shrieking, “No.” So that’s pretty cut and dried! Not so much. The rapists get arrested, but it’s unlikely anything too bad is going to happen to them. Sam decides to play the audio of the rape over the PA system at the game to make some kind of statement. It’s better than setting herself on fire. In true Lifetime fashion, everyone stands up at this powerful moment rather than what would really happen: a bunch of disgruntled football fans wondering why their game is being interrupted.

The role of Anonymous is entirely cut out, instead served by Frankie. And unlike reality, Frankie doesn’t face any legal reprisal for supplying the incriminating information. Lifetime wanted something that was a little less soul-crushing than reality, and can you really blame them?

What did we learn? Always be nice to your tech-savvy friend from fifth grade. You never know when she’s the only way you’re getting justice.

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Drakken

I’m still lost in the Animus (and the Helix), but should have some thoughts on Assassin’s Creed Rogue, yes, Rogue, next week. Until then, enjoy Drakken, a wonderful fantasy short film by Matthew Wilson with story by Satellite Show Panelist Justin Robinson:

 

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A Now Fear This Roundup

I’m planning to spend most of this week digesting, and frankly, that gets in the way of long, rambling, and expletive-filled reviews. Fortunately, in the four years Now Fear This has been alive and well, I’ve written a lot of long, rambling, and expletive-filled reviews. So this Thanksgiving, if you’re looking for something terrifying to watch that maybe you haven’t heard of, browse through this list of (mostly) horror gems.

28 Weeks Later: A lesser film than its predecessor, though it still has plenty to recommend it.

Attack the Block: Aliens attack a London slum, and it’s up to an embryonic street gang to save the day.

The Bay: The ‘80s meets the ‘10s in this disturbing found footage gem.

Bad Milo!: A touching horror comedy featuring a butt monster.

Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon: A mockumentary on the making of a supernatural serial killer in the tradition of Jason, Freddy, and Michael.

Breakdown: Kurt Russell vs. JT Walsh. Nuff said.

The Brood: Having kids never seemed so fun and easy in this Cronenberg classic!

Brotherhood of the Wolf: Possibly the finest horror romance period piece kung fu action flick ever made.

Bubba Ho-Tep: Elvis and JFK fight a mummy in a Texas rest home.

Cellular: A fun thriller featuring Captain America and the Transporter.

Centurion: Extremely sexy people battle it out in Iron Age Scotland.

Changeling: A baroque docudrama about the nature of corruption.

The Changeling: A truly creepy and atmospheric ghost story.

Chillerama: Highly offensive and extremely funny horror comedy anthology.

The Company of Wolves: Neil Jordan’s fairy tale phantasmagoria that’s probably his way of dealing with sexual abuse.

Dark City: Director’s Cut: A new edit transforms a good film into a great one.

Deep Rising: A creature feature in the tradition of the best b-movies.

The Descent: A modern classic of survival horror so scary it barely even needs its monsters.

Dick: A comedy about Dick (Nixon).

Dog Soldiers: Werewolves hunt British soldiers through the Scottish highlands.

Drop Dead Gorgeous: A pitch black comedy finally getting its cult due.

Fido: The story of a utopia or dystopia. Or zomtopia.

The Ghost and the Darkness: Building a bridge is tough when you’re dealing with two of the worst serial killers in history who also happen to be lions.

The Gift: A creepy Southern Gothic gem from the minds of Sam Raimi and Billy Bob Thornton.

Ginger Snaps: Lycanthrophy serves as a metaphor for puberty for a pair of gothy Irish twins.

Ginger Snaps 2: Unleashed: A symbol-happy sequel with a stunning twist.

Gremlins 2: The New Batch: The anarchic sequel/parody of the horror blockbuster.

Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters: So much better than it looks.

High Tension: A French extremism homage to classic horror of the ‘70s

The House of the Devil: An ‘80s homage so loving it’s a wonder I didn’t dream it.

The Innkeepers: A slow and moody film that accurately captures the realities of the workplace.

Insidious: An eerie gore-free ghost story from the guys behind Saw.

Joe Versus the Volcano: A sweet romantic fantasy about the importance of dreaming big.

May: An indie dramedy gone horribly awry.

The Missing: An Apache sorcerer kidnaps a girl to sell her into slavery, Cate Blanchett and Tommy Lee Jones to the rescue.

The Mist: Though adapted from a Stephen King novella, this is one of the best Lovecraft movies ever made.

Mute Witness: Hitchcockian yarn about a mute girl targeted for death by Russian snuff film makers.

My Boyfriend’s Back: It’s a one joke picture, but you gotta admit the joke is pretty funny.

Outlander: Alien Jesus + Vikings vs. Dragon.

Predators: Basically an episode of Deadliest Warrior with fucking Predators.

Rare Exports: A truly original Christmas horror film.

Ravenous: You are who you eat.

Series 7: The Contenders: An early satire of reality television.

Session 9: This whole goddamn movie is haunted.

Splice: Why you should never use metaphor with your mutant.

Stake Land: A survival horror movie with indie cred.

The Strangers: Lock the doors, bar the windows. Doesn’t matter. They’re already in the house.

The Stuff: Are you eating it, or is it eating you?

Teeth: A young woman makes friends with her mutation. Say cheese!

Them!: ‘50s atomic horror classic about giant ants.

The Thin Blue Line: An Errol Morris classic that doubles as a terrifying horror story.

Trollhunter: The best found footage movie ever made.

Tucker & Dale vs. Evil: Ingenious hicksploitation parody that gives us The Texas Chain Saw Massacre from Leatherface’s point of view.

You’re Next: An inversion of the classic home invasion horror thriller.

Enjoy your terror!

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