Movie Review – Swallow

Swallow (2019)
Written & Directed by Carlo Mirabella-Davis

They have sold Swallow as a body horror film, but it is by no means that at all. Instead, Swallow is a dark character study, grounded in reality and not really horrific, though very disturbing. The film’s visuals and sound design are right on point, but I think the narrative lacks any subtext. There are points in the movie where characters literally say the theme out loud and undermine any sort of tension or nuance that could have been. It’s not a bad movie, but not one really worth of repeated examination because it essentially lays everything out on the table without ambiguity.

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TV Review – Succession Season Two

Succession Season 2 (HBO)
Written by Jesse Armstrong, Jon Brown, Tony Roche, Georgia Prichett, Will Tracy, Susan Soon He Stanton, Jonathan Glatzer, and Mary Laws
Directed by Mark Mylod, Andrij Parekh, Shari Spring Berman & Robert Pulcini, Matt Shakman, Becky Martin, and Kevin Bray

Season two of Succession starts with a feeling numbing cold. Kendall Roy (Jeremy Armstrong) is at a European spa when he’s summoned by his father, Logan (Brian Cox), to make a statement on the strength of his dad’s position in a pending buyout. Kendall complies, broken from what transpired in the final moments of season one and now forever kneeling before his father, who bailed him out. That is the arc of this character throughout these ten episodes, exploring if he can ever have his own voice or will forever bend the knee and allow his privilege to protect him. Some viewers may see Kendall as the one “good guy” in the Roy family, but Kendall is not. He actively participates in the cruel and criminal acts; his family perpetuates, and he benefits from the outcomes.

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Movie Review – Color Out of Space

Color Out of Space (2019)
Written by Richard Stanley & Scarlett Amaris
Directed by Richard Stanley

Since the 1960s, there have been attempts to adapt the work of H.P. Lovecraft for the big screen. I think it’s non-controversial to say these attempts have been lackluster. I know there are passionate fans of Stuart Gordon’s work (Re-Animator, From Beyond), and I have only seen the former film, but I didn’t feel like I was watching a Lovecraftian story. I have liked 2007’s Cthulhu, but it definitely didn’t capture the feel of a Lovecraft tale. We get to 2019 and the first film by Richard Stanley in twenty-three years since he was fired from directing The Island of Dr. Moreau. He decided to take on the behemoth of Lovecraft and delivers the most faithful film to date while still adding his own flourishes.

Nathan Gardener (Nicolas Cage) has moved his family to a rural farm outside of Arkham, Maine. His wife, Theresa (Joely Richardson), has just recovered from breast cancer, and he wants her to have a peaceful place to recover. His three children have varying degrees of dislike about their new home. The youngest is relatively passive, the middle child has befriended a pot-smoking hippie squatter (Tommy Chong), and Lavinia (Madeline Arthur, the eldest is practicing witchcraft and invoking angels to rescue her from this place. Meanwhile, the city of Arkham plans to build a dam and provide water for the Eastern seaboard, and this involves sending Ward Phillips, a hydrologist out to the property to check the condition of the water.

Everything changes one night as an indescribable cloud of color descends from the cosmos bringing a glowing meteor to the Gardener farm. The object sinks into the Earth and then begins to affect the livestock and wildlife in the area, transforming them in unsettling ways. It also seems to have an effect on the psyches of the people on the land. Nathan insists he smells something foul and rotten while no one else does. The littlest Gardener carries on conversations on the front lawn with an invisible presence. Lavinia seems the most cogent that things are going wrong, but at every turn, this alien power stands in her way to escape. Like all Lovecraft stories, this one isn’t going to give us a happy ending.

This is my favorite adaptation of the author’s work for its faithfulness to the atmosphere and tone, yet also because it adds modern touches that compensate for Lovecraft’s virulent racism. Ward, who shares the lead role with Lavinia, is played by a black man. It’s never a point of mention in the plot, but it is important because it counters the writer’s history of white supremacist ideology that he tried to sneak into his work. We also have Peruvian-American actress Q’orianka Kilcher as the mayor of Arkham. Another nice touch of diversity to remove this horror tale from the prejudice of its author.

Richard Stanley doesn’t lose the sheer existential and body horror elements of the original work, though. Color Out of Space is an intense experience that doesn’t treat the audience with kid gloves. It does take its time building up to the grand explosion of horror in the finale. There are zero jump scares here. Every moment you feel terrified is earned by the script. The first act is about establishing characters and letting the audience know who they are and why we should care about what happens to them. The horror that befalls the family is profoundly personal and turns them against each other. I think this is the best adaptation thus far from a Lovecraft story.

Nicolas Cage’s performance will stand out because he goes bizarro in the middle of the picture. This is before the real madness of the alien presence kicks in and appears to just be Cage possibly doing a Trump impersonation? It fits though because everything is off-kilter and veering into mindbending horror. He’s definitely not the lead here, and I think seeing Cage as a supporting character actor as he ages would be fantastic. Richard Stanley says this is planned as the first in a trilogy adapting Lovecraft’s work, and I am fully on board for the next entry. If you are a fan of this type of cosmic horror, then you are in for a massive treat in Color Out of Space.

Movie Review – Come to Daddy

Come To Daddy (2019)
Written by Toby Harvard
Directed by Ant Timpson

If you have seen the trailers for Come to Daddy, you have been tricked, in an excellent way. By the end of the first act, the film throws a twist at the audience that causes all your expectations to go out the window. I was left entirely out to sea, wondering where this story was going when such a vital element of the story changed so drastically. Come to Daddy isn’t some revelation of a dark comedy, but it is a very entertaining and bizarre narrative. The characters are absurd, funny, and horrific. I found myself laughing quite a bit at a film I didn’t expect would amaze me too much.

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My Favorite Movies of 1985

Return to Oz (Directed by Walter Murch)
From my review: Return to Oz is in the same aesthetic and tonal vein as the Jim Henson dark fantasy films of the time, The Dark Crystal and Labyrinth. It also shares that label with non-Henson features like The Neverending Story and Legend. They all have the exterior trappings of fairy tales and children’s fantasies, but their themes and plots go into bleak psychological territory. As a child, I can remember some behind the scenes, making-of footage from Return to Oz, and it boring its way deep into my mind. I was determined to see this movie that challenged everything I knew from the classic Wizard of Oz. Return is one of those films I argue speaks to children’s interests in horror, how it can be empowering to watch horror films knowing you have control over when to stop it if it becomes too much.

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Movie Review – Brazil

Brazil (1985)
Written by Terry Gilliam, Tom Stoppard, and Charles McKeown
Directed by Terry Gilliam

Brazil has often been explained as George Orwell’s 1984 played as a comedy, and that is not too far off. I don’t think the art deco world of the film is as authoritarian as 1984, but the flow of disinformation is just as crucial to the narrative. Brazil presents a prophecy of the world we live in now where the specter of faceless terrorism is used to cow people into apathy. The power is not sleek and sharp but buffoonish, making fatal errors and killing innocent people. But the stratified class system and a fear of being targeted if you speak up keeps the ordinary person docile.

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Comic Book Review – Funeral for a Friend

Funeral for a Friend (2016)
Reprints Action Comics #685-686, Adventures of Superman #498-500, Justice League America #70, Legacy of Superman, Supergirl and Team Luthor Special, Superman #76-77, and Superman: The Man of Steel #20-21
Written by Dan Jurgens, Karl Kesel, William Messner-Loebs, Jerry Ordway, Louise Simonson, and Roger Stern
Art by Jon Bogdanove, June Brigman, Rick Burchett, Tom Grummett, Jackson Guice, Dennis Janke, Dan Jurgens, Denis Rodier, Walt Simonson, Curt Swan, Brett Breeding, Butch Guice, Doug Hazlewood, Mike Machlan, Ande Parks, Josef Rubenstein, and Trevor Scott

For a couple of months, the four Superman monthly titles had no Superman. Instead, these issues and couple special one-shots focused on how the citizens of Metropolis and the world dealt with the death of the Man of Steel. There’s little action or typical superhero antics in these titles, and it’s a strangely introspective collection for the time. The story opens immediately after the final page of Superman #75, with Lois still holding Superman’s lifeless body. The writers don’t feel afraid to embrace the tragedy and loss, though they have some tricks up their sleeve coming in the next volume, and any reader would know the hero wasn’t going to be permanently gone.

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