Game Review – Villagers

Villagers (2019)
Designed by Haakon Gaarder
Published by Sinister Fish Games

I’ve been quarantining myself during this pandemic since mid-March. I have literally only left my house once a week since then to the grocery store. Otherwise, I am occupying space in my house reading, writing, watching films and playing games. Villagers was a game I backed on Kickstarter back in 2019, primarily out of the beautiful minimalist art style and my love of playing city-building video games. This wasn’t exactly what I thought it would be, but I ended up loving it nonetheless. 

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Movie Review – Ready or Not

Ready or Not (2019)
Written by Guy Busick & R. Christopher Murphy
Directed by Matt Bettinelli-Olpin & Tyler Gillett

Horror comedies are a hard sell for me personally. I love the horror genre, but my tastes lean more towards more somber, bleak affairs with hints of humor. I think Ari Aster is a perfect example of how much comedy I will accept in the horror films I like, little dashes, well-timed, and never ruining the atmosphere and tone. Ready or Not is a movie that looks fantastic, the color grading is beautiful and gives every frame a rich texture. It comes out of the tradition of shlocky horror movies with a wild premise that the filmmakers wholeheartedly commit to. However, the script and some of the acting take away from what could have been a great film and leave as just a passing bit of fun.

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Movie Review – Little Joe

Little Joe (2019)
Written by Jessica Hausner & Géraldine Bajard
Directed by Jessica Hausner

Invasion of the Body Snatchers is one of the most recycled narrative tropes in cinema, and more often than not, those adaptations fall short. The original and the 1970s remake stand above the fray. Little Joe is a secret Body Snatchers picture, telling a very well thought-out variation on the official story. However, there’s so little to the script that its slow burn actually becomes a hindrance to the character development and tension that should be present in a picture like this. Technically and aesthetically, Little Joe has a lot going on that entices the audience, but ultimately it fails to deliver on the promise of these things.

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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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Comic Book Review – Deadly Class Volumes 7 & 8

Deadly Class Volume 7: Love Like Blood (2018)
Reprints Deadly Class #32-35

Deadly Class Volume 8: Never Go Back (2019)
Reprints Deadly Class #36-39, FCBD 2019 Deadly Class Killer Set

Written by Rick Remender
Art by Wes Craig & Jordan Boyd

In the same way, Book 2 started with all-out action and violence, so too does Volume 7. The new kids are in Mexico, having met up with Marcus and Maria. Saya’s brother has sent in his Yakuza. Viktor and the other kids from school have shown up to claim the trophy of killing Marcus. Things explode, and the book never seems to let up. Readers have been waiting for a rematch between Marcus and Viktor since Book 2’s first act, and Remender goes out of his way to subvert our expectations. I can honestly say I didn’t expect that moment to happen like it did, but it was very satisfying, and I think it will lead to more complex stories down the road.

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Comic Book Review – Venom: War of the Realms

Venom: War of the Realms (2019)
Reprints Venom #13-16, Venom: Cult of Carnage
Written by Cullen Bunn, Frank Tieri, & Donny Cates
Art by Iban Coello & Danilo Beyruth

Marvel is no stranger to the sprawling event comic. Currently, they usually have one big event with some smaller ones sprinkled in more concentrated ways over a year. War of the Realms was the culmination of Jason Aaron’s run on Thor and saw the hordes of Norse mythological monsters unleashed on Midgard, aka Earth. This doesn’t seem like too natural of a fit for Venom, but with Donny Cates’s expansion of the antihero to include ties to a Lovecraftian god in the form of Knull, it doesn’t seem too much of a stretch now.

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Movie Review – The Lodge

The Lodge (2019)
Written & Directed by Veronika Franz & Severin Fiala

There are lots of familiar elements at play in The Lodge. You have a stepmother figure whose purpose in the story is ambiguous, possibly malevolent. There’s a snowed-in cabin where the power goes out, cutting the lines of communication. Sleep is disturbed by noises in the night and troubling dreams of the landscape. There are even two kids who might be up to no good. All the pieces are there, but the execution just ultimately stumbles, and nothing ever comes together. The Lodge has so much promise but fails to deliver on that promise.

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