Movie Review – Possessor

Possessor (2020)
Written & Directed by Brandon Cronenberg

Possessor is the film Christopher Nolan wishes he could make. It’s a cooly stoic film centered around an incredibly creative concept that delivers on real human emotion. But Possessor goes places Nolan just creatively cannot; he is too conservative in his ideology, a constant desire to frame things in stark objectivist Black & White. Writer-director Brandon Cronenberg knows it is more complicated than that, and, especially when dealing with monolithic tech corporations, you are entering a transcendental world where morality has been so blurred it’s not even recognizable any longer.

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Movie Review – Alien

Alien (1979)
Written by Dan O’Bannon and Ronald Shusett
Directed by Ridley Scott

It can be hard to see the original Alien movie separate from the bloated franchise it has become in the ensuing four decades. The last entry into the series, Alien: Covenant, is so different that it might as well be set in a brand-new universe and considered a reboot of the entire premise. Before viewing the original Alien, it is recommended that you try and purge all thoughts of what came later and approach the picture as a singular one-and-done experience. By not watching the movie as part of an ongoing series, which at the time it was made, no sequel plans were in the works, it heightens the horror of the overall story.

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Movie Review – The Thing

The Thing (1982)
Written by Bill Lancaster
Directed by John Carpenter

John Carpenter’s films were mostly considered failures financially and critically when they were first released, and he made many of them quickly. From 1976 to 2001, Carpenter directed 17 films and handled writing, producing, and score composing duties. He most certainly enjoyed genre films, mainly science fiction & horror, and definitely made them the way he wanted. The result is a very mixed bag of pictures, in some ways an acquired taste with some movies being better entry-level pieces than others. My personal opinion is that most of Carpenter’s films are not good, but the good ones are absolutely fantastic. When he finds all the right parts and slides them into place, you end up with some of the best horror pictures ever made. The Thing is a perfect example of this.

A Norwegian helicopter pursues a sled dog across the Antarctic wastelands, right into an American research camp. The American scientists and military personnel inside coming out to try and figure out what is happening but not before one of the Norwegians accidentally blows himself, and the other is killed while shooting at the dog. The men at the station are entirely befuddled about why anyone would expend such effort in hunting down a sled dog. MacCready (Kurt Russell), the pilot, and two other men journey to the Norwegian outpost’s remains and find it a smoking hovel. There’s a malformed corpse outside the snow, resembling a human but twisted and distorted. Back at the research station, the sled dog wanders the hall, bizarrely in calm and in control for an animal. As the days roll on, it becomes clear these men have allowed something evil into their presence, an entity from beyond the stars with one purpose, to consume and reproduce until all life on Earth is gone.

The Thing is indeed a horror masterpiece, capturing the roiling sense of paranoia that is all too easy to agitate in human beings. These characters are confronted with something beyond their personal understanding of the universe that their interpersonal relationships deteriorate quickly. My viewings of The Thing are probably in the double digits by now, but I always discover new things or notice storytelling choices. We never get a backstory on any of these characters, and we don’t need it. There is a sense that everyone has interpersonal connections, both positive and negative, but there’s no unnecessary exposition to explain to the audience what is going on. MacReady and Childs (Keith David) obviously have tension between them, which is exacerbated by the situation with the alien. The sign of good writing is that I can feel those relationships without having them explained to me. 

The horror of The Thing is the fear of complete annihilation. This was inspired by H.P. Lovecraft and his cosmic elder gods who are so beyond human ability to stop them that his protagonists often find themselves lost in insanity. The Thing is a shapeless being, unable to be defined in terms that match our understanding of biology. There is also the alien nature of Antarctica, the least explored landmass on Earth, a setting for Lovecraft’s longest work, In The Mountains of Madness. That title would be used by Carpenter for his more explicit Lovecraft homage In The Mouth of Madness. Antarctica is desolate and remote, far from any sign of civilization. The annihilation could be global, as identified by Blair (Wilford Brimley), or centered around the destruction of individual identity. To be alone, away from those you love in a frozen wasteland, all you have left are your memories and identity, and then those are stripped away is nightmarish.

The shining gem amid this beautifully written picture are the even more mind-blowing practical effects. Rob Bottin is responsible for the multiple forms The Thing takes, and each one is a beautifully designed nightmare. In the film, these forms appear as static sculptures and puppets that deliver unforgettable moments. Carpenter allows the film to build to ever-increasingly intense terror, beginning with the sculpture pieces, remnants of failed forms The Thing tried to take. By the time we get to the defibrillator scene, all bets are off, and Carpenter allows the film to go completely insane. I am not a huge fan of gore and blood, but damn if that scene isn’t a masterpiece of horror. Your brain is trying to keep up with the bizarre ways the creature morphs and reshapes itself in seconds in an attempt to survive and keep going. 

Few horror films reach the pinnacle that The Thing achieves. It’s so funny to read about how poorly it did at the box office and that the movie caused Carpenter to lose his next job. Universal has a multi-picture deal with the director and bought him out after the performance of The Thing. Home video and edited for television airings allowed the audience to grow, and now The Thing is pretty universally considered one of the best films Carpenter ever made. There was a hideous prequel, stupidly titled The Thing that came out in 2011, which should be avoided. There is also a remake in the works, but I really hope that falls through. They can never recreate the magic of Carpenter’s picture, computer effects will inevitably replace the perfect physical ones, and they will pale in comparison.

Movie Review – The Fly (1986)

The Fly (1986)
Written by Charles Edward Pogue & David Cronenberg
Directed by David Cronenberg

David Cronenberg will be forever associated with some of the best body horror in cinema. Though his film career is not limited exclusively to horror, his most celebrated works fit into that genre. Cronenberg has a great interest in exploring the line between the psychological & physical, how technology behaves like an infection, and the ultimate frailty of our material forms. The movies he has had made are not carving a new path but taking the one created by the first body horror pictures like Frankenstein and Dracula and going more in-depth with their themes, re-examining these ideas of humanity & identity through a contemporary lens.

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TV Review – Raised by Wolves Season 1

Raised by Wolves Season 1 (2020)
Written by Aaron Guzikowski, Heather Bellson, Don Joh, Karen Campbell, & Sinead Daly
Directed by Ridley Scott, Luke Scott, Sergio Mimica-Gezzan, Alex Gabassi, & James Hawes

It’s hard to argue about the influence Ridley Scott has had on science fiction since the late 1970s. Through two movies, Alien and Blade Runner, he was one of the chief figures in elevating science fiction movies above the B-flick reputation they had garnered since the 1950s. My feelings on Scott have waned since Prometheus and revisiting some of his work. He is excellent in production design, but most of his work is very shallow thematically and frequently features undercooked plots. I was interested to see what Raised by Wolves would be like, a television series, a format that demands more character development. The result is a mixed bag with many things to love but a season finale that feels like everything went off the rails.

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Movie Review – Mimic

Mimic (1997)
Written by Matthew Robbins and Guillermo del Toro
Directed by Guillermo del Toro

Guillermo del Toro was a fresh face in Hollywood in the late 1990s. He’d received acclaim for his debut Spanish-language feature Cronos (1993) and was snatched up by Miramax to helm their horror blockbuster Mimic. It seemed like a decent fit for the filmmaker. Del Toro is a professed horror lover, and Cronos played with genre tropes to create something fresh and original. The story of Mimic is a traditional monster movie but with some modern threads woven throughout. However, the studio’s will was more substantial than any clout del Toro had amassed at the time, so we ended up with an okay horror movie that does not do justice to the director’s vision.

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Movie Review – Tenet

Tenet (2020)
Written & Directed by Christopher Nolan

So the long-awaited Christopher Nolan film Tenet has finally been released, and it is…okay. Nolan took five years to develop this script and produce the film, which feels incredibly derivative of his previous films, especially The Dark Knight and, even more obviously, Inception. That doesn’t mean Tenet is terrible from top to bottom. There are some very innovative ideas woven throughout the picture, and of course, Nolan is a master at practical effects-driven large scale set pieces, including computer effects conservatively and skillfully. What is not included in this mix are emotionally relatable characters with complex relationships.

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Movie Review – Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind

Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (1984)
Written & Directed by Hayao Miyazaki

Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind is not the first Studio Ghibli movie, but it is considered the first one. Studio Ghibli, a Japanese animation studio, was founded in 1985 after Nausicaä was released. However, because it is the first film by Hayao Miyazaki to present the themes and types of stories present in his later work, Nausicaä has retroactively been made a part of the Ghibli canon. It fits perfectly, and for most fans, they don’t even notice the difference in dates.

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Movie Review – Bill & Ted Face the Music

Bill & Ted Face the Music (2020)
Written by Chris Matheson & Ed Solomon
Directed by Dean Parisot

It has been 29 years since we last saw Bill & Ted and the world is a very different place or is it? Maybe the flaws we see now are simply amplified with time and were always there. We’re just living in a crisis point where you can’t deny that things are falling apart around us. We’re the grown-ups now, in our forties and fifties, and, if we have a conscious, feel a level of guilt about our inaction during those prime years of our lives. But the world hasn’t ended yet, and we still have time to do something. We just have to overcome our baggage to have a clear mind about what to do next. This is where the Wyld Stallyns find themselves in 2020.

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Movie Review – Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey

Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey (1991)
Written by Chris Matheson & Ed Solomon
Directed by Pete Hewitt

Right away, you can see the budget difference between Bogus Journey and its predecessor, Excellent Journey. The first film had an $8.5 million budget while the sequel was given $20 million. The production design and score are very apparent elements of this change. The film opens in the future, which consists of more than just one room like the original. We have high schoolers in San Dimas attending a course taught by Rufus. We have many more practical effects throughout the picture, matte paintings, and even some early digital effects. Instead of a time travel rehash, the story goes in some more spiritual and cosmic directions. The sense of humor is still the same, and our leads are so charismatic you enjoy watching them in action.

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