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Movie Review: Pearl is a masterfully crafted origin for a new female slasher

Pearl

The decision to reveal the origins of a new killer within the slasher genre incurs a lot of risk. A botched attempt can result in a slasher with diminished presence and mystique. Rob Zombie’s 2007 Halloween remake comes to mind. The movie has its high points, especially in terms of how it adds another layer of violence and cruelty to the myth of Michael Myers, but to explain the source of his evil and the reasons why he kills robbed him of the mystery that made his very existence so unsettling in the John Carpenter original.

Ti West’s Pearl manages to avoid all this by making sure the story behind the titular slasher is strong enough to warrant exploration. The bad things that turn Pearl into a killer make for a fascinating watch as they’re put on a more intimate and emotional path that mixes violence and tragedy in the service of sculpting a new horror icon with an identity all her own. Its success is owed to a stellar performance from Mia Goth, who takes the character into places largely reserved for established movie monsters and murderers. It’s impressive enough to flirt with the idea of several nominations for the actress in the upcoming awards season.

Pearl is the second part in West’s “X” trilogy, which began with 2021’s X, a movie about a small group of porn actors and filmmakers that rent out a small cabin in a remote farm deep in Texas only to find the old couple they rented it from are vicious killers. Pearl, played by Goth in heavy prosthetics that make her look very old (and who also plays the younger character of Maxine in the movie), is one of the two aging killers. Pearl is a prequel, set in 1918 with the intention of looking at the killer’s younger days, when she was but a mere farmer’s daughter with a secret love for musicals (and an even more secret urge to kill and feed her victims to an alligator in a pond near her house).

Pearl

Pearl’s mother and wheelchair-stricken father (played by Tandi Wright and Matthew Sunderland respectively) stand in her way, a tragic pair whose circumstances interfere with the development of their daughter’s true potential (at least in Pearl’s mind, that is). It’s a theme that runs throughout the entire movie. Pearl desperately wants to avoid the fate her parents embody the entire time they’re onscreen, which points to a lifetime of regrets and dullness in relative isolation.

It doesn’t help matters that it’s revealed quite early that Pearl is married to a man who is currently overseas, dug in the trenches of World War I. Every aspect of her life, every decision she’s made or has been made for her, further pushes her into the future she dreads. Her killer side takes form within the confines of that.

It’s easy to see how much tragedy envelops Pearl at a mere glance. Goth and West don’t set out to turn her into evil incarnate. On the contrary, she’s portrayed as an ambitious young woman that’s constantly reminded of all the things she’ll never manage to achieve. The movie takes to a slower pace because of this, letting the world around Pearl breath organically to better allow audiences to step into the character’s shoes.

Goth takes all this and channels it into a performance that is wholly committed only to then take it a step further. She doesn’t just deliver every single line with conviction and belief, she also brings every possible facial expression into it to fully become and define the character. Goth’s face twists, turns, contorts, and flexes in ways that give the character a sense of physicality that makes her presence intensely magnetic and endlessly watchable.

Pearl

Much of Pearl’s story revolves around the slow psychological breakdown of the character, her descent into a life of murder. Goth compartmentalizes her expressions, saves some of them for the character’s later stages, when her world is teetering on the edge of existential collapse. She can go from sweet and naïve to angry and murderous at a moment’s notice, making her face a powerful source of horror. It’s quite simply spectacular, a treat to witness as it evolves throughout the movie. Goth gives audiences one of the best performances in horror movie history.

Then come the movie’s influences and how they contrast with the first entry of the “X” trilogy. Where X drew comparisons to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) for its approach to setting and violence, Pearl finds its look in the Hollywood classics of the 1920’s and 1930’s, in the age of Technicolor. Movies like The Wizard of Oz (1939) take the lead here, but with a generous coat of blood and body parts added to the mix. This is where West’s directing skills come in to elevate the story and give Goth the best chance possible to shine.

Classic movies tend to have a kind of shiny and well-defined visual style that was lighted in a way that accentuated the actors’ features and draped shots with carefully constructed shadows that made each scene pop. West achieves the same with Pearl. Each scene vibrates with life, sound, and color, all of which combine for a very different type of slasher horror styling that no other recent movie in the genre can lay claim to. It’s not played for laughs or even irony. Pearl is a serious story and it is treated as such every step of the way.

Pearl

The same applies with Tyler Bates and Timothy Williams’ score. It captures the sounds of early 20th century classics with a measured treatment of strings that can get quite sinister when Pearl is at her scariest. The first trailers might’ve suggested a musical take that would homage the movie’s influences while also poking some fun at it, but the end result is way more thoughtful and meaningful. It’s perfectly captures the hopes and dreams Pearl holds dear right down to the disappointment and rage that take over as the story plays out. It’s another well-oiled component in a movie that’s very cleverly constructed.

Pearl is a new horror classic. It’s propelled by a masterful performance from Mia Goth that creates a new titan in the field of the horror slasher and an equally masterful directorial showing by Ti West. It’s the kind of movie that sets new standards, that creates new possibilities and dares future filmmakers to push themselves creatively. Succeeding in this can bring about the creation of new horror icons and classics. Pearl has already achieved this, in both regards.

HELLRAISER’s new Pinhead looks ready to deal her own kind of Hell while honoring legacy

Pinhead is the kind of horror icon that is recognizable even to those who might not have seen a single Hellraiser movie. A head full of nails and an elegantly dark and leathery costume design that finds a sense of twisted beauty in pain and suffering proved the right combination to achieve this during Doug Bradley’s tenure as the Hell priest.

Now it’s actress Jamie Clayton’s turn to push the iconic role into new territory in the David Bruckner-directed Hellraiser reboot set to premier on October 6 on Hulu. It’s not an easy task, that which lies ahead of the movie, but the recent teaser and photo reveals show considerable promise.

Hellraiser
Jamie Clayton as the new Pinhead

Created by master of horror Clive Barker, and based on his 1986 novella The Hellbound Heart, Hellraiser is a story of power and pleasure and the horrors they create when absolute self-indulgence and sexual greed lead people to worship at the altar of terrible things. Pinhead is the head of the Cenobites, demons that reward those seeking to experience a higher form of physical gratification through delicately intricate sessions of pure suffering for all eternity.

The Cenobites have been portrayed as living tributes to sadomasochism that are terrifying pieces of art unto themselves. You can’t quite stop looking at them and the ways they embody pain. Of course, there’s an erotic energy coursing through them that makes their brand of suffering unique. So far, their designs combine flayed flesh wrapped over leather and plastic, making it seem as if the mere act of existing comes at the price of a chunk of flesh for even the smallest movement. Wrapped inside all that is the idea that pain equals pleasure, which turns Hell into a place of decadent torment.

Based on the new images published through Entertainment Weekly and Clayton’s social media, the new Hellraiser seems to be doubling-down on the flayed flesh aspect. Clayton’s Pinhead carries the classic full head grid cut with long thin nails sprouting from its cleanly segment sections, but her neck is peeled back and held in place via strips of flesh organized into gruesome patterns.

Like Doug Bradley’s Pinhead, Clayton’s has black eyes, but they hold a deeper stare that clearly unsettles given how much darker they are than the original’s. These changes, nuanced in parts but still clearly identifiable already add a considerable amount of character and presence to the new Pinhead, things that I believe must be present to guarantee the success of this reboot. So far, looks like we’re on the right track.

Hellraiser
The Masque, Hellraiser (2022)

Another Cenobite was revealed called The Masque, a pale white being with a human face stretched over a metal frame with flaps of skin and carefully placed cuts adorning the body and creating their own violent patterns. If The Masque is indication of anything it’s of the care and thought that’s also gone into Pinhead’s band of deranged demons (or angels to others). The original movies featured this as well, with The Chatterer, Butterball, and Angelique among the most beloved by fans. That’s another box the reboot seems to be ticking as well.

The only teaser that’s been released reveals very little, but it does show a bit of Clayton’s Pinhead in the flesh (no pun intended). Will the Lament Configuration (the box that allows the Cenobites to crossover in search of whoever opened it) get its own redesign? Will the story journey into the Cenobites’ realm as it did in Hellraiser II or stay mostly within our reality as it did in the first movie?

These are all questions that a forthcoming trailer will surely shed more light on, but for now we have a genuinely unsettling and creepy new Pinhead to enjoy along with a glimpse of the other horrors that’ll accompany her. The sights provided do more than enough to peak anyone’s curiosity. We’ll soon know just how many nightmares they’ll inspire in an eager audience.

Movie Review: We’re All Going to the World’s Fair

We’re All Going to the World’s Fair

Social isolation stories are a dime a dozen in film, especially those coupled with ‘coming of age’ themes set within broken family scenarios. We’re All Going to The World’s Fair certainly taps into all of this, but it does so in a uniquely disquieting way that disturbs just as much as it breaks your heart. That it achieves this using the language of horror, in subtle ways, makes it all the more outstanding.

Written, edited, and directed by Jane Schoenbrun, We’re All Going to The World’s Fair follows a girl called Casey as she takes on a social media challenge called “the World’s Fair.” It’s a combination of Creepypasta urban legend stuff with TikTok-like content creation sensibilities. The challenge is supposed to cause bizarre bodily changes (as if it were more of a gradual takeover of the body) while also warping the subject’s own sense of reality.

Casey (played by Anna Cobb) starts experiencing the challenge’s symptoms, but whether this is all imagined or not depends on how credible a shared online horror experience can be. This is made more complicated by Casey’s home situation, which the audience only gets flashes of. It’s up to them to piece it together, but it’s clear things don’t bode well in her house.

Going to The World’s Fair is a difficult movie to classify. The viral challenge aspect carries a mystery that gives just enough to put the story in horror territory, but it’s not the driving force behind it. It’s a vehicle for the movie’s intimate portrayal of Casey’s psyche. Her isolation from any meaningful human interaction that’s not filtered through a computer is where the movie truly finds ways to unsettle. Some might be tempted to call it a ‘coming of age’ yarn with light horror elements, but this also doesn’t do it justice. I settled on isolation horror, a kind of genre expression that looks at an individual psyche to explore the things that scare us when we’re left almost completely alone.

We’re All Going to the World’s Fair

Anna Cobb’s performance is the reason why this works so well. Cobb makes Casey’s mental anguish and frustrations constantly bleed through her body language. She looks haunted in very single frame she’s in. The social media element accentuates this thanks to Schoenbrun’s decision to establish a kind of distance between Casey and the videos she sees on her computer. She’s never just hunched over a computer screen. She’s usually lying in bed, watching videos from a short distance. It creates the sensation she’s peering into someone else’s life rather than actively engaging with them online.

There’s an interesting wrinkle added to this in the form of a character called “JLB” (played by Michael J. Rogers) that pushes Casey further down the digital rabbit hole. His interactions with her are also weird, fractured even, and do a lot to further establish Casey’s isolation. His unstable presence, along with the viral challenge’s influence, managed to keep me on the lookout for something terrible or somewhat supernatural lurking in the background. I never found anything of the sort, but that was because all I needed was to stay in the situation with Casey, to embrace the painful proximity we have with her based on how close she can be to the camera.

In a sense, the horror on display here is of the same type more indie/arthouse productions go for, meaning there’s nothing outright revealed as supernatural. The door is always open to interpretation, to varying degrees depending on the story. Fans of movies like Toad Road (2012) will find a lot to love here. In that movie, a group of relatively young characters embroiled in the excesses of drugs are paired with a dark urban legend that flirts with the idea that Hell or a hidden realm filled with terrible sights can be reached by walking a particular path deep in the woods.

While this movie does commit more to the supernatural than Going to The World’s Fair, there’s a similar sensation regarding the horrors of reality versus the horrors of myths that turn out to be true. Those looking for more of this type of horror should go watch Toad Road. When things descend into outright terror, it gets really dark. It shares that haunting quality that permeates throughout World’s Fair.

We’re All Going to the World’s Fair

Going to The World’s Fair also boasts a remarkable soundtrack, created by Alex G, that plays with synth and retro sounds to best capture the digital horror world Casey traverses. There’s purpose behind each piece and they color certain sequences in ways that make them stand out individually. It’s as if Alex G gave every phase of the challenge a different theme that identifies or signals some change in it. It’s hard to think about the movie without thinking about the music that weaves itself through it.

Jane Schoenbrun crafts a sad tale of a girl struggling with loneliness in a world where social media doesn’t just isolate people but also puts them on a path that might or might not trap you inside another state of consciousness dictated by horror. It impresses in its subtlety, in its ability to foster the strange without losing sight of character. We’re All Going to The World’s Fair is haunting. I would even argue it’s intentions is to actually haunt viewers. It achieved that with me, and I won’t soon be forgetting it.

Movie Review: The Long Walk

It takes a delicate touch to cross genres, to marry them and then keep them in harmony to get at something different. Mattie Do’s The Long Walk achieves this in truly impressive ways, finding success in the subtleties of the horror and sci-fi genres she uses for her story rather than in their loudest components. The film—a Laotian production—truly is an achievement, and it does something movies in general should aspire to do more of: broaden the scope of storytelling.

The Long Walk is essentially a ghost story that’s in league with time travel. An old man (played by Yannawoutthi Chanthalungsy) is followed around by a young female ghost (Noutnapha Soydara) that can take him fifty years into the past to when his mother died a slow a very painful death in their house in rural Laos. The old man starts interacting with his younger self (Por Silatsa) with good intentions at heart, but the consequences of meddling in one’s own past turn out to bear a high and strange cost.

It’s a slow burn of a story that gives viewers time to consider the old man’s actions, especially in how well-intentioned he seems to think they are. Given how heavily it focuses on the old man and his younger kid version, the experience is profoundly personal. The audience spends a lot of time with the character at his most intimate and it makes for a study that feels intensely raw but always honest.

It’s important to note that the movie offers no clear answers and offers no real path to judging its main character. As we become aware of what the old man’s intentions are, new questions start claiming their stake in the story, all while making the unique situation the character is in become progressively disturbing.

It’s fortunate, then, that the performances are so good. Chanthalungsy and Silatsa never stop being fascinating to watch. They make the most with the pacing of the story by taking their time to methodically develop the emotional arcs that get tangled together throughout the movie.

I appreciated how uncomplicated the whole time travel component was. There are no hard sci-fi concerns here regarding paradoxes or collapsing universes. A change in the past is a change in the present. What it all means, though, is where the game’s at. Mattie Do accentuates this visually with changes to the old man’s house as markers of time manipulation.

The house itself functions like a character in its own right, or an extension of the old man’s spirit and personality. We spend enough time in it to get a good sense of its secrets. Any change to the things in it are important, adding layers of consequence to the old man’s decisions.

There’s definitely more of an interest in the ghost part of the equation rather than the sci-fi one. If anything, the time travelling is more a means to an end, a vehicle for the ghost story to reach alternate destinations within the narrative. One thing that stuck out was the decision to set the story in a not too distant future. It takes an approach to the future much like the one the movie Logan (2017) takes with its focus on small futuristic leaps instead of full macro shifts in society. Technological progress is evident but measured.

The Long Walk’s Laos is not governed by holograms, lasers, or spaceships. Its sci-fi elements are in the little things, the kind that make a dent in everyday life. Watches, bank accounts, and other functions, for instance, are integrated into human bodies through chips and are displayed on the skin. Solar energy is forced unto the countryside as well, which frames technology as an imposition that threatens established ways of life that might not need the upgrade.

Mattie Do has put a very complex, unique, and important film out into the world. The Long Walk offers a flexible blueprint for new storytelling possibilities and it should be discussed for the things it does with the genres it plays with. If the future holds more movies like this, then horror and sci-fi will be ushered into a whole new age of story.

Review: Night of the Ghoul #2

NIGHT OF THE GHOUL #2

It’s hard not to think about classic horror films when reading Scott Snyder and Francesco Francavilla’s Night of the Ghoul. I was reminded of the original 1951 The Thing, the 1964 film The Last Man on Earth (an adaptation of Richard Matheson’s classic novel I Am Legend), and even a bit of the black & white Universal monster movies. Not necessarily in terms of plot, but rather in terms of the dread that permeates through them. The comic just lives and breathes that kind of Fifties and Sixties horror that relished in making its characters slowly march towards their doom as they search for some impossible truth. It finds its life source in the creepy atmosphere those movies developed as well, the kind that builds up the mystery to heighten the horror at its core.

Night of the Ghoul is all of that and more, a vehicle for fear that establishes a kind of lineage of dark things that honors what came before it but also aspires to insert itself in the continuum. Snyder and Francavilla are tapping into some deeply unsettling things in their comixology series, ready for some serious mythmaking along the way.

Issue #2 digs just deep enough to expand on the legend of the Ghoul, a kind of proto-monster that transforms into the things other people are afraid of. The film researcher is making progress with the horribly disfigured director of the lost film he uncovered, the lost but now found “Night of the Ghoul,” but every new bit of information gathered points to a discovery of forbidden knowledge captured in celluloid, making the very act of watching it quite dangerous (an idea that reminded me of John Carpenter’s Cigarette Burns, about a rare movie that captures the torture of a majestic being).

NIGHT OF THE GHOUL #2

The story’s dual narrative structure continues to build upon itself with key cuts in the narrative that show scenes from the “Night of the Ghoul” movie. These sequences offer more hints as to the actual content of the cursed film and the monster that lies within it. Francavilla is putting a lot of care into these segments, capturing a very genuine feel for the black & white horror he’s clearly inspired by, a quality that tends to make its presence known across his body of work.

Snyder’s script stands as one of his most focused and one of his most measured. There’s a real concern with style and structure that helps keep the story from going off the rails. Horror movies from the Golden Age (1910-1960) tended to focus primarily on the larger meanings behind their hauntings, on how they reflected upon society or a deeply seated fear on a collective level. Night of the Ghoul carries itself as such, at least two issues in. The mystery is carrying the story and its implications are what will keep readers hooked in as more gets uncovered.

Night of the Ghoul is a well-oiled machine made by two masters of the craft. Horror runs deep in its DNA and it understands the inner working of it in intimate detail. The comic is well on its way to becoming a horror comics classic. If it holds steady, it’ll become a story I’ll be recommending to readers interested in expanding into the comics medium for their horror fixes.

Story: Scott Snyder, Art: Francesco Francavilla
Story: 9.0 Art: 9.0 Overall: 9.0
Recommendation: Buy and subscribe to a streaming service that features old horror movies.


Purchase: comiXologyKindle

Underrated: Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace

I may have spent far too much time over the last week watching Disney+. Because of that, I wanted to rerun an older column, and what better column than one focusing on the first chronological Star Wars movie? For no other reason than I’ve been watching a lot of Mandalorian.


This is a column that focuses on something or some things from the comic book sphere of influence that may not get the credit and recognition it deserves. Whether that’s a list of comic book movies, ongoing comics, or a set of stories featuring a certain character. The columns may take the form of a bullet pointed list, or a slightly longer thinkpiece – there’s really no formula for this other than whether the things being covered are Underrated in some way. This week: Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace


Star_Wars_Phantom_Menace_poster.jpg

Released in 1999, Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace was written and directed by George Lucas, produced by Lucasfilm and distributed by 20th Century Fox. It is the first installment in the Star Wars prequel trilogy and stars Liam Neeson, Ewan McGregor, Natalie Portman, Jake Lloyd, Ian McDiarmid, Anthony Daniels, Kenny Baker, Ahmed Best, Pernilla August, Brian Blessed, Ray Park, and Frank Oz. It  is also widely known for being a stonking pile of manure.

Released sixteen years after Return Of The JediThe Phantom Menace was set 32 years before Star Wars, and follows Jedi Knight Qui-Gon Jinn and his apprentice Obi-Wan Kenobi as they protect Queen Amidala, in hopes of securing a peaceful end to a large-scale interplanetary trade dispute. Joined by Anakin Skywalker—a young slave with unusually strong natural powers of the Force—they simultaneously contend with the mysterious return of the Sith.

Now that you’ve read (basically) the first two paragraphs of the Wikipedia entry, allow me to tell you why this movie is underrated.

Look, I’m not claiming it’s good, just that it isn’t (quite) as bad as you think it is. And it does have good moments. If I can’t convince you, maybe I’ll make you laugh…?

Anyway.

If you’re of a certain age, or your parents are, then you would have been beyond excited to see this movie when it hit the theaters in 1999. I remember watching the lines on the local news back in England being in awe that anybody would care about a movie that much, but nearly twenty years later I can begin understand the level of excitement people would feel surrounding the return of such a beloved franchise – indeed, as I type this I am already planning to line up for the latest Star Wars flick, The Last Jedi, two hours before the screen doors open. But that’s after having two good movies released in the last two years, so can you imagine the excite fans of the franchise would have had in the weeks and months (hell, years) leading up to May 19th, 1999 when the movie finally opened for the masses. It would have been incredible! In the years before the widespread usage of the Internet (in comparison to what we see now), there were conversations in schools, at the water cooler and frankly anywhere fans would gather. The excitement was palpable wherever nerds and fans gathered. It’s hard to overstate how much hype was in the air surrounding the first Star Wars movie in sixteen years.

And then the movie was released.

fanboys.jpg
If you’ve never seen this movie, then you should check it out. It’s a great send up of nerd culture circa 1998 with a touching heart. Rumour has it the movie is based on real events – whether that’s true or not I’m unsure.

Look, without beating around the bush, it’s safe to say that it didn’t live up to expectations. At all. The movie is widely regarded as the worst live action entry into the saga, and rightly so, and fans have often said that the movie is best left forgotten in the deep recesses of history. Which is a touch harsh, but I understand where they’re coming from. But here’s the thing; despite the movie’s obvious flaws, I still feel like it gets the short end of the stick quite a bit.

Why? Well let me break out the bullet points…

  • Firstly, it was the first Star Wars movie in a generation, and as such it was the first time that many of us were able to sit in a chair and experience that title sequence – next time you see a Star Wars movie in the theatre and those titles start to roll with that music… you tell me that isn’t an incredible moment. Almost makes what came after those titles worth watching.
  •  Secondly, you can’t tell me you weren’t grinning from ear to ear with the extensive lightsaber duels. Everything is better with lightsabers.
  •  Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, there were people for whom this was the first Star Wars movie they’d experienced and as such it served, for those folks at least, as a gateway into the franchise.
  •  How many of you who did see, and loath, this movie in the cinema rushed out to see Episode II – Attack Of The Clones opening night because it couldn’t have been as band as this one, right? It wasn’t, was it? If nothing else, that the first movie was the worst in the new trilogy should be seen as a bright spot.
  • Dual lightsaber! Darth Maul’s dual blades were the first time we had seen a break from the standard style lightsaber from the original trilogy, which opened up a breadth of on-screen options for the iconic weapon going forward.
    darth maul.jpeg

Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace was always doomed to fail. No movie with as much hype as this one will ever meet expectations. But eighteen years on, while the movie may not hold up visually any more with the advances in digital technology, and Jar Jar Binks is still an annoying fuckwit, I came to realize that the movie isn’t as bad as you would think. Aside from Jar Jar, and a little too much time spent on the pod racing subplot, the movie isn’t bad. Could it have been better? Absolutely – I won’t argue that. But it wasn’t as  bad as you’ve heard, certainly not as bad as its reputation would have you believe.



Next week we’ll return to a more comic themed Underrated. Until next time!

Review: Werewolves Within pokes fun at American politics and sneaky lycans, in that order

Werewolves Within
Werewolves Within poster

Imagine a werewolf story where the coming of the full moon is the least of the main character’s worries given he’s surrounded by a group of people more invested in the construction of a pipeline than the prospect of being torn to shreds by a lycanthrope. That, in a nutshell, is Werewolves Within, directed by Josh Ruben and written by Mishna Wolff.

Based on the VR game of the same name, Werewolves Within centers on a group of people forced to stay together under a single roof, during a snowstorm, just as a series of grizzly happenings have scared everyone into thinking a werewolf is loose on the small town of Beavertown.

The story unravels like a game of Clue, where every character is a suspect, only in this case the suspicion revolves around the identity of the werewolf. And yet, the movie takes a sharp turn into oddball political paranoia, in which each suspect is a unique caricature of American politics that makes them as predictable as they are dangerous. It’s as if everything is split between party lines, right down to the way the group should go about solving the mystery.

The main divide that pits each character against each other is the potential construction of a pipeline through the natural beauty that surrounds Beavertown. A bullyish, macho oil man is all for the pipeline and is trying to get as many residents to his side as possible while an environmentalist, a forest ranger, a mailperson, the owner of the local inn, and a rich gay couple stand it total opposition to it.

Werewolves Within
Werewolves Within

A woman with small business aspirations (and a cute small dog called Chachi), her creepy grabby husband, and a money-hungry couple are all for the pipeline. Alliances are drawn from each side’s prejudices against the other and that’s where the movie finds its groove.

Werewolves Within’s two main leads, Finn and Cecily (played by Sam Richardson and Milana Vayntrub respectively), are the glue that keeps everything together. Finn is Beavertown’s new forest ranger and Cecily is the town’s mailperson. Their chemistry carries an undeniable pull that immediately places them as people worthy of trust in case of a werewolf crisis. They’re easy to root for, which makes all the violence around them bite that much harder.

What’s smart about the two leads is that they function as balancing agents, towing the line between the left-leaning suspects and the pro-pipeline right-wingers. To be clear, I don’t believe the movie is a right-wing bashing free-for-all where the more liberal camp comes out as the clear winner. Each side is a caricature of itself and the movie invites making fun of everyone.

You might’ve already noticed I haven’t mentioned the werewolf that much. There’s a reason for that, but I’ll let the movie do the talking on that front. I’ll say this, the direction they take it in is whip-smart and well worth the many twists and turns the movie throws at its audience at nearly every turn.

Werewolves Within is a remarkable satire of our current political climate and it uses horror conventions just as well as it subverts them to make it stand out. It serves a higher purpose and it’s all the better for it. It has quite a few tricks up its sleeves, and you’ll laugh hard through each one as you try to figure who is and who isn’t an asshole. I mean, who is or who isn’t a werewolf.

Underrated: Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace

I may have spent far too much time over the last week watching Disney+. Because of that, I wanted to rerun an older column, and what better column than one focusing on the first chronological Star Wars movie?


This is a column that focuses on something or some things from the comic book sphere of influence that may not get the credit and recognition it deserves. Whether that’s a list of comic book movies, ongoing comics, or a set of stories featuring a certain character. The columns may take the form of a bullet pointed list, or a slightly longer thinkpiece – there’s really no formula for this other than whether the things being covered are Underrated in some way. This week: Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace


Star_Wars_Phantom_Menace_poster.jpg

Released in 1999, Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace was written and directed by George Lucas, produced by Lucasfilm and distributed by 20th Century Fox. It is the first installment in the Star Wars prequel trilogy and stars Liam Neeson, Ewan McGregor, Natalie Portman, Jake Lloyd, Ian McDiarmid, Anthony Daniels, Kenny Baker, Ahmed Best, Pernilla August, Brian Blessed, Ray Park, and Frank Oz. It  is also widely known for being a stonking pile of manure.

Released sixteen years after Return Of The JediThe Phantom Menace was set 32 years before Star Wars, and follows Jedi Knight Qui-Gon Jinn and his apprentice Obi-Wan Kenobi as they protect Queen Amidala, in hopes of securing a peaceful end to a large-scale interplanetary trade dispute. Joined by Anakin Skywalker—a young slave with unusually strong natural powers of the Force—they simultaneously contend with the mysterious return of the Sith.

Now that you’ve read (basically) the first two paragraphs of the Wikipedia entry, allow me to tell you why this movie is underrated.

Look, I’m not claiming it’s good, just that it isn’t (quite) as bad as you think it is. And it does have good moments. If I can’t convince you, maybe I’ll make you laugh…?

Anyway.

If you’re of a certain age, or your parents are, then you would have been beyond excited to see this movie when it hit the theaters in 1999. I remember watching the lines on the local news back in England being in awe that anybody would care about a movie that much, but nearly twenty years later I can begin understand the level of excitement people would feel surrounding the return of such a beloved franchise – indeed, as I type this I am already planning to line up for the latest Star Wars flick, The Last Jedi, two hours before the screen doors open. But that’s after having two good movies released in the last two years, so can you imagine the excite fans of the franchise would have had in the weeks and months (hell, years) leading up to May 19th, 1999 when the movie finally opened for the masses. It would have been incredible! In the years before the widespread usage of the Internet (in comparison to what we see now), there were conversations in schools, at the water cooler and frankly anywhere fans would gather. The excitement was palpable wherever nerds and fans gathered. It’s hard to overstate how much hype was in the air surrounding the first Star Wars movie in sixteen years.

And then the movie was released.

fanboys.jpg
If you’ve never seen this movie, then you should check it out. It’s a great send up of nerd culture circa 1998 with a touching heart. Rumour has it the movie is based on real events – whether that’s true or not I’m unsure.

Look, without beating around the bush, it’s safe to say that it didn’t live up to expectations. At all. The movie is widely regarded as the worst live action entry into the saga, and rightly so, and fans have often said that the movie is best left forgotten in the deep recesses of history. Which is a touch harsh, but I understand where they’re coming from. But here’s the thing; despite the movie’s obvious flaws, I still feel like it gets the short end of the stick quite a bit.

Why? Well let me break out the bullet points…

  • Firstly, it was the first Star Wars movie in a generation, and as such it was the first time that many of us were able to sit in a chair and experience that title sequence – next time you see a Star Wars movie in the theatre and those titles start to roll with that music… you tell me that isn’t an incredible moment. Almost makes what came after those titles worth watching.
  •  Secondly, you can’t tell me you weren’t grinning from ear to ear with the extensive lightsaber duels. Everything is better with lightsabers.
  •  Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, there were people for whom this was the first Star Wars movie they’d experienced and as such it served, for those folks at least, as a gateway into the franchise.
  •  How many of you who did see, and loath, this movie in the cinema rushed out to see Episode II – Attack Of The Clones opening night because it couldn’t have been as band as this one, right? It wasn’t, was it? If nothing else, that the first movie was the worst in the new trilogy should be seen as a bright spot.
  • Dual lightsaber! Darth Maul’s dual blades were the first time we had seen a break from the standard style lightsaber from the original trilogy, which opened up a breadth of on-screen options for the iconic weapon going forward.
    darth maul.jpeg

Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace was always doomed to fail. No movie with as much hype as this one will ever meet expectations. But eighteen years on, while the movie may not hold up visually any more with the advances in digital technology, and Jar Jar Binks is still an annoying fuckwit, I came to realize that the movie isn’t as bad as you would think. Aside from Jar Jar, and a little too much time spent on the pod racing subplot, the movie isn’t bad. Could it have been better? Absolutely – I won’t argue that. But it wasn’t as  bad as you’ve heard, certainly not as bad as its reputation would have you believe.



Next week we’ll return to a more comic themed Underrated. Until next time!

Underrated: Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace

This is a column that focuses on something or some things from the comic book sphere of influence that may not get the credit and recognition it deserves. Whether that’s a list of comic book movies, ongoing comics, or a set of stories featuring a certain character. The columns may take the form of a bullet pointed list, or a slightly longer thinkpiece – there’s really no formula for this other than whether the things being covered are Underrated in some way. This week: Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace



Star_Wars_Phantom_Menace_poster.jpgReleased in 1999, Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace was written and directed by George Lucas, produced by Lucasfilm and distributed by 20th Century Fox. It is the first installment in the Star Wars prequel trilogy and stars Liam Neeson, Ewan McGregor, Natalie Portman, Jake Lloyd, Ian McDiarmid, Anthony Daniels, Kenny Baker, Ahmed Best, Pernilla August, Brian Blessed, Ray Park, and Frank Oz. It  is also widely known for being a stonking pile of manure.

Released sixteen years after Return Of The JediThe Phantom Menace was set 32 years before Star Wars, and follows Jedi Knight Qui-Gon Jinn and his apprentice Obi-Wan Kenobi as they protect Queen Amidala, in hopes of securing a peaceful end to a large-scale interplanetary trade dispute. Joined by Anakin Skywalker—a young slave with unusually strong natural powers of the Force—they simultaneously contend with the mysterious return of the Sith.

Now that you’ve read (basically) the first two paragraphs of the Wikipedia entry, allow me to tell you why this movie is underrated.

Look, I’m not claiming it’s good, just that it isn’t (quite) as bad as you think it is. And it does have good moments. If I can’t convince you, maybe I’ll make you laugh…?

Anyway.

If you’re of a certain age, or your parents are, then you would have been beyond excited to see this movie when it hit the theaters in 1999. I remember watching the lines on the local news back in England being in awe that anybody would care about a movie that much, but nearly twenty years later I can begin understand the level of excitement people would feel surrounding the return of such a beloved franchise – indeed, as I type this I am already planning to line up for the latest Star Wars flick, The Last Jedi, two hours before the screen doors open. But that’s after having two good movies released in the last two years, so can you imagine the excite fans of the franchise would have had in the weeks and months (hell, years) leading up to May 19th, 1999 when the movie finally opened for the masses. It would have been incredible! In the years before the widespread usage of the Internet (in comparison to what we see now), there were conversations in schools, at the water cooler and frankly anywhere fans would gather. The excitement was palpable wherever nerds and fans gathered. It’s hard to overstate how much hype was in the air surrounding the first Star Wars movie in sixteen years.

And then the movie was released.

fanboys.jpg

If you’ve never seen this movie, then you should check it out. It’s a great send up of nerd culture circa 1998 with a touching heart. Rumour has it the movie is based on real events – whether that’s true or not I’m unsure.

Look, without beating around the bush, it’s safe to say that it didn’t live up to expectations. At all. The movie is widely regarded as the worst live action entry into the saga, and rightly so, and fans have often said that the movie is best left forgotten in the deep recesses of history. Which is a touch harsh, but I understand where they’re coming from. But here’s the thing; despite the movie’s obvious flaws, I still feel like it gets the short end of the stick quite a bit.

Why? Well let me break out the bullet points…

  • Firstly, it was the first Star Wars movie in a generation, and as such it was the first time that many of us were able to sit in a chair and experience that title sequence – next time you see a Star Wars movie in the theatre and those titles start to roll with that music… you tell me that isn’t an incredible moment. Almost makes what came after those titles worth watching.
  •  Secondly, you can’t tell me you weren’t grinning from ear to ear with the extensive lightsaber duels. Everything is better with lightsabers.
  •  Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, there were people for whom this was the first Star Wars movie they’d experienced and as such it served, for those folks at least, as a gateway into the franchise.
  •  How many of you who did see, and loath, this movie in the cinema rushed out to see Episode II – Attack Of The Clones opening night because it couldn’t have been as band as this one, right? It wasn’t, was it? If nothing else, that the first movie was the worst in the new trilogy should be seen as a bright spot.
  • Dual lightsaber! Darth Maul’s dual blades were the first time we had seen a break from the standard style lightsaber from the original trilogy, which opened up a breadth of on-screen options for the iconic weapon going forward.darth maul.jpeg

Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace was always doomed to fail. No movie with as much hype as this one will ever meet expectations. But eighteen years on, while the movie may not hold up visually any more with the advances in digital technology, and Jar Jar Binks is still an annoying fuckwit, I came to realize that the movie isn’t as bad as you would think. Aside from Jar Jar, and a little too much time spent on the pod racing subplot, the movie isn’t bad. Could it have been better? Absolutely – I won’t argue that. But it wasn’t as  bad as you’ve heard, certainly not as bad as its reputation would have you believe.



Next week we’ll return to a more comic themed Underrated. Until next time!

Movie Review: Steve Jobs

steve-jobs-cartel-oficial-640x336

Directed by Danny Boyle (Trainspotting, 127 hours) and written by award-winning screenwriter Aaron Sorkin, Steve Jobs is an energetic, logically-split film that tries so hard to be great, it ends up being mediocre.

Starting from the acting and characters, not only is Michael Fassbender fantastic as he portrays a non-sugarcoated version of Jobs, one of whose faults is denying paternity until the very last minute, but he also manages to grasp the essence of what—according to the film—Steve was like: an unlikable perfectionist. You are never sure whether you should like him. Of all the characters in the film, he is the most developed, but as with the others, has no real character arc. Just as incredible is Kate Winslet as Joanna who is the only person Jobs actually listens to and can come to terms with; not Scully, not Hertzfeld, not Wozniak (who all deserve a pad on the back for the good work), just her. An honourable mention is Katherine Waterston who effectively plays world’s most annoying character in the role of Steve’s first “love”.

As a film, Steve Jobs is so simply structured it lacks any sophistication. Sure, it has some interesting visual cues: it’s shot with a 16 mm camera for the first act, 35 mm for the second and then goes digital in order to show Steve’s changes throughout. However, due to its structure—divided in three acts for the launches of different products, the film has no arc. An arc is a line whereas Jobs shows just three points. This also goes for the character arcs and is the reason why you cannot get emotionally invested and why it lacks a heart.

When it comes to the music score, it is very reminiscent of that in The Social Network and Steve Jobs in general feels like a David Fincher film. Sadly, it’s not.

With witty, typical Aaron Sorkin dialogue, great acting and captivating visuals, the film falls short of expectations due to its structure and lack of arcs.

This review was originally published on The Arts Lover.

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