From September 2015

The Descent: Female Driven Psychological Horror

The Descent. 2005. Directed & Written by Neil Marshall.
Starring Shauna Macdonald, Natalie Mendoza, Alex Reid, Saskia Mulder, MyAnna Buring, Nora-Jane Noone, Oliver Milburn, Molly Kayll, Craig Conway, and Leslie Simpson. Celador Films/Northmen Productions/Pathé.
Rated 18A. 99 minutes.
Adventure/Horror

★★★★1/2
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Personally I’ve enjoyed Neil Marshall from his debut, Dog Soldiers, and then he came on with this film and it all but cemented him as a solid horror filmmaker; hell, filmmaker in general. Since then he’s done two underrated movies – Doomsday and Centurion, neither of which are amazing, though, they are better than their reputations – a couple episodes of Black SailsGame of Thrones, and one whopper of a Hannibal episode in the 3rd season “The Great Red Dragon“. He’s also got a segment titled “Bad Seed” in the upcoming Tales of Halloween I cannot wait to see!
What I enjoy about Marshall is that he’s not just a director with a neat way of looking at things, he’s also, what I think is, a pretty wonderful director in terms of form; he simply films things in an interesting way. There’s nothing boring about his films or the episodes of television series’ he has directed. The reason so many filmmakers, particularly in the horror genre I must say, fail to really get over with their work is because their style is either a) too bland in terms of story/character/et cetera, b) too flashy (with no substance), or c) it’s just not overly enjoyable to experience visually. With Marshall, and I’ll single The Descent out from his work as the best example, he doesn’t opt so much to jump scare you here in order to create that feeling of action, or horror (or whatever he happens to be going for at the moment). His visual style helps to keep you rooted and then everything else just builds on – the drama, the horror, the suspense and tension. In this film, there’s plenty of imagery, a good lot of horror, and the characters help make things fun (even in the grim sense). Marshall’s movie can easily be considered as one of my top 10 horror movies since 2000, I’ll say that without hesitation.
vlcsnap-2012-10-15-17h08m59s91A trio of friends – Sarah (Shauna Macdonald), Beth (Alex Reid), and Juno (Natalie Mendoza) go rafting on the river; their idea of vacationing. On the way home, Sarah sits in the passenger seat of a vehicle while her husband Paul (Oliver Milburn) drives, and their daughter Jessica (Molly Kayll) sits in the backseat. All of sudden, though, they meet head-on with another vehicle – Sarah survives, but Paul and Jessica are horribly killed.
One year later, Sarah, Beth, and Juno, along with a bunch of other adventure seeking women, go on an expedition to a cave system in the Appalachians, somewhere in the U.S. Deep in the woods they eventually find their cave, making their way in. However, after a little while things start to get dicey. First, their climb starts to go wrong little by little. But then soon enough it’s apparent to the women they aren’t alone in the caves.
Deep underground, stuck beneath the vast and reaching Appalachians, the group of friends find themselves in a fight for their lives against terrifying, human eating monsters, adapted to their environments below the earth. They’ll have to fight hard in order to make it out alive; if that’s even possible.
the-descent-cavethe-descent-claustrophobiaSo for me, and no doubt many others, what makes The Descent so incredibly effective is the sense of isolation and claustrophobia almost built into the setting. Furthermore, once the women get trapped after a tunnel caves in, this gets even worse as – plot point – Juno (Mendoza) has taken them all into an unknown cave, not in the correct system they’d all planned on, and so essentially even without any outside forces these women might have never made it out of the caves regardless. I think that’s one of the most interesting parts about this film is that you could easily have seen this as simply a dramatic thriller about a bunch of women heading into the caves, including the dynamics between Sarah (Macdonald) and Juno, in terms of what happened to the former and her family and how it connects with the latter.
Instead of being simple and dark, Neil Marshall has written a fantastic screenplay. Whereas a movie like The Cave (which I honestly enjoy as a popcorn flick even though it isn’t great) is lower common denominator for horror, more like a Michael Bay equivalent in the genre, The Descent opts to be more cerebral, and in turn when the visuals and the horror get thick things become pretty visceral, too. The characters here are complex, they aren’t one-dimensional type women. Which is another point, that Marshall has given us a bunch of excellent female characters and the man character, dare I say the heroine, she’s an ass-kicker. I like that it’s not the typical formulaic horror including women, such as the male dominated film with a “Final Girl”. Even though, yes, Sarah can be considered that “Final Girl”, it’s not the overused scenario, the same tired place where we’ve expected the plot to develop. Marshall brings all these women together, each different, and doesn’t need any men in order to instigate the horror, or any of the action. The faceless/featureless crawlers in the cave only bring further terror. Even while that whole KILLER V. VICTIM dynamic is playing out, as it usually does in one shape or another throughout the horror genre, I like that these female characters can inhabit a filmic space where these featureless monsters are the attackers, not some slasher, a deranged male who hates women; rather they’re simply the horror beneath, the unknown below.
More than that, these creatures also represent a symbolic sort of theme. Clearly the buried secrets between Juno and Sarah, concerning the former’s relationship with the deceased Paul (Milburn), are being unearthed; it’s possible without their predicament, the descent into the cave and into madness, this might never have come out. So in a way, these crawlers down in the cave are the literal, material embodiment of the ideas surrounding those buried secrets. They say secrets can eat you alive, right? Well in The Descent, this sentiment comes alive, in a brutally literal sense with secrets making their way out of the realm of ideas and into reality.
1200x1000px-LL-9b3ed840_ScreenShot2013-11-25at9.17.40PMThere are a few wonderful bits of imagery in this film, both in terms of symbolic/dreamy images and straight up horror visuals.
Right after the opening sequence, where Sarah’s husband/daughter die, there’s the beginning of a dreamy moment which crops up over and over, though not to overkill. Sarah has these short visions of a birthday cake with her daughter’s name on it, the candles lit up – I love the way these shots come to us, brief, really dark with what looks like natural lighting, and it has this eerie quality to it. What I enjoy is that these dreamy bits don’t feel particularly happy, more like the morbid remembrance of a dead child instead of anything happy. So there’s this really melancholy feeling I find struck in the character of Sarah without even much effort from Macdonald as an actor, although she’s great in spite of that making the role better for it. This is a striking visual Marshall uses a few times throughout the film, and while I say it’s melancholy there’s still part of it which sort of drives Sarah at the same time. Great, great stuff.
When it comes to the horror of Marshall’s film, several scenes and moments stick out ahead of the pack. I love how Marshall includes the first very close-up view of a crawler through the perspective of a camera in night vision. Why do I love it? He doesn’t use the camera as a gimmick other than, really, two or three times in the entire movie. It comes into play organically, with purpose, instead of simply being a way for Marshall to creep us out without doing the legwork. In opposition, the choice uses of the night vision camera shots make things creepy, knocking us off balance and in the case of the first time it’s used the effect amps the film’s pace up to a roar. The next couple times, again it’s not forced into the plot and works well. If the night vision was being used more frequently, as is the case in many found footage efforts trying to capture The Blair Witch Project magic in a bottle, there’d be a case for saying it was gimmicky, that it served no purpose and got jammed in for lack of ideas. Instead, Marshall uses this technique to his advantage and creates tension with how the handheld camera captures the monsters in the dark and the creepy environment of the cave. Plus, this is a director who doesn’t need any kind of trickery, he does well enough with his own sensibilities in terms of shot composition and overall visuals without having to settle for cheap scares.
descent-2005-09-gOnce the crawlers are out in the open, being seen full-on by both characters and viewers alike, there are some almost trippy visuals happening. There’s one incredibly tense scene where two of the women are hiding together, a crawler moving along by them, and their watch eventually goes off – all the while Juno is wandering alone, calling out to the others – and there’s this green filter over the two women/crawler (not really a filter; they’re using a huge glow stick), then for a few seconds we cut to Juno whose shot is bathed in a red light. There’s something about this which raises the tension. Not only that, the angles at which Marshall has things framed specifically while the two women hide from the crawler, it’s an unsettling, unstable sort of feeling it draws out; literally, the frame is askew, we’re off-kilter, not balanced, and the crawler coming at them sort of feels like he’s coming right at the viewer.
Furthermore, I have to say the effects – blood and gore, the monsters, et cetera – were at times really subtle, and other times (think: pool of blood scene) totally gnarly and in-your-face. My favourite honestly is the scene where Sarah finds herself in the blood pool, fighting off the crawler and stabbing it in the eye. Not only is it just wildly savage and bloody, the low lighting and the blood casts everything again in that red glow, so you’ve got two types of imagery – very visual in the sense of colour and visual in the way of actual physical nastiness, the blood and kills.
Overall, though, it’s the way Marshall manages to use the darkness to his advantage and he doesn’t make it dizzying. While some horror, mostly found footage these days, has your head swirling with the darkness too often being used to cover up a project’s low budget (or lack thereof), unless used correctly, Marshall manages to make things claustrophobic but doesn’t annoy us with how he accomplishes this feeling. It’s because, even when shots are frantic and full of chaos, he’s not making it seem so by having the camera itself being shaky, only the characters, their lights in the dark create the effect. He keeps in tight to the characters, putting us with them and in their perspective as much as possible without, for instance, putting us right in their video camera’s view while they run from the crawlers. Again this comes back to Marshall using that video camera perspective sparsely, when a lesser director may have exploited it too much to try and immerse the viewer. The way this film plays out in the dark and uses it appropriately is a big part of its effectiveness as a tensely frightening modern horror movie.
thedescent1With truck loads of horror, both blood/gore and emotional terror, an impressive visual style, a solid script with real and well-written female characters, Neil Marshall’s The Descent is pound for pound a 4.5 out of 5 star film. There’s very little to say, in my mind, against this movie. There are so many other horror movies out there in the post-2000 landscape of film which go for bargain basement plots, silly characters with even sillier and less thought out dialogue, cheap jump scares and pointless (as well as badly done) gore. Marshall doesn’t do anything typically here, he crafts a genuinely scary, emotionally testing and at various points traumatizing horror. There’s a feeling in me each time I watch this, for a little while afterwards, as if I’ve been through an ordeal. It’s one of the closest experiences I’ve personally had to the one I have when viewing The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, which is still my pick for scariest horror movie ever made, and pretty much my top favourite.
So if you’ve not yet seen The Descent, do yourself a favour and search it out soon because it’s worth your while to experience its dread and tension, its inescapable horror and wild plot. I also thought the sequel was an all right movie, though, it’s not near as amazing as this one.

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Fear the Walking Dead – Season 1, Episode 5: “Cobalt”

AMC’s Fear the Walking Dead
Season 1, Episode 5
: “Cobalt”
Directed by Kari Skogland (Fifty Dead Men WalkingThe Stone AngelVikings)
Written by David Wiener

* For a review of the next episode, “The Good Man” – click here
* For a review of the previous episode, “Not Fade Away” – click here
Screen Shot 2015-09-28 at 9.38.38 PMThis episode begins with Doug Thompson (John Stewart) in a National Guard holding cell of sorts. Maybe even worse than dealing with the so-called patriotic troops, he’s stuck in there with Strand (Colman Domingo), whose mouth never seems to start running. Though, Strand absolutely appears to have his head on at least most of the way straight. Oh, and Nick Clark (Frank Dillane) is huddled in the corner, surely awaiting more of the junkie withdrawals.
Strand proves useful later in the episode – apparently he deals with the guards, trading for things. He gives up what look like some diamond cufflinks or something, all in order to keep them from taking Nick away to the basement; they see his fever is up. But Strand knows Nick is coming down, only detoxing, and this guy might prove to be a strong ally for the young man. Or will he? Could Strand simply be doing a kindness, or is it a way to make sure he’s got his own ally, under his thumb, once things get crazier? We’ll find out soon enough, I’m sure.
Screen Shot 2015-09-28 at 9.39.41 PMBack in the old neighbourhood, Ofelia Salazar (Mercedes Mason) appears as if she’s riling everyone up. Her mother, Griselda (Patricia Reyes Spíndola) is off with the National Guard somewhere, with doctors, but she has no idea what’s going on. Luckily as the troops move in on Ofelia, Andrew Adams (Shawn Hatosy) her boyfriend steps in to sort things out.
At the Clark house, Madison (Kim Dickens) and Travis (Cliff Curtis) are having a ton of trouble. Chris Manawa (Lorenzo James Henrie) isn’t exactly happy with his dad, making things even worse; he’s concerned about his mother, Liza (Elizabeth Rodriguez).
Chris meets up with Alicia (Alycia Debnam-Carey) and they dress up in one of the deserted houses, trashing the place. Some real chaos; is this what their generation will become now?
Meanwhile, Liza is off helping Dr. Exner (Sandrine Holt) whose sympathy for the situations of others doesn’t really run very deep. Liza wants to know how Griselda and Nick are, she wants to call her son Chris, but Exner whisks her around to help all the patients.
Screen Shot 2015-09-28 at 9.40.18 PM Screen Shot 2015-09-28 at 9.40.23 PMMadison goes looking for Alicia, finding the note she’d left for Russell. She ends up finding Daniel Salazar (Rubén Blades) and his daughter Ofelia: they’ve taken Adams hostage, tied him up, duct taped his mouth. The father-daughter duo have decided to use Adams as leverage, as a trade, to try and get back their loved ones; Griselda, Nick. But Daniel wants to know all the information the National Guards know, so therefore he plans to extract any and all information from Adams.
I love how the character of Daniel has seen this sort of military response before. He’s aware of what the government and the military can do. So this is a bit of an interesting angle, which fuels the paranoia he continues to display.
Screen Shot 2015-09-28 at 9.39.52 PMLieutenant Moyers (Jamie McShane) has a little chat with Travis Manawa. He’s worried about what’s going on, obviously, after seeing the snuff job at the end of “Not Fade Away“. Eventually, after a bit of back and forth, Travis ends up getting to go downtown, to visit the doctor and find out what’s been going on. However, things seem dark, or at least to spell trouble because the soldiers are worn out, yet Lt. Moyers pushes them further and further. You can almost feel something about to happen.
On their trip, Moyers makes a stop and sets up a tactical sniper rifle. He wants Travis to take the shot on a woman down the street in what looks like a coffee shop; she is not human, it seems, rather a walking dead. After a bit of yelling, and taunting from Moyers, finally Travis picks up the rifle and sights the woman – her name tag spelling out KIMBERLY – and tries to muster up whatever’s needed to put her out. He can’t do it, though, and Moyers cockily steps in. I guess his point was that Travis willingly lives under the National Guard’s protection yet wants to criticize how they do things, while unable to pull the trigger himself when/if needed. I understand, but still – dick move. I do not like Moyers at all while I do absolutely love McShane; he does good work in almost every show you’ll see him in.
Afterwards, the National Guardsmen all pile out of their vehicle towards a building, as Travis waits in the truck, instructed not to move; no matter what happens. Then all the screams and shots and screeches ring out of the vehicle’s radio. Intense scene, very well shot. Plus, Cliff Curtis is a solid character actor who I always enjoy seeing onscreen. He gives Travis life here, and the intensity on his face in this scene shows he is solid. Real effective stuff.
Screen Shot 2015-09-28 at 9.40.54 PMDown where Daniel has the soldier Adams held up, it seems things are getting very, very bad for the military man. Daniel gets serious; there will be no talking here. He continually asks Adams – “What is Cobalt?” – and also cuts the poor man’s inner arm, slowly lopping off pieces of skin and going deeper into the wound. It’s a real torturous moment, as we witness pure torture; hard to watch, even for the hardened horror vets such as myself, seeing his gaping wounds and the blood even for a brief few seconds is a gut punch. Great horror moment.
Even better is when Daniel goes back upstairs, Ofelia having seen his handiwork, and Madison encounters him in the kitchen. An amazingly tense scene between the two, which ends as Madison proves she’s one tough woman; I think both she and Daniel realize how terrible things are beginning to get, how fast the world is spiralling out of control and into oblivion. All she has to say to Daniel is: “Did he tell us what we need to know?
In the end, Adams gives up the goods. He tells everyone Cobalt is the code which commences evacuation of the Los Angeles area. This also includes procedures for the “humane termination of….“, you guessed it. At 9AM the next morning, things are supposed to get pretty damn rough.
Screen Shot 2015-09-28 at 9.41.24 PM Screen Shot 2015-09-28 at 9.41.45 PMNick Clark and Strand have a conversation after the former finishes a fresh vomit. Turns out, Strand needs a man with Nick’s sort of talents – whatever that means exactly I’m not so sure; I guess being a junkie automatically lends itself to being sneaky – when he decides to get going. He has a key, and no doubt will have escape on his mind.
Screen Shot 2015-09-28 at 9.43.23 PMThe National Guard is starting to pull out of the whole area – from the hospital they have setup, from the neighbourhood, from Los Angeles entirely. Things are starting to get scarier now, more and more ominous, each scene more foreboding than the last.
Poor Griselda Salazar is starting to die, she had complications after the foot she injured was removed. As Liza and Dr. Exner tend to her, she passes on. Exner breaks out the hydraulic cattle gun and advises Liza, though the time varies from person to person, everyone turns into a zombie, the living dead. Liza does what’s needed and an understanding sets in.
Screen Shot 2015-09-28 at 9.43.43 PM Screen Shot 2015-09-28 at 9.43.48 PMA chilling end to this penultimate Season 1 episode, with Daniel walking up to the doors of what looks like a big stadium almost, or a similar style complex – the doors are all bared with boards through the handles, chains and locks across their fronts. And inside the sound of hungry, angry, raving zombies. Really great finish.
No doubt the next and final episode, “The Good Man”, will show us some wild stuff! I know Kirkman and Co. will want to go out with a bang, which will set up a great second season. Though others are not so keen, I’ve been a big fan of this series since the opening episode. People expected tons of zombies, but this is a lead-up, building towards where we’ve already gotten to in The Walking Dead. For what this series is meant to be doing, it is incredible.
Screen Shot 2015-09-28 at 9.44.12 PM Screen Shot 2015-09-28 at 9.44.23 PMLast episode is directed by Stefan Schwartz whose directing credits include episodes of LutherSpooksHouseThe Walking DeadDexterLow Winter SunThe AmericansThe Bridge, and more. Stay tuned, Walking Deadites! Close out the season with me next week.

Batman Returns with Burton’s Gothic Style

Batman Returns. 1992. Directed by Tim Burton. Screenplay by Daniel Waters from a story by Waters & Sam Hamm.
Starring Michael Keaton, Danny DeVito, Michelle Pfeiffer, Christopher Walken, Michael Gough, Michael Murphy, Cristi Conaway, Andrew Bryniarski, Pat Hingle, Vincent Schiavelli, Steve Witting, and Jan Hooks.
Warner Bros./PolyGram Filmed Entertainment.
PG-13. 126 minutes.
Action/Adventure

★★★★★
102114_BatmanReturns_PosterA huge fan of Batman now for about twenty five years, I only recently reviewed Tim Burton’s 1989 film; a favourite of mine. While there’s definitely even more of a cartoon-ish vibe with Batman Returns I almost can’t decide which one is my favourite. So many want to say Batman is better, however, this one combines even more of what I loved about the first one: the darkness and the campy nature of the comic books and graphic novels. With this film there’s not only a deepening of the visuals in terms of those aspects, Burton’s sequel to his own film also goes a little deeper into character than the first.
The character of the Joker is fundamentally supposed to be a bit of a mystery, so even the fact we saw Jack Nicholson as Napier before his transformation was more than you might anticipate. With Selina Kyle and Oswald Cobblepot in this film, there’s a lot of chances for Burton to dive into their characters alongside more and more Bruce Wayne. More than this, I find the look and feel of the movie makes things so much creepier than the first. There are plenty who would say creepy is not something Batman ought to be as a film, yet I say different. There’s lots of adventure, plenty of thrill and superhero fun, but Batman and many of the characters – especially those included here – are most certainly at least a bit scary. They aren’t as outright megalomaniac-like, except for the Joker and even he has an inordinate amount of darkness in him as a character. Batman Returns brings the cartoon comic nature of Batman and the villains to the world of film, and at the very same time excels by including so much of the darkness and violence you’ll likely not see in another comic book ever again (except for maybe the violence I anticipate will have found its way into Deadpool; hopefully at least).
Either way, I don’t feel this sequel gets enough credit, nor does Burton in general for making such wonderful adaptations of Batman. This is possibly my favourite of them all, though, I still can’t make a definitive decision whether or not I’m more a fan of this or the previous movie. Too much great stuff in them both, yet I’m always leaning towards this one for whatever reason. We’ll see if maybe I get to the bottom of it.
Batman_Returns_-_BatarangTo start, I love the look of the movie, from costumes to the makeup and special effects, to the scenes themselves. The cinematography in this film is courtesy of Stefan Czapsky, whose work includes Vampire’s Kiss, Director of Photography on Errol Morris’ incredibly documentary The Thin Blue Line, as well as D.P on the odd and wonderful Edward ScissorhandsA Brief History of TimeEd Wood (another Burton film I dig a ton), Matilda, and more. Czapsky also worked as gaffer and assistant camera on a bunch of awesome movies like Larry Cohen’s God Told Me ToQHe Knows You’re Alone, Martin Scorsese’s After Hours, and At Close Range among others.
He really does some good work here as D.P. Lots of interesting shots he captures, which really express the Tim Burton style. I imagine after working on Edward Scissorhands a couple years before with Burton they had a feel for one another, their style and methods, so much of that I feel comes out in this film. Throughout the movie, mostly due to the fact the setting happens around/on Christmas, Burton and Czapsky conjure up this incredibly dark carnival sort of atmosphere, and the tone stays pitch dark from start to finish.
Honestly, my pick for top shot of the film is right at the beginning where we get to watch little baby Oswald wash down the river in his basket, down into the sewers where he’ll remain for 33 years; it’s a great sequence following behind the basket, watching it float on through the water. So creepy and immediately makes us aware how grim this film aims to be from the outset.
Moreover, I think Burton and Czapsky draw out so much animal imagery throughout the movie. From penguins to cats to bats, there are a bunch of different moments where the animals show up in interesting ways. Great stuff, even if it may seem heavy handed. I thought Burton did good work in those terms, too.
5-things-you-might-not-know-about-tim-burton-batman-returns-20th-anniversaryThere’s something in this movie I love even more than the first: score. Fact is, even though I do love the sequence in the museum from Batman set to the Prince song “Partyman”, there’s a little too much of it all the same. Here, in Batman Returns, I think Danny Elfman has more of a chance to branch out, as opposed to the first. Studio involvement made the first a mix, with Prince and Elfman ending up both thrown around in the movie. This time around, though there were apparently troubles in the relationship between Burton & Elfman, I think the score is absolutely fantastic! Each character has their own theme, an aesthetic all to their own, and much of that comes from Elfman’s pieces. Like the bits with the cats and Selina, as they lick and bite her (et cetera), there’s neat idiosyncrasies happening in the score with violin strings scraping and screeching, and more. Elfman has a style all of his own, which really compliments much of Burton and his own aesthetic.
batman-returns-selinas-resurrectiondda12d1eebf83736f78a5b8e0a216f15One particular favourite scene of mine is when Selina (Pfeiffer) returns home after being thrown from the window by Shreck (Walken), and somehow surviving. There’s a creepiness and black humour to the whole sequence, alternating back and forth. The way Selina stumbles home, bleeding a little, her entire skin tone has changed to an almost milky white, it’s super weird in all the right ways.
This is another aspect I love even above the 1989 film. In this story, there’s even more violence and a further edge. While Nicholson’s Joker had some highly disturbing aspects to his character (think: Alicia the living & disfigured art installation), I can’t help but think of so many moments in this sequel pushing those boundaries.
Such as the nose biting scene. Of course there’s a darkly comedic feel to that scene, as well as what follows. But the actual visuals are nasty as hell. Penguin (DeVito) has enough black crap trickling out of his mouth as it is, then when he bites the poor unsuspecting Josh (Steve Witting) it is so vibrant, the gushing red from the nose all over the victim’s face, running down Penguin’s chin; such vivid violence while also it stays, at the same time, almost like a cartoon. It’s that fine line Burton manages to tread in so many of his films I find interesting when it comes to his take on Batman.
Burton-Batman-still-4I know most people will say I’m reaching way too far on this aspect, but here goes..
Batman Returns brings out an incredible aspect of the story between Batman and the Penguin (at least in his current form out of this screenplay). These are each two orphaned children, though, for very different reasons. It shows the difference some times between a hero and villain, that edge where one person falls over while the other person somehow manages to cling on tight. Penguin is the type who fell completely over, letting the darkness take him fully; Batman, while in the dark and very much gripped by it, has managed to hold onto the edge and not let go, refusing to even. While so many people focus on the parallel between Batman and Joker, a recurring plot and thematic device constantly used over and over in the films as well as the literature, I think this screenplay and the way Burton brings things to life really show a strong duality between Bruce Wayne and Oswald Cobblepot.
There’s a ton of further duality happening between Bruce Wayne/Batman and Selina Kyle/Catwoman. Most powerfully is the big costume party, or masquerade; you’ll obviously notice they’re the only ones not masked. Clearly you can tell these are two people more comfortable in their superhero personas, in their own costumes, than in their own skin – out in the open at a masquerade? More like their real face and their actual skin is their costume. Selina is truly Catwoman, deep down, as is Bruce actually Batman underneath it all. While I find the parallels between Bruce and Oswald most interesting, and furthest explored, it’s worth noting this excellent parallel between Bruce and Selina, as well. These are the little nuances of the script which take this above simply being a Batman vs. two villains film, as some see it. An appropriate sequel to the first, there’s even more character explored here than before with Nicholson’s knockout performance as the Joker. Not to mention the fact both DeVito and Pfeiffer are perfect in their roles. No one else could have done these roles justice like the two of these actors. Each are creepy and unnerving in their own right, offering plenty of fun and madness to counteract the more calm, calculated performance out of Michael Keaton.
br3There’s more of the weird, loner-style Bruce Wayne here out of Keaton. Even more than the 1989 film. Not to say either performance is better, simply I like how more of Bruce comes out in this screenplay. He’s a little more lonely, a little darker in a sense. Further than that, Bruce has also lost Vicki Vale since the first film and he’s got a broken heart. Already a man with a broken heart, Keaton brings out the vulnerability of Wayne. I’ve got to reiterate, for those who also love the Nolan trilogy like myself, Bale is awesome as Batman for me, I enjoyed him; however, Keaton and the screenplay for the two Burton films really emphasize the sadness of Bruce Wayne, the loneliness inside him, even more than anything in the Nolan films. Wayne is a weird guy, there has always been this quality to him even from the original comics. This is something Keaton brings out plenty, especially with a second chance here in Batman Returns.
Overall, while I gave Batman the same 5-star rating, I’ve got to admit over the years Batman Returns has evolved as my favourite of the lot. Still a huge fan of Nolan’s works as well, there’s simply something inescapably interesting and dark about Tim Burton and his two Batman films which draws me back, over and over. As much as I can watch the Nolan films, even back to back, time and time again, there are moments in Burton’s films which are engrained on my soul. Maybe it’s because they’re the ones I originally grew up with, but I think there’s more to it. Again I say it’s the cross of the perfect elements for Batman: the darkness and the grim side of him/the villains in Gotham, plus there’s the campy and fun nature of the comics and some of the original 1960s series preserved, which amounts to a potent combination.
Batman Returns is a vibrant and Gothic story of Batman/Bruce Wayne, including several villainous entities out of Gotham City, and Tim Burton brings it to life in the most wonderful way imaginable. Check this out if you’ve not seen it, especially if you love Burton and I think the same can be said if you do love the Batman comics in particular. This is great stuff and once more I say truly underrated.

Tim Burton’s Batman. The Best Batman.

Batman. 1989. Directed by Tim Burton. Screenplay by Sam Hamm & Warren Skaaren; based on characters created by Bob Kane & Bill Finger.
Starring Michael Keaton, Jack Nicholson, Kim Basinger, Robert Wuhl, Pat Hingle, Billy Dee Williams, Michael Gough, Jack Palance, Jerry Hall, Tracey Walter, Lee Wallace, and William Hootkins. Warner Bros./The Guber-Peters Company/PolyGram Filmed Entertainment.
PG-13. 126 minutes.
Action/Adventure


★★★★★
54748a_lg Tim Burton is the sort of filmmaker people either love or hate, I think. There’s no real halfway marker between sentiments with Burton’s movies, which is fine. Personally I think he’s a great, innovative, and influential filmmaker. In essence, he’s an auteur. You can say he’s no good, or whatever, but at the end of the day you cannot deny he has a style that is VERY MUCH all his own; nobody else does dark and weird in the cartoonish sense like him. From Beetlejuice, to both the Batman movies, Edward Scissorhands, the incredibly strange and fun adaptation of Sleepy Hollow, to Ed Wood and Mars Attacks! (brilliant and overlooked), Big Fish, Corpse Bride – I think Burton has made enough films that are of a high calibre I’m able to count him among other great filmmakers of his generation.
While Burton himself has said his Batman is boring and that it’s more of a cultural phenomenon than anything, I feel he’s shortchanged himself. I’m a massive fan of the Batman character, have been for years. I’ve read comics, graphic novels, seen all the films – including the original television series and the movies of which I’m a big fan honestly for their campy style. So don’t hate on me for saying this, but at the base of all this Batman is still a superhero, and superheroes are a tiny bit silly. You’ve got to admit it. When David Cronenberg expressed his distaste for Nolan’s trilogy, or at least his “I don’t care” attitude about superhero movies, he wasn’t trying to be a dick: it’s the truth. While you can try to make a superhero film as gritty and realistic as possible, at the end of the day Batman – or any other comic book superhero – is still a guy running around dressed in tights, fighting zany, megalomaniac villains with their own equally foolish-looking getups. Again I repeat – I love Batman, in all forms. But I think the ultimate thing I love, above the darkness and the style and the wildness of so many moments from the Joker’s laughs and horror to the action scenes, is that Tim Burton treats his Batman in the way it’s meant to be treated: part serious and dark, part campy and fun. If you can’t recognize that, fine. But don’t say this is a bad adaptation, it’s just not. It is a classic and it helped lead the way for more action films to come in the 1990s and long after.
Batman-1989-batman-2687182-1024-576In Gotham City, the criminals have been running scared: rumour has it some giant, human-like bat has been roaming the streets and taking care of the underbelly of society. While reporter Alexander Knox (Robert Wuhl) teams up with star journalist Vicki Vale (Kim Basinger) to get to the bottom of the story, other things are brewing in the dark city.
Mob boss Carl Grissom (Jack Palance) has a bit of trouble with his… right hand man, Jack Napier (Jack Nicholson), who winds up in a bad spot all due to Carl’s backstabbing. Things get really bad when Napier runs into Batman during a shootout with police; Jack ends up disfigured after falling into a vat of chemicals. Remerging, after a bit of off the books surgery, Jack becomes the Joker. Hellbent on tearing Gotham to pieces, as well as rooting out Batman, Joker becomes a powerful force of terror in the hearts of the citizens and nobody is safe.
And Bruce Wayne (Michael Keaton) keeps on working hard, day and night, trying to conceal the biggest secret of all: he’s Batman.
batman-1989-wallpaper-movie-897The first time we actually see the Joker’s face in the shadows is actually creepy. Even before, not seeing his face was almost creepier, as he smashes the mirror, laughing, walking out of the basement leaving behind his terrified doctor. Numerous scenes involving the Joker, as well as his henchman in various shapes and forms, are incredibly dark. Which brings me to one of my major loves about this 1989 Batman as opposed to even the Christopher Nolan films (I’m a fan by the way).
All the darkness of Burton is present here. Even more than that, he keeps the cartoonish nature of the comic books and also brings the dark nature of Batman/Bruce Wayne himself into the mix. While Nolan’s films have a sort of dark side, it’s not near the same as what Burton presents. The plot of the film, everything happening with the story in this adaptation, isn’t even the best of it – Burton uses his auteur style in order to infuse this film with something spooky, something full of idiosyncrasy and madness and chaotic mayhem.
For instance, the scene where the Joker meets Vicki Vale at the museum and shows her his latest art project – living, breathing art created with nastiness, a young woman named Alicia with her face disfigured underneath a Phantom of the Opera-style mask. That part always creeps me out, right to pieces. Even the oddly chipper, upbeat commercial by the Joker for Joker Brand products, with all the women sporting a Joker face, it’s SO UNSETTLING! There’s a campy side to it, yes, there’s no denying that. Though, Burton has the talent to take those saccharine sweet looking visuals and lean them into the dark pit of the human heart. Again, it’s why I say he’s an auteur; only the best are able to make the darkness look and feel so utterly compelling.

Y’ever dance with the devil in the pale moonlight?
batman-1989-c-030People will rail on and on about how Michael Keaton is no good as Batman.
Whatever, man.
Think what you will, I found him excellent. There’s even more to that sentiment in Batman Returns, as the darkness I love and crave so much in Bruce Wayne comes out further than it does here in the first (though I love this movie a tad more).
Keaton is solid. So what he’s not jacked? That’s honestly, basically, the opinion of some: his physique isn’t particularly muscular enough to portray Batman. Why does someone have to be huge in order to be a good fighter or intimidating? Was Bruce Lee huge? Nope, yet I’d have been mortified to have to fight the man. The whole point to Bruce is that he learned to fight and combat villains in the way of a ninja, so it’s not like he has to be this massive man. For those purposes, the suit does its work, and looks great.
Above all, I love the way this Batman – and in part this is due to the writing and Burton’s presentation of the material – not only fights crime, he actually wants to scare the criminals. Yes, Nolan goes for that in his newest trilogy. Not in this way, though. There’s something extra creepy to the opening sequence where those two robbers sit atop the building, counting their cash, while also talking about the supposed Bat Man lurking about Gotham – how Batman slips in behind them, frightening them, terrorizing. It’s very dark and grim. The way the movie started out always creeped me to the bones when I was a kid. I’ve been watching this movie since I was like 6 years old, probably about two years after the original release, and one of the parts I always found myself fascinated with was the very beginning because it has this ominous, terrifying feel, but in the most excellent sense. Works wonder for the tone of the film. Also, a big part of this is in the way Keaton plays Batman with a quiet, calculated performance in the right moments.
It’s the rawness of Wayne which comes out of Keaton. He has an awesome presence as Batman, particularly aided I think by the fact he couldn’t hear much of anything (if anything at all) while in the suit. I love what Bale did with the Batman voice, regardless of how anyone else might feel to the contrary – I think there’s a necessity to the voice, you’d have to disguise it or else someone would absolutely make the connection between Bruce and Batman. But more subtlety in the voice comes in Keaton’s performance. He doesn’t go to the length Bale does, which again I thought was good, yet there’s a slight change in his voice here when you listen to him carefully from one scene to the next, Bruce to Batman; it’s a good touch. Plus, there’s just an introverted quality all around to Keaton as Bruce: from the moment he pretends not to be Bruce Wayne when Vicki Vale asks about him at the party near the film’s beginning, to the solitary (and obligatory) Bruce moments brooding in the Bat Cave. I’ve always loved this aspect to Bruce Wayne, and while Christian Bale does a splendid job in the Nolan trilogy, I honestly have to give my vote to Keaton as best. Simply because there’s a real strangeness, a dark and at times weird side to his Bruce Wayne, which you’re likely never to see again. Ever. Nobody else will bring that out the way Keaton does. Maybe part of that is the fact it is a Burton film, as well as the sequel, in which Keaton is another odd element. But I like to think it’s all a part of Keaton as an actor; someone I’ve always liked, not just a bandwagoner after Birdman. Ever see Ron Howard’s Night Shift? Do yourself a solid, watch it.

Jack Nicholson.. oh my. What can I say that hasn’t been said? He’s a brilliant actor whom I’ve enjoyed over and over throughout my 30 years. There’s a cartoon quality in his performance, just as there is in Burton’s aesthetic throughout the film. Still, Nicholson adds a truly gritty and horrific sensibility to the Joker. Yes: he definitely hams it up. Yes: there are over-the-top moments. But again, this is a guy whose face has been warped into a permanent smile; the chemicals messed him up and the doctor somehow moulded his face to look like a kind of demonically happy plasticine doll. So, c’mon – you have to expect a bit of ham and cheese! You’re not being honest with yourself or watching this film honestly by trying to say he should have gone for more realism. If it’s an attempt at realism (though again: superhero films aren’t realistic from the get-go) you want then try Nolan, I guess. But this Burton version of the Joker is magnificent and macabre; one half of that comes from the writing/Burton, the other and the heftiest portion from Nicholson and his brilliance.
snapshot20090103185002Finally, if I haven’t stressed it enough it’s Burton who makes this film what is it – above the story, above the performances from Jack Nicholson and Michael Keaton, it’s the aesthetic of the film, it’s atmosphere, the tone, which really boost this above any other comic book film especially. I don’t care what you say, this is what a comic book movie should be like and I’ll always feel that way! There’s no amount of realism you can try to instil in a movie based on a graphic novel or comic book which can take the story where it needs to go because THAT IS NOT THE SPIRIT OF THE COMICS. Be your own judge, tastemaker. But these are my feelings.
4223383-batman-1989-batman-confronts-the-jokerThis is a 5 star film. Hands down. The one which started the whole trend proper. Tim Burton does a fascinating job with this comic book adaptation, giving it enough campy fun to satisfy those yearning for a return to the Adam West-led Batman and retaining all the darkness of the original character and some of what Frank Miller threw in with his graphic novels. Above all else, there’s a great look and feel to every scene, Burton dripping from the shots like sticky candy, as well as the fact Keaton and Nicholson act their chops off with their mix of seriousness and silly charm. Add in fun music from the soundtrack (I don’t care what you say Tim Burton: I love the way Prince is used!) and compositions from Danny Elfman, and this is one slick adventure.
Seen it? Tell me what you think. If not, what the fuck are you waiting for? Batman Day 2015 has come and gone, but it’s never too late, or too early, to start diving into the legacy of the Dark Knight on film. Go forth to Gotham and find yourself lost in its beautiful, grim shadows.

Scream Queens – Season 1, Episode 2: “Hell Week”

FOX’s Scream Queens
Season 1, Episode 2:
 “Hell Week”
Directed by Brad Falchuk
Written by Ian Brennan/Brad Falchuk/Ryan Murphy

* For a review of the previous episode, “Pilot” – click here
* For a review of the next episode, “Chainsaw” – click here
IMG_2031The “Pilot” ended with the Red Devil – masked and mysterious – running over deaf, now dead, Taylor Swift – a.k.a Tiffany Something. This was a great close to the first episode, now we’re heading into the nasty aftermath at the Kappa House sorority.
Really great opening in this episode, “Hell Week”, as Dean Cathy Munsch (Jamie Lee Curtis) brings us into the modern world. I think people aren’t giving this show enough credit. Not that it’s reinventing the wheel, so the speak. However, Dean Munsch is a no nonsense type of person. She lays out the silly social media world in which we currently live, hurtling headlong into the 21st century, as well as this new foolish sense of self-entitlement people have nowadays. There’s an incredible skewering of youth culture in the beginning, which I found

Lea Michele is someone I’ve never seen before personally, other than her one-off episode appearance on Sons of Anarchy (the Season 7 episode “Smoke ’em If You Got ’em”). But straight up, she has been slaying me as Hester Ulrich here. Everything from the body language to her weird and matter-of-fact style of delivery has me cracking up almost each time she’s in a scene. Plus, Hester is kinda of creepy.
When Chanel Oberlin (Emma Roberts), the remaining Chanels #3 (Billie Lourd) whose earmuffs and dry tone
Furthermore, Denise Hempville (Niecy Nash) shows up in this episode, hired by clueless national sorority president Gigi Caldwell (Nasim Pedrad; also a crack-up). Denise is not so much sassy, as black women so often end up being described, she’s a straight to the point type. I swear, when she got on about the walkie talkie, all that stuff, it was almost perfect.
Some reviews and opinions I’ve seen online keep saying that the comedy outweighs the horror. Is that a bad thing some times? I don’t think so. Not to say there isn’t any horror, but definitely the comedy is more a focus at certain points than blood, mayhem, murder.
IMG_2033A new, strange relationship brews between Dean Munsch and the father of Grace Gardner (Skyler Samuels). When Wes Gardner (Oliver Hudson) meets with the Dean, she gets a bit frisky. Either way, Wes wants a job on campus so that he can be closer to his daughter, to keep her safe. At the same time Dean Munsch both wants to keep everything covered up as long as possible on her campus, and also wants to find her way into Wes’ pants apparently.
Meanwhile, Grace is snooping around the sorority house. She’s told a mysteriously locked room is only able to be opened by the president, who has the key. Later, Grace finds some of the old relics of the 20-year old death at Kappa House.
SHOCKER! Dean Munsch, and also Ms. Bean (Jan Hoag), helped to cover up the dead girl in the bathtub back then. Honestly, I didn’t actually see that one coming. Mostly I was thinking the Dean was one of those tough yet ultimately helpless authority figures, trying to stave off the media and the coming onslaught of public opinion that might negatively affect her college/its reputation. Turns out, the ole Dean is actually trying to cover up the fact she covered up a young girls’ death, the birth of that baby in the tub. Nice, interesting twist.
IMG_2034 IMG_2035People can say what they want, this show constantly makes me laugh.
The scene between Boone (Nick Jonas) and fellow douche extraordinaire Chad (Glen Powell) is unbelievably funny. I’m able to separate my personal feelings about certain types of people and how I can enjoy a character, even if I don’t particularly LIKE who they are. For instance, these guys – Boone and Chad. They’re such outright knobs, yet they’re hilarious. When Boone asks to get in bed with him, then there’s all the wiener talk… I mean, it’s not even immature, it’s a fucking gut buster.
IMG_2037Why don’t you go in there and ogle his big old broner?

Grace is getting closer to Pete Martinez (Diego Boneta), self-styled investigative reporter. Poor Pete gets attacked by the Red Devil himself. Waking up, he’s hung in front of the school by his pants with a note saying “MYOB” (mind your own business). Only problem is that back in his dorm room, Grace discovers a Red Devil costume in his closet; he claims it’s for mascot duties during football games. But Grace is tainted – she asks how old he is, discovering him to be on the verge of twenty: “exactly how old the baby would be if it grew up“. She storms off and leaves poor Pete behind – for all his faults, we the audience know Pete is not the Red Devil, as we’ve seen him be attacked by the Red Devil.
Or will this series play with our expectations? Did we really see Pete get knocked out? Or did we see what Pete wanted us to see? We can only wait and find out. Personally, I don’t think it’s him as the scene with him being knocked out would be HIGHLY misleading and manipulative.
IMG_2038Personally, I’m loving the music from Mac Quayle in this series so far. He’s done music programming and composed additional music for films like Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive and Only God Forgives, as well as the Season 4 episode “Monsters Among Us” from American Horror Story, the episode “Crutchfield” from the fantastic series The KnickFary Cry 4, and My Life Directed by Nicolas Winding Refn. Not to mention Quayle has composed music for another twelve episodes of AHS and the new breakout television series Mr. Robot. Here, he instills many of the scenes with either a pop-ish twinkle, or in others it becomes this ominous, foreboding, even grating at times, score which takes us into the heart of the horror in these episodes. While things remain light and fluffy in a horror-comedy/parody/satire way, Quayle’s music really adds some extra weight to certain scenes and moments with a neat style that’s all over the place, in a great way.
IMG_2039Worst comes when the Dean sees Wes meet Gigi – they go off for coffee together, as he leaves his daughter and the girls alone (funny how he just drops safety as soon as Gigi hits on him), and as Munsch watches them with an evil eye.
The Red Devil tries to grab Chanel #1, but she manages to wriggle free and get back to her sorority girlfriends. When they all go back upstairs – hilariously without new security guard Denise or her partner Shondell (Deneen Tyler) – they find a threat to Kappa House scrawled in blood red on the wall. I found Denise (Niecy Nash) awesome in these few moments, just absolutely dropping the ball and having a laugh doing it! When she finds Shondell dead in the cop car, having been visited by the Red Devil, it was HILARIOUS. Great scene.
Poor Boone, though. He finds himself confronted with the Red Devil – “What am I supposed to be scared?“. Yes, Nick Jonas – yes, you ought to be scared!!
The other frat bros find Boone, throat cut, laid out perfectly over the dining room table. Very creepy, very cool, and all set to “I Wear My Sunglasses At Night”.
IMG_2040IMG_2041BUT A BIG SHOCK AT THE END OF THE EPISODE!
When the Red Devil goes to the morgue, which I’m assuming that is, where Boone’s body is being kept after death. The Devil opens up the cabinet where he’s being kept: AND BOONE IS ALIVE! Honestly, never expected that. Wow. A great finisher to the episode, as Boone pulls the slit neck makeup off and whips it away. What does this mean? Who is the Red Devil, or better yet: who’s Boone, really? They’re connected and we’ve got to wait another week to find out.
IMG_2042 IMG_2043Stay tuned, friends! I’m loving this series already. Let those who don’t enjoy it not enjoy. The rest of us can have a little fun with some twistedness mixed in. See you next week for “Chainsaw”, which is directed by