Friday, April 24, 2015

My Take on The Blob (1988) by Chuck Russell



A moment’s preamble:  In June of 2014 I began graduate school at Seton Hill seeking an MFA in Writing Popular Fiction. This term I’m enrolled in a course that focuses on MONSTERS, and as a part of that course I’ll blog on each book/story/movie covered.

My review breaks down into 4 parts: Strength of Character, Genre potency, Poignancy of themes, and Entertainment Value. For each of these I will assign a letter grade. My reviews will contain **SPOILERS**

The Blob is a 1988 monster movie directed by Chuck Russell and a remake of a 1958 film of the same name.

Strength of Character: D-

Let’s count the tropes: Jock football-player nice-guy with a friend who’s a Jock football-player asshat. There’s a cheerleader prom-queen with more mettle than expected and a hobo miscreant with shoddy dirt-makeup. Let’s not forget the outsider-badass-mulleteer (“Mulleteer” copyrighted by Luke Elliott 2015) (Not really). Throw in the little boys as the meta-horror-movie fans and the ineffectual sheriff and you’ve well on your way to a baker’s dozen of jelly-filled character tropes.


At least Meg kicked a little ass.
Genre Strength: C

Sorry, you aren't the protagonist. Mullets are required.
Ok so Mr. Nice Paul going early was a clever choice. And this is the first of several money-shots of the film, AKA what we paid to see, and that’s people get swallowed up and dissolved by The Blob. A lot of the effects were effective in these moments, although they were reminiscent of The Thing (1982), and not quite on par, so it’s hard to award too many points. Another stand-out scene was the woman barricaded in the phone booth, surrounded by the blob. The voice on the other end of the line informs her that the sheriff should already be there, and up he floats, complete with identifying badge-shot.

The bigger shots of The Blob, especially in motion, were mostly awful/silly/ridiculous, with the one exception being the blob splayed out in the theater digesting movie-goers. The bits of cheese-ball comedy were sprinkled in that reminded us that this movie isn’t to be taken seriously.


Thematic Poignancy: D

These are the themes I picked up on: Cops, authority-figures, and adults in general, can’t help you. They’re just people too. The government isn’t just untrustworthy, it’s nefarious. The arms race with Russia is out of control, and the folly of the men who first split the atom is doomed to be repeated.

None of these are particularly fresh or even that interesting. In fact, they felt like a shoddy knockoff of the themes of a lot of the other major 80s movies.


Entertainment Value: C-

Somebody really thought motorcycles were badass. That’s the only explanation I can come up with for why we were subjected to all the flimsily-setup motorcycle stunts. There’s a lot of that sort of flimsy plot devices being put to use, like the catch in the zipper, hiding in the freezer, etc.

There were a few nice twists, I admit. Especially when The Blob seems to be an alien hitchhiking on the back of a meteorite, but it’s revealed to be man-made.

The scenes involving the two boys, where they discussed horror movie tropes and dealt with the obnoxious guy behind them in the theater, were some of the most entertaining of the film. There is a certain element of fun to the movie. A sense that it knows what it is, a fairly predictable monster flick, and harbors no illusions of grandeur, and decides to be playful with these scenes. The Blob knows it’s no better than the slasher-movie the kids saw at the theater and that any clever movie-goer can predict the outcome of all the major plot points.


Random Notes and Final Grade: D+

* *Slaps newspaper down, revealing face* “Ribbed!”

* I spent half the movie believing the actor who played Brian Flag was a young Ethan Hawke. It was Kevin Dillon, in case you’re wondering.
 
* What exactly is the purpose of a snow-maker truck equipped with a bulldozer on the front? Is snow-making a sought after service I’m unaware of?

* The girl almost saves the day, then oops, she trips, and our mulleteer has to rescue her. *Yawn* 

* Hey look guys, an “It Lives!” ending

Friday, April 10, 2015

My take on Godzilla (2014) Directed by Gareth Edwards



A moment’s preamble:  In June of 2014 I began graduate school at Seton Hill seeking an MFA in Writing Popular Fiction. This term I’m enrolled in a course that focuses on MONSTERS, and as a part of that course I’ll blog on each book/story/movie covered.

My review breaks down into 4 parts: Strength of Character, Genre potency, Poignancy of themes, and Entertainment Value. For each of these I will assign a letter grade. My reviews will contain **SPOILERS**

Godzilla is a 2014 American science fiction monster film directed by Gareth Edwards. It is a reboot of the Godzilla film franchise and retells the origins of Godzilla in contemporary times as a "terrifying force of nature" –via Wikipedia

Strength of Character: D+

Where to begin? I suppose I’ll start with what rescued this movie from receiving a solid F for strength of character, and that’s Brian Cranston. I assume his character had a name, but no one would remember him as anything but Brian Cranston. BC is fantastic here, milking the opening sequences and turning that milk into blue meth (Ok maybe not that part). The failing nuclear reactor scene where BC’s wife, played by Juliette Binoche, adds a weight and pathos to the narrative and sets the tone for the character-heavy drama that we are about to enjoy. BC is a man obsessed, a man against the world, and we are right there with him. Let’s do this.

And then he and all that pathos fall off a catwalk and get zipped up in a body bag.

Characters? Who are you kidding? This is an old-school monster movie, the only character you need to worry about is a little guy named GODZILLA. He’s basically Earth’s bouncer called in to kick the shit out of some unruly drunks trying to hook up before last call. Silly humans, thinking they are important.

And that’s the problem. The fatal flaw of this movie. It can’t decide what it is. It’s got a whopping case of dissociative identity disorder.

The bag of dirty diapers on top of the dumpster fire of this movie’s characters is Aaron Taylor-Johnson as “Sir Snorefest” himself, Ford Brody. AKA G.I. Joe Shmoe.  Who will ever forget the moment he spoke those immortal words, in a blip above a monotone, to the dying Brian Cranston?

“Hey, stay with me.”

I know, brings a tear to the eye even writing it. He’s all like, “hey,” in case BC wasn’t listening, and then he doesn’t want his dad to die so he adds: “Stay with me.” Legendary. (Sarcasm font, in case you missed it).

And let’s not forget Dr. Serizawa, who walks around the whole movie slack-jawed and mumbling “let them fight.” Take another bong-hit, Dr. S.

Genre Strength: B+

This is a monster movie. Forget what the previews told you, forget the all the implications that it was going to be about the characters, forget Brian Cranston.

Is that all forgotten? Good.

Now watch some old Godzilla films, I’m not talking about that runt from 1998, I’m talking some lizard-mascot fighting another mascot on top of a model city. That’s what this movie is, at its radioactive core.

RAWR
And how does it succeed in that respect? It knocks it out of the park, and then Godzilla steps on the park. This movie rips open the jaws of Godzilla (1998) and breathes a blue laser down its throat. This is modern CGI at its finest, and the genuinely awe-inspiring sequences of the Thunder-From-WAY-Down-Under, Big G, are near-flawless. The only thing keeping me from giving this movie an A+ for genre is the aforementioned identity crisis.

Thematic Poignancy: C

Man vs. Nature. More specifically, man vs THE LEATHERY BOOTHEEL OF NATURE OH MY GOD IT’S CRUSHING ME. This film brings Godzilla back to center. Big G is an incarnation of a natural disaster, as immense and unstoppable as a category 5 hurricane. The MUTOs are the “villains,” but even they aren’t given some sort of human-intelligence. They are big animals just looking to mate and feed. It’s even sort of cute when the winged one defends big momma.

The raw power of nature becomes the focus and theme of the movie, yet it feels a bit hokey for my tastes. Probably because Dr. S spells it out for the audience every other time he’s on screen.

Entertainment Value: C-

After you stub your toe, amirite?
So, entertainment-wise, this was a mixed up bag of radioactive monster eggs. On the one hand, this movie rocked my entertainment system. You should’ve heard that patented roar on my woofer, seriously. The action was fun. The tension? Generally tense. The monsters delivered an epic performance.

The movie uses subtlety well, keeping the creatures obscured for most of the film, barely glimpsed on the small television screens, or behind a cloud of dust or smoke. Director Gareth Edwards deftly uses a quiet before the roar. (I said roar instead of storm, see what I did there? DID YOU SEE?)

Unfortunately that wasn’t enough. They had the right idea, in my opinion, to try and go the character route. Their mistake was in letting BC and basically that whole angle die off early. By the time I saw Sir Snorefest predictably reunited with his family I’d completely jumped off that poorly-positioned ship.

Random Notes and Final Grade: C

*Godzilla is the real protagonist here, we’re just led to believe he’s the villain. It was an interesting move, but one I think leaves the audience at a loss for something to root for until the very end.

*The skydiving scene is visually awe-inspiring and gorgeous. And those seem like paltry adjectives to describe it. The look of that scene alone sold millions of tickets, and they were smart to use it so prominently in the trailers. 

*I’m actually intrigued by the potential confirmed sequel. I would go into the movie in the right mindset next time, looking for Godzilla vs New Monster and disaster-porn, but little else.

Friday, April 3, 2015

My take on "Snow" by Ronald Malfi



A moment’s preamble:  In June of 2014 I began graduate school at Seton Hill seeking an MFA in Writing Popular Fiction. This term I’m enrolled in a course that focuses on MONSTERS, and as a part of that course I’ll blog on each book/story/movie covered.
My review breaks down into 4 parts: Strength of Character, Genre potency, Poignancy of themes, and Entertainment Value. For each of these I will assign a letter grade. My reviews will contain **SPOILERS**

“Snow”  by Ronald Malfi follows a group of strangers who become stranded in a remote town in that has become infested with snow-creatures. The creatures can assume human hosts and wear them like “skin suits” or manifest as a snow-spirit with two scythe-like arms, or occasionally manifest as some sort of snow worm.

Strength of Character: B-

Todd Curry is our protagonist, a recently down then up on his luck gambler who is determined to be a better father to his son. He meets our other main character, Kate, while stranded at O’Hare by the sinister snow storm. Todd is a fairly interesting guy who I didn’t mind rooting for, but he never really won me over. He was a bit pathetic, and in the end he let other people do most of the heavy lifting involved with saving the group. He was quick to cut people loose and consider them dead without proof, and he didn’t bring any useful skills to the story.

Kate, much like Todd, was interesting enough. But I found myself more attached to the ill-fated Shawna. I think it might’ve proved a more inspired choice to let her assume the role of the only surviving woman, switching places with Kate. Instead, it felt from the beginning like Kate and Todd were safe, regardless of what happened to everyone else, and that proved to be the case.

Genre Strength: B-

Snow monsters are certainly different, and it was nice to see a new take on what is essentially a zombie story. Malfi did an excellent job of developing the monsters, and unlike Pinborough’s Breeding Ground spiders, I wasn’t left with an overabundance of questions about them. It was heavily implied that the creatures came from another reality, and that explanation fit more than if Malfi had claimed the snow monsters were some mixture of pesticides that suddenly achieved a malevolent intelligence.

The novel was well-paced, and the action was compelling if occasionally predictable. Malfi fell prey to a few action-movie clichés with his explosions, but nothing you haven’t already seen mucked up on screen.

I knock a few points off because I just never found the creatures scary. It may have something to do with the explanations the reader is given fairly soon after their introduction. I would’ve rather been left a little more in the dark, left to draw my own conclusions before having ones provided by short-lived side characters.


Thematic Poignancy: C-

This was an enjoyable horror romp, a nice twist on the zombie-infested town story, but it didn’t bring much in the way of thematic depth. There were some nice character moments where we saw people struggle with their flaws in a very relatable way. And Todd ultimately was able to become the father that he wanted to be. There was some realistic doomed modern-relationship ethos being explored with both Todd and Kate’s past lives and in the end when they don’t wind up together (although the door to that possibility remained open). That was a nice touch.

Entertainment Value: C+

The action was compelling, the creatures were novel, the pacing was gripping, yet something about this novel held it back from loving it. I always ask myself at the end if I would recommend it to others, and to that I say maybe. If you ask me for a book about evil-snow monsters, I’ll point you this way. If you ask me for something off-the-beaten-path, I might point you this way. But if you ask me for a great horror read, this one won’t come to mind.

I think Malfi shows a lot of promise here, don’t get me wrong. Too often the writing felt a little sophomoric, relying on cliché or letting his prose stumble with mistakes we are learning to avoid at Seton Hill. I would be surprised if Malfi’s later novels aren’t a step above, as, to me, this seemed like a novel of a writer still coming into his own.


Random Notes and Final Grade: C+

Here's a picture of some less-threatening snow.
*Vomit that sat on cold concrete for several hours would not be “still-warm.”
*I wanted more from Eddie Clement, the first skin suit they met. He seemed smarter than the others, and not nearly as single-minded. There is a taste at the end in the epilogue, but I would’ve liked to see him come back in the meat of the novel, perhaps at the climax. As it was, it felt more like a loose plot-thread.
*I would’ve tried to call the police a lot sooner than they did.