I’m still in an emotionally fragile state so while there is still a lot of stuff I want to watch there are some things that, once they start to get too heavy, I just don’t have the emotional bandwidth to finish. I can handle light entertainment, so I’m watching a lot of nature documentaries, and stand-up comedians. I am aware that some of you might look at this particular list and go, “That’s what she calls lite-entertainment?” Well, yeah, I mean the plots and characters are straightforward, and easily understood, there’s not a lot to analyze because the themes are evident, and the characters don’t require any deep emotional commitment. The most complex movie I watched was The Power of the Dog, (not on this list) which I found to be emotionally devastating because I did get very invested in the characters, and that was enough for me. One of the fluffiest movies on this list is, surprisingly, Fist of Vengeance which I, of course, didn’t like very much, because I expected a much deeper and darker movie, based on its title.
This is a new series that I stumbled across while flipping through my apps on the firestick. I paused because I saw Harold Perrineau’s face, and thought to myself, “How you doin’?” It turns out he’s doing okay, although I don’t think this series is going to get a lot of traction, probably because it’s from the producers of Lost and airs on Epix, a channel hardly anyone watches! Nevertheless, I’ve gotten invested in the series because it’s also by the Russo Brothers, the writers, and directors of one of my favorite MCU films: Captain America The Winter Soldier.
A typical middle-class family (a mom, dad, and two kids) find themselves stranded in a town that seems to be a terrifying alternate Earth. What’s frightening about it is not just that they can’t leave this town, but every night everyone has to hunker down in silence, and lock their doors with special talismans, or be torn apart and eaten by creatures that look like vampires (they have a lot of teeth) but act like fast zombies when they’re not casually strolling around and smiling.
The scares are pretty effective, and somewhat typical (there were a couple of jumpscares I didn’t care for), but also atypical in that the monsters featured just look and sound like ordinary people, at first. What I found frightening was that their reasonable demeanor is just a deception, a mask. These are things that, I suspect, were never human and have found that acting and looking a certain way attracts prey.
Anyway, the family gets stranded after they crash their mobile home, after witnessing weird behavior in a flock of birds, and driving around in circles in the forest. The son is seriously injured and can’t be moved, the family knows nothing about the situation they’re in, and night is falling. Harold Perrineau plays the town Sheriff, and he makes the decision, along with their only medical specialist, to stay behind to care for the child. That a black guy is the leader of the town heavily reminds me of the series Midnight Mass, on Netflix, where the only PoC (a Muslim man) is the town sheriff, and there are vampires. But so far, that’s the only resemblance between the two shows.
This entire scene is very suspenseful as the townsfolk try to get the family to safety indoors as night falls. The monsters seem like Michael Myers from Halloween and walk like they got all night. I have no idea where they are during the hours of daylight, but the clean clothing and civilized demeanor is just an illusion. When people are indoors they just walk right up to the windows and politely ask to be let inside. Like vampires, they have to be invited, and there are these fist-sized talismans that everyone hangs on or near the front doors of their homes that prevent them from entering.
The town has crafted an entire lifestyle around their predicament and they have become comfortable enough in it to find time to bicker among themselves. For example, one of the rules is that if you have children, you have to nail the windows shut in your home, because small children can be easily deceived into letting the creatures into the house, something we see in the first few minutes of the show. The father of that family was out drunk, so was incapable of following the rules, and there was an hour long dilemma about whether or not to punish him for that.
The mystery of this town, where it is, why these people are trapped, what are these creatures attacking them, are all very compelling questions that are well presented and genuinely frightening. One ofthe first clues that thangs just ain’t right is the Sheriff ringing the evening bell for the townsfolk to get indoors, and all of the broken and abandoned vehicles just rusting around. While there is a lot of mystery involved, I’m going to abide by one of the general rules of television writing and guess that the monsters are not the primary point of this series since we get to see them in the first ten minutes. The series opens by throwing the viewer right into the deep end with the death of a little girl and her mother, and is basically telling you “F*** your sensibilities! Yeah, some kids are gonna die!”
If you somehow manage to find your way to this series, be warned. It is intense.
Fistful of Vengeance
You should be warned that this movie is not especially intense but it makes up for that by being less than compelling. I was excited to see this because the trailer led me to believe this was going to be a much more serious movie than it actually is. It is kind of serious, but several characters act like they’re in a dramatic comedy, the characters do deeply stupid things like running off alone, blatantly telling people they have superpowers, and frankly are not too bright, and kind of bumbling, and I found this deeply annoying, or maybe I just wasn’t in the mood for their shenanigans, I’m not sure. I was so annoyed by the characters that I didn’t bother to pay close attention to the plot which seems to involve some martial arts demons trying to take over the Earth, or free another demon…yeah, I don’t know.
The situation was not relieved with good fight sequences either. I thought the fights were kind of lackluster, and since the characters kept joking and quipping, I didn’t take any of the fights seriously, after all, they weren’t taking them seriously, and they were in them. I get that this movie was probably a lowkey comedy except from time to time some of the characters would look at one another in a really intense manner and make threats or the music didn’t keep up and got really dramatic when characters were doing nothing more than running around.
At any rate, the movie is wildly uneven, although I’m leaning more in the direction that it was meant to be a comedy with dramatic moments, except the writers didn’t know where to place any of those moments and dropped them randomly into the story. I was disappointed that I was disappointed because two of my favorite martial artists are in this, Iko Uwais and Lewis Tan, and they actually get along well together, but everyone else in the cast, (okay, mostly Juju Chan), has a sunny demeanor that is completely at odds with the plot. However, Pearl Thusi was a pleasant surprise. I remember her from The No.1 Ladie’s Detective Agency. She plays a superagent badass which was actually fun to watch but is still not a good fit for what I thought this was going to be.
I always like to stress that sometimes movies are not exactly bad, they just didn’t work for me. Or maybe I just wasn’t in the mood that day. I could watch this again in a month, and feel completely different. Who knows?
All of Us Are Dead
The Koreans have been knocking these zombie movies and series out of the park lately, or maybe they just happened to luck into the general zeitgeist in the US. A lot of the time the success of some series is entirely due to timing. It just happened to show up at the right moment to resonate with certain audiences. There has been a succession of great zombie movies coming out of Korea for the past five to seven years, and I am here for them. They definitely have some interesting takes on social dynamics during an apocalypse that, so far, I haven’t gotten tired of seeing. From analyzing class dynamics in movies like Train to Busan, to lampooning workplace dynamics and filmmaking in One Cut of the Dead, to discussions of bullying and high school dynamics here, the Koreans have taken the zombie narrative and used it to comment on just about every aspect of their society.
I was prepared to dismiss this series because I didn’t think anything more could be said about zombies, and it featured high schoolers. I’m really not into the high school aesthetic, and I normally do not like to watch shows that heavily feature bullying, but that’s one of the major themes of this series. It is the bullying of one boy in particular that sets the entire plot in motion.
The outcome is that his father, fed up with his son coming home bruised all the time, tries to give him a leg up by injecting him with a serum he thinks will give the boy a physical advantage, and this sets the zombie apocalypse in motion. These are pretty similar to the types of zombies seen in Train to Busan and Kingdom, but with the additional trait that occasionally a person doesn’t lose their intellect after they’re infected, and so retain the ability to think rationally.
As is typical, the infection spreads quickly, you have a collection of students, teachers, and parents, all confined to a small district. Some reach bad ends and there is a villain who can be one of the infected. Normally, I will not watch movies about high school bullying because they seriously bother me, (there is also the heavily implied idea that one of the lead female characters was gang-raped), but I was able to get past it because the setup is so interesting. I actually did get a little invested in the characters, (although I find it impossible to pronounce any of their names.) Of course, the ending implies there will be a sequel, and based on what happens to the lead character, I suspect it won’t look a lot like this first season at all.
The bottom line is if you liked the mystery and intrigue of Squid Game, this series has an interesting mixture of horror,and drama, that you might like, but fair warning, like a lot of zombie series, it is very graphic.
I mentioned in a previous post that The Suicide Squad was one of my top ten movies of last year and that I was kind of looking forward to this offshoot series about one of the characters, Peacemaker. Now the character in the movie isn’t very likable, but the movie and the series are both overseen and written by James Gunn, (the director of Guardians of the Galaxy, and he wrote Slither and the remake of Dawn of the Dead) and who has shown a special talent at crafting stories with a good balance of pathos and ridiculousness, something that’s on full display here.
This series seemed at first to be the fluffiest show on this list, but it turned out to be surprisingly deep with a couple of really intense themes that I wasn’t expecting when I sat down to watch. Peacemaker whose name is Chris has, of course, some dark secrets in his past, an abusive father, and a pet eagle named Eagley. Gunn manages not to fall into the trap of trying to redeem this problematic and unlikable character. What we’re witnessing in this first season is not a man trying to atone for his misdeeds, but slowly coming to realize what an awful person he is, and how much better he could be, that his relationship with his father is deeply unhealthy, and that he’s done some pretty horrible things in the past. This had the effect of getting me to actually like and care about a character I mostly hated in the movie.
The stand-out character for me was Adebayo, played by Danielle Brooks. Gunn did a great job in somehow not managing to turn her into a magical negro character that exists to make Chris a better person. Don’t get me wrong, this is Chris’ story and all the characters are there in support of it, but Gunn manages to avoid stereotyping her by giving her a family life (she has a wife and yes, the two get along well and survive to the end of the series), giving her her own agenda and a backstory with an infamous mom in the DCEU. She gets asked to do things that are against her conscience because she also has an overbearing parent, but it is her response that makes her a much healthier parallel to Chris’ situation.
Another character I really liked was Harcourt, who has an interesting arc. She was a supporting player in The Suicide Squad, who got tapped to be Chris’ Handler on his missions. At first, she is pretty resentful. She hates her job, hates the team, but most of all she hates Chris, not least because he insists on hitting on her, but as the plot movies forward we can see her start to relax around them, to care about them, and eventually think of them as her friends. No, she doesn’t do anything as cliched as changing her mind about Chris or sleeping with him. The most interesting relationship is between her and Adebayo, the two most prominent women in the show, and although it starts out contentious, a friendship and respect blooms between them that feels very natural, and I liked that.
The overall plot is about body-snatching aliens trying to take over the Earth, while Chris’ team are sent in to infiltrate and destroy them, but things become a lot more complicated when Chris’ abusive father, played by Robert Patrick as the head of the local Klan, gets involved, and the lady cop who is hellbent on arresting Chris for some past misdeeds gets possessed by the aliens. Along the way, we meet other self-made vigilantes who are as amoral as Chris once was, and are held up as a mirror for Chris of how not to be a human being.
This show was almost as much fun as the movie it came from. Admittedly, I didn’t think it would come to very much, but I have since learned that when James Gunn is involved you most definitely will be entertained. If you liked The Suicide Squad this series is every bit as loud and ridiculous. The characters are all insanely silly but still manage to have moments of humanity. James Gunn isn’t trying to get you to like bad and unlikeable people. He’s trying to get you to root for them to be better people.
Here we are with yet another Horror movie about the Wendigo. I feel like this one is better than a few that I’ve seen but still isn’t as good as Ravenous, which is a Wendigo movie that’s hard to beat. Now for those not already in the know, a Wendigo is a creature from Native American folklore (specifically from the Northeast/Canadian forest, and Great Lakes regions, like the Algonquin). Its an evil spirit that possesses human beings and is associated with greed, hunger, and cannibalism. Where Ravenous was a kind of Horror, Drama, Comedy, this film is much darker and more melancholy.
The film stars Kerri Russell, whom I hadn’t seen in a while, as a schoolteacher who has moved back home to live with her brother, after the death of their alcoholic abusive father. She encounters a little boy named Lucas who collects roadkill and sometimes kills small animals to take home with him. She finds this alarming enough to believe that he is being abused by his father and sets out to rescue him. This results in more than a few deaths by the end of the film. She doesnt know that Lucas’ father was attacked and possessed by a Wendigo, and then went on to infect Lucas’ little brother and that Lucas has them locked in a room in their home.
The mood is very dark, the colors are washed out and everyone’s mannerisms are subdued. This is not even trying to be a lighthearted film, although it does contain tiny sparks of hope here and there. It also has a suitably dark ending but I found this depiction of the Wendigo refreshing. This movie along with Ravenous and Raw, would make a great trilogy on Halloween night.