Equilibrium

Remember all those books you read in high school about the dystopian future? Fahrenheit 451? The Handmaid’s Tale? The Giver? 1984? All ‘dem? Now imagine someone took all of those, added pre-Batman Christian Bale, some ridiculous gun fighting and made it into a badass sci fi action flick. Boom. Equilibrium.

Don’t let writer/ director Kurt Wimmer’s tendency toward unnecessary remakes scare you, this totally original (well, save for the books mentioned above) sci fi is an absolutely wonderful self contained story line.

In the not so distant future, the government has suppressed all emotion with the mandate of preventing war via a drug to be taken at required intervals.  (The giver, anyone? #Soma).  Along with doing so, all sources of emotion are contraband and, if found, burned on site. (451, anyone?).  John Preson is a cleric tasked with maintaining the world order.  After meeting a woman who has been off her drugs, before her execution, Preston questions his emotionless lifestyle.  After slipping up, he seeks out the resistance and considers the uprising.

There was a while when ipod video was still a thing and this was the only flick I had saved on mine, so I watched it far too many times.  But with the current “rise up” climate, this one comes straight back to me.

This is a really fun take on the dystopian drama that will ease you into wanting the more heavy stuff. I just blew through V for Vendetta and am on kind of a resistance rebel kick, and this blends in seamlessly.

And side note, the whole gun fighting thing is actually pretty dope.

Great if you liked: 1984, The Giver, Batman Begins (ugh), The Prestige (also ugh, but same Bale, I guess), The Matrix, V for Vendetta, Minority Report, Gattaca

Dead Set

So I have had Black Mirror teed up for a great TV edition for a while now, and, suddenly, to my delight, Netflix revived the British series and suddenly everyone is talking about and has seen the amazing sci-fi anthology series of which I can’t get enough.

Charlie Brooker is nothing short of brilliant in his anthology of short films about the dangers of technology.  So, what do I do now that it’s no longer the obscure?  Suggest to you an earlier Brooker work: Dead Set.

This 5 part series answers the hypothetical of what would happen in the Big Brother house if a zompocalypse happened.  (I know you’ve been wondering).

Dead Set has the grittiness and… Britishness… of 28 Days Later with the unpredictable story of the Big Brother house, which, honestly, seems like a pretty solid place to hole up. *Changes Zombie Apocalypse Contingency Plan*

It’s a really great addition to the zombie drama.  It’s also low key brilliant since the Big Brother house is likely populated by specifically selected characters to create big drama, kind of like the characters of movie would be, particularly in a zombie or cabin in the woods trope film.  So seeing the fictional cast of a would be reality show interact in an apocalypse is welcome and a lot of fun.

It’s also 5 episodes and one season which makes for a nice light binge without having to commit to 40 seasons of new zombie drama (I’m looking at you, The Walking Dead).

Great if you liked: 28 Days Later, 28 Weeks Later, The Walking Dead, Zombieland, Dawn of the Dead, Shaun of the Dead, Night of the Living Dead, Day of the Dead, Black Mirror, Big Brother

Trick ‘r Treat

First of all, Happy highest of the holidays, Halloween.
If you’re anything like me, you have been crushing horror all month long and are looking for an exciting finale.
I spent my weekend re-watching the Freddy franchise, and hitting up some new (pretty dope) horror with Oculus.
But tonight is the night for a lesser known hallo-flick, that is a certifiable cult classic, Trick ‘r Treat.

This bizarre anthology tells five interwoven stories of Halloween mayhem.  A couple face some fright after one disrespects the hallow-rules, a boring white collar moonlights as something more sinister, a group of gals hit the town looking for dates, some bullies get what’s coming and a living infamous man is tormented by the fan favourite “interwoven” demon.

It’s a bit gory, kinda scary, VERY Halloween-y, and full of laughs… if you’re morbid.  The fun part is that it is a laugh full of surprises, that are actually kind of scary.  To the point you can’t tell if you feel right having nightmares or not. You can also feel the cast having fun as their ‘psycho’ alter egoes.

It’s super weird and can sit right up there with other Halloween cult faves you’ve watched to death.  I’ve certainly added it to my October ritual. It WILL remind you to respect Halloween customs and it also contains one of the all time best werewolf transformations.

Excellent if you liked: Four Rooms, Krampus, The Nightmare Before Christmas, Hocus Pocus, Gremlins, Vampire’s Suck, What We Do in the Shadows, Grindhouse, From Dusk ‘Til Dawn.

The Final Girls

Look, if you’re really looking towards full Hallowe’en horror, I don’t need to be the one to tell you to fire up “Halloween,” “Friday the 13th,” or “A Nightmare on Elm Street.”  (And if I do, please stop what you’re doing and marathon those real quick and then come on back.)

Since I expect you’ve already watched (and loved) those franchises in their entirety, I bring you the camp horror comedy that plays to my all time favourite trope, The Final Girls.

Carpenter’s original “Halloween,” is a horror ‘mother movie’ ™ that sparked an onslaught of horror franchises and the meta/camp ones that followed. (re: Scream).  On purpose or not, it created the trope of the final girl; the, often ‘virginal,’ girl who outlasts everyone and comes up against the slashing killer in one climactic stand off.

The Final Girls uses this trope, among others, to give us a comedic camp horror film filled to the brim with heart.

Max loses her mom, Amanda, at a young age.  Amanda is famous for playing a cult classic scream queen named Nancy. (Nancy.  Guys.).  Every year, the local theater screens the cult classic, and Max struggles with it and the memory of her mother.

While in attendance at the screening, Max and her friends somehow end up in the move (read: Last Action Hero), surrounded by your horror movie tropes, and the final girl, Nancy.  Max and her friends have to team up with the characters to defeat the weapon wielding slasher and end the film.

While it spreads across much of the genre, this film feels the most like Friday the 13th complete with a Jason style killer.  It let’s the characters take back their tropes as a means of surviving to the end of the film.  The slutty chick who gets killed whilst being slutty? Taken back by Angela Trimbur, who, upon learning of her part, gives an amazing performance in the way of a sacrificial sexy strip tease to lure the killer to the campers.  (Her dance is unbelievable, and arguably feminist in her taking back her sexuality as a means of tackling the killer, over a character being reduced to an over-sexualized victim).

The Final Girls is a fun romp for all horror fans, is heartbreaking, is moving, is cute, is hilarious, and is kinda scary.  No doubt the medicine for the genre fan who’s seen it all.

Great if you liked: Friday the 13th, Halloween, A Nightmare on Elm Street, The Guest, Green Room, Grindhouse, Last Action Hero

Monsters

I was lucky enough to catch this one on TV so long ago.  It always stuck with me, yet I never remembered enough about it to find it again.  It wasn’t until Batman v Superman when I recognized Scott McNairy as Wallace Keefe that I was just an imdb rabbit hole away from finding this gem.  (At least something good came out of that movie, ammiright, people?)

Monsters is one of the few sci-fi/ horror films to take place AFTER the planet changing event and show life on earth in the aftermath. (Think District 9 or 28 Weeks Later).  It has the creepy vibe of movies like The Mist and Signs, only it’s actually good. (Ammiright, people?)

After a probe sent to collect samples of extraterrestrial life crash lands between the US and Mexico, an outbreak of “creatures” spreads through a land mass between the two countries.  The area is surrounded and labeled the “infected zone” where few would dare set foot.  The zone is surrounded by military and filled with citizens refusing to leave their homes behind.  Andrew, a photographer looking to document the infection, is tasked with bringing his publication owner’s daughter home from Mexico.  After some unfortunate events, Andrew and Sam are unable to pass safely to the US and must cross through the infected zone to get home.

What is really cool about this movie is the realistic view of humanity in a universe where an alien creature has taken over part of their land.  The citizens living in a war zone are all too reminiscent of… real citizens living in real war zones.  Andrew, as a member of the media, acts for the viewer in questioning why these people would behave as they do and brave what they have. It paints a seemingly realistic picture of a war torn or “infected zone” in reality. Andrew and Sam act as the sheltered Americans who see the real fear on TV and prepare to return to their lives in their suburban homes and real life relationships after braving a real life conflict.

I’ll note, this isn’t the aliens vs humans war movie the trailer makes it appear.  It is much more about the human condition.  But also we see a lot of aliens which is dope.

Great if you liked: District 9, War of the Worlds, The Mist, Signs, 28 Days Later, 28 Weeks Later

The Midnight Meat Train

Guys, it’s October.  SamHain.  The month of Hallowe’en when I go from regular person to a witchy woman. (Oooh oooh, witchay woman).

Despite being a lover of all things Summer, I embrace the season of spiced scents, burgundy lipstick, ankle boots and blood spilling horror.

Now bear will me on this one.  It’s 2016 and, save for the ever popular SAW franchise, there has not been a focus on gore.  We are in the age of demon horror, jump scares, found footage and, of course, zombies.  But what I wanted to start my October postings was some unseen pure gore.

I don’t usually lean towards gore as I often find it more laugh inducing than terrifying.  But, what the hell, it’s mid October.

2008’s The Midnight Meat Train seems to have struck with this relatively star riddled cast before they were… huge stars? Bradley Cooper (when he was still the bit player coming off Wedding Crashers, and before The Hangover skyrocketed him into familiarity) stars as Leon, a photographer challenged (by a character played by Brooke Shields) to push harder on his images of the city to capture the real grit.  In doing so, Leon stumbles across a sinister ring which employs a butcher to capture and mutilate late night subway riders.

Look.  This film is ripe with continuity errors.  The characters behave in a frustrating way.  The acting? The drama? Oh boy.   There’s even a completely uncalled for rough sex scene awkwardly paired with a piano ballad.  BUT this is gore, ladies and gentlemen.  This is the post 2005 blood spilling you’re dreaming of. I mean, Vinnie Jones plays a human butcher named “Mahogany.” What else do you want from me?

So strap in for some nightmares about slipping in pools of blood and enjoy this seldom seen new gore.

Bonus round, this is adapted from a short story by legendary horror writer, Clive Barker, who brought us such nightmares as Hellraiser and Candyman.

Great if you liked Hellraiser, Candyman, Ichi the Killer, Audition, Night Train, Saw, Vacancy, The Collector, Hostel

The Way Way Back

It’s the end of September, and I am already on my Hallowe’en horror grind.  It is taking a lot out of me to push back some great horror posts in favour of something a little more reminiscent of the waning Summer.

From Jim Rash and Nat Faxon, names you’ll recognize from The Descendants, comes the “coming of age” summer flick, The Way Way Back.  It’s just what you need to hold on the fleeting feeling of pool days.

Duncan, 14, goes on summer vacation with his mom, her overbearing boyfriend, and his daughter. Behind everyone’s back, he gets a job at the local water park, Water Wizz and befriends the “man child” of an owner, Owen.

Duncan’s self esteem is shot by his mother’s boyfriend, and the pretty girl next door.  At Water Wizz, he makes some unlikely friends and finds some purpose.

A recognizable cast including Steve Carell as big bad boyfriend, Sam Rockwell as Owen (one of the 3 most underrated actors of our time), Toni Collette as “the mom,” Allison Janney, and Liam James as Duncan.

This realistic coming of age comedy is overwhelmingly warm.  Duncan’s smiles are so genuine when in his own, and it’s something you can really sense.

Amazing if you liked Juno, Little Miss Sunshine, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, 500 Days of Summer, Moonrise Kingdom.

 

Southland Tales

Guys, I am still pretty sure the end of the world is imminent, and we’re way passed Idiocracy.

I give you a less comedic, and yet, completely insane telling of the world’s ultimate demise, Southland Tales. “Not with a whimper, with a bang.”

Set in an alternate LA just before July 4, 2008, this flick tells the interwoven stories of an amnesiac action star (The Rock), a police officer (Sean William Scott), a tripped out soldier (Justin Timberlake), a porn star (Sarah Michelle Gellar), and, I don’t know, half the cast of SNL and a gaggle of B list stars, teeing up to a 4th of July celebration that may or may not be the apocalypse.

From the mindhouse of the guy behind Donnie Darko, this bent timeline ensemble is an insanely fun star studded romp that, while pretty out there, rings a little bit true.  Made in 2007, the porn star trying to get a reality show story seemed somewhat far fetched.  Call in 2016, and the satirical alternate LA seems all too real.

Aside from it’s… story, this movie is also a lot of fun when treated like an anthology of scenes.  It has the futuristic campness of an acid trip Blade Runner, a soundtrack that dreams are made of, and scenes that could be standalone short films.  Timberlake has a music video like interlude that is his complete antithesis and, alone, is a great film. (See below if you need convincing)…. (Honestly, it could be a standalone short film about a veteran returning from war, turning to illegitimate work after being left behind by the government after a war injury, PTSD, valuing over masculinity, and vets turning to drugs.  And watch Justin do his best to hide his Justin-ness, and at 2:40, let his Justin-ness spill over into a casual dance move).

It’s campy.  It’s crazy.  It’s real.  It’s allegorical.  It’s biblical. It’s a TRIP. It’s full of space and future bullshit.  It’s sci fi.  It’s comedy. It’s star studded. Honestly, look at the cast.  Most are bona fide standalone characters, but it also gives it that “everyone in hollywood showed up to add a layer of cameo” vibe from bonkers flicks like Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back. It’s also full of quotes that are completely unquotable and yet, you’ll want them on an inspirational poster.

It’s also pretty long and comes with a comic book prequel, so save it for a Sunday if you’re willing to dive right in.

Great if you liked: Blade Runner, Idiocracy, Donnie Darko, Dr. Strangelove

Idiocracy

When news of the fact that the writers of Idiocracy were making political ads starring Terry Crews, I knew it was high time I brought this one up.

It’s 2016 North America, and the unfortunate truth is that Idiocracy seems very real.

Luke Wilson stars as a literal average Joe.  Along with a “lady of the night,” (Maya Rudolph) he enlists in a military program to be cryogenically frozen, and wakes up 500 years later in a very different version of America.  The film posits that since those with lower intelligence tend to have more children, humans evolve to be, well, pretty dumb.

Suddenly, Joe is the smartest man on earth.

After a few mishaps, Joe is on the run from the government, but is also the only man alive smart enough to help the downward spiraling future.  Crops are dying, since they’ve only been fed Brawndo (it’s got electrolytes!), the world has become a messy Costco, and the doctors and lawyers? You’ll see. Also, Terry Crews plays the president.

This is a guilty pleasure flick that boarders on the offensive, and in doing so, paints a very real picture of the scary future.  I thought The Purge: Election Year was a pretty solid warning…. but this might be even more accurate. Along with the preview below, I post this opening scene…. enjoy.

Great if you liked: Futurama, The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, Galaxy Quest, Space Balls, Office Space

Predestination

It’s Tuesday.  Perfect time for some thinking Sci-Fi in Predestination.

Ethan Hawke stars as a Temporal agent on the hunt for a criminal, the Fizzle Bomber, who has eluded him through time.  A Temporal agent’s duties involve intricate travels through time to ensure their law enforcement exists “through eternity.” On his final mission, he is to take out his elusive white whale.

Dripping with unseen hints, a story is told to the agent by a bar patron (who oddly looks a lot like Leonardo DiCaprio) of  Jane, of a shattered career, lost love, and the amazing feats of human kind.

You could see two different trailers for this film and think they’re completely unrelated.  But they’re not.  Watch closely.

Predestination is great for, among other reasons, the fact that it plays with our linear sense of time.  Typically, we see time as a straight line from past, present to future.  For our Temporal Agent, his past, present and future transcends our timeline and exists in a line linear to his age, but not through that of our universe. (Whoooaaaa).

This is one of the highest quality, in both production value and story, sci fi films that I have seen come out of the festival circuit.  Based on a short story by the legendary Robert A. Heinlein, and adapted for film by the makers of Daybreakers, this is not one to go missed.

Amazing if you liked: Daybreakers, Looper, Source Code, In Time, Snowpiercer, Minority Report