Film Review: “Eo”

Starring: Sandra Drzymalska, Lorenzo Zurzolo and Isabelle Huppert
Directed by: Jerzy Skolimowski
Rated: NR
Running Time: 88 minutes
Janus Films

Our Score: 4 out of 5 stars

You hang around animals long enough, you begin to notice things like expressions in their face and how much personality they have. Despite the obvious language/species barrier, it’s fascinating that animals and humans alike are able to understand certain aspects of each other whether that’s happiness or fear. We’re also able to recognize each other’s body language when we’re angry, depressed or joyful. You’d think we’d get along better, but a film like “Eo” shows how that bond is at times oceans apart or beautifully close.

“Eo” is pretty straightforward. It’s about a donkey named Eo, who is a circus donkey when we first meet him. He has a loving owner and doesn’t seem to mind the outdated spectacle, but some animal rights activists are about to “free” him. There’s something comical about watching Eo quietly roaming around amongst angry humans yelling for it to be free, even though the concept of freedom is probably alien to Eo. After being “freed,” we see the folly of the animal rights activists who believe their job is done and let Eo roam freely to potentially be harmed or maimed. The rest of the film serves as a journey that’s heartwarming, tear-jerking, thoughtful, sad and ultimate meditation about life.

Despite being a donkey, Eo should have probably earned an Oscar nomination for delivering a world of emotion through his eyes. At times the camera hovers just inches from Eo’s eyes and we see thousands of words etched into them as he encounters friends, foes and the utterly bizarre, like a soccer match where Eo becomes the focal point through no actions of his own. The film is brief which helps with a lot of the moments where the camera simply follows Eo on his voiceless journey in Europe.

I found myself entranced by Eo’s journey even though there wasn’t anything specifically thrilling about it. It is just a donkey, after all, but Eo is more than that. He represents that soft spot that all humans have for animals. Even when we don’t like a specific creature, we still don’t necessarily wish them harm or want to see harm come their way. I think that’s what makes Eo so fascinating to watch and that’s because his encounters would tell you no person is safe, but all humans you encounter could be potentially safe. Eo sometimes feels like a representation of humanity, going through the motions, encountering adventures that may or may not be the best thing for our soul. We blindly go through life hoping everyone and everything we encounter is good-natured, but unfortunately that’s not always the case.

“Eo” is a film I thought about for days after watching. Personally I know it’s because I attempt to view humanity through these kinds of films. I feel like there’s poor ways of conveying the importance of creatures and the bond we share with them, like “A Dog’s Purpose,” but films like “Babe” help ground us in the reality of coexisting with creatures on this blue marble. “Eo” goes way deeper than I thought. What does coexistence mean when one side mistreats the other? What does life mean when sometimes a singular purpose for one’s existence is ultimately the consumption of the other? What does coexistence mean when we attach ourselves to them in toxic ways? Sure, some animals that aren’t donkeys have a poor temperament and just aren’t cuddly or loveable, but neither are all humans. “Eo” will make you smile, cry and ponder what exactly is going on in this crazy world and you’ll be a better person after all of it. Good donkey.

Film Review: “Women Talking”

Starring: Claire Foy, Jessie Buckley and Rooney Mara
Directed by: Sarah Polley
Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 104 minutes
United Artists Releasing

Our Score: 4.5 out of 5 stars

George Carlin once said, “There’s no such thing as rights. They’re imaginary. We made ’em up. Like the boogie man.” I open my review with that quote for two reasons. First being that 2022 was the year that women experienced the loss of their body autonomy rights. Second being that the women in “Women Talking,” never had rights because of the boogie man.

“Women Talking” opens with a group of women in an unnamed religious colony discussing the revelation over the prior days/weeks that ghosts or Satan aren’t behind the drugging and raping they’re experiencing. Nope. It’s the men who live among them. Their friends, their neighbors, their fathers, their spouses, etc. For years, those men have been the ones who have been drugging the women so that they can sneak in at night and rape them only to tell them the next day it’s the boogie man. With this revelation, something has to happen, right? The men are caught and arrested, but the rapists post bail and are on their way back home as if nothing happened. The women at this discussion represent different houses of thought on what to do before the rapists return. Some women believe they should do nothing and continue to be the subservient class in this community. Others believe it’s time to stay and get their fists and noses bloodied. A good portion believe that it’s simply time to leave.

Unfortunately the above scenario is not the work of Hollywood, it is based on a book written by Miriam Toews, a former Mennonite girl who fled her Canadian Mennonite community when she turned 18. “Women Talking” isn’t looking to bash one of the more peculiar sects of Christianity though. Outside of showing the horrific reality that women are still second-class citizens in portions of the world, “Women Talking” also examines a very key question in trauma, “What now?” The three options above spur fascinating on-screen discussions that cross the proverbial universe of these women. The revelations are handled differently, with some women still drinking the flavor aid that the best option is to ignore the crimes because…God’s “wishes?” Other women want to leave, but then wonder if that means taking their children. Some of their children are boys, does that mean their boys will grow up to become rapist monsters? Do they leave the boys? Can any man be trusted? If the women stay and fight, how will the community as a whole react? What will stop the men from banding together and retaliating if it’s a war between the sexes?

A film like “Women Talking,” which thankfully spares the audience the visuals of the rapes, relies heavily on its actors and script, and both are a cannon shot across the bow. Not only are the perpetrators called out in the story, but the real world is called into question by these discussions. I could break down the stellar performances and moments, but “Women Talking” is truly a film that demands attention and silences you with the power of words. At times the film is an emotional wrecking ball, making the words of these women more powerful than any scene featuring the crimes themselves. The casting is truly spotless because even the lone man (played by Ben Wishaw) in the community, who is helping the women by keeping record of their discussions and chiming in when called upon, adds emotional layers to the women debating something they’ve probably never debated or even discussed before.

In a lot of ways, “Women Talking” plants its feet in the past and in the present day. In some regards you can view the film as a historic look at how women finally release themselves from the shackles of their oppressors to give rise to a movement and help create the birth of a new society, one in which both sexes are equal. You can also see the modern commentary hidden in the tearful debates between our characters. Either that or the old idiom is true, history is doomed to repeat itself. Foy, Buckley and Mara lead the way for this ensemble cast tasked with not only conveying a powerful message, but doing it in a riveting way where the viewer will either find themselves teary eyed, aghast or silent. For some viewers, those who have already seen the movie, “Women Talking” bookended a rough 2022 for women in America, and for some viewers, this film is your rallying cry in 2023.

Film Review: Deadstream

Starring: Joseph Winter, Melanie Stone and Jason K. Wixom
Directed by: Joseph and Vanessa Winter
Rated: R
Running time: 87 minutes
Shudder

Up until recently I’ve shrugged off the found footage genre. During the 2000s I was blasted with advertisements of audiences watching the latest found footage film shrieking in terror with the ad assuring me that it’s the scariest film ever. While I can chalk that up to obnoxious and misleading advertising, the genre also suffered from several other things. For instance, screen distortions for cutaways, bothersome shaky cameras, predictable jump scares and flawed storytelling issues like, “Why is this being filmed? Why are they still recording?” My negative assumptions about the genre were thrown into an open grave in 2022 because of films like the surprisingly terrifying “Outwaters” and the journey into insanity, “Masking Threshold.” Now “Deadstream” has arrived with a shovel.

When we meet Shawn Ruddy (Winter), the host of the wildly popular Youtube show “Wrath of Shawn,” he’s attempting a comeback after being canceled. The practical joker, like a lot of real-life Youtubers, enjoys putting himself and others through crazy stunts like dog sledding in his underwear or crossing the Mexican border illegally in a trunk. The stunt that got him canceled though, he’s not upfront about. The stunt he’s going to do to put the woke mob at ease will be staying the night by himself in an abandoned Utah home known for paranormal activity simply referred to as the “Murder Manor.”

Shawn is ready to film and impress though. He has various cameras in tow that he sets up around the house, he removes spark plugs from his vehicle and locks himself in the house, and quite literally throws the key away. This is all to prevent himself, a self-professed scaredy cat, from escaping. I know you’re already thinking back to the first paragraph where I complained about found footage logic. But alas, “Deadstream” has a fantastic reason why Shawn is staying the night in a building with murder in it’s name. Money. To keep his few remaining advertisers happy, he is setting rules like investigating every ghostly sound or sight he encounters and allowing his advertisers to drop him like a sack of potatoes if he flees the premises.

Money aside, Shawn isn’t smart and is a legitimate coward. You think locking yourself in a home would be enough, but to completely immobilize your transportation to a home in remote Utah? Also, while deathly afraid of the unknown, he certainly doesn’t have any issues doing or saying things that might antagonize a ghost. He walks around with creepy Halloween music to play while he narrates the surroundings and stories about what haunts the Murder Manor. All that being said, Shawn is a real scummy individual, prioritizing profits and followers over his own well-being and those around him. So when the ghosts come out to play, we don’t necessarily feel sorry.

However, Winter, who not only plays Shawn, but directs and wrote the film with his wife, crafts Shawn to be oddly likable. His girly cries of terror made me laugh every time it happened and he manages to have a few agreeable jabs at the woke audience that has forced his hand. Given the circumstance, he does seem to channel the thoughts and reactions of an individual exploring the abandoned house of death. As someone who explores abandoned buildings on occasion, I’ve never explored a building that has death in its nickname, nor would I do it alone. It’s also obvious that the reason Shawn was canceled in the first place, continues to weigh on him consciously.

“Deadstream ” is what happens when the “Blair Witch Project” and “Evil Dead II” design a haunted house. The first third of the film has plenty of creepy moments and the inevitable jump scares that are more fun than annoying (he shrieks like a Kindergartener on a playground). The brisk first half of the film helps give way to a nightmarish funhouse bathed in blood and body parts as Shawn scrambles, fights and cries for safety. Funny moments range from the macabre ghouls that attack Shawn to Shawn interacting with the audience that’s watching on the livestream. Not only do they bait him into doing stupider things, but also remind him of his own fallacies as he begins to realize the direness of his situation. “Deadstream” is a fun found footage film that will make you laugh and cheer at the follies of an attention seeking Zoomer douchebag who deserves every ounce of terribleness heading his way.

Film Review: “The Munsters”

Starring: Jeff Daniels Phillips, Sheri Moon Zombie and Daniel Roebuck
Directed by: Rob Zombie
Running Time: 109 minutes
Rated: PG
Netflix

Growing up in the 90s I would watch Nickelodeon. For me and most people I knew at school, we would watch all the cartoons until the clock struck 7 p.m. and then we would keep watching, but it wasn’t cartoons that Nickelodeon would be showing at night. Nick at Nite, the counter kid programming, would air reruns of beloved classic sitcoms like “I Love Lucy,” “The Jeffersons,” “Gilligan’s Island,” and “The Munsters.”It would not surprise me if I ended up watching every single episode of those shows as a kid, and the astounding thing is my memory of all those shows is fond, but gray. The specifics of the shows, like individual plot lines, is fuzzy, but I remember the characters, their house, their catchphrases and all the other things that delighted audiences during their original run and those kids in the 90s that grew up on them. It’s fascinating when adoration for something churns about cinematic abortions like “The Munsters.”

I struggle writing this review because I do like Rob Zombie, as a musician and director, but more as a musician. Just like kids in the 90s my first taste of Zombie was playing “Twisted Metal” games and through that I would end up interested in buying some of his albums and would sometimes play “Twisted Metal” ad nauseum just to hear “Dragula” one more time. I’ve also seen Zombie live at least half a dozen times and I always recommend seeing him to fellow rockers and metalheads because he’s a very theatrical and explosive performer. As for his movies, I have a soft spot for “Devil’s Rejects” and “The Haunted World of El-Superbeasto,” and I don’t necessarily hate him like some horror fans do for rebooting “Halloween.” I can respect his vision and see what it was he envisioned, and appreciate it. That being said, “The Munsters” is still a cinematic abortion.

The 2022 film serves as a prequel, but don’t expect to learn how a Frankenstein’s monster and vampire ended up with a werewolf son. Dr. Wolfgang (Richard Brake) is putting together his perfect creation, but slip-ups along the way create Hermann (Phillips), who has the body of a giant lumbering oaf with the brain of a failed comedian. Hermann garners the attention of Lily (Moon Zombie), despite the objections of her father, the Count (Roebuck). It’s actually not a bad idea for a prequel, but the storytelling problems pop-up early before they become frequently obvious and annoying. While the material is faithful to the original, on the surface, it misses the point entirely. The black and white TV show featuring monsters on the outside, but a loving family on the inside has been rebooted into a 70s cartoon looking universe with characters that feel more like fan fiction bastardizations than they do actual representations of the originals. It brings to mind other failed films that missed the point of the original TV entirely, like “Wild, Wild West” and “Inspector Gadget;” similar cinematic abortions I might add.

The characters, who feel more like caricatures as opposed to living, breathing people monsters, are stuck in the proverbial “old country” for the first hour of the film and we’re never given a reason to care about their lives or the meaningless conflicts that arise. It’s impressive watching Zombie drag the wedding almost into the second hour of the film when we all know that’s the inevitable point that needs to be reached. The first hour of this film could have been whittled down to 20 minutes in capable hands, but instead we’re treated to bad jokes, odd montages, and scenes that just don’t fit, like Hermann being in a punk rock band. All of this adds up to an unenjoyable experience that makes you question every single moment as if you’re being fed a lie.

I hate to fault the acting, but I have to. At a certain point I wonder if Phillips and Moon Zombie recognized they were doing poor performances. They’re both talented, but in this film they’re barely able to move past being one dimensional characters. If you were to ask me about my impression of their attempts at recreating iconic TV show characters, I’d tell you that Phillips needs to sound less prepubescent when delivering Hermann’s lines and that Moon Zombie says “Hermy” so much I began to wonder if she was channeling Ms. Piggy saying “Kermy” more than anything.

I want to tear apart nearly everything I witnessed, but I don’t want to do that because I don’t believe it’s fair. This movie is obviously low budget and when listening to Zombie, you can tell that this vision came from a great place of adoration. That being said, I think it’s fair to ultimately place the blame for this trainwreck of a film at the feet of Zombie. I think he’s still an incredible talent, but it’s clear that “The Munsters” is his rock bottom as a director. The creativity on display, mainly in cameos and set designs, is overshadowed by lapses in creativity, like lumpy dialogue, jokes that feel more like aliens attempting human humor, bizarre misplaced acting and a plot that insults basic human intelligence. Let’s hope this is the last time someone attempts to resurrect a dead piece of entertainment property. I’m now left wondering if this is how all those “Halloween” fans felt back in 2007.

Film Review: “To the Moon”

Starring: Will Brill, Madeleine Morgenweck and Scott Fiend
Directed by: Scott Fiend
Rated: NR
Running Time: 82 minutes
1091 Pictures

Dennis (Fiend) and Mia (Morgenweck) are having problems. The couple is dealing with a tragic loss as well as Dennis’ substance abuse issues. Instead of breaking up or attending a marriage counselor, the duo head to Dennis’ family cabin to repair their broken marriage. Not too long after their arrival, a third wheel arrives. Roger (Brill), Dennis’ estranged and “out there” brother, has been vacant from the couple’s life, but seems ready to insert himself into it because he believes he can help them overcome the losses they’ve experienced and the quarrels they’re having. Well, depending on who you believe or what scenes you believe are real, the answer is difficult to find.

“To the Moon” makes us a question who to trust throughout it’s runtime. Whether we can trust the new-age, peculiar tag-a-long, Roger, or the disturbed and not all there, Dennis. Both have their flaws and both seem to be willing and ready to throw the other under the bus. The brothers, even if they never admit it, are very much the same in this psychological thriller despite the differences in how they’re approaching this bizarre scenario. Both of them appear to be manipulating Mia when they discuss one another or themselves, slipping half-truths in between regular truths without ever saying anything that is an outright lie.

Outside the personal drama, there are several things that create this aura of doom. Roger seems to have too much fun, sometimes at others expense and keeps crafting a special tea for his brother that seems more nefarious each time he goes out to the woods to forage for berries. Dennis, despite having some of his flaws laid out to be picked at, is never upfront. What drug or drugs is he recovering from and why are some of his waking nightmares so in tune with his moods and emotions?

At a brisk 82 minutes, the trio never outstay their welcome, nor do they run out of things to squabble, bicker and hate each other over. While all three manage to gnaw and thrash amongst the gloomy scenery, the audience attempts to piece together the final truth before the film closes out. That being said, the film’s premise eventually pays off, but not without lingering questions. At least the questions it leaves unanswered allow us to plug in the gaps of the madness that just unfolded on-screen. Even those who have a bad time might walk away with a nagging curiosity.

Film Review: Clerks III

Starring: Brian O’Halloran, Jeff Anderson and Jason Mewes
Directed by: Kevin Smith
Rated: R
Running Time: 100 minutes
Lionsgate

Just like Kevin Smith, I can vividly remember the mundaneness of every menial customer service job I’ve ever had, whether it was stocking shelves with products, cashiering in a store by myself for hours on end or helping customers with useless commercial products that I could care less they bought or not. Maybe that’s why the “Clerks” franchise resonates so much with me and others. Not only because it feels like such a spot on representation of the minimum wage rage in America, but because we sympathize more realistically with Dante (O’Halloran) and Randall (Anderson) more than we do Tony Stark or Shrek.

“Clerks III” more or less picks up after “Clerks II,” even if it is a decade and a half later in the real world and fictitious View Askew Universe. Nothing has seemingly changed as Dante still runs the Quick Stop with Randall. When we last saw Randall in “Clerks II,” he was ready to reopen the video rental portion of the incredibly short strip mall, but the RST Video is now a dispensary run by Jay (Mewes) and Silent Bob (Kevin Smith). Jay and Silent Bob, who are now legal drug dealers, are more soft spoken and less zany, whereas Dante continues to seem lost in life and Randall simply mocks life. Of course, not everything stays the same as Randall suffers a near fatal heart attack. That reality check has Randall focusing on his own mortality and he gets the idea to film a movie about his and Dante’s life at the Quick Stop.

“Clerks III” is for fans of Kevin Smith, more or less. I wouldn’t expect a lot of filmgoers who haven’t seen the first two films to get much, if anything, out of this third helping. It’d be like hopping on board the Star Wars fan train at “Return of the Jedi” and asking everyone what a Chewie is. So since the film is solely for fans, I do believe you’d be hard pressed to find a fan who doesn’t leave “Clerks III” with a smile on their face and a tear in their eye. Not only because of how much we’ve watched these characters grow, but because in a lot of ways we’ve grown with these characters.

For those who don’t know, Kevin Smith has always been a writer/director who wears his emotions on his sleeve and in 2018, suffered his own nearly fatal heart attack. It’s safe to say “Clerks III” is a reflection of that incident, but it’s more than that. “Clerks III” is a lot of different things rolled into one doughy, but delicious mess. It’s sometimes a self-referential retelling as well as a nod, wink and jab to the ribs of viewers. Not all of the scenes work or make logical sense sometimes, but that’s the warped view we’ve become accustomed to over the year in Smith’s films. At moments it is so all over the place, you forget that the fun eventually has to come to an end in the final act.

I don’t want to spoil too much of a film that I believe will be a surprise to most fans who give it a watch. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t worried about going into “Clerks III.” I worried that these two slackers discussing nerdy pop culture and ridiculing others would out stay it’s welcome and ruin the good will built up by Smith himself. I’m glad I was wrong. “Clerks III” establishes the emotional stakes early on, laying visual and conversational groundwork for the film’s, and this trilogy’s, final act. Thank you Smith and crew, I didn’t know I needed more Clerks in my life and it’s been a blast.

Film Review: Glorious

Starring: J.K. Simmons, Ryan Kwanten and Tordy Clark
Directed by: Rebekah McKendry
Rated: R
Running Time: 79 minutes
Shudder

Wes (Kwanten) is hungover. Pantless and puking in a rest stop bathroom is probably not how he imagined ever meeting someone, but he does. As Wes tries to wash out puke from his mouth in the sink, he hears a disembodied voice (Simmons) coming from the stall in the corner. In that pitch black area we can only see the outline of the stall, but see no feet nor hear any kind of shuffling; just the voice. To talk back with the voice, Wes goes to the stall next to the disembodied voice’s stall and (no joke) communicates with him through a glory hole. “Glorious” is weird, funny, haunting…and kind of glorious.

I’m not sure if it’s a product of the pandemic or the declining budgets for films across the board, but “Glorious” is a bottle show that works better than its premise promises. In a lot of ways it reminds me of “Tales from the Crypt” where the setting is seedy and at times pornographic while the horror is cosmic and comedic. Despite spending most of the time with Wes and the glory hole, the film makes a lot of great use out of the surroundings of the cramped shitter. If the premise and setting isn’t enough to keep you thoroughly entertained, then you can always rely on Simmons’ powerful, yet comforting deep voice to guide you through this rest stop maze of madness.

So ultimately the question becomes what is happening to Wes? Before his hangover, Wes torches remnants of a romantic relationship outside the rest stop with a bottle of booze in hand. He’s clearly attempting to wipe the memories of something and those memories don’t seem to be a factor in his bathroom predicament. As for the bathroom predicament, is the talking glory hole an intergalactic creature torturing Wes? Is it God? Satan? Thankfully it all comes together in the end, so I will avoid any more plot point discussion since the movie delightfully reveals more and more about Wes and the glory hole with each passing minute.

One big key element to “Glorious” is its comedy, which barely skips a beat and finds the perfect punchline in every scene, even in the most tense of moments. Wes and glory hole manage to poke, pry and joke with each other even as the stakes of the scenario continue to increase with the drama simmering with rage in the background. I’m actually kind of surprised this isn’t getting a theatrical release of sorts (although it did premiere at Fantastia Fest) because the comedy that’s baked into the plot would work better with a crowd as opposed to my experience in my recliner in my living room.

“Glorious” isn’t perfect. The runtime, which is brisk, hints at the lack of enough set pieces or the inability to expand upon a lot of philosophical discussions within the confinement. I also think the ending works, but not as well as the film thinks it does. Overall I’m not upset that films like this are made. I love films that push the boundaries of expectations within their own genre. For horror, you expect to be rattled and rocked, and instead, “Glorious” manages to jar and joke with its audience. “Glorious” isn’t a film that lingers with you, but instead has a beer and some fun with you while discussing pathological darkness and the cosmos. Just ignore the bathroom smell.

 

Film Review: “When I Consume You”

Starring: Libby Ewing and Evan
Directed by: Perry Blackshear
Rated: NR
Running Time: 90 minutes
1091 Pictures

Siblings Daphne (Ewing) and Wilson (Dumouchel) are each struggling in their own ways. They appear to both live in squalor and there are hints that both also struggle with drugs. They provide support for each other in the face of unspeakable entities and shadows that have haunted their lives, while Daphne and Wilson within their own sibling relationship are appearing to keep secrets from one another. “When I Consume You” opens up Daphne and Wilson’s closets and asks you to start searching for the skeletons.

Skeletons range from crime, drugs, family and abuse. The phrase, “the universe is random and cruel,” is a perfect descriptor for Daphne and Wilson’s struggles, but Daphne isn’t so sure. While my overall experience with the film was positive, something kind of nagged at me. I  watched “When I Consume You” at Panic Fest, but it didn’t necessarily stick out to me as much as other films. It may or may not be the reason I find myself on the fence. For perspective, I watched around two dozen and a half films as a part of Panic Fest. When you push yourself through a proverbial gauntlet of horror, films have to be unique to stick out. Either that or my mind isn’t what it used to be. So while “When I Consume You” is slightly unique and visually haunting, it almost gets a bit lost in itself.

There are all these interesting set pieces, sometimes taking place in the past, while others may just be a figment of imagination. Trying to figure that out is sometimes amusing since the film provides a lot of visuals for the audience to munch on. Regardless of the context, what is revealed inside sometimes feels demonic, Satanic, cryptic, or as if someone or something is pulling the strings of misery. Other times, the revelations are all too real, at least for those who’ve dealt with trauma and the lacking support structure that sometimes accompanies that.

“When I Consume You” is a puzzle, forcing audiences to put it together as the film goes along. That may sell or kill whoever watches it while someone like me just may end up indifferent, constantly thinking about negatives for every positive thought I had about the film. The acting is spot-on, yet the actors sometimes seem like they have nothing to work with in terms of clues towards the ultimate answer. Hopefully you find that answer when you turn this movie on.

Film Review: “Prey”

Starring: Amber Midthunder, Dakota Beavers and Dan DiLiegro
Directed by: Dan Trachtenberg
Rated: R
Running Time: 99 minutes
Hulu

Just like the “Alien” franchise, I’m always a little surprised when another “Predator” movie comes out. It’s not that I don’t like the “Predator” franchise, (I’m actually a little bit too forgiving on its weaker elements) but I’ve always struggled to find other people who’ve watched the films or even enjoyed the films. It’s not hard to find people who’ve watched and treasured the 1987 Arnold Schwarzenegger film, but now I feel a new generation is about to watch and treasure 2022’s “Prey.”

For “Predator” fans, the first question is going to be: “So is “Prey” a sequel, prequel or what?” The answer is uncertainty. The film takes place in 1717 in the northern Great Plains (Montana? Canada?), about 250 years before Scharzenegger and his crew of macho men gets torn apart by an unseen creature in the jungle. Naru (Midthunder) is an aspiring Comanche hunter, despite the eye rolling done by her fellow tribesmen, hunters and even her Comanche hunter sibling. All that’s about to change with the arrival of an invisible extraterrestrial who’s made Earth its hunting ground.

Just like the first “Predator,” “Prey” spends the first third of the movie building up our hero’s backstory and arc while showing us flashes of the invisible to the naked eye space monster slashing and shooting his way through wildlife. As previous “Predator” films have established, this isn’t just a bloodthirsty creature, it’s a being that enjoys the hunt; much like Naru. So, throughout the film, there is this anticipation and build-up towards these two fighting to the death. Until then, we have some interesting character development…and a lot of blood and gore to get through.

If there’s been one complaint about each film in the franchise, it’s the humans; never the trophy hunting creature. Thankfully the humans aren’t obnoxiously flawed sacks of meat or overstay their welcome, or in the case of 2018’s “The Predator,” has a subplot where autism is a superpower. Naru not only moves and flows with her tribe, but she encounters French fur trappers who are about as likable as a wasp in summer time. So, their deaths are ultimately enjoyable and welcome. In that regard, “Predator” and “Prey” are similar in that the humans we like remain alive while the disposable flesh and blood is given to the least likable of the bunch.

That being said, this is the first time the protagonist has been a woman, but you’d never know it from the way the movie ebbs and flows. Instead of calling attention to itself or virtue signaling, the film uses Predator mythos to explain why Naru is the perfect match for this galaxy traveling warrior. It also helps that she plays into the film trope of, “We can’t believe what the woman/child says or sees, right?” It also helps that she immediately recognizes the danger while each man in the film puffs his chest and charges ahead before being ripped apart, stabbed, shot or any other myriad of horrific ways to die. It reminds me a lot of Linda Hamilton’s work in the “Terminator” films. Not only do Naru and Sarah Connor radiate confidence, but they both prove their intellect and action-movie badassness each time they encounter their foe.

The one thing that’s kind of always fascinated me about the franchise, even in its highs and lows, is how much the directors and writers stay true to the creature itself, rarely rolling the dice on a bizarre character development, but instead attempting new things within the realm of logic for this fictionalized species. Director Dan Trachtenberg proves that he can provide an equal balance of substance and style, hopefully breathing life into a franchise that was nearly left for dead by director/writer Shane Black four years ago. Not only does Trachtenberg give us a neat origin story about the first Predator hunting expedition on Earth, but gives us hope that maybe, for once in this franchise, we’ll start to have a string of decent Predator films.

San Diego Comic Con Stumbles Out of the Pandemic

“Has it really been three years?” That was my thought as I sat in my cramped, terrible plane to San Diego. Ignoring the terrible aviation service, I had my mind on the prize. While San Diego Comic Con technically came back last November, the turn out by vendors and patrons alike made it seem more like a test run before this summer’s return to glory. Was July 20-24 everything I hoped it was? No, but that’s OK.

The biggest takeaway for those outside the geeky bubble of the San Diego Convention Center and Gaslamp District was the return of Marvel Studios to Hall H. Not only did they unveil footage from “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” and “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania,” Kevin Fiege, the Willy Wonka of the MCU, also unveiled their plans for phases five and six, revealing what the “Multiverse Saga” has in store for eager fans. Oh, and DC showed some new “Shazam” and “Black Adam,” but some are still wondering where Superman and Flash are.

Outside that big news, “Star Trek” had a lot to say, showing a look at “Picard’s” final season as well as info on a live-action/animated hybrid crossover that I’m sure Trekkies are already getting amped for. Outside the convention halls, Star Trek had an offsite experience called Ten Forward where Trekkies and others could partake in food and beverages in a “Star Trek” setting that had fans finally living in some of their favorite moments. Sci-fi wasn’t the only draw as “The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power” and “Dungeons and Dragons: Honor Among Thieves” rolled out footage that not only got fans pumped, but garnered attention from people who had no interest (me being one of them). D&D also wowed people with it’s offsite bar where people could partake in a fantasy brew while interacting in what can only be described as a cave tavern harassed by dragons.

Out of all the fandoms though, there was quite a bit of disappointment. Fans of Adult Swim’s offsite activations were left wondering where they were only to find a box in a field with a peephole advertising the Adult Swim Festival…taking place on the other side of the country. “House of the Dragon,” a “Game of Thrones” prequel, failed to generate buzz for people in Hall H, while the activation was apparently only for die-hards who left disappointed or content after standing in line for an average of five hours. The “Bob’s Burgers” panel was cancelled last minute, leaving Bob’s fans scrambling to find another favorite moment from this year’s festivities.

A lot of people actually may be signing up for Apple TV after the company’s first foray into SDCC. The fresh-faced streaming service highlighted several shows like “For All Mankind,” “Mythic Quest,” and this writer’s favorite, “Severance.” While not personally attending, the footage from inside the “Severance” offsite was astounding. It truly looked like people were walking into the world of “Severance.” Not only was it the most discussed and favorite offsite of this year, but it maybe the standard going forward for fully immersive rewarding offsites. One of the companies that manages to bring the fun to offsites, FX, returned this year with a maze featuring haunted dolls, muttering lunatics’, a vampire dance party and a chance to win various hot sauces.

Despite the highs of SDCC, something felt off. As a non-profit, it would make sense that SDCC would have to cut some corners and scale some things back with it’s return. But you have to wonder about some of the choices and decisions. One talking point that was (and still is) discussed is COVID-19. Was there a mask policy? Yes. Was it bothersome? Not really. The majority abided by it and it wasn’t like most people haven’t already spent a good portion of the past three years wearing one. That being said, I will flat out say that the COVID-19 wristband policy was stupid. To obtain a COVID-19 wristband, you must either be vaccinated or have a negative COVID-19 test result that was collected within 72 hours. If either of those requirements were met, you were given a flimsy paper wristband that was supposed to survive five days of sun, showering (maybe not everyone) and whatever else comes there way. The idea behind this is to prevent sick people from coming in, but as we’ve all found out, you can still become sick and a carrier of COVID-19 if you’re vaccinated and can still become infected and become a carrier within 72 hours after said COVID-19 test. So with all due respect, what was the point of the wristband? Another line? A sense of false security? Regardless, it was a completely unnecessary hurdle that frustrated hundreds if not thousands on a daily basis who showed up without a wristband and then had to wait in a lengthy hour-or-more line. I prepared and knew all about this, but not everyone is me and I can relate to the grief of having unnecessary requirements stand in your way of fun you’ve been craving for years.

Was there plenty of things that had me shaking my head in frustration? Yes. Was there plenty of things I enjoyed immensely regardless? Yes. In no way was this year a sign that it’s time for me to quit going and in no way will I say my experience was negative overall. There’s always going to be things I miss and things I will cherish forever. I’ve learned, grown and adapted to the things that happen every year like others…the long lines, the shocking amount of BO from fellow congoers and so on. Here at MediaMikes, we’re fairly confident SDCC 2023 will be better and 2022 will still have been a great year, just not as great as other years.

Panic Fest Marks 10th Anniversary and Return to Normalcy


As I sat in the main theater at Screenland Armour for the start of Panic Fest on Thursday, April 28, I couldn’t help but feel relief. That relief comes with the knowledge that since January 2020, I haven’t experienced anything like this in a little over two years. The pandemic extinguished the lights at repertoire cinemas across the country, but some managed to fight through the uncertainty to emerge victorious; shining brighter than ever. So Panic Fest 2022, the 10th iteration of the genre film festival, felt personal in the context that the pandemic is now over, we can begin congregating again to partake in films that make us peek at the screen between our eyes or laugh at absurd things with a large group of degenerates some of us refer to as friends or family.

The 10th annual Panic Fest kicked off with Joe Bob Briggs and Darcy the Mail Girl presenting a 20th anniversary screening of “Bubba Ho-Tep.” The second day of Panic Fest kicked things into gear with films ranging from the comically bizarre, “CRABS!,” to the gory insane, “The Sadness,” which kept the hundreds who were in attendance happy and horrified. The directors came out to play Saturday as Joe Lynch introduced, what he called an undiscovered gem waiting to become a cult classic, 1984’s “Surf II.” don’t bother asking me about “Surf I.”

Director Mick Garris was in attendance as a nearly sold out theater laughed along and cheered to 1992’s, “Sleepwalkers,” which I can only describe to people as a horror film featuring indescribable super powered cat people who are not only deathly allergic to house cats, but also incestuously horny. Spider One, the lead singer of Powerman 5000 and brother of Rob Zombie, attended the global premiere of his first film, “Allegoria.” Spotted amongst attendees Saturday at several films, including “Sleepwalkers,” was Lloyd Kaufman. Yes, that Lloyd Kaufman. Kaufman would be introducing his latest Troma film, “Shakespeare’s Shitstorm,” a Troma adaptation of Shakespeare’s “The Tempest,” on Sunday.

While the celebrities and filmmakers are just one joyous part of Panic Fest, the other joys come in the form of independent films looking to break the mold. This year’s line-up films ranged from tense thrillers about neighbors next door, “Watcher,” to nightmare fuel bat shit insanity, “The Outwaters.” Just like in 2021, this year’s Panic Fest was a hybrid of in-theater selections and virtual selections. For fans who only attended in-person, you missed out on some great stuff that was only available digitally through Panic Fest like “The Chamber of Terror,” which feels like a midnight film waiting to burst onto the scene and “Masking Threshold,” a serious contender for one of my favorite films of 2022. While a few films, both virtually and in-person, weren’t really my thing, most of the films were diamonds in the rough while others showed great promise for the future creators behind it.

While it’s clear that not everyone was ready to be back in a theater, Screenland Armour was hopping with life during the four days I was in attendance. It was refreshing to be around like-minded people devouring high-brow and low-brow horror content. While the pandemic certainly had an effect on 2021’s and 2022’s Panic Fest, it’s safe to say the founders haven’t skipped a beat when putting together a well-crafted mix of genre films and events that most certainly put a smile on everyone who sat down to once again enjoy the magic of the movies.

 

 

Panic Fest Film Review: “Watcher”

Starring: Maika Monroe, Karl Glusman and Burn Gorman
Directed by: Chloe Okuno
Rated: R
Running Time: 91 minutes
Shudder

During “Watcher,” I was reminded of a scene from the first season of “Master of None.” It shows the carefree nature of a man walking home from a night of drinking, as he giggles and dances sloppily on his way home. The flipside, which we see, is a woman, walking home, after that same night of drinking with the man, petrified because she can hear footsteps behind her. Instead of a joyous walk home, she speed walks without revealing to her potential captor that she knows she’s being followed. “Watcher” doesn’t take place in one night nor is the fear immediate, it creeps in over an hour and a half as we watch Julia (Monroe) sense and fight back against someone who may or may not be watching her from afar.

Julia, an American, starts out of her element. She’s in Romania’s capital, supporting her boyfriend who’s so busy at work, he hardly has time to see her, much less show up for dinner on time. Julia spends her days walking about town, having trouble communicating since she doesn’t speak Romanian, and wondering what is happening across the street. At night, she stares out her window and sees the lives of others, whether they’re at the dinner table, in front of a TV, or staring right back at her. She knows he’s there, even when she can’t see him. Her boyfriend shrugs it off, becoming more concerned about her mental health and damn near everyone around her seems content on brushing things off even as a serial killer stalks the streets as evident by his murders being details on the news.

The “Watcher” is a slow-burn, as it lets Julia and the audience settle into Eastern Europe, without ever making us feel fully comfortable with some affective jump scares and lingering shots that have us holding our breath. The influences are clear for this film as director/writer Okuno utilizes elements from films, like “Rear Window,” but I’m a little disappointed she never twisted any of those elements in an attempt to modernize or fool the audience. While “Watcher” is a great thriller homage that taps deeply into paranoia, it never quite does anything unique that makes it stand out as an instant classic, even though it’s shot and feels like it should be one.

Panic Fest Film Review: “The Chamber of Terror”

Starring: Timothy Paul McCarthy, Jessica Vano and Ry Barrett
Directed by: Michael Pereira
Rated: NR
Running Time: 93 minutes

In the opening moments of “The Chamber of Terror” we meet Nash Caruthers (McCarthy), a deep-voiced renegade. He’s sealing up a member of the Ackerman crime family alive in a coffin, making short grandiose statements about his personal revenge. The audience knows nothing about any of this and yet the movie continues to chug along. We flash forward a month later where Caruthers finds himself in the Ackerman family’s underground torture dungeon where revenge meets revenge, as well as the paranormal.

Any more info would ruin “The Chamber of Terror” even though I’ll admit the first 10 minutes of the film had me wondering if I had made a mistake hitting the play button, but thankfully this is all a part of writer/director Pereira’s plan. I would implore you not to turn it off even though that opening feels like a film school student who watched “Boondock Saints” way too much. Thank God I don’t rely on my gut instincts that much or else I would have missed out on the best low budget gorefest I’ve seen in years. And by low-budget, I mean that they probably spent the majority of their budget on every exploding head, blood geyser and chunky internal organs littered across this film.

As the movie progresses, the plot gets sillier and more intricate, with characters gradually breaking the fourth wall as if they realize they’re in some kind of film worthy of an 80s Saturday night on a UHF channel. Caruthers delivers most of the silliness, fighting back against his captors in bizarre ways and delivering phony lines that even Bruce Campbell would struggle saying with a straight face. It’s a difficult film to describe because its only inherent purpose is to introduce outlandish characters and watch them interact in a blood-soaked sandbox.

“WolfCop,” another Panic Fest film that has made the rounds for its comedic approach to insane ideas, is referenced early on in the film. If you’ve seen “WolfCop,” then you know what kind of film you’re in for and if not, don’t take your love of horror too seriously, or even “Chamber of Terror” for that matter. While “The Chamber of Terror” sounds like a bad haunted house attraction in a shopping mall, the film itself is a confidently directed horror comedy that gets more ridiculous and bloody as the film goes on. By the end, you hope that Caruthers winds up in another misadventure.

Panic Fest Film Review: “CRABS!”

Starring: Kurt Carley, Robert Craighead and Bryce Durfee
Directed by: Pierce Berolzheimer
Rated: NR
Running Time: 80 minutes

Sometimes it’s difficult to type or relay articulate thoughts with intentionally silly movies. CRABS! is the kind of film that I could easily just type, “Turn your brain off, pop an edible or get some beers, and enjoy the schlocky magic.” However, I can’t because you’re expecting an actual critique. All I can say in my opening paragraph is if my simplistic line above about the movie isn’t something that is in your own wheelhouse of pop-culture entertainment, just go-ahead and know you won’t like this movie.

For the rest of us though…CRABS! is a melting pot of Ed Wood and Japanese Kaiju monsters, with sprinklings of Gremlins, Tremors and CGI that might break Asylum films budget. CRABS! let’s you know immediately what kind of film you’re in for as the opening sequences are as follows: a crab makes cutesie noises as a nuclear power plant explodes, a young couple is having sex vigorously on the beach in broad daylight, a crab (potentially the one that got a front row seat to radioactivity) comes up to the couple only to kill the horny lovers. Once again, if your funny bone isn’t tickled before the title credits, then you won’t like the rest of the film.

CRABS! has an eclectic cast, featuring a boy in a wheelchair looking to create robotic legs, his girlfriend and her thirsty mom who teaches at the high school in town (she acts equally flirty and airheaded with the men and students in town), a foreign exchange student who is given the most ludicrous dialogue to say with his ridiculous accent, and a Sheriff’s Department that’s only made up of two men; both who really enjoy smoking pot. The plot, which there actually is one, is nonsense and almost unnecessary. Even a hint of scrutiny would make the plot crumble like a house of cards in a windstorm. Yet again, it’s definitely the kind of film that fits the phrase, “leave your brain at the door.”

However, even though the film wears its influences on its sleeve like a soldier being pinned with badges of honor, CRABS! really doesn’t offer anything new or different to a genre that’s ever changing and evolving. While it is an enjoyable trip, it’s not a film that’ll stick with you for years or even be begging for a rewatch; I’m not even sure if an unnecessary sequel is in the future for this film. “CRABS!” is intentionally terrible, and as long you understand that you might have a lot of fun with it.

 

Panic Fest Film Review: “Dawn Breaks Behind the Eyes”

Starring: Luisa Taraz, Frederick von Luttichau and Anna Platen
Directed by: Kevin Kopacka
Rated: R
Running Time: 73 minutes
Dark Sky Films

What happens when a couple inherits a big haunting castle? Margot (Taraz) and Deiter (Luttichau) have a lot of work to do, and while neither seen worried about the creaking and dark corners lurking around the castle, both are terrified by something in the cellar, so much so Deiter doesn’t even want to go down there again. Sounds like a great horror film set-up, right? “Dawn Breaks Behind the Eyes” isn’t a horror movie though, and honestly, I’m not sure what genre it fits in other than made-up ones mouthed by people on an acid trip.

Talking anymore about the plot behind this film would give a lot away, even though it appears I said next to nothing about the script or motives of the characters. I don’t want to spoil a film, regardless of how niche it is. I will say the twists and turns the movie takes are surprisingly interesting and inventive for a film that appears to be a general homage to European horror films of the 70s. While the film isn’t a tribute, the aesthetic it’s going for allows for it to evolve and flow naturally throughout its peculiar tale. I would say I’ve seen films that have done what it does better while I’ve also seen films, like “mother!,” fail spectacularly at what “Dawn Breaks Behind the Eyes” is going for.

A little while ago I reviewed “Strawberry Manson,” a film that I would almost consider to be a cousin of “Dawn Breaks Behind the Eyes.” There is this indie vibe that radiates throughout the film, despite the fact some scenes are so impressive they could be in any modern-day blockbuster. The relation between the two films appears to be one of ambiguity. Both films have a distinct message, but it’s so layered under popping visuals and a thick atmosphere. Layering it on the original message allows the story to branch off into different notions and ideas. Both films are a head trip, providing some sustenance throughout their brief runtimes while ultimately leaving a curious viewer hungry for more. The only problem is, I’m not sure I could watch either movie ever again.

There’s plenty of fine or even great movies I’ve only watched once. I thought “Walk the Line” was an impressive biography about one of country music’s greatest acts, but I have no interest in rewatching it. So, while rewatchability isn’t a defining factor of whether something is good or not, it does beg the question why something so curious and unique doesn’t elicit an emotion that makes me yearn for a second or third helping. I equate this to the “Infomercials” that Adult Swim airs. The line between “surprisingly rewatchable” and “once is enough” is so thin in these surreal ideas, the scale could tip either way because of the slightest thing. For me, the movie is mystical, but also kind of straightforward in that you either get it or you don’t so you won’t have to worry about watching it again to see what you missed. In that regard, “Dawn Breaks Behind the Eyes,” is worthy of a gander, especially since you’ll know right away if you’re in tune with it’s funky vibes or turned off by its puzzling madness.