Film Review: What We Do In the Shadows (2014)

Release Date: January 19th, 2014 (Sundance)
Directed by: Jemaine Clement, Taika Waititi
Written by: Jemaine Clement, Taika Waititi
Music by: Plan 9
Cast: Taika Waititi, Jemaine Clement, Rhys Darby, Jonathan Brugh, Cori Gonzalez-Macuer, Stu Rutherford

Resnick Interactive Development, Unison Films, Defender Films, Funny or Die, New Zealand Film Commission, Madman Entertainment, 85 Minutes

Review:

“Yeah, some of our clothes are from victims. You might bite someone and then, you think, ‘Oooh, those are some nice pants!’.” – Viago

*written in 2014.

What We Do In the Shadows is a New Zealand horror comedy that I have wanted to see for quite some time. I saw the trailer over a year ago but the film had a hard time getting distribution in the United States, even though it stars Jemaine Clement from HBO’s Flight of the Conchords and is made by some of the same people. Since it is now on Amazon’s video on demand service, I purchased it.

The film is done as a mockumentary following four vampires who live together in a flat in urban New Zealand. It shows their lives, how they make it in the modern world, examines their long friendships with one another and how they view and interact with the rest of the world. What We Do In the Shadows not only gives us vampires but it showcases werewolves, zombies, witches and other paranormal entities and how they work through their issues in a world together.

The cast in this movie is phenomenal. Each character in any other film would be a spotlight stealer but in this movie, they all shine and they all grab onto the spotlight and don’t let go from the first frame until the last.

You have Vladislav, the vampire played by Jemaine Clement, who was once a master of supernatural seduction but lost his mojo after confronting “The Beast”. Viago is a vampire that was a Victorian dandy who still embraces that style and culture. Deacon is a vampire who believes himself to be the ultimate sex magnet while ignoring his share of the chores in the flat. The fourth vampire is Petyr who is a temperamental 8,000 year old vampire that looks like Count Orlock from Nosferatu. The cast is then rounded out by a few other great characters that challenge the vampires and their relationships with humans and other creatures.

To call this film “hilarious” is an understatement. There hasn’t been a horror comedy this good since Shaun of the Dead and to be honest, this movie may be a bit better. There isn’t a scene that goes by that doesn’t have you laughing out loud. The thing that makes it work so well, is the fact that you truly care about the characters and their struggles. No one is just fodder for comedy, they all serve a real purpose and feel like real characters despite the absurdity of their situations.

What We Do In the Shadows is a rare comedy masterpiece. I haven’t enjoyed any comedy this much in years. If you are a fan of horror that is funny, this should be right up your alley.

Video Game Review: Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver (PlayStation)

*I played the PlayStation version. The game is also available on Windows and Sega Dreamcast.

Man, this game is almost twenty years-old but boy did it feel pretty sweet playing it again. In fact, in 1999, this was probably my favorite game. Although, I was still playing through the first Metal Gear Solid and Tenchu: Stealth Assassins on an almost monthly basis. What set this apart from those great games however, was just how massive this game felt in scope. It felt like the most epic video game since I played the first Zelda, as a kid about twelve years prior.

The world in this game is huge and meant to be explored. There is a sequence that you are supposed to play the game in but truthfully, you can skip around if you want and it makes this one of the first games ever to have that sort of freedom. There are several kingdoms to save throughout the game and every one of them is pretty simple to get to and explore. Sure, some are much more challenging and for the true gaming experience and to properly follow the story, they should be done in a specific sequence (similar to a MegaMan game) but the freedom does exist.

The graphics for the time were great. It is blocky and primitive looking today but despite that, it is still a beautiful game to look at and not hard on the eyes at all.

The really cool thing about this game is not just the great story but the entire mythos. Certain things were established in this games predecessor Legacy of Kain: Blood Omen. However, this game expands on that greatly. It takes vampires and presents them in a cool new way. They have evolved and become world-ruling super beings. As the main character Raziel evolves further than his master Kain, he is punished for it and destroyed. He awakens centuries later to see the horrid results of further evolution by his vampiric brethren.

Each vampire brother is a boss in the game and each has evolved in an unusual way that makes each kingdom, each vampire army and each boss a refreshingly new experience. There is nothing repetitive about this game and it has some of the best boss battles in video game history. This, along with Metal Gear Solid, were standard-bearers on the PlayStation One platform for what boss battles could and should be.

I feel like this game and this series has been somewhat forgotten over the years but it is a classic and is still fun almost two decades later.

Film Review: Fright Night (1985)

Release Date: August 2nd, 1985
Directed by: Tom Holland
Written by: Tom Holland
Music by: Brad Fiedel
Cast: Chris Sarandon, William Ragsdale, Amanda Bearse, Stephen Geoffreys, Roddy McDowall

Vistar Films, Columbia Pictures, 106 Minutes

Review:

“Hello, Edward. You don’t have to be afraid of me. I know what it’s like being different. Only they won’t pick on you anymore… or beat you up. I’ll see to that. All you have to do is take my hand. Go on, Edward. Take my hand!” – Jerry Dandridge

This was one of those movies I discovered at the video store, as a kid in the 80s. Once I found it, I rented it almost monthly for a year or two. That was, until the crappy sequel came out and sucked the wind out of this film’s sails. It could have been a stellar franchise but it wasn’t. However, this picture is still a classic and always will be, in my opinion. Frankly, they should have just left the movie alone and never made a sequel or that reboot.

Chris Sarandon makes a pretty good vampire. While he is technically the star of the picture, this really is a good small ensemble piece, though.

William Ragsdale really gets the most screen time. This was before he had that cool Fox sitcom Herman’s Head and this was his most famous role outside of that show. His girlfriend is played by Amanda Bearse, who would also go on to be in a major Fox sitcom shortly after, Married… with Children.

The cast was rounded out by veteran Roddy McDowall, who is superb in this, and Stephen Geoffreys, whose character “Evil Ed” gave birth to two of the most overused catchphrases in the 1980s: “You’re so cool, Brewster!” and “To what do I owe this dubious pleasure?”

The film is an 80s teen horror romp. It exists in a similar vein to movies like Night of the Creeps and The Monster Squad, albeit more violent and less child friendly than the latter.

The special effects are pretty good but this was when practical effects were at an all-time high and the effects maestros of the 80s were on a different level, especially in regards to their ingenuity and creativity. The wolf effects, at the end, as well as the final battle between the heroes and the vampire were great. There’s a reason why I love movies like this, the aforementioned and An American Werewolf In London. Even at their most absurd, they still have a sense of realism because what you see is there in the physical world on set.

Fright Night is one of the top horror films of the 80s that isn’t connected to a famous slasher. It sort of revitalized the fantasy horror genre at a time when Jason Voorhees was chopping through everything in sight.

Book Review: ‘Dracula the Un-dead’ by Dacre Stoker and Ian Holt

*written in 2014.

There have been several sequels to Bram Stoker’s literary classic Dracula. Only one of them however, was written by a member of the Stoker clan.

Dacre Stoker, great-grandnephew of Bram Stoker teamed up with Ian Holt to pen this novel, which was ambitious and interesting.

I guess that being a family member gives Dacre some justification for continuing the tale, as countless others have sequelized and bastardized the Dracula name for well over a century. If everyone and their mother has a right to touch Dracula, then why not Bram Stoker’s own kin?

A problem I have, is that Dacre wanted to clear up a lot of inconsistencies in his great-granduncle’s classic novel. Family or not, I feel like criticizing the work you are trying to build off of is a bit bizarre and kind of dismissive of what Bram Stoker created.

This book falls victim to a few things.

Most notably, like many modern updates of classic stories, it tries to string together a bunch of unrelated historical and fictional elements. This book ties Dracula to Elizabeth Bathory, Jack the Ripper and the Titanic. I’m not going to spoil it and tell you how, other than to say that Bathory is the villain of this story.

Additionally, Dracula is sort of the hero and the younger Stoker, whether he realized it or not, turns the elder Stoker’s classic tale into just one big misunderstanding, as Dracula wasn’t the villain in the original story but was in fact in London to kill Bathory (who is also his cousin, by the way).

Calling this book a mess isn’t really accurate. It is full of interesting ideas but it more than pales in comparison to the great work it is based off of. I would expect a book like this from an author trying to make a quick buck off of the Dracula dynasty; I wouldn’t expect it from a member of Stoker’s family, as it paints its own colorful picture while dismissing and retconning the intent of the original story.

Is it worth a read? I think so. However the almost 500 page count is a bit hefty for such an unsatisfying payoff.

And I don’t want to sound like I am bashing the book. As I said it is interesting and ambitious. It is just that with that ambition came a lot of liberties that downplay the significance of the original story.

Truthfully, creating a great book to follow what is one of the most beloved novels of all-time, is an uphill battle and very few people would be satisfied with the end result, regardless. I commend Dacre Stoker for trying and it is a decent book on its own. It just doesn’t build off of Bram Stoker’s original tale with anything truly substantial or necessary.

TV Review: American Horror Story (2011- )

Original Run: October 5th, 2011 – current
Created by: Ryan Murphy, Brad Falchuk
Directed by: various
Written by: various
Music by: Cesar Davila-Irizarry, Charlie Clouser, James S. Levine, Mac Quayle
Cast: Evan Peters, Connie Britton, Dylan McDermott, Taissa Farmiga, Denis O’Hare, Jessica Lange, Zachary Quinto, Joseph Fiennes, Sarah Paulson, Lily Rabe, Lizzie Brocheré, James Cromwell, Frances Conroy, Emma Roberts, Kathy Bates, Michael Chiklis, Finn Wittrock, Angela Bassett, Wes Bentley, Matt Bomer, Chloë Sevigny, Cheyenne Jackson, Lady Gaga, Cuba Gooding Jr., André Holland, Billie Lourd, Alison Pill, Alexandra Daddario, Grace Gummer

Ryan Murphy Productions, Brad Falchuk Teley-Vision, 20th Century Fox, 78 Episodes (so far), 37-73 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

*written in 2015.

I just binge watched the first three seasons of American Horror Story, as I was running out of things to watch on Netflix and this was in my queue for a few years. I have yet to see season 4, as it isn’t available yet.

I have a few friends who obsess over this show, which is probably why I put it off for so long. Usually, when a bunch of people build something up really high, I am left disappointed. I think the only time I wasn’t was when I finally sat down to watch Breaking Bad.

I wouldn’t call American Horror Story a disappointment though. It was pretty enjoyable and I’ll watch future seasons, albeit at my own leisure. But I wouldn’t call the show special or hype it up to everyone I know.

The premise of the show is horror, which is obvious by the title, but other than tapping into supernatural elements and showing something scary every now and then, it plays more like a teen drama. But that is the way of Hollywood these days. Sure, most of the characters are older than teens but this is definitely a show written for them.

The show just isn’t scary and that is why I have reservations about horror being used in a television format. Sure, you can churn up a few frights and provide creepy visuals and a dark tone but over the course of a 13 episode season, the monsters you are selling get less and less scary. When the reveals have to happen early because modern audiences can’t tolerate suspense, there is nowhere else to go other than adding in more teen drama and stretching out a resolution.

I guess the one thing that irks me about the show, is how the payoffs seem rushed, the resolution happens almost too early and the final few episodes of each season play like an epilogue that is too fleshed out. The grand evil each season is conquered around episode 11. So what you get is two more episodes that really aren’t necessary. I don’t care about any of these characters that much. It’s like the ending to the extended edition of The Return of the King – you just want it to be over.

Highlights of the show include the acting talents of Jessica Lange and Evan Peters (who was Quicksilver in X-Men: Days of Future Past). The rest of the cast, at least the actors who appear over multiple seasons are all pretty good. Although, Angela Bassett as Marie Laveau was horrible. I don’t blame her, as the character of Laveau was horribly written. The writers really tarnished the well respected legacy of the New Orleans Voodoo Queen and turned her into an evil vengeful idiot. Kathy Bates was fantastic though, I do want to point that out.

I like the show more than I dislike it but it hasn’t solidified me as a fan and it is a moderately enjoyable way to waste a weekend.

Update:

After the third season, I watched two more. Each year gets worse and worse, to the point that I’ve completely stopped caring about the show. The last season I watched was Hotel and I have no more interest in the future of this anthology franchise. I think there are two more seasons after Hotel with the possibility of this going on forever… but I’m done.

TV Review: Hemlock Grove (2013-2015)

Original Run: April 19th, 2013 – October 23rd, 2015
Created by: Brian McGreevy
Directed by: various
Written by: various
Based on: Hemlock Grove by Brian McGreevy
Music by: Nathan Barr
Cast: Famke Janssen, Bill Skarsgård, Landon Liboiron, Penelope Mitchell, Freya Tingley, Dougray Scott, Tiio Horn, Joel de la Fuente, Madeleine Martin, Camille De Pazzis, Lili Taylor, Madeline Brewer

Gaumont International Television, ShineBox SMC, United Bongo Drum, Inc., Netflix, 33 Episodes, 45-58 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

*written in 2014.

Hemlock Grove is a Netflix Original Series. I’m watching through all of their shows in an effort to do a list ranking them in the near future.

This was a much better show than I thought it would be. I was wondering if it would be more like True Blood or more like that atrocious piece of shit Twilight. It was definitely more or less its own thing but aligned on the True Blood side of the equation, in that it was very adult, didn’t deal so much with teenage love, had no sparkly bitch vampires and served up a decent amount of gore.

The early episodes aren’t well acted in some spots but it does improve. The style of the show is also unique in that it goes into the werewolf and vampire, or in this case “upir”, mythos but there is a lot more to the supernatural and bizarre here. It also brings in a heavy science element that makes this show not seem like a redundant recycle of all the other popular supernatural shows that are out right now.

It’s not a great show by any stretch but it is good, at least the first season. The plot thread of the second season wasn’t on the same level as the first, in my opinion, but it still provided enough to keep me interested and looking forward to season 3, when and if it ever drops. So far, season 3 has not been announced.

The first season worked really well on its own and if it had been a one off, it would probably be well-regarded and have created a cult following. The second season takes away some of the magic of the first but it is really a trade off for going deeper into the secrets of the show. I’m fine with that though.

Update:

The show went out with a serious whimper. More like a big bowl of WTF in the worst way possible.

TV Review: Preacher (2016- )

Original Run: May 22nd, 2016 – current
Created by: Sam Catlin, Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg
Directed by: various
Written by: various
Based on: Preacher by Garth Ennis, Steve Dillon
Music by: Dave Porter
Cast: Dominic Cooper, Joseph Gilgun, Ruth Negga, Lucy Griffiths, W. Earl Brown, Derek Wilson, Ian Colletti, Tom Brooke, Anatol Yusef, Graham McTavish, Pip Torrens, Noah Taylor, Julie Ann Emery, Jackie Earle Haley

Woodbridge Productions, Short Drive Entertainment, Point Grey, Original Film, Kickstart Productions, KFL Nightsky Productions, AMC Studios, Sony Pictures Television, 23 Episodes (so far), 42-65 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

Preacher was a comic book series a lot of my friends have talked about for years. I never read it, actually, but I have always wanted to. After seeing the show, now two seasons into its run, I definitely want to pick up the comic series much sooner than later, even if I am two decades too late.

The show stars the always perfect Dominic Cooper. It also stars Oscar nominated actress Ruth Negga and the super entertaining Joseph Gilgun, as an Irish vampire. The show actually reunites Negga and Gilgun, who both starred in the awesome British show Misfits. Well, maybe not a real reuniting, as they were on that show a season apart.

One of the most surprising things about Preacher, when I first heard about it, was that it was being developed by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg. AMC did feel like the perfect home for this show though, due to how well it has handled another little comic book property, The Walking Dead.

Preacher follows a preacher who has a special power. He is able to use his voice to force people to do his bidding. He is joined by his crazy ex-girlfriend (Negga) and his new vampire sidekick (Gilgun). Initially, the show takes place in a small Texas town and pits Jesse Custer, the preacher, against an evil and psychotic villain, played by Jackie Earle Haley. Jesse discovers that God is missing, his hometown is destroyed and season two sees our trio head to New Orleans in search of God.

While The Walking Dead pushed the envelope of what you can show on television to new levels, Preacher pushes it even further. This is a really dark show. Dark to the point where even regular viewers of The Walking Dead might feel uncomfortable with Preacher. In fact, I’m not sure how this can exist and not be something that has to be on HBO, Showtime or Starz.

Overall, the show is pretty damn good. Sometimes it feels a bit drawn out, which is its only real weakness. The thing is, Preacher is so unique and bizarre that you’re never really sure where each episode will end up. As of now, it looks as if each season will have its own unique theme and environment. From what I’ve seen thus far, it doesn’t seem like it will be a show that will get stale or trapped in redundancy.

Preacher boasts some of the best actors on television and each season brings in other veteran actors with talent to match. Negga truly is an Oscar caliber performer but Cooper and Gilgun are right there with her from scene to scene.

Preacher is a show with serious gravitas but it isn’t for everyone. I can’t imagine that it could have a large audience, which is why it is such a unique experience and its existence in its current format, a bit puzzling. But over the years, television seems to be getting better and smarter as motion pictures continue to be dumbed down to the point that most are unwatchable.

This is a show that feels fresh and new and brings something to the table that no one has seen before. It doesn’t hurt that it is also a top quality effort by everyone involved, at every level.