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Welcome to the Cortez

Holy guacamole. What. Did. I. Just. Watch.

Well, let me tell you – if you haven’t watched the latest season of American Horror Story, go away for now. I also wrote about the other seasons here. Meanwhile, I’ll be here jotting down my thoughts and musings on this last season.

Now, I find hotels as eerie as the next occasional traveler, so I thought the concept of AHS: Hotel was interesting on a very base level. Add some real-world creepy inspirations? Great! Old Hollywood? Even better! Vampires? Well…they hadn’t really tackled them yet, so okay…

I’ll be frank. This season’s a hot mess. It’s a Jackson Pollock of concepts and casting, marred with copious amounts of sex and bloodshed. Not all of it was terrible – for instance, we were given a new hero, Liz Taylor (Dennis O’Hare).

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In Liz we trust.

Pros
Liz is awesome. She’s an ideal role model for the modern audience – confident, intelligent, and fierce as hell. However, everything was fine until for some reason, they decided to throw in a completely asinine romance angle with the Countess’ (Gaga) flame, Tristan (Finn Wittrock).

Now, I’m not man-hating for the fun of it, but what I’m upset about is that this angle came from absolutely NOWHERE. The only time we get any idea that there was any sort of chemistry is after we see Liz and Tristan in bed together – no buildup, no conversation, not even any eye-contact, for all I know. I suppose the heart wants what the heart wants, I guess. I’m just glad she got the happy(ish) ending she deserved.

Another character I loved? James Patrick March.

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This guy.

Honestly I never gave Evan Peters a second glance until Hotel. Finally, after four seasons of moping, we get someone charismatic, cartoony, and impossible to ignore. Think of James P. March as Gomez Addams and H.H. Holmes on coke.

Hotel was an incredibly divisive season, an odd combination of cartoony and violent – in some cases cartoonishly violent. It seemed as if the creators didn’t know where to draw the line in terms of disturbing content – or which direction this show was going, for that matter. I think the idea was to bridge the gap with the “Ten Commandments” story…or maybe the vampires? Jeezus.

The Ten Commandments
Admittedly, this was a very cool, bold way to start the season. Granted, it is a total Se7en ripoff – that, and hearing the phrase “Ten Commandments” over and over again is clunky and exhausting.

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Almost as exhausting as trying to tell this cast apart.

And when we learn the truth about our protagonist, John (Wes Bentley), I’m not sure if it was more unexpected or annoying. Much like Liz/Tristan, we had no leads of any sort – it just seemed so poorly thrown together. On the other hand, when John accepted his identity, that was a nice change of pace.

There seems to be a string of shrugging off events when things get too weird – for instance, when we are introduced to Countess’ erm, child, it goes on a wacky’s “Baby’s Day Out”-style adventure. As if that wasn’t stupid/annoying enough, there is literally a scene where John’s daughter, Scarlett, is very upset and crying, and then less than a minute later we see her chilling on the couch with some popcorn. What kind of poorly written bullshit is going on here?

Okay okay, that’s a little nit-picky, especially considering some bigger problems…

The Addiction Demon and Hypodermic Sally

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…Who was this? Why was this? What purpose does this serve? Other than disturbing for disturbing’s sake.

Speaking of which, it was never really explained why Sally (Sarah Paulson) was sewing folks into mattresses. It made a nice eyecatch I suppose, but again, ultimately pointless. Like that Human Centipede-esque nonsense later.

On the topic of nonsense, last but not least –

The Vampires
To be fair, they never really call these creatures “vampires” – but for the sake of simplicity, that’s what I’m going with. I honestly enjoyed how this season played with this vampirism disease, especially when combined with other diseases. Though they did hit us over the head with the-ever-so-topical vaccination “debate.”

Upon the announcement that Lady Gaga was to be involved with this season of AHS, I honestly didn’t really care – I guess I was more looking forward to the sheer spectacle she would surely provide – and thusly delivered. I was more annoyed by the irrelevance of her vampire clan and their terrible hair-dos.

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I’m talking about you, Holden.

The Countess represented the glamour as well as the menace that LA has to offer (throughout time, so it seems) – an ideal seductress. Apart from that, we have a concept that’s terribly drawn out and ultimately uninteresting.

In A Nutshell
I’m sorry, I took some time writing this because I often found myself getting ranty and all over the place. Kind of like this season. Simply put, there were way too many ideas going on here at once; near the end, it was painfully obvious that they needed to tie these stories up. Yet, despite my complaints, I still enjoyed this season. It doesn’t hold a candle to Murder House, but at least it’s better than Coven.

 

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“I couldn’t pick my butthole out of a lineup.” – Academy Award-winner, Kathy Bates

 

 

 

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Creepy, But Nice

Oh boy, who doesn’t love a list?

Lately, when I’m not working or playing videogames, I’ve been drifting around YouTube for just random things. When it’s not cats, creepypasta, or children falling over, I find some nice short films to watch. So here’s a list of four short films, in no particular order, that I’ve found to dub creepy, but nice.

He Took His Skin Off For Me
2015, Directed by Ben Aston – 11mins

Behind this gory facade lies a lovely tale of the sacrifices we make for loved ones, and the love we show and return. Sweet, intimate, and at times, uncomfortable, He Took His Skin Off For Me is a lovely metaphor for trust and vulnerability – not to mention how far we’re willing to go for the ones we love.

Elefante
2012, Directed by Pablo Larcuen – 9mins

This is a movie that genuinely melted my heart to the point that it was oozing from my eye sockets. Elefante is the tale of Manuel, an average pencil-pusher who hates his job, his only friend, and struggles to be loved by his family. Things only get worse when he discovers that he’s turning into an elephant. Just watch and see.

Skin
2015, Directed by Jordana Spiro – 13mins

Oh hey, there’s that word “skin” again. This one’s a little…different. More of a coming-of-age story about isolation, puppy love, and just generally wanting to be accepted. And there’s bad taxidermy, which is a plus.

Death and the Robot
2013, Directed by Austin Taylor – 11mins

This short is beautiful. Two lonely entities discover one another, creating a legacy to change their world, despite heartbreaking sacrifices. Not really “creepy” per se, but nice none-the-less.

That’s all I wanted to share for now. Perhaps I’ll throw together more lists in the future. Have any to recommend? Please feel free to share!

Of Freaks and Monsters: American Horror Story

If you didn’t notice, I haven’t posted much in a while. Perhaps it’s due to distraction or laziness, but also because like any red-blooded American twenty-something, I’ve been mooching off of my parents’ various cable subscriptions and marathoning old HBO shows. (Seriously, I think Oz changed my life. I’ll have to write about that one sometime.) …That and I renewed my WOW subscription. Anywhoo, I’ve been fortunate enough to stay active with the newest installment of everyone’s favorite Freudian fanfare, American Horror Story: Freakshow.

I’ve been a fan of this series since the get-go, and yes, I accept it’s flaws as much as I bitch about them with friends and co-workers and anyone else who will listen. If anything, I always follow each season ’til the end, even Coven. So I decided to write a bit about each – the good, the bad, the freaky, and the just plain awful. Spoilers ahoy! (Mostly pertaining to Freak Show!) I’m not gonna give any real plot synopsis, but overall if you haven’t seen it, watch it dammit – all but the latest seasons are on Netflix.

Murder House

American Horror Story: making families shift uncomfortably in their seats since 2011. This was the beginning of something new and exciting, with an opening that dares you not to look away (not at all unlike that of Se7en‘s).

"Bring out the gimp."

“Bring out the gimp.”

Granted, I haven’t seen this since it’s airing (or any of the other seasons), but needless to say, some things just stick with you. Being that this was a season of firsts, Murder House took some serious balls – we’re talking rape, S&M nightmares, school shootings, and straight-up child abuse. And this is on cable.

Love you.

Love you.

Now, it’s one thing to have shock factor, but fortunately we have a pretty gripping story to go along with.

That, and a new generation has fallen for Our Lady of Perpetual Ferocity, Jessica Lange.

I believe it was Entertainment Weekly that described Lange’s portrayal of Constance Langdon as “Southern Comfort with a hint of venom.” Lange would later prove that she can keep this balance consistent throughout the seasons, weighing each outrage with vulnerability.

In retrospect, Murder House was probably the most solid of the seasons, and one of my favorites. Next to Asylum.

Asylum

Though Asylum polarized audiences, I believe this one is my favorite: it has a cohesive plot, exciting characters and just enough weirdness and camp. That, and I think that Dr. Thredson (Zachary Quinto) was probably, arguably, the scariest AHS villain to date (which I will happily defend).

I only have three gripes: lame zombie reveal (though Nazi experiments is a new angle), disappointing deaths of not one, but two amazing characters (granted, they were heavily linked), and the serial killer’s name was “Bloody Face.”

Yeah, I've got nothing.

Yeah, I’ve got nothing.

Some people hated the aliens, but I really didn’t mind them. I was just glad to see something different. Oh, and bravo James Cromwell – in only one scene, you destroyed my childhood memories of the kindly farmer who sang to a pig. Thank you.

MmmmmMcShane. (Insert obligatory naughty Santa pun here.)

MmmmmMcShane.
(Insert obligatory naughty Santa pun here.)

I also have some soft spots for asylums and Ed Gein types – that kind of horror feels, I dunno, nostalgic? Yeah, that’s the best way to describe it. So I guess that’s another perk of following AHS – if you don’t like one kind of scary, another’s just around the corner!

By Asylum, I caught on to some tropes, reoccuring cast members aside:

  • Horrible monster (key villain)
  • Murderous rape-baby
  • Holiday episode
  • Religion
  • Gratuitous sex
  • Butts (because why not?)
  • Mommy issues
  • Something horrible to watch (or potential triggers)
  • A historical figure

Now that I think of it, this series might as well have been called Mommy Issues: Seriously, Call Your Mom. When it came to Asylum, I’m not sure which was more scarring: watching Sarah Paulson’s DIY abortion, or the fact that Lana Winters’ exposé on Briarcliff was practically a recreation of one of the most abhorring and infamous scandals in the history of Staten Island.

Coven

I wanted Coven to be good, sincerely.

It had so many chances to do something well, but it went wrong at every turn:

  • Predominantly female cast?
    Better make them fight all the time about stupid things! At least they look good doing it, right?
  • Delightfully unnerving new monster?
    Better have an amazing actress awkwardly try to bang it and then never talk about it again.
  • Learn they have a certain type of power (like X-Men)?
    Let’s not show how they learn new magic – that’d be too much like Harry Potter.
  • Show how they can do really awesome magics stuff?
    Whoops, gotta kill them off – guess they forgot how to witch.
Make sure your leading character has the personality and mental acuity of a goldfish.

Also make sure your leading character has the personality and mental acuity of a goldfish.

This is just the tip of the iceberg. I think Buzzfeed also made a nice list of everything wrong. (Also I stand corrected on one of my tropes – I think the murderous rape-baby stops here.)

Also is it weird that there was more racism in Coven (presumably modern day, mind you) than there was during the 1950s (i.e. Freak Show)? Speaking of which, moving on-

Freak Show

This is my favorite opening. Maybe I just like toy pianos.

Sideshows/freak shows have also always appealed to me. Again, just one of those weird things. Plus this season was filled with ’50’s kitsch and David Bowie – pretty much everything I love right there. Not to mention numerous references to Tod Browning’s Freaks, one of my favorites, but we’ll get to that later. Oh, and awesome job with that Elephant Man theme near the end!

Love it love it love it.

Love it love it love it.

On the whole, I enjoyed this season a lot. Even though there wasn’t really an overarching storyline, I felt that it worked well as a character study/spectacle piece. Though, honestly, I still find it troublesome that there was so much focus on the music videos (at least until it was realized that the show needed to progress).

At first, it made sense: it was Elsa’s show and she’s a singer. That’s obvious. Now the twins come in and they need to be special – they better sing too. And now we’ve got Jimmy all angsty so he’s headlining with Nirvana? I mean, I know they’re pushing for more Evan Peters (especially because he mostly just got drunk and sulked all the time halfway through), but that was really, really pointless.

You tease.

You tease.

Oh and speaking of pointless, what was the point of talking about Stanley’s big wiener if they’re never going to do anything with it? I’m sorry, but I was at least hoping it would be chopped off and put on display at that Morbidity Museum – which would be wonderfully ironic – of course, not that they’d show it, but it’s the principle of the damn thing.

Needless to say, I feel that Stanley’s demise (a là Freaks) was satisfying, but the end of the show was so rushed, they never brought him up again or did anything with him – kind of like how they never mentioned if the Lizard Girl’s dad even survived the tar-and-feathering (or if there were repercussions). I guess someone remembered that we couldn’t just be distracted by jingle keys any longer and the show actually had to be finished.

This brings me to Dandy.

Dandy-Mott

Oh Dandy. Dandy, Dandy, Dandy.

If ever there was a character you could love to hate, it was this kid. I could seriously not look away. This was the epitome of villainy: a spoiled, rich brat who makes Kanye West look humble. He also progressed the most throughout this show, which made his ending so…disappointing. Especially after seeing what they did to Stanley – why not make Dandy’s death ironic, at the very least? The water trap was too easy. Easy and boring. There, I said it.

I really wanted to see them doing more stuff, you know?

I really wanted to see them doing more stuff, you know?

There was still plenty to enjoy: Sarah Paulson does a fantastic job as Bette and Dot Tattler, and they brought back Kathy Bates and Angela Bassett – plus we now have TV debuts of the likes of Mat Fraser, Erika Ervin and Rose Siggins. Like I mentioned before, Freak Show mostly served as a spectacle of characters, which was still fun to watch.

For now, it is still up in the air as to whether or not this was  Jessica Lange’s last season. At first it was believed to be, but since that rumor, creator Ryan Murphy has been begging her to stay. Believing that Freak Show was her last, it makes the last episode, rather her last performance (more Bowie – yay!), to be particularly heartbreaking. Not as heartbreaking as “Orphans” though. That was like…jeeze.

Personally, I hope she stays.

Locke

Ivan Locke’s life is about to change. On the night before a career-defining project, he is not on his way home to be with his family. He is heading towards parts uncertain, and is not returning home. Well, not that we know of, anyway. The trailer does this whole mysterious-intensity-thing better than I ever could have –

The whole film takes place in that lovely car. It’s kind of like Buried, but good.

Personally, I could never get tired of looking at Tom Hardy. Never ever. Is this adoration necessary for viewing Locke? No, but it certainly helps. I mean, if you can’t stand Tom Hardy and were somehow cajoled into viewing this movie, you’re going to have a bad time.

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Come for the performance, stay for the beard.

The great thing about having Hardy carry a film is that, as history proves, he is damn good at it. His performance calls you to his attention and you cannot look away – because if you did, you know you’d miss something. This is also why I’m leaving out so many details, the film is pure performance.

Locke is a story of sacrifice, guilt, honesty, psychosis and hope – an emotional Pandora’s Box wrapped up in a BMW. I definitely believe it’s worth the ride.

Final Grade: A

 

Netfix: I Know That Voice

movie+posters+21Voice acting could easily be one of the most over-looked arts in the TV/film industry. It’s one thing for a well-known actor to provide a voice for a character – they’re mostly playing themselves. But for a person to hide themselves completely and be utterly unrecognizable amongst us common-folk, that takes talent.

I Know That Voice exposes and pays tribute to such talent as June Foray, Jeff Bennett, Daran Norris, Pamela Segall Aldon, Billy West, and many, many more. (Did you have to google some of those? I don’t blame you in the least.)

As far as documentaries go, you really can’t get any more cut-and-dry than this one. I Know That Voice goes into a brief history of the establishment of voice acting, talks about some industry pioneers, and carries on about recent happenings and new kinds of media. Plus it’s chocked full of all sorts of talent and trivia.

The Good
Now, I’m a total dork about this kind of stuff, so I really enjoyed learning about the history of voice acting as well as methods of the craft. I’d recommend this to anyone who loves learning about filmmaking – or loves cartoons.

The Bad
Nothing dates a documentary like bouncy, animated text. I’m not going to hold that against it, though.

The Just Plain Neat
Corey Burton illustrates his process for performing as Porky Pig – it’s pretty impressive.

This is just the tip of the iceberg.

This is just the tip of the iceberg.

Netfix: Antiviral

Brandon Cronenberg, son of the one and only David Cronenberg, has finally (okay, two years ago) made his full-length directorial debut, Antiviral.

In a society obsessed with celebrity culture, adoring fans have no resorted to paying for infectious diseases, in order to bring themselves one step closer to those they admire. Syd March (Caleb Landry Jones) acts as a disease-mule who works at the only clinic that offers ailments straight from starlet Hannah Geist (Sarah Gadon). When Hannah suddenly dies, Syd is cast into his own personal hell, caught between devotion and survival.

Personally, I think that the trailer was better than the movie.

Stylistically, this film’s golden. The choices of light and composition clearly reflect a materialistic world with an eerie underbelly. The visuals (and physical props) are admirably grotesque, but made me yearn for more.  Additionally, given the pleasure of at least one fever-dream sequence, but not much else.

They went for a gaze/spectacle motif, but unfortunately overshot so far they missed the mark.

They went for a gaze/spectacle motif, but unfortunately overshot so far they missed the mark.

At first glance, the grim celeb-obsessed future plot seems kind of interesting, but it doesn’t carry the story at all. In fact, there’s very little story to be had. I can’t even describe the protagonist that well. He’s a creepy ginger fellow…and Jones does a great job at faking sick.

His obsessions are only acknowledged in dream-form, and even then we’re not given much more to work with. Maybe that was the point – people are so obsessed with other people that there’s literally no individual personality left in the world? The character design would seem to suggest this, but it just comes off as kind of lame and misguided.

The Good
Like I said, gorgeous composition. I really wanted to know more about this world and how society and science took this perverted turn. I loved the grotesque visuals and sci-fi involved here – more of that, please.

The Bad
Unfortunately, when you have a story that is about obsession and only obsession, it gets old kind of quickly. It’s clear that the plot/ending was only going to turn into a gory shock-factor, and that’s really a dirty shame.

The Ugly
Antiviral had the oomph, only to flop over as a one-trick pony.

Netfix: Blackfish

MV5BNTkyNTkwMzkxMl5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwMzAwOTE2OQ@@._V1_SX214_Blackfish the story of the stars of SeaWorld – namely an orca named Tilikum and his dark history with his trainers. Told by whale experts as well as the trainers themselves, Tilikum’s tale is as relentless as it is heartbreaking – unfortunately also in a narrative simply meant to enrage you.

But shouldn’t you be enraged? I only wonder, where are all of the soul crushing documentaries about all the other animals in captivity? I digress – naturally, the ex-trainers speak somberly and with regret. As they say, hindsight’s 20/20. Granted, I can’t blame them for not acting against a massive corporation, but considering how they present themselves, one can only wonder why more noise wasn’t being raised at the time.

Similarly, much of the footage – such as recordings of SeaWorld employees lying about orcas’ expected lifespans – isn’t time-stamped, so we’re unsure as to the current state of the company’s use of misinformation, if there still is any. However, a quick look at SeaWorld’s site shows that they have responded since their initial retort, by pasting an open letter on their front page – notice they do not mention Blackfish, nor do they provide many dates to imply if there was change in protocol.

Regardless, this a very disturbing account of the tragedy between the whales forced into captivity and the trainers who are risking their lives – wonderfully filmed and certain to shake you up.

The Good
Though others felt it too slow, I thought this film was very well-structured. And I cried about five-ten minutes in – it was like watching Dumbo getting taken away from his mom.

The Bad
Sometimes it seems like the ex-trainers’ feels are trying to beat out the whale abuse in a pity-fight. Plus the bit at the end was pretty cheesy.

The Ugly
From wounds to whale dick, this gets pretty gruesome. Seriously though, a guy gets crushed. It’s hard to watch.