The paperback edition of ONE OF US is now available in bookstores!
Check it out here.
The paperback edition of ONE OF US is now available in bookstores!
Check it out here.
Starring the great Sam Elliott, THE MAN WHO KILLED HITLER AND THEN BIGFOOT (2019) sounds like fun, and it kind of is. Despite competent production and being full of heart, however, this disjointed film is also a bit of a letdown. The whole experience is kind of like being a kid told to get in the car cuz you’re going somewhere super fun, only to find out it’s the grocery store.
The film is about Calvin (Elliott), living out his old age in seclusion. Calvin obviously has a big hole in his life, apparently flirting with suicide and experiencing flashbacks to his mission to kill Hitler during World War 2, which made him a legend nobody ever heard of. Then government agents arrive to ask him to do one more mission for his country–kill Bigfoot, a creature living in the Canadian wilderness, which is carrying a horrific plague capable of wiping out all life on the planet, one Calvin is among the few who are naturally immune. He takes the mission, kills Bigfoot, and comes home. No spoilers here; it’s all in the title. Otherwise, a big part of the film is a romance between Calvin and the woman he loved before the war, which ended tragically.
As I said, there are a lot of solid elements here. Sam Elliott, the romance, Calvin’s relationship with his younger brother, a sad meditation on living one’s old age haunted by one’s regrets, how he feels about killing Hitler, and let’s not forget the promise of killing Hitler and Bigfoot. However, the film doesn’t unite them, resulting in a disjointed story that doesn’t quite make Calvin a superhero, doesn’t explain a bunch of meaningful incidents like what’s in the box and the pebble in his shoe, and for a character-driven story doesn’t explore Calvin’s few relationships, like the one with his younger brother and more detail about what happened to the woman he loved. Even the killing of Hitler and Bigfoot are kind of glossed over and a bit of a letdown. The whole thing is so odd I kept wondering if there was going to be a gotcha reveal that it’s all in his head.
I can almost see where the filmmakers were aiming, and it would have been something amazing if they’d pulled it off. Instead, we get a lot of great elements that are glossed over without anything holding them together. It’s a weird movie for me, as I want to say I liked it but can’t quite bring myself to do it. So give it a shot if you’re in the mood for something really quirky, noting a strong YMMV warning.
Horror movie/art world satire VELVET BUZZSAW (2019, caught on Netflix) works far better as satire than a horror film, but the result is a lot of fun in no small part due to solid performances from a terrific cast.
The film initially introduces us to art critic Morf Vandewalt (Jake Gyllenhaal delivering a unique blend of earnest and smarmy), who at an art convention starts an affair with Josephina (Zawe Ashton), an employee of Rhodora Haze (Renee Russo, rocking it), owner of the lucrative Haze Gallery and formerly a member of a rock band called Velvet Buzzsaw.
When an old man in Josephina’s building dies, she discovers a treasure trove of paintings in his apartment that are disturbingly visceral. Knowing they are bound for the trash, she takes them and cuts a deal with Rhodora to sell them to her rich clients. But the paintings are haunted, and don’t want to be sold, resulting in a trail of death.
The deaths themselves are predictable and not very interesting, though there are some superbly comical elements to it, such as people visiting a museum mistaking a blood-soaked corpse as being part of the exhibit and admiring it. Where VELVET BUZZSAW shines is in its satire of the high-brow art world. The ensemble collection of characters, all played by solid actors from Gyllenhaal and Russo to John Malkovich, are all bullshitting, backstabbing, manipulative, ruthless, and greedy, so there’s a comeuppance aspect to their deaths. The esoteric art dialogue is spot on for the kinds of things you hear in that world, as is the industry insider machinery engaged in building brand and value into artists and art.
Unfortunately, while the satire shines and the characters make the movie a lot of fun, as a horror film, VELVET BUZZSAW is weak and predictable, and even though the characters die “artistically,” let’s say, the two elements of the film never really mesh to its rich potential. An example of a missed opportunity is the paintings exact misery on their owners individually, while I kept hoping for a wholesale massacre at a museum exhibit, which would have made for an amazing climax.
Overall, VELVET BUZZSAW is fun and quirky, and I enjoyed it, though as a horror movie it could have been so much more.
IN THE FLESH is an amazing British series about life after the zombie apocalypse. Told from the point of view of a zombie who has been cured and is now reintegrating into society, the series works as both an excellent drama and also for its themes of prejudice and recovering from trauma. It succeeds where its imitators like THE CURED failed. I recently finished the second season, which was as good as the first.
In the first season, Kiernan leaves a government center where zombies have been cured. The only problem is they remember everything they did while they were infected. He struggles with his guilt and shame while trying to be hopeful about being with family again, including his kind but clueless parents and his sister, who was a fighter in the Human Volunteer Force (HVF), a homegrown militia that held back the tide of the undead. The season works so wonderfully because it tells both sides really well: The HVF veterans who don’t trust the cured, have to similarly assimilate to civilian life (going from heroes to in some cases the small-town losers they were before), and in some cases are suffering from PTSD. And of course the cured themselves, who have to face family and neighbors they brutalized while infected.
Season 2 picks up where the first left off, but the tension and prejudice between the cured and the uninfected has reached a new level where it’s being institutionalized. Among the cured, an underground organization is forming to resist societal control, while the government is instituting harsher and harsher measures for controlling the cured, such as forcing them to work menial jobs to prove they’re not the bad sort and give back for what they’ve taken the country. It all comes to a head with a prophecy that if the first risen is killed at the anniversary of the rising, the dead will rise again…
This is a great series that shows how horror tropes can be used to engage people about big familiar themes in a fresh and interesting way, and how these tropes can work very well if taken seriously with solid human drama. IN THE FLESH is not so much a zombie apocalypse show as one that deals with how society would come together again after one was stopped in its tracks with a cure. Unfortunately, while there’s no third season, in the first two a complete story is told, and it’s different and compelling than what you’d usually find in the genre.
David Moody’s ALL ROADS END HERE is a very strong follow-up to ONE OF US WILL BE DEAD BY MORNING, the first in his second HATER trilogy, and in my opinion one of the strongest in the series.
If you’re not familiar with HATER, it’s about a final war spanning the human race that begins with a certain percentage of the population begins to react with terror and hate against anybody not sharing the Hater gene. The Haters, as they’re called, start killing everybody else, and the government reacts with a program of detainment then extermination. Most of the first series focuses on the Hater point of view, while the second focuses on the Unchanged.
ALL ROADS END HERE picks up soon after ONE OF US WILL BE DEAD BY MORNING leaves off, where Matt finally makes it home to his city, now turned into a massive, overcrowded refugee camp under siege by thousands of Haters. His months spent trying to get home have taught him how to be a survivor while in a constant state of extreme danger. Now he must acclimate himself to being around people again, though the struggle to survive continues. Soon, he discovers a group trying to condition the Haters to accept the Unchanged so as to broker peace, but it may have bigger, more nefarious plans.
From back in the day when Moody was self-publishing HATER and his AUTUMN series as PDFs, I’ve been a fan of his original twist on tropes and meticulous attention to realism and human psychology under stress. While his work deals with the fantastic, everything about it rings true and makes the story, characters, and action all the more compelling. With ALL ROADS END HERE, Moody once again proves he’s still got it and remains one of the best authors of zombie fiction.
Adapted for the screen from the webcomic series THE KINGDOM OF THE GODS, KINGDOM is a period drama series that rolls out like GAME OF THRONES meets THE WALKING DEAD set in Renaissance Korea–another terrific foreign series Netflix has added to its programming.
The story begins with Crown Prince Yi-Chang resenting being unable to see his father, the King, who has fallen ill and is rumored to be dead. In his stead, the young queen and her adviser, both from a different clan, dominate the palace and await her pregnancy coming to term; as Yi-Chang was born out of wedlock, the queen’s baby, if a son, will claim the throne, putting Yi-Chang’s life in jeopardy. Yi-Chang’s interest in seeing his father is therefore driven by concern but mostly self-preservation. While tracking down the physician who treated his father, he discovers a plant used to raise the dead, which turns them into cannibalistic monsters active only at night. After an outbreak in a village spreads, he must stop it before it overruns the entire kingdom.
As a zombie story, KINGDOM is smart, believable, action-packed, and has the bonus of several twists on the traditional zombie, such as their ability to only be active at night and unleashing them in a foreign historical setting, with its conventions and beliefs about the dead. As a historical drama, KINGDOM doesn’t have the depth or complexity of GAME OF THRONES, nor does it have the same whip-crack dialogue, but it’s similarly smart and engaging. Thematically, it is class conscious as it explores the plight of the population under the rule of a small group that gets everything, a situation the prince wants to rectify. The characters are all likeable and engaging, and after the setup, the plot rolls along at a crisp pace.
If you’re into GAME OF THRONES or zombies or just good foreign TV, check out KINGDOM. It’s good stuff. Be warned Season 1 ends on kind of a cliffhanger, but rest assured the second season was set to begin production this month.