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Inhumans Lets Its Best Characters Shine

Gabby

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“Make Way for…Medusa” is the 4th episode of Marvel’s The Inhumans. We’re officially halfway through the season, so let’s see if things finally get interesting.

Recap

Having escaped from jail, Black Bolt and Sammy are flown to safety by Dr. Evan Declan. Declan explains that he is a geneticist and request to take Black Bolt and Sammy to a lab he has set up on Ohao. They are understandable concerned. Declan reassures them that they will be free to leave whenever they want. He says he would like to help them understand their gifts and that he wants to understand their genetic codes. Black Bolt explains (with Sammy’s help) that he is looking for his wife. Declan says he will help Black Bolt find her.

Meanwhile, Louise and Medusa are following the helicopter by car. Determined not to lose the helicopter, Medusa forces Louise to drive faster. She ends up running a red-light, which causes the police to tail them.

On Attilan, Maximus walks with Tibor (Ptolemy Slocum), a former friend now on the Genetic Council. Tibor commends Maximus for handling the situation with Crystal, stating he doesn’t know if he could handle it if his family disgraced him like that. Maximus confronts Tibor about how he has accepted the fate that the caste system gave him and how he, like everyone else, abandoned him after he turned human from his Terrigenesis. Tibor says he is Maximus’s friend, and Maximus states for how long.

On Earth, Medusa and Louise are now being chased in high pursuit by two police cars. Medusa shoots at the police cars, and they manage to evade arrest, but unfortunately, they lose the helicopter. Elsewhere on the island Crystal confronts Dave, the man who ran over Lockjaw. Dave is shocked by Lockjaw’s size. When he tries to approach them, Crystal knocks him over with her powers. Crystal says Lockjaw needs a doctor, and Dave tells her he has a friend who is a vet.

Louise asks Medusa where she is from. When she looks at the moon, Louise puts two-and-two together, and asks if she lives up there. Medusa tells her a whole city lives up there. Louise is awe-struck, and Medusa explains how she is looking for her family so that they all can return home. Louise says she has an idea.

At Declan’s lab he explains to Black Bolt how his genetic make-up have formed his abilities. Black Bolt asks where Medusa is, Declan promises again that he will find her. Declan goes outside to make a call and tells the person on the other end that he has made amazing discovery. The other person is revealed to be Maximus, but Declan doesn’t appear to know his true identity. Maximus wants Declan to kill Black Bolt. Declan refuses saying that Black Bolt’s genetics could be the key to what makes one capable of change, which intrigues Maximus.

Hey girl, wanna grow grass and chill.

Karnak helps at the pot farm by taping into a stream that will help increase plant growth. Karnak and Jen (Jamie Gray Hyder) begin to bond, while Reno (Michael Trotter) expresses his concerns of bringing in an outsider to Ted (Jeff Juett). Gorgon is angry at himself for letting the surfers fight with him, especially with one of them now died. Holo (Ty Quiamboa) tells Gorgon not to blame himself. Gorgon explains he never thought he would care about a human and that with Auran and the other Inhumans hunting them, it wouldn’t be a fair fight. Hopeful, Holo says they still have a chance. Auran and her team continue to hunt Gorgon. Locus, an Inhuman with Echolocation (Sumire Matsubara), uses her powers to track him.

Medusa and Louise are now hiding out in a motel room. Louise is using Callisto’s satellites to try and locate Declan’s helicopter. Impatient, Medusa beginnings going through Louise’s things, and finds a small replica of a NASA spacecraft. Louise tells her to put it down. Louise asks more about Medusa’s life and Medusa snaps, saying she just wants to find her husband. Louise jokingly replies that’s whatever person wants, indicating her being single. Medusa asks if she’s never been married, and Louise replies no, but being alone isn’t too bad. This reminds Medusa of when she was young and had to take care of her sister all by herself. Medusa then looks out the window to see cops arriving. Louise deduces that they tracked her by her credit card.

I love you, but if you don’t get off my back.

Back on Attilan Maximus holds a meeting with the Genetic Council to discuss the possibility of going through Terrigenesis again. The Genetic Council rules against the experimentation for fear that it could be fatal. Maximus ask Tibor to prove his loyalty to him.

On Earth, Black Bolt search’s for Medusa in Declan’s system to no avail. At the motel the cops are closing in on Medusa and Louise, but they manage to escape. Crystal is now on Dave’s farm when Audrey, Dave’s vet friend show’s up. There’s some hostility between her and Dave, when Crystal asks about it, they explain that they use date. Audrey is also understandably taken aback by Lockjaw’s size, but still examines him and asses that he will be fine after some rest.

Medusa and Louise grab a bite to eat, while still trying to track the helicopter. Louise finally is able to locate it. Louise steps away for a moments and Medusa disappears with her laptop. Auran and her team are still in pursuit of Gorgon. She contacts Maximus who tells her where Black Bolt is, informing her that they can’t kill him yet. Karnak and Jen take a walk to a secluded beach. Jen tries to teach him about living in the moment and they end up sharing a kiss. Reno looks on from a distance with jealousy.

The power a sexy, swimming times. Oh yeah!

Louise manages to find Medusa, and the two fight. Medusa ends up mocking Louise’s little rocket, which offends her because it contains the ashes of her father who was a scientist at NASA who dreamed of going to the moon. Medusa argues that her father reminds her of her parent’s and they’re hopeless ideals. In a flashback it is revealed Medusa’s parents were banished for trying to over throw the queen and king. Louise says that she has broken more laws for Medusa than she ever has in her life and that she is not quitting now. Medusa smiles and says she likes her. They drive off to find Black Bolt.

In the Jungle, Gorgon splits off from his surfer friends to retrace his steps in order to find Karnak. At Dave’s farm, Crystal thanks Dave for helping Lockjaw and he teaches her how to high-five. Back at the pot farm, Jen ask Reno where Ted is. He says he went into town. She and Karnak then go into her tent.

Maximus has Tibor calls the Genetic Council for a meeting. After they assemble they are ambushed by the Royal Guards, with Maximus having them banished. He hopes with them removed, to move forward with Terragenesis and help his people, and himself, evolve. At the lab Black Bolt finds poison, and Sammy wonders if it has been used on anyone else. They decided to leave, but run into Auran. She summons Mordis, but Black Bolt breaks a gas tank, which will kill all of them if Mordis uses his heat vision.

I love you…I think.

Medusa and Louise arrive just in time. Mordis accidentally blows up the gas tank, throwing Auran and her team, rendering them unconscious. Medusa and Black Bolt finally reunite. As they prepare to leave, Medusa notices Locus, and states that she can help them find the rest of the Royal Family. They drive off with Locus just as Mordis begins to regain conscious.

In the end credits scene, Karnak and Jen are having sex in her tent. Outside, it is shown that Reno has killed Ted.

Review

Sigh. I hate that we’re only four episodes into Inhumans and I can already tell I’m going to sound repetitive, but I believe that’s what happens with a show that has very little to offer. That’s not to say that things don’t happen, they do. It just that most of the characters, with a few exceptions, are really boring. And shallow. Let’s start off with the highlight before I trek into familiar territory.

This week’s episode focused mainly on Medusa and her journey with Louise to find Black Bolt. Though initially hostile towards each other, Medusa and Louise banter, slowly opening up to one another until they reach a place of understanding, and a blooming friendship emerges. All this, despite their relationship starting off with what can only be called kidnapping, Through her interactions with Louise, Medusa is given some much needed development and humanization. Louise continues to prove to be a more interesting character than any we’ve met so far.

If only the show had centered more around her from the beginning…

My OTP.

Louise brings such a child like wonder (she gleefully states in the episode that this is the best day of her life) to meeting Medusa that she’s the perfect counter balance to an otherwise overly serious group of characters. Ellen Woglom manages to deliver an energetic performance without over acting, which is testament to her talent. The chemistry she shares with Serinda Swan is so effortless and compelling. Dare I say more interesting than any scene she’s had with Anson Mount.

Also, I just love when two women can just get along and be friends (maybe more). There’s this horrible trope in media when women interact with one another and their relationship leans towards ‘women are catting.’ I wouldn’t mind it if there was a positive relationship to counter it, but often times, there isn’t. I just like it when women can be nice to one another. Call me crazy.

Maximus continues to be a compelling villain, with which the main plot revolves around. Each episode shows him growing more desperate in his goal of acceptance and explanation to why he his the way he is. I can only hope we’re building up to a huge melt down. As much as I appreciate Iwan Rheon’s stoic performance, Maximus is clearly holding in some rage. Just let it out man. Just let it out.

Oh, his gonna crack like walnut.

His interactions with Tibor bring me to a huge problem with the show: character relationships and development. Clearly by the actors’ performances and dialogue, Maximus and Tibor were meant to have this complex history. The audience should feel something when Maximus goads him into eliminating the Genetic Council. Yet my reaction was: who is this guy and why should I care that he helps Maximus?

I would like the point out that in general, this show has an issue of introducing supporting characters. I couldn’t tell you the name of half of these characters without having to look them up, or tell you anything about their personalities beside how they are suppose to benefit the main characters. The big question is always, why? These surfers seemed prepared to sacrifice themselves for Gorgon, but why? Jen, the friendly pot farmer, wants to help Karnak open up, but why? Same for Dave, who is being set up as a love interest for Crystal.

Clearly, for most of the Royal Family, their interactions with human characters are meant to humanize them. Yet, their development is so rushed and shallow, nothing feels genuine. Half of the time it feels like the writers didn’t know what to do with them. They are just there to fill in time between the actual plot.

Black Bolt’s storyline with Dr. Declan faired a little better, although Sammy’s usefulness seems to be used up from last episode. We now understand why Dr. Declan is helping Black Bolt, and how his genetics play into Maximus’s plot. Aside from that, Black Bolt doesn’t have much more to do than scowl.

Once again, it is just made blatantly obvious how this show does not have the budget for visual effects it desperately needs. I’ve said this before, but the characters are deliberately put in situations where they do not need to use their powers. How convenient that Lockjaw or Mordis got knocked out this episode.

Overall, the show has slowly grown from the premiere, giving at least three interesting characters. But since we’re already half way through the season, there is little hope for anything miraculous happening. Inhumans might have fared better had it had better focus, but ultimately it’s trying too hard, while simultaneously doing very little. Maybe when the characters finally regroup the show will take a step forward. Until next time, stay awesome.


Images courtesy of ABC Studios/Marvel

Recent college graduate who's just trying to figure out what to do with her degree, while simultaneously reading as many books as possible.

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‘Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald’ Is a Post Mortem for J.K. Rowling

Jeremiah

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A side note before we get started, this review will contain spoilers. If finding out that so and so might be such and such, or that a great all-powerful whatchamacallit is actually a McGuffin, might ruin the whole thing for you, then please wait until after you’ve seen the movie. 

Fair? Okay then.

Part of my job as a critic is to try and figure out who might be the intended audience for the movie I’m watching. If it is for die-hard fans than I can judge it appropriately and vice versa; if it seems intended for a wider audience. For the life of me, I can’t figure out who in the hell Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald is for.

The Crimes of Grindelwald, not only has no audience, but it also has no clue either. I wasn’t a fan of the first Fantastic Beasts either, and normally that would give me some kind of guideline in which to proceed. “If you liked the first one then you’ll love this one…” But I’m not so sure that’s the case. J.K. Rowling wrote the script, and she seems hell-bent on ignoring the last decade or so worth of writing that she’s done just to perpetuate the forward march of this cynical cash grab of a cinematic eyesore.

For the uninitiated, and thus explaining why you heedlessly jump past the spoiler warning, The Crimes of Grindelwald takes place a scant three months after the first Fantastic Beasts. Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne), the author of the titular text so beloved by Potter fans, is asked by the Ministry of Magic to help fight the evil wizard Grindelwald (Johnny Depp). The actual crimes of The Crimes of Grindelwald buggers the mind as to where to begin.

Midway through the second movie in the franchise and I’m still at a loss as to why I’m supposed to care about Newt. He’s hardly a character and as played by Redmayne, more a mess of jitters and jumps. It’s not entirely Redmayne’s fault; Newt only feels half-formed. It’s as if Rowling is making it up as she goes along.

Grindelwald is essentially wizard-Hitler who views non-magic beings as beneath the master– I mean rightful power, wizards. A timely idea, to be sure, but Rowling seems hesitant to really do anything with it. Grindelwald has his assistant kill a baby, off-screen, as he walks away. He sweet talks people into joining his crusade without actually convincing anybody either through magic or basic rhetoric.

David Yates, who directed the last Fantastic Beasts, as well as the last four Harry Potter films, seems more at a loss at Rowling’s patchwork script than we are. Characters behave and say things that make sense but then they do things that should make sense but don’t actually make any kind of sense. Watching The Crimes of Grindelwald, I found myself understanding what the intent was but also noticing they had skipped all the steps to get there.

The best part of the last movie was far and away the characters of Jacob Kolwalski (Dan Folger) and Queenie (Alison Sudol). Queenie is the sister of Tina (Katherine Waterhouse), Newt’s crush from the last movie. Queenie and Jacob had a bizarre but quirky chemistry. The two were the only charm in an otherwise charmless movie.

Rowling and Yates have Jacob and Queenie come to London to visit Newt. Upon seeing them, Newt discovers that Jacob is under a love spell that Queenie put on him. Good thing Newt figured it out because the two were engaged to be married. Pity poor Jacob only found about the engagement after Newt lifted the spell. Jacob and Queenie both want to get married but Jacob understands the Ministry would forbid it, while Queenie seems baffled by Jacob’s reluctance.

All of this is fine, although odd. You would think the wizard would be the one who would have to fight off the No-Maj but we’re looking over that quibble. We’ll also overlook the incredibly creepy implications of Queenie’s total disregard for consent as well. But what we will look at is Queenie’s defection to the Aryan metaphor that is Grindelwald’s army.

It doesn’t make any sense. Well, it does, but it doesn’t really. You see, Queenie comes to believe that Grindelwald doesn’t want to hurt the No-Maj. He just sees them as beasts of burden. Since he wants to do away with the old ways, which forbid Jacob and her getting married, she ‘s all aboard the allegorical genocide train. But I had to infer that because it’s never really discussed. Switching from “No” on a fascist regime that believes in separate but equal to an “eh, maybe” requires more than a, “But he’ll let us get hitched, baby!” (Not an actual quote.)

We can see what Yates and Rowling are trying to do. But there’s never any real moment where we go, “Ah. I see why she’s doing this.” Instead, we’re left scratching our heads wondering if being the sweetest woman in the franchise means you’re destined to become an acolyte of some dapper, hipster wannabe, slurring Hitler.

Queenie’s “decision” is only a subplot. A large portion of The Crimes of Grindelwald concerns itself with a mystery that isn’t really a mystery. A mystery has clues and is about plodding toward a reveal of some sort. The mystery here is who is Creedence’s (Ezra Miller), real parents? I’m just kidding the real mystery is what happened to Leta Lestrange’s (Zoe Kravitz) little brother? I see you fell for my funny little joke, the real mystery is what is Grindelwald’s master plan for Creedence?

The beauty of Rowling’s script is that of none of those mysteries are remotely tied to one another. And oh yes, Creedence is Aurealis Dumbledore. Lost? I regret to inform you that seeing The Crimes of Grindelwald will only make you more lost.

Creedence looking for his parents is the drive but has no payoff until the last line of the movie. Except it’s not a revelation so much as a moment of bad fan fiction by someone who didn’t read the books. But since it’s written by the author of the original books it becomes all the more confusing. It would be one thing if The Crimes of Grindelwald had offered its own explanation, either explaining how this is possible or at the very least re-write its own backstory. None of that happens. Grindelwald just grabs Creedence by the shoulder and tells him his name, even though the movie itself never backs up this claim.

Leta’s tortured past and guilt over murdering her little brother somehow makes even less sense. We spend half the movie being intentionally and obviously kept in the dark about Leta’s “tragic backstory.” At the climactic moment, Leta reveals all in a baffling denouement. A denouement that includes kidnapping, familial revenge, hypnotism, baby switching, possible rape, spousal slavery, and the Titanic. Suffice to say it raises more questions than it answers. However, Kravitz’s breathless delivery of Rowling’s blindfolded style of plot structure is a gem of a performance in a movie filled with fool’s gold. 

But what about Leta’s past with Newt? Why is she marrying Newt’s brother Theseus (Callum Turner) when in the flashbacks she seems taken with Newt? Why do Newt and Theseus have such an antagonistic relationship? If you want answers to these questions, I can’t help you and neither can Rowling or Yates.

Which brings us to Depp. I have no problem believing that Depp is capable of allegedly committing heinous acts and then convincing his large and dedicated fanbase that he did nothing wrong. I dare say, Depp is better at this than Grindelwald is. If only because Depp doesn’t walk around advertising with every fashion choice, every mannerism, and every syllable, “I’m evil!” 

Grindelwald convinces his followers to come to his cause by showing them images from the future, the second World War. He conveniently leaves out the six million murdered, and in their place shows aerial assaults, tanks, gunfire, armies marching, and the atom bomb exploding. Now, in the historical context, this is a nightmarish vision. Jacob even yells out, “Not another war!” The first World War is still fresh in their minds, images of another even greater war would be shocking.

It makes sense. But no one ever mentions the last world war so it seems out of left field, nazi allegory aside. It further demonstrates how superficially committed to the metaphor Yates and Rowlings are. They want the bad wizards to be a stand-in for nazis. Except they don’t want to do the legwork to put them in the fake historical context. For a spin-off of a franchise infamous for its world building the world seems hardly even thought of.

Yates is a perfectly fine director but he has no imagination and no personality. Even Dumbledore (Jude Law) a character outed for being gay after the fact, becomes tiresome and boring in his hands. I wouldn’t say that Yates and Rowling straightwash him, but they never say he’s gay either. Yates supplements actually uttering the word “gay” by showing us CGI images of young Grindelwald and young Dumbledore looking into each other’s eyes longingly as they make a pact.

“You two were like brothers.” One character says. “We were more than brothers.” (Actual quote.) More than brothers! Wowza!

The special effects are as good as you would expect from a multibillion-dollar franchise. But good special effects in a movie with no real direction is meaningless. The effects have no real impact because the story and characters have no real impact. The battle at the end as Grindelwald flees victoriously, his grand army now assembled, is a dazzling light show, but nothing more.

Phillip Rousselot is shackled by Fantastic Beasts misguided marriage to drab and dreary color schemes. Rousselot, who when working with Tim Burton, fills his frame with vibrant colors. A cinematographer who’s been working since the 70’s, Rousselot has shot such exquisite movies as A River Runs Through It, Dangerous Liaisons, and Interview With a Vampire. I mention his resume to show you just how woefully underused his camera work is. Imagine the possibilities of a Fantastic Beasts movie where the camera does more than just merely record whatever the special effects team can dream up based on Rowling’s say so?

The Crimes of Grindelwald is a bad movie. It is incompetently made by people who know better. They have decided to try and pawn off a knowingly inferior product on us for a few extra dollars that none of them need. This isn’t a movie, it’s a pyramid scheme. See this and the next one will be better, we swear.

It would be a pity to end this franchise with wizard-Hitler getting away and basically winning. But, I have zero desire to sit through another one of these. I don’t care to see him defeated, nor do I care how he is beaten. If it means having to sit through J.K. Rowling carve up her own world, changing things as she goes because the times have changed and so have the trends, then count me out. I don’t care anymore.


Image courtesy of Warner Bros. Studios

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Archie Goes Full Dufresne On Riverdale

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After last week’s exciting change of pace, Archie and the gang return to the present time in “Chapter Forty: The Great Escape” and boy, is it a drag (no, not the fun kind).

Recap

As Archie’s brilliant escape plan to run in the middle of the day, in plain sight of the guards and other prisoners, is failing miserably, we’re back at the bunker, with Betty catching Jughead and the Serpents playing G&G.

Betty tells Jug everything she’s learned from her mother, while Jughead shares his own discoveries about the game. He insists that G&G somehow reflect the real life, Riverdale’s life specifically. Betty is skeptical, so she decides to deal with feasible suspects aka the Midnight Club for now, while Jughead continues playing in order to get to the Gargoyle King his own way.

After Hiram lets Veronica know about Archie’s unsuccessful escape attempt, she decides to take the matters into her own hands. Through her connections in the, um, teenage filial of the local mafia she unknowingly gets herself invited to the warden’s little fight club. She gets a little private time with Archie and they sorta figure out a possible way to break Archie out.

Meanwhile, Betty recruits Josie, Kevin, and Reggie to discreetly question their parents about the Midnight Club. To their kids’ surprise, Mayor McCoy and ex-Sheriff Keller deny even really knowing each other back in high school, let alone dating, while Reggie gets a black eye for even mentioning G&G to his dad.

Unfortunately, the investigation has to be cut short when Veronica comes to all of her friends for help in getting Archie out of juvie. Betty tries to get Jughead on board, but he’s so cut up in a game that he sees the juvie break as nothing more than a great idea for the Serpents’ next G&G mission.

Speaking of juvie, Archie is granted a fancy meal with the warden, who informs Archiekins it’s also gonna be his last one. “The final meal before the final fight”, he says. Warden Norton also all but says outright its’ Hiram’s order. Archie takes a chance asks to hear how Hiram managed to set him up, and warden complies. When asked if Hiram also “owns” him, warden declares his soul “belongs to no mere mortal”, probably alluding to God… Or someone else.

Back at the speakeasy, Veronica lays out her elaborate escape plan for Archie. Basically, they go in undercover to the fight club, create a diversion with self-created smoke bombs (… I know), Archie escapes through the sewer drain, at the end of which Betty will be waiting for him on the Jug’s motorcycle (that she drives impeccably now, apparently).

Mid 2000’s teen rom-com shenanigans realness

Right before Archie starts his final match, he gets stabbed by Joaquin. The latter immediately apologizes and insists the warden said this is the only way he can “ascend”.

It’s game time! Literally and metaphorically. While the gang executes their rescue mission, Jughead and the Serpents are on a G&G quest of their own, that coincidentally mirrors everything the other team is doing. While trying to open the sewer drain grade, Kevin sees Joaquin running for his life through the woods. Kevin decides to follow him and leaves his task to Betty.

Back at the fight club,  Archie is up for his match. And his opponent is no other than Mad Dog. Archie tells him about the escape plan, but it seems like Mad Dog has accepted his fate.

Veronica runs into her father at the fight club, but before he can do anything to stop them she, Reggie, and Josie are setting the pan in motion. Their very slow distraction works and Archie jumps into the drain, while Mad Dog heroically holds off the guards.

At the end of the sewer, Betty meets injured Archie. They race on a bike through the woods to safety, but unfortunately, get caught by the warden and the juvie guards. But PLOT TWIST! It isn’t Archie up on a bike, it’s Kevin. They were a decoy for the guards, while Ronnie and the rest of the crew got Archie to safety at the bunker, where Jughead and the Serpents also just finished their G&G quest.

Tony patches up Archie’s stab wound, and the gang notices the warden has branded Archie with a symbol, similar to those on Ben and Dilton’s backs.

Back at the Lodges, Hermione is going off on Hiram for participating in the underground teen fight club as if she, as a mayor, doesn’t have enough problem to deal with. Veronica arrives just in time for some ass whooping as well.

But *now* we said it.

At Pop’s, Kevin tells Josie and Reggie that he didn’t find Joaquin after all, all while the news of Archie’s escape is heard on the radio. The triple also decides to play G&G by themselves, to find out what their parents, and Betty, don’t tell them about the game.

While watching over Archie at the bunker, Betty and Jug discuss how warden Norton fits into this whole G&G narrative. In the meantime, the warden himself is at his office, getting notified the mayor is here to see him. But unfortunately, they’ll have to reschedule, because the warden just drank the good ol’ cyanide-infused Fresh-Aid.

The episode concludes with Jughead getting back home from the bunker when he finally encounters the Gargoyle King himself.

Thoughts

I honestly don’t have a lot on this one. The episode revolves solely around juvie plot and we all know how I feel about it. The escape sequence is extremely silly, but sticking with Riverdale for so long, nothing fazes me anymore.

My favourite scene was probably Hermione cussing out her dumbass family.  Marisol Nichols did some amazing acting, and it was just so pleasant seeing Hermione to blow up like this. In Season 2 her character felt very Stepford wife (but make it mafia), so it’s great to see her getting some of that agency and character back.

The theory that someone of the Lodges is the Gamemaster behind this G&G madness grows stronger this episode. Killing the Red Paladin aka Archie was obviously a part of Warden Norton’s quest, and we know from the warden himself Hiram ordered to get rid of Archie. Or was the warden lying? Also interesting how Hermione was at the juvie when Norton ended his life. Could be nothing, could be something.

Next week, Archie is fugitive on the run, while Jughead discovers a new piece of the G&G puzzle…


Images courtesy of CW

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The Five Under Discussed Holiday Movies

Jeremiah

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It’s that time of year again. The time of year where people with ordinary jobs find themselves swamped with hours and little to no respite for their own sanity’s sake. It’s also time for a return to that age-old tradition we have here at BENEATH THE SCREEN OF THE ULTRA-CRITICS, the listicle.

Since we’re only mere days away from being positively bombarded with the stuff, we figured, why not beat everybody to the punch. Enjoying the leftover Halloween candy, we compiled a list of five under-discussed Christmas movies. These are movies that are more likely to be seen in something like Alonso Duralde’s Have Yourself A Movie Little Christmas than the average Buzzfeed article.

So, without further ado, here are five Holiday movies that somehow always fly under the radar come this time of the year. As usual, the numbers mean nothing, except to state how many they are.

1. GREMLINS (1984) Dir. Joe Dante

Somehow or other people always forget Gremlins. I’m not saying it’s a forgotten classic. YouTube film buffs are too prevalent, to allow such a thing like that to happen. But Joe Dante’s cult classic doesn’t get the love of say Die Hard when it comes to the holidays.

The special effects still hold up but more than that, Gremlins has a wonderful sense of playfulness and good cheer about it. The problematic ancient Chinese wise man aside, Gremlins holds up remarkably well. Horror movies are usually aimed at adults but Gremlins aims at the whole family. Through all the blood and screams it somehow captures the feel of a small town at Christmas.

But the creme de la creme comes in the form of what is now viewed as one of the great monologues of the eighties. Phoebe Cate’s Kate tells a dark tragic Christmas story that haunted children years after seeing the film. Dante’s tongue in cheek direction and a script by a young Christopher Columbus that’s a sly subversion of the holidays elevates Gremlins from a goofy cult film to a holiday classic.

2. A Diva’s Christmas Carol (2000) Dir. Richard Schenkman

Look. Someone needs to acknowledge that Vanessa Williams is our Christmas Lord and Savior, and guess what? It’s sure as shit gonna be me! Williams has been criminally underrated for years, and as much as I’ve held my peace about it, I cannot allow her being perpetually overlooked for A Diva’s Christmas Carol anymore. This movie is from the height of VH1’s (are they even around anymore?) media career, and it’s the perfect lady Christmas film to kick back, grab some hot chocolate, and enjoy. Camp? Check. The best melodrama crafted biopic prior to Walk Hard? Check. It gleefully embraces every biopic trope and rolls it up in a familiar Christmas package.

Keep your Bill Murray and Scrooged, I’ll take the Beyonce of Christmas movies any day.

3. Christmas Again (2014) Dir. Charles Pokel

Charles Pokel’s Christmas Again is possibly the least cheerful of all the films on this list. Less a reminder of the reason for the season and more a dour melancholy look at a man looking for love whilst selling Christmas trees. But underneath it all, it has a great big heart.

Noel (Kentucky Audley) is broken-hearted and adrift. Like any person, he soothes his soul by running a Christmas tree lot. He meets Lydia (Hannah Gross) and soon the two find themselves falling for each other. Complications and revelations arise but ultimately Pokel’s nuanced and sweet exploration of working-class people during the holiday season is warm and deeply moving.

Pokel gives us a peek into the ins and outs of running a Christmas tree lot, the differences of sales technique, understanding the varying types of firs, inventory, and of course, the people. Nothing much happens and, if you’re looking for Christmas magic, you’ll be disappointed. But it’s a sweet little movie that normally glides under the radar of the average Christmas aficionado.

Bonus: The song that plays over the closing credits, a cover of Christmas Everywhere sung by Fran Alexandre, will instantly become one of your favorite carols of the year.

4. Edward’s Scissorhands (2005) Dir. Tim Burton

Most people would cite Burton’s other movie The Nightmare Before Christmas, which is a Burton produced movie, not a Burton-directed one. We disagree, though the visual design of Nightmare is classic and loving crafted. But Burton’s Edward Scissorhands has a haunting, loving way about it that leaves one breathless from the depth of empathy and imagination from which it sprang.

On its face the story of Edward (Johnny Depp), a Frankensteinesque creation with scissors for hands is preposterous. Yet, Burton and Caroline Wilson, the screenwriter, have us buy the entire premise hook, line, and sinker within seconds. Burton has always been attracted to stories about outsiders, but few have been as lonely and misunderstood quite like Depp’s Edward. Winona Ryder’s Kim, Edward’s love interest, is no less an outsider, and the two find solace in each other.

It’s the tender ache at the center of Edward Scissorhands which sets it apart from the rest of Burton’s filmography. Oh sure, all his films have a tenderness and a loneliness, but none of them have had Deep and Ryder. Ryder for her part is the reason why Edward Scissorhands works. If we don’t buy Kim’s feelings for Edward, then the whole thing falls apart. Burton and Wilson don’t use Christmas as a backdrop to clash with the goth aesthetic Burton fetishizes. They use it as a way to explore family dynamics and more importantly, the idea of loving a stranger and giving him a home.

5. Ernest Saves Christmas (1988) Dir. John R. Cherry III

Jim Varney’s Ernest P. Worrell has never gotten the credit he deserves as a singular American comedic creation. A cross between Jerry Lewis and a southern Mr. Bean, Ernest is a man so eager to please he can never see how insufferable he is. Ernest Saves Christmas is both a satire of how corporatist and consumer-driven Christmas is while magically somehow finding heart and warmth in the cold harsh cynical decade known as the eighties.

Santa Claus (Douglas Seale) comes to L.A. to find a children’s show host Joe Carruthers (Oliver Clark) so he can pass on the mantle of Santa. Unfortunately for Santa, Ernest is his taxi driver. An old man Santa leaves his bag of magic in Ernest’s cab and Ernest must try to return it so Santa can pas the bag onto Joe and Christmas can continue. Along the way, Ernest and Santa meet a young runaway grifter Harmony Starr (Noelle Parker). The three have to get Santa’s bag to Joe so they can make him believe. The plot sounds thin but, believe us, the last scene where Ernest is flying Santa’s sleigh as he careens out of control is like mother’s milk to a child.

With jokes like Joe taking a new job as an actor in a horror film Santa’s SlayErnest Saves Christmas shows itself to have a sardonic eye. Miraculously, it never veers into made for Hallmark Christmas territory, though it is corny at times. But that’s to be expected with any Christmas movie, much less an Ernest one. Imaginative while at times surreal, such as when the reindeer get stuck in customs, Ernest Saves Christmas is a classic that’s never been embraced by cult fans or Christmas fans. The film has a gonzo humor most Christmas films avoid; making it kind of prickly in places. If not for Varney’s rubber-faced exuberance somehow winning us over, the film might have collapsed under its own weight.

A Christmas movie in L.A.? And it’s not a Shane Black movie? It’s a Christmas miracle.


Images Courtesy of Warner Bros., VH1, Factory 25, 20th Century Fox, and Buena Vista Pictures

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