A short review of “Brightburn” (2019)

For all of its promise, “Brightburn” (2019) is the kind of movie that you can wait to rent from Redbox, rather than paying for a theater ticket.  It isn’t a bad movie, exactly — I’d rate it a 7 out of 10, due to its admittedly great premise and some nice visuals.  But you can wait for the DVD for two reasons:

  1.  The film does little with its wicked-cool premise (what if a super-powered child like Clark Kent became a homicidal bad guy?).  After walking the viewer through a horror-movie version of Superman’s origin story, the movie does almost nothing to expand on the idea.
  2. If you’ve already seen the trailer for “Brightburn,” then you’ve already seen most of the important parts.  Seriously — this is another instance where a movie’s trailer reveals too much, and shows you virtually the entire story.  I can’t see spending the ticket price to see what you might feel is mostly filler.

One of the more interesting things about “Brightburn” is its story concept, which is borrowed wholesale, of course, from DC Comics — apparently without any agreement with the company.  I’m no expert on intellectual property rights, but … isn’t that kind of a big deal?  Why is nobody commenting about it?  This is essentially an unauthorized “Elseworlds” tale.  (For those who don’t read comics, “Elseworlds” was an official DC imprint series where its characters were re-imagined in “what-if” scenarios, unconnected with the “real” DC universe’s continuity.  What if Superman landed in the jungle as a baby and was raised by animals?  What if he landed in Soviet Russia?  What if he were found by Thomas and Martha Wayne, whose subsequent murder motivated his emergence as Batman?)  

To make matters even more interesting, I’m willing to bet that some people will like “Brightburn” better than a few of the official Superman movies, especially 2016’s head-scratching “Superman vs. Batman: Dawn of Justice.”

The filmmakers appear to making no effort to lampshade the intentional similarities, even in the movie’s marketing.  (Even the boy villain’s “logo” in the story is like a twisted cubist remix of Superman’s logo.)  I suppose if they claimed that “Brightburn” was a deliberate parody of the Superman mythos (and you could kinda view it that way), then it seems acceptable as satire.

 

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Throwback Thursday: “Wizards and Warriors” (1983)!

I suppose that “Wizards and Warriors” was what passed for “Game of Thrones” in 1983.  Except it was cheesy as hell (which of course meant that I loved it as a fourth grader), and it didn’t last longer than eight episodes.

It was CBS’ mid-season replacement for my beloved “Bring ‘Em Back Alive” (the Bruce Boxleitner retro adventure series that I’ve written about here previously), which was cancelled due to low ratings.  “Wizards and Warriors” ran in its 8 PM time slot, and then itself was cancelled due to low ratings, so it never saw a second season.  (I believe both shows were competing with NBC’s ratings juggernaut, “The A-Team,” which every kid in the world loved except me.  I was weird.)

“Wizards and Warriors” was really just an obvious effort to capitalize on the popularity of the “Dungeons & Dragons” role-playing game.  The show was campy stuff.  The pilot episode, which you can watch in its entirety over at dailymotion, was entitled “The Unicorn of Death.”  It dealt with a time-bomb hidden inside a princess’ birthday present, which strikes me as a pretty surprising plot for a sword-and-sorcery program.

It had a cast that went on to better things, though.  One was Julia Duffy, of “Newheart” (1982-1990) fame.  Another was “Grease” (1978) veteran Jeff Conaway, who most 80’s kids will remember from “Taxi” (1978-1983).  The dastardly villain of “Wizards and Warriors” was played by the terrific character actor Duncan Regehr, a “that guy” actor who popped up in a lot of genre roles in the 80’s and 90’s.  Here’s the thing about Regehr — I want him to be a real-life bad guy.  He’s got an absolutely sly, suave, villainous face and manner — and his name just sounds like a villain’s name.  If he’d left acting to commit a series of high-profile crimes in the real world, that would be wickedly, awesomely meta.

 

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(The problem is me, I’m sure.)

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again — Flo the Progressive girl is absolutely ****ing terrifying.

She’s like The Joker.  She’s manic.  She’s unwell.  You just know she consistently wears those loose-fitting tops because she’s concealing a knife in her waistband.

I would rather buy car insurance from that little girl from “The Exorcist.”

 

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The Unbearable Lightness of Bee-ing

If you are in the mood for dark, dystopian poetry, then do stop by The Bees Are Dead.  There is some truly outstanding work by Yuan Changming, Robert Alan Rife, Cody Simpson, Jonathan Everitt, Jake Tringali and many more.

 

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Photo credit: By Jean-Raphaël Guillaumin from Lausanne, Suisse – Abeille, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=70638405

“Game of Thrones” Season 8 (2019) was a Greek tragedy. And I’m fine with that.

I’ve read and heard so many of the popular complaints about Season 8 of “Game of Thrones.”  Most of them are understandable.  A couple I agree with.  But I’m not on board with panning this six-episode final season.  Even with my own reservations about it, I still loved enough to rate it a 10 out of 10.

By far and away, of course, the part of Season 8 that has people up in arms is a major story development in its final two episodes.  (You almost certainly know what it is; because fans are complaining about it everywhere.  I’m not sure why I am trying so hard to keep this review spoiler-free.)  It was a bombshell, and it was damned saddening, and even I’ll admit that it affected my enjoyment of everything that transpired until the credits rolled for the last time.

But I made peace with it quickly.  (Granted, the character who figured the most prominently here was not my favorite, so it was a little easier for me to do so.)

I think it boils down to a matter of taste — specifically what you wanted out of “Game of Thrones.”  I like tragedies.  I love pathos in stories, whether they’re books, movies or television shows.  Stories that end badly aren’t bad stories.  One of the things that excited me about “Game of Thrones” since its second season was how it so often took the traditional elements of fantasy and fairy tales and turned them on their head with a brutal, unexpected (yet reasonable) conclusion to a story arc.  (I wasn’t fanatical about the show during Season 1, which overwhelmed me with exposition and plotting.)

The show has always tried to give us stories that were complex or ambiguous in terms of character, theme, setting and resolution.  One of the things that I tell people who have never watched the show is this — it is almost never as simple as “the good guys vs. the bad guys.”  Instead, it parallels human interaction in the real world — there are disparate groups and individuals fighting and aiding one another out of self-interest or philosophy.  The character turns and story turns that we saw in the last two episodes … somewhat parallel what we’ve seen in and heard on this show before.  As Ramsay Bolton said back in Season 3, “If you think this has a happy ending, you haven’t been paying attention.”

“Game of Thrones” was a Greek tragedy.  This last season’s classical plot resolution was arguably perfect for the show’s sweeping fantasy epic masterpiece.  The ending didn’t make me happy.  But it impressed me and affected me and made me think.  This was a fantasy show for adults.  It was an edgier, less predictable, more provocative alternative to “The Lord of the Rings” in all of that epic’s incarnations.  I far prefer the ending I saw to a pandering, cookie-cutter “happily ever after.”

And the show has indeed hinted at the outcomes we see in the final two episodes.  It’s been doing so for years, not just with major events but also with obvious dialogue.  I kept asking one other fan in particular, “Are you seeing what I’m seeing?”  But he didn’t.  Maybe a lot of fans didn’t.

If you tell me that a certain character decision was made too abruptly, with insufficient buildup, I hear you.  But, in the real world, I’m inclined to think that the internal processes we witness in the penultimate episode are often completely invisible.

If I had any complaints about Season 8, they lay elsewhere.  I simply cannot understand why this was six episodes instead of 10.  The two major battles we see each occupy one episode.  Why?  Even with a longer running time for each episode, this season felt rushed and truncated.  It still bothers me, even as I write this.

I had the same quibble as everyone else about the Battle of Winterfell being difficult to follow, but I’m willing to accept that this was a deliberate stylistic choice.  (And although I loved both major battles this season, I think the show’s three prior major land engagements were superior.  The Massacre at Hardhome, the Battle of the Bastards and the Attack on the Rose Road were all so well choreographed and scored that they were just too difficult to surpass.)  I even had my own disappointments for the outcomes we see for various characters.

I consequently almost rated the eighth season a 9 out of 10, instead of a perfect 10.  But I couldn’t.  I loved Season 8 too much.  It wasn’t perfect, but it was … still so damned riveting and enjoyable.  It was still “Game of Thrones,” with all of the attention to story and detail and performances that I’d come to love.  It was still the best thing on television.

 

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A review of “Phantasm” (1979)

I don’t enjoy panning films that others revere.  There’s no percentage in it.  I’m not the guy who tries to be edgy or cool by telling you he dislikes something that everyone else loves.

But I do need to tell you that I think that “Phantasm” (1979) is a bad movie.  I’d rate it a 3 out of 10, based on some interesting ingredients, but I suspect that even that is a bit generous.  I finally managed to make it through its entire running time tonight, and it feels amateurish on every level.

It’s poorly scripted, directed and edited, with performances that are nearly all quite bad.  The first exception here is A. Michael Baldwin, who was a decent child actor when this movie was made, and who was quite likable as the story’s adolescent protagonist.  The second exception, I suppose, is “The Tall Man” himself, Angus Scrimm, the deep-voiced and admittedly unsettling big-bad.

There’s really only one other positive thing I can say about the movie — it has a damned good set design for its mausoleum.  (Somewhat confusingly, the film suggests this is located … inside the funeral home itself?  Is that a thing in some places?  I honestly don’t know.)  The set is simultaneously beautiful and frightening, with symmetrical hallways of contrasting white and red — the kind of thing you’d expect to see in a Stanley Kubrick film.  I can’t escape the suspicion that it was somehow pilfered from a far better film.

And I do understand the unconscious appeal of “Phantasm’s” story.  We see an adolescent boy who has lost his parents team up with his likable older brother to fight mysterious monsters at their local funeral home.  They enlist the aid of the brother’s guitar-playing, everyman best friend, they use everyday weapons like guns and knives, and they bond over the shared experience.  It’s a tailor-made, understandable power fantasy for any adolescent boy first grasping adult concepts of death and mortality.

But … those things aren’t enough to redeem the film.  In my opinion, it’s bad enough to be a candidate for the “Mystery Science Theater 3000” treatment.

Hey — what do I know?  Your mileage may vary.  “Phantasm” has a cult following in the horror community, and spawned no fewer than four sequels.  (The latest, “Phantasm: Ravager,” was released just three years ago.)  You might enjoy it, or you might need to watch it out of curiosity, as I did.

 

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