A short review of “The Silence” (2019)

“The Silence” may be dreck, but it’s good dreck.

If you’ve read anything about this new Netflix movie, than you know it’s regarded as a lower-budget ripoff of the immensely well received “A Quiet Place” (2018).  (Both follow a family surviving an apocalyptic invasion by monsters who hunt by sound.)  And I suppose it is, with a bit saccharine teen drama and a neglected cult subplot shoehorned into it.

But I’d be lying if I told you I didn’t enjoy it at all.  I’d rate it a 7 out of 10 for being a fairly entertaining creature feature.

Stanley Tucci and Miranda Otto are always great to watch, and the Kiernan Shipka is a cute kid with a lot of charisma.  (Am I the only guy in the world who thinks that Tucci is extremely talented?  To appreciate his range, compare his milquetoast suburban dad here with his growling, menacing super-zombie in last year’s “Patient Zero.”)

The monsters were suitably revolting and well rendered, and the action sequences were mostly engaging.  (The scene involving a well was well executed — no pun intended.)  Maybe I’m just a kid at heart and want more creepy crawlies in my horror films, as opposed to endless demons and shrieking wraiths.

Here’s the key to enjoying it — think of it as a throwback to cheesy 70’s monster movies like “Kingdom of the Spiders” or “Damnation Alley” (1977).  We had fun with those when we were kids, didn’t we?

 

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A short review of Season 1 of “Black Summer” (2019)

I don’t understand how “Black Summer” can be as good as it is.  It’s produced by The Asylum, the makers of low budget, direct-to-video ripoff films like “Atlantic Rim” (2013) and “Triassic World” (2018).  It’s a prequel to the horror-comedy “Z Nation” (2014-2018) — a show that was so bad I couldn’t make it through its first episode.  Yet “Black Summer” is inexplicably a great, albeit imperfect, TV show.  I’d rate it a 9 out 10.

I might be in the minority here; a lot of people are severely panning this show online.  And I do recognize its weaknesses — there is very little detail in its plot or character development … there is often even very little dialogue at all.  And even I recognized some plot holes.  (I’m typically a little slow on the uptake where these are concerned.)

But this bare-bones zombie story still manages to screen some likable characters, and then put them through a thrilling succession of hyper-kinetic chases and melees.  I was on the edge of my seat, and I consequently didn’t miss the methodical, detailed plotting of shows like “The Walking Dead.”  The season’s finale is crowned by an extended, eye-level, real-time action set-piece that ought to be considered a classic in the  zombie-horror subgenre.  It was mind-blowing. I just can’t dislike a horror property that genuinely scared me.

I could simply be out of step with everyone else; I often have different tastes in zombie fare.  I love Zack Snyder’s 2008 remake of “Dawn of the Dead,” which this series reminds me of.  And I also love similar overseas productions like Spain’s “[REC]” films (2007 – 2014) and Britain’s “Dead Set” miniseries (2008), while those amazing entries are hardly known among my friends.  I also cannot understand why many people who love George A. Romero’s and Robert Kirkman’s productions must always compare other films and TV shows unfavorably to them.  We can love both.  Why not?

Hey, if you don’t want to make my word for it, here is what Stephen King tweeted: “No long, fraught discussions. No endless flashbacks, because there’s no back story. No grouchy teens. Dialogue is spare. Much shot with a single handheld camera, very fluid.”

I obviously recommend this.

 

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A few quick words on the Season 8 premiere of “Game of Thrones”

I’ll keep this brief, because it’s unlikely by now that I can write an unbiased review of a “Game of Thrones” episode anyway.  The show is so close to my heart that simply seeing the characters again for Season 8 is like being reunited with old friends.  I’d rate the first episode a 10 out of 10 if only for the characters and dialogue.

And that’s mostly what we get in the premiere.  If you’ve been waiting for this universe’s apocalyptic war to escalate, then you’ll be disappointed.  The episode focused almost entirely character reunions, relationships and conflicts, laying out the stakes for what will be a bloody final season.  Nearly all of it was great stuff.  (Like a lot of viewers, I loved the closing seconds of the show.)  There was only one key exchange of dialogue that didn’t play the way the writers intended — an interaction among Sam, Danerys and Jorah that was blackly and unintentionally hilarious.

I read comments from a couple of fans online who were nonplussed by the episode’s lack of action.  I think we needed this character-focused groundwork to lend emotional weight to the war when it arrives at Winterfell.  (I think we can assume it will fall; I can’t imagine the good guys defeating the Night King in their first major battle.)

I loved it.

 

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Episode 1 of “Black Summer” (2019) looks quite promising.

The hectic first episode of “Black Summer,” Netflix’ new zombie series, looks like ambitious stuff — it plays like a hybrid of “28 Days Later” (2002), “Pulp Fiction” (1994) and “24” (2001-2014).  While it seems unlikely that this show can emulate the greatness of those classics, “Black Summer” still gets off to a damned good start.  I’d rate the first episode an 8 out of 10 for being a pretty lean and mean start to a decent zombie series.

Part of the episode’s appeal is its frantic vibe and format — something that seems like a deliberate contrast to “The Walking Dead’s” slowly placed, methodical epic.  The viewer is plopped down into the middle of a heartland neighborhood evacuation effort, three weeks into a zombie epidemic.  With a series of lengthy, real-time tracking shots, we race beside a collection of unconnected characters who are desperately trying to reach United States Army pickup point.

The zombies are few in number.  But they are the “high-speed zombies” that most modern horror viewers associate with Danny Boyle’s film, so the arrival of even one imperils the fleeing families.  The makeup effects are good, the transformation process is effectively rendered, and the show is satisfyingly scary.  The show makes this even more interesting by filming each character’s dash individually, and then showing them as discrete vignettes that are out of chronological order.  

The story is weakest when it slows down enough to allow its characters to talk.  The dialogue is truly bad, even if the quick action sequences make up for it.  (Has there ever been a more generic bribery offer, for example, then the one we see here?)  But this weakness doesn’t much affect the overall quality of an episode that follows so much action.

I was even more surprised that the episode works when I googled “Black Summer.”  The Netflix series is produced The Asylum, the film company notorious for “mockbusters” like “Dead Men Walking” (2005), “Snakes on a Train” (2006) and … sigh … “Transmorphers” (2007).  What’s more, “Black Summer” is intended as a prequel series to  The Asylum’s “Z Nation,” the lamentable horror-comedy zombie series that ran for three seasons on SyFy.  (It was so bad I couldn’t get through a single episode.)

It’s a weird world.

 

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A short review of “Predestination” (2014)

Blog Correspondent Pete Harrison has been recommending “Predestination” to me for a couple of years now.  It took me the longest time to get around to it — I knew that the Spierig brothers’ mindbending science fiction film would be challenging, and I wanted to wait until I was in just the right mood to take it in.

It turns out Pete’s recommendation was a damned good one.  (Followers of this blog know he is our resident horror expert; turns out he knows his sci-fi too.)  “Predestination” is a grim, moody, well directed time travel movie, beautifully performed by Sarah Snook, Ethan Hawke and Noah Taylor.  The storytelling style reminded me so much of Christopher Nolan’s work that I had to check the credits again to make sure he wasn’t at the helm.  (Coming from me, that’s high praise.)  I’d rate “Predestination” a 9 out of 10.

I don’t think this movie is for everyone.  It’s hard-core sci-fi, adapted from a short story by Robert Heinlein called “– All You Zombies –,” and its stranger story elements will challenge the viewer instead of of pleasing them emotionally.  (This would be a very confusing choice for a date movie, for example.)

And there is a major plot element here that requires so much suspension of disbelief that I think many viewers will be put off by it.  (It doesn’t involve the plot-enabling time travel tehcnology.)  I truly enjoyed this film, and even I struggled with this element’s plausibility.  I feel certain it was easier for Heinlein to get across on the page than for any filmmaker to show on screen.  (Would any of us react the way these characters do if we were in the same situation?  I don’t think the human heart works quite the way the story suggests it does.)

Still, this was a very good movie for a science fiction fan.  If you are in the mood for something dark, different and demanding, then give it a chance.

 

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A review of “Pet Sematary” (2019)

“Pet Sematary” (2019) is an unnecessary remake, but still a decent one.  I personally prefer the flamboyant 1989 film adaptation of Stephen King’s novel; it was more garish and stylish, if a little campy.  (And its flashback sequences involving one character’s deceased sister are priceless horror fare.)  But this sleeker, more restrained update is nonetheless still made and sometimes pretty scary.  I’d rate it an 8 out of 10.

The writing and directing are generally good, even if certain jump scares were so heavy-handed that they were nearly laughable.  (The script wisely capitalizes on the universal, existential dread of mortality, as the first film did.)  There are few new bells and whistles here; the 2019 film instead tries to distinguish itself with a key variation in the plot of King’s eponymous 1983 book.  (I won’t describe it here, as I’m not certain whether it is a spoiler.  But this change isn’t “shocking,” as The New York Times’ headline proclaims; it’s simply a basic story alteration.)

The cast is roundly quite good.  A surprise standout for me was Amy Seimetz, who plays the mother of the story’s troubled Creed family with surprising power and nuance.  She’s a damned excellent actress.  And I was surprised to learn that I failed to recognize her as one of the doomed spacefarers  from 2017’s “Alien: Covenant” — another role that required her to portray apprehension and panic.

There were two possible nitpicks that occurred to me as I watched “Pet Sematary,” but these probably aren’t the fault of the filmmakers, as they likely stem from the literary source material.  (I read the book several times, but I was a young teenager when I did so.)  As an adult, I am only a fuzzy on two story elements:

  1. How is the character of Victor Pascow (played here by Obssa Ahmed) able to offer help to the troubled Creed family?  Can anyone in his circumstances do so?  Might others step forward as well?  Why should Pascow be uniquely motivated?  (I am again trying to keep this review spoiler free.)
  2. Why is the mother’s traumatic childhood a factor in the story’s present?  It’s … mostly tangential, right?  It is a compelling character element, and portrayed beautifully by Seimetz.  But I don’t fully understand how it seems to affect what transpires before us.

One final note — I’ve seen a few people on the Internet compare John Lithgow’s performance to that of Fred Gwynne in the 1989 film.  (They both play the character of Jud, the family’s elderly neighbor.)  Lithgow is predictably wonderful here — especially when Jud is showing kindness to the young daughter (played charmingly by Jete Laurence).  But Gwynne was better, because he was so perfectly cast.  It was a role that he was born to play.

 

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A few quick words on “The Walking Dead” Season 9 (2019)

I won’t go on at length here about how “The Walking Dead” has so vastly improved.  I’ve already bored a couple of friends of mine to tears by practically evangelizing to them about how they should start watching the show again after having given up on it.

But now that Season 9 has concluded, I at least need to mention here that I loved it — enough to rate it a 9 out out of 10.  There were some narrative problems, some of which were avoidable and some of which weren’t.  (It’s always hard to smoothly script around the departures of major characters.  This instance must have been especially tough.)   But Season 9 is so radically improved in terms of its pacing, plotting and characterization that it might as well be an entirely different TV show.  Not only does it move along at a nice, brisk pace, it also paints a fairly broad post-apocalyptic epic on a broad canvas.  And it’s scary again, too — owing largely to the arrival of “The Whisperers,” who are among the best villains the show has ever offered.  (Only the residents of Terminus come close to being creepier.)

If you’ve given up on the show, I understand that.  The overall story has stagnated for years, most notably when it was mired in the static, over-long and depressing story arc in which our heroes were subjugated by Negan.  But I recommend you sit down with Season 9 and at least give it a chance.  You’ll be happy you did.

 

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