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Thursday, October 23, 2014

Review: American Horror Story, "Edward Mordrake (pt. 1)"

American Horror Story is well known for being a bit unsettling, but their Halloween episodes are always the ones I look forward to the most. Following the trend from Murder House, the first season, the Halloween storyline will be told in two parts. 

The first part of the story aired last night, and it certainly held true to its disturbing tone. The opening scene introduces two new characters (played by AHS alumni Emma Roberts and Denis O’Hare) who are checking out a Ripley’s Believe-It-Or-Not type of exhibit together. 

AHS changes the setting to a calm neighborhood in West Palm Beach, Florida in 1952. Trick-or-treaters are out during the daytime because of a curfew issued due to the recent string of murders around their town. Like a constant reminder that the dangers are still hiding in plain sight, Twisty the Clown seems to be lurking around every corner.

Ethel, the bearded woman, pays a visit to the doctor, who tells her that her liver is failing and she only has 6 months to a year left to live. Instead of revealing this to her son, she returns to the Freak Show and warns her troupe against performing on Halloween. She and the other “freaks” explain to the Siamese Sisters that “no freaks perform on Halloween” because of the legend of Edward Mordrake, an 1800’s aristocrat (played by American Beauty’s Wes Bentley) who excelled in almost everything he tried, but had a terrible secret. Mordrake had a second face on the back of his head that whispered to him, telling him what to do. After trying to murder his second face, Mordrake was sent to an asylum that he soon escaped to join the local freak show as “the two-faced prince.” The characters explain that he went crazy one night and killed his entire troupe, eventually also hanging himself. The legend says that if any freak performs on Halloween night, his spirit will be summoned and he must take another soul back with him before he leaves. 

Emma Roberts arrives at the Freak Show in a taxi, explaining that she is the Mystic Miss Esmeralda, a fortuneteller. The show hints that she’s a fraud but it’s confirmed when she tells Elsa it is never too late for stardom, and that a handsome dark-haired man will bring her fame. 

Dot and Bette, the conjoined twins, butt heads with Elsa, the washed up starlet, telling her they need the space to rehearse since they’re the new headliners. But Elsa uses her intimidation tactics to ensure she gets the rehearsal space, all of them ignoring the warnings about performing on Halloween night. Keeping in tone with the other songs that have been performed at the Freak Show, Elsa belts out a modern tune, “Gods and Monsters” by Lana Del Rey. 

This critical episode hinted at several plot twists that may be in the upcoming episodes. The rivalry between Dot and her sister reaches an all-time high when she threatens to have surgery to remove her second head. Ethel, knowing that she’s living her last days, reveals to the audience that the Strong Man really is Jimmy’s father, but threatens him, saying that Jimmy can never know. The mystic Esmeralda makes a phone call to her partner in crime, who says they’ve hit the “jackpot.” He implies that they plan to kill the freaks and display their bodies, and it seems that Denis O’Hare has a freakish secret himself.

Mordrake is summoned, but Elsa sees him walk in and believes he’s the dark-haired man who will bring her stardom. He visits Ethel instead, trying to decide whether or not she’s the soul he wants to take back with him. But his second face whispers that she isn’t the one, and Mordrake leaves to find his victim.
In all of the previous seasons of American Horror Story, Halloween seems to reveal everyone’s darkest secrets, and this episode was no different. We got to see Elsa in a different light–she’s usually in charge of everything and everyone she crosses, but her ego allows her to be easily tricked by Esmerelda and her crystal ball. Jimmy is also at his most vulnerable because of his grief and guilt about Meep’s murder. The entire troupe showed their human sides at Meep’s funeral, and the Strong Man proves not to be so strong after all when Desiree asserts her power over him. The emergence of the scam artist fortuneteller puts everyone in a state of vulnerability and keeps the audience on their toes by making it clear that, just like in all seasons of AHS, each character has their own individual agenda, and they aren’t all good intentioned.

Guest review by Kendall Harris
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Riverdale Is Coming To Fox

You thought Fox was done with city-based comic book properties after Gotham?

Think again, my friends! Greg Berlanti, one of the minds behind Arrow and the upcoming CBS Supergirl series, has sold the network on a script deal for a series entitled Riverdale, which will focus on the lives of Archie comics characters Archie Andrews, Jughead, Betty, Veronica, and even Josie and Pussycats. 

The central pitch is that the series, named after the town in which these characters reside, will center on the surreal atmosphere of small town life and the weirdness bubbling beneath Riverdale's wholesome veneer.

The script is written by Archie Comics Chief Creative Officer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, who also has a background in cinema, having penned the remakes of Carrie and The Town That Dreaded Sundown.

With this, we're looking at a script deal plus penalty, so much like Constantine, which had a similar deal in place, I'd imagine this gets picked up sometime next year.

Source: Deadline
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James Spader Calls Ultron A "Powerful, Smart Child"

Last night's trailer gave us our first real lookat Ultron, the big title villain of Avengers: The Age of Ultron. And to be frank, he may have the potential to be the first truly exciting villain Marvel Studios has produced since Loki (oh Ronan, what could have been...).

James Spader, the voice behind Ultron, spoke today with TotalFilm about the role and how he sees the character:
There’s a humerous aspect to him, which is something that drew me in from the very first conversation I had with Joss [Whedon],” Spader revealed. “In many ways he’s a child, this character, because he’s a brand new being who’s just come to be. And yet, through artificial intelligence, he has an incredible capacity for knowledge. So he’s a very powerful, smart child...Ultron takes abrupt turns in scenes...He’s really batshit crazy!

While I still have some concerns that Ultron is really just a plot device to lead to strife amongst the Avengers and set up whatever the Civil War-esque status quo that will ride through their Phase 3, I'm excited to see what an actor of Spader's calibre can bring to the role. That voice is pretty magnetic.
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Inhumans, Attilan Rising: Today In Marvel Teasers

It was pretty clear that Marvel would be pushing the Inhumans to the fore in Marvel events as a way of, if not supplanting mutants, than as a greater area of focus in anticipation of an Inhumans film.

Here's the next daily teaser to add fuel to that fire.

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GeekRex Horror Essentials: Body Horror

Halloween is fast approaching, and the mood for horror movies has been struck. If you're looking for something scary to watch, look no further: all month we'll be giving our list of essentials horror movies in a given subgenre! This time: Body Horror Movies!

Kyle's Pick
Eraserhead (1977)
Directed by David Lynch 

One of Lynch's few pure horror films, his debut feature was a surreal nightmare-scape. It's an experience that defies easy answers and is full of symbolism, but can be boiled down to: a story of a young man's fears about impending adulthood. The "body horror" aspect is about as unsettling as you can imagine, related to both his recently born child, a swollen cheeked woman our protagonist has visions of, and the title of the film. It's the beginning of a brilliant career, and maybe the most disturbing film I've ever seen.

Hannah's Pick
eXistenz (1999)
Directed by David Cronenberg

eXistenz is one of those movies that you'll carry vivid memories of for years. The premise is simple enough - the dangers of a virtual reality world that becomes real. But rather than having a glossy, high-tech vibe, eXistenz feels much closer to present or even past day, using organic-looking matter in the place of computers and video screens.

Shane's Pick
Hellraiser (1987)
Directed by Clive Barker

This was a hard pick for me as body horror is not necessarily a genre I have too much experience in.  Featuring quite the amount of grotesque body horror and S&M monsters, Hellraiser is probably one of the more unique 80's horror films out there for you to check out.  Although don't bother with any of the sequels...

Harper's Pick
 The Fly (1986)
Directed by David Cronenberg

Cronenberg is arguably the master of body horror, The Fly is his most horrific. The story of the scientist forced to test his incredible invention on himself gone monstrously awry is one that is creepy and gross, but more importantly utterly heartbreaking.

Cal's Pick
Videodrome (1983)
Directed by David Cronenberg 

As Harper says, Cronenberg is the master. But if The Fly is his most horrific, made all the more so by Goldblum's relatability and the movie's almost romantic undertones, Videodrome is his chilliest. One of the most prescient horror films ever made, Videodrome smartly predicted a lot about online culture, and then took it about ten steps too far, as Max Renn's obsession with a pirated bit of pornography begins to make it difficult for him to tell the difference between reality and fantasy... and, eventually, begins to transform his body in horrific, uncontrollable ways.
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Review: Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

The premise is almost too good to be true, like a crazy elevator pitch from a buzzed armchair critic five beers in. Give me Michael Keaton as "The Washed Up Hollywood Actor," the one who never got over being Bird{Bat}man. Give me Edward Norton as "The Don’t Hire Him Because He’s Difficult Actor," the one who rewrites scripts because he thinks he knows better than everyone else. Give me a character trying really hard to impress people, but let him be in a movie that doesn’t give a fuck about what anyone else thinks.

That type of movie could never get made, except it somehow did. And it might be naïve or innocent to think this could be a film that is neither concerned with profit nor praise, but if there was ever such a movie, it would probably be this one.  Present-day Hollywood is a road built out of big-budget franchises and super hero films, each mile paved with the latest sequel, prequel, origin story, or reboot, already mapped out decades into our future.  It’s hard not to obsess over it and hate it at the same time. Birdman lives in that feeling.

Pitting Actor vs. Celebrity, Theater vs. Hollywood, and Art vs. Entertainment, Birdman feels, more than anything else, like an honest movie. That’s not to say this is a movie that teaches you some sort of intangible truth or takes a unilateral stand against Hollywood in favor of “true art” – in the end the theater snobs or critics who praise them and eschew celebrity worship are as ignorant as anyone else is in this film. But this feels like an honest movie in the sense that it comes from a real place of self-loathing and insecurity. A conflict that this director and these writers have probably actually felt, rather than a conflict that was manufactured to explain why some guy would try to blow up the Earth.  

The actual antagonist of the move, arguably, is that of Michael Keaton’s alter-ego, Birdman (Keaton’s character has a name, and it’s Riggan, but I’m not even going to use it here). Birdman whispers into the back of Keaton’s mind throughout the film, in a gruff Batman-y voice, tearing him down and exposing his worst inner fears. Keaton struggles in the wake of that character and that voice, trying to either silence it or make peace with it. Though this isn’t at all in the style of a “Mockumentary,” Birdman catches that same level of honest exposure; the kind of work that shows you, in its quietest moments, someone trying way too hard to be liked.

There are a lot of good performances in this film. Keaton’s is the most exemplary, and one of those rare cases where the actor’s personal life and experiences give a weight to the movie that no one else ever could (see Mikey Rourke in The Wrestler). Edward Norton and Emma Stone are also standouts. The MVPs of this film, though, are likely Director Alejandro González Iñárritu and Cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki.  

Iñárritu achieved fame for much more dramatic fare, including 21 Grams, Amores Perros, and Biutiful. Dark comedy looks good on him, and Birdman is arguably even better than his previous dramatic works, if for no other reason than because it manages to capture the same level of sincerity while still being enthralling. Lubezki is well-known for his work on Gravity, which earned him an Oscar last year for cinematography. In Birdman, the camera crawls, winding through passages and rooms to create what feels like one long, fluid take. The setup was painstaking and required incredibly expert choreography from everyone involved, yet it looks completely natural and effortless. It’s an essential component to the success of the film, which always feels fast-paced and vibrant as a result.

At the end of the day, Birdman feels like that old, cool teacher you had in school – the one who actually didn’t care how he dressed or what you thought, at all, because he was just doing his own thing. This is a movie that is sure enough in itself that it doesn’t pander to any particular audience or market or segment, and it doesn’t push as hard as it can to make you feel a prescribed set of emotions. It’s just that crazy movie that you can’t believe exists, but you’re grateful it does. 

Consensus: For Immediate Consumption

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Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Here's The First Trailer For 'The Avengers: Age of Ultron'

Presented without much comment, likely your biggest film of 2015, sorry Star Wars.

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