He SAID: Friday Night Frights

Christopher M. Enis

Last week began the second season of what I like to call Friday Night Frights on NBC. It began last year with the veteran series Grimm, a half-season of Dracula, and the stylish gore fest Hannibal. This season, Grimm and Hannibal return (Dracula does not), and are joined by the new series Constantine.
Grimm enters its fourth season with the story of Nick Burkhardt (David Giuntoli): a homigrimmcide detective who discovers that he is descended from a supernatural “guardians” known as Grimms. They act as defenders against the Wesen (pronounced “vessin”: the German word for “creature”). The Wesen might be the modern day Boogeyman: they look human, and can only be seen in their true forms without their consent by Grimms.
Grimm comes from the minds of co-creators David Greenwalt and Jim Kouf (of Buffy and Angel fame). It’s a supernatural police procedural that has found a nice balance between both worlds, without being insulting to either.

Constantine is based on the DC Comics/Vertigo series Hellblazer. constantine
John Constantine (Matt Ryan) is a con artist turned reluctant detective of the Occult. He’s also got some major personal issues (tortured by his sins and such). Constantine is tasked with defending humanity against the ever growing forces of darkness. His Crusade companions include his oldest friend Chas Chandler Constantine(Charles Halford) and Manny (Harold Perrineau) an angel with a chip on his…wing… who’s been assigned to watch over Constantine. Other main characters (also from the comic series) are the voodoo king, Papa Midnight (Michael James Shaw), Mary ‘Zed’ Martin (Angélica Celaya) and The Spectre (Emmett Scanlan).

Daniel Cerone and David Goyer developed the show for television, and Neil Marshall directed the pilot. The good news is, the series is closer to the source material than the 2005 movie (starring Keanu Reeves). But due to the mostly R-rated nature of the source, we won’t get a full translation on network television.

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Overall, Constantine is a nice addition to the live action DC Comics TV Universe (CW’s Arrow, The Flash and Fox’s Gotham). With time, there’s a good chance that it’ll become a permanent part of the Friday Night Frights on NBC.

He SAID: True Terror

photo2_430Scott F. Evans

On the day after Christmas in 1973, Warner Brothers released William Friedkin’s The Exorcist. Based on screenwriter William Peter Blatty’s own 1971 novel, the film was a critical and financial success. It was one of the highest grossing films of that year, bringing in $66 million dollars on a $12 million dollar production budget. The film was nominated for 10 Academy Awards including best director, best screenplay, best cinematography, and was the first horror film to ever be nominated for best picture.The Exorcist was also a cultural milestone, changing the horror genre forever.

Prior to this film’s release, horror films were strictly B-level entertainmentmercedes-mccambridge-the-exorcist-dreams-are-what-le-cinema-is-for--the-exorcist-1973-image featuring classic movie monsters like Dracula, Frankenstein, and the Wolf Man… or drive-in double features showcasing sordid grindhouse exploitation. But The Exorcist comes with a mainstream pedigree, rivaled only by 1968’s Rosemary’s Baby. Director William Friedkin had just won the Oscar for Best Director for the classic 1971 crime drama The French Connection. An auteur, Friedkin took the original 85 day shoot and increased it to more than 200. His onset exploits are legendary, firing a gun near an actor to get an authentic shocked reaction, slapping another actor before a take to get the proper emotion from the scene, and injuring his two leading ladies by having them yanked around in harnesses. But for all of that, Friedkin was able to craft, arguably, one of the scariest movies ever made.

Linda-Blair-in-The-Exorcist-jpgThe cast also helps to elevate this film. Every actor turns in superbly understated performances. Linda Blair plays Regan, the pre-teen victim. She’s very natural pre-possession, never falling into cutesy kid actor antics. Ellen Burstyn as Regan’s mother Chris, probably has to do most of the emotional heavy lifting here as she goesMV5BMTM5MjgwNjgxNl5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwMzczNTIwNA@@._V1_SX640_SY720_ through this stressful ordeal. It’s a challenging performance but Burstyn makes it look easy. Max Von Sydow is so uncontrived as Father Merrin that viewers might think he was an actual priest. Credit must also go out to makeup artist Dick Smith for turning the then 44 year old actor into a senior citizen. Veteran actor Lee J. Cobb avoids the hard boiled cop cliché and gives Lt. Kinderman a dry sense of humor that makes his few scenes memorable. Jason Miller plays the troubled hero priest Father Karras. It was his first onscreen role, and he was exemplary in it. Like the rest of the cast, he turns in a strong but very low key, natural performance.
Max-Von-SydowRevisiting this film after a long separation, I had forgotten how leisurely paced it is. Like most films of the era, The Exorcist doesn’t play to a specific audience. This movie was not influenced by marketers and focus groups. Friedkin made the picture he wanted to make without the heavy hand of the studio guiding his every move. The Exorcist is as profane and violent as we all remember, but it’s also a slow burn. The filmmakers take their time and let the audience get to know the characters before unleashing the horror. They’re all fundamentally “good” people, so you care about Regan, Chris, Karras and Kinderman. One of the mistakes far too many modern horror films make is that they’re designed to play to our baser instincts. The ExorcistKarrasMerrin2-1films are lazy and disposable. The scripts don’t give us three-dimensional characters that garner our sympathy; instead opting for unlikeable archetypes that we want to see killed in clever ways. They want us to sympathize with the monster or killer and not the victims, because it’s easier to write an unstoppable killing machine than it is to write actual people.
The Exorcist, even with its relaxed pacing, still manages to be unnerving. The Exorcist_Jason Miller_1973I’ve seen this film several times but still found myself, literally, on the edge of my seat while watching it. It’s truly an experience. The imagery and (more importantly) ideas stay with you for days after. I’ve grown with this film. There a time where I wouldn’t even watch the trailers. Even the original cover of the novel unsettled my young mind. My first viewing was the heavily edited network television version, and it still scared the shit out of me. I would lie awake at night, fully believing that a fully possessed Regan was eventually going to find me. I would imagine her scarred face grinning at me from my bedroom doorway. Later, when it was released on home video I finally took the plunge and rented it on VHS. And yes, it still scared the shit out of me. But I was older and was affected beyond Dick Smith’s prosthetics and the film’s sound design. Now I was beginning to notice Owen Roizman’s camera work even if at the time I didn’t fully understand what cinematography was. Then the remastered DVD was released and I almost bought a copy but chickened out and rented it instead. In 2000, the film was re-released in theaters as an extended cut. Here was my chance to finally see it on the big screen the way the filmmakers intended. And of course I went…to a midday screening.

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Saying that I love The Exorcist would simplify a complicated relationship. I love it because it’s an example of excellent craftsmanship. It’s the kind of film I aspire to make. But I also hate it because honestly… deep down inside… I’m still that little boy completely freaked out by everything about The Exorcist. I’m gonna go and watch the behind the scenes documentary now. I think that makes me a masochist.

He SAID: The (mediocre) Strain

Christopher M. Enis

The FX series The Strain began with all the elements of a good idea, and all the potential of a great show. Contaminated plane lands at JFK… CDC comes in to investigate… then conspiracies, missteps, and betrayal… and  The Strain is now loose in New York City.  strain9

Sounds simple enough. So how did The Strain become The Hot Mess?

The Strain was created by by filmmaker Guillermo del Toro and novelist Chuck Hogan. It’s based on the book, and their novel trilogy including ‘The Fall’ and ‘The Night Eternal.’ Del Toro was only really involved in the first episode. He produced and co-wrote it with Hogan. After that, the show regressed to the wretched mess that defines Season One.

strain10We’re lead through the investigation of The Strain by CDC Response Leader Dr. Ephraim ‘Eph’ Goodweather (Corey Stoll). He and his partner strain6Dr. Nora Martinez (Mía Maestro) are tasked with finding the source of The Strain, measuring its reach, and working to contain it. Eph is more than happy to dive right in.  This is what he lives for. More than his ex-wife, more than his kid (whom he loves… but just not as much as work). So he’s here for The Strain.

Nora… not so much. The deeper Eph goes down the rabbit hole, the more Nora pulls him back. Even when the initial batch of worms (discovered in the belly of the plane) turns into the coolest biological manifestation of a vampire we’ve ever seen… Nora is skeptical. What? Really? There are people being EATEN right in front of you, but you’re not sure?

{Flashback to the X-Files, when Scully always managed to pass out or look the other way or just be plain absent when the aliens showed up. Mulder was left blabbering about extra-terrestrials and Scully would stare at him like he had too much to drink.}

Eph is helped (and Nora is dragged) along by former history professorstrain4 and Holocaust survivor Abraham Setrakian (David Bradley). He knows more about The Strain than anyone… including the fact that these flesh-penetrating worms have a ‘Master’ who arrived on that plane, and is squatting somewhere in New York (with the help of the aforementioned conspiracy and betrayal). For reference sake, lets just call The Master good old fashioned Dracula. He is the first, the beginning, the one from which all the rest of these gross worms turned flesh eating zombie vampires originate. Like any good Master, he needs minions. So the worms make quick work of spreading from one unsuspecting person to the next.

This (naturally) makes no sense to Eph. But in light of mounting evidence, he’s ready to believe. So he joins Setrakian, slaps Nora with enough evidence to make her compliant, and off they go to fight The Strain.

Along the way, we’re regaled with tales of Setrakian’s past (shown in flashback after flashback after time-dragging flashback). The history lesson is likely meanstrain7t to educate us strain5about The Master. It doesn’t. There’s also a strange side story involving the worst Latino Stereotype the writers could muster, who’s now hanging out with a vampire counter-terrorist group. Confused? You should be.

One of the best things about The Strain are the vampires themselves. Any human infected by the worms is injected with a virus, which alters the body strain2on a genetic level. The outer body eventually becomes a host for a 6-foot long “stinger” that shoots out of the mouth to seek a victim’s throat and drain their blood. The action also infects the victim with the worms… and so The Strain is spread. In a glorious f-you to Twilight and the like, these ain’t your sparkly, emotional, Abercrombie & Fitch catalog model looking vamps. They’re right up there with 30 Days Of Night. Gross, feral, and out for blood (literally).

strain8The performances of the some of the cast is noteworthy. Kevin Durand nails it as Ukrainian-born rat exterminator Vasiliy Fet. His skill set is perfect for exterminating vampires. Richard Sammel is exquisite as Eichhorst, former Nazi commander (where he met Setrakian) and current right hand of The Master.

But even the incredible performances aren’t enough to save The Strain. The pacing is not measured. It’s plodding. There are too many unrealistic reactions to imminent danger. Many decisions by the main characters are steeped in stupidity. There are real-life plot holes that defy logic. There’s a specific storyline that strain3includes slowing down internet access to a virtual crawl.  No one noticed? Really? There’s no communication with a vital link to the Financial Capital of the Free World, and everyone is acting like it’s just ‘one of those technology things.’ Are that many people that stupid? Maybe.

The writers insist on trying to merge the horror of The Strain, with the drama of marriage, divorce, child-rearing and the like. We came to a vampire show, and a relationship drama broke out. It’s frustrating and distracting. We don’t care if Eph gets back with his ex wife. We really don’t.

strain11These inane sidetracks, along with about a dozen plot-lines that were started but either abandoned or underdeveloped, is only a small part of what makes The Strain so unwatchable.

The first season of The Strain ended in early October, and was strangely renewed for Season Two. Maybe the network executives didn’t watch the same show as the rest of us. There’s no doubt the show has potential. Here’s hoping that in the coming season, the writers work a little harder to live up to it.

We SAID: Making (Scary) Faces

Staff Writer

Halloween is just days away, and many people are scrambling to find the perfect ‘look’ for any given party (or stroll down the street to scare the crap out of little trick or treaters). If you’re looking for a little inspiration, these artists might be able to help you find just what you need to get the job done.

***GOLDIESTARLING***

goldiestarling

Goldiestarling (Angie) is a humble makeup artist with a huge amount of talent. Her work has been featured in Makeup Artist Magazine, the New York Times, ABC News, Yahoo Shine, and Daily Mail. This refreshing artists speaks to (not at) her viewers, and shows you the simplest way to create complicated looks.

***KLAIRE DE LYS***

klaire

Klaire (with a K) possesses the artist’s penchant for thinking visually. It is often easier for her to show you, than to tell you. Her creations use some of the simplest colors and formulas (you won’t find any ridiculously high priced makeup here). She is a testament to the notion that true art knows no boundaries (or price tags). Be warned: her looks are not exactly suited to a trip to the grocery store. But if you’re headed for a masquerade or costume party, you needn’t look any further than Klaire.

***PIXIWOO***

pixiwoo

Pixiwoo (Nicola and Samantha Chapman) make their living by applying makeup and selling a collection of affordable Makeup Brushes to help fans imitate their creative looks. Halloween is when the sisters really shine. This rendition of ‘Chucky’ is a perfect example of how (and why) Pixiwoo has been able to parlay their talents into a successful career.

He SAID: The Walking Dead Season 5 (The Need for Speed)

dead

Christopher M. Enis

The end of Season 4 of AMCs The Walking Dead saw Rick (Andrew Lincoln) uttering that effective (albeit G-rated) line after he and fellow apocalypse survivors walked into a literal flesh-eating trap. In their defense, they thought they were headed for a safe haven called Terminus. Not.

Took ’em long enough to get there. And suddenly, they’re caught… end of season. Boo! Here’s the thing: The Walking Dead may have been at the top of the ratings chart, but it will never win any awards for story pacing.  The last two ‘partial seasons’ felt like two full seasons. Sometimes the pacing is so slow, dead1it’s nearly nonsensical. Case in point: half of one episode solely devoted to Carl (Chandler Riggs) eating Costo sized can of chocolate pudding. C’mon! Get to the killing! But the writers of the Walking Dead would have none of that. In true tribute to the graphic novel, the stories are filled with tender moments that drag and dialogue that feels almost foreign, given the reality that the world is overrun with flesh eating zombies. But hey, after four seasons we know what we’re getting, right? Wrong.

dead2When Season 5 began, I expected the Terminus saga to easily eat up say… 4 to 6 episodes. Imagine my surprise when Terminus went up in smoke at the end of very first episode! Thanks to Carol (Melissa McBride) – the character with perhaps the biggest arc of them all – Rick and the gang dead3were able to escape a group of folks that would have anyone running toward a zombie horde for sanctuary.

And we’re off!

Other new (refreshing) developments: the gang got back together (if only for a spell) and OMG! THEY HAVE A PLAN! Seriously, this is cause for celebration. We’ve been trudging along with these folks for years with no dead6direction and no plan and sudden shock and disappointment when some asshole they blindly trust ends up trying to eat them for dinner. I’m watching this now and actually rooting for them, instead of hoping that the ones in the most denial (it’s a ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE! And it did NOT just happen the day before yesterday!) get picked off like the runts of the proverbial litter.

dead4The first few episodes are (hopefully) great indicators that those sloth-like plot developments are behind us. Let’s hear it for a little action (and a lot more gore)! I’m optimistic. Hell, I’ve been with Rick and the gang this long… maybe this time they’ll give me my money’s worth.

The Walking Dead airs on AMC, Sundays at 9/8 Central.

He SAID: Dear White People…

Scott F. Evans

Dear White People is first time writer/director Justin Simien’s scathing examination of race in modern day America. Set on a fictional Ivy League college campus, it’s a film that speaks specifically to Millennials … with a larger message for all Americans. It asks the question, what does it mean to be Black in a predominantly white environment? Where do I fit in? Do I fit in anywhere? Is it even important to fit in?

The film follows the lives of four main characters: Samantha White (Tessadearwhitepeople3 Thompson), a militant, bi-racial radio host, Lionel Higgins (Tyler James Williams), a gay would-be journalist, Troy Fairbanks (Brandon P. Bell), anointed son of the Dean of Students, and Coco Conners (Teyonah Parris), an ‘around the way girl’ with aspirations for white validation.  Their lives converge and explode… when word leaks of a racist party planned by a campus humor rag.

While Dear White People takes a hard look at race, it’s ultimately about identity. The identity of each of the main players is shaped by external dearwhitepeople1circumstances. The militant black students are defined by the awkward nature of being a tiny minority in a largely white, classist environment. They feel that their fragile unity is under attack, by a school administration determined to “diversify” by dissolving the all-Black resident hall. There’s an underlying feeling that if separated, they will get swallowed up by the dominant group. The film slyly suggests that some form of functional unity is necessary for survival.

Simien’s script is excellent, if a little too overwritten. The dialogue is filled with smart wordplay, but the characters are so verbose and glib, it often feels like the screenwriter showing off. Characters debate (rather than talk to) each other. {But honestly… in an era of simplistic Black cinema, Dear White People’s elaborate exchanges are a welcome alternative.}

As good as Simien’s writing is, his direction is considerably weaker. He dearwhitepeople9gets good performances from all of his cast, but his staging needs work.  His compositions are sometimes distracting, with too many shots of characters in profile. Other neophyte tells include placing the characters too closely to the edge of the frame with dead space behind them. His visual language owes a lot (maybe too much) to early Spike Lee. Still, the film rarely betrays its low budget. With the exception of an action sequence near the end that looks cheap and rushed, Dear White People looks like it cost two or three times its actual production budget. That could be due to the exceptional work of cinematographer Topher Osborn.

dearwhitepeople7Because this film is set during our Post-Civil Rights, Post-Black Power, Post-Cosby, Late-Obama era, there’s a new question in play. What constitutes “selling out” in a heavily integrated, ‘Me First’ environment? These are the entitled children of privilege and hyper-individualism. One character initially balks at picking a side, preferring to dearwhitepeople8fence sit in order to further his career. Another character covets fame, no matter what the cost. Another willingly becomes a pawn in a subtle feud between older rivals. And another… is exposed as an anarchist who is more interested in stirring up discord as an escape mechanism — rather than actually fighting for change. Because the reality for this group of young adults is that regardless of what happens on a racial level at the college, they’re all destined for success. The upper class grandchildren of the Civil Rights era have no defining racial event to rally around. Jim Crow was defeated long before any of them were born. And now… let’s be honest… there’s actually a chance that they could be President one day.

Rating: THEATER