Starring Henry Thomas, Nicki Aycox, Patrick Fugit, Michael Shannon, Mark Boone Jr., Isaiah Washington
Directed by Alex Turner
Dirty, gangrene-ridden filmic accounts of the violent conflict between the North and the South, I could see, would bore some to the point of suicide. Not me. If it’s engaging enough and not some backyard reenactment of the Civil War with your neighbor Bob, I’ll jump into the trenches for two or three hours of blood-soaked history. And wouldn’t ya know it, this modestly budgeted period piece from newcomer Alex Turner dishes on the history (we’re in the late-1800s for this one) as well as some heavy gore and otherworldly Lovecraftian heebie-jeebies for a mostly satisfying feast. That is, if you can withstand its unhurried storytelling pace these tales of America’s yesteryear can’t seem to shake (it ain’t no Glory, I’ll say that much).
Turner’s luck as a first-timer is beyond what most fledglings are granted with: a strong cast, a taut – if simple – script and Tim Burton’s thriftiness with the dinero. You see, Turner got to use the “town set” Burton’s production crew had originally built for Big Fish. Too nice to tear down, the block-or-so-long streetscape survived – fortunate for the Dead Birds troupe because the location is used to open the film and it sets a precedent for the rest of the painstaking attention for detail we can plainly see bathed beneath the blood.
This small town I speak of has a new coat of crimson by the time Birds‘ band of criminals ride out in a hail of bullets following a bold bank heist where they make off with four sacks of gold. A trail of bodies is left behind including one poor sap whose head is blown to croutons ala Fulci’s kid cranium-shot in The Beyond. Unfortunately a little boy is picked off in the process by leader-of-the-thieves, William (Thomas). It’s a chunk of karma evil enough to haunt the gang as they arrive at their hide-out: an old plantation house set behind a dried field of corn. It’s here they’re attacked by a toothy creature identified as a “hairless boar” which is quickly dismissed for more pressing issues, hunkering down for the night indoors and protecting the gold. Weird then turns to f*cked up as manifestations begin to reveal the house’s past.
The build-up is a long one and the pay-off is drippy with sacrifice victims but the frights could’ve worked a whole lot better if there were some discernibly likeable characters among the gristly lot. Turner keeps each scene rich with color and every frame creative in the composition department (May production designer, Leslie Keel, and d.p., Steve Yedlin, were on board) even right up to the very end when the story perilously threatens to split at the stitches. However, it remains courageously cryptic, never succumbing to needless exposition. Dead Birds never flinches, takes the genre to a time few have gone before and is, so far, one of 2005’s most welcome entries. And this, again, comes from Silver Nitrate, the company who served us Frankenfish on a skillet last year – another surprising effort that was better than it ought to be. I look forward to their future.
Columbia’s widescreen presentation presents a sharp and atmospheric picture with a uniformly strong sound transfer. An offering of extras usually fit for a more popular (ahem, successful) film are here for the taking – an unusual act for Columbia Tri-Star who is more akin to giving us the cold shoulder in the bonus features department when the movie’s not, say, Spider-Man.
To begin with, a drunken producer welcomes us to the Alabama set in Making Dead Birds (27m 10s), the disc’s main featurette. It’s filled with more laughs than you’d think, all of them stemming from unintentionally humorous on-set incidents, for example, when Turner learns that some of his crew are part of a local inmate reintegration program. They make great electricians, apparently. We also get a peek at some of the alternative creature designs created by Robert Hall’s Almost Human FX. From the Special Features menu press left on your remote and you’ll open the 6m 37s Easter egg entitled Showboat & Boomer, a series of interviews between actors Michael Shannon and Mark Boone Jr. – two of the film’s highlights who are seen here hamming it up and exchanging friendly verbal slams.
An audio commentary with Turner accompanies all five ho-hum deleted scenes. He also flies solo on one of two audio commentaries where he never misses a beat to credit his crew all the while detailing the challenge of cramming in – and being grateful for – the amount of coverage he needed to make a coherent film over the amount of days he had to do it. Similar sentiments are found on the second commentary track with Turner, actor Henry Thomas, actress Nicki Aycox, screenwriter Simon Barrett and composer Peter Lopez.
Columbia has also included trailers for Anacondas: The Hunt for the Blood Orchid, Resident Evil: Apocalypse, The Grudge and Wake of Death. If you wind up a fan of Birds, like myself, you’ll be thankful for the studio’s generosity. Let’s hope they keep this up.
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The Shape of Water Review: A Quirky Mix of Whimsy and Horror That Does Not Disappoint
Starring Sally Hawkins, Michael Shannon, Richard Jenkins, Michael Stulbarg, Doug Jones
Directed by Guillermo del Toro
“True Blood,” Beauty and the Beast, and Twilight aside, the notion of romantic love between humans and otherworldly creatures has been a popular theme throughout storytelling history. The ancient Greeks told tales of Leda and the swan, while stories of mermaids luring sailors to their lusty demise were met with wonder worldwide, stemming from Assyria c. 1000 BC. To this day, there’s Creature From the Black Lagoon fanfic that’s quite racy… for whatever reason, some people are fascinated by this fantasy taboo.
The new period film from co-writer/director Guillermo del Toro, The Shape of Water, dives right into the erotic motif with the tale of how Elisa (Sally Hawkins) and Amphibian Man (Doug Jones) fell in love. (While I personally could have done without the bestiality angle, I do applaud del Toro for having the balls to show what’s usually implied.) Having said that, The Shape of Water is about more than just interspecies passion.
The Shape of Water is a voluptuous, sumptuous, grand, and melodramatic Gothic fable at times (there’s even a lavish 1940s style dance routine!), but mostly it’s an exciting and gripping adventure, pitting the good guys against one very bad buy – played with mustache-twirling (minus the mustache), bug-eyed glee by Michael Shannon. Shannon is Strickland, a sinister and spiteful Cold War government operative who is put in charge of a mysterious monster captured in the Amazon and shipped to his Baltimore facility for study. When using cruel and abusive methods to crack the creature’s secrets doesn’t work, Strickland decides to cut him open to see what’s ticking inside.
Elisa, a lowly cleaning lady at the facility, has meanwhile grown fond of “the Asset,” as he’s called. She’s been spending time with him on the sly, not even telling her two best friends about her budding tenderness for the mute and isolated alien. She relates to him because not only is she lonesome, she’s unable to speak (an abusive childhood is alluded to – which includes water torture). Using sign language, she first tells out-of-work commercial illustrator Giles (Richard Jenkins), then her co-worker Zelda (Octavia Spencer), about the need to rescue her waterlogged Romeo from Strickland’s scalpel. Needless to say, it won’t be easy sneaking a classified government experiment out of the high security building.
The Shape of Water is vintage del Toro in terms of visuals and accoutrement. The set-pieces are stunning to say the least. Elisa and Giles live in cozy, cluttered, age-patinaed apartments above a timeworn Art Deco moving-pictures palace; Strickland’s teal Cadillac is a collection of curves and chrome; and the creature’s tank is a steampunk nightmare of iron, glass, and sturdy padlocks. DP Dan Laustsen (Crimson Peak) does justice to each and every detail. Costumes (Luis Sequeira) and Creature (Legacy Effects) are appropriately stunning. The velvety score by Alexandre Desplat (“Trollhunters”) is both subdued and stirring.
While the film is a fantasy-fueled feast for the senses, it’s really the actors who keep you caring about the players in such an unrealistic, too-pat story. Jones, entombed in iridescent latex and with GC eyes, still manages to emote and evoke sympathy as the misfit monster. Jenkins is endearingly morose as a closeted gay man surrounded by his beloved cats and bolstered by the belief his hand-painted artwork is still relevant in an ever-more technical world. Spencer is the comic relief as a sassy lady who’s hobbled by her station in life but leaps into action when the chips are down.
Del Toro cowrote the screenplay with Vanessa Taylor, whose credits in the television world are numerous – but she’s probably best-known for her work on “Game of Thrones” – which adds an interesting and feminine perspective. The story definitely feels more comic-book than anything, which is okay I guess, but I prefer del Toro’s deeper delves into history and character (The Devil’s Backbone is still my fave). But, for those who love del Toro’s quirky mix of whimsy and horror, you will not be disappointed.
The Shape of Water is a dreamlike, pulpy adult fairytale that dances on the surface of reality while remaining true to the auteur’s vision.
Secretions Short Film Review – Anyone For Some Blood and Guts a la Carte?
Starring Zia Electric, David Macrae, Chris Savva
Directed by Goran Spoljaric
Only a select few know the true horrors of one’s basement (hell, I’ve got one that floods regularly) – but in director Goran Spoljaric’s extremely “juicy” short film, Secretions – we see just what lives in a grimy cellar…and what it craves in order to sustain. Anyone have any sanitizer? We’re gonna need it for this one.
Alone and held captive in a dirty-subterranean room, a woman is literally fighting for her life, and due to her being chained at the ankle, it’s painfully obvious that she’s here for the long haul. On the first floor of this residence, a deal is being made, and it’s one that will either help or harm a hopeless addict.
It involves a little handy-work down in the basement, and although it might seem like a light job considering the circumstances…nothing is as easy as it initially looks – anyone for some blood and guts a la carte? The imprisoned woman contains something inside of her that is particularly satiating to the habituated, but it comes at a painful price, which begs the question: what would you risk to scratch an itch?
Spoljaric’s direction here focuses on the victim – and while you’ll probably be wondering exactly who that is during this quickie’s 11-minute duration, it doesn’t detract from its powerful display. Gritty, grimy and ultimately gruesome – these Secretions are the ones that simply cannot be washed off – maybe I’ll give a little turpentine a shot, as something’s got to get these damned stains out – YUCK.
Mindhunter Review: The Best Netflix Original Series to Date
Starring Jonathan Groff, Holt McCallany, Anna Torv, Hannah Gross, Sonny Valicenti, and Cameron Britton.
Directed by David Fincher, Andrew Douglas, Asif Kapadia, and Tobias Lindholm.
A few weeks back Netflix premiered all ten episodes of David Fincher’s new serial killer series “Mindhunter” on their streaming service. Being that Fincher is one of our favorite directors we added the series to our queues as soon as possible. And this past week – after recapping and reviewing all 9 episodes of “Stranger Things 2” – we were finally able to sit down and enjoy the (much) more adult thriller series.
What did we think? Find out below…
First off we should get a few things like plot and background out of the way. “Mindhunter” is based on the best-selling non-fiction novel of the same name by John E. Douglas and Mark Olshaker. The book was optioned by none other than David Fincher and Charlize Theron and quickly thereafter snatched up by Netflix. The series is executive produced and (mostly) written by Joe Penhall.
The plot follows a young FBI agent played by Jonathan Groff who, after an incident in the field, is set to be a teacher at Quantico. Kinda boring. Especially for a guy under thirty. Quickly, however, the young agent joins forces with a seasoned pro, played by Holt McCallany (Fight Club) in a star-making performance, and together the two tour the country educating local police on the proper protocols established by the FBI.
That is, until the day that our young agent gets it in his head that he wants to interview Ed Kemper. Yes, That Ed Kemper. From there the series becomes the story of the FBI and its very beginnings of psychological profiling. The series even goes so far as to lay out the tale of how the term “serial killer” was first coined.
In the hands of any other filmmaker, this semi-procedural thriller would have, most likely, not been our cup of tea. But in the hands of master director David Fincher, “Mindhunter” is quite possibly the most riveting police procedural to ever hit the small screen. Hyperbole, we know. But come on, have you seen Fincher’s Zodiac?
Yeah, now picture that motion picture spread out over the course of ten glorious hours and you’ll have somewhat of an idea of how much fun(?) it was to spend the better part of our free time last week in the grips of such as series.
First off special mentioned needs to be thrown at the killer cast of “Mindhunter.” Each actor is phenomenal. From our hero agents played by Groff, Holt McCallany, and Anna Torv, the series only gets better with powerhouse after powerhouse performance hitting us from the likes of Jack Erdie as Richard Speck, Adam Zastrow as a lonely (possible) rapist, and Joseph Cross and Jesse C. Boyd as a pair of (possible) ladykillers.
Oh, and Cameron Britton as Ed Kemper. Oh, boy. Cameron Britton as Ed Kemper.
I could spend this entry review telling you guys about how chilling, disturbing and utterly riveting Cameron Britton’s performance as Ed Kemper (aka The Co-Ed Killer) is, but you really need to see it for yourself to get the full picture. The series has more than it’s fair share of spine-chilling moments, to be sure. But none are so chilling as any and ever given scene which features Britton as Kemper. Give this man all the awards. Today.
Given the tight performances by the entire cast – including solid turns by the lowest day player – “Mindhunter” would be a crowning achievement for Netflix. But add in some of the top directors working today (including, in addition to Fincher, Andrew Douglas, Asif Kapadia, and Tobias Lindholm) and beautiful 2:35 cinematography by Erik Messerschmidt and Christopher Probst, and you have a series so jaw-droppingly cinematic, you’ll be amazed this never played in theaters. And was never meant to.
Overall I cannot think of one negative thing to say about this new Netflix original series.
Well, maybe one thing: Hannah Gross as Debbie Mitford is a dull character. This is not a jab at Gross as an actress. But her mostly one-note, under-developed character is forced to spend the majority of her screentime merely portraying “the girlfriend.” Which in a series like this means she merely functions, for a majority of her screentime, a receptacle of exposition once our hero returns home after a long day.
But other than that one aspect, this Netflix original series is top quality from end to end. From the spooky pre-credits insights into the growing storm that is Dennis Rader aka the BTK killer to the season’s finale sequence set in Kemper’s ICU room, “Mindhunter” is a chilling – and frankly scary series that you won’t be able to shake for months.
And most, if not all of the scares, come courtesy of long dialogue scenes – which are anything other than boring.
In the end, Mindhunters is a series that we cannot wait to see continue forward come season two. Fincher has reportedly stated that Charles Manson will play a pivotal role in the second season, and we are actively counting down the days until we can visit that character… From the comfort of our Netflix account.
“Mindhunter” is a must-see. Get ahead of the game. Watch the series tonight.
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