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Headspace (DVD)

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Headspace DVD (click for larger image)Starring Christopher Denham, Olivia Hussey, Erick Kastel and Udo Kier

Directed by Andrew van den Houten

Distributed By Vivendi Visiual Entertainment


Praise. Praise is what fills half of the back of Headspace‘s DVD box. The New York Times, Hollywood Reporter and the folks behind Re-Animator all gave it thumbs up. This film won Best Screenplay and Best Cinematography at the New York City Horror Film Festival. It also took home an award for Best Monster Movie at the World Horror Convention. So what exactly do all the good vibes lead up to?

Within the first few minutes of the picture, we get to see young Alex Borden’s mom bleeding on a birthday cake, possibly eating a dog, and getting half her face blown off by daddy’s shotgun after an old cliché moment involving a car not starting. Not a bad opening, but that’s where the good times end.

We fast forward to a much older Alex (Christopher Denham) joining a game of chess with the unbeatable Harry Jellenik (Erick Kastel). Harry has just beaten the film’s best character: a gay, wig-wearing Asian man who has a Hello Kitty purse. Poor Alex is no match for this champion of the board so they shake hands and go along their separate paths … or do they?

Not too long after the game Alex passes out, only to reawaken with exceptional new abilities. He can finish large novels in an hour, memorize charts with a glance, and watch his friends have hot sex. The last one may not be a special power, but it is especially creepy. Everyone Alex comes into contact with physically seems to meet a rather nasty death, one of which is done with gory special effects. It’s really too bad that the fates of other victims are left for our imaginations because the film lacks in other important areas like storytelling and solid creature design; the ones in the movie will make the audience laugh outright at their design.

As the story progresses, we have something that could have turned out to be an interesting exercise to test your brain. However, never once is Alex’s sanity called into question because the film gives you most of the answers upfront; you know that demons exist in this film’s reality because you see them kill people. Now, if Alex had been present during the deaths of Gay Boy Kitty or William Atherton’s Dr. Asshole character, then there would be more to ponder.

Headspace DVD (click for larger image)Headspace is shot beautifully, and everyone plays their parts well, but something vital is missing. There’s a sense that maybe the film didn’t come out the way director Andrew van den Houten really wanted. There’s never really an explanation as to why Alex or his brother have these powers. Major confusion also follows at the end when it seems like the beasts we’ve been seeing may have been all in Alex’s head the whole time. That gives off the vibe that someone couldn’t make up their mind when things needed to be tied up for a finale. It’s like baking a cake, eating the cake, then being told it wasn’t a cake. That’s about as clever as fooling a mentally disabled person.

The film may misfire as far as being entertaining, suspenseful, or thought-provoking, but the DVD makes up for it with a giant buffet of extras. Creature effects and behind-the-scenes featurettes are this reviewer’s favorite things when it comes to DVD extras. The “Fractured Skulls” making-of featurette and FX Journal are the most interesting of the lot, though it also makes for depressing viewing because so much more gore could have made its way into the final product.

Some of the confusion about certain scenes of Headspace are cleared up with a quick look at the deleted scenes. Why they were cut isn’t exactly clear because some of them were needed. What makes matters worse is that the alternate ending is far better than the one used in the final version.

It’s always good to know that filmmakers are excited about what they made, and the director and cinematographer commentary track shows this well. van den Houten and William M. Miller rarely stop talking and sound almost orgasmic when Udo Kier is on the screen. Perhaps this is what the movie was all about? Getting Udo to be in your movie? Dear sweet Buddha, we have figured out why this movie was made! However, if you switch over to the commentary featuring the composer, editor, and FX make-up artist, you will be bored out of your mind. What is exciting in the featurettes does not translate well to voice-overs through the whole film.

Do keep an eye out for a small “?” while surfing the menus, which will take you to a little audition video of Christopher Denham and Erick Kastel. While this Easter egg isn’t long, it does show that these two men were right for their parts. This find may be great, but the best feature is in plain sight; it is called “Dirty Looks”. Though it may not be a flashy bit of film, a re-cut scene of Mark Margolis and Christopher Denham just using facial expressions instead of words is an unusual treat.

There it is. Headspace wanted to be something, forgot what it was, and then just threw some horrible looking devil pigs at you in the end. While some horror films are so bad they are good, this one’s so bad it’s best to put it back on the shelf next to Britney Spears’ Crossroads never to be seen again.

Special Features
Filmmaker commentary
Deleted, extended, and alternate scenes
Fractured Skulls: The Making of Headspace featurette
FX Journal
Isolated music score
Photo gallery
Talent bios
Trailer
Easter eggs

2 1/2 out of 5

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IAMX’s Alive in New Light Review – A Dark, Hypnotic, and Stunning Musical Endeavor

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Recording eight albums is an achievement no matter the artist, group, or band. This is especially true for Chris Corner’s IAMX, his solo project after the trip hop group Sneaker Pimps, which has enchanted listeners since 2004’s Kiss + Swallow with its dark electronic aesthetic. There’s something fascinating about the music Corner puts out as IAMX. Perhaps it’s the underlying melancholy that seems to pervade the music, almost certainly a result of the musician’s battle with depression and chronic insomnia [Source]. Perhaps it’s the unexpected melodies that reveal themselves with each new measure. Whatever it is, IAMX’s music is a constant delight.

On Alive in New Light, Corner reveals that his eighth album was a product he created as a way of “…breaking free from demons that have long plagued him,” per an official press release. Strangely enough, this uplifting attitude may easily be overlooked but repeat listens unveil a sense of hope and wonder that are simply breathtaking. The title track echoes with almost angelic choir pads that positively shine as Corner exultingly cries in a shimmering falsetto, “I’m alive in new light!” This comes after the Depeche Mode-esque “Stardust”, which offers the first collaboration with Kat Von D, whose pure voice is a beautiful addition to the pulsating track.

The third track, “Break The Chains”, has an opening that immediately called to mind Birds of Tokyo’s “Discoloured”, which is meant as a compliment. It’s followed by the Nine Inch Nails influenced “Body Politics”, which meshes Corner’s crooning vocals with a 90’s industrial backdrop. “Exit” has an almost sinister progression lurking in the background that builds to an aggressive, in-your-face third act. The cinematic Middle Eastern flairs of “Stalker” mutate effortlessly into a heartbeat pulse that features back-and-forth vocals between Corner and Von D. The haunted circus vibe that permeates through “Big Man” is mirrored by its playful gothic aura, ghostly “oohs” and “aahs” sprinkled carefully here and there.

While the album has been a delight up to this point, it’s the final two tracks that took my breath away and left me stunned. “Mile Deep Hollow” builds layer after layer while Corner passionately cries out, “So thank you/you need to know/that you dragged me out/of a mile deep hollow/and I love you/you brought me home/because you dragged me out/of a mile deep hollow.” The way the song’s melodies back these wonderfully uplifting lyrics feels grand and epic, as though a journey is coming to an end, which is where “The Power and the Glory” comes in. Far more subdued, it’s a beautiful song that feels almost like a religious experience, a hymn of a soul that is desperate to claw its way to salvation and escape a life of pain and darkness.

What makes Alive in New Light so wonderful is how much there is to experience. I got the album and listened to it no less than five times in a row without pause. I simply couldn’t turn it off because each return revealed something new in the music. Corner also makes fantastic use of Von D’s vocals, carefully placing them so as to make them a treat and not a commonplace certainty.

While some may be disappointed that there are only nine tracks, each of the songs is carefully and meticulously crafted to be as powerful and meaningful as possible. It really is a stunning accomplishment and I’m nothing short of blown away by how masterfully Alive in New Light plays out.

  • Alive in New Light
5.0

Summary

IAMX’s Alive in New Light is a triumph of music. Full of beauty and confidence, it doesn’t forget the foundation that fans have come to know and love for over a decade but instead embraces that comfortable darkness with open arms. Corner states that this album was a way to break free from his demons. It certainly feels like he’s made peace with them.

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The Hatred Review – A History Lesson Dug Up From The Depths Of Hell

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Starring Zelda Adams, Lulu Adams, John Law

Directed by John Law


I don’t know about the scholastic interests the masses had (or have) that read all of the killer nuggets that get cranked out on this site, but when I was an academic turd, one of my true passions was history, and it was one of the only subjects that managed to hold my interest, and when the opportunity arose to check out John Law’s ultra-nightmarish feature, The Hatred – I was ready to crack the books once again.

The setting is the Blackfoot Territory in the late 1800s, and the pains of a lengthy conflict have taken their toll on the remaining soldiers as food has become scarce, and the film picks up with soldiers on the march in the brutal cold and snow covered mountainside. In tow is a P.O.W. (Law), and the decision is made by the soldiers to execute him in earnest instead of having to shorten their rations by feeding him, so he is then hung (pretty harshly done), and left to rot as the uniformed men trudge along. A short time later the group encounters a small family on the fringes of the territory, and when the demands for food are rebuked, the slaughter is on and the only survivor is a young girl (Adams) who prays to an oblivious god that she can one day reap the seeds of revenge upon those who’ve murdered her family. We all know that there are usually two sides to any story, and when the good ear isn’t listening, the evil one turns its direction towards those who need it most, and that’s when the Devil obliges.

The answer to the young girl’s prayers comes in the resurrection of the prisoner that was hung a short time ago, and he has been dubbed “Vengeance” – together their goal will be achieved by harshly dishing out some retribution, and the way it’s presented is drawn-out, almost like you’re strapped into the front-row pew of a hellfire-cathedral and force-fed the sermon of an evil voice from the South side of the tracks. It’s vicious and beautiful all at once, Law’s direction gives this visually-striking presentation all the bells and whistles to please even the harshest of critics (hell, you’re reading the words of one right now). The performances, while a bit stoic in nature, still convey that overall perception of a wrong that demands to be righted, no matter how morally mishandled it might be. Overall, I can absolutely recommend The Hatred for not only those wanting a period-piece with ferocious-artistry, but for others who continue to pray with no response, and are curious to see what the other side can offer.

  • Film
3.5

Summary

The Hatred is a visually-appealing look into the eyes of animus, and all of the beauty of returning the harm to those who have awarded it to others.

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Before We Vanish Review – A Quirky and Original Take on Alien Invasions

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Starring Masami Nagasawa, Ryûhei Matsuda, Hiroki Hasegawa

Written by Kiyoshi Kurosawa

Directed by Kiyoshi Kurosawa


During the J-horror rampage of the late 90’s and early 2000’s, Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s Kairo (aka Pulse). A dark, depressing, and morose tale of ghosts that use the internet to spread across the world, the film’s almost suffocatingly gloomy atmosphere pervaded across every frame of the film. Because of my love of this film, I was eager to see the director’s upcoming movie Sanpo Suru Shinryakusha (aka Before We Vanish), which follows three aliens who recently arrived on Earth and are preparing to bring about an alien invasion that will wipe humanity from the face of the planet. Imagine my surprise when the film turned out to be barely a horror title but was instead a quirky and surreal dramedy that tugged at my heartstrings.

Admittedly, I was thrown completely for a loop as the film begins with a scene that feels perfectly at home in a horror film. Akira (Tsunematsu), a teenage girl, goes home and we enter moments later to blood splashed on the walls and floor and bodies strewn about. However, the disturbing visuals are spun around as the young girl walks down a highway, her clothes and face streaked with blood, Yusuke Hayashi’s music taking on a lighthearted, almost jaunty attitude. From there, we learn of the other two aliens (yes, she’s an alien and it’s not a secret or a twist, so no spoilers there): Amano (Takasugi), who is a young man that convinces a sleazy reporter, Sakurai (Hasegawa), of his true form and tasks Sakurai with being his guide, and Shinji (Matsuda), the estranged husband of Narumi (Nagasawa).

What sets these aliens, and their mission, apart from other invasion thrillers is their means of gathering information. They’re not interested in meeting leaders nor do they capture people for nefarious experimentations. Rather, they steal “concepts” from the minds of people, such as “family”, “possession”, or “pest”. Once these concepts are taken, the victim no longer has that value in their mind, freed from its constraints.

While this may seem like a form of brainwashing, Kurosawa instead plays with the idea that maybe knowing too much is what holds us back from true happiness. A man obsessed with staking claim to his family home learns to see the world outside of its walls when “possession” is no longer a part of his life. A touchy boss enters a state of child-like glee after “work” has been taken. That being said, there are other victims who are left as little more than husks.

Overly long at 130 minutes, the film does take its time showing the differences between the aliens and their individual behaviors. Amano and Akira are casually ruthless, willing to do whatever it takes to send a beacon to begin the alien invasion, no matter how many must die along the way, while Shinji is the curious and almost open-minded one, whose personal journey finds him at one point asking a priest to envision and describe “love”, a concept that is so individualistic and personal that it can’t be taken, much less fathomed, by this alien being. While many of these scenes are necessary, they could have easily been edited down to shave 10-15 minutes, making the film flow a bit more smoothly.

While the film begins on a dark note, there is a scene in the third act that is so pure and moving that tears immediately filled my eyes and I choked up a little. It’s a moment of both sacrifice and understanding, one that brings a recurring thread in the story full circle.

With every passing minute, Before We Vanish makes it clear that it’s much more horror-adjacent than horror. An alien invasion thriller with ultimate stakes, it will certainly have appeal to genre fans. That being said, those who go in expecting action, violence, and terror will certainly be disappointed. But those whose mind is a bit more open to a wider range of possibilities will find a delightful story that attempts to find out what it means to be human, even if we have to learn the lesson from an alien.

  • Before We Vanish
4.0

Summary

Before We Vanish is a beautiful, wonderful tale that explores what it means to be human when faced with the threat of extinction.

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