INFLUENCER (2022) is an excellent horror/thriller that recently came to Shudder. A friend recommended it and I watched it blind, which was a good way to go. I’ll try to set the stage and then I’ll warn you when I’m going to get into specifics of the structure and plot that you might prefer to experience first hand.
It’s set in Thailand, but all the characters are westerners, most of them on vacation. The opening introduces us to Madison (Emily Tennant, SNIPER: ASSASSIN’S END), who narrates in the form of an Instagram video or social media post about her love of travel and adventure, of meeting new people and learning about new places. But we see she’s doing none of that – she’s almost entirely alone at a luxury resort, floating in the pool, getting a massage, lounging on scenic overlooks, occasionally smiling for selfies. (read the rest of this shit…)
Shin Kamen Rider
From what I’ve read, “SHIN” can mean new, true, or God. SHIN KAMEN RIDER – which I saw at a Fathom Events screening last week, and it’s playing again tonight only, check local listings – is the third and (as far as we know) final movie in the “SHIN” series by Hideaki Anno. Best known as the visionary director of the anime Neon Genesis Evangelion, Anno kicked off this live action thematic trilogy with 2016’s SHIN GODZILLA (which he wrote himself and co-directed with Shinji Higuchi). It was a strikingly reimagined Godzilla with memorably bizarre monster work (as Godzilla evolves through multiple stages of development) and the best and most detailed portrayal ever of a government bureaucracy tackling the problem of a giant monster.
Next was SHIN ULTRAMAN, directed by Higuchi and written by Anno. I haven’t seen that one yet because I skipped it when I realized the second night screenings were dubbed, and it doesn’t come out on disc until next month. But the “Shin Japan Heroes Universe” concept is just meant as a brand name for merchandising, not an MCU-style shared universe, so I knew whatever happened to the new true god Ultraman in his movie would have no bearing on SHIN KAMEN RIDER, and I made sure to read the fine print on the listings this time. (read the rest of this shit…)
Psycho II (40th anniversary revisit)
June 3, 1983
The summer of ’83 saw the release of many blockbuster sequels. There was the big space one, a comic book one, one or more James Bonds, also a PORKY’S, a PINK PANTHER, and a SMOKEY AND THE BANDIT. I suppose you could say there were two horror sequels, both continuing beloved classics from Universal Pictures. One of those involved a shark. The other was riskier. These people had the audacity to make a sequel to a hallowed decades-old classic, the mother of modern horror.
I reviewed PSYCHO II back in 2009, and I think that piece is a good summary of what the movie’s like. Even back then I got that it’s not just better than you’d think or surprisingly good, it’s a genuine classic among horror sequels. I didn’t see the movie until quite a few years after it came out, but having grown up in the ‘80s it used to be impossible to think of anything made in that period as worthy of a classic black and white film from 1960, directed by the iconic Alfred Hitchcock. You have your recency bias, but you also think of contemporary stuff as inherently lesser than the classics. In some of my really old reviews you can see me shit talking what I saw as the cheesy ‘80s, not understanding the reverence people younger than me were starting to have for that era. Now I get it, though. I just needed more distance. (read the rest of this shit…)
WarGames: The Dead Code
“We’re targeting today’s savvy media consumer who demands quality video entertainment regardless of where that entertainment experience takes place. By leveraging film and television franchises, which have already proven to be popular with specific targeted demographic groups, we’re able to both continually replenish our library while also maximizing revenues from our existing film and television programming!” —Jason Weiss, Vice President of MGM DTV division, 2007
Do you remember this – that they made a 25-years-later DTV sequel to WARGAMES? Please join me in wishing it the happiest of 15th anniversaries. As one of today’s savvy media consumers who demand quality video entertainment regardless of where that entertainment takes place (a.k.a. an aficionado of the DTV-sequel-nobody-asked-for format), I was always curious about it, but never bothered to find out what the deal was until now. It’s called WARGAMES: THE DEAD CODE, and it seems at first like it’s following the WILD THINGS model of DTV sequel: just do kind of a loose ripoff/update of the original plot with different characters. Will Farmer (Matt Lanter, the voice of Anakin Skywalker on Star Wars: The Clone Wars!) is a young computer genius who does some computing/hacking that brings him to the attention of an A.I. called R.I.P.L.E.Y. (voice of Claudia Black, PITCH BLACK), a project of the Department of Homeland Security or somebody.
Later it turns out to be kind of using the THE HIDDEN II method: bring in a character from the first one, recast. Part 1’s eccentric inventor Dr. Stephen Falken shows up to help (introducing himself as “a gentleman who almost started World War III”), but now he’s played by Gary Reineke (RITUALS, IRON EAGLE II) and no longer has an accent. Oh, his computer WOPR is also back. Still uses the same password, too. (read the rest of this shit…)
June 3, 1983
A mere three weeks after John Badham’s BLUE THUNDER, he came out with another movie that is in awe of, but also a cautionary tale about, then-newfangled technology that (as one would assume) seems very crude from the perspective of 40 years later. This one is WARGAMES, and the technology is computers – both home computers used by high school hacker prodigy David Lightman (Matthew Broderick in his second film, after MAX DUGAN RETURNS) and a more fantastical experimental A.I. (though that’s not the term they use) created by eccentric genius Dr. Stephen Falken (John Wood, later in LADYHAWKE with Broderick).
David is well known to the vice principal due to his “attitude problem.” He gets kicked out of class for an actually very high quality smart ass response to the teacher, who writes “ASEXUAL” on the board and asks who came up with the idea of reproducing without sex. He hears the class laughing at something David whispers, and asks him to repeat it.
“Your wife,” David says. (read the rest of this shit…)
Return of the Jedi (40th anniversary review)
May 25, 1983
Nobody was surprised that the movie of the summer, and of the year, was RETURN OF THE JEDI. It was the thrilling final(ish) chapter to the biggest pop culture juggernaut in the world, it was the ultimate summer popcorn movie, the movie others had to get out of the way of, or ride the coattails of, and of course became by far the highest grossing movie of the year (trailed by TOOTSIE in second place).
It’s one of the two movies I remember seeing in a theater that summer. That was monumental because I’d seen the other two at the drive-in while very young, but this one I was able to see with slightly more awareness of what was going on, and I’d bet the crazy discussions we had of it later on the playground were a little closer to what actually happened in the movie. Not that I was all that savvy. I remember my family went to Burger King after the movie and got RETURN OF THE JEDI drinking glasses, which seemed like a coincidence. Hey, this is the movie we just saw! What are the chances?
That’s the sort of thing I intentionally avoided talking about when I reviewed RETURN OF THE JEDI nine years ago as part of my “Star Wars No Baggage Reviews” series. The rule was that I had to look at episodes 1-6 as they existed at that time, in the current George Lucas-approved cuts, as if there had never been any other way to look at that story. I couldn’t complain about any Special Edition alterations, or lean on childhood nostalgia, or disappointment about the prequels not being what we’d dreamed of. It was a fun exercise designed to jettison all the stuff people usually discussed about those movies, things I was sick of hearing or talking about, and I think it was a worthwhile experiment that turned out well.
For this revisit of RETURN OF THE JEDI in the context of the summer of ’83, though, I won’t give myself those constraints. I’ll try not to get hung up on any bullshit. (read the rest of this shit…)
Hard to believe, but I’ve been watching these FAST & FURIOUS movies for more than 20 years now. The first two on video, the rest highly anticipated theatrical events. At first they were these goofy lowbrow trendsploitation movies I got a kick out of, but I had to defend their right to exist from the Ain’t It Cool talkbackers. With FAST FIVE they became a hugely popular action saga that even mainstream critics respected for a couple years. The series definitely peaked during that period, and I don’t expect them to ever get that perfect balance back, but they still have their own delightful brand of preposterous action excess mixed with macho grease monkey soap opera that brings me great joy, and there’s no other movie series past or present that offers anything quite like it. So they’re back to being this dumb thing I enjoy while my Twitter feed is full of posts much like the talkbacks from back in the aughts. Why do they still make these, who are these for, Vin Diesel has an ego. Same old shit as time marches on a quarter mile at a time.
FAST X (which we all seem to have agreed to pronounce the same way we pronounce JASON X) doesn’t have as much to live up to as F9 did two years ago. It’s not my return to theaters after Covid-19 vaccination, and it’s not the series’ best director Justin Lin finally returning to the fold. In fact, it’s his departure – somehow Diesel (allegedly) managed to be such a pain in the ass that Lin quit as director. They’d managed four full movies together, but only a week filming this one. (read the rest of this shit…)
May 27, 1983
CHAINED HEAT is a genuine exploitation movie. Maybe it’s my ignorance, having been a child in the early ‘80s, but I think of those days as being pretty separated from the era a decade earlier that produced Jonathan Demme’s debut CAGED HEAT, which the title seems to be a throwback to. That must be wrong, though, because there’s not much that seems winky about this one. It’s very serious about providing lurid, sleazy entertainment.
Linda Blair, in her followup to HELL NIGHT, stars as Carol Henderson, a nice girl and “prison virgin” doing 18 months for vehicular manslaughter. Sitting on a bench waiting to be booked she meets some more experienced cons who are pretty welcoming to her. But one of them saying she’s in for stealing TVs starts a discussion of favorite soap operas that escalates to a threat of throat slashing. (read the rest of this shit…)
Hold the Dark
HOLD THE DARK – not to be confused with Julie Taymor’s musical Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark – is a made-for-Netflix movie from 2018. I guess time flies, because I didn’t realize it had been that many years I’d been meaning to see it. It was on my list because it’s the fourth film from director Jeremy Saulnier (MURDER PARTY, BLUE RUIN, GREEN ROOM), and it’s written by Macon Blair, who appeared in all of those as an actor (and directed the upcoming remake of THE TOXIC AVENGER).
The best label I can come up with to describe this one is an Alaskan Gothic. It’s quiet and gloomy, with lots of snow, tiny fire-lit cabins, death and superstition. A movie that gives you the feeling of cold, wet socks inside your boots, and wearing a heavy winter coat indoors. It starts with a little boy playing outside in the small Alaskan village of Keelut, and a wolf approaches. And then the kid is gone – apparently not the first child to disappear around here. His mother Medora (Riley Keough, MAD MAX: FURY ROAD) sends a letter to a wolf expert named Russell Core (Jeffrey Wright, SHAFT) who once had to kill a wolf and wrote about it in a book she read. She wants him to kill this wolf before her husband Vernon (The Northman himself, Alexander Skarsgard) gets back from the war. (read the rest of this shit…)
Spacehunter: Adventures in the Forbidden Zone
May 20, 1983-
SPACEHUNTER: ADVENTURES IN THE FORBIDDEN ZONE IN 3-D is a movie I’d never seen before now, but had been vaguely curious about for years because of its long title and mysterious status as an ’80s space adventure that never much caught on as far as I’ve seen. Now thanks to this review series I finally get to learn what it’s all about and how it differs from another long-titled 3D sci-fi movie we’ll be taking a look at in August.
That first part of the title refers to Wolff (Peter Strauss, THE JERICHO MILE), who’s kind of a Star Lord – a 22nd century mercenary who takes a gig rescuing three tourists from Earth whose escape pod crash landed on the hostile planet Terra 11 after the luxury space cruise ship they were vacationing on blew up. It’s a pretty great opening with charmingly goofy model spaceships (some of the miniature work is by legendary TERMINATOR animator/slide guitarist “Sneaky” Pete Kleinow) and a really cool design for the pod. It opens up and they have these weird gold encasings over their torsos, you’re not really sure who or what you’re look at until they lift off the metallic things and reveal that they’re three ladies who look like they could be Barbarella’s friends from college or one of Prince’s girl groups. (read the rest of this shit…)