Archive for August, 2015

I take a look at “George Romero’s Empire Of The Dead Act Three” #4 for Through The Shattered Lens website.

Through the Shattered Lens


Do those title-page recaps that Marvel runs on the first page of all their books these days bug you? I have to admit that they usually work my nerves and that I see them as a less-than-clever way to shave a page off the actual story and art in any given issue while still enabling the publisher to cynically claim that their books offer “21 pages of editorial content.” In the case of George Romero’s Empire Of The Dead, however,  I’ll make an exception, for one simple reason : as we all know, Romero uses his zombie tales as  allegory for socio-political commentary here in the “real world” (think of Night Of The Living Dead‘s cautionary messages about racism and prejudice, Dawn Of The Dead‘s bleak examination of rampant consumerism, and Day Of The Dead‘s gleeful deconstruction of Cold War paranoia), and the intro page that’s…

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I wanted to like this one. I really did.

When I heard that Tony Burgess, writer of Pontypool (as well as the novel on which the film was based, Pontypool Changes Everything) was back with a new independent Canadian horror effort called Ejecta (released theatrically in its country of origin last year but just making its way onto “home viewing platforms” here in the US within the last few months), and that it was going to star one of my all-time favorite Great White North actors, Julian Richings, I was stoked. And when I heard it was going to be about one man’s “possession” (for lack of a better term) by an unseen alien intelligence, I was even more stoked. After all, Burgess had pulled off the “off-camera monsters” bit so well with the just-mentioned earlier flick that I figured, hey, this must be a new sub-genre of his own creation that he is setting out to be the absolute lord and master of. Seriously — what could possibly go wrong?

Sadly, it turns out that the answer to that question is “a lot.”


Let’s start at the top, shall we, since it seems that’s where most of the problems with this one emanate (and, consequently, trickle down) from.  Pontypool had the distinct advantage of being directed by Bruce McDonald, one of the most criminally-underappreciated cinematic auteurs of our time. Ejecta, on the other hand, was lensed by the tandem of Chad Archibald and Matt Wiele, and in between the constant back-and-forth shuffling from “found footage” horror to more conventional “omniscient camera” film-making, the two seem to lose any probably-flimsy-to-begin-with grasp they may have had on their material somewhere along the way. It’s probably not so much for a lack of trying as it an inherent lack of understanding as to how to pull it off, but having your heart in the right place just isn’t enough to salvage a movie most of the time.

Not that the material itself is all that strong, mind you. The story focuses on recluse-by-choice William Cassidy (Richings), who is losing his already-tenuous grasp on sanity as a result of constant “close encounters” of the most intimate kind — namely, the alien invader (or invaders) he’s being plagued by come right on into his body and mind and take over. Of course, people are skeptical of his claims, and that’s where documentary filmmaker Joe Sullivan (Adam Seybold) comes in. He’s on hand to catch one of these “visitations” with his handy HD videocam, but unfortunately he’s not the only person who thinks Cassidy is probably telling the truth — a mysterious quasi-governmental paramilitary force is also on hand to do what those sorts of outfits do, namely snatch the beleaguered “vessel” for this supposed extra-terrestrial “contact,” put him in front of their boss, Dr. Tobin (Lisa Houle, another Pontypool holdover), and extract the facts out of him by any means necessary.

Cue some torture and all that shit.


I dunno. Maybe in the hands of Bruce McDonald all this could have worked marginally better, but even then I think Ejecta would come up short in terms of delivering the scares. The “auditory evil” conceit worked much better the first time out, and rather than building upon his own foundation, Burgess’ script for this one feels like a textbook example of diminishing returns in action. The performers (including Burgess himself in a supporting role) don’t seem to buy into it much, either, with the exception of Richings, who’s the only member of the cast with the chops to transcend the inherent weakness of the material. I don’t want to accuse the rest of  simplygoing through the motions, but — it feels like they’re simply going through the motions (particularly Houle, whose character should flat-out drip with menacing ill-intent, rather than come off as somebody who just read their lines off a cue card before sitting down).


To Archibald and Wiele’s credit, a number of their visual effects do work, particularly those that are heavily reliant upon “trippy” lighting, but all told the subtle nature of the terror at the heart of Ejecta (which is now streaming on Netflix as well as being available on Blu-ray and DVD from Shout! Factory) probably requires the deft touch a genre veteran to make it come anywhere close to working, and our (I’m assuming) youthful duo just aren’t up to the task at this stage in their careers.. I’m a huge supporter of the sort of “intelligent psychological horror” that Burgess seems to want to make his stock in trade, and of Canadian independent cinema in general, but at the end of the day this is a movie that I honesty can’t recommend to anyone.

Rest In Peace, Little Buddy

Posted: August 23, 2015 in Uncategorized


This is Oscar. We got him and his brother, Marty, about nine about nine years ago when one of the cats owned by our former downstairs tenants had a litter of four , which proved to be just too damn much for them to handle (understandably, I might add). They spent the first four months of their lives living in separate cages in our basement while they were — uhhmmm — “de-worming,” but as soon as they got a clean bill of health we brought two of them up to our home to stay with us. Our lives were never the same — and that’s a good thing.

Marty was pretty quick to claim my wife, Deinell, as “his,” and that made Oscar “mine” by default. Until we lost Marty to a urinary tract infection on Christmas day four years ago, and Oscar started to spread his love and affection equally between Dee and myself. He was a crazy little guy who never did anything that made a lick of sense, but fuck it — we loved him anyway, and he let it be known that he was pretty fond of us, too. He was the kind of cat that would jump up on your lap or stomach anytime he wanted — even when you were fast asleep in the middle of the night — and jut purr away. I’d sometimes get pissed at him for waking me up, sure, but that was before I had to come to grips with the fact that he’d never jump up and sit on me again at any time, day or night. Now, of course, I miss it like crazy. Hell, I miss him like crazy.


In case you hadn’t figured it out already, we lost our little guy earlier this evening. He’d been shedding a dramatic amount of weight in recent months, despite eating like a horse and drinking like a fish, and didn’t look much like the fat and happy little fellow you see in the photo above. It turns out he was diabetic. Irony of all ironies, we actually picked up his first insulin prescription earlier today — good-bye $300 — but it was too little, too late. Oscar seemed to lose interest in food and water yesterday, and today he wouldn’t eat a bite or sip a drop. We took him to the emergency vet and it turned out his kidneys were failing. He put up a heck of a fight and did so silently and bravely. He didn’t make a bunch of noise, throw up, or even wince in pain. He just sat there, silent and listless, his little heart beating away even though he could barely stand up. A real trooper right to the end.


It wasn’t an end any of us were ready for, though, to say the least. 48 hours ago he was running around the house without a care in the world, mewling for Fancy Feast at the top of his lungs and generally doing all the stuff cats do that drives us nuts until they’re not there to do it anymore. Now, in less time than it takes to smoke a goddamn beef brisket, he’s gone. And there’s no other way to put it than this really sucks.


People use the term “fur babies” a lot these days, and Oscar was definitely that. Deinell and I don’t have kids, but even if we did, I think it’s safe to say that this little guy would still be front and center in our family unit because he’d make sure of it. He wasn’t always the easiest cat to love, that’s for certain — he was neurotic, demanding, pushy, and would shit on the floor when he was mad. But the fact that nobody else in their right mind would probably put up with him made us love him all the more. He needed us, you see — even if you’d never be able to get him to admit to that.


And you know what? It’s more than fair to say that we needed him, too. I guess you’ve got to be an animal lover to fully understand the bond that develops between humans and their hairy four-legged friends, but the weird thing is, I was never the world’s biggest animal lover myself until Marty and Oscar came along. They won me over without even trying, and now they’re both gone and I honestly have no clue how to process how lousy that makes me feel. They had good lives, to be sure — trust me when I say that neither one of them ever lacked for food, affection, or attention — but it’s a raw-as-all-hell deal that both of those lives were cut waaaaayyyy too short.


All you can do is move on, I guess, and be thankful for the good times. There certainly were a lot of those. Here’s what it all boils down to, though — yeah, cats cost you money in terms of food, vet bills, litter, all that good stuff, but they do a lot more for you than you do for them. I was a better person with Oscar sitting on my lap, purring away while I read, watched TV, or wrote blog posts like this one. Don’t ask me why or how that works, it just does. And now there’s an empty spot on my lap — and in my heart. We’ve still got his psycho step-sibling Trixie (seen with him in the photo below) to keep us company and make us pull our hair out, sure, but I’m seeing the ghost of our Oscar scurrying along the kitchen floor out of the corner of my eye already. That’s sort of comforting, I guess, but I’d rather love a real, live cat than his shadow — or his memory — any day.


Our memory is where he lives on now, though — as well as in our hearts. And those hearts are a heck of a lot bigger and better thanks to him. We’re going to miss you every day for the rest of our lives, little buddy, just like your brother. You guys were the best thing that ever happened to us, and while you may not be here to feel it or to hear us say it, we’re gonna keep on loving you crazy hairy monsters forever anyway. RIP Oscar, Sept. 9th 2006-Aug. 22nd, 2015.




If there’s one thing we all know, it’s that director Josh Trank’s new Fantastic Four flick just isn’t very good, right? I mean, yeah, the troglodyte faction of comics fandom has been out to bury this one since the day it was announced that an African-American actor, Michael B. Jordan, would be playing Johnny Storm/The Human Torch (of course, if you ask them, racism had nothing to do with their petulant reaction — rather they claim, embarrassingly, that they just wanted the movie to remain true to the “source” material. Which, ya know, came out in 1963 and was aimed at an all-white audience of 12-year-olds. Good luck with that in 2015), but there’s just gotta be more to it than that, right? I mean, the movie only has a 9% score on Rotten Tomatoes and absolutely toxic word of mouth has poisoned its chances at the box office.

Sure, the usual top-down “whisper campaign” from Disney/Marvel, who wanted this movie to tank so that they could buy the rights to the characters back from Fox on the cheap, certainly played a part in this new FF’s immediate DOA status, no question (any movie based on Marvel characters needs to be absolutely pitch-perfect from start to finish, it seems — unless it’s a movie coming from Marvel Studios itself, in which case it can completely suck and people will still delude themselves into thinking it’s good out of sheer, stubborn, stupid brand loyalty), but come on — even that, combined with the ignorance and prejudice of stick-in-the-mud, nostalgia-addled, aging comic book readers still isn’t enough to account for just how reviled this film already is. Any reception this poor has got to be honestly earned on some level, doesn’t it?


I’ll be honest — for about the first 45 minutes of Trank’s feature, I thought everybody was nuts. And part of me was really hoping that everybody was nuts, simply because if there’s one group of folks that I take great pride in pissing off on a regular basis, it’s the intellectually-stilted, emotionally-subrnormal (thank you Alan Moore) segment of comics fandom who openly “roots” for all these Marvel properties to “come back home,” but who could give a rat’s ass about the fact that  the creative geniuses from whose imaginations they sprung, like Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko, got positively fucked by Marvel for decades on end. These are people who are loyal to characters, not creators, and whose reading tastes were permanently arrested at a junior high level thanks to their sleazy and despicable hero, Stan Lee (who at least doesn’t show up for his customary nauseating cameo here — nor are he and Kirby listed as “co”-creators). Never mind that it was Lee’s horseshit skills as a wannabe wheeler-dealer in Hollywood that saw all of these Marvel characters licensed out to other studios at a relative pittance in the first place. So,uhhmm, where were we? — oh yeah,  the first act of Fantastic Four isn’t just good, it’s flat-out great, and I was relishing the chance to come home, sit down, and talk about what a delusional bunch of assholes the majority of the Marvel-loving public is once again.

I admit, I had my doubts going in, as well. The idea of Reed Richards/Mister Fantastic (played by Miles Teller), Sue Storm/The Invisible Girl (Kate Mara), Ben Grimm/The Thing (Jamie Bell) and the aforementioned Johnny Storm/The Human Torch being “re-imagined” as kid geniuses under the tutelage of the Storm family patriarch, Franklin (Reg E. Cathey) sounded like a dicey proposition, at best (I understand that this set-up borrows heavily from writer Mark Millar’s Ultimate Fantastic Four comics series, but not having read that, I can’t say for certain how true that is or not), but damn if Trank and his army of screenwriters don’t make it work — for awhile.


During the film’s second act, though, the wheels really come off. Or maybe that should be “slowly and gently roll off.” The story sputters along at any ever-decreasing speed until finally grinding to an absolute halt, and while Trank does his best to inject a David Croneneberg flavor into the proceedings by emphasizing the “body horror” aspects of the various characters’ new-found abilities after their trans-dimensional jaunt (an updating of the origin story that actually makes sense given that the idea that “cosmic radiation” would transform space explorers on a cellular level was pretty well shot down six years after the FF’s creation once we sent astronauts to the moon — assuming you believe that we did) and tossing in a very gory-and-nifty homage to Scanners, it’s simply not enough — especially if, like me, you’re one of the few people out there who actually read future MythBusters producer Eric Haven’s fine (but tragically short-lived) black-and-white indie comics series Angryman back in the early ’90s, where he did a much better job of telling more or less the exact same story in a short back-up strip in issue #2. Seriously, hunt it down and you’ll see what I mean.

Anyway, back to the business at hand. Trank tries to kick things back into gear for his big finale, which sees the team going back to “Dimension X” to battle their fifth member (who’s got every reason to be pissed off since they left him for dead), Victor Von Doom (Toby Kebbell),  but he’s too far behind the eightball at this point to possibly regain all the ground he’s lost. Reed starts talking in extended info-dumps, Dr. Doom’s plot to destroy our reality makes no sense, and the surprisingly cut-rate CGI often borders on the flat-out laughable. Really, for a big-budget movie Fantastic Four starts to look and feel like it was done on the cheap, and by the time we reach the eyeball-rolling “so what should we call ourselves, anyway?” conclusion, you’ll have to admit, as I did, that all those stick-in-the-mud, hyper-conservative fans were right. This just ain’t a very good movie.


I’ll say this much, though — not only is this better than previous cinematic iterations of the FF (I’m damning with faint praise there, I know) it’s also nowhere near the complete train-wreck its legion of detractors claim it to be. Its chief problem isn’t so much that it’s an abomination of unprecedented proportions as that it’s just a really boring and predictable movie. You know, like Ant-Man. Or Guardians Of The Galaxy. Or The Avengers. Or Iron Man. Or  — well, just about any of ’em, really. Fantastic Four is in no way appreciably different than most officially-sanctioned “MCU” garbage, and during its first act, it’s actually a damn sight better than a lot of its Marvel step-siblings. Unfortunately, it just couldn’t keep that standard — or even anything close to it — up for the remainder of the ride.

As we’ve all seen, the recriminations are coming hot and heavy now. Trank tweeted on the day of his film’s release that he had a version that he was really happy with about a year ago, then implied that meddling from studio higher-ups resulted in the mess we see before us today. Good luck getting work at Fox again, buddy (although, given that he’s only 31 years old, it’s way too premature to say that this movie has torpedoed his chances in Hollywood permanently). Reports are coming out that the set was so fraught with tension that the director and one of his stars, Teller, damn near got into a fist fight (never mind that this kind of on-set drama is actually pretty common, it’s just that when a movie does well, we don’t hear about it until years later).  And more un-substantiated reports of more problems will be forthcoming, I’m sure. So Marvel and their self-proclaimed “zombies” will probably get their wish, and if and when we see the next FF re-launch, it will probably be under the “MCU” banner. Which means that I don’t expect it to be any worse than this — but I highly doubt that it’ll be any better, either.


Let’s be honest : when it comes to balls-out post-apocalyptic action, few people can do it like the Aussies. This fine cinematic tradition dates all the way back to George Miller’s original Mad Max, and continues in fine form to this day not only with the recently-released Mad Max : Fury Road, but with last year’s much-more-modestly-budgeted indie feature Wyrmwood : Road Of The Dead (or, as it was more simply titled for theatrical release in its country of origin, Wyrmwood), a true labor of love shot on weekends over a four-year span by co-writer (along with his brother, Tristan)/director Kiah Roache-Turner that one-ups Miller, at least on a purely conceptual level, by throwing zombies into the mix, as well.

When the infection (and by the way, kudos to the Roache-Turners for adding the cool effect of having their undead breathe a sort of greenish gas) hits, hard-working mechanic and family man Barry (Jay Gallagher) has to do the unthinkable : kill his own wife and daughter. But he’s still got one reason to live — he needs to rescue his sister, Brooke (Bianca Bradey), an internet bondage-porn videographer who had one of her “shoots” go really wrong and ended up in the hands of quasi-governmental military thugs employed by an honest-to-god mad scientist known only as “The Doc” (Berynn Schwerdt)  who makes Richard Liberty’s lab-coated goofball in George Romero’s Day Of The Dead look positively tame by comparison.

Barry’s got some help in the form of sure-to-be-audience-favorite Benny (Leon Burchill), and aboriginal survivor who he meets when — ahhh, shit, the less said about that the better — but there’s a whole outback full of zombies between the two of them and their hastily-assembled ragtag crew and Brooke and and her batshit-crazy captor.

Can you say “bad times ahead”?


Fortunately for us all, in a flick done right like this, bad times also mean very fun times (at least for us), and Wyrmwood : Road Of The Dead is pedal-to-the-metal insanity from word “go” to word “stop.” Sure, there are plenty of gaping plotholes along the way (the most notable being that the whys and wherefores of how the “zombie mutation” spreads are unclear and/or completely random at best), but so what? You need to slow down to think about those sorts of pesky details, and if there’s one thing the Roache-Turner brothers don’t do, it’s take their foot off the gas.


That’s entirely as it should be, I think, since they know that what we’re here for is blood, guts (in this case a mix of CGI and practical effects, both utilized in superb fashion), guns, and cool-ass homemade survival armor and battle vehicles — and hey, they serve all of that up by the truck-full. The story might be as brainless as the shambling corpses it features, but that’s all part and parcel of the fun here, and if you can’t stop taking yourself so fucking seriously for 90-or-so-minutes, then you’ve got no business watching a flick like this in the first place.

If you do want to watch it, though — and you should — the good news is that Wyrnwood : Road Of The Dead is now available on Netflix instant streaming, as well as on Blu-ray and DVD from Shout! Factory. I caught it via Netflix myself so I can’t comment on the specifics of the physical storage-format technical specs or extras, but a brief glance at Shout!’s website is enough to convince me that they’re put together a typically impressive package. Given that this is a movie you’ll probably want to watch again and again over the years, buying it doesn’t seem like a bad option at all.


In fact, I may just do that right now. The term “instant classic” gets thrown around a bit too freely for my tastes, but this bears all the hallmarks of being exactly that.


Well, are you? Huh? Are you?

Nah, I’m not, either (yours or mine), so let’s just talk about someone else’s shall we? Better yet, let’s talk about somebody who’s altogether fictitious, so we can all  be nice and comfortable.


Specifically, let’s talk about 16-year-old Carson Morris (played by Lara Vosburgh), the subject of director Seth Grossman’s 2014 “found footage” indie-horror Inner Demons, who was apparently once a bright and promising young girl, but fell in with the wrong crowd once her admittedly dysfunctional parents (dad’s a lush, mom’s a religious fanatic) started sending her to a prestigious Catholic prep school that strikes me more as the sort of place you enroll your kid in to get them away from the wrong crowd, but whatever.

Little Carson’s just not the same anymore. She dresses in black and wears “goth” makeup and listens to heavy metal music and, of course, is shooting heroin and popping pills. Because, ya know, all kids who are into “goth” and metal do that, right? But her folks are sick and tired of supposedly “enabling” her, and have signed her up to be on an Intervention-style “reality” TV show. She, of course, thinks she’s just the subject of some sort of “cautionary tale” documentary, but in due course they’re gonna lower the boom on her, sit her down with a shrink, and ship her off to a rehab center. That’s how these things go.

There’s just one little wrinkle — Carson claims she’s possessed by a demon and that she’s turned to drugs to dull the constant pain that comes with having an evil otherworldly entity living inside her body and mind. I swear, teenagers today say the craziest things.


Before we go any further here — and there’s really not much further to go — I’ll just come right out and admit it : I fell for the old Netflix “we’ve just added a new movie you might be interested in” email again, and despite the fact that I pretty much always get burned by these things, I gave Inner Demons (which is apparently also available on Blu-ray and DVD from MPI Home Video) a go. The idea of drugging yourself into a stupor in order to “beat” possession sounded like a nifty new wrinkle to me, but rest assured, there’s absolutely nothing on offer here you haven’t seen somewhere else at least a dozen times, and the law of diminishing returns is definitely in full effect in screenwriter Glenn Gers’ heavily-derivative, supremely un-involving script.

By and large the no-name cast (literally the only actor I recognized was perennial “D-lister” Sewell Whitney, who plays Carson’s pastor — which is weird, since the story seems to imply that she’s Catholic, and they’ve got priests)  manages as well as they can with some pretty weak material, but when your primary visual cue that something is amiss is the tired old “camera going fuzzy when the evil gets to close to it” thing, well, not even Laurence Olivier can do much with that.


Still, as “been there, done that” as the film’s opening 2/3 are, they’re positively Oscar-caliber compared to the laughably absurd third act, when Carson flubs out of rehab and the wheels come off. One of the show’s camera guys, Steve (Christopher Parker) has taken a shine to the troubled young teen (despite the fact that she’s jail bait), and when he confirms — via tactics that are both unethical and flat-out illegal — that all her “demonic possession” talk is the real deal, he goes over to her house in the middle of the night, TV producers in tow, and performs an off-the-cuff exorcism, despite having no training in the field and only one store-bought “occult” textbook that he hasn’t even read yet to guide him through the process. Yeah, that oughtta work out great.

Do you already know how this thing is gonna end? Because you really should.

And, of course, you’ll be exactly right. Inner Demons is a movie that has no clue how to deviate from its by-the-numbers formula, and honestly can’t even get that much right. It has only one real “twist” on offer, it happens at the very last second, and you’ll see it coming from 666 miles away. Better to just turn around and head in the other direction right now.


Admit it : Jason Bateman has been playing smug, insincere assholes for so long now (am I the only one old enough to remember him as Derek on Silver Spoons?) that you just sort of assume he must be one in real life himself. Which isn’t to say that he’s been a “one-note Johnny” his entire career, but —oh, who the hell are we kidding? Of course he has. But he does it so damn well that I honestly don’t hold the fact that he’s never exactly “branched out” against him.

Here’s the thing though — for whatever reason, he’s pretty much always confined his shtick to the comedy genre (specifically the TV sitcom), and as a result, his characters have always been relatively redeemable. Yeah, he’s gonna stab you in the back, get one over on you, and generally fuck up your life, but gosh — he just can’t help himself, and it’s all in good fun. For that reason, a good number of folks were surprised to see him playing the lead in the new psychological thriller (being marketed as a horror flick, even though it’s not — blame the Blum House production company label, I guess) The Gift, but honestly, the yuppie scumbag named Simon that he’s portraying isn’t even a small step out of his “comfort zone” at all — it’s just that this time his actions have consequences, and drastic ones at that.


The Gift is the brainchild of writer/director/co-star Joel Edgerton, and is a deceptively simple modernized take on Hitchcock that lures you into its web quietly but confidently right from the outset as we meet Simon and his wife, Robyn (Rebecca Hall), who are aiming for a fresh start in life after a rocky couple of years in Chicago. Robyn had a miscarriage that triggered a downward spiral of chronic depression and prescription drug addiction, and Simon has taken a semi-prestigious job back in his old northern California stomping grounds in the hopes that a change of scenery will get their marriage back on track. When he runs into former high school classmate Gordon “Gordo” Moseley (Edgerton), though, things go from promising to weird to dangerous in no time flat.

Gordo obviously hasn’t been the capitalist success story that Simon is, and seems socially awkward and maybe even a little bit menacing once he starts popping by with gifts a little bit too frequently. Simon finally decides that enough is enough and that he’d better tell his “old friend” to back off, but Robyn, for her part, seems to think their newfound “third wheel” is harmless, to be sure, and maybe even a little bit endearing. Still, she agrees with her husband’s decision to tell the guy to ease out of the picture and, after a semi-scary bout of revenge (killing the fish he gave them, stealing their dog), the worst appears to be over when Gordo writes them a note saying that he was “willing to let bygones be bygones” but, since Simon doesn’t seem interested in that, he’ll just quietly fade into the rear view mirror and allow the couple to get on with their lives. Besides, Robyn’s pregnant now, and they’ve got other stuff to worry about.

That one line, though — “let bygones be bygones” — sticks with Robyn, and despite Simon’s steadfast assurances that he has no idea what Gordo’s talking about, she can’t help but feel there’s a whole lot more going on here than meets the eye.


Which, of course, there is. As it turns out, Simon’s whole “successful nice guy” act is a complete crock of shit, and she’s married to a monster — one who’s left a trail of victims in his wake. And that’s probably about as specific as I care to get, aside from stating the obvious, which is that one of his victims is, of course, Gordo. But just when you’re ready to have some genuine sympathy for him, Edgerton reveals that his own character’s  desire to even the score has made him every bit as malignant and irredeemable as his one-time antagonist.

No doubt about it, The Gift serves up a fairly toxic stew of corruption and neuroses, and while the film’s sexual politics are “iffy” at best — with Robyn falling into the unfortunate role of a pawn in the sick game being played out by two men — the performances are so universally “spot-on,” and the pacing of the revelations so expert, that you’re willing to let that slide until the movie is over and have it trouble your conscience later. A few deftly- placed “cheap scares” add to the overall vibe of slowly-encroaching inescapable dread, and Edgerton’s moody, understated visual style gives things a uniquely “warm yet clinical” feel that suits the material to a proverbial “T.” Yeah, there are a few less-than-authentic instances along the way that strain credulity somewhat, but all in all Edgerton is in fine command of his project here, and manages to hit that “sweet spot” so few contemporary “thrillers” do where the audience knows it’s being toyed with like a fish on a line, but can’t help but allow itself to be reeled in anyway. In other words, this is supremely confident stuff.


Full disclosure : I got a free pass to see this thing, but you know what? I can say without hesitation that The Gift is worth the full price of admission, even at today’s hyper-inflated weekend evening rates. It’s a movie that never lets you feel as though your feet are on firm ground, and leaves an indelible “stain on the brain” once it’s over. The “feel-good movie of the summer” it most assuredly isn’t, but it’s probably the finest cinematic rumination on the ultimate emptiness of revenge since Coffy, and an amazingly polished and disturbing psychodrama that probably has Sir Alfred himself looking down (or up, depending on where you think he’s at) and giving a quiet, knowing, respectful nod of approval.







Having finished a re-read of Alan Moore and Gabriel Andrade’s six-issue run on Crossed + One Hundred (which I just reviewed, as well) earlier in the day, I was still in the mood for more “post-zombie-apocalypse” stuff, and what do you know? Right now the Netflix instant streaming queue is full to bursting with “living dead” flicks I’ve never even heard of , much less seen, so I did a bit of legwork, cross-referencing various titles against their IMDB and Rotten Tomatoes entries, and eventually settled on a 2015 (hey! that’s this year!) low-budget indie effort from Australia called Plague, featuring not a single name with which I was previously familiar.

That’s never a bad place to start in my book, and given that I was hoping for something that offered a bit of a new and unique take on the well-worn tropes involved, this one sounded like a low-key, unassuming winner in book. I certainly didn’t expect to find anything as flat-out revelatory as Crossed + One Hundred, mind you, but then that’s probably impossible. Just give me something reasonably good and reasonably different, and what the hell, I’ll be reasonably satisfied.


I’m pleased to report that Plague (which is also available on Blu-ray and DVD, but not having seen it on those physical storage formats, I can’t fairly comment on the technical specs for either one), uninspired  — and, let’s be honest, uninspiring — title aside, is both different and good, although, in fairness, that “reasonably” prefix definitely needs to remain in place . Like the just-mentioned Moore/Andrade comic book mini-masterpiece, it plays against expectations and utilizes a bog-standard set-up to tell us a story quite unlike anything we were expecting going in, and I give it “props” for that fact alone. But before I go any further down this road, perhaps it would be best if I explained,  in generally “spoiler-free” terms,  exactly what the hell I’m talking about here.


Writer/co-director (along with Nick Kozakis) Kostas Ouzas puts the audience on uneasy footing right from the start by dropping us into the action right after some sort of semi-climactic occurrence has happened to an already-assembled (stop me if you’ve heard this one before) rag-tag bunch of “zombie holocaust” survivors. No watching how the band came together in the first place or anything of the sort here, we’re simply informed via dialogue that these folks have been making a go of it together as best they can for some time, and that just-concluded (but, crucially, unseen) events have led to them leaving behind a guy named John, which is causing some friction given that his wife, Evie (played by Tegan Crowley) is still with the group and, understandably, wants to try to go back and get him, wherever he is.

The dynamics of the makeshift less-than-family are quickly established, with Gary (Don Bridges) as the voice of reason and Bob (Nicholas Stribakos) as the arrogant and potentially dangerous hothead, with the other three characters (all women) falling somewhere in between — and then just as quickly dispensed with, and by violent means at that, when one of the polar opposites (bet you can guess which) kills the other and takes off with the ladies, minus Evie, who opts to stay behind and let either death or, preferably, her husband find her.

Fortunately for her it’s the latter, as it turns out that John (Scott Marcus) is very much alive and has somehow managed to make his way back to their —here’s another cliche for you — abandoned farmhouse encampment. There’s just one problem — it seems he flunked “Survival 101” just like she did,  and it’s pretty apparent that the two of them aren’t long for this world, either separately or together.



Fear not, though — help soon arrives in the form of solo “wanderer of the wastelands” Charlie (Steven Jianai), who has all the hard-scrabble, alpha-male skills any self-respecting tight-knit band of survivors might require. Hell, this guy could probably make fire out of one stick (I know, I know — just break it in half so you’ve got two) and kill a kangaroo with his bare hands. He’s exactly what our over-matched city-slickers need.

Here’s the rub, though — turns out he just might be a bigger monster than the zombies he’s “protecting” them from.

And so, after all that set-up (and, it has to be said, some great gore effects),  Plague is really just a cleverly-disguised slow-burn psychodrama with themes straight out of the oldest “be careful what you wish for” morality play you care to mention. But ya know what? I kinda dug it anyway, given that Crossed + One Hundred employs a “bait-and-switch” of its own (although admittedly on a much larger, and more fundamentally frightening, scale) , so this flick sort of kept the accidental “theme” of my afternoon going. Yes, the actors are clearly pretty new to the game and really do struggle with the “believability factor” at times (particularly Crowley), but by and large they manage as best they can with their material, and that material  at least contains a few pleasingly unexpected twists and turns, even if they are a bit drawn out — which is my semi-polite way of saying that pacing is a problem here, and that those with a short attention span might find their mind wandering a bit.

For those who choose to stick with it, though, Plague offers a pretty nice payoff in the end, and handles its business with a reasonable amount of professionalism and, crucially, heart. Ouzas and Kozakis may be a little rough around the edges as filmmakers, but they seem to be willing to take a few risks in the hopes of delivering their audience a bigger reward later on. They’re also unafraid to throw you — and themselves — in at the deep end and let their movie sink or swim based on its script, its characters,  and a few well-placed “gotcha!” moments. None of which adds up to an unequivocally succesfull movie in this particular case, but given a few more years and a few more flicks under their belt, they might just have one in them. This is hardly “can’t-miss” viewing by any stretch, it’s true,  but if you happen to come across it you’ll probably find it a plenty good use of an hour and a half or so of your time and will walk away from it at least somewhat glad for having seen it.




Fair warning : there are a few key “spoilers” ahead — not just for Crossed + One Hundred, but for Southern Bastards and The Wicked + The Divine, as well — so if you’re not completely caught up on any of these books, skip the seventh paragraph following this one, pick up again at the tenth, and you’ll be in good shape. Got that? Okay, my conscience is clear.


A little while back, I reviewed the first issue of Alan Moore and Gabriel Andrade’s Crossed + One Hundred from Avatar Press, and I’m not sure how many of you took my advice and jumped on-board with it, but I’m guessing it must not have been a very big number because my inbox hasn’t been flooded with emails from random strangers thanking me for turning them onto this series (although I did receive one, which I appreciate) and, frankly, there’s just no way I’d be confronted with that sort of “radio silence” if folks had heeded my words.

I  say that with full confidence because, now that the book’s initial six-issue run in over (which is all that it had originally been slated to go for, but apparently sales have been good enough that Avatar has picked it up as a monthly ongoing, with Si Spurrier taking over the writing duties from Moore as of issue #7), it’s safe to label this first “story arc” of Crossed + One Hundred as far and away the best goddamn post-apocalyptic “zombie comic” ever.


Trust me when I say that I don’t throw a compliment that all-encompassing down lightly — I only do it because Moore and Andrade have unquestionably earned it. Seriously — those who are still picking up The Walking Dead on a monthly basis (or even my beloved Empire Of The Dead) and are also reading this know that there’s just no comparison. To put things as plainly as possible, every other four-color exploration of the “undead plague” is hollow, one-dimensional stuff when judged by the standards set by Crossed + One Hundred. Robert Kirkman has been fleshing out his post-zombie-apocalypse world for, what? A decade now? And he still hasn’t put as much thought into the hows and whys of humanity’s survival as Moore obviously has here. To use a cliche, this is “next level” stuff — from the mutated language, to the makeshift technology, to the new attitudes toward sex, to the fundamental changes to basic morality itself — and the damned thing is, when you sit down and think about it for a minute, it all makes perfect sense.

Consider : if you woke up tomorrow and found yourself transported to a world that was a century removed from a civilization-destroying “extinction event,” one with no more television and radio broadcasting much less an internet, what do you think the most valuable commodity would be? Knowledge. Specifically. knowledge of the past. And where would you find such knowledge? Books. The printed page would be your only lifeline to what came before, and would be essential not only for learning  how we came to find ourselves where we are, but for understanding what culture itself really was, and what it meant — valuable information indeed in a world where only a vague approximation of it still exists, and has been developed entirely on the basis of necessity rather than choice.

Let’s take it a step further. With no more movies and TV, what would humans do for fun? Well, there’s always fucking, and in a makeshift “society” where the shit’s already hit the fan and day-to-day survival is far from a guaranteed prospect, would archaic notions of purely “homo” and “hetero” sexuality still exist (assuming they were ever relevant for anything beyond social control in the first place)? Would people still refrain from talking about sex in “polite” company? Hell — would there even be such a thing as “polite” company, given that the forefathers and foremothers of the small number of people still around would have to have been a pretty hard-assed bunch?


Moore has fully developed all of these various hypotheticals in his mind, and that’s a key difference between Crossed + One Hundred and every other zombie comic (or, for that matter, zombie movie or zombie TV show) out there. But notice I said “a” key difference, and not “the” key difference —that’s because, there’s one other, and it’s the most brazen, “balls-y” thing you’ve come across in some time. Sit tight, and I’ll explain.


The “bait and switch” is a common tactic in today’s comic book landscape — in Jason Aaron and Jason Latour’s Southern Bastards, the guy we thought was our protagonist gets killed at the end of issue #4, and the book’s next “arc” gave us a four-part story about the series’ chief villain, while over in the pages of Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie’s The Wicked + The Divine, our lead character makes it all the way to issue # 12 before being killed off (in spectacular fashion, and right after her greatest wish came true) and the narrative shifting gears to — well, I don’t rightly know where that book is headed now (although I remain curious to find out). In issue #5 of Crossed + One Hundred, though, Moore does his peers (okay, fair enough, perhaps Alan Moore doesn’t really have any “peers”) one better by pulling the whole conceptual framework of what we’ve been reading out from under us and letting us know, in no uncertain terms, that this book was never about humanity’s survival at all — not matter how much rich detail he poured into it — but about the survival of the so-called “Crossed,” and about how all of our efforts were as naught compared to theirs.

How fundamental a shift is this? Not to put things too lightly, but also not wanting to give too much else away in terms of “spoilers,” I’ll say only this much — it turns out that it was their world all along, we were just ignorant and/or arrogant enough to believe that it was ours. Moore then doubles down on the impact of this revelation by allowing his protagonist, archivist Future Taylor, to survive (along with some, but not all, of her supporting “crew”), but what does that even mean when confronted with the reality that, in Ms. Taylor’s own words, “I didn’t know we were all just wishful fiction”?

And that, friends, is how you pull off a “bait and switch” with intelligence and meaning and raise it above the level of mere storytelling contrivance. The climactic sixth issue plays out more or less exactly the way we believe it will know that we know the “Crossed” are intelligent, and that they’ve spent a century absorbing the “teachings” of an honest-to-God serial killer and planning their revenge on humanity, which is to say — it’s an absolute fucking nightmare. But it’s a nightmare that matters and has impact beyond just the visceral (although Gabriel Andrade does visceral like nobody’s business — but more on him in a second) because Moore has fleshed out his post-doomsday world so well.


Of course, any script this detailed needs art equal to the task, and damn, Andrade sure has proven to be the right guy for the job here. Every wildly varying scenario he’s tasked with detailing — from a Muslim colony in Appalachia (of all places) to a “Crossed” encampment made from  skulls and bones is rendered in exquisitely-realized detail, and his characters all look like distinctly unique people who have weathered a hell of a lot in their time on this planet. He’ll be continuing with the series when Spurrier takes over, and that’s very good news indeed not only for the sake of visual contnuity, but because  he’s firmly established himself as an artist worth following.


And speaking of following — when it comes to Crossed + One Hundred, I’ll be doing just that. Spurrier’s got some big shoes to fill, and only time will tell whether or not Avatar’s decision to continue this comic proves to be a wise one, but, if you’ll permit me to adopt the language of our post-plague survivors for a moment, I’m going to keep on opsying this wishful fiction because these first six issues were fuck movie.