Archive for February 12, 2017

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I’m noticing something of a trend in some of the “found footage” horrors I’ve been watching lately — a rather hum-drum and predictable (if not dull as dry toast) opening two acts, appended by a surprising, perhaps even amazing, third act that almost makes putting up with all the earlier crap worth it. Such was certainly the case with Adam Wingard’s 2016-released Blair Witch, and the pattern largely holds for the next film in the subgenre that I watched (courtesy of Amazon Prime streaming, although I understand it’s also available on standard DVD), 2012’s micro-budget effort from co-directors Ben Martinez and David Benjamin Franco, Alien Valley.

As far as set-ups go, they don’t come much more bog-standard than this : the crew from the supposedly-popular “reality” TV show “Paranormal Mysteries” (hence this film’s alternate — and thoroughly uninspired — title, P.M.) have “gone missing” after heading out to the San Luis Valley of Colorado to “discover the facts” behind a series of cattle mutilations that have plagued the area for years. There’s a bit of truth to this, apparently — the valley did, in fact, see a wave of still-unexplained cattle mutilations back in the 1960s — but the “compilation of leaked footage, documentary analysis, and material provided by the ALC network” that follows is, of course, all bullshit.

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In this flick’s early-to-middle going, it’s also pretty dull bullshit — the pacing of screenwriter Kristopher Simms’ script is such a slow burn that it barely “burns” at all, largely focused as it is on the one-dimensional interactions between crew members Andrea (played by Madison Guthrie), Matt (Jared Van Doorn), Rob (John Campbell), Eric (Nathan Blackburn), and Claire (Meghan McMahon) as they go about the business of location filming and interviewing various principals and self-styled “experts” with something to say about the case, but there are at least a couple of above-average performances to be had from Nate Bakke as head cinematographer Dave and Nikki Cornejo as ostensible government liaison Rose, both of whom seem noticeably more comfortable in front of the camera than their cohorts and have a nice and easy chemistry between them that’s reasonably enjoyable to watch. Other than that, though, the first roughly 60 minutes of this 75-minute production don’t have a whole heck of a lot going for them.

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Tell ya what, though, when Martinez and Franco decide to pull out all the stops for the final 15, they really go all-out. Some very effective practical effects work complements a fiercely tense and constantly surprising sprint to the finish, and when the film finally figures that it needs to live up to its name (well, one of its names) by dropping an “actual” alien into the proceedings, it not only works, it works unbelievably well. You know how things are gonna turn out, of course — that’s telegraphed from the outset — but how they end up turning out that way is definitely something to see.

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Our guys Ben n’ David certainly know how to play up the sense of unease and terror that the “shaky-cam” game can still deliver when done correctly, and if they get their hands on some material that demands real creativity and gusto from start to finish, who knows? They might actually be able to come up with something that forces the studios to take notice. As it is, though, Alien Valley doesn’t really showcase all they’re capable of until the very late going — and by then, a lot of folks will have understandably hit “stop” and gone on to do something else.

I would advise you do anything but, though, if you opt to invest your time in this one. If you’re willing to be patient  — okay, very patient — Alien Valley will most definitely reward your perseverance and leave you walking away from it impressed. If your attention span falls into the short-to-medium range, though, then there’s not much chance you’ll be willing to wait around for the rather immense payoff that’s in store. I won’t hold it against you if you check out early, but I will feel sorry for you — this is a flick that tests your determination, absolutely, but  also one that is equally determined to reward its most loyal and/or stubborn (is there a difference?) viewers very generously indeed.

 

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After giving Bullseye #1 a richly-deserved rough time of it in my review last week, I was leaning pretty heavily towards giving the rest of Marvel’s “Running With The Devil” titles a pass, but some nagging little voice in my head told me that Kingpin would probably be worth at least an initial $3.99 investment. Okay, fair enough, Matthew Rosenberg’s earlier Civil War II : Kingpin series was generally savaged by critics (to the point where I stayed away), but I chalk that up to the fact that all “event” tie-ins are garbage weighed down by a shit-ton of editorial mandates — surely free of these constraints, the writer behind 4 Kids Walk Into A Bank and We Can Never Go Home can give us a decent crime story, don’tcha think?

Jeff Dekal’s cover doesn’t necessarily inspire a ton of confidence — he’s been absolutely killing it over on Hulk, but his composition on this one seems a bit curious, to say the least, especially considering that Daredevil, Elektra, and Bullseye don’t feature in this book at all (apart from a cameo by Matt Murdock in his civilian guise), and it seems to me that if you’re gonna include superfluous characters in order to drive up sales, it might be best if one of them doesn’t look like he’s hopped-up on cheap bathtub crank. But who knows? Maybe I’m just old-fashioned — and besides, as with prospective romantic partners, it’s what’s inside that counts, right?

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Fortunately for us all, Kingpin #1 grabs you immediately on page one and doesn’t let go. Rosenberg’s characterization of Wilson Fisk is definitely “in line” with Vincent D’Onofrio’s portrayal of him on the Daredevil Netflix series — frightening, physically and psychologically imposing, ultimately unknowable — but with a crucial twist : his motives this time out appear to be far more personal and therefore more potentially dangerous. Yes, he seems determined to save “his” city and to employ his customary morally-ambiguous (to put it kindly) methods while doing so, but he knows that he’s got some serious image rehab to do first, and to that end he’s selected down-on-her-luck journalist Sarah Dewey to ghost-write his (auto?)biography. Dewey  is a fascinating and fully-fleshed out character who functions as both an eminently relatable audience stand-in and an immersive figure in her own right at the same time : her trepidation at “getting close” to such a dangerous figure mirrors ours, but her personal problems (divorce and custody issues, 12-stepping) are very much her own, and this comic ends up being every bit as much hers at it is the title-holder’s. She’s our “eyes and ears,” sure (and perhaps our conscience?) — but that doesn’t mean she can’t pull “double duty” and be very much herself while she’s acting in that capacity. I don’t know how many issues this series is slated to run, but I’m already hoping that Marvel finds a worthy spot for her once it’s over.

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But let’s hope this doesn’t end too darn soon — because not only does this book read well, it looks absolutely gorgeous. Artist Ben Torres borrows a bit from Frank Miller and Tim Sale here and there, it’s true, but he’s got a distinctive “medium-heavy” line all his own and, together with colorist extraordinaire Jordan Boyd, navigates the borderlands between noir and everyday urban not-quite-grime with a fluid ease that’s enough to make lesser talents downright jealous. A truly successful Kingpin book can probably only look one way, and guess what? This is it.

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Have I convinced you yet? If not, then I guess I’m just not doing my (voluntary, I admit) job well enough. Or maybe spot-on characterization, sparkling dialogue, superb illustration, and pitch-perfect colors all working in concert to accentuate a slowly-encroaching sense of dread and unease just isn’t your particular cup of tea. That’s entirely possible — but even if that’s the (unlikely) case, I’m still willing bet you just about anything that this issue’s simple-but-jaw-dropping cliffhanger will leave you wanting more.

So, yeah — I was all kind of impressed by Kingpin #1. Give it a chance I’m confident you will be, as well.