Wednesday, June 30, 2021

Long Story Short

This is a film Andrew Marvell and Robert Herrick would approve of—or so we assume. Honestly, all anyone ever remembers of them are “time’s winged chariot” and “gather ye rosebuds while ye may.” A procrastinator like Teddy isn’t very good at seizing the day, but he will learn his lesson through drastic fantastical intercession in screenwriter-director-co-star Josh Lawson’s Long Story Short, which releases this Friday on VOD.

When Teddy met Leanne, it was certainly eventful. It took him forever to finally pop the question, but even after he did, he only agreed to set a date because of a mysterious stranger’s meddling. Weirdly, she also gave them a strange, mystical tin can that holds the uncanny and inconvenient power of flashing Teddy forward one year, every ten or fifteen minutes or so.

Much to his alarm, Teddy finds himself skipping over Leanne’s pregnancy, the birth of their daughter, and the increasing tensions threatening their marriage. He also finds himself forgetting their anniversary, over and over. With the help of his ever-loyal best friend Sam, Teddy tries to fix his life and stop the fast-forwarding phenomenon, naturally using Harold Ramis’s
Groundhog Day as a model.

Long Story Short
is a bit like the dark and downbeat Adam Sandler vehicle Click, but it is funnier, more optimistic, and generally more pleasant to spend time with. Even when things look really bad, Lawson retains the possibility Teddy can still fix things, or at least improve them.

Tuesday, June 29, 2021

Vicious Fun, on Shudder

These days, being a horror film critic is about the most prestigious work you can do, right? It wasn’t really like that back in the 1980s. The truth is Joel is considered a little weird by most people, including the roommate he carries a torch for. Unfortunately, he will stumble into a real-life horror show when he accidentally crashes a gathering of serial killers in Cody Calahan’s Vicious Fun, which starts streaming today on Shudder.

Joel writes for a magazine called
Vicious Fun, but he is actually a very nice guy—and not a lot of fun. Frustrated by his romantic ineptitude, Joel follows his roommate’s new boyfriend Bob to a restaurant, where he gets hammered and passes out in the gents. When he comes to, he encounters a group encounter session for serial killers underway. Don’t call them anonymous, though they are. This meeting is more about professional development than curbing their instincts.

Freaked-out Joel tries to assume the identity of their missing member, but he isn’t very convincing. So much for all his horror movie training. However, Carrie the loner also seems to have her own agenda and she starts saving his butt, at least for a while.

Calahan and screenwriter James Villeneuve’s humor is definitely hit-or-miss, but it hits more frequently than a lot of horror-comedies. The CIA agent serial killer is definitely a hurtful stereotype (but hey, thank you intelligence officers for your service and sacrifice). Frankly, Shudder will also be lucky if they can sneak Hideo, the Japanese cannibal-chef possibly inspired by the subject of
Caniba, past the cancelling censors.

Monday, June 28, 2021

Till Death: Megan Fox Gets Divorced the Hard Way

It is like a snowy Weekend at Bernie’s without the 1980’s-style fun. After “celebrating” or at least observing her anniversary, Emma finds herself tethered to a corpse—her husband’s. That will save her the trouble of a divorce, assuming she survives the killers out to get her in S.K. Dale’s Till Death, which opens this Friday in theaters and on VOD.

Emma was grateful to Mark for prosecuting the creep who attacked her. However, after they married, he sold out to corporate law and became an emotionally cruel and controlling husband. There is absolutely nothing fun about their anniversary dinner, until he whisks her away to their upstate farmhouse, to rekindle some of the old magic.

It doesn’t last for long. For reasons that will be spoilery to explain, Emma gets handcuffed to Mark’s dead body. As she drags it around the snowbound house, she finds all the tools, cutlery, and sharp cutting implements have been mysteriously removed. Emma’s clothes were also removed, except for the night gown on her back and her old wedding dress (to send a creepy message). Things are pretty dire, even before her old stalker-nemesis arrives on the scene.

Jason Carvey’s screenplay has its clever points, but it pales in comparison to Mike Flanagan’s adaptation of
Gerald’s Game. Granted, Emma finds herself in a tight spot, but she is extraordinarily unresourceful when it comes to detaching herself from her dead-weight hubby. (Presumably, you could just break a bone and then tear through some flesh and cartilage, but we’ve admittedly never been in such a situation.)

Megan Fox is okay as Emma, but the way her makeup stays perfectly in place throughout all her ordeals is truly amazing. Callan Mulvey and Eoin Macken are both pretty creepy as the stalker and the husband. Probably the best performance comes from Jack Roth as Jimmy, the killer’s little brother and reluctant accomplice, while Aml Ameen is stuck playing the dumbest character, the spectacularly unintuitive Tom, Emma’s lover, who of course also happens to be Mark’s protégé.

Sunday, June 27, 2021

Gela Babluani’s Sekta

Russians have certainly had their share of personality cults. Of course, Stalin is the most notorious for ruling through his cult of personality, but he really wasn’t that much more extreme than Lenin before him. Clearly, Putin has used them both as models, but he never has never been able to carry the “Dear Leader” mantle with the same credibility. Frankly, that makes any talk of cults in Russia rather gutsy, but Georgian filmmaker Gela Babluani dives in with both feet, depicting not one, but two dangerous and deranged cults in the 8-episode Sekta, which is now streaming on MHz.

Demidov is an aloof alcoholic who does not suffer fools gladly. He is not much fun to be around, but he is an effective deprogrammer of cult-members. He largely operates outside the law, since his M.O. involves the kidnapping of his “clients.” Ironically, there is an undercover cop on his team, Koreyets, who infiltrated Demidov’s operation before he realized the cults they fight represent a far greater danger to society.

Their latest case will be the well-heeled Nika, who has been selected to be a human sacrifice by the Primordial, a powerfully-connected sect led by the shadowy Berk. Her parents demanded Demidov have a nurse present for the deprogramming, so he hired the down-on-her luck Lilya. It turns out Lilya can well relate to Nika’s experiences, because she too was once part of a cult. Lilya was the wife of the wildly psychotic John, but she came to her sense after barely surviving a Jonestown-style mass suicide he orchestrated. Lilya is determined to protect her daughter Kira from her father’s legacy and influence, but there is no denying the girl is a little spooky.

Babluani broke-out internationally with
13 Tzameti and the English remake 13, but at this point Sekta probably represents a comeback for him. It is certainly translates well for Western audience, because it incorporates some mildly supernatural elements into a deeply paranoid thriller. The pacing probably would have been tighter and tenser if the eight episodes could have been condensed into maybe six, but isn’t that always the case?

Saturday, June 26, 2021

Battle of the Damned, Starring Dolph Lundgren

It is hard to say whether this film is a good advertisement for the robotics industry, but there is no denying these bots’ utility. A programming error once turned them into runaway killing machines, but they have mostly fixed themselves. They are still a little twitchy, but they are the best hope for a group of humans stranded amid a zombie apocalypse in Christopher Hatton’s Battle of the Damned, which airs tomorrow night on Comet TV.

The shadowy big pharma tycoon responsible for a massive zombie outbreak in Malaysia hires crusty military contractor Max Gatling to extract his daughter Jude before the damage-containing fire-bombing commences. The film keeps telling us these are not technically zombies, but they sure act like them. However, you can kill them with a good slash to the throat. That turns out to be a lucky thing when the mercs run out of ammo and are only left with their Rambo knives.

Pretty soon, Gatling is the only one left, but he remains duty- (and financially)-bound to complete his mission. It turns out Jude has holed up in the enormously cinematic Sultan Ibrahim Building with a rag-tag band of survivors. Their leader, “Duke,” has slipped a little too easily into the role of authoritarian decision-maker. He and Gatling are not going to get along. Just when things look completely dire for our man Gatling, the robots turn up.

Damned is set in the same world as Hatton’s Robotropolis, which told their origin story. However, even if you saw the previous film, their arrival still comes way out of left field. Yet, you have to give Hatton and the effects team credit for really delivering on the promise of robot versus zombie action. You never have to sit around waiting for something to happen in this movie.

Friday, June 25, 2021

Werewolves Within

Don't think of it as a movie based on a video game, even though it is. Consider it a “werewolf mystery,” like the Amicus-produced The Beast Must Die, which even featured a “werewolf break” to give the audience a chance to guess the lycanthrope. There is no werewolf break here, but there is an unruly cast of suspects stranded together in an isolated location. As a result, they provide plenty of food for the predator in Josh Ruben’s Werewolves Within, which opens today in theaters.

Forest Ranger Finn Wheeler is a tragically nice guy, who has just been transferred to a small Vermont mountain post. He is still in denial regarding his girlfriend dumping him, until he meets wise-cracking Cecily Moore, the local mail carrier. Of course, he kind of blows it with her, but he might get a second chance, when the road to civilization is buried in a blizzard, isolating the small, eccentric community. Unfortunately, there is also werewolf stalking them.

As in a good Agatha Christie mystery, Wheeler and about a dozen of his gun-packing new neighbors must hole-up in the town’s tourist inn. To make matters worse, the powerlines are down and the stand-alone generators have been sabotaged. Naturally, they are going to get picked off, one by one. Yet, Wheeler, the eternal optimist still thinks they can work together to survive.

The setting of
Werewolves is similar to that of Ruben’s first film, Scare Me, but the humor is funnier and more consistent. There really isn’t all that much blood and gore in this lycanthropic cat-and-mouse game, but genre fans will still get a big kick out of the way it plays with werewolf conventions.

Thursday, June 24, 2021

Melville’s Le Cercle Rouge

The opening quotation is fake, but the soundtrack is totally legit. You might have thought the late 1950s and the early 1960s were the peak of swinging crime jazz and it probably was in Hollywood, but Eric Demarsan really uncorked a classic for Jean-Pierre Melville’s 1970 penultimate film. Georges Arvanitas on piano, Guy Pedersen on bass, Daniel Humair on drums, and the groovy vibes of Bernard Lubat set the noir mood and sound terrific together. Oh, and the film is really good too. Uncut (as it always should have been) and freshly restored in pristine 4K, Melville’s Le Cercle Rouge opens tomorrow at Film Forum, exclusively brick-and-mortar-style.

We know Corey is hardboiled, because he is played by Alain Delon. Ironically, he is about to be paroled early for good behavior. However, one of the crooked prison guards tries to recruit him for jewel heist up in Paris. So much for rehabilitation. Meanwhile, Vogel escapes from the straight-arrow Inspector Mattei, who was extraditing him from Marseilles to Paris. When the two crooks cross paths, Corey helps Vogel elude the dragnet and recruits him for his big heist caper.

They will need another accomplice with sharpshooting skills. Vogel knows just the man: Jansen, a severely alcoholic ex-cop. Of course, Mattei is still on their trail and feeling the heat from the cynical chief of police. There is also the business of finding a fence who can handle that kind of heat.

Cercle Rouge
is classic Melville, starting with the unmistakable presence of Alain Delon (who became an international icon in Melville’s Le Samorai). It is slower, more deliberately paced, and longer (140 minutes) than typical caper movies, but Delon makes it work. Fortunately, we have the Demarsan soundtrack to have something to listen to when the cast quietly broods (which is often).

Wednesday, June 23, 2021

Who Are You, Charlie Brown?—on Apple TV+

Snoopy has been NASA’s semi-official mascot ever since the Apollo 10 lunar and command modules were nicknamed in honor of him and Charlie Brown. They also own Christmas thanks to the beloved TV special and Vince Guaraldi’s iconic soundtrack album. Plus, there were movies and a frequently revived stage musical, but creator Charles M. “Sparky” Schulz remained as unassuming as the round-headed kid he brought to life. Shulz and the beloved Peanuts franchise are celebrated in Who Are You, Charlie Brown?, directed by Michael Bonfiglio, which starts streaming this Friday on Apple TV.

Schulz did not have a particularly happy childhood and he did not do particularly well at school. Parallels between his life and Charlie Brown are not coincidental. However, he discovered he had a passion for cartooning that developed into a specialty for writing and drawing children. Thanks to the everyman appeal of Charlie Brown and Snoopy’s wild flights of fancy,
Peanuts caught on big, but Shultz never changed.

Who Are You
covers most of the truly pivotal moments in Peanuts history and Shulz’s life, like the Apollo 10 mission, the classic Merry Christmas Charlie Brown, and the continuation of the strip after Shulz’s stroke, but the hour long documentary-tribute really only scratches the surface. There is no discussion of You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown (a huge hit Off-Broadway), the theatrical films, the Christian theological interpretations of Shulz’s writings, Guaraldi’s records and scores, or more darkly, the failed kidnapping attempt of 1988.

Who Are You is far from definitive by any stretch, but it wonderfully soothing to revisit Shulz and his cherished characters. In between biographical segments, Bonfiglio incorporates a new animated story, featuring Charlie Brown as he wrestles with home assignment to write an autobiographical essay. Maybe best of all, these segments feature Guaraldi’s “Linus and Lucy” and “Skating.” Arranged by Jeff Morrow, they still sound quite faithful to the classic originals.

Tuesday, June 22, 2021

Bad Detectives

Los Angeles is home to America’s largest port (by volume) and plenty of corrupt politicians. That makes it a perfect hub for art smuggling. Nic O’Connell and Ping Liu start to suspect the murder of their private investigator grandfathers was related to the case of a stolen Chinese artifact, but to bring the killers to justice, the estranged former besties must work together in Presley Paras’ Bad Detectives (a.k.a. Year of the Detectives), which releases today on VOD.

Despite their affection for their grandfathers Liu and O’Connell are not exactly Miss Scarlet. They are not trained sleuths and they certainly aren’t licensed. However, they can still tell there is something fishy about the accident that killed their grandpas and all attempts from the lazy investigating cops to discourage them have the opposite effect. However, they are still largely spit-balling until the corrupt local assemblyman’s chief-of-staff gives them some direction.

If it weren’t so hard to write clever mysteries, we’d all be Agatha Christie, but we’re not. Screenwriter Chris Johnson certainly isn’t either. The actual murder cases in
Bad Detectives are pretty simple, yet the narrative is still rather raggedy. However, what works are the chemistry and relationship dynamics of the two granddaughter-detectives.

Dralla Aierken and Freya Tingley play-off each other well are create distinctive personas as the straight-laced professional Liu and O’Connell, a recently discharged veteran with anger issues. They click together on-screen and it is also fun to watch them interact with their grandfathers’ crusty old employees, even though they only seem to show up to drink tea and booze when the bad guys are safely gone.

Abel Ferrara’s Siberia

Siberia is not just a region of Russia. It is a whole state of mind. It is a psychotic and delusional state, as envisioned by Abel Ferrara. We will see it through the eyes of a lone American bartender, who is growing increasingly alienated from people, society, and his own sanity in Ferrara’s Siberia, which releases today on DVD.

Clint does not understand whatever Siberian Mongolic, Turkic, or Tatar dialects his occasional customers speak and for those of us who don’t either, Ferrara declines to subtitle them. That still does not stop Clint from sleeping with some of them, but sex always builds to a twisted, nightmarish climax in Ferrara’s

After a few weird encounters, Clint lights off on a spiritual trek through the tundra, with his trusty sled dogs looking just as confused as viewers uninitiated in Ferrara’s quirks. Arguably, there is the seed of an interesting story in the journey, when Clint periodically seeks out practitioners of the dark arts, presumably in hopes of acquiring the forbidden knowledge necessary for a Faustian bargain that would ease his existential regrets. Of course, Ferrara is not about to spoon-feed us Jack Straw.

There is no sense complaining or arguing over the film’s murky narrative, because Ferrara isn’t playing by those rules. He is taking us through a rabbit hole into the darkest corners of his subconscious. If you are uncomfortable with that than so much the better. Really, this is a film for critics to watch, so they can file bits away to draw on later when Ferrara releases something more accessible. Nevertheless, cast-members like Simon McBurney and Dounia Sichov add a lot of depth and texture playing the shadowy “Magician” and Clint’s wife (seen through dreams and illusions).

Monday, June 21, 2021

Wolfgang (Puck), the Documentary

There is a small army of Food Network stars who owe their gigs and fortunes to Wolfgang Puck. He didn’t quite singe-handedly create the concept of the celebrity chef (as this documentary suggests), but he certainly established a professional template for later chefs to follow. David Gelb (the food documentarian) chronicles Puck’s life and career in Wolfgang, which premieres Friday on Disney+.

If you want to see a film about Wolfgang Puck, this would definitely qualify as one. Gelb covers Puck’s entire life, starting with his difficult childhood in Austria. Puck’s Teagen-esque step-father bullied him to brink of suicide, but he found refuge in a part-time kitchen job. Briefly working with a French chef in-residence inspired Puck to study in France. From there, he was off to American.

Puck was largely responsible for resuscitating the now legendary Ma Maison, but restaurateur Patrick Terrail (who fearlessly appears in the film) was loathe to give a lowly chef credit or an equal stake. As a result, Puck set out on his own, with the help of his partner (and now ex-wife) Barbara Lazaroff (who also participated in the film) opened Spago. (Like Ma Maison, the name of Spago might ring bells with viewers, but they might not know why. The film does a nice job explaining their cultural and media significance.)

False Positive, on Hulu

Horror movies love to corrupt good things. Of course, it is hard to build a film around an evil apple pie, but it is much easier plum the dark side of motherhood. Rosemary’s Baby remains the champion at this, but tons of flicks tried to follow its example. Some were even pretty good, such as Aneesh Chaganty’s Run, Franz & Fiala’s Goodnight Mommy, and Stewart Thorndike’s Lyle. It is debatable whether this is a proper horror film or rather a dark thriller, since it really isn’t scary, despite the sinister turn an expected mother’s pregnancy takes in John Lee’s False Positive, which premieres this Friday on Hulu.

Lucy and her doctor husband Adrian Martin have been trying to get pregnant for two straight years with no success. Finally, he books her an appointment with his old colleague, ultra-arrogant fertility specialist Dr. John Hindle and voila. She’s not just pregnant. She has two healthy boy twins and a smaller, iffy-looking girl. Of course, Hindle and her husband want to abort the girl because you know, patriarchy. (Ironically, their arguments are much like those used by abortion advocates in the abortion debate.)

After the insert-your-own-term-here, everything should be fine, but she feels off physically and emotionally. Martin starts experiencing strange dreams and visions, but nobody takes her concerns seriously. Instead, she finds herself increasingly alienated from her supposed support system.

Of course, you can easily guess some of the skullduggery, because it is mandated by the film’s sexual politics. That is the problem with polemical films. They are so inevitably predictable. Fortunately, Lee and cinematographer Pavel Pogorzelski crafted some nicely eerie-looking scenes, which makes the film watchable. Honestly, if you are okay with laughing through Pierce Brosnan’s smug, preening villainy, then the film is a fair amount of fun.

Sunday, June 20, 2021

Tribeca ’21: Settlers

Dirt-farming on Mars makes Uncle Owen & Aunt Beru’s Tatooine farm look lush and luxurious. However, for Remmy’s family, there is no alternative. Frankly, following undisclosed wars and natural disasters, they are looking to have a reasonably sustainable home. That is probably why mysterious outlaws try to take it for themselves in screenwriter-director Wyatt Rockefeller’s Settlers, which screens as part of this year’s Tribeca Film Festival.

Remmy is happy living with her father Reza and mother Ilsa, even though they never see another soul—and apparently never expect to. Then one fateful day, they find the word “leave” smeared across the environmentally reinforced window of their space-age farm house. Her parents fight hard during the siege that follows, but it tragically ends with a long, awkward period of “occupation.”

The invading Jerry seems to think their homestead was once his family’s property. Regardless, he has certainly taken it back. Understandably, Remmy is quite bitter about the situation. Socially withdrawing, she prefers the company of a farm droid. Jerry acts like it is little more than a Roomba vacuuming robot, but Remmy thinks it has more of a persona than that.

is indeed Western-influenced science fiction, featuring futuristic homesteaders and outlaws, but it is definitely drawing from the slow, moody, and revisionist variety. Perversely, just about every significant event in the film happens off-screen. Initially, that builds a sense of mystery, but it grows frustrating over time.

However, the production design is truly stand-out award-deserving work. The farm-house and out-buildings look slightly ahead of our current time, but still somewhat lived-in and run-down. We rarely see sf like this. In some ways, the interiors even harken back to the original
Star Wars (we don’t call it “A New Hope” here).

Saturday, June 19, 2021

The Serpent Misfires

You can tell this film must have been sitting on the shelf for a while, because you can see Broadway posters for Spiderman: Turn off the Dark in some of external Manhattan shots. That show closed in early January, 2014. It is easy to understand why nobody was in a rush to release it. Writer-director-lead actress Gia Skova obviously intended it to be a star vehicle for herself, but nobody is effectively showcased in The Serpent, which is now available on VOD.

Lucinda Kavsky (codename: “Serpent”) is a CIA agent, on the run from the Agency, because she discovered the director is completely beholden to a mysterious terrorist mastermind. He even goes into the field, guns blazing, in pursuit of her. Not even a cowboy like Bill Casey would have done that. It turns out she uncovered a plan to implant nanotech explosives in four children that could very well be detonated soon.

The politics of
Serpent are probably deeply problematic, but it is hard to tell, because the first half-hour is so roughly helmed and edited, rendering the narrative nearly incomprehensible. Essentially, it seems like Kavsky spends the first half of the movie shooting at one faction of CIA agents and the second fighting another (or maybe they’re the same). Who wouldn’t enjoy watching a lot of dedicated American intelligence personnel getting shot? Russians, I guess.

Apparently, Skova, the former fashion model is following Alexander Nevsky’s example, trying to crack the American market with moderately Russia-boostering straight-to-VOD action movies. (Honestly, I don’t know what was the weirdest part of that last sentence.) At least
The Serpent skips the shticky humor of Maximum Impact.

Friday, June 18, 2021

The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard: Also Starring Frank Grillo

Brexit just keeps looking better and better, doesn’t it? Currently, the UK is far out-performing the EU when it comes to vaccinations. It should also be safely out of the crosshairs when a Greek super-patriot hatches an apocalyptic scheme to avenge Brussels’ policies that humbled his country. Europe’s only hope rests in the three characters referenced in the title of Patrick Hughes’ The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard, which is now playing in actual theaters.

The Hitman’s Bodyguard, bodyguard Michael Bryce protected his old contract-killer nemesis long enough to testify against an Alexander Lukashenko-like dictator at The Hague, but he is still haunted by Darius Kincaid’s assassination of his most important client. His shrink wants him to move on to safer employment, but Kincaid’s wife Sonia pulls him back in to save her husband (against both of their wishes).

Even though Bryce has temporarily sworn off guns, he and Ms. Kincaid successfully rescue her hubby from the Euro gangster holding him. Inconveniently, they also kill him before Interpol Agent Bobby O’Neil can recover the sensitive European infrastructure information he acquired for the shadowy mastermind. It turns out the villain is Greek shipping tycoon Aristotle Papdopolous, who needs a briefcase full of codes linked to an explosive device that winds up strapped to Sonia’s wrist.

Like its predecessor,
HWB is definitely a meathead movie, but it is a rare sequel that manages to be funnier than the original. Obviously, Samuel L. Jackson does his F-bomb-dropping thing as Kincaid—and it is still works as well as ever. Ryan Reynolds probably gets even more laughs as the wildly neurotic Bryce. However, Salma Hayek (who was conspicuously under-utilized in the first film) steals the show as the spectacularly foul-mouthed and hair-trigger-tempered Sonia Kincaid. She is a riot, pretty much literally.

The American Sector: The Berlin Wall in America

In 1987, Pres. Ronald Reagan challenged Gorbachev to tear down the Berlin Wall. He declined to do so, so the Germans did it themselves. The remnants of the Wall are like relics, sanctified by the blood of East Germans who were literally killed trying to scale, jump, or in some way circumvent it. Many of the surviving panels ended up in America, but it is not clear how many people who see them every day understand their significance. Courtney Stephens and Pacho Velez document the many American displays of the Berlin Wall in their cinematic essay, The American Sector, which opens today in New York, at the Metrograph.

There are obvious reasons why many sites in America proudly display monument-sized portions of the Wall. For instance, we see panels installed at Eureka College (Reagan’s alma mater), the National Churchill Museum in Fulton, MO (where he gave his prescient “Iron Curtain” speech, coining a metaphor that took physical shape in the Wall), German Armed Forces Command in Reston, VA, and the Wende Museum in Culver City. Whereas, we hear but do not see the Wall display in CIA headquarters, for obvious reasons a press officer duly explains.

However, the 
coolest display might very well be at the George H.W. Bush Presidential library, where elements are incorporated into Veryl Goodnight’s The Day the Wall Came Down, a statue of horses breaking through the Wall to freedom. Rather aptly, we also see a panel outside the Friends Suwanee Grill, because the enterprising owner bought it at a liquidation auction (sharp-eyed viewers might also notice the Shen Yun sign in his window).

Thursday, June 17, 2021

School’s Out Forever

Initially, there was speculation type-O blood might be resistant to Covid-19, but subsequent studies say it isn’t so. However, type O-negative can take heart from their exclusive immunity in Scott K. Andrews’ Afterblight Chronicles YA trilogy. Yes, that’s a right, it’s an apocalyptic epidemic. Doesn’t that sound fun for a change? Sadly, the vibe is not nearly as snarky as the key art suggests. Instead, the end-of-the-world is rather glum business in Oliver Milburn’s School’s Out Forever (based on book #1), which releases in theaters and on VOD tomorrow.

The bad news is a mystery virus is about to wipe out ninety percent of the world population. The good news is Lee Keegan will not have to tell his dad he has been expelled from his elite boarding school. Unfortunately, his mother (a microbiologist working at some kind of secure facility) insists he return to the presumed safety of St. Marks. Since that is where she will come looking for him, that is where he reluctantly goes.

There, he finds his hot-tempered trouble-making mate Sean “Mac” MacKillick is largely running the school, despite the more reasonable advice of Mr. Bates, the last surviving teacher, and the nurse-matron, who is only a few years older than her students. A combination of fear and loose discipline also brings the kids into conflict with a local militia group.

Instead of wise-cracking his way through the resulting chaos, Keegan worries and pouts, which might be more realistic, but is far less entertaining. In fact, the film gets rather dour and downbeat. We have all seen plenty of serious-as-a-heart-attack end-of-the-world viral outbreaks on-screen, going back to the original
The Stand, if not before. Frankly, at a time like this, we need to laugh at Armageddon, but Milburn’s adaptation only offers a handful of darkly comedic chuckles here and there.

Wednesday, June 16, 2021

Tribeca ’21: Ultrasound

Unless you find yourself in a small Midwestern or Southern town, anyone would be naturally suspicious to be received with excessive hospitality when knocking on a stranger’s door after midnight. That is what Glen experiences when his car breaks down in the middle of a late-night storm. Art and his wife Cyndi roll out the welcome-wagon for him in ways that definitely confuse him, but things will get even weirder in Rob Schroeder’s Ultrasound, which screens as part of this year’s Tribeca Film Festival.

It would be spoilery to tell much more than that.
Ultrasound, adapted by Conor Stechschulte from his own graphic novel, clearly aspires to be a puzzle-box movie. In fact, the first half hour or so is downright bewildering, but it eventually starts to come together and ultimately leaves very little unexplained business on the table.

Be that as it may, there are also subplots involving Shannon, a trauma counselor who just accepted a position at a secretive behavioral research institute and the pregnant mistress of senator up for re-election (of course, the film identifies him as a Republican, because why wouldn’t you want to alienate 48% of your potential audience?).

Regardless, it really does come together, more or less. Breeda Wool helps tremendously to sell it all as Shannon, who turns out to be one of the film’s most interesting characters. Likewise, Tunde Adebimpe is terrific as her boss, Dr. Connors. All the performances are pretty solid and Bobb Barito’s eerie sound design nicely serves the vibe and plot elements (living up to the title).

Tuesday, June 15, 2021

Tribeca ’21: Ascension

How can you compete with a factory that pays hourly wages of $2.36? At least they are not using slave labor, as in Xinjiang. Still, anyone doing business with companies like Foxconn and Huawei are definitely benefiting from sweatshop-like conditions. In China, socialism found its perfect mate in oligarchical crony-capitalism. Both rely on a highly state-regulated economy. The result is a dramatically-stratified class system. Jessica Kingdon observes the inequality and conspicuous consummation without commentary in Ascension, which screens as part of this year’s Tribeca Film Festival.

True to its title,
Ascension ascends its way through contemporary Chinese class structures (something Mao claimed to be doing away with while killing millions of Chinese citizens during the Great Leap Forward and Cultural Revolution), starting with the exploited migrant workers. Companies like Huawei employ carnival barker-style recruiters, promising wages in the $2.00-range and maybe even the possibility of a sit-down job. However, the work is monotonous and payment of wages is dependent on the goodwill of capricious supervisors. Greasing palms is necessary even on the factory floor. Plus, the employees of a surreal sex doll factory complain the chemicals they use burn their skin.

The first part of
Ascension is by far the most instructive. The middle section documents middle class striving, including some rather pointed scenes from various service training-academies that supply the de-humanized butlers and bodyguards to serve the new class of elites. However, the time devoted to Taobao’s product-hawking live-streamers is rather redundant for anyone who has seen Hao Wu’s People’s Republic of Desire.

The “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous” third act is by far the most problematic, especially when a Fuerdai dinner party talks off-handedly about making business trips to Xinjiang, where the CCP has orchestrated a genocidal campaign against the Muslim Uyghurs and Kazakhs. This is an instance where a little context and maybe even some challenging questions from the filmmaker would be helpful. Honestly, the film cannot just drop that reference and then ignore it.

Unknown Compelling Force: The True Story of the Dyatlov Pass Incident

The Dyatlov Pass occupies a place in Russian pop culture not unlike Roswell in ours, but the incident that occurred there in 1959 had a very real body-count. There were nine deaths to be precise: eight students from the Ural Polytechnical Institute and a credentialed guide, who arranged to join their group because he needed another professionally qualifying expedition. By all accounts, the entire group mixed well, yet they all died on the ominous sounding Dead Mountain. Director and on-camera-presenter Liam Le Guillou tries to get at the truth of what happened in Unknown Compelling Force: The True Story of the Dyatlov Pass Incident, which releases today on DVD.

Officially, all nine expedition members died of hypothermia, even though several displayed conspicuous signs of physical trauma. The initial Soviet-era authorities essentially swept the incident under the rug, but when the regime collapsed, friends and family of the victims openly questioned the official version. Subsequent investigations only fueled the public’s suspicions.

Examining contradictory witness statements and government reports, Le Guillou largely dismisses the more fanciful urban legends that have gained traction, like the “Russian Yeti.” Ironically, he debunks conspiracy theories involving supposed Soviet weapons testing with a rational explanation that might actually be even more damning.

Apparently, a few radioactive garments were recovered from the dead bodies, but they could very well have belonged to an expedition member who worked during the clean-up of the Kystym nuclear emergency. At the time, the Soviets did their best to cover-up that incident too, but it is now considered the third worst nuclear disaster ever, after Chernobyl and Fukushima—at least maybe until the recent “performance issue” at the Guangdong nuclear power plant, not that we can judge from what the CCP says.

Monday, June 14, 2021

Take Back, Starring Gillian & Michael Jai White

Zara Rollins does not want to be a victim ever again. After escaping a human trafficker, she married a martial arts instructor. She tried to live a quiet life, but she definitely learned skills to protect herself. When her old captor messes with her and her family, the Rollinses fight back in Christian Sesma’s Take Back, which releases this Friday on VOD.

Rollins was living a happy but relatively quiet life with Brian Rollins and her step-daughter Audrey, until the fateful day she stepped into a neighborhood coffee shop. She easily handles the drug-addled stalker threatening to kill the barista, but she is unprepared for the media circus when the cell-phone video goes viral. Unfortunately, it also attracts the unwelcome attention of “Patrick,” the trafficking kingpin she had hopped she killed during her escape.

Inevitably, he sends a professional to recapture her. When that does not work, he targets her family, forcing Rollins to finally share her full history. There are cops investigating the incidents, but they are much help.

If you think a title like
Tack Back evokes a certain well-known action franchise, you’re maybe not wrong, but this is definitely the bargain basement version. It looks cheap and the predictable storyline basically chugs along on autopilot. However, the action and dramatic chemistry shared by real-life married partners Gillian and Michael Jai White works quite well. Seeing them share domestic scenes and fight together will make you want to see them in a bigger-budgeted film.

Take Back
was produced entirely during the height of the pandemic, so you have to admire Sesma’s tenacity and perseverance. Nonetheless, it is impossible to miss the glaring continuity error when suddenly everyone of is wearing face-masks in public, when the rest of the film, before and after, is entirely mask-free.

Superdeep, from Russia on Shudder

Ever since Christian Nyby’s The Thing from Another World, snowy research facilities have not fared well in movies. The real-life Kola Superdeep was ostensibly a bore-hole, but according to this film, it was really a dodgy Soviet-era bio-lab. Unlike the snowbound locales of movies like The Last Winter and Black Mountain Side, its super-secret lab work is conducted miles below the permafrost. The deeper you go, the hotter it gets. Whatever is down there should stay down there in Arseny Syuhin’s Superdeep, which premieres Thursday on Shudder.

Anya’s training is in microbiology, but she works for high-placed Kremlin officials. Her masters dispatched her to the troubled subterranean installation not to conduct a rescue operation, but to recover sensitive samples. Grigoryev, the director had been denounced by his ambitious deputy, whom she instinctively distrusts. However, Grigoryev goes rogue as soon as the team arrives, changing passwords and hiding samples. Anya’s military escorts focus on the elusive director, but she suspects there is something more profoundly dangerous afoot. Maybe her first clue was the deranged lab worker, who tried to blow them apart with a grenade when they initially landed.

In a way,
Superdeep is releasing at a timely moment. Bio labs are definitely a topic on top-of-mind right now. After a year of the partisan media telling us there is absolutely, positively no way the Covid-19 virus came from the Wuhan Institute of Virology, they have now grudgingly admitted it is a distinct possibility. The parasitic monster Anya finds in Kola Superdeep looks very different from Covid, but watching Superdeep is still the closest we will probably ever get to seeing inside the Wuhan institute.

The Soviet era setting also adds an intriguing dimension to
Superdeep. It pretty clearly implies Kremlin hardliners are hoping the Superdeep virus can be weaponized against the West, presumably after their anticipated coup, in a final gambit to win the Cold War. That is indeed a terrifying proposition—and a recklessly irresponsible one. Yet, judging from the CCP’s Covid cover-up, it is impossible to dismiss their scorched earth villainy as unthinkably unbelievable.

Sunday, June 13, 2021

Tribeca ’21: a-ha: The Movie

They are not one-hit wonders--not even close. They had an international #1 follow-up single, a reasonably popular James Bond theme song, and arguably one of their biggest hit albums in 2009. However, when most people think of the band a-ha [no caps] it is “Take on Me” that they hear in their heads. For decades, they remained one of the top drawing live bands, despite inner turmoil and creative differences. The band members tell their story in Thomas Robsahm & “co-director” Aslaug Holm’s a-ha: The Movie, which screens as part of this year’s Tribeca Film Festival.

They were three kids from Oslo with rock & roll dreams. Unfortunately, the world was not exactly waiting for a Norwegian Invasion in the early 1980s. Nevertheless, Pål Waaktaar, Magne Furuholmen, and Morten Harket still boldly moved to London in search of musical glory. After a lot of scuffling, they almost botched their big break when they released a version of “Take on Me” featuring some dubious production decisions.

Somehow, Harket, their front-man, convinced Warner Brothers to let them re-record and re-release the song in a style that was more representative of the band. One of the label executives was looking for an opportunity to work with an animation team and thought a-ha’s tune might be a good test case. He brought in director Steve Barron and the resulting video became iconic.

Of course, dealing with success would be a challenge in itself. A great deal of tension would develop within the band, especially between Waaktaar and Furuholmen. Things always really seemed to boil over when they were recording in the studio. The “Living Daylights” sessions were especially fraught, but in that case, the band was pretty unified in its opposition to the micromanaging of Bond music kingpin John Barry.

Robsahm (credited as director and writer) & Holm (billed as co-director and cinematographer) had a huge advantage just in the fact that the band is a trio. They were consequently able to fully convey the personalities of all three, without giving preference to anyone. They include a few wives and early managers here and there, but a-ha largely speaks for themselves.

We also get a clear sense of how minor aesthetic differences metastasized into long-term resentments. There were also legal questions of song authorship that carry considerable financial implications. However, one thing that is conspicuously missing from the film is any mention of drugs and alcohol, which might be why they are all still alive. In fact, Harket, the former reluctant teen heartthrob looks pretty good for 61. It is almost eerie seeing him—like looking at James Dean if he had safely lived to his early sixties.

Saturday, June 12, 2021

CNN/Tribeca ’21: Lady Boss

She must have led an eventful life, since this new documentary profile does not even mention she was bestowed an OBE by the Queen. Frankly, it is more concerned with the aspects of Jackie Collins’ life that were more like her bestselling novels, as her fans will appreciate. Her friends and famous sister recall how she built her brand and lived the glamorous life in Laura Fairrie’s Lady Boss: The Jackie Collins Story, which screens as part of this year’s Tribeca Film Festival, before airing on CNN.

In her teen years, Collins lived in the shadow of her sister Joan, the
Dynasty actress (or maybe you think of her first in the “City on the Edge of Forever” Star Trek episode). The younger Collins also tried to make it in show business, but it just didn’t happen for her. Instead, she opted for her first marriage, which would end tragically for her emotionally troubled husband. Her second husband, Oscar Lerman, was the love of her life, who encouraged her to finish her first novel. And the rest was history.

Her early novels were big hits in the UK, but she became a global bestseller when she moved to Los Angeles and focused on cracking the American market.
Hollywood Wives became the breakout hit she was hoping for. However, Collins was shrewd enough to build on it. No matter what you think of her writing, many subsequent marquee authors have tried to emulate her approach to marketing, publicity, and branding—as best they can.

In fact,
Lady Boss inspires nostalgia for Collins’ salad days of the 1980s. Several of her colleagues in the film liken her to a female Harold Robbins, which is indeed apt. Both wrote Horatio Alger-esque stories, in which their protagonists (men in Robbins’ case, women for Collins) manage to claw their way to wealth and power through their sheer drive and sexual confidence. Unfortunately, there is no place for a successor to either in the current cultural climate, because of puritanical attitudes towards sex and a socialistic contempt for bootstrap-success stories.

Lady Boss
does a nice job of capturing the tenor of Collins’ personal relationships, especially the complicated love and sibling rivalry she shared with sister Joan. Clearly, Fairrie was blessed with access to a treasure trove of Collins’ home movies, as well as the candid participation of her three daughters and famous sister. We also hear a number of professional insights from her agent, publicist, and business manager, all of which Fairrie and editor Joe Carey cut together in a lively and sometimes ironically amusing manner.

Friday, June 11, 2021

Occupation: Rainfall

You can never beat an alien invasion too decisively. Even the Martians from the 1953 War of the Worlds came back in the 1988 TV series. However, one fanatical Earth defender has a plan to do just that and he is perfectly willing to sacrifice the aliens who have sided with Earth in the process. Amelia Chambers will fight to prevent xenocidal war crimes as well as the invading alien army in Luke Sparke’s Occupation: Rainfall, which releases today in theaters and on-demand.

Yes, this is indeed a sequel to Sparke’s
Occupation, from way back in 2018. That film seemed to pretty clearly imply how the whole invasion thing ended up, but it was apparently mistaken. If anything, the aliens have redoubled their efforts to conquer Earth, despite the defection of those who advocate peaceful coexistence, like “Garry the Alien.” That is what Matt Simons calls him. Simons is not too keen on aliens of any stripe, but he still volunteers to accompany Garry on a priority recon mission, to sleuth out what all this “Rainfall” chatter is all about.

Even those of us who saw the original
Occupation might have appreciated a few clues as to who we were supposed to remember from the first film. Evidently, Simons was one of them. It is hard to gage who everyone is and how they might have changed, because the first twenty minutes or so is more like a video game showreel than a storyline you can get caught up in.

Eventually, Temura Morrison makes a welcome return as crusty Peter Bartlett, whom Simons reconnects with while he and Garry make their way towards Pine Gap, the U.S. listening station that has generated a lot of Roswellesque urban legends. That is where they eventually encounter Ken Jeong, the surprise star of the prologue.

Here’s an important spoiler:
Rainfall runs over two full hours, yet it ends with “to be continued.” Frankly, the characterization was also stronger in the first film. The visual effects are professional grade (especially the aerial combat sequences), but the xenocidal themes (not unlike those of Orson Scott Card’s unrelated novel) are clumsily heavy-handed.

Thursday, June 10, 2021

Timewasters, Season One

If time-travel were an option, jazz fans would definitely be tempted to go back to hear the original greats. In the late 20s, you could hear Ellington in New York and Armstrong in New Orleans, but London would not be so interesting, unless you are crazy about Ray Noble (he wrote “The Very Thought of You”). Nevertheless, that is where a scuffling and bickering modern-day jazz combo finds themselves in season one of creator-co-writer-co-star Daniel Lawrence Taylor’s Timewasters, which premieres tomorrow on the IMDb app.

There is not much rhythm in Nick Walton’s quartet—no bass or piano, just his caustic little sister Lauren on drums. He claims to be the leader and plays trumpet, with his mates Jason and Horace on tenor and trombone, respectively. Obviously, the former is the ladies man, while the latter is the goofy one. One fateful day, the irate fiancé of one of Jason’s conquests chases the quartet into a urine-stained lift (that’s British for elevator) that really happens to be a time machine operated by “Homeless Pete.” The amazed musicians think they have found temporary sanctuary in the past, but the jealous lover follows their trail, right before the lift goes on the fritz.

Fortunately, the musicians first find a gig playing for rich and vapid Victoria and her socially awkward twin brother Ralph. Subsequently, they live with and off the twins, who take a shine to Jason and Lauren. Much to Walton’s regret, they never encounter any famous musicians during the first season, but they have their fair share of misadventures and cause no end of chaos.

is pretty much a straight-up sitcom, but it is a well-written one. Taylor and co-writer Barunka O’Shaughnessy maintain a razor-sharp attitude and a steady 4/4 drumbeat of punchlines. Jazz fans might be disappointed that they are not a heck of a lot of musical references, but it is obviously intended for a more general audience. However, Taylor and company still manage satirize the racial attitudes of the era in ways that are smart and piercing, without belaboring their points.

Wednesday, June 09, 2021

Moloch, on Sundance Now

It is the most important part of fire and brimstone. You can’t have apocalyptic wrath without the fire and a messianic lunatic appears to have the uncanny power to control it. The shadowy figure with the demonic moniker instills fear and paranoia throughout Paris in Arnaud Malherbe’s six-part Moloch, which premieres tomorrow on Sundance Now.

Louise Joli is an intern going nowhere at a French newsweekly, until she uncovers some fresh information on the unexplained combustion of a merger & acquisitions hotshot. It turns out he was a patient of Dr. Gabriel Matthieu, a psychiatrist who will also treat the traumatized young son of the second immolation victim. It turns out the doctor also has a horribly tragic backstory that must be relevant in some way.

Joli and Matthieu start off badly when she clumsily tries to trick him into revealing confidential patient information. However, as the killer continues to ignite new victims, the shrink and the aspiring journalist agree to work together. Most of the responsible French society is gripped with fear, but the anarchist protestor demographic starts to embrace mystery fire-starter dubbed “Moloch” as a cult hero. Tensions really explode when Moloch torches a thug who controlled a housing project the media refers to as a “sensitive neighborhood.”

could have leaned into its horror elements much more heavily, but Malherbe and co-writer Marion Fetsaets emphasize the investigational and psychological dynamics just as the fantastical premise. There are definitely eerie moments, but the genre ambiguity is one of the things that makes it so intriguing.

Tuesday, June 08, 2021

Undercover Punch & Gun

Are there any international waters in the South China Sea that China does not illegally claim dominion over? Apparently, Ha, an international pirate-mercenary, has found a remote quadrant of ocean that he has operated out with impunity, at least so far. However, an undercover Hong Kong cop and two maverick agents of a maritime law enforcement agency intend to take him down in Lui Koon Nam & Frankie Tam’s Undercover Punch & Gun (a.k.a. Undercover vs. Undercover), which releases today on DVD and BluRay.

Brother Bao, the drug-addled boss of a meth gang suspects the cops have infiltrated his operation, but he does not suspect Det. King Wu, because he has been dating his daughter Dawnie for quite some time. Unfortunately, it will not matter for long, because the gang is about to get caught in a crossfire, between Ha’s thugs and rogue Trident agents Eva and Magnum.

When Wu inherits Bao’s gang, Ha offers him a deal, in exchange for Bao’s mystery meth cooker. Unfortunately, things really get messy when Wu and his goofy sidekick Tiger try to corral her. They will just have to bluff their way through, even when then find themselves stranded on Ha’s cargo ship, in the middle of the high seas.

The editing throughout
Undercover P&G is slapdash, herky-jerky, and at times dashed confusing, even by the standards of slam-bang action movies. It definitely feels like it was pieced together from mismatched scraps found on the editing room floor. On the plus side, there are some satisfyingly cinematic fight sequences coordinated by star Philip Ng & Chu Cho-kuen. Ng and Andy On also show off plenty of physicality as King and his chief antagonist, Ha, respectively. However, the goofy schtick of Van Ness Wu, playing Tiger, gets to be like fingernails on a blackboard.

Joyce Feng Wenjuan has pretty respectable chops as Eva too, but her backstory rather muddled. Of course, it is great fun too see Lam Suet chewing the scenery as Brother Bao and Meng Jia is surprisingly cold-blooded and sociopathic as the henchperson, “The Phantom.” Still, a little bit of Wu’s Tiger goes a long, long way.

Monday, June 07, 2021

Upheaval: The Journey of Menachem Begin

As Prime Minister, Menachem Begin provided the Israeli equivalent of Nixon going to China. Even before that he was crucial to the establishment of Israeli democracy. For years, he had the stature and credibility to hold successive Labor governments accountable and when he finally won a majority for the Likud Party, it proved Israel was truly a multi-party democracy. Begin’s life and legacy gets an overdue re-examination in Jonathan Gruber’s Upheaval: The Journey of Menachem Begin, which has a special online premiere tonight and releases virtually this Wednesday.

Born in Belarus, young Begin found himself sentenced to a Soviet gulag in Siberia for the crime of being a Zionist. Years later, that experience spurred him to rally to the cause of Soviet Refuseniks like Natan Sharansky. As the former leader of the Zionist Irgun militia, Begin spent decades in the political wilderness, while political rival David Ben-Gurion led the early governments. Yet, Begin always put the safety of the nation first (Gruber and several on-camera experts clearly imply this was not always the case with Ben-Gurion.)

comes at an opportune time, because it directly challenges many of the stereotypes the media has developed regarding Begin and the Israeli right. It was actually Begin who championed the rights of Arab-Israelis and found his core constituencies in the Sephardic and non-European Jewish communities (while Labor represented the European elites). Perhaps his greatest accomplishment was the large-scale rescue of Ethiopian Jews.

There is indeed a great deal of attention devoted to the Camp David Accords, with ample credit given to both Sadat and Begin. Gruber and company also analyze the failures of the Lebanon War. However, instead of simply blaming Israel (and Begin and Sharon), they provide the full context for the tragedy that unfolded. Not only was Israel under fire from PLO terrorist rocket attacks, Begin also nurtured great hopes of forging a second grand rapprochement with Lebanon, while it was led by the Christian Bashir Gemayel. Had that lofty ambition come to pass, it would have brought greater peace and stability to not just Israel, but the entire region.

Sunday, June 06, 2021

The Tag Along: Devil Fish

What goes better with possessed fish, some nice lemon rice or creamy kale? Regardless, a well-to-do businessman does indeed eat such a fish while enjoying a mountain vacation. Subsequently, he murders his entire family. The perp is so unnatural, the cops themselves take him to Master Tiger priest Lin Chi-cheng. Ordinarily, a fish would be no match for a big cat like Master Tiger, but the ancient demon-battling spirit has not entered Lin’s body since he lost his faith. Unfortunately, mere mortal exorcism techniques will not be enough in David Chuang’s The Tag Along: Devil Fish, which releases Tuesday on DVD.

Lin still manages to banish weaker evil spirits, as two boys working on a school film project happen to witness. They are still there when the freaked-out cops bring the possessed Hung to the Master Tiger temple. Lin thought he managed to transfer the nasty archdemon back into a fish, but foolish young Chia-hao manages to save it, or rather the smaller fish it expells in a pool of blood. Presumably, he thought it could dramatically enhance his exorcism film, but any or horror fan knows this is a bone-headed move. Chia-hao learns that for himself when the demon takes possession of his fragile single mother, Huang Ya-hui.

Things really get messy when the pianist Huang plays a demonic maelstrom of a recital for Chia-hao’s music class. With chaos and panic spreading, Lin and his cop contact try to sleuth out why Hung was such easy prey for possession. It turns out there is indeed a skeleton in his closet (almost literally), but there is also an ancient grudge match playing out.

Right, so obviously it is safer to stick with red meat or pork. Even though
Devil Fish is technically the third installment of the Tag Along franchise, it is considered a prequel to the second film and has few obvious ties to the first, so it easily stands alone. Like its precursors, the best elements of the film are those drawn from Taiwanese urban legends and its Taoist and animist folklore.

The resulting atmosphere is amazing, but the pacing is somewhat less so. Yet, it all still works, because like its Catholic possession movie brethren,
Devil Fish maintains a conviction that demonic evil is a very real, tangible, and terrifying force.