Mat was felled by a stomach bug before he could finish writing his article, which is not a cool thing, so dive in without his traditional introduction. Make sure to wash your hands when you are done reading. - The Management
Brawl in Cell Block 99
I’d been hearing really good things about Brawl in Cell Block 99 for a few weeks. So much so that I made it my Pick of the Week awhile back. It is streaming on Amazon so I gave it a shot.
It is a really interesting mix of the art house with the grindhouse. The story is pretty simple. Vince Vaughn is a drug runner who gets sent to a medium security prison after a deal goes bad. Once there, the lawyer of the cartel on the other end of that sour deal comes to him and tells him that if he doesn’t kill another dude who is behind bars they will torture and kill his wife and unborn child.
Trouble is that dude they want dead is in a maximum-security prison. To get there, Vaughn breaks a few bones of the prison guards. The Maximum Lock Up makes the previous prison look like the Hyatt. It is straight out of '70s prison movie hell. Don Johnson plays the sadistic warden who’d rather torture prisoners than give them any semblance of human rights. Vaughn has to crack a few more skulls in order to get Cell Block 99 and it's then when things really get bad.
Writer/director S. Craig Zahler films it with a minimalist style. His camera is steady. The fight scenes are real. Usually done in a medium shot, he lets the camera soak it in in long takes. There’s none of that extreme close-up with shaky cam stuff like so many action films use. This gives the ample, blood-soaked action time to breath and allows us to see whats going on.
Vaghn gives his best performance to date. He is big, brooding and intense. It is definitely not a film for everyone, but I loved it.
Doctor Who: Death to the Daleks
In the second Doctor Who story ever, writer Terry Nation created one of the most popular monsters in the series history - the Daleks. He wrote several more Dalek stories for Doctor Who including Genesis of the Daleks (one of the very best of the Classic Who stories) and this one, Death to the Daleks (one which, unfortunately, does not get counted as one of the best).
It's the type of story that must have looked good on paper but in execution it's quite lacking. There’s just too much going on, too many characters, and not enough time to really flesh it all out. The Doctor (Jon Pertwee) and Sarah Jane are headed to a beach planet (naturally, Sarah Jane is decked out in her skimpy - well skimpy for her, one of the more moderately dressed companions - swimsuit while the Doctor remains in his standard gear) but are diverted to the planet Exxilon which has drained the TARDIS completely of energy.
On the planet are good and bad Exilions, a group of humans who have come to the planet to mine a special something or other that will cure a plague on the outer planets and, eventually a ship full of Daleks who have come for the cure as well. There is a brief truce between everybody and the Daleks (who have lost power to their laser weapons but apparently not their moving mechanisms) but this is quickly resolved once the Daleks figure out how to shoot some kind of bullets out their little guns.
There’s a big mysterious glowing castle which the Doctor figures is the key to the power loss. To get inside, he must solve a series of deadly puzzles. This is where the discrepancy between paper and execution really shows. Deadly puzzles sound cool but when your budget can only afford things like tracing a maze on the wall and playing hopscotch, then your show becomes a bit of a dud.
Still there is enough goofy, Doctor Who fun to be had and some of the ideas are cool enough even if the execution doesn’t quit pan out.
After watching, and loving Brawl in Cell Block 99 I knew I had to watch S. Craig Zahler’s other film. I’d been hearing rumbles about Bone Tomahawk for awhile but never bothered with it. I don’t know why as its mix of western and horror genres with a promise of brutal violence is right up my alley, but for whatever reason, it just never quite appealed to me. It's not quite as good as Brawl, but it's a darn fine piece of cinema.
In a tiny little town in the middle of nowhere sometime in the 1800s, a group of savage indians kidnaps a wounded stranger, the nurse attending to him, and a deputy. The woman’s husband (Patrick Wilson), the sheriff (Kurt Russell), the alternate deputy (Richard Jenkins), and a dandy who is good with a gun (Matthew Fox) all head out to look for them.
Most of the film works as a road movie with the gang riding across the wilderness having funny, interesting conversations that are punctuated by deadly attacks. Zahler allows his film to breathe, develops his characters well, and entertains us with Tarantino-esque dialogue. When they finally do find the savages things get, well, savage. There is some disturbingly brutal violence that not so much creeps, but deep dives into gore territory. But Zahler keeps the tension up, the horror is shocking yes, but it comes with context, it never forgets to continue with the story. The actors are all terrific and even when it drifts a bit, it's still really entertaining.
It Comes at Night
Some sort of apocalyptic plague has started wiping out the planet, sending Paul (a terrific Joel Edgerton), Sarah (Carmen Ejogo), and the teenaged Travis (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) to a house deep in the woods. There, they have set up various rules to keep themselves safe from both the virus and any interlopers who might be sick. When Will (Christopher Abbott) breaks into their home in the middle of the night, they at first consider him a threat, but eventually are convinced that he’s just like them - hiding from the plague, trying to protect his family. They allow him, his wife (Riley Keough), and young son to live with them.
Trust, or the lack thereof is at the center of the film. Each family is doing their best to survive. They want to trust each other, but how can they? How can they know the others aren’t lying in order to better their own situation? It is a family drama that plays like a horror film. Trey Edward Shults does a remarkable job turning the screws of tension, making us feel the horrors both real and imagined.
It is a little too reliant on dreams as a means of making us jump out of our seats and more than a few will dislike its conclusion, but I really dug it.
Amazon’s new sci-fi anthology series is based on the short stories of Phillip K. Dick. I didn’t realize it was an anthology series until I began the second episode. I was a little bit crushed when I realized that there would be no continuation of the story that began with “Real Life” as I was really digging it. But soon enough, “Autofac” won me over for what it was, not what I hoped it would be.
“Real Life” was adapted by Ronald D. Moore and stars Anna Paquin as Sarah a cop in a future world full of self-driving cars and holographic phones. She’s wracked with guilt over surviving a shooting that killed over a dozen of her fellow officers. Her girlfriend Katie (Rachelle Lefevre) has helped develop an impossibly real virtual reality device that connects with a person's brain and sends them to a fantasy world. In Sarah’s fantasy, she becomes George (Terrence Howard), a tech genius from a more current timeline who is playing vigilante justice on the people who murdered his wife. He’s also developing a virtual-reality system and just so happens to become Sarah when he plugs in. Just which person is real and which is the fantasy is hard to tell. It's not quite as mind bending as it wants to be, but the production is top notch and the leads really sell it.
“Autofaq”, the second story, is about a group of survivors from a nuclear holocaust. An Amazon/Apple-like company still survives as their production had become automatic and it's using up all the Earth’s remaining resources, creating and shipping packages via drones. The humans must find a way to bypass the company's numerous security features and destroy its central processor in order to survive. Crazy stuff ensues.
I’m not really a fan of anthology series in the same way I don’t really care for short stories. There just isn’t enough time to develop the story and characters beyond interesting sketches. I liked these two episodes quite a bit, but it will likely be awhile before I return to Electric Dreams.
Fahrenheit 451 Teaser Trailer
HBO is doing a new adaptation of Ray Bradbury’s classic dystopian novel. It stars Michael B. Jordan and Michael Shannon. The book, about a "fireman whose job it is to burn all the books who starts to question his mission after meeting a girl," is one of my favorites. It was previously adapted by Francois Truffaut in 1966 and it's pretty good, but it will be interesting to see what they do with it in this modern Internet era. The teaser trailer gives us very little info, but it's enough to get me excited by the possibilities.