Mindhunter Season 2 Deep Breakdown

2 years.  A lot can happen in two years.  Consider age: 2 years can take you from 16 to legal adult; from sober at 19 to boxed wine at 21.  2 years is long enough to get an Associate’s Degree.  Long enough to fall in and out of love, at least once.  So it’s a hell of a long time to go between seasons of Mindhunter, the Fincher, all the way down, procedural of my heart.  I went into season 1 with the hardened blinders of a devout Hannibal fan – the idea that another dreamy, atmospheric show would borrow from the same well Hannibal did, hardly sat well with me.  But I am consummately rational, the honesty of that statement open to the interpretation of the reader, and goddamn it, the show won me over.  I really liked season 1.  But 2 years is a long time… would season 2 taste as wonderfully bitter, or would it be a lesser creation, or, in some ways worse, would I just not care anymore?

I am happy to report that season 2 is magnificent.  The ingestion and interpretation of any sort of media is, by its nature and definition, subjective, but by every reasonably measurable metric, it eclipses season 1 – the narratives are richer and more fraught, the serialized elements more harrowing and the characters are as nuanced and flawed as ever.  I am going to, within the confines of this review, provide a seasonal overview of what is a plot-dense, thematically rich show, while attempting – at best – to curb my own propensity for the verbose.  Please be patient then with the generalities I will limit myself to, and what’s more, know that if you intend to watch the show, what may seem like a liability is in fact a benefit.  Letting season 2 happen to you with limited awareness is a gift, and one that I am more than happy to bestow on you, after all these many years we’ve spent together.  So let’s start at the top.

NETFLIX

Season 2 picks up exactly where season 1 left off.  There is, as such, some necessity towards getting the band caught up and back together, but the show is aware that no one is too invested in exposition.  We get into the gristle pretty quickly.  Season 1 served as a great foundation: our heroes, Holden (beautiful sprite alien), Bill (a hardened, but still unexpectedly soulful buzz cut alpha male), and Wendy (educated, outsider, mental health professional) are beginning to be able to use the rules and lessons they dedicated their energy towards establishing in season 1 to actually solve crimes.  Wendy is dubious; she feels like she would prefer the methods to be preventative, in identifying psychopathic behavior and treating it, instead of punitive.  Holden thinks they should use whatever they have, and that applying the principals towards eliciting a confession makes as much sense as anything else.  A new big boss at Quantico supports the development of the Behavioral Science Unit for mostly political reasons – the bragging rights of being the man who brought a revolutionary new method to law enforcement – which allows Holden and Bill a much longer leash.  And while we do get to see a bit of the patented Holden/Bill interviewing murderers magic (Manson! Berkowitz!), there is much more time now dedicated to actually solving cases.  Bill is casually investigating BTK and both of our heroes end up in Atlanta, pursuing a child murderer.

NETFLIX

There is a million percent more nuance and plot development at play, but to get too deeply into any of it risks two very real and present dangers: 1. Ruining the pleasure of experiencing it, and 2. Making it impossible for this review to be less than 20 pages.  Let’s keep our numbers reasonable.  So instead of digging deeper into the plot, let’s take a brief look at each of our principle characters and what they bring to the season. I’m saving Holden for last, so if you’re just here for him, skip two paragraphs.

We’ll start with Wendy, since she has the least to do this season.  I am certain that her side-lining will cause outcries of “of course the woman gets sidelined”, and listen, I’m as chafed feminist as the next guy.  But narrative honesty sort of dictates that she be omitted a bit.  She isn’t an FBI agent, and let’s be frank, watching someone collate information isn’t particularly kinetic.  Wendy gets the more personal narrative this season.  She meets a woman, she starts a relationship.  She tries to lead a semi-normal life, but she reflects well how working with and on diseased minds can be detrimental to leading a happy, full life.  Do I wish she’d had more to do? Hell yes.  Am I mad about it?  Nah.

NETFLIX

Bill, meanwhile, could be arguably a bigger star this season than Holden.  He certainly has more narrative heavy lifting.  Something genuinely unthinkable happens in his personal life – something that would be devastating to anyone but is magnified and multiplied by the nature of the work he does – and as a result, he finds himself having to travel to Atlanta from Virginia and back again every week.  He could easily stand as a metaphor for the old guard crumbling, defenseless in the face of the future – he has all the tools to recognize what’s happening and absolutely no capacity to prevent it.

And then there’s Holden, my beautiful, wonderful problem child.  I could pretty easily write an entire essay on the power of Jonathan Groff’s performance, as someone who will – future tense – be viewed as visionary, but in the present tense, in the now, is just alienated and other.  He reaches for connections, but has trouble making them.  He has panic attacks at a time when anxiety was treated as simply being soft.  Even Bill, who is relatively enlightened, simply tells him to get his shit together.  Fortunately, Mindhunter is smart enough to know that anxiety isn’t something you just decide to “get your shit together” with, and never treats Holden’s anxiety as just a weakness to overcome.  Holden remains arrogant and inflexible.  He is a challenging character, who grows in empathy this season but is and will always be difficult.  Human, but mostly just by definition.

NETFLIX

Seeing that I am running long, I want to put in a quick, triumphant word about Mindhunter‘s continued commitment to Holden and Bill’s partnership.  It’s not represented as particularly warm and fuzzy.  And it has the complications that friendships between men often do (Bill never expresses any kind of apology through actual acknowledgment of being wrong, he does it by supporting Holden in difficult situations) but it is strong, and continues to shine bright, as a beacon of two men who ultimately respect and understand each other when we see them interrogating a suspect.  Their balance and sympathy towards each other accomplishes the remarkable feat of making asking a guy questions absolutely riveting.

Listen, I know, you know, we all know that I could talk all day about this.  But use your time better.  Borrow someone’s Netflix password and binge watch Season 2 of Mindhunter.  It’s worth your time.

Swamp Thing S01 Ep10 Deep Breakdown: Loose Ends

A eulogy, then, divided in twain, for the astounding, weird show that was, and the even weirder show we never got to witness.  Swamp Thing finished its first and only season as it lived; bizarre and beholden to none of the typical rules established for adaptations of comic book properties.

DC Universe

Let us first look at the resolutions, as they stood, of our narrative threads.  Woodrue tapes Caroline to a chair and prepares to feed her the organs he harvested from Swampy, believing that their regenerative properties will heal her.  Abby arrives, having initially been looking for Avery (we’ll revisit my favorite piece of shit in another paragraph or so) and is appalled to see that Woodrue has not taken Caroline to a hospital since her overdose, and is instead planning to feed her organs from a weirdo swamp monster.  I’m not a CDC physician, but I’m still inclined to think Abby’s got the edge in this argument.  Anyway.  She calls 911, who manages to barge in before Woodrue can kill Abby, but only after he has tried some of Swampy for himself – the one consistently redemptive quality Woodrue possesses is his love for Caroline, so it is absolutely earned that he would never give her something without making sure it was safe for himself first.  Woodrue is taken to jail, and Abby heads out to the swamp to find our mossy friend.

So Avery, the consummate villain’s villain, murders – as we knew he must – the Sheriff lady.  Or probably does.  I’m open to the notion that Marais plays by soap opera rules, and no one is actively dead in any enduring or meaningful way there.  He stabs her all the way through with what appears to be one hell of a machete, but she’s alive in the trunk of her cop car when he dumps it in the swamp (and seriously, Avery, you’re a relatively bright guy, how can you not realize that the swamp is basically the fucking pet sematary and sometimes dead is better, or so I’ve heard…).  So who knows?

DC Universe

Daniel, our Blue Devil, can and does finally leave Marais, and take note, future show runners, THIS is how you handle a backdoor pilot/spin-off.  His story was introduced in a way that felt organic to the story of the main show, he was established as a pivotal aspect of the narrative.  There was nothing needless about his story, and when it had breathed its extent to Swamp Thing, it felt perfectly natural that he should go off on his own adventure, and if there were any justice in the damn world, get his own show.  Because the Blue Devil is interesting.  He’s murdery in a way that super heroes seldom are, and also he’s called a devil, which is not a noun typically associated with virtuous qualities.  And full measure of credit where it’s due, Ian Ziering it turns out, is much more than just Sharknado fighting (not to diminish that important service).  He is very good and very compelling as the Blue Devil.  What I’m saying, producers, is I would watch the hell out of his show.

DC Universe

Which leaves us with Swampy himself, who goes full murder monster this episode.  Though I do feel like the show has lost certain elements of the original and undeniably gnarly body horror it launched with, the scenes in the swamp are perfect; they capture how strangely claustrophobic an open space you are unfamiliar with can be, and as it comes to life for Swampy’s will, those sequences will stand as legitimately great horror center pieces.  I have argued previously that Swampy is, oddly, the least compelling thing about the show, and I think this episode made moves towards course correction.  He finally seems to accept what he is, after a season that (to be fair is completely reasonably) spent grappling with the notion of being a living bit of vegetation.  Derek Mears really shines; he was a perfect bit of casting and manages to pretty seamlessly make Swampy simultaneously soulful, melancholic and, in this episode, truly terrifying.  He deserves more time to play in that swamp.

DC Universe

Finally, and possibly most tragically, as we transition from mourning the show that was, let us look at the show we won’t be given, but that we see the vaguest silhouette of after the credits.  Woodrue, having eaten some of Swampy, has transformed into the darker, stranger Swamp Thing he was seemingly always born to be.  And of course.  The clues were there all season.  He has trouble with other people.  He is too curious without any sense of humanity.  He has no problem with breaking the Hippocratic oath for answers.  Of course he wouldn’t mourn his personhood, and would throw himself into being a super human plant creature with gusto.  But goddammit, that was a brilliant bit of season long slight of hand.  Avery is, for certain, the big bad of the season, but all in service of creating a super villain, an arch nemesis.  Woodrue becomes what I have to assume would be the Joker to Swampy’s Batman.  And I would have loved to have seen that play out.

I know that with the advent of streaming services, very few shows are absolutely and undeniably dead beyond resuscitation.  I won’t get my hopes up for Swamp Thing, given the complicated nature of DC rights.  This was a great show.  It deserved to be watched and savored, and to grow (womp-womp) into the strange beast I know it could have been. 

Swamp Thing S01 Ep09 Deep Breakdown: The Anatomy Lesson

First and at the ready, my doves, a little bit of housekeeping.  I’m late! I know!  And I’m sorry.  The down-side to a side-hustle is sometimes it gets side-tracked, until you’ve side-stepped your way into a sentence you don’t quite know how to end, but I think you catch my meaning. So apologies, truly.  The other bit that we must address is that for some reason, I was laboring under the impression that this was the season/series finale of Swamp Thing, and we were going to cry together over this episode, but I was wrong. This is, in fact, the penultimate episode, and woof.  We’ve got some shit to talk about. Plot, yes, but first, let me yank the figurative band-aid off of what will be, undoubtedly, the most complicated part of discussing this episode.  Which is addressing the nature of Swampy himself.

DC Universe

I think any reasonable viewer would be forgiven for assuming until this point that Swampy was built on the foundation of Alec Holland.  Some physical, corporeal part of them was the same.  This is certainly what Swampy has believed until this episode.  But here, he and we find out that the reality of it is that when Alec was exploded, his consciousness and memories went into the swamp, where the accelerant caused a sort of fusion between the consciousness of Alec Holland and the swamp material, so that instead of Alec becoming the swamp, the swamp became Alec Holland.  It recreated itself into an image as near Alec as could be achieved with organic matter.  This is heady and some might argue needlessly complicated, though kind of a cool concept when you can wrap your brain around it.  All of this information is revealed by Dr. Woodrue while he is performing one of the more brutal scenes in this show’s history – the Swampy autopsy.  Until this point, Woodrue has presented as kind of a bumbler, a bit of a victim of circumstance himself.  Someone who was desperate for a cure for his beloved wife, and willing to do whatever it took to achieve that.  This episode reveals a certain sadism that was not present before.  While he is chopping poor Swampy apart, our mossy friend wakes up and reveals that he feels everything Woodrue is doing  But Woodrue takes no mercy on him; in a strange way he almost seems to relish the oddness of the agony he’s causing.  The creature affects continue to be top notch, and witnessing the vivisection of Swampy is pretty gnarly from start to finish in and of itself; but to compound that, the camera lingers long enough for us to really participate in Swampy’s suffering.  Enough to make us resent Woodrue and to truly hope that what Rachel Weiss promised in The Mummy turns out to be true – that nasty little men like him always get their comeuppance.

DC Universe

Meanwhile, Daniel wakes up and has a conversation with the strange movie man who stranded him in Marais in the first place.  I don’t entirely know what this guy is; some sort of emissary of Satan or what, and I truly hope I never find out.  He’s a wonderful mystery and lends himself well to the show’s continued trip into inscrutability.  There is no show weirder than Swamp Thing right now.  It’s a noire, it’s a horror show, it’s a mystery, it’s a revival?  I don’t even know, but I love it’s absolute embrace of the strange and unexplained.  Anyway.  He shows Daniel a possible future where Abby and Liz (whose entire story is getting to Swampy and setting him free, so we won’t talk a whole lot about them) get mowed down by machine guns at the facility where Swampy is being held.  Daniel can stop it, our mystery man says, he just has to commit to blue deviling around.  And he does. Again, the character design is delightful.  The Blue Devil is a full transformation for Daniel, and he is pretty fucking brutal.  He tears through the guards chasing Abby and Liz with aggressive ease.  They’re not a problem.  However, when he transforms back to Daniel, he is horrified to see what he’s done.  I’m not sure where they are (or perhaps “would have been” is the correct grammar, since there won’t be much chance to expound) going with the character; I guess they could just say his business is done in Marais and he can move on, but goddamn that would feel like a waste of a compelling character.

Finally, our guy Avery has the little Missus institutionalized.  Not too much else to say there, other than it makes for an interesting dynamic – how many characters are at each other’s throats.  Usually with a super hero show, the hero and the villain are just focused on each other.  But Avery has to contend with Swampy, Abby, Liz and Maria.  There’s a lot of adversaries here.

So.  One more to go.  For reals this time.  Luckily that sweet looking Watchmen show is going to be starting soon, so maybe we’ll be able to fill a little of the Alan Moore shaped holes left in our peat hearts.  Stay swampy, friends.

Film Data Deep Dive: Critters 4

I don’t know what was in the water during the ’80s, but I think they have to put it back in. It was a Golden Age for fun films, particularly in the horror and sci-fi genres. One of the sub-genres that came from horror and sci-fi was the little creature feature: films featuring funny, violent creatures that you could hug or run for your life from at the same time, like Gremlins, Munchies, Ghoulies, Troll, The Gate, and Hobgoblins.

But there is one little creature feature franchise that did it the longest, and even had a mini-binge series on the horror streaming service Shudder: Critters: A New Binge. Today we continue our quest to see if this franchise was deserving of that streaming series with Critters 4, back in space!


New Line Cinema

Movie: Critters 4 (1992)

Plot: After decimating the Crites population on Earth, which apparently was the entire Crites population in the universe, Charlie is told by Ug to save the last two eggs due to an intergalactic policy that no living thing should face extermination. A pod is sent down for Charlie to put the eggs in for preservation, but he gets stuck in the pod and is sent into space for 53 years to be picked up by the crew of a spaceship on their way back to Earth. Egos happen, eggs hatch, and the Crites run rampant on a space station while Charlie and the crew fight back.

Killer: Those flesh-eating furballs we’ve come to know and love.

Critique: I hate Critters 4. Not as a film as a whole, but because its minor faults derail what I think is one of the best films of the franchise stylistically. If you told me Ridley Scott got drunk and decided to make an Alien parody involving failed, horrific Muppets, that would be Critters 4, and I mean that in the most endearing way possible.

New Line Cinema

Like all of the Critters films, Critters 4 borrows heavily from other films. I say borrows, but at this point, we can finally upgrade “borrows/steals” with “parodies.” These films are a little more subtle than Weird Al Yankovic, but they’re parodies of sci-fi horror movies. Critters 4 parodies all of the Alien films that had preceded it: the atmosphere and pacing of Alien; the action and monster parenting of Aliens; the plot twist of a character we’ve come to love being evil from Alien 3. We also get a nice nod to HAL from Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Critters 4 also brings us a mostly stellar cast, a plausible plot for a sci-fi creature feature, some great close-ups of the Crites that make them look like aforementioned nightmare Muppets, and a kill scene that more than makes up for the lack of kills in general in Critters 3.

So why is there any hate on Critters 4? It’s not the cheesy space special effects. What annoys me about Critters 4 is that the producers put together a followup film that surpasses the previous sequel, but fail to at least connect 3 and 4‘s continuity without screwing it up. Critters 3 (allegedly) takes place in Los Angeles, but Critters 4 starts out “Somewhere in Kansas.” It’s the same scene in the burnt out apartment building (re-shot, it seems, but the same) but different locations. Supposedly Critters 3 and Critters 4 were shot within the same few months. did someone shelve Critters 4 for editing, and completely forgot the plot of Critters 3 in post?

You had a classic, people, and you got lazy and threw it away.

New Line Cinema

Scene of Awesomeness: Captain Rick’s death by a Crite burrowing into his mouth is one of the greatest kill scenes in the Critters franchise, second only to the giant Crite-Ball running over someone and leaving a bloody skeleton behind in Critters 2. Anytime there’s a death that doesn’t involve a generic “biting and eating until there is a dead body half off-camera” is automatically awesome. It’s too bad they didn’t push the films into an R-rating and do it more often, even if it would have meant ripping off kills like this from A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child (the dinner scene.)

Scene of Ridiculousness: The running joke in Critters 4 is that the space station’s central computer, “Angela”, isn’t running at peak performance and usually does the opposite of what you ask it to do, especially if you don’t have clearance to issue her commands. It’s funny at first, but it gets a bit ridiculous to hear Ethan (played by Paul Whitthorne) repeat this joke over and over again as he has Angela close doors while he’s running away from armed TerraCor guards.

Body Count: 7

1 Crite burrowing into a mouth (Awesomely Overkill Award)

4 eaten alive

1 space-gunshot to the stomach

1 antique gunshot to the head

No breasts. Just some side-boob and a shower silhouette.

New Line Cinema

Actors/Actresses of Note: Don Keith Opper is back for his grand finale in acting in Critters films… and films in general, it seems. We also have Eric DaRe, better known for his role as Leo Johnson in the Twin Peaks series and Silent Night, Deadly Night 3, Angela Bassett from just about everything, most recently as the Black Panther’s mom, Anders Hove from the Subspecies franchise, and Brad Dourif, who has been in everything from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest to Dune to The Exorcist 3 to Alien: Resurrection, to the voice of Chucky in the Child’s Play franchise, to name a few. Say what you will about the Critters franchise, but they sure do get some big names! Makes me wonder if Barry Opper has a lot of dirt on the rest of Hollywood. Either that or New Line Cinema keeps writing in, “mandatory Critters film” in the contracts of actors and actresses.

Quote: Congratulations, Charlie, you have just murdered the ship. ” – Al Bert

Grade: B

Swamp Thing S01 Ep08 Deep Breakdown: Long Walk Home

Conventional wisdom dictates that the penultimate episode of a season is the culmination of the action, and the finale is dedicated to denouement.  I can’t readily claim that it’s a punk rock sensibility over a complicated production history, but whatever the impetus, Swamp Thing apparently doesn’t fuck with conventional wisdom.  Which I am here for!

DC Universe

In the most recent episode, Abby returns to the CDC.  The new Assistant Directory – justifiably – calls her out on the fact that she hasn’t been giving updates, and that the Marais hospital says she’s been spending all of her time in the swamp.  It’s one of the show’s cleverer conceits – remembering how fundamentally insane all of the swamp magic is in the face of science, and having that butt up against actual scientific method.  Harlan, the world’s greatest sidekick, returns triumphant(!) and essentially calls Abby on her shit – he can’t defend her in this because she has truly dropped off the damn planet.  Swamp Thing hits these quiet, subtle beats, that seem really so obvious you almost forget to be grateful, until you realize that other shows and movies so frequently fail to execute them with any grace at all. To whit:  Abby immediately comes clean with Harlan.  She doesn’t needlessly keep a secret from someone we know she’s supposed to trust and have a long history with.  And even more importantly, Harlan believes her.  He was in Marais, he had the illness; why wouldn’t he believe her?  In most properties he absolutely would doubt and question her.  But not Harlan.  It all ends up moot, however, when the Conclave – the weirdo investors from last episode – show up and demand Abby tell them where Alec Holland is.  It seems our boys have some investigative skills.  Abby refuses, and flees back to Marais as quickly as she can.  Only to discover…

DC Universe

Avery, my favorite smarmy bastard, goes on sort of a wild journey this episode.  He hallucinates his way through the swamp, re-witnessing his father’s death at the limbs of an angry tree (THIS SHOW IS AMAZING) that pulls him into a fire after he tries to chop it down, having strange visions of the Sheriff, and just generally nightmare tripping while he bleeds out.  Swampy finds him, and because he is fundamentally good, takes him back to his little Monster shack, and heals him.  A small, narrative quibble, but Swampy basically turns into a Bond villain in his interaction with Avery, minus the nefarious intentions.  He explains, in depth, what and why he is.  I think to some extent that this is done as a service to the viewer – the concept is a kind of nebulous idea, his connection to the swamp, the swamp as a character, whether the swamp is villainous or heroic, and I get that.  But I also am inclined to think that any viewer who doesn’t understand it by now isn’t going to understand it after a cowboy speech.  Still love ya, Swampy.

DC Universe

Avery assures Swampy that Woodrue, that squirmy pile of shit (more on that later) can reverse engineer the Swampening and after Swampy kicks him out, Avery stumbles his wounded ass to Woodrue’s house for medical attention and some hot goss.  Woodrue is delighted to hear that Avery has located Swampy – the Conclave people have informed him about Alec’s current status, so he now understands that the basis of all of his research is present in Alec-as-Swampy’s cells.  Avery, showing a tiny glimmer of humanity, tells Woodrue that he promised Alec he would get him cured, and Woodrue channels every ounce of vileness he can into convincing Avery that Alec isn’t valuable, he just has normal real-boy cells.  But Swampy is a goddamn treasure trove.  And look, Avery’s pupils are actual dollar signs a la Scrooge McDuck (imagine image here. Mickey Mouse may become public domain in three years, but Uncle Scrooge will not ) so he doesn’t require too much persuasion.  Woodrue also accidentally spills the beans that Maria was clearly in on the whole “hey, let’s murder Avery” plot, by mentioning that she said that Avery had filled her in.  I suspect hell will have no fury as an Avery nearly murdered.

Anyway.  Avery and Woodrue go to the swamp and Swampy’s no fool, when Woodrue asks him to come back to the lab, he peaces the fuck out of there.  Unfortunately, he’s been surrounded – clearly these Conclave people have some pull – and eventually taken down with dry ice.

So that’s where we’re at.  That leaves a HELL of a lot of plot for the season/series finale.  It won’t be satisfying – it can’t be.  It didn’t realize it would be a series finale, so in all likelihood, it will be a cliffhanger.  But we’re going to see this through friends, and then we can mourn together next time.  See you then.

Film Data Deep Dive: Critters 3

I don’t know what was in the water during the ’80s, but I think they have to put it back in. It was a Golden Age for fun films, particularly in the horror and sci-fi genres. One of the sub-genres that came from horror and sci-fi was the little creature feature: films featuring funny, violent creatures that you could hug or run for your life from at the same time, like Gremlins, Munchies, Ghoulies, Troll, The Gate, and Hobgoblins.

But there is one little creature feature franchise that did it the longest, and even had a mini-binge series on the horror streaming service Shudder: Critters: A New Binge. Today we continue our quest to see if this franchise was deserving of that streaming series with Critters 3, aka The Critters Take LA.


New Line Cinema

Movie: Critters 3 (1991)

Plot: Apparently Charlie has been hunting down the last of the Crites around Grover’s Bend for the past three years. Unfortunately, the Crites are able to lay some eggs in the undercarriage of an RV headed to Los Angeles, where the hatchlings wreck havoc on the tenants of an apartment building.

Killer: Crites. Kill Crites.

Critique: Remember all the sequel praise I poured onto Critters 2? How Critters 2 was able to maneuver its theme and story through a genre road that usually leaves the rotting carcasses of sequels in ditches? How the film doesn’t try to be more than it is, an ’80s creature feature horror comedy featuring space porcupines?

Well, Critters 3 receives none of that praise, except knowing what it is: the obvious final milking of a horror franchise by the producers. Apparently Critters 3 and, to be reviewed later, Critters 4 were both shot in the same 6-month block, which means either:

A) The producers went to New Line Cinema and said, “Hey, we’ve got two more Critters films in the tin!” And then, after Critters 3 was screened, the producers said, “Yeah, I know it’s not great, but it really ties into the next film, Critters 4! Watch that and it’ll make sense. Trust me!”

B) New Line Cinema went to the producers and said, “Let me order up another couple of those hairball horror movies you gave us last. This decade hasn’t started out being kind to the genre, so we need some good, old fashioned space monsters.”

New Line Cinema

The idea behind Critters 3 is fine: space monsters in the city. Predator 2 did it. Friday the 13th Part 8: Jason Takes Manhattan did it. Leprechaun 2 did it. King Kong and and Godzilla did it. Unfortunately, Critters 3 follows the film sequels that don’t feature gigantic monsters that could demolish a city, and instead play into the idea that the characters are all alone in a big city, which is a little unbelievable even when dealing with carnivorous hedgehogs from outer-space.

But even that, along with the canned script that you can see is making the cast wince whenever they hiccup a line, could have been forgiven if the film allowed the Crites to do what they do: feed. This film is in Los Angeles, but it has the same body count as the first Critters film, which takes place on a single farm. If you add in the cows and chickens killed in the original, that film has more gore than Critters 3. What were they trying to do, make a classy man-eating space gerbil movie?

Scene of Awesomeness: Seeing Frances Bay slice a Crite in half with a meat cleaver is pretty goddamn awesome. Really, seeing Frances Bay do anything in movies is awesome, but this makes Critters 3 watchable.

New Line Cinema

Scene of Ridiculousness: Seeing Charlie explode out of the bushes for what seems to be no reason other than giving us a terrible jump-scare is pretty ridiculous. Not in a fun, goofy way, but a, “How the hell did he get in there, and whay did he explode up out of there to give a random group of kids their frisbee back, as well as a warning crystal that glows when Crites are near?” Believe me, there is a lot of cheesy ridiculousness in Critters 3, but this takes the crown.

Body Count: 2 (and 3 via cut-scenes from the previous films that seems like a long movie trailer)

2 people eaten alive (Awesomely Overkill Award for both because both characters are jackasses. And, there aren’t enough kills to give out a real awesomely overkill award.)

No breasts.

New Line Cinema

Actors/Actresses of Note: Don Keith Opper is back in his only acting role of Charlie the town drunk turned space bounty hunter. I’m pretty sure Don keeps getting this role because his brother, Barry Opper, is a producer for all of these Critters films. We also have William Dennis Hunt of the sexploitation franchise Flesh Gordon, twins Christian and Joseph Cousins from Kindergarten Cop and Knots Landing, Nina Axelrod from Motel Hell, Frances Bay, known for being Grandma opposite Adam Sandler in Happy Gilmore, and the star that is plastered on everything to do with Critters 3 marketing because it is his debut film role, Leonardo DiCaprio! The Critters acting blessing continues!

Quote: Give my regards to Mars.” – Josh

Grade: D+

Swamp Thing S01 Ep07 Deep Breakdown: Brilliant Disguise

On a clear day I can sense, with surgical precision, that my reviews run the risk of turning me into Homer in that episode of The Simpsons, where he is a food critic and praises everything he eats.  I curate the media I consume pretty thoroughly, so in advance, there is every reason to assume I will, at the very least, enjoy it.  I also prefer to focus on what works in any given piece of art than what doesn’t.  As a result, I often come across as aggressively positive.  Luckily, I’m also a contrarian, so in an effort to shake all of that up, I’m going to start this Swamp Thing review with a light piece of criticism, and it is, truthfully, my biggest complaint.  The show started off with a very strong horror vibe, and the season has veered pretty far from that course.  And I am sad to see that gone, because it was a pretty interesting and unique approach to televised horror.  That said, it’s become something of a bayou noire, a genre I didn’t previously realized existed and gave me life, but, well, the more you know.  It’s kind of my everything.

DC Universe

Avery, that old hamburger, has set up a meeting with a high rolling investor.  Before he has a chance to wine and dine him over dinner, however, the Sheriff shows up, furious about him having sent Matt to kill Alec.  What’s more, says she, Alec Holland is still alive (only kind of correct) and if he shows up, all three of them are boned in the donks for attempted murder, so he needs to go with her to the swamp to find and finish Alec off.  Avery, grudgingly, agrees.  When they get to the swamp, Avery pretty promptly turns on her, and is absolutely ready to murder her (he’s really come into his own as a piece of shit.  What a good villain!)  when Matt deals him a hearty blow – he and his mother had arranged ahead of time that he would take Avery by surprise to knock him unconscious, so they could load him into a boat, kill him, and leave his body in the swamp.  Because nothing bad has ever yet come from trying to dispose of a body in this swamp.  The Sheriff shoots him, but not before Avery does two things that feel relatively antithetical to each other: 1. He reveals to Matt that he’s his father – a possibility I had considered, but remain kind of baffled by, as Matt seems a bit too black to have come out of two such aggressively white honkeys and 2. Stabs Matt.  Avery is dumped in the swamp and the Sheriff takes a bloody Matt back to Avery’s home, where Maria reveals that she signed the investor herself and also that she was in on the entire plan.  Speaking of developing villains, Maria is turning into a pretty damn good one.  Not for being involved in Avery’s murder; he was a dick and also it didn’t take (like I knew it wouldn’t!) but for being just truly awful.  She leaves a bleeding Matt on her counter with an admonishment to make sure her kitchen is spotless in the morning.  She’s cold blooded.  Though no real competition for Avery, who is definitely going to be the evil version of my dear Swampenstein.

DC Universe

Speaking of, Swampy did indeed release hallucinogenic spores to make Abby see him as Alec for the duration of this episode, a fact about which I will not complain, because a dream boat’s a dream boat, even if he’s also secretly a swamp monster.  We’ve all dated worse, am I right, ladies?  This conceit – Abby sort of seeing the world through Alec’s eyes – worked pretty well to establish the limits of Swampy’s powers, beyond impressive levels of glowering and being intense.  I’ve enjoyed Derek Mears a lot, but Swampy hasn’t had too much to do, realistically.  Abby is hungry, and Alec is able to make a plum tree grow, because he is concerned about her.  It’s a much better way of showing that his emotional state has an impact on the surroundings than attempting to articulate it.  Every time someone tries to explain the concept of the green and the rot – the respective names given to positive and negative powers – they do an admirable job but it still feels far too abstract.  Seeing Swampy as Alec actually use the green makes it feel more tangible.  Abby asks to see the rot, and he takes her, but while she is trying to gather a sample, she’s bitten by a mean tree branch (I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again. I fucking love this show) and the rot gets inside of her.  Alec grows a plant that’s supposed to be a strong antiseptic, but it doesn’t work – Alec explains that the rot is fighting with the green inside of her, so he is able to use his connection to the green to fight the rot.  When she is healed and awake again, Swampy tells Abby to leave – he has decided he wants to remain in his current state, because he feels he is a part of something bigger and important.  Abby leaves, but with intentions to return to the CDC, to utilize their superior resources to unswampify our guy.

DC Universe

We are up to episode 7, and I am sort of heartbroken by the idea of only 3 more to go.  I am also a little heartbroken that after Swampy tells Abby “there’s 200 species of flora inside your body”, he didn’t add, “would you like one more?”, creating the greatest and most niche pick-up line of all time.  Will Avery become an evil swamp monster?  Will we see Shauna again?  Am I ever going to get that Swamp boning I’ve been shrieking about? We’ll find out soon!

Film Data Deep Dive: Critters 2: The Main Course

I don’t know what was in the water during the ’80s, but I think they have to put it back in. It was a Golden Age for fun films, particularly in the horror and sci-fi genres. One of the sub-genres that came from horror and sci-fi was the little creature feature: films featuring funny, violent creatures that you could hug or run for your life from at the same time, like Gremlins, Munchies, Ghoulies, Troll, The Gate, and Hobgoblins.

But there is one little creature feature franchise that did it the longest, and even had a mini-binge series on the horror streaming service Shudder: Critters: A New Binge. Today we continue our quest to see if this franchise was deserving of that streaming series with Critters 2: The Main Course, aka The Critters Ruin Easter.


New Line Cinema

Movie: Critters 2: The Main Course (1988)

Plot: The critters are back after a couple of idiots raid an abandoned barn and find a pile of weird-looking eggs. Since it’s almost Easter, they believe the eggs are worth some money and bring them back to the town of Grover’s Bend, where they hatch (and resurrect their hunger, wocka wocka) and begin the extermination of all life on Earth by eating everything in sight.

Killer: The hatched spawn of the original Crites that landed on Earth.

Critique: Sequels usually run into trouble when they try to expand an original film’s universe a little too much. Sometimes the plot is force-fed a bit more depth to give the sequel some relevance so the audience isn’t left wondering why they didn’t just re-watch the original. Sometimes the sequel changes up the setting to give the series some new shots to play with. Sometimes there’s a back-story involved.

New Line Cinema

Critters 2 does none of these things, which is why, as a sequel, it works. The film takes place a few years after the original, so the characters that return have some time to grow up, get their ears pierced, and get sober in space. That and an uptick in the gore and body count (which is always a good thing for a scifi-horror franchise) are the only things that really change from the original to the sequel. Oh, sorry. The space warden changes shape, but is still named the same. That is really the only thing that I agonize over when watching Critters 2.

The acting is still over the top, the critters special effects are still sometimes goofy, and the franchise is still compared to Gremlins, but guess what? It’s still a fun, goofy scifi-horror flick, and not mearly as off the wall of a sequel as Gremlins 2: The New Batch.

Scene of Awesomeness: The bounty hunters blowing up a burger joint infested by Critters doing their best impersonation of Gremlins has the best action sequence, so let’s go with that.

New Line Cinema

Scene of Ridiculousness: We go past the 4th wall to… I don’t even know what wall depth, when Brad picks up a picture of him and Charlie that happens to be a film still from the first Critters. Who took the damn picture?!

Body Count: 6 humans, 1 dog, and countless cows confirmed

1 dog eaten alive

4 people generically eaten alive

1 Easter Bunny eaten alive in his costume

An unknown amount of cows

1 run over by a giant Critter ball (Awesomely Overkill Award )

New Line Cinema

One pair of breasts. In a PG-13 movie! gotta love the ’80s envelope.

Actors/Actresses of Note: Scott Grimes is back as Brad, now with a prerequisite ’80s ear piercing, along with Lin Shaye. We also have Don Keith Opper, since this is the only franchise that gave him a reoccurring role. Tom Hodges joins the cast this time around as bully Wesley, since he did such a good job in a similar role in Revenge of the Nerds 2. Then we have child horror actress Lindsay Parker, who also played a little girl in Flowers in the Attic and Shocker. Sam Anderson was the principal that banged Forrest Gump’s mom in Forrest Gump, and Barry Corbin has been in everything. Pretty noteworthy cast for the Critters franchise… again.

Quote: Kinda like a ‘Jimmy Olsen’ with breasts.” – Brad

Grade: B-

Swamp Thing S01 Ep06 Deep Breakdown: The Price You Pay

I have never had the experience of watching and getting invested in a show that has, unequivocally, been cancelled.  Hannibal was cancelled about a third of the way through Season 3, but even so, we’d had two glorious seasons, and several episodes left to look forward to.  But Bryan Fuller had approached every season like it might be the last, so there was a sense of completion to each finale.  Swamp Thing is a baby.  Approaching its first season finale as a series finale feels like throwing a one year old a simultaneous birthday party and funeral.  The show has breathed and taken its time – the pacing is perfect and every episode flies by – but it’s deliberate, and it is developing like a show that has all the time in the world.  Under normal circumstances, that would be wonderful; the best possible case scenario.  But now I just worry that I won’t get to see enough of the vision of this world.  And let’s be honest, if more than a bit crude: a li’l bit of the Swamp dick.  But more on that later.

Daniel starts the episode in a coma, after he and Liz were so rudely accosted by Avery’s goon squad.  We learn through his fevered visions that he, at some point, made a bargain with a mysterious man, to star in the Blue Devil movie, instead of just being a stunt man.  These scenes, cumulatively, take about ten minutes, tops, and still managed to make me thirsty – as the kids might say – for a whole damn Daniel Cassidy/Blue Devil noire show.  I’d watch it!  And I’d love it!  And it would give me an excuse to say gams! I do it anyway, but at least this would justify it some.  Anyway.  Dr. Woodrue, great upholder of the Hippocratic oath, decides to inject some of Abby’s Swampy samples into Daniel’s IV bag, causing him to not only explode out of his coma, but to smoke.  He flees the hospital, but ultimately drags himself to Woodrue’s house, desperate for relief.  Dr. Mrs. Woodrue – who we will discuss in a moment, as well as her all-around superiority (call her the one true Woodrue, and not just because of the endearing rhyme scheme) – gives Daniel some sort of a sedative and knocks him unconscious, as he appears about to fully ignite.

DC Universe

Speaking of the Woodrues, we know the let’s-not-get-carried-away-and-call-him-good Dr.’s motivation is to cure his wife’s degenerative illness, and it’s his one humanizing characteristic.  But she points out to him that no good, ethical scientist performs their tests on unconsenting human subjects.  Remember when I said she’s the superior Woodrue? The defense rests.  She wants to leave, but realizes he won’t.  And unfortunately, when Daniel shows up on her lawn, so does Avery, that pile of shit.  Dr. Goodrue (let’s call her that, by way of demarcation.  Throw all the tomatoes you must, at least I’m bringing new ideas to the table!) hates Avery because she is sane, and clearly part of her reason for sedating Daniel is to keep Avery from emptying a few rounds from his ludicrously large gun into him.

And since he’s here, stinking up the joint, let’s talk about that walking, talking garbage can, Avery, and how he might be my favorite character because I hate him so much.  This week we get to see him at some of his Machiavellian best – threatening Abby with honey sweet promises that next time she says something mean about him he might not be forgiving, or telling Woodrue that he’ll MAKE Abby share her Swampy samples.  There are two extremely telling moments for Avery’s character this episode.  The one he is actively involved in is when he tells Woodrue not to mention Daniel’s more flammable than normal state in his report to investors.  He has absolutely no concern about endangering people, if it serves his purpose.  The second instance, and oh man, it’s a good ‘un, he isn’t physically present for.  Ophelia, having killed Remy for witnessing Matt shooting Alec, confronts Matt about his reckless behavior.  Matt reveals that he didn’t accept the job for Avery’s money – he did it because Avery has been keeping a file on Ophelia over the years, and threatened to expose every secret thing she thought she did, if Matt didn’t do his bidding.  Which if you’re keeping score, means Avery has been playing the long game; sleeping with Ophelia to gain intelligence to use not against her, but against her son.  It’s pretty damn brilliant.

DC Universe

Finally, the show is called Swamp Thing, and though we don’t get to see him half so much as I’d like, we really ought to at least check in on Swampy.  He’s a swell fella, but I do wish they’d give him a little more to do than be kind of… emo?  I love the guy, I really do, and listen.  Turning into a weird, giant plant man would be a hard thing to process.  I get that!  I just want him to maybe bust some more skulls.  That said, the episode ended with him blossoming some sort of flowering plant that released a sort of pollen into the air that I’m pretty sure is hallucinogenic, because he appeared to Abby as Alec.  I would like to return, very briefly now, I promise, to that previously alluded to swamp dick.  Because… well, you’re smart.  You see where this is going.  Apparently it’s a large component of Alan Moore’s run on Swamp Thing, that Abby and Swampy porked, and I think mushrooms were involved?  So… I have to assume that’s where we’re going.

And I’m here for it!  Oh Swamp Thing.  Just the fact that you’re teasing the notion of girl on Swamp Thing action makes me miss you so much already.

Midsommar: The Horror of Causality in Film

Ok, then.  I think I’m ready now.

And if I’m not, I think, realistically, I have passed the point where it matters.  I want to talk about Midsommar.  A lot.  And delaying it, waiting for some divine spark to break free the mythological dam of the oft cited “right words”… well that’s just foolish.  And we’re not fools, are we?  So I’m going to pick my way through the bramble of too many ideas and a complicated through line, and hope that you bear with me here, as you so reliably have in the past.  Because I want to talk about Midsommar, the essence of it, while giving away as little of the substance as possible.

A24

An Ari Aster movie is a gift.  And like Hereditary before it, Midsommar is a kind of blueprint of a haunted house.  You can see the rooms, as they stand, look at the cross cut, observe the plans, but it’s not until you are standing in the room that you understand that something is deeply, aggressively wrong.  Sure, anyone can reasonably surmise that when Dani – unbalanced, traumatized by recent loss, and grasping desperately for human connection – agrees to go with her disinterested, “foot half out the door” boyfriend, Christian, to a once every 90 years festival in Sweden, that, uh-oh, it’s a very bad idea, and nothing good can possibly come of it.  And you can leave the tarot cards in their deck, no extra senses are necessary to assume that the handful of Americans in the sunny, Swedish commune are going to suffer more than culture shock.  Me telling you that shit gets crazy at the Midsommar festival… well, that, I would hope, goes without saying.  If you have heard of Midsommar enough to have clicked on this article, I assume you have an at least functional understanding of what’s at play here.  But much as Hereditary was a strained rumination on the possession story, filtering the abstract notion of grief into something very literal, Midsommar is the folk horror manifestation of a relationship that is forever dying, without every actually drawing its final breath.  And this, dear friends, is part of the magic of Ari Aster.

A24

You will hear a lot of people in the coming days comparing Midsommar to The Wicker Man.  And I get it.  It’s an obvious reference point.  But the two films function in a few fundamentally different ways, one so prevalent that it nullifies the validity of the comparison.  The Wicker Man is a mystery.  It begins as mystery; something you are trying to solve, and the narrative unravels to explain the actions and events of the plot.  Midsommar is comprehensively not.  There are, for certain, mysterious things, but no one arrives with thoughts of nefarious undertakings.  And perhaps more importantly, no one in the Swedish commune is trying to hide anything.  They are extremely open.  The Wicker Man challenges the viewer to join the central detective in trying to follow clues and make connections. Midsommar asks you to let it all happen to you.

A24

So I refuse the comparison to The Wicker Man.  To anything, in many ways – Midsommar is fully its own, influences be damned.  But after watching it, sleeping with it, chewing it up with my breakfast and breathing it out with my well-worn heat exhaustion, I have found that there is a movie I cannot stop comparing it to in my mind.  And that is The Last Five Years – a musical based around the long, slow death throes of a relationship, where one partner is done, but too cowardly to leave, and the other partner is holding on desperately.  It is, almost to the year (Dani mentions at one point that she and Christian have been together for four years) the same story.  Kathy is a stalled actress, whose life is standing still and feels like an exercise in futility.  Jaime is her successful novelist partner, for whom everything is moving forward for, so much so that he is perfectly content to leave her behind.  He does lip service to the work, but provides none of the deeper understanding and empathy a partnership needs to thrive.  And the more dismissive he becomes, the more Kathy needs him.  Dani is a student – a little aimless after a tragedy I will not define here – who has nothing in the world but Christian.  Christian is an anthropology student who finds her neediness tedious and is perfectly content to blow her off pretty abruptly to go to Sweden with his friends.  Worse, when she confronts him – perfectly reasonably – about the fact that he neglected to mention any trip to Sweden to her, he gaslights her into feeling as if she owes him an apology.  Christian is never overtly cruel to Dani – it might be more palatable if he were.  His is the slow, bitter hurt of neglect and dismissiveness.  He forgets her birthday.  When he sees her upset, he “gives her some time”, when what she clearly wants is him.  To circle it back to The Last Five Years, at one point, Kathy sings to Jaime: “I swear to god, I’ll never understand, how you can stand there, straight and tall, and see I’m crying, and not do anything at all”.  The same passiveness possesses both Jaime and Christian – the “but I’m a good guy” instinct that says if you’re not overtly horrible to your partner, then surely, you’re still a good dude.  Even if that indifference is slowly eating away at them, as it is Dani and Kathy.

A24

So why bring this up, other than to shamelessly cater to that huge cross section of the Venn diagram that loves both musicals and horror films?  To return to the question of polarity, and its corresponding “is this for me?” follow-up, horror is a complicated, nuanced genre.  Fear is a fundamentally subjective reaction.  But to understand that the horror of Midsommar comes from the unique terror that can overtake us in heartbreak and to know that this is a movie with the same depth of emotion and empathetic pull of a two person musical may give  you an indicator of what you’re dealing with.  There aren’t jump scares in Midsommar.  And if you have either never had your heartbroken in a slow, grinding way, or lack the empathy to invest in the idea of it, or, to be totally fair, if you would just prefer your demons to be spookums that bump in the night (which is legit!  Why shouldn’t you?) it is quite possible you will feel dissatisfied with this film.  I am mostly loathe to reveal much regarding my personal life and experiences, but I think it warrants a nod here; I’ve been Dani.  I’ve been Kathy.  I know that no horrors can ever match the stillness of seeing clearly that someone you love no longer loves you, that they see you as a burden, and obligation, and you are paralyzed to do anything about it.  Everything that happens in the movie is anchored by that undercurrent.  The isolation it feeds.

I’ve gotten both long winded and heavy, so I’ll end on a sort of light note, that also manages to encapsulate a lot of the essence of Midsommar.  I read a tweet the other day where a woman described hearing a couple leaving Midsommar.  The guy said, “I’m not sure he deserved that,” and his girlfriend said, “You WOULD think that.”  How greatly you feel the ending is earned will hang a good deal on how much you see that the true horror isn’t the pagan cult at the core (though of course there is much to be said about that, but nothing I can proffer without wearing my spoilers cap) but the pain of remaining inside a dead thing.