Movie Review ~ Color Out of Space


The Facts
:

Synopsis: After a meteorite lands in the front yard of their farm, Nathan Gardner and his family find themselves battling a mutant extraterrestrial organism that infects their minds and bodies, transforming their quiet rural life into a technicolor nightmare.

Stars: Nicolas Cage, Joely Richardson, Madeleine Arthur, Brendan Meyer, Julian Hilliard, Elliot Knight, Q’orianka Kilcher, Tommy Chong

Director: Richard Stanley

Rated: Unrated

Running Length: 111 minutes

TMMM Score: (7/10)

Review: It may seem like a distant memory now, but there was a time when Nicolas Cage was a bona fide movie star that had clout at the box office and with the notoriously picky voters in several guilds/associations that handed out major awards. Winning an Oscar for Leaving Las Vegas in 1995, Cage was always a bit of an odd duck in his approach to his craft and his habit for driving his co-stars nuts (the female ones in particular) has been well documented as more than just idle Hollywood lore. Recently, Cage has seemed to revel in leaning in to the public perception of him and it feels like he pops up in some random movie every other month. I’m not sure when the man has time to sleep or get his well cared for hair system spiffed up but he’s an old school acting workhorse.

Though most of the films Cage stars in are indecipherable from the other, every now and then he finds himself in one that gets people talking. Back in 2018 that film was Mandy, a grim head trip of a horror movie that became a bit of an underground hit – inspiring late night showings and putting Cage back in the good graces of fans that hadn’t seen a movie of his in theaters for years. That movie was very nearly an art project, a true experience into hell that had an impressive style and some bold moves but ultimately didn’t thrill me as much as it did others that were welcoming Cage back into the fold. Now, just a little over a year later comes Color Out of Space, another strange foray into the unknown with Cage in the drivers seat but this time he’s in a vehicle that’s going someplace interesting.

Adapted from H. P. Lovecraft’s 1927 short story “The Colour Out of Space”, this isn’t the first time Lovecraft’s supernatural sci-fi has gotten the big screen treatment. Audiences first saw a version of it via the 1965 Boris Karloff schlocker Die, Monster, Die! and the one I remember fondly, The Curse from 1987 but for some reason within the last ten years it has become a hot property with two other versions floating around. For this retelling, the screenplay comes courtesy of Scarlett Amaris and director Richard Stanley and they’ve done a rather remarkable job updating Lovecraft’s story while maintaining much of his original set-up.  Though modernized, it’s quite reverential to Lovecraft and the nightmare he dreamt up.

The Gardner family has come to the tiny town of Arkham, Massachusetts for a change of pace. Raising llamas while trying to get his gardening business off the ground, Nathan (Cage, Valley Girl) is making the best out of a recent rough patch of setbacks. His wife Theresa (Joely Richardson, Endless Love) may have followed her husband from the city to the country but she hasn’t quite unplugged from her corporate life in doing so. Their children Lavinia (Madeleine Arthur, Big Eyes), Benny (Brendan Meyer), and Jack (Julian Hilliard, The Haunting of Hill House) are all adjusting in their own way with Lavinia opting to fully embrace her Wiccan ways and rituals now that she’s fully ensconced in nature’s beauty.

When Ward (Elliot Knight) a visiting water-surveyor enters the picture, he finds more than just a contaminated stream after a meteor crash lands on the Gardner’s property and begins to have a strange effect first on the flora and then on the family. At first, the changes are barely noticeable. New plants sprout up, unexplained phenomena increase in their occurrences. Then, those that drink from the water in the well begin to exhibit increasingly bizarre behavior until the extraterrestrial force that was contained within the meteor is fully unleashed, bringing with it an otherworldly terror. As the force gains power and begins to spread, the survivors have to evade a deceptive intelligence that aims to trick them into following it into darkness.

I was surprised at how effective Color Out of Space was for the majority of its run time. Largely, it’s a tense bit of entertainment with a heavy dose of the paranoid thriller and credit should be given to Aramis and Stanley for keeping things at a nice simmer for as long as they do. That’s quite a feat considering they have Cage in a role that is ostensibly the lead but who remains a bit in the background until the latter half of the film. You can see Stanley did his best to restrain Cage’s performance and I think editing had something to do with the finished product because Cage comes off quite well here. Sure, near the end he starts to whirl out of control but the film kinda calls for it and no one can swerve off a cliff quite like Nic Cage can. (I do wonder, however, if he was trying to emulate a certain impeached official when his character was having violent mood swings…I mean, it had to have been intentional, right?)

Along with Cage there’s a strong supporting cast with Arthur a real star in the making. There’s a worldly curiosity to her performance that makes for an intriguing character and a snappy rapport between all of the family members made me believe they all liked each other enough to withstand a good teasing. While his contributions are limited, Tommy Chong (Zootopia) is quite funny as a local off-the-grid stoner. It isn’t a stretch for Chong but he sells it with some flair. I continue to find Richardson a very underrated actress who has lived a bit in the shadow of her late sister (Natasha) and famous mother (Vanessa) throughout the years. She’s pretty great, especially when you consider just how far Stanley asks her to go in one scene.  Other actresses might have flinched but Richardson dives right in.

It’s interesting to note this is Stanley’s first feature film since he was famously fired from 1996’s remake of The Island of Dr. Moreau. The legendary tale of Stanley’s ouster from that movie has been recounted a number of times (including the fantastic documentary Lost Soul: The Doomed Journey of Richard Stanley’s Island of Dr. Moreau, which is available on Amazon Prime) and judging by Stanley’s ferocious comeback he’s more than ready to get back to moviemaking without a lot of studio interference. Working with a budget around $12 million, Stanley and his visual effects crew have created an impressive looking world that is both a wonder to behold and frightening, often at the same time. There’s a particularly grotesque effect near the end of the film that should recharge the battery of any horror fan running low on gore fumes.

Though the film begins to lose some energy the further down the rabbit hole it goes and the characters start to make increasingly bad decisions, it’s absolutely one you should see if given the chance. I can see this one following a Mandy trajectory (though I found this far less intimidating and grimy) and finding an audience that responds to its mind-bending visuals, dynamic color palate, and shocking sequences of terror and violence. Even if it doesn’t all make sense all of the time, it’s more entertaining than I ever thought going in.

Movie Review ~ The Shed


The Facts
:

Synopsis: Stan and his best friend Dommer have put up with bullies their entire lives. All of that changes when Stan discovers he has a murderous vampire living in his shed.

Stars: Jay Jay Warren, Cody Kostro, Sofia Happonen, Timothy Bottoms, Siobhan Fallon Hogan, Frank Whaley

Director: Frank Sabatella

Rated: NR

Running Length: 98 minutes

TMMM Score: (5/10)

Review: We’re in a little bit of a mini Stephen King renaissance in entertainment right now.  The second chapter of the big screen adaptation of IT arrived a few months back after the first installment proved so hugely popular and just last week the excellent Doctor Sleep, a movie sequel to Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining (both based on King’s novels of the same name), was released in theaters to much acclaim.  Then there’s the King-adjacent series Castle Rock on Hulu and an anthology series inspired by Creepshow that debuted on Shudder in October.  So it’s definitely good to be King right now…and it’s also inspiring some copycats.

As the old expression goes, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery and there’s plenty of fans-turned-filmmakers that have called upon King’s blend of fantasy and nostalgic realism in creating their own works.  I’m getting to the point where I don’t mind it too much if small bits and pieces of a particular style are picked up by another filmmaker along the way…but only if it builds upon it and makes it special.  If a writer or director is just going to recycle something King has already introduced in one of his novels or numerous short stories and then not let it have a life of its own, what’s the point of the endeavor?

That’s one of the main issues I had with The Shed, a new indie horror film getting a limited theatrical release this November but will be seen by most on their streaming service of choice.  It’s small-town setting and outsiders against evil premise have all the hallmarks of King’s most famous tomes and there are large stretches of writer/director Frank Sabatella’s screenplay that feel like they could have been stolen straight from King’s discard pile.  What doesn’t feel in line with the author is an abundance of cliché dialogue and obnoxious characters you can’t muster enough interest in to root for, not to mention a strange tendency to telegraph every jump scare five beats before it happens.

Orphaned and living with his alcoholic grandfather in a non-descript town, Stan (Jay Jay Warren) is going nowhere slowly, only pausing long enough to go to school where he fades into the background.  His friend Dommer (Cody Kostro) is in a similar boat, though he’s popular fodder for school bully Marble (Chris Petrovski) and his motley gang of troublemakers.   The bright light for Stan is longtime crush Roxy (Sofia Happonen) who obviously has feelings for him too but is in a complicated place with Marble at present.  Verbally abused by his drunk granddad, picked on at school, without the girl he loves, and with the local police officer (Siobhan Fallon Hogan, The Paper) just waiting for him to screw-up again, Stan doesn’t have much to be positive about.

Things get a bit more interesting for all parties when a vampire takes up residence in the small shed in the back of Stan’s house.  A prologue has shown us how the man (Frank Whaley, Hustlers) came to be in his sorry state and now he’s quarantined away from the sunlight in a tiny prison and getting hungrier by the hour.  Lucky for him that Sabatella’s script finds a myriad of ways to get fresh meat into the shed, from curiosity to deception to outright physically pushing some poor soul in.  All of these attacks come with a substantial amount of wind up…like a balloon being inflated larger and larger.  You know it’s going to pop eventually and you’re just waiting for it to reach the breaking point and explode.  The first few times it works in its own rough and tumble way but soon you’ll be hoping the vampire is full when a person enters the shed so we can be spared another loud music spike when it strikes from the shadows.

Running 98 minutes, the movie is a solid 15 too long and takes more time than needed to get to its finale.  That extra time is spent, unfortunately, on supposedly tender moments between Stan and Roxy and the actors just don’t have the chops or the chemistry to make these scenes work.  Warren reminds me of the late Anton Yelchin in looks only, lacking the actor’s ability to access relatable vulnerability.  He’s not much of a leading man, and Kostro isn’t much better as his foul-mouthed best friend who sees the vampire as an advantageous way to do away with his tormentors.  Sabatella’s dialogue is incredibly juvenile in its generous use of the F-bomb in every sentence without ever earning it.  It gets to be embarrassing after a while, with Warren, Kostro, and Petrovski sharing a scene that has them swearing so much it sounds like a bunch of fourth graders that just learned the word trying to see who can say it the most and the loudest.

It’s almost too bad the performances are so shoddy because the make-up and effects are quite well done.  I’ve seen worse vampire teeth in movies with ten times the budget The Shed had and there’s good use of practical effects that kept further costs down and helps the film from feeling as it if was overproduced.  I’m not sure how much of the vampire was actually performed by Whaley but I found myself more interested in what he was doing during the day than I was in what the humans were up to.  The effects team gets to have some fun near the end and the final twenty minutes or so have some impressive moments, even if some of the characters make some amazingly inept choices.

Overall, The Shed isn’t something I’d totally condemn but it’s not built on surefire solid ground.  The performances and dialogue are what kill this, especially the unrelenting profanity which really took me out of things.  I am absolutely no prude when it comes to swearing like a sailor and I’ve had my mouth washed out with soap on several occasions…but here it’s just putrid overkill.  If only some creativity had been spent on figuring out something different to do with the vampire in the shed, this would have been something King might have been able to take to Twitter in support of.  Instead, I can see this Shed getting boarded up fairly quickly.

The Silver Bullet ~ Paradise (2013)

paradise

Synopsis: After surviving a plane crash a young conservative woman suffers a crisis of faith.

Release Date: October 18, 2013

Thoughts: Not to be confused with the 1991 drama starring Don Johnson and Melanie Griffith (which I review here), this is the first film directed by Oscar winning screenwriter Diablo Cody and it seems very much in line with her past work.  I was a big fan of 2011’s underappreciated Young Adult so am interested to see what Cody has up her sleeve…especially since this isn’t a cast I’d normally be knocking down the theater doors to see.  The last time Julianne Hough and the supernaturally annoying Russell Brand teamed up we got the 2012 musical disaster Rock of Ages but here’s hoping that the welcome presence of Nick Offerman and Oscar winners Octavia Spencer (Fruitvale Station) and Holly Hunter (Copycat) counter-balance the players.  Cody’s first directing gig has been long in the making (I’m still holding out hope she gets her Sweet Valley High re-imagining off the ground) and I want to believe that the wait will be worth it.