IR Film Review: BLOOD MACHINES [Shudder]

The aspect of film festival entries, even ones with specific focus, is the idea of vision but also of story structure. “Blood Machines”, a sort of music video/short hybrid shows that new thinking in terms of that structure can be done, especially in the streaming world. Narrative doesn’t have to restrict itself to 22 minutes for commercials. It is based in what the story needs. But it also needs to take into account the essence of discipline in that process. While there are some grand visions within “Blood Machines” with some exceptional images, it wants to be more “5th Element” than “Blade Runner”. But clear meaning in certain ways still needs to come across. The essence of a ship with a soul is established early on and that idea is clear but the basis of what the Captain of the ship does, his sexual hang ups and the impeding perception of Tracy within his ship are unclear and very broad.

Granted the “2001” star chase with a degree of sexual innuendo points to some interesting metaphors and reflexive moments, but it doesn’t quite hit the mark. The French filmmakers behind this definitely had evolution perceptions of Luc Besson and maybe a little bit of Jeunet & Caro. However again the motivations behind the stories are unclear. Not that art needs to be clear but it needs a sound basis. The character with the most intrinsic nature in the piece is a high priestess who has violet hair who maybe be a melding of Milla Jovovich’s Alice and the 5th Element mixed together. There is something undeniable in her and little acting touches on the ship work with this but once the story makes its way onto an asteroid, most of the imagery becomes disjointed leading up to a lurid and florid battle which is interesting in a certain way but doesn’t portend to any interpretation.

The ending of “2001” or even Disney’s maligned “Black Hole” have a fairly clear idea of what they are saying, “Blood Machines” in making a reflection that all machines in some way might have a soul is an interesting discussion but not brought to bear despite a glowing yellow cross of many of the “souls” of the ship who are naked women. One could connect this to “Blade Runner 2049”, which may or may not have inspired this. That scene in that film with Wallace (played by Jared Leto) ruminating that the one ting he has been unable to create was the ability for Replicants to procreate before killing a naked female Replicant that had been born for that purpose is telling. That is the central element of that film and even director Villenueve didn’t answer the question though he posed it in a very deliberate and yet absorbing way. “Blood Machines” is a different type, showing reverence to the sci-fi it loves with an EDM score mixed with John Carpenter vibe which gives it a feeling all it own. It just doesn’t quite show where it wants to go.

C-

By Tim Wassberg

IR Film Review: MONSTRUM [Shudder]

The aspect of reluctant heroes is always painted on the path of a journey but also the reasoning behind it. Mixing elements of traditional and genre is always tricky especially doing within a period element. But with Asian cinema, pre-pandemic, understanding more the intersection of global tastes, “Monstrum” takes that into effect. But the reality is that South Korea has been ahead of the curve in this way for years, especially in horror and certain action offshoots including gangster. “Monstrum” also does its best in certain aspects to interrelate comedy. The story begins with two former generals and a young daughter trying to survive on the edge of barren fields. They enjoy their life for its simplicity but the daughter wants something more. One finds that they used to serve the king but was taken away when the father saves a girl (the daughter) instead of slaughtering her. The idea provides stakes but also a moral basis within the story. Running in the background of much of it is a political struggle. While not inherently dense or particular about what is being fought over, the aspect of grief is interrelated between both an ongoing plague (very pertinent right now) and stories of a monster rampaging.

The effective aspect of the story is trying and, in many times showing, that it could be one or the other. Eventually the general and his brother are brought back in at the request of the King (who has been manipulated by his prime minter and his minions) to find out the real truth. What is interesting even though it is set in 1506, is to bring in the daughter as a sort of investigator, even within the gender confines at the time while also giving her some progression of a traditional love story to satisfy perhaps more conservative audiences. The eventual discovery of a creature (which this reviewer won’t give away too much about) has interesting interrelations to many genre films including “The Dark Crystal”. The mythology of the beast is a little slight but in terms of simple entertainment works adequately. The comedy which is subtle (more in the form of the brother) gives the film a light touch which definitely makes it overall much more palpable especially when the action gets a little more performance oriented and less story based as the melee of sorts begins though its epilogue definitely understands this. “Monstrum” is an effective hybrid while understanding it nature and budgets ad uses it its avail.

C

By Tim Wassberg

IR Film Review: BLOOD QUANTUM [Shudder]

The aspect of the zombie movie has made its way throughout cinema history but in order for them truly to work they need to have a connection to the place that they are speaking of. “28 Days Later” used London to specific effect in its play. “The Walking Dead” goes more for sociology in its body count but the aspect of power becomes more of the trait it is known for. With Jeff Barnaby’s film “Blood Quantum”, the approach is based in the aspect of the land and its people. “Blood Quantum”, according to the production book, is the aspect of being able to gauge genetic heredity in the native population to determine rights within the reservation setting according to exterior government. In other words, it is a reflection of control, both financial and political. This is used as the basis within the story to create both the genre and the practical structure of how the zombie wave affect the people and their defense of it.

The first quarter of the story begins 3 years prior when fish and animals begin coming back to life after being killed or reaching their end which is an apt metaphor at times for the destruction of modern life. Initially what can be perceived as perhaps a spiritual mythology instead reflects in very real and basic terms. If you are fully blood, you have the chance to be immune. Anything below 50 percent is in peril. The movie doesn’t play too much on these facts but yet their prevalence keys subtly and strongly throughout the movie. The land is separated from the outsiders by a bridge which at times can grind its attackers to a pulp. The community will always help but understands the structure that needs to be maintained. Like films “I Am Legend”, “War Of The Worlds”, “Waterworld” or even “Zombieland”, the question become inside the society what begins to happen when it eats it from the inside and what survives.

In this apocalyptic situation, it offers questions. And in the current COVID-19 basis, it forces everyone to reexamine society, what it means, what family is and what it could be and sometimes isn’t . For some it is very straight forward. For others, it is a path to ruin. The story that plays very clear is the father of two sons tries not to pass on what he considers his sins to his sons who seem to be on a path of ruin. One is a hothead but has the dexterity to be something more but his rage blinds him. The other is the more sensitive and has the ability to be more yet acts reckless because he is emulating his brother. His truth s brought into focus by a responsibility that is his to take. That forms the basis of his redemption. That s not to say that the story being told is devoid or in any way lacking in its horror roots.

Taking out the zombies, and others to that point, is done with malice and in your face. One bigger dude uses a chainsaw as his weapon of choice. But it is Grandpa,, who will protect his own land at all costs, that becomes he samurai of the piece. It is him we see in the beginning living a quiet life that is thrown into ruin. He is a fisherman before fate brings him onto the battlefield. It is a mythology like others but the samurai motif is clear. While folklore and archetypes can play in the point including the aspect of betrayal, the final shot speaks to the reality of what life is. The film has many specific meanings hidden within its structure but the texture of where they lead rings true.

B

By Tim Wassberg

IR TV Review: CURSED FILMS – EPISODES 4 & 5 (“The Crow” & “Twilight Zone: The Movie”) [Shudder]

Many films have storied histories. Some more than most but getting people to talk about their experiences while still balancing the ode of what the film is is a tricky progression “Cursed Films”, as a series, both talks to some of the intensity without becoming sensational. As with certain stories, there are some that are more pertinent or accessible that others but this series does it with a cinematic flair while bringing in archival elements.

“The Crow” [Episode 4] This shoot was infamous because it resulted in the death of Brandon Lee during a shootout sequence when blanks were being used. The shoot is laid out and is storied either way with a hurricane destroying most of the sets in North Carolina before production started. A team member backed into a power pole. All this before the ill fated incident. By having Brandon’s make up artist speak on camera among others, one gets that direct connection to someone on set that was helping it along and emotionally affected personally by the incident. Using this approach in many ways makes the series feel more organic. People become friends in this situation and the showing of make up tests in Polaroids really brings it home. One of the producers also speaks as well as an actor whose scenes in the movie were ultimately cut and one gets a sense of why it needed to be finished but also reasons not to. The make up artist talking and showing footage of the stunt player wearing a death mask of Lee to finish the film is both eerie and sad. There is a specific recollection of Bruce Lee even done with a film clip which was similar to what happened on “The Crow” but in a fictionalized scenario (but its similarity is quite impactful). There is also a display of what happened in the gun and why it malfunctioned. The sense of it plays well and gives a much clearer view of what happened.  A-

“Twilight Zone: The Movie” [Episode 5] This tome is a little bit trickier and perhaps more mired in legal trouble behind the scenes (at the time) even though John Landis was cleared of manslaughter in the eventual lawsuit. The sequence in question was a segment of the film done in Valencia with the star of Landis’ segment: Vic Morrow in which the actor and two kids perished during a Vietnam sequence. A helicopter collapsed during an explosion and crashed on top of them. The story is told for the most part by the production designer on the film whose career both began and ended with this. It is heartbreaking but (like some elements of “The Crow”) completely attributed to human error in a way, though this one seemed projected by hubris in many ways more than cost cutting (which was part of the problem on the previous movies highlghted). Landis seemed to like things big as his film “The Blues Brothers” seemed to show. The footage from the night is shown in its full brutality in VHS footage which is both hazy yet very clear as to what is happening. It is a horrible accident but doesn’t look to be malicious intent. It simply was overdoing it. The explosions were too big. The episode also talks about the fact that a shortcut was made in casting the children because of wanting to shoot at night (it seems) and get the best shot. That is what set it in motion. There is not alot of ancillary padding though elsewhere in the episode though. Lloyd Kaufman is used as a reflcton which in many ways might not have been the right call since it tends to belittle the story a little bit. Having maybe another director (like George Miller who had his own challenges on “Mad Max: Fury Road” would have been better). There is a cut away to some tech people in present day working on explosions but that angle is not fully formed in terms of why exactly the helicopter had problems. In that way certain ideas of this episode are incomplete. C

By Tim Wassberg