Sunday, November 09, 2014

Doctor Who: Death in Heaven

Picking up from the various precarious cliffhangers we were left with last week, “Death in Heaven” goes pretty silly for the first 10 or 15 minutes. In the peculiar pre-credits sequence, Clara dives into an extended deceptive riff about being the Doctor in disguise so as to avoid deletion by a Cyberman. Even stranger is the decision to put Jenna’s eyes into the credits where the Doctor’s should be, which I guess extends the joke. This goes on for several scenes, and if nothing else, it’s sort of amazing to find out exactly how much she knows about the Doctor – maybe more than any other companion.

Last week I cracked wise about whether or not the Londoners would care that they’re being invaded, and it turns out I wasn’t too far off the mark: Selfies. Oh, if poor Karen Gillan was watching, she must have cringed. Speaking of cringing, how about that Cyberpollen? Doctor Who often does weird stuff to get from Point A to Point Q or whatever, and after last week’s set-up, I was curious as to how Moffat would have Cybermen rising from the grave. Never fear! Magic Cyberrain, made up of exploded Cybermen, pouring down on the cemeteries of the world somehow transforms dead bodies into living Cybermen. Surely it didn’t take long for the show to lose loads of viewers based on this process alone (some of the vitriol going around the net seems to confirm this). Don’t expect me to explain it all; I’m not even sure Moffat could explain this beyond what’s on the screen.

UNIT, in the form of Kate Lethbridge-Stewart (Jemma Redgrave), her asthmatic scientist sidekick Osgood (Ingrid Oliver), and a bunch of soldiers arrive outside of St. Paul’s. They quickly secure Missy and the Doctor, taking the pair to a hangar, wherein resides Earth Force One. By this point in the episode, it’s pretty clear the stakes are high, and that this is big, big, big stuff. But it gets even bigger when it’s revealed that the world powers have named the Doctor the President of Earth, should an alien invasion occur – placing him squarely in charge of everyone, and specifically the military. The Doctor becomes the thing he’s railed so hard against throughout the entire season.

Read the rest of this season finale recap by clicking here and visiting Vulture.

Tuesday, November 04, 2014

Nightbreed: The Blu-ray / DVD Combo Pack review

The director’s cut of Clive Barker’s Nightbreed has been a very, very long time coming, and rare is a film more deserving of a top to bottom reworking than this one. Released theatrically in 1990 in a tragically butchered form by Fox, the film should have been Barker’s leap to the big time. While it didn’t necessarily derail his movie career, it certainly didn’t help it, nor did it likely endear the movie business to Barker himself. With a two-hour running time, including 40 minutes of new footage, this is the version of the movie that should have been released 25 years ago.

Yet this new Nightbreed is such an unusual film that it probably wouldn’t have been any more popular at the box office than the tainted theatrical version. It’s just too strange to ever have appealed to mainstream audiences, regardless of its form. But it surely would have amassed a far greater following over the years, and would now be looked back on as one the great horror fantasy films of its time. Maybe it isn’t too late to attain such a title.

Adapted from Barker’s own novel Cabal, the story tells of disturbed young man Aaron Boone (Craig Sheffer), who sees therapist Dr. Decker (David Cronenberg) for help with the visions he suffers – visions of a place called Midian. Meanwhile, a vicious masked psychopath is serial killing, and Decker convinces Boone he’s committing the crimes by slipping him psychedelics. But all is clearly not as it seems, and Midian is a very real place beckoning to Boone. Midian, located in a remote area beneath a forgotten graveyard, is where the monsters live – the freaks and genetic misfits that society has no room to accommodate. There they live in peace, away from mankind. But a war is coming, and the inhabitants of Midian will find their reclusive existence threatened by man, with Boone and his girlfriend Lori (Anne Bobby) at the center of the conflict.

The whole point of Nightbreed is that the monsters are the good guys, and humanity is morally corrupt, indecent, and without conscience or empathy. This is also very much the point that was gutted from the theatrical version all those years ago, leaving viewers wondering what the object of the exercise was. The Director’s Cut restores the crucial character and story arcs so that the film now feels well-rounded and full-bodied. Most importantly, the inhabitants of Midian have been brought to the forefront, and Nightbreed is populated by dozens and dozens of creatures – I do not exaggerate when I say that 50 feels like it might be low balling it – many onscreen for just seconds at a time.

Lylesburg (Doug Bradley, Pinhead of the Hellraiser films) is the leader of the colony. Aged and wizard-like, the old man has perpetually bleeding slits on his cheeks, which open to reveal eyes. Narcisse (Hugh Ross), the wild man with peeled back skin and an exposed skull, is Boone’s first tangible proof that Midian exists. Peloquin (Oliver Parker) is the red-skinned, tentacle-headed alpha male of Midian. Kinski (Nicholas Vince), whose head is shaped like a crescent moon – looking like Jay Leno via a Mighty Men and Monster Maker - is one of the first to show Boone kindness. Shuna Sassi (Christine McCorkindale) is covered in deadly needles, like some sort of sexy, birdlike porcupine. And the list could go on and on.

Much like its banner mission of flipping the good guys and the bad guys, Nightbreed seems to thrive on turning horror conventions on their ear, always in the service of casting its heroes in a positive light. It’s almost as if while writing it, Barker would come to a spot and say to himself, “Now what would every other horror writer do here? I think I’ll do just the opposite.” Its themes of persecution frequently hit home emotionally, and it’s sort of amazing how easy it is to care and root for these ghastly creatures in this “horror movie.” It’s the sort of the stuff that’s often the domain of science fiction and fantasy, but almost never horror. And the humans really are awful, terrible people, chewing into their roles with great relish. Charles Haid, best known for his work in Hill Street Blues, tears into it as a local cop, and Cronenberg is such an ideal choice for Decker that it is practically impossible to imagine anyone else in the role. Here the infamous visionary behind fare such as Scanners and Videodrome embodies evil incarnate, and a more subversively malevolent movie figure you’ll be hard-pressed to find.

Craig Sheffer has all the makings of a standard, B-movie hero of the time period. There’s little that’s remarkable about his work here, and yet he unquestionably gets the job done. Anne Bobby, however, is a little treasure, and Lori’s story arc is far more the backbone of the picture than Boone’s. Midian calls out to Boone; it’s his destiny. Lori has to work for it, and in many ways she goes on far more of a traditional hero’s journey than the picture’s leading man. One of her great scenes, cut from the theatrical version but restored here, is a musical number early in the film. Set in a raucous dive bar, Lori howls “Johnny Get Angry” to an enthusiastic crowd (all while Boone, in the midst of the worst drug trip ever, looks on). The scene shouldn’t work, and yet it’s now impossible to imagine Nightbreed without it. Perhaps the greatest tragedy to come out of this movie’s mishandling is that Bobby didn’t get a bigger career out of it, which she more than deserved.

Blu-ray/DVD Extras: Shout only provided the Morgue with the standard Blu-ray/DVD combo pack, as opposed to the limited collector’s edition Blu-ray set, which has two extra discs, one of which features the original theatrical cut. While I was initially disappointed that I didn’t get the big set, as I really wanted a copy of the original cut, once I viewed the new version I no longer cared. Frankly, it’s been so long since I last viewed the theatrical cut, I couldn’t line list the differences. I only instinctively know that the new version is clearly and vastly superior, and viewing it makes the old version a relic, probably deserving of being lost to posterity.

Extras include an introduction from Clive Barker and Mark Alan Miller, the gentleman largely responsible for making the Director’s Cut a reality. It plays automatically with the film, but is skippable. The pair also has their own commentary track. Beyond that, there’s a 72-minute making of/remembrance called “Tribes of the Moon,” which includes Craig Sheffer, Anne Bobby, Doug Bradley, Hugh Ross, Simon Bamford, and Christine McCorkidale all waxing light-heartedly nostalgic about their time making the picture. While not definitive (frankly, I’d have killed for some Cronenberg on here), it remains a great deal of fun, and most any fan will be delighted by it. “Making Monsters” is a 42-minute featurette on the makeup and effects, which are stars of the film unto themselves. Here we get thoughts from artists Bob Keen, Martin Mercer, and Paul Jones, who only represent a sliver of Nightbreed’s behind the scenes talent, though they frequently discuss all of the other artists’ contributions. “Fire! Fights! Stunts! 2nd Unit Shooting” is a 20-minute interview with action director Andy Armstrong. Lastly, there’s the film’s original theatrical trailer. All bonus programming is duplicated on both the Blu-ray and the DVD. 

Sunday, November 02, 2014

Doctor Who: Dark Water

Let’s not bury the lede here, and please allow your recapper a bit of gloating. All the way back in my recap for “Deep Breath” I posited that Missy was short for Mistress – the feminine of Master (though to be fair, I was only one of many who did), and of course, it is. Beyond that, I’ve since been in an almost weekly dialogue with numerous fan friends who’ve thrown out a dozen different predictions and possibilities as to who Missy really is, and never did I give up on that initial instinct. It was never going to be anyone else, but to say it’s anticlimactic is to miss the rather innovative point of it all.

For several years there’s been a vocal contingent calling, often rather loudly, for a female Doctor. The only reason people are even able to demand such a development is because it could in theory occur, given how Time Lord physiology appears to operate (really, on no other TV series could one insist that the sex of the lead character needs to change). But just because you can do something, doesn’t mean that you must; there has to be a strong narrative reason behind such a radical shift. Within the series, there’d previously been only one confirmation that a Time Lord could change sex, and that was in “The Doctor’s Wife,” when the Doctor offhandedly referenced a Time Lord named the Corsair, who at some point was a woman. That was a big moment, but this development just dwarfs it.

Read the rest of this recap by clicking here and visiting Vulture.