Four Letter Nerd

Category - Movies

Star Wars and Mindfulness Meditation

Anxiety seems to be an ever-growing issue that particularly looms large for people of my generation – the Millennials. The American Psychological Association estimates that 12% of millennials are diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, while around 30% of working Millennials struggle with general anxiety. Now, I’m not good at math, but that seems like an awful lot of people. There are 75.4 million(ish) millennials wandering this planet, so upwards of 25 million of us have some form of general anxiety? Unfortunately, there isn’t any one magic cure – at least that I’ve found – but that’s not to say there aren’t ways to ease the burden a bit. One such way is called “mindfulness meditation.”

Before we get started, I think it’s important to note that I am a big believer that pop culture not only stems from our belief structures and societal myths but can also help us better understand them. Myths allow us to see things from a different vantage point, and, in some cases, it can become culturally-generative (in that it can help shape the idea that it stems from).  For example: when I was in an upper-level philosophy class during my college years, I was having a difficult time understanding a particular concept (Heidegger or Hegel if I remember correctly).  It wasn’t until I read an essay on the subject in the fantastic book Star Wars and Philosophy that I grasped it.

While meditation has been around for a long, long time, it’s seen a bit of a resurgence over the last several years (perhaps due to the statistics laid out above). That’s not to say that it disappeared for any length of time — I mean, it’s been around for thousands of years — but it’s become somewhat of a buzzword among industry professionals, celebrities, news anchors, and bloggers of all types. When I first stumbled upon mindfulness meditation, I didn’t understand it. The cynical part of me felt like Han when Obi-Wan Kenobi was explaining the Force to Luke – “So I am just supposed to sit here and focus on breathing? Listen, hokey religions…” Instead of writing it off, I decided to read several books on the subject, as well as any legitimate article I could find. It got easier over time, but it wasn’t until I saw snippets of what meditation, specifically “mindful meditation,” looks like through the lens of Star Wars that I began to realize it’s life-altering potential.

While reading about mindfulness meditation, I watched The Phantom Menace.  In it, Qui-Gon lays out the most basic premise of this form of meditation, which is being present.  At the beginning of the film, Qui-Gon and his padawan Obi-Wan are waiting for what I am sure would have been an exhilarating discussion with the Viceroy of the Trade Federation to resolve their blockade over Naboo. During this time, Obi-Wan is bothered about something in the future. When he mentions this to Qui-Gon, the Jedi Master responds saying, “Don’t center on your anxieties, Obi-Wan. Keep your concentration here and now, where it belongs.” When young Kenobi tells Qui-Gon that Yoda said “to be mindful of the future,” Qui-Gon responds saying, “But not at the expense of the moment. Be mindful of the living Force, young Padawan.” The majority of us spend our focus worrying about the future, thinking about the past, or just focusing on whatever device we are currently using. And if you are anything like me, your inner-voice never stops talking and can be a bit of an asshole. This form of meditation combats that by settling one into the present.  By focusing on your in-breath and out-breath, you are attempting to silence the constant inner-monologue which is taking you away from wherever you are, and doing whatever you are doing.

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The most poignant example of Qui-Gon’s commitment to peace through meditation is during his lightsaber battle with Darth Maul.  During the fight, Qui-Gon, Obi-Wan, and Maul are all separated from one another by ray shields.  Darth Maul paces back and forth, snarling and angry, while Obi-Wan bounces on the balls of his feet, anxiously waiting for the next round of combat.  In stark contrast, Qui-Gon just switches off his lightsaber and settles into a brief moment of peaceful meditation, simply being.

When we first meet Luke Skywalker, he is standing on a mound of sand, staring at the horizon, and just because he finds adventure doesn’t mean he ever stopped looking toward the horizon. In Empire Strikes Back,  Luke was nearly refused training because he was so focused on the future.  Yoda believed this attitude was a possible path to the Dark Side.  When he starts to show his frustration, Yoda chastises him saying, “All his life has he looked away, to the future, to the horizon. Never his mind on where he was, hmm? What he was doing.” It is Luke’s lack of presence that gives Yoda pause, and I think it’s a common cause for anxiety in modern culture as well. Our constant yearning for the “next big thing” and our inability to unplug because of our fear of missing out on something is a constant source of stress in our life.

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As we see in Return of the Jedi, Luke is at least partially responsible for the downfall of the Galactic Empire, but the Luke we see at the end of the film is a far cry from the brash, bush-pilot-turned-Rebel who showed up at Yoda’s doorstep looking for training. Despite Luke going through a pretty horrible ordeal at the end of Empire, in Return of the Jedi, Luke is more thoughtful, less prone to violence, and the brashness we saw in his youth is no more.  Apparently this lesson stuck with him too, because the new trailer for The Last Jedi begins with him teaching Rey to use her breath as an anchor for meditation.

One of the most important aspects of mindfulness is not focusing on whatever worries you may have in the future, but existing in the present moment. No judgment, no focusing on the past or future, just being with what is there. While it might sound odd, the majority of us spend our focus worrying about the future or ruminating over the past. If you are anything like me, your inner-voice never stops talking, and is a judgmental asshole, especially when it comes to yourself. By constantly drawing yourself back into the present moment — commonly by focusing on your breathing as an anchor — you can interrupt that constant stream of noise, call it on its bullshit, and find some peace

If you’d like to know more about mindfulness meditation, there are a lot of resources available online. I learned a lot from Dan Harris’ book 10% Happier, especially the last few chapters.  Mindful.org has all sorts of articles, including this video for beginners.  Finally, I found Insight Timer helpful, and I’ve heard great things about Headspace.

If you like this article, check out:

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The Philosophy of Civil War: Tony Stark and Utilitarianism

The Philosophy of Civil War: Captain America and Deontology

 

 

 

 

4LN Top 4 – Michael Crichton Novels

You may or may not know who Michael Crichton is, but you are without a doubt familiar with his work.  Crichton dominated the early 90’s box office with films like Jurassic Park, Twister, and The Andromeda Strain, but he is also the man behind the original Westworld and ER.  In 1994, Crichton became the only person to land at the top spot on charts for television, film, and book sales.  Think about that for a second, the three most popular forms of entertainment all topped by the same guy at the same time.

Sidenote: I’m a pretty big fan of the Crichton novels I’ve read, but my wife is OBSESSED with the show ER. She is currently on her fifth or sixth viewing of the series, and there are fifteen seasons. Also, Twister is one of those movies that if it happens to be on TV, things get ignored – chores, kids, you name it.

Below you will find my Top 4 Michael Crichton novels along with a spoiler-free, mini synopsis.  Enjoy!

4. Timeline

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A tech firm led by a volatile, Bill Gatesian billionaire creates a time machine.  A professor in the employ of the firm is studying a 14th century French village with his team of grad students.  When he gets lost in 1357, it is up to his students to go back in time to rescue the beloved professor.  Oh, did I mention that 14th century France is violent?  This novel became a movie starring Paul Walker and Gerard Butler.

3. The Andromeda Strain

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The government launches satellites to collect organisms and dust for study.  One of the satellites crashes in a remote town, which leads to an outbreak of a deadly virus.  A team of scientists enter a secure, high tech bunker in order to contain the (1950’s announcer voice) VIRUS FROM OUTER SPACE.

This novel became a TV miniseries starring Benjamin Bratt.

2. Sphere

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A alien spaceship shaped like a (you guessed it) sphere appears at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean.  A team of scientists is dispatched to a secret, deep-sea research facility to study, and attempt to make contact with the spaceship.  Deadly shenanigans ensue.

This novel became the 1998 film starring Dustin Hoffman, Sharon Stone, and Samuel F. L. Jackson.

1. Jurassic Park

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Not only are dinosaurs no longer extinct, they are going to be on display in a brand new theme park named Jurassic Park.   A team of scientists  is invited to tour the park in order to make sure everything is on the up and up.  Chaos theory prevails.

This novel became the smash-hit blockbuster starring Sam Neill, Laura Dern, Jeff erm Goldblum.

Honorable Mentions

Eaters of the Dead

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I am adding this to the list, not because I think it is in the upper echelon of Crichton’s novels, but because it’s fascinating.  Eaters of the Dead is a fictional retelling of actual journal entries written by an Arab traveling through Northern Europe in the tenth century.  During his journey, he meets a band of Viking warriors, and joins them as they suddenly return to Scandinavia and attempt to save the Viking clan from monsters in the mist.

This novel became the film The 13th Warrior starring Antonio Banderas.

There you have it, folks.  Have you read any of Crichton’s work?  What’s your favorite Crichtation (Crichton creation)? Let us know in the comments.

 

Our Favorite Movies from 2016

2016 has been… well, it’s left a lot to be desired. And even that is a *drastic* understatement. If you could personify the year it would easily be King Joffrey; A cruel, inherently evil little $h1+ with no regard for human life that we all just want to watch die a painful, painful death.

That being said, there have actually been some cinematic bright-spots on this incest-born bastard of a year, and we decided to share a few of our favorites with you, our beautiful, adoring tolerating readers! Enjoy!

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Actual photo of 2016

 

Jeff

Captain America: Civil War

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I wrote in the summer of 2015 of my fear that the Marvel Cinematic Universe may be over saturating us with too many movies and too many heroes.

“Civil War” proved my fears to be foolish. The third Captain America movie was arguably the best MCU movie so far. And it wouldn’t have been if it hadn’t been for all those previous installments developing the characters so their appearance in “Civil War” could be so effective.

Though it wasn’t perfect, “Civil War” put the MCU in a new direction that will keep those large box office gates rolling in.

 

Deadpool

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While “Civil War” was the champion of the traditional modern era superhero movie, 2016 also featured darker, more mature super hero fare. And leading the pack among these darker pictures was “Deadpool.”

“Deadpool” ignored every convention the MCU has created in the last decade. Earning an “R” rating for its mature themes and violence, “Deadpool” was what so many traditional comic book fans have been calling for in a superhero movie.

Throw in a fantastic performance from Ryan Reynolds, some well-deserved mocking of other Marvel properties, and a promotional campaign that might have been the year’s best helped make Deadpool one of the early hits of 2016.

 

Cam

Rogue One

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Man, what a fantastic ride “Rogue One” was. Not only are introduced to some really awesome characters, we also get to see Vader really let his hair down… you know, if he still had hair instead of a mess of burn scars and regret. Anyway, I loved that so many characters from both the prequels and the original trilogy made appearances – Red and Gold leader (from “A New Hope”) are leading their squadrons during the attack on Scarif, Dr. Evazan and his butt-chinned friend are still jerks, and NYPD Blue’s Jimmy Smits returns as Bail Organa – plus Felicity Jones is great as the lead role, and K-2SO is just, like, so sassy. Ultimately though, it’s Donnie Yen that steals the show. His blind monk/defender of the Temple of the Whills is just so awesome. Rogue One definitely sets the bar really high for the Star Wars anthologies.

 

Passengers

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I was originally going to use my second spot to talk about “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” (it’s great you should see it), but “Passengers” isn’t getting the love I think it deserves, so here we are.

“Passengers” is a really fun sci-fi film, with an interesting premise, a great cast, and a sleek-as-hell spacecraft.  If you look up the reviews (particularly the critic reviews) on Rotten Tomatoes, you will notice that it is hovering around 30% right now, while the unprofessional simpletons known as the ‘audience’ seem to enjoy it, giving it an average of 70%.  I must be more simple than most, because I loved it.  In a world filled with sequels, movies based on books, movies based on videogames, and the ever constant reboot, it’s refreshing to see something original.  And if that doesn’t win you over, you get to see Chris Pratt’s butt.

Honorable Mention – “The Hollars” with John Kr.. Kraz… Jim from “The Office” is a really great independent Dramedy that was more emotional than expected.

 

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Here’s the thing… if I’m being honest, most of my favorite movies this year are ones I already wrote entire reviews on (The Witch, Doctor Strange, Deadpool, 10 Cloverfield Lane), so I’d like to mention a couple movies that I loved this year but haven’t already “waxed eloquent” about. (Don’t act so surprised. I did the same thing last year.)

Arrival

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There are alien invasion movies, your standard Independence Day type invasion movies, and then there’s Arrival. It plays more like a modernized Twilight Zone story than it does like War of the Worlds. Not that I’m bashing those other flicks. They’re fun in their own way. Arrival is just… more substantial. It’s actually hard to talk about, or even compare to other films, without giving anything away. The film is directed by Denis Villeneuve, who is the brilliant mind behind Sicario, as well as the upcoming Blade Runner sequel, Blade Runner 2049. Time will tell how that turns out (I have high hopes), but for now, as much as I loved Sicaro, Arrival stands as his masterpiece. It has depth and emotion that alien invasion movies just haven’t ever captured, or even attempted to capture, before. The main cast is Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, and Forest Whitaker. Adams plays a linguist who is brought in to attempt communication with aliens who’ve landed on earth, Renner is a theoretical physicist with whom she is partnered, and Whitaker is the military colonel who brings them in. Near the end, as the hidden elements of the story begin to reveal themselves, you just kind of sit there stunned, jaw hanging down, and the emotion hits you hard, and heavy. Arrival isn’t just good, it’s beautiful.

 

Don’t Breathe

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I love horror movies, of all kinds. Slasher, monster, demonic possession, torture, etc. If it’s scary and violent, it’s for me. The best, though, is when a horror movie can be intense without anything supernatural, and even attempt to be almost realistic, or are based on something real. Ravenous was like that, Kevin Smith’s Red State is like that, and Don’t Breathe is like that. It’s directed by Fede Alvarez, who made the Evil Dead reboot from a few years ago (which was absolutely perfect). Don’t Breathe is about three people break into a blind man’s house with the intention of robbing him, but they get much, MUCH more than they bargained for. Again, as with Arrival, I can’t say too much, but suffice to say, the ending is @#$%ing CRAZY, and there is an item used, in an abstract way of the word “used”, that you never see coming, and will never be able to forget. If there is one 2016 movie that I wish everyone would see, it’s this one.

4LN Movie Review – Doctor Strange (SPOILER FREE)

Doctor Strange was the first comic book character that I loved beyond just fantasizing about flying, or being super-strong or fast. I loved him for existential reasons. I mean, I was a kid so it wasn’t like I understood it that way at the time, but I was drawn to the way he saw into realms that no other “superhero” could. He protected the world from invisible threats, and that fascinated me. The idea that he spent day after day risking his life to safeguard the world from things it never even knew existed, and it was mostly a thankless responsibility. I also was drawn to how he earned his powers through a process of learning to open his mind, rather than just through some accident or experiment. To add on top of all that the fact that he spent his entire life as an arrogant prick before being humbled by an accident and then going on to be the Sorcerer Supreme… It was like this “Saul to Paul” story, and for a kid who grew up in church, that resonated with me. (Also, his real first name is Stephen, and I’m pretty narcissistic so…)

Before I go any further, I will say that, while this isn’t a spoiler review and I will not reveal any specific plot points from the film, there will be some vague references and generalizations, as well as a few comparisons, that could still divulge more than you want to know. Read on at your own risk.

Film Synopsis: “Dr. Stephen Strange’s (Benedict Cumberbatch) life changes after a car accident robs him of the use of his hands. When traditional medicine fails him, he looks for healing, and hope, in a mysterious enclave. He quickly learns that the enclave is at the front line of a battle against unseen dark forces bent on destroying reality. Before long, Strange is forced to choose between his life of fortune and status or leave it all behind to defend the world as the most powerful sorcerer in existence.”

The film is pretty much a straightforward origin story (think Captain America: The First Avenger). We learn about the threat the motivates the second and third acts, and we meet Stephen Strange and get a sense of how incomparably talented he is as a surgeon and as an egotistical dick. Then we follow him on his journey through humility to reclaim his former glory, but along the way he realizes he’s destined for so much more.

I understand that the basic plot structure and story development feel a little… safe… for some people, but I comprehend it a little differently. Remember I mentioned “Saul to Paul” in the intro? Well, if you’re not familiar with that reference I’ll explain. The Paul spoken of is the Paul from the Bible. The one who wrote anywhere from 8 – 13 books of it (depending on who you ask). The story is that, before becoming a passionate apostle for Jesus Christ, Paul was named Saul and actually spent his life punishing those who claimed to follow Christ until one day he’s blinded and hears the voice of God telling him to quite being such a dick (I’m paraphrasing here). He then goes on to be what some would say was the greatest evangelist of the Christian gospel. The parallels between his story and the one given to Stephen Strange are quite apparent (and I would imagine that it could be on purpose, but that’s something you’d have to ask Stan “The Man” Lee). Stephen is a man of great talent, who puts his entire trust in science and reason, but finds himself crippled and unable to continue living the life he’s built. He goes in search of anything that could restore him but ends up discovering a whole new, more purposeful fate. I’m not staying it’s an exact replica, but there are many similarities.

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So, you’re probably thinking, “Dude, what’s with the f***ing bible story?” First, you should be ashamed of yourself for using that off-color language. Second, I’m getting to it, so don’t get your f***ing panties in a wad. The main reason I spent so much time on the Biblical comparisons was to better explain why Scott Derrickson was not just the best choice for director, he was the only choice. You see, Scott, from what I can tell, seems to have a legalistically religious background, which is something I share in common with him. From Wikipedia: “He graduated from Biola University (the Bible Institute Of Los Angeles) with a B.A. in Humanities, with an emphasis on literature and philosophy, and a B.A. in Communications, with an emphasis on film, and a minor in theological studies.” (Afterwards, he went on to earn a Masters in film production from USC School of Cinematic Arts.) He made The Exorcism of Emily Rose, which isn’t like any other demonic possession horror film out there, and he also made the tragically underrated Deliver Us From Evil. As I mentioned in my review for the later, Scott is very, very good at blending the supernatural with reality because he genuinely comprehends both of them differently than the average person, and Doctor Strange is proof that he perceives the possibilities and literal application of their coexistence. Scott also grasps the nature of Stephen Strange better than any other director that could’ve been considered because I think he sees those same biblical similarities that initially captivated me.

I understand that by using words like “biblical” and “religious” I could potentially be frightening you on what awaits in the film. I assure you, as someone who is no longer religious in any way, there is no propaganda or indoctrination. I just wanted to take advantage of the opportunity to show you why this guy was the clear choice to take on the project.

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OK, so moving on to the acting performances. They’re all fantastic. There isn’t one weak link in the entire cast. I rarely make the right call when it comes to speculating on who should take on a comic book character role, but I actually called Benedict Cumberbatch early on and he didn’t let me down. I’d even go so far as to say that this is his least Cumberbatch-ian performance to date. I know that his Sherlock Holmes would probably make you think he’s perfect for Strange but they really are very different characters. The way he plays Sherlock is more smart and socially awkward. Sherlock isn’t really an asshole, he’s just so brilliant that his intellect dominates his personality. Stephen Strange, while also very brilliant and intellectual, really is just an asshole. Like, he could choose not to be, but he doesn’t. Benny (I call him that), also nails the emotional range for the character. There’s a moment when Strange is meeting The Ancient One for the first time and he begins to realize that, even though he was told to forget everything he thinks he knows, this is nothing like what he imagined it to be and he begins to lash out in a way that anyone who’s ever lost hope or faith can relate to 100%. In that scene, Cumberbatch makes you feel in your own soul the level of hopelessness that Strange is experiencing. I was moved by it.

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Aside from ol’ Benny, there’s Chiwetel Ejiofor as Baron Mordo, who in the comics is mostly Strange’s adversary but here we see him in more of a co-mentor role. He does a great job of playing the strong compatriot to Strange’s ever-questioning student. Tilda Swinton really shines as The Ancient One. She’s wise and unaffected by Strange’s skepticism, but even though you know there’s more to her than what’s on the surface there’s still more you don’t expect hiding underneath that. The character’s layers run deep and she shows each of them to us with authority and grace. Mads Mikkelsen plays Kaecilius, a zealous former student of The Ancient One. I love Mikkelsen in pretty much everything he’s in, and he serves his role well here. Kaecilius is harded and angry, he fights with merciless fury, but there is a moment that you briefly see the vulnerability that forged the path he chose and it’s easily Mikkelsen’s best performance of the whole movie. I’ve heard people say that Rachel McAdams’ role as Strange’s colleague, and former girlfriend, Christine Palmer was underused, but I argue that she served a very crucial element of the film, which is Strange’s remorse for his past behavior. They already have a rocky past, but after his car accident and ensuing spiral into depression, he treats her very cruelly and comes to regret that. Her forgiveness is a key element in shaping him into the man he becomes by the end. Easily the best standout in the film, though, is Benedict Wong as… well, Wong. In the comics Wong is more of a manservant/butler type, which is an unfortunate representation of the time in which the story was first created, but here he’s the librarian for Kamar-Taj, which is the name of the monastery where The Ancient One and the other sorcerers train and reside. He’s a no-nonsense dude with an invaluable wealth a knowledge. Also, he helps to make the movie so damn funny. His serious, “straight-man” performance to Cumberatch’s “awkward white guy” moments make for comedy gold.

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Probably the most compelling aspect of the film is the visuals. There are no words in any language that I’m aware of that when strung together could accurately and sufficiently describe what you’re seeing in this movie, but by the Hoary Hosts of Hoggoth I’m gonna try. I can honestly say that I’ve never seen anything like the cinematography in this film, and I’m pretty certain that no film up to this point has ever been as ambitions as it is with the CGI. There’s never a moment where you think, “That looks fake.” It all looks completely real, every rotating building and collapsing floor. Even the mind-bending alternate realms have this structure and layering about them that make them feel almost believable. There are moments where you have to look down at the floor or at something else in the theater just to remind yourself that no one spiked your slushie or Twizzlers with LSD. It’s that hypnotizing. (I imagine that anyone who dropped acid while listening to “Led Zeppelin IV” or “Dark Side of The Moon” has already encounter most of what’s on display here.)

I saw the film in the IMAX 3-D format, and I know that most people don’t love the price tag that comes along with that, I sure don’t, but I would strongly encourage you to see it this way. I don’t think I’ve ever recommended the IMAX 3-D over the standard format in all of my time writing reviews, but this one was made to be seen this way. It’s not just a movie, it’s an experience. There were times that I found myself completely entranced with the depth and scope of the film. As someone who puts zero faith or interest in industry award ceremonies, if this movie doesn’t at least get some recognition for it’s cinematic visual achievements, then there is absolutely no justice in the world.

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All-in-all, Doctor Strange is a visual achievement, not just within the Marvel Cinematic Universe but the whole of film in general. The acting is superb, with Benedict Cumberbatch delivering what is maybe his most diverse performance to date, and the rest if the cast standing very strong alongside him. Scott Derrickson and Marvel Studios have crafted a magnificent film that threatens to consume you with astonishing visuals, but keeps you firmly grounded with a story that attempts to imagine the perseverance of the human condition on a realistically emotional level.

Also, when you head out to see the movie this weekend, make sure you stick around after the credits start to roll because their are 2 scenes you’ll miss if you leave early, and they’re both clues to what the MCU has in store going forward…

4LN Movie Review – Volumes of Blood: Horror Stories

While trying to come up with the best way to describe Volumes of Blood: Horror Stories, a line from a song I’ve always loved came to my mind. The song is called “Shake, Rattle (Snake), and Roll!“, by A Girl A Gun A Ghost, and the lyric is, “We’ll spill your blood. We’ll haunt your dreams.” Like, it’s so fitting that it should be on the film’s poster. The only way a lyric could more perfectly capture the tone of the movie is if there was a song called “Just A Whole Bunch Of Gore”, and the lyrics we’re something like, “Hey girl, I like your pretty face. But I’d like it better in pieces all over the place. Hey boy, that’s a cute smile you have. It’d be a shame if someone gave you a Colombian necktie and then literally stabbed you through the a**hole with a butcher knife before also repeatedly stabbing you in the chest and abdomen areas.” (I’m still working on the melody, but these lyrics are straight fire. Maybe I can the film’s composer Rocky Gray to help me track it.)

Last year I reviewed this film’s predecessor, Volumes of Blood, and called it “a clever, creative, and gore-tastic piece of film-work…” I genuinely love VoB, and to this day I 100% stand behind that review. I’ve been eagerly awaiting the release of VoB2:Horror Stories, excited about how it would expand on the original film, but what I couldn’t have imagined is the level of complexity that the filmmakers were weaving the story into this time around.

(There are potential MINOR SPOILERS ahead, but I’ve genuinely tried to avoid revealing too much. Read on at your own risk though.)

At it’s most basic, the plot of Horror Stories is about a house that harbors some dark secrets and terrible cruelty. Really though, the overall plot structure is actually very intricate. So much so that if you start trying to think about how all the segments of each film fit together to make up the entire picture, as it were, you will go absolutely insane. Like, Jim Carrey in The Number 23 level of insane. It’s like if Saw and Inception had a torrid love affair that produced a child, and that child grew up watching nothing but 80’s slasher flicks and then had a child of it’s own with another hypothetical movie-child that was the product of a one-night-stand between Donnie Darko and Memento, THAT child would be Volumes of Blood: Horror Stories. It’s almost as complex as this analogy.

There’s kind of an “anti-point” to the the film’s use of story complexity though. It’s intricate for fun, not to be pretentious, or because you actually have to know the timeline in order to care about what’s happening. All that really matters is the blood; and, by god, they don’t spare one drop.

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The movie is a blood bath. Literally. One of the segments is titled “Blood Bath” and it is about a killer bathtub. That’s f**king brilliant. I’ve used that term for over half of my life and the idea of an actual murderous bathtub never once dawned on me.

I don’t particularly *like* choosing a favorite segment, but if you twisted my arm (to the point of snapping it off and showering all those in my direct vicinity with blood) then I supposed I’d have to say it was “Fear, For Sinners Here.” This segment takes place around Christmas, and is about a woman who is clearly suffering some great anxiety, but you’re not entirely sure what. She’s greeted by some carolers at her door, which briefly lifts her spirits, but she returns to her anxious state once they leave. Coincidentally, her name is actually Carol. Later she hears singing again and believing they’ve returned she opens her door, only to find one, lone, ominous woman in a hooded cloak singing to her. This woman turns out to have some less-than-merry intentions toward Carol, and proceeds to deck her ever-loving halls. I’m trying not to give too much away here, but I wanted you to know about it enough for me to say that the actress who plays the Cruel Caroler, Julie Streble, was absolutely fantastic. The entire thing was amazing, and both women did great, but the way her character has almost two completely different personalities was well crafted and she executed it perfectly.

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There’s no way I can go into giving each and every segment of VoB2 the praise it deserves because this review would end up being 20,000 words long and none of us have time for that. Besides, once you see it you’ll understand why. The movie is summed up best in it’s final 10 or so minutes. It’s a barrage of violence that isn’t pointless, but is senseless in the most satisfying way. Allow me to explain what I mean… Most horror movies need a reason or point, or at least a slasher/killer that has one. Jigsaw has his need to impose self-righteous “lessons” to those with moral turpitude. In It Follows the “entity” is killing teenagers that have sex. Even Classic horror films aren’t exempt from the formula. Pinhead murders for punishment. Freddy and Jason are both basically killing in the pursuit of revenge. (Michael Myers is arguably the only one that seems to murder out of genuine instinct. He kills for the sake of killing, not for any tangible reason. But that’s a lengthy discussion for another day.) The VoB series has “The Face”, and he clearly kills with no real discrimination. In the last section of the film he serves up a spree of slaughter so excessively gruesome and hilariously violent that it makes Chucky look like a Monster High doll.

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If we gave out some ostentatious score or rating I’d certainly mark this one high. VoB:Horror Stories doesn’t pretend to be other movies, but it pays homage to the films that influenced it. It knows exactly what it is, and it indulges in it’s own self-actualization. You’ll cringe. You’ll laugh. From story to story you’ll find yourself enthralled and captivated. Assuming, that is, you have the stomach for it…

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Keep an eye out for Volumes of Blood: Horror Stories and make sure you catch a screening if it plays at a film festival near you!

Who Should Direct Deadpool 2?

It was recently announced that Tim Miller, the director of Deadpool, had left the film’s sequel due to the commonly used explanation of “creative differences.” Apparently there just happened to be so many people simultaneously trying not to do any work, or pay attention to their loved ones, and therefore this seemingly innocuous news sent the internet into eruption! “MY GOD HOW WILL WE GO ON!” I myself wasn’t immune to the uproar. I believe my initial reaction, without having all the details, was mostly a barrage of expletive-laced insults aimed at the FOX executives. Then upon hearing that it was actually “creative differences” with Deadpool star, and all-around great guy, Ryan Reynolds my insults redirected from FOX execs and took aim at Miller himself. I’m #TeamReynolds all the way and I will not stand for that s**t. Finally, I ate a Snickers, calmed my tits, and reminded myself that this is all just business and there’s no cause for alarm. Tim Miller did a phenomenal job on Deadpool, but the extent of his involvement on the sequel, at this point anyway, was script work. He hadn’t actually signed on to direct yet anyway, so it’s not quite as crucial as myself, and all the other bored neckbeards made it out to be.

(Side note: There are also rumors that his departure could have been due to a disagreement with FOX over what the budget of the film should be.)

Then came the petition… Apparently, some asshat thought it would be a good idea to get people all riled up over the possibility of Quentin Tarantino taking on directing duties for Deadpool 2. First: sit the f**k down, Tarantino wouldn’t do this in a million years, or for any amount of money that FOX could possibly afford. Second: His style is so different from the tone of Deadpool that it would never feel right. Just because someone is a good film-maker doesn’t mean that they should do everything you want them too. I love The Witch, but it wouldn’t be a good idea for the director, Robert Eggers, to take on a Spider-Man film, because what he’s great at and what the nature of that character requires are two completely different things. (Although, I will say, I bet he could direct the s**t out of a Morbius short film. Get at me, Rob. I gots some ideas fo ya.)

Apparently, people are also throwing out names like Mathew Vaughn, Guy Ritchie, Edgar Wright (OK this one I could actually see working out), and even Seth Rogen & Adam Goldberg. Plus, there’s people out there who are clearly great at action-comedies, like Paul Feig and Phil Lord & Chris Miller. Again, all great people who have done great work, but none of them have quite the right… Je Ne Sais Quoi… to capture what Deadpool requires.

So where does that leave us… Well, just who would be qualified to direct Deadpool 2? Deadpool was Tim Miller’s first time directing. That was a gamble with a YUGE payoff in the end. For the sequel you want someone who has at least a couple projects under their belt; someone with a fresh perspective, who has proven that they can at least maintain the tone of the first film but also add their own special touch and expand beyond what we’ve already seen. They also need to be able to sync well with Ryan  Reynolds, because the man IS Deadpool. He rightly deserves to have at least half of the creative input for the character since he’s the man under the mask. Plus, Deadpool 2 has to be literally the funniest f**king movie on the planet.

I have scoured my brain to bring you a list of “up-and-comers” and some established filmmakers who I believe have the ability and vision to take Wade by his tiny baby hand and walk with him into the world of “Successful Sequels That Are At Least Comparable The First.” (We’re still working on that label name.) The list in no particular order is as follows:

 

Tommy Wirkola

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Wirkola would be most known for writing and directing Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters. A film that, while didn’t garner much critical acclaim, was received decently by audiences, as it made over $225 million off of a budget of about $50 million. What you may not know is that he’s also responsible for the cult hits Dead Snow and Dead Snow 2: Red vs. Dead. Both films have been massive critical successes. Wirkola knows how to make a funny movie with an balanced level of action and fright. Not that Deadpool 2 would need the added fear-factor, but hey, it doesn’t hurt to have someone around who has a knack for it, especially if they wanted to introduce lesser known villains like Black Talon or Slayback.

 

Eli Craig

Craig started out acting in films like The Rage: Carrie 2, and Space Cowboys, where he played the younger version of Tommy Lee Jones’ character Hawk. He went on to make the brilliant and hilarious Tucker and Dale vs Evil in 2010. After that film turned out to be a critical hit he was tapped to helm the pilot for the Zombieland TV show. That wasn’t quite as well received. I maintain that this is in no way a misstep on Craig’s part. Look, SOMEBODY was gonna make that show. He gave it his absolute best and there are some quality jokes in there, but recreating the dynamic of that phenomenal cast with actors you can pay a whole lot less was always gonna be a problem, and there was nothing he could’ve done about that. (He’s currently shooting a film titled Little Evil, with Evangeline Lily and Adam Scott, that not much is known about.) T&D is one of the funniest horror-comedies that’s ever been made, and I think Craig absolutely has what it takes to keep Deadpool’s middle-school sense of humor feeling fresh while capturing intense, smaller scale action sequences.

 

Rawson Marshall Thurber

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Not only is Thurber a handsome bastard the will steal not only your girlfriend but your sister, mom, cute aunt, ugly aunt, AND gam-gam, he’s also a seasoned writer and director with films like We’re The Millers and Central Intelligence in his repertoire. Oh yeah, and a little movie called DODGEBALL. Ever heard of it? Of course you’ve f***ing heard of it. It’s the actual definition of awesome. It solidified Vince Vaughn’s place as a comedy juggernaut, gave us the closest thing we’d ever get to Ben Stiller replaying Tony Perkis, and might be one of Rip Torn’s all-time best performances ever. Central Intelligence came out earlier this year and has already secured a spot as one of the best action-comedies this decade. Even We’re The Millers was a massive financial success, making $270 million off of a budget of $37 million. The guy knows funny, plus he’s proven he can craft an action film, AND who wouldn’t want to see that dapper fella standing next to Ryan Reynolds on the red carpet…?

 

David Gordon Green

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Green is easily the most experienced of this bunch. He’s produced several comedy series, including Eastbound & Down and Vice Principals, and he directed Pineapple Express, which has some of the best lines Danny McBride has ever delivered on screen, and is also responsible (alongside Hot Fuzz and Tropic Thunder) for reigniting the R-rated Action/Comedy craze we’ve been enjoying. He’s also the brains behind the movie Joe, from a few years ago, which saw Nic Cage give his best performance since… hell, I don’t know… Adaptation? If he can do THAT, he can do ANYTHING. Green is a master of making funnier things either remain as funny or be funnier, plus he has an understanding of how to apply action movie dynamics to that formula. He also, however, knows how to make a dramatic film with tension, and Wade has some things in his past, some very emotionally heavy things, that would be brutal to see explored on screen alongside all the brain-exploding-headshots and fart jokes. It’s all about balance, people.

 

Christopher Landon

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You’re looking at that name and you’re all, “Landon… Landon… that sounds so familiar.” Well, you’re right. Chris is the son of Bonanza‘s own “Little Joe”, Michael Landon. Hollywood heritage aside, Christopher is an extremely talented writer and director. He wrote Disturbia (No, not that one. This one.), as well as many of the Paranormal Activity films, and he even directed Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones. The main reason he makes my list, though, is Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse. That movie made made me laugh so hard, and it had some really incredible small-medium scale stunts that I think show he’s capable of taking on bigger ones. The humor of that flick though, man, it almost dead on matches the humor of Deadpool, which is just basically just grown-ups making middle school style jokes with adult content, and Scouts is high-schoolers making middle school style jokes with adult content, so… I think you catch my drift.

 

Jason Lei Howden

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Howden isn’t just the final name on my list chronologically, he was actually a last minute addition entirely. While I was researching some other films mentioned above I was reminded of his directorial debut Deathgasm, and decided to look into his past work more. Now, Deathgasm is probably one of my favorite movies of the last few years, and not just because it revolves around dudes who play in a black/death metal band (I’m a HUGE metalhead), or because it’s one of the most beautifully gruesome horror movies to grace the screen in years. Well… OK, maybe it’s entirely because of both of those things. But once I began researching Howden’s career I instantly realized why he’d be perfect to take on Deadpool 2. See, Howden was a part of the visual effects teams on films such as Man of SteelGhost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance, The Avengers, and The Wolverine; as well as Prometheus, and all 3 Hobbit films. I mean… right? Say what you will about some of these flicks, but it’s 100% undeniable that they are all massive visual accomplishments. Tim Miller also had visual effects work in his background before taking on Deadpool. (He worked on Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, and was the second-unit director on Thor: The Dark World.) When you think back to that car chase/crash sequence, or the ending where the “helicarrier” comes crashing down and all the insanity of that, and what must’ve gone into visualizing those scene… It starts to make sense that someone with that skill set would be a perfect choice. Plus, much like with Scouts Guide, Howden proves in Deathgasm that he can capture “lewd” humor in way that doesn’t feel like you’re just hearing the same 4 dick and fart jokes over and over, which is something Deadpool also easily achieved. Plus again, I just really like the idea of the director of Deadpool 2 being a metalhead so that there’s a possibility for a Cryptopsy cameo. (They’re Canadian just like Ryan Reynolds and Deadpool! THIS HAS TO HAPPEN.)

 

Look, I get that at this point there may seem like no perfect choice. I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t even have complete faith in *all* of my picks. There was no way of knowing how it would work out with Miller on the original though, and I think that risk is what made Deadpool so exciting and such a success. They threw caution to the wind and made a bat-s**t-crazy flick with outlandish humor and excessive violence and now it’s, among many other accolades, the highest-grossing R-rated film of all time. So let’s just all try to agree that a lower-profile director provides us the best chance at risky film-making which in turn provides us the biggest opportunity for a grand payoff. Or, I guess, it also provides us the best chance for a massive failure… huh. S**t.

4LN Podcast, Episode 2- Nashville Horror Film

On our second episode of the 4LN Podcast, we sat down with Larry Underwood and Cameron McCasland to talk about their new short film “The Beast in the Cave”, an adaptation of the H.P. Lovecraft story, as well as some other projects they’ve got out and on the horizon. Check it out!

Also, here are some links that we mentioned in the podcast!

Dr Gangrene’s Tales from Parts Unknown

Dr. Gangrene’s Horror Hootenanny

4LN Movie Review – Suicide Squad

It seems the ever-growing divide between audiences and film critics is hitting it’s apex in 2016. I mean, never before have so many films been stamped worthy or unworthy before they even released, but this year it seems like almost every movie was prejudged before audiences could even vote with their dollars. No one has felt the pain of this divide more than DC/Warner Bros, as evident by the controversy that Suicide Squad has become. Earlier this week the review embargo dropped and the internet was flooded with negative opinions of the film. I literally only read one positive review before I saw the film myself. So, was it really *that* bad? Is it the worst movie of the year? Is it more of a cinematic abomination than last years Fantastic Four, as Vanity Fair suggested? The answer, confidently, is NO, it’s no where near that bad. Nothing is. (And the Vanity Fair reviewer must’ve had a serious bout of constipation when he saw the film because his article is unnecessarily cruel and could only have been written by someone so painfully full of shit.)

Suicide Squad broke the August record for a Thursday night opening of a film, by a lot. Based on the reviews, a lot of people are surprised by this. I am not. DC and WB stacked it with an eclectic cast, and spent a lot of time hyping it to the Hot Topic demographic and it paid off. Their character designs are perfect for marketing, as you can see with the deluge of t-shirts and other swag for sale everywhere. Even the soundtrack takes a rifle shot right at the mainstream. I mean, with the likes of Rick Ross and Lil Wayne you lock down the hip-hop crowd, and then add Twenty One Pilots and Panic! At the Disco, both whom are selling out concerts this summer, and I think you can start to see my point. They knew just what they were doing when they planned out the marketing strategy. They did however, forget to structure a cohesive film for which all of this marketing would hinge on…

“But Stephen, I thought you said it wasn’t that bad?” You’re right, I did say that, and it’s not. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t a little-to-medium bad. The first hour is especially confusing and hard to follow. The film opens with backstories on Deadshot and Harley that are nice but feel like they’re a little hurried so as to get them over with. Once the team is put together they’re sent off on a mission that just so conveniently turns out to have been caused by someone who was supposed to be one of them. The majority of the film is just the team on this one mission. I was a little surprised that it went that direction, but it makes sense when you consider David Ayer’s film style. See, what he does best are linear action movies with intimate drama and lots of gunfire. He typically has a couple main characters and then maybe three crucial supporting characters. Here, there’s like five main characters and 87 supporting ones. All the “David Ayer” elements are here, but they’re in a movie with a much bigger scope than he’s shot within in the past and it feels like the whole thing gets away from him a little bit. For that reason, I don’t think you could really call this a “David Ayer’s film”, but that’s sort of what you sacrifice when you take on a franchise I guess. Hey, in his defense, he’s at least not as empty as Zack Snyder. That dude cannot make a movie with substance, or emotions that feel natural. Ayer can do that. He has a good cast and he gets good performances out of them, with some decent emotion, even though it’s stretched thin across so many characters.

Despite the confusing plot lines and mostly mediocre story, the cast is actually phenomenal. I think the sense of camaraderie that Ayer strongly attempts to instill in his actors shows through. Everyone seems to have a genuine connection and performs very well. Rather than trying to talk about everyone, though, I’ll just focus on some of the standouts.

Viola Davis is fantastic as Amanda Waller, the woman responsible for creating the team in the first place. She completely embodies the nature of the character and might possibly give the best, most natural performance in the whole film. I’m a fan of Joel Kinnaman and I felt like he did a great job as Rick Flagg, who is in charge of keeping the team together. Flagg is a military man and Kinnaman gives a solid performance. One of the standouts I felt was Jai Courtney as Digger Harkness / Captain Boomerang. He brings an off-beat sense of humor to the film that’s not the same as the other funny moments. It’s different than when Harley says something bizarrely crazy or when Deadshot makes a funny quip. Without him, the film could’ve been a lot more boring. Bringing to the table what is definitely the darkest personal drama of the team is Jay Hernandez as Chato Santana / El Diablo, the man who makes and controls fire. Hernandez portrays Diablo’s inner conflict well. He wants to stay out of the fight for personal reasons, but he clearly knows how easily his ability could decimate the enemy they face.

I thoroughly enjoyed Jared Leto’s Joker and actually wished their has been more of him. He wasn’t quite as much like the “Death of the Family” Joker that I was hoping for, but I see that potential in him. Margot Robbie is a good Harley Quinn, but after Amanda Conner’s and Jimmy Palmiotti’s incredible run on the character in her self-titled comic series, it’s hard to see her as emotionally out-of-control as she comes across in the film. I mean, yes, she’s crazy. Yes, she’s clever. But she’s also deceptively intelligent, and… I… I just struggled with this version of Harley a little. I didn’t hate it, I just feel like Conner and Palmiotti have written Harley in a manner that depicts her in control of herself and her own sexuality and I’m not entirely sure I can say that this Harley is. However, this is an earlier moment in the timeline of that character whereas that comic series takes place much later in her life so I hope that as we see more of her in films she starts to evolve into that strong, more mentally and emotionally in control woman she’s become in the comics.

In a perfect world, this movie would’ve cut the cast by about 5 people, one of those being The Enchantress who’s involvement just takes away from the greatness it could’ve been, and been shortened to about an hour and a half. To it’s credit, it’s nowhere near as boring as Batman V Superman. It may be messy and confusing, but at least it has enough going on to keep you interested. I would say the difference is… BvS was disappointing, but Suicide Squad just never fully achieves its potential. There are some really great moments too. Leto’s Joker is petty creepy, and many of the action sequences are really exciting. It’s worth watching for sure. I even hope that they can make a sequel because there’s so many more great characters that you can use in the Suicide Squad (*cough* Deathstroke and King Shark *cough*). I just think that the next one needs to be a little more focused and less shotgun-like. Much like the team itself, this film tries to hit multiple targets at once but just falls a tad short.