The Strain Rushes To Its Conclusion

The Strain, the FX TV show based on the books by Guillermo Del Torro and Chuck Hogan, concluded its run. On the whole, the series was often enjoyable and creepy while its fourth and final season was a satisfying conclusion to the vampire/apocalyptic saga of Dr. Eph Goodweather (Corey Stoll) and his ragtag band of vampire fighters. That doesn’t mean that the final season was perfect, but at least the show got to finish telling its story.

The fourth season takes place months after Goodweather’s young son Zack (Max Charles) detonated a nuke near Manhattan. The brat had fallen in with the vampires or strigoi trying to take over the world and he was enraged at Eph for killing his strigoi mother. This stupid, impulsive act caused an off-screen nuclear war and the nuclear winter that followed allowed the vampires to live in a world of constant twilight. From there, it was easy for the vampires to openly rule the world by entering into a false “Partnership” with the surviving humans where human collaborators supply fresh blood in exchange for security. Yes, this does not make much sense, a nuclear exchange severe enough to cause nuclear winter would leave very few people alive and survivors would have some form of radiation poisoning. Not exactly a viable food source for the strigoi. Also the depiction of life after a nuclear war with largely intact cities and environments and where no one seems to be suffering from fallout stretches credibility. But it’s one of those plot devices that viewers have to accept and move on.

As the final episodes of The Strain aired, many dangling plot lines and character threads were wrapped up, sometimes a bit too quickly. This was another problem for the fourth season of The Strain, though the people BTS did the best they could with the short ten-episode season. For the previous seasons, The Strain smoothly flowed in its narrative as people struggled to maintain civilization by confronting the growing vampire threat that spread through worm-like creatures secreted by the vampires into their victims. When the fourth season began there was a large time jump that showed the aftermath of the strigoi takeover as they began implementing their version of the perfect solution; meaning turning humanity into cattle. The fourth season’s premise was mesmerizing, but sadly felt rushed and did not flow organically. Previous seasons allowed themes to play out, but in the final episodes, many promising storylines were glossed over as new characters came and went and plots were concluded quickly.

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However, the fourth season had its fair share of awesome and disturbing moments. Probably the best one was the inevitable final confrontation between the vampire Eichorst (Richard Sammel), a former Nazi, and the aged vampire hunter Abraham Setrakian (David Bradley). Their conflict took place a couple of episodes before the finale and it was short, brutal and epic. Due to his advanced years and hardship in the season, Setrakian was wasting away, on his last legs. Meanwhile the near-immortal Eichorst was as supernaturally spry as ever. It seemed hopeless for Setrakian after he was infected by Eichorst, who started drinking his blood. But the stubborn vampire hunter was not a quitter; he had overdosed previously on pills that acted as poison for Eichorst. This gave Setrakian the chance to deliver the killing blow, and his cathartic rant as he beheaded Eichorst was truly epic. While those final moments were great, the loss of these two characters before the show concluded was noticeable. The strigoi by now were faceless grunts to be mowed down by Eph, and his partners Fet the exterminator (Kevin Durand) and the half-vampire Quinlan (Rupert Penry-Jones), Fet’s love interest Dutch (Ruta Gedmintas), and former gang leader Gus (Miguel Gomez). What kept the show watchable was the solid acting by the remaining cast and the fact that the storyline was ramping up to its conclusion. The show’s heroes had smuggled a nuke into New York City, the headquarters of the vampires’ leader, the Master (Jonathan Hyde), in an attempt to cut off the head of the snake. Without the slimy and well-spoken Eichorst, it was up to the Master and Zack to carry on the villainy and the results were mixed.

Given the rushed nature of the fourth season of The Strain, it was a small miracle that the final episode was largely satisfying as some characters were unexpectedly killed. It perfectly played up the theme of sacrifice for the greater good and sold the point that victory does come at a cost. Still, it is rankling that the BTS people were not given an extra episode or two to properly tell their story. OTOH, at least the cable network gave them the opportunity to conclude the story, which is something that many series do not have.

The Strain was never as popular as The Walking Dead or hip as American Horror Story, but unlike The Walking Dead we got to see how the apocalypse came about. It was disturbing to see humanity and civilization falling bit by bit throughout the seasons with the macabre fate being that humans wind up as a food source. Also, The Strain had a linear story to tell with a beginning, middle and conclusion, which is something that The Walking Dead lacks. It is too early to tell how The Strain will resonate in the future, but hopefully those that haven’t had the chance to see it duirng its first run will get another one later on.

 

Waldermann Rivera 

 

 

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A Bizarre Return To Twin Peaks

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Twin Peaks: The Return brought audiences back to the surreal world created by David Lynch and Mark Frost that featured FBI special agent Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) seemingly trapped in an alternate dimension known as the Black Lodge while his evil counterpart was let loose in the world. This is how the second season of the Twin Peaks show ended in 1991. Ever since then, fans have been wondering what happened to Cooper, as well as the other characters on the show. Twin Peaks: The Return answers these questions, at least somewhat in this 3rd season. How these questions are answered can be seen as controversial since Lynch takes his time with the story and tells it in a roundabout way, with many episodes not even taking place in the town of Twin Peaks (the original show’s setting) at all. Much of the action, especially in the early episodes center most of the action in faraway places like Las Vegas and New York City as Cooper’s return to our world is in the form of a low functioning alter ego known as Dougie Jones, who is barely able to speak. Meanwhile, his evil doppelgänger rampages across the country in search of mysterious coordinates. This along with the ambiguous ending make the legacy of this return something that is already controversial among fans and will generate conversation or years to come. I have not even gotten to the truly mystifying eighth episode that doesn’t even have much dialogue at all and instead shows a collage of bizarre images of an atomic explosion in the desert and scary looking woodsmen, all of which seem to show how the denizens of the Black Kodge came to our world.

One aspect of this season that harkens back to the original is the combination of genres that Twin Peaks is famous for. Scenes with campy humor followed by something that is truly menacing or sinister, along with seeing iconic locations like the double RR diner and the Twin Peaks sheriff station all take us back to the first time we encountered these memorable places and people. Most of the original cast returns and are as wacky as ever along with new and funny characters like the Mitchum brothers (Robert Knepper and James Belushi) and Janey-E (Naomi Watts) and Sonny Jim Jones (Pierce Gagnon). These moments will definitely leave those wanting a nostalgic feeling satisfied.

Answering the question of how much you will like the rest of Twin Peaks: The Return depends on certain things. For me, I really enjoyed the whole experience because I found the whole story and characters to be very interesting and thought provoking. I will admit that the seemingly open-ended nature of the final episode was unexpected and I’m not sure what to make of it. Having said that, I still like the idea of the continuing debate that will make you remember the show and think about it long after it’s over. However, if you are not really a fan of David Lynch’s movies, this might not appeal to you since Twin Peaks: The Return is much more in line with his feature films like Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me instead of the first two seasons of the show. Those original episodes were almost like a parody of soap operas that centered on a quirky town and its characters that audiences came to love. While we do revisit these characters in the new season and it’s great to see them again, the whole tone of the 3rd season is much more in line with Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me and other Lynch films like Lost Highway, Mulholland Drive and even Eraserhead. If you are looking for a show with a strict beginning middle and end, I’m not sure how much you will get out of Twin Peaks: The Return. It was filmed and shown as basically an 18-

hour movie, that has scenes and characters that seem to come out of nowhere and don’t seem to have anything to do with the main story. Eventually, most of what we see comes to make sense in the second half of the season as various characters and storylines do come together in the town of Twin Peaks during a final confrontation with evil Cooper. Getting there, however, does require some patience on the part of the viewer. Even then, there are some situations that seem to go unresolved at the show’s end. The basic story of Agent Cooper and his struggle with his doppelgänger does get resolved, but his ultimate fate, along with that of Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee) and Audrey Horne (Sherilyn Fenn), are not clear.

This does seem to hint that Lynch and Frost would like to continue the story in a fourth season. But as of now, it’s not known if this will happen. There is a book written by Frost called Twin Peaks: The Final Dossier coming out in October, that might give some hints to the mysteries still not solved, but we’ll have to wait and see. If this is the end for Twin Peaks, I can say that while I would have like a little bit more of a resolution, i am happy that we got to go back to this world and further explore its mysteries. I’m also eager to rewatch the whole thing again, hopefully in a blu-ray release, maybe with some more answers in a missing pieces like segment that accompanied the Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me blu ray. Here’s to hoping of more cherry pie and coffee in our (and Agent Cooper’s) future.

C.S. Link

The Dark Tower Film Adaptation Aims With Its Hand

After decades, we’ve finally gotten a live-action adaptation of Stephen King’s epic novels of The Dark Tower. Unfortunately, as many of us feared The Dark Tower is a pale and hollow adaptation. Actually it is not even a faithful adaptation (never mind the casting of Idris Elba as Roland the last Gunslinger, he was superb as the Gunslinger) but a mish mosh of the seven novels in the series. As you can expect, it is impossible to do the sprawling storyline any justice with a paltry 90 minute screen time.

For those who don’t know the background, The Dark Tower novels are about a lone, Jedi-like Gunslinger from another dimension who is pursuing his arch foe, the Man in Black. This bad guy  wants to destroy the mythical construct called the Dark Tower, a nexus point of sorts that connects and separates all the universes. Destroying the Tower will unleash chaos across dimensions and obliterate reality. Part Western, part fantasy, part sci-fi and part horror, the novels were some of King’s best works and actually revealed that all of the Stephen King works are interconnected. The wild and wonky storyline was complemented by memorable characters. Not just Roland but the small band of Earthlings from different time periods who join his quest. Too bad only one of them makes it into this film, young Jake Chambers (Tom Taylor).

Roland and Jake

Of course, it is unrealistic to expect this one movie to cover the entirety of the novels, but as an introduction to this rich mythos, The Dark Tower cannot adequately do it. There is a popular line in the books “I do not aim with my eye, he who aims with his hand has forgotten the face of his father. I aim with my eye.” This film commits the sin of aiming with its hand not its eye or heart. On the whole, the entire film is a barebones adaptation that lacks the nuance and for the most part, the epic scope of the novels. It does a just an average job of enticing viewers to want to learn more about Roland and his quest. We never feel the animosity Roland has with the Man in Black (Matthew McConaughey), who is not well developed. The film just moves along so quickly we don’t have time to absorb any of the information given to us. And with the rushed editing and running time, there isn’t enough in the film to win over non-fans or satisfy die-hard fans of the novels. In fact, many of them will be enraged with the missed opportunities and the thin surface details.

Idris Elba as Roland

This does not mean that the film is a disaster, but a rather frustrating watch because there are nuggets of wonder that struggle to get through the film’s banal tone. For one, the actors in the film are quite good and it has several fine moments. We get glimpses of why Roland is to be revered as he wields his guns with near-supernatural precision. For Stephen King fans, there are more than a few Easter eggs of his other works and overall, the film is not dull. It’s just that so little time is spent on these highlights because the film is so intent on getting from point A to point B and in the end, we cannot enjoy the ride. The bottom line is that fans know that the source material is rich and enticing and most of that is missing in the film. This is beyond annoying for fans who have waited so long after so many false starts for a film adaptation. These novels have such sprawling stories with off-the-wall imagery that they deserved a film or a film series that would adequately adapt them. Unfortunately, this film does not accomplish this goal and instead of being a monumental film experience it is just your standard summer film.

The sad thing about The Dark Tower is that it will wind up being forgotten and unlikely to be a hit film. Meaning, that it is doubtful that future films will follow that will better explore Roland’s world and his epic quest. There are plans for a TV show that will tie-in to this film but who knows if that will ever come and the film’s reception will probably mean that it will be a long time before fans get a proper adaptation.

C.S. Link and Lewis T. Grove

Predator Is Still On Top Of The Game 30 Years Later

The 1980s were the height of the testosterone-fueled action flicks. Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger ruled the box office in those days with their many action films where they shot repeatedly first and mumbled lines later. One of those films from that era was the epitome of that genre except that it crossed over with sci-fi and horror and the result was a classic film: Predator.

Original Predator cast

Directed by John McTiernan (who would later film the greatest action movie of all time, Die Hard), Predator starts off as your standard Schwarzenegger action fest. He played Dutch, a soldier of fortune who leads a motley group of fellow mercenaries in a Central American jungle to rescue hostages. Before we could all collectively groan about how we’ve seen this before (and we have), the film piqued our interest with the introduction of an extra-terrestrial that begins hunting down Dutch and his men thanks to super stealth, alien weapons, cunning and maliciousness.

predator with mask

From the moment we start seeing the alien’s POV shots of the men being tracked, Predator completely changed its premise and became a classic cat-and-mouse thriller with a sci-fi twist. It was perfect because one problem with many Schwarzenegger movies is that the former bodybuilder is so huge and imposing that it’s hard to pair him up with worthy opponents. Thankfully, Kevin Peter Hall, a rather tall man, was cast and decked out in imaginative makeup to outdo Schwarzenegger. The look of the Predator was unique with his dreadlocks, mandibles and tribal gear. Most of all, when he was finally revealed, the Predator was not just grotesque and intimidating, but more than a match for Dutch and his group of musclemen with their big guns. Some of whom were portrayed by action favorites like Carl Weathers, Jesse Ventura, Bill Duke and Sonny Landham. One of those actors was future director Shane Black, who not only tinkered with the film’s script but is now filming the latest Predator film, The Predator, which is coming out next year.

With a testosterone-injected cast it’s funny to think that it was almost joined by future action star Jean-Claude Van Damme. Originally he was cast to play the Predator and wore this ridiculous and ungainly outfit that didn’t look good in screening footage. To confirm their fears, the filmmakers brought in James Cameron to review the footage with Van Damme’s version of the Predator and he opined that it was not working. Wisely, they went back to the drawing board and this time hired Stan Winston who used his movie magic skills to create the iconic look of the alien hunter. Also, while Van-Damme is a great martial artist his build was not up to par with Schwarzenegger and his stocky crew, plus he was unhappy with his role so he was replaced with Hall.

All of this would not have amounted to anything if not for the directing skills of McTiernan. He crafted a tense, suspenseful and exciting thriller and used the jungle background to full effect to create a fearful atmosphere. No one in Dutch’s crew was safe as the thick green foliage hid the relentless monster that hunted them down one by one. The way the Predator killed the men was very grisly and helped add to the fear factor. The alien creature treated the men like they were hapless animals by the way they were either skinned, had spines ripped out or taken out with swiftly with laser fire. Naturally, by the last act Schwarzenegger was the last man standing and the final confrontation between him and the Predator was intense. In an ironic twist, the muscle man had to rely on brains rather than brawn when confronting the alien. We actually wondered if Schwarzenegger had finally met his match and the film played up this angle perfectly. Adding to the film’s classic status was its rich cinematography, outstanding special effects and Alan Silvestri’s pulse-pounding score. It evoked a feeling of tribal warfare and is one of the composer’s best scores.

dutch vs predator

The sequels that followed could not live up to the original Predator but they were worthwhile films in their own right. Well, except for Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem. The original film, which came out on June 12, 1987, still holds up to this day and is considered not just the benchmark for the Predator franchise but one of the greatest action/sci-fi films of all time. In fact, it is not even considered by many to be just an Arnold Schwarzenegger film but as the first Predator film that just happened to star Schwarzenegger. That is why thirty years later we’re still marveling over this brilliant gem.

Lewis T. Grove

 

 

The Ten Most Anticipated Films of 2017 & More

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By looking at the 2017 films coming out, it’s clear that we fans are in a golden age of genre films. There are many sci-fi, superhero, fantasy, animated and horror films coming out this year that are quite tantalizing. These are the most promising looking of the bunch. However, it’s a guarantee that some of the films on this list will be colossal disappointments while there will be films that weren’t even mentioned that will defy low expectations. With that said, let’s look at the coming 2017 films; remember the release dates are still subject to change.

10. Spider-Man: Homecoming (July 7): Marvel Comics’ flagship superhero has his first solo film in the popular Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU).  Fingers crossed that this Spider-Man reboot will resonate.

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9. Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (July 21): Director Luc Besson’s adaptation of the French space opera comic book looks as colorful as its printed counterpart. Based on this teaser, Besson’s directorial eye for the grandiose and colorful could augment this film and prove that space opera films are back.

8. Kong: Skull Island (March 10): King Kong returns to the big screen and we can’t wait to see the gigantic ape on a rampage as pesky folks arrive on his island. We’re also eager to see the big fight scenes between Kong and prehistoric beasts and oversized animals.

7. Wonder Woman (June 2): Frankly, after the mixed results of last year’s Extended Universe (DCEU) films, DC and Warner Bros. need a DCEU film to hit it out of the ballpark. With Patty Jenkins directing and Gal Gadot starring as the Amazonian superheroine, perhaps this will be the one.

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6. Justice League (Nov 17): The only reason why this DCEU film is more anticipated than Wonder Woman is because of its potentially epic nature. The major players in the DC universe team up for the first time…can director Zack Snyder pull this off and turn the film into the DCEU version of The Avengers?

5. Blade Runner 2049 (Oct. 6): The teaser released last month wasn’t the most captivating trailer. But this long-awaited sequel to Ridley Scott’s classic is being directed by Denis Villeneuve, the next hot genre director, who directed last year’s acclaimed Arrival. His visual flair should be a good match for this film.

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4. Logan (March 3): Hugh Jackman’s swan song as everyone’s favorite mutant looks like it will be a fitting conclusion to Wolverine’s saga. Taking place in the near future, Logan is now older, battered and bitter but still up for one final fight against the forces of evil.  The trailer promised a film full of woe, violence and reflective character moments, hopefully that will be the case when Logan finally premieres.

3. War For the Planet of the Apes (July 14): The third film in the reboot/prequel Apes trilogy looks just as spectacular and provocative as the first two films in the series. Andy Serkis returns to mo-cap Caesar the ape leader defending his kind against antogonistic humans. The winner of the conflict will inherit the battered Earth. We know who wins (it’s not called Planet of the Apes for no reason!), but getting to the conclusion is half the joy of these recent Apes films.

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2. Star Wars Episode VIII (Dec. 15):  No subtitle, footage or even a publicity photo are available at this time, yet the episode number is enough to get many of us excited. The next saga film will feature the further adventures of new Star Wars heroes like Rey, Finn and Poe Dameron, as well as old favorites like Luke Skywalker and General Leia. While many questions will be answered about the characters and situation, hopefully Episode VIII won’t emulate Star Wars: The Force Awakens and be a rethread of previous films.

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1. Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 (May 5): The eagerly anticipated sequel to Guardians of the Galaxy looks like a blast as director James Gunn and the original cast return to play the MCU’s beloved and whacky space pirates. This time around Peter Quill a.k.a. Star-Lord meets his father who is Ego, the Living Planet and played by genre legend Kurt Russell! What’s been shone so far of Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2  with the too-cute Baby Groot, Quill and Drax’s hysterical interplays and space opera visuals promises the same dazzling action, thrills, and comedy that the original delivered back in 2014 and won many fans’ hearts. BTW, can’t wait to buy the Baby Groot toys!

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Other Films: The Space Between Us (Feb. 3), a Martian teen comes to Earth, finds love, goes on the run, perfect for tweenies, The Lego Batman Movie (Feb. 10), after his scene stealing antics in The Lego Movie, the Caped Crusader gets his own solo film, Beauty and the Beast (March 17), Disney looks to extend its winning live-action adaptation streak with this one about the animated classic, Life (March 24), astronauts aboard the International Space Station discover alien life, what can go wrong?  Power Rangers (Mar. 24), well there are fans of this property and it looks better than Transformers: The Last Knight!

alien-covenantGhost in the Shell (Mar. 31), Scarlett Johansson stars in the live-action version of the manga franchise,  The Circle (April 28), Tom Hanks and Emma Watson headline a star-studded cast in this film about a nefarious Internet company with futuristic technology,  Alien: Covenant (May 19), Ridley Scott returns to the Alien universe with this horror-themed prequel,  The Mummy (June 9), Tom Cruise stars in this horror/action remake which hopes to launch Universal Pictures’ shared monster universe films.

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 The Dark Tower (July 28), Stephen King’s epic saga about a mythical gunman finally comes to life, It (Sept. 8), is another Stephen King adaptation of his epic horror classic featuring Pennywise the killer clown,  Geostorm (Oct. 20), producer Dean Devlin makes his directorial debut in this action piece about weather controlling satellites, God Particle (Oct. 27), interest in this film went up after it was revealed to be the third film in the Cloverfield film series, Thor: Ragnarok (Nov. 3): the third solo film for the MCU’s God of Thunder will actually be a buddy flick as Thor teams up with the Hulk to fight the forces of evil, Coco (Nov 22), this Pixar entry about a magic guitar and the world of the dead sounds unique.

José Soto