Contagion aka John Lechago’s Contagion aka Alien Contagion aka Bio Slime (2010)

written and directed by john lechago
forward motion entertainment/lechago entertainment

A digital-video delight, the sort of very independent production whose cast largely doubles as its crew, and the fitfully heroic tale of a dissipated artist with some dissolute acquaintances, this particular “Contagion” likely ranks as the first SF horror epic in which humanity would appear to be saved by a meth-lab explosion. (Should you not be aware that the next sentence would read … OR IS IT, apply immediately for Remedial Thriller 101.) Dubious fun from start to finish, with most of the action occurring within a down-at-its-heels tenement populated by the aforementioned meth lab, the drunken artist’s “live-work space,” a pornographer, and various hangers-on and ne’er-do-wells, the story is set in motion by a mysterious criminal transaction and some poor decision-making skills, and mutates from there. A SHOCKING ending is included at no extra charge.

why did i watch this movie?

I found this picture under the title “Bio Slime,” and naturally thought I needed to take a gander at it – a wise choice.

should you watch this movie?

Why the hell not?

highlight and low point

Honestly, Vinnie Bilancio’s depiction of the dipsomaniac struck a chord, thanks to my extensive personal research on the condition. I particularly enjoyed it when he decided to go ahead and start drinking the denatured alcohol he kept around to clean his brushes or remove paint or whatever. That’s some quality realism there. The FX are a mixed bag, mainly consisting of a lot of latex and some lights and hoses, but the deft characterizations of the different personalities and the mysterious nature and affiliation of the “specimen” from the “Teratology Division” are spot-on. The film also brandishes just the right amount of excessive taboo sleaze and black (bleak?) humor.

rating from outer space: A−

Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood (2019)

written and directed by quentin tarantino
heyday films

I actually found this picture to be in extremely poor taste. It culminates with a presumptively humorous (and ultra-violent) reversion of the infamous Manson Family slaughter that took place at the Altobelli estate on Cielo Drive in 1969, wherein a change of plans leads to Tex, Katie and Sadie being killed in various ways by Brad Pitt’s stuntman and Leo DiCaprio’s imported Italian wife and then by Leo’s washed-up cowboy actor himself, in the pool, with a flamethrower. Yeah, I just ruined it for you; I don’t much care. See, I’m not sure this production had any greater purpose than flaunting its creator’s persona, so its turning tragedy into japery just for the sake of that ego – or whatever – is inappropriate. ’Twas less of a waste of casting than Reservoir Horses The Hateful Eight, I guess.

why did i watch this movie?

As I hinted earlier, I needed a break from watching, like, five or six consecutive Friday the 13th flicks.

should you watch this movie?

This is a movie about The Movies – I mean, even more than most of Tarantino’s overly obsessive oeuvre – and it has provoked peevish observation about its obliviousness to different societal issues and how such ignorance, wilful or genuine, continues to propagate injustice. (Its seeming adoration of a lily-white world filled with the privileged exploiting that privilege contributed mightily.)

highlight and low point

DiCaprio is terrific throughout, his natural and often understated performance bordering on the truly sublime at times … so of course Pitt won the Oscar, while being strangely reminiscent of a wizened Chevy Chase. The Bruce Lee scene feels breathtakingly awkward, and dammit, I’ll just say it, this whole affair is an exercise in whitewashing. It’s an unfortunate hue of nostalgia.

rating from outer space: C−

God Bless America (2011)

written and directed by bobcat goldthwait
darko entertainment/jerkschool productions

I’ll admit, I laughed heartily throughout this not-terribly-original flick, an entertaining mashup of source material such as Falling Down, Idiocracy, Natural Born Killers, Albert Brooks’s Lost in America, hell, probably Network, and so on. A few of the harangues and spiels and much of the invective plays a little too much like a script reading, but Goldthwait’s bile is certainly in the right place, at least to this eremitic misanthropist radical. Yes, it’s maybe a little too pat, a little too obvious at times, but the director evades cliché as much as embraces it. The ending is almost beautiful somehow, even though the absurd impossibility that buttresses the whole structure is blatant and a few nagging questions are never countenanced. This auteur’s failings often provide as much to contemplate as his successes, so I’m not inclined to argue much.

why did i watch this movie?

I find the arc of Goldthwait’s career fascinating, and his 2013 Bigfoot picture, Willow Creek, was absolutely phenomenal.

should you watch this movie?

If you’re at all an outsider, outlier, an elitist, or at the very least somewhat pretentious, I’d wager you’d enjoy the premise and its setup. To make it very clear, the main target of opprobrium here is the “American Idol” entertainment model and its ardent supporters … along with a very broad swath of workaday existence and the type of populace that determined itself “populist” for the 2016 election.

highlight and low point

The  speech the jailbait character gives about her love for, like, Alice Cooper, doesn’t really come across too believably, and oh yeah – one of the two main characters is a Lolita analogue, which presents multivarious uncomfortable connotations. (Which largely has been Goldthwait’s stock in trade as a filmmaker.)

rating from outer space: B+

Villains (2019)

written & directed by dan berk & robert olsen
the realm/star thrower entertainment/creative wealth media

A black comedy that delights in turning the tables on its characters, storyline, viewers – you name it – this twist on the home-invaders-find-more-than-they-bargained-for setup also tosses a couple other variations into the mix, at times feeling not unlike a particularly deranged sitcom. There isn’t much in the way of outright scares here, but enough tension builds up at different times to keep one wondering. Not necessarily what a hack reviewer might term “a gritty slice of life!” it unveils more like a fairy tale, and one rather of the Grimm variety. The emotional tenor of this venture also seesaws as much as its perspective, so it never quite sinks into familiar territory even as it dances all around its edges. And would you believe, at heart it’s a picture about … Love?

why did i watch this movie?

The succinct title piqued my interest; its trailer convinced me it was worth a look.

should you watch this movie?

You know, sometimes I forget that it’s enjoyable to watch flicks in which everything’s done well.

highlight and low point

The excellent script revels in presenting cliché and convention only to coax them into surprisingly fresh characterizations, and even the artifice is adapted nicely into the affair. The protagonists are a surprisingly sweet but inarguably somewhat stupid – were we feeling charitable, we might term them “hopelessly naïve” – set of drug-addled petty criminals, and their foils are apparently an eccentric and oddly endearing – insane and murderous – older couple, and a certain parallelism is probably being suggested, but as this isn’t quite a meaning movie it never fully gels. The ending is by turns poignant, parodic, and perhaps predictable, but avoids making the mistake of explaining too much.

rating From outer space: B+

Doctor Sleep (2019)

directed by mike flanagan
intrepid pictures/vertigo entertainment

As a no-longer-practicing alcoholic, I found a lot of S. King‘s The Shining sequel Doctor Sleep all too grimly realistic, even if I felt the underlying tale of the “psychic vampires” who sustain themselves by torturing children to death – no, really, that’s the impetus of the plot – to be kinda, you know … dumb. But I guess if you’re going to revisit Danny Torrance and his psychic abilities, you may as well retcon your story to broach lucrative sequel territory. All right, that’s unfair, and I know it; the novel was way better than I expected it to be, even with its jaw-dropping deus ex machina. Flanagan’s adaptation actually handles the ending a lot better, and likewise is much more enjoyable than I thought it would be – as I felt it was going to be kinda, you know … dumb. Never getting particularly scary, this film’s paltry ROI makes it a box-office failure, especially glaring when compared to the likes of the recent Pet Sematary and, especially, IT TOO. Which is kinda … you know.

why did i watch this movie?

After all those 13th flicks and a detour into Once Upon a Time in … Hollywood, what the hell.

should you watch this movie?

It – sorry, this production – would’ve worked just as well as a Television Event.

highlight and low point

The atmospherics are pretty good and the FX aren’t half bad, and a crucial segment contains an effectively startling moment or two … but as usual, condensing the Kingly sprawl into even a lengthy picture (150 minutes, in this case) tends to lessen some of the impact. To wit: the reason grown-up Danny’s abilities contribute the eponym is largely ignored. The use of stand-ins for Nicholson and Shelley Duvall amused me.

rating from outer space: C+

Altered Skin (2018)

written and directed by adnan ahmed
indiecan entertainment/federgreen entertainment/empirical films/md productions

The first film I’ve ever seen lensed in Karachi, Pakistan, this Canadian production tells a tale of a drug company withholding research on a potential cure for a rapidly spreading virus in order to maximize profits on its patent treatment, and also probably to enhance the corporation’s market value prior to its sale. So while the premise is hardly farfetched, the disease in question, which produces implacable cannibal hordes reminiscent of those in 28 Days Later (but much slower, of course), stretches the bounds of credulity a bit. Disclaimer: I am not a molecular biologist or immunologist or whatever, so hey, maybe quickly mutating viruses could have such an effect. Anyway, it’s all enmeshed in a conspiracy to prevent the Liberal Media from interfering with Big Pharma’s imprimatur. I may be putting my own spin on that, sorry.

why did i watch this movie?

“While caring for his ailing wife, an American engineer in Pakistan stumbles upon a deadly pharmaceutical conspiracy.”

should you watch this movie?

Though the zombie approximation of the mysterious illness isn’t the freshest concept, given the corporate American drug/healthcare/insurance complex, along with the questionable government administration or oversight of same, themes here may be of interest nonetheless.

highlight and low point

Authority barely exists in this pic’s verisimilitude, which I will accept as representative of actual reality. A telling quotation: “You know, if you could ever fix a problem by denying it ever existed, this place? Would be a fucking Utopia.” The unshakeable probity of the protagonist might be a touch overdone, but as a questionably allied henchman of the curative cartel accuses, he IS essentially acting out of selfish interest, so that’s really just a bit more food for thought.

rating from outer space: B+

Us (2019)

written, produced and directed by jordan peele
monkeypaw productions/perfect world pictures

First off, this film was not what I’d expected – which was basically another version of The Strangers and its ilk. It’s much weirder than that, however; Us is one strange flick. Unlike Peele’s first production, Get Out, this one kinda clutters the frame with signifier draped on allusion wrapped in metaphor, and it’s a bit of a muddle. (One could put almost any spin on what it “means” and find a way to support the claim.) It’s also too often funny to be as scary as it wants to be, though at multiple times it conveys a great unease vividly laced with desperation. Laden with references to a smattering of other movies, though, this picture is yet another example of that apparently inescapable factor of contemporary culture. Guess we just can’t not do that any more, even with so much original creative spark seemingly on hand. For me personally, not being much of a cinephile, yawn, whatever.

why did i watch this movie?

Get Out was not only terrific, but thought-provoking, a rare combination. So although the early media campaign for this one didn’t make it appear to be anything out of the ordinary, I figured I’d be viewing it at some point.

should you watch this movie?

The running time is a very long ≈ two hours. The ending particularly drags.

highlight and low point

Despite its being a little unwieldy and bearing a few untidy loose ends, there’s a lot to like here. The initial appearance of the doppelgängers is both amusing and frightening, which isn’t the easiest trick to pull off, and a sudden revelation that there’s a lot more to the story than has theretofore been presented is powerful yet understated.

rating from outer space: B+