Demon Knight: Tales From the Crypt, a review

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Demon Knight: Tales From the Crypt, a review                ***Spoilers***

 A 1995 release, Demon Knight connected to TV‘s Tales From the Crypt.

"Demon Knight" cover

Cover for “Demon Knight”

Demon Knight stars Billy Zane, William Sadler and Jada Pinkett with CCH Pounder and Thomas Hayden Church. The director, Ernest R. Dickerson has directed episodes of The Walking Dead and Treme as well as other high profile TV offerings. I had seen Demon Knight several years ago and what stuck with me was how much I enjoyed Billy Zane‘s performance. So last night, I decided to take another look.

Zane plays a demon and this little devil really likes his work.

Zane has a handsome face, but he hasn’t let it slow him down. His performance in Demon Knight puts his melodrama-villain turn in Titanic to shame.

If the Zane of Demon Knight were on that boat, Rose wouldn’t have given Jack the time of day.

This film was a spin off of the TV series, Tales From the Crypt. And “those comics” inspired the series, a collection of the lurid, wild-eyed, bloody, bony stories we loved even though reading them led to many a night light. Demon’s story is simple. A man with a secret hides out at a hotel out in the middle of nowhere. Unfortunately for the other hotel guests, he’s being chased by a demon. The demon wants something the man carries with him.

It’s one of seven keys. Oh dear, if the demon gets it, there’s lights out for all mankind and we’d better get used to a lot of slime and cackling.

As Zane and his army of zany demons try to get that key, they stalk the man and the hotel’s few occupants. Each guest is tempted to hand it over. Among the group, there’s plucky little Jada Pinkett’s character, a convict on work release. CCH Pounder is the cynical hotel manager. Additionally, the veteran cast includes Thomas Hayden Church‘s sexy lout and William Sadler, an actor who usually plays a villain as the mysterious, weary guest.

Like a comic book, Demon Knight is in vivid primary colors.

Dickerson trusts his actors to breathe life into the narrative. As I said, with a cast like this, you can’t go wrong. Even so, Zane is a stand-out. His career doesn’t reflect his gifts–I think because he’s a character actor trapped in the body of a leading man. He shows us the sexy allure of evil, how it dazzles and obscures the facts, and the lies, which he gleefully admits.

If for no other reason than Zane’s performance, take a look at Demon Knight.

It’s on Netflix. On a Saturday night, a friend or two, a bowl of popcorn and Demon Knight, you could do worse.

“The Darkest Hour” is mostly a dim bulb.

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The Darkest Hour” is mostly a dim bulb.      a review            SPOILER ALERT!

image from the Russian movie, "The Darkest Hour"

Cover for “The Darkest Hour”

I watched The Darkest Hour on DVD rather than in the theater.

Perhaps that’s why I feel a tad more charitable than the critics. Rather than experimenting with genre like The Cabin in the Woods, an experiment that fizzled, stinking up the lab, The Darkest Hour, a joint Russian/American production directed by Chris Gorak and starring Emile Hirsch, is a paint-by-numbers alien invasion film.

In The Darkest Hour, we watch an alien invasion from the Russian side of things.

We follow the imperiled twenty-something Americans who number among a handful of survivors. A story that highlights an alien invasion of Earth, The Darkest Hour comes when balls of light chase people down and shred them into pixie dust. Check out Night of the Comet, a much better film with red-pixie dust former people and zombie department store stock boy geeks. As they run from building to building, hiding from the x-ray vision of the light balls, the Americans (okay there’s also one Australian and a double-dealing Swede) encounter English speaking Russians.

It makes you wonder if a few more education dollars ought to be devoted to us learning more than one language.

When they encounter an old lady who shouts in Russian and tells them they’re all going to die, I was surprised to recognize a couple of words from those long ago two years of high school Russian. However, too much science knowledge while watching the light balls of The Darkest Hour would probably get in the way. When they make it to the American embassy, the survivors discover a recorded message sitting in a birdcage. Yes, I said a birdcage. The message is “There’s a Russian sub coming up the river in a few hours. Get there or be left behind.”

Next, they meet Sergei. Sergei is a plumber. In The Darkest Hour of humanity, Sergie has done what scientists and the military has failed to do.

Sergei knows how to stop or at least dim the light balls. He uses what looks like a paintball gun. However, instead of paint, it shoots microwaves. The light balls don’t like microwaves. This totally went over my head, but . . . okay. Being from the Russian point of view led to some great early scenes in Moscow, portrayed as an ultra-modern city with great nightclubs. Like here in Los Angeles, you have to look camera-ready to get in.

The Russian perspective led to lines like “Eat this Russian bullet” and “I’ll stay here (a good guy Russian cop).

My favorite is “I have all of Moscow at my back.” Russian exceptionalism. All in all, The Darkest Hour is mildly entertaining.

American Gods Season One: Do Not Go Gentle into that Good Fight

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American Gods Season One: Do Not Go Gentle into that Good Fight    a review      *Spoilers*

Starz series American Gods cover image

Cover image for Starz series American Gods on IMDB

American Gods is a new series on STARZ.  The book, American Gods, is a novel by British author Neil Gaiman. Until last night, I had resisted adding STARZ due to the enormity that is my monthly cable bill.

After my free STARZ months, I had bid a reluctant goodbye to The Outlander.

Recently, I winced when I learned that A Handmaid’s Tale was part of the Hulu lineup. You can’t afford it, I reminded myself. There are too many good shows and not enough time to watch them all, especially when it costs more. And then I read that Starz was airing a ten part series based on American Gods, a book that I had read and greatly enjoyed. My fiscal resolve developed a serious wobble.

STARZ had me at hello, American Gods.

As the first episode of American Gods ended, did I have any regrets? Absolutely not! Rather than the soul, American Gods explores the dark recesses of the human heart where magical thinking, desires and grudges reside, overruling logic and dictating our choices. The opening credits alone are worth a look. The lush visuals of American Gods reflect myth and machine. They create a jumble of the bizarre and the beautiful, a dreamlike landscape inhabited by fearsome creatures.

Gaiman’s American Gods is a war story.

The old gods, brought to our shore by immigrants from different parts of the world, prepare for battle.The first sequence involves a god carved from driftwood. First, Vikings land on a hostile New World shore. The bugs alone make this place a no go for the exhausted Norsemen. Unfortunately, the lack of a strong wind prevents their leaving. So, the Vikings create a god, hoping that the new god will intercede and convince the stubborn wind to let them leave.

However, the new god, the first of many American Gods, is greedy. It wants blood offerings.

The wind finally comes when half of the invaders are dead, the result of a mass sacrifice. Afterwards, not wanting to linger and chance the wind changing its mind, the Vikings abandon their new god in the New World along with their unburied dead.

In Episode One of American Gods, “The Bone Orchard,” we meet Shadow Moon, an inmate serving time in a 21st Century prison.

On parole and on his way home for his wife’s funeral, Shadow (Ricky Whittle—The 100) becomes the reluctant employee of Mr. Wednesday (Ian McShane—Ray DonovanDeadwood plus too many to count).

A slick con artist, Mr. Wednesday embroils Shadow in the doings of the old gods, who along with the new American Gods, are now scattered across the American landscape.

After losing a bar fight with Mad Sweeney (Pablo Schreiber—Orange is the New Black), a six-foot plus leprechaun, Shadow begins to doubt his sense of reality and his commitment to his employer, Mr. Wednesday. Wednesday knows that America’s new gods are homegrown. Fathered by innovation, birthed and nurtured by commerce, the new gods mean to destroy the old ones.

Neglected and forgotten, the old gods, especially Mr. Wednesday, will not go gentle.

Knowledge of Shadow as Wednesday’s new bodyguard brings the wrath of one of the new American Gods, bratty know-it-all and nightmare millennial, Technical Boy (Bruce Langley—Dead Waters). After grilling him on Wednesday’s plans, Technical Boy orders Shadow’s death, a fate Shadow barely escapes as the episode ends. Starz is currently airing American Gods with the last episode debuting on June 18th.

So, do any Americans, descendants of immigrants, believe in the gods of the old country rather than our homegrown American Gods?

I think some do. Ask any football fan how many rituals he or she performs to ensure a win for their favorite team. But don’t ask them during a game; that’s bad joo joo.

There and back again: Netflix’s ARQ

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There and back again: Netflix’s ARQ   a review      *Spoilers*

Netflix feature, ARQ cover image

Cover image for Netflix feature, ARQ from IMDB

ARQ, a 2017 Netflix sci fi feature, entertains, but like the three-hour time loop that drives the action, remembering details is a challenge. Written and directed by Tony Elliot (Orphan Black) ARC uses the time loop plot device, similar to Groundhog Day and Tom Cruise’s Edge of Tomorrow.The protagonist relives the same events, changing his behavior to create a different outcome. Like The Edge of Tomorrow alien conquest, a different outcome for Renton, ARQ’s protagonist, means living rather than dying.

Compared to ARQ, The Edge of Tomorrow is a Cadillac of a time loop film.

Cruise’s movie sports big name co-stars, elaborate CG nasty aliens and a save-the-world ending. Experiencing the same day thousands of times via a time loop, Cruise’s character begins as a self-serving asshole and ends up as a self-sacrificing, much wiser guy.

With its single dreary setting, dinky CG and flat characters, ARQ is a stripped down 1992 sedan.

ARQ’s time loop story is an economy ride but it gets you there. Rather than fighting aliens, it’s dystopia time!   There’s global famine, nasty air quality and a pitiless dictatorship. However, no teenagers show up to save the world.

ARQ keeps you invested due to its slick editing and a no frills but smart script.

 In a darkened bedroom, Renton (Robbie Amell—The Tomorrow People) wakes next to his lover, Hannah (Rachel Taylor—Jessica Jones). Seconds later, masked men burst in and tie them up. They want Renton’s “scrips” (money). These “Bloc” rebels are fighting “Torus,” a corporation that aims to rule the world. Renton, a scientist in hiding who had worked for Torus, suspects they’re not only after money; it’s Renton’s new invention, the ARQ.

In a world depleted of energy resources and food, the ARQ is a perpetual motion machine.

When someone mentions seeing apples in another room, it has the same affect as shouting, “squirrel” to a pack of golden retrievers. After their apple break, they return to interrogate Renton. When Hannah betrays Renton, revealing the hidden money, Sonny, the oldest of the group, shoots him dead.

Okay then. We’re back in the bedroom. Renton is waking up again.

He remembers dying. He’s not in heaven so what gives? Again, the rebels break in and it’s deja vu. The same scene plays out with different details but Renton dies again. When he wakes, Renton realizes that his perpetual motion machine has another feature: it loops time. So Renton keeps looping the loop, learning what not to do, trying to change what happens. But he’s not the only one who learns what’s going on and on. Hannah remembers. Renton wants to save Hannah but is determined to destroy the ARQ. Hannah will help Renton escape but only if he lets the Bloc have the ARQ. Like Bogart’s Rick in Casablanca, Hannah believes that she and Renton “don’t amount to a hill of beans” compared to saving the world from Torus.

When Sonny, a Torus spy, becomes aware of the ARQ loop, it’s game on.

As the scene kept repeating, the story reminded me of a game. With little backstory on any character and only the thinnest sense of a bond between Renton and Hannah, the pacing takes over. Each loop is a round as the players duck and weave, trying to move ahead in the same space. Character becomes superfluous as the game plays out.

As Renton, the cutting-edge scientist, I feel Robbie Amell is miscast.

He’s too young. An older, more experienced actor might have given Renton more shading. Rachel Taylor and the rest of the cast are fine, but the game aspect of this script results in the actors becoming pawns. The only actor I found interesting was Shaun Benson (Channel Zero) who plays Sonny, the bad guy. Whenever Sonny appears, rather than a game, the character aspect dominates. My guess is that Benson is a more experienced actor than the rest of the cast.

Overall, I found ARQ diverting but forgettable.

If you love sci fi and you’re home, looking for something to watch, you might want to check ARQ out, if only to see the variables of each loop. Who wouldn’t like to redo parts of their own life? When it comes stories driven by time travel and time looping, play it Sam; play it again and again.