Tag Archives: The Thing

Color Out of Space

23 Jan

‘Color Out of Space’: It’s classic Lovecraft updated with classic Nicolas Cage freakout

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If you were tickled pink by Nicolas Cage doing his goofball gonzo best in the bloody revenge thriller “Mandy” in 2018, sharpen your knives for another foray into the freaky with some genuinely glorious hambone-gnawing moments. In this adaption of H.P. Lovecraft’s favorite story, “Colour Out of Space” – which has had several cinematic spins, including “Die, Monster, Die!” back in 1965 starring Boris Karloff – Cage plays Nathan Gardner, trying to live off the grid in the farmhouse he grew up in under the thumb of a controlling patriarch.

The pursuit of Eden (in the fictional town of Arkham, which Lovecraft situated in our fair state and used often in his tales, though the film’s not shot here) doesn’t last long. Nathan’s attempt at growing tomatoes isn’t going so well – he’s a Gardner who can’t garden – though his alpaca endeavor seems to be doing marginally better. Then there’s Nathan’s wife, Theresa (Joely Richardson) who’s wildly unhappy with the spotty Wi-Fi and can’t work, while their daughter Lavinia (Madeleine Arthur) practices Wiccan rituals in the woods.  Rounding out the nuclear-plus clan are big brother Benny (Brendan Meyer) who gets stoned while tending to the woolly creatures in the barn and the youngest, little Jack (Julian Hilliard), something of  mama’s boy who becomes drawn to the voices he hears in the old well out front.

Things get really weird after an electrical storm drops a meteor in the front yard. The anemic tomatoes suddenly grow plump and large – but taste like crap – while fuchsia mushrooms crop up and a large technicolor dragonfly bemuses Jack. It’s all a wonderment, until the dog goes missing and mom goes into a hypnotic trance while paring vegetables in the pantry – the scene is the edgiest moment in the film and one that’ll have you wincing before anything goes wrong. Turns out the meteor’s an alien invasion of sorts that’s transported a “color” here to contaminate the water supply, mutating/possessing those who quaff it. Watching Nathan pull a clingy jellyfish creature from the shower drain will give you as many second thoughts about entering the bathroom as “Psycho” (1960) did.

Things work their way into John Carpenter’s “The Thing” (1982) territory. Tommy Chong pops up as the tripped-out hippie down the lane and the small-town cops are late to the game as Cage’s Nathan starts to do his very best Jack Torrance. You want to say you’ve seen it all before, but you have to remember Lovecraft was a contemporary of H.G. Wells, penning tales of the outré long before Stephen King was in diapers or John W. Campbell cooked up “Who Goes There?” (the basis for “The Thing”). The film also marks something of a comeback for director Richard Stanley, who, after coming to notoriety for his 1990 “Terminator”-esque thriller “Hardware” had a nasty fall when given a chance to helm a passion project, “The Island of Doctor Moreau” in the mid-90s. Yes, the one based on Wells’ book and starring Brando and Val Kilmer – and from which he was fired and replaced a week or so into principal photography, after a litany of production problems forming a rich narrative in its own right). Since then Stanley made a series of documentaries, including “The White Darkness” (2002) about voodoo and, more recently, returned to genre with a segment of the horror anthology “The Theatre Bizarre” (2013). “Color Out of Space” sets Stanley comfortably back where he started. The film looks far more polished than its modest $6 million budget. it’s not fully consistent or narratively clear, but it is a ghoulish pleasure to see Cage ditch his ho-hum dad and dive into the lunatic fringe.

Overlord

10 Nov

‘Overlord’: Remember, Greatest Generation also had Nazi zombies to deal with in WWII

 

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You can think of “Overlord” as “The Dirty Dozen” by way of “28 Days Later” – that’s right, the WWII zombie apocalypse. The film starts with an imaginative bang and keeps its nose above the average even while dipping into genre tropes.

We catch up with a platoon of lads soaring above the D-Day armada heading for Omaha Beach. Their mission: Drop behind enemy lines and take out a radio tower in a medieval church or the U.S. air cover will get picked apart and the assault will fail. There’s a lot on the line. I’m not sure why there’s a few dozen planes on this mission, because stealth would make more sense, but it makes for the film’s best scene as German forces light up the approaching aircraft. The choreography, both in CGI manipulation and the goings-on with the boys inside as large-caliber bullets rip through the fuselage, amazes; cut frenetically with deafening ambient sound, it feels ripped right out of “Dunkirk.” Few make it to the ground alive (you could call it “The Dirty Half-Dozen”). After a few skirmishes with Nazi forces, the lads Boyce (Jovan Adepo); the squinty, badass explosives expert Ford (Wyatt Russell); wisecracking New York tough guy (think Joe Pesci) Tibbet (John Magaro); and a couple of other Star Trek red shirts get into the small village with the help of a comely village girl (Mathilde Ollivier). She takes them in, but what’s up with auntie’s reptilian rasping from behind closed doors?

Boyce ultimately makes it into a church basement, which is pretty much Mengele’s little shop of horrors if he was trying to engineer a zombie army of grotesque berserkers. The whole thing feels like a game of “Wolfenstein” gone 3D, but more grim. It’s here too that the film starts to sag, though there is tension added by the fact Boyce is black – no way to blend in among white supremacists (though otherwise, pretty much nothing is made of race). “Overlord” is largely Adepo’s film, and he carries it well, with both wide-eyed terror and heroic resolve. Magaro and Ollivier are also quite good in their limited stints, but Russell, filling a role akin to his father Kurt’s badass John Carpenter roles in “The Thing” and “Escape from New York,” doesn’t quite seal the deal. The part begs for more swagger. It works, but just barely, and is something of a missed opportunity for all.

The film, directed by Julius Avery, is a product of J.J. Abrams’s Bad Robot company, though Abrams has stipulated adamantly that it’s not a “Cloverfield” film. The connection between those entries is arcane at best anyhow, and something of a distraction. In construct, “Overlord” is more ambitious than those films, and its production values noticeably higher; but, then again, it’s about the fate of the democratic world hanging on the resolve of a bag of mixed nuts caught up in zombie-land.