Patiño’s Lores and Myths: The Empty Man (2020)

Hello, dear reader! Our journey through the Monsterverse complete, I ask myself: what now? We’re not currently suffering from a lack of quality shows or movies, but I wanted to keep with the blog’s core theme if I could. Thank God for YouTube! Specifically, thank you, Chris Stuckmann. Because without him, I don’t watch this movie, I don’t write this blog, and I don’t lose myself to The Empty Man

In a small town with three or four murders a year, people begin dying in droves, leaving behind a simple message written in blood: The Empty Man made me do it. On the case of a missing girl tied to the strangeness, former undercover officer James Lasombra (James Badge Dale) becomes entangled in a web of mystery, cult worship and supernatural terror. As the case unfolds, reality and truth begin to bend, and James must confront whether The Empty Man is a mere tale or something more.

If that summary gives you little to go on, I apologize. It took me the better part of 40-minutes to put it together. It’s tough to talk about this movie in broad strokes because the one thing you absolutely do not want to do is give away too much. And folks, there is SO much to give away! This movie thrives on its mystery, having an audience live the experience lock-step with James, particularly in the first viewing. Beyond that, this movie’s shelf life will come from the discussions it generates. Writer-director David Prior (in his directorial debut, I may add) crafted a wonderfully dense and singular story. It’s a genre film that doesn’t play to the cheap seats or is interested in being a four-quadrant feature. It will alienate some, anger others and exhilarate a lucky bunch. Personally, I love this movie, but I’ve got some qualms. And oh boy, do I have questions.

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Spangler’s From Sentence to Screen: Sherlock – The Hounds of Baskerville 

Sherlock is a BBC television series that ran from 2010 to 2017 and starred Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock Holmes and Martin Freeman as John Watson. In the series, the screenwriters often referenced the original stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and sometimes they even adapted whole stories for a specific episode. This is the case for season two, episode two, “The Hounds of Baskerville” (2012), which is a modern retelling of the novel The Hound of the Baskervilles (1902). In the Sherlock episode, Holmes and Watson are contacted by a man named Henry Knight (Russell Tovey), who believes that he saw a “gigantic hound” kill his father when he was a young boy 20 years ago. The way Henry says “hound” instead of “dog” convinces Holmes to take the case and go to Dartmoor to uncover the truth. Once there, Sherlock and Watson find out about a top secret military research base, Baskerville, adjacent to the place where Henry’s father was killed, Dewer’s Hollow. Finding out that the hound is a local legend, the two detectives visit Baskerville using an I.D. card stolen from Sherlock’s brother, Mycroft, as it appears that the hound might have escaped from there. Eventually they are forced to leave because Mycroft finds out what they are doing and an alert is sent through the military base. Given the limited information acquitted from Baskerville, Sherlock decides there is only one real way of figuring out if the hound is real, and that is actually finding it. So that night, he has Henry take himself and Watson to the place where his father was killed. Watson gets separated from the two but soon hears growling, forcing him to run and find the others. When he does, they are frightened and in shock after believing they have seen the hound, and Sherlock is forced to consider a possibility his mind can not rationally believe. In this blog, I will be looking at how the tv series adapted the original story for a modern audience. 

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Christian’s Cinematic Syntax: Review of Viy (1967) 

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Viy (1967), directed by Konstantin Yershov and Georgi Kropachyov, is considered by many as the first and only USSR horror film. It was based on the horror novella “The Viy,” written by Nicholai Gogol in 1836. Gogol, the renowned Russian writer of Ukrainian origin, is most famous for the short stories The Overcoat (1842) and The Nose (1835-36) and the novel he called a “novel in verse” entitled Dead Souls (1842). Interestingly, Gogol is known as one of the first authors to use grotesque and surrealist imagery in his works. With this, the filmmakers of the 1967 film adaptation, produced by Mosfilm, really made sure that the surreal and grotesque were emphasized throughout. In Viy, these moments are some of the most memorable. They are intricately woven into the ordinary through the way we follow Khoma Brutus (Leonid Kuravlyov), who is often referred to as “Philosopher,” in his initially joyous vacation to the countryside. Although some critics argue that the special effects of Viy are outdated, there is something unique about the uncanny effects. The special effects of Viy are far from perfect, with the technological limits, budget, and other constraints as possible factors working against the filmmakers; however, there seems to be an instilling of  horror through the imperfect practical effects that create an inner turmoil and unsettling atmosphere in Viy.

Despite the surreal mode of filmmaking, Leonid Juravlyov has a realistic acting style. His portrayal of Khoma Brutus is disheveled and egotistical. The repeated chant or mantra he chooses, “A Cossack is never afraid of anything,” seems to be a coping mechanism and a phrase to show off his machismo publicly. The obvious contradiction is that Khoma Brutus the seminarian is a murderer. In addition to being a contradiction to his teachings, the murder itself further illustrates the psychology and blindness of rage, ideology, beliefs, all wrapped in one. Khoma Brutus jarringly meshes right back into his monastery after the murder as though nothing happened: the only indication is a tear in his robes. This character’s psychology, the skeletons in his closet, and what happens in the chapel compared to his public outbursts are what make this film an intriguing watch. There is a reluctance in Khoma to fulfill his duty, but he always puts on a fictitious performance for influence. Khoma repents for his sins. The father forces him to read prayers in the chapel, and the promise of one thousand gold pieces versus one thousand lashes if he refuses, all display this repentance. Pannochka (Natalya Varley), the daughter of the merchant who dies as Brutus travels to her, called for him because he beat her senseless thinking she was a witch. The dance sequence following the second night spent in the chapel illustrates his internal battles and coping mechanisms perfectly. Khoma’s dance articulates an attempt to fight back against his fears, further accentuated by his consumption of vodka as a fear suppressor.

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Britt’s Anime and Gaming Adventures: Attack on Titan: The Final Season Part 1 (Review)

With the fourth and final season half-finished and with the manga ending this month, I thought now would be a good time to review the first half of the final season of Attack on Titan. I still can’t believe the series is ending–it was one of the first animes I’ve ever watched, and I’ve even made a few friends through the fandom. But alas, all good things must come to an end. Before I discuss the first half of season four, however, I will first discuss the series as a whole. 

The Attack on Titan manga began serialization in September 2009 and will end after 139 chapters this April. It was the groundbreaking debut of writer and artist Hajime Isayama. The series takes place in a medieval Europe-inspired world in which humans reside within walls erected to protect them from humanoid, man-eating creatures known as Titans. The series starts out very simply, with protagonist Eren Jaeger (Yuki Kaji) vowing to rid the world of all Titans after raiding his hometown and eating his mother right in front of him. As the series progresses, however, it gradually becomes more complex, as the main characters eventually learn that there are two races in their world: Eldians and Maryleans. They also discover that the Maryleans essentially created Titans to wipe out the Eldian race. Attack on Titan tackles serious themes such as racism, genocide, and indoctrination, particularly in its third and fourth seasons. The series offers something for everyone: social commentary, plenty of action, and a wide cast of entertaining and well-written characters. In addition to receiving a successful anime adaptation in 2013, it has spawned several spinoff manga series, video games, and a duology of live-action movies. The anime is adored by anime fans and critics alike, with several of its episodes appearing on IMDB’s “Best TV episodes of all time” page alongside other greats such as Breaking Bad and Bojack Horseman. The series has had a lasting impact on both Eastern and Western pop culture, as it has been referenced in other anime and American cartoons such as The Simpsons. 

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Patiño’s Lores and Myths: Godzilla vs. Kong (2020)

Kong headbutts Godzilla during an underwater fight.

I repeat.

King Kong. Headbutts. Godzilla. Underwater!

Oh God, YES.

We’ve come to it, at last, dear reader. The culmination of the Monsterverse, the showdown of the ages, the big fish! Godzilla vs. Kong, directed by Adam Wingard and starring a bunch of humans. Who are they, why should we care? It doesn’t matter! The title is the reason you, your mother and the milkman are here. It’s the movie’s promise. And, folks. It absolutely, one hundred percent lives up to that promise!

Yeah, I’m not going to dance around it, friends. This movie is fantastic! It’s rock ‘n roll! I unironically love it. There. You can jump off this review now if you want. Go! Watch it! Embrace it! Love it, as I love all of you.

In all seriousness, though, this movie is precisely the title and doesn’t try to be more than that. It’s a spectacle: a blue ribbon, neon saturated, synthwave Wrestlemania championship main event. It’s Ali vs. Tyson. The dream bout nerds have been salivating for. And when the film’s focus stays on its titular Titans, the flick is a blockbuster of the highest order. Everything else around them is so-so, but that’s par for the course. And I’m okay with that. It’s Godzilla vs. Kong!

There does need to be a semblance of a story, and this one isn’t half bad. Godzilla is on a rampage. No one knows why, and the humans are in dire need of a weapon to even the odds. Dr. Nathan Lind (Alexander Skarsgard) must now lead a crew into the Hollow Earth, a pocket dimension in the Earth’s core and the birthplace of the Titans. There they might be able to harness an energy source capable of destroying Godzilla. To get there, however, they’ll need Kong to lead the way. Being another Alpha monster, Dr. Ilene Andrews (Rebecca Hall) and the Monarch organization know that once Kong comes off Skull Island, Godzilla will lock onto him. But for humanity’s sake, they need Kong! Luckily for us, Kong has bonded with young Jia (Kaylee Hottle), the last surviving member of Skull Island’s native people. He fights for her, and she guides him. So off they all go to the Hollow Earth to save humanity and face destiny in the form of one titanic, atomic-powered iguana.

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Spangler’s From Sentence to Screen: True Grit

The novel True Grit (1968) by Charles Portis is a highly regarded western, which has been adapted to film twice. The more recent of the two adaptations was released in 2010 by the Coen brothers and starred Hailee Steinfeld as Mattie Ross, Jeff Bridges as Deputy U.S. Marshal Reuben J. “Rooster” Cogburn, Matt Damon as the Texas Ranger LaBoeuf, and Josh Brolin as Tom Chaney. The film starts with narration from 14-year-old Mattie Ross, telling the viewer how her father was killed. It then cuts to her on the train, going to see her father’s body and have it sent home to her mother. When Mattie talks with the town sheriff about arresting the man, Tom Chaney, responsible, he informs her that there was nothing he could do because the killer fled into Native American territory. Not happy with this answer, she asks the sheriff if she could hire a U.S. Marshal to arrest Chaney, and he points her in the direction of Rooster Cogburn. After much convincing, Rooster eventually takes Mattie’s deal and agrees to track down Chaney for her. It turns out that Chaney is also a wanted man in Texas, and a Texas Ranger, LaBoeuf, is attempting to arrest him for his crimes in the other state. Mattie doesn’t like that if LaBoeuf catches Chaney, he will not be held accountable for her father’s murder. The two men decide that they don’t want a young girl to get in the way of their search for Chaney and attempt to leave her behind. Mattie is determined, though, to see justice for her father, so eventually, Cogburn and LaBoeuf give in and allow her to come with to catch Chaney. In this blog, I will be looking at how fidelity, the essence of the medium, and story elements contribute to the effectiveness of this adaptation. 

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Christian’s Cinematic Syntax: The Player (1992): Hollywood Conventions & Western Civilization

*Warning: Spoilers Ahead*

Director Robert Altman revitalized his career after box office disappointment Popeye (1980) did not meet studio anticipation, with 1992’s The Player. Supposedly, Altman did not want to make The Player. He wanted to do a film based on Raymond Carver short stories called Short Cuts, but the project lacked the funds until after the success of The Player. In an interview with the Criterion Collection in 1992, Altman speaks on his linear movement as a director. He demonstrates with arm movements that the audience is doing a sort of loop around his linear movement forward, and when they hit— that means a successful movie. Altman, as an auteur, saw all his projects as equal in quality. By considering all of these projects equal, he demonstrates a dedication to his craft and that he did not believe that success and money determined the quality of work. With the Player, starring Tim Robbins as Griffin Mill, Altman continues his tradition of taking a singular place as a microcosm of the United States and Western Civilization. Griffin Mill is a Hollywood executive producer who kills a writer and gets away with it. The classic Hollywood happy ending, and the good guy vs. bad guy classical Hollywood narrative conventions, are just some of what Altman tinkers with in the 124-minute runtime. In the same interview, Altman states, “I do not believe there is such a thing as an all bad guy and an all good guy.” This is in reference to Griffin Mill, the character who commits a heinous crime but is ultimately untouchable. We follow him and even sometimes root for him even though he is a murderer. In The Player, Robert Altman purposely subverts and uses the traditional Hollywood standard and satirizes the more current “blockbuster trend” and studio system to skewer the problems of the United States and Western Civilization.

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Britt’s Anime and Gaming Adventures: Resident Evil 7: Biohazard

In honor of Resident Evil’s 25th anniversary next week, and to further increase the hype of the upcoming Resident Evil Village, I will be reviewing the seventh main installment of the series, Resident Evil: Biohazard. But before I do, I will discuss the history of the series as a whole and how it’s managed to remain relevant as long as it has.

Resident Evil is a franchise that needs no introduction, but I will give it one anyway. It is one of the most influential video game franchises of all time, and as of 2020, has sold over 100 million copies worldwide. The first entry in the series, simply titled Resident Evil, was released in Japan on March 22nd, 1996 and in the U.S. on the 30th. Known as Biohazard in Japan, the first game was originally supposed to be a remake of the 1989 horror video game Sweet Home. until developer Capcom lost the rights to the game, forcing the development team to start from scratch. Despite being two different games, the original Resident Evil retained Sweet Home’s setting of a spooky, abandoned mansion, and other elements. Basically, if Sweet Home had never existed, neither would Resident Evil. Without Resident Evil, the video game world wouldn’t be the same, as one of Resident Evil 4’s earlier iterations became the first entry to another Capcom favorite, Devil May Cry. Furthermore, Resident Evil has influenced other video game franchises, most notably the Bioshock and Dead Space series. 

Since its release nearly twenty-five years ago, the first Resident Evil has been notorious for its awful voice acting and poorly aged game mechanics. Despite this, the game was an unexpected success, birthing a multimedia franchise that consists of comic books, merchandise, CGI movies, an American film franchise, and yes, games. Its game catalog includes seven (soon to be eight) main entries and even more spinoff titles and remakes. Resident Evil games have been on just about every console imaginable: Playstation, Xbox, Wii, even the iPhone at one point. While originally a horror-orientated video game series, the overwhelming success of 2005’s Resident Evil 4 caused the series to become more action-based, which many longtime fans did not approve of. However, the release of Resident Evil: Biohazard (2017) saw the series return to its horror roots, pleasing many longtime fans and drawing in newcomers. Many fans wish to forget the more action-focused entries never existed. However, it’s possible that the series would’ve died out years ago if they hadn’t switched things up. The video game industry is constantly changing, and for your series to survive as long as Resident Evil has, you have to be willing to take risks. Even when the series tried to please all kinds of fans with Resident Evil 6 (2012), it was met with mixed receptions. Even so, the series has remained relevant for as long as it has because it has constantly been evolving over the years and introducing new characters and settings. 

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Patiño’s Lores and Myths: King Kong vs. Godzilla (1962)

This is it, folks. The last kaiju stop on the road to Godzilla vs. Kong. Now, we go back to a time before, to the first showdown! A cataclysmic clash between two titans of film: Kong! Godzilla! The cinematic gladiator bout of the century. It’s a match-up for the ages sure to wow audiences the world over. Right?

Eh. Sort of. And not exactly.

King Kong vs. Godzilla is a strange case. Produced and distributed by Toho Studios (the makers of Godzilla), the story was an original idea from Willis O’Brien, the stop motion animator of King Kong. O’Brien’s initial outline had Kong fighting a giant Frankenstein’s Monster. The sixties, man. O’Brien would’ve used stop-motion to make the two fight, but the project stalled due to cost concerns. Unbeknownst to O’Brien, producer John Beck shopped the script around, eventually coming to Toho, who were looking to bring Godzilla back following a seven-year hiatus following Godzilla Raids Again. Toho enlisted original Godzilla director Ishiro Honda and special effects director Eiji Tsuburaya and hired screenwriter Shin’ichi Sekizawa to rewrite the Kong/Frankenstein script. They even brought back Godzilla’s composer, Akira Ifukube, to score the film. So you have the ingredients to make something special, yeah? A blockbuster worthy of the price of admission, right? Well, that really depends on which version of the movie you watch. An English-language version was produced for Western audiences, which added entirely new material and removed several scenes and sequences from the Japanese version. Stock music from older Universal movies like The Creature from the Black Lagoon also replaced Ifukube’s score. These changes radically altered the film’s structure, resulting in, oh, how should I put it? Ah yes: a piece of ****.

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