HBO’s “Tales from the Crypt” Retrospective: “Demon Knight”

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The glorious 90s HBO horror anthology series, Tales from the Crypt, is a show I hold dear to my heart, so much so that I previously wrote eight extensive pieces about it in the summer of 2015 chronicling each of its seven seasons. And yet, I’ll be the first to admit that Tales from the Crypt is a flawed bit of nostalgia, with nearly as many poor episodes as there were great ones, and plenty of middling entries filling out the 93-episode order. At its highest points, however, the Crypt Keeper’s tales of the macabre remain as spectacular as ever, with some remarkable filmmakers teaming with excellent ensembles and delivering a decent number of short and sweet genre masterpieces. Only one installment — the Robert Zemeckis-helmed “Yellow” — reached above a 30-minute runtime, but was still less than half of the length of a standard feature film. In 1995, though, near the end of the series’ initial run, Tales from the Crypt would finally traverse out of the world of premium television and onto the silver screen with the criminally underappreciated horror-comedy cult classic, Tales from the Crypt: Demon Knight.

Originally surfacing in 1987 (two years before the debut of the HBO series), the screenplay for Demon Knight would face multiple failed attempts at adaptation into a full production — that is, until Tales from the Crypt producer Joel Silver got a hold of it. While nearly all of Tales from the Crypt’s episodes were based on the EC Comics stories of the 1950s, Demon Knight was a wholly original script, allowing the film to be its own being while still retaining all of the fan-favorite staples that had become expected from something bearing the Tales from the Crypt moniker. A relatively unknown yet nevertheless notable director, Ernest Dickerson, commands an unlikely pairing of 90s stars and instantly recognizable character actors, including William Sadler, Jada Pinkett-Smith, and Dick Miller. The true star of the film, however, is actually its antagonist. The “Collector,” played by a truly awe-inspiring Billy Zane, is a demonic being sent by the Devil in order to collect an ancient artifact that can be utilized in order to unleash Hell on Earth.

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Marvel’s Greatest Hits: A Review of “Avengers: Infinity War”

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For 10 years now, the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) has been a web of interlinked films full of connections, crossovers and cameos, becoming a remarkable and bold film franchise unlike any other before it. With the latest blockbuster entry, Avengers: Infinity War, Marvel Studios has promised a sort of culmination of the past 18 movies-worth of stories and characters. While it isn’t without its faults, Infinity War makes good on its promise and remains a solid entry in the oversaturated series due to its high-stakes story, captivating characters and luscious visual effects.

Coming off of great successes with 2014’s Captain America: Winter Soldier and its 2016 follow-up, Civil War, Joe and Anthony Russo graciously return to direct the 19th entry in the long-running series (with a direct follow-up slated for next May). It’s almost disingenuous to merely label Infinity War as an “Avengers” film, however. Whether they’re an Avenger or not, nearly every major character in the MCU as well as their sidekick is featured here — including Black Panther, Spider-Man, Scarlet Witch and the entire Guardians of the Galaxy roster — and it’s honestly awesome to see so many of these characters sharing the screen together in a single film.

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Jet Fuel Jukebox: “Queen Monáe” Edition

Well, Kanye West has returned from his long slumber and been making headlines recently. Some of the reasons are cool, but a larger number of those are not so cool. Starting with the good stuff, he’s got a solo album coming in June alongside a separate side project with Kid Cudi, as well as some production credits that include a new Nas record.

However, in the past week, Ye’s also released two incredibly underwhelming “singles,” and been saying some intolerable stuff on Twitter. Most recently, he appeared in an interview with TMZ, and it’s quite an…interesting watch, to say the least. Suffice to say, it will be fascinating to see what comes of all this Kanye news in the coming months.

Moving on from Kanye, I want to give a shoutout to Janelle Monáe’s new album, Dirty Computer, which I’ve listened to non-stop since its release on Friday. I’ve included one of my favorite tracks from the album, “Screwed,” as the opening song on this week’s playlist, so you too can enjoy this masterpiece. Elsewhere, we have included tracks from Hall and Oates, The Internet, and Katy Perry.

— Michael Lane, Blog Editor

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Living in the Sunken Place: An Analysis of “Get Out”

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If you look back on the history of horror cinema, you’ll find that many films make use of timely social issues in order to convey powerful commentary on their respective subjects. The late, great visionary horror director George Romero continually did it in his legendary Dead series, with Night of the Living Dead tackling race relations during the height of the Civil Rights movement, while Dawn of the Dead took shots at consumerism and its power to literally turn society into zombies. Recently, The Purge series of films delves into classism, the classic Rosemary’s Baby is related to feminist ideas, and the cult-favorite They Live looked at the power of the media.

Last year’s “it” movie, Get Out, which comes courtesy of comedian-turned-horror director Jordan Peele, is the latest and greatest example. It’s never apparent as you watch it, but Get Out is Peele’s first time being in the director’s chair of a film, as well as his first foray into the horror genre. Get Out is so successful in so many aspects that it ends up not only being one of the most impressive debuts of the last decade (having even won Peele an Academy Award for best original screenplay), but also perhaps the most socially charged mainstream horror film in that timespan as well.

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Jet Fuel Jukebox: “K.Dot won a Pulitzer” Edition

Yeah, you read that title right. If you’re not familiar with the pseudonym “K.Dot,” that’s just another stage name of today’s greatest rapping talent, Kendrick Lamar. And yes, yesterday he was announced as having won the Pulitzer Prize for music this past year for his album, DAMN. This makes him not only the first ever rap artist to be awarded the prize, but also the only musician to not belong to classical or jazz genres since Pulitzer began awarding prizes for music in 1943. Quite a feat, and a much deserved win.

Because of the monumental win for Kendrick, I have ended this week’s Jukebox with one of my favorite tracks on DAMN. Elsewhere on the playlist, Jake and I have highlighted stunning new singles by Nicki Minaj, Empress Of, and Kali Uchis. Outside of those three, there’s another 16 impressive songs we’ve added to round out this week’s playlist.

— Michael Lane, Blog

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Whatever You Do, Don’t Read This Out Loud: A Review of “A Quiet Place”

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In the horror genre, sound is an essential feature that filmmakers frequently utilize in order to create tension and execute on jump scares, be it through a lack of sound or perhaps the violent sting of a violin as the scary sight shocks audiences. It’s often that we watch characters in these films shush each other and emphasize remaining completely silent, or else the boogeyman (or alien, or deranged killer, etc.) may hear them — and we all know what comes next. The latest high-profile horror release, A Quiet Place, from actor-director John Krasinski, takes this idea and pushes it to its limit in a taut thriller based around a family who must make as little noise as possible, resulting in one of the most innovative and emotionally reverent horror films of the past decade.

The film’s efficient opening introduces its minuscule cast of characters and the intricate relationships they share, as well as the barren, post-apocalyptic world which they inhabit. We’re afforded an explanation as to what went wrong as we quickly come to discover that fierce alien creatures have decimated much of the world’s population. These blind, armor-plated beasts resemble the Xenomorphs of the Alien franchise, possessing nimble bodies and intense strength, but what makes them truly terrifying is their ultra-sensitive hearing capabilities that allow them to hunt their prey with ease.

At the outset, the film places us in the company of the Abbott family, which consists of five members, as they scavenge for supplies three months into life post-invasion. There’s parents Lee and Evelyn (played by real-life husband and wife John Krasinski and Emily Blunt), as well as their three young children, Regan (Millicent Simmonds), Marcus (Noah Jupe), and Beau (Cade Woodward). If it isn’t enough that Lee and Evelyn must care for three children in such a hostile living situation, they also must account for Regan’s deafness (admirably, Simmonds, the young actress who portrays Regan and does a wonderful job here, is deaf herself). While this introduces some problems, her disability actually presents a unique advantage for the family as well: proficiency in sign language. Much of the film’s dialogue is presented through signing (aptly translated into subtitles), allowing the characters to communicate without making any sound. This is vital to their survival, as the creatures, while not necessarily large in numbers, pose a lethal threat at all times through their ability to hear even the slightest of loud noises from large distances.

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Jet Fuel Jukebox: “It’s Tuesday Somewhere” Edition

So Arctic Monkeys finally announced a new album for May! Five years in the making, Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino releases exactly a month from the day this is posting, and I for one cannot wait to hear what Alex Turner has in store for fans with this record (especially with the song aptly titled “The World’s First Ever Monster Truck Front Flip”).

Because of this news, I’ve added “One For The Road,” which is one of my favorite tracks from their previous LP, AM, onto the Jukebox this week. This song is accompanied by new releases from Anderson .Paak, Dua Lipa, and Cardi B, as well as another 16 cuts that Jake and I have been listening to recently, including Hank Williams’ “Lovesick Blues,” which comes courtesy of a little boy in a Walmart.

— Michael Lane, Blog Editor

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