Masters of the Willow Verse – Double Edged Double Bill Episode 28

Gather, fare maidens and lordes. It’s time for another Double Edged Double Bill! This week we’re doing a double header of fantasy films, given Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald is set to come out! Guest and fan of the show Dan Chambos joins Adam Thomas and Thomas Mariani to look at films about magical realms. First, 1988’s Willow where George Lucas rips himself off and gets the dynamic team up of Val Kilmer & Warwick Davis to keep it all together. Then, our hosts try to survive as 1987’s Masters of the Universe drags us from Eternia and into Skeletor’s hammy grasp. Listen to all this fantastical madness here!

“Majestic Hills”
Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com)
Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0
http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/

To stay up to date about the podcast, follow us on Twitter @DEDBpod, our Facebook page and send us feedback at doubleedgeddoublebill@gmail.com! If you like the show, please go on iTunes to subscribe, rate and/or review us to give the show more visibility!

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Barton Fink, You Ladykiller – A Coen Brothers Film – Double Edged Double Bill Episode 27

Need a Coen fix? We got you, Brothers. In honor of The Ballad of Buster Scruggs coming to Netflix soon, Double Edged Double Bill is doing an episode about the Coen Brothers. Our good feature is 1991’s Barton Fink, in which every genre blends together as a writer gets writer’s block. Our bad feature is their 2004 remake of The Ladykillers, which may not be as bad as some say, though it leaves a lot to be desired. Adam Thomas and Thomas Mariani appreciate all of the Coen Brothers nuances displayed in both films, but also examine how Joel and Ethan have evolved and even stayed stagnant in their careers. Listen here for all a cacophony of Coens discussions, guys!

Special thanks to our guest Shakyl Lambert for the intro assist. Also listen to Adam and Thomas on the latest episode of The Horror Returns talking Suspiria, both the original and the remake here. To stay up to date about the podcast, follow us on Twitter @DEDBpod, our Facebook page and send us feedback at doubleedgeddoublebill@gmail.com! If you like the show, please go on iTunes to subscribe, rate and/or review us to give the show more visibility!

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Suspiria (2018): Dance Macabre

Suspiria is a weird film to remake. Writer/director Dario Argento is known for giving the Giallo genre (ie Italian thriller/horror films with some form of detective work involved) a shot in the arm in the 70s while making the most gorgeously bizarre films of the time. The 1977 Suspiria is the most famous example, with breathtaking use of color & unforgettable examples of gore that still haunt the soul to this day. It’s a kaleidoscope fever dream of terror that defies logic and reason. Yet, one never feels unengaged as the sense of dread builds to a terrifying crescendo in one of the best horror climaxes of all time. In other words, this is a film all of its own and doing a new take is a ballsy or even potentially ill advised idea in the wrong hands. One would hope that with Call Me By Your Name director Luca Guadagnino at the helm, this Suspiria remake is interesting if nothing else.

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And boy… is it interesting. Guadagnino took a very different tact to his version of Suspiria, with the basic premise of a coven of witches running a dance school being the main element kept. From there, Guadagnino and writer David Kajganich crafted a film with a more conventional plot & defined characters that seem more appropriately their age. As opposed to the 1977 film that was conceived as starring pre-teen girls before adults were cast with little dialogue change, all of the young women in this new Suspiria truly feel like women at the start of adulthood, finding a passion in their art and a kinship in each other. This stands out with striking force in our lead Susie (Dakota Johnson), who comes to this school in Berlin as a shy Ohio girl with a passion for dance. Through her and the various ladies she befriends along the way, we see the type of compassion that can build even in an environment as cold as this high stakes dance class. One can see the empathy Susie has for these girls, even as her clear dancing skills take on a whole new dimension of fury and wild exuberance that’s disturbing to see unfold. Especially with a quiet yet supportive turn from Mia Goth or a tragically far gone Chloe Moretz.

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At the same time, Susie is also having an evolving relationship with her instructor Madame Blanc (Tilda Swinton) throughout Suspiria. Initially, the latter shows more intrigue with the talent of the former, before Susie threatens Blanc’s status as a leader not to be trifled with by these dancers. A mother superior to never be questioned or defied. So when she is, it leads to some fiercely intense chemistry between Swinton and Johnson that straddles many lines of jealousy, respect & even attraction. Blanc respects her tenacity as a dancer yet wants to mold and shape her as she has any of the other girls, which we see is secretly a method of picking out those strong enough to be a part of the witch coven. It’s a power struggle that results in slow burn segments of characters staring each other down, in far more muted colors than the source material and makes the choreography all the more brutal. There’s still some mystery unveiled as our young ladies explore nooks and crannies of the studio, but all while the witches are also trying to find out more about Susie which keeps the audience on its toes.

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Unlike in the original film, this Suspiria explicitly depicts them as candid and open. Nothing is left to dream like interpretation or dolled out like a mystery as they casually hang out together and vote for who should lead the coven. This is where Guadagnino’s natural talent for engaging relaxation from Call Me By Your Name works to endear us to these version of the witches, particularly in a one shot that shows their casual home life. We’re see them as human as they create a nice if somewhat domineering world in their home for themselves in contrast to the world outside. This adds more to the horror of their ultimate fascist actions and to the political context of this version of the story. Unlike the original almost fairy tale fantasy story that could be told out of time, this Suspiria is blatantly set in 1977 Berlin. A tumultuous time of rebellion against further fascistic take over following the turmoil of rebuilding the country after World War II, focusing in particular on the hijacking of Lufthansa Flight 181 and its effect on the Baader-Meinhof Group as a recurring event in the background. Admittedly, I’m not as familiar with that particular era in Berlin’s history, but Suspiria drapes much of the scenery in this as more of a point of comparison to our witch coven. The extreme measures occurring in the real world mirror this coven’s supposed justice against the outside while controlling their dance studio.

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Guadagnino earns so much respect for taking this different approach, even if some of these political angles bogs down Suspiria a bit. Lengthy scenes showing the decay and chaos of Berlin firmly establish the world outside, but that starts to feel quite thick with its two and a half hour run time. Much of this is centered around Dr. Josef Klemperer (who is also played by Swinton), living his life with regret over his actions. Despite her familiar voice, it’s a tour de force performance from Swinton, filled with frailty that contrasts with the domineering Madame Blanc role in ways that effectively dermark where victim becomes torturer in unfiltered hands. It’s also a testament to the make up department, who disguised Swinton seamlessly in both this role and a third I won’t spoil. There are other exciting horrific uses of gore and body horror that contort the human form in brutal fashion. Though it may not likely receive such acclaim, Mark Coulier and the rest of the make-up team deserve serious awards consideration.

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Ultimately, Suspiria feels like the right type of remake to do. There’s knowledge and respect for what the original did, but more of an expansion and separate angle on the same conceit. Sometimes it seems long winded and weirdly mixed tonally when they do occasionally dip into the dream logic of Argento. The fascistic commentary for both the outside world and interior politics of the witches creates a depressive restrictive environment created both by sinners of the past and vengeful citizens of the present who take their desires too far. It’s a world that seems distant from our time, yet all too familiar. That ambition alone is enough to earn respect for Luca Guadagnino and his crew. Yet, the committed performance, deliberate pacing and gorgeous design are far more engaging choices that most other horror remakes out there. While I still prefer the succinct surreal nightmare of the original, this Suspiria earns being considered in that sphere.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 Blood Spattered Dance Shoes

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The Haunting of The Crazies House – Double Edged Double Bill Episode 26

For the final horror themed episode of October, Double Edged Double Bill is delving into horror remakes. With the new Suspiria closing in on release, Adam, Thomas and special guest Shakyl Lambert take a look at how right and how… not so right a horror remake can go. First up is 2010’s The Crazies, a remake of George A. Romero’s 1973 film that pulled out all the stops to improve on what the master attempted before. Then our trio slogs through 1999’s The Haunting, the blasphemous redo of the 1963 classic that stands as the poster child for what not to do when remaking a horror film. Plus, there’s mention of a few other favorites, musings on who the real mastermind behind Michael Eisner’s Disney era was and many Owen Wilson impressions to be heard. And you can listen to it all here. Oh wow!

Special thanks to Scott Crawford of  The Podcast By The Cemetery for the intro assist. To stay up to date about the podcast, follow us on Twitter @DEDBpod, our Facebook page and send us feedback at doubleedgeddoublebill@gmail.com! If you like the show, please go on iTunes to subscribe, rate and/or review us to give the show more visibility!

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Sam Raimi Presents Drag Me To Darkman – Double Edged Double Bill Episode 25

Alright you primitive screwheads, listen up. THIS is Double Edged Double Bill! Our latest episode features Adam Thomas and Thomas Mariani going head to head on a double feature of films directed by Sam Raimi! Raimi is best known as the man who revolutionized horror with The Evil Dead trilogy and opened the door for superhero films with his Spider-Man trilogy, but Adam, Thomas and special guest Scott Crawford of The Podcast By The Cemetery are covering two of his more obscure films. First, Raimi’s return to horror from 2009 Drag Me To Hell, where Sam traded in his spider suit for an elderly lady’s schall and flying dentures. Then, we go back to Mr. Raimi’s first stab at the superhero genre with 1990’s Darkman. Liam Neeson has an identity crisis with a variety of realistic masks and our hosts are divided on whether or not that’s a good thing. Listen to them duke it out here!

Special thanks to Torrey Depina for the intro assist. To stay up to date about the podcast, follow us on Twitter @DEDBpod, our Facebook page and send us feedback at doubleedgeddoublebill@gmail.com! If you like the show, please go on iTunes to subscribe, rate and/or review us to give the show more visibility!

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Halloween (2018): The Night He Returned Home

Halloween is a franchise at the mercy of the genre it helped to popularize. When the first film (which will be referred to as Halloween 78 throughout this review to avoid confusion with this new film Halloween under the exact same title for some stupid reason) was released in 1978, it caused the slasher film boom that would last a solid decade. The sleek use of tension and terrifying peril jolted audiences into craving young people getting picked off one by one. As a result, imitators sprung up like Friday the 13th and Prom Night that added far more gore than Halloween 78 had. So, with Halloween II in 1981, the bloodshed spread onto this franchise like margarine on toast. By the return of Michael Myers – after a detour in Halloween III – with Halloween 4 in 1988, that very boom was far past its peak. Thus, we leaned into more over the top violence, family connections and occult subplots to muddle the very simple story of pure evil attacking the innocents of Haddonfield. Hell, the franchise had to become meta-contextual during peak Scream popularity in the late 1990s with Halloween H20: 20 Years Later to stay relevant. All while bringing back Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) for a final battle with Michael that ignored the events of multiple sequels prior. Glad they didn’t go back to that same well 20 years after that, right? … Right?

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Yes, director David Gordon Green and writer Danny McBride have chosen to make Halloween another selective sequel. This time, we’re ignoring every sequel prior. In other words, no LL Cool J guarded prep school, no Paul Rudd as Tommy Doyle and not even any familial connection between Laurie and our Shape of a killer. All that matters for continuity are the events that went down from when Michael killed his older sister Judith on Halloween night 1963 to the moment he disappeared from Dr. Samuel Loomis’ view at the end of Halloween 78. So despite wanting to distance itself from the earlier sequels, Halloween is still playing at least one familiar trick from them. In fact… it’s not just one familiar trick. The trouble with this most recent Halloween is a lack of consistency. Green and McBride clearly revere what Halloween 78 director John Carpenter (returning as a producer and writer of the score) did before and aim at multiple points to recreate that tension. They want to bring back the fear of the classic boogeyman harming individuals in a seemingly random pattern of violence in a world that dismisses this crimes of yesteryear that pale in comparison to our modern problems.

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Yet, Halloween still takes some similar underwhelming avenues to give the audience more of the same 80s slasher vibes that undercut the menace of its predecessor. Green’s direction for Halloween constantly feels less like the patient Carpenter’s hand and more like Rick Rosenthal’s mixture of mimicry and punctuated gore from 1981’s Halloween II. Hell, the elevated amount of blood even mirrors some of the bloodier sequences in Rob Zombie’s duology of remakes from a decade ago. Keep in mind, they’re not badly directed kills by any means. Despite never directing a horror film before, Green’s history with comedy shows he can time out a scare much in the same way he can accurately time a laugh moment. McBride and Green’s knack for humor still pops up just when needed, particularly between a sassy young boy (Jibrail Nantambu) and his babysitter (Virginia Gardner). Halloween is also obviously helped by Michael Simmonds‘ ethereal nightmarish cinematography and Carpenter’s propulsive score to build the tension. Yet, David Gordon Green constantly cycles back and forth between showing off the immense gore in process and merely displaying the aftermath. One wonders if this is an intentional way of showing the random brutality of evil Myers is supposed to be or an inconsistency of style that never authentically builds up from a director unexperienced in this genre.

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Still, there’s a fair amount of atmosphere going on when we see The Shape wander around and Michael does seem authentically scary for the first time in a few decades. His domineering presence is still felt as Myers descends on this current suburban area, this time around as a true villain without the humanity that cursed him in the later sequels. Having Myers’ kill moves be swift while he’s also being believably thrown around shows a consistency to Michael as a character. He’s a force of nature being lead to the danger all around, removing the unnecessary family motivations of the sequels to the benefit of this representation of senseless random cruelty the world can provide. It’s a shame Halloween did the same for the other supporting characters who were supposed to be human. So many contrivances are there to get us from set piece A to set piece B, showing that while trying to keep Halloween out of the usual slasher mold, McBride and Green aren’t willing to go beyond the slim reasonings for getting people into the right situations. Some of these contrived detours were at least curious choices that spiced up the proceedings such as with Dr. Ranbir Sartain (Haluk Bilginer) or far more underwhelming stretches with the teen characters who totally disappear like boyfriend Cameron (Dylan Arnold).

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That all being said, there’s one true consistent rock that keeps Halloween intact. Laurie Strode is phenomenally realized as a massive shut-it doomsday prepper, constantly haunted by the visage of Michael Myers out of fear he may come back to kill again at any time. This is where ignoring the sequel continuity actually works because Laurie seems far more unstable and mad for thinking a killer who murdered 40 years ago would be able to come back and slay just as well. Curtis attempted to do something similar twenty years ago with Halloween H20, but that film showered her in the veneer of a post-Scream tongue in cheek sensibility that muted the PTSD of it all. This Laurie is truly haunted by that event, with certain scenes of Curtis breaking down being even rougher to watch than any murder depicted. Laurie Strode was the victim who vowed to never be victimized again. Even at the cost of allowing her family to live without paranoia and terror. Laurie is far more morally grey here, where even as Michael attacks, one can still see that no amount of planning could prepare her for this.

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The tension this creates between Laurie, her daughter Karen (Judy Greer) and her granddaughter Allyson (Andi Matichak) is a fascinating bridge to bring Halloween into a modern age. One where three generations of women progressively doubt our modern world could have sins of the past return right up until it stabs them in the arm, making them either run in fear or fight back as they prepared to do. All three actresses show a believable chemistry of estrangement and regret that really catapults once the atmospheric climax hits. Seeing these three women struggle and claw their way against Michael feels like the type of stab at patriarchal nightmares one could use in our modern climate, guised under the sheen of a sleek slasher. Still, a bit more development for the modern Strode women would crystalize such a dynamic perfectly. Greer is mostly stuck providing exposition while Matichak is confined to being a charming presence amongst the lesser teen characters.

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It may seem like I’m far too down on Halloween, but that’s only because moments of greatness constantly peak out along the sidelines. More so than any follow up to Halloween 78Halloween strives for a much more ambitious take on modernizing Michael Myers. Having his unrelenting desire for murder and mayhem feel like any current danger we see on the horizon. Unchecked power, lax concern for safety, an unwillingness to face the cyclical nature of human history. It’s something Laurie knows and Michael embodies while bathed in grimly gorgeous cinematography. However, the connective tissue is what makes the structure feel wobbly as we shift focus to the supporting cast to mixed results. Halloween wants to be the ultimate sequel to a classic that avoids the baggage of what came in between while still hypocritically sinking to the same lust for blood and underwhelming structure of many of those sequels. As a result, Halloween feels like we’re leading the spirit of the original estray while constantly reveling in it. Like an old mask we’ve put on before after being in an attic for a few years. It’s usable and may even look quite creepier because of how worn out it is, but that old plastic smell is a bit too much at this point. While all signs in the story point to this being a closing chapter in the saga of Michael Myers, but all signs point to further entries coming for our big boy from Haddonfield. Unfortunately, this shape seems to have lost its form and might as well quit while it’s mildly ahead. Don’t want to risk Resurrection-ing this franchise again. Though you may as well get Childish Gambino to kung fu Michael if you’re going to this time.

Rating: 3 out of 5 Blunt Murder Objects

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Double Edged Double Bill Episode 24: Halloween – Season of the Water

Halloween – Season of the Water – Double Edged Double Bill Episode 24

Autumn leaves are falling. Pumpkins are being carved. Halloween is upon us. The Night He Came Home… for a Double Edged Double Bill! In honor of Michael Myers returning for a new Halloween film, Adam Thomas and Thomas Mariani are doing a double header of films from the slasher franchise that kicked off 40 years ago with special guest Torrey Depina! First up is Halloween H20: 20 Years Later, the 1998 film that saw Jamie Lee Curtis returning to the role of Laurie Strode for a final battle with Michael… the first time. Then, the infamous Halloween III: Season of the Witch, featuring witchcraft magic instead of Michael Myers! But which is really the good or bad feature? Listen here to find out before The Shape catches you!

Special thanks to Kaycee Jarrard for the intro assist. To stay up to date about the podcast, follow us on Twitter @DEDBpod, our Facebook page and send us feedback at doubleedgeddoublebill@gmail.com! If you like the show, please go on iTunes to subscribe, rate and/or review us to give the show more visibility!

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Bad Times At the El Royale (2018): Let The Bad Times Roll

Note: Bad Times At the El Royale is a very twisty thriller. Major spoilers will be avoided in this review. Only very early details of plot & character will be revealed. Reader discretion is still advised.

Rarely do I have to specifically notate the idea of spoiling films in a review as in the note above. I do usually keep to the parameters of only mentioning events that occur within the first 30 or so minutes. Yet, Bad Times At the El Royale twists and turns more in its first 15 minutes than most films do throughout their entire run times. Thus, one must be tight lipped about what specifics writer/director Drew Goddard unveils even quite early in this production. Still, it won’t be hard to be tight lipped about the general quality of Bad Times At the El Royale which is constantly keeping the audience guessing at everything from essential character dynamics to very small details of a single prop. It’s a skill of patience and care that few other filmmakers dare attempt or succeed at. Goddard managed to do a more horror specific bent on this with his first film Cabin in the Woods several years ago. Now, he aims at the noir and thriller genres as he weaves the tapestry of the ensemble in Bad Times At the El Royale. A film where details are often left in the wings to be picked up later on down the line or even not revealed at all… and that works out just fine.

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Well, these genres and those details aren’t all that Drew Goddard takes aim at in Bad Times At the El Royale. The tropes of those genres are very clearly examined, being played completely straight and subverted to engaging effect as we are fed small pieces of these characters’ backstory and dynamics throughout. Yet, Goddard’s main target is clearly American culture of the 1960s. The bulk of the action takes place in 1969 and the titular hotel is in obvious diserray from years of neglect as showcased beautifully in the exquisitely detailed production design. The ghosts of a swankier lost time are seen all over. Faded wallpaper. Dusty hallways. Designs that feel straight out of the era of JFK’s presidency. The El Royale is a stand in for the shape of cultural discourse at the end of the decade. The kitchy appeal and carefree attitudes gathering dust as the approach of the harsh wave that is the 1970s looms over the horizon. All unveiled in deliberate long shots that pour over the details and the secrets held within. The innocence is gone, leaving our characters to fend for themselves and trust no one around them as the gore begins to give the hotel a new coat of paint. In other words, the casting of Mad Men‘s Jon Hamm was no coincidence.

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Speaking to the cast, Bad Times At the El Royale is largely designed as an ensemble film. We’ve got a big group of characters with mysterious motives and personality to spare. Each is hiding something. Sometimes it’s as small as a disguise of their natural appearance. Other times, it’s a parcel hidden in their trunk that’s making far more noise than one would expect. Much in the same way that the El Royale is in shambles, our characters carry a fractured sensibility to them. Whether it’s the misguided southern charm of Laramie Sullivan (Hamm) or the wandering focus of autumn yeared Father Flynn (Jeff Bridges), we see a distinctive flaw in each major character who checks into the El Royale that is consistently built upon. Goddard also clearly uses the casting here to play with expectations on the audience. We’re immediately endeared to the typical charms of Bridges or clearly dubious of the huckster wordplay of Hamm because of their usual on screen personas. Then he proceeds make the audience switch off between accepting this perspective and questioning if they’re being tricked by such knowledge. This similarly affects Chris Hemsworth‘s character and our usual perception of his abilities to captivate, though avoiding spoilers is vital for his role.

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This catching off guard still manages to seep into the less known members of the cast.Dakota Johnson – whose role in the Fifty Shades franchise isn’t likely to cross paths with those seeing Bad Times At the El Royale – gives off the aura of a disorganized hippie burn out upon her entrance. Yet, her determination and cocksure attitude as events proceed blows that out of the water. Her role is one that leans heavily into spoiler territory, but let’s at least say that she makes the best out of a character that seems more like a thinner bridges for the third act on the page in retrospect. A more unrecognizable performance comes from Lewis Pullman as Miles. Aside from a passing resemblance to his character actor father Bill, Pullman gives off more of a fretful worrier. One who seeks to redeem himself while struggling to confess his sins, especially when around a priest like Bridges. He’s a small character who increases the tension and ticking clock that looms in the crawl spaces of the El Royale. I’d only wish that some of his more tactile actions during the climax didn’t seem as sudden as they come off.

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Yet, none of this measures up to the true star of Bad Times At the El RoyaleCynthia Erivo delivers a star making turn as Darlene Sweet, a singer lost in an era that’ll constantly cast her to the side for not taking the sleazier ways to the top. Erivo has a believable spunky energy that melds seamlessly with a woman who is tired of the bull she has to deal with. She represents both struggling minorities and females in general not trusting a world that has chewed her up in its maw. Yet, she’ll hold onto the roof of that mouth and hang in defiance from the uvula while singing, showing the independent gumption of herself and those in similar situations to come in the next decade. This is especially fascinating to watch as she bounces off Bridges throughout the film, with their dynamics escalating tension on every level. Her acapella singing of Motown era hits is so good it doesn’t even need a single backing track to recreate that Wall Of Sound style booming audio quality.

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Even though I’ve had to dance around the specifics of Bad Times At the El Royale, I hope I’ve at least conveyed that it’s an engaging intricate thriller about how we handled the 1960s as they ended and still grapple with the lingering effects of those sins today. The late 1960s and late 2010s aren’t too far off in terms of tense cultural discourse, lacking trust in our fellow man and bleak worry about our next steps. One can only hope that the clashing of folks at the end of the world isn’t in a shady run down hotel this next time around, but Drew Goddard presents that those sins can likely repeat themselves if we’re not too careful. This cynical attitude is what made Cabin in the Woods the scathing indictment of the horror genre. Yet, this time around Goddard isn’t destroying a genre as much as presenting how Americans as people can destroy each other in a thriller-y context. Sometimes the bloat shows and other times the decisions seam a bit too convenient, but Bad Times At the El Royale is far more consistent with the chilling sizzles and edge of your seat style storytelling than not. Most importantly, I’m dying to see it again the make sure I notice certain details again with the benefit of hindsight while experiencing other moments again. That’s the mark of a great twisty thriller.

Rating: 4 out of 5 Hotel Room Keys

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A Star Is Born (2018): Cover of A Classic Made All Its Own

A Star Is Born is the Invasion of the Body Snatchers of romantic dramas. I’m not saying this in literal sense. After all, A Star Is Born doesn’t have much in the way of body-switching-as-metaphor-for-societal-unrest-commentary to it. However, much in the same way the original 1956 Body Snatchers has been remade for each generation, so has A Star Is Born. Each new version takes on new thematic depths that ground this familiar story in the time it was made. The 1937 original starring Janet Gaynor & Fredric March was about the rise of film stardom as a concept with a young plucky gal fresh off the bus in Hollywood. Then the first remake in 1954 took on the rise of the film musicals while updating the character to a hard working club singer who got her shot as a triple threat actor/singer/dancer. Eventually, the second remake in 1976 drastically change to the recording industry & served as… quite frankly a vanity project for Barbara Streisand to show off the literal clothes in her closet. Now, our modern generation is getting their A Star Is Born, taking more of the concepts added to the story in 1976 version and applying it to modern country pop performers. Still, much can be lost in this generational game of telephone. Does this story still pack a punch over 80 years after being initially told or do the beats play a different tune with this third attempt at a cover of this song?

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The answer to both is a solid “yes.” Director/co-writer/star Bradley Cooper has taken a familiar story and morphed it into a cover song with its own identity. As mentioned, the 2018 version feels very much like a take on the modern music industry. Where image far outweighs talent as a priority, even if what initially draws people is that raw uncompromised talent. More so than any previous version of this story, the 2018 version of A Star Is Born captures the creative process and its intimacy. Cooper clearly is an actor’s director for obvious reasons, but his debut here shows he likes to focus on the smaller connective moments that create a sort of sense memory. These details are given direct attention in order to build the idea of this connection, which is brutally crucial for an A Star Is Born adaptation. We see these two clearly talented musicians hone their skills, one an experienced vet who is losing his touch while the other is a brimming youthful talent ready to splash onto the scene. All while our characters are immerse in natural lighting or stark specific colors to support the mood. It’s something the 1937 and 1954 versions did but were still limited due to sheer lack of progression of film technology at the time. Yet, this modern version avoids the pitfall of making the details far more shallow like in the 1976 version, where what stands out are the costume choices rather than how the characters interact.

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What matters far more in this A Star Is Born is something as simple as peeling a fake eyebrow off someone’s brow. Having to repeat yourself in a crowded room due to the noise. Touching a noise and gliding along its brim. It paints a portrait of two people noticing these things and letting them linger in their mind. Endearing us as these two charming folks take on something as alien as massive crowds. One feels the same nervous tension as Ally (Lady Gaga) takes the stage for the first time in front of a massive crowd. If possible, try to see A Star Is Born in a theater with optimal sound. The screening I attended was in a Dolby Theater and hearing any of these massive concert scenes will send shivers down your spine. The first big performance of the song ‘Shallow’ literally left me shook and covered with goosebumps.

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Of course, no amount of augmented sound tech can truly work if the performer at the center of that song or hefty dramatic moments doesn’t have the raw talent to project forth. And damn, does Lady Gaga truly show off that raw talent here. Most are at least aware of how talented is Gaga is as a singer. Even if one isn’t a fan of her music and Little Monsters persona, it’s hard to admit she lacks talent, which she and songwriter/song of Willie Lukas Nelson clearly show off in their music & lyrics for the soundtrack. However, A Star Is Born manages to showcase a side of Gaga rarely seen outside of more enclosed acoustic performances: her vulnerability. A key aspect to this character Gaga is taking on is an astonishing talent simply lacking the confidence that her male co-star pushes her to embrace. Janet Gaynor had it. Judy Garland had it. Barbra Streisand… mostly replaced that with a 70s perm. Luckily, Gaga has it in spades. We see how much she can do, but how fretful and worried she is. We see it in how she interacts with Cooper initially, guarded and worried of how she may come off. It’s blatantly there as she interacts with her father, played with an amicable star struck yet down to earth reality by Andrew Dice Clay. After a string of forgettable bit parts in Robert Rodriguez movies, Gaga herself seems to take a sudden heightened turn to performing as an actor with flying colors. Almost as if Gaga herself is growing confidence on a scene by scene basis to revel in her own star making turn along with Ally herself in context of the narrative.

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Thankfully, Cooper is also an incredibly generous actor. A Star Is Born shows that he isn’t a scene stealer, but a genuine screen partner for Gaga. He does his part with true dedication of course, managing to capture the true horror of addiction with believable awkwardness and tragedy. Yet, he also knows when to give Gaga her time to shine. When she needs to be the strong presence in the frame. He even knows when to do the same with others in this stellar supporting cast. His back and forth with Sam Elliott as his much older brother creates the perfect chemistry of two siblings a generation apart. The resentment, the worry, the pain of not saying something out loud when it needs to be said. Elliott is another unsung hero of the character actor world, but his moments of pure untampered emotion show off his masterful tact with raspy voiced brutal honesty. Even smaller turns from the likes of a supportive yet low key concerned Dave Chappelle or the controlling & cold Rafi Gavron are given equal weight when Cooper performs alongside them.

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These characters and their moments are where A Star Is Born shies away most from its biggest hurdle of structural mudanity. The simple fact is, if you’ve seen at least one version of A Star Is Born, you’ll know the beats of this story. Every single plot point is followed, leaving little for Cooper to turn narrative wise. However, there are moments where details change. The award show scene in particular takes a turn for the less dramatic and more cringely accurate in how it depicts the lack of dignity in substance abuse more so than any other version. Still, it’s a structure that benefits from making it more one’s own. It’s why I’d still say the 1954 version is the superior adaptation. Where the elements of the original are there, but George Cukor and Judy Garland add a mixture of intimacy and showboating numbers flawlessly to stand out a bit further. A Star Is Born is also a story that could benefit more from addressing from a modern perspective given it’s a tale of a woman sticking up for and around an emotionally abusive lout of a man with little pushback. There’s a bit more in the 2018 version to its credit, but such a perspective could steer us in a more nuanced path to shake up the conventions of this tale as old as Technicolor.

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Ultimately, A Star Is Born still shakes up as a best case scenario. It’s more explicitly a take on the lumborous and agonizingly indulgent 1976 version with appropriate twists and turns to come out the otherside far better. It’s cast is game but not stingy with the spotlight. Our director knows when to bathe us in the performances (musical or dramatic) and when to give us a massive cinematic moment. The weight of this story is carried with an almost meta narrative of the production. Bradley Cooper is giving Lady Gaga the nudge to stardom in the same way Jackson Maine does for Ally. We are seeing a star being born with a talented backing band behind her for support full stop. When a band forms in perfect understand harmony, the music soars and washes over a crowd. A Star Is Born does this with both the insecurity of fresh faced talent and the aplomb of a seasoned session player. Seemingly impossible, but melded with astonishing acoustics. It’s a real earworm that’ll stick with you.

Rating: 4 out of 5 Cut Guitar Strings

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Other Works:

Monster Squad Scared Stupid – Double Edged Double Bill Episode 23

Listeners beware, you’re in for a scare! Well, hopefully more laughs than scares. This week on Double Edged Double Bill, we’re talking about children’s horror films in honor of Goosebumps 2 coming out. To examine these spooky films for kids, Adam Thomas and Thomas Mariani bring on their special guest Kaycee Jarrard! The trio’s good film is The Monster Squad, the 1987 film that fulfills every kid horror fan’s dream of fighting Dracula, Wolfman and The Mummy! Then, our heroes face against the power of Jim Varney’s mugging in 1991’s Ernest Scared Stupid! So gather round kiddies and take a listen to the latest episode… if you dare!

Special thanks to Lance Langford of The Horror Returns Podcast for his assist during the intro. To stay up to date about the podcast, follow us on Twitter @DEDBpod, our Facebook page and send us feedback at doubleedgeddoublebill@gmail.com! If you like the show, please go on iTunes to subscribe, rate and/or review us to give the show more visibility!

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