The Magical and The Bat-Justice League Dark Review

DC hasn’t had too much luck with adapting the occult into other media. With the dearly departed Constantine TV series and the long-rumored Justice League Dark/Dark Universe movie still in development hell, there isn’t much success in adapting the more…magical fare onto the screen. Which is why the Justice League Dark animated movie is a pleasant surprise.

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Alternate title: Batman and His Magical Bitches

Helmed by Jay Oliva, Justice League Dark is the first outing for DC’s titular team (stretching the word a bit) of mystically-inclined heroes (again, stretching). Consisting of John Constantine, Zatanna, Deadman, Swamp Thing, and Etrigan, alongside Batman as the ‘outsider’, the team must face an ancient evil threatening to destroy both life and afterlife alike.

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Say hello to the new Robin

The plot isn’t exactly anything new, but boy, does the cast make it a fun trip. Matt Ryan absolutely steals the show in his return as John Constantine. John is every bit the loveable bastard we’ve grown to love from the show, and his lines are sharp as ever. Jason O’Mara provides the straight man to the rest of the craziness as Batman, Camilla Luddington brings a balance to the team as backwards-talking magician Zatanna, Nicholas Turturro is annoyingly yet endearingly chipper Deadman, Ray Chase plays both man and rhyming demon Jason Blood and Etrigan, and Roger Cross rounds up the main cast as the protector of the Green, Swamp Thing. Jeremy Davies also makes a return as John’s long-suffering friend Ritchie Simpson, and Alfred Molina is Destiny, the main villain of the piece and live-action Skeletor lookalike.

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Toldja

Justice League Dark’s strongest suit is its characters. Most of the main cast play very well off of each other, but what surprised me pleasantly was the inclusion of Batman, who I thought would likely be shoved in there for marketing purposes, to turn out pretty good. He wasn’t overused and hogging the spotlight, but conversely he isn’t just /there/ either. He strikes a good balance between being the perspective ‘everyman’ character and the major source of snark and the occasional grunt. John Constantine is easily the best part about this movie, which is exactly what most of us came here for. If this is the direction for John we’re going for in the CW Seed series, then this is going to be fun.

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Even seeing his name caused Batman to cut himself shaving

Deadman is an unexpected favorite, playing comic relief for most of the movie, and both Etrigan/Blood and Swamp Thing’s albeit brief appearances, they made a sizable impact in the movie. Especially Etrigan and his mad rhyming skills. It’s a bit of a shame Zatanna’s spotlight seems to dim a bit compared to the other team members, but she still proves interesting in her backwards magic and reining John in.

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I’m sure he gets this a lot

What I loved about this movie is that it doesn’t exactly shy away from the dark, the creepy, and the strange. The intro builds the sense of dread well enough, and sets the scene that what they’re facing this time is something else. And one of the more fun set pieces is around the middle, when the thing made of shit comes along. It was wholly unexpected, and to be frank, I loved it. The climax leading up and all the way to the ending was also quite the highlight, and kept me at the edge of my seat along the way.

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And now the literal shit has hit the proverbial fan

While I liked most of the movie, I do have several gripes regarding it. One of the major ones is that John doesn’t even so much as gets near a cigarette during the whole thing. Even the NBC series, when he ostensibly can’t be shown smoking, he’s still shown holding a cigarette and in some of the last episodes he’s seen outright smoking. While this may look like a minor thing to some, cigarettes are part of his iconic look, and not even teasing that feels like a bit of a missed opportunity. Black Orchid and Felix Faust were also sort-of wasted in their roles. While Black Orchid had one great exchange with Batman, Felix Faust felt like just another speedbump in our heroes’ journeys.

With all that said, I enjoyed Justice League Dark very much. A fun, solid ride that did what it set out to do, despite several points of contention. But nothing’s perfect, right?

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I Had Bad Dreams Over This — A Look Into Clean Room

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As a reader, I like to be kept in the not-know when I jump into a new title. The sense of discovery as every panel progresses along every issue is one of the things I look forward to, as well as all the good ol’ things that makes a comic a good one: among them plot, visual, and characters. And these are all what Gail Simone and Jon Davis-Hunt’s Clean Room provided.

I like to say that I’m not new to the horror comic book scene, having read Hellblazer years prior and the Scott Snyder-Jock project Wytches on the same day I started reading Clean Room. I’d say my basics of horror lore are none too shabby. And so, with a certain degree of expectations, I jumped in.

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The first three panels of Clean Room.

When I started on the first issue, I knew nothing about the title aside from its title, publisher, and the fact that Gail Simone is writing the book—all of which are enough reasons for me to start reading it. It being a Vertigo title, I knew from the start that some grisly contents were in store. What I didn’t take into account, however, was how brilliantly delivered those contents are. While the two titles mentioned above deliver horror in a traditional (yet still unconventional and genius in their own ways) sense, Clean Room is something else. It’s a detective story, science fiction, and horror tale thrown together in the blender that is Gail Simone’s mind, birthing something that doesn’t quite sit in any genre.

It’s grotesque, it’s smart, it’s emotionally moving, and most importantly, it’s deliciously unsettling—in a sense that it gave me my first real case of bad dreams for the first time in weeks. Yep, reading Clean Room before I went to sleep definitely wasn’t one of my brightest ideas. I woke up delighted, however, because that’s how I knew that this title is special.

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Demons behind the corporation–so to speak.

So what’s it about, you may ask? The first issue centers on Chloe Pierce who, after trying to kill herself in the wake of her fiancé’s suicide a few months prior, goes out to seek the truth behind her previously-happy lover’s untimely demise. Her quest brings her to Astrid Mueller, horror writer turned self-help guru, and the shady lot of activities she and her followers have apparently been doing behind the façade of motivational corporation. Those activities concern demon-like creatures that drive people crazy (or “hyper-emotive”, as preferred in the characters’ narrative) and can apparently only be seen by certain people. Astrid Mueller’s corporation is seemingly involved in a war against a greater force, but as bodies start dropping and questions start to be asked, Chloe Pierce vows to get to the bottom of whatever it is Astrid Mueller is doing.

It’s all going to feel pretty meta, especially in the first few issues, but as the story progresses, the pieces dropped here and there from the beginning will start to make sense—as much as they do, anyway. One of my favorite things about this title is how huge the mysteries in the lore are, leaving still enough holes in the fabric of issue-by-issue understanding that even when things are beginning to be revealed, I’m still left baffled and curious as to how the pieces of information will fit in the big picture.

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Bet this guy’s baffled, too.

The story is conveyed through the pencils of Jon Davis-Hunt with colors by Quinton Winter, and as opposed to the dark-and-twisted edge associated with conventional horror art, the panels in Clean Room are colorful in their realism. Davis-Hunt provides exceptionally detailed, tidy interiors, made even more eye-popping with Winter’s color palette. Make no mistake, however—the atrocity displayed in Clean Room is as graphic and delightfully detailed as in any other Vertigo title.

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Don’t say we didn’t warn ya.

Clean Room is cerebral and provoking and deeply psychological as well as being rooted in reality—a twisted one at that, but a reality nonetheless. It’s the type of story whose spirit you can feel crawling over your skin as you read on—and, let’s be real, a horror story that gives you goosebumps and bad dreams while still being visually realistic must be a hell of a good one.

The Biggest Asshole-Ash vs Evil Dead Season 2 ‘The Morgue’ Review

It’s the second episode of Ash vs Evil Dead’s sophomore season and the ante just keeps going up. With Team Ash (plus Ruby) finally together, all that’s left is to find the Necronomicon. Easy, right? Oh, if only. Besides, it wouldn’t be any fun if it’s all easy-peasy in Ashy-Land.

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I want his room

After a quick stop at Casa Williams and our first-ever look at Ash’s cool digs, Ash and Kelly head off to find the Necronomicon hidden in a body in the local morgue, while Pablo and Ruby play Twenty Questions. What goes down in the morgue is possibly one of the most creative, gross, and balls-out hilarious action set pieces in any Evil Dead media ever.

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I know Ash has his head pretty far up his ass, but this is getting ridiculous (WARNING: DONG)

While the ass-clenching and butt-kicking happens in the morgue, Pablo soon discovers he has some distressing new…gifts, courtesy of the Necronomicon. Did I mention there was a gym teacher Deadite trying to seduce Ash and instead ended up meeting Ash’s dad? And a pretty kickass fight with Ruby and Pablo against that Deadite. Good stuff. In the end, as always, Ash’s bumbling will be what takes us into the next episode. Just the way we like it.

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First still from Fifty Shades of Ruby

While the ass sequence definitely steals the show with Bruce Campbell selling the SHIT (pun intended) out of it, the interplay and verbal jabs between Kelly and Pablo is at an all-time great this episode. And very quotable. So far, Ruby as the exposition lady and occasional badass is great as well, and she makes a good foil to Ash’s antics. Round it up with Ash’s dad being every inch as Ash as his son, and you have another fun, bloody, and shitty (in a good way) episode of AvED.

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I heard it’s pretty old wood

Bunker Fever – 10 Cloverfield Lane Review (Non-Spoiler)

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J.J. Abrams’ Cloverfield is a movie near and dear to my heart. A big kaiju fan since I was a kid, seeing a giant monster movie shot through the lens of a handheld camera is something else back in the day. And the day word of a ‘blood relative’ was being made entitled 10 Cloverfield Lane came on my feed, I was understandably excited. And now just having come back from it, I can say that while it wasn’t quite the thing I was expecting, it was still a damned great film regardless.

10 Cloverfield Lane tells the story of Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), who got in a car crash and wakes up in a doomsday shelter maintained by conspiracy nut Howard (John Goodman), who apparently locked himself in there with handyman Emmett (John Gallagher, Jr.) following some kind of attack. And that’s just about all I can tell you of the plot without giving too much away. 10 Cloverfield Lane is a movie best experienced cold. It’s best to not know a thing about the movie, save from maybe the trailers. One thing that I can say is that shit goes down.

Without giving too much away, Dan Trachtenberg’s directorial debut is a rollercoaster. Mood whiplash is the name of the game here. Completely innocent mundane scenes can turn ugly in the blink of an eye, or something ominous might turn out just to be a completely normal everyday thing. You’d be jerked back and forth and sideways so many times you’d think you were riding a mechanical bull. How things can change seemingly at the drop of the hat also adds to the overall feeling of uneasiness and dread oozing all over the 103 minutes of its runtime. Anything can happen in the cramped confines of the bunker, and almost everything really does happen.

With such a small cast, everyone’s performances will expectedly be scrutinized even more, and every single member of the cast shines through. Winstead’s Michelle, while ostensibly being the victim here, shows constant flashes of brilliance, genre savvy, and cunning most movie heroes would kill to have. John Goodman’s Howard, the standout performer here, goes from the 0-60 and back again as the kindly dad-type who quickly melts down into a great big puddle of rage when the right buttons are pressed. Gallagher, Jr.’s Emmett might look like a liability or a redshirt at best from the start, but he manages to hang with the other two cast members and eventually might grow on you.

If you’re planning to watch this movie, do yourself a favor and try not to see any review or anything beyond the trailers. Hell, avoid the latest poster if you want to go in the movie completely cold. You’ll thank yourself if you do.

All in all, 10 Cloverfield Lane is a worthy thriller, filled with moments that’ll make your heart race and an atmosphere that’ll make you feel uneasy. Great performances all around, and it’ll keep you guessing until the end.

Everything’s Gone South – Southbound Review

I’ve always been a sucker for the anthology format. Bite-sized stories where you won’t know what you’ll get is a concept I’ve always liked. Just a few weeks back, when I stumbled upon this little gem called Southbound, my interest was piqued. Produced by Brad Miska of V/H/S fame, the movie boasts five segments, directed by V/H/S alums Radio Silence and David Bruckner, The Pact 2’s Patrick Horvath, and Roxanne Benjamin in her directorial debut.

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These five stories of Southbound revolve around a desolate desert highway, in which the people that travel it encounter strange phenomenon from their deepest, darkest fears and nightmares. One of my favorite touches in this movie is that these tales intersect each other perfectly, stringing them all together just like a whole movie that shifts protagonists with each passing story. These segments are also brought together by way of a mysterious radio DJ voiced by Larry Fesenden and the movie Carnival of Souls playing at some point in each short.

The first segment, Radio Silence’s The Way Out, has two runaways, Mitch and Jack, escaping from mysterious creatures only to be trapped by the strange highway returning them to where they started. This eerie tale starts off the anthology strong, with enough scares and weirdness to set the tone and overarching theme of Southbound; guilt. Next comes….

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Roxanne Benjamin’s Siren. This is a story we’ve seen countless times before. A group of girls with a broken-down car hitch a ride with strangers who embody every sense of the word. The creepy 50’s Americana-style family takes the girls in, maybe a little too much so, much to the horror of one of the girls. While the concept is almost a cliché, the execution here is played very well.

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An escape from this creepy family runs us right into David Bruckner’s The Accident, easily one of the strongest segments in the whole anthology. The frantic attempt of distracted motorist Lucas to save the girl he hit with a car, only with the help of a 911 dispatcher and an EMT on the phone, is a horror that hits close to home. The ‘mundane’ qualities of this segment, blended with the sense of loneliness and ever-escalating dread makes this segment all the more subtly terrifying.

Patrick Horvath’s Jailbreak comes afterwards, following a man in search of his sister, plagued by demons (of the more literal kind) along the way. While the action is reasonably good, this segment feels a little too out of place for this anthology that thrives on the subtler forms of horror. This segment does shed a little light on the nature of this mysterious desert highway, so there’s that.

And then Radio Silence takes the wheel once again in The Way In, in which a family goes through a home invasion horror story, while also revealing just what is up with this place. This segment wraps things up nicely, and for me, provided a real revelatory moment when the pieces start fitting together.

A friend described Southbound as the unholy love affair of a Welcome to Night Vale script and a Twilight Zone episode with a little Quentin Tarantino sneeze thrown in for good measure, and I agree with that. The way this movie just sucks you in and give this subtle sense of wrongness from the get-go is brilliant and the same atmosphere is kept throughout its running time.

All in all, Southbound is one hell of a ride for any fan of horror and anthology movies. Who knows, you might end up coming back for more.

 

Raising Hell – An Ash vs Evil Dead Episode 3, “Books from Beyond” Review

Entering its third episode, Ash vs Evil Dead just keeps getting stronger and stronger. This episode entitled “Books from Beyond” is the second one without franchise creator Sam Raimi at the helm either with writing or directing, and while the episode feels different from the usual Evil Dead fare, it’s a great change of pace and a fresh take on Ash’s adventures.

The episode opens with the appearance of the as-yet-mysterious Ruby (Lucy Lawless) who seems to be following the trail of Deadites and destruction Ash left behind, ending up at Kelly’s house.

Scored to that music from Battle Royale and Mad Max, no less. Kill Deadites historic on the Fury Road.

Scored to that music from Battle Royale and Mad Max, no less. Kill Deadites historic on the Fury Road.

After digging up Kelly’s father and an impromptu interrogation session involving some kind of cool magic dagger, it seems like Ruby’s still hot on Ash’s trail.

You can say they…faced off.

You can say they…faced off.

Meanwhile, the gang arrive at Books from Beyond and met Ash’s old friend and proprietor, Lionel. Predictably, the gang wants to undo the trouble caused by the Necronomicon. More predictably, the gang messes it up by clubbing Amanda on the back of her head.

They pulled a bone-r. A big one, too.]

They pulled a bone-r. A big one, too.

And after a quick exposition on the history of the Necronomicon and its purposes, they summoned a demon. That Ash called a ‘rat demon’.

NOT a rat demon.

NOT a rat demon.

A scuffle, as always, ensues, and the gang managed to banish the demon. After taking care of the demon, in the process getting Lionel killed, Ash losing his wooden hand and cuffing Amanda after the fight, the gang decide to head off to Pablo’s uncle’s, supposedly a shaman for help. While Amanda is still cuffed and now faced with a reanimated Lionel, of course.

Guess that’s the Beyond part of Books from Beyond.

Guess that’s the Beyond part of Books from Beyond.

The different, more horror-oriented direction this episode goes in is refreshing if you’re dreading to see the same formula from the past two episodes. Fighting a demon instead of more Deadites and a little backstory on the Necronomicon is also a great bonus, what with lending the feeling that it’s a way bigger threat this time, not just the Deadites. The bit of a character development in Ash is also a really welcome addition, and might help those who think that he’s just a selfish blowhard who bungled his way into saving the world once. Still not nearly enough on Ruby, but I’m willing to wait a bit more.

All in all, a great ride that only goes to show that in the right hands and handled properly, Ash can still be awesome without Raimi at the helm. As always, excited for the next episode.

There’s Always a Bigger Fish – An Ash vs Evil Dead Episode 2, “Bait” Review

On the second episode of Ash vs Evil Dead….gore, gore, and more gore.

Yes.

Yes.

As always, spoilers abound in this article.

The second episode picks right back up after the first, with Kelly running off back home, knowing that her mom came back from the dead to attack her dad. Ash and Pablo, finding the Necronomicon gone, go after Kelly. But you didn’t think for a second it would be that easy, would it?

Nope.

Nope.

The crew’s manager at ValueMart, now Deadite’d, attack Ash and Pablo and an action set piece that’s cool as it is hilarious ensues. In true Evil Dead fashion, there’s more than enough gore to fill at least a kiddie pool.

A literal bloodbath, as it were.

A literal bloodbath, as it were.

And of course, he finishes it off with a witty one-liner and a nice gory cut to title.

I’d make a joke about this, but Ash did it for me.

I’d make a joke about this, but Ash did it for me.

Elsewhere, Amanda Fisher investigates the bloodbath that happened in the episode previous, quite possibly setting a course for her to run into Ash in the near future. And let’s say she had some…pointers along the way.

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Ash and Pablo burst into Kelly’s house……

All guns, chainsaws, and broken bottles.

All guns, chainsaws, and broken bottles.

……to see a perfectly happy family reunion.

Talk about crashing the party.

Talk about crashing the party.

The duo got invited to dinner, and as it turns out, Pablo was the one who hid the book. All to goad Ash into going to Kelly’s. And it’s here Ash shows the thirty years hasn’t dulled him that much. If anything, his paranoia is worse for it. Something that paid off, fortunately.

Didn’t know they served punch at dinner.

Didn’t know they served punch at dinner.

Cue Deadite fight.

Wanna see a magic trick?

Wanna see a magic trick?

This one plays up the horror aspect by a lot, and I LOVE it. The scene with Kelly and her ‘mom’ also was another highlight of the episode. Yes, the Deadites aren’t just there to be slaughtered en masse. These are demons, manipulating your loved ones before brutally killing you.

Unless you’re Ash Williams.

Unless you’re Ash Williams.

After an impromptu funeral of Kelly’s parents, the gang set out again to fix the disaster Ash caused.

They’re actually Jewish.

They’re actually Jewish.

All in all, this episode does move the plot a little slow, but with the action set pieces we got, I’m honestly not complaining. Though two episodes in, the formula is starting to show a little bit. One part horror, one part gory comedy, a pinch of plot sprinkled in….I’d love for them to mix it up a bit in the next episodes. It’s nice to see Pablo and Kelly get their moments in this one. Even if this show is called ASH vs Evil Dead, we still need someone else to keep his great big ego in check, after all.

The lack of Ruby in this episode is a slight disappointment on my end, but from the previews, she looks to be a large part of the next episode and I’m excited. Less CGI this time, so not too much I can complain about the effects, as the practical effects are top-notch.

Even two episodes in, I’m still giddy seeing Ash on screen every time. Another fun episode, and this series keeps on going strong.