Horrible Imaginings Film Festival Presents Sion Sono’s ‘Tag’: Schoolgirl Slaughter-ific

by Agent Alicia Glass (a.k.a. Pandora the Punctuation Horror)

Briefly summing up the film’s plot in a small paragraph is actually very difficult, so what we will say is that a schoolgirl on a field trip begins encountering strange phenomena that convince her more and more she’s not real.

Okay, even with the weird-ass explanation chapter at the end of the film, this is a difficult one for the average movie-goer to get. Some sequences are almost dream-like, while others have the happy slaughter of a Takashi Miite movie feel to them, and then of course there are some scenes that are almost impossible to fathom at all. The pig-faced demon groom throws me for a loop, what can I say. You’ve been duly warned, this is an incredibly weird, wild ride. But we will attempt to dive headlong into Sion Sono’s Tag, and discover what his apparent obsession with schoolgirl slaughter is, already.

To begin with, we have pretty little Mitsuko. She, like her raucous classmates, is on a bus headed for a hotel with, it’s a pretty safe bet, hot springs. Mitsuko is a little more reflective than her friends, and she gently blows away the pillowcase feathers of her play-fighting comrades off her poetry journal. Only a dropped pen saves her from an Evil Dead-style demon wind execution, one that takes out the entire bus, the other bus, the bikers and hikers, and just for an encore, the nearby telephone wires. And Mitsuko does what she apparently does best, which is to take off running.

Best friend Aki catches up with Mitsuko and just latches on for dear life, joyfully taking her friend’s shaken mind off what she thought she saw with a little class-skipping action. They bring along the girl Sur, short for ‘surreal’ because she apparently is. Sur pontificates about ripples and changing one’s fate by doing the unexpected. This, along with the almost-constant presence of Aki, seem to be key points in the movie, giving the chaos some semi-balance of plot to attempt to follow.

At this point we’ve gone off into some rather wacky territory, where the teachers are attempting to kill the entire schoolgirl student body, and, for some reason, Mitsuko in particular, with all kinds of forbidden hardware.. What can Aki do but distract them while she screams for Mitsuko to run!

But now, everything is very different. The scenery has completely changed, Mitsuko has a job and a different face and a new name, Keiko, and holy crap, we have to go, Keiko-chan’s about to get married!

Okay, sure, but … well, that’s not like any pre-wedding girlie prep I’ve ever attended. And what’s with the all-girl audience who turn into strippers? (I’m not actually kidding, and that’s the mild part of the wedding scene.) Do something unexpected and change your fate, Sur said. Certainly, no one expected Keiko-chan to go all Bride from Kill Bill on all of them with a broken bottle.

A blink, a flash, something, and we’re now running a race, with another different name and face. Izumi’s whole thing is running, apparently, her friends all reminisce about running everywhere as they grew up together, as they run beside her. Izumi-chan is being chased by the pig-faced demon from the previous face. Certain themes are beginning to bleed into each other and despite the occasional, incredibly zany visual, you remember that yes there is an underlying story being told here.

So, here we are at what may be the actual truth, with one last door left to open. Mitsuko-chan is just exhausted and confused and petrified, and it just gets worse when she hears she literally has to go through Aki-chan to get through that door.

I’m not going to spoil the ending, that would do director Sion Sono (who gave us Tokyo Tribe and Strange Circus, among many other Japanese film gems) a large injustice. I will say that it seemed like there was a small attempt at a Bladerunner feel towards the end, and that was an unexpected turn. Sono skillfully gives three important moments in a girl’s life – her carefree middle teenage years with her girlfriends, her fairy-tale wedding of course, and the first time she won any sort of large competition – and infuses them with manic energy while somehow getting his story across at the same time.

In the end, it was a totally weird movie, gigantic and frantic and lovely at parts, and while not for the casual stab at J-Horror, Tag manages to be an enjoyable romp of schoolgirl slaughter!

Horrible Imaginings Film Festival 2016 was justifiably proud of being the California premiere of Sion Sono’s ‘Tag’, at the Museum of Photographic Arts in Balboa Park!

SDCC 2016 ‘Batman The Killing Joke’: One. Bad. Day.

by Agent Alicia Glass (a.k.a. Pandora the Punctuation Horror)

So DC and Warner Bros. have finally brought what is arguably the most infamous Batman and Joker story of all time to the screen, in cartoon movie format, no less. And San Diego Comic-Con, being the smart cookies they are, brought a showing of the film to this year’s Con and what is likely the most difficult audience to please, the fan-atics, so let’s get into this!

The Madness of Spoilers lies ahead!

Now, I know back-story has to be established from the outset and that’s more or less fine, but they sure portrayed Batgirl as whiny, at least for the entire first act. Barbara Gordon (Tara Strong) is Batgirl and has been trailing Batman for approximately three years or so when our story begins. Sure, she kicks plenty of butt on her own, but she’s still in need of approval from the Caped Crusader, especially when she finds herself involved with mobster Paris Franz (Maury Sterling). Somehow, this mesmerizing moron manages to completely bump Batgirl off her game, sending her off on scavenger hunts alone and causing rifts between her and Batman (Kevin Conroy) when she realizes, duh, she can’t take on a simple one-man mouthpiece because he’s managed to get inside her head. Forgive me, but, that just didn’t sound like any Batgirl I knew.

And it just gets odder, because it turns out the tension between Batgirl and Batman had very little to do with an idiotic gangster, or their working-behind-masks relationship issues. No, it’s sexual tension, and after a good old-fashioned scream-fight on a rooftop, Batgirl and Batman get naked and bump bat-uglies. (No, the movie doesn’t show it, but you can clearly tell when Batgirl is perched atop Batman and takes her top off, what they’re doing.)

Inevitably, soon after that, Paris Franz gets dealt with and Barbara decides to go back to being boring librarian Barbara and hang up her cowl for good. That is the entirety of the first act and mildly more than half the movie itself, and a rather unfair go at Batgirl in general, in my opinion. True, the extended Bat family always has growing pains (just look at pretty much all the Robins), but somehow, I thought better of Batgirl than that. Barbara Gordon is supposed to be stronger and, let’s face it, more mature than this representation being offered to us. I suppose the idea is to give background to the relationship between her and Bruce, and while the girlfriend troubles being discussed with the cutie-pie gay librarian friend are fun and all, this whole thing is barely touched on when we get to the better half of the movie.

And here we are! It’s later and, once again, Joker (Mark Hamil) has gleefully skipped Arkham and Bats is on the hunt for him. Joker importantly goes to take over this old amusement park, to prepare it for the upcoming massive performance, but hey, first he needs performers! This means a surprise visit to the Gordon household and next thing you know, Babs has taken a bullet to the gut and the Commissioner has been dad-napped for some good old-fashioned torture!

Meanwhile, while all this is going on, we get treated to, let’s all just admit it, what we’re really here for, the Joker background story. In sepia tones, a young, struggling, never-named comedian tries valiantly to make money to get his very-pregnant wife out of a very bad neighborhood. He worked at a boring chemical plant before trying to make it as a comedian and that isn’t working out too well, either, so our unnamed man decides to try for one big score with some mobsters. They want his help breaking into the old chemical plant so they can get into the card business next door, but hey, there’s a catch: They also want him to wear the notorious Red Hood while he does it.

The movie kind of fails to let the audience know that Bats has been chasing the Red Hood and his crime gang for awhile now, so our unnamed man never really stood a damned chance anyway. But even before he can think about donning a scarlet helmet, news comes back that his poor pregnant wife has met a very tragic end, and with nothing to lose, Nameless decides to do the mob job any-damn-way! Rather like the very first Tim Burton Batman film, you can guess what happened next.

Meanwhile, in the present, Joker as we know him has stripped Gordon naked, dog-collared the poor man, and forced him on a nightmare carnival ride of madness involving naked photographs of his beloved daughter, bleeding and dying from a gut-shot wound. Trying very hard to prove his point, Joker far-too-cheerfully spouts his peculiar brand of madness and explains that anyone could become him, anyone at all, with the now-infamous line, “All it takes to become me is one. Bad. Day.”

This is meant to tie in with the whole Batman and Joker being the light and dark sides of each other, and really, who is to say which is which on that one bad day? Batman gave a heartfelt plea to not do this thing, whatever it is Joker’s planning next, that will likely lead to the death of one or both of them, when he went to see false Joker in Arkham Asylum. It didn’t work then and it doesn’t work now when we have the final showdown between the Dark Knight and the Clown Prince of Crime. Or is it? Batman gives a final, entirely heartfelt plea to let him help Joker, once and for all; it truly doesn’t have to end this way. And, for once in his insane little world, Joker answers him deadpan serious: It’s too late for that. It all comes down to this, the final Killing Joke, where Joker cracks a bad funny and after a heartbeat Batman actually lets out a guffaw right along with him.

And that, dear fans and friends and odds and ends, is the end. Except, of course, the inevitable easter egg after some credits, that is.

The style of animation is Spartan and very similar to the old ’90s Batman cartoon show, where Hamil first began voicing the Joker, and that is in no way a bad thing. Joker being the obvious exception, the show took extra care with his facial expression and drawings because, hey, he needs it for this story especially. Famed DC contributor Bruce Timm, who produced The Killing Joke, stated there would be a 15-minute prologue that would further set up the story, as the one-shot original graphic novel from 1988 simply wasn’t long enough for an entire animated movie; so perhaps therein lies the explanation for the whole Batgirl scenario. It’s actually a fairly good sendoff for a very well-known Batman story, and love it or hate it, every single Batman fan out there will want to see it at least once.

Batman The Killing Joke was released digitally on July 26, 2016, and will enjoy a DVD and Blu-ray release on August 2, 2016!

https://youtu.be/DDj4zGFf4F8

‘Allegiant’: Always Another Wall to Get Over

by Agent Alicia Glass (a.k.a. Pandora the Punctuation Horror)

We’ve been waiting for two whole movies to find out what’s beyond the surrounding wall of post-apocalyptic Chicago, and it’s finally here! The first film, Divergent, set the stage for the world in which post-devastation Chicago lives under the yoke of the factions that divide them from each other, and the legend of the mold-breaker Divergent haunts the city leaders. In the sequel, Insurgent, Tris Prior has been labeled a fabled Divergent and, as the factions break down in Chicago and people are chasing her for their own ends, prophecy comes to light about what’s really beyond the walls of the city. Now, here we are with a third film in which, immediately, Tris and crew are dead-set on scaling those walls and finding out what’s really in the great beyond, so let’s get into this!

The spoilers, they never end!

Those improbable Dauntless climbing rigs really are cool; I think you all should’ve kept them once you made it over the wall. And, yes, it’s a shame Tori (Maggie Q) only made it to the top of the wall before getting killed, but hey, it was farther than she ever got in her Divergent-helping life. Tris (Shailene Woodley) and Four (Theo James), along with the ever-insistent Peter (Miles Teller) and Tris’ forgiven brother Caleb (Ansel Elgort), are out there traversing the pink, pock-marked wasteland in despair while the bad guys from Chicago are trying to chase them down. Is this really all there is beyond the wall — say it’s not so — there has to be something else out here besides a bleeding sky and dead building skeletons and – wait, what’s that? It’s another wall.

But, hey, once you get past that wall and the unexpected super future-science soldiers show up, saving us from the bad guys who chased us all the way past Chicago’s wall, it’s not so bad. Time to get placed in a transport bubble, taken to the cleanest decontamination process you’ve ever had ever, and dosed with a heaping helping of future-truth from the guy in charge, Director Call-me-David (Jeff Daniels).

The present-future is still rather hampered by the past, where we humans did all manner of fuckery to ourselves with genetic modification and the like. This is not explained all that clearly; basically, what we’re left with is the revelation that Chicago itself is a giant petri dish experiment, struggling to bring about the natural selection of the Pure amongst the Damaged. Tris, being a Divergent, is, of course, the very first Pure to be brought out of Chicago, and David wants to take her to the nearby city of Providence, before the Council, to prove their experimentations actually worked and change the face of the world forever!

Whew! Meanwhile, Four has been assigned to the Dauntless-sneering futuristic military operations of the Bureau, and Caleb and Peter have been remanded to the amazing surveillance system, to keep tabs on the war brewing in the faction-less aftermath of Chicago. The experimental city is bent on tearing itself apart in the wake of former leader-villain Evelyn’s death, and the factions are re-forming as they prepare to go to war. Inevitably, what was Amity now announces its new name, Allegiant (there’s your fourth wall broken), and is determined to go to war with the other factionless, who are staging executions as part of the newly discovered freedom of what to do with POWs there in Chicago. Four got himself assigned to what ultimately turns out to be a raid — of children, no less — kidlings living out in the badlands to be stolen from their parents on David’s own orders and sent to be raised as brainwashed soldiers for the Bureau. Four tries to warn Tris that David is a bad man but Tris figures she’s got this and goes off in the flying bubble with David to Providence to state their case before the Council.

But it’s all happening more or less simultaneously – Chicago’s about to go to Armageddon-like war, Tris screwed David and the Council over pretty hardcore, Peter’s made his choice to help the bad guys of the Bureau – the metaphorical and real walls are caving in everywhere! David’s son Matthew, whom you might recognize as Bill Skarsgard, has decided to help Tris and company escape the Bureau however he might, and there is a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it easter egg when Tris uses his key card to get out and the card announces Matthew as Pure, as well. The orange forget-me-not gas is being let out everywhere, people are panicking, and only Tris and her friends can save the day! The movie draws to a somewhat climactic close with Tris and her pals, except the raging, kept-out Peter, of course, preparing to bring down yet another wall and stop the war brewing inside Chicago, and the present-day battles revving up on the outside!

I’ve long been a fan of the Divergent movie series, far over The Hunger Games or pretty much any other dystopian future films based on a YA book series. This latest installment film doesn’t disappoint. In both tone and scope, keeping the same faction and breakout elements that made the book series so enjoyable to begin with, but also introducing a breath of fresh air in the form of sci-fi elements to the over-arcing storyline.

All the kids we met in the first movie have grown immeasurably, some into heroes and some into misled villains, and, for the most part, we approve of what they’re doing without the yoke of adult regret. Not yet, anyway. As always, Tris Prior is made to stand out, both when she’s a Divergent among the beleaguered of Chicago and when she’s among the Damaged of the Bureau, where she wears all-white amongst the fighting-practice blacks of everyone else. At least she has a much better haircut this time. The many walls of the Divergent world are constantly coming up and being broken down, both metaphorically and literally, often, and the films remind the up-and-coming generations to break free of their own walls with grace and gusto!

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‘Ju-On: The Final Curse’ – Just Reincarnate Already

by Agent Alicia Glass (a.k.a. Pandora the Punctuation Horror)

So in true Ju-On fashion, the film is divided up into named vignettes and given a Memento-like sequence of events to try to follow through an already convoluted storyline. Or is it? How hard can it be to understand the rage of a wrongly executed little boy, his cat, and his mother by a crazed father? Turns out, if you’ve been following the updated backstory of Ju-On from new director Masayuki Ochiai, there is quite a bit more behind the Curse than most previously thought. But first we’re going to try to explain the vignettes, how they relate to each-other, and hopefully shed some light on a very dark film series.

First up is Mai Shono, sister of Yui, who went missing after the events of the previous film, Ju-On: The Beginning of the End. Her boyfriend, Sota, is a train station guard and he, of course, is now being ripple-affected by Mai’s splinter curse, because Mai (Airi Taira)  just can’t let the strange disappearance of her elementary school teacher sister go. Mai works as a chambermaid in a hotel, which affords plenty of opportunities for Kayako and Toshio Saeki to come haunt her in every darkened corner. Mai pores through Yui’s schoolbooks and Kayako’s old journal of madness, which certainly gets Kayako’s attention.

Next vignette is titled “Reo,” and she is the cousin of the little boy Toshio, who comes to live with Reo and her mother after both Toshio’s parents die. Reo (Nonoka Ono) is your common schoolgirl type and, boy, does she try to interact with the mute, sad little Toshio when he is taken to their home. Reo’s mother tells her that Toshio’s mother died under some odd circumstances, but not any more than that, and let’s face it, if she knew any more than that, she really should have said so. The movie kind of implies that Reo’s mother knew Toshio’s father killed his mother, the real-life horror part of it, but not anything about the supernatural counterparts or the curse itself. That Curse, which of course Toshio brought with him in the form of his poltergeisting mother, now has a new house to inhabit and a new pool of people to ripple-affect.

The next name on the list is Ena, and her vignette connects to the rest in the most disturbing way: Ena is a little girl in a hospital right across the way from the house Toshio, and his mother, now inhabit. Ena sees Toshio, and more to the point sees the nasty white spirit inhabiting that poor little boy, all through the irrefutable magic of her cameraphone, which is actually quite terrifying and relates to the Japanese fascination with spirit photography.

The next named vignette is “Madoka” (Miyabi Matsuura); she is a friend of Reo’s from school whom Reo mistakenly invites over for a sleepover, along with another friend Midori, while her mother is gone. Both school friends end up meeting Toshio, sort of, when he just poofs into the room and responds with his name in flat odd tones. It’s apparently hard for an evil spirit to act in the really-real world. Meanwhile, elsewhere, Mai and Sota are beginning to unravel from their various hauntings.

Finally, having waited with baited breath for this one, we’re served up the vignette titled “Toshio.” Assuming our audience has seen the previous Ju-On film, we are reminded of the events that led to poor Toshio’s death: the child-desiring madness of his mother, to the point where she actually voluntarily invited in an evil spirit that could give her one. That led to her telling Toshio’s father that he isn’t actually the father of her child, which led to a microwaved cat (Ehw!) and the attempted murder of a little boy who had seriously done nothing wrong. Whew! This reminder slice actually shows the evil spirit that inhabits poor little Toshio (Kai Kobayashi), who will now be referred to as Onryo-Toshio, coming out and going absolutely poltergeist-y, bugshit nuts on the psycho father, Saeki, when he tries to take a knife to his not-son. Here, I actually had to pause and reflect on the sheer beautiful insanity of this entire situation, and how all these ripple-effects of pure evil just keep going on and on, which is the whole point.

The vignette titled “Midori,” who was one of the friends Reo introduced to Toshio, as we recall, is next and the first half basically showcases the ironic haunted deaths of both Midori (Yurina Yanagi) and Madoka, poor things. Then, we focus in for a showdown when Reo goes to confront the boy Toshio, and finds Onryo-Toshio haunting his place, forever ready to shriek cat-death-evil and call in his mother, Kayako. Reo’s own mother tries to get into the fight with the nasty spirits, though why she thought a dresser in front of a door would stop ghosts, I never understood. Reo’s mother comes to the final thought and act that killing the boy Toshio will stop this whole thing, and is rather forcefully prevented from doing that by Kayako. Reo herself, the poor, friendly cousin who had done zero to deserve being involved in this mess other than being blood-related to father Saeki, tries to finish what her mother began and is literally bent into not doing that either.

We’re not done yet, because the vignette titled “Sota” (Ren Kiriyama) is next. He went to check on Toshio himself and discovered Ena watching from across the street, so of course he goes to speak with the dying girl and makes the mistake of touching her, causing explanatory visions to erupt. Onryo-Toshio apparently came, in his ghostly white form no less, cradling his dead cat, to speak with Ena. Here is the one, very brief, moment we see Onryo-Toshio be something less than total evil, as he/it speaks almost gently with the dying girl in a hospital. Though, of course, his reasons for doing so, it turns out, are completely selfish and actually pretty evil, when they’re finally explained in the last vignette. But Sota still needs his haunting to be complete, and while visions of him stalk Mai in her hotel job, Kayako isn’t going to let a little thing like a closed door and a mail slot stop her! Mai is most definitely too late to save Sota and this vignette ends with a traumatized Mai Shono staring at Kayako’s stubbornly unburnt journal, muttering about Ju-on being reincarnated, and so this will not end.

And lastly, the attempt at the wrap-up vignette, titled “Kayako” (Misaki Saisho). The queen of prehensile hair and that creepy door-closing noise herself. Mai has at long last found what happened to her sister Yui, and what became of poor defenseless Ena, too. Mai begs the ghostly shroud of Yui to just reincarnate already, to which Kayako, wearing Yui’s skin, replies, “Ju-on (hatred) will not end,” and does her final spirit of death shriek on her last victim.

The introduction of the thought of the curse itself reincarnating certainly works as a storyline that is both an end and a new beginning, but I have one issue. Never before in the entire Ju-On series has reincarnation been approached, and to just toss it in in the last two vignettes before what is supposed to be the last film in the series ends, well, it seems haphazard at best. Story has been sacrificed for traditional Ju-On ghostly jump scares, and while they are still quite fine for the scare factor, I still wished there had been time for more. But then, as the movie series states quite clearly, the curse of Ju-On never actually dies, so perhaps some other visionary director can reincarnate the series somewhere down the line.

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‘Para Elisa’: Want to Play with my Dolly?

by Agent Alicia Glass (a.k.a. Pandora the Punctuation Horror)

A college student needing to earn extra funds takes a babysitting job that turns out to be much darker than expected!

In the spirit of Women in Horror month, I decided to give this small horror offering from director Juanra Fernandez a try. Yes, the film is Spanish, filmed in Cuenca, Spain, and subtitled – try not to let that deter you. The whole feel of the movie is rather amateurish and unfinished, with many details missing, perhaps purposefully so, like Fernandez had a really great run with Para Elisa as a short horror film first, and managed to get it made into a full-blown movie. The whole thing is only an hour and fifteen minutes or so, leaving no real room for things like background storytelling, but plenty of space for some stark-staring mute dolly horror. So let’s get into this!

Ana (Ona Casamiquela) is your pretty typical college student: she’s nearing the end of school and needs ever more money, she has a drug-dealing boyfriend who just won’t take “no, it’s over” for an answer, and even a silly slut of a best friend, Ursula (Sheila Ponce) who, it turns out, is slapping skins with boyfriend Alex (Jesus Caba) when Ana isn’t looking. In the midst of yet another argument with Alex, Ana decides to take on a babysitting job interview at some creepy flat near a cathedral, and away we go!

Due to the rather short length of the film, as soon as Ana’s brief background with her boyfriend and best friend has been established, we launch right into the horror of the not-babysitting job, even during the interview. Diamantina (Luisa Gavasa), the mother of the girl Ana is supposed to be caretaking, is an extra-weird retired piano prodigy, obsessing over porcelain dolls and plants, apparently. She gleefully doses Ana’s tea with a Spanish plant that’s supposed to cause vocal paralysis, though she claims to have no real idea if that would actually work and how long it will last. But at any rate, Ana is about to become the next life-size dolly for Diamantina’s crazed daughter Elisa (Ana Turpin), perhaps forever!

One would think here would be a great place for the admittedly very creepy mother to stir up some incredible horror, turning Ana into her daughter’s dolly, but that isn’t actually what happens at all. Quite soon after explaining to Ana what her new station in life will now be, mother comes to blows with a shrieking Elisa, and next thing you know, mother’s dead on the floor. The only thing that can seem to calm Elisa when she’s like this, is for mother to play Beethoven’s “Fur Elise” on the piano, and the fact that mother is now dead doesn’t even slow Elisa down! Now it’s time to tie Ana to the bed so Elisa can get some sleep, finally, hugging her very own life-sized dolly.

But see, Ana doesn’t want that. And neither does the near-stalker-like boyfriend Alex, who gets so worried about Ana he goes to the police repeatedly before deciding to go look for Ana his damn self. Much to-do is made about Ana’s cell phone or even the house phone, if Ana can just get to it, though with her vocal cords still paralyzed, I have no idea what she’s going to do once she gets there. That is one of the finer points of this small Spanish offering, a great deal of the horrific struggle between Ana and Elisa is done in complete silence on Ana’s part, and only with childish grunts and panting from Elisa. It’s only when Elisa takes a hammer to Ana’s legs, Misery-style, that Ana is able to let loose a few piercing screams. Much fighting and searching from Alex later, it looks like Ana may have finally made it to a freedom of sorts, but it’s never a good idea to turn your back on the child-like psycho of any horror movie.

We have no idea what happened in the lives of Diamantina and Elisa to bring them to this state, whether they’ve done this sort of thing before (it’s a pretty safe bet that’s a yes), and why no one other than the scared homeless guy has noticed anything is amiss here. Sometimes when a movie works extra hard at providing the why, a good deal of the uknown-horror-scare would be sacrificed for the sake of background. I think, in this instance, the choice of the terrifying unknown and the grownup-child in search of her perfect life-sized dolly stands just fine on its own, and gives us a great, if a bit short, Spanish horror romp!

Check out the dolly collection of Para Elisa on Netflix now!

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‘Boldly Go!’: Where No Musical has Gone Before

by Agent Alicia Glass (a.k.a. Pandora the Punctuation Horror)

Who doesn’t love the sweeping span of the Star Trek universe? While we all wait for our next beloved offering of the Roddenberry-inspired series to come back to the small screen, we can all get off our collective butts and go see the Trek-inspired stage play of Boldly Go!

A stage musical of epic farcical proportions, Boldly Go! follows the intrepid crew of the — what else? — Starship Enterprise, featuring the return of many beloved characters along with some brand new ones, all off on a brand new exciting adventure! Previous assumptions will be confronted, old paradigms challenged, new alliances tested, and brand new contacts made – whether for good or ill as has yet to be seen. And our beloved sci-fi world is all set in a side-splitting tour de force of musical mayhem!

While the stage show has fun with the sometimes ludicrous aspects of science fiction and parodies Star Trek, this new show also lovingly satirizes the entire musical theater genre as well. At its core, Boldly Go! is a story about being true to oneself and one’s convictions even if and perhaps especially when they can be considered laughable, about friendship and love, about the discovery and wonder of things new, about the triumph of the individual over any adversity, and about the joy of sharing with one another this vast and mysterious Universe.

Boldly Go! is written by the Remmen brothers: Cole, a University of Minnesota Theatre Arts Senior, and Grant, a Caltech theoretical physics graduate student. The Caltech world premiere of the stage play features a talented cast from the Caltech and Jet Propulsion Lab communities. The musical is being shown at the Ramo Auditorium of the Caltech Campus in Pasadena, California. Scheduled performances are as follows:
Friday, February 26, 7:30 p.m.
Saturday, February 27, 7:30 p.m.
Sunday, February 28, 2:30 p.m.
Thursday, March 3, 7:30 p.m.
Friday, March 4, 7:30 p.m.
Saturday, March 5, 2:30 p.m.

Purchase your tickets online here, and remember, to Boldly Go! where no musical has gone before!

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‘Deadpool’: WHAM! Maximum Effort!

by Agent Alicia Glass (a.k.a. Pandora the Punctuation Horror)

Deadpool is the ultimate anti-hero for the South Park-loving, I-never-grew-out-of-fart-jokes teenager in all of us. He isn’t concerned with saving the world, preventing galactic annihilation, or wearing an X in a circle on his reds. His problem, at its core, is simple – some douche-nozzle tortures him at work, and then gets all huffy and girlfriend-kidnappy when Wade takes offense.

Wade Wilson (Ryan Reynolds) proves to be a watered-down version of Deadpool’s mouth long before his skin avocadoes, and when he meets the full-grown woman who shares his sense of humor, he is in absolute lusty-love. Nearly everything in the movie comes in montages, so right after the sex-for-all-holidays tribute, comes the devastating news that Wade has seriously bad terminal cancer. Of course, the stripper girlfriend with the heart of gold and the mouth of a sailor, Vanessa, wants to fight cancer with all means available to them. Which essentially means the death-by-inches agony of long treatments and Wade just doesn’t have the patience nor stamina for that kind of dumbassery. Instead, he opts for the Agent Smith recruiting option at his local post-Special-Ops-Agent hangout, and next thing you know it’s off to the mutant factory!

You can expect anyone who’s been hopped up with mutant juice and subjected to many creative tortures, to be a bit cranky with his jailers. Ajax – excuse me, Francis – doesn’t stand a chance in hell of holding the charming-sleazy Brit bad guy of the film role, not in the face of Deadpool’s eternal give-zero-fucks snark. One conflagration later, Wade is determined to rise from the ashes like the most epic anime phoenix ever, slicing and shooting his way through the bad guys to get to the one who turned him into Mr. Potato Head! Francis (Ed Skrein) and his roadblock of a female sidekick, Angel Dust (Gina Carano), prove to be formidable foes, even when met with Wade’s blistering break-the-fourth-wall commentary!

Wade’s early attempts at costumery are terrible and hilarious and exactly what we would find ourselves doing in his boots. Here, we meet his roommate Al, who is about as far from the likes of Daredevil’s Stick as you can get, yet Wade still enjoys bantering with her in his juvenile well-meaning fashion. His bartender friend with the deadpool on when Wade’s gonna kick it does his best to help too – his efforts end up with Weasel (T.J. Miller) as a Shaggy-like sidekick, one of the few who knows both Wade and Deadpool.

The introduction of a CGI-ed to hell and gone Colossus (Stefan Kapicic does his voice) and his little sidekick — this is a mouthful — Negasonic Teenage Warhead, was an interesting choice for the X-Men cameos you just knew we had to have. Tagging Colossus for the unappreciated role of the eternal recruiter of Deadpool to the X-Men seems completely appropriate, considering the lengths Colossus has gone to in other storylines, but the translation of the mega-metal-Russian from the comic books to the big screen wasn’t what I had pictured. Negasonic (Brianna Hildebrand), on the other hand, is clearly the epitome of the New X-Men latter-day class, with her sullen teenage silences, biting commentary and ability to turn herself into a fireball bomb! And, of course, Wade’s wild and wonderful woman, Morena Baccarin as Vanessa, gets many shout-outs for her completely believable portrayal of the woman to die, repeatedly, for!

That’s another thing too many people seem to be overlooking, Wade says it himself – Deadpool is actually a love story, yes, with some horror elements and other stuff thrown in, but still. Wade voluntarily had this done to him so he could live with the love of his life, the woman who shares his corrupted sense of humor and eternally perverse sexual tastes, more or less regardless of what he looks like. Far too many of my fellow geeks and freaks out there would give their entire music collection (I’m betting there won’t be a single Wham! album among them) and then some for a love like that!

There are already tons of reviews out there, all about how Deadpool breathed life back into a stale superhero genre and gave them the encouragement they needed to finally put on their big-boy pants and make an ultra-violent R-rated Marvel superhero movie! But you can’t sit there and enjoy Wade crack wise and twirl your cosplay Thor hammer to impart, “Mmmyes, Deadpool’s sleazy charm is just the thing we modern film enthusiasts need.” Deadpool is hardly the first awesomesauce R-rated superhero movie to come out, (see Watchmen for example) it’s coming out at the most serendipitous time, when we’re all so bored with the eternally bright superhero taking on the whole world of evil, we just want to see a foul-mouthed badass do a bit of the old ultra-violence. To win back the girl who’s just as foul-mouthed and awesome as he is, the only one in the entire world for whom Wade would actually be a superhero!

Do yourself a favor, fan-atics of the world – see Deadpool in the theater now! And for fuck’s sake, leave the kids at home! This movie is not suitable for children at all. You’ve been warned. Don’t forget to stay for the Ferris Bueller-style Easter egg at the end, and cast your own vote for who should be Cable in the sequel! And bonus points if you catch the Stan Lee cameo!

And yes, of course, the trailer is all kinds of NSFW, the entire movie is that way and you know you love it!

‘Batman Bad Blood’: Beware the Nunja

by Agent Alicia Glass (a.k.a. Pandora the Punctuation Horror)

So Batman, the real Batman (Jason O’Mara) has gone missing. Of course this new chick running around in what looks like Terry McGinnis’ Bat colors — we eventually learn she’s called Batwoman — is trying to both patrol the streets in his absence and look for Batman without arousing suspicion, too. Because well, it’s kind of her fault Batsy went missing in the first place – Katherine (Yvonne Strahovski) tried to take on Killer Moth, Firefly, Electrocutioner, Blockbuster, and some new masked dude who’s a badass, all on her lonesome. Batman had to wing in to save the day and disappeared in the ensuing explosion.

Now, what? Nightwing (Sean Maher) gets a distress call to the Batcave, Damien Wayne (Stuart Allen) ducked out of his temple hideout to come see what’s up, and, of course, Batwoman herself is out and about, looking for Batman and trying to pick up the slack. Dear butler Alfred (James Garrett) is covering for Bruce Wayne as best he can, but people are beginning to take notice, both of the missing millionaire and the lack of his super-secret alter ego. Lucius Fox (Ernie Hudson) and his son Luke (Gaius Charles) are having their suspicions, too. With no other real option, Dick Grayson very reluctantly dons the mantle of the Bat, and, of course, Damien has to take on Dick’s original Robin costume, to go out and prove that, hey man, everything’s fine, really.

This new villainous man that seemed so eerily familiar to Bruce Wayne apparently goes by the name Heretic and, of course, he’s near-impossible to track down, let alone beat to a standstill. Katherine meets with her father Colonel Jacob Kane to ask for some help finding Heretic, revealing her backstory about the time she was saved and redeemed by Batman, leading her to become Batwoman. Meanwhile Luke Fox, a soldier returned from Afghanistan no less, is trying to get his dad to open up about Wayne secrets, when there’s a raid on the Wayne enterprises vault! Heretic and his goons strike again! But why are they assaulting the Wayne vault in particular?

Spoilers winging at you!

Everyone knows who Talia al Ghul is, right? League of Assassins, daughter of Ra’s al Ghul and inheritor of that whole Lazarus Pit problem, mother of Damien Wayne and all-around problem psychopath, Talia al Ghul (Morena Baccarin) has never shied from thinking big and using every last bit of League resources to accomplish her goals. This time, they’re astronomical: build a rapidly-grown clone from Damien’s DNA, but the Jarvis Tetch version of the brain program left him with those pesky things like consciousness and free will. Because that never caused problems in similar situations, noooo. This inevitably leads to Heretic (Travis Willingham) wanting to kidnap Bruce Wayne and empty his head of all memories and experiences for his own, which makes an insane kind of sense, like a masochistic Pinnochio. Make me a real boy, Daddy, or I’ll take it from you.

All of what happens in the final confrontation isn’t exactly what you might expect, given the insanity that has a tendency to run in the al Ghul family. Hell, Bruce Wayne and all the rest of his chosen “Bat-family” aren’t the most stable, mentally speaking. And it looks like the family gets a new “brother,” when Luke decides the others need his help and has his fathers machine makers design a whole new bat suit for fighting, dubbing himself the highly original moniker “Batwing.” Despite Heretic’s avowed hatred and Talia’s everlasting ambition, neither can escape the ties of bad blood that bind them to each-other, reminding all of us why you should never do business with family.

There are lots of enjoyable nods to the ongoing history of the Bat family and Batman in the DC comics-verse in general. The nuns armed with katanas and AK-47s guarding the place where Talia has Bruce locked up – hence the “nunjas” as Nightwing points out – are hilarious, and right up the League’s alley for over-the-top-ness. Luke Fox becoming Batwing was interesting, we just knew it was inevitable that someone from the Fox line would eventually join the Bat family in an actual costume. And I still think it’s awesome that Talia would hire the Mad Hatter as a brain doctor for her rapidly-grown cloned super-soldier’s mind control!

Score your very own nunja fighting bats at Amazon!

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‘Contracted, Phase II’: Get Infected

by Agent Alicia Glass (a.k.a. Pandora the Punctuation Horror)

This is what Riley (Matt Mercer) gets for being a nice guy who happens to have a crush on a girl seriously wrong for him – a Hellraiser-style hookup and love-scratch later, our nice guy is beginning to change, too. It would be ridiculous for anyone to watch this movie, clearly the sequel, and not watch the first Contracted film, but if anyone does, the film gives plenty of helpful hints as to WTF happened in the first movie, some in clearly messed up flashbacks. To reiterate, Riley had a thing for Sam, managed to get it on with her after she had Contracted the STD from hell, and her scratch infected him in the same way. The sequel cuts to Day Four of Riley being infected, right off the bat once we have the background, and we stagger right in with him.

Alice is one of the friends Riley knew and she died in the first film, so of course Riley has to attend her memorial, which his pregnant and rather bitchy-with-it sister is putting on for everyone. The sister’s husband happens to be a doctor, so when Riley starts having funny turns, he goes under the radar to him, to get his blood screened for every damned thing. Meanwhile Riley is suffering, and we get offerings of the incredible body horror that made the first film so successful, but only in — forgive me — bites. Riley is now sloughing off pieces of himself onto, and sometimes accidentally into, others around him: his tough-as-coffin-nails grandma, who still smokes and drinks and curses with him, damn it; his oh-so-pregnant sister, in the most disgusting nacho sauce you’ll ever see; even the poor little caretaker chick Harper (Anna Lore) who likes him, she doesn’t even get to tap him, her infection comes from a rather awkward kiss. Like Sam, Riley is determined to fix it himself, so there are a few terrible moments in a mini-mart bathroom, but the feeling is a lot more hurried horror, Riley always seems to be in a hurry to get somewhere once he’s had to accept what’s happening to him.

Like Sam, Riley is determined to fix it himself, so there are a few terrible moments in a mini-mart bathroom, but the feeling is a lot more hurried horror; Riley always seems to be in a hurry to get somewhere, once he’s had to accept what’s happening to him.

Meanwhile, the faceless villain from the first film has been named and fleshed, and now has a Detective Crystal Young (Marianna Palka) after him. The one determined cop after the horrific monster is a perfectly fine trope, especially done in the old Halloween manner, but it wastes valuable STD body-horror time, instead attempting to focus on the eternal horror hunt. The styles more or less fit together, but the feel is different from the first film, and the first Contracted was actually a very smart bit of indie horror. At the very least, the filmmakers took great pains to stay with the original storyline and expound upon it as much as possible.

That said, we’re denied a great deal of the terrific body horror feel from the first film, offered up as sacrifice to things like background and storytelling. The hells you say! The man who was Abaddon, known also more mundanely as BJ, gamely did all the things a crazy Satanic spreader of plague and pestilence would do, right up to the end. But, remember the theme running throughout the film — it’s even in the title, ‘Phase II’ — meaning this is the next phase of the spreading of Abbadon’s virus.

Riley and his poor little now-a-pirate girlfriend, Harper, have made it all the way to the hospital, leaving bits of themselves behind to ripple-infect others. Detective Young and Abbadon himself have made it to the hospital for the ultimate showdown, and I’m terribly sorry but here is where the movie stumbles hard. I really wanted Abbadon to slough off a whole bunch of skin, sprout demon wings and launch himself into the police and hospital denizens like Lucifer on crack! Sadly, that isn’t what happens at all. It looks like poor Riley, even more pathetic Harper, and determined Detective Young won’t be making it to the third Contracted, if there is one. We are forcibly reminded that ripples of Phase II are spreading still, beyond Abbadon or anyone else’s control, and that you could easily be infected next!

Get infected with Contracted: Phase II on Netflix!

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CosLosseum 2016: Enter the Cosplay Arena

by Agent Alicia Glass (a.k.a. Pandora the Punctuation Horror) 

Welcome to San Diego’s very first CosLosseum event, where we honor every last cosplayer, from the obscure obsessions of the anime folk to the well-known lightsaber and sonic screwdriver crowds, and everything in between!

So, the first official event of the day was “The Video Games,” put on by the good peoples of MB Stage. A parody of The Hunger Games, in which all the tributes are characters from some of your favorite video games, all battling it out live for the coveted title of Player One! The audience is said to alter the outcome of the battle, by live and Twitter voting, which changes the game storyline throughout the performance.

Tyrant Queen Zelda commanded the Games to begin and put Mario (yes that Mario) and Jigglypuff in charge, and it turns out a Renegade version of Commander Shepard is the video game designer. Then we got treated to the likes of Scorpion (Mortal Kombat), MasterChief (HALO), Princess Peach (Super Mario Bros.), Paragon Commander Shepard (Mass Effect), Donkey Kong, Pikachu (Pokemon), Link (Zelda), Lady Yuna (Final Fantasy), Samu Aran (Metroid), and even Lara Croft running around trying to kill each other!

This was a live action performance, full of props and audience participation and carefully scripted fight scenes that were truly a joy to watch. All the players tried, within their various character modes, to up the audience participation, and threw their hearts mightily into those roles. You can just tell, the performers at MB Stage Productions really do care about their stagecraft. Every character got at least a few minutes of personal stage time and some fight scenes, most of which were screamingly funny and completely character-appropriate.

The front entrance hall to the ballroom where the con was held was lined with vendors and there was a whole other section of ballroom for yet more vendors. One wall had celebrity tables, where you could walk right up and talk with the likes of Rashaad Santiago and Anthony Reyes, or Sandi Sellner, Moses Moseley and others. The merchant booths themselves were great little corners of all manner of fandom – Wired Redhead Jewelry sold fantasy wire pointy-eared jewelry; the Elder Gods and their alcohol on t-shirts made an appearance with Wyngd Lyon Creations; Leelo Jewelry had flasks and coasters and earrings, oh my; a mad scientist sold geek-favorite pocket watches at insane prices. There were all sorts of Steampunk accessories available at several booths, original art prints and kawaii things and even comic books, and all that barely scratches the surface. No matter how fandom-specific a booth and its merchandise might have been, I saw plenty of money changing hands and smiles all around. Because nothing says ultimate fandom like a flask emblazoned with, ‘THE DARK SIDE MADE ME DO IT”!

Also in the front hall was an entire table set up for emergency cosplay repairs, put on by the brilliant folks at International Cosplay Corps, as they now do at many cons. There were actual freaking sewing machines set up on that table, along with helpful mobile Sergeants who carried cosplay repair kits upon their persons like the best support troops to us wacky cosplayers ever. Far from running repairs with nothing but duct tape and a prayer, these ICC Sergeants and their troopers are a walking blessing at any con that has cosplayers.

The Research for Lupus Fundraiser event was quite small but heartfelt. Dan Posey, leader of this intrepid new con in his Punisher pride costume and chains, gamely took the mic and introduced Hollaine Hopkins of the Lupus Foundation, and former Power Ranger Sandi Sellner, also a Lupus sufferer. The ladies spoke of how Lupus is becoming far too common these days, newer treatment options becoming available with research, and the ever-present need for more research to find a cure. Audience members were encouraged to speak out of their own issues with Lupus, and then the auction, benefitting Lupus research, was held. And Dan Posey proudly announced that, despite it being a small con and on the first day, they had taken in, from ticket sales alone, just slightly over $1,000 to forward towards Lupus Research for a Cure. If you want to donate to research for a cure for Lupus, go here.

A bit more wandering, money-spending and picture-taking later, it’s time for the inevitable Cosplay Costume Contest! With only a dozen or so actual entrants and six categories of prizes to win, the contest was an interesting little do-si-do of coordination. Cosplay entries included characters from The Evil Within, League of Legends, The Strain tv show, Ragnarok Online 2, Final Fantasy, and the anime Black Butler. Winners were as follows –

Group Cosplay – Black Butler trio (Sebastian, Ciel Phantomhive, Undertaker)

Best Makeup – Jack Skellington (The Nightmare Before Christmas)

Best Craftsmanship – The Evil Within

Best Performance – Master Vampire (The Strain)

Best in Show – Ragnarok Online 2

Con Favorite – Tenjo (Final Fantasy)

And that was the end of my very first CosLosseum experience. Yes, the venue was small and without the crushing crowds of the likes of Comic-Con – given some of the costumes people were sporting, trying to do SDCC in them seems like a good way to inadvertently commit homicide. The atmosphere was open and loving and genuinely heartfelt, and I bet you my favorite TARDIS dress that not only will CosLosseum be back next year, it will be bigger, more together, and always full of that adorkable Cosplay insanity fandom!

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