Monsters, monsters, monsters!!!

All posts in the Monsters, monsters, monsters!!! category

Kong: Skull Island Brings Monster Mayhem!

Published March 13, 2017 by rmpixie

Kong: Skull Island (2017, 1 hr., 58 mins)

If you know me, you know this pixie loves her monsters. Big, small, ugly, or cute, I need a weekly dose of monsters and creepy crawlies to keep me going. The promise of that plus the iconic King Kong being revived for 2017 in Kong: Skull Island made me perk up in the hopes of some great monster action, and I definitely got my fill.

Set in the same universe as the 2014 version of Godzilla, government agent Bill Randa (John Goodman) and seismologist Houston Brooks (Corey Hawkins) go to Washington in 1973 to beg for funding and a military escort to a remote island. It’s their hope to be the first to discover a whole new eco-system. The Viet Nam War has also ended, and their military detail is led by Lieutenant Col. Packard (Samuel L. Jackson) who, after the war, feels a sense of loss and displacement after the sacrifices he made for his country. Randa adds the surly and ruggedly handsome ex-soldier and tracker James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston) and the weathered but plucky photojournalist Mason Weaver (Brie Larson) to be a part of their quest. They must all overcome personal agendas and fight for their lives as the island holds way more than they bargained for.

Kong: Skull Island is more fun than a barrel of monkeys (sorry!) because we get one gigantic primate and his prehistoric friends (and foes). It’s a clever blend of traditional war movie, adventure and fantasy quest at its best with some not-so-subtle nods to Apocalypse Now, Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness (see various character names for proof), and even Platoon. These nods would normally distract me, but aside from some clichéd music choices, the writers somehow got the right balance without regurgitating the same old war stories. They also made the right choice with splitting up characters into teams with different agendas. It made for great adventure a la Jules Verne, and gave us a snapshot of who they were and what they wanted out of the expedition with the right amount of exposition; in fact, I thought the story and pacing made the almost 2-hour film seem a lot shorter.

Some interesting choices were made for the cast. Most of the supporting talent I could take or leave, but it was nice to see Corey Hawkins from Straight Outta Compton and The Walking Dead don his nerd hat, Boardwalk Empire’s Shea Whigham as the all-or-nothing Captain Cole and a woman of colour with Tian Jing as the biologist San Lin (Hey Hollywood, we need more, please!). I was thrilled to see John C. Riley in the trailers (he, aside from the monsters, was a huge draw for me) and he didn’t disappoint as the hilariously loopy fighter pilot Lieutenant Marlow who had been stranded on Skull Island since World War II.  He was necessary for the plot, but at times I felt he was put into the story with a neon “comic relief” sign over his head. This is in part to the uneven treatment of tracker Conrad and photographer Weaver. They were so perfectly coiffed after each perilous moment, with glowing skin and shimmering lip gloss, that there wasn’t any room for their characters to be developed. The one actor that did surprise me was Jackson. In a rare moment he actually showed some range outside of his potty-mouthed villain shtick, showing us a conflicted, revenge obsessed man portrayed with a lot of passion.

And the monsters? Oh, the monsters!! Kong was a thing of beauty, with all the detail and emotion from a CGI character you could want. Terry Notary did the ape acting for Kong and is another simian movement expert alongside his colleague Andy Serkis. The horrifying “Skullcrawlers” made me jump for joy with their reptilian bodies and huge gaping mouths. Kong’s sensational fight scenes made me want to see more fantastic animals, but there was only so much time! Hats off to the long, long list of the incredible concept team and digital artists for a job well done. I also want to point out the “Iwi” people, the indigenous tribe of Skull Island that took Marlow in after he was stranded. The concept for them was really beautiful, although their silent society spoke volumes thematically. There are actually a lot of themes in this film, with Kong representing nature or the rage against war, and the indigenous people silenced against or perhaps because of the march of progress, but upon further reflection, this film just doesn’t have the legs for heady discussions.

Yes, I enjoyed Kong: Skull Island despite the handful of issues I had with it.  Director Jordan Vogt-Roberts’ first big budget movie offers an intro for the newly imagined Kong and his world, and I can only hope for meatier stories in the future. The film should definitely be seen on the biggest screen possible (I saw it in IMAX 3D thanks to the horror boyfriend), and stay for the end of credit scenes that made me squeal and clap. Godzilla and Kong met in 1962, and with this new “Monsterverse” where there’s a franchise afoot with all my favourite monsters, there’s a juicy re-match on its way!

Check out this cool website for Monarch, the research company in the Godzilla/Kong Monsterverse here.

 

Grace Hallworth and the Oral Traditions of Trinidadian Ghost Stories and Tall Tales

Published February 22, 2017 by rmpixie

Last year, I gained a new co-worker that turned out to be my sister from another mister. We share a lot of similar experiences, good and bad, and also a Trinidadian heritage. When computer glitches made us scream out in frustration, my lovely co-worker would stage whisper “Obeah!”, eliciting uncontrollable giggles from both of us. Obeah is a West Indian term for witchcraft and general supernatural trickery, often thrown into conversation in a West Indian household with a casual knowing, as if every little thing was explained by that one word.

When she brought me a book on folklore from Trinidad, I squealed! Entitled “Mouth Open Story Jump Out” (which basically means you feel free to gossip or tell tales), this book contains all the stories my mother and grandmother used to tell my sisters and I, either to scare us into good behaviour or just freak us out in general. I could once again read about “La Diablesse” or “The Suocouyant”; remembering how frightened I was when the women in my family would recount the “true” stories from the Trinidadian backwoods, otherwise known as “the bush”. This book inspired me to dedicate a post for Black History Month and Women in Horror Month to Grace Hallworth, a Trinidadian storyteller who carries on the tradition of the island’s folktale and ghost stories in both the written and spoken word.

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Hallworth, retired librarian, has a number of children’s books under her belt. Born in Trinidad and moving to England in 1956, her storytelling and writing would honour the tradition of Trinidadian folktales for decades. There isn’t a lot of information on her since she is senior and now resides in a retirement home northwest of London, but she is still active and celebrated within the storytelling community and a great reference for those in the children’s literature and academia world.

Storytelling is ingrained in our human DNA; from the beginning of civilization it has brought us together, connecting us and keeping our traditions and cultures alive through the spoken word, song, dance and pantomime.  It is an exercise in remembering ancestry, entertainment and community in one fell swoop.  In island culture, a simple gathering can result in stories about aunts, uncles, cousins and all the weird and wonderful things they encounter in ” Nancy” stories, a word spawned from the original tall tale figure Anansi, the trickster spider from West African tales.

The stories I remember most were the aforementioned “La Diablesse”, a hoofed woman who leads men astray and “The Suocouyant” an old woman who becomes a ball of light and sucks the blood of humans and animals. I thought about these ominous figures in an abstract way, in the same way a kid thinks about the devil or the boogeyman. These were our boogeymen, or women as the story goes. They were ours and everyone else’s it seems, as these phantoms went by other names across the world, like the Phillipines blood sucker The Aswang and the Succubus who keeps company with The Soucouyant, who in turn shares similarities with the Spook Lights featured in Eden Royce’s collections of Southern gothic horror. Even the Loup Garou, or werewolf, stays the same in France and the West Indies. It never occurred to me then how connected these tales were until I started to write about horror themes critically.

Before each set of stories, Hallworth writes a paragraph or two describing the traits of these entities in the chapter, giving a context to the oral tale. You can see a common thread with the spirits and demons that only makes sense since Trinidad and Tobago are like many Caribbean islands that have a long history of colonization. On top of the indigenous people of the islands, settlers from Europe, Africa, The United Kingdom, South Asia and China came in as well, so there is no wonder that some phantoms share the same traits as their originators back on their home shores.  It’s actually comforting to know that Hallworth worked to validate and document these folktales so that they could stand with their global counterparts in unity as they scare children worldwide.

Hallworth preserves regional dialect or patois, traditions and nostalgia as well as the tales themselves.  Some of the stories provide a moral like be careful what you wish for or living in harmony with the natural world, and some were just meant to scare the bejesus out of you.  It is a feat the can’t be done without some effort, but she takes these oral traditions and commits them to the page with an ease that makes me hear my mother and grandmother’s voices as I read the words. At the very least, it would be a treat to hear Hallworth herself recite these tales, as she will still do from time to time in the English libraries and schools even though she is reportedly in her late 80’s.

As kids become more sophisticated with electronics and adult life readily at their fingertips, it’s comforting to know this little book of Nancy stories persists on library shelves so the original monsters under the bed or at our windows don’t fade away.  I am grateful for Grace Hallworth because it is through her book that I remember my mother (my original woman in horror) and my heritage.  She is a storyteller, writer, children’s author and an honorary woman in horror for preserving these tales.

Grace Hallworth is a patron for The Society of Storytelling in the U.K. and has been nominated for the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award in 2016 and 2017.

For a list of all her books, check here.

Crazyhead’s Raquel: Susan Wokoma, Women in Horror and the Next Generation of Slayers

Published February 20, 2017 by rmpixie

crazyhead

Crazyhead (Netflix, 2016)

 

Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997-2003) was a phenomenon that continues to live on. A TV series spawned from the 1992 cult film, the fandom for a spunky high school student and her crew of friends as they battled vampires, demons and other supernatural fare while dealing with real issues knew no bounds, and new fans of her quest to save the world from creepy crawlies spring up even to this day.

Enter a new generation of shows that have found a home on Netflix. Here, writers and directors have the free reign to offer more than your local cable provider with shows like smash hits Stranger Things (2016), Luke Cage (2016), and Daredevil (2015). There’s also room and the desire for many international contributions as well, including the 2016 comedy horror from E4, Crazyhead.

Crazyhead is the story of Amy (Cara Theobold) and Raquel (Susan Wokoma), two young women who suffer from what doctors think is a mental illness. They see things – people with demonic faces – and are continually told that it’s all in their heads. When they meet one night after a frightening attack and realize they both see the same thing, they join forces to destroy these demons on earth. Raquel also has a special lineage that makes her of interest to the devilish clan, and along with Amy’s perverse puppy-dog of a friend Jake (Lewis Reeves), they go through some crazy hijinks to find answers and not get killed.

With this being Women in Horror and Black History Month, I must focus on British-Nigerian Susan Wokoma, the woman behind the off-the-hook Raquel. I first noticed her in hysterically funny and outrageous Chewing Gum (2015-2017) as the main character’s religious and fearful sister Cynthia. Her performance kept me laughing and cringing, and I was thrilled when I saw her in Crazyhead. Here, she once again kills with one liners and holds her own as the sharp-tongued and zero-filtered but vulnerable Raquel, who just wants to kick some demon ass and figure out life as a young woman with this unbelievable vocation. Wokoma breathes a vibrancy into the character that allows her to take up space and be present, even declaring at one point that she deserves better from Amy since she is a “strong, powerful black woman.” Even though Raquel has issues connecting with people and making friends, she has a great relationship with her patient brother Tyler (Arinzé Kene), full of playful jabs, sibling rivalry and lots of love. I also applaud the writer Howard Overman for making her confident in the way she looks and her space as an attractive black woman. Raquel gets “hers”, she is sexual, she is attractive and doesn’t look to others for validation, even though she may be looking for love. It is refreshing to see a black female character in a leading role own her sexuality in a healthy, non-stereotypical way like it was meant to be treated; like it always had a place at the table. North America should take note of this representation of female sexuality in general.

 

Her counterpart Amy is the perfect foil for her zany observations and plans with Amy’s voice of reason as a helpful, if ignored, counter argument for Raquel’s actions. Together they are a believable representation of young women in today’s world trying to carve out a space for themselves while dealing with the trials of being “normal”. This brings to light a couple of things: it shows how as a woman, your mental health is sometimes glossed over with medications and misunderstanding, and how once they found each other, Amy and Raquel’s bond strengthened their courage and belief in themselves. Although they have some rocky moments in their relationship, it is a real sisterhood.  In terms of mental illness, the title is a touch misleading as they are not actually mentally ill but battling supernatural forces.  They are however, at the mercy of either indifferent mental health professionals or ones that have an agenda.  Either way, this brings out how those living with mental illness may go mismanaged or pushed out of the medical system without much thought to their situation.

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Crazyhead is a comparable British counterpart to Buffy. It holds it’s own as a show, but it wouldn’t be here if Buffy hadn’t blazed a trail, and that’s ok. Joss Whedon paved the way for shows to push the envelope and have fun doing it.  Like Whedon, Crazyhead’s  writer and producer Howard Overman ensures that the dialogue is sharp and funny with a good amount of raunch, and thanks to the cast members, the delivery is on point.  He’s worn the same hats and worked his magic for The Adventures of Merlin (2008-2012), as well as being the creator for The Misfits (2009-2013), Atlantis (2013-2015), and the UK Dirk Gently (2010-2012). Each of these series has come in with a bang, created a huge following and left before they overstayed their welcome. I have complete confidence that Crazyhead will do the same and make a lasting memory in the world of #BlackGirlMagic as well as in the minds of horror comedy fans for years to come.

Crazyhead is streaming on Netflix now, so do yourself a favour and watch!

Face Off Season 11 Episode 3: Monster High Comes to Life!

Published February 9, 2017 by rmpixie

 

Even though I’m literally 900 years old and had only a vague idea of the subject matter for this week, the artists seemed really jazzed and it was a fun challenge.

The gang headed to Mattel Headquarters where they met McKenzie and V.P. of Design, Natasha Berling to find out their next Immunity Challenge. The popular characters of Monster High were up for interpretation this week. The artists had to create realistic versions of these kids of iconic monsters and they would have to be ready for the big screen. Natalie told them the characters were all about individuality, kindness and acceptance. Her advice to them was to focus on the doll’s uniqueness and push their styles. The teams also got help with their concepts with two of the lead designers at Mattel, Natalie Villegas and Rebecca Shipman. Oh and another catch: Instead of the regular judges, a focus group of Monster High “superfans” would help pick the winner along with Natasha.

Tyler and Emily got Draculaura. Natalie told them to go with a frilly look. Tyler made some bat wings that were morphing out of her collarbone and Emily created a wig for her pink and black hair. Things went smoothly for them, and the focus group loved her. One fan thought she was a cross between a Disney princess and Dracula, and the others like that they hit all the marks with the character with the organic bat collar and skin tone. Only one person thought she wasn’t casual enough, but the play on Draculaura celebrating her sweet 1600 got them into top looks.

Rachel and Gage brought Venus McFlytrap to life. They wanted to integrate vines with her look as well as a pet flytrap plant. Mr. Westmore helped them with an idea to tack hair and the appliance to the model but the face piece ripped in a few places so they had to repair it and scramble to put on a beauty makeup. I wasn’t a fan of this look. I thought the mouth was a bit harsh. The group liked it better up close, but some felt the paint was too flat (I agree). She did look like the doll to them so they were pleased with that.

Niko and Cat had Clawdeen Wolf. The wanted to create a fashionista with a wolf nose and beauty makeup. Mr. Westmore told them not to bury the wolf ears under hair and to go subtle with the face. Niko tried to lay fur pieces on the model but it looked weird, so they opted out for hair that he curled on the model’s limbs. I didn’t like the paint on the face as it looked muddy, and the group didn’t like the fur, but the nose worked for them.

Logan and Adam were lucky this was an Immunity Challenge week. They got Abbey Bominable. They didn’t have a full concept except that she was a snowboarder. Natalie loved that idea and told them to go towards a Yeti look. Mr. Westmore told them they had to work on the nose since she was a teen and it had to be pretty. They had to scrap the whole face piece in the end and start over again. They also worked on a pet mammoth in a carry case. I didn’t like the nose on the character. The group felt it looked too much like Harry Potter’s Voldemort.

Keaghlan and Melissa had Cleo De Nile. She was part mummy. They didn’t want to emphasize bandages, and wanted to create a full face piece. Mr. Westmore told them they had to have great edges for the face piece to work. When they put it on the model, it ended looking like a “bad drag queen makeup”, so during last looks, they took it off and did a beauty makeup. I didn’t like the paint as it also looked muddy. The group liked the subtle bandage details and the hieroglyphics.

Ben and Evan worked on Skelita Calaveras. They sculpted flat bone details to glue to the models’ arms and legs. She turned out beautifully with Natasha loving all the details. The group thought she stayed true to the character and they would definitely see a live action movie with her in it. They also loved how glam she looked and the shading done on the bones.

Cig and George got Lagoona Blue. The wanted to go all out and create gills, scales and fins on her. The guys hadn’t done a beauty make up in years if at all, but they had nothing to fear. After practicing on each other, they knocked it out of the park with metallic accents and a beautiful face sculpt. Natasha felt they captured the essence of the character and pushed her to another level. The fans loved the metallic touches and the overall fresh version of the doll.

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The team that won immunity was Cig and George!! Everyone loved that they had fun with the character and pushed her to a new level. The was a bonus prize as well: they would get a prize pack from Mattel, Monster High products and highlighted on Mattel’s social media network. I’m glad they won!

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