Eternals Trailer – Thoughts and Breakdown

Marvel has finally dropped an official Eternals trailer, and it seems to be exactly what the 25th MCU movie should look like – something different. While WandaVision (and The Falcon And The Winter Soldier to an extent) certainly established that Marvel’s ready to break some of their typical mold, it’s even more exciting to see a director like Chloé Zhao able to apply her unique vision to a mega budget Marvel movie.

Having the trailer open to the sound of The End Of The World by Skeeter Davis with broad sweeping shots of uninhabited land and ocean actually feels more like Zhao’s Nomadland than the latest MCU entry. It elicits feelings of melancholy and existentialism more so than the warm fuzzies of seeing your favorite superheroes again. And that’s pretty impressive. Still, the trailer does eventually lead into the grandiose magic of the MCU before the end, but not as much as one might expect. Now let’s break this thing down…

Eternals will explore the earliest days of man all the way up to the present, revealing that these god-like beings have been around from the beginning, watching humans grow and evolve but never interfering. The best Eternals comics – including the stellar current series by Kieron Gillen and Esad Ribic – have explored this group of characters as neither heroes nor villains. They’ve been around for so long that they see themselves above such concepts, acting only as observers to humanity, viewing people as these fragile finite entities that experience existence in only the slightest blip in the grand scheme of time.

It’s seems like Gemma Chan’s Sersi will be one of the central characters next to Richard Madden’s Ikaris. This makes sense given that Sersi has typically had a personality that stands out among the more self-serious characterizations of the other Eternals. In the comics, Sersi had a very bubbly and social personality and was well-known for her exclusive Manhattan parties, often showing off her unique ability to cast grand illusions. She even had a stint as an Avenger for a while. It’s hard to tell if the movie will lean as much into her extroverted comic book personality, but she’ll definitely be one of the main players to watch out for.

Now this is an interesting image. This looks to be the beginnings of the Uni-Mind, which is one of the more zany and out there concepts in Eternals lore. In Jack Kirby’s original series, the Eternals join together to become one entity called the Uni-Mind – a singular, conscious orb of light and energy. They essentially dissolve their concepts of self to become one intelligent being and level up their capacity for knowledge and understanding. Humans have adopted a similar means to joining the Uni-Mind known as taking psychedelics.

Here we have Lia McHugh busting a move as Sprite, an Eternal who is forever trapped in a child’s body. Sprite’s most notable development occurred in Neil Gaiman’s Eternals series, where she (at the time a he) was portrayed a lot like Loki, with a trickster-like persona. Sprite got pretty devious in this storyline, wiping the minds of all her fellow Eternals and giving them human lives. Little Sprite wanted nothing more than to simply grow up for the first time in her never-ending lifespan, but she nearly killed all the Eternals in the process. It remains to be seen if Sprite will be some sort of villain here or just a hyper little prankster. Either way, the notion of being trapped in a child’s body makes for a very intriguing character exploration.

Naturally, we arrive at a costume-accurate group shot of these new and mysterious beings carving their way into MCU mythology. Yet another image that is a beautiful rarity given that the heroic group shot for every other Marvel Studios film has always consisted of CGI both in the background and foreground. There’s something pure and pensive about this shot in comparison to your typical superhero gathering that couldn’t be more fitting to the themes behind of the Eternals.

While the bulk of the trailer does set itself apart from typical Marvel fair, the very tail end is sure to remind audiences that this is still an MCU entry and will no doubt come equipped with, to some extent at least, lighthearted comedy and references to the greater universe. As has been pretty consistent with the post-Endgame MCU projects thus far, there’s the larger question of who will fill the void of the top tier characters no longer involved with the Avengers. Spider-Man: Far From Home explored the question of Tony Stark’s legacy while The Falcon And The Winter Soldier dove into Captain America’s. In Eternals however, the notion is posed more as a joke. Given that these characters didn’t bother to fraternize with the Avengers when the fate of 50% of all life in the universe was at stake, they surly wouldn’t bother intermingling with them now.

And there you have it, the Eternals have officially been introduced to mainstream audiences, and hopefully the movie itself will project the same feeling of newness and originality this trailer evokes. If executed right, this could be the most relieving breath of fresh air the MCU has experienced since the Guardians of the Galaxy. Let the hype commence!

Army Of The Dead Review – Zack Snyder’s Best Movie Since Dawn Of The Dead

Zack Snyder is having a good year. After releasing the uber long and uber Snydery director’s cut of Justice League on HBO Max earlier this year, it seems the public has finally accepted, for better or worse, that this divisive director is here to stay. Before the mythologized Snyder Cut was announced to actually be a thing that was going to happen, the discussion around Snyder’s string of DC movies throughout the past decade typically skewed toward either a really niche love for his work or a resounding loathing of what he brought to the cinematic table. However, in this post Snyder Cut reality, the mainstream narrative behind Snyder seems to have suddenly shifted to a new balance of either having an adoration for his work or an amiable “eh, not for me, but I can respect it” attitude toward his style.

Personally, I’m on the latter end of that spectrum. As a comic book connoisseur myself, his adaptation of the DC Universe has never appealed to me in the same way Nolan’s Batman or the Marvel Cinematic Universe has, but I’ve always had a general respect for Snyder. Watch just about any interview where he talks about the DC Universe and its characters and it’s clear as day he has a deep, infectious love for this stuff. Whether the majority of audiences are on board with his vision or not, Snyder shows up to unapologetically do Snyder things. And while I can’t say I have much of a taste for his dreary, hyper masculine take on superheroes that always seems to think its conveying something deeper than what’s actually being presented, I’ve typically held the opinion that Snyder is a director who’s simply been playing in the wrong genre sandbox.

2004’s remake of Dawn of the Dead was Snyder’s directorial debut, and it was hands down his best work. With a script by James Gunn and George A. Romero that had little more on its mind than a horror-filled good time, Snyder was free to play to his strengths by delivering a blood-splattered visual feast for the eyes. Rather than clashing his trademark slo-mo visual flair with character driven and thematically dense material like Watchmen, Snyder’s propensity for action-packed style over substance felt right at home with Dawn of the Dead. This was a lane Snyder was born to go full throttle in. Which is why when Army of the Dead was announced to bring him back into the directing chair of a balls-to-the-walls zombie flick, I suddenly found myself more excited than ever for an upcoming movie directed by Zack Snyder.

If you have any interest in the zombie sub-genre, the premise of Army of the Dead alone is probably enough to sell you. It’s heist excursion meets zombie movie as a team of (mostly) bad-ass mercenaries are sent in to a quarantined and zombie-infected Las Vegas to retrieve an ungodly amount of money from a vault before the entire city is nuked and obliterated for good. In terms of delivering on this general premise, Army hits the mark perfectly and doesn’t disappoint when it comes to shelling out absurdist, action-filled zombie mayhem in glorious spades.

Dave Bautista takes front and center in this one, and while the actor of Drax from Guardians of the Galaxy fame does have a natural likability about him, he comes off as less suited to handle the more emotionally heavy moments required here. Bautista may simply be better equipped for straight-forward supporting rolls, or as his brief stint in Blade Runner 2049 may have alluded, a director that can really play to his strengths. There’s no particular standouts among supporting cast, and no real duds either. But that’s neither here nor there in the grand scheme. This is an action movie through and through, and what Army really succeeds at is making each of what could have been an overcrowded cast of characters stand out in their own small ways just enough to get the audience on board to see them through this rapid-fire adventure.

That said, Army‘s greatest weaknesses is in its script – specifically the dialogue. Zombie and heist flicks are usually made to hit distinct genre marks, and the addition of those familiar broad strokes mostly work in Army‘s favor, but what are supposed to be the most emotionally hitting scenes between its characters wind up falling flat with some seriously derivative and overused dialogue. And this is what keeps Army just short of reaching the same heights as Dawn – Snyder’s the lead writer behind Army while Dawn benefitted from the more unique ingenuity of Gunn and Romero behind the pen.

Still, when it comes to zombie anarchy to the backdrop of a post-apocalyptic Las Vegas, Army dispenses one adrenaline fueled action sequence after another, making up for any pitfalls in between. Though an argument for a more brisk runtime may be hard to dispute, the fun never really hits a hard lull, keeping you buckled in all the way through to its wonderfully over the top climax. And while the movie doesn’t completely break new ground within the zombie genre, it does throw in a few fresh new ideas to keep even the most seasoned undead enthusiasts on their toes – I mean come on, you gotta respect a zombie tiger.

Army of the Dead is available to stream now on Netflix. Check it out if you didn’t quite get your fill of little zombie babies from Dawn of the Dead, feel like seeing an alpha zombie trotting around on his little zombie horse or ever wished Shades from Luke Cage was portrayed more like a one-dimensional d-bag.

Saint Maud Review – Crazy With A Side Of Religion

Production company A24 continues its streak of putting out unforgettable horror movie bangers with the recent debut of Saint Maud. Following an extensive pandemic delay, up and coming writer/director Rose Glass and up and coming actress Morfydd Clark present this quietly unsettling descent into madness that, like so many A24 greats, lingers long after watching it.

Saint Maud tracks lead character Maud (Morfydd Clark) who, after a traumatizing breakdown from her past, has recently taken up an extreme devotion to christianity. Tasked with taking hospice care of terminally ill retired dancer Amanda (Jennifer Ehle), Maud becomes enamored with the notion that her soul purpose in life is to help Amanda find God before she passes.

Maud starts out as a character driven study of lust and infatuation through the eyes of its main subject. There’s a curious innocence to Maud as she emerges from solitude to form a deep bond with her new patient Amanda by way of imparting her love of God onto her. The problem? Amanda’s only link to anything resembling spirituality throughout her life has been through her body, losing herself in dance and living life as a free spirit. Now that she’s reached her final days, Amanda chooses to spend them indulging in sin rather than in Maud’s invitation to a devotion to God. And this is where the crazy starts.

Maud can certainly be viewed as a criticism of uber religious devotion, but it never turns overly preachy or overt in that regard. Instead, it’s a peak into the psychology of someone suffering from mental illness as they use religion to establishing a sense of stability to their life. But this allegiance to God is only a bandaid for Maud’s insanity, and when she doesn’t find compliance through imparting her puritanical practice onto Amanda, the mental cracks start spreading. Much like 2019’s Joker, Maud explores a tragic descent into madness that could have been avoided with human compassion. Unlike Joker however, Maud doesn’t act as a cautionary tale or provide a clear cut path or version of a more compassionate world that could have helped avoid the impending detonation. Rather, it’s a display of manic delusions exasperated by a strict faith in structured religion. And this is the movie’s linchpin for leaning hard into horror.

Glass implements an effective blend of sound and visuals that adds a real harshness to Maud’s plunge from sanity. As her balanced regimen untangles, an unrelenting noise, almost like drops down an empty drain, grow heavier while Maud loses her grip on reality. A continual burst of colors outside Maud’s viewpoint – particularly in one stunning scene involving an eruption of fireworks – infect’s the screen to convey the seeping chaos within. Although the initial half of the movie opts for exploring a simmering tension rather than full-blown horror, the final stretch makes up for it in a big bad way by standing toe to toe with even The Exorcist when it comes to horrific religious imagery. The fact that Saint Maud intrenches you in a character driven storyline before taking a turn for the terrifying works to make that jarring shift feel all the more frightening when it finally does happen.

Saint Maud is currently available to stream for free on Amazon Prime. Check it out if you didn’t quite get your fill of demonic puking scenes from The Exorcist, want to witness one of the most aggressive hand jobs ever put on screen or have an interest in seeing the holy spirit provide some serious orgasmic ecstasy.

Following Your Dreams… Gulp

It’s been a little over a year since I posted on this thing and much has changed for me since. When I originally started posting my pop culture reviews and analyses on here, it was for one vital reason – take any kind of step toward escaping a 9-5 job I was no longer happy doing. At the time It had been years since I wrote about movies and comics in college, but it was probably the only thing that came somewhat natural to me, so I thought, what the hell, if anything it could be a fun creative outlet to purge my avalanche of thoughts whenever I consume a piece of storytelling from a medium I love.

In short, that’s exactly what coming on here and creating these write-ups did for me. It was a first step – a validation that I like doing this thing, so maybe, just maybe I can go a little further with it. Since I last posted, I managed to leave the job that was no longer fulfilling me and pursue a couple freelance writing gigs based around comic pieces and pop culture news reporting. I’m far from living the dream just yet (the pay isn’t exactly livable), but it’s been a next step that at one time would have seemed impossible to achieve.

Outside of the fact that I enjoy a good self back patting as much as anyone else, I want to share my own viewpoint here to a) have somewhere to lay out my thoughts as I consider my own next steps and b) hopefully reach a few people who are in the same boat and considering their own baby steps toward doing something they like. So, here are a few things that have helped pull me out of some discouraging slumps as of late.

Choose Your Destiny

Getting past your own fear and anxiety to do what you enjoy is a lot like playing Mortal Kombat for the first time (or most video games for that matter, but this is the metaphor I’m running with). You’re presented with those stone pillars with all those mean-looking bad asses lined up from bottom to top and even though you know none of it’s real, that it’s only a simulation on a screen, you feel intimidated nonetheless.

So maybe you start with some basic training to learn the buttons and see what you’re capable of. Not so bad. So you take another gander at those stone pillars. The two hardest difficulties still look pretty scary, but the smallest one with the easiest difficulty and least amount of mutant baddies is starting to look a little more approachable. You get your butt kicked by the first guy, but you actually get some hits in and draw some blood. You realize beating him is doable, with a little more focus you can come out victorious.

You’ve now won a couple matches and suddenly you have a little more pep in your upper-cut. These ninjas in face masks are all show. Before you know it, you’ve conquered the tallest pillar and now you’re looking for the next game to be challenged by. That four-armed bastard at the top wasn’t so scary after all. In fact, as you use a head splitting fatality to finalize a flawless victory on your best friend who thought they stood some sort of chance, you wonder what was so intimidating in the first place.

The Internet Is Your Best Friend

The internet is full of of negativity that will burrow inside your mind like a parasite if you let it. At the same time, if you direct your attention to the appropriate corners, the internet can be endlessly positive and helpful, and can even be the very thing that gets you back up on your feet with a fresh new outlook on life.

YouTube videos and podcasts, as well as books recommended by way of both YouTube and podcasts have been my greatest muses as of late. My current bout of inspiration began from reading The 4-Hour Workweek by Timothy Ferriss. If you’re anything like me and have a niche you’ve always wanted to follow but get trapped by the thought that you’re not personally capable of pursuing it, this is the book for you. Tons of YouTubers and bloggers swear by it changing their life and inspiring them to go after what has now made them successful. For good reason, too. This book will bring you back to reality to realize that most people can be just as successful as those who already are, with the only thing holding them back being the belief that they’re just not capable. Truthfully, If you’re passionate about something, you’re already over qualified. I’d also recommend checking out Ferriss’ YouTube channel where he provides a wealth of tips and strategies for all facets of life.

Beyond that, you’ll have to explore these avenues on your own to find what best fits you. When it comes to self-help books and YouTubers, generally speaking, they all impart the same basic core wisdom and advice to assist you out of your slump, it’ll simply come down to which personality and charisma types appeal best to you.

Write And Keep Writing

From what I’ve gathered out of watching and reading what I’ve consumed so far, the best and most consistent advice I’ve seen is to write as much as possible. This is not to say you need to sit down and churn out your best work every time either. Quite the opposite actually. Some of the best advice I’ve received as of late is to wake up and physically write out at least three pages in a journal. It can be about anything, and I mean anything. From stream of consciousness to whatever’s weighing your mind down, or just any random thoughts you’re having at the moment. By doing this, you’re purging your monkey mind, making those thoughts tangible and leaving them inside the book so you can go about your day without letting them weigh you down.

Personally, this has done wonders for me lately. For a person who writes for work and wishes to pursue writing even further, I (hilariously) realized how little I’m actually writing each day. There’s no doubt that I’ve benefitted greatly from this past year of freelancing, but I’ve found that working within the same perimeters day in and day out has kept me in a very specific corner creatively. Waking up and writing whatever comes to mind each morning has allowed me to discover much more about myself both on a personal and creative level. Often it helps me to work out ideas in my mind and find new ways to approach and think about them. If there’s any one piece of advice I’d offer to anyone considering a daunting new avenue in life, it’s to write first thing in the morning. Which brings me to…

Conclusion

Now that I’ve been writing outside the framework of my job, I’m more motivated than ever to get back to writing whenever possible as I make my next moves in life. I plan to get back to busting out my typical movie, comic and television pieces on here again, and if on occasion I feel up to it, perhaps even write up some more “what’s on my mind” posts like this one right here. Whatever the case, I hope you enjoyed my ramblings or found some kind of helpful advice if you happen to be in similar position as me. If you’re on the path to pursuing any kind of dream, I wish you the best of luck as you conquer those stone pillars one baby step at a time.

Greatest MCU Scenes: Captain America: Civil War – Peter Parker Meets Tony Stark

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The Setup: Sony has held ownership over Marvel’s Spider-Man film license since 1998, and through the bulk of the 2000’s, audiences were satisfied. Then Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 3 released. A misstep undoubtedly, but surly Raimi would redeem himself with a part 4, Right? Nope. Given Sony’s forced inclusion of the symbiote suit and Venom into Spider-Man 3’s narrative, Raimi felt a Parker-like responsibility to hold full creative control over the follow up as to ensure a less muddled outcome. Naturally, heads butted, so Sony decided to push the emergency reboot button on the franchise. The decision was disastrous. Marc Webb’s The Amazing Spider-Man (2012) suffered as a lifeless retelling of an overly familiar story and The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (2014) fell victim to more executive meddling, shoving in as many villains and sub-plots as possible to ensure brand recognition for Sony’s planned (at the time) Sinister Six spinoff. Most importantly, the box office returns for both were nowhere near where they should be for movies featuring one of Marvel’s most recognizable characters.

Sony was in desperate need of direction. Cue every Marvel fan’s dream come true when Marvel Studios extended their hand to cut the tangled web Sony found themselves in. Deciding if you can’t beat them, join them, Sony allowed Kevin Feige, producer and creative overseer of the highly successful Marvel Cinematic Universe, to integrate a newly rebooted version of Spidey into his Avengers-connected movies. Feige and his team would take full creative control over the character and his narrative within the MCU while Sony would collect the profits from each of the solo Spider-films. Fans were happy. Marvel was happy. Sony was happy. And after announcing Tom Holland as the new Peter Parker to be fist introduced in 2016’s Captain America: Civil War, directed by the Russo brothers, every spider-fan was foaming at the mouth to find out how Peter Parker would fit into an established Marvel cinematic universe.

Why it’s great: If you were there opening night of Civil War’s premier, chances are your theater erupted in ovation when the Queens title card encompassed the screen. An hour and fifteen minutes had already passed and given just how engaging the story and conflict between Steve Rogers and Tony Stark was up to that point, it could easily have been forgotten that a certain web-slinger was soon to be involved. And what better way to announce the character’s entrance, not through the grandiosity of Spider-Man swinging into action, but with the quaint Peter Parker in his humble neighborhood. Alt-J’s “Left Hand Free” plays as a segue into Parker’s world, capturing perfectly the youthful energy of a sixteen year old returning home from school and riding a high from nailing his algebra test.

The Russo’s choice to have Aunt May raising Peter in an apartment rather than in a house, as had been tradition in all Spider-Man media up to this point, was smart given how outlandish owning a house in Queens on a middle-class income is today compared to the character’s debut in the sixties. And the modest setting adds strides to Peter’s shock of finding a world-famous, billionaire superhero awaiting him in his living room. Peter mumbles and bumbles his way through grasping the situation while Tony winks and raises his eyebrows, signaling him to play along in front of his aunt. It’s a hilarious moment that instantly has you loving Holland’s rendition of the character, connecting with the relatable awkwardness of trying to keep his cool in an inconceivable situation, nearly losing himself to nerves and astonishment. And given how well known the character is, there’s no need to spell out the stakes right away, we know Peter keeps his identity secret from May, Tony could ignite his life by letting that cat out of the bag right there in his living room.

Tony knows the power he holds over Peter and flaunts it in the most Tony Stark way possible. When the scene moves to Peter’s bedroom and Peter tries to press Tony for answers, Tony responds, “me first,” and pulls up footage of Spider-Man to show what he knows. There’s no greater Tony Stark trait than taking control of a situation and showing that he holds all the cards. Tony’s in investigation mode, trying to find out if Peter is the real deal. He’s clearly studied this new hero in Queens, even tracked him to the point of discovering his identity, but he’s still suspicious. Could a sixteen-year-old kid really pull off the tech and smarts he needs to do what he does? As the scene progresses, Robert Downey Jr. conveys a subtle warming up to Peter as he discovers that this kid is just like him, a teenage Tony Stark from much humbler beginnings, without the money and inheritance to fund his genius. When Peter reveals that he invented his own webbing, Tony tries his best to hide his visible shock. He might have a contender for smartest person in the room, and it’s a high school kid.

Mid-scene, Tony gets Peter to fess up to his secret identity and refers to the fledgling hero as Spider-Boy. Peter, somewhat embarrassed, tells Tony that he goes by Spider-Man. Given the MCU’s timetable, Peter would have grown up with Iron Man and the Avengers in the news, looking up to and being inspired by their heroics. So, when he got bit by a spider and acquired powers of his own, putting on a costume and giving himself a superhero identity would have been, to an extent, influenced by coming of age in an Avengers-world. Likewise, Tom Holland grew up in a time that Iron Man and The Avengers dominated the box office and zeitgeist. The Russos have been candid in saying this was an essential aspect to casting Holland. The intimidation Tom felt while acting one-on-one with a veteran actor he grew up admiring translated perfectly to Peter’s headspace in the scene. The moment when Tony gets up to sit next to Peter and tells him to “move the leg” wasn’t scripted. Tom forgot his stage direction and Robert was calling out the rookie mistake. It’s this real-life dynamic that blossomed the mentor/mentee relationship between Tony and Peter with such grace. And Tom, in the course of just this one scene, solidifies himself as the definitive on-screen Peter Parker. His body language and voice displays a bashful diffidence on the surface, while at the same time giving the slightest fragments of assurance and strength that slowly reveal themselves throughout the scene – most notably when Tony throws a webbing cartridge and Peter catches it instinctively without looking, or in the final moment when Peter stands up, pumps out his chest and webs Tony’s hand to the doorknob in reaction to Tony threatening to “tell Aunt Hottie.”

Perhaps the most notable aspect of this scene is that it reiterates Peter’s origin without feeling like a retread of already covered ground. Which is saying a lot, considering this was the character’s second reboot in four years. Peter’s admittance that he’d love to play football but “couldn’t then, so I shouldn’t now,” says precisely what Uncle Ben would have taught him off-screen, that if he’s got a gift, he must use it to help others rather than himself. Tony then emphasizes that Peter’s different, to which Peter quickly retorts, “But I can’t tell anyone that, so I’m not.” With just that line, we feel Peter’s isolation from having to hide his gifts from his peers in order to conceal his identity. And then, instead of using the exhausted “great power, great responsibility” line, Peter says, “When you can do the things that I can, but you don’t, and then the bad things happen, they happen because of you.” Combining that line with Holland’s display of internalized torture, the guilt, pain and responsibility Peter feels over his Uncle’s death is conveyed without a single mention of Ben Parker or the moment he died. At a time when the Uncle Ben origin had been retold countless times in various mediums, this moment of subtlety was all that was needed for the MCU to make a nod to that crucial event so it could finally move into new storytelling territory.

Tony hearing and being affected by Peter’s philosophy is key to the overarching narrative of Civil War. At this point in the story, Tony was just commanded by General Ross to put a team together and bring in Steve Rogers. He’s wrestling with the hard fact that his and Rogers’ apposing beliefs may lead to battle. Tony’s doubts are kicking in. So, when a sixteen-year-old kid explains the simple idea of individual responsibility to do what’s right, Tony’s reminded why he signed the Sokovian Accords in the first place, to prevent the bad things from happening before they happen. He’s provided a much-needed reminder on why he’s fighting for what he believes in.

What really makes this scene great is that it shouldn’t have worked at all. Adding a popular character into a movie after just acquiring the rights to said character has “disjointed mess” written all over it. The truly amazing part is that it provides a much needed, middle of the story, fleshing out of both a prominent theme in the movie – the responsibilities of those with great power – and Tony Stark’s character motivations. And at the same time, it reboots and introduces the latest rendition of Spider-Man into the MCU, all in one impressive scene that is an engaging rollercoaster ride of tremendous chemistry, humor and emotion.

A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010): Confronting Repressed Trauma

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Opinions regarding the plethora of sequels and spin-offs from 1984’s A Nightmare on Elm Street vary from one horror connoisseur to the next, but the 2010 reboot is easily the most collectively abhorred of the series. Discredited by critics as a pale imitation of Wes Craven’s horror classic, the Michael Bay produced Freddy Krueger vehicle does have its fair share of derivative ingredients to back up those denouncements. From dialogue that hits square on the nose to abandoning the colorfully surreal nature of the original for more bleak, saturated cinematography, it’s no surprise there was a stringent rejection by Craven purists. But what is greatly overlooked and undervalued about director Samuel Bayer’s updated vision is that it evolves the core concept of the original into its own darkly absorbing tale that explores the deep-seeded effects of childhood trauma.

Craven’s nightmare dealt with a deranged individual who murdered children when he was alive, but to the late director’s admittance, he abstained his original idea to make Krueger a child molester as well, believing sensitive audiences at the time would reject his vision of the most evil person he could possibly imagine. This of course did nothing to detract from what made the original a classic to this day, that the monstrosity of Freddy is but a placeholder for the unassailable darkness deeply seeded within the human psyche. Thoughts of death, depression or existential dread can all be projected onto what Freddy’s nightmares represent, but the very idea that the children in the white-bread suburban town of Springwood had to face this unseeable, but very real, evil on their lonesome while their parents attempted to suppress and deny its existence spoke significantly to a generation.

By the time the reboot came to its 2010 fruition, the new storytellers decided to go all in on the notion that Freddy was a child molester. This provided the opportunity to explore lead characters who had been personally victimized by Krueger as young children, as apposed to Nancy and her friends from the original who were never confirmed to share any personal relation to the tragedies of their town’s past. Having a new cast of characters slowly discovering their memories of being abused by a child predator cast an even darker shadow on this new iteration, but it resulted in a unique investigation of repressed wounds.

The remake abandons all characters from the original, save for the lead’s first name, Nancy, and, of course, head honcho slasher, Freddy Krueger. But Freddy takes on a slightly different persona here. Gone is the playful trickster Robert Englund excellently conquered the personality of. Instead, Jackie Earle Haley brings the grim and scary, conveying a jaws-like inevitability while approaching his victims, feverishly rubbing his finger-knives together, hungry for blood. His voice booming and arresting. This is one intimidating rendition of Freddy. And it all works to portray a more aggressive abuser necessary for this new narrative.

The movie begins, like the original did, by tricking the audience into thinking the lead roll belongs to another. Though her screen presence lasts a mere ten minutes longer than Tina’s from the original, our time with Kris actually feels more intimate, witnessing more of her nightmares as she searches for clues from her childhood. Even those who have seen the original might be tricked into believing Kris is the head scream queen. As Kris recounts her nightmares of Freddy to her boyfriend, Jesse, it becomes clear that he too has been encountering the same monster in his own dreams. As the teens in this story move into adulthood, the nightmares that begin bubbling are memories of repressed physical and sexual abuse they experienced in pre-school from the grounds gardener at the time, Freddy Krueger. But Jesse denies Freddy and the very real past he and Kris share with him. When Kris ends up dead at the hand of Krueger’s nightmare, Jesse can no longer deny the truth.

The deaths in this movie are a direct metaphor for a victim’s suicide when the haunting memories of abuser’s actions become too overwhelming to bare. At the start of the story, the first of the victimized teens to die, Dean, is forced by the specter of Freddy to cut his own throat. “You’re not real,” he screams just before making the slash. Just as anyone who must confront the hard reality of a traumatizing past, denying the truth of such a memory can lead down an insufferable road that, all too often, ends in tragedy.

After Kris and Jesse end up dead by way of nightmare, Nancy and Quentin take on the roll of investigators to a past that’s back to haunt them. Both characters are outcasts to a length, with Nancy the most socially introverted. As an artist, she stays indoors and in touch with her creative side, a trait often manifested in those who have suffered a damaging past.

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As the two characters avoid sleep at all cost, their tired appearances evoke a visual resemblance to that of drug abuse. The less they rest to avoid the nightmare of Freddy, the more pronounced the shadows under their eyes and the blotching in their skin appears. The lack of sleep Nancy and Quentin undergo here is purposely analogous to a victim’s turning to harmful drugs to suppress the pain from their wounded psyche. In both cases, it’s the only way to avoid a cruel ghost of the past. The movie makes this connection most notably in a scene where Quentin drives to a pharmacy to refill the pills he needs to stay awake while Nancy awaits in the parked car. Quentin aggressively begs and pleads to a pharmacist who refuses to refill his prescription, while Nancy – covered in sweat as though fighting withdrawals – reaches for the car’s plug heater and jams it into her forearm to jolt herself awake. Her relief from the sensation comparable to a junkie’s relief from self-injecting a needle.

About halfway through the movie, Quentin experiences a nightmare that reveals his and Nancy’s parent’s involvement in Krueger’s murder. After finding out their parents committed the crime without any hard proof of Krueger’s wrongdoings, Quentin and Nancy begin to sympathize with their former abuser, believing he may not have actually been guilty of the heinous violations their parents accused him of. This uncertainty Quentin and Nancy feel is akin to the regret that many real-life victims experience when making accusations against their abuser. The mental wounds inflicted by the victimizer can be so domineering that, in some cases, the victim will actually be convinced that their own memories of the past are a lie. And it’s this misplaced belief of being in the wrong that lead Nancy and Quentin right into Freddy’s trap.

When their investigation takes them to the basement under their former pre-school, Nancy and Quentin find undeniable evidence of Freddy’s disgusting violations against them and their classmates as children. But Freddy wants them to remember, just as any true victimizer would, because their memories are what grants him his power over them. As Quentin puts it, “We were wrong. He’s not after us because we lied. He’s after us because we told the truth.” The nightmares they experience aren’t due to their own wrongful accusations, they’re from very real scars that were inflicted on them beyond their control. A fact that is, sadly, oftentimes difficult for victims of repressed trauma to accept.

In the climax, Nancy makes the choice to confront the trauma of her past once and for all by willingly entering Freddy’s nightmare in an attempt to capture and bring him into reality. After all, the only way any victim can truly overcome traumatic stress is by first acknowledging and accepting the reality of it. Once there, Freddy ties Nancy down in bed with her childhood dress, forcing her to relive the nightmare he made of her childhood. He tells Nancy to, “Look what you did to me,” while gesturing at his burnt face, attempting to, once again, elicit her guilt for the consequences of his own actions. But this time Nancy fights back, wise to his illusions. Managing to bring him into reality and, with the help of Quentin, subdue him, she cuts off his razored hand – dismantling the very appendage used to assault her and her classmates as a child – and slices his head off, killing him once and for all. An affective sequence that displays the attainable empowerment found from confronting and coming to terms with psychological wounds of the past.

Although in no way a game changer to the horror genre, 2010’s A Nightmare on Elm Street brought new layers of depth to a well that had long since been run dry. As a remake, it takes the essential ingredients of the original and uses them as a means to explores the psychological ramifications of child molestation in an allegorical manner that is both raw and empowering. It also manages to restore a level of tensity and terror that had been long lost on legendary slasher, Freddy Krueger. These additions to the series alone make this reboot, at the very least, a worthy endeavor.

 

 

 

 

 

Better Call Saul Season 5, Episode 3 Recap/Analysis

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Both Better Call Saul and Breaking Bad have delivered some inventive opening teasers in their time, but this week’s episode of Saul brought us an opening visual metaphor that deserves a spot amongst the greats. Returning to Jimmy’s discarded ice cream from last episode, we see a curious ant come upon it. First just the one, then a few more until an entire colony covers it completely. Swedish yodeling plays as the ants find sweet satisfaction in the pile of melting sugar. “It takes many good deeds to build a good reputation, and only one bad one to lose it.” Much like Walter White’s decision to enter the meth business that results in a swarm of tragedy – including two loads of commercial airplane passengers dying in the sky – Jimmy’s seemingly harmless choice to embrace his Saul Goodman alter ego leads to misfortune in ways that only we the audience know the dire future outcome of. And just as Kim warned, his 50% off deal will attract some genuine problems.

Cue Jimmy in the back of Nacho’s car, unable to escape and unsure of his coming fate. Luckily it turns out Lalo needs Jimmy for Krazy-8’s legal troubles. Jimmy attempts to wordsmith his way out, suggesting Lalo save himself the trouble and use a burner phone instead, but Lalo’s a Salamanca, and Salamancas don’t take no for an answer. Jimmy’s still trying to keep his ethics in check, but the surrounding ants have already had a taste of his delicious offerings. As Nacho so adequately proclaims later on, “when you’re in, you’re in.”

Meanwhile, a brief check in on Mike sees the old-timer drowning his guilt in the bottle. He insists the bartender remove a Sydney Opera House postcard from the wall, a venue that Werner’s father engineered, as if dismantling it can somehow dismantle his guilt over offing his former colleague. Mike’s not one to confront his own feelings, so out of sight, out of mind. Of course, all that pent up emotion needs to be taken out somewhere, so why not on a group of neighborhood thugs looking to mug a seemingly defenseless old man. Hey, it beats taking it out on his granddaughter.

Nacho’s pops pays him a visit at his swanky but dreary home that reflects the wealthy but soulless life Nacho’s stuck with. Nacho’s latest attempt to remove his father from the chessboard only backfires with his dad solidifying his firm stance to never run away. In a series full of characters we know the ultimate fate of, Nacho and Lalo’s are the only two that remain uncharted. We know Lalo’s absence from the Breaking Bad timeline means his removal from the game is imminent, it’s a matter of finding out just how Gus will eliminate the obstacle that is Lalo. But Nacho on the other hand, while we know he’s missing from the BB timeline, his story has a fifty-fifty chance of a hopeful outcome. Either he ends up dead as a result of the twisted game he’s become a pawn in, or he makes a clean getaway (perhaps by way of a certain vacuum salesman?). Whatever Nacho’s destiny, its difficult to imagine his morally honorable father – a man who would rather die than cower or submit to the Salamancas – getting his happily ever after. The foreboding tragedy weighs heavy.

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Now to the heart of this episode, Kim, framed by two evening balcony encounters she shares with Jimmy within 24 hours. Jimmy continues to keep coy about the Saul Goodman shenanigans that have him way in over his head, knowing letting Kim in on his self-created troubles would only push the last moral vestige in his life away. But Kim, as always, can smell the Saul grease all over Jimmy. But what really scares her is how enticing the amoral whirlwind of Jimmy really is. She stares hungrily at that empty beer bottle on the edge of the balcony, fighting hard not to surrender to her dark side and toss it down.

The next morning sees Kim in zone with her good nature, using her power to help the common folk in the community. Then Mesa Verde comes calling. And like a dog on a leash, she’s pulled into defending a corporate giant, to drive off the old and stubborn Acker out of his life-long home. But as tenacious as Acker may be, he’s made a distinct choice to plant his feet in what he believes in. A trait Kim can’t herself possess when being ordered to handle the dirty work of an association that has no time for principles.

To the praise of her colleagues, Kim embraces her roll as the aggressor on Acker and goes into full threat mode. Afterwards, Kim’s drive home conjures memories of her brutal season three car crash, one that was a direct result of heartless overworking. This time, she slows her car to a stop to consider an empathetic approach. She returns to Acker’s home, in the dead of night no less, as a peace offering, extending him a variety of new housing options and her personal out-of-pocket assistance in his transition. She also reveals a hardship from her childhood, it seems Kim’s mother had a slippin’ side of her own as she would wake Kim in the middle of the night to skip out on rent payments. A part of Kim’s past that adds a new layer to her determination against her own unethical allure. One that owes its origins to her mother’s influence. Acker, however, rejects Kim’s vulnerable showmanship. “You’ll say anything to get what you want, won’t ya?”

Back to the balcony with Jimmy, Acker’s words have surly stuck with Kim. Is her empathetic heart anything more than a cover up for her infatuation with stepping out of line? With no words at all, we’re treated to a delightful scene that speaks to both Kim and Jimmy. Playfully letting his beer bottle slip in and out of his hands, Jimmy takes great delight in playing on the edge. But Kim is fed up with the half in, half out of her dark side. She aggressively tosses her bottle and a few more to boot, reveling in the satisfaction. They then run inside to avoid the upset neighbors and (probably) go wild on each other.

Of course, it would be a travesty not to mention the return of Breaking Bad‘s Hank Schrader and Steve Gomez. As Jimmy works on keeping his own ethical values in check by assuring the best possible outcome for Krazy-8, he’s forced to go toe to toe with the two DEA partners. Hank and Gomey’s entrance into the show is masterfully built up for anyone who’s watched Breaking Bad. As they walk into the building, they’re shrouded just enough to make us lean in for conformation. once inside, a sign reading, “no weapons, no smoking, no spitting or cursing,” enters the side of the frame. An apt way to signal Hank’s unmoving moral righteousness. The two friends hilariously babble over expired foods (fitting for the episode’s theme of rotting morality) as they de-arm themselves, placing their weapons in lockers. And as this show loves to remind viewers of the tragic outcome of its characters, we get a camera shot from the inside of both Gomey and Hank’s lockers, framing them in their own square coffin-like boxes, reminding us of the grim fate they’ll both meet in the New Mexico Desert.

 

The Invisible Man Review

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The Invisible Man opens on Elisabeth Moss’ Cecilia as she makes a carefully planned escape from her abusive husband in the dead of night, tactically leaving the bed they share and shutting down the high tech alarm system that safeguards their secluded home by the ocean. It’s quiet and we know the jump scares are inevitable as she scampers around the darkened house, any wrong move can sabotage her plan. The fast-beating tension penetrates effectively because we’re in Cecilia’s headspace, anxiously hoping for her escape. We feel her terror. But we’re provided no context as to why she should be so frightened by the man she shares a bed with, no flashbacks to set up the anguish he’s caused her. We simply take Cecilia’s in-moment terror as all the needed proof. We take her word for it. This trust we find in the alleged victim will define the rest of the movie.

Having escaped the clutches of husband Adrian, Cecilia takes solace in the home of her best friend James and his daughter, Sydney. The trauma from whatever horrors Adrian must have inflicted linger strong as Cecilia can barely muster the courage to step outside her new shelter. But the good news she soon receives – Adrian has suddenly killed himself and left behind millions of dollars for her – quickly becomes a nightmare when an unseeable presence begins exacting psychological torment on Cecilia. Could she be loosing her mind? Let’s just say it’s no coincidence that Adrian was a genius scientist who specialized in optics.

Drawing from the over 120 year old H. G. Wells tale about a man who uses science to turn himself invisible and scare the hell out of everyone around him, writer/director Leigh Whannell not only finds a way to reinvent this classic concept as a timely metoo metaphor, he also manages to create a truly memorable horror super-villain. Adrian doesn’t just want revenge on Cecilia for leaving him, he wants to see her suffer in all the worst imaginable ways. He grants her the relief she aches for by letting her believe he’s dead. He awards back her agency in life by giving her the money that she in turn donates to friend Sydney’s college fund. He endows the picture perfect life to Cecilia, if only for the sadistic enjoyment of stripping it all away. And he does it as any great villain would, by striking at the heart, turning Cecilia’s support system against her and destroying her very identity to the point of seemingly no return.

The notion of trusting in what your own eyes can’t see is handled with superb affect by Whannell who, through the first half of the movie, elicits unease from the simplicity of the unknown. Casually turning the camera from Cecilia’s mundane actions to a vacant corner of the room triggers serious anxiety. At least we can keep an eye on how Michael Myers is about to strike when he’s face to face with his victim, here we’re left with nothing but imagination. That is, until Elizabeth Moss brings the hard-hitting reactions. No stranger to the portrayal of female subjugation with the likes of Mad Men and The Handmaid’s Tale, Moss is the ideal fit, now able to fight back in more empowering ways than ever that only this kind of genre fiction can provide a platform for.

Benjamin Wallfisch’s score provides an arresting presence for the invisible man. Not unlike what Hans Zimmer’s stress induced strings brought to the joker in The Dark Knight, the phantom-like theme for this movie equips a suffocating inevitability to the unseeable evil. The action sequences in the ladder half, featuring an invisible man who’s invisibility is wearing off, gracefully transitions us from horror to action-thriller. Well choreographed and filmed with few cut aways, it’s no surprise Whannell nails these scenes given that his last film, Upgrade displayed a practical mastery for adrenaline-induced action.

If there’s a gripe to be had though, it’s with how the script forcefully transmits Cecilia’s isolation. After the invisible Adrian tricks best friend James into thinking Cecilia assaulted his daughter, James takes off with his only child in a protective rage, leaving Cecilia alone at his home for the remainder of the day and the entirety of the night. Given his knowledge and sympathy for Cecilia’s abuse up to this point, it’s hard to buy James leaving his supposedly mentally unstable friend alone for so long. A similar contrivance occurs with Cecilia’s sister shortly after. It’s all made to sell the idea that even those closest to a female victim are quick to victim blame, but such an important insight deserves less extreme and more finesse. The subtler approaches to this observation throughout – moments when Cecilia’s friends listen to her theory of an invisible Adrian with skeptic confusion, wanting to trust her but hesitant to – are far more effective in driving the point home.

The fact that we’re provided no flashbacks to Cecilia’s abusive relationship with Adrian may at first glance seem like a flaw, but in hindsight works to inform a legitimately strong ending. One that, without spoiling anything, will force audiences to question just how much they believe their heroin and the morality behind the ultimate justice served. The answers will very from person to person and gender to gender, but the ambiguity we’re left with is an undoubtedly clever way to start a conversation regarding society’s response to female victimhood.

This one just hit theaters over the weekend. Check it out if you want to see Peggy Olsen advertise an all new line of crazy, MC Ren duke it out in a rigged fight with an invisible man, some genuinely unexpected narrative twists and the one minute removal of stained paint from a suit that even Billy Mays would be shocked to witness.

 

Brahms: The Boy 2 Review

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The awkwardly titled, Brahms: The Boy 2, sees the the original movie’s director, William Brent Bell, returning to the antics of the off-putting creepy doll known as Brahms. This time with an all new cast of characters to be terrorized by the pale figurine’s mischievousness. But while the first Boy movie managed memorability thanks to its rambunctious twist ending, the sequel commits the crucial sin of being, quite simply, boring.

After a vicious home invasion attack on Liza (Katie Holmes) and son Jude (Christopher Convery) while her husband (Owain Yeoman) was away, the family decides to leave behind the wounds from the city and move into a secluded mansion in the woods. Jude’s mental shock from the assault has left him mute, but when he finds Brahms the doll buried in the land near their new home, Liza can’t shake the feeling of a sinister influence from her son’s new playmate. Are the peculiar happenings around the house a result of Jude acting out his psychological stress or is there a spiritual malevolence within Brahms?

Bell demonstrates moments of legitimate talent behind the camera here with some genuinely well produced shots throughout. The opening home invasion sequence starts by building tension with the ominous shadow of a burglar under the transparent stairs that an unaware Holmes walks down. The lighting plays an affective roll and the boxlike structure of the family’s swank apartment showcases the claustrophobic trauma their city living leaves them with. And the closeup shot (as seen in the trailer) of Brahms and Jude’s faces while the doll and the boy meet for the first time is an intriguing reflection of the blank slate that Jude’s traumatic encounter has left in him.

Unfortunately, all the camera pizzazz in the world couldn’t save the fact that the plot stays mind numbingly stagnant, almost stubbornly so, as if it feels insecure in stepping out of its overdone genre trappings. It meanders while hitting all the familiar beats and delivers no shortage of jump scaring. A horror movie can get away with a handful of standard jump scare fare, but not only does Brahms deliver way too many, it makes them its bread and butter. And it does this all while pulling the phew, it was just a bad dream card all too often, to the point of being a fall back from building any real tension or stakes. These dream sequences are mostly made to emphasize Liza’s mental anguish from her survived home invasion encounter, but it gets to a point of hitting them over the audience’s head to fill a runtime and check some conventional scare boxes.

Buried beneath the saturated mundaneness lies a stimulating seed about a mother’s insecurity for being unable to protect her son and the harbored guilt she bares in being responsible for his mental damage. But not only does the fruitless script keep this idea from growing, the dull casting provides little assistance as well. Katie Holmes delivers all that you might expect out of her, but she’s also never given a proper moment of emotional confrontation to let the audience form a real connection to her inner turmoil. Christopher Conveyer as young Jude portrays a numbingly banal version of horror’s latest creepy child. Ralph Ineson shows up as an offbeat groundskeeper. His energetic performance, especially in the final act, is a curious one to say the least. A miss for his talent given his much more effectively withheld work as the father in 2015’s The Witch. But it doesn’t help that the character he’s playing here is one of the most by the numbers versions of eccentric exposition guy for family in haunted house.

Any hope that the climax can make this humdrum by-product of every other scary doll movie worth the watch is shot down with a substantial letdown of an ending. The way the evil of the nefarious Brahms is overcome feels less like an insightful challenge for the characters and more like an excuse to end the tedious endeavor as quick as can be. At this point, a sincere confrontation is in order for a mother and her child, but little weight is held in their moment while little Jude’s face is covered in a Brahms-like mask. It all amounts to stuffy lifelessness.

This one just hit theaters this weekend. Check it out if you want to see the psychological horror from the first movie completely undone with no subtlety whatsoever, Katie Holmes throw burning candle wax at a weird guy’s face, identical matching clothing on a little boy and his doll and the gruesome outcome when a dog thinks it can fuck with Brahms.

Fantasy Island Review

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After the not so well received, critically or financially, Truth or Dare, Blumhouse Productions decided to give director Jeff Wadlow and star Lucy Hale a second chance at winning over the hearts of horror fans. Unfortunately their second swing, Fantasy Island, and it’s one hell of a swing, quickly turns from a fun-enough gander at the vicarious nature of movie viewing into a perplexing soap opera that overstays its welcome. 

Loosely based on the 70’s television show, this thrill-induced reimagining begins as five contestants arrive at Fantasy Island where their most desired fantasies are promised to come true. Michael Peña plays Mr Roarke, a mysterious host who cryptically brings his guest’s fantasies to life. By the time the credits roll, you’ll either be deeply bothered or laughably impressed by his consistent over-delivery of “fantasy” (“Let me officially welcome you to Phahntasy Island,” “there is only one phahntasy per guest,” “you must see your phahntasy through no matter what”).

Fantasy Island‘s strongpoint is in the setup for each of its character’s fantasies. The first hour alludes to an amusing examination of the deceptive fantasies that movies can sell audiences. Melanie (Lucy Hale) wants revenge on a bully (Portia Doubleday) who’s high school abuse caused years of mental anguish, so she’s presented with a torture chamber setup to physically, mentally and socially destroy her harasser any way she pleases. Only Melanie believes its all smoke and mirrors, that she’s only tormenting a hologram. Not unlike a horror movie audience deriving enjoyment from on-screen suffering. As long as it’s not actually real, it’s okay. But when Melanie comes to grasp the realism of her actions, her attitude turns to empathy.

The notion of delving into the raw realities of a life that some movies sell as ideal fantasies is an intriguing one that Fantasy Island drops all too fast. Elena (Maggie Q) gets to live out her ideal life with her ideal man, the happily ever after promised from romance movies that just won’t sit right with her for some reason. Bradley (Ryan Hansen) and Brax (Jimmy O. Yang), the two brothers and token comedic airheads, choose to “have it all,” only to learn the burdensome cost when competing gangs come to take it all from them in a Scarface-esque raid. And Randall (Austin Stowell), having dreamt his whole life of joining the military, confronts the atrocities of warfare that your average heroic war movie may gloss over and glorify.

Had it operated safely, stuck to its breezy, slightly sarcastic horror tone and played out a transparent plot for the remainder of its second hour, Fantasy Island would have made out just fine. But it doesn’t. The schmaltzy, insipid terrain it instead enters only baffles and begs the question, what were they thinking? Remarkably large plot holes regarding the ludicrous rules of the island stand out while characters, one after another, throw out convoluted narrative twists as if they’re in competition for most ridiculous shocking reveal. Each one of these turns is described in overbearing detail to drive home what’s happening, only to backfire and cause even more bewilderment. It doesn’t make any sense is an often unearned and overused description to quickly shoot down movies, but this one proudly earns that description. Wadlow is clearly aiming for absurdist B-movie enjoyment, but that’s a tough invitation to accept when the choppy tone seems just as lost on the cast as it is to the audience.

This one just opened in theaters. Check it out if you like backflips on fly boards at the best island party ever, beautiful people, more beautiful people, strange accents in devil face masks and Angela from Mr. Robot being Angela from Mr. Robot…on a magical island!