The Quiet Ones – Spotlight Podcast 5:17.1

Jared Harris (right) tries pulling the ol' "Trust me, I'm a doctor," bit on Olivia Cooke in THE QUIET ONES
Jared Harris (left) tries pulling the ol' "Trust me, I'm a doctor," bit on Olivia Cooke in THE QUIET ONES

A professor and his students perform experiments on a young subject, trying to prove that the paranormal experiences she claims to undergo are actually psychologically motivated. But the more they delve into the case, the more it seems that what’s going on is driven by powers not even the subconscious mind could imagine. What could these strange forces be? Sorry, can’t tell you, even if I wanted to — I unfortunately wasn’t able to see THE QUIET ONES, the newest entry out of the revived Hammer Studios, starring Jared Harris as the morally compromised scientist and Olivia Cooke as his unfortunate subject. But Cinefantastique Online’s Steve Biodrowski and Lawrence French got a look, and in this episode they’re able to clue me in on how effectively director John Pogue manages the scary stuff, whether the payoff is commensurate with build-up, and how this latest entry slots into the legacy of the legendary British horror house. Click on the player to hear the show.

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Transcendence – Spotlight Podcast 5:16.1

It's a brave but not especially bold new world faced by (clockwise from top)Johnny Depp, Rebecca Hall, Cillian Murphy, and Morgan Freeman in TRANSCENDENCE.
It's a brave but not especially bold new world faced by (clockwise from top) Johnny Depp, Rebecca Hall, Cillian Murphy, and Morgan Freeman in TRANSCENDENCE.

It’s some kind of irony that the experience of watching a film called TRANSCENDENCE is far from transcendent. Not that director Wally Pfister doesn’t try: The story of a scientist working in A.I. research (Johnny Depp) who has his own consciousness transferred to the Web is lushly mounted (as befits a big-studio production from the man who previously served as Christopher Nolan’s director of photography), reliant on an atypically grounded mise en scene that emphasizes the love story between Depp’s scientist and his colleague wife (Rebecca Hall),  and chock full of actors who can deliver skilled performances (joining Depp and Hall are Morgan Freeman, Cillian Murphy, Kate Mara and Paul Bettany). Unfortunately, it’s that restraint, along with poor plotting (Really? We’re supposed to empathize with anti-technology terrorists whom we’ve previously seen murdering a roomful of innocent people with poisoned cake? Really?), that leaves the film as a promise unfulfilled.
The Cinefantastique Online team of Steve Biodrowski, Lawrence French, and Dan Persons get together to weigh what went right and what wrong with this ambitious attempt at  dramatic science fiction. Click on the player to hear the show.

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OCULUS – Spotlight Podcast 5:15.1

This scene, featuring stars Karen Gillan and Brenton Thwaites, appears NOWHERE in OCULUS.
This scene, featuring stars Brenton Thwaites and Karen Gillan, appears NOWHERE in OCULUS.

How frustrating is it when a film has all the stuff it needs — promising premise, good production values, decent cast, director who can twist filmic reality in imaginative ways — and just… doesn’t … grab… you? Pretty damn frustrating, it turns out. OCULUS tells the tale of an orphaned brother and sister who reunite as adults to destroy the mirror that turned their father into a homicidal maniac, yet despite casting DOCTOR WHO’s Karen Gillan in the lead, finding unique ways of styling flashback sequences so that past impinges on present and vice versa, and stuffing its scenario full of such spooky stuff as hostile, spectral presences, mind-bending hallucinations, and a guest walk-on by the Weeping Angels, the whole winds up decidedly less than the sum of its parts.
The Cinefantastique Online team of Steve Biodrowski, Lawrence French, and Dan Persons get together to express their fascination about a film that has so much and falls so short, and to try to figure out what prevents this latest Blumhouse (or as it’s now being called, BH Productions) release from rising to its potential. Click on the player to hear the show.

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CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER: Spotlight Podcast 5-14.1

Chris Evans faces down foes that only a genetically-altered super soldier could vanqush in CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER.
Chris Evans faces down foes that only a genetically-altered super soldier could vanquish in CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER.

And so commences the Marvel Onslaught of 2014. Four movies, three studios, and more opportunities for the true believers to nudge each other knowingly when Stan Lee makes his expected cameos, even though your great-great-grandmother could probably recognize him by now. That said, there are far worse ways to kick off this flood than CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER, a well-mounted, surprisingly well-acted (hey, you’ve got Sam Jackson and Robert Redford in there), and all-around entertaining actioner that finds the stalwart Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) facing a test to his WWII-bred notions of right and wrong as he finds himself suddenly at cross-purposes to his masters at S.H.I.E.L.D and confronting a formidable assassin called the Winter Soldier.
The Cinefantastique Spotlight crew of Steve Biodrowski, Lawrence French, and Dan Persons are no little grateful that THE WINTER SOLDIER goes down as easy as it does, but are in accord that there were ways it could have been much better. We compare notes in this latest episode — click on the player to hear the show.

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Noah: Spotlight Podcast 5-13.1

The strengths of Darren Aronofsky's NOAH go beyond mere spectacle.
The strengths of Darren Aronofsky's NOAH go beyond mere spectacle.

Sooner or later, it had to happen. Three months into 2014, we finally move beyond the execrable and the mediocre, to something imaginative, exciting, and just flat-out worthy of praise. NOAH allows director Darren Arnofosky to apply his characteristically iconoclastic vision to the classic Bible tale, transforming the historic setting into a fantastic world where fallen angels walk the earth in the form of lumbering rock monsters, technology has advanced enough for bear traps and projectile weapons, and the humble, pious man charged with ferrying the world’s beasts and birds safely through the watery manifestation of the Lord’s wrath becomes, courtesy of Russell Crowe’s performance and Aranofsky’s incisive read of the material, a conflicted hero tasked with determining how much of God’s judgement the Creator expects him to fulfill by his own hand.
Theofantastique.com’s John W. Morehead joins Spotlight regulars Steve Biodrowski, Lawrence French and Dan Persons as they discuss Aranofsky’s visionary approach to the story, explore what the film has to say about the nature and demands of faith, and look into the political controversies the film has stirred up. Click on the player to hear the show.

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Divergent: Spotlight Podcast 5-12.1

 Shailene Woodley has to confront the challenges of being DIVERGENT.
Shailene Woodley has to confront the challenges of being DIVERGENT.

In the future, humanity will achieve peace and prosperity by being divided into five factions. When you’re sixteen, you get tested to see which faction you belong in, and that determines your station in life for the rest of your existence. Unless you decide to join another faction, which you’re totally free to do. But if you discover that your not really fit for your chosen faction — which is what the testing showed to begin with — tough noogies, because you can’t go back once you’ve chosen, and have to become an outcast and can’t work anywhere, because that’s an efficient use of manpower. Unless, of course, you’re one of the people who contain aspects worthy of several factions, because we all know such a multi-talented person is a really rare commodity. You’re then dubbed a Divergent, and you’re fully screwed, because… people don’t like a show-off?
No, the premise of DIVERGENT doesn’t make much sense, and will only give you headache the longer you think about it. So the Cinefantastique Online team of Steve Biodrowski, Lawrence French, and Dan Persons — aided and abetted by beabetterbooktalker.com‘s Andrea Lipinski for a little literary credibility — try to get around the conceptual roadblocks to determine whether this teen-oriented, dystopic science fiction action film at least passes muster as fun entertainment. Some clear the hurdle, some (such as the person writing this intro) keep tripping on the bar. Click on the player to hear the show.

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Blood and Black Lace: Spotlight Podcast 5-11.2

BloodAndBlackLace_Poster resize

A fashion institute becomes a charnel house of death when a masked madman stalks a sextette of glamorous models, each of whom has come in contact with a diary containing a secret that the killer must – at any cost – keep from prying eyes…

It’s time for a 50th Anniversary Podcast celebration of Mario Bava’s BLOOD AND BLACK LACE (a.k.a., Sei Donne per L’Assassino – i.e., “Six Women for the Assassin”). This horrifying 1964 thriller, which sets violent murder in a world of high-fashion glamour, set the template for the Italian genre known as Giallo, which would percolate throughout the cinematic bloodstream for decades to come, offering violent murder-mysteries populated by beautiful victims and masked, black-gloved psycho-killers. Yet Bava’s original stands above the rest, all these decades later, thanks to the director’s genius for stylization – ranking among the best efforts ever in the horror genre.
With two-thirds of the regular Cinefantastique podcasting crew on hiatus, Steve Biodrowski hosts guests Keith Hennessey Brown (Giallo Fever) and Roderick Heath (This Island Rod) in a detailed discussion of what makes BLOOD AND BLACK LACE stand the test of time.


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The Masque of the Red Death: Spotlight Podcast 5:9

Vincent Price (right) and Jane Asher welcome uninvited guest John Westbrook to THE MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH.
Vincent Price (right) and Jane Asher welcome uninvited guest John Westbrook to THE MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH.

Nope, no big openings this weekend, and everybody is too busy talking Oscars right now (we’ll get to that later in the week). So while waiting for the awards ceremony to begin, the Cinefantastique Online team of the Steve Biodrowski, Lawrence French and Dan Persons got together to celebrate another film having its fiftieth anniversary this year. It’s Larry’s call this time around, and he’s picked a good ‘un: THE MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH, Roger Corman’s adaptation of the Edgar Allan Poe story that casts Vincent Price as a Satan-worshiping noble who just wants to be loved — and corrupt anyone who comes within sneering distance — while an horrific pestilence spreads across the Italian countryside.
This time the team is in accord that this is not just, at the very least, one of Corman’s best Poe adaptations — possibly the bestbut also a bona fide horror classic, lushly mounted and photographed (by Nicolas Roeg!), intelligently adapted by Charles Beaumont and R. Wright Campbell, and featuring an impressive cast headed up by Price in one of his finest performances. Come listen in as the guys delve in-depth into what makes this a must-see film for any dedicated fan of cinematic terror.

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ROBOCOP: Spotlight Podcast 5:7.1

Joel Kinnaman strives to be a cyborg with soul in ROBOCOP.
Joel Kinnaman strives to be a cyborg with soul in ROBOCOP.

And so, shouldering our backpacks and steeling ourselves against the urge to look back, we leave the doldrums of the start-of-2014 release schedule. Farewell, PARANORMAL ACTIVITY: THE MARKED ONES! Farewell, I, FRANKENSTEIN! Farewell, (ugh) VAMPIRE ACADEMY! May our paths never cross again. (A fruitless wish in the case of PARANORMAL ACTIVITY — the next installment is due in the summer.)
ROBOCOP — the remake of Paul Verhoeven’s politically acerbic, wildly satiric, and operatically violent science fiction action film — is much better. How much better, though, is open for debate. While celebrating  Brazilian director José Padilha’s success in updating the tale of a noble cop killed in the line of duty who’s transformed into an indomitable crime-fighting cyborg and literal corporate tool, the Cinefantastique team of Steve Biodrowski, Lawrence French, and Dan Persons differ on how well this new version addresses its social issues and political commentary. Bottom line: The guys are happier debating the degree of goodness of a truly good film than hashing over how much a misfire sucks rubber donkey lungs.
Click on the player to hear the show.

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THE LEGO MOVIE; VAMPIRE ACADEMY; & AFTER THE DARK: Spotlight Podcast 5:6

Zoey Deutch (left), Lucy Fry (center), and Sarah Hyland brave the perils of a very special high school in VAMPIRE ACADEMY.
Zoey Deutch (left), Lucy Fry (center), and Sarah Hyland brave the perils of a very special high school in VAMPIRE ACADEMY.

“They suck at school,” the posters for VAMPIRE ACADEMY proudly proclaim, and let it now be said that they aren’t any better at movies, either. A lackluster production whose only reason for existing is to try to snag the TWILIGHT SAGA demo with as minimal effort as possible (to paraphrase W.C. Fields: “We want to capture your box office bucks in the worst way,” “Ah, yes, the worst way”), this tale of a school where human/vampire hybrid Dhampirs protect beautiful aristocratic vampire Miroi against violent, bloodthirsty vampire Strigoi in the midst of typical high-school politics, inter-family power struggles, and something something something, VAMPIRE ACADEMY’s major takeaway is that you can’t just indiscriminately rip off elements of TWILIGHT SAGA, HARRY POTTER, THE HUNGER GAMES, and, so help us, AVATAR: THE LAST AIRBENDER, and hope the resulting product will satisfy anyone’s standard for entertainment.
Beabetterbooktalker.com‘s Andrea Lipinski joins Cinefantastique Online’s Steve Biodrowsky and Dan Persons to bear witness to the film that somehow manages to instill new appreciation for the lackluster releases of January. Then, Steve gives his take on satirical, toy-based comedy THE LEGO MOVIE, and Dan discusses the conjectural, post-apocalyptic brain-game movie, AFTER THE DARK. Plus, what’s coming to theaters next week.