Just Turn Around Now

The Survivalist

by Hope Madden

Lean, mean futuristic science fiction that feels unsettlingly like reality, The Survivalist ranks among the best dystopian films in recent memory. And as writer/director Stephen Fingleton creates an utterly plausible and devastatingly grim future, the film marks a first time filmmaker with an awful lot to say.

A solitary figure (Martin McCann – amazing) ekes out an existence in a shack hidden in the woods of Northern Ireland. His small field of crops is fertilized by the bodies of interlopers who happen upon him. He spends his days tending his vegetables and reinforcing his traps, but a haunted past and his own isolation are starting to wear at him.

Enter two hungry women: Kathryn (Olwen Fouere) and her daughter, Milja (Mia Goth).

His first inclination is to do with them what we’ve seen him do with others who come too close to his holdout. But he’s tempted, made an offer for something not necessary for survival. Something he wants more than he needs.

For Milja and her mother, this is still nothing more than survival, which is what puts the three people on different planes of existence. The survivalist (for we never do know his name) has entered the treacherous and vulnerable area of want, and then the even more dangerous ground of hope.

The shifting power and landscape of the relationships is fascinating, made all the more powerful for lack of dialog. Who is in control? The answer varies scene by scene.

The title could stand for any of the three, and this trio of performances consistently impresses.

Fingleton lingers on glances and body language to reinforce the pitiless practicality that has taken the place of civilization. McCann’s silent chemistry with each character offers more insight into his character than pages of dialog could, and he’s matched in his efforts – particularly by Fouere.

The film, like its protagonists, is unapologetically efficient. But Fingleton and his director of photography Damien Elliott occasionally offer a glimpse of the beauty left in this dystopia – a beauty that existed long before and will persist long after man’s involvement.

Together, cast and crew trap you in slow-boil of primal instincts with an explosion the inevitable consequence.


Fright Club: Social Anxiety Horror

You want to know the fears and anxieties at work in any modern population? Just look at their horror films.

There are certain anxieties that plague us no matter the era. It Follows, for instance, brilliantly brought horror’s long obsession with underage promiscuity into modern focus. Unfriended, #Horror, Rings, The Den and dozens of others touched on our loss of control in a digital age. You could even read The Witch as a comment on the power of radicalization.

What horror films had their fingers most firmly on the elevated pulse of their respective times?

6. Hostel (2005)

In April of 2004, photos and videos from Abu Ghraib detention center created a previously unimaginable public dialog about the appropriateness of torture. And we knew that what we were seeing on the news had to be far less graphic and horrific than what we didn’t see.

The sudden realization that there were so many more people on earth who believed there were appropriate uses for torture – and that there were others who could so easily be provoked to indulge their bloodlust – sparked a real, palpable discomfort in the US.

Writer/director Eli Roth created a new subgenre with this his meditation on that very bloodlust. As his tourists hit Slovakia in search of wild times, they become the fodder for someone else’s hedonistic indulgence. Graphic and provocative, Hostel is hardly a masterpiece or even a classic, but there is no question that it touched a nerve.

5. The Wolf Man (1941)

By 1939, the second great war had begun. The tale of shadowy European villainy turning a good hearted American man into a monster felt somehow compelling to an audience seeing yet another generation of soldiers facing and contributing to the real horror of war.

Like most of the films on this list, The Wolf Man created a mythology many would copy. But writer Curt Siodmak’s take on the monster that lurks inside a good man differs from many because he pulled on his own experience with Nazi Germany to create an atmosphere. He’d seen firsthand what it looks like when apparently good people turn suddenly savage.

Lon Chaney, Jr.’s sympathetic performance only drove home the point that it could be anybody. You want badly for this decent-hearted man to somehow be saved, but you know that he’s done too much. There is no redemption left for him now.

4. Rosemary’s Baby (1968)

The late Sixties saw cultural change like few eras before or since. Roman Polanski’s adaptation of Ira Levin’s tale mined more than a few, but it was the sexual revolution that most fed this picture’s dread.

The Pill was first approved for use in America in 1960. This led to some happy people, yes, but also a lot of worry. Whenever science steps into God’s territory, people get anxious. This tension fueled many horror films, but the way Polanski represents the female body as a reproductive tool entirely outside her own control is endlessly terrifying.

It helps that Mia Farrow is the picture of vulnerability, trying desperately and without success to regain power over her own body and future. Doctors are no help – they’re in on it. She can’t look to her husband because he benefits from this perversion of her biology as much as anybody. It’s a fascinating observation, filmed so that we can’t help but feel that we are voyeurs in her struggle.

3. Get Out (2017)

What took so long for a film to manifest the fears of racial inequality as smartly as does Jordan Peele’s Get Out.

Peele writes and directs a mash up of Guess Who’s Coming to DinnerRosemary’s Baby and a few other staples that should go unnamed to preserve the fun. Opening with a brilliant prologue that wraps a nice vibe of homage around the cold realities of “walking while black,” Peele uses tension, humor and a few solid frights to call out blatant prejudice, casual racism and cultural appropriation.

Peele is clearly a horror fan, and he gives knowing winks to many genre cliches (the jump scare, the dream) while anchoring his entire film in the upending of the “final girl.” This isn’t a young white coed trying to solve a mystery and save herself, it’s a young man of color, challenging the audience to enjoy the ride but understand why switching these roles in a horror film is a social critique in itself.


2. Night of the Living Dead (1969)

Romero’s first zombie film – the first proper zombie film – hit upon cultural anxieties aplenty. The generation gap that accompanied the era of social change had people seeing those of the other generation as aliens – or maybe zombies?

The war in Vietnam – televised almost constantly, and for the first time – was reflected in Romero’s onscreen broadcasts of unimaginable horror. He depicts the changing paradigm of the generations in the power struggle going on inside the besieged house.

More than anything, though, Romero hit a nerve with his casting. The filmmaker has long said that African American actor Duane Jones got the part as the lead because he was simply the best actor in the cast. True enough. But his performance as the level headed, proactive, calm-under-pressure alpha male – followed by Romero’s gut-punch of a finale – spoke volumes and is one of the main reasons the film remains as relevant today as it was when it was released.

1. Godzilla (1954)

Is Godzilla the best film on this list? No. But, more than any other film in the genre, it spoke directly to global anxieties, became a phenomenal success, and changed the face of horror.

As Japan struggled to re-emerge from the 1945 bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, director Ishiro Honda unleashed that dreaded kaiju—followed quickly by a tidal wave of creature features focused on scientists whose ungodly work creates global cataclysm.

Far more pointed and insightful than its American bastardization or any of the sequels or reboots to follow, the 1954 Japanese original mirrored the desperate, helpless impotence of a global population in the face of very real, apocalyptic danger. Sure, that danger breathed fire and came in a rubber suit, but history shows again and again how nature points out the folly of man.

Fright Club: The Help

From The Omen‘s Mrs. Baylock to Rocky Horror Picture Show‘s domestic and handyman, you’ll find questionable help aplenty in horror (and not quite horror). Chan Wook Park’s The Handmaiden explored the dual sized anxiety of having a stranger living in your house – or being the stranger living in someone else’s house.

Good horror directors know how to pick that scab, because having a stranger inside the household is unnerving, but being that stranger can be even worse.

6. Estranged (2015)

Going home again can be a drag, but it proves especially tough for January (Amy Manson) in director Adam Levins’s Estranged. Recovering from a near-fatal accident, she’s wheelchair-bound and stricken with amnesia. Even so, something feels completely wrong about the stately mansion and doting family she returns to for her recovery.

Estranged pulls you slowly through the twisty mystery of January’s recuperation and the unusual family she’s found herself a part of. So much of what Levins is working with could easily feel stale – amnesia? Wheelchair-bound invalid in a spooky, isolated manor? There’s even a butler in full gear. All you need are Scooby and the Mystery Machine and we’d have some real sleuthing on our hands.

The film offers an appealing blend of familiar and novel, repellent and elegant – forever playing with the idea that there is something foul and festering beneath the surface of this lovely home. His eye for detail and his cast’s natural ability help pull the whole ordeal together into a satisfying, if understandably unpleasant, product.

5. I Am the Pretty Thing that Lives in the House(2016)

Writer/director Osgood Perkins (Blackcoat’s Daughter) spins an effective ghost story with this one.

Lily (Ruth Wilson) has been hired to nurse famous New England author Iris Blum during her final months. Blum made her name writing spooky books Lily’s too afraid to open, and she regularly mistakes Lily for someone named Polly.

Polly is the main character in Blum’s most famous novel, about a beautiful bride who dies in an old New England home – not unlike the home Lily now finds herself rattling around with no company but the bedridden and mainly catatonic old woman.

A feat of atmosphere, very smartly written and quietly observed, the film generates tension early and builds on it masterfully for the full 87 minutes. Old fashioned but never dated, it’s a throw-back spook fest that can’t help but pull you in.

4. The Others (2001)

Co-writer/director Alejandro Amenabar casts a spell that recalls The Innocents in his 2001 ghost story The Others. It’s 1945 on a small isle off Britain, and the brittle mistress of the house (Nicole Kidman) wakes screaming.

She has reason to be weary. Her husband has still not returned from the war, her servants have up and vanished, and her two children, Anna and Nicholas, have a deathly photosensitivity: sunlight or bright light could kill them.

The new servants seem to understand their roles – maybe too well.

With the help of cinematographer Javier Aguirresarobe and supporting actress Fionnula Flanagan, Amenabar introduces seemingly sinister elements bit by bit. It all amounts to a satisfying twist on the old ghost story tale that leaves you feeling as much a cowdy custard as little Nicholas.


3. The Shining (1980)

You know who you probably shouldn’t hire to look after your hotel?
Jack Nicholson.

A study in atmospheric tension, Kubrick’s vision of the Torrance family collapse at the Overlook Hotel is both visually and aurally meticulous. It opens with that stunning helicopter shot, following Jack Torrance’s little yellow Beetle up the mountainside, the ominous score announcing a foreboding that the film never shakes.

The hypnotic, innocent sound of Danny Torrance’s Big Wheel against the weirdly phallic patterns of the hotel carpet tells so much – about the size of the place, about the monotony of the existence, about hidden perversity. The sound is so lulling that its abrupt ceasing becomes a signal of spookiness afoot.

Nicholson outdoes himself. His early, veiled contempt blossoms into pure homicidal mania, and there’s something so wonderful about watching Nicholson slowly lose his mind. Between writer’s block, isolation, ghosts, alcohol withdrawal, midlife crisis, and “a momentary loss of muscular coordination,” the playfully sadistic creature lurking inside this husband and father emerges.

He’s not the caretaker management expected, but really, was Grady? Like Grady and Lloyd the bartender, Jack Torrance is a fixture here at the Overlook.

2. The Innocents (1961)

Little Miles and Flora – orphaned nephew and niece of a selfish London bachelor – need a new governess. Uncle hires the clearly brittle Miss Giddens (Deborah Kerr) based on her letter confessing that more than anything, she loves children.

The ease with which he charms her into taking the position, and the first of the film’s regular mentions of imagination as a gateway to the truth, predict quite a lot.

Quietly desperate and delicately high strung, Kerr’s performance is the perfect central image in The Innocents, the best of many screen adaptations of Henry James’s The Turn of the Screw. Is Kerr’s hypersensitive governess turning delusional as she spirals toward spinsterhood, or are her angelic charges in danger of becoming possessed by the spectral lovers who seem to haunt the property?

Thanks to Kerr, the wickedly cherubic turn by Martin Stephens (the most popular child actor in England’s Fifties and Sixties) as young Miles, and Freddie Francis’s gorgeous black and white photography, this eerie ghost story is a glorious study in the shadowy line between reality and imagination.

1. Get Out (2017)

When white Rose (Alison Williams) takes her black boyfriend Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) home to meet the fam, she assures him race will not be a problem. How can she be sure? Because her Dad (Bradley Whitford) would have voted for Obama’s third term “if he could.” It’s the first of many B.S. alerts for writer/director Jordan Peele, and they only get more satisfying.

Rose’s family is overly polite at first, but then mom Missy (Catherine Keener) starts acting evasive and brother Jeremy (Caleb Landry Jones) gets a bit threatening, while the gardener and the maid (Marcus Henderson and Betty Gabriel, both black – whaaat?) appear straight outta Stepford.

Peele is clearly a horror fan, and he gives knowing winks to many genre cliches (the jump scare, the dream) while anchoring his entire film in the upending of the “final girl.” This isn’t a young white coed trying to solve a mystery and save herself, it’s a young man of color, challenging the audience to enjoy the ride but understand why switching these roles in a horror film is a social critique in itself.

Get Out is an audacious first feature for Jordan Peele, a film that never stops entertaining as it consistently pays off the bets it is unafraid to make.


Isn’t It Romantic?

The Lovers

by George Wolf

Just who are The Lovers?

Michael and his mistress Lucy? Mary and her boyfriend Robert? Or, could it be Michael and Mary, even after all those years of marriage?

Credit writer/director Azazel Jacobs for turning the romantic dramedy inside out, weaving sly writing and touching performances into a thoroughly charming take on the resilience of love and the frustrating struggle to pin it down.

Tracy Letts and Debra Winger are both wonderful as Michael and Mary, a dispassionate husband and wife who have grown to give each other only slightly more regard than the pieces of furniture in their suburban home.

Lucy (Melora Walters) is impatiently waiting for Michael to ask for a divorce, while Robert (Aiden Gillen) is expecting the same from Mary. Both are assured the time will finally come after the upcoming visit from Michael and Mary’s son Joel (Tyler Ross).

But when an old spark is reignited, suddenly it’s the Mr. and Mrs. who are sneaking away from their side pieces for some passionate alone time.

Such a premise could easily crumble into sitcom-ready zaniness, but Jacobs isn’t mining for cheap laughs. His script does have moments of effectively dry humor, but The Lovers is just as likely to uncover truths through a heavy silence.

Both Letts and Winger effortlessly wear the weariness of their characters. We may not know exactly why they’ve drifted apart, but the actors convey such a reliable authenticity we are rooting for Michael and Mary almost immediately.

The Lovers is sneaky in its casual nature. Through subtle storytelling and stellar performances, it finds meaning in places rarely explored this effectively, and a gentle confidence that frayed emotions can still bond.



Lost at Sea

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales

by Hope Madden

Summer is the season for amusement parks, and in that spirit Disney rolls out the closest thing cinema has to a theme park ride – Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales.

Pros: New directors Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg (Kon Tiki) keep the pace tighter, the tale more seafaring and the visuals more interesting than in the last few (almost unendurable) installments.

Cons: Disney has brought the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise back.

The series began as a pretty enormous gamble, taking a popular Disneyland ride and turning it into a movie.

Brilliantly, this put the not-yet-self-indulgent talent of Gore Verbinski behind a camera, but let’s be honest, it was Johnny Depp’s Captain Jack Sparrow that made the film.

All swoozy and splishy, drunk and dodgy, hilariously rock and roll, Sparrow made all of us wish for the pirate’s life. It was fun. It was ingenious, even a bit subversive. It was nearly 15 years ago.

In the meantime, Cap’s adventures have taken on the stench of bloat.

By 2017, Depp is a has-been with a terrible drinking habit. Sure he’s still cute, but there’s something a tad pathetic about him and the consistently bad choices he makes.

As Jack Sparrow, I mean.


Geoffrey Rush returns as Barbosa – intriguing as always. He’s joined by Javier Bardem, arguably one of the three or four best actors working today, wasted here in an underwritten, toothless role. He plays about 2/3 of dead sea captain Salazar, blandly bent on revenge.

What – zombie pirates? Next you’ll tell me Jack’s about to be executed in a town square, or find himself stranded with crazies on a desert island. Or that there will be a pirate cameo from a classic rock star.

Oh, Paul McCartney…

The accursed Salazar wants Sparrow. Henry Turner (Brenton Thwaites) – son of Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) – wants Sparrow too, to help him find Poseidon’s Trident, which can break all the curses of the sea and save ol’ Dad.

Also there’s a young female love interest (Kaya Scodelario) – a woman of science mistaken by society as a witch. It’s a storyline that could have been interesting, I suppose, but Jeff Nathanson’s screenplay uses it to nod toward feminism while glimpsing a corset-pushed bosom.

Dead Men Tell No Tales (they do, by the way – tons of them) might seem to some an affectionate wrap up of a once-beloved and now tolerated family film series. Don’t believe it – Rønning and Sandberg are already tapped to direct Episode 6.

Can Poseidon’s Trident put an end to this franchise?


Yo, Chucky!


by George Wolf

I remember the sweaty, battered face staring at me from the cover of Sports Illustrated in 1975, a face that had taken plenty of punches, and was lining up to take more at the hands of The Greatest.

It was face of Chuck “The Bayonne Bleeder” Wepner, who was about to fight Muhammed Ali in the old Richfield Coliseum near Cleveland – then a sparkling new jewel – for the heavyweight championship and inspire a young Sly Stallone to write a screenplay about “The Italian Stallion.”

Chuck finally gets the story of the real-life Rocky on the screen, utilizing painful honesty, subtle humor and a compelling performance from Liev Schreiber to craft a touching look at hard lessons learned.

Director Philippe Falardeau (Monsieur Lazhar, The Good Lie) gets the 70s period details just right, and surrounds Wepner’s shot at the title with cinematic versions of the cliched boxer looking for his chance to be a contender, sharply illustrating how much Wepner defined all that is celebrated about life in the ring.

As Wepner claws his way to the New Jersey heavyweight championship, he watches 1962’s Requiem for a Heavyweight and longs for respect, even as he continually takes his wife (a terrific Elizabeth Moss) and daughter for granted while following his love for “wine, women and song.”

Besting all expectations, Wepner’s plan to “wear (Ali) down with my face” lasted into the 15h and final round, and he became one of the few opponents to actually knock Ali to the canvas. His increased celebrity status, and the news that the Oscar-winning Rocky was based on his life, only fueled Wepner’s primal urges and accelerated a downward spiral that included drugs, divorce, and fighting live bears.

Schreiber is transformational, adopting the voice, gait and body control of a lumbering man with a good heart and great survival instincts, but a child-like self control that often betrayed him. Schreiber commands the screen without ever being showy, blending easily with an outstanding supporting cast that includes Naomi Watts, Ron Perlman, Jim Gaffigan, Michael Rappaport and Morgan Spector (as Stallone).

Familiar in theme but illuminating with its intimacy, Chuck is a fascinating glimpse at life imitating art imitating life.


Sexy Meddling Kids


by George Wolf

Did you hear about the lifeguards that fight crime?

“Wow, that sounds like a really entertaining but far-fetched TV show!”

So says Brody (Zac Efron), one of the new recruits on the super lifeguard team at Emerald Bay, and this very self-aware attitude is the main reason the big screen Baywatch works as well as it does.

Yes, the entire premise has always been a ridiculous excuse to ogle beautiful bodies, so director Seth Gordon (Horrible Bosses) wisely chooses to have some fun with that and not be stingy with the slo-mo!

Dwayne Johnson is Mitch, head of the Baywatch team and all-around King of the Beach. He’s got Stephanie (Ilfenesh Hadera) and C.J. (Kelly Rohrbach) as his veterans on the squad, while Summer (Alexandra Daddario) and Ronnie (Jon Bass) are rookies who just won their spots during open tryouts.

Then there’s Matt Brody (pinching his character name from two of the lead roles in Jaws is another clue this film’s tongue is in the right cheek), an Olympic swimmer nicknamed the “Vomit Comet” for the way his career flamed out thanks to gold medal partying.

Brody arrives thinking he’s God’s gift to Baywatch, quickly learns some humility, and joins the team just as they’ve stumbled onto another case. Could local business tycoon Victoria Leeds (Priyanka Chopra from TV’s Quantico) really be the biggest drug dealer on the beach?

And she might get away with it, too, if not for these lifeguards and their sexy meddling!

Writers Damian Shannon and Mark Swift come from the land of bad horror (Freddy vs. Jason, Friday the 13th reboot) but they’re able to tap into a witty and breezy R-rated vibe that tests some crude waters without ever diving in.

As often as the ladies flaunt buns and cleavage, Johnson and Efron’s suns out/guns out show gets even more attention, which seems only fair as their roles also have the most substance. It helps that the actors share an easy, likable chemistry and neither is above poking fun at their own image. Self-deprecation is usually endearing, and running gags involving Brody’s nicknames and a “mini-Mitch” aquarium decoration are consistent winners.

Hey, it’s summer, the perfect time for a trashy little novel to read by the pool. Baywatch fits that same bill, and ends up all the more fun for not trying to be anything else.




Murder on the Menu

by Christie Robb

I’ve been friends with a few vegetarians over the years who have made passionate, rational pleas for me to halt or at least cut back on my ravenous devouring of the animal kingdom.

I’ve read books and watched documentaries that explain in detail the often cruel practices that go into raising and processing my protein. And yet, to quote Pulp Fiction, “Bacon tastes good. Pork chops taste good.”

And I can’t help it, I loves me a good steak.

In the 30+ years that I’ve been a carnivore, I’ve never been directly responsible for what I’ve eaten. Delicious meats seem to appear magically.

At the grocery store, animal parts are wrapped up in pristine white paper or in glossy plastic like little delicious presents.

Despite my intellectual knowledge about where my food comes from, I still find myself fundamentally ignorant because I lack a concrete experience of when the animal becomes the meal.

So, I set myself a goal: to kill and then prepare my own dinner.

My initial plan is to bag a fish. But after a day out on the creek, I left with nothing more than a wicked sunburn. Sure, I saw some fish, but only around the marina docks…where you aren’t actually allowed to fish.

Don’t tell me that fish aren’t possessed with some sort of intelligence. These guys know how to hide.

Now, my options are limited. The bunnies in my backyard are too clever and adorable to seriously consider. So I decide to become the Grim Reaper to one of the only live animals sold regularly at the grocery store…a lobster.

The decision is both convenient and light on the guilt meter. Lobsters are tough and pointy and I figure their claws give them a fighting chance.

So I drive myself to the Clintonville Giant Eagle and nervously wheel my cart over to the fish counter.

The helpful fish guy is pretty chatty. “This one,” he said, “I named it Lefty because he was missing his right claw.”

Great, I thought. They have names.

I select two 1 ½ pounders that the guy wrangles out of the tank. To schlep them home I receive a lobster box—the same sort of box my childhood gerbils came in, except without air holes and with a recipe printed on the side.

At home I open the box, experimentally stare into the eyes of the lobster on the top, and poke it gently on the back. Its eyes retreat into its head. I shriek and shut the box.

I’ve read online that you can put lobsters in the freezer to lull them into a dormant state before killing them. Supposedly this helps dull their pain. So, I pop the box in the freezer, pour myself a glass of Sauvignon Blanc and hop on my laptop to research how to kill these beasties humanely.

I watch a few videos demonstrating the technique of splitting their heads in half before boiling. (This severs their nervous system and is apparently a much quicker path out of life than the hot tub version.)

I steel myself for the kill.

I extract the lobster box from the freezer and open it on the counter. The lobsters have shifted position. Now they seem to be hugging each other with their rubber-banded claws. The scene is full of pathos.

Placing a cutting board and a chef’s knife on the counter, I check that the water is boiling in my big stock pot. I remove lobster #1 and place it on the cutting board.

Tapping the tip of the knife at the center of its head, the lobster’s eyes again retreat, but this time less far. I hope that this indicates less sensitivity. I drag in a deep breath. This is the moment when I discover if I have what it takes.

I look into the beady little eyes of the crustacean and thank it for its service. Then, I angle the knife up and plunge it down.

My aim is bad.

Either I winced or the knife was too dull. But instead of a nice, neat slice right between the eyes, the cut is too far too the left. A third of the thing’s head is now flopping to the side, still kind of connected to the body.

I scream.

There is diluted bloody water streaming off the cutting board and onto the countertop.

“Is anything wrong?” my husband calls from the living room.

I jump up and down quietly in socked feet, flapping my arms around, the knife flinging droplets of lobster blood across the kitchen. I swallow a squeal.

“Everything is fine,” I choke out.

The lobster is starting to wiggle on the counter. Clearly it’s starting to thaw out and is probably at the very least inconvenienced by the massive head wound. My hand clenches on the knife and I approach the counter, taking careful mincing steps to avoid the lobster blood now pooling on the linoleum of the floor.

I reposition the knife. The lobster squirms in a seeming attempt to flee.

“There is no escape,” I mutter as I swing the knife down.

My next cut is cleaner and I sever its head lengthwise and throw all the lobster bits in the boiling water.

I turn to lobster #2.

“Sorry you had to see that,” I say.

“Are you talking to me?” my husband hollers.

I ignore him, trying to think my way through my next kill.

All the experts say that the clean slice through the head is the best way to go. But probably not if you botch it. I look back over my shoulder at the pot. Any more delay and I’m going to have to deal with two separate cooking times. I’m already feeling stress about having to clean up so much lobster blood.

So, I pick up lobster #2 and dump it, still wriggling, into the pot on top of the body of its mangled companion. Its legs wiggle. Its tail flexes and curls around the edge of the pot. Is it attempting to climb out? I wonder. I stab at the tail with my knife and poke it down into the pot.

Slamming the pot lid on and slumping against a section of unbefouled countertop, I realize my heart is thumping against my ribs and my hands are trembling with an excess of adrenaline.

Twelve minutes later dinner is served, bright red and steaming. As we crack open the lobsters with kitchen shears and a garlic press (not owning the correct tools) my husband turns to me and tells me I did a very good job with dinner. Then he screams when he discovers a greenish bit inside his lobster.

“Is this his guts? Is this his guts?” he asks.

I have no idea.

This dinner is tasty and somehow more real than any other dinner I’ve ever had.

I don’t think I have it in me to become a vegetarian. But I might have it in me to become a murderer.

Girl in the Plastic Bubble

Everything, Everything

by Hope Madden

One special girl + a solitary, attentive, very cute boy + contrivance that keeps them apart = every single adolescent drama made in the last decade.

Director Stella Meghie can do that math. For Everything, Everything, she works from the YA novel by Nicola Yoon, adapted for the screen by the adequate emotional manipulator J. Mills Goodloe (Best of Me, The Age of Adaline).

The film updates that Boy in a Plastic Bubble TV movie John Travolta made back in the day, here with a perky adolescent girl named Maddy (Amandla Stenberg) whose rare immune deficiency keeps her locked away inside her sterile home.

Then Dreamboat Olly (Nick Robinson) moves in next door.

Meghie and her cast deserve credit because their film has a sweet if utterly artificial charm to it. The handful of fantasy sequences set inside Maddy’s architecture models are appealing, as is the awkward and innocent chemistry between the leads.

Not one human being on earth has ever been this wholesome and adorable, but as YA lit flicks go, it could be much worse.

Tragedy looms darkly over most young adult romances – like a watered down Nicolas Sparks movie. Maddy’s ailment keeps death always in the periphery, but the film zigs when you think it will zag.

Meghie keeps almost everything restrained, which is both the film’s blessing and curse. Too often in movies of this ilk, the drama becomes so soapy as to be intolerable. Maddy’s coming-of-age choices feel more self-empowering than love struck, and her easygoing, forgiving nature keeps the tone just this side of angsty.

Thank you.

On the other hand, when the narrative takes a bizarre – almost diabolical – turn, that laid back approach feels neutered. Real rage is called for. Police intervention. A good slap, anyway.

But Meghie doesn’t indulge our lust for drama, which would be admirable if her film weren’t so bland.


Grasping for Resurrection

Alien: Covenant

by Hope Madden and George Wolf

“Do you want to serve in heaven or reign in hell?”

That’s just one of the big, existential questions Alien: Covenant has on its mind, though there’s plenty of blood as well, for those who thought Prometheus was a bit too head-trippy.

Director Ridley Scott returns to the helm of the iconic franchise he started, proving the years have done little to erode his skills at crafting tension or delivering visceral thrills.

Covenant picks up roughly ten years after the events of Prometheus, and this many sequels in, its inevitable that the franchise would fall victim to formula: a crew, most of whom we get to know only through intercom banter, lands somewhere, picks up an alien (or several), tries to get it off the ship. Quarantine protocol is rarely followed. (It is there for a reason, people!) Folks die in a most unpleasant way.

When Scott made Alien back in ’79, he made a straight genre flick, working from a script by horror go-to Dan O’Bannon. It gave Scott a career, though he didn’t return to the horror game for more than another two decades.

Meanwhile, the franchise took the action path, devolving eventually into the modern day equivalent of Werewolf Versus the Mummy.

Scott redirected that ship in 2012 when he regained control of the series, throwing off any ugliness in the sequel universe by making a prequel – one less interested in monsters than in gods. Prometheus may have been a mixed bag, but if there’s one thing this franchise delivers, it’s a great synthetic. Hello, Michael Fassbender.

Fassbender returns in Scott’s latest, bloodiest Alien effort, and he’s a lunatic genius. Playing both David, the synthetic from Prometheus, and a newer model named Walter, Fassbender delivers weighty lines with tearful panache, becoming more colorful, layered and interesting than anything else onscreen.

Strange then, that his charismatic performance almost hurts the film.

Why? Because we’re here for the aliens!

Yes, it is tough to keep a good xenomorph fresh for eight episodes, and Scott gives it a shot with new alien forms that wade into Guillermo del Toro territory . But there are too many variations, the incubation and bursting process is too expedited, the sources are too numerous – basically, there’s too much going on here and it’s diluting the terror.

And it is terror Scott is going for. There’s more carnage in Covenant than in Scott’s previous two Alien films combined, but he hasn’t entirely thrown the existential crisis overboard. Suffice it to say that we’re lead to a crossroads where a dying species is “grasping for resurrection.”

Scott wants us to ponder those themes of death and creation while we’re running from bloodthirsty monsters. It’s not always a perfect fit, but Alien: Covenant combats the overreach with enough primal thrills to be satisfying.