Articles

Seven Stages to Achieve Eternal Bliss

Comedy

/ Remi
Seven Stages to Achieve Eternal Bliss cover

Or to use the original title, Seven Stages to Achieve Eternal Bliss by Passing Through the Gateway Chosen by the Holy Storsh. Let’s just call it Seven Stages for short.

This movie drew my attention for two reasons: It is produced by SpectreVision – purveyors of such classics as Color Out of Space and Daniel Isn’t Real – and stars Taika Waititi. Or that was what I was lead to believe. As it turns out, Seven Stages was picked up by SpectreVision after it ran the festival circuit, and Waititi appears only in a few, memorable scenes as the deceased cult leader, Storsh.

And that is what the movie is about, too, the cult.

We follow Claire and Paul (Kate Micucci and Sam Huntington) in their new LA apartment, which soon is revealed to be the location – the bathtub specifically – of Storsh’s suicide. Thus it has become his disciples’ gateway by way of suicide to the next realm. Every night, one by one, a new member shows up to take that trip. No wonder the rent was cheap.

Claire and Paul go from being freaked out to being fascinated by Storsh’s writings and soon decide to help the cult members on their quest. From there, it goes even darker.

Of course, darkSeven Stages is, subject matter aside, not a dark movie. It’s rather a borderline absurdist comedy which sets out to do little more than throw around a few good laughs. Many times it succeeds at that. Dan Harmon makes for a likable bumbling cop, filled with ambitions of becoming a screenwriter. Maria Bamford has a brief, but memorable appearance as a cult member, as does Brian Posehn. Seven Stages is littered with who-is-who of the more absurd side of comedy.

Oddly, that is also the movie’s biggest problem. The two-paragraph plot summary above sums up most of Seven Stages, and there is little more to the ninety-minute runtime than a cavalcade of cameos. Seven Stages is a funny movie in all its individual gags, but as the one long skit it is, it gets tiresome. I’d almost recommend watching half an hour of Seven Stages a night. It’s not like you’re going to forget any plot points.

It is still a movie that should be watched, mind you. When the laughs come, they come hard. And while he’s only in it for about five minutes, Taika Waititi makes the most of every second. Micucci and Huntington tie the package together as likable protagonists, too.

Enjoy Seven Stages, much like you’d enjoy a seven-course meal. Devour it slowly and savor every bite. You don’t want to get sick of or from it after all.

Come to Daddy

Thriller

/ Remi
Come to Daddy cover

Norval Greenwood hasn’t seen his dad Gordon in decades. One day, much to his surprise, he receives a letter asking for a father/son reunion. Norval acquiesces and travels to Gordon’s remote house. Soon, things go weird. Gordon seems to have little interest in Norval, nor does he have any recollection of contacting him. Norval passes it off as a letter written during a drunken night, but as things get menacing, it’s apparent that something else is going on.

Elijah Wood has taken a dive into a lot of weird movies lately – not least as a producer for the can do no wrong SpectreVision company – yet Come to Daddy is almost shockingly middle of the road. The only out of the ordinary part of the film is Norval’s hair and mustache, which, seriously, bravo Elijah. It takes guts to sport anything like this.

The film, though? It’s a fairly straightforward thriller, albeit a well-made one. The cast commits one hundred and ten percent to their roles, and Stephen McHattie (who I mainly know from his memorable turn as Elaine’s psychiatrist in Seinfeld) portrays a fine villain.

There’s nothing downright wrong with the movie but Come to Daddy colors a bit too neatly within the lines for my liking. McHattie pushes his character as far as he can, but he never gets to go as all-out as he clearly is capable of. He makes the best of the more subtle scenes, like his reaction to Norval’s lie of being friends with Elton John. Pay particular attention to his poker face – if you remember the aforementioned Seinfeld episodes, you should know what to expect.

To the movie’s credit, it turns tense when things start spiraling out of control. The cat-and-mouse chase is memorable, and Come to Daddy is generally a well-executed film under the direction of Ant Timpson. It just lacks that little oomph of weird it deserves.

Give it a watch, though. In these SARS-CoV-2 days, it serves as good escapism.

Guns Akimbo

Action Onslaught

/ Remi
Guns Akimbo cover

Running Man meets The Purge in Guns Akimbo, an absolutely over-the-top dark action-comedy.

Daniel Radcliffe stars as Miles, a video game programmer, and semi-professional online troll. He’s an aficionado of Skizm, a real-life underground death-match series he gleefully comments on via various internet fora. Then, one day, he pisses the wrong person. The gang that runs the death-match breaks into Miles’s house and bolts guns to each of his hands. Miles is all of a sudden part of the game, pitted against a coked-up, seemingly insane Nix. They have twenty-four hours to kill or be killed.

Guns Akimbo is a bit of a fickle friend. It’s not a movie for everyone and is less of a film than a ninety-minute action scene. Even when the bullets aren’t flying, there’s an undercurrent suggesting things are about to pipe up again any second. More often than not, they do. If you’re looking for an introspective, war, what is it good for? rumination, you’re out of luck.

Because I really don’t think Guns Akimbo has too much to say about anything. It’s over the top and is in that sense sort of a satire, but it really isn’t trying to make any deep-rooted statements. Will the next level of real-world e-sports involve us watching people killing each other? I doubt it, and Guns Akimbo doesn’t seem all too concerned about giving it much thought.

From a technical standpoint, though, it does play up the video game angles impressively. Be it first-person or third-person, director Jason Lei Howden – more commonly known as a visual effects artist – nails the aesthetics and frantic nature of the medium.

The music also fits the bill, and Enis Rotthoff’s score follows the ebbs and flow of the movie faithfully. When the action kicks in on screen, it hits your ears equally hard.

Guns Akimbo is a well put together film in that sense, which probably is the primary concern a filmmaker should have when creating an over-the-top action flick. You need a true smack to the senses to get that adrenaline pumping.

Not to take anything away from the cast, mind you. It’s great to see Daniel Radcliffe make crazy role choices like this after Harry Potter, and Samara Weaving gives Nix a perfect sociopathic vibe. A cameo from Rhys Darby? That’s something any movie can benefit from.

That doesn’t change the fact that Guns Akimbo is a one-note action overkill, but it’s a note that I enjoy nonetheless. If you’re looking for a crazy adrenaline rush, Guns Akimbo definitely fits the bill.

Beyond the Gates

Retro Horror

/ Remi
Beyond the Gates cover

Brothers Gordon and John’s father has gone missing and is presumed dead. His sons have the unenviable task of going through his possessions, which includes his old-school video store, one where he even refused to carry D.V.D.s. Yes, Beyond the Gates isn’t just a nostalgia-fest, it’s a V.H.S. nostalgia-fest.

The brothers soon find a board game with a bundled video-tape, and when they, alongside Gordon’s girlfriend, Margot, pop it in the player, things start going weird. The game-mistress is aware of who is playing the game and tells them their ultimate goal is to free their father’s soul or die trying. To reach the soul, they’ll need to travel through the gates of hell themselves.

Beyond the Gates is a bit of a mess story-wise, but its creepiness hits home effectively. The filming is pristine, shuffling from realistic, earthy tones to a restrained use of saturated blues and purples. It’s the look of what nightmares are made of. Wojciech Golczewski has put together a score reminiscent of Fabio Frizzi’s work in Lucio Fulci’s The Beyond (this movie’s principal inspiration), which bolsters an underlying feeling of dread. When it starts playing, you know something is about to happen – not a quick, sharp shock, but rather a creeping sensation.

Those are all tentpoles of Fulci’s work, and Beyond the Gates does serve well as an all-out homage to the maestro’s films. The problem is, if you’re going full Fulci, you will also inevitably have unintended oddities in your movie.

Take the character of Gordon. It is stated early on – and many times after – that he has alcohol dependency issues. But so what? The characterization has no implications on the story, so why spend time on it? It is a symptom of a more significant problem: not a whole lot happens in the initial forty-five minutes. The group watches the V.H.S., a dollop of creepiness occurs, and the brothers go back to cleaning out their dad’s video store. Rinse and repeat. I assume the intention is to show how the brothers have grown apart, but it is never played out in any way I felt emotionally connected to.

Other side-stories – like where the game was purchased – have seemingly no end-game either. Out of the eighty-four-minute runtime, only about twenty have much meat to them.

Which is too bad, because the good parts really are good. Barbara Crampton gives an eerie performance as the game-mistress, leading a cast of younger semi-unknowns that hold their own. Technically and performance-wise, Beyond the Gates is more than a solid movie. It’s the implementation of what probably sounded like good character developments that fall flat one too many times.

By all means, do give Beyond the Gates a watch if you have Hulu. It’s worth sitting through the short runtime for the good parts. Just don’t expect to be constantly entertained or enthralled.