Movies, Music, and TV

Rings cover

So, this is a sequel I don’t think anyone really asked for, but here we are, all the same, yet again watching somebody watching something that kills them after seven days. Yes, The Ring is back, the third iteration (of the American version, that is) so ring-y it’s called Rings, plural.

I liked the originals, both the Japanese and the American versions. The first in each instance were on par with each other, though the American sequel was, in a rare case, better. Somewhat confusingly, it was directed by Hideo Nakata, who made the first Japanese movie, but not its sequel, nor the first American entry. Go figure.

More Japanese sequels/prequels were made, none of them particularly good, so let’s just circle back (wa-hey!) to the third American movie.

I’ll be honest, this is objectively not a good film or even a decent sequel. Subjectively, though, I like it. I probably shouldn’t, as, say what you want about its predecessors: at least they were very well made A-movies. Rings is decidedly a B-movie, unapologetically so. (I think — I haven’t actually talked to director F. Javier Gutiérrez.)

Yet again, we’re back to people watching that damn V.H.S. tape which kills you after seven days. Of course, we’re now in 2018, and after a character for some unknown reason decides to fix a V.C.R., the film gets ripped to a digital format for everybody’s viewing pleasure.

There’s a whole hoopla about having to cremate Samara — the girl in the Killer Movie™ — to stop the cycle, and there are some clever little touches about a new movie within the movie, but in the end, the plot doesn’t matter a whole lot. Rings is more about being scary — which it sort of is in a jump-scare kind of way — than trying to say anything.

This all sounds negative, I know, and it is is negative in the sense that I wouldn’t pay $10 in the theater to watch Rings. Now that it’s streaming on every platform under the sun, there are reasons to check it out.

First, the film is well shot, and it retains the stylish, cool Seattle-y color palette of the first movie. (Although nobody in their right mind would believe this was filmed in Seattle.) Some of the imagery in the new Killer Movie™ is quite striking, and how it translates into what the protagonist sees in the real world is pretty clever.

The actors, while not in the recognizability class of the previous movies, universally do a good job. Yes, the plot and dialogue are overly dramatic, but the cast does what it can with them.

And for having a story that mainly is a vehicle to show Gutiérrez’s flair for the visual, the ending is pretty clever. Not in a forced way, either — it fits well into the Ring-verse.

Rings is not a great movie as such, but it’s one worth watching if you liked the two previous entries. And even if you haven’t watched any of them, it does work as a standalone movie for when you don’t feel like watching anything heavy.


The Haunting of Hill House

Movies, Music, and TV

The Haunting of Hill House cover

Fresh off Gerald’s Game comes Mike Flanagan’s The Haunting of Hill House, a Netflix adaptation of the 1959 Shirley Jackson novel which also served as the source for 1963’s The Haunting. I have not read the book — note to self to do so — but the movie is a favorite of mine. Written by Nelson Gidding, and directed by Bob Wise, The Haunting’s scares came from what it didn’t show. No ghosts, no villains, no decapitations — for being a haunted house movie, there weren’t many apparent hauntings. Instead, the film depended on sounds, surreal visuals, and so on and so forth. Go watch it, it’s a classic.

Flanagan’s version of The Haunting of Hill House is, understandably, very different. Running ten episodes, the series is set in present time, with flashbacks back to when the Crain family lived in the Hill House. The most significant difference from the original movie1 is that this, at its core, is an outright ghost story. What exactly was going on in The Haunting was up for interpretation, but the show makes no bones about it: the hauntings are to be seen.

Yet, there is a lot more to Hill House, which in many ways can be watched as a family drama. With their mom having died — be it through suicide or some other nefarious ways — in the mansion, each member of the Crain family can be found coping with the outcome twenty-six years later. The oldest brother, who claims never to have seen any ghosts, is a famous haunted house writer. One daughter has become a mortician, while another is a child psychologist. The twins both have fallen into bad places. And the dad? Who knows what’s going on there, but he was never able to keep the family together after they escaped the house. (Thumbs up to Timothy Hutton for his portrayal.)

When we join the present, things are starting to go ugly very fast, as the titular haunting is starting up again.

Hill House is one hell of a well-made show, and easily my favorite since Twin Peaks: The Return. Flanagan directed all ten episodes2, and the package feels more like a ten-hour movie than an episodic drama. Stories from past and present are seamlessly edited together, and often times, previously seen scenes are expanded on in later episodes. The slow reveal of the story is as labyrinth-like as the house itself, and a second viewing would be worthwhile.

It is scary, too. There is a good mix of The Haunting’s silent creepiness, and more modern jump scares. (I usually can give the latter a pass, but Flanagan uses them to great effect.) The slower build is still what gets under your skin — a revelation about the Crooked Neck Lady halfway through is downright disturbing. There is no lack of dark turns in Hill House.

And props for getting Russ Tamblyn to make an appearance. The actor, probably best known as Dr. Jacoby in Twin Peaks these days, co-starred in The Haunting, giving the original movie a nice nod. (Alas, no signs of Liam Neeson from the remake.)

Should I describe Hill House in one phrase, it would be a modern, Gothic family horror-drama. You don’t have to be into traditional horror movies to enjoy the series, and the complex family dynamics elevates Hill House to something more than just a fright-fest. The acting throughout is spot-on. But, of course, it helps if you like being scared because let it be abundantly clear: you one-hundred-percent will be.

N.B.: Maybe it’s not fair of us to claim all credit for Flanagan’s recent success after our semi-enthusiastic Hush and Oculus write-ups, but we’ll still take half of it.

1 … and maybe the book is different, but I’m fairly sure I’ve heard it’s not.

2 He also wrote three and co-wrote one.


Wicked Pies


Let’s talk pizza, as all people of good manners do.

Wicked Pies started out as a truck, and has recently opened a brick-and-mortar location. Other places have had good luck with this in the past, and Wicked neatly follows their tradition. The pizza here is good. Very good. Enough so I’d put it as a viable alternative to Vic’s, which I don’t do lightly.

Illustrative image

As so often is the case, it’s all about the crust. Here, Wicked serves one that looks oddly white, almost to the point where you’d expect it’d be doughy. It’s not. Instead, the outside has a crunchy bite, giving way to a chewy center. It’s what we collectively, as a society, should want: a crust for the people.

The flavor is spot on. Any proper crust, with olive oil or another favorite accouterment, should be able to be enjoyed by itself. Wicked passes that test.

Crust aside, the pies as a whole are tasty. The White Lodge comes with a rosemary potato base, which, when paired with Gorgonzola, has a pungent profile in all the right ways. Fortifying it with olive oil creates a surprisingly light, yet solid palate. It’s not what food comas are made of, despite what the ingredient list might suggest, and it’s impressive that the potent flavors don’t come through as a smack in the face.

Also worth a look are The Log Lady Breadstyx, which, as one may (or may not) expect, are served as logs. The addition of either mozzarella or pesto is laudable, but the logs could easily be enjoyed al natural.

True, naming the menu items after Twin Peaks might be a bit played out, but I’ll give them a pass. I mean, it’s Twin Peaks. Come on!1

The prices are a titch higher than at some spots — $14.75 for a cheese — but the quality of the ingredients holds its own.

Take out or eat in — the locales are charmingly sparse, not unlike pizza spots we’ve seen in both Northern and Southern Europe. Nothing overly fancy, just a comfortable space.

It worries me that Wicked isn’t too busy. I suppose it is hard to spot in its anonymous Franklin location, and competition from the well-established Old School must take its toll, too. Therefore: Do us a solid, and give Wicked Pies a try. It’s a pizzeria that deserves to flourish, and its pies are vastly different from Old School’s. Downtown Olympia’s food scene could stand some differentiation2, and high quality picks like this can only benefit all of us.

1 It only seems appropriate, Seeing The Return revealed Olympia as the starting point of the Blue Rose case.

2 Say what you want about Lacey, but their food scene both varied and international.

The House of the Devil

Movies, Music, and TV

The House of the Devil cover

Say what you will about The House of the Devil, but it is hard to argue it doesn’t nail the eighties’ aesthetics and culture. Writer/director Ti West utilized techniques and equipment from that decade to achieve the movie’s look and feel, and if you didn’t know The House of the Devil was produced in 2009, you likely would think you were watching a vintage horror movie.

It’s a refreshing take on the nostalgia that has overtaken pop-culture. God bless Stranger Things, and while that show captures the family movies Spielberg et al. created, those existed in their own, stylized, fantasy universes, approximated by the years they were filmed. Slashers and horror movies were often fully rooted in the era’s culture. Both aesthetics and the darker truths behind the curtain were gleefully exposed in schlocky cinema.

The House of the Devil gets many aspects of the eighties better than most. While Americana often is associated with the fifties, I will contend the eighties had an equally crucial global impact. It comes down to perception, of course, but an early scene in a pizza parlor captures 1983 U.S.A. pop-culture in the most straightforward manner: The slice with pepperoni and the king-size red, plastic cup with the Coke logo plastered on it. That might seem like an insignificant throwback, but during the eighties, it was the type of American culture that penetrated the minds and hearts of teens around the world. Stranger Things and its ilk have of course featured the same type of scene, but always within their own confines, and not the broader American zeitgeist. That simple scene with pizza and Coke that is the representation of the perceived real Americana experience. The jukebox and Chevy of the time if you so like.

West’s period piece revolves around the very real satanic cult hysteria of the eighties. The hysteria was real, that is. Kids weren’t actually joining cults to sacrifice animals and humans, but for the evangelical Reagan Generation, it was the type of fallacy used to blame economic hardships and (somewhat ironically within this context) the loss of the American Dream.

In its topic, the plot borrows as much from Rosemary’s Baby as it does from Friday the 13th. There isn’t a trail of grizzly murders in The House of the Devil, and the tone relies on a suspenseful build. Samantha — portrayed by Jocelin Donahue — knows something is off in the house where she is baby-siting a couple’s elderly mother, but what is it? The viewer knows a cult is involved, and the movie’s title and lunar-eclipse-setting don’t set up many surprises. The build to the inevitable final third is effective, and Donahue does a good job marching toward what the viewer know is coming.

As already mentioned, the The House of the Devil’s visuals represent the eighties well, but West doesn’t just lean on nostalgia. Shots and angles are striking, and the color palette gives the movie a cohesive look. The camera work is consistently impressive.

Props, too, to the score. It is baffling that Jeff Grace hasn’t hit it bigger outside of the cult and indie scene. What he delivers is something that wouldn’t be out of place in a Hitchcock classic. Pair it with Sony Walkman-evergreens like One Thing Leads to Another, and you have a killer soundtrack.

Yeah, I like The House of the Devil. The last third might be a bit rushed — a calculated move by Ti West it seems, as he did the same in The Innkeepers — and there is an early murder that seemed unnecessary and cruel. Maybe I’m just getting soft in my old age, and that aside, The House of the Devil is a technical treat that captures a needlessly ridiculed era perfectly. As far as entertainment goes, it’s an eerie watch.

I’m looking forward to diving further into Ti West’s oeuvre — the man clearly has a vision.

Bonus! IMDb’s trivia section for the movie has a lengthy description of what a Walkman is. Feel appropriately old.