Beyond the Black Rainbow (2010)

The Arboria Institute was founded in the 1960’s to find the connective tissue between science and spirituality, finally helping humans to achieve perpetual happiness. But as the first numbers appear on the screen, spelling 1983, you know that something has gone very, very wrong.

Now, Arboria’s work is being continued by his disciple, Dr. Barry Nyle. To the outside world, Barry seems like a wonderful fellow. But a bad psychic trip in 1966, Barry hasn’t been quite the same. He is married to a woman who seems like a servant that exists only to praise him. He’s addicted to prescription medicine. And his hair is gone and his eyes have gone black, facts he hides with a wig and contact lenses.

It gets worse. He’s also been keep Elena, Arboria’s daughter, in a prison below the hospital that’s inspired by Lucas’ THX-1138. Her psychic powers — gained by being submerged into a black mass as a baby — have been given to her to accelerate human evolution. As her father says, “You will be the dawning of a new era for the human race… and the human soul. Let the new age of enlightenment begin!” Barry has different plans, isolating her in a room with only a television that suppresses her mental powers.

Day after day of intense interrogations follow as Barry wants to determine how Elena’s powers work. Or perhaps he just wants to have sex with her, as a nurse discovers that his notes are full of strange symbols and a violent need to possess Elena. So the good doctor does what any of us would do. He takes a bunch of psychedelics and manipulates Elena into destroying the nurse. She wanders out of her room but is soon stopped by a creature in a red space suit called a Sentionaut.

Keep in mind that this movie is full of long, drawn out sequences, almost like a shoegaze song come to vibrant visual life. You’re either going to love this movie or hate it — it’s not one for easy watching.

Arboria is now senile as we see a flashback to how Barry failed at his attempt to achieve transcendence and killed Elena’s mother. Her father was completely unfazed by this, only concerned with submerging his daughter into the blackness. As we finish the flashback, Barry murders the doctor. He then shows his wife his true face, trying to explain the pain of his life before murdering her.

Elena finally escapes, meeting a mutant and another Sentionaut who reveals his face to her — he is a child. Barry has decided that he must face Elena and is prepared to destroy her with a ceremonial dagger. As he gets closer to her, he is sure that a group of stoners had sex with her, so he murders them all.

In the final confrontation, he is no match for Elena, who keeps his feet stuck to the ground. Symbolizing his failed leap forward in 1966, he tries to jump forward only to kill himself by hitting a rock. Elena then wanders into a town, following the lights of television.

After the credits, an action figure Sentionaut appears as we hear a voice in reverse speak and the title “Wherever you go, there you are.”

Obviously, that’s a reference to Buckaroo Banzai. This is a movie filled with visuals and longing, as if it’s nostalgic for a future that we only saw in the past. Director Panos Cosmatos is the son of George P. Cosmatos, the director of Rambo: First Blood Part II, Cobra and Leviathan. In fact, this film was financed with the royalties of one of Cosmatos’ biggest films, Tombstone. Panos has stated in interviews that this film was a way of dealing with the deaths of his parents, combining his father’s popcorn sensibilities with his mother’s experimental art.

You can spot the influences in this film from space. The 1966 sequence has the stark high contrast look of E. Elias Merhige’s The Begotten. Kubrick’s ghost hangs on nearly every frame. The director has cited Manhunter as the inspiration for the color choices. And because it was all shot on 35mm, it has a grainy look that recalls the past more than any gleaming future. I also need to call out the Carpenter influenced soundtrack and inclusion of a Venm song, too.

The actual story here is pretty simple. But the way it’s told and the way the movie unfurls is why this stands out. You can play spot the references, you can try and figure out the film’s stance on identity or you can just zone out and enjoy. Or you can hate this movie and think that it’s incredibly self-indulgent. The choice is yours. Obviously, I’m going to watch this a few hundred times to get all I can out of it. You can check it out on Shudder.

Predators (2010)

Produced by Robert Rodriguez (who also came up with the story) and directed by Nimród E. Antal, this is the forgotten film of the Predator franchise. Its title relates to Aliens and it also describes the humans who have come to this alien planet.

Royce (Adrien Brody, cast against type here but awesome in his role; he has even offered to return in sequels) is a mercenary who awakens as he parachutes into an unfamiliar jungle. It’s a great sequence that sets up the non-stop chase that makes up the movie. Soon, he meets other predators: Mexican gang member Cuchillo (Danny Trejo), Spetsnaz Russian soldier Nikolai (UFC fight Oleg Taktarov, who was happy to play a rare positive Russian character in an American film), Israeli sniper Isabelle (Alice Braga, The Rite), RUF soldier Mombasa (Mahershala Ali, Moonlight), Yakuza gang member Hanzo, San Quentin death row inmate Stan (Walton Goggins, House of 1000 Corpses) and a doctor named Edwin (Topher Grace from TV’s That 70’s Show), who doesn’t seem to fit. They finally make their way through the jungle to a clearing where they stare up at multiple planets. It’s a jarring scene that reminds us that we are far away from Earth.

It turns out that this planet is a game preserve where the Predators gather game to be hunted. Soon, Cuchillo is killed and used as a trap. Then, they find a captive Predator and three larger hunters, known as the Tracker, Berserker and Falconer. Mombasa is killed and Royce demands to know why Isabelle knew who the aliens were. That’s because she knew Dutch from the original movie and heard his story.

They then meet Noland (Laurence Fishburne), a soldier who has survived for ten seasons. Even though he explains the rules to them, he tries to kill them for their supplies. As they escape, Royce hatches a plan to exploit the feud between the smaller and larger Predators.

As he tries to escapes the fire, the Tracker kills Noland but is taken out by Nikolai’s mines as he sacrifices himself to help the party. Similarly, Stan saves everyone by facing off with the Berserker, but his skull and spine are ripped out. Hanzo is the last to put himself before the group as he and the Falconer duel, with both dying from their wounds.

Royce, Isabelle and Edwin make their way to the camp, but Edwin is injured and Isabelle won’t leave him behind. Royce then frees the smaller Predator and they set the ship’s course for Earth. Unfortunately, the Berserker returns, kills his rival and blows the ship up. It’s revealed why Edwin is there: he was a killer and uses poison he found on the planet to paralyze Isabelle. Royce arrives in the nick of time and saves her.

Our heroes cover Edwin with grenades and then Royce battles the Predator one on one, killing it with an axe just as more parachutes come down from the sky. Soon, more Predators will come, but they will be ready.

I really enjoyed this film, both in the theater and then revisiting it a few weeks ago on blu-ray. It deserves to have more people watch it. Hopefully with the new The Predator movie coming out, this will happen.

LEAGUE OF FORGOTTEN HEROES: The Extraordinary Adventures of Adèle Blanc-Sec (2010)

Based upon Jacques Tardi’s historical based fantasy comic book, Les Aventures extraordinaires d’Adèle Blanc-Sec, this film takes place in the secret history of our world before the first World War. Today, we’d call the style of Tardi’s comic steampunk, but don’t let that name sway you: this movie is awesome.

Two of Tardi’s stories inspired this movie: Adèle and the Beast and Mummies on Parade, so this film takes place in 1912 Paris.

Luc Besson (La Femme NikitaThe Fifth ElementLéon: The ProfessionalValerian and the City of a Thousand Planets) is one of the foremost creators in the cinéma du look style which Wikipedia claims favors “style over substance, spectacle over narrative.” His visual style dominates everything he creates, including this movie, which is the film that The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen should have been.

Let me see if I can sum up the craziness that this piece of cinema contains. Professor Espérandieu (Philippe Nahon, who played the nameless butcher in three Gaspar Noé films, Carne, I Stand Alone and Irréversible) hatches a pterodactyl which ends up killing a politician who is having an affair in a taxicab with a showgirl. The President of France demands that the National Police handle the sightings of the dinosaur, with Inspector Albert Caponi handling the investigation.

We finally meet our heroine, Adèle Blanc-Sec, who works as a travel writer and is on a quest to find the mummified Patmosis, who was the doctor for Pharoah Ramses II. It turns out that she wants to revive the famous physician to save the life of her sister Agathe, who has had a tennis accident. Her arch enemy Professor Dieuleveult (Mathieu Amalric, Quantum of Solace) also wants the mummy, but she defeats him and travels back to Paris.

She needs Professor Espérandieu’s help to revive the mummy, but he’s now on death row as he’s been blamed for the dinosaur attacks. However, big game hunter Justin de Saint-Hubert is trying to kill the flying monster while Andrej Zborowski (Nicolas Giraud, Taken) wants to save it. Just as Espérandieu is to be executed, Adèle and Zborowski tame the pterodactyl and fly it to the rescue.

While enjoying tea with the revived mummy, we learn that he was really a physicist, not a physician, so he is unable to help revive Agathe. However, Saint-Hubert fatally shoots the pterosaur along with Espérandieu.

Adèle and Patmosis go to the Louvre, where they revive all of the mummies, including the Pharoah, who revives Agathe. Deciding that he wants to see Paris, the undead Egyptian leads his entire court into the night.

After all that adventure, Adèle decides to relax on a cruise. But as we see her nemesis with an evil grin, we learn that she’s on the Titanic! What a set up for a sequel, as is the credits scene where Ménard tries to get his revenge on Saint-Hubert.

I really loved this movie. It’s kind of amazing that it got such a limited release in the U.S. because it’s such an imaginative film. It also looks gorgeous, with perfectly integrated effects. Plus, I laughed several times during this and the humor didn’t get in the way of the tale.

This film was intended to be the first of three films, but it’s been a few years since it was made. When asked by Den of Geek in 2016 if there would be a sequel, Besson said, “I would love to, because I love this character Adèle. She’s basically the grandmother of Indiana Jones. But it was in French and it’s difficult in France to do films with a certain kind of budget because it’s just in French. But I hope we can.”

Shout! Factory has released this film in the US on blu-ray and you can also stream it on Tubi TV. I’d definitely recommend you set some time aside and check this really interesting movie out!

CHRISTMAS CINEMA: Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale (2010)

After two well-received web entries, 2003’s Rare Exports Inc. and 2005’s Rare Exports: The Official Safety Instructions, writer and director Jalmari Helander created this ode to the darker side of Santa Claus.

A British company called Subzero is doing arctic deep drilling when it discovers that a burial mound contains something hidden. Two boys, Juuso and Pietari listen in, then argue the existence of Santa before Pietari goes home to read how Santa is really a horned being who whips bad kids and boils them alive.

The day before Christmas Eve, Pietari’s dad, Rauno, digs a trap to protect his reindeer herd from wolves, who have been driven mad by the explosions and digging. They discover hundreds of dead reindeer, all gnawed to death, but both Pietari and his father are unsure if the wolves are really to blame.

Rauno blames his misfortune on the Subzero company and heads out for retribution. However, he finds no one there, just a deep pit into what looks like Hell. Then, they learn that potatoes, heaters and even a hairdryer have gone missing. Even worse, Jusso jas disappeared, a fact that Pietari discovers has happened to kids all over the village.

Another villager, Piiparinen, finds an old man who is near death, who goes from deceased to able to attack to strong enough to break metal bars. They dress the old man as Santa and inform Subzero’s American boss, Riley. He informs them that they only have an elf and must not behave rudely. One swear word later and the lights, Riley and his pilot have all been killed.

Everyone runs to Hangar 24, where they discover a horned beast trapped in a block of ice being warmed by the stolen heaters. They also see sacks of kidnapped children before they are attacked by the elves.

What follows is a daring rescue and escape, with Santa being blown up real good and Raulo ending up working with Subzero to send the elves to American malls, where they will be seasonal Santas.

Rare Exports could have been a silly parody of a film, but it is shot with dark charm and plenty of verve. It’s a really unique piece of cinema that surprised me at several turns. You can check it out on Shudder or Amazon Prime.

CHRISTMAS CINEMA: Sint (2010)

December 5, 1492. Former bishop Niklas and his gang have gotten away with too much. The villagers have had it up to here with their antics, like looting and killing, so they kill them off. Yet for every year after that coincides with a full moon, they return as ghosts with murderous intent.

The film then inverts all the holiday traditions of the Netherlands: Sinterklass is not a jolly fat man, he’s a killer with a sharp staff that he won’t hesitate to use. His elves, the Zwarte Pieten, don’t have faces blackened from the soot of chimneys, but instead they have been burned alive.

The last time the real Sinterklass came back was in 1968 and hundreds of people were killed, including the family of Goert, who is now a policeman. That traumatic event has been covered up by the authorities and the Catholic Church, who want Saint Nick to remain pure.

With another full moon coming, Goert tries to ban all Sinterklaas events and increasing police manpower, but he’s laughed off and sent on leave. But of course, Sinterklass arrives and brings horror with him.

Directed by Dick Maas (The LiftAmsterdamned), the film looks gorgeous, with a crushed black color palette and really intriguing angles. If a gore movie can be lush, then by all means, this is it. The scene where Sinterklass reveals himself to the children in the hospital, as well as a chase across the rooftops with Sinterklass on a horse, are just plain gorgeous. As we watch the evil saint fall through floor after floor of a building, then onto a police car, then stalk the hero, it really gets across just how frightening the villain is.

Even watching the film in its native language, I was easily able to define the storytelling and stayed interested throughout. It was interesting to learn of another Christmas myth and then see the more malevolent side of it.