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Horror-Wood Blog-a-Thon: Lifeforce

913id0tbail_sl1500Tobe Hooper is one of the most interesting horror movie directors. He knew how to get that really gritty and dirty feel with his movies like in his famous entry, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Since then, most of his movies have been laid in a middle ground of absurdity or be moderately scary. Lifeforce, on the other hand, is so out there that it’s a wonder to know Hooper was behind it. This one is a testament to his style of taking a B-movie premise and just flying with it.

The story has so many tone shifts that the entertaining value really comes from how many movie tones it channels. First, it concerns a group of astronauts, aboard a space station called the Churchill, who find a floating craft holding a bunch of well-preserved alien, yet human looking bodies in suspended animation. Three of them are taken aboard and then the astronauts go missing. After the Churchill crashes, a rescue mission finds the alien bodies in tack and takes them in at a research center.

lifeforce-naked-aliens-astronauts-containment-shipFrom there, the movie kicks into full gear becoming a part-zombie and part-vampire feature. One of the creatures awakens and starts draining the life energy from scientists. The more life energy it consumes, the younger these creatures get. If the creatures can’t find a fresh host, they explode into a matter of dust. The special effects are highly commendable as one corpse-looking body rejuvenates into a naked woman played by Mathilda May.

primary_lifeforce-500pixIn regards to these alien creatures, I guess the correct term to use here is “space vampires.” The scary thing about these monsters is how they have little to no weaknesses outside of killing the head vampire. Lifeforce takes on a lot of the original tropes and cliches of vampire movie mythology, while adding some “fresh blood” to it. Unfortunately, Lifeforce was greatly re-edited in America to avoid any connection to the blood sucking creatures for some weird reason. Thankfully, the International cut restores a great bulk of the vampire references and is currently available in all home media releases.

There is an interesting idea here I really like where one of the Churchill astronauts, played by Steve Railsback, turns up alive and has a strange connection to the head space vampire. Apparently, he has a physic link that causes him to lose control and be used as a Renfield-like ploy. This is handled in a more erotic manner where the guy is seduced to the dark side, while he struggles to fight against the creatures. You can’t tell if he is with the humans or trying to help the space vampires.

r127There is one scene I have to bring up, because it must be seen to be believed. Patrick Stewart plays the manager of a psychiatric hospital and has the alien trapped in his body. At one point, they hypnotize the alien inside him to talk and he causes the astronaut to make their bond “stronger” by kissing him. Let THAT sink in. Captain Picard of Star Trek: The Next Generation has a kissing scene with an actor who played Charles Manson in a 1976 TV miniseries called Helter Skelter. It’s a surreal moment. Again, this too was changed in the US theatrical cut, so it looks like the tortured man is kissing the head vampire instead. This is why I prefer the International cut more when it comes to a movie like this.

Lifeforce-space-vampireThe final third of Lifeforce is just downright insane. After channeling Alien with the outer space scenes to a little of The Terminator, everything just goes out of control as it becomes an doomsday apocalypse movie. The alien gets loose and starts affecting everyone in London. Left and right, pedestrians get their lives drain out of them while the movie turns into a zombie movie on acid. It just comes out of nowhere and rockets into an epic finale.

lf4There is nothing else I can say. Lifeforce must be seen to believed. Even Leonard Maltin was speechless giving it a mild recommendation for it’s crazy detours. I do agree with him on how this movie jumps from many different film tones and that’s where most of its charm comes from. It keeps you wondering what direction it will take not knowing how bonkers it will become by the final reel. It maybe inconsistent with the tone its going for, but it results in a lot of entertaining vaule.

Do Uncle Morgan a favor. Buy this movie, invite a lot of friends over for Halloween night, order some pizza, play the full International cut of Lifeforce and get ready for one wild night with space vampires and bewildered viewers. It will make for a great evening full of “what the $%*# am I watching?!?” God…I love this movie…

 

“Madea Halloween” scarily unfunny

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I think I just saw a movie. Then again, I’m not sure if I should call it a movie. The more the minutes lingered, “Boo! A Madea Halloween” felt more like an out of body experience desperate to find at least some humor. One joke to hang onto despite a soulless effort to make use of the holiday. Tyler Perry stated in interviews he’s not a fan of ghosts, witches or anything creepy crawly. A shame as the trailers advertise scenes of everyone’s favorite granny punching clowns and running away from zombies. If one thinks this will be a big “monster mash,” you will be disappointed to find its really a lame pumpkin smash.

The main plot relies on Brian Simmons (Tyler Perry) and his inability to control his bratty daughter. He crushes his daughter’s plan to go out and party at a nearby fraternity by having Madea watch her. As expected,  Brown’s daughter sneaks out and the granny is not happy. Armed with her two friends and brother, Madea seeks justice in a plot that really goes nowhere. I shouldn’t be surprised as that tends to happen in most of these movies. There seems to be a spark of an idea but somehow gets lost in a sea of meandering subplots and running jokes.

First, we get the fraternity and their big Halloween bash as every teen acts like a stereotype from Animal House or a watered down gang that boozes on beer and sex. While we don’t see any beer glasses touch lips, the writing for these characters gets irradiating with a one sided view on the modern teenager. The kind who is constantly saying a bunch of suffer talk in a masculine way, but acts all tough. The only time the fraternity got interesting is when they try to wise up (say if, someone under-aged appears at their party) and take responsibility. But even then, this action would immediately backfire when they decide to do something completely irresponsible like intense pranking.

This leads into one of the biggest problems of the whole movie. It seems to be really centered on the idea that a prank gone too far can have serious consequences. And honestly, I’m ok with stuff like that. The way its being handled is what I can’t tolerate. Without spoiling too much, certain characters will go out of their way to do these elaborate pranks against each other wither it be staging a zombie apocalypse or the death of a main character. I understand the morale value behind this subplot, but it wears the welcome too much. It even trails into an unnecessary 15 minutes near the end which completely contradicts the “other” main message.

And that is the other big problem I have which is the main theme of parenting. Most of the Madea movies center on a certain theme from second chances to dysfunctional families. “Madea Halloween” tries to examine the idea of what is good parenting and bad parenting. But it gets a set of mixed messages when you have jokes about how to beat a child up wrapped around a climax when Brian finally gets the idea of how to discipline your kid. I’m all for the idea of show and even discussing the limits of child discipline. Yet everything goes back and forth on key jokes like Brian talking to Uncle Joe about a time when Joe tossed him off the roof to learn a lesson. Material like this is not funny and bogs down the message to the point it will feel like a beating to the head or exhaust itself.

I can’t remember a single character I liked from this movie. They were all annoying, irradiating and even some that got under my skin a lot. Madea was never funny or interesting to me. I get the reason why people love this character, but I always find her to be too mean spirited at times. And it doesn’t help when you have her force out this morale message of kids respecting parents when immediately afterwards has a entire sequence when she does something mean to others. I know the purpose why she does (I can’t say without spoiling), but it sort of goes against those moments when the character has a heartfelt morale to say.

As for the others, I really couldn’t care less. Uncle Joe is the perverted senior that’s always trying to say some kind of catchphrase or dirty joke. Aunt Bam has this running gag about being able to legal smoke marijuana which gets old. Hattie is the comic relief with the annoying voice that keeps mispronouncing words just for a gag. The biggest offender I found was really Brian and his daughter. I get they are trying to build this arc over how he can’t manage to connect or even maintain control of his daughter. But when we get to their moment when they recoup, it feels manipulated after a slew of exposition on why Brian is inept over taking charge. And for someone his age, Brian should at least be able to know his daughter this well.

There were only two times I actually did snicker during “A Madea Halloween.” Once at a gag when Bam steals candy from kids and a comment from Uncle Joe about Madea having a prostate. Those jokes only worked because of the delivery of the humor and the ideas behind these two jokes. Everything else I recall is material about being harsh on child discipline and fraternity boys learning responsibility the hard way. There is nothing else I can remember that was remotely investing outside of the advanced technical work giving us the ability to see three Tyler Perry characters in one shot. I know there is an audience for Madea, but I’m not one of them.

“Boo! A Madea Halloween” left me feeling empty and dumb down to the point my mind felt numb. The morale is mixed between cynical humor and taking responsibility to the point it feels kinda calculated. Tyler Perry said his movies were meant for entertainment and not to be thought too heavily on. My criticism to that is when you force a morale like that amidst jokes of spanking and child beating, there will be mixed signals. There are better things to watch this Halloween season and this movie is no treat. I wouldn’t even recommend a single frame to anyone. The only positive about this whole thing was that I saw this Madea movie at my local cinema on Bargain Tuesday for $6. Because it would have been a whole lot scarier if I paid to see this for full admission price.

Horror-Wood Blog-a-Thon: Phantasm

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Well, I wasn't scare by this one....should I worry?

Well, I wasn’t scare by this one….should I worry?

There are movies today that really have a strange cult following that we keep questioning yet we understand why. The Saw franchise, for one example, puts the victim in such dangerous situations that engages the audience. The Paranormal Activity franchise seems to be going downhill after taking such minimal scares and trying to increase the terror by showing its fears instead of letting the audience use their imagination. The gimmick of a movie can lead to viewers getting interest. But for something like Phantasm, I never really understood why it got that big of an audience.

Half of me understands why while the other part of me is still left uncertain. There’s portions that work and some of it that really feels jarring and off. The parts that work are when it gets dark and psychological. It really gets your attention when we see the surreal set of a morgue with different rooms and shelves of bodies. The look alone feels very unique as if it was a dark nightmare. But then we get the story and it depends on what kind of person you are to know if you will enjoy this.

Two brothers bond together very well but the younger one named Mike is suspicious of the morgue that his older brother Jody works at. The mortician there, credited as the Tall Man, has an evil plan to take all the dead bodies and convert them into weird dwarf zombies that look like rejected Jawas from Star Wars. Of course, they go through that whole thing where no one believes Mike and he tries to help out his brother. And they eventually find out and have to defeat the evil. On top of that, we have to sit through a lot of podding scenes with wooden dialogue and campy acting collide in the weirdest form.

Mike looks about for his brother in one of the most interesting morgues ever crafted

Mike looks about for his brother in one of the most interesting morgues ever crafted

I feel bad for saying that because I can sense a lot of potential. I saw this movie without any knowledge of the plot thinking it was going to be one of those haunted house scares like Tobe Hooper’s The Funhouse. You know, group of teens break into a place that is forbidden and try to survive. I thought THAT was the movie I was going to get. Instead, it tries to be more of a physiological scare fest but half of the time, we spend way too much on the humor and character development which drags the film down. I think it wasn’t until 30 minutes in when things finally got interesting but then it dips back to the boring and silly stuff that really detracts.

For example, there’s a scene when Jody gets a girl from a bar and they try to have sex in the graveyard. His little brother Mike tries to spy on them until he notices a creature and darts off. He runs right past the two and Jody tells the girl he’ll be back while her panties are in his mouth. Yeah, that really sums up the level of camp here. I find it strange how this was during a period when horror was getting serious with movies like Halloween and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and yet campy stuff like this was still being churned out. There are even weird things too like it will start on a high moment like Mike having a nightmare where his bed is transported to the graveyard as zombies surface and grab him. And then it cuts to the next day as Jody goes to the bar to find out what happened to the girl he met. Talk about inconsistency.

The famous "Killer Silver Balls"

The famous “Killer Silver Balls”

The stuff between the brothers is uninteresting, the whole master plan doesn’t make a whole lot sense or even have a motive and when it does make an impacting scare, its very brief and doesn’t make much of an impact. Or go absolutely nowhere. For example, there is a clever scare when the lights go out and all you hear is them talking and sound effects. Now that is a great idea. Letting the audio add to the viewer’s imagination. But then, it cuts to Jody outside the morgue when we have no clue or hint as to how he was able to escape. How weird is that?

The only thing that nearly saves the movie is Angus Scrimm’s performace as the Tall Man. He doesn’t have too many scenes but every time the character is on screen, you can’t help but delight at how over-the-top he plays it. That grim expression, the hammy acting when he calls out “BOY!” at Mike and not to mention that slow walking which is awkward but hypnotic in a sense. My favorite scene is when he is walking down the street as Mike watches from afar. The Tall Man stops in front of an open ice cream truck, smells the chilly fog roaming from the doors and makes a growl sound. Something about that just feels funny to me the way he does that.

One of the few effective scares as Mike has a nightmare of the Tall Guy

One of the few effective scares as Mike has a nightmare of the Tall Guy

But is this enjoyable performance enough to save Phantasm? No and how it ended up getting so many sequels is a mystery to me. My only guess is that because everything is left so ambiguous (trust me, less said about the ending the better. I still don’t understand it) that it leaves viewers replaying it and trying to make their own interpretation of what happened. I do admit there are times when it can be great to look at especially in the morgue scenes which look twisted and distorted. When it tries to be scary, its interesting. But when it tries to be funny/campy, it looses my interest. I want to say this is one of those movies that deserves a remake seeing how weird and clunky it feels. But with a fifth movie on the way, it seems impossible to me. Maybe if Phantasm focused more on the scares and less on the cheese, their could have been this really deep psychological thriller. But as it stands, its an odd film with some interesting visuals that don’t hold together. If you like films with a campy yet eerie tone, this is for you. But if want something deeper and intense like the Nightmare on Elm Street movies or The Twilight Zone, then I have to say this is an unfortunate skip.

Horror-Wood Blog-a-Thon: Slither (2006)

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Before the Galaxy, James had slugs

Before the Galaxy, James had slugs

James Gunn seems to be making a name for himself. This summer, he gave us Guardians of the Galaxy which I still feel is by far the best movie of the year so far for its well-developed characters and science fiction fun. However, this would not be the first time he would helm a project like this with such tongue-in-cheek fashion. In the beginning there was Slither. A very unique horror comedy that felt like a throwback to the campy B-movies of the 1980s while also being an homage to the 1950 science fiction classics like The Blob.

Right from the opening, you can tell what kind of movie you are in for as two local cops chat about birds and yet they fail to notice a meteorite crash right behind them. The meteorite is actually carrying an alien parasite that infects everyday simpleton Grant Grant who starts having strange cravings for meat  and developing strange boils on his body. Micheal Rooker is a delight to watch seeing he plays two characters in one. A man with a trouble marriage while also being controlled by the parasite’s mind. What I find interesting is how creepy yet humorous of Grant’s awkward behavior. When he speaks like a normal human, it almost sounds strange just by how he cooks up an excuse that is harebrained like saying his odd welts came from a bee sting.

Its not long till police chief Bill Pardy (Nathan Fillion) starts to catch up on strange things happening in the town like the disappearance of various pets and a missing girl. Nathan’s character can be best described as a very relaxed personality that knows trouble when he can sense despite how sickening it can get. He’s the average hero that knows what is going on (somewhat) but yet everyone has a hard time believing him. In a way, its a nice twist to see a member of the police is not believed as opposed to a teenager getting the shaft which is a good chance of pace.

Grant (Michael Rooker) surrounded by tons and tons of meat after he gets infected

Grant (Michael Rooker) surrounded by tons and tons of meat after he gets infected

Sure enough, they find Grant is behind the strange events and worse of all is mutating into a bizarre monster with tentacles that feels like a cross between the Blairmonster from John Carpenter’s The Thing and the hideous Pretorius creature in From Beyond.  Its a horrific design that is grotesque yet humorous seeing how one small infection can turn a man into a gelatinous blob with mounds of tentacles. He is however not the only victim as Brenda, a childhood crush of Grant’s, gets used to birth tons of baby alien slugs in one of the film’s most memorable and disgusting scenes. Its gross but hilarious seeing a woman blown up to the size of a beach whale and complain about giving birth to tons of alien slugs that instead tear her to shreds.

The rest of the movie becomes a mix between a George A. Romero and John Carpenter picture as the whole town gets possessed by the slugs and share a psychic link with the hive leader Grant who grows to be more revolting than before. I like the idea of an entire town possessed by alien slugs giving a unique zombie feel to it. And having the folks share the same thoughts as Grant gives the feel of people being turned into nothing mindless drones collecting goods for the hive.

The infamous Brenda scene which shows how well practical effects can be amazing when done right

The infamous Brenda scene which shows how well practical effects can be amazing when done right

The biggest highlights of Slither include the humor and the special effects. As said, the whole movie has a tongue-in-cheek feel that foreshadows later events and feels self-aware but not the point it takes us out of the movie. Its subtle and knows when to swing between delivering scares and being comedic. I especially enjoyed Gregg Henry’s character of the Mayor who doesn’t hide his crude personality and flips out when the slugs attack to the point that he knows it hits the fan when no one packs his favorite soda. On a technical lever, Slither succeeds in blending CGI and practical effects very well. The animation on the slugs is so good that it almost feels like watching stop-motion when we see them slide about the walls or sneaking around houses for a new victim. There’s times when the CGI is a bit too obvious for things like the final form of Grant’s hideous transformation but you can’t help but admire the design and craft.

"There on the walls!!!!"

“There on the walls!!!!”

Thought I shouldn’t say Slither is for everyone. There are times when it might get a tad intense with moments of dead animal bodies and a sequence when a whole family including two kids become victim to the brainwashing slugs. I do feel the less gore, the more effective it will be. But I can’t say its gets too much to the point where it gets distracting but sensitive viewers might want to watch with caution. Its a shame this didn’t do well at the box office as its producer cited that it was “the first comedy-horror in a long time, and maybe the marketplace just isn’t ready for comedy-horror yet.” True, but I would go as far to say it came on the wave of many zombie movies that would either redefine the genre or just fall into the crowd of corpses. Slither is unique seeing how it takes the absurd concept and does a humorous take to it. And for a budget of only $15 million, you will be surprised to see how well you get your money’s worth here. Overall, a solid recommendation for James’ first outing.

Horror-Wood Blog-a-Thon: Trick ‘r Treat

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Oh, this will give you something good alright...

Oh, this will give you something good alright…

Anthology movies are a rarity these days. The idea that moviegoers would be getting three or four stories for the price of one seems to be something that is not done a lot these days. However, it is a bit of a double edge sword seeing most of the stories will not be fully appreciated. Again, you’ll have a movie like The Kentucky Fried Movie or Twilight Zone: The Movie where it will have some good segments and some that are not as strong as the previous. There’s even the case where a certain idea would have played better as a full-length feature film. But when you think about, the idea of a multi-story feature is actually not bad. There’s many ways to pull it off and creative ways to do this kind of movie. You can have them play separately like a string of vignettes or even try to make a narrative out of it. Though that last one is hard to pull off, there’s essentially no right or wrong way to this kind of movie. Its all about the magnitude of stories and how they hold up. And this is where today’s flick comes in.

I knew at some point I had to give Trick ‘r Treat some limelight. Its one of those movies that never really crossed my mind or even garnered much interest when I first heard it. The trailers and advertising painted it more like a slasher film or something twisted like a Rob Zombie movie and I believe that’s what turned me off more. It also didn’t help that the film was finished in 2007 but kept getting held back for a good two years until it got a very limited release. I have no idea why they would so such a thing as some believe its due to the falling out with Warner Bros. and the film’s producer Bryan Singer who disappointed with the low box-office returns of Superman Returns. Others say is because of the competition at the time, but for whatever reason, I really feel bad this never got a huge nationwide release because this is really good movie to see at this time of year.

The whole idea is that four stories happen around the same Halloween night and somehow interconnect with each other. So its sort of like a cross between a comic book and a jigsaw puzzle. Some have little foreshadowing hints that will happen later while others answer certain questions from the previous segment. To describe this movie in a nutshell is basically like digging into a trick or treat bag full of candy. But each piece of candy has a very distinctive flavor that mixes dark chocolate with something bitter and sweet at the same time. On first watch, you really don’t know what to expect but upon repeated viewings, you start to appreciate how much it connects with the holiday.

Dylan Baker tells a bully the traditions of Halloween unbeknownst of what lurks in the guy's candy bowl

Dylan Baker tells a bully the traditions of Halloween unbeknownst of what lurks in the guy’s candy bowl

Dylan Baker plays a principal in one segment where he gets revenge on a neighborhood bully by means of poisoned chocolate. Worse of all, he has to find a way to hide the evidence from his son and the neighbors next door. On paper, it sounds dark and horrible but again, its all about how it plays out. The first segment really reflects the overall dark comedy that is within. Dylan gives a performance that is chilling yet enjoyable. You can tell his character really relishes the holiday and won’t stop anything to make sure it doesn’t get ruined. You might remember him better as Dr. Curt Connors from the Sam Raimi Spider Man films. He’s so serious and controlled in those movies but here, he’s the total opposite. What makes this entry enjoyable is the pay off near the end which I want to give desperately away. Its one of those “if you stick around and keep watching, you know what’s coming.”

Anna Paquin plays a girl going to a party but not the kind you would expect

Anna Paquin plays a girl going to a party but not the kind you would expect

Much of this movie is like that even considering another segment where Anna Paquin of current X-Men fame is a teenager named Laurie out with a group of girls to a surprise party in the woods. There’s much stab at “virginity” here when they have to get dates and we speculate its probably an old-fashion drink and sex bash in the forest. But then things change up a bit with a vampire tossed in who has his sights set on Laurie to the point we wonder what direction it will take. Well, much a story out of a Tales from the Crypt comic, it hits us at the end with a double twist that even I didn’t see coming. There’s so much focus on the girls and the vampire that we wonder just how they will collide. Sure enough when they do, it  all comes together and we start to understand from the start where this was all heading.

The victims of the 1977 "Halloween School Bus Massacre." A segment I'm sure viewers might feel disturbed by

The victims of the 1977 “Halloween School Bus Massacre.” A segment I’m sure viewers might feel disturbed by

However, I can’t say all the segments work. Each one tends to dip in darker territory that might turn some viewers off. One notable example is a segment where a bunch of kids plan to explore a lake near a rock quarry to find the destroyed school bus from a “massacre” thirty years ago. The story goes is that a group of mentally ill children in a school bus crashed into the lake but it turns out the parents of those children paid the bus driver to do the dirty deed. Its something that nearly took me out of the movie just by the concept alone. I’ve seen mentally disabled people and even had the notion to see their behavior during my times at school.

The thought of such a horrible act nearly made me turn off the movie. What stopped was the direction it goes in. As it turns out, the kids come back in the form of ghoulish zombies almost similar to the ones in John Carpenter’s The Fog. As the kids try to play a prank on another, they are unaware of what danger lurks right under them. Its intense but again, I felt the idea of mentally ill kids being sent to their doom almost soured it. I understand this is a horror movie and the need to go dark but it really feels like they are attempted to go dark just for the sake of it as opposed to giving a purpose. I was fine with the first segment because there was a reason for the mean spirited vibe. The kid was destroying Halloween decorations and defiling house and he got his “just deserts” as a result. Here, the dark angle just felt tagged on but if you stick around there is sort of a reason why.

You're a mean one...Brian Cox!

You’re a mean one…Brian Cox!

The final segment sees Brian Cox as a Grinch-like character that really hates Halloween to the point he scares kids away and steals their candy. But all of that changes when a kid named Sam intervenes and tries to make him change his ways by means of scares and murder. Its an intense segment that really ends on a high finish. After spending so much time about the town, we get to take a story from the man giving out the treats. There’s some scares that are good but at times feel predicable like the cue for a big reveal or a jump scare. What saves it is how the monster of this segment is actually a little kid that wants candy. Not since John Carpenter’s Halloween have this gone this route and gives it a unique take. The character of Sam is basic but feels creepy and fresh. The orange one-suit pajamas and burlap sack on his head with button-eyes feel somewhat iconic. This is easily my favorite of the batch just for its quiet atmosphere and little use of dialogue. It shows that a story can be told with images and sound without speaking.

I still feel bad Trick ‘r Treat didn’t get that full wide theatrical release because this movie deserves it. But since its release to home video, it was able to maintain a strong cult following and was a critical success none the less. I’m honestly glad I was able to see this and I admit its actually a good movie. I like the tone, the fact it takes place on Halloween night and the fact it feels like a horror comic book film like Creepshow but with a darker edge. The only problems I have with it is the narrative structure that seems to have each story loosely connected to each other. At times, one event affects the next segment but at times we jump from one story to the next at a point one might need to get a notepad to keep track of what’s going on. And also the dark humor might not before for everyone’s taste. As said above, there’s some mean spirited jokes that work in its favor and other times where it could leave you unsettled. Overall, Trick ‘r Treat I’m sure will get a bigger reputation as one of the best Halloween movies. But for now, its a high recommendation that’s perfect for the season.