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Saturday, November 19, 2022 11:08 PM
(Last updated on Saturday, November 19, 2022 11:25 PM)
On the Viewer - Guillermo del Toro's Cabinet of Curiosities: Season 1
 by Fëanor

Hello folks! Been quite a while since I posted on here about anything other than my books, but I recently finished making my way through the first season of Netflix's horror anthology show, Guillermo del Toro's Cabinet of Curiosities, and I thought I'd talk about it a bit.

Guillermo del Toro, if you are somehow unaware, is a film director who is known for fantastical movies about monsters. I'm a huge fan. This show is kind of his version of Alfred Hitchcock Presents; he shows up at the beginning to introduce each episode, but it's a different director telling a different story each time, and there's no connection between the stories, besides the shared genre.

Episode 1 - Lot 36
This is one of the two episodes co-written by del Toro; it's directed by Guillermo Navarro, a cinematographer and long-time collaborator of his. It's set in America during the Gulf War and stars Tim Blake Nelson as a mean, greedy, self-interested, misanthropic veteran who buys the contents of abandoned storage units and sells off the items in them for as much money as he can get. He has no sympathy with, or interest in, the former owners of the units, and when one shows up to ask for some of her personal effects back, he refuses out of pure spite. He's the classic awful horror protagonist that you spend the whole story just waiting to see get his comeuppance.

His latest unit, it turns out, belonged to a former Nazi, and has some very creepy, but also very rare and valuable, items hidden away in it, including an infamous set of volumes on black magic. If he can find the final volume in the set, a collector promises him a huge cash payout - large enough to pay off the loan shark who's been threatening him.

This is a pretty solid horror story, with a creepy story, creepy and effective visuals, and some of my favorite horror tropes. But it does suffer a bit from having a completely unlikable and occasionally stupid protagonist. It also introduces some mysteries that are never satisfactorily explained. I'm okay with that sometimes, but this time I really wanted to know why that guy was skipping on the security cam footage. The conclusion of the story, though satisfying in its own way, feels a bit anticlimactic. You're told what's going to happen, and then you have to wait around while it inevitably happens.

Episode 2 - Graveyard Rats
This one's quite fun. It's written and directed by Vincenzo Natali, who made the original Cube. It has a darkly comic flavor to it and stars David Hewlett as a highly-educated man who, nevertheless, finds himself trying to scrape by as a graverobber. The cemetery where he plies his trade has had only slim pickings lately due to an extraordinary rat infestation - they keep stealing away the corpses, and all the valuable items buried with them, before he can plunder them. If he doesn't come up with some big ticket items soon, the sketchy guy at the dock who buys the goods off him may just bury him instead.

You may notice the plot here is very similar to that of the first episode: a down-on-his-luck guy engaged in a seedy enterprise must make a big score or likely die. This time, though, our protagonist is slightly more likable. Sure, he's a little pompous and awkward, but he has something of the sad, bumbling clown about him, too. Oh, and he's also claustrophobic. You can imagine what happens to him later.

This episode is a lot of familiar tropes presented well, with good effects and cool visuals. There's nothing astonishing here, but it gets the job done in the creepy crawlies department.

Episode 3 - The Autopsy
Another rather strong entry, this one directed by newcomer David Prior, and written by the prolific and talented screenwriter, director, and producer David S. Goyer. Our main character this time is a clever, likable medical examiner played by F. Murray Abraham. He's deathly ill, but facing it with wry equanimity. A sheriff who's an old friend of his has called him in to perform autopsies on a bunch of dead bodies recovered from the site of a mining accident. The "accident" was preceded by a strange series of disappearances, reappearances, and grisly discoveries, and the sheriff wants to know how it's all connected and what it all means. Our medical examiner hero discovers the answers, to his cost.

This is a disturbing and gory one. There were a couple of scenes where I had to turn away and squeeze my eyes shut until they were over. With Abraham in the lead, and other talented actors in the secondary roles, it's full of fine performances. There's a thoughtful, philosophical feel to portions of it, but in some ways I feel like it explains too much. The villain is an inveterate monologuer, and he gets a little tiresome. But if you want the creeps, this will give you the creeps!

Episode 4 - The Outside
Hoo boy. This one is something! I'm not familiar with the writer or the director, who are Haley Z. Boston and Ana Lily Amirpour, respectively. This episode features our first female main character, a bank teller named Stacey. She's played by Kate Micucci, with Martin Starr as her husband and Dan Stevens as the host of the unsettling infomercial that claims it can make Stacey's dream come true. Said dream is to be beautiful and popular, so she can fit in with the beautiful, popular girls at work. Why this is her dream isn't always easy to understand, as the other girls at work are pretty awful to her, and do nothing but gossip incessantly about all the sleaziest local drama, insulting and disparaging everyone they talk about.

After a hallucinatory interaction with a late night TV commercial, Stacey becomes obsessed with a skin cream that she's sure will help transform her into her perfect self. She uses it and continues to use it, despite the fact that it makes her break out horribly in red itchy spots. The cream is white and does a lot of splurting and squelching. The resemblance to another white substance is definitely not a mistake.

One thing I found interesting about this story is that, counter to the expected stereotype, Stacey's husband is not an abusive jerk! He is unflaggingly supportive and loving. It doesn't make any difference in the end, but still, it's refreshing.

This is really the only story in the whole anthology that features social commentary. It talks about the cultural obsession with a very specific kind of shallow, boilerplate sexual attractiveness, which television media encourages women to seek out and inhabit at the expense of all else. The pursuit of the destruction of idiosyncratic self in preference for this smooth, plastic ideal leads one woman into madness, violence, and death. It's surreal, darkly funny, and often deeply uncomfortable to watch.

Episode 5 - Pickman's Model
This was one of the episodes I was looking forward to the most, as it's based on a classic short story by H.P. Lovecraft that I quite enjoy. Sadly, I was disappointed. It's directed by Keith Thomas, another newcomer I was unfamiliar with. I did recognize the two male stars, however: Ben Barnes is our main character, Will, and the perpetually weird and creepy Crispin Glover plays the titular Richard Pickman. Will and Pickman are both art students at Miskatonic University, a school familiar to anyone who's read Lovecraft, and a school which is, most unfortunately, located in Arkham, Massachusetts. I say "most unfortunately" because this setting convinced the filmmakers to have Barnes and Glover speak all of their lines in absolutely atrocious Boston accents. Glover's is particularly egregious. It makes listening to the dialog a truly painful experience, far more horrifying and off-putting than any of the nightmarish sights we're presented with.

The plot is tiresome, proceeding in odd stops and starts, and sometimes veering off unexpectedly. It opens with odd outsider Pickman joining Will's art class. Will is fascinated by the man's unique, nightmarish paintings, and at first tries to befriend him, even calling him by the unfortunate nickname "Dickie." But Will quickly discovers that Pickman's work doesn't just look nightmarish - it also seems to bring nightmares to life in the waking world. The surreal visions Will experiences after looking at Pickman's paintings nearly ruin his relationship with his girlfriend and her family. Luckily for him, at this point Pickman inexplicably decides to pick up and leave, taking all his paintings with him.

Here the story makes a jarring time jump. All of a sudden, Will has gray in his hair and the girlfriend who seemed to have dumped him in the previous scene is now his wife. They even have a young son. This was such an unexpected and unexplained turn of events, I thought maybe it was meant to be a dream - but no!

Anyway, Will's successful, comfortable life is once again thrown off the rails by the sudden (again, unexplained) reappearance of Pickman and his oddly infectious paintings.

There's an attempt made to connect this story with the larger Lovecraftian Mythos by having some of the characters start chanting about Yog-Sothoth (the name of one of Lovecraft's Great Old Ones), but it doesn't go much of anywhere.

What exactly is the deal with Pickman's art? What does it do to people, and what does that have to do with his family history and the thing in his basement? It's not entirely clear. This adaptation does eventually recreate the shocking reveal that was the climax of the original short story. But since by that time we've already guessed as much, it's not very shocking. Furthermore, this adaptation seems to be telling a different story entirely, so the reveal doesn't make a great deal of sense. The final scene, though certainly horrific and effective in its way, is also a well-used cliche. After it's strongly implied that a certain horrible act has been performed, we crawl slowly toward the shocking reveal that...yes, that's just exactly what happened. Clumsily undercutting your own final revelation doesn't make for a great ending.

Episode 6 - Dreams in the Witch House
Another disappointing Lovecraft adaptation! Yay. This one was directed by Catherine Hardwicke and written by Mika Watkins, and it stars Rupert "Ronald Weasley" Grint in the main role, struggling with another very bad fake accent. He plays a spiritual investigator who, as a child, witnessed his twin sister's spirit being dragged away into another dimension upon her untimely death. He's been obsessed with finding his way to the other side ever since. With the help of a mysterious drug, and a stay in a haunted house built by a witch, he succeeds - unfortunately for him.

"Dreams in the Witch-House" is a lesser known Lovecraft story, but one I quite like, with fascinating ideas like mad geometry, impossible angles, and a creepy rat-like familiar named Brown Jenkin. Unfortunately, this adaptation doesn't really capture the flavor of that story, though it does include some of the characters and plot elements, and certainly features some really fantastically unsettling images. The crooked silhouette of the witch, lit only by her own burning eyes, lurking in the dark corners of the old house; the walls covered with strange symbols and creeping vines; and within those walls, the pattering feet of a rat with a human face...yeah, that's quality stuff.

Sadly, there's a lot of other stuff here that feels like filler, and doesn't work as well. The episode drags on a bit, and certain twists of the plot, including the final one at the end, feel random and arbitrary.

Episode 7 - The Viewing
A lot of horror stories can be broken into two parts: the slow buildup of tension and mystery, and then the horrifying revelation and payoff. The Viewing is like 80% buildup. It's well done, and super stylish buildup, but still...that's a lot of buildup. And the payoff, when it finally comes, is anticlimactic.

This episode was written and directed by Panos Cosmatos and Aaron Stewart-Ahn, who are also responsible for the absolutely insane and surreal Nicolas Cage vehicle, Mandy. I was not surprised to learn this, as the music and visuals in this short reminded me of that film. The music and visuals are effective and fun - this thing is dripping with style.

Eric Andre, Charlyne Yi, Steve Agee, and Michael Therriault play experts in widely varying fields who are all called together for a mysterious "viewing" by a reclusive and fabulously wealthy eccentric played by Peter Weller. After a lengthy intro, a rambling conversation, and a lot of drug-taking, Weller's character finally reveals that he's brought this group together to look at a weird rock he found. The rock is much more than it seems (natch), and things go horribly awry (natch).

The climax is exciting and gory. But then the story just kind of...trails off. There's a lot of philosophical talk, and a pretty cool monster, but what exactly is the point of it all? It's not clear.

Episode 8 - The Murmuring
This episode is easily the best of the season. It's written and directed by Jennifer Kent, who made the modern horror classic The Babadook. This short is concerned with the same theme as that film - grief.

Nancy and Edgar, a married couple who've recently experienced a terrible loss, are researching why and how birds are able to move so swiftly and seamlessly in enormous flocks called murmurations. As part of their research, they head out to a secluded island to record the behavior of birds called dunlins. They've been provided an old house to stay in while they're out there, but the house is haunted by its own terrible secrets. As Nancy struggles with sleeplessness and terrifying hallucinations, she becomes obsessed with learning the history of the house and the family that once lived there, and her relationship with Edgar begins to break apart.

Powerful, visceral performances from Essie Davis and Andrew Lincoln give this story weight and realism. It's a slower, more lyrical story than the rest, but it has plenty of scares and terrifying moments. It's also far and away the most emotionally hard-hitting episode of the season. My eyes were definitely leaking by the end. It's a gorgeous, deeply moving piece - a wonderful conclusion to the season.

It sounds like del Toro is already planning a second season. The first one was uneven, but that's to be expected of an anthology series. I'll definitely be curious to see more.
Tagged (?): Horror (Not), Lovecraft (Not), Netflix (Not), On the Viewer (Not), TV (Not)
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Wednesday, April 7, 2021 10:03 AM
(Last updated on Wednesday, April 7, 2021 10:07 AM)
On the Viewer - Star Wars: Clone Wars (2003)
 by Fëanor

Here's another live-tweet compilation, this time from a re-watch of Genndy Tartakovsky's Clone Wars micro-series, which recently got added to Disney+. Technically, I believe this series is no longer canon, but as this article points out (thanks to my friend Camden for sending me the link), it could pretty easily be inserted into the story that the later The Clone Wars series tells, with a few small exceptions. And it should be, because it's great!

——

Like a lot of Tartakovsky's work, the original Clone Wars strongly emphasizes action and awesome visuals over words. There are lengthy sequences with no dialogue of any kind. Yet you always know what's going on. It's a very clear visual story, often told on a massive scale.

——

A lot of really fun and inventive designs, for the characters, settings, and vehicles. Also some great characters are introduced and developed here, like Ventress and Grievous. The Grievous we meet in this show is far more terrifying and dangerous than the one in the movies.

——

Durge is another really interesting character design. The way he bulges and extends and persists reminds me of Akira, and of the rampaging poisoned animal spirits in Princess Mononoke. I'm pretty sure the character never speaks, either. At least, he hasn't so far.

[Editor's note: indeed, he does not.]

——

One of the things Tartakovsky's Clone Wars is better at than maybe any other Star Wars show or movie is capturing the awesome power and incredible abilities of the Jedi, especially Jedi Masters like Windu.

——

It's also amazing at handling things of massive scale, like a gigantic warship with a huge, army-flattening piston on the bottom. Not a vehicle we see anywhere else, but this show makes it very memorable.

——

Anakin's duel with Ventress near the end of volume one of Clone Wars is just a masterpiece. Gorgeous setting, dramatic lighting, amazing action. And then of course the powerful metaphor of him picking up one of her own red lightsabers to ultimately defeat her.

——

The duel is followed by the introduction of Grievous, which is equally fantastic. Previous episodes have established how powerful the Jedi are, and now we see them defeated and cowering in terror from Grievous, who easily defeats a group of them single-handedly.

——

On Tartakovsky's Clone Wars, we learn more about the rituals and ceremonies of the Jedi than we ever have before. We learn there's a series of trials a padawan normally has to overcome to be granted knighthood, and we even get to see the rite where Anakin becomes a knight.

——

Yoda himself cuts off Anakin's braid to officially knight him. In a nice touch, Padme receives the braid and places it in a keepsake box along with the japor snippet necklace Anakin made for her when he was a boy. There's also some nice Qui-gon references.

——

There's a funny scene where Anakin gets to see 3PO in his gold plating for the first time. Then scenes of Anakin being a competent hero, coming to the rescue of other Jedi. Which is nice. Sometimes in the movies he's such a jerk it's hard to understand why anyone likes him.

——

Padme sees Anakin with his scar for the first time. R4 is destroyed and R2 becomes Anakin's droid. Lots of milestones in their lives, but it doesn't feel like they're just ticking boxes; it feels organic, like you're watching these characters change and grow.

——

I appreciate that Commander Cody first appears flying in with a jetpack. He's named after an old serial character who was famous for flying around with a jetpack.

——

Star Wars repeats lines of dialog like it repeats musical phrases and themes. I like that Obi-wan gets to say, "What an incredible smell you've discovered." They do a good job here developing their slightly antagonistic, big brother/little brother friendship dynamic.

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Anakin is the hot-headed, action-oriented guy, while Obi-wan is more patient, thoughtful, precise. "There are alternatives to fighting," more repeated dialog...

——

It's nice that Mace Windu has a purple starship and a purple droid, all to match his purple lightsaber.

——

I'm not a huge fan of Star Wars' heroes tending to take advantage of a native alien culture's beliefs to manipulate them into assisting in their wars. It happens again here, with Obi-wan putting Anakin forward as some kind of prophesied hero.

——

Yoda absolutely wrecking the droid invasion forces with jaw-dropping displays of power. Good stuff.

——

Let's pick up where we left off with Clone Wars!

Yoda & Windu together are an almost unstoppable force.

I love the image of the Chancellor calmly drinking tea, watching the battle outside his window. He's orchestrated this war between disposable armies and he's gonna enjoy it!

——

Fantastic build of drama and tension as the Jedi wait at the elevator, watching the closed doors of the chancellor's office, behind which they can hear Grievous picking apart the clone soldiers...

——

Grievous is a deadly force of nature in this show. Just a terrifying monster. It's great.

——

The Ithorian Jedi's roaring trick is a unique ability that we haven't seen before. Fun.

——

I think this marks the first appearance of Grievous' staff-wielding bodyguards, another fun creation.

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One of the trials a padawan faces to become a Jedi is the trial of the mirror, where they must overcome the darkness within themselves. This is the trial Luke faced in the cave on Dagobah, and the trial Anakin is facing on this alien world.

——

In Anakin's cave, the pictures on the wall begin to move, and they tell the story of a warrior whose hand was lost in a battle with evil. The new hand that took its place gave him power with which he defeated many enemies. But the power ran wild and killed his friends, too.

——

As the story ends, a face appears in the midst of the twisting vines of darkness: the face of Vader.

What a powerful moment. And as with a lot of Tartakovsky's most powerful scenes, it is entirely wordless - a purely visual story.

——

I love the realistic details, like the recorded voice repeatedly asking them all to "please deposit two Republic credits" as they run into the subway.

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I love the inventive ways they use the force here: quietly lifting up the end of Grievous' cape and tying it to the end of a departing train. Brilliant!

Also, "no capes!" :LOL:

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Yoda and Windu aren't just incredible warriors, they're also brilliant thinkers. As they're fighting, they both realize at the same moment that the invasion is just a distraction to hide the enemy's true purpose: the kidnapping of Chancellor Palpatine.

——

Shaak Ti stays behind to give her fellow Jedi time to get Palpatine to safety. Man, you just hate Palpatine even more in this scene, knowing that her sacrifice is meaningless, that this is all just a little play he's directing, and that his kidnapper is really his servant.

——

Anakin: "Do you think they'll be able to reclaim their old lives?"
Obi-wan: "I sense they will, as long as each of them is able to accept himself."

Anakin cringes at this. He doesn't seem sure he can accept what he might become...

——

Shaak Ti actually survives this, but is defeated. Windu manages to get a parting shot in on Grievous, crushing his chest plate, which explains why Grievous is always coughing and wheezing in Revenge of the Sith.

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Anakin replaces his destroyed mechanical arm with a new one, now gloved in black - an ominous sign of what's to come. Obi-wan tries to comfort him, saying what we see inside ourselves can be frightening, but our choices shape our destiny. Unfortunately, Anakin makes bad choices.

——

Clone Wars takes us right up to the opening of Revenge of the Sith, ending literally moments before the events of that movie begin.

It's a thrilling, gorgeous, brilliantly realized part of the Star Wars story. I was really glad to be able to see it again.
Tagged (?): On the Viewer (Not), Star Wars (Not), TV (Not)
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Tuesday, April 6, 2021 07:06 PM
On the Viewer - Godzilla Vs. Kong (2021)
 by Fëanor

This is another live-tweet compilation! I hope that's okay! There are some spoilers in here, so beware.

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[Thread #1]

"Kong bows to no one."
:Thumbs up: :COOL:
#GodzillaVsKong

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I like that each monster has a girl as his advocate. Also, spoiler: the scene where Kong talks is real good. I came in a much bigger Godzilla fan, but they're selling me on Kong here.

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It's interesting how the military guys just wordlessly do whatever the scientists say. I guess that is generally what happens in these movies, but it seems like at least in American movies there's usually more friction.

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Also, I strongly suspect we're going to see Mechagodzilla, and I'm HERE FOR IT!!!

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Can you really break into a secure electronic door by breaking open the keypad and jabbing it with a screwdriver that you licked the end of? I mean, I'm asking, maybe you can.

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Bro. HOLLOW EARTH! So cool.

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It's just a tad hard to believe that these three yahoos could just wander into this extremely secure, top secret area without anybody noticing or challenging them. But whatever, I'm here for the giant monsters.

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MECHAGODZILLA!! Called it! Yeah!

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Kong, axe in hand, on his throne, in an ancient hall in the center of the hollow earth. That is freaking cool as hell.

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Ghidorah's skull as a living psionic super computer. Damn, they just threw all the crazy ideas into this, and I'm loving it. The visuals are fantastic, too.

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Taking a break for tonight, but I feel like this movie has captured more of the spirit of comic books than a lot of movies I've seen recently that are supposedly based on them. The wild invention, the crazy colorful visuals, the epic scale, the rivalry, the big brutal fights.

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[Thread #2]

Picking back up where I left off with #GodzillaVsKong !

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I'm not totally clear on why they only need a tiny little sample of the hollow earth magic power rock, and boom, they're good to go. In fact, they don't even need the rock itself, they just need the data download about it. How does data let you produce enormous amounts of energy?

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Godzilla shot a hole into the middle of the earth with one blast of his radioactive breath?? Dang.

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Why did the hollow earth temple start falling apart anyway? Because of the tiny sample they took? Or because Kong switched the thing on with the axe? It seemed to start happening before Godzilla zapped the hole in...

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So, no massive gravity anomaly on the way out of hollow earth? That's only on the way in. Like the toll into Philly from Jersey.

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I love how colorful the movie is. Maybe partly a reaction from having recently seen the incredibly gray and drab Snyder Cut, but it's just beautiful.

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Did they consider a possible theme park ride based on this? The ship flying around between the battling titans is making me imagine a Star Tours type experience...

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Kong hanging off the top of the skyscraper is a nice callback.

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Not sure I ever remember seeing Godzilla crawling around on all fours. That was different.

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So, mechagodzilla just immediately starts thinking for itself once it's charged up with replicated hollow earth magic rock energy? Okay. Man, they're really asking us to swallow a lot here.

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Now we're gonna use the underground spaceship as a giant defibrillator paddle to restart Kong's heart. Sure!

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Okay, cool fight. But I feel like it would have been more interesting if people had actually been in control of Mechagodzilla, and if they hadn't just been crazy bad guys. I mean, there's a sane argument that can be made for destroying the Titans to protect humanity.

——

A fun movie. It's interesting that it's really Kong's movie. He's basically the protagonist. I didn't expect that.

I'm a little bummed there are no post-credits scenes. They couldn't give us a little tease for the next movie? Maybe a little Gamera or something? Ah well.
Tagged (?): On the Viewer (Not), Star Wars (Not), TV (Not)
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Tuesday, April 6, 2021 06:58 PM
On the Viewer - Justice League: The Snyder Cut
 by Fëanor

I live-tweeted my reactions to watching the Snyder Cut a while back, so just thought I'd collect all those tweets here, for posterity.

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[Thread #1]

Ok, I'm watching the Snyder Cut, it's already annoying me, this should be fun.The sound waves of Superman's yell flying across the earth was just...weird. I get what they were trying to do, but I feel like it could have been done in a way that wasn't so silly.

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Bruce meets a random guy who is probably a fish man, and just immediately tells him he's Batman? In public? And lets fish man talk about it in front of everybody? Why??

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The lady smelling Aquaman's sweater is just creepy. He's got this town of people practically worshipping him.

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Martha Kent's dog is named Dusty? Not Krypto?

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Of course the Kent farm has been foreclosed on. Everything is so gray and colorless and mopey. It makes me mad. You're a comic book movie for God's sake! Have a little fun!

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Oh my god this ridiculously elegiac song playing while Lois stares at the monument to her dead boyfriend in the rain, jeez!

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Wonder Woman showing up standing on the arm of a giant gold statue of Justice is a bit on the nose. Just a bit.

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Oh my god, this movie is terrible. I was going to say something nice about it, because it was fun watching Wonder Woman beat up terrorists, then they ruined it with the "can I be like you some day" bit.

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I'm curious if there's going to be any point to that scene. Was it just to introduce Wonder Woman? She doesn't really need an introduction at this point. Or will the terrorists somehow tie in to the larger story? I don't see how...

[Editor's note: no, there will no point to it.]

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"Maybe it's going back to sleep."
"Evil does not sleep. It waits."
Ugh, I just rolled my eyes so hard.

——

So, I thought the idea was that Steppenwolf is showing up after thousands of years absence. But didn't we see him hanging out with Lex Luthor at the beginning of the movie? And what's the point of sealing the cave, didn't the central chamber have a big skylight?

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I went back, it absolutely does have a big skylight. There's no point sealing off the entrance if you could just climb out. There's even guys in there that can fly. I mean...wow. This is so bad.

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Ok, but now the entire thing fell into the sea. Maybe that was the plan?

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Ok, I will say a nice thing now: some of the action scenes with Steppenwolf were good.

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Now back to bad things: so much sad choral music! Oy.

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Why was Diana restoring an ancient statue while wearing a fancy sheath dress?

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The dialogue is just very bad.

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Diana lights a torch and suddenly she's in an ancient pit?! Where did this come from?

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Okay, I will say another nice thing: the ancient frescoes of the mother boxes and Darkseid are really cool.

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This scene of Aquaman saving a guy feels like another introduction scene - except we already met him...

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He just came in from the ocean wearing a shirt, but before he dives back in, he tears the shirt off and throws it on the ground, just like he did earlier. What does he have against shirts??

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Willem Dafoe, erstwhile lighthouse keeper, demands that Arthur take up his mother's trident! And offers him a weapon with five spikes on the end. Don't tridents have three spikes? Isn't that the point of the whole "tri" part?

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Steppenwolf and Desaad have a conversation that is mostly exposition. He owes Darkseid 10,000 more worlds?? Man, you've got some work to do, dude.

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There's a computer effects-laden epic flashback battle showing the last time Darkseid came to earth and was fought back. It's kind of lame. It doesn't help that Wonder Woman is there to provide incredibly corny and completely unnecessary narration throughout.

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It is cool that we get to see Darkseid and the previous Green Lantern. But they turn Darkseid into a big gray brute who grunts and hits things. Not at all the thoughtful, aloof Darkseid I know with the colorful outfits and cool crooked laser eye blasts.

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Dude comes jumping in with a big axe and hits Darkseid in the shoulder. Reminds me a lot of Thor jumping in and hitting Thanos in the shoulder with an axe in Avengers. Just saying!

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Really unimpressive showing from Darkseid here. If the point of this flashback was to make him look big and scary, they failed miserably. He gets hit a couple times and passes out in the back of his van.

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Have I mentioned that there is no color in this movie? Everything is gray and washed out. I don't get it. It's just ugly.

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I like that the Atlanteans and the Amazons have these fancy rituals and ceremonial locations for sealing their mother boxes away, and the men just...put theirs in a hole and cover it with dirt. :LOL:

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I enjoy that they introduce the Flash with a REDUCED SPEED AHEAD sign. And he's late, of course. Good old Barry.

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Ah, an entirely manufactured emergency so Barry can have a reazon to show off his powers. Sigh.
So many of these scenes feel jammed in here for no good reason. Why not have Barry's intro be worked into the overall story? Instead we're wasting time with a cliche traffic accident.

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The soundtrack is so melodramatic!

I like the idea of Barry running right out of his shoes, but...how do the rest of his clothes stay on? Not that I want to see him naked...

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Also, really uncool that he is stopping to touch the girl's hair in the middle of saving her. Seriously. Not okay. Creepy and bad.

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The touching, romantic music as he takes the time to steal a hot dog...

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Think I'll sleep for now. Perhaps more tomorrow night!

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[Thread #2]

Picking up where I left off with the #SnyderCut .

They trying to set up a romance between Diana and Bruce? Huh.

I like the extra backstory for Cyborg. This is actually good character development here.

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What kinda dude tries to cheer up his depressed, angry teen son by telling him he has the power to destroy the world??

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Yeah, I really liked the Cyborg sequence there, and I really liked the scene in the prison between Barry and his dad. Plus "you're living in the past; make your own future, Barry" feels like foreshadowing of Flashpoint, which is fun.

——

"Fluent in gorilla sign language" feels like a Gorilla Grodd reference, but maybe I'm reading into this too much now. Regardless, love this scene between Barry and Bruce.

——

"What are your super powers again?"
"I'm rich."
Ah yes, the only true super power.
I'm actually really enjoying the movie tonight. Not sure if this part is that much better, or if I'm just in the right mood...

——

I like that merely because Diana did an internet search for him, Cyborg immediately found her, hacked her system, set up a meeting.

——

Really like the scene between them, with Diana connecting with him over loss and learning to open yourself back up again. Really, loss and what to do about it is what all these characters are about.

——

"Hi, Barry, I'm Diana. That's not right. Great." :LOL:

——

Another conversation between Desaad and Steppenwolf that feels mostly unnecessary. I guess we did learn that Steppenwolf now has working defences for his fortress...

——

Now we got most of the team together, talking to Commissioner Gordon about parademons! Fun stuff.

——

The music in this movie is mostly bad, but I really love Wonder Woman's theme.

——

Sometimes the computer effects are really good and sometimes they're really surprisingly bad. There's a scene where Batman's grapple gun almost falls off a metal walkway, and the way it moves is just really obviously unnatural and fake.

——

I appreciate the extremely matter-of-fact way Alfred says, "catastrophic failure of all systems."

——

Ok, so I like that we're bringing Anti-Life into it, upping the stakes, that's cool. But...how exactly did Darkseid and his minions "lose" Earth? How did he not know this was where he suffered his great defeat, and where the equation was written? I mean, that makes no sense.

——

Cyborg is pretty central to this version of the story! And now we're going to use the mother box to bring Superman back. Interesting!

Wait, did he try to bring his mother back? Hmm...

Anyway, gonna stop again for now. Good night, folks!

——

[Thread #3]

Ok, it's #SnyderCut time again! Moving into the third hour now.

——

Ok, very unexpected cameo from Martian Manhunter there. He couldn't have just asked Martha to stop by?

——

This is a good setup for the next part of the movie. Use the box to try to revive Superman, but using the box calls the enemy. Their only chance to win could also bring on their defeat.

——

"She's 5000 years old, Barry. Every guy's a younger guy."
Heh.

——

"This red cape charges back" isn't really the thrilling line they think it is...

——

Lois has a pregnancy test in her bedside table drawer, and the brand name is Force Majeure. :grimacing face:

——

Oh man, the tension and foreboding as the countdown goes down to one, and then the vision of the awful future. So well done! And we get to see Darkseid use his omega eye beams!! Hooray!

——

Intense and brutal battle with a confused resurrected Superman. Then a powerful self-sacrifice by Victor's dad - which reminds me a lot of this same actor's self-sacrifice in Terminator 2! Poor guy is always pushing buttons to kill himself in an attempt to ward off apocalypse.

——

Part 6: Something Darker. That doesn't really fill me with confidence...But maybe they're just talking about the black suit.

——

I like that Bruce introduces Alfred by saying, "I work for him."

——

"I don't care how many demons he's fought in how many hells. He's never fought us. Not us united."
Nice.

——

Can somebody just text Lois and let her know it's important to hurry up with getting Clark back together??

——

Or, you know, we've established that Martian Manhunter is around. Couldn't he lend a hand? He has a very impressive power set of his own...

——

I have to say, there are some really great quiet character moments here. I'm really enjoying this movie now.

——

The "something darker" comes from Batman, as he's considering what his prophetic dream might mean - specifically, the bit about Lois Lane being the key. I seem to remember this dream being in the theatrical cut, but we didn't see it in this version...

——

...Or I could be remembering something from Batman vs Superman, actually.

——

Anyway, pretty neat moment as Clark hears the voices of his two fathers urging him on, and he puts on the black suit and heads out.

——

They spend the whole movie trying to get this thing to fly and on its maiden voyage Batman crashes it? C'mon Bruce!

——

Very fun action sequence as the team mows their way through a horde of parademons. They're like popcorn!

——

Oh man, Superman shows up, blows a puff of breath on Steppenwolf's axe, and one punch shatters it. Nice entrance!

——

They fail, they're too late, but it's okay - Barry can run faster than time.

——

Realizing how much this movie is about fathers, too. Superman's dads, Barry's dad, Victor's dad, Aquaman's dad. Lots of complicated father-son relationships here.

——

Barry runs the world back into existence. What a visual. Fantastic.

——

"I'm not broken. And I'm not alone." Such a great character moment for Victor. Really well done.

——

Oh man, the way they all work together to finish off Steppenwolf and send his corpse back to Darkseid? So badass.

——

But even as they defeat Steppenwolf and stop this attempt to destroy the world, the threat of Darkseid himself rises. Very ominous.

——

Epilogue! Lots going on here. More villains lined up to come after them, and another vision of a horrifying future in which Superman is an enemy. It's a bit much, really.

But yeah, I actually ended up mostly liking this movie! I'm shocked.
Tagged (?): DCU (Not), Justice League (Not), Movies (Not), On the Viewer (Not)
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Tuesday, March 9, 2021 02:41 PM
Book Report: Circe
 by Fëanor

Circe (2018) by Madeline Miller is a novelization of the story of the goddess from Ancient Greek myth. If you remember her at all, it's probably from the story of Odysseus. On his long, wending way back from Troy, he shows up at her island and she briefly turns his men into pigs. In this novel, that incident is a pivotal event, but it is only one in a dramatic and engrossing life story full of pain, struggle, and yearning.

Circe is about women fighting to find their own place and their own power in a world dominated by men. It also contains one of the most bittersweet and painfully real descriptions of parenthood I've ever read - the agony, the lack of sleep, the desperate fear, the jealous aching love. Despite all the trials and suffering Circe endures, ultimately the book is suffused with a great passion and joy for life. Life hurts, and it ends, but it's beautiful for all that - maybe because of it.

A really fantastic book. I read it as an audio book, and the narration by Perdita Weeks really added to my enjoyment. She does a wonderful job.

Miller has another book called The Song of Achilles that I will definitely seek out now.
Tagged (?): DCU (Not), Justice League (Not), Movies (Not), On the Viewer (Not)
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Monday, January 6, 2020 02:11 PM
(Last updated on Friday, January 13, 2023 11:53 AM)
On the Viewer - Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker
 by Fëanor

I meant to see Rise of Skywalker again before I wrote about it, but... whatevs. It's a pretty good movie - certainly a better movie than any of the prequels - but it's also often very silly, sometimes in a good way, sometimes in a bad way.

I mean, right off the bat (and I don't think this is a spoiler, given the trailers and the opening crawl and all), they bring back the Emperor. Which is like, what? That is frustrating. We killed that guy. He was the bad guy for six movies, but then he died. His story ended. Anakin's final act was finishing him off. That was his redemption arc, for God's sake! Why are we bringing this guy back? How the hell is he supposed to have survived falling down an endless pit and blowing up? There's no real explanation.

This is a problem sequels often have, where they kind of undo things you thought were resolved in the previous movie, and take away some of the satisfying completion and finality that movie had, retroactively messing it up. I mean, Return of the Jedi is certainly not the best Star Wars movie, but I love it for what it is, and the death of Palpatine is such an important capstone on Anakin's story.

Honestly, I was worried about Rise of Skywalker as soon as the title was announced. Skywalker? Uh, I don't know if you heard, but Luke died at the end of the last movie. Anakin's been dead for a while. We all know Carrie Fisher died, so she can't have a huge part here. The Skywalkers are done. That story ended, dudes. This new trilogy is supposed to be about new characters. We're supposed to be leaving the Skywalkers behind, moving on, passing the torch. The Last Jedi was all about the way the past can drag you down, and how, yeah you have to bring some of it with you, deal with it in some way, but you've got to be able to also set a lot of it aside and move on to get anywhere. So what the hell is Skywalker doing rising? And why is Palpatine back??

Ahoy and avast: there be spoilers on the horizon.

Sadly, J. J. Abrams is not terribly interested in moving on or focusing on new characters. Instead, he goes and brings back, not just Ian McDiarmid's Palpatine, but also Billy D. Williams' Lando Calrissian (and don't get me wrong, it was great to see him again, but still), Nien Nunb, Denis Lawson's Wedge Antilles (who I just barely recognized as he flashed past), Warwick Davis' Wicket the Ewok, and the voices of many Jedi past (most of whom I didn't recognize; you can read about them here). Abrams even manages to give Leia a number of scenes despite the fact that the actor playing her is dead. In fact, every major character that died in the previous movies gets to appear in this movie - by which I mean, both Luke and Han. Meanwhile, Rose Tico, an interesting new character introduced in the last movie whose relationship with Finn had just begun to go somewhere, is left completely on the sidelines. The relationships between all of the new characters - Rey, Kylo Ren, Finn, Poe Dameron, Rose Tico - are all left unresolved. They toy with having Finn express his true feelings to Rey, but never actually go there. I mean, they do develop some of these relationships. There's a lot of fun chemistry between Rey and Kylo, and between Finn and Poe, and between Finn and Rey, and even between Rey and Poe, and there are a number of fun, emotional, and funny scenes where these characters get to interact. But in the final movie of a trilogy, and the final movie of a saga, I kind of expected some more... consummation? I don't know.

And I know I was complaining about all the old characters being brought back, but there's also too many new characters introduced. New characters would be fine, if we didn't already have so many, and if the movie had the time to devote to them, but we do, and it doesn't. It turns out Poe has a sketchy past (which comes out of nowhere) and an ex he left behind - Zorii Bliss (Keri Russell, apparently, although we never even see her whole face, thanks to the giant helmet she is always wearing). The movie only has time to sketch out a really generic "old flame" story between the two of them before it barrels on to other things. Then there's Jannah (Naomi Ackie), another former First Order Stormtrooper. Which, hey, cool idea! You could do a lot with that, and with the connection that creates between her and Finn. But the movie just... doesn't. And why give Finn yet another semi-romantic entanglement when he already has like three other ones? And why, at the very end of the movie, throw in the fact that Jannah doesn't know who her father is, and have Lando offer to help her figure it out? What is the point of this? According to what I've read, it's revealed in a Star Wars book somewhere that Lando himself is actually Jannah's father. I'm really glad they didn't try to shoehorn that into the movie - I'm so tired of the surprise parentage shenanigans in Star Wars - but if you're not going to fit that in, why mention her parentage at all? This is just a plotline you clearly did not have time or space for, so why even bring it up?

And speaking of annoying surprise parentage reveals, surprise! Even though we already established in the previous movie - again, in a scene I really, really liked - that Rey's parents were nobodies, we now reveal that Rey's grandfather is the Emperor. Are you serious? I literally gave the movie the raspberry and a big thumbs down when this came out. I mean, that is just dumb as hell. It sounds like a bad fan theory. Just stop it.

Admittedly, they almost do some interesting things with the idea. Rey has to struggle with the fact that she comes from this incredibly evil man, and that that evil might live on in her, and she might not be able to escape it. In one scene, Rey lets her anger get out of control, and she shoots a transport with Force lightning by mistake, blowing it up. The movie leads us to believe the transport contains her friend Chewbacca, and that she has just killed him. On the one hand, if they had really killed Chewbacca, I might never have forgiven them. (I actually turned to my brother and said, "If they kill Chewie, I'm walking out.") But on the other hand, this would have been an interesting thing for the characters to contend with: the fact that Rey, in a moment of anger, let her incredible power get away from her and accidentally killed her friend. In a real Star War, this is a thing that could happen! But the movie steps away from actually contending with this, and it turns out that Chewie was on a different transport. I was relieved, of course, as I was supposed to be, but it also felt like a cop-out. (And I'm pretty sure they stole the entire sequence from Raiders of the Lost Ark. "Must have switched baskets.")

Admittedly Star Wars plots are often pretty flimsy, but this one hangs almost entirely on a single object: a Sith dagger that is not only, improbably, the very weapon that killed Rey's parents, but also the key to discovering the location of the Emperor, complete with a secret map device that springs out when you push the right bit. Which feels like another thing out of an Indiana Jones movie, actually.

A lot of things come out of nowhere in this movie, and just as quickly disappear. Somehow Luke's old saber is back, despite the fact that it got torn in half in the previous movie, in one of my favorite scenes in that movie. Why bring this back, and with no explanation? The answer is, the movie wants to have Rey struggle with the idea of earning this saber, of living up to the Skywalker legacy. But couldn't we do that another way that wasn't a retcon? Why not have Rey build her own saber as part of her training? Maybe she could even incorporate part of the old saber into hers. (She does, in the very last scene, reveal that she has built her own saber, and even flicks it on really quick seemingly for no other reason than to show it to the audience, but this just feels really tacked on.)

Also, suddenly Rey has a bunch of old notebooks Luke used to record his search for an ancient Sith planet which we've never heard of before. Where did these come from, and what the hell? Also, we suddenly learn that Luke trained Leia as a Jedi and she had her own saber and had a vision about it and made a prophecy that Rey is going to fulfill. While it is very cool, actually, that Leia was trained as a Jedi and had a lightsaber of her own, why are we only just now hearing about it? Why only after she's dead do we finally get to see her come into her power? We give Leia a saber, and then in that same moment retcon a reason for her to have never wielded it? Lame. It's also pretty lame to reveal a prophecy was made only at the moment you're claiming it's being fulfilled.

Also, the weird psychic Force link between Rey and Kylo, which we were told in the last movie was a thing Snoke created to trick them, turns out to now be a totally different thing called a Force dyad. What? Where did this come from? I mean, I'm not that mad about it, as I really like their Force connection - it's a neat idea and makes for some great visuals and great drama. Plus, their fight that they have across space, where items from each of their locations spill into the other, is cool as hell. I'm also kind of okay with Rey (and later Kylo) suddenly having Force healing powers. They actually set this up a little bit in The Mandalorian, and anyway, pretty much every Star Wars movie has revealed some new Force power; it's kind of a tradition. But having the healing power show up along with all the other random new stuff does make it feel a bit like just another wild plot device dropped onto a pile of wild plot devices.

Speaking of wild plot devices, the movie throws so many of them at us during the wild conclusion that it's hard not to laugh. The Emperor explains that he has all the Sith inside him (?), and that Rey needs to kill him so he can like... sort of possess her? Then she'll be Sith Lord, but kind of also he will be. But then Kylo shows up and suddenly the Emperor can suck out their powers because they're a dyad? So now apparently the Emperor doesn't want Rey to kill him. And now, because he doesn't want her to, it's okay for her to kill him? And also to commit mass murder against all the Emperor's followers, who are watching from the stands. Which, okay, where did all these guys come from? Do they live here? What do they eat? And where did the resources come from to build this enormous fleet of Star Destroyers with Death Star lasers stuck on them? How did no one know about this fleet until now? And why, no matter what, is there always another goddamn Death Star??

This movie really brings forward a logical/ethical problem at the center of a lot of the Star Wars movies, and makes it an even bigger problem than it has ever been before. It's the problem of the very black and white distinction between the Dark Side and the Light Side, but the very thin line drawn between the two. The question that a lot of the movies end up asking implicitly is, when is it okay to kill somebody? When is the act of killing evil and when is it good? Let's look again at that big final scene at the end of Return of the Jedi. This is another scene where the Emperor is goading a Jedi to kill, because killing would be evil, and it would turn that Jedi to the Dark Side. In this case, Luke is supposed to kill Vader. But Luke sees at the last moment that through this act he is becoming like Vader, so he refuses to kill, throws his weapon away, and becomes a Jedi. But, of course, this now means the Emperor is going to kill Luke. Except Vader, standing on the sidelines, finds he cannot watch his son be murdered, so he picks up the Emperor and tosses him into a pit.

The movie clearly wants us to believe this killing is good, and that murdering an old man is in fact an act so good that it redeems Vader and brings him back from the Dark Side. But why was Luke's potential murder of Vader bad (even though Vader certainly seemed to be trying to kill him), while Vader's murder of the Emperor is good? We can certainly come up with answers - Luke would have been killing his own father, who at that moment looked pretty defenseless, while Vader is saving his son from death, and eliminating an undeniably evil person who is responsible for mass murder - but the fact that murder was Anakin's redeeming act has always made me a bit uncomfortable. In Rise of Skywalker, the whole question is even more... questionable. One minute, it is capital "B" Bad to kill the Emperor, and then not even ten minutes later, it is capital "G" Good to kill him, along with all of his friends. How does that work? Who is the arbiter of what is Light Side murder and Dark Side murder? Is it all about timing, or how you feel in the moment? Can you challenge? Are there instant replays?

While all this is going on, there is of course also a gigantic space battle, as is customary. We are told that, for reasons, the good guys need to blow up a single tower to stop the bad guys (because the bad guys always have that one little weakness that will totally obliterate them), but then later on, that tower gets turned off, and now they need to blow up a different tower. Okay. Then the Emperor is shooting all the Resistance ships with lightning (somehow he has become super uber powerful from sucking Force dyad energy or something. Sure) and it looks like the Resistance is doomed and lots of people are dying. Then, despite the fact that the Resistance was utterly destroyed in the last couple movies and nobody else in the galaxy offered to help before, all the sudden Lando manages to whip up an absolutely enormous fleet out of nowhere, and then everybody is okay again despite the lightning attack earlier and now the good guys are winning. Rey beats the Emperor, but dies (because she used too much power maybe?), but then Ben climbs back out of an endless pit (like you do) and heals her back to life, and they finally kiss! And all the Reylos out there cheer! But then he dies, I guess because he gave her all his life force. And all the Reylos boo. We're all the way down, then we're all the way up, then we're all the way down again! It's like riding a really dumb roller coaster.

But I don't mean to trash the movie so hard. There are a lot of parts I really enjoyed, and that I found really moving and well done. Kylo Ren/Ben Solo's arc through the trilogy is strong, Adam Driver is great, and the scene between him and Harrison Ford's Solo, which is an echo of their scene in Force Awakens, with a callback to that most famous of moments between Solo and Leia in Empire Strikes Back, is so powerful. And even the parts of the movie I thought were dumb at least look really cool. The effects are great, and the visualization of the resurrected Emperor, hanging off a giant metal claw, and the Sith planet, with its huge imposing temple and throne, is just amazingly well done. There's also a lot of humor here, what with C-3PO losing his memory and refusing to translate evil languages. I also loved the wordless moment at the very end where Poe gives his ex a questioning sexy look, she shakes her head in answer, and he shrugs and walks off.

Also during this final celebration scene there is a much vaunted lesbian kiss between two tertiary characters. Which, okay, that's cool. Baby steps, I guess. I'm glad we finally got something explicitly gay into Star Wars. But, come on. What about Poe and Finn? Why don't they get to make out? Or even, have Poe and Rey and Finn all make out together! Get Chewie in there, too, what the hell! But no. That would be too much for people, I guess. Sigh.

Oh hey, the Knights of Ren are also in the movie! They are hilarious. They just kind of prowl around in the background like a vaguely threatening goth emo band, and then eventually Ben kills them all. I wanted more out of them, but they're just another thing this trilogy introduced and then never really did much with.

Anyway, I did enjoy the movie, despite how it may sound. I will certainly buy it on blu-ray and watch it again. But it did disappoint me, too. It's interesting to think about what Rian Johnson would have done if he had been in charge - if he'd been able to deliver another movie as great as The Last Jedi. But I guess we'll never know.
Tagged (?): Movies (Not), On the Viewer (Not), Star Wars (Not)
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Thursday, December 26, 2019 04:34 PM
On the Viewer - The Black Hole
 by Fëanor

I hadn't seen The Black Hole since I was a little kid, but I had powerful, positive isolated memories of it. Recently somebody online mentioned that it was available on Disney+, so I fired it up.

Oh my god, this movie is bonkers.

It came out in 1979, long before Disney owned Star Wars, and was apparently the studio's attempt to copy the success of A New Hope, which had just been released two years previously. It features cute little droids with goofy names, just like Star Wars, although they star alongside far less cute robot villains. The cast is pretty crazy, with Robert Forster as Captain Dan Holland, the hero and skipper of the starship Palomino; Anthony Perkins (!) as Dr. Alex Durant, the Palomino's lead scientist; Ernest Borgnine (!!) as journalist Harry Booth (who I guess tagged along to document the mission); Yvette Mimieux as psychic scientist Dr. Kate McCrae (who doubles as sort of a last minute love interest for Captain Holland); Joseph Bottoms as Holland's brave young first officer, Charlie Pizer; and Roddy McDowall (!!!) and Slim Pickens (!!!) as the voices of the two cute robots, V.I.N.CENT and B.O.B.

The guy with the meatiest part, however, is Maximilian Schell, who plays Dr. Hans Reinhardt, a mad scientist and the only remaining (sort of) crewmember of a gigantic spaceship called the Cygnus. I'm convinced that it is not a coincidence that Reinhardt's deadly robotic lieutenant - a floating blood-red enforcer armed with lasers and spinning blades - shares its name with the actor who plays Reinhardt: Maximilian. Their twisted relationship is one of the more interesting things in the film.

On its way home from an exploration mission, the Palomino comes upon what appears to be the abandoned hulk of the Cygnus floating perilously near an enormous black hole. The Cygnus had been on a similar mission of exploration, and had been ordered to return years ago, but never did. McCrae's father had been on the Cygnus, so the Palomino takes a closer look. Suddenly the Cygnus comes to life, its lights all flipping on at once. So the Palomino docks and the crew begins to cautiously explore the seemingly empty ship, doors opening and closing to lead them toward a particular destination...

The first half or so of the movie is basically gothic horror, but set on an enormous haunted spaceship next to a black hole, instead of an enormous haunted mansion on the moors. Reinhardt is the tall, dark stranger with the mysterious past who presides over the vast structure. He gives off a kind of Captain Nemo vibe - educated, intelligent, but with something dark and savage underneath. He'll subtly threaten you, then serve you a nice dinner off china plates.

Reinhardt claims he sent the rest of the crew home and expresses mild surprise that they never returned home. He stayed because his work was too important to leave. He puts the moves on Dr. McCrae, who is perhaps slightly charmed, but it's Dr. Durant who's really starstruck. Reinhardt strokes his ego and presents him with an opportunity to be part of amazing discoveries. Reinhardt claims he's worked out a way to pass through the black hole and survive, and he expects to find on the other side the answers to everything: the face of God, life everlasting.

It's clear to everybody but Durant that something is not quite right with Reinhardt, and that his story about what happened seems a bit fishy. As they continue to explore the vessel, they see more unsettling things that don't seem to jibe with Reinhardt's explanations. The tension and creepiness heighten steadily. The visuals are very effective. The special effects are certainly not up to modern standards, but the vast corridors of the haunted ship and the mirror-masked faces of the humanoid robots, who stand silent sentinel at control panels like mindless zombies, really get into your brain and stick there.

Eventually the tension is broken and the gothic horror gives way to Star Wars-inspired action sequences. Our heroes exchange laser fire with evil robots and then end up running from gigantic meteors that show up without warning seemingly just to pad the film out with even more destruction and drama. This part of the movie feels like Disney floating some ideas for a new theme park ride.

One really strange and fascinating moment in the film comes in this section: Maximilian kills somebody, Reinhardt kind of halfheartedly scolds him for it, then he steps up close to Dr. McCrae and says, "Please protect me from Maximilian." He's been giving orders to Maximilian throughout, which the robot has followed, but maybe he's not as in control as he appears. Indeed, when Reinhardt is crushed under a piece of wreckage in his crumbling control room, and pleads with Maximilian to help him, the robot ignores him and leaves him to die.

The very end of the film is where things really go off the rails, in a psychedelic, 2001: A Space Odyssey kind of way. Everybody goes through the black hole and the trip becomes, not so much metaphorically, but actually literally, a passage into the afterlife. Maximilian and Reinhardt tumble into each other on their way into the hole and a strange merging occurs. A closeup on Maximilian's red visor reveals Reinhardt's eyes inside. A slow zoom out reveals that Maximilian/Reinhardt is standing above a rocky, flaming, Bosch-esque hellscape peopled by long lines of shuffling humanoid robots. Meanwhile, our heroes travel along a crystal corridor to a heavenly alien world ringed with light.

What??

I'd like to point out here that this was a movie made by Disney for kids! They even sold toys of the robots! I know because me and my brother had a couple.

Anyway, the point is, I love this movie. It's ridiculous and crazy and amazing. If you're looking for something to watch on Disney+, drop some acid and check it out.
Tagged (?): Movies (Not), On the Viewer (Not), Star Wars (Not)
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Thursday, October 24, 2019 04:13 PM
Book Report: Hyperion
 by Fëanor

I could have sworn I'd read Dan Simmons' Hyperion before and been disappointed by it, but maybe I was thinking of some other book. The overall story was vaguely familiar, especially "The Priest's Tale," but most of it was entirely new to me. And I'm still not sure how I feel about it. But I did read the whole thing, and now I want to read the sequel, so I certainly didn't hate it. It's a really interesting book, with some fascinating ideas and moving stories. Plus it ends on a damn cliffhanger, and I have to know what happens next!! But for a famous entry in a genre that is meant to be so forward-looking, it's an oddly backward-looking book.

I should note, I was going to try to leave spoilers out of my write-up, but I ended up... not doing that. So beware!

Hyperion is a sci-fi version of The Canterbury Tales, set in a future when humanity has left its dead home behind and formed an interstellar web of societies known as The Hegemony of Man ("Man"? Really?). Like The Canterbury Tales, it's about a small group of pilgrims on a religious journey who spend their travel time each telling a tale of how they came to be on the pilgrimage. The tales are used to critique modern society and religion. There's a twist, though: we're informed at the beginning that one of the pilgrims is a spy and a traitor to the Hegemony. Which is it?

Taken together, the tales also tell an over-arching story about a mysterious, monstrous, and possibly wish-fulfilling Lord of Pain (also known as the Shrike) that lives among time-travelling tombs on a haunted, alien world. That world, Hyperion, is the destination of the pilgrimage, and it's also become the center of an interstellar conflict that may very well flare up into a war that will end humanity. The combatants in the conflict include Hegemony military forces, a nomadic space-bound group known as the Ousters (sort of outerspace Vikings), and a group of artificial intelligences known as the TechnoCore. Each of the pilgrims has their own secrets - most of them quite horrific - and their own perspectives on the Shrike.

"The Priest's Tale: The Man Who Cried God" is first, and is unabashedly a horror story, even making use of the epistolary format that Stoker leverages so effectively in Dracula. The horror of "The Priest's Tale" is religious, existential, and physical. Unfortunately, it also relies a bit on ableism. The story is told at a remove, as our narrator is presenting the journal of another character who he knew only slightly years ago, although he does eventually become caught up in the tale himself. The journal slowly reveals the horrific details of an awful parody of Catholicism that exists in secret on Hyperion, and which seems to have some distant connection to the Shrike (although the nature of that connection remains unclear). This tale is the least connected and the most unnecessary to the overarching story of the novel, but it is disturbing and effective. What it's trying to say about religion I'm not totally sure. In the face of this twisted mimicry of his religion, one character actually finds his faith is restored. But he also ends up crucified on an electrified tree, dying over and over again in horrible agony, so maybe that changes his mind.

Next is "The Soldier's Tale: The War Lovers." That title can be taken in two ways, and both are accurate to the story: it is about those who love war, but also about those who love each other in the midst of war. An infamous colonel tells the secret history of his love affair with a dream woman, and her connection to the Shrike, and to his own transformation from a military man to a man who fights for peace. The sex scenes are graphic and pretty gross. This book is very much a straight white man's book; even the one story told from the perspective of a woman (which we'll get to in a bit) feels weighted with a male outlook. For a book about cultures on alien worlds in the far future, it's also stubbornly heteronormative and really rather conservative in its descriptions of culture, gender, and sex. I don't think the existence of gay people is even mentioned in its entire length. The woman in this story is a kind of succubus; a feminine embodiment of war. Violence and sex are blended together until one final act of love looks likely to bring about a galactic apocalypse. How exactly, it's unclear. Although this is science fiction, a lot of what happens in it feels more in the fantasy vein, with monsters and magic and maidens struck down by terrible curses. But more of the overarching story is revealed in this tale: the Shrike appears to be seeking the end of the universe through some ultimate conflict, and is trying to use the Colonel as its instrument.

The third story is "The Poet's Tale: Hyperion Cantos." This story would seem to be particularly important, as the series of which this novel is the first entry shares its name (Hyperion Cantos). It's meta in more than just that way, too; the main character here is a famous poet who has come to believe he wrote the Shrike into existence and is in some sense responsible for the death and destruction it's caused. He even seems to believe that as he continues to write his Hyperion Cantos, he is writing the future - creating reality. It's possible we're meant to think of him as the author of this book - as if he has somehow written the story he's a character in. But again, for a character in a book about the future, he is very traditional, to the point of being almost antiquated. He's a bawdy, grossly male and heterosexual hedonist. He's constantly compared to a satyr, and most of his references and quotations (in fact most of the references and quotations in the book) are to very old works of art. Admittedly, references to made-up future works that the reader doesn't know about wouldn't have as much of an impact, but this book was published in 1989. Why have your poet quote Shakespeare, the Bible, and John Keats? Why is the only movie referenced The Wizard of Oz? Other art was made in between The Wizard of Oz and 1989! Our poet does admit he is very backward-looking, and his most famous work, The Dying Earth (which shares its title with a famous series by Jack Vance, a fact which Simmons slyly mentions in the book) is an elegy to "Old Earth," humanity's now dead (murdered, in fact, by an event known as "The Big Mistake") home planet. And later in the book, a character decries this civilization's increasingly desperate and violent attempts to hold onto old ways. But is that just lampshading, or is the backward nature of these characters and their society a legitimate theme of the novel? I'm not sure. I know I really disliked the Poet's Tale until its narrator's mind is destroyed by cheap suspended animation, and he has to rebuild his vocabulary from nine words (most scatological profanity). This section is poignant and funny. I was also fascinated by the idea of the poet writing the Shrike into existence, and the drama and romance of him haunting the ruins of the Poet's City on Hyperion, and his fiery confrontation with Sad King Billy and his Muse.

The most effective and moving story is definitely "The Scholar's Tale: The River Lethe's Taste Is Bitter." As you might have guessed from the ancient reference in the title, it also features some of the most traditional, conservative characters and societies that we've yet seen in the book. It's hard to believe a family unit and small town this traditional could exist in the future; it wouldn't be out of place in '50s America. The husband calls his wife "Mother," and the wife calls her husband "Father," and they bought their little girl a bike for her birthday, and the couple met at a college party where the man spilled something on the woman. The man is a scholar and researcher, but his research topics are things like a story in the Bible, and a writer who would be even more ancient in his time than he is already in ours. The scholar's name is also an extremely traditional Jewish name: Sol Weintraub. He is even dubbed The Wandering Jew in the tale. Why is this future so old?

Still, maybe it's partly because this setting and cast are so familiar that this story is so effective. Weintraub's daughter (who also has an incredibly traditional name: Rachel Sarah Weintraub) ends up traveling to Hyperion to perform research there for her graduate dissertation. While she's alone one night in one of the mysterious structures called the Time Tombs (structures that are somehow moving backward through time, and that appear to be connected somehow to the Shrike), she experiences a paranormal-like event that infects her with a unique disease: Merlin syndrome. She begins living backwards, becoming younger and younger each day, and each time she sleeps, her memories reset to what they were when she was originally that age, and she forgets everything she experienced since then. What follows is a brutal, heart-rending tale, as her parents try desperately to help their daughter while she fades slowly and inexorably away from them. Weintraub begins to have a dream where he is ordered by a God-like figure (possibly the Shrike) to bring his daughter to Hyperion and sacrifice her, and he becomes obsessed with the story in the Bible where Abraham is ordered by God to sacrifice his son Isaac. Weintraub ultimately decides that any God who demands obedience before all else, any God who would expect a worshiper to be willing to execute his own family member, is an evil God that does not deserve worship. This is a deep and powerful story and probably the best in the book.

The next story is "The Detective's Tale: The Long Good-bye." Yes, it's really called that! And indeed it's very much in the format of an old-school film noir murder mystery/detective story, complete with a rough-and-tumble private dick armed with her father's automatic (his death by "suicide" inspired her to become a detective, natch), a mysterious femme fatale client who becomes a romantic interest for the detective, and a labyrinthine case that ultimately uncovers a gigantic conspiracy and brings to light the evils of society. The interesting bit (as you might have guessed from the pronouns used above) is that the two main characters are gender-swapped: the detective and narrator is a woman, and the femme fatale is a man. Well, "man" is a bit misleading; he's actually a male avatar for an artificial intelligence modeled on the poet John Keats. Oh, and the detective's name is Lamia. Yeah.

This one is rough. I found myself rolling my eyes a bit at all the detective story tropes, even though I actually like a good film noir. We also get some cyberpunk tropes thrown in for good measure, as this story explores the seedy underside of the equivalent of the internet that's envisioned by the novel. There are definitely some fascinating ideas here, though: the warring factions of AIs, their Ultimate Intelligence project, their attempts to fully predict the future by taking into account all possible variables (that reminded me a little bit of Asimov's Foundation novels), and the way the inexplicable, incalculable variable of Hyperion and the Shrike keeps frustrating their efforts. There's another weird religious thing going on in this story, as our detective ends up being revered by the Church of the Shrike as the future mother of some kind of messianic figure. (Yes, somehow she is having the John Keats cyborg's baby, like you do.) I haven't mentioned the Church of the Shrike before, but they're an interesting bunch who show up again and again throughout the novel. Adherents of the religion are often broken, suicidal people, but not all of them are. There's definitely something creepy and mystical going on with them. What it is exactly is - like so many other things - not explained in the novel.

The final story is "The Consul's Tale: Remembering Siri," and it's definitely one of my least favorite. Like "The Priest's Tale," it's also told at a remove, with a grandson presenting the journal of his grandfather, and then adding his own story onto the end. The journal jumps back and forth through time in a confusing fashion. This is probably an attempt to mirror the time-fractured nature of the relationship that is at the center of the story. The author of the journal is a "shipman" named Merin Aspic (Aspic? Really?) who, as part of his work to build the farcaster portal that will bring the Maui Covenant colony into the Hegemony, is constantly traveling between the stars at relativistic speeds, and so incurring enormous amounts of "time debt." Against orders, and in search of "nookie" (ugh), he mingles with the natives while on shore leave and ends up in a relationship with a (criminally young!!) girl who is unfortunately named Siri. (Constantly being reminded of Apple's voice-activated AI assistant made it hard to take her seriously as a character, although that's hardly Simmons' fault.) She's only 16! I mean, he's only 19 at the time, but still. It is very hard to like Merin, and very hard to understand what Siri sees in him, especially after he ends up murdering her cousin (!) at the end of their first meeting. But their time-fractured romance becomes legendary among her people. Each time he returns to meet her again, he's aged maybe a year or two, while she's aged decades. She has kids by him and raises them into men while he's off working on his spaceship. It's pretty gross. The tale very much follows in the tired vein of the "civilized white man is converted to the side of the primitive natives by their charming culture as personified by a sexy young girl" story (although in this case she doesn't remain young for long). The most recent example of this genre is probably John Cameron's Avatar, but there's also Dances With Wolves (which came out only a year after Hyperion), and I'm sure plenty more, much older examples. What we come to realize, as we jump back and forth through Siri and Merin's very strange relationship, is that the culture of Maui Covenant, and many of the people and animals that live there, will be utterly destroyed by the Hegemony when it takes over. It's old school Imperialism in its purest form. Which, okay. But the way the native culture is exoticized and romanticized, while we are given almost no details about it, is clumsy. And, again, it's hard to understand how a culture so traditional, archaic, and without technology would exist in this future universe. I appreciate that you're telling a story about how Hegemonic Imperialism is bad and destroying aboriginal societies is bad. But why does it have to be from the perspective of one of the White Imperialists, a dumb young jerk who's having lots of sex with the young native woman?

At the end of this story, the Consul - grandson to Merin and Siri, and high ranking official in the Hegemony government - reveals that the way the Hegemony treated Maui Covenant is the way it treats pretty much all colony worlds. It shows up, wipes out the natives, and takes control. The Hegemony, in other words, is pretty awful. We have learned almost nothing about the Hegemony's enemy, the Ousters, in the rest of the book; they're just kind of a barbarian boogey man banging at the gates. The Consul now gives us a rough sketch of the beauty of their culture, and reveals that he is the spy and the traitor. However, he is also a traitor to the Ousters. A kind of triple agent. His goal seems to be to eliminate everyone, to end the conflict by letting the combatants destroy each other. To let the Shrike loose on the universe to wreak whatever retribution it sees necessary on all of humanity.

Interestingly, his fellow pilgrims react by hugging him and absolving him. Then they all walk together down to the Shrike and the Time Tombs, hand in hand, singing "We're Off to See the Wizard." And that's how the book ends.

I'm not even kidding!

I've almost talked myself into hating the book by writing about it here. It's got a lot of ridiculous tropey bits. And I find it hard to take a book seriously anymore that is so stubbornly traditional and stereotypical and heteronormative. It definitely made me think a lot about my own novel and its own flaws, and how I should probably revise it again to include more minorities and more queerness. White hetero male stories are pretty dull and old anymore.

All that being said, the book is well written, with some great ideas, and I really would like to know what the Shrike does when the pilgrims show up, and who lives and who dies, and what the deal is with the Time Tombs. So I'll probably read the next one eventually.
Tagged (?): Disney (Not), Movies (Not), On the Viewer (Not)
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Friday, May 3, 2019 07:58 PM
On the Viewer - some movies
 by Fëanor

I saw some movies.

Avengers: Endgame - Perfect. The Infinity Saga is just an incredible cinematic achievement, and this is the triumphant capstone. I spontaneously cheered multiple times, I cried a lot, and I laughed. It finds clever ways to revisit all the characters and major events of the saga. It's brilliant, thrilling, rounds everything off in a really satisfying way, and paves the way to the future. I can't wait to see it again.

Glass - The third in Shyamalan's superhumans series, along with Unbreakable and Split. The concept underpinning Split - that trauma can somehow provide you with superhuman abilities - is problematic, but there's no denying these are all effective thrillers with great drama and action, and clever twists and turns. Glass takes what's come before, mixes it all together, and takes it all one step forward. Shyamalan is paving the way here for his own superhero cinematic universe. I'm curious to see where it goes next. Plus, I want to know what that girl's powers are. She's gotta have powers, right?

John Wick - Took me a while to get to this one, but yeah, it's as good as people say. It's a revenge story coupled with a "hitman tries to get out of the life but is dragged back in" story, but manages to rise above the cliches of both with some fascinating world-building, a dark sense of humor, fun performances, and ridiculous, over-the-top action. Also, it references Baba Yaga, which I always support. And sad Keanu encourages you to adopt shelter dogs! Beware, however: a puppy dies (along with dozens of people, but come on, it's the puppy that hurts).

Suspiria (2018) - A remake of Dario Argento's 1977 bloody horror masterpiece. This one features an eerie soundtrack by Thom Yorke, and Tilda Swinton perfectly cast as Blanc, a combination dance teacher/den mother/coven leader. She also plays two other parts in the film (one of whom is an old man!), which I only realized when looking at the cast list afterwards, as she is completely unrecognizable in the other two parts under piles of makeup. The movie is set in 1977 Berlin, with the backdrop of a hostage situation and associated political and civil unrest lending tension and menace to the proceedings. Though it features powerful visuals and interesting camera work, it lacks the rich colors of the original and is sometimes so dark you can't see what's happening, which is always frustrating. But it does leave you as shaken and slightly bewildered as the original. The cast is almost entirely women, with only a few bumbling tertiary characters played by men, and it is at least in part about mothers and daughters. But mostly it's about sensual violent dance magic and naked Satan worship. Good times.
Tagged (?): Avengers (Not), Movies (Not), On the Viewer (Not)
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Wednesday, October 17, 2018 04:20 PM
(Last updated on Wednesday, October 17, 2018 07:37 PM)
Book Report - Wolf in White Van and Universal Harvester
 by Fëanor

John Darnielle is better known as the heart and brains of a band called The Mountain Goats (who are great, by the way), but he has also written two novels, both of which are freakish, bizarre, puzzle-like, and completely unclassifiable. The first, Wolf in White Van, is about a man named Sean Phillips with a debilitating disfigurement that he acquired during an incident when he was a teen, an incident which the whole book revolves around. What happened, and why? You will eventually discover the answer to the former question, but the latter is more complex and is never explicitly answered. You have to provide the answer yourself from what you learn of Sean, through a non-chronological series of scenes from various parts of his life, both before and long after the incident. In between these moments from Sean's life are inserted scenes from a post-apocalyptic play-by-mail text adventure game which the main character designed and runs. The game ends up figuring largely in another tragic incident that happens later in his life.

Wolf in White Van is about the secret pain people carry in their hearts and the inexplicable and horrific acts that pain can lead them to perform. It also looks at life as a complex web of interconnected choices, each one shunting you off into a new story. Sometimes every choice is a terrible one, and all you can do is try to choose the least terrible.

Universal Harvester seems at first as if it's going to be a piece of straight genre fiction - namely, horror. Customers of the Video Hut in a small Iowa town in the eighties begin to return movies with odd complaints. They say there are other movies on the tapes. In fact, strange, disturbing footage which seems to involve torture has been spliced into the middle of bland Hollywood fare. And some of the scenes include recognizable landmarks from nearby. Jeremy (an employee of the video store who lost his mother in a car accident some years ago), his father, his boss, and one of the customers of the video store (who Jeremy has a bit of a crush on) are all drawn into the mystery of the sickening, suggestive footage and eventually find its source: a lonely farmhouse, and the lonely woman who lives there, who has her own tragic past.

There are many deeply disturbing and chillingly suggestive sequences in Universal Harvester, and for most of the book you find yourself waiting for the other shoe to drop, and for a twisted religious cultist to leap forth and start dealing out grisly death. But if that's what you're looking for, don't read this book. What Universal Harvester ends up being about is (like Wolf in White Van) the secret pain that people carry in their hearts and the strange rituals they can find themselves engaging in to try to assuage that pain, to fill the hollow place inside them. It's about the ways people deal with life-destroying losses. It's about the deep and complex bond between parents and children and the awful scars that are left when that bond is suddenly snapped. It's also about the deep currents that can run just underneath the surface in small towns. Although there are plenty of creepy moments throughout, it's ultimately a very sad story about broken people. This does make the book a bit frustrating and disappointing; it feels like you're being promised one thing, and then the curtain is pulled back and what's actually there is something quite different. But it's still a very powerful story masterfully and beautifully told by Darnielle, who has an incredible way with words. Darnielle's books are gorgeous, intricate, grotesque mazes that you have to navigate carefully, lest the minotaur that lurks in them find and devour you.
Tagged (?): Avengers (Not), Movies (Not), On the Viewer (Not)
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