Category Archives: Other Media

Monday Miscellanea, 9/20/21

Yellow leaf on green-gray background.
Photo by hiwa talaei on Pexels.com

Getting Back to It

We’re just a couple days from the equinox as I write this. The weather this summer has actually been pretty nice, but the cooler nights are wonderful. I’ve had my Halloween decorations up for a while and have been enjoying the fall reading events. (And watching events. ‘Tis the season for all things perilous.)

College football is back, and I’ve been harried the last couple weeks by fall frisbee league registration. Eric and I will be playing this time. We haven’t played in a league since spring of ’20. Summer league had a few games at the park in my neighborhood, so I picked up with them. Eric joined once too. We’re relying on the effectiveness of the vaccine as well as the ultimate community’s general good sense.

Watching

There hasn’t been a Cinema Saturday post in a while. 80s in August transitioned to my using Saturdays for RIP bingo posts. Here are a few notes on some movies that probably won’t get a full post. Title links to a trailer.

Dark City (1998) – rewatch. Dark City has a great style. Directed by Alex Proyas with cinematographer Dariusz Wolski, who worked together on The Crow (1994), it also heavily pulls from Lang’s Metropolis (1927). It came out a year before The Matrix and the two movies have a lot in common plot-wise, but one thing the latter does so much better is exposition. You can info dump in movies, but you have to balance it very carefully with story. The Matrix does a very good job, while Dark City doesn’t. (Don’t quiz me on how the Matrix sequels managed their exposition. I’ve seen them once and that was enough…)

Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) (2020) – I alternately find the character of Harley Quinn grating and charming, so occasionally Birds of Prey annoyed me somewhat. But it was also kinda fun. It’s very ridiculous, but clever here and there. In fact, I enjoyed it as much as I thought I would.

Ford v Ferrari (2019) – If I have a guilty pleasure, it’s long movies about a group of men doing things. The Right Stuff (1983)? Love it. Zodiac (2007)? One of my favorites. (See also, sports movies.) So, yeah, this was the second movie I watched with my brand spankin’ new HBO Max subscription. (Also, it was “leaving” the service on the 18th…) This is a well-made movie, dramatic and grand.

Reminiscence (2021) – I like Hugh Jackman. I like Thandiwe Newton. Unfortunately, Reminiscence doesn’t entirely work. It too is burdened by its exposition with Hugh Jackman’s voice-over filling in details that don’t really need filling in. Also like Dark City, this film bares ill-comparison to a film that is quite a bit like it: Strange Days (1995). Both plots rely on “playback” of events that uncover corruption as well as solve a crime (in typical noir style).

R.I.P. Bingo ~ Creepy Fungus

Picture of orange mushroom.
Photo by Joe on Pexels.com

“Come into My Cellar” by Ray Bradbury

I first read this story when I was about ten years-old. It put me off mushrooms for a long while. Not that mushrooms were a common ingredient in my mother’s cooking, but I was well into college before I began to appreciate mushrooms on my pizza and an occasional grilled portabella on my hamburger.

This story begins as many of Bradbury’s do: in the picturesque suburbs. Hugh, the head of the family, is fairly happy with his life, but feels like something is a bit off. His friend and co-worker, Roger feels it moreso. In fact, Roger starts acting weird, abruptly leaving his wife and calling Hugh to warn him about express mail packages. The only express mail package Hugh’s family has received is a mail-order mushroom farm that his son sent away for. Surely, Roger doesn’t that? His own son has the same mushroom farm…

“Gray Matter” by Stephen King

“Gray Matter” is an interesting contrast to Bradbury’s story. It does end up being a much more direct variation on the theme of some sort of fungus taking over a human, but King’s treatment of family is quite different. Richie, also the head of his family, has become something of a ne’er-do-well since his accident. The only contact the community has with him is through his son, whom Richie sends on beer runs. And in this case, some bad beer, not a mail-order scheme, sets off Richie’s transformation.

Don’t worry. This story won’t put me off beer…


In the Earth

Year: 2021
Runtime: 1h 47m
Rated: R

Director: Ben Wheatley

Writer: Ben Wheatley

Stars: Joel Fry, Ellora Torchia, Reece Shearsmith, Hayley Squires

Ringworm is a type of fungus. A mycorrhizal mat is formed by a type of fungus connecting the roots of trees. Mix these two concepts together and add a dash of folk horror in the form of a woodland legend and you have In the Earth. Plus, the world outside the forest is being ravaged by a deadly virus and scientists in the forest want to…communicate with the forest? The intentions here are all a little fuzzy. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. The main characters don’t quite know what’s going on either. On the “scary” end of things, there is some body horror, though I think Martin gets along awfully well for a guy who gets a couple of his toes chopped off. There are also some extended scenes with flashing lights and jumpy images which might be hard for some people to get through.

R.I.P. Bingo ~ Necromancy

Early 20th century poster for magician "Joseffy: Necromancer"
A poster for one of my favorite “necromancers.”
Magicians have a penchant for hyperbole.

I chose/happened across several works this week that fit the prompt of necromancy about as well as the magician Joseffy fit the title. But then again, Joseffy’s most famous trick was Balsamo, the Talking Skull.

Picture of Joseffy, the magician, performing with his Talking Skull, Balsamo.

“The Genetic Alchemist’s Daughter” by Elaine Cuyegkeng

I chose this story because it won this year’s Eugie Award and all the nominees are on my short fiction TRB lists. It’s not exactly a tale of necromancy, but sort of a remix of necromantic ideas with a little bit of far-fetched science thrown in. And at the heart of the story is a mother-daughter relationship that isn’t going too well…


Series: Brand New Cherry Flavor

Year: 2021
Runtime: 1 season, 8 episodes
Rated: TV-MA

Creators: Nick Antosca, Lenore Zion

Stars: Rosa Salazar, Catherine Keener, Eric Lange

Initial: Decided to try out one of Netflix’s original series, especially since it fit R. I. P. (because I need more reason to watch horror…).

Production Notes: Based on a book by Todd Grimson, which is pretty much out of print. You’d think everyone involved would want an available tie-in, but what do I know?

What Did I Think:
This series is full of the reanimated dead, so it reasonably fits the “necromancy” category. I’m not sure I can say anything else very definite about Brand New Cherry Flavor.

Comparisons have been made to the works of David Lynch and, yeah, I can see that. I don’t really consider that a good thing. Lynch always feels a little too random and chaotic to me. BNCF isn’t quite as annoying as a David Lynch film, but there are definitely a few cases where what I assume to be rules of this world are inexplicably violated. The other comparison is to David Cronenberg’s works; that’s mostly because there is a pretty strong body horror aesthetic going on. I don’t mind body horror.

Story-wise, I don’t mind a morally ambiguous protagonist, but there is a moment of change-up that seemed false to me. Maybe it’s because we’re not given much hint that there’s something bad in Lisa Nova’s past until that’s important or that the parallel between her past and current circumstances is never fleshed out.


“The Necromantic Tale” by Clark Ashton Smith

Not very necromantic at all despite the title. In fact, it’s sort of libromantic, since our protagonist reading a book sets off a chain of events that is side-tracked by reminding himself that he’s reading a book. Nice and creepy though.

R.I.P. Bingo ~ Plague

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I’m a slow reader, but luckily R.eaders I.mbibibng P.eril isn’t just about reading long works. So, maybe I have a chance at blacking out that bingo card. 😉 For some of the prompts, I want to combine an appropriate movie with a short story or two. First up, “Plague.”


“Fever Dream” by Ray Bradbury

At some point in the last year, I half lost a finger to rheumatoid arthritis. It’s the pinkie of my left hand. I’d been noticing that my wedding band was irritating the main joint of the pinkie (the proximal interphalangeal), but didn’t pay it much attention. When I did, finally, I found that the joint was permanently inflamed and would no longer straighten. It’s still serves as my main Shift/CTRL pinkie, all is not lost ye, but this is something that’s going to happen to me for the rest of my life. Like Charlie in “Fever Dream,” bit by bit, parts of my body are going to betray me.

Charlie’s situation is a little more dire. According to his doctor, it’s scarlet fever complicated by a cold. But Charlie knows. You’d think the doctor would know too when Charlie’s own hands try to strangle Charlie, but the doc just chalks it up to the fever dream of an imaginative boy. It’s a fever dream that wants to infect the world…


It Comes at Night

Year: 2017
Runtime: 1h 31m
Rated: R

Director: Trey Edward Shults

Writers: Trey Edward Shults

Stars: Joel Edgerton, Kelvin Harrison Jr., Carmen Ejogo,

Early in the COVID-19 pandemic, there was a semi-joke that preppers were just mad because this wasn’t an apocalypse they could shoot. AKA, a global pandemic doesn’t play out like It Comes at Night. And I know this movie is more about human interactions when dealing with pressure and the unknown, but I was really annoyed by the lack of any good quarantine/disinfection procedures.

The one thing that It Comes at Night does get right is its title. How many nights in the past year and a half have I laid down, tired, past bedtime, and suddenly wondered… Is my chest tight? Can I still taste and smell? Is this actually really how I breathe?


“The Masque of the Red Death” by Edgar Allan Poe

A tale of the super rich and privileged who can’t avoid the inevitable: death. But it’s death from a contagion, so the conclusion sits uneasy these days: what chance do little people have as we try to stay safe? Which is why I hadn’t reread this story until now despite it having some of my favorite imagery in all of literature. In theme, It Comes at Night does mimic “Masque.” In both, characters are trying to beat circumstances with isolation and the house in the movie is maybe as much of an architectural conundrum as Prospero’s imperial suite.

80s in August: 1989

Warlock

Year: 1989
Runtime: 1h 43m
Rated: R

Director: Steve Miner

Writer: David Twohy

Stars: Julian Sands, Lori Singer, Richard E. Grant

Streaming on: Tubi

Initial: I used to own this movie on VHS.

Production Notes: Apparently, this movie didn’t get a US release until 1991. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

What Did I Think:
First off, I want to talk about the gay side character in Warlock. On the plus side, hey! there’s a gay side character! Also, Kassandra defends Chas, her roommate, as just being a nice, normal guy. On the minus side, there is an odd distinction between gay and queer, Chas dies first, and, well, his name is Chas… So, mixed bag.

Otherwise, I find a lot to like in Warlock. Julian Sands plays evil without mustache twirling or scenery-chewing. Redferne, the witch-finder, shows the proper amount of unease with his 20th century surroundings, and Kassandra is kind of a proto-Buffy. She doesn’t want to be pulled into the plot, but when she has no choice, she’s the shrewdest character in the room.

The effects aren’t great, but I’ll over look that.


The Blood of Heroes

Year: 1989
Runtime: 1h 30m
Rated: R

Director: David Webb Peoples

Writer: David Webb Peoples

Stars: Rutger Hauer, Joan Chen, Delroy Lindo

Streaming on: Tubi

Initial: Like many Rutgar Hauer movies, I probably saw The Blood of Heroes some late night on syndicated TV.

Production Notes: So, there are actual rules to jugger, the sport in The Blood of Heroes. It, of course, isn’t as brutal, but it’s interesting that this film has had that much impact.

What Did I Think:
I hadn’t seen The Blood of Heroes in a number of years, but it was pretty much as good as I remembered it. I hadn’t realized it before but, while it’s set in a post-apocalyptic world, this is a sports film. I love sports films!

I’m also kind of impressed with the low-key treatment of gender politics. There’s not talk of whether Kidda or the veteran Big Cimber are lesser players because they’re women. They are also not assaulted because they are women nor are they used as prizes because they are women. (The only time there is much of a difference in how they are treated as juggers is when the men have women throwing themselves at them after a win while Kidda and Cimber are left with scrawny company for the evening.) In general, while the sport is brutal, its players have a certain code of honor. And if there is any politics to The Blood of Heroes, it’s class politics.

Annoyingly, the Tubi version of this film is in 4:3 ratio. It’s a very dark film, but I think that’s on purpose, and it works for the most part. The action scenes are chaotic, but not confusing. I also liked how there isn’t overheard dialog in several scenes, yet what is being talked about is obvious.


Parents

Year: 1989
Runtime: 1h 21m
Rated: R

Director: Bob Balaban

Writer: Christopher Hawthorne

Stars: Randy Quaid, Mary Beth Hurt, Bryan Madorsky, Sandy Dennis

Streaming on: Tubi

Initial: Another fairly well-regarded horror movie that I hadn’t seen before.

Production Notes: Randy Quaid’s second appearance in August. He was the sheriff in The Wraith (1986).

What Did I Think:
What an odd movie. Since it ends up being very discomfiting, I guess it’s successful. Parents is very slow, though, and maybe a tad unfocused. Honestly, this movie weirdly reminds me of A Christmas Story (1983)—granted, a twisted horror version. Maybe it’s just that I find both a little bizarre and kind of dull. Both are told through the lens of childhood misunderstandings, which I don’t find that entertaining.


Other Movies from 1989: Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure, Ghostbusters II, The Abyss, Back to the Future Part II, Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, Tetsuo: The Iron Man, Pet Sematary

80s in August: 1988

Scrooged

Year: 1988
Runtime: 1h 41m
Rated: PG-13

Director: Richard Donner

Writers: Mitch Glazer, Michael O’Donoghue, Charles Dickens

Stars: Bill Murray, Karen Allen, John Forsythe

Streaming on: Hulu (my subscription has lapsed, so no links)

Initial: I’m not sure I’ve seen Scrooged since around the time it came out, though I generally mean to, often around Christmas time.

What Did I Think:
One of the things I liked about Scrooged the first time I saw it was that it treated the ghosts in A Christmas Carol like ghosts. They’re creepy and, when they’re not, they’re somewhat generally unsettling. With an updated setting, so too were the effects updated. Lew Hayward (the Marley character) isn’t just dead with his jaw tied shut. He’s a vaguely rotting corpse. I guess my point is, if you’re doing a ghost story, even one with a redemption theme, let the ghosts be ghosts.

I didn’t at all remember that Frank Cross (Murray) was a TV executive or that the meta aspect of the plot was that he was producing this live-on-Christmas spectacle version of A Christmas Carol. Therefore, the ending has to be different. It has to go beyond just changing Frank’s heart. I’m not sure the movie really pulls off the Christmas miracle of everyone being nicer to each other (especially, since Frank was really the only guy being particularly ba-humbug). Or, maybe I’m just particularly cynical at the moment.


Akira

Year: 1988
Runtime: 2h 4m
Rated: R

Director: Katsuhiro Ôtomo

Writers: Katsuhiro Ôtomo, Izô Hashimoto

Stars: Mitsuo Iwata, Nozomu Sasaki, Mami Koyama

Streaming on: Hulu

Initial: Figured I should probably watch Akira since it’s such an influential anime film.

What Did I Think:
Remember how I said that Fire and Ice (1983) probably would have been better as an R-rated animated film? Yeah, Akira needed to be R and was, to its credit. It’s gory; it’s violent. There’s even some nudity.

From the outset I will admit, I don’t care for anime. My experience of it has been limited, but it all has been too loud and too much for me. That said, I can appreciate how excellent the animation of Akira is and how its story and style have impacted science fiction and animation. I did really enjoy the soundtrack which often gave a calm contrast to the frenetic action.


Child’s Play

Year: 1988
Runtime: 1h 27m
Rated: R

Director: Tom Holland

Writers: Don Mancini, John Lafia, Tom Holland

Stars: Catherine Hicks, Chris Sarandon, Alex Vincent, Brad Dourif

Streaming on: Tubi

Initial: I’d never watched Child’s Play because I figured it was just a campy horror parody.

What Did I Think:
I was happy to find that my initial thoughts were incorrect—at least in regards to the first Child’s Play. I was surprised that this movie takes itself mostly seriously and is therefore actually pretty creepy.

When I watched Child’s Play, I listened through headphones (as I usually do) and the sound design adds a lot, keeping Chucky’s doings off-screen, but heard, for much of the movie. The effects are good enough and it dodges being silly because everyone is selling it serious. Alex Vincent, the kid playing the terrorized Andy, is pretty darn good. Btw, if you are bothered by a child in peril, this isn’t the movie for you.

Will I watch any of the sequels? Maybe, but I will expect them to be less serious. Will I watch the reboot (because of course they’ve rebooted Child’s Play)? Probably not.


Other Movies from 1988: The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, Beetlejuice, Willow, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Alien Nation, Earth Girls Are Easy, They Live, The Blob, Dead Ringers, Lady in White, Pumpkinhead, The Serpent and the Rainbow.

80s in August: 1987

The Gate

Year: 1987
Runtime: 1h 25m
Rated: PG-13

Director: Tibor Takács

Writers: Michael Nankin

Stars: Stephen Dorff, Christa Denton, Louis Tripp

Streaming on: Tubi (and quite a few other services)

Initial: I debated whether this film was more horror than fantasy, but decided to go with it because I wasn’t convinced that a proper horror film would have kid protagonists.

Production Notes: Film debut of Stephen Dorff.

What Did I Think:
My fantasy/horror instincts were correct. Though there are a great many spooky occurrences and quite a few monsters, The Gate side-steps any truly frightening situations or consequences. The film felt weirdly generic to me. The neighborhood is plainly suburban. The objects characters use are unbranded. The posters in Louis’s bedroom belong to anonymous rock bands. The peril summoned is vaguely demonic. It is one of many 80s movies that featured kid protagonists, though this one with a more fantasy/horror bent. Unfortunately, there is more of a sense of dread in Stand By Me (1986) which has no supernatural aspects at all.


RoboCop

Year: 1987
Runtime: 1h 42m
Rated: R

Director: Paul Verhoeven

Writers: Edward Neumeier, Michael Miner

Stars: Peter Weller, Nancy Allen, Kurtwood Smith

Streaming on: hoopla

Initial: I’d seen RoboCop a few times in the past, but as with many films I picked this month, probably not in more than a decade.

Production Notes: Set in a vaguely future Detroit. Shot in Dallas.

What Did I Think:
Oh, Paul Verhoven. The gun violence! The explosions! The group shower scenes! I kind of wish I had an 80s bingo card because there are so many very 80s things in it. Threat of nuclear war? Check. Corporations who care (but really don’t)? Check. Toxic waste? Check. (The toxic waste is featured in such a random WTF scene…)

RoboCop suffers from a few plot holes and some moments convenient incompetence, but has a lot of good points. Overall, the acting is what’s needed. Peter Weller is almost too good-looking for his face to be covered for over half the movie, but gives RoboCop a great physicality and pathos. Kurtwood Smith is menacing without being too over the top. After all, he’s only a middle-man villain. The pacing and editing are all good, but the world-building is where I think the film shines the brightest. I’m a sucker for science fiction movies that incorporate mundane things into its world. In RoboCop, it’s TV ads, the local news, and the inane TV show everyone is watching and seems to find funny.

RoboCop is as good as I remember. Don’t know why they decided a remake in 2014 was a good idea. (Haven’t seen it, but looking at the trailer, it doesn’t seem to bring anything to the table.)


The Stepfather

Year: 1987
Runtime: 1h 29m
Rated: R

Director: Joseph Ruben

Writers: Carolyn Lefcourt, Brian Garfield, Donald E. Westlake

Stars: Terry O’Quinn, Jill Schoelen, Shelley Hack

Streaming on: Tubi

Initial: Using my 80s in August criteria, I had the option of watching a horror movie I know I like (Hellraiser), one I’d like to rewatch (Angel Heart), and one I hadn’t seen before, The Stepfather.

Production Notes: Director Joseph Ruben’s second appearance during 80s in August. He also directed Dreamscape (1984).

What Did I Think:
Grand scheme, The Stepfather was on my to-watch list due to the reputation of Terry O’Quinn’s performance. It had probably gotten mention in Nightmare Movies among other places. That hype is warranted. Any good “slasher” film hangs on its villain. Michael Myers in Halloween (1978) has to be silent and menacing. Freddy in A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) has to have a good quip and pun on hand in reaction to his victim’s dreams. And The Stepfather requires a subtly; anger repressed enough that Jerry Blake is an effective con man as well as a serial killer. And Terry O’Quinn delivers. In many ways, this is more of a thriller than a horror film—the situations are almost too grounded in the real world.

(There’s also been a remake of The Stepfather in 2009. I’m not absolutely opposed to remakes, and this is another that I haven’t seen, but again I have to wonder, why?)


Other Movies from 1987: Batteries Not Included, Harry and the Hendersons, Masters of the Universe, The Princess Bride, Innerspace, Predator, Spaceballs, Evil Dead II, Hellraiser, The Lost Boys, Near Dark.