Archive for the ‘Blogs’ Category

RIP Stan Lee

November 17, 2018

I was rocked when I heard that Stan Lee died four days ago on November 12, 2018. I had to spend a bit of time getting my thoughts together so that I could do this right. I could not let a great man pass without saying a little something. So here are the thoughts that have passed through my head in the past few days.

I was a huge fan of comic books growing up. I loved them so much that I walked three miles to a comic book store and blew my allowance on a small stack of them. I bought both Marvel and DC (while some of my friends preferred Image). However, when I read them, I did not often think about who was making them. All I thought about was who was selling them and how I could get them. So I really did not know who Stan Lee was. I would have been impressed had I known his name because he created a lot of the characters I liked and was one of the godfathers of the modern age of comics that I enjoyed so much. Little did I know but he was a fixture on the letters page at the back of most comics but I usually skipped that while I grabbed another story to absorb. When I got a bit older, I started to read those pages and learned about Stan’s infamous No-Prize. It was the prize he (and the Marvel editors) gave out to fans who spotted continuity errors in Marvel comic book fans. A little fun smartassery pointed toward the nitpickier side of fandom. It was also a reminder that comics are just supposed to be fun and not taken so seriously.

However, the first time I really started to become aware of Stan Lee was watching a little VHS called Pryde of the X-Men. It was an animated television pilot released in 1989 (a magic year for me) for an X-Men cartoon show that never materialized. I thought it was awesome but it only spawned the one double episode pilot and the famous X-Men arcade game. (Fun Fact: Wolverine was given an Australian accent in the pilot which is a bit eerie now). I remember well how Stan narrated that first episode. That was the first time that I heard him use the phrase “true believer” and it really resonated with me. As somebody with a vivid imagination and a strong suspension of disbelief, that was a great description of what I am. He brought me right into the story and his voice could barely contain the excitement he had for the story that was about to unfold. Of course, 1989 Stan Lee probably had no idea how many shows and movies would feature he and his friends’ creations. He had to have been excited to see the X-Men clash with the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants in animated form.

So, years after Pryde of the X-Men, in the 1990s, I started to become more aware of authorship as I started to create my own worlds in my head and on the page. I became more curious about behind the scenes of comic books. I bought books to try and learn how to draw them but I just never took to visual art as much as the written word. I ended up collaborating with my friends on comic books since one of my best friends could draw and loved to do so. As I said, I started to look at the letters page. I also started to look at who was drawing the comics I liked and who was writing them. I started to look for them at the stores like I looked for directors and movie stars at the Blockbuster Video. As I got older, I became better at picking comics that I really liked, not just what was hot at the moment. As a result, I became a bigger fan of comics creators. When I saw interviews with a lot of these creators, they mentioned Stan Lee as their inspiration. He was the grandfather. He was one of the sources on high. He and Jack Kirby practically created Marvel with their own blood, sweat, and tears.

Now, the first time I saw Stan Lee was when I watched the movie Mallrats made by Kevin Smith. In the movie, he has his first live-action cameo, giving advice to a lovelorn and desperate comic book fan. In that cameo, he describes the characters he created being a reflection of what he felt inside at the time, a mirror to his emotions. Of course, later he did cameos in live action movies of his properties. One of the first cameos was actually my favorite since it was so pure. He appeared in Spider-Man (2002) as a man in the crowd. In a scene where Spider-Man is fighting against Green Goblin, he saves a little girl from being crushed by debris. The man who became famous for writing heroes finally got to act out being a hero. It was such a great moment to see a writer get to actually be in his own work. This sparked a chain of cameos in live-action movies leading more casual fans to lean over in theaters and ask “who is that?” which allowed fans to explain and spread his legend.

Of course, getting to be a hero in the movie was probably a thrill but Stan did not just write heroes, he was a hero. It is obvious from the outpouring of grief and respect following his death that he touched so many lives. He was one of many who inspired me at a young age to not only read but to write as well. His affable nature made comic books more accessible and fun, knowing that the people who made them did not take themselves too seriously. His legacy will continue and it is as unlikely that he will be forgotten as Shakespeare, Stephen King, or Jim Henson will be forgotten. He left an indelible mark on history and fiction that will stand as a monument to him. He also left marks on the psyches of those who consumed his stories and carried them in their hearts. Count me among them. He lived to the ripe old age of 95 so I will not see Stan Lee cameos and feel sad. I will smile and remember what he gave me and what he gave the world.

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Media Update 11/15/2018

November 15, 2018


The Breakfast Club

Yes, I have never actually seen this movie (or I saw it when I was really young and cannot remember). However, I figured it was time to finally watch it after watching a D&D one-shot mixing Breakfast Club with Harry Potter. I am more of a John Waters fan than a John Hughes fan but I recognize that they tackle similar themes from different directions. The movie is about teens starting to discover themselves and be comfortable in their own skin. It is also about them recognizing that they are not all that different. The movie plays with the standard school stereotypes that were even around when I went to school. Emilio Estevez plays the jock, Anthony Michael Hall plays the nerd, Judd Nelson plays the burnout/class clown, Ally Sheedy plays the weird girl, and Molly Ringwald plays the perfect girl. The movie is basically full of conversations between the five of them, allowing very different people to mingle during Saturday detention. When I was in school, I remember times like these where we were forced together with people we would never talk to. It was awful but it was also interesting and I remember those people well. I recommend this classic if I am not the last person to watch it.


In Bruges

This was yet another movie that I had on my list for forever and never got around to watching. I even have the DVD but never watched it just because there is so much to watch. And yet again, this is a movie that I wish that I had watched earlier. This movie is very much in the tradition of movies like The Imposters, Hot Fuzz, and Snatch. The movie is about two Irish hitmen who are sent to the sleepy little town of Bruges in Belgium to hide out. It is a movie about hitmen but very little of that is actually done. The movie is more about people and relationships and a whole lot of dialogue. That dialogue is offbeat and very funny but some of it is also pretty deep. The movie rests on the backs of Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson who are such a good duo together, a hitman odd couple who banter incessantly. The female lead is played by Elizabeth Berrington who plays off Farrell beautifully, ending up playing a more dominant character than Colin. Ralph Fiennes plays their boss, a man of principle and no-nonsense in a nonsense world. There is also a small part from Jordan Prentice who gets to play a dickhead Hollywood actor partying it up in Europe. The movie is funny but it also has a heart and the craziness is matched by some deep moments (some of which end up being funny too). I definitely recommend this one.


Designated Survivor

I had watched a few minutes of this show months ago and thought it seemed good enough to follow up on. People who follow this feature know that I have watched a bunch of these types of shows before. I have never really been a fan of Keifer Sutherland, mostly because I disliked the writing on 24. So, the only real experience I had with him was in Metal Gear Solid 5 which is not saying much. Watching this, I realized that he is a pretty good actor. He plays the part of the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development. When the President, the Vice President, The Cabinet, and Congress are all killed during the State of the Union, he becomes the new acting President of the United States. It is fun to see the bottom member of the highest rung of government suddenly thrust into the spotlight. Sutherland plays it human, making sure we feel everything along with him. I would compare it to West Wing if it was mashed up with Blacklist. There is the struggle to rebuild the Federal government after a tragedy and there is also the mystery of who was behind the attack. So it is one part political drama and one part police procedural. They do a lot to make those two parts work together. There is also a strong supporting cast who I am interested to get to know. I recommend this one too.

Music of the Week:
Indigenous – You Turn My World Around

Wherewolf Therewolf – Praise the Sun

Devastate Me – She Makes War

Chali 2na – Change The World

The Murder Capital – SOMA x O’Hara’s Sessions

Weekly Update:
– This week’s theme is “Turning Point”
– I watched more of The Chilling Tales of Sabrina Season 1
– I finished Daredevil Season 3
– I watched more Once Upon a Time Season 7
– I watched more Hilda Season 1
– I watched more American Vandal Season 1

Media Update 11/8/18

November 8, 2018


Hilda

I was raring to tackle this show as soon as Halloween was over as I had heard a lot of good things about it. It looked like Gravity Falls meets Adventure Time and that is a good starting point in explaining what the series is. It is an offbeat British fantasy series set in a world where fantasy creatures are everywhere and are known to the public. The show stars Hilda, a little girl who has spent a lot of time growing up alone with her mother in the wilderness with only fantasy creatures to befriend, many of which do not talk. Her pet is a deer fox (a fox with antlers) that does not talk but has a lot of character. The regular cast also includes her mother who supports and believes in her daughter a hundred percent which is refreshing for a television parent. There is also a tiny bureaucratic elf named Alfor who is there to study the ways of humans. The show covers Hilda and her mum having to move into the big city to start a new life. The fantasy stuff is really great but the bits about Hilda’s relationship to her mother and to her surroundings is very grounded. The humor is very cute, sometimes sarcastic, sometimes surreal, and sometimes just straightforward. However, there is also a touch of sadness to the show as Hilda talks to creatures and people whose lives are not perfect and learns life lessons through her new friends. I definitely recommend it as it is a very imaginative show.


A Wrinkle in Time

I never read this book when I was younger, unlike friends who are a bit older than me. I have always heard it mentioned as a top book in the fantasy/science fiction genre. When the trailers came out, I was definitely reeled in by the all-star cast. The big names are Oprah, Mindy Kaling, Reese Witherspoon, Chris Pine, Gugu Mbatha_Raw, Zach Galifianakis, and Michael Pena. The adults are mostly there as guideposts for the three kids to work off of. The absolute star of the movie is Storm Reid who is just an absolute joy to watch. She is so complex for a child actress and she absolutely nailed the part of an older teenager starting to figure out who she is. She has been in movies like Sleight and Twelve Years a Slave before but this is her first major role. The movie was kind of confusing at first as I thought it was science fiction but there is very little of that in the movie. The movie is more a touch of science fantasy (which I prefer) with a lot of philosophy and existentialism. Once I let go and stopped trying to overthink things, the movie was good food visually, mentally, and emotionally. The movie tackles a lot of big concepts like good/evil but it also tackles more relatable issues like adoption, abandonment, bullying, and mental health. It is ultimately a very uplifting film and every piece of the movie worked well together. I definitely recommend it but let the movie wash over you and just enjoy yourself.


Mary and the Witch’s Flower

This is the first Studio Ghibli film that I have seen that was not directed by the legendary Hayao Miyazaki. Well, actually it is from a lot of the old production staff from Ghibli in a new company called Studio Ponoc but it obviously has the same beautiful style. Earlier this year I finally watched Kiki’s Delivery Service, a brilliant film about a young witch coming of age. This movie definitely felt like a spiritual spinoff to that movie even though it is an adaptation of a 1970’s fantasy novel. The movie follows Mary, a young girl who hates her red hair and feels absolutely alone and useless. I think most of us have felt that at some point in our lives. By chance, she stumbles upon the world of magic and is suddenly involved with witches. The movie also reminded me a bit of Little Witch Academia (and by extension Harry Potter), both tales of a modern young person unexpectedly stumbling into the world of magic. Like the two animated examples above, the movie is beautifully animated with Mary herself feeling like such a real character. Once again, these people do such a good job with building the world although they obviously picked great source material as a foundation. Studio Ponoc is just as good as Studio Ghibli was at mixing comedy, drama, horror, and action into something wonderful. I definitely recommend this movie as it lives up to its heritage wonderfully.

Music of the Week:
Jim Wilson – Centre Core Never More

Jon Benjamin – I Can’t Play Piano Pt. 1

Coven – Wicked Woman

Avatar – Paint Me Red

The Clouds Will Clear – In Cycles

 

Weekly Update:
– This week’s theme is “Trippy Rites of Passage”
– I watched more Fate/Apocrypha Season 2
– I watched more American Vandal Season 1
– I watched more Daredevil Season 3
– I watched more Once Upon a Time Season 7
– I watched more The Haunting of Hill House
– I finished watching the Curious Creations of Christine McConnell

Top 11 Favorite Disney Villains Pt. 2

November 3, 2018

We now return you to regularly scheduled programming.

Top 11


5 Ursula (The Little Mermaid 1989)

Ursula was a sea witch who lived near the kingdom of Atlantica somewhere under the sea. From the looks of it, she lived on the outskirts of the kingdom where few people dared to go. She lived among the bottom feeders and decay of the ocean. She lived there because she had been banished by King Triton, the ruler of Atlantica. Her crimes are unexplained but, based on her actions during the plot of the film, she probably deserved her banishment. Even so, she has plotted her revenge against Triton for a long time. She is a practicer of magic and, like Dr. Faciler above, has great power to make magical bargains with merfolk. She is akin to a crossroads demon. Through the power of the bargain, she has been able to punish merfolk who were foolish enough to leave Atlantica to visit her. She makes magical bargains with these poor unfortunate souls and when they cannot hold up their end of the bargain, she is able to transform them into helpless sea polyps. Eventually, she targets Triton’s youngest daughter Ariel who wishes to connect with the human world. She agrees to transform Ariel into a human in order to pursue Prince Eric but she stacks the deck in her favor by taking Ariel’s voice in the bargain. Without the gift of speech, Ariel finds it more difficult to make a true connection with the object of her affection. When Ariel comes close to beating the odds, Ursula uses her magic to hypnotize Eric to win the wager. She then uses Ariel as a bargaining chip in order to take Triton’s power. Now having succeeded in her revenge, she remains petty and tries to kill Eric and Ariel and that leads to her getting killed in the tussle. If she had simply gone back to the sea and consolidated her power, she could have easily killed Ariel, Eric, and the rest of both royal families.


4 Jafar (Aladdin 1992)

Jafar was the Royal Vizier of Agrabah, a Middle Eastern-flavored land ruled over by a Sultan. In many Muslim countries, the Vizier is a high-ranking political advisor and Jafar had somehow made sure to ascend to this position. He was the Sultan’s most important adviser and he wielded great political power acting often as the Sultan’s voice. Based on what we know of the Sultan from the film, Jafar may have been the most direct cause of the disparity between economic classes in Agrabah. While it is not completely his fault, he has an obvious disdain for the working class and the poor and probably never did anything to help. He uses the country’s rules to help him manipulate the Sultan into making decisions favorable to Jafar’s plans of domination and power. His magic seems to be derived mostly from researching and obtaining enchanted objects. Eventually, his goal becomes to find the legendary Cave of Wonders where he will find a genie who will grant his wishes for the power to achieve his goals of domination. When that plan initially fails, he becomes desperate and tries to force marriage on the Sultan’s daughter, Jasmine, in order to inherit the power he wants. He uses mind control and manipulation to try to achieve that. Eventually, he successfully obtains his wishes and becomes a powerful sorcerer and seems to have more ready access to magic. He uses that to punish those he felt wronged him, damage the city, and even tries to enslave the mind of Jasmine. He tries to kill her when that does not work but he is felled at the last minute by his own hubris. Jafar always desired power and used the rules to manipulate those around him but, in the end, he was captured by somebody else’s rules.


3 Hans Westergaard (Frozen 2013)

Hans was born as the thirteenth son of the king of the Southern Isles. His family would often mistreat him and he always felt that he got lost in the shuffle when it came to the royal family. As one would expect, he was bullied by his older brothers and he felt neglected by his parents. As a result, he grew bitter and desperate for some sort of path to power so he could finally be above his brothers. The problem was that he was so low in the line of succession that he would never become king of the Southern Isles. He decided to try and marry the newly crowned queen of Arendelle, Elsa, in order to escape his position. When Elsa proved to be inaccessible, he targeted her naive younger sister Anna. He used her desperation for human contact and her storybook outlook of love to manipulate her into agreeing to marry him the first day they met. He planned to use this love as an open door to become the heir to the throne of Arendelle. His marriage proposal caused friction between the sisters and caused the Queen to curse the land into eternal winter. He used that crisis to further ingratiate himself to the citizens of Arendelle by leading relief efforts. He allowed the Duke of Weselton to drum up anti-Elsa sentiment which led to an assassination attempt on the fugitive Queen. He later decided to let Anna die, blame it on Elsa, and then execute Elsa for the crime and also to bring back summer. That plan ultimately fails as the sisters are able to reunite and refute his claims of marrying Anna and he is defeated and captured. He is sent back to his former life to be punished by his father and his brothers. In the end, he tried to escape a bad situation the wrong way and he made it worse.


2 Mother Gothel (Tangled 2010)

Gothel was a witch living alone in the wilderness when she observed a single drop of sunlight fall to the Earth. She tracked the point of impact and found a flower infused with its magic and she found that being near the flower had healing properties and stopped the aging process. She hid the flower’s existence and used its magic for hundreds of years to stay young and healthy. Eventually, the kingdom of Corona came into existence nearby and she avoided it. When the Queen of that kingdom grew deathly ill, Gothel was powerless when guards found the legendary flower and it was used to heal the Queen. The flower’s magic passed on to the Queen’s daughter, Rapunzel, and her hair gained the healing properties. Gothel decided to kidnap the baby and raise her in her tower in the wilderness in order to maintain that healing magic for herself. So, first she kept the flower a secret so that only she had access and then she kidnapped a child for the same reason. She positioned herself as Rapunzel’s mother in order to control her but never loved the child. She constantly ground Rapunzel down with passive-aggressive and sarcastic behavior and kept her isolated and ignorant. When Rapunzel convinced Flynn Rider to guide her away from the tower, Gothel was furious and desperate. She hired mercenaries to track the pair down, perfectly willing to let them harm Rapunzel and kill Flynn. Even at the end, she tried to manipulate her false daughter who was also her kidnapping victim into choosing to be re-imprisoned in exchange for Flynn’s life. She dies when Flynn does what she could never do and sacrifices the magic for somebody else’s happiness.


1 Oogie Boogie (The Nightmare Before Christmas 1993)

Obviously, the world of Halloween Town is different from ours and morality plays out a little differently. However, when it comes to Oogie Boogie, he is clearly on one side while the rest of the town is on the other side. The citizens of Halloween Town like to scare and disgust the humans of our world but none of them seem to actually want to harm anybody. Obviously, our world responds well to being scared on Halloween but not the rest of the year. However, Oogie has a different idea about Halloween and his kind of fear and desire for harm are not fun for anyone. Because of this, Oogie seems to have been banished and ostracized by the rest of Halloween Town except for his minions. He is constantly scheming to take over Halloween and he would probably make it a much darker holiday. It is obvious that he has taught his minions to be more violent than the other citizens as demonstrated in their song. If he was successful in his plans, it is sure that the world at large would suffer and humans might die. He is constantly kept in check by the presence of Jack Skellington, the only thing he seems to actually be afraid of himself. When Jack gets distracted by depression and Christmas, Oogie sees his opening and convinces his minions to give him Santa Claus. He tries to consume Santa Claus. Although it is unclear what this would have achieved, at the very least it would have at least magically damaged Christmas if not outright killing it. In the end, he was defeated (but not killed) because fear made him run from Jack and he was defeated by his carelessness.

Media Update 11/1/18

November 1, 2018


The Babysitter (2018)

I have had this one on my list for over a year and part of the reason I relaxed the theme this week is to make sure I had a place for it. I especially was interested after seeing that the script previously made the 2014 Blacklist and the 2015 Bloodlist. Both are yearly lists of well-reviewed but unproduced scripts. The movie is about a young boy who is curious about what his babysitter does after he goes to sleep. He witnesses her holding a meeting for a satanic cult. That is not even a spoiler, that is the plot blurb on IMDB. What happens next is wild and a lot of fun. This is a horror/comedy movie that leans more into dark comedy. Samara Weaving is in the title role and she is so much fun that it is hard not to like her. Judah Lewis plays the boy who is a little too old for a babysitter but incredibly smart. Bella Thorne has a more minor role as one of the cult members and she is hilarious. Robbie Amell is a legend in this movie and just comes off as hilarious. Andrew Bachelor and Hana Mae Lee round out the cast with minor but memorable roles as more cult members. This movie definitely felt innovative while also clearly being an homage to the horror genre in general. It also felt like it paid tribute to various coming of age movies as well. I definitely recommend it as I was pleasantly surprised at how good this was.


The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina (2018)

So, I was a huge fan of Melissa Joan Hart back in the day and, because of that, I watched most of Sabrina the Teenage Witch. I also saw the character in Archie Digest. When I found out they were making another series based on the character, I was interested. I knew that there had been a more serious take on the franchise in comic book form and I had a feeling it was going to be like that. Also, at the last moment before it was released, the original cast of Sabrina the Teenage Witch endorsed it. Also also, it is created by the same people who created the Riverdale show. Anyway, the show is great. A lot of the core concepts are kept intact with the show set in Riverdale’s neighboring town Greendale. Kiernan Shipka is really likable and easy to empathize with as Sabrina Spellman, a half-witch reaching her 16th birthday. Michelle Gomez plays a teacher with a hidden agenda concerning Sabrina and she is wonderfully sinister. Chance Perdomo is funny and sarcastic as Sabrina’s cousin Ambrose. Lucy Davis and Miranda Otto play her aunts who add a lot of the comic relief. The show has a more apparent “Smash the Patriarchy” feel to it which I can definitely get behind. The show has a few scary and/or gross scenes but it is mild compared to other stuff I have watched in the past. Mostly, I find the world they are creating interesting and I am soaking up the lore. I definitely recommend it.

 


Critters (1986)

This is part of the movies that are classified as Gremlins ripoffs even though the script was written long before Gremlins was released. It is written by Domonic Muir who later wrote Evil Bong and Gingerdead Man (understandably under a pseudonym) so we know he can mix horror and comedy. It is directed by Stephen Herek who later directed Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure and Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead. Scott Grimes plays the young boy hero and he did a great job for his young age. His mother was played excellently by horror veteran Dee Wallace who I mentioned earlier this month in The Hills Have Eyes. The movie is about creatures that escape an alien prison and come to a rural part of the USA and terrorize a family. It is funny because I saw parallels between this movie and movies like Gremlins, TerrorVision, and the remake of Invaders from Mars. The movie has some comedy but I found it more tense than funny. Part of that is colored by the air of urgency through the whole film. The titular Critters are relentless and nigh unstoppable and things look pretty grim through the whole movie. Also, there was way more blood than I would have expected from a movie classed with Gremlins. Still, the movie ends up being pretty light and fun as we watch a hapless family struggle to survive. It definitely fits in with a lot of the comedic horror films of the time and I think it holds it own in that category. I definitely recommend this one and I wish I had seen it a lot earlier.

 

Music of the Week:
Paramore – Misery Business

Peggy Suave – Posin’

The Gore Gore Girls – Hard Enough

The Weeknd – In The Night

Arcade Fire – Everything Now

Weekly Update:
– This week’s theme is “Halloween Hangover” as a recovery from October
– This is also this blog’s 800th post. Wow!
– I finished watching Gotham Season 4
– I watched more of The Haunting of Hill House
– I watched more Daredevil Season 3
– I watched more Once Upon a Time Season 7
– I watched more Curious Creations of Christine McConnell
– I watched more Barry Kramer on YouTube

Under the Shadow (2016)

October 31, 2018

I had two best friends throughout my tenure at Friends School of Baltimore (12 whole years). One was a goofy yet deep artist who taught me about comic books and the other one was a more serious guy who was the first to teach me about cars and pro-wrestling. That second one was also a child of divorce who had been raised Muslim and Christian. When I was in elementary school (my school called it ‘Lower School’), we would spend lunch and recess running around a vast playground. I distinctly remember that one day, my friend began to tell me about the djinn. He told me that they were not anything like genies, granting wishes, they were evil spirits created by Satan and not to be trusted. He seemed absolutely certain that these spirits were real and that we could see one in America. Later, we were reading comic books in his room during a sleepover and his mother called up to look out the window at the Police helicopter flying by. I moved to comply and he blocked my path. He told me that it could be a trick and that Satan could be mimicking his mother’s voice in order to trick us into looking. It frightened me deeply.

I live in Baltimore, Maryland in the United States of America. Things might feel bad right now (as of 2018) but they are nowhere near the experience of areas in the Middle East. For most of my life, I have lived in a big city with a notoriously high crime rate. Almost every day I see reports of people getting shot or shot at in the Baltimore area. People jokingly call the place I live ‘Bodymore, Murderland” which is probably one of the greatest examples of dark humor I know of. However, only once in recent US history have we actually been attacked by a foreign power. In countries like Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Israel, and others, things are very different. We do not get bombs dropped on us in this country. The idea of sitting in my apartment in Baltimore on the east coast of the USA and worrying about a military accidentally dropping a bomb on me is unthinkable. Yet, that is a valid fear in other countries. The idea that you could be obliterated because of political differences between your nation and another is something politicians use as a political tool in the US but has not really been a strong possibility for decades. The concept itself is scary.

Once again, we have a horror movie with fabulous acting. It is a pattern that horror movies with a more psychological bent have good acting while gorefests usually have bad acting. Of course, there are exceptions but that is the general rule that I have observed. Narges Rashidi plays the lead character, a mother tired of being oppressed by the Iranian government especially considering she was attending medical school before the war. She is joined by her daughter played by Avin Manshadi who is a good little girl in the middle of a war. Most of the movie deals with the interactions between the mother, her daughter, and the supernatural. This is why this movie is often called ‘The Persian Babadook’. Like in that movie, the interactions between mother accentuate the experiences with the supernatural, making things tenser. The movie also does show a lot of slice of life scenarios in a war-torn Iran which is something we do not often see here in the US.

The camera work is great in this movie. There is a lot of it that reminds me of Veronica, The Haunting of Hill House, and The Shining. Great shots help make a great movie and this movie definitely captures that ‘every frame is a painting’ quality. Every shot really means something in this movie which feels rare these days. The movie does a lot with camera tricks, editing, and practical effects to make things scary. I have to admire a movie that does not have to rely on elaborate CGI, monster makeup, or puppets to make things scary. Like comedy, horror is all in the timing and a big part of that is editing which is on point in this movie. The movie draws on maternal fears for a child’s safety and self-doubt to create a horror story almost entirely in the mind. The pacing is great, starting slow but speeding up almost exponentially as the movie goes on.

Overall, I loved the movie. When it started, it was set on English which sounded really weird because the voice over sounded a bit dispassionate. I quickly switched it over to the original Persian so I could get the full breadth of emotions. Your mileage may vary, of course. The movie is very gripping and really made me feel for both the mother and daughter. The emotional tension got me good and keyed up for the supernatural bits. I love this direction in horror just as much as the cheesy Freddy stuff I crow about in this blog. However, I feel movies like this will have a more lasting emotional impact.

The Outing (aka The Lamp) (1987)

October 31, 2018

My first impulse is to think of museums as great, comforting places. I prize knowledge so much that I find it hard to separate that love from the actual locations where it is stored. I spent a lot of time in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in Manhattan when I lived in New York City. I loved seeing the artwork up close. When I went to England and France with my mother in my teens, we went to the Louvre, the Tate, and the Musee d’Orsay and I loved seeing the artwork so close. However, I also think of being in those museums and them triggering my social anxiety. Anytime I was looking at an exhibit and people would walk up, my inner anxiety would speak up. “Am I in their way? Do they want to be alone? Do I look like a weirdo?” I also remember going to a dinosaur museum down in South Carolina as a kid. I remember being terrified because they had the dinosaurs moving and making sounds. I have a vivid imagination and as a kid that made certain places scary or intimidating. A T. Rex skeleton became daunting, a stuffed rattlesnake worried me, and wax figures were especially terrifying. When you are younger, the line between fact and fiction are emotionally blurry even if it is intellectually solid. Even when you are an adult, that line can unexpectedly blur at the most inopportune moments.

I have been in locations after they have closed. It is pretty creepy. I used to work in a regional theater in New Jersey, doing lights, sound, and props. It was a small staff so I often was left to my own devices to work alone in the building. This building was an ancient theater that had been converted to a senior center and then back into a theater. Being alone in the dark in one of those places is very different from being alone in the dark at home. At home, there are windows so you are never truly in the dark. In that old theater, when the lights are out, it was completely and utterly dark to the point where I could not see my hand in front of my face. A lot of commercial spaces have very little natural light and are isolated from the noise and atmosphere of the outside world. I can imagine a museum being totally creepy in the dark after closing. Unlike a theater, there are humanoid figures waiting in that darkness to spook you. I remember the theater had an old cardboard cutout of James Dean which would scare the hell out of me in the low light. I always thought it was somebody waiting for me in the darkness. Like I said above, that line between reality and fiction can unexpectedly blur at the worst times.

The first thing I noticed is the excellent lighting in the movie. Maybe it comes from being a low budget eighties horror movie but there are a ton of shadows everywhere like a haunted house. It makes for a good atmosphere right from the start. The gore effects are pretty good. They use that good old-fashioned Karo syrup blood that looks gunky and goopy and creepy. The digital effects are almost laughable but sometimes I like a good horror movie with cheesy effects. The practical effects are way better and pretty exciting. There are plenty of explosions, smoke, and fire to make things exciting when they need to be exciting. This really is not a creature feature so we get to see a lot of props moving on their own and they did a great job with that. They also have a lot of creepy things to work within a museum that are all really fun.

The acting is not the best but I did not put on this movie expecting much. The main character is played by Andra St. Ivanyi in her only film role. Nothing is subtle about her character and she is over the top long before anything supernatural happens. Her father, a curator, is played by James Huston and is a somewhat bumbling but solid single father. She has a lot of instantly annoying friends who are just the types that cheap horror movies are filled with so you do not feel as bad when the deaths start. Also, they went hard on one of the villains to make him unlikable (including freely using the N-word while white). Deborah Winters plays one of the few likable members of the cast, a teacher who cares dearly for her students. She is also probably the best actor in the movie. Giving her a run for her money is the museum archaeologist played by Danny Daniels with a lot of gravity but also a lot of jovial charm.

Overall, I liked this movie well enough. My only problem with it is that the build is so long that the actual horror movie part feels a bit rushed nearer the end. Of course, it really is a heck of a set up so it is hard to complain too much. This movie is not very psychological like the other selections this year but it has a classic horror movie formula of setting up a bunch of victims and then knocking them down. Kicking back with a classically bad horror movie can be just as good as enjoying a finely crafted one so I do not regret this at all, especially since I have had a copy of it for over a year.  Also, I have no idea why this is called “The Outing”.

Veronica (2018)

October 29, 2018

I have never used a Ouija board or attended a seance mostly because I do not believe that one can talk to the dead. One of my guideposts earlier in my life was Houdini or perhaps it was just his legend that inspired me. When he first started out as a magician, his mentor was a man named Jean Eugene Robert-Houdin but when he found out the man was a fraud, he was disillusioned. Perhaps this experience caused him to rail against those who exploited people using belief in the supernatural. When he was dying (on October 31) he made a deal with his wife. He would once and for all disprove all of the mediums in the world, past, present, and future. Every year on the anniversary of his death she would hold a seance and he would try like heck to talk to her from the other side. If she never heard from him, she would know it was not possible. It was because of this and other subsequent studies and writings that I came to accept that seances (and therefore Ouija boards) will never work.

However, this is Halloween and we do not deal in reality during this holiday. Halloween has never been about exploring what is real, it is about exploring things from beyond life, death, and our universe. Though it may just be speculation, letting go and playing pretend can be fun and can help us examine the human condition. When we all put on costumes, hand out candy, watch movies, and other forms of celebration, we enter the realm of the fictional. Twice now I have talked about that barrier between life and death. That barrier is absolute even in fiction. On one side you are alive, on the other side, you are dead. However, what else could be trapped beyond this barrier? In supernatural settings that list is long. That thought is explored in The Void. Demons, Great Old Ones, Ghosts, the Undead, and all sorts of more obscure things. In movie after movie characters are warned to stay away from that barrier but nobody seems to listen. In movies like The Void, Re-Animator, and Beyond the Gates the protagonists or antagonists seek to reach beyond and everybody suffers.

The first thing I noticed was the good acting in this one. In movies about subtle things such as ghosts or possession, the acting has to be on point. The acting from the title character (played by Sandra Escacena). She is a normal teenage girl except that she has to act like a mother to her three younger siblings. Her physical acting is so good when she is being affected by the supernatural, sort of like the acting in the Exorcist. I really cannot say enough good things about her and this was her very first movie. If this movie is any indication, she will continue to do great things. I really liked Consuelo Trujillo who plays a nun at Veronica’s school. She is so interesting and strangely charming. Of course, an important ingredient for a lot of horror movies is creepy kids and kids hardly need any help to be creepy. The three little ones in this movie are top shelf creepy, including the bonus of two of them being twins. The little boy is especially interesting to watch because, despite his goofy grin, he comes off as vaguely creepy for most of the movie.

I love how subtle the effects are in this movie. Some of the best horror movies make you question whether the main character is imagining everything or not. At least, it is great in the early parts, eventually, something has to actually happen. This movie does well in walking that line of subtlety, making sure not to do too much too early. Later, the gore effects are just enough to be creepy without being too much. The movie does a lot of creepy stuff with simple shadows which I really enjoyed. Shadows and silhouettes are great tools for horror and I have rarely seen them used so well. The movie leaves a lot to the imagination which I appreciate because that makes things way scarier. The camera effects also really caught my eye in places, making things creepier. The camera moves in unnatural directions sometimes or moves with the characters in ways that are not the same as conventional filmmaking. You are usually not supposed to notice the camera but the director made sure to bring attention to it but sometimes doing so can be used to unnerve the viewer.

Overall, I really liked the movie. It was not my favorite horror movie but it was definitely a really strong movie to watch near the end. I had been saving it because it had been hyped up earlier this year as being super scary. I feel like it did not live up to the hype but that is alright. It was definitely a good movie and it was strong enough to pass the language barrier. (The movie is in Spanish and is set in Spain). I am always a bit wary about these “based on a true story” horror movies because that is so much BS but this one told a story in such a way that elements of it could be true.

Prom Night (1980)

October 26, 2018

My prom was rather uneventful. I skipped my Junior Prom, completely uninterested in the event and my friends did not seem too gung-ho about it either. While the richer kids were looking at the options for limos, dresses, and tuxes, I was excited to do just about anything else. I honestly do not remember what I did instead of going to Junior Prom and I know for a fact that nobody asked where I was the following Monday. I was already the weird theater kid who would have probably gone full goth if he did not have social anxiety. The following year, the Senior version of Prom approached and I was similarly nonplussed. Some of my friends were bringing dates but I had nobody and I had zero desire to ask anybody. I also had zero interest in going without a date. I just did not understand the appeal. I was working backstage at a show downtown at the time anyway so I had an excuse to get out of it. However, my mother pushed me to go anyway and so I went to the venue about thirty minutes before the scheduled end time. I really only agreed to attend because there was a tour of the cemetery where Poe was buried but when I arrived, the tours had been canceled. So I left.

Obviously, from what is written above, one could infer that I was alienated from my fellow students in high school. That is really how I felt. I felt that people I went to school with could care less if I lived or died and forgot me as soon as I was no longer in their field of vision. Looking back, I know that I decided this because it was a defense mechanism because of my social anxiety. If I wrote people off so I did not have to risk myself or put myself out there while I was in an extremely vulnerable time in my life. I had really good friends, two best friends at that time actually, but I was not as plugged into the social scene. I spent a lot of time with headphones on, scribbling in composition notebooks with bad poetry, story ideas, video game plots, short plays, short stories, and even song lyrics. It was during this period that I really embraced writing, something I still really love. In my memory, I shut myself off and just tried to survive. However, I went to reunions later and realized that people did remember me and remembered me fondly. They cared about what I was doing and who I am now. So, a lot of it was in my head and I have found that is a common experience in high school.

The first thing I noticed (as a former sound designer and technician), is the excellent sound in the movie. Older movies had fewer options when it came to special effects but they definitely could apply cool effects to audio. Over and over it is a part of older horror movies I have reviewed here like The Innocents, The Abominable Dr. Phibes, and The Hills Have Eyes. This movie is no different. The simple string music and the deep, rich sounds, and the proper use of echo sounds are so important to making this movie scary. Of course, this is also a disco movie but that is to be expected for a school dance movie in the early eighties. The pacing of this movie is also really good. There is a slow build to the movie that is instrumental to the tension of the movie. The movie has a slow burn that does well with ratcheting up the tension so that the viewer is good and ready for the chaos to begin. It also lets us get to know all of the players really well so that we will empathize with them as much as possible.

I would be remiss if I did not mention the cast in this one, especially considering a new release in theaters right now (Oct. 2018). The movie stars Jamie Lee Curtis, two years after Halloween so she is a little more mature and she has a few more movies under her belt. This was during the time she was gaining her title of Scream Queen (three horror movies in 1980 alone!). There is a reason that she is so celebrated. She is a great actress and she was really proving herself in this movie. Her father (and the principal) is played by Leslie Nielsen, who people forget can play a good straight man in non-comedic movies. George Touliatos plays the police lieutenant who is trying to track the killer, a very serious and haunted man. His scenes are very psychological as he is consumed by the responsibility of keeping the community safe. There are plenty of other teenage victims, the point of most slasher movies and it is interesting to see them interact in high school before the big dance. It creates a lot of intrigue, laying plenty of red herrings so it is harder to figure out who the killer is.

Overall, I really liked this movie. It came out the same year as Friday the 13th and is similar but I feel like it is way more artistic and fleshed out. Despite having Jamie Lee Curtis in it, it failed to be as big a hit even though I feel like it is the better of the two. Coming from me, that is high praise. The movie is more complex than many horror movies of its day (and later) in that it explores the victims and the killer and the situation in depth before really plunging into the real horror. I went in expecting this to be goofy but it had way more thought and heart than I thought it would.

Media Update 10/25/18

October 25, 2018


Haunting of Hill House (2018)

For those familiar with the original Shirley Jackson novel, this show is an adaptation but not a direct one. It shares plenty of plot elements but is constructed differently but no less interesting. The show follows a family who once lived in “the most haunted house in America” in order to flip it and sell it. To be fair, when they move in it has not yet widely known to be haunted. There is a father, a mother, Three daughters, and two sons. The show uses non-linear storytelling to jump from the past to the present to show the family’s journey. You get to see important events in the kids past and then you see the effects those events had in the present. You get to see the psychological effect that trauma has on a family in the short term and the long term. The editing of this is brilliant as sometimes a kid will open a door and step through and suddenly they are an adult in an entirely different place. We see a lot of parallels between the past and the present and get these great character studies of who these people were, who they are, and why they are who they became. The acting is really good as they really made me believe that the young versions and the older versions were the same people. There are also ghosts but they are almost secondary to the exploration of the family. I recommend it as it is not very scary but definitely intensely interesting.


Curious Creations of Christine McConnell

I have never really been a fan of “craft shows” as I remember seeing a bit of Martha Stewart as a kid and rolling my eyes at it. I need an actual story to keep interested. Later in life, I watched a lot of Discovery Channel when it used to be interesting to me and I would zone out and watch How It’s Made. When I saw this show pop up on Netflix, I dismissed it initially. However, people I trust on twitter started to praise the show and I decided to look into it. The show follows Christine McConnell making Halloween-inspired crafts and foods step by step. While that part did not really interest me (except for the Halloween part) I found out that the show teamed McConnell (an Instagram star? Do they have shows on Instagram?) with Brian Henson. McConnell’s character is a woman who lives in a spooky house with a bunch of monsters played by puppets. These puppets provide a lot of the humor and plot of the show which Christine plays off of and also gives Christine a reason to make random things. I absolutely fell in love with the offbeat humor in the show and the puppetry is really enjoyable. Plus, it is kind of fun to zone out a bit during the crafting segments and just watch her create art especially since Christine is very charismatic. The things she makes are way too much work for me but they are pretty to look at. I definitely recommend it especially to my friends who are very crafty and my friends who are very goofy.


Charmed (2018)

I was a pretty big fan of the original Charmed. It was a show that I started watching ironically and pretty soon I started watching it unironically. I really thought the show really picked up in the fourth season with the addition of Rose McGowan to the cast but I enjoyed all of the seasons. It was a show that explored the supernatural with likable characters, comedy, drama, action, and it did not take itself too seriously. This show is definitely a spiritual successor to that. The show reboots the original show and taking a lot of the central parts to it but also making it its own thing. Once again, there are three sisters who must confront the fact that they were born witches. However, this time they are all in college and not in their mid to late twenties. These three girls are playing different characters than the original although they share a few elements of their backstories. However, for the first time on the show, we get a main character who is a person of color and a main character who is gay. I really feel like this show has potential and, unlike others, I do not immediately dismiss reboots. It feels a lot like the original show (which was fun but totally goofy). Obviously, the special effects are better in the new series and I hope it has some staying power. I recommend it as I want people to watch it so it stays on.

Next Week’s Halloween Schedule:

October 29 – Veronica (2017)

A Splash of Djinn
October 31 – The Outing (1987)
October 31 – Under the Shadow (2016)

November 1 – Media Update – Halloween Hangover

 

Halloween Music of the Week:
Ghost – Dance Macabre

Concrete Blonde – Bloodletting

Lola Blanc – The Magic

Mai Lan – Vampire

Powerwolf – Night Of The Werewolves

 

Weekly Update:
– This week’s theme is “Halloween Television”
– I watched more Gotham Season 4
– I finished The Good Place Season 2
– I watched more American Vandal Season 1
– I watched more Glitter Force Doki Doki Season 2
– I watched more Once Upon a Time Season 7
– I started watching Daredevil Season 3


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Damyanti Biswas is an author, blogger, animal-lover, spiritualist. Her work is represented by Ed Wilson from the Johnson & Alcock agency. When not pottering about with her plants or her aquariums, you can find her nose deep in a book, or baking up a storm.

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