Martial arts, slashers, con women and dead musicians: movies viewed

THE HOUSE OF FLYING DAGGERS (2004) was one of those lush martial arts fantasies that got US release in the wake of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Ddragon. Here the protagonists are a blind freedom fighter allied to the title revolutionaries and the government agent infiltrating the Daggers by playing her heroic rescuer, both of whom soon develop stronger feelings than is safe. This is more a tragic romance than the spectacular action movie I remembered, but the action is quite spectacular, such as the fight in the bamboo forest mid film. Well worth rewatching.“You will be more convincing with a dagger in your back.”

As I mentioned yesterday, I caught FRIDAY THE 13th (1980) on a big-screen TV during an outing with TYG. A very young Kevin Bacon is among the camp counselors who learn the legend of Jason, the boy who haunted the woods since his death. Only it’s not a legend and they’re all going to die brutally, aaagh! Can’t say it compares to Halloween or Nightmare on Elm Street.

I wasn’t much impressed by OCEAN’S 8 (2018) either. This spinoff stars Sandra Bullock as The Sister We Didn’t Know Danny Ocean Had (“Are all your family crooks?”), recruiting a team including longtime bud Cate Blanchett, hacker Rihanna, gem cutter Mindy Kaling and fashion designer Helena Bonham Carter to steal a priceless necklace from around the neck of Anne Hathaway and nail the squealer who sent Bullock up the river. Despite the strong cast, this is too generic, lacking either the twists or the character bits to make it click (though I liked it more than Ocean’s 13) — but I suppose at this point it’s like complaining about a Fast and Furious film being formulaic. “Somewhere out there, an eight year old girl is lying in bed, dreaming of becoming a criminal. This is for her.”

COCO (2017) is the charming Pixar story of a Mexican boy determined to follow in the footsteps of a legendary musician despite his family’s opposition. When he stumbles into the netherworld on the Dios de la Muertos, he learns not only the importance of the festival, his departed relatives give him some unexpected revelations about family history. Very good, and I like some of the little touches (Santos and Frida Kahlo among the celebrities of the afterlife). “A minute ago I thought my great-grandfather was a murderer. This is an upgrade!”

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The light at the end of the tunnel was not an oncoming train

It’s what happens when some of the viscous jelly in your eye gets hard and crusty and breaks off.

I noticed flashes in the corner of my eye last weekend, and soon figured out they weren’t reflections of my glasses. Then I got some big floaters drifting across my vision. A quick check online established this is an unremarkable phenomenon, probably due to age, and not a serious issue. Unless, of course, I had an actual torn retina in which case it was an emergency. It didn’t seem extreme enough (I was referencing an eye doctor website so I was confident it was accurate) so I called my doctor Monday and went in for an eye appt. on Tuesday. Happily I was right, nothing serious, though the floaters are distracting (the flashes have faded away).

That took a chunk out of my week, Screen Rant took a bite more. The one I started on last week proved undoable for various reasons, but I spent about three hours on it before giving up. Tuesday I picked up a new one, 20 Things About Winter Soldier That Make No Sense (Jack Kirby’s cover gives us a look back when he was just Bucky, of course). As yet, it’s not up, though I submitted it this afternoon. It took more time than I wanted — upping the minimum from 15 to 20 adds quite a bit more work, both in searching for entries and writing. It may be more than I have the time to keep doing — it’s fun, but this might have to be my last. I’ll give it some thought.

While Bucky Barnes took up a chunk of time, I did continue work on Southern Discomfort and the Undead Sexist Cliches book. I’ve made my wordage on both for the month, but I’ll put in more time on SD next week. I started work revising No One Can Slay Her, though I didn’t get far. I’ll put in time on that next week, plus (hopefully) rewriting Only the Lonely Can Slay.

Oh, and I got a Createspace copy of Atoms for Peace and began proofing. Cover by zakarianada on Fiverr, rights to it are now mine. Going to take more work than I thought, but that just proves I made a good call getting the copy.

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Sic transit gloria Jason Vorhees

So last weekend, TYG and I were out with some college friends of her, and some undergraduates from the same frat. We wound up in a bar where the undergrads were playing Candyland while watching Friday the 13th on a big-screen TV. Which is an amusing image, but not the point of this post. To wit, that none of them had heard of the film.

It’s another example of how different generations have different cultural experiences. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a Friday the 13th film in its entirety, but I still know they’re about Jason Voorhees, the guy in the hockey mask who slashes people to death. The films were everywhere in the 1980s — eight installments in the series in that decade. TV’s Night Court could make a joke referencing the series and be confident people would get it.

Now, though? The students responses when I identified it (had to use Google) were “Friday the 13th? That’s a movie?” or wondering if it was the one with Freddie Krueger. But why would they remember it? There was one series film in the 1990s, one in 2001, Freddy vs. Jason in 2003 and then the 2009 reboot. It’s their dads’ horror franchise.

I won’t shed any tears if the series vanishes into the memory hole, but I hate it when stuff like this makes me feel old.

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Creating a world we’d want to live in

Back when I was at Mysticon in February I talked to one of the attendees who said he didn’t care for Game of Thrones (I don’t either). He commented that the world of GoT was a horrible place, a world he wouldn’t want to live in. Then he added that nobody seems to create worlds we’d want to live in any more. I don’t think I agree on that last part, though he does have a point — there do seem to be more grimdark settings out there than there used to be.

Lots of successful writers are famous for creating worlds we’d love to visit. For many modern readers, part of the appeal of Sherlock Holmes is the Victorian setting, with hansom cabs, gas lighting, railways and old-fashioned manners. Wonderland, Oz, Middle Earth and Narnia have enchanted millions of readers. Conan’s Hyborian place looks like it would be great to live in, at least if you were a rogue such as Conan (“want to live in” any world usually comes with a clause about “if you had a better life than a scullery maid or a serf.”). Not necessarily safe worlds or consistently happy worlds, but worlds that somehow seem … fun. I’m not sure anyone thinks that about GoT. It’s the difference between a world that looks exciting or entertaining and one where even for the rich and powerful life is nasty, brutish and short.

I think there are still lots of worlds around that look fun to live in. While RS Belcher’s Golgotha is a creepy place, it’s so gloriously bizarre, I must admit I’d love to visit, at least. Whispers Beyond the Veil‘s 19th century tourist town appeals to me too. And there have always been specfic worlds one wouldn’t want to live in — H.G. Well’s dystopias, Lovecraft’s mythos.

For some fans, the problem is politics. Writer Brad Torgerson, for example, has complained that instead of books where the brawny barbarian or the daring space explorer is the hero, specfic has sold out to the social justice warriors and gives us books that are lectures on colonialism, racism or sexism. As noted at the link, I disagree. Naomi Novik’s Temeraire books are rousing adventures, but they’re also about colonialism and the way England exploits its dragons as beasts rather than intelligent creatures. City of Blades is about colonialism and empire but it’s also a great story.

It may reflect that we’re less optimistic about the future than we used to be. One article I read while working on Now and Then We Time Travel found SF films set in the future had become increasingly bleak as we moved from the 1950s to the 1980s. Or consider the limited series Marvels and its sequel tracks the Marvel Universe from the sunny optimism of 1960s superheroing to the bleaker tone of the Bronze Age and the 1980s.

From the writer’s perspective, does it matter if our worlds appeal? Obviously it’s not a deal breaker for readers or Hunger Games wouldn’t be a hit. Even though the resistance overthrows the Capitol and President Snow, it’s not a setting I’d like to be in, even as the hero. It’s still awesome.

But an appealing world can be a selling point. One of my writing group friends told me that she loved the setting of No One Can Slay Her and she hoped I’d do more books set in the same world. That reaction is obviously a good thing.

I think it’s also possible to have a setting that’s neutral. Pharisee County in Southern Discomfort is a pleasant enough place (when not being hit by floods or half-elf killers) but I don’t think of it as one of those small towns readers fall in love with. And that’s okay too.

Like so many other things in writing, it’s a judgment call.

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Is Our Writers Learning? Meddling Kids by Edgar Cantero

What if Scooby Doo and his friends found themselves faced with Lovecraftian horror? That’s the premise of MEDDLING KIDS which meshes the Scooby team with The Case of Charles Dexter Ward.

THE STORY: Thirteen years ago, a group of teen ghostbusters and their dog exposed the latest supernatural threat to Blyton Hills as once again a guy in a monster suit (who sneers he’d have succeeded if not for — well, you know). Only deep down they sense something darker, a knowledge that’s tortured them ever since. Now Nick’s in a mental hospital, Peter’s dead, kid genius Kerri is tending bar and tomboy Andy is ex-military with some open warrants out on her. Andy brings them back together with their dog Sean’s grandson to unearth the final secret of the spooky mansion.


Sometimes it’s better if pastiches aren’t too close. Unlike some Scooby-Doo takeoffs I’ve seen, this doesn’t map them exactly onto the characters. Which isn’t surprising as Cantero originally based them on a British creation by Enid Blyton (hence Blyton Hills), the Famous Five (Andy is very much a grown-up version of tomboy George). When American publishers gave him a blank stare, Cantero put it as “Scooby Doo meets Lovecraft” and closed the deal (Kerri is recognizably a mix of Velma’s brains with Daphne’s looks).

It’s probably stronger for not being too Scooby-Doo.

Sustaining a premise is hard. The early chapters capture the feel of grown-up kid detectives taking on the supernatural. After that … well, the kid detective part faded too much for me. They could as easily have been the kids of King’s It, or any dispirited group of former friends (The Big Supernatural Chill, if you like). That kind of disappointed me.

Omniscient POV is sometimes a mistake. It’s obvious advantage is that it lets Cantero write with more poetry than if he’d gotten into multiple close-up points of view. But I found it really distancing. The characters are going through an emotional wringer — reuniting, working out their past issues, facing unspeakable horrors — but the writing’s so detached I can’t really connect as much as I’d like.

This is a particular problem with the scenes where Nick explains the Lovecraft mythos (or this book’s version). It’s nothing new to me, or I suspect to lots of other readers, so a big chunk of exposition is a minus. It works in HPL’s stories because no matter how many I read, he always infuses his horrors with, well, horror. Here it’s closer to a Wikipedia entry.

By about halfway through I was disengaging. By the end I’d lost almost all interest, I just finished it to see if it improved (no). I’ve actually had more fun with some of the TV show’s The Monsters Are Real seasons such as 13 Ghosts of Scooby Doo and Scooby Doo: Mystery Incorporated.

#SFWApro. Jacket Design: Michael J. Windsor, all rights remain with current holder (as an aside, I wonder if the growing number of professionally published books with covers designed out of public-domain elements means cover artists are another field losing ground to digital technology?).

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She blew the landing: Velvet Vol. 3

After reading two excellent TPBs of Ed Brubaker and Steve Epting’s Velvet I picked up the third volume with some trepidation. The story had been great, but could the creators wrap it up in just five more issues?

Yes. Unfortunately it’s like the wrap-up you get when a TV series is canceled and the show-runner squeeze everything necessary for a finish into one final episode (case in point, S2 of Blind Spot).

At the end of V2, Secret Lives of Dead Men, former ARC-7 agent Velvet Templeton has learned the murder of one ARC agent and the murder frame she’s been placed in are all part of some huge conspiracy that’s infiltrated the agency. She thought the former agent she busted from prison, Damian Lake, would have been locked up before the rot crept in; wrong! In the course of The Man Who Stole the World Velvet travels to Washington and discovers the conspiracy involved exposing President Nixon’s high crimes and misdemeanors to blackmail him (I wasn’t clear whether he refused so they went public, or if they publicized Watergate, then offered to clear him or what).

This is all revealed very fast (though Velvet kidnapping Nixon from the White House bathroom was cool), with one supporting character buying it at Lake’s hands in the process. Velvet tracks Lake back to London where she discovers ARC-7’s director, Manning, is the man behind everything. The reason Lake didn’t kill her too is that Manning sees her as a potential recruit for his cause — take over the world and run it behind the scenes, saving it from the idiots and crooks the rich and powerful put into office to do their bidding.

If we’d worked up to this over a couple more volumes, I think it would have worked. Delivered as one big expository confession? It felt like a desperate rush to tie everything up (Brubaker said in a text page in the original comics that Hollywood’s keeping him too busy to keep up with comics — I’m guessing he thought a rushed finish was better than leaving the story hanging until he could return to it), and it didn’t even manage that. We don’t know Manning’s vision for a new world order. We don’t know why he had Velvet’s husband killed.

The ending has Velvet dispatch Manning. She then shows up in the tropics taking a break but telling someone her profession is making the world a better place. Maybe she’s going to hunt down the rest of Manning’s organization, but with Manning and Lake dead, it’s hard to care about a nebulous Someone. Nor does it grab me if she’s just going to run around fighting evil. So that part fell flat too.

As I’m unlikely to wind up writing comics or TV at this point, this analysis ain’t much use to my own writing, but it’s still instructive to see how a bad ending can undercut a great story.

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“The Party of Ideas” was a slogan, not a statement of fact

As plenty of left-wing bloggers have chronicled, anti-Trump Republicans are floundering to pretend that Trump is the problem. Before him, the Republicans were sensible, reasonable conservatives; once he’s gone, they’ll be so again.

Case in point, right-wing pundit S.E. Cupp proclaims that because of President Shit-Gibbon (she did not use the phrase), the party of ideas is dead: “Liberty, limited government, low taxes, fewer regulations, law and order, family first, national security — from Reagan on, we were the party of ideas, and Democrats were the party of identity politics. … A time traveler from the Reagan era would no longer recognize the Republican Party, but most Republican politicians feel no embarrassment supporting policies they once condemned.”

Apparently it doesn’t occur to Ms. Cupp that “ideas” does not mean “ideas she approves of.” What she calls identity politics is an idea: that minorities, gays and women deserve full equality with straight WASP men, and that we need to change the system to make that happen. Heck, even Trump has ideas. Building the wall, making immigrants self-deport and raising tariffs are bad ideas, but they are ideas. And it’s not like Trump’s actually rejected the old ideas. Limited government? He’s slashed all sorts of regulations. Tax cuts? We got a whopper? Law and order? He consistently supports police against black protesters (as we know, he thinks white supremacists are very fine people). Liberty? Republicans then and now weren’t keen on it for gays, blacks or women.

Cupp complains Trump’s running a massive budget deficit but St. Ronald ended his term with a record budget deficit (and after hiking taxes on the poor. I was one, so I know). George W. Bush ran up an even higher one. Cupp objects to “apologism for the human rights violations of brutal dictators” but Reagan supported the use of death squads in El Salvador and Saddam’s use of poison gas (back when Saddam was our man in the region). Nixon installed the brutal Pinochet regime in Chile (Clinton, Carter and Obama also supported some nasty specimens). Blind presidential worship? Lots of conservatives under W demanded liberals just shut up and obey W, God’s anointed representative on Earth. W’s claims of executive power, like the right to lock up American citizens without charging them or giving them a trial. That’s as extreme as anything Trump’s claimed. And Trump’s hardly the GOP’s only elected racist.

The big difference isn’t so much that the party’s changed direction. It’s that up until now they had the right-wing media (Limbaugh, Coulter and Fox News) and far right “patriot” groups to provide the racist rants and condemn the Democratic party (even milder syndicated columnists like Kathleen Parker were — well, take a look). The politicians didn’t have to do more than dog-whistle occasionally, like Reagan talking about state’s rights near the town where several civil-rights workers were murdered. Trump’s different because he delivers his racism and sexism without polite euphemisms.

I don’t think he’s really changed the base, either. The resentment that straight WASP men aren’t held up as God’s finest creation goes back more than twenty years. It’s intensified after eight years under the Evil Kenyan Usurper and more than a decade of Fox News but it’s not new. As Roy Edroso has pointed out (don’t have the link), the base was never fired up about being the party of ideas, or about low tariffs and shrinking government (they loved Trump’s calls for a more generous social safety net). As far back as Reagan they loved him mocking hippies and feminists, and talking about the strapping black bucks buying T-bone steaks with food stamps while hardworking whites scrimped on cat food.

Cupp might be completely ignorant of history. Or possibly she’s spewing bullshit so that post-Trump (assuming we don’t get Trump II) she can pretend the Republican Party is the party of ideas again. And she’ll blithely ignore all the Trump lackeys and enablers and give them a free pass. Why not? The media are giving Bannon his.

[UPDATE: Cupp, despite opposing Trump, has no qualms posting a profile of a Trump-supporting woman who’s a “well-educated suburban Mom”  … and somehow omitting that she’s an executive on the county Republican Party board]

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My Dr. Strange Screen Rant is out

20 Weird Facts About Dr. Strange’s Body. Like the eye in the middle of his forehead.

Or whether he was Asian in his first appearance.

and the guy who found his body’s greatest weakness is … a bullet!

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Fallen angels, devils, polar explorer and women artists: books read

HUSH, HUSH by Becca Fitzpatrick is a Y/A fantasy about Nephilim that I could not get into. The problem isn’t Fitzpatrick’s writing but the lead being exactly the kind of manipulative bad-boy alpha male I can’t stand — the kind (at least in the portion I read) who gets the female lead to do exactly what he wants even though she can’t stand him (e.g., she doesn’t want to see him outside school but he won’t work on their class project unless she comes to find him at a pool hall). So, not for me, but might be for some of you.

BPRD THE DEVIL YOU KNOW: Messiah by Mike Mignola, Scott Allie and Laurence Campbell kicks off the final story arc for the BPRD very well. It turns out Johann took down the Ogrdu Jahad at the end of Comes the Hour so the worst of the monsters went with it. That still leaves a lot of creatures walking the Earth, and the demon-child Varvara has decided that with Hell overthrown, she’ll build a new infernal region here on Earth. While Kate and Johann are apparently dead, the BPRD crew is back together (Abe, Liz, Fenix and exorcist Ashley), though the organization is decidedly fractured. Looking forward to more.

SCOTT AND AMUNDSEN is Roland Huntford’s myth-busting history contrasting Amundsen, the practical, cautious Polar explorer with Scott, who in defeat and death became far more iconic. Supposedly Scott lost because of his rigid gentlemanly way of doing things; Huntford shows it was more sheer ineptitude: no margin for safety, refusing to use sled dogs (he was lousy managing dogs) and failing to recruit people with the right skill set or develop his own. This goes into more detail about their expeditions than I really wanted to know, and Huntford makes me wonder about his own biases (the only one of Scott’s crew who comes off well is the upperclass one) but still an impressively job.

A CENTURY OF WOMEN CARTOONISTS by underground artist Trina Robbins takes us from the days when Rose O’Neill created the original Kewpies (a surprise to me as I didn’t realize they had a creator) through Brenda Starr, Patsy Walker and Dykes to Watch Out For. Shows, unsurprisingly, that women have been more involved in strips, comics and one-panel gags than they’re often given credit for, and how their work has changed with the times as flappers, adorable moppets, working girls and teen romance shifts in an out of fashion. A fun read, though as it’s eary 1990s, we don’t get anything on the last 25 years.

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Dr. Mabuse and Peter Wimsey: Movies and TV

THE TERROR OF DR. MABUSE (1962) was a remake of Testament of Dr. Mabuse and known under that title as well as Terror of the Mad Doctor; under all the names it’s a pale shadow of the original. Wolfgang Preiss returns as Mabuse #3, now frantically dictating a new Testament of his own. Could he possibly be behind the crime wave sweeping the city? His shrink (Walter Rilla) says no, but in the world of Mabuse, you know how little statements like are worth. A good example of why this is an inferior film is the sequence where a rebellious hood confronts Mabuse in his lair. Instead of facing drowning as in the original, we get a silly sequence involving a hall of mirrors (pretty to look at, but not much of a threat) and then Mabuse spares him for plot reasons. Not without its moments — Mabuse’s wry second-in-command is a hoot (“Here’s money for bus fair.”) — but a poor wannabe compared to Lang. Gert Frobe adds his usual talent in his last role in this series. “This is not a philanthropic institution — corpses are part of our business.”

DR. MABUSE VS. SCOTLAND YARD (1963) is even weaker and not even terribly continuous (the references to Mabuse burning down his lab to destroy his Testament don’t fit the end of Terror) as the devil doctor (Walter Rilla again) now resorts to mind-control rays to accomplish what the original Mabuse did with sheer personal force. Peter van Eyck returns as a rather bland secret agent, aided and abetted by his dotty mother. “It means the control of mankind — a power more effective than any atom bomb.”

When Ian Carmichael first appeared as LORD PETER WIMSEY on TV I found him way too flighty and silly-ass. Rewatching now, I realize he’s a dead-on portrayal of Wimsey in the earliest books, though I’m not sure how well he’d have worked romancing Harriet Vane (this series never got to those books, though a later BBC production did). For the first season they adapted Clouds of Witness, in which Peter tries to clear his brother of murdering their sister’s disgraced lover. It’s a poor choice for an opener as it’s a very stiff mystery, with way too much time spent on Who Was Where When; having actors deliver the lines rather than reading them on the printed page helps, but not enough. I must admit though, Carmichael and the rest of the cast are good and the visuals (like the climactic trial in the House of Lords) are nice. “I did not travel 3,000 miles to pass moral judgment on someone as charming as you.”

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