What I'm Watching: Love+Death+Robots S3

Previously, S1 part 1, S1 part 2, S2.

Short season this time. No spoilers?

  • Very Pulse of the Machine: Beautiful, adapted from a fine story by Michael Swanwick, which you should read everything he writes, especially Vacuum Flowers. ★★★★★
  • Mini-Dead: Horrific subject run at high speed and tilt-shift makes it adorable. ★★★★½
  • Mason's Rats: Mercilessly bloody, esp if you have any sympathy for rats. I do not, but some kind of accommodation with the enemy must be made. Neal Asher story. ★★★★½
  • Kill Piss Kill: Call of Duty garbage that starts with an asshole pissing at the camera and gets worse. Didn't finish, hate it, everyone involved should be composted. ☆☆☆☆☆
  • In Vaulted Halls Entombed: Call of Duty vs bugs & Cthulhu. Writing's a little better than the shit medium deserves. Alan Baxter, who no shit calls himself "Warrior Scribe", "The Lord of Weird Australia". Wanker, but not the worst modern Mythos story. ★★★☆☆
  • Jibaro: Mount & Blade battle between a jewelled Siren and a bunch of knights… but one is deaf. And you want what you can't control. Excellent illustration of D&D encumbrance penalties. Very pretty. Written/directed by Alberto Mielgo. ★★★★☆
  • Swarm: The Bruce Sterling story! Kind of overly gross, dark, uncanny valley graphics, but the aliens look great, the Nest is nearly complex enough to be the Swarm. Doesn't flinch from the story ending. ★★★★½
  • Bad Travelling: Neal Asher again. Sailors deal with a bad case of crabs. Good story, CGI looks potato-y like the old videogame Summoner, characters except the navigator are moral & personality voids. It's the 3rd of 3 short stories in the Jable Sharks world, but only one adapted. ★★★★☆
  • Three Robots: Exit Strategies: Scalzi tries to be politically correct. He will be first to be killed and eaten after the apocalypse, as we all hate smug jerkoffs. I almost appreciate this one for letting my contempt for Scalzi reach a new low. ☆☆☆☆☆

This season there's not a single female writer, 2 directors are women, but one is of that CoD shit, earns a demerit to the female side.

What I'm Reading: William Hope Hogson's The House on the Borderland

Cited by H.P. Lovecraft as one of his major influences, this was written in 1908, Hogson was a failed sailor, physical fitness enthusiast, failed poet, and writer at which he had some success, mostly with his later Carnacki stories. This and The Night Land are the two most directly applicable to weird tales and fantasy/horror gaming; I read both of these last back in the '80s, don't remember TNL as being anything deep, this one I remembered as a weird tale worth rereading.

Hey, this is all spoiler. Read the book, I think it's fantastic, but flawed, and I can't talk about that without spoilers.

From the Manuscript discovered in 1877 by Messrs. Tonnison and Berreggnog in the Ruins that lie to the south of the Village of Kraighten, in the west of Ireland. Set out here, with Notes.

The Framing Device: Two young men on a camping vacation in Ireland find a ruin around an endless pit, and an old manuscript diary, which they read. At the end, they question the local guide and find out some of the events of the manuscript match an old-timer's story. Woo-ee-oo. I'm glad the "let me tell you a story someone else told" device went away, it was also used in A Princess of Mars and far too many of H.P. Lovecraft's stories, where a story by the protagonist is more immediate.

The Recluse: An old man (name never given) lives alone. Almost. His sister Mary who has nearly no dialogue, no purpose except to explain how a man can live without having to cook for himself. And a dog, Pepper, who is the hero of the story, not quite an impossibly smart TV show dog (a half-century before Lassie will be invented). He comes to remote Ireland to buy a shunned house where he can have peace and quiet to write. This largely seems to consist of him sitting in his den reading all day, with dog by his feet, which is a fine lifestyle I engage in myself.

The Monsters: Investigating the OTHER vast endless pit at the far end of the gardens, monsters come up. Hero dog and old man flee back to the house, a siege fit for any monster/zombie flick ensues, including a few cunning tricks by the monsters and the Recluse. This entire initial section is basically enough for any other novel; it is perhaps a little fast at introducing and dealing with the monsters and attacks, but happily he's not some tedious typical paid-by-the-word Victorian writer. Almost too much so, it reads like any modern action-horror book, 30 years before Lovecraft or Howard got to this point in their writing.

The Visions: Mary denies knowing anything of the weird. I'm not sure how to take that. Was she driven mad by the monsters? Is the Recluse crazy? … Maybe? Next is a long out-of-body experience of seeing the universe. We find out just how important the House is, if not why. The Recluse learns more of the Pit, and exploration starts off very D&D-like, arming up and carrying a stack of candles, and then goes completely off from expectations. Another vision begins, which has horrific consequences.

The Love: Here's what I don't understand. He's seen, essentially, a faerie queen, or a ghost, and fallen for her, and cannot stay with her. The sections about her are almost incidental, and yet drive his later behavior. If she'd been inserted at the start of the visions, even driving them along, she'd make more sense. If there was any way for him to reach the Sea of Sleep, or her to reach out, that'd tie her into the story. As it is, it's just a weird "and also ghost lady".

Again Visions: Time passing and the ultimate fate of the Earth and Sun, and a reunion of planets and the House in an arena at the end of time. Which may be taken to mean the titans are playing games with mortals, the arena house is a reflection of the real house, like we may use miniatures and models to represent a game. And then back in the present, everything is lost, a final confrontation, which no heroic dog or old man can stop; if the things beyond this reality want to strike you down, they will.

The visions are hard to read. It's often not clear what's acting on what, which planet or sun is being seen at any time. The overall flow works, but the details are unfinished. Would they even make sense if they were more coherent? The Love's role is unclear, and a man just enamored of a faerie lady isn't fitting with the vast cosmic scope of the visions, or the fairly earthy monsters.

★★★★½ - must-read, but half is too weird to understand.

Also, the poem at the start, is "Shoon of the Dead". I'm sure Shaun of the Dead is named for Romero's Dawn of the Dead, but it's odd.

What I'm Watching: Severance

Well, it's on TV+ which normally I treat like a sub-Disney® quality back-alley shithole gutter of the most boring shows ever conceived by AI to lull Humans into submission before mulching the species (that popular one? That's the one I mean.), but Severance seems fun! Very Office Space, and The Office, and Better Off Ted, crossed with Paycheck (best Baffleck movie; mediocre PK Dick adaptation; worst John Woo), but even more brain fucking and crying. Also some of the Stargate SG-1 episode "Beneath the Surface".

A woman (Britt Lower) wakes up in a windowless underground office, doesn't know who she is. A man (Adam Scott, very punchable face but I'm not sure where I've seen him before) cries and then goes to work and is chipper and kind of pointless. The office job is pointless, maybe relentlessly stupid. Maybe it'll make more sense later? Their outside lives are frankly not that good for the kind of pay you'd expect to get for taking this job.

The office maze is driving me a little crazy. I'm pretty sure it's just a grid. They walk & talk right, right, right, left and are somehow in a different corridor. But they all look the same. The "break room" and "wellness room" are just like the "break pods" at one corp job I had, where it was almost literally a punishment to be sent there if you were having a rough time of it.

The office procedures are repetitive nonsense. The coffee is Rwandan. Literally blood coffee.

The biggest irony of this show is that it looks and acts like Apple already does. If Timmy Apple could do this to people, he absolutely would. Forcibly. With drill holes in the skull. He's already threatening people with their jobs or coming into the UFO-shaped office to catch plague, what's a little endless torture in a fluorescent-lit Hell? How did this get past their own self-awareness and PR?

Also doesn't help that they're promoting in pre-roll fucking ads wecrashed, a documentary about WeWork's cult, rise, and fall, which looks excessively like Severance. This isn't really an SF show, it's just how corporate workplaces already are. The cyberpunk dystopia of my yout' is here.

I'm not a fan of the episode length, nearly an hour. Half inside, half outside; but at least so far the inside is fun, light, gets to the point and tells the story, while the outside is long meandering talks with people that drag on for an endless eternity with maybe a minute of plot. I'm going nuts sitting thru this junk. Half length, and it'd be twice as good, as I often say about these bloated streaming waste-of-hours. I don't get it; there's no advertising, so why make it take forever?

TV+ continues to be the absolute worst app in a long cycle of shitty apps from Apple. I select the show in the main TV+ window, but can't see the title of each ep. Guess the next one's the first unlabelled video blob? Then it opens a player window. Of course you can't even screenshot, I have to use my iPhone camera if I want to take notes or something (like the weirdo keyboard, or the partial floor map). I'm surprised Apple hasn't embedded a "don't take pictures of this" signal in the show. Yet. Just wait until they issue Eyes with content filters.

★★★★☆ so far, aside from the pain in the ass of watching it on TV+.

What I'm Watching: Post Mortem: No One Dies in Skarnes

Oh, Netflix. There was a long dry spell of Grim Scandinavian Crime Dramas after the last Bordertown, and Deadwind S2 was aimless without a main plot (tho still amusing mostly). But now they have Post Mortem: No One Dies in Skarnes (there's like 3 other Post Mortems in the last couple years). Also technically horror, but mostly comedy.

A young woman Live (pr. "Leeva", Kathrine Thorborg Johansen) is found dead in a field… mostly dead. Not all that dead. Her brother Odd (Elias Holmen Sørensen being a Norwegian Zach Galifianakis, just hilariously incompetent) and father run the small town's only mortuary. And then she starts to have problems with a need for blood.

Odd is soon in charge of the mortuary, and struggles desperately to keep it open. Live's murderous instincts should be a nice windfall… Instead she just gets wannabe cop/boyfriend Reinert (André Sørum) tangled up in it, and hapless Odd nearly bankrupted a couple times.

It's shot like a horror story or drama, but everyone is so foolish and slapstick it never manages to not be comedy (very morbid, hope you don't mind blood & dead bodies). Some of the eps drag or cycle over the same ground a bit; hopefully if they get more seasons they tighten the plot up more. But just a charming little show.

★★★★½

What I'm Watching: Fear Street

So, I'd heard enough chatter about Fear Street to wtach it. New slasher flicks are rare enough. What I didn't realize is these are based on R.L.Stine books, which I have never read (obviously). So for the first two movies, 1994 and 1978, I was baffled. Are these comedy horror? There's almost no jokes; only in the end of the third film does it get funny. But there's barely anything more than a few jump scares and bad fake blood in dark sets. While there's some borderline teenage sex and drugs, it's PG-13 even if it says "R".

The first one's not bad at 1994 period, but I assure you Nine Inch Nails was not played on mall PAs, and the black girl dating a very generic-brand white cheerleader would not have passed without comment in the time, nor would Nurse Betty (who I'll note is a straight man playing a gay crossdresser/transwoman like Klinger, because there were apparently no gay/trans actors to take the role? This ought to be as taboo as putting honkies in blackface). If you're gonna do period, you might at least milk the period's tail-end racism and homophobia for some drama.

The unstoppable killers each have some unique character, but we never really find out much about several of them, and I'd much rather hear that. Long flashbacks to why they were chosen and what they did; instead we get a few quick-cut repeats of the same crimes. Everyone's dumb in this. There's one gross-out kill that actually startled me, telegraphed for like a minute and I still didn't think they'd do it. But otherwise it's the dullest, dumbest thing I've seen, there's a half-assed explanation for the killers, a story about a witch which is driven into the ground so hard that it's obviously bait.

After credits and at the start of each segment, there's a tediously long spoiler and recap, as if they weren't meant to come out at the same time. According to wiki, they started development in 2015, wrapped shooting in 2019(!), and then it took until this month to release them.

The summer camp story in 1978 is much better, focusing on "Ziggy" the tomboy redhead, her square sister, a punk rock girl, stoner dude, and about 30 absolutely indistinguishable honkie automaton clones blundering about. The problem is one of those is the killer, and another is… another problem… and I couldn't pick them out of a lineup. But Ziggy and punk rock girl are pretty tough, the party sticks together until they stupidly split up and then terrible things happen, but we get another different bullshit explanation for the killers.

Third film is two films. 1666 fills in the Pilgrim Times theme park setting, but does the American Horror Story hack trick of reusing actors from the present as their ancestors, except Deena inexplicably plays someone who won't have any descendants, least of all her. This is not The VVitch. This is tedious RenFaire play-acting with pig shit, co-ed dances in the woods, and an old wise woman with a copy of the Necronomicon. OH NO don't read from the scary magic book, not-Deena, we don't know what the consequences are. Then it's back to reenacting Salem but with actual black magic so someone really did need to be hung & burned.

The final half, the comedy writers finally got their turn, and it becomes goofing off in a mall lit with blacklights, shooting super-soakers at killers, a lot of Scooby Doo hijinks, and an ending that doesn't really make sense, permanently stop the killers, or provide any closure. But everyone who lives gets a cameo so that's nice.

There's a couple moments where R.L.Stine's books are used as props in the show, and not respectfully. Stephen King is mentioned much more seriously.

These aren't even as good as the worst Friday the 13th movies, let alone any actual horror movie, but I was amused enough to stay awake thru three movies. If you're normally scared of horror movies, these are like tiny baby stories which won't upset you much.

★★½☆☆

What I'm Watching: Manifest

Just started, dunno how long. They did 3 seasons and cancelled, so now I know I can actually watch the whole thing without 'flix cancelling it on me.

Watched first two eps. Plane flight from Jamaica to NYC vanishes, lands 5.5 years later without time passing inside, nobody mentions Langoliers. They start having auditory hallucinations which lead to saving lives or solving crimes or standing outside at night to stare at a plane, some of them think it's God, others are relentlessly sane. Again nobody bothers to mention Stephen King. The government investigates them. Nobody mentions The Shop, from multiple Stephen King books about traumatized, time-lost psychics investigated by the government like say The Dead Zone or Firestarter.

The writing's nowhere near Stephen King level, but the family dramas are all tightly interconnected, the rather obvious bad guys are rather obvious, it's an enjoyable enough popcorn show ripoff of his books. I could do with less "God" from the stupid, life-disaster NYPD lady who's often the protagonist.

I'm tagging this "horror" but that's really not accurate. They don't have the balls to show anything dark and terrible, this aired on NBC for weak-spined old people who don't have streaming, so a young man in prison is just beaten up a little, not… The girls in a cage are… cared for off-screen, so you don't have to hear what happened. Fake sex is done with lingerie and taffeta sheets, not sweaty people boning just short of real porn. There's a murder… shown only as bloodspatter cut away from the victim.

The amazing world of the future of 2018 from 2013 doesn't seem to phaze anyone, just minor notes that their iPhones don't connect to obsolete 2G towers or long-cancelled phone accounts. Medical research girl's work has gone on without her. Nobody so far has noted that they went from a bright, hopeful America with President Barack Obama, to a war-torn hellhole dystopia under Traitor Tr@mp. If I found out I'd skipped over half of Barry's term and into that shit, I'd be pissed.

★★★½☆

What I'm Watching: Army of the Dead

This is a zombie flick, the most worn-out of genres, by Zack Snyder, the most worn-out edgelord filmmaker of the millennium. And it's vastly, vastly better than I would expect.

The title credits show the rise and fall of Las Vegas zombies with Elvis singing, you think "oh that character's totally surviving"… no mercy. Over the top but not quite into comedy range, tho I did laugh at some of the machine gun scenes.

So now years later, Vegas is walled off, the few surviving heroes are in dead-end jobs, or refugee camps. A fixer (Hiroyuki Sanada) hires ex-hero/fry cook Dave Bautista to gather a heist team to extract wealth from Vegas before the inevitable military solution.

The team's full of fun character actors, from Garrett Dillahunt (Francis from Deadwood, Ty from Justified) as the Carter Burke company man type, to Ella Purnell, one of the girls from Miss Peregrine's. And a lot of the crew are stunt performers. Samantha Win does a great job channelling Vasquez from Aliens, right down to the red bandana, tho there's no Lieutenant Gorman analogue in this.

The gunfights, knife fights, and brawls are quick and bloody, nice honest squibs it looks like in most shots, with a few cartoony but generally blurred-out CGI shots for machine-gun fire melting armies of the dead.

The crawler zombies are slow, dumb, and follow Night of the Living Dead tradition of just being extras in makeup, not too much effort. The ghouls, or "alpha zombies" as they call them, are heavily made up and sometimes CGI'd, especially their bright yellow eyes. There's some interesting zombie ecology/culture built up here, especially Valentine, and the showgirl, and Zeus.

I make a lot of comparisons to Aliens, because this is clearly like 50% Aliens + 25% original Dawn of the Dead + 25% Zack's Dawn of the Dead. Which is fine, Snyder needs a better template than just "dark superheroes brood and kill people", and here he's got one. This is shockingly superior to anything Zack's done since… Sucker Punch?

There's a spinoff TV series already in production, it seems, covering the zombie war, I'm definitely watching that.

★★★★★

What I'm Watching: Love Death Robots S2

Previously, part 1 and part 2.

A short set of S2, maybe not trying to flood us like S1 did. I will note, S1 had very little diversity; a couple girl MilSF authors, and the worst story of last season was by a woman who writes vamp-fucker books. S2 has zero, 0, none, not a fig: It is all white male honkie dudes. Probably all straight. A couple are English, Dutch, kinda imperialist. Look, I'm not saying "you can't use stories by honkie males", some honkie males are my friends and I pass for one, but I am saying in every video, they're fucking all honkie males?! I'm very disappointed in you, Netflix.

Anyway, the shorts:

  • Automated Customer Service, by John Scalzi: Too obviously a Scalzi piece, so it's trying to be super funny but instead at best gets a snicker or chortle, and then has a terrible ending because Scalzi can't write his way in or out of a plot. Accurately captures how I think Judgement Day will go: Stupid consumer electronics and overzealous marketing AI start terminating all the Humans. I dislike the weird stretchy big-head geriatric Humans, and the dog has creepy Human teeth which is NOT OK, but the robots are cute so it gets a better rating than the writing deserves. ★★★☆☆

  • Ice, by Rich Larson: short story has a much less kind tone than this video. The premise that you can't genetically engineer someone after birth is just false, a pre-CRISPR/mRNA view. I dislike the art style in this, shadow puppets with minimal detail. ★★★☆☆

  • Pop Squad, by Paolo Bacigalupi: Blatantly ripping off Blade Runner, from the grim cops in black murdering innocents, cars flying up above a grimy city, punching thru clouds to sunlight, Vangelis-lite ripoff music, fake geisha looking entitled rich wench. Zero subtlety or writing, just blunt: "not having kids seems a small price to pay for getting to live forever".

    Done exponentially better in Ad Vitam despite its many flaws; yes, that's 6 hours instead of 15 minutes, but this had more money in it.

    I'd be more impressed with the sets if they were anything but stock "grimy cyberpunk city" and "house inexplicably next to ruins", probably bought directly from the Unity store. Ends with a direct ripoff of the Roy Baty "tears in rain" scene. This is so preachy, obvious, and trite, it's like every trashy non-SF writer's condescending opinion of SF was true. And I fucking hate Blade Runner ripoffs. ★☆☆☆☆

  • Snow in the Desert, by Neal Asher: An old survivor, albino (but incorrectly blue-eyed, not pink; I think an error by the filmmakers, but I don't remember the Asher story well) and full of weird surprises, tries to stay ahead of bounty hunters. Very nice modelling, the desert and scrapyard bartertown are spartan enough you don't really hit uncanny valley, and the not-always-Human people don't look cartoony. Plot's kind of trivial, the reveals aren't surprising if you know anything about Neal's Polity series, but it's all well-done, never stupid. ★★★★½

  • The Tall Grass, by Joe Lansdale: Fantastic oil-paint art style. HP Lovecraft-looking protagonist gets off a train and wanders into the grass. This is a very very dumb idea, but we have the advantage of having seen Children of the Corn. I'm extremely unimpressed by what's out there, the mood is great until they're revealed and then it's just "oh for fuck's sake". Ending is moody again, it's just the whole middle bit that needed a rethink. ★★★½☆

    Notably this is vastly superior to Stephen King & Joe Hill's In the Tall Grass.

  • All Through the House, by Joachim Heijndermans: It's Xmas in May! Brats sneak up on Santa and find out why you should stay in bed and be good. This was just delightful, and doesn't overstay its welcome. Every child should be shown this one, in between Frosty the Snowman and episodes of The Cinnamon Bear. ★★★★★

  • Life Hutch, by Harlan Ellison: So far there hadn't been any dumb Call of Duty videos. Well, here it is. After attempting to murder aliens in space, space murderer crash-lands on a planet, finds an automated survival shelter, and then the systems don't like him much. Which sentiment I share. Possibly unfair. The short story was Harlan's second published, and it fits in an arc of a Human-alien war with a little more question about "why", and the robot isn't self-motivated like in this video. BUT. It's still a dumb piece. ★★☆☆☆

  • The Drowned Giant, by J.G. Ballard: A long, talky, introspective story by Ballard turns into a long, talky voiceover video over a dead giant on the beach. Bored out of my skull by this. Narrator does nothing, learns nothing. Purpose and origin of the giant is unknown. Almost literally anyone else visible in this video would be more interesting to follow. ★☆☆☆☆