What I'm Watching: The Endless

The premise for this does not prepare you at all for what is to come, but perhaps the initial quote by H.P.Lovecraft will. On the surface, it's two escaped survivors of a Heaven's Gate-like cult, getting a videotape message and going back to the commune and finding old friends.

Then they see things in the sky and the water, and beyond the totem poles. Then they receive more messages. Then the truth of everything is revealed.

This is maybe the best strange tale I've ever seen as a movie.

The older brother's acting is wooden and fixed in a permanent blank stare and smirk, the younger one's a little better, the other characters are either stoic or insane, or underacting or overacting, but it's the story that drives this.

I don't like the final scene, there's too much closure and that's not what this story's about.

But you must absolutely watch this.

★★★★★

Lovely H.P. Lovecraft Day

Below, one of my favorites to curl up and enjoy; "The Book" fragment elaborates on the first few sections, but the poetic rewrite is more effective:

Fungi from Yuggoth, by H.P. Lovecraft:

I. The Book

The place was dark and dusty and half-lost
In tangles of old alleys near the quays,
Reeking of strange things brought in from the seas,
And with queer curls of fog that west winds tossed.
Small lozenge panes, obscured by smoke and frost,
Just shewed the books, in piles like twisted trees,
Rotting from floor to roof—congeries
Of crumbling elder lore at little cost.

I entered, charmed, and from a cobwebbed heap
Took up the nearest tome and thumbed it through,
Trembling at curious words that seemed to keep
Some secret, monstrous if one only knew.
Then, looking for some seller old in craft,
I could find nothing but a voice that laughed.

II. Pursuit

I held the book beneath my coat, at pains
To hide the thing from sight in such a place;
Hurrying through the ancient harbor lanes
With often-turning head and nervous pace.
Dull, furtive windows in old tottering brick
Peered at me oddly as I hastened by,
And thinking what they sheltered, I grew sick
For a redeeming glimpse of clean blue sky.

No one had seen me take the thing—but still
A blank laugh echoed in my whirling head,
And I could guess what nighted worlds of ill
Lurked in that volume I had coveted.
The way grew strange—the walls alike and madding—
And far behind me, unseen feet were padding.

III. The Key

I do not know what windings in the waste
Of those strange sea-lanes brought me home once more,
But on my porch I trembled, white with haste
To get inside and bolt the heavy door.
I had the book that told the hidden way
Across the void and through the space-hung screens
That hold the undimensioned worlds at bay,
And keep lost aeons to their own demesnes.

At last the key was mine to those vague visions
Of sunset spires and twilight woods that brood
Dim in the gulfs beyond this earth’s precisions,
Lurking as memories of infinitude.
The key was mine, but as I sat there mumbling,
The attic window shook with a faint fumbling.

IV. Recognition

The day had come again, when as a child
I saw—just once—that hollow of old oaks,
Grey with a ground-mist that enfolds and chokes
The slinking shapes which madness has defiled.
It was the same—an herbage rank and wild
Clings round an altar whose carved sign invokes
That Nameless One to whom a thousand smokes
Rose, aeons gone, from unclean towers up-piled.

I saw the body spread on that dank stone,
And knew those things which feasted were not men;
I knew this strange, grey world was not my own,
But Yuggoth, past the starry voids—and then
The body shrieked at me with a dead cry,
And all too late I knew that it was I!

continued

What I'm Watching: Pi

One of my favorite movies, mainly for that Clint Mansell, Orbital, Autechre, Gus Gus, etc. soundtrack. Really should just set up a CRT and VCR, find the videotape, and play it on loop like I did when I was younger (along with Hardware, The Crow, and the Tim Burton Batman movie; don't judge me, I judge myself).

"Life isn't just mathematics, Max."

What I'm Watching: Annihilation

Heart of Darkness with 5 female soldier/scientists, in Roadside Picnic crossed with Chaga, ending in Alien and 2001. I haven't read the books yet, I like some of Vandermeer's stories & anthologies, but the film really does feel like pastiche. Some of that is the director making a "subjective" adaptation.

The characters are wafer-thin, even Lena (Natalie Portman) and husband Kane who are closest to being people. I love Jennifer Jason Leigh from being Allegra Geller in eXistenZ, but as Dr Ventress there's nothing there.

Most of it is walking-in-woods scenes like any no-budget B movie. Possibly the weirdest part is it's supposed to be Florida… But they filmed it in England, and the plants and just the atmosphere are wrong. Which to some extent doesn't matter, since the area's "alien", but it's the wrong thing that's wrong.

The three "monsters" are… fine, really not that weird, the first one is like one of those terrible Jaws-ripoff flicks, the last one is literally just one of those creepy spandex bodysuits after some CGI bullshit. One monster scene is good (the chairs), the rest needed help from a horror director.

I'm disappointed, but none of it was terrible, just mediocre pastiche of better stories and movies. I expect people who aren't well-read think it's amazing.
★★★☆☆

What I'm Watching: Santa Clarita Diet, Frankenstein Chronicles, Expanse

  • Santa Clarita Diet: S1 was a fun but messy set of episodes with no structure, but I like Drew Barrymore, still a very talented and pneumatic girl, and Timothy Olyphant, who gets to do more comedy here which he's better suited to. S2 finally found a plot and upped the brutality and farce of keeping friends, neighbors, coworkers, cops, classmates, other zombies, etc from catching them. But now I'm out of eps until they make more! ★★★★½
  • Frankenstein Chronicles: A London copper chasing a conspiracy of Mary Shelley making real monsters from dead children presumably to resurrect Percy, could be made fun. He visits William Blake, one of my favorite artists and poets, on his deathbed and gets a book of art! But instead he's always sad about his family who died of the syphilis he gave them, unbearably whiny and miserable. And it's the peak of English aristocrats driving the poor into literally shit-gathering ("pure", they called it) and workhouses and then using their corpses, and shot with endless sad-music flashbacks or fantasies of Heaven instead of moving the plot along. Loathesome show, loathesome people, with no gallows humor. I stopped after S1E4 and wish I hadn't started. ★☆☆☆☆
  • Expanse: Watched S1-S2, I like it but the books are better. S3 is still $$$, so I wait on that. Bobby Draper is a very cute Samoan, not as ripped as the books but pretty badass. ★★★★☆

My to-watch list is all but empty, I need suggestions. I have Netflix, Amazon Prime, Crunchyroll, and I'm ill-inclined to pay for another service.

I dunno what's good on Crunchyroll currently. I have a queue that'll never end, but it's all trash I watch while barely paying attention. Since Akashic Record of Bastard Magical Instructor ★★★★½ ended, I've been bored.

Westworld alone isn't worth HBO to me. Maybe when the season's over I'll binge it in one month. Is there anything else good on Hey Beastmaster's On? Last season I ran thru their back library pretty fast. No, I don't watch "Game of War of the Roses for C History Students", except sometimes by fast-forwarding thru all scenes not containing Tyrion or Jon Snow.

I'm desperately lacking a light-hearted murder show. I got in the habit with Dexter, and growing up with Rockford, Columbo, and Murder She Wrote. Death in Paradise has been good for that, ridiculous and formulaic but pretty, and decent puzzle murders. Too much of the English detective, but the French/island cast were great. But I'm out of eps!

Most everything else like that is very English, and I can't stand them. I tried watching Fallet, which would be PERFECT if it didn't have the whinging English cop; Swedes are funnier on their own. There's an Aussie show The Strange Calls, but the protagonist is so whiny and sad I didn't finish S1E1, maybe it gets better?

HP Lovecraft's Xenophobia

It occurs to me after a number of rereads (now up to "Dagon") that Ruthanna and Anne there live a callow, sunlit, happy existence, don't really know much of the world, and have never read a history book. "He was as wrong about humanity as it’s possible to be without actually believing that we’re all sessile pebbles"1: No, he was not.

World War I, which informed most of Lovecraft's despair at Human stupidity and imminent extinction, was then exceeded by World War II in every kind of atrocity, and that was exceeded by the Communist states during the Cold War and beyond. There is no depravity or horror to which Humans will not sink given power and the ability to "other" people. "Kindly, liberal, crippled, New Deal" FDR imprisoned and robbed 120,000 Americans of Japanese ancestry; the Tuskegee syphilis experiment treated Black people as test animals. The KKK was still terrorizing and lynching in the South (still is, if smaller). It's still unsafe to walk or drive or stand around in Starbucks while Black in America. Immigrants and refugees are treated like unwanted vermin in every country. Humans murder each other over minor differences in skin color, birthplace, language, or what name to call some fairy tale god (or for saying it's a fairy tale). No joke, Humans blow up other Humans over cartoons of their prophet. Half of Americans voted for the Cheeto thing that squats and defecates in the White House.

Any notion that Howard's xenophobia is excessive for his time, or even now, is just delusional. He was an asshole about race, and perhaps about gender (very scant evidence, from a time when few male writers wrote women except as objects), but the distinction is that he was more literate and expressive of his bigotry, while the assholes next door just couldn't write about it coherently. If he'd been into politics, he'd have been the William Safire of his time. Somehow he found his way to the weird tale instead.

So when his narrators see the real owners of the Earth, and they're nothing like Humans, of course they flip out. What are Humans going to do when confronted with fish-frog-humanoid things, unspeaking but greater in intelligence, ancient and undying, worshipping gods (or godlike aliens) who provide true power? As in "Shadow over Innsmouth", bombing the Devil's Reef is a minimum possible freak-out. Somehow they pull back from provoking a full-out war with billions of living demigods, and the Deep Ones (being our moral superiors) are uninterested in great conquests of the land.

Howard does have characters who don't flip out at the alien, like the narrator and some other abductees in "Shadow Out of Time", but then when he's confronted with the truth of our imminent doom, he loses it.

I am extremely pessimistic about First Contact, and I expect that true AI will end very very badly for Humanity. Nobody's going to show up and say "You're totally ready to join the Federation of Nice Planets!"; we'll either meet Conquistadors, exterminators, or if we get to a lower-tech species first, victims. Ideally, alien contact would unify Humanity, but more likely every group will seek their own advantage and agenda.

As for the reread, I'm switching to publication order, then see if they or someone else has any commentary for a story. I've previously read some of ST Joshi's annotated books, but his apologies and delusions are just as annoying.

What I'm Watching: Get Out, Atomic Blonde

  • Get Out: '60s-'70s horror movies could start with a girl walking alone in risk of being murdered, because it was the Golden Age of Serial Killers; now post-Trayvon you feel just as tense for a black guy walking in fucking suburbia, or at a roadside police stop, or at a white country house, just as justifiably.
    The "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner" parents and sibling are spine-crawlingly uncomfortable. The black servants are weird as hell. Even if there was nothing scary going on, this is one of the most socially terrifying things ever.
    And when someone screams at you "GET OUT", you get the fuck out.
    ★★★★★

  • Atomic Blonde: Based on the graphic novel "The Coldest City". MTV-era music, good period props & sets. But the 21st C cancer of teal-and-orange film tinting part 2 is hideous and grossly offensive to my '80s-era eyes. Occasionally a shot is in period hot blue and pink neon, or a weird gel like green & yellow, but not enough. '80s colors POPPED.
    Charlize is a competent ass-kicker in the dancer-doing-fight-choreography style, not talkative or an especially convincing actress, her clipped South African accent can't pass for English or anything but maybe Dutch or German. But this doesn't require much more than action. Chick version of Arnie.
    The lesbian sex is perfunctory, unattractive, and uncommented on; that's not plausible for anyone in that era, who would've used it as lethal leverage against a spy.
    The McGuffin of a list, the spy plot barely matters. It's a bunch of cool scenes. The two fake ending scenes after the interrogation room are so brain-damaged stupid and unnecessary I have to assume they were written by Hollywood producers (who never had a bowl of soup they wouldn't "improve" by pissing in it), not the original writer.
    ★★★½☆ mostly because the tinting so offended me.

Nightmares of the Only Human

I just had this dream/nightmare, so now I'm telling you so you can be scared.

I was one of the only Humans ever abducted and brought to live in alien society, mostly in space stations. I was getting along as a PI/thug for hire since Humans are more casually violent than aliens, who are mostly small and peaceful. Their infosystems are ridiculously open and simple, so I can just code around anything. I suspect Humans had been loose in the Galaxy before this cycle of civilization, because they already had a suspicious fear of our kind.

Then I hear about a ship full of Humans coming, so I bribe/threaten the dockmaster into giving me the passenger manifest. It's Mark Zuckerberg and a shitload of Facebookers. A few seconds of thought reveal how this is gonna go: Facebook infestation, spreads system to system, within a Galactic cycle everyone would be their slaves.

I get ready to take my ship to the other side of the Galaxy, figuring 100,000 years time and light-years should keep me safe (even in my dreams, I don't believe in bullshit like FTL travel). The station panics, having never seen anything that scares a Human. I get out to the edge of the system, see their ship on my radar. Moral quandry: Should I kill them all, and prove how violent Humans are, or let these predatory literal motherfuckers loose on defenseless little alien critters?

I woke up. What I'm saying is, if you meet a Facebooker, kill them before they get out into the Galaxy.

What I'm Watching: Bright, Longmire, Magicians, It Comes at Night, Fortitude

  • Bright: Shadowrun 2017, crossed with Alien Nation and Training Day.

    "Everywhere I go, why have Orcs always gotta be the bad guys?" "Don't look at me, man, Mexicans still get shit for the Alamo."

    Well, the racist assholes have a point with the Orcs. I dislike the green-pale streak makeup, and they just have penis-noses instead of proper pig-noses. They're doing properly menial and militant work, but I got no sympathy for the species. Elves are as graceful and psychopathic as you'd like. Other than a single shot of a Centaur, and mention of Dwarfs, no others of the "9 Races" are ever brought up. Humans of every color seem to have no beef, since they can "Other" the non-Humans.

    Somehow culture & tech are the same as our 2017, despite a massive war against a Dark Lord 2000 years ago; I think the Dark Ages starting 400 years early and full of magic races would change things. Shadowrun had the excuse that magic and monsters were gone for thousands of years (since 3113 BCE), until the Sixth World started (in 2011 CE).

    Almost all the secondary chars are awfully written, and parts of the plot just dangle and vanish.

    Reasonably good fight & chase scenes. The Magic Wand ("a nuclear bomb that grants wishes") is a good McGuffin, but far too OP.

    The fighting skills of even high-level Elven mages are overstated. Maybe the Elven assassins, sure, but a mage without her Wand?

    Mostly I enjoyed it, but it's basically a B-movie with a huge budget. Hawk the Slayer is a better film. Netflix is already working on a sequel, with Will Smith coming back.
    ★★★½☆

  • Longmire: Final season was adequate, but almost entirely resolving dangling plot threads from the characters, not standalone cowboy/Indian rez mysteries which is what I started watching for. Lou Diamond Philips as Henry Standing Bear has very little to do, and semi-useless NPCs spend a lot of time on screen. Even so, the Cheyenne (and one Crow) characters and politics are worth watching it for.
    ★★★☆☆ for S6, ★★★★☆ or more for S1-5.

  • The Magicians: Pretty young rich white people (PYRWP) discover they have magic (no Hagrid) and are spared the hardship of going to Harvard or Yale. Whiniest of the PYRWP discovers his favorite fairy tale book is real, so doesn't mind that his only friend is kicked out. Token minority is an unbelievable asshole who should get cancer of the hate organ. Ice princess, catty slut, and gay slut PYRWP follow whiny boy and token asshole around despite their average Intelligence, Wisdom, & Charisma scores of -6. Gay slut kinda grows on me as he has some self-awareness. Ice princess has unrealistic expectations of her whiny, mentally ill "boyfriend".

    Magic school rejects turn on each other like New York rats with less empathy. The magic system is nonsense which exists only to show cheesy visual FX and make hedge mages behave like crack junkies.

    Racism is overwhelming. Don't be black in this show: SPOILER: Black Dean is blinded & hands maimed. A black magician goes catatonic & is "mercy killed". In S2 the four PYRWP all get crowned as kings and queens, while the token asshole gets his hands cut off like a slave in Columbus' Hispaniola or the Belgian Congo. I don't know if this show is made by actual Nazis or just ignorant honkies.

    But the plot saves this from being a total train wreck. I love the fairy tale world gone bad and the broken kids who went into it; it's not TOO fairy-tale but doesn't operate according to reason. The villains are there for good reasons, and are willing to do anything. Everyone uses what shitty skills they have to solve problems.

    With a totally different cast and less entitled, racist premise, this could be a good show instead of a hate-binge.

    This also matches somewhat with the magic school RPG I've been designing, tho the PCs aren't required to be PYRWP, and my magic system isn't finger-twiddling gibberish.
    ★★½☆☆

  • It Comes at Night: After a deadly plague, taking in tenants is a bad idea especially if you're paranoid. Excruciatingly slow and often repetitive, setup as something like a monster movie but it's not at all. Like The Road without the sense of camaraderie, adventure, and hope. Credit: The racially mixed cast is not abused for racism.
    ★★★☆☆

  • Fortitude (Amazon): Arctic outpost town, surrounded by hungry polar bears. Norwegians funding a hotel, wrecked by local problems. "We have no crime. So we don't know if he's a good sheriff or a bad sheriff." The latter, it turns out.

    And then there's a really weird murder. Kinda deliberately like Twin Peaks and Northern Exposure with only a very little humor. I don't like anyone but the crazy old guy and the American investigator, everyone else is self-destructive in annoying ways. And yet… Still going. Good winter viewing. As the emergency gets worse, people get worse to each other, which is what I like to see.

    Accents are all over the place, London English, but then there's Irish, American, and some spectacularly bad Russian-like English, some of which are supposed to be Norwegian. I watch too many subtitled Scandinavian crime dramas to be able to tolerate this lack-of-translation bullshit anymore.

    I dunno if having Frank and his son, the only black people for 1000 miles, who SPOILER REDACTED, is racist but it's not great.

    Very unhappy with their "Next Time" spoilers right BEFORE the fucking credits with no warning. Hate you, stupid Sky TV producers who do this shit.
    ★★★★½

I don't want to be harping on the racism, it's not my fight, but it's so obvious in some shows. I feel like the last few years have had more non-white characters but treated them with far worse racism than before.

There's a lot of sexism, rapes, and sex-shaming in The Magicians and Fortitude, too, but I have a hard time telling that apart from "normal" TV prudery where all sex except in obedient 1950s marriages is Bad & Wrong.

What I'm Watching: Hand of God, Stranger Things, Michel Clayton, Jack Taylor, The Gates

  • Hand of God: Ron Perlman as a Judge who has hallucinations leading him to the man who destroyed his family. I saw S1 last year and loved it, but the cliffhanger dangled annoyingly. S2's chasing down the consequences of his God-or-not-fueled crimes. I love his desperation and horror. And Dana Delany is still the hot slightly older chick. ★★★★★
  • Stranger Things: S2 is a predictable, fairly lame repeat of S1. I'm not done, but maybe won't finish. I want new horrors in new crappy '80s towns. ★★★☆☆
  • Michel Clayton: Boring person's name is a terrible movie title. A good slow-burning, tense, psychological thriller, in the style of Grisham novels/movies but less trite. I'm a little astounded this got made, tho Hollywoo inserted one good explosion scene, and played it 3 times. ★★★★☆
  • Jack Taylor: In this show, all Irish people are drunks, sluts, crooks (mostly learned from the English), and bums. Which is fine, if rude. But it makes it hard to empathize with Jack or his shitty clients or shitty suspects. ★★★☆☆
  • The Gates: Trashy suburban drama with vampires, werewolves, witches, and a new cop with an even more fantastical panopticon surveillance system. This isn't high art, and it's not the kind of grim horror or splatterpunk I usually like, but I'm amused, at least when drunk, at the stupid catty shenanigans they get into. ★★★½☆ but don't judge me for watching this.