What I'm Watching: Castlevania S2E1-5

Like Castlevania S1, the art is fantastic, but the animation varies from nearly Hanna-Barbera to perfectly smooth, mostly in combat scenes.

Much of the first few eps are in Dracula's court, with his hilarious Viking vampire subject Godbrand ("I like boats! I'm a fucking Viking! We're supposed to make boats out of things!"), slutty & scheming Carmilla, the human forgemasters (necromancers, more or less) Hector (a spoiled brat with… pets…) and Isaac (harsh disciplinarian religious lunatic). And we see much more of Dracula's character and his rage at humanity. Make no mistake, I'm sympathetic to his culling, not so much to the random way it's implemented.

In contrast, Belmont, Sypha, and Alucard are pathetic. Sniping at each other, barely have any plan. They sit around and do some research, they're very reactive. The Humans are the antagonists of this season, the Vampire court are the protagonists.

The idiots (Trevor, Alucard, Godbrand) all speak like Warren Ellis, noted drunk, misanthrope, and vulgarian. The others are some of his better writing, intelligent and broken in various ways.

The plot takes quite a while to get anywhere, but for the most part it's enjoyable. FAR better start than S1 had.

Up to S2E5 now, I'll watch the rest tomorrow.

What I'm Watching: The Haunting of Hill House (Netflix)

This is weird. A series based very loosely on Shirley Jackson's great book (more likely for the writers, the 1963 movie The Haunting or the shitty '90s remake).

The builders/founders of the house, the Crains, and the scientist ghost-hunters of the book, are here replaced by house-flippers with five children in flashback to the '80s(?). In middle flashbacks of the '00s, one boy becomes a ghost-hunter, one a junkie, one girl a mortician, one girl is useless, one a mousy little housewife. In present day, the plot moves forward. Sometimes the time is obvious from the characters in a scene, sometimes it's hard to tell which flashback is which, and the characters' clothing and accessories are not distinctive (fashion died in the '90s and never recovered). It's good that they have iPhones and iPads in the present, because those make it possible to date the scene.

Everyone seems pretty resigned to seeing ghosts or at least having hallucinations on a regular basis. OH NO the walls are banging in an old house, must be ghosts. OH NO my dead SPOILER is here where they were expected and now ghosts.

Long tracts of "dramatic" footage which aren't good enough for "reality" TV are painfully uncut here, I'm 2 eps in and it feels like it's been 12. The movie was so much better at getting to the point (that secrets and madness will make you see anything, even/especially if there's something to be seen). But there's scenes which are effective, where the oppression of Hill House works, where it actually creeped me out. The actors range from reasonably good (Stephen, Shirley), to stiff and unlikable ("Dad", and whoever the middle daughter is, I keep forgetting that she's even in this and then I go "wait, who's the other brunette?"), to bland caricature (the Dudleys).

★★★☆☆

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.