What I'm Watching: In the Tall Grass

This might be the dumbest film I've ever seen. I've seen every real MST3K (up through Pearl, not the boring new loser), and even Red Zone Cuba or Beast of Yucca Flats aren't this dumb. Written by Stephen King & Joe Hill (his son), so I had some hope. But hours, years later, no, all hope is lost. Save yourself, don't come in.

Walking into this grass field by a vacant small country church gets you permanently lost. There's a steady flow of idiots walking off the road into this shitty midwestern Narnia/Blair Witch, but it's not corn so there's no He Who Walks Between the Rows. There's no sets, just a grass field with some paths stomped down, and a big rock, and a ruined Bowl-A-Drome (or "OWL-A-DME" as the sign says) makes the usual B movie filmed in the woods look like Ben Hur. I miss the variety of sets in Cube.

90% of the dialogue is just characters calling each others names. Beckay does tell a couple good dirty limericks but the wuss brother is useless, the drummer ex-boyfriend does think of marking a trail… not very well, like everything he does. Tobyn (the spirit guide, nice GB reference) is either part of the field or its first victim. His Ted Bundy-lookin' dad is exactly what he seems. His mom and dog appear when needed as props but have no plotline or role.

Of course there's a time travel thing going on, because all movies are time travel now apparently. Oh no I'm stuck in an endless loop of watching bad movies in my comfy chair.

The horrible ancient evil and time loop are trivially defeated by just helping someone out of the field. Every part of this was unnecessary.

★☆☆☆☆ and I'm glad I had a lot of beer.

What I'm Not Watching: American Horror Story: Apocalypse

About half the AHS seasons are good, the other half are total trash. Hotel was fun. Roanoke annoyed me with yet another haunted house story. Cult had two of the most pathetic protagonists ever—by the second ep I wanted both dead just to end the fucking series—clowns, and a political story I had no interest in. Apocalypse is a great premise: A post-nuclear bunker.

The iPhone nuclear missile warning isn't bullshit this time, but somehow LA has an hour warning instead of 15-30 minutes like a real nuclear war would have (time from the DEW Line to continental US for a suborbital missile). A random bunch of idiots are spirited away to a bunker by a secret organization.

And for a while, the internal politics and weird Victorian rules of the bunker drive a good enough plot. Even when one of the secret masters shows up and starts testing the survivors with an obviously malevolent bent, it's on plot. Maybe they'll go all Masque of the Red Death, I think.

But then magic creeps in, because the writers just got bored and started recycling from Coven. Half the cast are discarded so this shitty old plot can be dumped on anyone dumb enough to still be watching. When the goody-goody blonde witches start calling the warlock Satan I check out.

Garbage and a wasted premise.

★★★★☆ for the initial premise, then ★☆☆☆☆ after the witches & warlocks take over.

The New Annotated H.P. Lovecraft: Beyond Arkham

Excellent volume. Massively annotated, 1/3 sidebar is almost always full of red text. Mentioned people, places, and artworks are shown inline.

First volume covered mostly more popular stories (arbitrarily chosen as ones mentioning Arkham), but this has most of his Dream Quest, and "The Outsider", one of my favorite of his stories.

It's a big improvement over S.T. Joshi's fandom-oriented books, which had some blurry photos half-assed shoved in the text, no index, in one volume no table of contents!

"Men of broader intellect know that there is no sharp distinction betwixt the real and the unreal; that all things appear as they do only by virtue of the delicate individual physical and mental media through which we are made conscious of them"
—H.P. Lovecraft, "The Tomb" (1917)

The man himself was troubling, but he's long dead and the shadow of his writing has happily darkened the entire 20th & 21st Centuries.

I don't know why, but I'm really getting in the mood of endless Halloween this year, and a steady diet of horror helps.

What I'm Watching: Stranger Things S3, We Have Always Lived in the Castle

Stranger Things is the very definition of half-assed. They're trying to do "how cool was it to be a kid in the '80s", and it was VERY cool, but most of the people involved weren't even alive then, and they are unable or unwilling to take enough cocaine to really commit to it. They play D&D, but didn't live thru the Edition Wars, where those of us who played OD&D fucked off when Gary's polearm and rules fetishes ruined AD&D, Frank Mentzer's revisionist BECMI baby-fied the Basic branch, and accusations of Satanism were thrown at us constantly (never mind that I actually gamed with teenage Satanists (which I took no more seriously than the Christfuckers, I was even then a Cthulhu cultist and thought Satanists were amateurs), and we mostly played Champions, Stormbringer, and Rolemaster, because those are serious games). They sing along to top-40 songs, but not the hard-rockin' hard-fuckin' songs, but pop movie themes. The fashion is so far toned down from reality it's really depressing; yeah, Indiana was uncool and years behind, but I was a nerd in Idaho which is just as uncool and I wore pastel faded blue jeans and black leather jackets. Nobody in this has Ray-Bans, which were on like 90% of the eyeballs. Fat Rambo Hopper puts on the most faded-out Hawaiian shirt possible, and everyone in the show is like "WHOAH, look at him!" when in reality he was bland as the mayonnaise he guzzles straight from a jar. The Max/El dress-up routine did manage to hit the Osh-Kosh-B'Gosh look and she stayed in bright colors for a while.

So, S1 was pretty much a Steven King's Firestarter/Escape to Witch Mountain mashup, and ended on a down note but it's OK. S2 at least closed a few plot holes and the Hellmouth, but meanders all over with a visit to mom, a visit to punk rock girl, Hopper failing at being a "dad" to El.

S3 then has nowhere to go except over the top, with a giant slime monster possessing people and climbing a mall like a King Kong made of shit, and somehow having "Russians" show up and build a giant underground base. Which looks nothing like Soviet architecture or engineering, it's all shiny surfaces and big open spaces, when the real Soviets liked claustrophobic bunkers and dull industrial paintjobs. And nobody calls them Soviets, the show is all "Russians" or "Russkies"; we said those, but mostly Soviet, because not all Soviets are Russian! They'd be just as likely to be from throughout the USSR or Warsaw Pact. Dumbass writers. And the notion that Fat Rambo Hopper, drunk loser hillbilly cop, can fight a Spetsnaz soldier like the terminator and win/even have a chance is preposterous. This season's monster plot relies on Eleven solving all problems with superpowers, everyone else is just there as a distraction; at least the B-plot of the Soviets has normal kids doing the Red Dawn/MacGyver kind of thing.

Probably as an overreaction to the sausage festival + El of S1 & S2, almost everyone gets a girlfriend in this season, but other than Max they're useless. When the party of kids goes wandering single-file door-to-door, I think of Earthbound games where you'd be followed by a centipede-like trail of your party members.

★★½☆☆ — just not enough meat in that corn-dog.

We Have Always Lived in the Castle, adapted from Shirley Jackson's fantastic novel, is lovely, slow, gothic, oppressive, creepy… Merricat and Constance are well-cast for the "creepy witch girl who acts like an old maid" and "Marilyn Munster but even more insane". Uncle Julian, Cousin Charles, and Helen the fussy "friend" are fine… Charles is a creep, like Brad Pitt fucked Steve Buscemi and gave birth to this thing; I don't really buy Constance's quick affection for him in this portrayal, he's too sharp-edged. Julian's too repetitive and often just hard to take, which is how someone that damaged would be. The villagers are awful people, but only about half of them are the hideous caricatures they seem to be in the book.

I hadn't even heard of the film being made & released, discovered it at $9.99 on iTunes, grabbed it instantly. Not a perfect adaptation, the ending adds a little flourish which is not present in the book, but charming nonetheless.

★★★★★

What I'm Watching: The Autopsy of Jane Doe

Two dead bodies are found in a house, burned, tortured, and mutilated, with a pretty, overly clean female body in the basement. A father and son coroner team try to autopsy the girl and get interrupted.

It starts as a medical mystery, then it's a jump-scare haunted house story, then there's a very improbable explanation, and a neatly tied up Twilight Zone ending.

I do like that they don't go full-on Night of the Living Dead or Ju-On. There's something specific going on and it's consistent. But the explanation doesn't match historical events, and the Bible quote isn't right.

Nothing spectacular, but a good enough indie horror flick.

★★★½☆

What I'm Watching: Dark

(Needed a little break from EVA which brings up both happy and terribly sad memories for me… So something "dark" instead)

Dark is a German Twin Peaks/12 Monkeys/La Jetée/Stranger Things/The Caves of Time CYOA mashup.

Kids go missing in the woods around a nuclear power plant.

Terrible English dubbing, often gravelly old people for the kids. But I find German harder to tolerate for long periods than most languages, even Dutch or Finnish, so I'm doing both dub and subtitles; the two are often hilariously unalike.

Is everyone in Germany supposed to be terminally depressed, or just this town? It's shot bleaker than any Scandinavian drama, everyone just stands around crying or staring blankly, with bursts of aggressive activity.

Guy leaves an office with, "Do you ever wonder where we took a wrong turn?" Dramatic non-sequiters abound.

Also wow these are some unattractive people. They've never seen the Sun, most are lined or lumpy before their apparent age, nasty looking hair. Cinéma Vérité is one thing, but this is going too far.

Senile old physicist doing the Log Lady routine. Drug dealing kid like Bobby in Twin Peaks. But there's nobody with any charisma or good looks.

Music ranges from '80s pop to some sorta dark atmospheric, both of which I love, to very gloomy, whiny incidental music which I could do without.

The actual plot so far—non-spoiler, this is all in the first couple episodes—seems to be someone using kids as guinea pigs for a time machine. But they do this in the most hamfisted way possible, creepy dude grabbing local kids instead of, say, taking strays in Berlin back to the Secret Underground Lab.

There's enough good parts, and more enough downbeat but interesting parts, that I'm still going in it, but I wouldn't call any of this compelling.

★★★☆☆

What I'm Watching: More of Love Death Robots

Apparently Netflix is doing 4 different ep orders, they say it's completely at random, though some people think it's based on gender, sexuality, age, etc. What horoscope does my robot show order reveal? Humans are idiots.

The Dump: Joe Lansdale story of a weird dump thing, videogamey CGI of of slime & trash, quick and obvious, but amusing. Not shown: Fuel-air bombing of the dump after missing persons are tracked there. ★★★½☆

Shape-Shifters: Military werewolves, realistic CGI, clearly the next Call of Duty game. Too much werewolf dick. The transformed state isn't as convincing as the Human. But not bad at the personalities and how shitty the military is. Author's Marko Kloos, a military fanfic writer. ★★★☆☆

Helping Hand: This is perfectly designed to piss me off (or any educated person). As anyone who's ever seen a spacewalk knows, astronauts don't work without a tether and a tight grip on their ship or station. It just does not happen. That was bullshit in Gravity, with idiots flying around on 5-minutes-of-fuel maneuvering packs that haven't been used since the '80s, and it's bullshit here, too. Dumb astronaut—again like Gravity a woman, which is so insulting to Peggy Whitson and other skilled woman astronauts—is knocked off station by space junk. I don't buy a cheap company sending out a lone astronaut, either: Launch cost for an extra body isn't much compared to a whole ship. And then her first solution is dumb, maybe 1kg of reaction mass thrown half-assed overhand won't move a 50kg body anywhere. Her second solution is even dumber—in reality, heat radiates away from a body very poorly in a vacuum. THAT'S HOW A THERMOS WORKS! YOU INCOMPETENT FUCK WRITER! Vacuum of space will chill you eventually, especially if you touch cold metal or regolith, but a floating body won't freeze solid for days. ☆☆☆☆☆ Claudine Griggs, hack "sexual politics" writer, I hate you and want you to get an education and then die of shame at your stupidity.

Fish Night: Interesting look, motion-captured CGI but so cel-shaded it looks hand-drawn. Probably took 10x as much time and money as simple rotoscoping and hand-drawing would've. Alas, I care nothing for the characters or the situation. Stop talking and start doing. Hunter & Dr Gonzo had "The drugs took hold around Barstow, on the edge of the desert", too, but then they did shit. Supposedly another Joe Lansdale story, but it's just nothing but a screensaver. ★★☆☆☆

Lucky 13: More Call of Duty, now in a space dropship but carrying Marines to terraforming stations on some planet. And the writer keeps calling the Marines "Soldiers" which at least modern ones don't like much. Love affair of a pilot and her dropship (AI? Maybe. It never speaks, but gets a camera POV.) is nice, and the dogfight videogame sequences are fine. It's not clear who the enemy are supposed to be, they're just as well-equipped, so are they a rival nation of Humans? Why would anyone bother shipping military to space to fight over an uninhabitable rock? Stupid premise, unexamined. Author's Marko Kloos again. ★★★☆☆

Zima Blue: Another Alastair Reynolds adaptation! Perfectly animated and told. The joke of Zima the beverage is a little weird against a serious story. The theme of transforming and abandoning unneeded complications is done several times in Reynolds (Diamond Dogs is another), but here is the best of those. ★★★★★

Blindspot: Mad Max/Jayce and the Wheeled Warriors/GI Joe do a train job with no planning, and get hosed down amusingly for it. All the nonsensical robot-on-robot violence we grew up with, but more swearing. Fuck yeah! Vitaly Shushko makes more of these ridiculous animations, too. ★★★★☆

Ice Age: A very light microscopic civilization take by Michael Swanwick (Vacuum Flowers!). Almost too silly to publish, the characters are utterly passive, but cute graphics for the micros. ★★★☆☆

Alternate Histories: Multiple ways for Hitler to die and consequences. Trivial, and I hate the stick-figure art, but amusing. Surprisingly by John Scalzi, who managed to make several actual jokes in a row! Maybe he wrote this before the brain injury that made him a humorless Internet troll. But it's about Nazis, so it gets no score according to Godwin's Law. He should have done the Lincoln one instead.

The Secret War: More Call of Duty with Soviets in fur coats in the snow during WWII, hunting monsters. And a story of making monsters, and the futility of being right in the Soviet Union. The monsters look like crap, almost literally, like the Xen in Half-Life. Written by David W. Amendola, another military fiction/horror writer. ★★★☆☆

Fin and Philosophy

And that's it for this season! More dumb combat and horror than robots in this half, and I do not appreciate that.

When I say "Call of Duty", that's not a compliment, I think the lowest form of Human slime make and play these mass murder simulators, and stories which are just "then I shoot everything wooo!" are by and for morons.

I have no objection to monster-killing if it illuminates something in a story, or in games if it's a drain on strategic resources (tactical RPGs with HP, MP, and gear to keep an eye on, and that's why my games are bright and happy AND bone-crushingly hard), but otherwise you leave those monsters alone, it's their world and you're just a morsel in it. Compare especially Beyond the Aquila Rift, where there are no "monsters" but these Call of Duty fuckheads would see one.

Total ratings are not bad, Scalzi and that incompetent Hand ep are all that's really bringing it down, but that glut of mediocre military content is hard to wade thru.

☆☆☆☆☆ 2
★☆☆☆☆ 1
★★☆☆☆ 1
★★★☆☆ 7
★★★★☆ 5
★★★★★ 2

What I'm Watching: Kingdom (2019)

The Joseon period (14th-19th C) of Korea's their formative period, but a big blind spot for most Westerners. I know a fair amount about the ancient Mediterranean thru fall of Rome, and the Dark Ages thru Charlemagne; some Japanese and Chinese history because of chanbara and kung fu movies and books like Outlaws of the Water Margin; some American history, but not so much the Texas School Board approved bullshit; only the most cursory details outside those time/space bubbles. Even tho it's right on the border, and like Japan was heavily influenced by China, Korea's isolation and outright weirdness keeps it in the dark. What I've managed to learn is: They tried very hard to be strict Confucians, they recorded everything (seems like half their upper class existed to spy on the other half), and they treated women and lower classes like animal property, worse than China or Japan which were hardly egalitarian.

What I'm learning from this show is: A) Their architecture's so Chinese the Chinese look like they're the bad copies, B) They have fantastic hats and rather nice machete swords, and C) Their aristocracy are shit at covering up zombie outbreaks.

The Crown Prince tries to find out if his sick father is alive or dead, in the hands of a wicked, pregnant stepmother half his age. Yeah, this is gonna end well. Happily, he has a fat but competent Sancho Panza sidekick and sets off on an epic quest.

Hanyang, where they start, is the equivalent of Seoul today; Dongnae's a southern port. The show explains none of this, be ready to read a lot of wiki pages to get at least some geography and fact-checking.

The peasantry might as well be Dennis the Shrubber from Monty Python & the Holy Grail, they're charmingly filthy and stinky.

The dead here are like Chinese jiangshi mixed with Return of the Living Dead zombies and a bit of 28 Days Later rage-infected. They're bestial, awkward, and stupid, but not slow or incapable of cunning.

And there's a lot of Evil Dead comedy in the fighting and zombie-eye camera in some scenes. The little zombie children are adoraterrible.

As in any good zombie story, the living are the worse threat.

This is a very gameable series. It's just like my old Dungeons & Zombies campaign, with wandering knights/fools with swords fighting undead or trying to find shelter every night.

★★★★★

Hell no boy

I love the Hellboy and BPRD comics, the novels, and somewhat the two Del Toro movies; the second one is much closer to the comics than the first. So this drops:

No Del Toro or Ron Perlman.

The makeup on David Harbour (drunk loser sheriff from Stranger Things) prevents him from using his face, which he can't anyway, or speaking clearly. They should hire Ron Perlman to dub in his voice, like James Earl Jones did over David Prowse. Harbour's mouth full of oatmeal sound is unacceptable.

Billy Idol's fun, but is completely inappropriate in tone for Hellboy, which is Brothers Grimm seen through a Lovecraftian lens. Maybe go Celtic and have Faith & the Muse, or Nightwish. This is bullshit.

I've seen a couple of Neil Marshall's movies: The Descent and Dog Soldiers. Both are good B-grade horror, on cheaper than nothing budgets, mostly single shaky-cam following about 4 amateur actors through a dark wilderness; his other two movies are more of the same, though I haven't seen them. I have zero confidence that he can run a big-budget thing with characters and try to get acting from them.

Lots of big action scenes, which rather misses the point of Hellboy; there's usually one or two fights in an entire Hellboy comic story, mostly quiet investigation and character interaction.

Yeah, no. Waiting for streaming on this steamer.

What I'm Watching: May the Devil Take You

So let's go full horror here. Indonesian director makes an Evil Dead homage. A man makes a bad deal with a creepy witch woman and gets a suitcase of money. Just how bad a deal will be revealed in time.

Years later, his business empire has risen and fallen, his first wife dies and leaves a daughter Alfie more or less orphaned, and at his deathbed, his gold-digging actress second wife and her brood meet her. They go to his secluded villa in the woods to see if there's any loot. That's surely going to turn out well!

Everyone (except the little girl) is terrible, and Alfie's got her own secrets. They don't really need to open the sealed, magically-warded cellar door and the Deadites to start giggling and killing, but that's the second hour of the movie.

The effects are good latex and squibs and mouthfuls of black slime. The camera work is straight out of Sam Raimi's playbook. Music is simple piano plinking, actually kind of annoying, but very direct and to the point.

The pacing is often glacial, lot of flashbacks, interrupted by good action scenes. It's never really scary, even at what should be jump scares, but it's fun, like Evil Dead or Texas Chainsaw Massacre, or any classic splatterpunk film. Maya's actress is not really competent to play such a heavy role; everyone else is much better. Chelsea Islan as Alfie's a good final-girl type, I'd like more with her.

★★★½☆ (Could be 4 with better editing for pacing)

(this concludes our movie-watching day, please take your cups and wrappers and demonic voodoo dolls and exit the theatre.)