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.)

What I'm Watching: Don't Watch This

Collection of short-short (under 10m) horror(?) flicks on Netflix. None of these are the least bit frightening.

  • Friendship Bracelet: Obvious but not terrible. Could've been made into a real movie. ★★★☆☆
  • CTRL+ALT+DEL: Shitty "darkweb"/"VR is real" shit with crappy puzzles like a Rubik's Cube of skulls. Film school project with no talent. ★☆☆☆☆
  • Incommodium: Shitty "Faces of Death" blooper reel, no plot. ☆☆☆☆☆
  • Keep Out: Stupid frat boys enter a spooky house and get what's coming to them. Plot & actors are awful, makeup for last scion of his line is OK. ★★☆☆☆
  • Antoni Psycho: Foodie parody of American Psycho's morning routine. Dumb. ★☆☆☆☆

What I'm Not Watching: Chilling Adventures of Sabrina

Take Satanism and evil magic from medieval Christian superstition, rather than from Wicca or LaVeyan Satanism which don't believe in a real Satan. This is already a borderline hate crime.

Add bullshit high school drama and an anti-bullying, anti-transphobia plot that goes nowhere because nothing mortal matters. And it's weird: Everything in the show tries to look like the 1960s, but with random modern anachronisms. I think the writers and set decorators are not being clever here, they're just too stupid to understand how different the 1960s were.

Add bullshit boarding school, half-blood bigotry from Harry Potter. The Harry Potter fanficcery is strong in this, right up to the suggested shopping for familiars, and witch girls with black lipstick who might as well draw "SLYTHERIN" on their foreheads.

Add one very dark-haired bleach-blonde-but-gross-roots-showing weird-looking chick who does a lot of shower scenes for someone supposed to be 16 (actually 19). Her creepy, lumpy boyfriend (actually 23, and looks 25+) doesn't help.

Add maybe the worst Q&A with a "High Priest of Satan" ever (imitating Lucius Malfoy, but with all the charm of a bored accountant).

The dialogue's awful, like a Christian trying to write "spooky gothic". It's exactly like fucking Twilight.

I made it barely into E2, and gave up. This is the worst.

★☆☆☆☆

What I'm Watching: Castlevania S2E6-8

Finishing Castlevania S2, here's where all the slow burn finally pays off. And then back to slow burn.

The stand-up fight Carmilla's been plotting finally comes up, and… I'm a little dubious how powerful an undead Bishop (Matt Frewer!) can be given that in life he couldn't keep one vampire out of his church. But it's a really solid plan.

The Humans and Alucard finish dicking around in the vault, and then magically screw everything up for everyone, and have fun storming the castle. If I remember my boss fights correctly, the trick is to evade the fireball and whack him in the face three times. They don't go according to that plan.

But then there's a whole ep left. So everyone says goodbye to Alucard for a long time, and spends more long times deciding what to do next, and the surviving vamps work out their next moonlit holiday plans, and some very implausible violence—even considering what we just saw—sets up the lunatic as a new big bad.

Season 3's been announced, and there's plenty of vamps to stake, plus Dracula never remains dead.

★★★★★, altho I'd like the pacing to be faster, and I miss Godbrand.

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).

★★★☆☆