Even More Seen for Halloween

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Hey, it’s Halloween time, which means I’m watching Halloweenish shows and movies. And I have even more opinions here in part 3, also known as “part last”. (Spoilers for everything)

The Innocents: This  from 1961 and stars Deborah Kerr. It’s adapted from the Turn of the Screw, just like Haunting of Bly Manor, but this keeps the original ambiguity about whether the ghosts are real or figments of the nanny’s imagination.

It’s pretty bloodless, in every way. Beautifully shot and acted, but bloodless.

Beyond the Black Rainbow: As a fan of Mandy, I dropped the director’s first movie into our Netflix queue right after we watched it. I loved this weird little art (school) movie, even though it’s full of wacky lighting and design choices. Plus, it features to slowest escape in the history of escapes. It’s more interesting than scary, and more fun than thrilling. Worth seeing on a quiet night.

Dracula (1979): Frank Langella is the sexiest Dracula of all time, pushing the plot of this film through all the usual beats with energy and presence that’s too often missing from these remakes. Plenty of actors go for, I don’t know, “stately.” But Langella gives the undead count real life.

Laurence Olivier plays Van Helsing, and his confrontation with his undead daughter is the most effective scene in the whole film. One of the better versions of this particular tale.

Horror of Dracula: Not the greatest version of this story, but it gets bonus points for being energetic and extremely clean. This movie has the tidiest Transylvanian vampire castle and the fakiest blood in movie history.

It’s still fun. Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing would never seem to be having this much fun in later movies. Worth seeing, I guess.

Something Wicked This Way Comes: I’d seen this several times on cable when I was younger, and while I’d remembered the plot pretty well, I’d forgotten how beautiful this movie is. Autumn hillsides, golden sunsets, steam trains in the night, leaf-blown streets, and the fanciest library small town America has ever seen.

Storywise, this is about an autumn carnival that visits a small Indiana town, granting people’s dearest wishes in ways that curse them and make them part of the carnival. Those elements are a little smug and moralizing, but the rest of the film makes up for it.

The dialog is self-consciously homey and elevated, and the adult actors really make a go of it. Jonathan Pryce, playing carnival owner Mr. Dark, really makes his mark with the lines he’s been given. The two child actors, the actual leads in the story, don’t fare as well, but they’re still a lot of fun.

It’s an odd movie, and I wish someone would remake it, self-conscious dialog and all.

Warlock: This was a big hit when it was released, and it still holds up today. Julian Sands is a warlock in pre-Revolution Boston who escapes to the future, and Richard E. Grant is the Witchcatcher who follows. Lori Singer is the bright, energetic, midriff-baring modern woman who gets caught in the action.

Plot wise, it’s a standard mix of fish-out-of-water and thriller elements, and the unusual magic makes the plot surprising. I honestly thought this movie would make a top-tier movie star out of Julian Sands, but oh well.

It’s not a horror movie, really, but it is dark urban fantasy, and it still holds up.

Border: Not sure why someone put this on a list (at #2) of best horror films of the last ten years, but it’s absolutely a good film. Not horror, but genuinely good.

Tina is a Border control agent who is prosthetics-ugly and who has the ability to smell people’s fear, shame, and other emotions. She believes she’s been born with chromosomal damage that has left her deformed, but one day she meets someone just like herself, and slowly comes to realize she’s not human at all.

This is more drama than fantasy, and more fantasy than horror, but it’s a terrific movie. Thank you, northern Europe and your fascination with trolls.

More Seen for Halloween

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Hey, it’s Halloween time, which means I’m watching Halloweenish shows and movies. And I have even more opinions here in part 2. (Spoilers for everything)

His House: If it weren’t for the next film on this list, this would have been the best Halloween movie we’ve seen this year so far. It was impeccable.

The story centers on two Sudanese refugees seeking asylum in England who are given a space in a run-down housing project while they wait to hear if they’ll be sent back home to die. Except this little flat is full of ghosts, and it takes a while for the refugees to realize the ghosts arrived with them.

Most of the incidents and visuals related to the hauntings are familiar, but the story context added real meaning to the common tropes, and the way their memories and hallucination sequences were shot were startling and beautiful. Highly recommended.

The Devil’s Backbone: We were a few years late to this one, and it’s easily the best thing we’ve seen for this holiday (so far). More of a slow-burn thriller than horror film, the story takes place in a Spanish orphanage, surrounded by dry, barren fields, near the end of the Spanish Civil War. The orphans are the children of leftists fighting a losing war against the fascists, and they have few teachers, little food, and even less hope.

And right in the center of the courtyard is an unexploded bomb.

What’s more, one of the boys that the teachers believe has run away, has been murdered and is haunting the place.

This movie is beautiful in an austere way, and it’s full of wonderful characters. If you haven’t seen this yet, check it out.

The Call: South Korea has been hitting it out of the park in the last couple of decades, and they’ve been doing it without the reliance on established IP that has everyone complaining about modern American films. This movie is about two women, one living in the past and one living in the future, who can talk to each other over a single phone line. One is a virtual prisoner inside her home. The other wants to help her be free.

The girl in the future has nothing to offer except information. She can play new music from the girl in the past’s favorite band into the receiver, or look up news articles or whatever. She can tell her new friend what’s about to happen.

The girl in the past has all the agency. She can save lives, change history, do whatever she wants with the information her friend gives her. Except the girl in the past is actually deeply troubled–there’s a good reason she was kept locked away–and once they stop being friends, the girl in the future has no defense against her except the information she gives.

It’s clever as hell and a lot of fun. Check this one out.

Nightbooks: This is a terrific little horror movie aimed at kids—”gateway horror”–some have called it, and it thankfully doesn’t lean too hard on the moralizing and just-so lessons that often plague supernatural tales for kids. 

Starring Krysten Ritter(‘s wardrobe), it’s the story of a boy who loves horror who gets abducted by an evil witch’s magical apartment. Ritter, as the witch, demands a scary story every night, and the boy (along with another abducted kid who’s stuck with all the household chores) spend every day exploring the mysteriously expansive apartment, searching for a way to escape, when he should be writing.

Which, in its way, is like me and the internet.

This one is great for kids who are comfortable being scared, and also for adults who don’t mind kiddish things and/or love fantastic costuming and production design.

Come True: Ever watch a movie that was wonderful–not because they threw around a bunch of money, but because it was full of interesting ideas and visuals you had never seen before, and it seemed to be leading to something wild and profound…

Only to have it absolutely shit the bed in the last scene?

I really wanted to recommend this movie. it’s beautiful. It has a bunch of haunting visuals, and the set up is fascinating.

Essentially, a homeless teenage girl, who suffers from strange nightmares, signs up for a sleep study because it would give her a little pocket money and a place to sleep indoors.

But of course, there’s more going on than she realizes. Than any of them realizes. And there’s an extended scene at the end, where the girl is sleepwalking, that is so interesting and original, so beautiful in the way that it’s shot–and eerie, too–that I really hoped for something strange and profound at the end.

Nope. 

So very disappointing.

Wildling: There have been a number of movies since The Frighteners where a girl is being held prisoner there, and you root for her to get her freedom, only to discover that, whoops! she’s actually a deadly killer and her captors were right to lock her away. I just talked about one above.

It’s a fun twist the first time you see it, but as it comes around again and again, it sort of starts to feel gross. 

In this film, the girl turns out not to be a sadistic murderer, but a sort of werewolf who never changes back. After hinting strongly that this young girl, newly set loose on a small town, is some kind of threat, the film quickly pivots to Actually, it’s people who are the REAL monsters. 

Which is fine. That works for me, sometimes. 

The climax centers on our teenage monster girl–now a few months pregnant–evading a group of good ol’ boy hunters who make it their business to exterminate Wildlings whenever they turn up. And of course their leader is the same guy who held her captive all her life, now convinced he was wrong to try to rehabilitate her. And all our wilding monster girl wants to do is escape with her baby to the far northern tundra, which is apparently a wildling’s natural habitat. 

But the whole time I was watching the end of this movie, I was thinking main character’s love interest. Someone, somewhere, was going to ask him about his first time, and he was going to be either drunk enough or dumb enough to tell the truth, starting with “Well, she’d just been rescued from the attic prison where a creep had kept her locked away her whole life, and my family was the first people besides her captor she ever talked to,” and it would end with “then she sprouted fur and fangs, and fled into the wilderness with our baby.” 

I mean, I’m almost more interested in a movie about that.

A Chinese Ghost Story: I’m spending the entire month of October watching Halloween movies, and I’m sure there are horror fans out there who think much of what I’m watching isn’t actually horror. I’ve met my share of “If it’s not rated R, it’s not horror” folks and lets just say we don’t agree on much.

This movie has ghosts! And an ancient tree demon! And reanimated corpses! And wandering murderers! 

It’s also a comedy and a romance, plus, it has Daoist monks who can do magic, wire fu sword fights, a clueless but good-hearted hero who blunders through magical dangers, not to mention the odd bit of elaborate slapstick.

it’s great fun, and pleasant to be reminded of 80’s Hong Kong films, where every forest path had a blazing blue light just over the next rise. 

One Lane Bridge: This six episode series out of New Zealand combines supernatural elements with a police procedural, which are chocolate and peanut butter to me. Season one covers the arrival of a new junior detective to a small town with absolutely amazing landscapes and a bridge that causes some people (including our new protagonist) to have prophetic visions.

Will these visions help our hero solve the murder that opens the season? Well, a little. Mostly, it will send him visions that he will misinterpret, make him think he’s losing his grip, act out recklessly, and nearly tank his career. 

I’ll confess that I occasionally had a bit of trouble telling characters apart, but that’s a common issue for me. It’s a solid show that gets a lot of things right. 

Seen for Halloween

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Hey, it’s Halloween time, which means I’m watching Halloweenish shows and movies. And I have opinions. (Spoilers for everything)

The Shining (1980): Supposedly one of the greatest horror movies of all time, this really hasn’t held up. Kubricks’ direction is terrific. The long, slow steadicam glide is unsettling here in a way it just isn’t in other films (and I don’t understand film well enough to know why. Soundtrack, maybe?). The performances are solid… except for Jack Nicholson.

When I was younger, people loved Jack Nicholson because he was doing that Jack Nicholson thing, with the raised eyebrows and the snide way of talking. Late in the movie, when he’s slipping into full-blown family killer mode, it works. Earlier scenes not so much. Kubrick let him mug his way through scene after scene, and instead of enjoying a movie I hadn’t revisited in a while, I sat there wondering how this dude managed to remain a movie star, and how he kept pulling in so many Oscar nominations.

Give me the Nicholson of Chinatown, not this. 

Insidious: I was surprised to see this was made for only one and a half million dollars. Watching it a second time, I was disappointed in how it looked–even Stranger Things put more effort into their otherworldly environment. But on a million and a half dollar budget? Hat’s off. 

It was also full of terrific performances, and the scares were clever, esp compared to the torture porn films this picture made unfashionable. And that scene with the mask? Thumbs up: solid scares.

Muppets Haunted Mansion: Here’s the deal: you watch this, you get great puppets, dad jokes, cute songs, and fantastic design. It’s the same thing the Muppets have been doing on screen for decades, and if you liked it in the past, you’ll like it even more now that the money they’re spending goes so much further. Plus celebrity guest stars having a blast playing broad comedy.

My only gripe: they mixed the music too loud, so it could be really difficult to make out the lyrics of the songs. I can’t tell if that’s a currently fashionable production choice (since it seems to come up in lots of different shows) or if it’s a problem with my aging hearing (since it seems to come up in lots of different shows).

Midnight Mass: I know reaction has been mixed on this, but I thought this was brilliant. Lot of folks thought it was talky, but sometimes I want to hear quality dialog, even in the horror genre. Reveal the characters with it. Create verisimilitude with it. Give the actors something really juicy to do. That’s why Child of Fire was so full of people telling their own stories, after all. I love books and shows where the characters tell stories that reveals who they are. 

Another thing it had going for it was that it was gorgeous. Too much horror ignores visual appeal–or goes in the other direction to show only things that are repellant–but Mike Flanagan wisely seized on the opportunity to show truly gorgeous skies over Crockett Island, and that’s important. It establishes a world is worth fighting for, or at least living in, and it provides the contrast that makes the gross and/or repellant stuff stand out.

More beauty with terror, please. Make the forests look deep and green. Make the castles gothic and beautifully ruined. Pay attention to the environment. Too many horror movies cast good looking actors, then make everything else ugly or gross. 

The Changeling (1980):

In a previous blog post, I’ve complained about ghost-oriented murder mysteries, because having a detective who depends on clues fed to them by a vengeful spirit makes your detective seem like they don’t detect very well. (I was writing specifically about the new Nancy Drew show, which I have since revisited and will talk about in another post).

However! When the lead character is not a detective, but is still driven by a haunting to look into a terrible crime, well, that’s a genre I really like.

In The Changeling, George C. Scott is a famous NYC composer who suffered a terrible tragedy and retreats to Seattle, to teach at the UW and compose in an overlarge house maintained by the Historical Society which turns out to be haunted by the spirit of a murdered child. 

The haunting stuff is all the ordinary things you’re used to seeing in a ghost house movie–opening doors, secret rooms, the works. It’s the murder mystery where this movie stands out. 

I should say that I like George C. Scott, but he never seems all that affected by the moving objects or thumps in the night. If Shelley Duvall’s Wendy Torrence lands on one end of the “frightened by all this spooky shit” bell curve, with her goggling eyes and wavering, one-second-from-fainting body language, Scott’s John Russell lands at the other end. He might be the most self-possessed hauntee in the history of non-comedic films.

Malignant: I really enjoyed this movie, but not as much as I should have. The buzz about it was that it had this gonzo twist that split audiences between those who noped out and those who thought it was new and weird and a goddam delight.

We fell into the second category. Unfortunately, it also felt a little flat. My wife kept saying “This is very TV” throughout, and not just because we kept recognizing the cast from Canadian SF shows. 

One of the downsides of enjoying scary movies is that you end up seeing a lot of the same things over and over. The figure in the mirror. The door that creaks open on its own. The frightened co-ed sprinting through the woods. I’ve talked often about having to forgive books, movies, or TV shows in order to enjoy them, and these old tropes are high on that list. Malignant managed to put shit on screen that I hadn’t seen in a horror movie before.

Then you have a climactic fight that feels small and same-y. When most of the participants are also character I don’t know and am not invested in, it takes the energy out of me. 

So, loved the movie but not as much as I wanted to. 

The Old Dark House: Before James Whale did Bride of Frankenstein, he made this little gem, about unlucky travelers forced to seek shelter from a (vividly portrayed) thunderstorm in a house filled with dangerous weirdos. 

It’s beautiful and a lot of fun. The camera work is inventive (for 1932) and we loved the characters, even the aggravated married couple. Great cast with terrific dialog (when they were given some, sorry Boris) and even though it’s not a horror film exactly, it was a perfect fit for the season. 

Somebody Has to be the Outsider: Spoilerish thoughts on WW84 and WONDER WOMAN

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“I have thoughts about the new Wonder Woman movie. I should blog about them!”

::one week later::

Let me try to get this all down:

First thing: Patty Jenkins keeps making superhero movies with plots that can’t be resolved with punching and that’s sort of a problem.

In the first movie, Diana (since the words “Wonder Woman” are never spoken in either movie, it feels weird to call her that) is determined to fight and kill Ares, because she believes that will end all war. Obviously, this is nuts but, for his own purposes, Steve Trevor (and his pals) basically go along with her.

Steve spends much of the movie trying to convince Diana that she doesn’t understand the new world she’s entered. Diana, meanwhile, believes that she sees it very clearly, and that she has the moral agency to change it. Diana changes the world just by being in it. It’s true that she can’t stop all wars and remake the world of men into a paradise through the act of killing her half-brother, but her insistence that she can drives the movie and keeps in in-genre.

And I have more to say about that, but it doesn’t fit here.

In the second film, it’s Steve who becomes the outsider, learning about the new and wondrous world of 1984. Except there’s no dramatic tension there. When Diana enters WWI-era London, she’s expecting to see another paradise and to meet warrior generals like the ones she left behind in Themyscira. She very much doesn’t. When Steve jumps 70 years into the future, he’s simply wide-eyed and delighted. There’s no dramatic conflict between his expectations and his environment.

Personally, I really liked the joy in those scenes. My wife was bored as hell.

Steve also gets a complimentary outfit montage that Diana got in the first movie, but again, the scene doesn’t really convey anything about the relationship between his character and the world he’s found himself in. It’s just played for laughs.

The first movie spent a lot of time talking about what people deserved. Did the world of men deserve an army of Amazons riding out to save them? Did it deserve Diana herself? Do people deserve to be saved? Does “Dr. Poison”? And let’s not forget “May we get what we want. May we get what we need. May we never get what we deserve.”

Diana herself starts off the film believing that people would be good if Ares were killed, and finds herself reluctantly allied with thieves, smugglers, liars, etc. They’re good people doing bad things for good ends, and she’s convinced that she can save them.

The second movie centers itself on capital tee Truth, and I’ve seen a lot of viewers confused about why having a wish come true is equivalent to a lie. I want to try to break down the argument the film is making:

* Want: Baby Diana wants to win the race
* Truth: Baby Diana misses one of the markers by taking a short cut
* Outcome: Baby Diana is not allowed to win because, in truth, she did not run the full race.

* Want: Barbara wants to be confident and popular
* Truth: Barbara is not those things.
* Outcome: Barbara becomes confident and popular without doing the honest work of changing herself

* Want: Adult Diana wants Steve back
* Truth: Steve is dead
* Outcome: Bringing Steve back via wish is a denial of the truth that he is gone.

Which, according to the logic of the movie (as I understand it) a wish makes untrue things true. Which is dishonest. And being dishonest means you told a lie.

Although if you want something you don’t have and work hard to get it, that’s a truthful way to make an untrue thing true, I guess?

Note: I’m explaining the reasoning here, not justifying it. It’s a weak driver for the story–so weak, in fact, that they had to add in the Monkey’s Paw aspect, which wasn’t even established as part of the wish-making until way too late in the story. When Max Lord was granting wishes and telling people what he’d take in return, I was playing catch up, wondering what the hell he was talking about.

Poor “Wish I had a coffee” guy. The stone took his most valued possession in exchange for a cup of joe.

Anyway, I wouldn’t be nit-picking all of this if WW84 were a better movie, and I suspect it would be a better movie if all this was simplified and integrated better. I would say I wish it had been, but there’s literally nothing of value I would sacrifice for that wish to be true.

Plus, there’s that awful shit about Steve taking over someone else’s body, fucking someone with it, and putting it in mortal danger. Did Hallmark Movie Guy consent to all that? I’m sure he didn’t.

Not to mention the ending, which gives Diana someone to punch (poor Barbara) for the penultimate conflict, but used empathetic pleading to win the final conflict.

And honestly, it’s more believable that the daughter of Zeus could show up with a magic lasso than that every human being could see nuclear missiles rocketing skyward and not one of them would choose to let the world burn. Have these people never opened Facebook?

Part of me was convinced that the plot would be resolved when Diana killed Max (like in the comics) but the Patty Jenkins version isn’t like that. Her Max is another mislead mortal who needs to be loved, and to put his love for his son above everything else.

The movie would have been better served by a plot problem she could punch. Even if she ended up battling Max, because he’s the dreamstone now and has to be destroyed, and Max is wildly empowered with the strength and life force of half the world. And they’re smashing around the room before finally coming into contact with the golden particle tube. Then Max sees his son and wants to save him with a wish, or with the power he has stolen. But Diana, who is losing this fight, holds him in place. The whole world is going to die, and it’s Max’s fault.

Which is when Max renounces his wish, effectively destroying the dreamstone and saving the world.

I’m sure someone working on the film thought of that ending but discarded it. I’m also pretty positive they ditched it because they wanted the emotional uplift of an ending where everyone in the world is moved by Diana’s words and comes together for the greater good. Sadly, they sent a movie about that world into the one I live in, where large percentages of the population are narcissists and psychopaths.

I can look past unrealistic fantasy worldbuilding for the sake of a fun story (see: Lucifer) but WW84 hadn’t won me over and couldn’t reach me with this ending.

Before I wrote and posted this, I wanted to watch it with my wife. I’m pretty sure she’s never read a Wonder Woman comic and I’m definitely sure she didn’t know who Cheetah was, let alone Max Lord.

Her take: It was awful. Too long. Not visually interesting enough. No exciting fight scenes. Too much Max Lord and not enough Barbara Minerva.

I liked it more than she did, in part because it wasn’t nihilistic like the early DCEU films, in part because I enjoyed the joyful parts of the performances, in part because I just like superhero movies.

Anyway, I’m glad Jenkins is making a third WW movie, even if the sophmore slump was painful. Sorry to say I can’t see myself watching this one again.

5 Things Make a Post (nostalgia remix)

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1. Remember the old days when a person would simply turn to their blog and record a bunch of thoughts, instead of giving them away to a profit-free social media company like Twitter? Man, those were the days.

2. I’ve reached a tricky part of The Iron Gate. That’s not a bad thing (the exact opposite, in fact) but this is a part of the narrative where I’m going to be second-guessing myself and jumping around, trying to iron out a decent sequence of events so that things are fun and also cool and also make you want to keep reading. Every once in a while I see writers talk about writing a first draft and just going out with it, and I wish I could do that. Never happen, though.

3. Watched Ernst Lubitch’s final completed film last night: CLUNY BROWN. It’s a rom com that doubles as a satire of upper class British manners. (“Darling, if I trust you now, I’ll always have to trust you. And I won’t.”) Often, when a movie criticizes social mores, it makes itself a period piece. Its much more palatable (marketable) to GREEN BOOK racism than to address racism in the here and now. But CLUNY BROWN, released in 1946, was set in 1938. Anyway, it’s a funny, clever film with terrific performances. Worth watching.

4. Two weeks ago, I asked you guys to please review One Man and my other books, too, and you have really responded. Before I that blog post, sales for all my work on the Kindle store were in the mid-20s. Almost immediately, they jumped to the high 50s or low 60s, and now One Man is only 8 ratings/review from that sweet 100 mark on Amazon. Thank you all. It really makes a big difference to discoverability and to overall sales. If you’ve been meaning to post a review but haven’t gotten around to it, the links at the bottom of the main post should make for easy clicking. Thanks again.

5. My son has been working on a novel and has given me his first draft. It’s pretty good for a first effort, although no where close to ready for public consumption. But every moment I spent doing something other than editing his book or working on my own makes me feel guilty, like I’m slacking off. Luckily, guilt has never stopped me from being super lazy, so I’m going to log off, make a couple of notes about our respective works, and then put in the library dvd for TITANS, which I’ve heard is terrible. If so, I can turn it off after ten minutes or so and never be tempted by it again.

Stop Killing the Redeemed Bad Boys: Veronica Mars and The Rise of Skywalker

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Spoilers for Star Wars and of Veronica Mars. FYI.

Before we get into the meat of this post, I want to point out that, four years ago, I made this awful prediction:

Along with a few ten thousand other people, but the important thing to point out is that this was supposed to be a joke. Seriously, I thought making Rey a Palpatine was a ridiculous idea, and it turned out that I was right.

But there’s no idea so ridiculous that someone won’t rub their chin and go “hmm”. Sometimes, on Twitter, there will be huge hashtag pitch sessions where people will tweet out a log line for their screenplays, and I used to make up ludicrous story ideas for it. No matter how outlandish, there was always someone interested in something I made up.

Terrible ideas! They’re everywhere!

Let’s seque back to the new season of Veronica Mars, on Hulu. Personally, I enjoyed it, but many die-hard fans were furious at the way they killed off Logan, Veronica’s true love.

After three full seasons, the show felt unfinished. With the Kickstarter-funded movie, Rob Thomas brought things around to an ending the fans could get behind. Veronica was a PI again. Logan had his shit together. They re-started their romance as adults. Boom. Ending. They even left things open for those awful novels.

But once Hulu came knocking for S4, Thomas didn’t know what to do with Logan. He has this idea that a romantic relationship had to be about the conflict. What would they do with Logan now that his issues with Veronica were resolved? He said he didn’t want to include Logan in the mystery of the season–nevermind that he did exactly that for S4 and it worked out fine. Nevermind that Veronica has plenty of other low-conflict relationships with people she loves. Thomas wanted her to be free for upcoming seasons, which meant Logan had to go.

And when he went, the fans went too, and they weren’t quiet about it. They were furious, vowing that they were never going to watch again.

The fallout? No Current Plans for Season Five at Hulu

There was similar fan interest for sexy villain Kylo Ren/Ben Solo to be redeemed during TRoS and have the romantic relationship with Rey that almost came about in The Last Jedi.

Personally, I thought TLJ settled that plot point. They had an opening for romance. Each thought they were going to turn the other to their way of thinking. They were wrong. Ben Solo chose to be Kylo Ren, and he was not going to give up his giant fascist army. He even declared himself Supreme Leader. Kylo Ren was established as the villain.

But the fans wanted Kylo and Rey to come together, which meant Kylo had to turn into a good guy, which meant they needed a new villain for the third act, which meant they brought brought Palpatine, which is why they decided to connect him to Rey by blood and undo the very best scene of The Last Jedi (“You’re nothing… but not to me.”)

But after fighting on Rey’s side and saving her life, Kylo gets a single kiss from Rey. and then he dies.

The replies to that tweet are a catalog of misery. Fans wanted the poor, abused, handsome young guy to be redeemed and have a happy life. Preferably with Rey. They didn’t get that.

Now, I’m not sure I’ve ever shipped a pair of characters, ever. Not Sam and Diane. Not David and Maddie. It just doesn’t occur to me. But lots of fans engage with shows this way, and they do not endure disappointment quietly. And there’s something–don’t ask me what–about that reformed evil boyfriend trope. People find it wildly compelling. (And yes, a small percentage can be over-the-top about their favorite ships. I’m not interested in using outliers to represent a group as a whole.) There’s nothing wrong with that, but any really vocal segment of an audience can have an outsized effect on the future of a show.

And this new Star Wars movie is making lots of money, but reviews have been dire. The movie is pretty, it’s fast, and it’s filled with peril, but the story is a disaster, and the even the lead actors just seem done with the whole thing.

Remember the energy and excitement in The Force Awakens? Remember Rey and Finn together? How much energy they had?

Well, all that is gone, and they couldn’t even redeem their sensitive bad boy correctly. The ReyLos and the LoVes are not happy.

Some Quick Reviews of S3 Stranger Things, S3 Jessica Jones, and other stuff I guess

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I’ve been meaning to do this for a while so I’m just going to throw these out there:

Stranger Things Season 3

I’ve been a vocal fan of this show (Not as strong a fan as *some*, because I don’t want to be scary, but still) since I first watched it, but season three started off very badly. Characters I’d liked and who should have grown together were now snickering and making fun of each other. Hopper had become a complete mess. He’d gone from real life hero to obnoxious buffoon.

It took me a while to realize what they were doing. Season three had become an homage to romcoms, so we get clips of Sam and Diane, and we get endless bickering between characters who are attracted to each other but can’t admit it. And a show so used to leaning on homages ought to understand that homages of old jokes is just recycling an old joke. It’s not actually funny.

So yeah, that part wasn’t fun.

Everything else about the show? Loved it.

As the kids are getting older, the horror is getting scarier, more action-oriented, and gorier, too. And being Stranger Things, they nail it.

So, yeah. Not my favorite season, except for the parts that very much are.

Jessica Jones Season 3

One of the least interesting story lines a superhero show can tell is the “What does it mean to be a hero?” thing. Usually, it involves getting up off the ground after a round of grueling physical punishment.

I’m looking at you, Spider-Man, into the Spider-verse.

Of course, in superhero stories, the consequences of most fights are to make people feel a lot of pain, and also to make them incredibly tired. That’s why it’s such a struggle to get off the ground. To prove themselves to be heroes, protagonists need to stand up despite the pain and punch-induced exhaustion to return immediately to their pre-fight levels of physical capability, and finally make the bad guy super tired. Through punching.

Jessica Jones (the show, I mean, although the character, too) flips this on its head. When this show asks the question “What does it mean to be a hero?” they don’t mean putting on a mask and beating up “bad people.” It means finding evidence, getting confessions, capturing the criminal, and turning them over to the courts.

Based on her performance in this show, Rachel Taylor really ought to be getting a lot of high profile stuff. If you were annoyed by the way the writers portrayed Queen Whatshername’s descent into murder and darkness, check out the long, slow, tragic journey that Trish Walker makes from Beloved Celebrity Who Pulled Her Live Together into a Villain Who Thinks She’s Doing Right. Trish is all the worst instincts of the superhero genre, and because it all comes from her, and from the depths of her character, it never feels like a cheap commentary.

What I’m saying is, the last season of Jessica Jones might not have been the MCU/Netflix signoff/victory lap/low-budget Endgame remix that people expected, but it’s excellent in its own right.

C.B. Strike Series 1-3

I liked the books (I like private eye novels) and I liked the shows. Things are shortened and simplified, obviously, but these are solid PI stories.

What puts them above (and warrants mention here) is Robin’s subplot throughout. She has always wanted to be an investigator of some kind, and has everything stacked against her. But she is determined.

And I loved it. Everyone who has ever worked really hard for a dream that seemed unreachable ought to feel that pull. It’s a small part of the series, but it’s what put that show over the top.

Tolkien

Two terrific scenes, a bunch of great performances, and an otherwise dull movie.

Doctor Who Season 11

I’d given up on this show years ago, but thought I’d give it another shot with a new show runner and actress in the lead role. Verdict: I liked it. Very little frantic nonsense, a fair amount of actual drama and tension. We’ll be watching more of this.

Us

Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ. Wow. Loved it. I guessed the twist pretty early, but I loved it.

The Boys Season 1

I didn’t like the comic so I was planning to skip the show, but enough people liked it that I gave it a chance, and I’m glad I did. Like the comic, it was dark but not in a childish way. The characters felt real, and so did their problems. If you don’t mind stories about violence, murder, and sexual assault, The Boys was effective.

Hannah Season 1

Based on the movie, which was decidedly more ruthless and brutal than the show. It’s one of the rare spy shows where the characters did things that were better than what I’d expected. Solid stuff.

Boom.

Done.

The Kickstarter campaign for additional Twenty Palaces novels is still ongoing, but it ends Friday. You have until then to secure two books for a minimum of $4.

Randomness for 6/10

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  1. Why Spider-man: Into the Spiderverse has the most inventive visuals you’ll see this year.
  2. Europe’s first underwater restaurant.
  3. How to actually, truly focus on what you’re doing.
  4. The Kentucky Derby as Told by the Horses.
  5. Grocer Designed Embarrassing Plastic Bags to Shame Customers into Bringing Their Own.
  6. The Queens of Sicily: 1061 to 1266. 18 biographies about 18 powerful women.
  7. Stun Gun Myths Rewatching VERONICA MARS got me wondering how likely (initial hypothesis: not very) it was that you could render someone unconscious by zapping them. Of course, my hypothesis was [spoiler]. 

The Infinity Saga: a 22-Episode “Season” of Theatrical TV Spread Over Ten Years

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Here’s a quote I haven’t forgotten from Manohla Dargis’s NYTimes review of Spider-Man: Homecoming.

[The Marvel Cinematic Universe] is vast, complicated, lucrative and ever-expanding. It’s also intrinsically uninteresting for viewers (at least one!) who just want a good movie.

Confession: I remember no one saying this about The Return of the King. Nobody wanted to skip the first two films and have the third stand on its own.

And why should they? The Lord of the Rings films were a trilogy, like the books.

I also don’t remember anyone complaining that they should have been able to walk into a screening of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part One, and (to satisfy their desire for “a good movie”) automagically know who’s who and how they relate to each other. Did audience members suddenly blurt out, “Who’s this DumbleDude guy? Sounds like a dick.”

Well, I’m sure someone did, somewhere, but no one paid them to publish those thoughts in the NYTimes.

Sequels! There are so many of them in the MCU, and it all started with that end-credits scene where Nick Fury tells Tony Stark about the Avengers Initiative. Based on that one scene–not to mention the marketing that confirmed a common setting for these films–Thor was a sequel to Iron Man. The Incredible Hulk (which included a Tony Stark cameo) mentioned super-soldier serum in 2008, three years before Captain America: The First Avenger. That means The Incredible Hulk was another sequel and CA:TFA was a prequel.

Don’t like using the word like that? Would you rather think of the Iron Man movies as one film and two sequels, and the three Thor and three Captain America movies as one film and two sequels (each) and then The Avengers as some odd crossover event that won’t be neatly characterized, but that also comes with sequels?

Let’s look at Wikipedia for a sec.

A sequel is a literature, film, theatre, television, music or video game that continues the story of, or expands upon, some earlier work. In the common context of a narrative work of fiction, a sequel portrays events set in the same fictional universe as an earlier work, usually chronologically following the events of that work.

I confess (a second time), I prefer that one to the “continuation of the story” definition that you see in online dictionaries, which is unnecessarily nebulous. The films share a setting, which means they share supporting characters and story elements: SHIELD, the infinity stones, the Kree. Also, the events of previous movies affect current ones. T’Challa becomes king in CA: Civil War and is crowned in his solo film. SHIELD conducts research into Hydra technology because Loki sends The Destroyer to New Mexico to kill Thor.

Sequels.

That’s what the MCU is. They’ve created a long story–22 episodes of the newly christened “Infinity Saga” and I’ll see the “season finale” Friday sometime–and they’ve done it as haphazardly as the creators of traditional network TV series have done it. I suffered through the first season of 24 because the premise sounded amazing, but as that show foundered, it became clear that the creators did not have a plan for the season. They were winging it, episode by episode, and it showed. The folks making the MCU were winging it, too. See my previous blog post.

Except we need better a better term for it. Marvel is working on sequels for Black Panther and Doctor Strange, and when you use the word “sequel” that way, you understand exactly what they mean: another movie with Stephen Strange or T’Challa as the protagonist. What will we call the upcoming Shang-Chi film? An episode? An “installment”?

So I understand why people would complain that these films aren’t films, but I think that’s wrong. I think they’re both films and episodes, and they’re all the more enjoyable for it.

By the way, on Sunday night I plan to watch the next episode of Game of Thrones, even though I’ve skipped every other previous episode. And I’m going to say shit like “Who’s that guy? Who’s she? Jeez, remember back in the day when you could just watch a good TV show? Mid-season, fourth season, it didn’t matter! You had Starsky and you had Hutch and once the opening theme explained the premise, you were set. Now *that* was TV! Wait. Who’s that zombie–looking guy?”

We’ve gotten used to long arcs on TV shows, thanks to so-called prestige TV and the tendency of streaming shows to make each season a miniseries. Maybe we’re looking at a genuine sea change in the film industry, too.

Everything changes.