Every whodunnit mystery has two narratives. The first is the crime at the center of the story. How the murder was planned and carried out. The history between killer and victim. The red herring clues that point to innocent parties, and the backstory that makes those parties credible suspects. And so on. All of that comprises a complex narrative that, at the beginning of the book, is hidden from the reader and the protagonist.
The second narrative is the one the reader reads, in which the protagonist investigates and uncovers the first narrative.
Many ghost stories have a similar structure. There’s a hidden narrative of a terrible crime or crimes that created the ghost(s) and the specific details of the haunting itself. The story of the people who experience the haunting often depends on the revelation of that hidden crime for its resolution.
You might think that similarity in the two structures would mean they’d combine well, but the new CW series NANCY DREW shows how difficult that can be.
A lot of folks think that the main pleasure of a whodunnit (or any kind of mystery, really) is that things are be set right at the end. Something awful happens. Someone uncovers the culprit. They’re arrested or killed. Order is restored.
I dunno. I’ve never experienced them that way. For me, the main pleasures of a mystery are the characters, because you need a lot of contrast to tell all those suspects apart, and the hard work.
Me, I wasn’t much of a Nancy Drew fan until after VERONICA MARS showed me that the whole teen detective thing could have real bite to it. Then Emma Roberts appeared in the 2007 NANCY DREW, and I thought that movie was delightful. Much lighter than VM, but it still portrayed the protagonist as intelligent and hard-working, someone who kept digging for clues long after I would have given up.
But ghosts take all that away. Characters don’t have to act on their own initiative because they are terrorized by the supernatural elements of the story to take action. Ghosts push them toward clues. Visions of the past reveal the hidden narrative.
In other words, what would be revealed through the brilliance and diligence of the main character in a whodunnit is now forced upon them.
For example, in the most recent episode, a ghost keeps breaking screens in Nancy’s house. Only after the third one, on her laptop, does Nancy realize they’re all breaking in the same pattern. Nancy, being brilliant, recognizes her small town in the edges of the pattern, calls up Google Maps, and realizes the breaks are pointing toward a specific place: her high school.
Cut to a scene where she’s breaking into the school, complete with black knit cap and flashlight. A ghostly glow directs her to the trophy case/memorial/(?) where she finds a photo tucked away that proves another character lied to her in Act 2 of the episode.
So, sure, it’s smart to recognize the pattern and it shows initiative to break out the lock picks (by my count, Nancy has done a B&E in three out of four episodes this season and she really ought to be better at it) but it still feels like the mystery is being handed to her. Check out the school. Look in the case. In the first episode, a medium tells her to look in the attic, where she finds a bloody dress locked away in a trunk. It’s just another example of “Go here. Find clue.”
Not only is this sort of plot easier on the main character, it’s easier for the show’s writers. You don’t have to brainstorm a reason for Nancy to hunt for that photo at the school. You just have to brainstorm a way for the ghost to point the way in a spoooooky manner.
See also, the movie ODD THOMAS, which is a reasonably effective thriller as long as you don’t think too hard about the way Odd’s magic powers lead him by the nose from one plot point to the next.
See also, redux, this quote: (Source)
I don’t object to the way the Force is used in STAR WARS any more than I object to Eleven’s powers in STRANGER THINGS. It keeps things moving and doesn’t take away from the story. But then, the heroes in those stories aren’t detectives. I’m not watching because I’m hoping to see brilliance.
Honestly, I think I’d like NANCY DREW a lot more if the main character wasn’t named Nancy Drew. I wouldn’t have come to it hoping to see a bright, energetic young person doing the work that the older generations couldn’t.
The ghosts are fun, though. Maybe in the back half of this first season or in season two, they’ll have ghosts who mislead or interfere rather than help. I hope so.
If you’ve read this far down, you should hear a few facts: Progress on THE IRON GATE continues, although not as quickly as I’d have hoped. In fact, I was all set to take part in NaNoWriMo this year for the first time ever, but then I took a close look at the actual numbers and chickened out. Still, even if I’m digging a ditch with a shovel instead of a backhoe, that ditch is going to get dug.
ONE MAN continues to be delayed. Maybe I should set a definite release date to stop myself from fussing with this and that and just releasing it.
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.
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.
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.
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.
This post contains minor spoilers for Jessica Jones S3 and Stranger Things S3 along with huge, misery-making spoilers for Veronica Mars S4. The stuff I want to talk about in JJ or ST happen in the first episode, but with VM I’m going to talk about the Big Important Ending.
A little more spoiler space.
And a jump:
Between Christmas and New Years–right before the MS-DOS/date announcement promo was released–I kept thinking about what was in store for season three of Stranger Things. Not about who gets to live and who gets to die. The show has always been fairly gentle on the main cast, even thought it can be deadly for the supporting cast. #JusticeforBarb #JusticeforBenny #JusticeforMews #JusticeforHeather(pending) But what about the other story developments on the way?
So I made a list of predictions and bullshitted up the odds of them actually happening.
Here’s the list I came up with back at the end of December, the odds that indicate how likely I think it is, why I think it might happen, how, and a little commentary on the back end about it. Story talk! I enjoy story talk, and this one’s mainly about structure and foreshadowing.
1. Nancy discovers that Ted is not her biological father: 3:1
Basis: While shooting at cans in the woods, Nancy says she has no idea why her mother and father got married. And neither does the audience. “He was older and came from a good family” doesn’t really cut it. Why Karen and Ted?
Plot reveal: I’m thinking that, as a teenager, Karen had a shitty boyfriend who got her pregnant, then ditched her. (Who? Cary Elwes as the mayor is my current frontrunner, but if Jake Busey’s character is a long-time Hawkins resident, he’s a possibility, too).
To avoid a small-town scandal and spare their daughter a reputation that would have made her life hell, Karen’s parents paired her with Ted, who was older, had a good job, and needed a wife for “respectability”.
Foreshadowing to watch for: Any middle-aged male character who, in the first or second episode, asks Nancy how her mom is doing. Especially if they smirk when they ask.
Commentary: Obviously, I think this one is fairly likely, but I’m not sure how it would play into the season as a whole. In other words, why include it? The most obvious answer is “Billy,” as Ted (or someone) discovers Karen having an affair and is all “This again?”
Alternately, this season’s monster might be thematically related.
Finally, if this is true, I’d expect this to be common knowledge among the other parents. The kids and the teens might be shocked, but the grownups would sort of shrug and say “Well, I mean… yeah.”
2. Ted is gay and closeted: 12:1
Basis: See above. Ted acts like his home life is a bear trap he can’t escape and he shows zero affection for his extremely hot wife.
Plot reveal: Ted has a secret life, one where he’s not, you know, a great guy or anything, but he gets to be his real self. I’d expect it to connect him to another supporting character who is also in the closet. Maybe the mayor. Maybe Officer Powell or Calahan. Maybe Billy.
Foreshadowing to watch for: If anyone enters a dimly lit bar with only men in it, I’m expecting they’re going to run into Ted. Or, if he and Karen discuss their marriage as an arrangement or a deal.
Commentary: This one feels like a long shot, in part because the first two seasons set up Ted’s disinterest in his extremely hot wife, but not that he’s going out alone or spending time away from the family, which you’d expect if he was leading a double life.
Of course, Ted might be some form of gray asexual, but I honestly don’t think the show is sophisticated enough to go there.
As a character, Ted is not appealing. At all. But he could stand to be humanized. He has this great life he doesn’t seem to appreciate, and right now the show’s explanation is that he’s a drip, but it’s the work of a TV show to alter or invert its characters. It might be time to get a bit more Ted.
3. Ted becomes the major villain: 30:1
Basis: Pretty much none, except that I want it. Hashtag Fun.
Plot reveal: If this happens, it’ll happen early. He’ll be bitten by one of the infected/monster rats by the end of episode one, then will have a short descent into active evil (as opposed to “napping evil”) then full villain mode.
Foreshadowing to watch for: The first episode will have a lot of characters to re-introduce, but if Ted seems to be getting more than his share of screen time…
Hold on. Ted getting screen time? This sounds less and less likely with every word I type. Let me increase those odds to 30:1
Commentary: Given the style and tone of the show, this story choice is mutually exclusive with number 2. If one happens, the other won’t.
4. Will comes out to his friends: 3:1
Basis: Lonnie suspected that his son was “queer” and as much as I hate to admit it, psychopaths are sometimes very good at reading people. Plus, the fans seem to want it.
Plot reveal: That Will has feelings for one of the DnD Four (probably Mike) that goes beyond ordinary friendship, and that he, like Dustin, is unhappy that two of the four have coupled up. With girls.
Foreshadowing to watch for: That lingering half-second-too-long reverse shot of Will’s expressionless face as he looks off camera, if the shot right before the cut was on Mike, Billy, Lucas, Dustin, or some other appropriate male character. That’s how modern film and TV indicate unexpressed longing.
Commentary: One of the problems with the show is that it’s not as diverse as it should be. Letting Zombie Boy, the fragile, trembling prince of Hawkins, come out to his friends would help address that shortfall a bit but still feel like a natural part of his character growth.
5. Billy becomes a major villain
6. Karen and Billy hook up
LOL. These two were overtaken by later events, by which I mean: the first trailer.
The way this is edited makes it seem as if the infected bite on Billy’s arm turns him into the raw meat monster, but maybe they’re being tricksy. (It could be Ted. It could!).
Also, Karen and Billy are totally doing it.
So let’s assume those predictions turn out to be true (and no will be more shocked than me if I get something right) and create a derived prediction:
5a/6a. Karen becomes a monster/zombie. 2:1
Basis: I assumed, from the moment the first teaser featured a new mall in Hawkins, that it would be built over the site of the Hawkins lab and that the plot would involve zombies in some way. When the chapter titles were released, one of them was called “The Bite.” Suggestive, no? Also, “The Battle of Starcourt”? Please. We’re getting zombies this season. (odds: 1:12)
The trailer confirmed some of this. There’s a shot that looks like people doing the zombie-stagger, and Billy gets that bite, and (to cheat a little by referencing something said outside the show) the Duffers said they’d originally planned for Billy to be a bigger threat in season 2, but they had to pull that plot line because the show was already so full.
However! While “The Bite” is a perfect chapter title for a zombie show, it’s been given to the second to last episode. That’s really late in the season for a monster series and can’t be a reference to the _start_ of the spread of the zombies. So it must be referring to a bite on a specific person.
Why not Karen? If Billy’s infected and they’re having an affair, there would have to be a scene where she has to deal with Infected Billy. It’s unavoidable. The only reason I give it a 2:1 instead of a 1:1 is because I figure there’s a 50/50 chance the writers will arrange things so she will escape from Billy instead of getting infected.
Plot reveal: The kids realize that there’s a zombie-ish menace, and Mike returns home to regroup, only to discover that there’s a zombie already in the house! And it’s MOM! Dun dun duuuuun.
Foreshadowing to watch for: If Billy is getting it on with Karen, he’ll be getting it on with one of the other pool moms, too, and the show will establish the danger to Karen by having him bite and infect one of them. If Karen sees this zombified other woman, she’s more likely to escape from her scene with Billy without getting infected. If she does not, she’ll be less prepared and more likely to be monster-ized.
If the show establishes early that “Baby” Holly sometimes stays out of the house, it’s more likely that Karen will be infected. If Holly becomes infected herself, the infection is almost certainly curable.
Commentary: The 80’s had an awful lot of horror movies where character got themselves offed right after they had sex. It was puritanical and unwelcome, and I’m sort of hoping this plot line won’t play out that way.
7. Kali returns 1:1
Basis: Structure. Nothing else. Just structure. Linnea Berthelsen does not appear in the trailer or other promotional videos, and her name isn’t in the cast list on Wikipedia. (I can’t check imdb for the moment), but I’m still expecting her to make a surprise appearance, if only because it makes no sense to drop her.
Plot reveal: If Kali does turn up, she will either appear as a villain, just at the moment Our Heroes think they’ve escaped/defeated the monster, or she’ll ride to Jane’s rescue. Probably the latter. If neither happens, I’ll expect to see her in the last scene of the last episode, staggering wounded into Hawkins looking for Jane’s help, or else being chained and drugged in a cargo hold of a ship on its way to the Soviet Union.
Foreshadowing to watch for: In the first season, Hawkins Lab surveilled the cast with work vans. The trailer hints at Soviet agents appearing in the plot, so expect them to have some sort of nondescript vehicle that trails the characters. But if there’s an additional vehicle, one that looks more ordinary (like it’s been stolen), that’ll probably be Kali.
Commentary: The Kali episodes were not exactly fan favorites, but I liked the character and would be disappointed if she’s written out of the show. Of course, with Erica getting a bigger role, and Max and Billy and Murray making their return, plus at least four new characters, the cast is getting pretty full. I expect her to return without her crew.
8. Mike and Jane break up: 100:1
Basis: One of my flaws as a writer is that I try to make things too “realistic”, especially when the realistic choice is something readers don’t want. But still, what are the odds that Jane (I’m not using her dehumanizing lab name no matter how cool it is) would form a long-lasting relationship with the very first boy who was kind to her?
Seem like a long shot? It does to me.
But if Mike and Jane realized they weren’t compatible–she was bored by the stuff he likes, and vice versa, or she gets sick of being the one who has to do all the killing while he does nothing but tell people what to do–the show’s die-hard fans would swarm Netflix headquarters and strangle the executives with blue hairbands.
So, it probably would make sense for it to happen, but it won’t.
Plot reveal: They wouldn’t do this as a reveal. It would build in the narrative until the conflict reached a breaking point, like the Jane/Hopper conflict in season two.
Foreshadowing to watch for: Arguing, I guess?
Commentary: All I’ll say is, I’m glad they kept them apart for season two, so enough time could pass and the actors could be… what, 14 and 15 while their characters played out their big Young Love storyline. Maybe I’ve been trained by TV shows casting 20-somethings as high school kids, but Millie Bobby Brown looked awfully young for that kiss at the end of season one, when she was eleven years old.
9. Lucas and Max break up: 50:1
Billy tried to split Max from Lucas in season two, and since Neil is a) Billy’s origin story, b) Max’s stepfather, and c) a colossal dick, he might try to split Max and Lucas, and he might apply that pressure through Max’s mother, Susan.
Plot reveal: Again, I don’t see this as a reveal. It might happen over the course of the show, with Max ending things with Lucas not because of Neil’s disapproval, but maybe because of his violence.
Foreshadowing to watch for: If Susan nervously asks whether Max is really happy with Lucas, then maybe.
Commentary: I’m not sure fans are as invested in this teen romance the way they are in the Mike/Jane paring, which makes it a better candidate for a Romantic Turmoil plotline. It also creates a way to keep Neil and Susan invested in season three, and since the title of the first chapter is “Suzie, do you copy?” and Max’s mother is the only Susan on the show, I’m guessing we’re going to be spending some time with them.
Finally, if I were only going to predict that Neil would pressure Susan and Max to ditch Lucas, I’d give it much better odds than 50:1. This is just a guess as to whether they actually split up.
10. Jane uses her powers at the wrong time/for the wrong reason/under the wrong circumstances: 2:1
Basis: Jane has been pretty good about mostly using her powers for good. Even when she’s in the wrong, she pulls back before she does real harm. During her moment of jealousy in “The Pollywog”, she could have gone all Brightburn, lifted Max above that backboard and dunked her like Dr. J. (Hello, 80s reference). She was stressed enough, but she held back.
But this is the first season where she’ll be living in ordinary society, and ordinary society is full of people who need to be flung telekinetically against brick walls.
Plot reveal: The risks are two-fold: human villains discover what she can do, or the general populace do. This prediction basically covers anything from reflexively giving Neil Hargrove an Exorcist 180 when he tries to beat Max to disarming the (presumed) Soviet agent in that funhouse mirror scene in the trailer, but doing it in front of eye witnesses. Does she get her picture in the paper? Does a squad of Soviet agents target her? Does one of the locals (Neil? Susan? Karen?) get it into their heads that’s she’s a monster who has to be put down?
Foreshadowing to watch for: Speeches from Hopper about the importance of keeping her powers a secret (which are bound to happen even if the show doesn’t hit this plot point) combined with reaction shots of a seriously stressed-out Jane as she sees assholes being assholes.
Commentary: Considering this season is going to be focused on a mall and will presumably involve zombified citizens, I think we can assume that, by the end of episode eight, the secrets that have been haunting the town of Hawkins will be significantly less secret. The big question is whether Jane’s abilities also come into the open. That would mean that season three will be the only time she gets to have that “normal life” Hopper’s been talking about.
11. We meet Steve’s parents (and they get zombified): 5:1
Basis: It’s a zombie story (presumably). Steve is one of the best-liked characters on the show. Is he going to get a scene where someone he cares about has been turned?
Plot reveal: Zombie Dad Harrington shuffles through the mall, arms outstretched toward his own son! And there’s Steve, with his nailed-out bat in his hands. Dun dun dunnnnn.
Foreshadowing to watch for: Dad Harrington will be unhappy that his son has taken a job at Scoops Ahoy, but otherwise has a lot of opinions about the mall, either positive or negative. Extra points if, instead, rich kid Steve is be working at the mall because it’s his dad’s project and he is “starting at the bottom”.
Commentary: In season one, we met The Wheelers, The Byers, and the Ives. In season two, we met the Hargroves, the Sinclairs, and Ms. Henderson. Time, I think, for Steve’s “asshole dad” to make an appearance.
12. The DnD Four (plus Max and Jane) have spent the time between seasons 2 and 3 preparing for another monster attack: A hundred mabillion to one
Hey, if monsters tried to eat me (twice!) and I were a young, healthy person who couldn’t move away, I’d spend at least an hour a day preparing for the next time. Running, maybe. Getting the chief to teach me to shoot. Learning to pick locks, code Basic, fix electrical wiring, and maybe how to drive. Oh, a mall has opened up? How about we buy some mall katanas and a book on kendo. With pictures.
But… yeah. I just don’t believe it.
CAVEAT: I’m the worst predictor of things in the world. If any of this actually comes true, I’ll be shocked.
More predictions that probably won’t happen:
* Brenner is captive of/collaborator with the “Soviet presence in Hawkins” that Murray is so worried about.
* Murray gets a triumphant moment when he uncovers actual Soviet agents. Which is maybe his last moment.
* This season’s monster is the speck of smoke monster that was driven out of Will but couldn’t return to the gate and was too weak to maintain a hive mind.
* The monster has been growing and rebuilding its strength, spreading from one rat to another.
* Calahan and Powell learn about the special dangers of living in Hawkins, and Powell quits.
* Hopper hires Steve to take his place.
* This is the season where we find out exactly what the Upside Down is, whether it’s an alternate dimension or a future where the smoke monster ecosystem has destroyed the world.
* The show thins out the cast with some deaths and/or characters lighting out for distant places
* Jopper, which the trailer makes clear is off to a rocky start, happens but does not last to the end of the season.
Boom. That’s all.
Season 3 is a little more than a month away. I’m looking forward to it.
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.
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.
5) Forgery Experts Explain 5 Ways To Spot A Fake. Video.
7) How to take awesome food photos by Helen Rosner. (This is a terrific primer on visual composition)
Important: STRANGER THINGS is a Christmas show.
Here’s hoping you have a peaceful holiday, however you celebrate (or even if you don’t)
Each year, I share this version of A CHRISTMAS CAROL, which is still my favorite of all the versions of that famous story.
Because of the way they portray the ghosts and the spirits. There is no spookier version, and even fifty years later, the animation is gorgeous. So great, in fact, that it won an Oscar for short animated film, and prompted the Academy to change their rules so that shows that were first broadcast on TV were no longer eligible for their reward.
It’s the Wilt Chamberlain of animation.
If the embed doesn’t work, here’s the link.
Honestly, I think these times need this story more than ever. If you haven’t seen this version, this is your chance.
Some short reviews of Halloween-themed binge watches from this year (which isn’t over yet, obviously).
Horror is at once my least- and most-favorite genres. I don’t like stuff that too gross or gory. I’m not a big fan of torture, or grime, or people being torn apart. Misogynistic torture porn is my least favorite sort of movie. Spooky, evocative supernatural stories might be my favorite.
Anyway, this is what I’ve watched so far this year. And I’m sending this out as a first draft, so please forgive any awkward phrasing.
I am the Pretty Thing that Lives in the House (Netflix streaming): A quiet, understated ghost story about a timid live-in nurse who comes to care for a horror writer with dementia. She slowly comes to realize that the author’s most famous work may not have been fiction, and that her house might be haunted. There’s not a lot of story here, but there is a lot of quiet dread.
The Shining (Netflix streaming): Kubrick’s horror classic still holds up today, and it does so without a lot of shadowy figures in dark rooms. King himself was unhappy with this adaptation because he wanted an everyman actor to play Jack Torrance, because to him it’s a story of an average man who loses control. King thought Jack Nicholson was too much of a wild man, and famous for his role in One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest. But this is Kubrick’s story, and he’s got other things on his mind. Brilliant film, full of unforgettable moments.
Ringu (library dvd): Somehow I’ve missed this up until now, but I confess that I admired it more than I enjoyed it. There are, as far as I can tell, two sorts of ghost story. One where the main purpose of the story is to uncover a hidden truth, and one that doesn’t have a hidden narrative to uncover. The Shining was the latter, while Ringu is the former. That hidden narrative was interesting enough, but it didn’t feel solid.
The Sixth Sense (Netflix streaming): Everyone talked about the twist ending of this show, but what really makes this movie work is that it has two twists. The first is spoiled by that famous four-word line of dialog, and it takes a long time to get there. Still an enjoyable movie, though.
1408 (library dvd): A haunted hotel room is a fine idea for a story, but this whole thing feels expensive but uninspired. I enjoyed it while I watched it, but I’ve already forgotten most of the story.
Kwaidan (Netflix dvd): A big hit at Cannes in 1965, this anthology of ghost stories is very long and very beautiful, in a lavish studio technicolor way.
The Haunting of Hill House (Netflix streaming): Probably the scariest thing I watched this year, and I loved it. The combination of kids in danger, sound design, and continually building tension made me turn it off, more than once. After the first few episodes, I felt acclimated to it and was happy to binge to the end. Loved it, except the end. Honestly, the ending was pretty much a betrayal of the first nine-and-a-half episodes. But the rest of it was ::chef’s kiss::
The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina the Teenage Witch (Netflix streaming): I never watched the sitcom or the various cartoons, and I never read the comics, so I put this one on my queue solely based on the strength of the trailer. The show aims high, mixing horror and comedy and a bit of camp, which is not an easy tone to hit. It has a great cast, sharp writing, and it amazing to look at.
Ash vs The Evil Dead season 3 (library dvd): Speaking of difficult tones that are hard to get right, this third season of Ash vs the Evil Dead works like gangbusters, introducing Ash’s daughter, and losing some of the convoluted plotting off the earlier seasons. Even Lee Majors makes a brief return. I said above that I didn’t much care for gore, but I make an exception here. They don’t always get the tone right, but but they get it right enough that I can stick with it. It’s a shame the show was cancelled, but what a send off. I loved it enough to take a chance on the dvd commentary (which I regretted, as usual).
Constantine (Netflix streaming): There’s a lot of money and energy and charisma behind this, but it just doesn’t hold up.
Frailty (library dvd): Axe murder is one of the horror tropes that I try to avoid as much as possible, because it’s usually an excuse for fake gore, and I’m not a fan. But this movie turns the camera away at just the right moment, leaving the focus on the murderous father on a mission from God and his relationship with his sons. Super effective and very creepy.
It (2017) (library dvd): There are a few problems with this film, especially the way they treat Beverly as a plot device. But it has tremendous energy and a fantastic balance between youthful camaraderie and the threats surrounding the kids, whether supernatural or not. The structure was so solid I did a beat sheet for it. Now I just need to find time to break it down farther.
Ganja & Hess (library dvd): This is art-horror from the early seventies, a vampire movie directed by a Bill Gunn, a black playwright, actor, and director who also plays a supporting role here. Like a lot of older artsy movies, it tries the patience at times, but it also thwarts every genre expectation (in a good way). The original film was butchered by a distributor who wanted to show a blaxploitation film, but it’s been restored to the 110 minutes it’s supposed to be. Worth seeing, mostly because it’s different and an under appreciated classic.
The Night Stalker (my own dvd): One of the few movies I own. It has problems, but the structure is perfect, and it deserved to be a huge hit when it first aired. I watch it every year, and still love it.
Salem’s Lot (1979) (my own dvd): Far superior to the 2004 version, this simplification of Stephen King’s original novel still has chills, even 40 years later. My wife didn’t think much of it, since much of the staging and performances are dated, but revisiting it over the summer convinced me to pick up a copy of my own, and I’m glad I did.
The Transfiguration (Netflix streaming): Another art-horror film, this time one that combines the vampire story with hood dramas. The protagonist is a fourteen-year-old boy in Harlem who is obsessed with vampires and blood-drinking. This is another slow, quiet film, without much in the way of supernatural elements. I’m glad I saw it, but I probably won’t watch it again.
He Never Died (Netflix streaming): Like Kwaidan, this isn’t exactly horror, but it’s close enough to qualify. Henry Rollins plays a sort of immortal vampire, but one who feasts on flesh as well as blood. And he’s lived for so long that he has pretty much given up on life. Then he discovers that he has a daughter, and his quiet, controlled life begins to spin out of control. The movie is funnier than it sounds, with Rollins giving a quiet, droll performance, but it looks like that miniseries about the character will never happen.
Interview with a Vampire (Netflix streaming): This holds up much better than I expected, possibly because it’s a period piece that feels so grounded in its period. Few things become dated as quickly as a child actor’s performance (see Salem’s Lot above) but not Dunst. But the real strength of this film is the relationship between Brad Pitt and Tom Cruise. They’re great together.
Hereditary (Netflix dvd): Probably the second scariest thing I’ve watched so far this year. It felt a little confused, but it was one of a number of stories where the protagonists were threatened by spells and magic rather than traditional monsters or hauntings. Great performances, with a whole bunch of scary images at the end that I don’t think I’ll ever forget. It’s not often that I see horror films that make magical rituals or other spell casting work, but boy, does it.
The Ritual (Netflix streaming): This one combines a ritual magic story with a lost-in-the-woods monster story, and is mostly getting good word of mouth based on its unusual (and highly effective) monster design. The monster is not the real appeal, though. It’s the mounting tension and inexplicable threats the characters face.
The Wailing (library dvd): The third and final film about horror driven by magic spells, and this one had my wife and I guessing until the very end. Who is trying to do harm? Who is trying to help? It’s a longish film and starts off as a sort of horror comedy, with a buffoonish protagonist. As it progresses, shit gets more and more serious, and the buffoon turns into something else. I don’t think the film was playing fair 100% of the time, but I still loved it.
Evolution (library dvd): A quiet piece of French body horror about children in an island community who are being experimented on by their “mothers”. It’s weird and unsettling, filled with long quiet moments and blank, staring expressions. I liked it, but sometimes I thought it was deliberately trying my patience. Art/body-horror, if you can believe it. Side note: the ocean is creepy.
Slither (library dvd): This James Gunn horror comedy isn’t as funny as I remember it, but it was still pretty great. It’s hard to believe this was a huge flop that scared filmmakers off horror comedies for years. Nathan Fillion was his usual charming self, but some of his dialog could have been sharper. it was Elizabeth Banks and Michael Rooker that really make the film work. We could stand to have more alien invasion horror.
The Endless (Netflix streaming): A bunch of people have recommended this to me, but the sound mix made it hard for me to hear. I’ll have to try again another time, maybe when I have a chance to really crank the volume.
The Monolith Monsters (library dvd): I’ve seen this several times over the course of my life, and it was nice to revisit. It’s the only black and white show on this year’s list, which is unusual for me, but I really love the central conceit, about mindless alien stones that petrifies people.
Stranger Things (Netflix streaming): Oh hey there’s this sci-fi horror thing on Netflix you might have heard of. It’s pretty great. I’ve watched it a bunch of times, but every time I put it on, I end up getting hooked.