Thursday, March 14, 2019

Blast from the Past Movie Review: The Nutty Professor (1996)

Once upon a time I saw the film The Nutty Professor at a friend's house and got into trouble, since I wasn't allowed to see it in theaters when it came out. I would've probably been in early middle school at the time. Not that long afterward I was on a trip to Disney World with my little brother and Myopia podcast host Nic, whose little brother was on the same traveling baseball team, and this movie was the bus ride entertainment. This would've probably been in the 1997-98 range. I haven't seen the film since, but Myopia being what it is, the time soon came to see if the film held up.

So did it? Here's the podcast. And now for the review...

The Plot

Sherman Klump (Eddie Murphy) is a good-natured but clumsy and morbidly obese genetics professor working under Dean Richmond (Larry Miller), who for some reason blames him for the college losing funding. Just after the film begins, graduate student Carla Purdy (Jada Pinkett-Smith) comes to teach at the school and Klump is infatuated. Shrugging off his enabling family (for the most part also played by Eddie Murphy), he begins trying to lose weight to impress Purdy, but it's not progressing fast enough. He decides to experiment on himself with a fat-reducing formula, spawning a lecherous and (literally) testosterone-addled alter ego Buddy Love (also played by Eddie Murphy) who proceeds to wreak havoc.

The Good

*At the time I remember Eddie Murphy got a lot of attention for playing multiple characters at once, most of which involved extensive makeup and/or fat suits. He does a good job playing all the different characters and differentiating them--there's the No Filter sex-crazed grandmother, the healthier and more fitness-focused brother who encourages Sherman to exercise, and Sherman's squabbling parents. There's Sherman himself, who's jovial and clumsy but has a melancholic streak we see in his conversation with Jason (John Ales), his lab assistant. Murphy's also clearly having a lot of fun playing the loud and charismatic Buddy Love. I found the "ALL SPANDEX" scene hilarious back then and it's still funny now.

*Although I remember family members criticizing the film for mocking overweight African-Americans, the film's treatment of obesity is surprisingly balanced. Klump has an extraordinarily poor diet and doesn't exercise, but at the same time he and his family do seem to have stockier body types (this is specifically mentioned) and Klump himself seems to be an emotional eater using food to essentially medicate depression and low self-esteem. His poor eating habits seem to stem from his upbringing--as depicted in two dinner sequences with his family--and based on some of the dialogue, the way Sherman's father dresses and habitually carries a knife, and what they eat, it seems that the Klump family originally came from the country. There such a diet would be fine if you're burning 6,000 calories a day working on the farm but not if you have a more sedentary lifestyle. Look at the obesity rates in the South and Midwest, for example. And Sherman's father Cletus echoes the most dangerous parts of the so-called "fat acceptance movement" by claiming nothing is really wrong with them and they just happen to look different/have different body types rather than their atrocious diets, too much TV (after dinner Cletus sits down to watch Roseanne rather than go for walk), etc. Sherman's brother, although still heavier, is nowhere near as fat as the rest of them and he is specifically described as exercising.

*Furthermore, although exercising does improve Sherman's stamina and agility fairly quickly, he doesn't immediately slim down. This kind of thing takes a lot more work, as well as diet changes Sherman doesn't immediately make. And the film makes it clear that shortcuts can be dangerous. Although spawning a destructive split personality clearly isn't going to happen, a former member of my writing group who's a nurse said she would never work in a weight loss clinic because (according to her) they basically give people legal speed to get rid of the pounds rapidly but don't teach them how to deal with the other issues that caused them to become fat in the first place--poor diet, low self-esteem, depression, etc. We see this with Buddy Love continuing Sherman's poor dietary habits, which would probably give him heart disease and other issues even if he didn't pack on the pounds.

*The film also deconstructs the "nice guy" archetype a bit. Although Sherman is a legitimately good-natured and nice person, years of mistreatment over his appearance and his own shyness and clumsiness have spawned a resentful streak that, combined with overdoses of testosterone, literally creates a monster. It doesn't take long at all for Buddy Love to become a completely different person than "Sherman Klump who's 300 pounds lighter." Although Buddy and Sherman seem to be split personalities, the film does make it clear there's overlap. And Sherman does show some minor signs of Buddy Love-ism himself, like showing up at Carla's home uninvited to ask her out and perhaps pursuing a relationship a bit too aggressively, especially since she's a junior colleague.

(Carla isn't one of Klump's students like the love interest in the original film, nor is she a direct subordinate, but just because it's not explicit sexual harassment doesn't mean it isn't something that could spawn all sorts of problems if not handled carefully.)

*Jada Pinkett-Smith does a good job playing Carla. She's intelligent and compassionate and recognizes the goodness in the unattractive Sherman, but at the same time she can be wowed by the charismatic and handsome Buddy Love even though he's really over-dramatic and obnoxious. And she won't put up with nonsense.

*Dave Chappelle, who plays the odious comedian Reggie, also does a good job. He's pretty funny, but at the same time his humor has a cruel streak and he's most definitely set up for a fall.

*There are some good visual gags, including the film opening with a campus gerbil apocalypse and various pratfalls involving Klump's clumsiness and weight. Klump's "fat nightmares" are also pretty funny. Some of the humor also serves the greater story--Buddy Love's behavior grows obnoxious even before the exact "scientific" reasoning behind it is revealed.

The Bad

*Dean Richmond claims Sherman has alienated all the donors, but how exactly did he do this? Sherman is clumsy both physically and socially, but he's too good-natured to get into political controversies, harass colleagues and students, etc. Does everybody just hate him because he's fat? That would make sense story-wise, but I'm having a hard time believing all of the college's donors would be assholes like that. Or have incidents like "the campus gerbil apocalypse" happened before? It's my understanding that in the original film Jerry Lewis's character has a history of causing explosive lab accidents, but we don't see anything even implying Klump has caused mishaps before.

*How does Buddy know how to drive so well? Sherman might be relatively well-paid for an academic if he's been there awhile or if he's made a lot of scientific discoveries, but I doubt he'd have access to the type of car he'd need to practice the mad driving skills he demonstrates in one scene.

*There's a bit of inconsistency with Carla's character--she hated Reggie for how he acted toward Sherman, yet she's enjoying fat jokes? Yes, people are often contradictory, but it kind of grated a bit.

The Verdict

A surprisingly deep, funny film. 8.5 out of 10.

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Philo-Semitic Mussolini? Israeli PM Anne Frank? PRESIDENT PATTON?

Still self-banned from the alternate history forum, but I still drop in now and then to see if there's anything interesting. I found this timeline The Footprint of Mussolini and so far it's pretty cool. It diverges from our history when a Communist attempts to assassinate Mussolini in 1932, only for a Jewish Blackshirt (Mussolini early on included prominent Jews in the fascist movement, had a Jewish mistress, and only began to implement anti-Semitic laws to suck up to Hitler later on) to take the bullets instead. This makes Mussolini rather more friendly to Jews than in our history (he narcissistically equates himself with Italy and therefore a Jew dying for him translates to the idea of Jewish loyalty to Italy), which has a lot of important consequences.

*The alliance with the Nazis is more distant (there's a Dual Pact between Germany and Japan but no Anti-Comintern Pact that formed the basis of the Axis), leading to Mussolini having a more cautious agenda in the Balkans. He and allies like Bulgaria dismember Yugoslavia and later Greece on their own, avoiding participation in Operation Barbarossa and the war with the Soviet Union.

*In order to strengthen Italian control over Libya, Mussolini essentially buys a substantial number of Jews from an increasingly resource-strapped Hitler. These tend to professional and educated types and in particular German and Austrian Jews, whom he thinks would be loyal to him because they would clearly have no fondness for Hitler. One such family is that of German businessman Otto Frank and rather than gaining posthumous fame as a writer, his daughter Anne goes on to have a political career in Israel.

*Using the above situation as an example and under heavy pressure from the increasingly-deranged post-Stalingrad Hitler, Hungarian dictator Horthy dumps his Jewish population on the Italian border. When it's reported to Mussolini that these Jews are all chanting "Il Duce, save us!" he apparently has a flashback to the day a Jew saved his life and agrees to allow them in. The SS sent into Hungary to remove Horthy and round up the Jews for slaughter don't take this well and soon we have a war between Italy and the Third Reich. The Hungarian Jews (including none other than Elie Wiesel) turn the tables on their persecutors big time by requesting not Italian soldiers to protect them (as Mussolini expected) but ships to evacuate women, girls, and boys who have not had their bar mitzvah and guns so the older boys and adult men can hold Trieste against the Nazis. Seriously, it's a Crowning Moment of Awesome for an entire ethnic group and there's one line ("next year in Jerusalem!") that several readers claimed brought tears to their eyes. I admit it impressed me.

*Mussolini, seeking to aggrandize himself while the bigger players are a bit busy, sets up Italy as the guarantor of neutrality for various Mediterranean nations, creating a fascist bloc there. Although we haven't gotten to the Cold War as of March 2019, a Mussolini-led third force in the Mediterranean would be quite the wild card.

*With no African campaign and invasion of Italy to create Stalin's long-desired Second Front, D-Day happens in 1943 and not 1944. It's a much bloodier affair, as the Allies are less well-prepared without the experience fighting the Italians and the Germans haven't been bled as severely fighting in Russia.

*There are some hints that General Patton will have a political career of his own after the war rather than rather ingloriously dying in a Jeep accident.

Although some people might be concerned this scenario whitewashes Mussolini, he still commits plenty of ugly deeds in this timeline. Sufficient to say the Slovenes pay and pay and pay for their collaboration with the German invaders and there's still the matter of Ethiopia. And given some hints in the content published thus far, there's still more to come. This whole scenario is pretty interesting, so I'm definitely keeping an eye on this one.

Saturday, March 9, 2019

What If: The US Government Cracked Down On Scientology

Still self-banned from the alternate-history forum and likely to stay that way, but the users whose handles are GeographyDude and WhiteDragon25 posted an interesting alternate timeline in which the U.S. government cracks down on Scientology.

Why would it do that, you ask? Doesn't the U.S. Constitution protect religious freedom? Yes it does, but the Church of Scientology itself is involved in a lot of nefarious practices. The trigger in this alternate timeline is that when the FBI raids Scientologist offices in the late 1970s as part of the investigation into Operation Snow White, things go a bit pear-shaped and the Scientologist leaders are able to get word out to their agents in the IRS and other federal agencies.

(Yes, there was an extensive Scientology espionage/infiltration operation against the U.S. government. I wish I was making this up.)

Said agents panic and make mistakes, screwing up IRS records and Americans' getting their tax returns processed in a timely fashion. This spins up quite a lot of outrage against the "Church" once word gets out as to who is responsible. The number of FBI raids mushroom, more abusive Scientologist practices are exposed, and Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard himself ends up sentenced to a lengthy prison term. Given the widespread fears of New Age cults at the time (the fact that deprogramming was acceptable speaks volumes), I could easily imagine Scientology getting no mercy from the justice system or the wider public.

This in turn leads to a wider crackdown on cults and even more mainstream religions, although I think some of the commentary on evangelical mega-churches does seem like it's shading into wish-fulfillment territory. That said, given some of the televangelist scandals of the later 1980s, it's not like there weren't sins and crimes committed on that front either.

Thursday, February 21, 2019

LOST In 1992? Thoughts on NBC's "Danger Island"/"The Presence"

When I was in elementary school, NBC broadcast a horror TV movie called Danger Island (later released on DVD as The Presence) featuring noted supermodel Kathy Ireland and Gary Graham, who played the human detective from Alien Nation, in prominent roles. The gist of it is that some survivors of a plane crash in either the Caribbean or the Pacific (it's not totally clear) end up on a tropical island where, 10-15 years before, the U.S. military had conducted highly-questionable scientific experiments, and all hell breaks loose. My father taped it for me and I really rather enjoyed it. Ultimately the film podcast Myopia: Defend Your Childhood did a TV movies month, with this being one of the films. Here's our podcast discussion. I'm not going to review it, but instead I'll discuss what might've been.

You see, per the almighty IMDB, this wasn't just a TV movie, but an intended television pilot. Unfortunately things didn't work out, and so there was no TV series. I posted about this on the alternate history forum several years ago and Canadian author Bruno Lombardi theorized that this could've been an early (and much lower budget) version of Lost. In fact, this reviewer theorized that many ideas Lost ran with could've come from Danger Island originally. Had the movie been more successful, had Kathy Ireland been interested in participating as an actress (or producer, given how she went into business and made a lot of money soon afterward), etc. we could have had something like Lost a decade earlier.

The film leaves us with all sorts of interesting threads to explore. Spoilers abound, so you might want to watch the movie (it's on YouTube, as a whole movie or in multiple parts, if you must) or listen to the podcast first. Here goes...

*The last of Babcock's antigen has cured Rick (Gary Graham) of the deformities the squid-monster's attack had inflicted (the two graves are the dead female scientist's and Frank's, not his), but left him with extrasensory abilities. Due to briefly touching Laura (Kathy Ireland's) hand, he knows that she really is a model but is ashamed to admit it and he drops to obvious CIA agent Ben Fields (Richard Beymer) that he knows he's connected with the island and the projects there. Earlier Ben had said "small world" when nobody else was around upon learning the facility was called "MK Naomi" and Rick quotes that back at him, indicating he might have telepathy-at-range as well as the ability to pick up on the thoughts and memories of people he touches. Rick's new abilities could be useful in exploring the island's mysteries, but they might also unsettle the other crash survivors. After all, he might find out stuff about them they don't want him to know--Matt (Joe Lara) seems to either owe a lot of people money or is involved in criminal activity, while Brian (Christopher Pettiet) is a child of divorce whom neither parent wants. And who knows what secrets the others have? Finally, it's strongly implied the Indian/Polynesian (it's not totally clear) island natives were experimented on by MK Naomi's scientists--they might view Rick as a monster.

*And Ben has a connection of some kind with the island, given the very unsubtle cuts to him and his reactions whenever something weird happens and how the Indian chief seems to recognize him. When I was a kid I always thought Ben was Babcock, the scientist who sabotaged the facility and gave the island's natives the remaining antigen to protect themselves from whatever it was MK Naomi had been working on in the 1970s. That leads to some logistical issues--given how he is clearly still with the CIA, if he showed up back at the office claiming there'd been an accident on the island and he was the only survivor, the CIA would investigate and they'd find the dead scientist's journal and other records implicating him. This was the era of the Church Committee and Congressional attempts to rein in CIA overreach, but there's a difference between whistle-blowing and sabotaging an expensive facility, causing several deaths. He'd be dead meat, probably literally.

If he really was Babcock, revealing that might regain him the trust of the other castaways if Rick reveals he's been hiding stuff from them--biology professor and AIDS researcher Diana (Lisa Banes) views Babcock as being the only scientist at the site who had a conscience. However, he might not want people to know that for fear what he'd done would be exposed to their eventual rescuers or his fellow survivors would learn he'd done something truly horrific before he saw the light and turn on him. This could lead to all sorts of interesting internal conflict with Ben and he might even be tempted to silence Rick, even thought the beginning of the film indicates they're longtime business partners.

*There's at least one monster on the island, the chimera squid/sea-urchin thing that injects Frank (Steve Goldsberry) and Rick with mutagens that transform the former into the Creature from the Black Lagoon and disfigure and derange the latter. The island is fairly large and the scientists might've been there for years before things went down, so who knows what other critters might be about? The female scientist who committed suicide was convinced the people who went looking for Babcock would be "dead by dark," so the castaways might've been very lucky to find the fortified "Habitat" when they did.

*The movie ends with the castaways delivering medical supplies to the Indian villagers, although I'm not sure why exactly. The Indians had a shrine to Babcock complete with his lab coat and other stuff (presumably in honor of him having saved them from MK Naomi's horrors), but none of them seem to be suffering from mutations or other ill effects. Perhaps the survivors are trying to start a trading relationship with them? That would make sense, since the Indians would know what plants and animals are safe to eat (i.e. that won't turn into pulsing spraying nasties after a day or two) and are probably growing their own safe food and certainly know more about the island's geography, critters, etc. Meanwhile, the base might have antibiotics or other things the Indians need. Diana knew how a lot of the medical stuff worked, so until something irreplaceable breaks, she could use the base's facilities for nobler purposes. And embassy Marine Vic (Eddie Velez) and the Indian girl whose name sounded a lot like "Linda" seemed to be getting affectionate (before Vic hallucinated she was a monster and started choking her), so we could see some developments there. Linda might be forgiving if it was all an accident, but her family or other members of the tribe might not be.

*The castaways find a long-buried Jeep and a human skull with a bullet in it, but the dead scientist's journal implies many personnel set out in search of Babcock after he sabotaged the facility and fled with the antigen. The dead scientist theorized they'd all be dead by nightfall, indicating something is out there, but the fact one person had shot and killed another implies something a bit more complicated than "island mutants ate them." Did the base personnel turn on each other? Did something infect one of them like it had Frank and they put him down? Between Ben's prior knowledge and Rick's ability to pick up on past events, we could have flashback episodes. There's also the possibility some original personnel might've survived and they could become enemies like The Others from Lost. Especially if they've been infected by whatever they'd been worked on and mutated into unpleasant creatures like Frank.

*Embassy official Karen (Beth Touissant) considers herself superior in rank to Vic and orders him around, but we see him chafe against her authority already even though they've been on the island for at most a day or two. As Vic is the only trained soldier and, more importantly, the only one who has a gun, that could be a problem.

*Matt has a past he's trying to get away from and the survivors have been transmitting their location via radio. Although the radio is "locked" onto military channels, one never knows if someone else might be able to listen in, especially if the radios are less-secure 1970s vintage. Gilligan's Island had a rather stereotype-filled episode where the castaways were confronted by a Japanese sailor who believes WWII hasn't ended. Perhaps update that plot by having some Southeast Asian drug traffickers pick up on one of MK Naomi's transmissions and recognize Matt's voice? They set off to deal with someone who owes them money or screwed them over in the past, only to find a treasure trove of dangerous biotechnology that they of all people really shouldn't be allowed to have.

(That could be a really cool season-ending cliffhanger--a bunch of Triads storm the island and Vic has to organize the castaways and Indians into an army using his own gun and whatever guns might be lying around the facility to keep them from selling MK Naomi's bioweapons on the black market. If any actors' contracts are up, some characters can die. And given how the gangsters wouldn't know what horrors the island holds, they wouldn't expect to be attacked by monsters. We could throw in the return of the urchin-squid and add some new abominations. This could be a movie-length mega-episode or a two-parter, one at the end of the first season and the other at the beginning of the second.)

*They castaways have been transmitting for days trying to reach the outside world, but Kate (June Lockhart) worries just who might come to "rescue" them. After all, they've just found something that, if revealed to the wider world, would at best be embarrassing and at worst could lead to a bunch of people getting jailed for illegal experiments, atrocities against the Indians, possible misuse of funds, etc. Ben tells them that as far as the rest of the world is concerned they've just disappeared, so the Deep State guys could ensure they stay that way. However, I recall an account by a woman arrested and brutally interrogated by agents of a US-backed dictator in Latin America who said a white man observed her being tortured, became very upset upon learning she was an American, and she got released soon afterward. Even sinister government types who'd be inclined to violently conceal their activities might hesitate to straight-up murder their fellow citizens, but at least some people were, back in the 1950s, willing to kill U.S. citizens in false-flag attacks to justify a war with Castro's Cuba. Since Ben is pretty obviously CIA or a spook of another sort, this could be an interesting test of loyalties for him.

This could have gone in a lot of interesting directions. However, Lombardi theorized that a hypothetical Danger Island TV show wouldn't have lasted very long due to viewers getting impatient with all the mysteries. Unless I make J.K. Rowling levels of money with my various projects (something tells me Kathy Ireland isn't feeling nostalgic, so I'm probably the only one who'd care to remake this), the hypothetical TV show is going to stay hypothetical, so there's really no way to know.

Saturday, February 9, 2019

A More Radical Union During The Civil War? Japanese-Hawaiian Dynastic Union?

Although I'm still self-banned from the alternate history forum because it's a time sink, I still visit now and again to see if anything interesting has been posted. Maybe if I ever become successful enough to go full-time perhaps I'll have them un-ban me (and I'll probably drop back in to advertise Little People, Big Guns when it comes out in November), but that's a long ways off.

Here are a couple interesting scenarios for you.

Until Every Drop of Blood Is Paid: A More Radical Civil War-In real history, the American federal government suppressed the Confederacy's attempt to secede from the Union to preserve (and possibly expand into the Caribbean and bordering areas) slavery and freed the slaves, but the war wasn't explicitly fought for abolition at first and the U.S. ultimately prematurely abandoned Reconstruction, condemning the former slaves to two to three generations of Jim Crow suppression. In this scenario, the murder of Lyman Trumbull by a pro-slavery fanatic gets Abraham Lincoln into the Senate in 1854, where his views on slavery and race become more radical much earlier than they did in real history. This has consequences--John Brown, though still ultimately a failure, is more successful than in real history, and the Confederacy still emerges under different leadership (its president is the failed presidential candidate John C. Breckenridge, with real-life Confederate President Jefferson Davis as Secretary of War). The Confederates do better early on, but from the way things are going, the South is going to get an even worse hiding than in real history.

AHC: Make Hawaii a Japanese Colony-An "AHC" is a challenge to come up with a scenario where a particular counterfactual happens--in this case, Japan rather than the United States colonizes Hawaii. In the post I linked to, a brief visit to Hawaii by lost Japanese fishermen triggers diplomacy between the kingdom (this is well before the U.S. annexation) and the Tokugawa Shogunate. You know, the regime that (mostly) cut off Japan from foreign contact. To make a long story short, the two insular powers form an alliance to deter European or American meddling. It's based on a lot of little-known real-life history (including proposed dynastic alliances, treaties of protection against various outsiders, etc) and it's pretty interesting. My main quibble is that I think the author overestimates the isolation of Tokugawa Japan from outside knowledge, although he does acknowledge the existence of Dutch Learning.

Friday, February 8, 2019

Film Theories and Subtext: ROAD HOUSE (1989) and IMMORTALS (2011)

Once upon a time in one of my writing groups I remember my as-yet-unsold novel Battle for the Wastelands getting criticized for its lack of subtext. At the time I didn't think that criticism was particularly valid, although at this point I don't remember the details and the work has undergone many revisions in the years since then. Overall it is a good idea to imply stuff in the text that's not stated explicitly in order to add depth to your work, get your readers discussing it with each other, etc.

Here are some subtext-driven film theories I've come up with, one very recently and a few years ago. Spoilers ahead, so be ye warned...

Road House-The other night, I saw Road House when my friend Nic was doing a comedy performance with the Atlanta comedy troupe Cineprov. Although nobody in the habit of editing the Wikipeda or TVTropes pages seems to have noticed, I got the implication that Doctor Elizabeth "Doc" Clay (Kelly Lynch) is actually the ex-wife of small-town bully and petty gangster Brad Wesley (Ben Gazzara).

*She references having been married before, but it didn't work out.

*Another character refers to Wesley's wife having left him and him not taking it very well.

*Wesley's new wife or mistress (it's not clear which) looks a lot like Doc. They're both tall and blonde, although the new girl comes off as a lot ditzier and raunchier than, well, a medical doctor.

*Wesley gets REALLY twitchy when he sees Doc over at the room that James Dalton (Patrick Swayze) has rented from a local farmer, especially when she and Dalton start getting busy on the roof outside. He's watching from across the lake for an awkwardly long time and rather than deriving voyeuristic glee out of the situation, he's clearly not a happy camper.

*When Wesley and his crew show up at the Double Deuce club to make trouble, the way he and Doc talk implies they have some sort of history, or at least know each other.

*When Dalton goes to Wesley's house for the final confrontation, Doc arrives just when Dalton is going to finish Wesley after having killed or otherwise incapacitated his goons. That doesn't necessarily mean she's been there before, that she has access to the property, etc. but she would probably be familiar enough with the house and how to get there quickly if she'd lived there before. Someone online theorized that she'd been taken hostage, but Wesley's whole plan was to kill Dalton's friend/mentor Wade Garrett (Sam Elliot) and then have his goon squad waiting in the driveway with guns for Dalton to show up. Not only are all the goons there waiting for Dalton (i.e. nobody is kidnapping Doc separately), but there's no need for Doc to be present at all, since Garrett would have been provocation enough. Also, in their previous conversation, Wesley threatens Dalton, not Doc herself.

Immortals-I saw this a few years ago and although nobody seems to think this besides me, I got the distinct impression that the villainous King Hyperion (Mickey Rourke) is actually the father of the film's hero Theseus (Henry Cavill).

*Theseus is the town outcast, the product of his mother getting raped by a bunch of "peasants."

*When the slimy Lysander (Joseph Morgan) brings this up in front of Hyperion, Hyperion takes offense at his mockery of peasants, claiming that he had been a peasant himself.

*One of the seers has a Bad Future vision of Hyperion and Theseus standing together as allies, which might happen if Theseus learns Hyperion is his father and Hyperion plays his cards right--claims he didn't know Theseus's mother was pregnant, that the gang-rape story isn't actually true, etc. As a young man who grew up without a father, Theseus might be particularly susceptible to Hyperion much like how Luke was tempted by Vader's We Can Rule Together routine in The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi.

(In the old Expanded Universe novel The Truce at Bakura that takes place immediately after ROTJ Luke momentarily fantasizes about how he could have ruled the Empire--only to realize that even if he had fallen to temptation, him, Vader, and Palpatine would have died with the Death Star.)

Of course, the fact Hyperion killed Theseus's mother in front of him would realistically put a damper on that...

Yes, fan theories are often ridiculous and silly, but I think these have some legs.

Thursday, February 7, 2019

Blast from the Past Movie Review: Merlin (1998)

The film podcast Myopia: Defend Your Childhood that I'm on is doing a dedicated television movies month. Thomas's contribution to the list was the 1998 television miniseries Merlin, which features none other than Jurassic Park alumnus Sam Neill as the legendary wizard. I watched it when it was on TV and could remember a lot of the general beats, so I figured I'd give it a spin.

Here's the podcast, which among other things features me rasping a lot and swearing. And now for the review...

The Plot

It's the 6th Century AD or so and Britain is a mess. Various Christian and pagan factions are at war with each other, while the Saxons invade from Europe. The goddess Queen Mab (Miranda Richardson) and her henchman Frick (Martin Short) attempt to stem the decline of "the old ways"--since if gods aren't worshiped, they cease to exist--in the face of the growing power of Christianity. To do that Mab creates Merlin (Sam Neill) as a sort of anti-Jesus (complete with what seems to be a virgin birth), but Merlin refuses to serve Mab after he discovers just how cruel and unpleasant she is. The supernatural cold war between the two drives the events of the story of King Arthur (Paul Curran) over what seems to be a generation or so.

The Good

*Most Arthurian stories don't take the Saxons into account even though the earliest historical accounts of Arthur are about fighting the invading Saxons. I suspect this has to do with Le Morte D'Arthur and The Once and Future King, which don't feature the pagan continental invaders and focus instead on conflicts among the Celtic Britons. The prologue to the film depicts the Saxons, who respect neither Christian churches nor Celtic pagan shrines, as one of the various problems assailing Britain, which was nice. I'd have liked more of them, but more on that later.

*The acting is for the most part good. After all, they do have Sam Neill, Martin Short, and other talented actors to work with. There are a couple moments of apocalyptic badness (that believe me I make sure to mock in the podcast), but I'll get to those later. Miranda Richardson is raspy and annoying, but she has one really good moment that I discuss in the podcast, since it's spoiler-iffic.

*Paganism is referred to as "the old ways," which however annoying the way they keep saying it is, does make sense. One reason animistic and polytheistic "old religions" tend to fall before proselytizing religions like Christianity, Buddhism, and Islam is that they lack strong organizational structures and in many cases even literature and writing. They're just things people have always done, and that's a pretty weak reed when facing societal collapse (the fall of Rome, the Saxon invasion) or the arrival of a much more organized new faith bearing with it various advancements like literacy (and thus more coherent governmental administration), new crops and farming techniques, etc.

(Yes, I am aware of persecutions of polytheists by ascendant monotheists, but the new faith has to get into a strong enough position to do that in the first place. It took 300-odd years for Christians to persecute Roman pagans; before it was the other way around. And St. Patrick in Ireland was a straight-up slave.)

*When Mordred makes his move, he goes into battle wearing the sun-god image on his armor that's associated with the film The Wicker Man. Considering he's paganism's last champion against oncoming Christianity, that's a nice bit of detail.

The Bad

*For a being of such great power, Merlin comes off as extremely weak and passive. He takes no action (other than to berate Arthur about it) when he learns that Morgan has slept with Arthur even though he's sure a child will result due to Mab's scheming. Even though he knows Morgan is laired up in Castle Tintagel with the young Mordred and Mab getting up to who knows what, all he really does is beg her not to raise Mordred in the "old ways." He doesn't attempt to kidnap or kill Mordred or Morgan despite knowing the threat they represent (and the Vortigern plot shows Merlin is capable of physical violence if he wishes), nor does he have Arthur attempt to take control of his son or attack Tintagel with his armies if Morgan objects. One could argue that this could provoke the wrath of Mab, but Mab is not omniscient or omnipresent. Merlin could pull a fast one and Mab wouldn't be able to prevent it.

*Per the above, so many bad decisions made by so many other people. We're talking Matrix Revolutions levels of stupidity (listen to the podcast in which I discuss that) among people who should know better. It's a lot harder to enjoy the movie when people who are supposed to be such great heroes are all a bunch of morons.

*Per my earlier comment about Mordred, when he enters the picture as an adult, nobody seems able to deal with him. He just walks into Camelot, claiming to be Arthur's son, and starts stirring up trouble. Even in The Once and Future King, it takes years for him to build the support base to challenge Arthur and he's more conflicted about doing it. And once he makes his violent intentions clear, all Arthur does is slap him and he knocks around some soldiers who try to arrest him. That would've been a very good time for a Zerg Rush, since however skilled he is he's just one man.

*Mab's voice is weird and annoying. She's supposed to be an otherworldly being and I know what they're going for, but they could have done something else than have her rasp and screech. Mab also has got too much eyeliner and looks like she's BoToxed to hell. Is this supposed to be a metaphor for her refusal to accept her own obsolescence? She's not super-duper impressive as a villain.

*There are two scenes where Merlin and Mab face off and Neill, for all his acting chops, just comes off as really goofy and ridiculous. "I WILL BEAT YOU MAB! I WILL FIND A WAY!" or something to that effect. If Mab were more genre-savvy, she should have just slagged him right there before he gets powerful enough. Someone really needs to read the Evil Overlord List. And in another scene, Merlin is all like, "ARTHUR WILL HEAL THE LAND!" Excessive drama aside, heal the land from what? The previous king Uther Pendragon is shown to have...issues...but the situation hasn't reached Vortigern-level issues of tyranny or (large-scale) civil war.

*Although Frick is one of the film's more amusing characters, there's a scene later on where he comes off as really passive and foolish. Life lesson: If someone you know is extremely powerful and capable of doing really bad things to you with magic does something bad to someone else, use your own powers (and he has them) immediately rather than just yell at them and give them a chance to hammer you down. This person is someone he knows very well, so he should know just what they're capable of. Idiot.

*The passage of time in the film is really wobbly. Nimue seems to be a trainee nun (or just hanging around an abbey) for one or two decades and however much the Church emphasizes hospitality, at some point they're going to tell her to shit or get off the pot. Arthur is gone hunting for the Holy Grail long enough for problems to result, but the Holy Grail is supposed to be in Britain itself. He'd basically be riding around his own kingdom and could probably check in at Camelot fairly regularly.

*Speaking of the Holy Grail, there's very little foreshadowing about it. Apparently there's a deleted scene explaining that when Frick had the young Morgan put a stone in Arthur's crib (that scene stayed in), it was supposed to curse him with impulsiveness, but that scene really should have stayed there. Knowing Arthur's impulsive behavior is of supernatural origin would explain both some of the good and bad decisions he makes.

*The Saxons aren't mentioned at all after the prologue--the story is super-focused on the "Summer Kingdom" and how it ended, but it was Arthur's unification of the various post-Roman Celtic factions to defeat the Saxons that made the SK possible. There should've been at least one battle against the Saxons--who BTW look like a bunch of central casting Vikings complete with horned helmets--in addition to the various British warlord-types.

*This ties in with my last major problem--the movie is way too long for what happens in it. Yes, it's a TV miniseries, but they should have had a lot more stuff in the allotted time to make it entertaining and less draggy. Per my earlier remarks, making Saxons a larger presence would have been one way--Merlin and Mab could be forced to temporarily work together to help Arthur's Celtic coalition fight off a Saxon invasion, since the Saxons don't respect the Celtic pagans any more than they respect the Celtic Christians, and their victory would be Mab's undoing just as much as the triumph of Christianity. A Nazi-Soviet pact between Merlin and Mab, if you will.

(Incidentally this would deal with my beef with Merlin being so passive and Mab not crushing an obvious threat while he's still weak--he can't move against Mab, nor can Mab move against him, because of the oncoming Saxon invasion. They can snip at each other and impede each other in minor ways, but the apocalyptic showdown simply cannot happen or both Celtic pagan and Celtic Christian civilizations are doomed. Once the Saxons are beaten back, then we move into the endgame.)

During this period of the story, Mab could try to seduce Merlin back into her service (perhaps by offering to heal Nimue's injuries), while Merlin could try to find ways to undermine and destroy her in the process of working with her against the invaders. For example, he could at least try to undermine young Mordred's faith in "the old ways" by explaining that for all her power Mab is ultimately dependent on her worshipers (i.e. she's a parasite and needs them more than they need her) and that she's not even a goddess, but a being from "the land of magic" (i.e. an alien or, as they might understand it, a Fae). Although this doesn't work, the Saxons could still be beaten and Arthur could celebrate the defeat of the Saxons and what appears to peaceable relations with his half-sister with the building of Camelot and the quest for the Grail, only for Mab, Morgan, Mordred, etc. to backstab him before Merlin can backstab them by inciting a coup in Camelot while he's away. If Mordred is old enough to participate in said battle with the Saxons, it could earn him allies among Arthur's supporters that barging into Camelot and griping about Guinevere's affair with Lancelot really wouldn't.

*Finally, is Merlin's guardian Ambrosia a Christian or some kind of non-theist who follows her own conscience? Mab assumes she's become a Christian when Ambrosia tells her to her face she no longer believes in "the old ways," but Ambrosia claims she "follows her own heart." However, she also invokes angels with a dying patient, something neither an atheist nor a Celtic pagan would believe in.

The Verdict

It's not enjoyable enough for the time it takes to watch, especially due to the nonsensical behavior of much of the cast. 6.0 out of 10. Don't bother.

Sunday, January 27, 2019

After-Action Report: Days of the Dead Atlanta, 2019

The weekend of January 25 to January 27, I attended the Days of the Dead Atlanta horror convention at the Sheraton Atlanta Hotel in Atlanta, GA, splitting a table with fellow dark fiction author T.S. Dann. I sold 24 copies of The Thing in the Woods and six copies of The Best of Heroic Fantasy Quarterly Vol. 2. After running all of my expenses (costs of the table, per-unit book costs, snacks, a Lyft ride) and gross revenue, I made around $180 profit. In terms of single-event profitability, this one places second to the Atlanta Comic-Con in July 2017 and ahead of the Atlanta Sci-Fi and Fantasy Expo I attended in March 2017. This one is a definite go-back, especially once my upcoming horror-comedy Little People, Big Guns is released by Deadite Press in November 2019.

(Considering how there aren't a lot of conventions in December and I've got a lot of RL obligations that month, if Days of the Dead Atlanta 2020 is in January that might be the first event where I sell LBPG.)

In addition to earning money, I also got 31 e-mails for my mailing list, which will come in handy when my military sci-fi novel Blood on the Border, the slightly more science-fiction oriented Thing sequel The Atlanta Incursion, and LPBG come out.

(Only LPBG has a definite release date--Blood will be published independently hopefully sometime over the summer and I haven't heard back from the publisher yet on TAI. However, I've got high hopes for them all.)

Based on attending this convention and previous events, here's my advice for aspiring authors:

*Always split the table at a convention if you can. One reason that I made so much profit (as opposed to just gross revenue, although that too was pretty high) at Atlanta Comic-Con was because I split the table with C.S. Johnson. The table cost at Days of the Dead was high, but fortunately Dann was able to shoulder half of it. If he hadn't been able to attend, I would have barely recovered my expenses--and that doesn't take it into account that some people who came over to check his stuff out ultimately bought some of my stuff instead or as well.

*Take the time to network. I met Jeff Strand and his wife as well as John Wayne Comunale there. The Strands informed me there's a Horror Writers Association chapter that just formed in Atlanta that, in addition to networking opportunities at meetings, intends to set up a table members can sell from at the Decatur Book Festival. Considering how I sold a fair number of copies at the DBF at the Atlanta Writers' Club booth, another table someone else is paying for that I can put shifts in sounds awesome.

*Have more than one product to sell if possible. 20% of my profit for the event came from the Heroic Fantasy Quarterly anthology, which wasn't yet published when I had my first book signings and convention appearances. As I publish more and more books, I anticipate my revenues will rise. Someone who isn't interested in the Lovecraft-type horror of Thing might like the Dungeons and Dragons and/or Conan the Barbarian type stories in the Heroic Fantasy Quarterly anthology or the ridiculousness and Crosses The Line Twice of LPBG.

*Always bring your lunch. Leaving the table to get food will not only cost you potential sales (since you're not at the table to sell to passers-by), but you'll spend money on the food. Getting a sandwich from the hotel Starbucks at the Atlanta Comic Convention in December 2017 cost me $6.50, equivalent to the profit of selling one copy of The Best of Fantasy Quarterly Vol. 2. I'm not recommending being a total cheapskate, especially if there's something new and good to eat at the convention, but remember everything has a cost.

*Always have lots of bookmarks and other swag to hand out. I handed out hundreds of VistaPrint large-size cards (that can be used as bookmarks) that Digital Fiction Publishing designed for me. This cards have a QR Code linking to a page with links to the various places my fiction is available online. People who weren't able to purchase my books at the convention will be able to do so using the QR code on the card--and be able to purchase other short stories, novellas, etc. that simply don't exist in print form. Even if they don't know how to use QR codes or simply don't bother with them, the card has the title, author, publisher, etc. and can remind them to look it up. Handing out the cards could generate additional sales for me for days, possibly weeks, afterward.

Saturday, January 12, 2019

A Not-Quite-Serious LABYRINTH Fan Theory and A Bunch of Memes

Once upon a time, when I was looking at memes online when I probably should have been doing something useful, I stumbled across the meme below:

Not sure who created the meme or else I'd give credit (the link I got it from is click-baity and full of ads, so I'd rather not send you there), but "look into my eyes" is based on a line from the movie Venom. I can't find a good clip of it online, but it's one of the lines quoted here.

In the meantime, I participated in a discussion of the movie Labyrinth for the film podcast Myopia: Defend Your Childhood, a movie that I also reviewed independently. During the episode, the character Hoggle is justifiably criticized for betraying protagonist Sarah (Jennifer Connelly), but in his defense, Hoggle is acting under orders from Jareth the Goblin King (David Bowie). If he helps Sarah and her brother Toby (Toby Froud) escape, he's still going to be living in the Labyrinth and there's going to hell to pay.

However, as you might expect from a kids' movie, Hoggle has a change of heart and assists Sarah, who ultimately reclaims her abducted brother from the Goblin King. That solves her problem, but doesn't solve Hoggle's--and those of Sarah's other allies, Ludo's and Sir Didymus's--problem of being known rebels against Jareth. If Jareth reasserts his power, he's going to punish them for rebelling against him and assisting the mortal girl (and her little brother) he was messing with.

Key word: If. Jareth's goblin armies are scattered and he's uniquely vulnerable. It's either him or them. Although Jareth seems to have Reality Warper abilities, Ludo has shown himself capable of geological magic on a large scale and Hoggle is a sneaky little man.

So it's time for regime change in fantasyland. Here's a meme I made using artist B Mac Smith's depiction of Ludo and Hoggle as the base:

The film ends with Sarah and her Muppet friends having a dance party in her room, so clearly Jareth is no longer in a position to have Ludo, Hoggle, Sir Didymus, etc. imprisoned or killed. As was noted in the podcast, some of the Muppets are creatures who were enemies not long before (goblin soldiers) or independent hostiles (the Fireys), but nobody seems to care. Perhaps with Jareth gone, all is forgiven, much like what happened with most of the Axis rank-and-file troops after WWII.

Of course, that owl outside the window is pretty obviously Jareth, who may be down, but he's not out...

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

2018 Accomplishments and 2019 Goals

I've taken a page from fellow blogger and writer Matt Stienberg and decided to post about what I accomplished in 2018 and what I intend to do during 2019.

So let's start with what I've done:

*I sold my bizarro comedy-horror novella Little People, Big Guns, which is slated for publication sometime in 2019. I owe the success for this one to my father Terry Quinn, who through a client learned that the 2015 World Horror Convention in Atlanta needed volunteers, and Anya Martin, who actually arranged for me to become a volunteer. Volunteering gained me access to a pitch session, where I pitched the concept to Jeff Burk, who thought it was hilarious. Once I expanded and revised the novella, I sent it to Mr. Burk when Deadite Press re-opened to submissions and voila!

*I learned more deeply the importance of conventions and what the most profitable ones would be. I sold an entire print run of thirty copies of The Thing in the Woods at the Atlanta Sci-Fi and Fantasy Expo in March for a little over $155 profit, in July profited nearly $400 thanks to splitting a table at The Atlanta Comic-Con with C.S. Johnson, and made roughly $100 profit splitting a table at the quarterly Atlanta Comic Convention in December with Robert Jeffrey. In contrast, I straight-up lost money on a fall festival in Snellville, the emerging authors' tent at the Decatur Book Festival, and a twofer book signing and small-town comic-con in Augusta, GA and Bishopville, SC respectively over the summer and made only a nominal profit on a gun show in May.

(I would have probably made more money at the gun show if I had more cash to make change--many patrons of the gun show didn't want to use their credit cards, I'm assuming for privacy reasons, and so I had to underprice--and if I had a more explicitly gun-focused product. Given the success of Larry Correia selling books on the gun circuit, I'll probably give gun shows another spin once Little People, Big Guns is ready and especially once Thing sequel The Atlanta Incursion is available.)

*Speaking of The Atlanta Incursion, I finished that and submitted it at the end of September. Hopefully that'll be accepted and published sometime in 2019. I can't speak for the publisher, but he did seem interested and I'm one of his more aggressive sellers.

*I started writing Blood on the Border, the first work of fiction set in my Federated Worlds universe. This is a project I intend to go full independent on, and it'll hopefully open the door to making lots of money at more explicitly science-fiction conventions like Treklanta and SphinxCon.

Now, onto my goals for 2019:

*Make a killing (heh) at the Atlanta Days of the Dead, which I will be attending with T.S. Dann at the end of January. I still have between 60 and 100 copies of Thing and a few copies of The Best of Heroic Fantasy Quarterly Vol. 2 and this is a horror-focused event, so this has the potential to be extremely lucrative.

*Finish Blood, run it through writing group, and get paperback editions available for Treklanta and SphinxCon. Assuming SphinxCon is the same time as it was last year (early November) that won't be a problem, but Treklanta is Memorial Day Weekend. That could be the tricky part. Treklanta might not be as lucrative as I'm hoping because FW is intended to be a critique of Star Trek in some ways--rather than "we don't have money in the 24th Century," it's an automated economy where most people don't need to work and one species' equivalent to Surak is more like Josef Stalin than Jesus Christ--but SphinxCon is a general military SF/fantasy convention.

*Continue with the comic conventions. The Atlanta Comic Convention is quarterly, while the big Atlanta Comic-Con is slated to return as well. I've done pretty well at these and once I have a greater variety of products to sell, I anticipate things will be even better. Having a table partner is particularly important, especially for the pricey conventions like Atlanta Comic-Con and Days of the Dead.

*The Decatur Book Festival has many other options besides the emerging-author tent, such as the Atlanta Writers' Club booth. I'll definitely sign up for a slot there with the AWC again.

*Assuming TAI is accepted and published sometime this year, I will begin working more intensely on the third book, The Walking Worm, which is more akin to the small-town Southern horror of Thing as opposed to the MIB/UFO stuff that TAI introduces. To make an X-Files analogy, TWW is more "monster of the week" while TAI introduces an overarching mythos. Not sure if I can get that manuscript done and submitted in 2019 given how I don't even have a full outline, but if I can keep my focus anything's possible.

*Battle for the Wastelands has been under consideration by a major publisher for some time, but they don't want it, it's time to self-publish. I have a prequel novella "Son of Grendel" centered on the villain's son already written and a prequel novella "Ruled in Rage" focused on the villain himself as a youth partially written. If I finish "Rage" I could put out Battle first and on the 90 and 180 day mark after that put out a novella. I don't have a lot of the second Wastelands book Escape written yet, which could be a problem.