Monday, December 26, 2022

Check Out My Substack!

After over a decade of operating on Blogger, I am now officially transferring this operation to my new Substack account. This combines functionality with my MailChimp newsletter and has a generally more updated look.

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Friday, December 16, 2022

A 1750s SCOTTISH Karate Kid?

I just watched the original Karate Kid film for Myopia Movies and coincidentally found this Tumblr post that Canadian author Bruno Lombardi, whom I know from the alternate history forum, posted on Facebook.

I thought that would actually be pretty fun to watch and joined in the brainstorming. For the Scottish scenario, I suggested the equivalent to the Japanese Internment would be German bombing of Scottish cities and evacuation of Scots to Canada, with "Mr. MacMiyagi" as the sole survivor of a U-Boat attack on the ship evacuating his clan. Bruno's friend, fellow writer Jonathan Edelstein, suggested instead it could actually take place in the early modern period, with "Mr. MacMiyagi's" personal tragedy being the Highland Clearances.

So here's the scenario we hashed out:

*Daniel is from the yeoman class, while Ali is gentry. There's a clear class difference, but they're both landowners. Mr. and Mrs. Mills aren't going to be exactly impressed, but the class difference isn't such a problem for them that they're going to have Daniel kidnapped and shipped to the Colonies as an indentured servant or quietly murdered. Perhaps Daniel's father was killed in one of Britain's wars during this period rather than dying of cancer and so the Mills, however skeptical they are of this poor(er) man, at least have that respect for Daniel. If he's an officer rather than "the scum of the earth" who formed the enlisted ranks in this period, even better. Edelstein suggested the LaRussos might own enough land to be able to vote, albeit at the lowest possible level (a "forty shilling freehold").

*Our elderly friend "Mr. MacMiyagi" is a Scot who fought for the British government against the 1745 Jacobite insurrection, but was driven off his land during the clearances. During the disaster his wife died in childbirth and his son died with her and with his home gone, he drifted southward and became a groundskeeper or gardener on the Mills' family estate. Traumatized by his various mishaps, he keeps to himself and engages in stereotypically Scottish hobbies like shinty (the Scottish equivalent of Irish hurling) or (if he's literate), writing Scottish poetry?

*The equivalent of Johnny and his Cobra Kai gang are "young gents" who dislike someone they view as little better than a peasant wooing a girl of their class, with Johnny in particular being a spurned suitor of Ali. Given how much more power parents' had over their children's, particularly daughters', romantic choices in this period, perhaps Mr. Mills is somewhat less oblivious than his movie equivalent and recognizes Johnny for the incipient wife-beater he is, or perhaps he also looks down on Johnny on class grounds. After all, Cobra Kai gets more into Johnny's backstory and "the money" he comes from his from his stepfather who barely tolerates him, not his birth family. Perhaps his mother is an actress or from a similarly low-class background who "married up" and the illegitimate Johnny was part of the package? Not only is Johnny a hormonal and jealous a-hole, but he's also classist and nasty toward Daniel because he's overcompensating for his own impoverished background.

*Bobby, one of the Cobra Kais in the original film who tries to restrain Johnny from his grotesque behavior toward Daniel, is an early Wesleyan. In the Cobra Kai series, we later see that he's become a preacher, so he sticks with it.

*"MacKreese" is another veteran of Culloden, only he fought for the Jacobites. He has a beef with "MacMiyagi" for that reason, plus the fact his side lost. He runs his quarterstaff club (I doubt they'd have martial-arts dojos in England at this time) like a particularly abusive military unit, spinning it to his charges' parents that he's teaching them discipline so they don't end up dissolute libertines. Thing is, instead they're a bunch of angry young men abusing peasants (think Chozen from the second film cheating people at the grocery store) or peers they dislike (i.e. Daniel).

So we have something roughly similar to the canonical film in which Johnny and his gang bully Daniel for courting Ali, but an attempt to jump him and murder him is interrupted by "Mr. MacMiyagi" totally wrecking them the way Mr. Miyagi wiped out five Cobra Kai students in seconds in the canonical film. Given the legal hell to pay a poor Scot is going to get for beating up some English gentlemen even in defense of an English yeoman (especially if their parents are important local nobles), perhaps "MacKreese" and "Mr. MacMiyagi" agree to allow Daniel to fight some kind of duel with Johnny rather than getting the law involved? "MacKreese" could spin this as some kind of test for his students (or put on a show of not wanting "Sassenach" laws judging another Scot), but it's really part of some kind of elaborate revenge on "Mr. MacMiyagi" for the Battle of Culloden?

Things start to get a little tricky when we tried to come up with a Scottish equivalent of Mr. Miyagi's traditional Okinawan/Japanese wisdom (be it authentic or something underinformed Americans would *think* was traditional Okinawan/Japanese wisdom). Edelstein said setting it in the 1750s would be too early for Robert Burns, but "MacMiyagi" could tell embellished stories of the founding of various Scottish clans or the great William Wallace and Robert the Bruce. And instead of Daniel's crane kick, there's a finishing move called "the Kelpie."

I personally am rather disinclined to join with woketarians in attacking The Karate Kid (see Ralph Macchio's defense of the original film when it's criticized for being "too white"), but I also recognize the concept of "turnabout is fair play." So if someone actually wanted to make a parody of TKK that riffs on the Magical Asian Mentor and Mighty Whitey tropes, I'd be all for it.

Thursday, December 1, 2022

Book Review: WILLOW Novelization (1988)

Since Disney+ is putting out a next-generation sequel to the 1988 fantasy classic Willow, the film podcast Myopia Movies recorded an episode that came out alongside it. I enjoyed the movie, but there were a number of flaws, most notably the lack of explanation and worldbuilding. Given how the movie was intended for children and as-is the host's kindergartner was losing interest toward the end, I figured the novelization would be a big improvement. Fortunately it is available for purchase on Amazon, so I decided to give it a spin.

The Plot

In a faraway land, a prophecy predicts that a child will be born who will overthrow the evil Queen Bavmorda. To that end, Bavmorda, imprisons all late-stage pregnant women and has their child inspected after birth to see if they bear the prophesied mark--and one day the newborn Elora Danan does. A sympathetic midwife smuggles the child out and Bavmorda dispatches her grim General Kael and warlike daughter Sorsha to pursue the child.

But the child falls into the hands of gnomish farmer and family man Willow Ulfgood, who aspires to do magic. Assigned by the gnome village elders to find a human to look after said child, Willow soon encounters the rogue Madmartigan and the transformed sorceress Fin Raziel. Soon they're all allies on a quest to overthrow Bavmorda, with some surprising twists and turns along the way.

(The novelization appears to be based on an earlier draft of the screenplay and includes content cut from the actual film.)

The Good

*The novel beefs up the characterization of Willow himself and emphasizes the danger his quest to protect baby Elora puts him in besides the obvious problem of Bavmorda's murderous soldiers. Basically he's been pursuing his dreams of becoming a wizard to the detriment of working on his farm and owes the bullying village prefect Burglekutt money. Friendly neighbors have had to give him seed for this year's crop and he's apparently one payment away from foreclosure. Although the situation is largely his own fault, if his children had never found the baby he could have easily turned his situation around--he gets a lot of plowing done in a single day.

*Bavmorda, Fin Raziel, and their Fae mentor Charlindea get a lot more back-story and characterization than in the film. In the movie, Bavmorda is basically a live-action version of Snow White's Evil Queen, Fin is a rival she's transformed, and it's not even clear what exactly Charlindea even *is*--on the podcast, I refer to her at one point as the "non-union Mexican equivalent" of Galadriel.

*A monster cut from the film and a monster that appears later in the film have reasons for being there that further build Bavmorda's character. Not only is she a powerful sorceress, but she's also a planner who has fail-safes for her various schemes.

*Burglekutt isn't just an obnoxious small-town moneylender...he's also a prefect in the local government and owns the town's sole seed shop. Willow is not the only person he antagonizes either. If it weren't for his physical cowardice and being completely out of shape physically, he could have been a PG version of small-town gangster Wesley from the Patrick Swayze movie Road House.

*The novel explains some stuff that, in the film alone, don't make a whole lot of sense. For example, the midwife escapes the sinister Nockmaar Castle with the infant Elora by hiding out in some secret passages she knew about (and apparently the guards didn't) until Bavmorda's pursuers are far away before setting off into the wilderness. And once away, she's assisted by people opposed to Bavmorda's regime and even friendly animals. This explains why Elora is a newborn at the beginning of the film but looks significantly older by the time the midwife sets her adrift on the river to save her from the Death Dogs...they've actually been on the run for months. A character who gets captured by the heroes in the film because they insist on being the first one to search a room displays a bit more common sense and sends minions in first.

*The war depicted in the film is also explained in more detail. Bavmorda, having usurped her late husband, rules all the territories he did, and has been making war on the nearby kingdom of Galladoorn. The various rebels, armies, etc. we see in the film are survivors of Galladoorn's army, people within Nockmaar opposed to Bavmorda's rule, etc. The film doesn't really explain the politics of the situation very much or very well.

*There's a scene where we see Nockmaar's army in battle in large numbers (as opposed to Kael and Sorsha's death squad that numbers about fifty people at most) that's pretty cool.

The Bad

*The prose is not very descriptive and doesn't move very quickly until about halfway through the book. There's a lot of telling rather than showing.

*Some of the worldbuilding and back-story is rather silly. Before Bavmorda, apparently all living things in the world lived in harmony and several times characters are assisted by friendly animals. Yes, I know this is a novelization of a children's film and friendly animals are a fairy-tale staple, but still. Although I criticized the movie for oversimplifying matters, the more complex attempts at worldbuilding and back-story raise more questions than they answer. The Willow Blu-Ray has an interview with Ron Howard in which he explains how a whole subplot involving Sorsha's father--the previous king at Tir Asleen and Bavmorda's husband--was ordered cut by the studio and frankly the movie version is better than what's in the novelization. 

(This fan-fic keeps Sorsha's dad dead like the movie at least strongly implies and explains the whole situation better than either the novelization or the film, but beware spoilers.)

Elora's role in the novel is also needlessly complex--some commenter on TVTropes states that she causes Bavmorda's downfall in the film, not by anything she does, but the actions she inspires others to undertake. There's also a lot of Chekov's Guns that aren't fired--worldbuilding that doesn't really tie in with the immediate plot but mostly serves to add pages.

*The way Bavmorda's and Madmartigan's back-stories are explained feature gigantic info-dumps that are basically characters telling stories around the campfire. This is especially the case with Madmartigan. Yes, the back-stories are interesting, but they go on for far too long and are kind of clunky.

*Some stuff from the movie gets left out, like scenes in Nockmaar Castle where Bavmorda interacts with Sorsha and Kael. This would explain the unhealthy family dynamic between Sorsha and her belittling, affection-withholding mother (and why a character's romantic speech, drug-induced though it may be, has such an effect on her) and show the evil kingdom's political dysfunction. Sorsha's first film meeting with the heroes that sets up a lot of stuff that happens later is also left out. Although Willow and Madmartigan benefit from the expanded characterization in the novel, Sorsha (to a point) and especially Kael lose out.

The Verdict

A library read, unless you can get it super-cheap somewhere. Only worth reading once. 6.0 out of 10.

Movie Review: WILLOW (1988)

On the 100th episode of the Blasters and Blades podcast, I briefly discussed the movie Willow with the hosts. I referred to the movie as being "before my time" (it turns out I was actually around four years old, but at that point I was mostly interested in cartoons), much to the slightly-older host's annoyance. At the time I had not seen it, but lo and behold some time later, the film podcast Myopia Movies added it to the Season Nine lineup. So not long after DragonCon 2022, I watched it for the podcast...

Here's the link to the podcast. And now for the review...

The Plot

In a faraway land, a prophecy predicts that a child will be born who will overthrow the evil Queen Bavmorda (Jean Marsha). To that end, Bavmorda, imprisons all late-stage pregnant women and has their child inspected after birth to see if they bear the prophesied mark--and one day the newborn Elora Danan (twins Kate and Ruth Greenfield) does. A sympathetic midwife smuggles the child out and Bavmorda dispatches her grim General Kael (Pat Roach) and warlike daughter Sorsha (Joanne Whalley) to pursue the child.

But the child falls into the hands of the farmer and family man Willow Ulfgood (Warwick Davis), who aspires to do magic. Assigned by the village elders to find a human to look after said child, Willow soon encounters the rogue Madmartigan (Val Kilmer) and the transformed sorceress Fin Raziel (Patricia Hayes). Soon they're all allies on a quest to overthrow Bavmorda, with some surprising twists and turns along the way.

The Good

*For starters, Willow and his kindred are a very specific fantasy race--they're gnomes. This is the first and so far only time I've seen gnomes in an actual film. For the scenes in the gnome village it looks like Lucasfilm hired every dwarf actor in Hollywood--every adult seems to have some form of dwarfism and there are a lot of them who can play musical instruments, fight with weapons, etc. The only ordinary-sized people seem to be the children. This is a good thing on multiple levels--it's more authentic and real-looking and it provides employment for people who often live rather difficult lives. And their characterizations are varied--the gnome village has an obnoxious moneylender who covets Willow's land, there are full-time soldiers (who are actually fairly skilled--on Twitter I called them "the littlest pikemen"), and even a wizard. We even see their form of government--they seem to have a town council and direct democracy on certain major issues. These aren't a bunch of circus performers, but an actual complex society.

*Also, this is a world where there are non-human fantasy races in addition to ordinary people. In a world of only Homo sapiens sapiens who often look different, practice different religions, etc. we're often bigoted enough toward each other. Willow and the other gnomes get repeatedly referred to as "pecks" (a reference to a unit of measurement, approximately 12-14 pounds) even by people who are supposed to be heroic. It's a major sign of a character's moral growth that this person starts referring to them by how they call themselves (Nalwyn) rather than "peck."

*The film also has a good cast. I liked all three of the main trio--Davis, Kilmer, and Whalley.

*The movie is fast-moving and entertaining, albeit a bit on the cheesy side.

The Bad

*Unfortunately, I can kind of tell where the filmmakers are getting a lot of their inspiration from. Willow and his friend Meegosh, after being captured by the brownies, are sent on a quest to protect Elora by some kind of forest sorceress whom I refer to on Twitter as Galadriel's "non-union Mexican equivalent." Apparently the novelization explains more--including her relationship to Fin Raziel and Bavmorda--but I shouldn't have to refer to the novelization, deleted scenes, etc. for a movie to make sense. According to the novelization she was a senior sorceress (and also a forest fairy of some kind) mentoring Raziel and Bavmorda, the latter of whom went bad. In the film it's not even clear if she's human or some kind of elf, fairy, etc. Hence "Galaldriel's non-union Mexican equivalent." Making her human--and perhaps involved in the military resistance against Bavmorda we see elsewhere in the film--would be more original, but again, it's not in the film.

*Per the above, there's a lot of missing material that's included in the novelization, earlier drafts of the script, comic books, etc. that would have helped the movie make a lot more sense. For example, Bavmorda believes that even if she killed baby Elora, she'd be reborn in a new body and the prophecy would kick back in. Hence the elaborate ritual to banish Elora's soul to another dimension and/or destroy it completely so that never happens rather than simply murdering her at first chance. There's also a character's defection that has a lot more back-story in the extended universe, but in the actual movie it seems like they're mostly doing it out of love (or at least lust) for one of the good guys.

(I suggested in the podcast the movie could be a bit longer to fix these issues, but Nic cited the example of his own child getting bored later in the movie to point out this risks losing the attention of the primary audience. The deleted scenes pertaining to the defector character--beware spoilers--don't add many minutes to the film, although the last bit involving a character conscious while imprisoned in a crystal is so ridiculous and cheap-looking. A few bits of dialogue here and there would be fine, but lots and lots of new scenes, not so much. I still think it'd be doable, although we're about 34 years too late. If you want an alternative take that's not overly elaborate, check out this fan-fic here. Spoilers beware.)

The Verdict

Not perfect, but a fun and entertaining fantasy film. Also a means of teaching good values to the target audience (kids) without being preachy and annoying to adults. 8.5 out of 10.

And while you're at it, check out my novella Little People, Big Guns. Although it on the surface it looks rather tacky and exploitative, my intention was to get into the real life issues little people face--people ignoring them because they can't see them, problems functioning in a world designed for people much larger than themselves, health difficulties, bullying by bigger people, and even weird fetishization. Davis actually runs an acting agency that started out representing his coworkers with dwarfism and later included those who were unusually tall.

Sunday, November 20, 2022

Oda Nobunaga Finishes Unifying Japan, A More Plausible Draka Timeline, and an Uglier Tanker War

It's been awhile since I've posted about alternate history. Here are some scenarios from the public sections of the forum I used to be a regular member of that you might find interesting.

Nobunaga's Ambition Realized: The Dawn of a New Rising Sun-In real life, warlord Oda Nobunaga was betrayed by one of his own commanders and committed suicide to avoid captured and execution. His efforts to reunite feudal Japan were continued by others, including Tokugawa Ieyasu. The latter brought peace to Japan, but at the price of isolating the country from the world, the functional extermination of Christianity, and establishment of what sounds like an early modern police state. In this timeline, Nobunaga avoids the coup attempt and continues his historical course. He ultimately reunites Japan as the new shogun (a military dictator who rules in the emperor's name), but his government pursues very different policies. Although his successor Hideyoshi's war with Korea is avoided, he and his successors do successfully colonize Taiwan, and Christianity remains a tolerated faith even if some of the excesses that provoked the Tokugawa crackdown (slave-trading by foreign priests, Catholic lords forcing peasants to convert) are firmly dealt with. It looks like Japan is on the way to becoming a major power in Asia rather than turning inward. And this is already having some effects, most notably on China...

Snakedance: A Plausible Draka TLIAM-The author wants to have this whole timeline completed in a month (hence the title) and she seems to be making good progress so far. For those not familiar, here is the canonical Draka timeline through the 1950s. Although it's not particularly plausible, the fiction is entertaining and it's one of the founding texts of modern-day alternate history. The author is focused on the early Draka expansion in southern Africa and depicts the natives putting up a more realistic and much better fight that they did in canon and avoids the Draka's too-fast early industrialization. She also emphasizes sports, the arts, and culture among the Draka, something that is often overlooked in alternate history, and seems like she's planning on emphasizing class conflict among the Draka elite more than canon does.

(The first book Marching Through Georgia has female lead Sofie Nixon pondering the social gap between herself, the daughter of a dock foreman and granddaughter of a Scottish mercenary, and her commanding officer and love interest Eric von Shrakenberg, but I don't recall very much from the later books. The Citizen caste seems rather united on most issues of importance and the points of disunity are limited to grousing, like the urbanite-dominated Security Directorate sneering at the planter-dominated military as living in the past.)

Crushed In Infancy-In this timeline, the "Tanker War" phase of the Iran-Iraq War escalates into a series of direct battles between the United States and the new Islamic Republic of Iran. The Islamic Republic soon goes into a different, more US-friendly direction, after some events I'm not going to give away for spoiler reasons. This in turn leads to some very different politics in the United States, the declining Soviet Union, and a China that is just starting to liberalize after the death of Mao. We're looking at a very interesting late 1980s and early 1990s here.

Saturday, November 12, 2022

THE HOWLING, The Heroes Of Other Stories, and Fan Fiction Ideas

In the 1981 film The Howling, TV news anchor Karen White (Dee Wallace) discovers a rural California community run by her station's psychiatrist has a dark secret. A very hairy dark secret...although the cover pretty obviously gives away the fact it's a werewolf movie, this isn't confirmed until about an hour into the film.

Although the film is kind of dull (I gave it a grade of C on my blog), the characterization is interesting. Several supporting cast members seem like they could potentially be the heroes of their own stories. Anybody who's a fanfic enthusiast (Archive of Our Own has a lot of Howling fanfic stories) is welcome to give these a spin. I posted about this on Twitter earlier this morning; here is my rambling in more coherent form, with some fact-checking.

Spoilers for a 30-odd year old movie below. I'll post the YouTube clip of the relevant scene that reveals a lot about the lesser characters to further block it off.

Dr. George Waggner (Patrick McNee)-The station psychiatrist and basically the cult guru in charge of "The Colony." He tries to get the werewolves to control their animal nature and live peacefully, but he cannot control the violent Quist siblings--serial killer Eddie, homewrecker Marcia, and creepy little brother T.C. Under California law, he's an accessory after the fact to several murders (possibly with rape to boot), since he knows about Eddie's crimes and seems to have done nothing but try to conceal them by luring the only surviving witness to his commune. If the cops (other than the local sheriff who's a werewolf himself) get involved, he's going to be doing some pretty serious time.

(You don't get the misdemeanor accessory charge for covering for a serial killer and Eddie has committed multiple serious crimes. That jail time piles up real quick, and him trying to plead coercion would involve revealing that he's the guru of a colony of werewolves.)

However, his options to deal with the Quists are rather limited. At the climax of the film, Marcia and one of her friends openly assault him when he tells them he won't let them kill Karen and it seemed to me his bad deeds (largely of omission rather than commission) are basically for damage control purposes. If not for him, many if not most of the werewolves in the community would start hunting and killing people before the government comes in and gives them the Waco treatment. He can't exactly go to the police for help--they wouldn't believe him if he said they were all werewolves and if they did believe it (say if he transformed in front of them), he and his would be hunted down and killed as monsters.

You could depict him as this morally gray version of Charles Xavier making harder and harder "lesser of two evils" choices to the point it's a relief when Karen's colleague Chris Halloran shoots him with a silver bullet. Hell, you could make him a full-on tragic hero. If Macbeth (traitor and murderer of families), Othello (domestic violence), and Hamlet (causes several deaths and the foreign invasion of his kingdom through sheer bumbling) can be tragic heroes, well, Waggner's crimes are much less extreme.

Jerry and Donna Warren (James Murtaugh and Margie Impert)-In this scene here, the werewolves detain Karen after Eddie kills her colleague Terri and she realizes just what's going on. The Warrens seem intent on recruiting Karen for the cult. Although I'd initially thought they'd found The Colony's secret on their own, had been given the choice between accepting "the gift" and being killed, and were desperately hoping Karen would be shown the same mercy, that doesn't seem to be what happened. It sounds like they'd be been bitten earlier and tried to resist the effects rather unsuccessfully, but then found Waggner on their own and Waggner taught them how to deal with it effectively. Just how that played out could be an interesting story, especially if the werewolf who infected them was unaffiliated with Waggner and The Colony. Who else is out there?

Erle Kenton (John Carradine)-He's the one who looks like Willie Nelson and attempts to kill himself when we first meet him. One could write him as someone who wants to follow Dr. Waggner's teachings but finds his struggle against his own nature so difficult that he becomes outright suicidal. When Eddie killing Terri causes a crisis at The Colony, he just says "screw it" and gives in to his animal side. This could be the story of someone with a mental illness suffering a breakdown or someone who's really repressed finally, to quote Elsa from Frozen, "Let[ting] it go." Only he's a bigoted murderous a-hole.

Bill Neil (Christopher Stone)-We see his whole arc on-screen so he's not really the hero of another story, but showing the whole situation from his POV could be interesting. He goes from being a vegetarian and a faithful husband to Karen (he even gets violent with Marcia when she puts the moves on him) to killing and eating animals, cheating on Karen with Marcia, and assaulting Karen when she calls him out on it. And some viewers think he's the one who infected Karen in the climax of the film. What is it like to have your worldview shift so much in less than a week?

Thursday, October 27, 2022

Blast from the Past Movie Review: THE HOWLING (1981)

Back in the days of Blockbuster Video, I got my own membership later in high school and could rent any movie I wanted. One film I rented was The Howling, a well-regarded werewolf movie from the early 1980s. October 2022 is werewolf month on the film podcast Myopia Movies and this was one of the films I really wanted to do.

Here's the episode. And now for the review...

The Plot

In 1980s Los Angeles, television anchor Karen White (Dee Wallace) has been getting phone calls from serial killer Eddie Quist (Robert Picardo). In order to catch him, she agrees to meet up with him--with the police close by. As one might expect, this turns violent very quickly and the traumatized Karen can't remember precisely what happened. Dr. George Waggner, (Patrick Macnee), a local psychologist, invites her and her husband Bill Neil (Christopher Stone) to a rural commune called "The Colony" so she can rest and undergo group therapy. They arrive and meet various colorful characters living there, including Marcia Quist (Elisabeth Brooks), who is a little too interested in Bill.

And did I mention that Eddie's corpse has disappeared from the morgue? Karen's colleagues Chris Halloran (Dennis Dugan) and Terri Fisher (Belinda Belaski) investigate that as things get progressively weirder and more dangerous at The Colony.

The Good

*There is some good foreshadowing, like a character early on who specifically wants to commit suicide by fire.

*There're some moments of humor, like when a snoopy character is caught going through a filing cabinet.

*There is also some good development for the supporting cast, like how Karen's boss at the station is depicted as a jackass. He signs off on the scheme to bait serial-killer Eddie never mind that it's putting one of his employees at great risk and a good number of people openly object to it, and when she's clearly upset by the experience, says it's just as likely she could be pregnant (sexism) and casually and profanely butchers the name of an Asian anchor the station could use if she can't handle being on-air (racism). The guy is a real tool, and we get that mostly in one scene almost as an aside.

*I can't go into too much detail for reasons of spoilers, but they do develop the villains as people. Some are content with living in isolation and hunting animals and even peacefully coexisting with ordinary people, but others are more overtly predatory and violent and the former have to resort to increasing concessions to the latter in order to (barely) keep them under control. The politics of it could have been developed more, but they are interesting.

*I liked the side story with Chris and Terri investigating the aftermath of Eddie's attack on Karen and how it ultimately links back up with Karen's stay at the Colony.

The Bad

*After the initial confrontation with Eddie, the movie slows down considerably. Not much happens of note until Karen and Bill arrive at the Colony and Karen starts hearing wolves howling outside. This section of the movie functions more like a mystery than a straight-up horror movie in the vein of Silver Bullet or An American Werewolf in London. If that's what you're into that's fine, but be aware.

*Per the above, the internal politics of the Colony could have come up earlier--perhaps when Terri comes to see Karen, the residents could argue among themselves about this new development.

The Verdict

A bit dull if you go in expecting a full-on monster movie, but if you go in expecting a mystery, it's better. 7.5 out of 10.

Wednesday, October 26, 2022

Films I Bought Because of Myopia Movies

As my readers know, I'm a regular participant in the film podcast Myopia Movies, organized by one of my friends from the Boy Scouts. To that end, I've probably watched dozens if not hundreds of movies I haven't seen in forever (or never saw at all) over the last eight-odd years we've been recording. Some of these I liked so much I actually purchased them on physical media so I'll have them forever and not lose them to the whims of the streaming company or IP holder. Seriously, the streaming services giveth and the streaming services taketh away.  Netflix in particular has shed a lot of films over the years. And per The New York Times, you don't actually own your digital movies.

And so here are the DVDs or Blu-Rays that I've bought...

How The Grinch Stole Christmas-This is the Jim Carrey Nightmare Fuel edition that my colleagues didn't like but I thought was hilarious. Those damn materialistic Whos needed a wakeup call. The movie even opens with a Black Friday commercialistic nightmare. The episode is slated to premiere December 15 to coincide with the Grinch parody film The Mean One, so I'll update this page when it is.

The Abyss-This underwater science fiction extravaganza was something I first saw in elementary school, but didn't see again until we recorded a podcast on it. Here's my review and here is the episode. It's a blast. Also check out my YouTube video.

The Rocketeer-This and Shipwrecked were the first movies I saw with my mother when I first moved from Kennesaw-ish to East Cobb as a child. The episode was originally recorded for the show's defunct Patreon and won't be out until the planned sequel, but re-watching the movie again was a blast. I even got my college-student younger cousin watching it.

Labyrinth-For years I avoided this film due to seeing some creepy-looking production stills, but I'm glad I finally saw it. Here's the episode and here's the review. I also came up with some other posts based on and even created my first meme. I'm going to be on a panel about the film at the Atlanta fantasy festival CONjuration in early November, where some material from "Labyrinth is Hellraiser for Kids" (here in blog form and here on YouTube) will make an appearance.

Howard The Duck-This was a movie I'd wanted to do an episode on for years and it was a blast. Here's my review. I think I'm one of the few people in the world who non-ironically loves this one. Here's to hoping they let the original Beverly Lea Thompson direct an official MCU version, with one of her daughters playing the new Beverly. As of October 2022, Thompson is still campaigning for job.

Gremlins-This one came out the year I was born and I saw it for the first time at The Plaza Theater in Atlanta. Here's the podcast and here's my review. This one is definitely a hoot.

Highlander-I first saw this one as one of Joe Bob Briggs' late-night movie shows and was a big fan of the spinoff TV series that featured a younger relative of Connor MacLeod, with Connor dropping in now and then. Here's my review and here's the episode. The appearance of the villain Grendel from my steampunk series Battle for the Wastelands was inspired by the evil Kurgan's medieval war-gear, especially the helmet.

Willow-This movie came out when I was in pre-school, but I don't remember being interested. Cheesy and fun. The episode won't come out until December 22 to coincide with the Disney+ spinoff series featuring an older Willow training a new generation of heroes. Watching the film inspired me to purchase an ancient copy of the novelization and gave me more fodder for the 1980s fantasy film panel I'll be on at CONjuration.

Secret of NIMH-The movie that scared me to death in kindergarten. Here's the episode and here's the review. It's a beautiful film with excellent voice-work and animation.

Thursday, October 13, 2022

Blast from the Past Movie Review: AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON (1981)

Back when I was in high school, one of the first movies I rented when I got my own Blockbuster card (remember those?) was An American Werewolf in London. For Myopia Movies' October werewolf month, a movie pretty much everybody wanted to do was this one, so away we went. Here is the podcast episode. And now for the review...

The Plot

David Kessler (David Noughton) and Jack Goodman (Griffin Dunne) are backpacking through Europe and detour (for some reason) into rural northern England on their way to meet up with friends in Italy. After an awkward encounter with some villagers, they're warned to stay on the roads and stay off the moors--and they don't. Something big and vicious attacks them, killing Jack and chewing up David before the villagers arrive to kill it.

David awakens weeks later in a London hospital under the care of nurse Alex Price (Jenny Agutter) with a bunch of new scars--and the unwelcome presence of the ghostly, decaying Jack, who warns him that he's now a werewolf. To allow Jack to move on into the afterlife and not take any more lives, David needs to commit suicide pronto.

What happens next? Well, watch the movie to find out...

The Good

*The performances and characterizations are very good. Noughton does a good job playing David as he goes through all the mental and physical changes his condition imposes on him. Dunne does well as Jack, and keeps it up well even though he begins to increasingly resemble Achmed the Dead Terrorist. And Agutter's Alex is good as well--although she doesn't exactly display a lot of common sense (more on that later), she is well-developed as a compassionate nurse who cares about David and the children in her ward.

*Although the comedy is quite dark, it's pretty funny. The hijinks of the undead Jack are a big part of it, but there's plenty more.

*The transformation sequences are very well-done, especially since we're using 1981 technology. All practical effects, including effects that are actually attached to the human body.

*The movie gets a lot of British cultural details right, like how British police typically don't carry guns and have to call in special units with rifles when things get out of hand.

*David is Jewish and it's implied Jack is too. That's not something one typically sees in horror films--most characters don't seem religious at all, and those that are are at least nominally Christian.

The Bad

*There are a couple scenes, like one where David is pacing around Alex's apartment, reading her books, and generally moping, that don't seem to serve much of a purpose. That scene, for example, would have made more sense if Jack had put in another appearance warning him about what's coming that very night. The opening at least has the point of establishing the desolation of rural northern England--setting the scene--even if it goes on for too long.

*One scene kind of defies common sense--the famous transformation scene takes place in Alex's apartment. Do the neighbors not hear the screaming? There's a missed opportunity for comedy--since Alex is a nurse, a neighbor could comment that she must be bringing her work home with her. Or, since Alex is fairly open about her promiscuity, perhaps the neighbor is smirking and says something like, "I wonder who it is this time?" There's a joke about people mistaking a werewolf killing someone for "hooligans in the park," so this type of humor would fit nicely.

*London is a pretty distinctive city and probably a better draw for viewers, but if David and Jack are attacked somewhere in the northern part of England, it would make more sense to set the movie in a big city like Manchester. More creative too, since London is in movies a lot but the North of England, not so much.

*David is unconscious for three weeks? He was conscious when the villagers rescued him and his injuries were largely superficial. Not only does that not make a lot of sense, but as we briefly discussed on the podcast, being immobile for that long should lead to him losing a lot of strength. He should have trouble walking. I would keep the coma a bit shorter and then depict him doing physical therapy with Alex for the rest of the time it takes to get to the next full moon. To avoid taking up too much time, this could be a montage, possibly even set to an appropriate song. That would explain how they bond so quickly and a patient and the person assisting them becoming involved romantically is something that does happen. Alex having worked with David regularly for weeks is a much better basis for a relationship that "I've been taking care of you while you were unconscious for three weeks and a couple days after you woke up." 

Also, even if Alex is promiscuous, inviting someone you've known for maybe two days to crash with you is dangerous, especially given that Alex is aware David was involved in some kind of violent mishap (why he's hospitalized in the first place). Even if Alex does not object to premarital sex on moral grounds, one would hope a nurse (i.e. an educated professional) has the intelligence and common sense to not invite essentially a potentially-violent stranger to live with her.

A prolonged courtship between Alex and David could also be played for laughs--Jack's increasingly decayed ghost is hanging around David's physical therapy routines, commenting on his relationship with Alex and urging David to kill himself while David keeps coming up with elaborate excuses as to why he's talking to somebody nobody else can see. Alex and/or the doctors could just write it off as symptoms of PTSD or head trauma, much to Jack's increasing frustration.

*David being Jewish could be built up a bit more--although this is supposed to be a horror-comedy, perhaps that's one reason he won't commit suicide. "There aren't enough of us left in the world." David at one point has a nightmare about Nazis and assuming he was born in the late 1950s or early 1960s, the Holocaust is something that would weigh heavily on him. Given how Alex clearly isn't Jewish, Zombie Jack can also make some shiksa jokes.

The Verdict

Definitely worth watching again. 9.0/10

Sunday, September 25, 2022

CONjuration 2022 Panel Schedule

On November 4-6, the Hilton Atlanta Airport in Atlanta, GA will be hosting CONjuration, a convention dedicated to magical fantasy like Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, The Chronicles of Narnia, etc. The panels are already being assembled and here are the ones I'm slated to participate at present. More than three panels means I don't have to pay for a table, so I anticipate this one being profitable. :)

"The Problem of Fenrir Greyback"-This one is led by Marlena Frank and Kelley Frank from the Atlanta Horror Writers Association chapter. I applied on the strength of my long-ago Harry Potter fanfic "Lord of the Werewolves," in which the werewolf terrorist Greyback plays a prominent role. Although he's still canon's "big bad wolf," I depicted him as someone who'd realistically serve as the war chief of Britain's werewolves--intelligent, strategy-minded, more knowledgeable about Muggle politics and warfare than most of Britain's wizards, and all-too-aware that once his ally of convenience Voldemort has triumphed, he and his aren't long for the world. Since Greyback doesn't appear very often in the actual books, one could imagine his more intelligent actions take place off-screen...not every mastermind type is as dignified and classy as Vito Corleone and someone could be a brute in public and much cleverer in private. 12 PM on Saturday 11/5, Rabun Room.

(And definitely check out "Lord of the Werewolves"--before I started putting out my own books, it was probably the best thing I ever wrote.)

"Unleash the Kraken"-This one is about editing your work, including avoiding being too precious about your own words to judge them objectively. I'm going to talk about my experience with writing groups and professional editors. 4 PM on Saturday 11/5, Ogeechee Room.

"Sorting B-Movie Monsters"-Which Hogwarts house would the giant ants from Them! belong to? I'm thinking Hufflepuff, since ants are hardworking and group-oriented. It'd be easy to shove movie monsters into Slytherin ("any means to achieve their ends"), but I imagine many are more complicated than that. The Predators could be suited to Gryffindor--physical bravery and martial honor. If the selfish and cowardly Peter Pettigrew can end up in Gryffindor because he wished he were as brave as James Potter and Sirius Black, then the Predators who actually do demonstrate at least some of these qualities would fit in. Various mad-scientist types would fit in Ravenclaw, especially the more well-intentioned or tragic ones. Hive-monster types like the Xenomorph or the vampires in Priest would fit in Hufflepuff; the latter's villainous Black Hat might straddle the line between Gryffindor (courageous, daring, proud) and Slytherin (ambitious, cunning, treacherous). Lanier, 7 PM on Friday 11/4.

"Ladyhawkes, Beastmasters, Legends and More: Fantasy Films of the 1980's"-I just saw Willow for a Myopia Movies episode slated for a premiere in November and even went so far as to order the novelization to go deeper into the story. I've also seen many 1980s fantasy movies for Myopia, and plenty on my own. Ogeechee, 4 PM, on Sunday 11/6.

"The Light to Dark Duality of Labyrinth"-Although many people who saw Labyrinth as children will remember the Jim Henson creatures, there's some surprisingly adult content in here. And David Bowie as a threatening yet strangely alluring older man is just part of it. Check out my blog post "Labyrinth is Hellraiser for Kids" if you'd like more. 7 PM on Saturday 11/5, Ogeechee Room.

"Southern Fried Fantasy"-What extra flavor does Southern culture bring to fantasy? I applied for this one because my "Long War" novels (The Thing In The Woods and The Atlanta Incursion) have some distinctly Southern tics even if they're more horror and science fiction. I've also read the sleazier Bringing Home The Rain by Bob McGough, whose protagonist is a meth-addicted small-town wizard. Incidentally, McGough himself will be on the panel. 6 PM on Saturday 11/5, Rabun Room.

"How To Get Your Book Published"-This is about the state of the publishing industry and the ways to get one's books published. I have a good bit of experience with small-press and independent publishing, so this is where I can make myself useful. 3 PM on Sunday 11/6, Harding Room.

Here are the convention membership prices. If you'd like to come see me present and check out a bunch of other cool panels, come on down!