Thursday, July 22, 2021

Blast From The Past Movie Review: THE ABYSS (1989)

Once upon a time in elementary school, I spent a weekend or two with my friend Robert at some lakeside property his family owned. And one thing we did a couple of the times we were there is watch the 1989 underwater science fiction film The Abyss. I hadn't seen the movie since then ("then" being in the 1995-1996 range), but it definitely fits the Myopia Movies timeframe--more than 10 years old and you hadn't seen it in five years, with the fact I saw it when I was 10-11 years old even more useful. So I suggested it for the podcast and we did it for this most wonderful season eight.

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

The Plot

It's the near-future year of 1994 and an Ohio-class ballistic missile submarine the U.S.S. Montana wrecks in the Caribbean or Gulf of Mexico not far from Cuba. As Soviet and Cuban naval vessels gather, the United States Navy hires a group of deep-sea oil drillers led by Virgil "Bud" Brigman (Ed Harris) to use their underwater drilling platform send in a SEAL team to rescue survivors. Coming along to make sure everything goes according to plan is Dr. Lindsey Brigman (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio), designer of the platform and Bud's estranged wife.

However, the mysterious forces of the deep ocean that caused the wreck of the Montana are still there and interested in this surface-world visitors...

The Good

*The acting is very good. I particularly liked Mastrantonio as Dr. Brigman. She does well as an engineer who's better with machines than people and can really sell grief and panic in a more subtle way than Ed Harris. Michael Biehn does a good job as the psychologically-deteriorating SEAL Lieutenant Hiram Coffey. I got some serious Caine Mutiny vibes off him, especially later in the film. And Todd Graff is fun as "Hippy," a conspiracy theorist who's quite attached to his pet rat.

*The script is well put together. The climactic events of the film are well-foreshadowed (I make a lot of "Chekhov's _________" comments in the Twitter-stream). Although an aggressive military man as opposed to a more peacenik kind-of scientist is the main conflict in the film, it's subverted rather than stereotypical--Coffey is suffering from a legitimate mental illness, the rest of his team seem like decent enough people even if (at first) they follow the orders of a man having a break with reality, and the anti-military clich├ęs (soldiers are unthinking order-following robots, they can only see enemies) are criticisms coming from flawed characters rather than being treated as the actual truth by the narrative.

*For a movie made in 1989, the special effects for the most part hold up really well. The underwater aliens (at this point we all know what's really going on) are very well-done, as is the famous "water tentacle." Only at the end do they falter even a little, and even then it's not bad.

*Even though I'd seen the movie before and generally knew what would happen--and spent much of the film live-tweeting it--there are sequences of legitimate suspense. Had I never seen the movie before or been more focused, this would be even more well-done.

*With the exception of some of the nuclear stuff, the science works. Per the almighty Wikipedia, director James Cameron got the idea for the film in high school while seeing a presentation on liquid breathing and that plays a key role in the climax. Another major plot point revolves around deep hypothermic circulatory arrest, which is also a real thing.

*The entire cast had to become certified SCUBA divers for the film and lot of the underwater stuff rings true (I got my PADI open-water diving license in middle school). Overhead situations (i.e. wrecks and caves), diving so deep you need to use special mixes of oxygen and other gases rather than compressed air, panicking underwater, and the need to avoid decompression sickness are all portrayed as the tricky and dangerous situations they'd be.

*There are some fun action sequences once Coffey starts to go totally insane, including what's essentially submarine demolition derby.

The Bad

*When Ed Harris is supposed to display deep emotion--worry, grief, etc.--he overacts big time. Although given the circumstances it's pretty obvious he'd be upset, he kind of overdoes it.

*A lot of the lesser characters aren't given that much to do. Several characters die in early on when part of the underwater rig is flooded and if they'd been better-developed, their deaths would have hurt more.

*The theatrical release was rather long and the director's cut (which I didn't watch) was nearly three hours. This is definitely a time investment and although it starts out great, it does drag a bit later. The director's cut might have some improvements--I think it elaborates on why the Brigmans are heading for divorce and how the wreck of the Montana is becoming an international crisis--but the length sounds pretty intimidating.

The Verdict

9.0 out of 10. This is definitely worth seeing again. I ended up ordering the DVD off eBay, since I would have otherwise had to get a full-on Amazon Prime subscription to watch it. Thanks Videodrome, the last video rental shop in Atlanta!

Monday, July 19, 2021

Bad Movie Review: Nightbeast (1982)

Courtesy of Atlanta's Videodrome, I had the...pleasure...of watching another 1980s low-budget horror film, Nightbeast. There also used to be a lot more regional indie films shown in drive-ins and locally-distributed VHS rentals, and I thought this might be one given how the back of the box emphasized its Maryland roots. And some of the back copy hinted it might be so bad it's good, so I figured that might be worth a shot.

Probably not the best idea, although it certainly compared better to the other film I rented that afternoon, The Deadly Spawn. Here's my review...



The Plot

An alien spacecraft collides with a meteor and crash-lands in rural Maryland. Can Sheriff Jack Cinder (Tom Griffith) and his deputies, including Lisa Kent (Karin Kardian), and various armed townsfolk stop its murderous occupant before it before it kills everybody? And will the ambitious Mayor Burt Wicker (Richard Dyszel) glad-handing with the governor get in the way?

The Good

*I liked the concept. How often do aliens invade rural Maryland of all places?

*They do develop the characters a bit, although they definitely could have gone farther.

*The sheriff, his deputies, and the townsfolk they collect to help fight the titular monster do display some degree of competence like ability to maneuver under gunfire. Given the time the movie was made and the local culture, odds are good these are people who are regular users of guns (hunting, for example) and many likely served in the military, possibly in Vietnam.

*In one scene there's a creative anti-monster technique involving the use of laundry equipment that I liked.

*J.J. Abrams played a role in the film's production as a teenager. Given how something like that would have been my high-school dream, good for him. Great things often grow from humble beginnings.

The Bad

*The actors' delivery is generally abysmal. They sound very passionless and monotone, even with discussing things like an alien who is rampaging in the town or a local thug who abuses his girlfriend (more on that later). The students acting in my high school student films put more passion into their roles. Most of the time it's just plain stupid, although there're a couple parts where it's so bad I actually started laughing. 

*What exactly is the monster's goal? Was it hungry and hunting people to survive? Trying to find a way to phone home so to speak? They could have designed its attacks based on that. Instead it just mindlessly rampaged around.

*The filmmakers copy a subplot from Jaws (the sheriff who wants to protect people vs. the self-interested mayor), but they don't follow that film's principle of not showing the monster to make it scarier. The monster isn't as bad as modern hokey CGI, but it's too shiny and stiff to be really scary. The same with the dead bodies resulting in its rampage. Remember, what people imagine is often scarier or more disgusting than what they actually see.

*The cannon fodder's occasional competence makes their inability to hit the titular monster even once during multiple encounters even more blatantly. Later in the film Jack claims bullets can't hurt it, but we don't see any bullets bouncing off or anything that would show that. Heck, in a couple of scenes they have the alien on the run and don't bother pursuing. There are several instances where the cast displays very little sense of urgency, despite having a C-grade Predator rampaging around. They don't even call the state (let alone the feds) until relatively late in the film even though they're dealing with an alien invasion. If this is a creature the department's small arms can't handle, how about bringing in the National Guard? After all, the state governor was in the area during the creature's rampage. Maybe the state people will just laugh them off, but at least it'd show they tried.

*Per my comment about lacking a sense of urgency, the film contains an absolutely pointless sex scene, a scene even the back of the movie box describes as "awkward."

*Also, there are some extraordinarily poorly-done brawls, either human vs. human or man vs. monster. If this is the late 1970s or early 1980s in a small Southern-ish town, I imagine people would have more experience with fighting.

*The soundtrack is absolutely terrible. It doesn't serve to build suspense or atmosphere and doesn't make the mood of the scene at all.

*The alien's gun turning its victims into body-shaped burn marks on the ground is unintentionally hilarious.

*There's this whole subplot involving local bully Drago (Don Leifert) who's abusing his girlfriend that comes out of nowhere. If they even bothered to include it, it should have been before the alien's arrival as part of the problems within the town. The conflict between Jack and Burt was handled much better in Jaws.

*The movie starts to drag toward the end as the confrontation builds between the sheriff's department and the alien.

The Verdict

This movie comes off like a mediocre mix of Predator, Laserblast, and Boggy Creek II: And The Legend Continues and you're better off watching those. This isn't even so bad it's good, despite a couple moments. Maybe one can get some amusement value watching with friends to make fun of it. 4.5 out of 10.

Saturday, July 17, 2021

Bad Movie Review: THE DEADLY SPAWN (1983)

I was returning Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets to Videodrome the other day and there were a couple films I saw in horror section that caught my attention. One was The Deadly Spawn, which I remembered coming across uploaded to YouTube earlier. As an ethical matter I want to pay creators for their work and I was already there, so I rented it.

Now to review it...


The Plot

A meteor crashes to Earth, bringing with it a predatory alien (according to a prequel comic in the DVD extras it's a bioweapon) that chows down on some campers and then hides away in a basement. It proceeds to snack on anybody who comes down while spawning (hence the title) lots and lots of little monsters. The family living in the house above goes about their day, but it becomes increasingly obvious there's a problem.

The Good

*The concept of a family going about their day (a visiting uncle is preparing for a psychology conference; the older brother is having friends over to study) while being completely unaware there's an alien monster lurking in their basement is clever. I also liked the atypical protagonists--a bunch of college science students and retirees rather than typical dumb teens just waiting for Jason to kill them.

*The filmmakers, especially early in the film, are pretty clearly following the Jaws principle of never showing their monster. There are shadows, silhouettes, and partial glimpses, as well as blood spattering from kills, but it's not until around a third in that we see the big kahuna. Given how cheap the creature ends up looking, that's wise.

*Although they didn't have the resources to make a decent-looking monster, the creature design and concept is pretty cool.

*There are some interesting character dynamics, like two characters who are conspiracy theorists and another who's a skeptic--and did I mention there's an incipient love triangle? They play well off each other.

*Not going to go into more detail for reasons of spoilers, but it does have an epilogue showing just what happens after the events of the film that's slightly amusing.

The Bad

*The acting simply isn't very good. In the opening sequence where a couple campers get mauled, they don't seem to be putting much effort into emoting or delivery. The main cast is better, but not by much, and lesser characters who appear later in the film (an old ladies' luncheon from hell) are about as bad as the campers from the beginning. It's not impressive at all. Taking a look at IMDB, most of the people didn't seem to have been in anything else, or only in a small number of films. It would have been a lot better if they'd just consolidated the cast.

*The main characters aren't really built up well, so I didn't really care much about whether or not they ended up monster chow or not. Note that I don't use any of their names in the review--there's a reason for that. :(

*The movie takes too long to get anywhere, despite its relatively short runtime of 78 minutes. There are many overlong shots that are increasingly-obvious padding, especially toward the end.

*The monster-puppet is cheap-looking and not very good.

*The lighting isn't very good. Half the time one can't see anything at all, especially at night or in a darkened basement. Done well, shadows can be spooky, but this just looks cheap and poorly made. There are several occasions where the film is straight-up blurry, which doesn't help.

*There's a major moment relatively early in the film where a character would be literally dead meat if the monster acted like it did earlier, but it was uncharacteristically unaggressive. This is intended to reveal the creature is blind and hunts by sound, but I didn't get that at the time. And what seems like a prolonged standoff lasts so long that one wonders why nobody noticed the character is missing.

*There's some really weird camerawork and editing.

*The monster is pretty big, but not only can it move very quickly, but also very quietly as the plot demands.

The Verdict

Some good ideas, but very poorly executed. Don't bother unless you really like cheap 1980s horror films. If you really want a good creature feature from that era, watch the original Gremlins or Slugs instead. 3.5 out of 10.

Wednesday, July 14, 2021

Movie Review: VALERIAN AND THE CITY OF A THOUSAND PLANETS (2017)

While I was at Videodrome renting a copy of The Abyss for a future Myopia Movies podcast episode, I saw a copy of the film Valerian and the City of A Thousand Planets, which I thought about seeing in theaters back in 2017, dawdled, and ended up missing. Like my father says, if you wait long enough, "I don't know," becomes "no." I eventually got around to renting the film, and now it's time to review it.


The Plot

In the distant future, humanity is one of a vast number alien species coexisting throughout the galaxy and what was once the International Space Station has grown into a galaxy-traveling city of millions. It's also the base of operations for an interstellar police force, two agents of which are Major Valerian (Dane DeHaan) and his partner Sergeant Laureline (Cara Delevingne). Although they both clearly have romantic feelings for each other, she isn't content to be one of his many sexual conquests and he's commitment-phobic.

Into this drops a mission to retrieve a rare "Mul Converter" from a gang of black marketeers. The two officers stumble into a conspiracy involving a planet officially erased from the records and a high-level military cover-up.

The Good

*The acting and characterization are very good. I really liked DeHaan and Delevingne playing their characters as essentially Harry Potter's Ron and Hermione, if Ron were James Bond in terms of martial capability and libido and Hermione were much more sarcastic and rebellious and had a shorter temper and more explicitly traditional views about sex and family. The two have really good chemistry and are fun to watch.

*Writer and director Luc Besson, the mastermind behind The Fifth Element, is clearly having a blast adapting one of his favorite comics to the screen. It's clearly a labor of love and very well-done. This shows in the casting--Besson put in the effort to cast well-known performers like Clive Owen and Rihanna and the costuming, art, etc. are all awesome. Owing to the obscurity of its source material, it's a hell of a lot more interesting than the endless remakes and sequels of more well-known films that dominate today's market.

*The overall plot is a lot more thoughtful than a lot of sci-fi films.

*There are some good uses of "show, don't tell," like a scene early on when Laureline uses the ship's computers to make a point about Valerian's love life.

*There are a lot of fun action sequences.

*The opening montage in which the International Space Station grows to include more and more Earth nations as well as increasing numbers of alien species to the point it becomes a city in space is very well-done, and even includes some cool science bits like how artificial gravity is introduced.

*Although this is hundreds of years in the future, religion--touched on however briefly when Valerian and Laureline are about to go on a mission and during a conspiracy flashback--is something that still exists and is respected, even by a lothario like Valerian. Valerian's offer to find a priest specifically is also a nice tie-in with Laureline from the comics--she was a medieval French peasant who was brought into the future and thus likely to be an actual Catholic.

The Bad

*The movie is about thirty minutes too long. This wouldn't be a problem if an entire subplot involving Laureline getting kidnapped--something that shouldn't be possible if her armor and martial skill are half that of Valerian's--got cut down or excised completely. Seriously, it basically came off as an excuse to have a Rihanna dance number, plus it also relies on a section of the titular space station essentially being off-limits to federal law enforcement agents. That makes no sense.

*There's a sequence at the end where a character introduces some elements that would make the overall situation much more morally gray, but it isn't handled well. And Valerian and Laureline make some ludicrous deductive leaps to figure out parts of it. More details about the war we see before we meet Valerian and Laureline would have been nice, as it would explain a villain's actions.

*There are some Chekov's guns that are put on the mantle but not fired. Valerian's promiscuity could have caused problems during the main plot--perhaps he's betrayed by a bitter ex-lover--but it doesn't really come up.

*There's also a major suspension-of-disbelief problem with a group of aliens who play a key role in the climax of the film.

*Early on some people our heroes are supposed to be close to get killed, but they don't seem to care.

The Verdict

It's definitely good and I hope that Besson eventually gets his way and produces a sequel, but it's got some flaws. Worth a rental, or buying cheap. 7.5 out of 10.

Tuesday, July 13, 2021

Productivity Update 7/13/21

It's been awhile since I've posted an update on my current projects. However, I saw that Chris Nuttall had done that and that reminded me. So let's start with my current primary focus...

Serpent Sword: Battle for the Wastelands #2-There are ten completed chapters, and between those and the partial chapters later on, I have a total word count of 53,694. I think the finish product will be somewhat longer than the original Battle for the Wastelands' 89,000 words, so I'm about halfway through perhaps? I already have the cover art (see below) and have written the book copy, but even if I complete the manuscript in, say, October or November, tasks like hiring a professional editor, revising, formatting, finding another author to blurb it, etc. will take time and then releasing it in December might not be a wise idea. It might be better to hold off until early 2022.


I've noticed that at conventions and on Amazon (especially after the BookBub featured deal), the "Long War" novels The Thing in the Woods and The Atlanta Incursion sell significantly better than Battle and its prequel novella "Son of Grendel." Consequently, once I have Serpent Sword out the door, it is my plan to swing back to that series and put out the third novel The Walking Worm (book copy here) and then the fourth novel, Shadowmen before returning to the Wastelands world with the third book, tentatively titled Escape.

(Once Serpent Sword is published, I'm going to try for a BookBub featured deal for Battle on the grounds that an available sequel would make it more likely to get approval and ultimately more profitable--people might get Battle for $0.99 and then pay full price for Serpent Sword and "SOG." If BookBub does for the Wastelands series what it did for Thing and TAI, I might do Escape before Shadowmen, but the Wastelands world is weird--it's secondary-world fantasy without magic, it's steampunk and post-apocalyptic but it's not in our world, etc. And generally horror sells better than steampunk.)

I have already started writing TWW and Shadowmen, although I don't think I have any completed chapters. TWW's current word count is 16,504 and Shadowmen's word count is 11,236. I can definitely complete TWW in 2022 and I could potentially complete Shadowmen in 2022 as well, given how the "Long War" series is less research-heavy than Wastelands and in particular Shadowmen takes place in the same town as Thing.

Like Serpent Sword, I already have the cover for The Walking Worm made. Here you go. That's MJ-12 agent Thomas Bolton (who first appears briefly in Thing but is in TAI a lot more) on the left and our hero James Daly on the right.


Finally, in April I completed the short story "Run, Hide, Feed" and submitted it to a modern-monster collection. They chose not to include it and it was rejected by an online horror magazine soon after. There are still some pro-rate horror publications I haven't submitted to, although the subject matter (it was written to comment on U.S. mass shootings, in particular the amount of media attention paid to the shooters) makes it a bit of a hot potato. We shall see.

Friday, July 2, 2021

Blast from the Past Movie Review: BATTLEFIELD EARTH (2000)

The Myopia Movies pain train rolls on with this Scientological "classic" Battlefield Earth, in which longtime Scientology devotee John Travolta finally gets to adapt Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard's science fiction novel (well, the first half of of it), to rather lackluster results. Per Box Office Mojo, it grossed $39M against a $73M budget and is considered one of the worst movies ever made.

(A pity, since the book was all right, or at least had some interesting concepts. Then again, if the movie did well, that's more money for Scientology. As you can no doubt tell, I have an extraordinarily low opinion of the organization.)

I don't remember seeing it in theaters, but I did read the book around the time the film came out and I'm pretty sure I saw at least a large chunk of it on television somewhat later. Here's the Myopia episode, which is probably one of the most hilarious and over the top episodes we've ever done. And now for the review...


The Plot

It's the year 3000 AD and Earth is under alien occupation. The greedy Psychlos are strip-mining the planet for minerals and the dwindling human populations are reduced to essentially cavemen. In this bleak environment, Psychlo Terl (John Travolta) enslaves Johnny Goodboy Tyler (Barry Pepper) as part of an off-the-books scheme to make himself rich mining gold in areas too dangerous for the aliens to visit. Trained by Terl to operate Psychlo technology, Tyler ends up leading the remnants of the dying human race in one last battle for freedom...

The Good

*It's not boring, most of the time. A lot of the unintentional hilarity means it'd work as a comedy. Maybe Mystery Science Theater 3000, Rifftrax, or Cineprov can get their hands on this.

*Travolta's campy performance as Terl is pretty funny. Listen to the podcast episode, especially the parts where Daniel is talking, to get a hint of just how horridly glorious (gloriously horrid?) it is. Imagine John Travolta with dreadlocks and costumed to make himself look nine feet tall angrily lisping about "man-animals" and calling people "rat-brain."

*They wisely kept out the whole "psychiatrists made the Psychlos evil" plot from the book, although given how that doesn't show up until the second half (which was supposed to be a sequel film) maybe it wasn't wisdom on the producers' part.

The Bad

*Pretty much everybody in the movie is an idiot. And that's to put it mildly. Terl knows that Johnny is rebellious and has attacked him and other Psychlos several times, but still chooses to entrust him with his off-the-books gold-mining scheme. There are many situations where he should at least be suspicious about what Johnny and/or other humans are up to, but he just goes along with it. His greed and arrogance blind him to an absolutely ridiculous degree. Terl and the various Psychlos keep screwing with each other in order to always have "leverage," to the point TVTropes called it the film's "arc word." One wonders how their society can even function when pretty much everybody has Chronic Backstabbing Disorder. Meanwhile, Johnny is openly discussing his plans in front of Terl, betting on Terl being so arrogant that he never learned to speak English.

*There is some really bad acting on the parts of people who've performed better in other films. That's one cause for the unintentional hilarity.

*The humans, at least in Colorado, have totally forgotten their history and anything above essentially a Neolithic level. When Rome fell, even though most people couldn't read and write, there was still enough of a literate class to preserve quite a bit of knowledge about what came before. If the modern US were destroyed by aliens, the survivors would be almost entirely literate and I imagine they'd at least make some effort to teach their children, and their children's children, etc. Instead all Johnny's tribe seems to know is that in the distant past "demons" came from the sky and punished mankind and they currently live in fear of a dragon outside their village that it turns out is a mini-golf statue. In the book the descendants of Scottish survivors, though they've regressed to a largely medieval state, still know the true story of the alien invasion and how their ancestors managed to protect their homeland. More on that later...

*There's only one major Psychlo base? In the book there were 15, scattered all over the world. That makes a lot more sense. Given the crap that's just lying around (more on that next), this could've been handwaved if Johnny and friends have reactivated some long-dormant intercontinental ballistic missiles and blew them all to hell offscreen. We could have had a nice orbital shot of alien bases getting nuked like the end of Terminator 3 as Johnny and his allies descend on the panicking Psychlo main base in Denver.

*The back-story for the Psychlo conquest of Earth makes little sense. Terl claims the aliens had wiped out all of humanity's military forces in nine minutes, but even 1,000 years later there is an absolute crap-ton of hardware lying around that is still usable, including nuclear weapons. The book's depiction of the conquest of Earth--the Psychlos used a nuke-proof gas drone to wipe out human population centers, then sent in ordinary military forces to mop up any survivors--makes more sense. And given Psychlo vulnerability to uranium--it ignites the gas they breathe--there were surviving human populations in areas where nuclear weapons were used against the aliens or where there were natural concentrations of it.

(In Scotland, for example, a British military force lured Psychlo tanks into a nuclear minefield and the whole region became contaminated with uranium dust, allowing for a medieval-ish Scottish civilization to survive in the Highlands. Our hero's hometown is in a valley where there were either natural uranium deposits or a nuclear cache that's been leaking, which explains the population decline due to sterility and cancer as well as why the Psychlos never bothered them.) 

Given how the final confrontation with the Psychlos goes down, it should have been at least implied Terl was lying about how easily they'd conquered Earth. I hesitate to do a "how I would have done it" for Battlefield Earth lest I give Scientology more time and attention than it deserves, but I would have had a prologue depicting the original Psychlo attack. We'd see the book's last stand of the U.S. Air Force Academy cadets in chemical-weapons gear against massive high-tech Psychlo tanks, since geographically that's nearest to where our hero and friends live. Maybe they're buying time for some civilian refugees (implied to be Johnny's tribe's ancestors) to escape into the mountains. During the last battle, there could be conversations among the soldiers and/or communications from outside, revealing what's happening--some kind of Independence Day-sized craft that can shrug off nuclear hits appeared over Britain and traveled around the world gassing population centers, followed by mysterious detachments of tanks and super-advanced planes teleporting in and hitting surviving cities and military bases. Rumors about nuclear counterattacks in Britain (our friend the Scots) and that the invaders aren't even human. The cadets eventually go down (perhaps killing Psychlo infantrymen or destroying a tank, revealing that the invaders are in fact nine-foot aliens), but they're able to blow up vital bridges or something so the civilians can escape. Then jump to the "present" day of 3000 AD.

The Verdict

If you want alien-invasion movies with varying degrees of cheese, check out Skyline and its two sequels, Battle Los Angeles, Battleship, or Signs instead. If you want alien-invasion books, check out Footfall, which is the most realistic alien-invasion scenario where humans actually win, or my own The Thing in the Woods and its sequel The Atlanta Incursion.

4.0 out of 10. Better  than Spawn, but that's not saying much.

Thursday, June 10, 2021

Blast From The Past Movie Review: SILVER BULLET (1985)

When I was in middle school, I can vaguely recall that my school library (Dickerson Middle School) had a copy of Stephen King's illustrated novella Cycle of the Werewolf available for checkout. I think one had to have parental approval owing to the extremely violent illustrations, but I'm pretty sure I read it. When I was in high school, I remember taping the film adaptation Silver Bullet off UPN and the beginning at least being rather scary.

(Despite largely not being interested in horror, my mother seems to be aware of werewolf movies in general if not this one--she asked if it was the werewolf's heavy breathing that did it. I do remember the opening operates on the "Jaws principle" of not showing the monster. All you really see is the broad outline of the monster moving in the trees, all you hear is the breathing, etc.)

Well, the time came for Myopia Movies to do an episode on it. Sign up for the Patreon to get the episode. And now for the review...



The Plot

It's 1976 in the town of Tarker's Mill, Maine. Although it's the spring and everybody is cheerful, the narrator reflects on this being when the horrors began. Said horrors start with a drunken railroad worker getting killed by something big and hairy, and every full moon the killings come again. The person who first figures out that the perpetrator is a werewolf is young Marty Coslow (Corey Haim), who is paraplegic and uses a wheelchair, and is soon followed by his older sister Jane (Megan Follows). Eventually, so does their comedically-alcoholic Uncle Red (Gary Busey).

But the werewolf knows they're onto them and the cat-and-mouse game begins...

The Good

*The acting is good. Haim and Follows come off as believable siblings (with Jane resenting having to look after the disabled Marty and her parents' obvious favoritism), while Busey comes off so well as the good-natured alcoholic uncle that some of the podcasters wondered if he were actually drunk on the set. Given Busey's issues with addiction, that wouldn't really be a shock. Everett McGill handles Reverend Lowe's intensity and growing madness pretty well--when he discovers Jane rooting through his shed and later confronts Marty at an abandoned bridge, he's creepy. And even though Robin Groves as Jane and Marty's mother Nan isn't in the film much, she does believably demonstrate her frustration with her brother who gets sloppy drunk in front of her young son and who lectures her about parenting her children when he clearly doesn't even have his own life together.

(His third wife has left him due to his drinking and he's picking up floozies in bars.)

*Making the protagonist of the story disabled is pretty innovative. Although Marty is a paraplegic and that makes his life more difficult, to quote The Gummi Bears, "Disabled does not mean unable." The kid has got quite a bit of upper-body strength for his age and thanks to Uncle Red, he has a combo go-cart/wheelchair that allows him to get around Tarker's Mill on his own rather than relying on people to take him in and out of their cars.

*They brought in Stephen King to write the screenplay. Although writing a novel and writing a film are two different skillsets, they overlap a lot better than directing a film (King directed Maximum Overdrive and did a legendarily bad job). And King knows that to work as a movie the story needs to be consolidated.

*There are only 13 full moons per year (it turns out there aren't two per month like I'd thought), so a realistic werewolf story (in which the full moon prompts the werewolf's transformation) would take place over a prolonged period. After all, a werewolf might not kill every month and death by werewolf might be mistaken for death by another cause--people think the town drunk was decapitated by a train. Cycle takes place over an entire year, but Silver Bullet takes place over a more condensed period of time--the first killing is in the spring (probably April or May) rather than January and the climactic battle with the werewolf is on Halloween, not New Year's Eve. Some of the novel's kills are eliminated (the herd of pigs) or simplified (the jackass father of a girl who's crushing on Marty). Plus I think they theorize that the werewolf is at their most deranged and inhuman at the full moon, but transforms more often.

*Although the kids think nobody will believe their idea about a werewolf and therefore they have to solve the problem themselves, the town sheriff is TVTropes Reasonable Authority Figure. He tries to warn the townsfolk off a vigilante hunt for what they think is a human serial killer (which could result in, say, lynching some drifter whom they mistake for the killer or the townsfolk shooting each other in the dark) and actually investigates when Red suggests a particular person. Given that this is a small town and everybody knows everybody, he's probably aware that Red is a drunk with questionable judgement but he gives his suspicions credit.

*Although it is common for Hollywood to malign small-town religious types as uneducated rubes or dangerous nuts, the portrayal of Christianity in the town is respectful even if it is oversimplified. Marty and Jane are Catholic and participate in charitable work overseen by the Church of Christ's Lowe (implying harmonious Catholic-Protestant relations, something that's not a given in 1976), the town's Church of Christ is well-attended, there does not appear to be any racism directed at the town's black residents, and with a few exceptions everybody is broadly decent to each other. One character shows signs of religious-crazy, but they might be suffering a prolonged mental-emotional breakdown rather than simply being a wolf in sheep's clothing or a dangerous fanatic.

The Bad

*The mighty Daniel described this film as "the non-union Mexican equivalent to American Werewolf in London" and he's kind of right. The movie's transformation sequences look like they're going for the same style, but the filmmakers didn't have the money or the skill to pull it off. I refer to the werewolf in the episode as "the bear-wolf" because that's what it kind of looks like. Even though especially early on they try to keep its appearances to a minimum a la Jaws, it's still pretty obviously an actor in a suit that resembles a skinnier Gmork from The Never-Ending Story.

*It's not as spooky/scary as I remember it. To be fair, part of that was because I was seeing it with other people (who were talking) rather than alone, but it seems more like a murder mystery with a werewolf rather than a horror-horror film. And we figure out pretty soon whom the werewolf is, so it's not even really mysterious--it's more "who's going to get whom first."

*The movie is narrated by one of the characters looking back on the events as an adult. That means we know that this character at least survived, so they're never really in danger. Plus it came off to me like The Waltons, in which the character "John Boy," now a prominent writer, tells each episode's story as an extended flashback to his youth.

*Stephen King, who grew up as a Methodist but now comes off as something like a Deist and whose daughter is a Unitarian minister, has a much more nuanced and accurate depiction of religion in the novel than in the film. In the novel they differentiate between Marty and his family (Catholics) and Reverend Lowe (Baptist) and how they don't ordinarily interact with each other. However, although Marty and his sister are Catholic (Marty's St. Christopher Medal and Jane's crucifix are important to the plot), everybody seems to attend Lowe's Church of Christ. Lowe dresses like a Catholic or Anglican priest even though the Church of Christ is much less formal, to say nothing of it being Protestant. He also claims suicide is the worst sin, which is historically something emphasized more by Catholics (see Aquinas's notion that suicide is unforgivable because you cannot repent of it). Lowe is also young and good-looking but isn't married, something you'd see more with Catholics than Protestants. Given how King wrote both the novel and the film, I'm wondering how he got this wrong. They could have included an elderly Catholic priest in the opening scene at the luncheon and depicted the two working together on the charity fundraiser, with Lowe doing most of the work due to his comparative vigor.

*How in control of its actions is the werewolf? In beast-mode it demonstrates high-level intelligence by cutting power lines, disarming an individual victim before killing them, ambushing armed hunters rather than just running at them, and is capable of using weapons. However, in human form the werewolf has nightmares about their actions and begs God for it to stop, seems to be trying to justify their werewolf actions after-the-fact rather than necessarily reveling in them, and may have been trying to keep themselves from killing people by locking themselves in their garage. In the novel the conflict and the werewolf's progressing insanity are much clearer, with the werewolf at times going out of its way to avoid people and the final confrontation with Marty is the only time they try to eliminate someone who knows too much.

*The passage of time is a bit fuzzy. Although there are a couple times in the narration where it's stated that the killing came with the last full moon of the spring, a month before school let out, that's easy to miss. It would've been clearer if the scene where we first meet Marty and Jane takes place at a church Easter luncheon rather than just some random community event. If school lets out in May, the first killing would be sometime in April and then you could have Easter afterward. Or if Easter doesn't work due to always taking place after the full moon, maybe make it a Memorial Day event? In Portland at least, schools end for students in June, not May, so Memorial Day would be before the end of the school year

*Kent Broadhurst, who plays the father of Marty's murdered friend Brady, simply cannot pull off the man's grief. Given his role in the story--his speech the sheriff encourages the townsfolk to go hunting the werewolf on their own against the sheriff's orders--that's kind of a problem. Given his extensive work in theater, I'm wondering how that happened.

The Verdict

It's worth seeing once, but not worth buying. 7.0 out of 10. If you want to hear us discuss the film, sign up for the Patreon here.

Monday, May 31, 2021

(Current) Book Copy For SERPENT SWORD: BATTLE FOR THE WASTELANDS #2

Just submitted Ch. 9 of Serpent Sword, the sequel to my military fantasy novel Battle for the Wastelands to my writing group. Per my earlier blog post, I hope to get the novel completed and published before the end of 2021, and based on word counts I'm probably around halfway to finishing it. Running it through writing group, getting professional editing, etc. will take time so I imagine it'll be close, but it's still doable.


In the meantime, here's the current draft of the book copy. Spoilers for the first novel, so be ye warned.

“Killing Jasper Clark was just the beginning. Now there’s a war to win, and the odds are getting worse.

For the role he played in capturing a dirigible belonging to the cannibalistic Flesh-Eating Legion and rescuing rebel chieftain Alonzo Merrill, Andrew Sutter was promoted to corporal. Now the rebel armies are carving a bloody swathe toward the old capital of Jacinto. Victory seems near as the man-eaters crumble before the Merrills’ salvaged Old World arsenal.

But Grendel, first lord of the Northlands, arrives with his elite Obsidian Guard and his fearsome airship the Nicor. Although he had planned to betray the Flesh-Eaters and replace them with his son by Alonzo’s captive sister Catalina, Grendel cannot allow the death of the Flesh-Eater ruler to go unavenged. He comes with hundreds of thousands of reinforcements and Catalina herself as bait.

With Jacinto under siege and enemy armies drawing ever-nearer, Andrew Sutter — now responsible for more than just his own life — and his friends must descend into the occupied city of Long Branch to rescue Catalina and confront the dreaded first lord himself.”

The title is the operational name for the assault on the Long Branch citadel. Given how Grendel's personal dirigible is called the Nicor — a Norse word for "water-monster"  and bears a dragon-head on its prow, giving the mission to kill him that name seems appropriate.

(Look closely at the cover and that's the Nicor floating over Long Branch's citadel. Imagine a Viking longship updated for steampunk warfare.)

Wednesday, May 26, 2021

Lions Will Fight Bears: Britain In WWIII

I still check on the alternate history forum for interesting stories even though I'm still self-banned (and intend to stay that way). Most recently I checked out the section dedicated to finished timelines (content only, no reader comments like in the main forums) and found the scenario Lions Will Fight Bears: Britain In WWIII. The gist of it is that the hard-liner coup against Mikhail Gorbachev happens in 1988 rather than 1991 and rather than causing the Soviet Union to collapse as it did in our history, it imposes an unstable regime that soon goes completely paranoid and launches an attack on NATO thinking that NATO is going to attack them. Although the conflict only lasts a month or so and no nuclear weapons are used, it's still a pretty ugly situation, especially if you're a West German or a Dane.

I don't know the author, but he (when I was there the forum was very male-dominated) seems to know quite a lot about British politics and his focus is on the British, although obviously there's plenty about the US and Soviet Union too. And there's a lot of stuff in here I haven't read in the WWIII fiction I'm familiar with like The Third World War, Red Army, or Red Storm Rising.

*Something I'd never read before in WWIII fiction but should have been more obvious based on what happened with the COVID lockdowns is how disruptive war preparations would be to the societies in question even before the shooting starts. The author devotes several chapters to the problems the "transition to war" process causes the British public, problems that escalate into armed confrontations between cranky British civilians and American soldiers and even rioting due to transportation restrictions, business and school closures, etc.

*It was my understanding the British had lists of people to intern in the event of WWIII, which I assumed were people like British Communists who would be security risks. However, just who is on this list and why becomes a major issue.

*Also a 1988 WWIII is in the middle of The Troubles in Northern Ireland. Not only did the Soviets support various factions of the IRA (which is, unbeknownst to enthusiastic Americans of Irish background in Boston, a Communist organization), but part of their pre-war destabilizing plan involves encouraging them to attack British and Loyalist forces more aggressively. This includes, among other things, killing future UK Prime Minister John Major. Between that, the stuff I referenced above, and the fact that most of the British military is fighting the Soviets, Northern Ireland collapses into civil war. And it gets ugly--Nationalist and Loyalist paramilitary groups routinely commit crimes against civilians from rival communities and it escalates into open ethnic cleansing, with the understrength British Army unable to do much to stop it. Prominent republican Gerry Adams ends up being tortured to death by Loyalist paramilitaries, for example.

*The scenario also includes Soviet attacks on the United States itself even though the war stays conventional--Soviet bombers operating from occupied parts of Scandinavia and even the Soviet mainland and Soviet naval forces are able to strike New England, the Pacific Northwest, Alaska, and Hawaii. Soviet and Cuban forces raid the Florida Keys and even Florida itself. Usually in WWIII fiction the war doesn't come to the American homeland until the nukes start going off (think the film The Day After, in which there's fighting in Europe that soon leads to strategic nuclear use, or the novel Alas Babylon where the fighting starts in the Middle East). However, given the ranges of Soviet aircraft, the fact Soviet submarines and long-range aircraft would be equipped with cruise missiles, etc. that makes a lot of sense.

(In one of the "SDI Punk" blog posts, author Ken Prescott makes the point that cruise missiles made virtually every US Navy ship a potential threat to the Soviet homeland and thus the Soviets would need to hunt down all ships, not just the carriers and submarines carrying nuclear missiles. There's really no reason the Soviets couldn't do the same. And given the US's open society, it'd be a lot easier to infiltrate spies, commandoes, etc. in the fashion of the television series The Americans than the reverse.)

*And then there's the fun the KGB and other secret-police organizations get up to in occupied areas. Americans generally don't have to live with the concern that they'll be targeted on an individual level by an occupying army, but I imagine that was a very real concern for Europeans on the frontlines of the Cold War. It would be very easy for Soviet agents in open societies like West Germany, Sweden, Norway, etc. to assemble lists of people to arrest or kill in the event of Soviet occupation--local businessmen, politicians, clergy, retired soldiers, etc.

(The third of S.M. Stirling's Draka novels features American soldiers deploying into fallback positions in the Appalachians right before the balloon goes up. It's made explicit they've been erased from military records to forestall exactly that.)

In particular, American General John Shalikashvili--born in Poland and viewed by the Communist Poles as a traitor and son of a traitor despite becoming a U.S. citizen as a child--finds this out the hard way. And at a macro level there's the Nightmare Fuel of what the East Germans soldiers do in occupied West Germany, which they intend to absorb into a united Communist Germany. We're talking mass killings of captured military officers, removing books from libraries, civilians and captured enlisted men put to forced labor, etc.

*Speaking of him, since this is written well after the end of the Cold War and is intended to be faux history rather than an action thriller, we see a lot of real-life personalities. At the political level there's Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, U.S. President Ronald Reagan, and Vice-President George H.W. Bush, but there's also the British Michael Jackson (who prevented escalation between NATO and Russian forces in Kosovo in 1999 in real history), American Wesley Clark (who gave the orders in that situation), Colin Powell, and the victor of the Persian Gulf War Norman Schwarzkopf whom I remember being the great hero when I was a little kid.

The main problem I have with the scenario is that it's incredibly, incredibly detailed. We're talking beyond Clancy level in terms of descriptions of military movements, technology, etc. Although this reflects well on the author--he clearly knows his stuff--it's very dense and kind of a slog to read. Even though this sort of thing is ordinarily something I enjoy reading, I was skimming a lot. It took me three-odd days to finish reading the whole scenario.

Saturday, May 15, 2021

Books Make Good Miniseries: S.M. Stirling's DRAKA

Once upon a time at DragonCon, author S.M. Stirling said that books typically make good miniseries and short stories make good movies. I'm an administrator of a Facebook group dedicated to his works and recently the possibility of films or TV series based on his notorious Draka series from the late 1980s and early 1990s came up. This set the wheels spinning--I'm inclined to think that each of the three main books would make for a good three-hour TV miniseries.

Marching Through Georgia-This would be based on the first novel and depict the Draka's entrance into this timeline's World War II. While the Draka armies surge into the southern entrances of the Caucasus mountain passes, paratroopers under the command of young officer Eric von Shrakenberg land in the northern entrances to trap the German defenders, accompanied by American reporter William Dreiser. Although Dreiser doesn't like the Draka's practice of large-scale slavery, he is intent on convincing his American audiences to cooperate with them to stop Germany, which has conquered European Russia and is currently enslaving and killing Jews, Russians, and Poles by the millions. Here we can see all the consequences of Generalplan Ost in their horror. 

However, throw in enough about the Draka as the story goes along that we get the creeping realization their winning might be even worse. Through Eric's memories and Dreiser's heavily-regulated visit we see just how horrible life in the Domination is. On leave Eric has to stop two Janissaries (soldiers drawn from the slave population) from raping his driver, millions of slaves are worked to exhaustion in military factories to prepare for the coming war, Dreiser is threatened by a Security Directorate minder who thinks he's going to try to spread sedition among the slaves, and Eric's father Karl tells Dreiser it's in the US's interest to help the Draka stop Germany and Japan from becoming great powers because the alternative to their dividing the world between them (and the Draka enslaving everybody under their control) is Germany, Japan, and the Domination allying against the United States. Draka small-talk reveals even more horrors. For example, Eric's fighter-pilot sister thinks buying a female Russian guerrilla as essentially a concubine would be doing her a favor (the master-slave sexual dynamic encourages a lot of situational lesbianism among Citizen women), other soldiers talk about how "it's a long way to the Atlantic" as though they've planned to conquer their ostensible French allies from the get-go, Dreiser thinks that the Draka view the rump Soviet state in Siberia as a "caretaker" before they take over themselves, and even the "distressingly liberal" Eric advocates the Domination merely "regulate and tax" occupied Europe rather than enslave the entire population and casually discusses sterilizing alcoholics and "retards." 

Ultimately, even though the Nazis are defeated, the Security Directorate assassins sent after Eric for his liberal-minded ways are dealt with, and Dreiser makes arrangements for Russian guerrillas who helped the Draka to be evacuated to the United States, we have a more ominous ending than a happy one. It's been a long time since I've read this book, but the first half could be the everything leading up to a large-scale last-ditch Nazi attack that threatens to destroy Eric and company and relieve the trapped Germans and the second half could be the Nazi attack itself and the aftermath.

Under The Yoke-This one is based on the second book and would be a straight-up horror show, albeit with a slightly happy ending. All the stuff the Germans were doing in Russia and Poland? The victorious Draka are doing it on a somewhat more subtle level from the English Channel to the Pacific Ocean. American secret agent Frederick Kustaa, pretending to be a brain-damaged Draka veteran (i.e. so he doesn't have to imitate their very distinctive accent, spar, dance, etc), is sent in to facilitate the defection of a European nuclear scientist who'd been given Citizenship but soon found he could no longer bear working for the absolutely worst people ever. However, while trying to smuggle the scientist out of Draka-occupied France, he gets involved in the internal politics of a newly-established Draka plantation, including rebellious young Communist Chantal LeFarge who has attracted the attentions (ahem) of both the master and the mistress and Polish nun Marya Sokolowska, a Resistance agent. 

The first half would be everything leading up to Frederick's arrival at the plantation. Frederick's insertion into Finland and helping Finnish rebels fight Draka occupation forces while bachelor Draka officer Andrew von Shrakenberg is unknowingly hunting for him would be a big part; meanwhile you have Marya and Chantal arriving at the plantation and becoming part of the household staff. The second half would be everything that happens after Frederick arrives. The ending features a pregnant Chantal escaping with the American extraction team while Frederick, Marya, and Andrew give their lives to stop a dirty bomb from detonating--for Chantal at least it ends somewhat happily and the other three essentially become martyrs saving thousands of people from death by radiation poisoning.

The Stone Dogs-This one, based on the third book, would be a generational saga like something out of James Mitchener. To tighten it up, I'd start right before the 1970s secession of India from the anti-Draka Alliance for Democracy and the consequent Draka invasion to keep the focus on Frederick and Marya LeFarge (the twin children of Chantal, fathered by a Draka rapist but born free in America who become secret agents), the young Draka officer Yolande Ingolfsson, and the returning Eric as a reformist Draka politician. To tighten it still further, the miniseries could focus on the race for a stalemate-breaking superweapon. The Draka have the titular "Stone Dogs," a bioengineered virus intended to drive the Alliance military insane, while the Alliance has a computer virus that causes Draka military assets to self-destruct when the Domination goes to war footing (and an almost-afterthought sleeper ship The New America in the event of a Draka victory). The first half of the miniseries can end with the cornered Eric forced to launch a nuclear attack on the Alliance when the spiteful Yolande engineers the escape of the enslaved Marya, whom she'd deliberately told about the Stone Dogs. The second half can cover the resulting nuclear war and the peace treaty in which the Draka grant Citizenship to the Alliance survivors on the Moon and beyond (but not on Earth, for more horror) and allow the New America to leave the solar system and establish a colony at Alpha Centauri. It'd be a combination of 2001 (or 2010 since that involves a US-Soviet confrontation) and The Day After.

Drakon-Per Stirling himself, this fourth book would be the one that would work best as an actual movie--I think he compared it to Predator. Only the very beginning and a couple minor scenes take place in the world of the victorious Domination and most of it in modern-day New York City. Basically an accident with wormholes deposits female Homo drakensis (the Draka genetically-engineered themselves into a superhuman master race) Gwendolyn Ingolfsson in our world and she begins building a personal empire with the ultimate goal of bringing in a conquering Draka army. A naval vessel from Samothrace (the colony established by the Alliance exiles) sends cyborg secret agent Kenneth LeFarge through a wormhole after her and the battle is on. Given how the book was written in the late 1990s, maybe make it a 1990s period piece? In an age of smart phones and online videos, concealing the events of the climax would be very difficult, but in the Domination frame-story, it seems only a few people are aware of what really went down.

Hmm...make a Drakon movie first, with the victory of the Domination depicted in flashbacks or something Gwen or Kenneth tell their respective servants/allies? If it does well enough, then go whole-hog on the original trilogy.

Thursday, May 13, 2021

Movie Review: ENOLA HOLMES (2020)

In that long-lost year of 2019, I decided to enter the 21st Century and get Netflix streaming. Although the main shows I watched--The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance and V-Wars--weren't renewed, there was other fun content to be found. The Netflix production I ended up enjoying the most was Enola Holmes, so much so that I wrote a review of it for my Mailchimp newsletter and wrote an earlier post about the casting of an Indian actor to play Inspector Lestrade.

Now that a sequel has officially been announced, I figured I'd share my review with a broader audience.


The Plot

Britain's greatest detective Sherlock Holmes (Henry Cavill) didn't have just one sibling, older brother Mycroft (Sam Claflin), but a much, much younger sister Enola (Millie Bobby Brown). Sherlock and Mycroft were adults (or nearly so) when she was born and their father died soon after, leaving her to be raised by her eccentric mother Eudoria (Helena Bonham Carter). Eudoria taught her all sorts of things that Victorian society wouldn't approve upper-class young ladies knowing (i.e. martial arts, explosive chemistry, etc.) and Enola is as extraordinarily intelligent and perceptive as her brother.

Then Eudoria disappears. Mycroft and Sherlock  investigate and Mycroft, vexed that Enola isn't by his standards particularly "ladylike," sends her to a ladies' finishing school run by the domineering Miss Harrison (Fiona Shaw). Enola runs away, seeking clues her mother left behind and stumbling across a conspiracy to kill the young Viscount Tewkesbury (Louis Partridge) that's connected to legislation that would expand voting rights in Britain. Meanwhile her two brothers are looking for her...

The Good

*Millie Bobby Brown does an absolutely amazing job as Enola. Seriously, she's the best part of the movie. She puts so much emotion into the part, both positive and negative, and she's so entertaining to watch. Her facial expressions in particular are often hilarious. Cavill and Claflin are good in their parts as well--although they're much less entertaining than Enola is, Cavil projects Holmes' intelligence and Claflin is downright hissable as Mycroft (more on that later). Although she's not in the movie very much, Carter's very good as well and the scenes between her and Enola have real poignance.

*The script is generally well-written. Enola has a running commentary on everything (including at times breaking the fourth wall) that made me laugh out loud several times. I'm sure the people near me at the gym (I watch a lot of Netflix on my Kindle on the elliptical or the bike) really appreciated that. :)

*The movie moves along at a quick clip and is rarely dull. It make running on the elliptical and ironing clothes so much more tolerable.

*The film gets a lot more political than I remember the Holmes stories being. The stories I've read seem to focus on him solving crimes and what-not, but during the time Sherlock would have lived (the last story is set at the start of WWI and he's a very old man), British society was rapidly changing. A major plot point are the Reform Bills (based on the time period I'm guessing The Representation of the People Act of 1884) and there was also a lot of agitation by women for the right to vote. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle might not have been interested in making his stories about "issues" (and in-universe Holmes might be too monomaniacal about solving crimes to care about politics), but this is a pretty interesting vein to mine.

*The importance of women being able to control their own money is a major plot point. To quote TVTropes, Some Anvils Need To Be Dropped.

The Bad

The characterization of Enola and Sherlock's older brother Mycroft is grossly unsubtle. The filmmakers needed a villain and apparently the people involved in a plot to murder a teenage boy weren't good enough. So they depicted a man characterized in the original books as being as smart as Sherlock but just too lazy to do anything with it into a cranky, snide reactionary (he's clearly disdainful of the Reform Bill) who's downright mean to Enola and is explicitly depicted as not having either of his siblings' intelligence. That last part is just really petty on the filmmakers' part, especially given what I said a minute ago about how in the source material he's as smart as Sherlock, just lazy and hidebound.

Yes, I imagine most Victorian men of their social class would find her exasperating and embarrassing, but she's still his younger sister. He can want to send her to a mind-numbing ladies' finishing school against her wishes and pull rank as her older brother (and legal guardian in the absence of her parents) without being that nasty. He also doesn't seem particularly concerned for well-being--a pretty young woman without much real-life experience on the run in Victorian Britain is probably in great danger and that should worry both him and Sherlock, but he seems more vexed that she's gotten out from under his control than concerned about her not getting raped, killed, etc. And as I mentioned earlier, just to make sure we know he's Bad, he thinks letting more people in Britain vote will be the downfall of the nation.

If the goal is to critique Victorian society as a whole rather than a few bad apples, he could still love his sister and mean well but still plan to to shove Enola's square peg into society's round hole because He's A Man And He Knows What's Best. It is possible for good people to make bad and even downright cruel decisions thinking it's The Right Thing To Do, so there was no need to make Mycroft into such a spiteful, mean-spirited jerk.

The Verdict

An absolutely delightful film and I hope there's a sequel. After all, the film is based on a book series. 9.0 out of 10. Oh and by the way, Netflix came up with a clever way to promote it.

Monday, May 10, 2021

Two THE ATLANTA INCURSION #BookTube Reviews In Two Days

One strategy I've been using to promote my work is seeking out booktubers to discuss my books on their channels. Early-mid May has been, to quote the great Borat, "Very nice." I have gotten two largely positive video reviews on YouTube for my novel The Atlanta Incursion, the sequel to The Thing In The Woods.

Here's the one posted May 9 from Jeremy Fee, a Texan who liked the small-town feel of the original Thing and followed the survivors to the big city for the sequel:


And here's the one posted May 10 from Lady Jane Books, who got very excited about it:


This was a very nice couple of days. If you're interested after watching these videos, you can find both The Thing in the Woods and The Atlanta Incursion on Amazon. They're both in Kindle Unlimited. And if you're not, check out their YouTube channels--they might have books you would enjoy.

Saturday, April 24, 2021

Movie Review: MORTAL KOMBAT (2021)

Once upon a time, the fighting game Mortal Kombat set the gaming world on fire, sowing controversies about video game violence and spawning not just multiple sequels, but two live-action movie adaptations. After the failure of the second film Mortal Kombat Annihilation (listen to some friends and I absolutely destroy it on a podcast here), the planned third movie languished, but now in this plague year of 2021, it's back. And it's a lot of fun.


The Plot

The film begins with Chinese warrior Bi-Han (Joe Taslim) murdering Japanese ninja Hanzo Hashashi (Hiroyuki Sanada) and his family in 1617, but his baby daughter is rescued by none other than the thunder god Raiden (Tadanobu Asano). Fast forward to the present day and we meet Cole Young (Lewis Tan), a past-his-prime mixed martial artist reduced to short-notice fights for $200 a pop. However, he's approached by soldier Jackson Briggs (Mehcad Brooks), who wants to discuss a mysterious dragon birthmark they both have. However, Briggs, Cole, and Cole's wife and daughter are set upon by Bi-Han--now the sorcerous centuries-old killing machine Sub-Zero--and Cole finds himself meeting Briggs' military comrade Sonya Blade (Jessica McNamee) and captive criminal Kano (Josh Lawson). Kano has the dragon icon himself and soon the three are pulled into the mysterious world of Mortal Kombat, a tournament fought to protect the Earth against invaders from the desolate realm of Outworld. Outworld has won nine of the last ten tournaments and its agents, led by Shang Tsung (Chin Han), are intent on winning the tenth tournament and invading Earth by hook or by crook.

The Good

*The movie is simply an absolute blast. It's fun and over-the-top and is never slow and boring. And the film integrates the characters' specific moves and supernatural powers into the storyline in clever and fun ways.

*The performances are pretty good. Lawson is clearly having the most fun as Kano--although I was skeptical of his being the comic-relief character instead of Johnny Cage, he is an absolute riot. McNamee manages to play Sonya as having a bit of a chip on her shoulder without being unsympathetic and obnoxious. Asano channels a bit of Christopher Lambert's 1997 Lord Raiden with his accent, although he's avoids being the clumsy exposition machine of the original.

*The characterization is generally an improvement over the original, especially the Sub-Zero/Scorpion rivalry. All the original did was have Shang Tsung brag that although they were "the deadliest of enemies," they were both slaves to his will. This movie straight-up makes Sub-Zero a heavy and much more than just a ninja who can freeze people--we're talking Elsa from Frozen levels of ice-sorcery with all the different types of havoc it can wreak. And they made Sonya a bit of a conspiracy theorist complete with a board covered in news articles, which is an interesting tweak on the character. She is much more useful than in the original, where she spent much of the first movie getting perved on by Shang Tsung and/or getting taken hostage. And Briggs is definitely an improvement over his appearance in Annihilation in which he mostly came off as Butt Monkey to salvage Sonya from the various indignities the original put her through.

*The film kind of pokes fun at itself and asks the obvious questions, like why "Kombat" is misspelled.

*There's a lot more Asian actors playing Asian characters, which is an improvement over the original film in which the Asian thunder god Raiden is played by the French-Swiss Lambert in such a way that my podcast crew straight-up starting laughing upon seeing him in the original film. And the almighty TVTropes claims that Scorpion and Sub-Zero were portrayed by white actors in the original, although given how they were masked I couldn't really tell. Here they're played by actors of the appropriate ethnicity.

*Just like the games, the film presents an elaborate mythology with plenty of room to play with in future films.

The Bad

*The setup for a tournament structure of fights is rather forced, albeit not as badly as in Annihilation.

*The original set up Johnny Cage, Liu Kang, and Sonya Blade as a power trio, but this one is more focused on Cole Young as the protagonist. And although there are some interesting things they hint at (his hardscrabble orphan upbringing, the demonic ninja he sees in his nightmares), they're not developed enough. He's not bad, but kind of meh.

*On that note, many of the other characters are underwhelming, especially the villains. Tsung is all right, but Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa was a much better actor playing a much more developed character. They're not on-screen enough and don't have enough to do. And Asano's Lord Raiden is much less entertaining than Lambert's. Liu Kang also takes a major demotion in this film, even though there are some hints of a more interesting back-story than in the original.

*Where was the original song? That song is one of the most iconic musical parts of the whole franchise.

The Verdict

An improvement on the original and hopefully the start of a new franchise. Everybody go see it and make sure that happens. After all, Taslim has a multiple-film contract in the event this film performs well. :) 8.5 out of 10.

Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Chapter One Readings: BATTLE FOR THE WASTELANDS and LITTLE PEOPLE, BIG GUNS

Using a strategy inspired by my little sister, I have decided to put my YouTube channel to work. I'd posted a video of my reading part of the prologue of The Thing in the Woods up earlier because someone else shot it and sent me the video, but I upped my game by recording my reading the first chapters of my steampunk military fantasy novel Battle for the Wastelands and my bizarro comedy-horror novella Little People, Big Guns.

Owing to how Blogger is integrated into the Google platform, posting them there was the next logical step. Behold...

Battle For The Wastelands


Little People, Big Guns


Enjoy! The next video I'm going to post will be a reading from the first chapter of "Son of Grendel" and then maybe the first bits of the short stories from Flashing Steel, Flashing Fire. Not sure when that's going to be.