I, TONYA is a brilliant movie

The more I think about I, Tonya, the more I love it. It’s stuffed with great acting, excellent writing and directing. I keep thinking of layers of meaning to the story, its historical context, and the artistic interpretation of those things. It takes some incredibly dark material, and uses brilliant pacing and comedic timing to race the viewer through a chaotic timeline and a perfect storm of shitty, stupid people. It makes Tonya Harding into a sympathetic figure, an abused child who matured into an abused wife while locked into the utterly bizarre world of professional figure skating.

It’s hilarious. Horrifying, probably very difficult or impossible to watch for a lot of abuse survivors, but it’s a hell of a story and I would have found it hard to digest without the humor. There’s an amusingly pissy disclaimer at the beginning of the film that states the the story is “based on irony-free, wildly contradictory and totally true interviews with Tonya Harding and Jeff Gillooly.” It shows Gillooly adamantly denying the claims that he beat her, but follows each denial up immediately with a montage of slaps, punches, shoves, bruises, and one kidnapping with a gun. It’s a very, “Oh, yeah, asshole?” refusal to take this abusive prick’s bullshit seriously, and I found it refreshing.

The late 80’s and early 90’s are meticulously recreated. Old people with rotary phones attached to the wall, the unreasonable behavior of the tabloid press on everyone’s lawns, the magnificent collection of scrunchies that adorned skaters’ hair.

They CGI’d Margot Robbie’s face onto her body double, and it is seemless.  You really cannot tell that that isn’t Robbie out there figure skating. Their FX team should have gotten a nomination for their work. It isn’t flashy and you don’t know it’s there and that’s an incredible victory for CGI.

The performances are excellent. Margot Robbie is good. Allison Janney transformed into LaVona, Tonya Harding’s chain smoking mother is amazing. And Sebastian Stan as her shithead husband is also a fantastic performance.

And there’s Paul Walter Hauser as Shawn, the idiot best friend of the shithead husband who, by all accounts, destroyed Tonya Harding’s career in his delusions of being her ‘body guard.’ He was one of the funniest parts of the film, and also one of the most horrifying. There is real video of the real Shawn claiming to be an international intelligence expert and a consultant to “many” different private intelligence agencies, and a reporter telling him that that isn’t true, they checked. And he just keeps bullshitting that he really is some kind of spy.

Part of me wants to read up on the Shawn part of the story, because it’s a sort of disturbing foreshadowing of what the fuck happened to the United States in the last 30 years. This bozo is confronted with facts, over and over, that contradict every single thing he has said on-record, and he keeps insisting that his story is true. In the version of events presented in I, Tonya, he acts independently of everyone else and upgrades a simple prank to a physical assault, thus destroying Tonya Harding’s entire life. And, in this version of events, his motivation for doing that was tied to his delusions about being a spy. I’d say it’s one of the most bizarrely ridiculous things to happen in decades, except we have the internet to document things now and the real significance of that event was that it was on national television before the internet.

And there are yet more layers to this fantastic movie, because there’s also lots of class consciousness commentary. It feels more authentic than on-the-nose, because a takes-no-shit sort of girl from a working class family would absolutely be pissed about how she is treated differently in the figure skating world than girls from better economic situations. The fur coat solution was one of the funniest things in the whole movie. Her coach keeps telling her waitress mom that Tonya needs a fur coat to fit in with the other girls and have the right look so the coaches won’t be biased against her being poor. So Tonya’s daddy takes her rabbit hunting, and they make her a damn coat. She walks in to practice, one of the girls asks, “what kind of fur is that,” and 8-year-old Tonya just struts on past.

The number of things that scene hits on, it’s brilliant writing and directing. It sets up the shit she had to deal with in figure skating culture, how being poor complicated things, explores her relationships with each parent, and establishes her character as a person who will always find a way to get what she needs.

I, Tonya is a brilliant, many layered movie full excellent writing, acting, and directing. I hope it wins lots of awards.

Other Worlds Austin 2016 Recap

other worlds austin 2016 poster

other worlds austin 2016 posterOther Worlds Austin is a dedicated science fiction film festival based in Austin, TX.  A team of passionate scifi film makers, writers, and fans, they put together a curated collection of independent and classic science fiction movies, with a little horror thrown in.  This was my first year to attend, and I am definitely part of the cult now.

I liked almost everything I saw this year, which is not a common experience at most festivals.  The curation was films was very well done.  They brought in some cool people, like Brian Narelle, who played Lt. Doolittle in Dark Star (1974) and has some of the weirdest stories about film making and fandom.  There was a fascinating script writing class by Matt Lohr on Dan O’Bannon’s screen writing style, that dissected the original Alien to examine why it’s such a damn good movie.

Other Worlds is a great little festival, and I can’t wait to see what they put together next year.

I saw nine feature-length movies, and several short films.  I’ll be writing proper reviews of my favorites over the next week, so here is a quick recap, in the order that I saw them:

  • OMG, I’m a Robot! – a quirky Israeli comedy with robots and ridiculous giant guns.  Lots of fun, probably hard to find.  U.S. premier at the festival.
  • The Axe Murders of Villisca – creepy, very creepy.  The Villisca murders were a real historical event, and the house is supposedly haunted.  The film makers explore what happens when bored teenagers break into the house one night.
  • Blood Hunters – A cool concept, but my least favorite thing at the festival.
  • Dark Star (1974) – The classic film school project by John Carpenter and Dan O’Bannon that launched their careers.
  • We Go On – One of my favorites, this unique ghost story puts plenty of ghost movie tropes in a blender and creates an interesting story that tackles some heavy philosophical questions.
  • Bed of the Dead – As ridiculous as the title suggests.  This weird little horror film came about in an effort to save money and film a movie almost entirely in one room. The constraint pays off, the movie is suspenseful, a good balance of gore to jump scares, with a few mysteries that keep the audience interested.
  • Stille Reserven – Gorgeous, disturbing German about a dystopian future where our corporate masters have figured out how to stop people from escaping their debts even in death.  Also a favorite.
  • Island of Lost Souls (1932) – One of the best horror films of the 1930’s, but Paramount didn’t spend the money on a musical score, or even basic sound effects.  Composer Jay Woelfel decided to fix that, composing, recording and editing an entire soundtrack that fills that gap in the emotional effects of the film.  Good stuff.
  • The Unseen – A cool, weird twist on the idea of the Invisible Man.  This is a film worth seeing.

 

 

Holiday Horror – Safe Neighborhood

safe neighborhood movie

safe neighborhood movieImagine if Home Alone had been a slasher film.  That’s what Safe Neighborhood feels like, and it’s hilarious.

Safe Neighborhood follows creepy, bratty, oversexed 12 year old Luke (Levi Miller) in his campaign to seduce Ashley (Olivia DeJonge), the hot 17 year old who has been babysitting him for years, before she moves away for college.  Ashley arrives to watch Luke one last time while his parents are out at a holiday party.  Things get weird as Ashley brushes off young Luke’s efforts show his feelings, and then spooky as they begin to realize there is someone else in the house.  Watch out for those plastic yard Santa’s.

Written by comedy writer Zack Kahn (Mad TV), Safe Neighborhood a perfect blend of humor and horror.  I was either cracking up or jumping at the scares for most of the film.

The cast of teenage actors all do a fantastic job, convincingly terrified at the unimaginable situation they’ve ended up in.  Everyone bounces dialogue and banter around with good chemistry, heightening both the humor and the horrible things happening around them.  Levi Miller, as 12 year old Luke, is just plain disturbing.

Safe Neighborhood is violent, but not gratuitously so.  Director Chris Peckover opted for implying lots of gore without actually showing much of it.  I always prefer this approach, because what I can imagine offscreen is always worse than whatever the FX budget could pull off.  That said, there are a lot of genuinely horrifying things that happen in this film, and it’s not going to be for everyone.

I recommend watching Safe Neighborhood with a group of friends who enjoy dark humor.  Invite the people you would watch Krampus with, and make cookies and hot chocolate (which is tasty with whiskey in it, FYI).

Safe Neighborhood is, at its core, a delightfully twisted spin on the home-invasion horror genre.  It’s violent, it’s set during Christmas, and it’s really funny.

This movie has some major twists that you really don’t see coming, so don’t let anyone spoil it for you.  I would avoid trailers, honestly.

No release date for the U.S. has been announced yet.  I’ll be watching for it myself, and will update and repost this review when I find out.


This review is part of the Cheese and Glory Holiday Horror series, usually posted on Thursdays until New  Year’s.  Subscribe to the blog for more horror recommendations to get you through the holiday season.

Fantastic Fest 2016 Recap

text fantastic fest

Fantastic Fest 2016 was, as always, a great party.    I ate too much fried food, was movie critic Leonard Maltin’s personal driver for a couple of days, and had an argument at the bar with a drunk Irish guy who hates Hillary Clinton.

I saw 14 movies, including what is now my second favorite kaiju movie of all time.  Fantastic!

Below is a quick synopsis of the films I saw, and why you should or should not waste a piece of your short time on Earth watching them.  The movie titles link to either their IMDB entry, or a trailer.

I’ll also post updates in the future on how to see anything I recommend, as that information becomes available.

 Colossal

This is my second favorite kaiju film that I have ever seen, topped only by Love & Peace.  A brilliant analogy of substance abuse and the struggle to get your life together, Colossal tells an amazing story of moving back to home, trying to dry out, and finding out that  your Kaiju doppelgänger is destroying a city thousands of miles away.  Directed by Nacho Vigolando, and starring Anne Hathaway.  My favorite film of Fantastic Fest 2016.

A Dark Song 

I loved this slice of occult psychological horror.  A Dark Song is a study in building tension and dragging the audience kicking and screaming into the story.  Nerds of the occult will appreciate the degree to which writer/director Liam Gavin did his homework.

RAW

You need to see this movie, especially if you’re a vegetarian or former vegetarian who made that secret pact about how cannibalism doesn’t count as cheating.  Impossible to discuss without spoiling the whole thing.

The Handmaiden 

The Handmaiden is the latest offering from Park Chan-Wook, the genius South Korean director who gave us Snow Piercer, Lady Vengeance, Old Boy, and so much more.

The Handmaiden is a most beautiful film about revenge, double crossing assholes, and giving the finger to the patriarchy.  There is also lots of really hot lesbian sex.

Bad Black 

First of all, we are organizing a watch party to spread the word about Bad Black and the mind blowing phenomenon that is Wakaliwood.  I’m giving this one a full write up later this week, but in short:

Wakaliwood is the growing film industry  in Uganda.  Their films are ridiculous, wonderful, and full of subversive political subtleties under the rule of an oppressive regime.

Bad Black is a revenge story about life in Wakaliga, the ghetto on the outskirts of Uganda’s capital, Kampala.  It’s hilarious, self aware, and a well-executed story of seeking justice.  So much fun.

Here’s a link to an 8 minute video that is basically the prologue to Bad Black.

Safe Neighborhood 

Do you like Christmas horror movies?  You need to watch Safe Neighborhood.  If you have ever thought about the minor changes in story that would have turned the Home Alone movies into an awesome slasher flick, you need to watch Safe Neighborhood.  One of the best films at the festival.

S Is For Stanley 

This is a documentary about Stanley Kubrick, and it made me cry.  S is for Stanley is an interview with Kubrick’s personal assistant, Emilio D’Alessandro, who was at Stanley’s side for 30 years.  I feel very lucky to have seen this film, as it was done completely under the radar without the Kubrick estate’s consent, and there is a lot of uncertainty about whether or not it will be distributed.  It’s very respectful of Kubrick.

Call of Heroes 

Call of Heroes is basically a spaghetti Western set in China.  It’s a super fun film, and I hope it gets a US distribution.

The Girl With All The Gifts 

If you have NOT  read the delightful novel this film was inspired by, it’s a fun film that zombie movie fans will get a real kick out of. It’s a different spin on the genre.

If you have read the New YorkTimes bestselling novel The Girl With All the Gifts, just picture a frustrated ginger shaking her head, too upset to speak. I’ll write a proper analysis of this interpretation of the original story in the near future.

Don’t Kill It 

Don’t Kill It is so much fun.  To blatantly steal a friend’s description, Don’t Kill It is It Follows, but with guns instead of sex.  It’s one of those over the top cheesy offerings that knows exactly what it is, and has a great time being that.

Dolph Lundgren stars as the demon-hunting drifter who struggles to save a small Mississippi town that refuses to heed his warnings until it’s too late.

This is a movie you should put a party of friends together for, and maybe have a drinking game around every time the host gets killed.

Terry Teo 

Terry Teo is a young adult TV show in New Zealand, and it’s just great. A crime fighting, skate boarding teenager who turned away from a dark path. Well written, high quality production, and well developed characters. I’m going to dig up how someone in North America could see it, it’s really good.

Salt And Fire 

Werner Herzog supposedly wrote Salt and Fire in three days, and it is a weird journey.  Imagine if Jodorowski’s Holy Mountain was funny, and you couldn’t tell if it was on purpose.  Michael Shannon (General Zod) spends most of the movie delivering quotes from philosophical texts in a smooth, hypnotic tone that left me confused that he’s the CEO of a super-evil corporation, and not actually a cult leader.  It also made me giggle.

Salt and Fire is the sort of film you can chew on for a very long time.  I left the theater unsure of how I felt, but after talking with some friends who had also seen it, we realized it was full of one liners and inside jokes that could only be shared with someone who has seen it. Under some definitions, I actually have been initiated into a cult, probably led by Michael Shannon’s voice.

Gather your smartest friends, and ply them with alcohol or other substances of choice before watching.

The Autopsy of Jane Doe 

The Autopsy of Jane Doe is a fun ride with plenty of good jump scares, but don’t think too much about it.  If you start asking questions about the plot, it sort of collapses like a black hole.

I had high hopes for this film, as it’s from André Øvredal, the director of Troll Hunter (one of my favorite  modern monster movies), but the script obviously had issues from the start.  The scenes are all good individually, they just don’t quite make a cohesive story.

We Are The Flesh 

We Are The Flesh is a super-fucked up Mexican art film that features black magic and lots and lots of gratuitous incest.  It is on some levels kind of brilliant, and I might have appreciated it better if I was more fluent in Spanish. The director stated during the Q&A that the subtitles are “shit,” and that he didn’t review them at all.  I may write a longer piece about this film in the near future.

We Are The Flesh is basically the story of a post-apocalyptic Mexico City, and an old sorcerer/witch who adopts a young brother and sister  who show up in his hiding place. He turns them into his apprentices, teaches them black magic, and it gets pretty fucked up pretty quick.  The incest is really a repetitive item on a list of Western taboos that are broken throughout all the disturbing black magic rights.

On Junk Food, Suicide Squad, and Story Telling

suicide squad

I really enjoyed Suicide Squad.

I describe it as, “big, stupid fun,” like delicious, carcinogenic junk food. Critics hate it, but most people are calling Suicide Squad ‘fun’. I’ve been trying to figure out what is it about Suicide Squad that makes it fun. What are the structural things that make this movie work despite its many failings?

suicide squad harleyLet’s face it, Suicide Squad is a hot mess; it may be fun, but it is not good. The plot is just barely there, the character development is haphazard at best, and I’m surprised Ghostbusters hasn’t asked for their villain back.

Why are there approximately 15 million flashbacks of Harley and the Joker, but just the tiniest sliver of background on the Enchantress, the villain with the tragic backstory the audience should be super invested in?

There are dozens of such questions about Suicide Squad that cannot be answered by Suicide Squad. Yet people like it. I liked it. Why? Why do people enjoy this shitty movie?

Here’s a little background on what happened to the plot of Suicide Squad:

It has been thoroughly reported by now that after Batman vs Superman imploded into a black hole of hate and despair, Warner Brothers panicked. With a very short time left before the Suicide Squad release, they concluded that movie goers were going to freak out when they saw a movie that was typical DC grim-dark, rather than the poppy-cute-kawaii super villains and kittens trailer that got such a strong marketing response.

In the grip of panic, WB decided that the best course of action was to hire Trailer Park, the company that made the original trailer, to create a brand new cut of the movie. They were to inject humor into the film, edit, and reshoot where needed. This resulted in gutted subplots, the Disney-fication of hardcore super villains, and some ham fisted ‘jokes’ shoved into the first half of the movie. You can tell what scenes were added by the trailer company because they are the only parts of the movie with a pop music soundtrack; seriously.

Anything that would have given the movie depth is gone. What I consider the ‘fun’ parts of the story don’t even start until the popcorn butter fingerprints of Trailer Park vanish, about halfway into the film.

So Suicide Squad was butchered by studio interference, but something of the core must have survived. There’s something there that people are responding to. What is it?

chili cheese friesJunk food is really simple. It has three ingredients; sweet, salt, fat. Anything more complicated is going to bring to attention the fact that you are eating the worst chocolate in the world, or nearly rancid vegetable oil instead of organic butter. Or Cheetos.

Our basic junk food elements in Suicide Squad are some really basic tropes. We have your basic Super Team trope, which brings together a mix of heroes (villains in this case) with nothing in common at the beginning, who maybe don’t like each other, but are forced together by some circumstance. Our super team has a collective arc throughout the film, and by the end they have transformed into the Bad Ass Crew trope, fighting together as a unit to defeat the Big Bad and save the world.

That’s it, that’s the basic structure of Suicide Squad, and why people have so much fun watching it. This arc is told through the interactions of the characters, as they gradually shift from “each villain for themselves” to “hey, you’re gonna die if you do that thing” relationships. Watching a group of people have to work together and grow to care about each other is a very easy thing for most people to empathize with.  It’s just barely enough to propel the movie forward.

Suicide Squad is a surreal example of what makes a movie with mass appeal. It doesn’t have to be good in any sense that critics look for, but if the most essential bones of storytelling are there, viewers will have a good time, and they will tell their friends to see it.

I do think that, because the core was strong enough to survive the bizarre editing decisions, it would have been strong enough to carry that 30 minutes of footage lost to Ayer’s original cut.  Here’s hoping the blu-ray release has another cut, I would love to see if it holds up.

Book Review: The Girl with All the Gifts

dead ant with fungus coming out of it. text: the girl with all the gifts

The Girl with All the Gifts, by M. R. Carey, is a delightful twist on the zombie apocalypse genre.  Both disturbing and hopeful, the story and the characters get under your skin then gnaw their way back out.

Nearly every zombie story these days follows the rules of the Romero / Night of the Living Dead universe; slow, shambling creatures, all dead rise, and no other form than rotting.  The Girl with All the Gifts breaks that mold, and it is refreshing.

The ‘hungries’ in Carey’s novel move more like velociraptors than shambling corpses.  They smell their human prey, triggered to action by the stench of pheromones.  They are animated by a terrifying mutation of Ophiocordyceps, the fungus which is a thing in the real world that turns ants into zombies.

The story starts some 20 years after civilization ended in an event referred to as The Breakdown.  At least one heavily fortified city survives on the coast of England, stocked with food and fire power.  A few scientists remain, still looking for a cure to the disease that ended the world.

A scientific and military outpost has been established well away from the settlement to study something strange that has been observed out in the hungry-infested world.  There are children out there, infected with the fungus, but not rotting away, in fact growing and thinking and learning.  They appear to be pockets of feral humanity, twisted by evolution into something that has survived and thrived in the new world.

The military has managed to capture and imprison two or three dozen of these children.  They are managed with obsessive and precise protocols, designed and managed by Sergeant Parks, a seasoned soldier with a healthy fear of the hungries.

Dr. Caldwell, the head scientist, does not see them as children, but as things to be studied, test subjects to be dissected at the end of the experiment.  As part of her grand experiment, she arranges to have the children schooled and socialized.  Her view does not change as they learn to speak, to read, to show signs of creative thought and problem solving.

The teacher Helen Justineau is the only person on the base who is able to see and hear the humanity in these children.  She reads them stories, brings flowers for the children to touch and experience, and decorates their cells with pictures cut from ancient magazines.

This whole situation is made all the more disturbing by telling it from the point of view of Melanie, the smartest and sweetest of the children.  She is not aware of what she is, and knows the world entirely through Miss Justineau’s lessons and stories.  She is unaware that every adult she has ever met is constantly smeared with a goo that blocks their pheromone scent, to prevent triggering hunger for human flesh in the children.  All she knows is that she desperately wants human touch and has never had it.

The story takes off when the base is attacked, resulting in Melanie, Justineau, Dr. Caldwell, Sgt. Parks, and a young private fleeing for their lives through hungry-infested country.  During their journey, Melanie learns and must cope with what she truly is, while Dr. Caldwell descends into fever-induced madness.  Justineau and Sgt. Parks have their own arcs, wrestling with the humanity of the monster-child traveling with them.

M. R. Carey frames all of this beautifully with short, fast moving point of view chapters, showing difficult questions the characters wrestle with, rather than lingering over fluffy internal dialogue. The pacing of the story pulled me in and wouldn’t let go, making for a fast and very intense read.

The Girl with All the Gifts is genre-crossing science fiction horror, and the science fiction elements of the book are fantastic.  Dr. Caldwell is a proper mad scientist, desperate to explain her discoveries to anyone sitting still.  This reveals all sorts of tidbits about the fungus that ended the world, in a way that I think would satisfy many sci-fi fans.

In a zombie apocalypse world being repopulated with mutant hybrids, Dr. Caldwell truly is the most disturbing element of the entire story.  Her obsession with slicing up the brains of sentient, undead children is utterly macabre.  She is mad, and wields the cold logic of a trained scientist like a scalpel, slicing through the moral protestations of the other humans.  Once, civilization stopped the doctor from becoming a monster.  In this world of post-apocalypse, there are no such restraints upon her.  Dr. Caldwell’s point-of-view chapters always left me feeling uneasy, sometimes even nauseous at her thought processes.

Overall, The Girl with All the Gifts is a refreshing take on the zombie genre and its tropes.

I was immensely satisfied with the book’s ending, and the journey to get there was a wild, emotional ride.  Questioning what it is to be human, this story is likely to haunt readers long after the book is finished.

Don’t Panic on Pirate Planet: A look at some Classic Doctor Who (1978-1979)

cyborg with red cape - Doctor Who Pirate Planet

cyborg with red cape - Doctor Who Pirate PlanetEpisode: Pirate Planet
Directed by: Pennant Roberts
Written by: Douglas Adams
With Tom Baker as the Fourth Doctor
Mary Tamm as 1st Romana companion (and her amazing eyebrows)
First Aired: September 1978

 

Science fiction author Douglas Adams wrote several Doctor Who episodes. This first happened in 1978, just months after the original Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy radio series began to broadcast.

This greatly pleases me, for it is a nexus in time and space of so many things that I love.

It is said that Adams sent the Doctor Who office a script from the HHGG, resulting in a commission to write a DW serial.  Out of that commission came Pirate Planet, a four-episode serial with Fourth Doctor Tom Baker.  It premiered September of 1978, about six months after the Hitchhiker’s Guide radio show began to air.  Each episode is around 25 minutes long.

Pirate Planet is premium science fiction cheese, ripe with the humor of Douglas Adams.  The premise is that Zanak, an evil, parasitic world, is materializing around planets that are wealthy in desirable minerals, which are then crushed into physics-defying ultra dense masses as those minerals are mined out. The vast majority of Zanak’s population is completely unaware of this, used to cheering on a regular basis for the most recently announced ‘New Golden Age.’

In search of a piece of the Key to Time (the major arc of season 16), The Fourth Doctor, companion Romana (the first) and dearly beloved K9 arrive precisely where and when the world Calufrax should be.  Unfortunately for Calufrax, the planet had recently been identified as rich in the mineral Zanak needed most urgently, and was being harvested.

The Doctor and his friends quickly discover their adversaries, who rule Zanak from ‘The Bridge,’ led by the cyborg Captain.  The Captain has some delightful minions, and may I remind you, dear reader, of a certain species of intergalactic highway-building bureaucrats.  The dialogue is all twisted up and dried out with that delightful late 70’s British humor.

pale man in yellow cloakDid I mention the zombies?  There are telepathic zombies.  Sort of.

The Captain will not stop invoking the Sky Demon and his various body parts.  My personal favorite by the end of the serial was the ‘left frontal lobe of the Sky Demon,” and there may just be an overly obscure DIY t-shirt in my future.  Anyone with the good sense to go watch Pirate Planet after you’re done hanging out with me must come back and comment on your favorite invocation of the Sky Demon.

“It’s an economic miracle, of course it’s wrong!”

Then there’s Tom Baker.  Tom Baker’s Fourth Doctor, controlled by the narrative of Douglas Adams.  I can’t really go into that too much without ruining the experience of watching these four episodes.  It’s wonderful, delicious, even.  This serial is, in my opinion, an optimum point for getting acquainted with the Classic Doctor Who.  If you haven’t already done so, you will fall in love with K9 by the end of the story; Adams’ script really brought K9’s personality out, and I’ll just say that there’s some robot vs. robot action involving lasers.

Overall, Pirate Planet is a fantastic starting point for anyone who is ready for an introduction to Classic Doctor Who.  You get to meet one of, if not the, most popular of all the Doctors.  It is well padded with the humor of an acclaimed scifi author whom you’ve hopefully already read (if you haven’t read The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy already, please drop whatever it is you are doing and take care of that immediately).  And K9 really gets to show his stuff.

You can find the serial on Netflix under the exact search “Classic Doctor Who: Pirate Planet”.  It is also available on DVD under the title Doctor Who: The Pirate Planet (Story 99) (The Key to Time Series, Part 2) (1975).  It’s probably available for free somewhere, if pirating things with ‘Pirate’ in the title is your thing.

I have slain all your excuses.  Watch this serial.  Praise Douglas Adams. Thank the Doctor for saving us all.  Come back when you’re done to let RBOG know what body part you think would be the most effective way to invoke the Sky Demon.

 


Doctor Who Trivia:  

Tom Baker’s Dog Fight

Somewhere around the third episode my boyfriend said, “Is that a herpes sore on Tom Baker’s lip?”  According to the DVD commentary, Baker was involved in an altercation with a dog before filming started, and they had to write his split lip in (watch for it in the first episode).  Empowered by the Internet, I relayed a mostly imaginary story of Baker’s bravery against said dog; the fearsome jack russell terrier of fellow DW actor Paul Seeds. So take heart, gentle reader, ,that massive red thing certainly is not a massive herpes sore on Tom Baker’s lip.

That’s a Real Nuclear Power Plant

A nice chunk of the story takes place in the Engine Room, which was filmed inside the Berkeley nuclear power station.  Berkeley would, in about a decade, become the first nuclear power station in the UK to be decommissioned.  The cast was not very happy about this and was generally freaked out for the entire filming of those scenes.  Chernobyl would not happen for another eight years, so I feel that this was senseless paranoia.

New Comic Book Day with Dr Strange, Paper Girls, and Lady Killer

new comic book day with Marvex

Some great comic book reads this week, including a delightfully disturbing new title.

Doctor Strange #10 – Last Days of Magic Finale

comic book cover dr strange #10 man in blue flying with swordWe finally meet The Thing in the Basement and it is fantastically horrifying.

This issue concludes the Last Days of Magic arc. No big surprises, but satisfying overall. Things did not go in the direction I had hoped, but that would have taken several more issues of this arc, and they have a movie to make buzz about.

I’m not sure what was going on with the art of this issue. For the most part, I have really enjoyed the look and feel of this book, but there were several panels in this issue that seemed rushed. It was just enough to throw me out of the story, and only noticeable because the art has usually been stellar.

Looking forward to the next arc, especially with such an ominous tease of things to come.

Paper Girls #8

comic book paper girls #8 girl looking in mirror sees skullThe weirdness continues in this time travel Goonies-esque adventure.

We’re up to three different Erins now, and the giant tardigrades have not stopped their Kaiju monster fight.

The mystery of the Apple products from the future continues.

This is a comic that has me desperately impatient for the big reveal of what’s really going on, who is actually a bad guy, and why there are pterosaurs ridden by people who may or may not be time cops.

Lady Killer #1

comic book cover lady killer #160’s housewife and secret killer-for-hire? I’m completely sold on this comic after one issue.

Joelle Jones’ writing is tight and fun, with clever dialogue, pacing, and set up. Michelle Madsen’s art is delightful; you can practically taste and smell the 1960’s by looking at her pages.

Turns out that I missed out on the first run of this comic last summer, which means I am tracking down the trade immediately.

The 3 Body Problem

several children dressed in creepy rabbit costumes. Black and white, vintage

Some thoughts while reading The 3 Body Problem:

  • Human nature is tenaciously monstrous, and this is why we will survive the future.
  • This is the most beautiful conspiracy theory ever conceived.
  • I need to read more on the Cultural Revolution.
  • Fiction needs more grandmothers filled with cold rage.
  • This is the weirdest take on a First Contact With an Alien Civilization trope I’ve come across.
  • What a cool idea for a fully immersive VR world.
  • So much physics. So much physics.

I lovedThe 3 Body Problem. No wonder Cixin Liu won a Hugo.

If you’re into hard scifi, I recommend picking it up. You can click on the image below to buy it on Amazon.

Star Trek Beyond: Fun, Flawed, Worth Seeing

starship enterprise above a planet

Star Trek Beyond is fun, lighthearted science fiction, . Full of classic elements, nods to the series’ predecessors, and a story strong enough to carry the over-the-top explosions, the film is a fine piece of entertainment. I’m not saying this film is perfect; it has a few groan-worthy flaws, but is worth seeing despite them.

spock and mccoy in blue uniforms, spock leaning on mccoy as if hurtStar Trek Beyond is not dark and gritty. It’s bright, colorful, and hopeful of the future. Most of the story happens on a planet surface, where the crew is wandering along high-walled cliffs and through forests that capture the feel of away missions in both the original Star Trek and The Next Generation.

Kirk is literally fighting guys who look like lizards while surrounded by boulders. Spock and McCoy have hilarious banter that really lets Karl Urban (McCoy) shine. You’ll see plot elements from Star Trek: The Motion Picture, Wrath of Khan, and The Search For Spock woven a fresh, cohesive whole.

The story picks up during the fourth year of the Five Year Mission, which happens to be where the television show left off. That was a nice touch. The crew is tired, the ship is a little worse for wear, and everyone seems to having an existential crisis after being in space for so long.

Then there’s the Yorktown star base, which took my breath away. Their design and effects crews really outdid themselves; it may be the most beautiful space station ever depicted on screen.  The station is a massive geometric wonder of wide boulevard bridges covered with parks, high rises, and neighborhoods woven into a gigantic sphere, protected by a physical shield. During that initial panning shot, I found myself thinking, “Please let us get to that level of technology, please let us get there.” Absolutely beautiful.

Be ready to cry during the touching reference to the loss of Leonard Nimoy. I certainly did.

blue alien monster - krall from star trek beyondIdris Elba should play all the villains. I really can’t say much about his character without major spoilers, but know that he is fantastic as always, and has a gripping villain back story.

Remember that trailer everyone hated so much? The one with the Beastie Boys song ‘Sabotage’ playing in the background to scenes cut to look and feel like a Fast and Furious movie? Yeah, that trailer was total bullshit. However, song is in the movie, and it’s hilarious what they do with it. I love well-orchestrated space battles.

Overall, the script, penned by Doug Jung and Simon Pegg, is clever and witty, with great banter well-delivered by the cast, who have delightful chemistry. There was only one scene I didn’t care for, where the film’s message of friendship, trust, and being part of a crew (team) got laid on a little too thick. I suspect the scene stayed in there in part because it was Simon Pegg delivering the saccharine speech. But again, this is a very hopeful, upbeat movie.

I thoroughly enjoyed this latest installment in the Star Trek series. I do have some criticisms of how the female characters were handled. Uhura, the linguistic genius with highly specialized skills, was reduced to a plot device. Jaylah, the plucky alien female,  is fairly one dimensional, simply embodying the “Jungle Princess” trope. These are the only issues I have with the film, basically a major breakdown in the otherwise high quality of the writing.

Star Trek Beyond is fun, it’s flawed, it’s worth seeing on the big screen. The explosions are great, the men get a lot of interesting, funny banter and character development, and overall it’s good old-school science fiction.