Sex Appeal (2022)

What if a teen sex comedy, but without anything explicit (other than the language)? Actually, it a) worked pretty well[1] and b) was surprisingly sweet. Sex Appeal tells the story of a STEM-focused high school valedictorian[2] who is unexpectedly confronted with a concept she’s never had to consider before. (It’s, uh, a partner who is interested in a physical relationship.) So, she decides to kill two birds with one stone by creating as her entry into an upcoming competition a phone app that coaches people into having great sex.

Unfortunately, she’s an emotionless robot, and the people around her who are tasked with experimenting to get everything just right aren’t[3]. It was funny, though probably not funny enough that I shouldn’t have watched something on Shudder instead. But I will say that at no point was it predictable, and that’s not nothing.

[1] The metaphors that replaced the sex scenes were the correct amount of over the top, for example. Perhaps not the “hilarious” that they were going for, but definitely lavishly overstated.
[2] The kind that only exist in movies, who are given the run of the school, can interrupt anything at any time with no consequences, can even ignore classes that they consider irrelevant and nevertheless the faculty all love them. Movies are weird, yo.
[3] Aren’t emotionless robots, not aren’t people. It’s not that kind of movie.

What the Hell Did I Just Read: A Novel of Cosmic Horror

To my surprise, a third John Dies at the End book has existed for nearly five years. So… oops, I guess? I almost want to reread these, because of how long it’s been, and particularly because of how accurate the current title is, but then I remember I’d probably get spiders everywhere, so maybe not just yet.

David Wong and John Cheese are at it again, and by “it”, I mean being forced into solving weird problems that nobody else understands, because everyone else is either too annoyed to deal with said problems, or else too dead. In this case, they’re trying to figure out who is kidnapping local children, and why nobody’s memories on the topic quite match up with anybody else’s, or for that matter, with reality, and also why… well, they’re trying to figure out a lot of things, and following that rabbit hole too deep would lead to me just typing out the book, more or less.

What the Hell Did I Just Read is for the most part as weird and inexplicably funny as you’d expect based on the prior books, while also being darker than I remember those being, and also also being at least moderately authorial therapy. (Or maybe not! I don’t know the man who wrote the book, but it feels that way all the same.) I’m only inclined to say it’s weirder than the other books because I haven’t read them in a very long time. Nevertheless, this feels true. Even if you leave out the big obvious reason why I’m saying that, what about the snowman?

Turkey Shoot

Freedom is obedience, obedience is work, work is life.

Turkey Shoot is an Australian early ’80s era imagining of the fascist (or maybe Soviet communist?) dystopian future of a generation thence, where all undesirables are sent to re-education camps, only nobody ever seems to actually get re-educated enough to leave. And in the meantime there’s plenty of physical and sexual abuse by the guards to go around. I started to add “and mental abuse”, a la the camp’s number one lesson presented above to get people back to the right way of thinking so they could rejoin the Nation’s Great Society, but I guess that’s baked into “re-education camp” in the first place, innit?

I think fascist / communist hybrid is what they must have been going for. Or maybe Soviet communism was always basically fascist, but we focused on the economic system part because the Nazis had already been beaten and fascism was over? I dunno.

Anyway, the camp is the setting. At the end of act one, the actual plot is introduced, in which some rich people who were probably also political bigwigs were invited to hunt the most dangerous game. So a handful of the characters we’ve been given reason to care about are chosen as the hunted, and then there’s a big hunt in which things go pretty much as you’d probably expect, especially if you expected a random werewolf guy to be involved.

Hey, why not?


The Matrix Resurrections

I rewatched the Matrix trilogy last month, on 4k Blu-ray no less (but apparently without a subwoofer, which hurts my soul in retrospect), so that I would be prepared to say whether or not The Matrix Resurrections was a giant retcon, and whether it was a bad retcon, and whether it was a good movie. And I do have opinions on these points!

But first, a few words about makeup and set dressing. I appreciated that the omnipresent dark green drear was replaced by nonstop blues, representing of course the blue pill seen on the right. I won’t go into specifics, of course, but I liked the way the truth of the Matrix was kept while jettisoning the old color palette, and I liked that this occurred for a good in-story reason. As for the makeup bit, upon reflection it would be a pretty big spoiler, so I may bring it up later. But, I was equally impressed with someone’s job there as well.

Anyway, in order: it was not a giant retcon, and it was also not a bad retcon, by virtue of the retcon not being the one I expected. A retcon certainly occurred, but I approve on the whole. It’s the kind that reveals how the world really was always this way and we just hadn’t noticed, not the bad kind that gets a writer out of a dumb corner they could have avoided on either the front end or the back with no real trouble, had they but tried. And it was a good movie if you accept that all the fun being poked is at itself for existing and not at you for being suckered into paying for it to have existed. Or if you forgive all that because it used White Rabbit really well. (Man I love that song.)

The rest, below the spoiler cut.

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The Gunk

For the first time in probably literally ever, I have played a new game, to completion, within a fortnight of its release[3]. Even accounting for its being a relatively short game, my counterpoint is that I didn’t play it for about a week in the middle, what with Christmas and having a child and all that this entails. My points are a) wow and b) look for this to never happen again, like, ever.

The Gunk is the story of a pair of… long haul truckers? junk traders? if I’m being real, what they actually do is not perfectly laid out, except that they for sure do it in space and in the future. But then they pick up an energy reading from an otherwise dead planet, and the idealistic exploratory character (as opposed to the hard-bitten cynical character or the helpful, low-vocabulary character) insists on checking things out. What follows is an exploration platformer game where you quickly discover that there are these piles of purple, bulbous, well, gunk all over the place, and that if you hoover it up using your power glove[1], all of the plant life recovers from a dormant state, and weird pools of energy that are for sure some portion of what the readings were and which have additional uses in the moment are also revealed.

And then you explore around, trying to figure out why and what everything is, and not incidentally make some money along the way, due to your semi-apparent day job overlapping with this kind of discovery. Later still, there are conflicts.[2]

As this kind of game goes, it is clearly not as good as your Marios and your Banjos-Kazooie for the fact of the game play and collectiony bits. But it has probably a better, more engrossing plot than those have, and also only plays for like six to eight hours rather than sixty to eighty. Those facts may be related, come to think of it. But also, they don’t handhold you. I thought I explored everywhere, and I certainly tried to, but even though I got the scan everything achievement, I could not manage the build everything achievement.

I’d play a sequel game with these characters, though, so.

[1] Where it ends up is not particularly a topic of interest to the game writers, who, to make two points in one footnote, were clearly enamored of but never owned a certain late ’80s NES accessory.
[2] What??? I know, right.
[3] And then forgot to post for nearly another week. *sigh*

Spider-Man: No Way Home

I would be remiss if I did not first point out that in addition to being otherwise fun and sans commercials, the Alamo Drafthouse pre-show is especially useful for movies that require recaps[1], because they can tell you everything you need to know and with mostly a bare minimum of spoilers involved. Although, because reasons, the No Way Home pre-show had more spoilers by implication than most. Since previews for these are to some extent unavoidable, it had no spoilers that I didn’t already know about, but if you avoid better than me, this is harder to recommend. (Also, you may not have a local Alamo. For this, I can only offer my sincerest condolences.)

All of that to say, there’s a third Tom Holland Spider-Man movie. The last one, you might remember, ended on the second biggest bombshell in MCU history: Spider-Man is both accused (with documentary evidence!) of murder, and has been publicly identified as Peter Parker. Where do you really go from there? Well, if you’re a prospective high school senior trying to get into MIT, and you also know a wizard, you try to magic your way out of it. I mean hell, probably if you know a wizard, you do that whether the other things are true or not, right?

None of that is important, nor per se is the plot, although I enjoyed the plot a great deal and it retroactively made other movies I’ve seen before (but will not link to at this time) better than they were. What is important is that this is the best version of Spider-Man, the one who sees his great responsibility not as simply using his great powers to fight and stop bad guys, but as using his powers to help people. And sure, that involves fighting and stopping bad guys, frequently, especially when you live in a comic book world, but it’s not the most important way to do it. It’s barely an important way at all, to be honest.

I know everyone talks about whether Pete will be the next Iron Man, but… nah. As far as his heart and soul, he’s the next kid from Brooklyn Queens who is just here to step up because someone has to, sometimes. No offense to Sam Wilson.

[1] such as, say, anything put out by Marvel Studios these days

Jigsaw (2017)

I just got extremely lucky[3].

See, in doing my research for Jigsaw, a movie that I didn’t even know existed until like a year ago, I came to realize that I never[1] saw Saw: The Final Chapter aka Saw 3D not aka Saw VII[2] like it should have been. But now I’ve already seen number eight! Which is where the lucky comes in, because this one is set ten years after the original several movies, all of which spanned a relatively short series of months, and thus the Jigsaw killer has been dead for like ten years, and this plot is something completely new. ….or is it?? More appropriately, …or is he [dead]??

Which is where I run into my main complaint about what was otherwise a pretty straightforward entry in the franchise. One of the best things about the movies, aside from inspiring me to coin “rube goreberg device”, is that Jigsaw has a code. And the code is, if you follow the rules, you get to live. Which meant that when following the rules seemed only moderately tangential to living in this particularly movie, I had to spend most of it trying to figure out if it was a crappy Saw movie or if something else was going on.

Normally, it would be a spoiler to indicate whether I will continue to seek out additional movies in the franchise, but, well, it’s me. So at least I’ve got “no spoilers” going for me, which is nice.

[1] here we go again
[2] In retrospect, I sort of knew this one existed. I just forgot to watch… it… oh hell, no, I did see it. That’s embarrassing.
[3] No, it turns out I’m less lucky and more forgetful. Blame me, not the movie.

Hack/Slash vs. Vampirella

I know very little about Vampirella as a character, save that she exists and dresses… provocatively, let’s say. However, I know a great deal about Cassandra Hack, so I am qualified to speak on two thirds of the factors that went into this book.

Well, three fourths if you count the name, which is a little odd. Hack/Slash Vs. Vampirella implies that the titles are fighting, rather than the characters. And that’s just weird, right? (I mean, obviously if the characters are all good guys in a crossover, their fighting will be resolved amicably before they deal with the real threat, I’m not talking about that; ‘sjust the way things are done. But who ever heard of books fighting? Get it together, title bro!)

Okay, I’ve lost the thread. Anyway, thing one I can address is the plot, and it was, y’know, fine. Cassie and her road trip buddy / fighting companion Vlad do the thing they do, dealing with a threat that could range anywhere from “might kill some teens at  summer camp. again.” to “extinction-level event in the offing”, and they do so the way they usually do: messily.

To reiterate, I cannot address thing two, which is how was Vampirella’s characterization? Because I have no idea. Maybe Shawn Aldridge has written for her before, and maybe not. Her artistic rendering matched my vague memories of book covers past, so there’s that.

Thing three is Cassie’s characterization, and, um… it wasn’t actively terrible. I know it can be hard for some authors to correctly capture some voices. Honestly, it’s a testament to Marvel’s editorial staff over the first 25 years, that characters come across poorly so infrequently. But speaking, as we were, of Cassie’s voice… she had one mode the whole book, and it was vulgar bluster. Which is a thing she does sometimes, but honestly, the blood-spattered cheesecake in these books has never been good enough for me to tolerate a one note character, not for nearly this long. I really hope that whoever authors the next of these books has a better handle on what makes them tick. Or else, maybe this was simply a Vampirella book, and the target audience doesn’t care about my concerns at all?

Beats me!

The Pool (2018)

So, what I knew about The Pool going in is that it was a Thai movie about a dude trapped in a really deep, empty pool with a crocogator. Which, yeah, that’s enough by itself to fill like 75 minutes I reckon?

So I was pleasantly surprised to learn that this is in fact a pressure cooker of a plot, where every few minutes brings another new twist that ratchets up the tension another notch, until… well, that would be telling, obviously, but what I will say is that by the end of the movie, I believed the writers were willing to go to any lengths, which is ultimately what you want out of a horror movie but so rarely get. Nobody is safe, no line is uncrossable.

Billy Summers

It really should not take me four months to read a book, too-busy job and toddler-rearing or not. And I mean, don’t mistake me, I read really a lot of comics in this period as well, but… something isn’t right, and I need to address it[1]. All that said, despite a four month duration, I was pretty happy with Billy Summers, even though after the early act two surprise shift in direction, I expected not to be.

The way things start is, Billy is a hitman who is a) smarter than he acts, b) only takes jobs on bad people who deserve it, and c) has just been offered one hell of a payout on his next job, even though he had kind of already convinced himself it was time to retire. I, uh, think we all know what that means. Hell, even Billy knows, but the money shines a little more brightly than the flashing genre signpost in his mind does.

Later… well, that would be telling. I will say that by the end of the book, my misgivings about the second act shift in direction had largely been settled, the long delay mainly because it was impossible to be sure whether it would turn out okay until the end of the book. I can imagine wanting to stay away, though, and I’m aware of just how vague I’m being: this is for spoiler purposes. But if you personally want to know what I would be waving you off from as a hazard, just let me know and I will divulge.

Lastly, it’s a little weird how political King has become. I mean, not on Twitter, he should do whatever he wants there. And I also understand that one writes what one knows. It’s just jarring after reading everything he’s written, a catalog that by a small margin predates my own birth, to see how much politics has seeped into his overall viewpoint in just these last recent years. The good news is, boomer blind spots or not, at least he’s on the right side of history. (The other good news is that just because it’s there to notice and be surprised by, it’s not like he has, this time or previously, written a book about politics. (Even if act three is sort of a political revenge fantasy.))

[1] Possible way to address it: accept that I’m primarily a comics reader and have 35 years still to catch up on. For various reasons, I’m not perfectly happy with this option.