Gideon the Ninth

On paper[1], Gideon the Ninth seems tailor-made for me to love it. It’s like someone took Rendezvous with Rama, decades of D&D necromancer jokes, and a modern snarky television teenager, and threw them all in a blender, then poured the puree into a puzzle box that is, if probably not solvable for any given reader, at least has a satisfying solution.

And I want to be clear that even though the first few chapters were a slow, uphill start, it turns out I really did enjoy every single one of those elements, disparately and in conjunction. Nevertheless, I have big,complicated feelings about this book, which are impossible to get into without massive story-destroying spoilers. And so, a cut!

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Children of the Corn II: The Final Sacrifice

This is much more what I was looking for out of a horror movie about murderous youths in Nebraska. Please don’t misunderstand me to be saying that Children of the Corn II was good. Honestly, it was almost certainly worse than the original. But it was worse with flair. And by flair I mean a couple of gallons of blood, a pile of creative kills, and a plot that doesn’t make a lick of sense.

Here’s how little sense the plot makes. They added in some hallucinogenic corn mold that children are especially susceptible to, just so their plot could have an explanation for why it makes so little sense! And then they still went back to the “but also there really is something that Walks Behind the Rows,” just as though they hadn’t written themselves out of that corner.

There’s an estranged father / teenaged son subplot that never quite coheres, there’s a killer combine harvester vehicle machine of some kind, there’s an indigenous professor, there’s less nudity than I would expect for a movie from 1992 that was as sex-laden as this one tried to be, there’s an old woman doomsayer[2], and there’s a group of murderous children, because of course there is. It’s even nominally the same group of murderous children, for the most part, since although 8 years have passed in real life, maybe that many days had passed according to the laws of direct horror movie sequels.

Did you know that not counting remakes, there are at least four more of these movies that got made at some point or another? And probably more than that! Truly, it’s a rich and varied world of cinema. …anyway, this podcast had better be worth it.

[1] Now there’s a tagline that is of its specific moment.
[2] Actually, this is noteworthy! The elderly doomsayer that everybody ignores until the body count spirals out of control is almost always a man.

Children of the Corn (1984)

I’m not actually convinced I’ve never seen Children of the Corn before. But if I have, it made little enough impression on me that today’s viewing may as well have been the first. The funny thing is, I probably wouldn’t have bothered to watch it at all, but its sequel[1] wasn’t available on any streaming services, and the first one was, so, there you go.

What I think would have made this a much better movie is if there had been no prologue. Like, keep all the same footage and use it later in flashback. But if you start off with Linda Hamilton and some guy named Burt[3] driving down a country road in Nebraska, and they hit a kid who it turns out had his throat slit before they ever hit him, and there are menacing “watcher” camera angles, and the audience has to figure out what’s going on along with them? That’s a pressure cooker!

That small but major correction is almost everything the movie really needs. Okay, some of the final act special effects are terrible, but it’s basically 40 years old, so, forgiven. Creepy kids menacing you with farm implements in the middle of nowhere, that covers basically everything my suburban adulthood needs to be scared.

Well, one additional correction, maybe less small, is that outside of the flashback sequence, almost nobody dies, and I feel like this should have been a bloodbath. Probably if they had gone the “what is even happening?” pressure cooker route, this would bother me less. But, they didn’t, and it turns out this is just not a very good movie when over half of it is teenagers chasing Burt and/or Linda Hamilton around an empty small town downtown district, while the pacing of the plot makes it impossible to believe either of them is in any real danger, most of the time.

Still, though, it does make me wonder if it was possible, as late as the early ’80s, for a town to just disappear and nobody noticed. Now: zero percent chance. But then… like, I mostly still don’t buy it, especially when they threw in the shot of the 900-something population sign. But if it was less than 200, and basically everyone who cared about anyone who lived in the town currently lived in the town with them, I guess it’s a possibility?

In conclusion, small towns from my childhood are weird.

[1] which I plan to watch because a podcast I want to listen to will treat me as though I don’t care about spoilers[2]
[2] There’s a certain inherent irony to this explanation, I know.
[3] Now there’s a name that’s fallen out of favor.

Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari

I can say with a high degree of confidence that The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari is the first movie I’ve seen that is over 100 years old. I mean to say “seen for the first time”, but there’s a near certainty that it’s also the first movie I’ve seen of that age, period. So that’s something!

Here’s what I like about it: it’s terribly modern. It opens on two men on a bench. The old man says he was driven from his home by spirits, and the young one responds with, essentially, “You think that’s bad? My fiancee and I (here she walks by in a long white dress? night gown?, in a complete daze, as if to emphasize his sentence) were just subjected to a traveling carnival!” And okay, there’s more to it than that, but the whole story of Caligari and his cabinet (that is, wooden box) and the man inside who has been asleep for 25 years and can now tell the future (barkers Caligari, so you know it must be true)  and the series of murders that follows, it’s all told in this dreamlike atmosphere, and on twisted, confusing, dreamlike sets. Sure, you know Caligari is the bad guy and his pawn? accomplice? Cesare is the murderer, but the plot spins in so many directions that it’s possible to continuously speculate about what will happen next.

In conclusion, I don’t think it’s fair to say that all old movies are as good as or better than new ones. But once a movie is still widely known and available to be seen past its century mark, yeah, there’s no surprise that it’s a good one, and that it’s still just as relatable to a modern audience. Pity I didn’t watch the 4K remaster that I understand exists.

Oh, caveat: the music was mostly a terrible fit for the plot and ongoing events on screen, and that hurts a silent film a lot. Eventually I was able to mostly tune it out, at least.

Ever After

For Valentine’s Day, Mary suggested we watch an old favorite of hers[1] that she hadn’t seen in a while and I hadn’t seen at all. Ever After is a semi-realist take on the Cinderella story, in which Drew Barrymore suffers under the yoke of her dissatisfied stepmother Angelica Huston[2], but then ends up in the mistaken identity trope of a romantic comedy when she inadvertently encounters the prince of France while trying to free a family servant from being indentured to the Americas.

And I do not use “trope” advisedly; it’s more like a term of art here, because the plot never rises above its rom-com trope roots, and indeed it never tries to. But it’s also the kind of movie you’d watch on Valentine’s Day, you know? Plus, and this is technically a spoiler, any movie that turns Leonardo Da Vinci into a fairy godmother is a-okay in my book.

[1] By way of seeing one of the stepsisters in the latest episode of The Last of Us, and being reminded of the movie’s existence
[2] Perversely, she’s quite a bit less nice than when she played Morticia Addams

Black Panther: Wakanda Forever

It’s impossible to think about a sequel to Black Panther without thinking about Chadwick Boseman. I don’t mean because he died, or I don’t only mean that. I mean that every aspect of the movie’s plot is wholly informed by the fact of his loss. I try to imagine a movie with any shared plot point but also T’Challa is the main character, and… I just cannot.

Instead of whatever might have been, we got one of the grimmest MCU movies I can remember, in which a series of unlikable politicians face off against[1] an unlikable Queen Ramonda[2] faces off against the goddamned Submariner.

I want to have more to say, but… I kind of don’t. Wakanda Forever ended up feeling like exactly the movie it was, in which the MCU architects were forced to spend an entire movie shifting around pieces on the chess board to explain why there’s still a Black Panther even though the actor died and they were smart enough to not replace him in the same role with a new actor.

The best part of the movie was the payoff of that conundrum, where the most deserving justification and the most deserving character came together very neatly to solve the problem and save the day. The second best part of the movie was that they managed to convince me Namor’s ankle wings are not entirely ridiculous in every way, via Mayan mythology. The second worst part of the movie is that I think if Boseman had lived, we would not have gotten the goddamned Submariner into the MCU yet, or maybe ever. (The worst part of the movie is that Chadwick Boseman died, of course. Even if it happened before they settled the script.)

[1] Because, see, they want vibranium, and there’s no longer a Black Panther to protect Wakanda. (I mean, there’s still piles of Wakandan futuretech and those badass Dora Milaje, which you’d think would be plenty enough to give anyone pause.)
[2] A lot of the time, she[3] has good reason to be angry. But she’s just not nice to anyone, and it definitely adds to the grim feel of things.
[3] T’Challa’s mother, the new ruler of the nation since he had to be written out of the story.

Thor: Love and Thunder

The fourth Thor movie came out in, what, July? We went to see it at the drive-in, and it was good enough in an actiony explosions and rainbosenberg bridges kind of way. Also, like always, I was tired and it was a summer movie, which means starting near sunset for two (and a half, counting previews, etc) hours is a lot later than if we were watching it in, say, February. So I lightly dozed through a lot of it, which caused me to judge what I did see perhaps more harshly than I would have otherwise. This doesn’t matter to you, because I was always going to watch it again for real before writing a review, which not incidentally is why this one is six months late. But it did mean I kept putting it off even though it’s been available to me for multiple months via certain online sources run by mice.

Thor: Love and Thunder has two glaring flaws, the first of which is sort of a spoiler but not especially. So, one of all, he went off with the Guardians of the Galaxy at the end of Endgame. But now he has his own movie. and also, they have their own movie soon. So the possibilities are that these movies a) tie into each other in some way, b) are lopsided because Thor is sharing screen time with a whole team but then isn’t in their movie at all when it comes out later, or c) are wholly unrelated, and the team and thunder god have to be uncoupled. C is bad because it means them going off together in the first place was pointless and poorly thought out, with no planning. You can guess which one happened, I trust.

Two of all, the movie itself is… I am about to say it’s pointless, which is only true insofar as the context of the way the Marvel Cinematic Universe has previously worked makes it true. It adds nothing to an overarching storyline being told in its Phase or in its collection of phases. Or if it does, what it is adding is entirely opaque. And what occurs to me is that neither of these is a flaw of the movie itself. It is a flaw in how Marvel and apparently Kevin Feige are meandering aimlessly from one plot to the next, with practically no connective tissue. This doesn’t bother me in the comics because the comics started out that way and, despite crossing over with each other frequently, rarely have giant events. Whereas the MCU was one enormous event from start to end[game]. But they can’t come out and say, hey, we’re going full comics, just making these for funsies with occasional big events (but of course regular crossovers), as it would piss the public off, after what they got out of the first ten years. But they also can’t not say it, because then it looks like this, with people hating on most of your movies because they don’t make overall sense. Which, of course they don’t, if you didn’t write in any overall sense to be made!

Either that, or Feige got infected by whatever happened when Disney contracted the third Star Wars trilogy without a plan.

Anyway, all of that to say: this was a good movie, as long as you did not have grand scheme expectations. Waititi has the same sense of whimsical fun that made Ragnarok work so well, and if it was maybe amped up a little higher, that worked for me. (I understand why it wouldn’t have worked for everyone.) Hemsworth is having the time of his life, clearly. Various callsback in miniature scattered throughout gave me exactly what I’m also getting from reading all of the comics, and in summation, I’m not tired of what they’re doing yet.

But I do wish they were more certain of what that is, or else that they’d communicate it clearly if they are. The movies are good on a case by case basis, but the overall look is just not very good, you know?

Oh, plot thing, if you need it: a bro with a religious axe to grind gets a magic god-killing sword and starts, er, killing gods. Later, he kidnaps a bunch of Asgardian children, which sends Thor and also Thor (you had to be there) on a quest to stop him from killing those children maybe and still more gods definitely. Also, there are some pretty sweet goats and really a lot of Guns ‘n Roses. And, as you can perhaps envision from the title, a love story.

Amber and Iron

It has been nearly 18 years since I read the first book in the Dark Disciple trilogy. Crazier than that, only 18 years means the review is accessible! The remaining entries of the trilogy have sat on my to-read shelf for maybe as long as they’ve each been out, yet I’m not sure whether I ever would have read them despite my intentions, except D&D[1] is finally releasing more DragonLance source material, which means I am hypothetically all of those 18 years behind on the ongoing plot of the world. (Or they reset / went back in time? I have not, to be honest, read any of the new game material yet to check.)

The downside, if you clicked through, is that the prior book wasn’t, you know, very good. One thing I’ve hoped as things go forward is that the authors were trying to bring the world back to something that makes sense, after the Fifth Age BS that TSR[2] forced on them in the late ’90s / early 2000s. Is that what is happening? I’ve only read a second book out of three, so my qualified answer is: maybe!

Amber and Iron is, on a moment by moment basis, at least okay. I consistently cared about what was happening with most of the characters (kender, monk, a handful of gods, and a, er, dark disciple), and I for sure liked some of the plot elements (the drowned Tower of High Sorcery at the bottom of the Blood Sea of Istar? yes please!). But when I step back and take a look at the story as a whole, man, it does not make a lick of sense.

Did they try to solve the vampiric cult thing? Sure, and reasonably so. Did anything else that happened make sense relative to the previous book? Maybe, but how should I know? Nearly 18 years, I believe I mentioned. Did anything else that happened make a lick of sense relative to itself? Nearly nothing, no, I don’t even know why it’s “and Iron” in the title!

And yet, perversely, I still want to know what happens next. Because it will make this book retroactively make sense after all? Could happen, but it’s not why. Because I want to know what happens to the characters? I sort of do, but that’s not really why either. Because I want to know what happens to Krynn? See, now we’re talking. I love that world in a way I love few others. It’s just always been my jam.

[1] Blah blah blah OGL controversy. For these purposes, take it as read that I super don’t care. If Weis and Hickman take Krynn to a different game system, we can talk then.
[2] Or maybe it was already Wizards of the Coast? How should I know?!

Nóz w wodzie

As you have perhaps guessed by the title, Mary and I finally watched another movie in the so-called “weekly” letterboxd dot com challenge, about which I’ve said more than enough previously. This, the seventh in the sequence and representing the beginning of November[1], was Polish Film School[2] week. I had (of course) already seen most of these, but the first film by newcomer Roman Polanski caught my eye, and we decided to give it a whirl.[3]

Knife in the Water is the beautifully shot story of a middle-aged married couple who pick up a young hitchhiker and invite him on their overnight sailboat trip, while all three constantly pick at each other. Also, the hitchhiker has a fancy(?) knife.

Okay, that was a little dismissive. It’s a three-person character study of clashing personalities in tight spaces, even though the cinematography is ironically full of open skies and broad vistas most of the time. It’s not clear why the husband dislikes the hitchhiker so much, their initial encounter notwithstanding, and it’s even less clear why he invited the youth onto the boat, nor yet why the hitchhiker accepted. Nevertheless, the premise leads to simmering emotional and eventually physical tension that both promise to boil over before the credits… well, okay, it’s 1962 and end credits weren’t a thing yet. Allow me to correct myself to “promise to boil over before the screen fades to black.”

Was it good? I believe it was. Was it in fact the first Roman Polanski movie I’ve ever seen? It was not, but only because of Rosemary’s Baby a short while back. …which, come to think of it, shares this movie’s paradoxical claustrophobia.

[1] sigh
[2] Polish Film Movement might have been more explanatory, week title deciders
[3] To translate, I was able to find exactly one of the movie options on a streaming service I have access to, and it happened to have name recognition as a bonus.

Glass Onion

Knives Out was probably the last movie I saw with Mary in the theater before Covid happened.[1][2] This is apropos of nothing in particular, just a memory from the before times. For example, here in modernity, we did not see Glass Onion in the theater at all, though it got to Netflix with surprising rapidity[3].

So there’s this tech billionaire guy, who like all tech billionaire guys on film in the past five years is probably a riff on Elon Musk. And he invites all of his friends to his private Greek island for a murder mystery weekend by way of an incredibly fancy puzzlebox. (A literal puzzlebox.) Plus he also invites the world’s greatest detective, Benoit Blanc, which is to say Daniel Craig.

It’s hard to say more (even if it’s easy to intuit more) about the plot. What I can comfortably say is that it’s every bit as clever and as funny as its predecessor, and I would happily watch Craig and Rian Johnson make these movies until the end of time.

[1] Not the actual last movie I saw in the theater, that was The Invisible Man
[2] (Also, it wasn’t even that; we saw three other movies in between Knives Out and lockdown. Huh.)
[3] Joke’s on me: apparently it is a Netflix original that had a one week theatrical release. Huh.