8-Bit Christmas

Back when streaming wasn’t a thing, A Christmas Story was such a popular movie that it would play over and over again for like a week straight on TBS, so people could just drop in and out and watch it whenever they felt like. In a strange albeit horrific and commercial-littered way, it presaged the very idea of streaming, at least for this one specific movie.

8-Bit Christmas is essentially Neil Patrick Harris narrating to his daughter his childhood attempts to bag a Nintendo Entertainment System near Christmas, one year in the late ’80s. It is episodic, sweet and heartfelt, and might otherwise become a classic if that kind of thing were possible anymore in such a diverse, fractured field of infinite entertainment options.

Basically, to bring my point back around to an otherwise extraneous introductory paragraph, A Christmas Story was an early ’80s movie about life and the holidays in the 1940s. This is an early ’20s movie about life and the holidays in the 1980s. I’m not saying they’re the same movie, but that’s mainly because I was alive in the ’80s and not the ’40s, so it’s hard to detect if ACS was telling lies or not. 8BC isn’t, though.

Paranormal Activity: Next of Kin

Next of Kin dares to ask two new questions, which makes it objectively twice as important as Ghost Activity[1] was. One: what if paranormal activity, except Amish? Amish are not as spooky as children, but there’s no denying that living an 18th century lifestyle in the 21st century is a little creepy if you adjust the angle on it even slightly. And this time I’m being 100% serious: two, what if paranormal activity but with all continuity jettisoned and the whole thing is itself, not beholden to anything except found footage of jump scares and eventual terror.

Young adult, adopted with no history beyond a lady dropping her off at a hospital, finds an Amish relative via 23 and Me or whatever, and her friend decides, hey, this would be a cool documentary. Let’s go find your roots! And they do, with a conveniently good excuse to always be filming things[2]. Later, they learn that Amish are in fact creepy, as is their church in the woods, as is their spoiler stuff I won’t mention, and all of this even if they are not actually Amish at all.

I think I like the ending of this movie best of all of them except the first one.

[1] That’s not actually the correct name, but I’m leaving it as is. haha oops
[2] By my count, maybe three of the movies actually have this excuse for the whole duration, which is not the worst record.

Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension

Anyway, there was one more Paranormal Activity movie that I missed, prior to the current new one that doesn’t yet count as missed. So now I’m caught up, yaaay.

The Ghost Dimension dares to ask the question: what if a paranormal activity movie, but it’s a new family who moved into the prequel house, and also they find a magic camcorder that can see what has until now been left unseen? You can often tell that by the sixth movie in a series, maybe the well is running dry?

I’m being unfair, though, this was a legit entry to the series, for the following reasons: 1) they came back around to a creepy kid. This is always the way to go, so that was a great start out the gate, and this little girl oozes creepy. Hopefully because she’s a good actor, as otherwise I feel bad for her now. 2) for the first time ever, there’s a good reason to hold onto the camera even when things are completely insane. Because you can see what’s going on and use it to save yourself in a way that people in the prior movies could not[1].

Okay, that’s not a lot of reasons, fine. But it represents a correct direction for the series and I’m not sad that I bothered with this like I might have otherwise been. Now, the problems with the movie: 1) the time travel stuff does not make a lick of sense. It didn’t when they introduced it, and it does even less now. As far as I can tell it’s there only so new characters can stumble into scenes from older movies. 2) watching movies with commercials sucks. …okay, that’s not a problem with the movie per se, but it is a problem with the distribution people not selling streaming rights to the right vendors. No, I will not pay a rental fee. Ugh, get off my lawn.

[1] I mean, you can’t. It won’t help, at all. Obviously. But it’s still a good excuse!

Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones

It’s been nearly a decade since I last watched a Paranormal Activity movie. …well, a new one, anyway. I rewatched the first four this week, after determining that they released entry #7 and thinking, should I catch up? Hey, why not!

To answer: The Marked Ones is a perfectly cromulent spooky demon stuff movie. Things move around of their own accord, something is angry about who knows what, there is a third act body count, all the boxes were ticked off, even ominous references to the Featherstons. But… it was either too much or not enough.

I guess what I mean is, the first movie was just a movie. The second movie and onward built on a shared mythology, though, following the backstory and travails on one cursed family. And, okay, the prior movie did make reference to an army of demon people looking for hosts for their pet demons or whatever is going on; it didn’t entirely make sense? And look, I found my point! Because the problem isn’t that this movie built on the demon army idea by branching out to different families experiencing different but basically the same problems. That part was great, and even a correct direction for the franchise.

No, the problem is that nothing new happened. Well, no, the first problem is that every character was a teen, and teens aren’t spooky. Kids are spooky, and we have been given too many spooky kids in this series to move to adult teens now. No thank you, I have Friday the 13th[1] for that. But the main problem is, I don’t know anything new about the mythology than I knew at the end of the fourth movie. Why is there an army? Are they all for one demon? Are this many people coming due for demonic money and power deals, or how did the army even happen? Answers to these questions: nope, nothing, nada. This was just… filler.

Meh. (I liked the Simon Says bits, though.)

[1] Or maybe A Nightmare on Elm Street is more appropriate?

Eternals

Retroactive continuity is a tool honed to perfection in two art forms[1]: soap operas and superhero comic books. These forms share a lot else in common. They are a) both extremely long-form storytelling where b) the people writing today do not have a plan past the next ten or twelve episodes at the most, c) they both have cliques of characters that mostly hang out together but occasionally cross over with other cliques, and even more rarely all come together for some kind of huge event, and they both d) have dedicated, opinionated fanbases who have stuck around for decades but e) are written so that someone can drop in at practically any moment and be able to catch up.

A “retcon” is when a writer comes up with a story idea that does not match the established continuity of the previous stories, continuity that may be established over years or even decades, but then decides that the story idea is good enough to run with anyway, and comes up with a way to mesh their idea into the long-term continuity retroactively, so that this new continuity was always true, it’s just that the audience and often the characters weren’t aware of it.

Which brings me to Eternals, the (if I counted right) 26th movie released in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. (It is important to now note that this review will contain, and in fact for the eagle-eyed reader perhaps already does contain, mild spoilers. It’s not too late to stop. But it nearly is.) A movie which, early in the first act, reveals that for over 7000 years a group of cosmically-powered people called Eternals, at the behest of a group we’ve heard of before called Celestials (aka space gods like you might have seen out in space, at Knowhere or (possibly but probably not) Ego for example), were sent from the planet Olympia[2] to Earth to defend a barely established mankind from creepy mostly-made-of-tendrils monsters called Deviants, and that those Eternals have been here ever since. Yep, even then.

While that is not the only apparent retcon in the movie[3], it is the least spoilery one, and therefore I am at the end of my review, leaving only two details to add. First, the capsule plot of the movie is that, oops, the Deviants are back, so now the Eternals have to come out of the shadows they’ve been hiding in for at least the past fifteen years and who knows how much longer, to do their jobs once more. Second, to the extent that I am familiar with these characters, which is about half of them: yep, this was written by someone who understood the fundamental natures of the characters, and in particular the portrayal of Ikaris gives me hope that Mr. Fantastic will be done right someday.

[1] and almost certainly badly misused anywhere else. Not guaranteed to be, but it’s the safe way to bet.
[2] I think this is a little funny, but it’s hard to explain why.
[3] I have some opinions here.

Maniac Cop 3: Badge of Silence

As you will no doubt remember from Maniac Cop and Maniac Cop 2[1], there was a maniac cop who was actually sort of undead too?, and who got the best of both Richard Roundtree and Bruce Campbell, which lets you know he was a badass. And it turns out that he’d been sold out by the city and left to die in prison, and once that truth was revealed he was able to rest in peace, secure in the knowledge that a balanced view of both sides of cops (ie, way too much brutality and people should be terrified of law enforcement, or else cops should protect each other unless it’s actually a bad apple, which it somehow never is though) had been presented over the course of the two films. And if that “balanced” message has aged badly, it’s still impressive that anyone was presenting a two-sided message in the late ’80s, instead of only the one side you’d expect.

Maniac Cop 3[2] proves you can have too much of a slightly but on average good thing. Because, you see, by the early ’90s, the dial had apparently swung back to cops are always right and it’s only the evil media misportraying them that causes problems. To wit: you would think that after a lady cop foils a pharmacy robbery, getting shot in the process, she’d be a hero, right? But instead, the footage is edited to make it look like she murdered the hostage while also trying to murder the perp, and now in addition to having no brain activity in her hospital room, she’s also the postergirl for “Police = Bad”, even though the unedited footage shows her being heroic but ambushed.

Okay, so that’s probably why the maniac cop comes back to life for more vengeance, right? Haha, no, he was raised by a voodoo priest at the beginning of the movie before any of that happened, for no apparent reason! But undead maniac cops get the paper and the 5 o’clock news, same as everyone else, so it isn’t long before he makes it his business anyway. (What an unnecessary subplot, the voodoo thing. I don’t get it at all.)

Anyway, none of that is important, and knowing it’s happening mostly makes the movie way worse than if you’re just watching it to see a maniac cop kill people for no apparent reason, regular slasher style. And then later to watch Robert Davi[3] drive down a highway into oncoming traffic for about five minutes straight, watching the road for maybe one of those minutes total while mostly unloading clip after clip of his gun out the passenger window into a maniac cop of some kind, complete with real time reloads in between and occasional pauses to comfort the screaming doctor lady in the passenger seat.

It is maybe the best cop car chase I’ve ever seen, outside of a Blues Brothers revival.

[1] You won’t.
[2] I had assumed that the sub-heading, “Badge of Silence”, would be a reference to a code of silence, a la thin blue line, a la cops not turning on other cops. But there was never a plotline that came close to that as a concept, so, I have no idea what they were going for. *shrug emoji*
[3] You don’t know you know who he is, but you’ve seen him before. He has Edward James Olmos cheeks, but with dead eyes.

The Beach House (2019)

The movie starts with a high overhead shot of aquamarine water, and zooms down beneath the waves to something cloudy spurting from a crack in a rocky wall at the ocean’s bottom. We are told via music cues that this is ominous. The movie ends, if you were to play this scene backwards (dialogue excepted) with a high overhead shot of aquamarine water, tracking down to a beach and then a woman lying on her back on the beach, rocking slightly and saying over and over to herself, or possibly to the audience (since she’s speaking directly into the camera), “Don’t be scared. Don’t be scared.”

Meanwhile, I was wishing I had been.

Between those far too on-the-nose bookends, The Beach House is actually okay, if you go for flicks that are a cross between The Mist and Reefer Madness with a touch of body horror thrown in. A couple goes to, you know, a beach house, only to discover uninvited guests are also staying there. But none of these people are me, because they make friends and hang out getting stoned. But then a weird glowy (or high-induced?) fog rolls in, and shit gets real.

Except that phrase implies big actiony setpieces, whereas this was definitely slow and creepy, even in the glaring light of day. If they hadn’t tried so hard in the first and last scenes, I would have come away with a more positive overall impression.

De Dødes Tjern (2019)

Lake of Death is a Norwegian remake of a famous (I’m told) Norwegian horror movie from 1958, Lake of the Dead. Same in Norwegian, though, as you can see. And man did it know it was a remake, what with all the dialogue references to Nightmare on Elm Street, Evil Dead, Cabin Fever, and so on. Mostly, that was the only problem with the movie. It couldn’t decide what kind of film it was. Slasher homage? Creepy ghost story? Portrait of a woman in declining sanity? Who knows! It really didn’t make a lick of sense until the last five minutes, at which point it made an extremely small amount of sense but still mostly not.

See, there’s this 20-something girl, and she and her twin brother owned a cabin on a lake in the Norwegian woods, or rather inherited it when they were orphaned, and eventually got it out of trust or got old enough to drive themselves to it, or, I don’t know how it worked. Usually people who are in foster care or being adopted don’t own cabins, okay? But then a year ago, the brother went missing presumed dead, and now the girl and some friends (a podcaster, a Dane, a blonde swimmer, a person who owned a car, and I forget who else) are visiting it and the lake one last time, before she sells the property.

Only, the lake has a creepy history about mesmerising people into being murderers or being a place where parents drowned their sick children who would not recover, and the cabin has unexpected secrets, and also now that they’re at the cabin, animals are being tortured, and people are going missing, and uh oh, oops all murder! ….except, you know, is it a ghost, or a newly crazy person, or a previously crazy person, or all of the above, or none of the above? Too many things, is what I’m saying here. Too many things. Pick a genre! …or transcend it, that’s okay too.

Spoilers, I guess, but I kind of wish it had been the ghost thing.

Jeruzalem

The first few minutes of Jeruzalem show old Super 8 footage of not quite an exorcism, being performed by a catholic priest, a rabbi, and… an imam? (it wasn’t clear) after a dead mother had returned to her home in Jerusalem, with glowing eyes and, occasionally, tattered wings. This was accompanied by knowledge gleaned from the Talmud slash Jeremiah 19 that there are three gates to hell: one in the desert, one in the ocean, and one in Jerusalem.

My copy of Jeremiah 19 doesn’t make any kind of reference to that, but if you google for the three gates to hell, it’s apparently a thing from somewhere in the bible and/or Jewish teachings. I exited the rabbit hole before I got too deep or more confused.

Anyway, this is only like the first three minutes or so? The meat of the movie is two American girls, both of whom I believe were themselves Jewish, headed on vacation to Tel Aviv. The catch is, one of them is wearing Google Glass, because this was 2015 and the outcome of that particular piece of technological archaeology was not yet known. So it definitely gives off an early movie air of “what if Cloverfield, but with facial recognition tied to Facebook profiles and navigation and cat videos, instead of, y’know, a video camera?” It almost makes sense, as they were in her prescription, so why would she take them off? Counterargument: why would it always be recording, though? Or maybe there’s some deeper than I cared to look indictment of what gets stored on those multi-petabyte server farms of Google’s. …you know, if Glass had taken off and it was a thing to worry about.

Anyway, back to the plot: the girls meet this guy on their plane out, and make friends, and he convinces them to go to Jerusalem for a few days instead of Tel Aviv, because… honestly, I missed why. Yom Kippur maybe? So they go to the old city, and visit the Wailing Wall, and explore some creepy caves under the city, and go sexy clubbing, but things are occasionally unsettling in various ways, and before you know it… well, I’ll be honest, I actually had no idea as I entered the second half what it was actually going to be about, and that was pretty dang refreshing, so I’ll stop here and say that as found footage horror goes, I ain’t mad at it.

I’m not sure it made a lick of sense, and sometimes it relied on the technology being glitchy to heighten the tension, but it was nevertheless entertaining and unpredictable, and that’s not nothing.

Lyle

Here’s a movie you’ve seen at least a hundred times before: pregnant lady, around whom strange things are happening. (Most obviously, the accidental(?) death of her toddler child in the new Brooklyn apartment they just moved into.) The two possibilities presented are a) she’s paranoid or b) Satanism!

The only real question is whether Lyle is finally the movie where she’s paranoid[1].

Snarky as I sound, it was pretty good. Maybe a few too many arty camera angles, but the questions of what actually is going on and, if so, who is in on it were kept coyly unanswered until the last ten minutes of the movie. …then again, it’s less than 70 minutes long, so perhaps I should be less impressed.

[1] There’s maybe a paper to be written on how this trope always goes in the direction I imply, while the trope where either spooky things are happening around a man or he’s snapped and started murdering people always goes in the “not spooky” column.