Monthly Archives: September 2023

The Hunger (1983)

I was prompted by that podcast to watch The Hunger, a movie which inexplicably I’d never even heard of, even though it has David Bowie and Susan Sarandon in a lookalike contest, vying for[1] the affections of an Egyptian vampire. Vampiress? It is usefully descriptive, but I think it may be more reductive than it is descriptive.

So anyway, first she loves David Bowie, and then she apparently doesn’t, and then he experiences unforeseen (by him, at least) side effects, and meanwhile in what is maybe too much of a coincidence for how precisely similar Ms. Sarandon is to Mr. Bowie, she (the vampire) meets her (the sister of Chris Sarandon, who also once played a vampire, so that has to be weird at Sarandon family Thanksgivings) and feels-slash-creates an immediate connection to Bowie’s replacement. And then dramatic events unfold, but almost certainly not the ones you’re thinking of. Also, sexy-time events unfold, and these are the ones you’re thinking of, since all vampiresses are lesbians, at least in the movies.

You know what the movie really suffered from? If I hadn’t seen Let the Right One In first. There are some pretty crucial differences, not least of which is that this one is a little less plot driven than that one. Honestly, I think that’s why this was the wrong order. Because if I’m thinking of a Scandinavian movie which had snow as one of the three main characters and yearning for a similar movie to please get on with having something, anything, happen, well, you can see how that’s a bad sign.

It’s not that I didn’t like The Hunger, it’s that it didn’t meet my unjust expectations. If you want to watch a movie in which people mostly stare longingly at each other, punctuated by short bursts of violence and/or medical research, but also all the longing stares are performed by impossibly attractive androgynes?

Come to think of it, that’s every David Bowie movie, isn’t it?

[1] The summary blurbs they put in imdb and atop movies on streaming services, etc., would have you believe this “vying” thing is accurate, but I don’t think it was. Catherine Deneuve seemed strictly serial to me.

Inside Out (2015)

Posit a) that you have a toddler who is lightly sick and in need of low energy entertainment, and b) that said toddler has been announcing his emotions lately (which mostly consist of happy or sad, with a small side of mad[1]), mostly unprompted. If you’re me, you remember that one Pixar movie from a couple of years ago[2] that appears to hit the developmental sweet spot we’re going for, even though the character in the movie is, like, 11.

So, I think it’s fair to say this did not work out exactly as I intended, even though the boy incurred a great deal of enjoyment from the movie. I say this in part because it was probably too mature for him by at least a little bit and in part because for sure the actual message of the movie (it’s okay to feel sad sometimes, and forcing that emotion out is definitely bad for you) isn’t really one he needs to hear. He’s perfectly fine being sad, when need be. In last part, I thought there would be perhaps more explanation of emotions than there turned out to be, that one division between joy and sadness notwithstanding. Alas.

Still, though, I like what Pixar did with digging around in someone’s brain and trying very hard to explain accessibly how people perhaps tick. Also, that one scene with Bing Bong was absolutely heartwrenching. Not quite Up levels, but you can tell they didn’t blow their load on making the audience feel something in that one sequence, is what I’m trying to say.

[1] “scared” happens with more frequency than mad, but is almost always in reaction to what’s going on in the book we happen to be reading him
[2] I’m sorry, I’m being informed that Inside Out was released eight years ago, a number which seems essentially impossible to credit.


As you certainly know if you know what book I’m reviewing based on the title alone, the Vlad Taltos books bounce around in chronology, with gleeful abandon. Whether this is part of some grand design on the part of the author, or whether he just writes a new story whenever he thinks of one, and drops it in wherever it happens to fit? Not only do I have no idea, I’m not sure it’s possible to know the answer. (Probably Brust knows, but given his utility at writing a character like Vlad, could you ever fully trust his response?)

Tsalmoth goes back nearly to the beginning, interleaving wedding planning with… well, if you don’t know Vlad, and this is for some reason your first exposure, he is a talented assassin who has leveraged that skill (and the money it brings) into a low level boss position in a criminal enterprise[1]. So when I say his concern is with a simple collections job, you understand the kind of collections I’m talking about. Anyway: the book interleaves planning for Vlad’s wedding to Cawti (also a talented assassin, among other things) with his concern about a simple collections job with a twist: the person who owes him money is recently dead.

That’s the superficial plot summary, but what I’m interested in from the 16th book in a (I’m estimating here) 19 book series (not counting an extensive spinoff selection) is the stuff beneath the surface, which of course means spoilers not only for this book but for a lot of other incidental books. Hence, a cut.

[1] Boy is there ever a lot more to it than that, but I’m doing a baseline introduction here.

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I have mentioned, on occasion while justifying the snail’s pace at which I read the books I review, that I also read a lot of books to my son. Board books, picture books, and lately early chapter books[1]. 80-100 pages, almost always exactly 10 chapters, almost always with characters that are 7 or 8 years old, the kind of thing that makes it truly and painfully obvious who they are aimed at. And I mean, he cannot read them, but boy does he love them.

I, on the other hand, do not. I mean, they’re mostly fine, but they are not worth writing a review over, any more than each comic I read is. This is both in consideration of time and of content. It would be different if this were a kidbook or a comic review site, but since it isn’t, well.

All of that to say, over a period of a couple of weeks, I read Grounded to the boy, and, okay, yes it is still a kidbook, this time aimed at a tween audience either to show them Muslim-American culture or to make them feel seen as Muslim-Americans. (I couldn’t tell you which, if either, was the goal of the authors; but it was more likely the second one, based on how little hand-holding they offered for the religious terminology.) It seems to be written in “pass the typewriter” style among them, with each taking the reins of one of the four main characters, children trapped in an airport due to inclement weather after a cultural/religious conference. Said children are in search of a missing cat, which provides the narrative propulsion against which backdrop their forming friendships and individual problems (too-early adult responsibilities; replacement of a dead mother; navigating junior high in the age of social media; not-quite crippling anxiety) are projected.

If I’m being real, it reminded me of nothing so much as Stand by Me (or more properly, The Body) by Stephen King, modernized and written from a non-white perspective. There’s virtually no way this was an actual influence, so whether this says something more about my own, er, cultural background or about my low-grade obsession with King is left as an exercise for the audience.

It was, despite anything I may have said or implied up to this point, definitely a book aimed at children of a certain age[2], with the pitfalls that implies to a more discerning audience. But still. There was an emotional climax to Feek’s[3] story that made it hard for me to keep reading, both in the voice and in the eyes, if you know what I mean. (And it paid off Chekhov’s Rhyme from all the way back in chapter one, to boot.)

It’s hard to imagine recommending this to anyone who is likely to see the review, but it really is recommendable, if you know anyone in an appropriate age range.

[1] I do not understand the derivation of “chapter book”. Well, no, I mean it’s obvious what it means, what I don’t understand is how it came into vogue. Once you get past Dick and Jane and Grinches and Green Eggs and Nights before Christmas, pretty much anything more advanced has always had chapters. Why are we calling out that graduation to more advanced books now?
[2] This review is not a vehicle to showcase that my three year-old is comprehending at a twelve year-old level. He just cared about if the kids found the cat or not, and if they got in trouble or not. But it’s not not to showcase his attention span. I don’t think a ton of kids his age will sit still for 75% of a 272 page book. (I don’t want to exaggerate the accomplishment; sometimes he was all jittery, but never enough that my threats to stop reading were fulfilled.)
[3] One of the four narrators, Rafiq.

Lo Squartatore di New York

It might be time for me to watch a non-horror movie. Not apropos of The New York Ripper, or indeed especially of anything, just a random thought I had while gearing up to write this down.

Lucio Fulci is, with 93% certainty, not the only other director of Italian gialli films after Dario Argento. But I think it’s fair to say that if a random non-specialist in the field is making a list of giallo directors, they’d come up with Argento, and then probably, oh yeah, the other guy. Argento is certainly better, and generally more stylish. Fulci, on the other hand, is down and dirty.

Take this movie, which is nominally about a new entrant in the serial killer craze of the late 20th century, whose special power while murdering young (and young-adjacent) women is to talk in a Donald Duck voice, and eventually to taunt the police with said voice. But that’s not the actual point of the movie. The point of it is to cram in as many sex and masturbation and naked torture scenes as possible, justified by its allowance of the cop and the shrink to claim that the killer only goes after women with active sex lives.

Which, if you know how everything ends up, is incredibly fucked up in retrospect, although by then the script seems to have forgotten why this would be troublesome. In its nominal oeuvre, it’s mediocre at best. If you want to see some attractive, nude Italian women pretending to live in New York City and can ignore (or compartmentalize) high doses of misogyny, then have I got a deal for you!

[1] Not for nothing, but there are some seriously NSFW poster options for this movie. I showed… restraint.


At some point, my horror movie podcast will come across a stretch of movies I have seen, all in a row. Or I’ll catch up to them, but that actually seems less likely. Anyway, “this” week, they are talking about Ticks, a movie which I have surely heard of, but had forgotten existed. Also, I definitely haven’t heard of it since I became aware of who Seth Green was. It predates his popularity, post-dates Peter Scolari’s[1], and falls right in the center of Carlton’s, though he played about as far against type as you can get from that role.

Anyway, Peter Scolari leads a band of misfit kids and his girlfriend for some reason out of Los Angeles and into the woods, so they can camp and, I don’t know what exactly. Get counseling? Have all of their problems solved by The Land? Run into evil pot farmers[2] who are spraying their crops with liquid steroids to improve crop production and growth speed, with who can even begin to guess what unintended consequences? The point is, they’re there, and nerdy Seth Green is making some moves on Scolari’s daughter (but then again she had the same “maybe I’m into this” look in her eyes after the silent girl caught a fish, so I may have who was making what moves backward), and Carlton is acting all tough and hanging out with his dog, and the “Do I look Mexican?” kid and his blonde girlfriend are catching some rays, and basically everything is fine for the entire movie, with a zero percent of, say, Clint Howard and a bunch of rubber arachnids ruining their weekend.

Here’s the problem, though. I’ve made that movie sound good, because how could that movie not sound good? I’ll tell you how, and yes with spoilers, but it’s for your own good. The way to ruin that movie, full of cheap monsters and squooshy special effects though it be, is by killing essentially nobody.

I’ll give you one guess who they did kill, which makes my complaint even stronger.

It’s a pity, because on paper it should have been so much better than this. I mean, okay, it’s still hilariously bad. It’s just, when the credits roll, your focus is on bad instead of hilarious.

[1] Just imagine. In 1993 Peter Scolari made Ticks, the same year for which Tom Hanks would win the first of his two back-to-back Oscars. That is a man who fame was unkind to.
[2] Dear people of the future: 30 years ago when Ticks was made, not only was marijuana illegal everywhere except maybe Amsterdam, but people who grew and distributed it were generally considered villainous. I know it’s hard to credit this in today’s semi-permissive United States, but it’s true!

Blood Vessel

Blood Vessel is, I think, one of those scripts that practically writes itself. It is one part Night of the Living Dead, by way of a group of disparate characters brought together by dire need. In this case, the dire need is that their WWII-era ship sank, and they are the survivors on the lifeboat who have almost lost hope. There’s, and forgive me if I don’t remember everyone, basically every character from a different country at first pass; the American, the Brit, the Australian, the Russian, and maybe one or two more. And then at second pass, there’s the black dude (American), the lady (British), and the Captain[1] (maybe also American?); the point is, everyone is different[2], so there’s no chance you’ll get anyone confused with anyone else. But also so there can be Conflict, and Drama.

And then mix that with two parts Dracula (or, if you prefer, Nosferatu), in that their lifeboat comes across a German military vessel, and they try to signal for help, since a) maritime law but mainly b) if they’re going to die of exposure or thirst, at least worst case the Germans will be quick. Unfortunately, there are no Germans on board, which means they got it wrong, what the worst case scenario might be.

And now they’re trapped on a boat with a bunch of strigoi, because Hitler sure does like to collect supernatural things. So, for the viewer, it’s just a game of “guess the survivor!”, with a side helping of gore and explosions. You know the type.

Was it good? I mean, no. Was it good within the constraints of its core concept? Still no, not as such. Was it worth the 93 minutes I spent on it? I don’t want to jump immediately to “no” again, but it’s worth noting pointing out that the movie is rated TV-MA, rather than R or even PG-13.

[1] If you’re asking, wait, why didn’t he go down with his ship? Don’t worry, he might as well have.
[2] Try not to think too hard about how people from that many backgrounds could have wound up on the same ship during a world war.