The Baron of Magister Valley

It has taken me over three months to read The Baron of Magister Valley. This is a) not a statement on the quality of the book, and also b) it’s really not okay.

What happened was, I read the first half of the book in a leisurely rush, around child-rearing and comics-reading. That half of the book was great! There were dire plots and secret prisons and just the very best kinds of intrigue, all surrounded by Paarfi’s oh so distinctive authorial voice. I was at each moment excited to learn what would happen next! Just like I should be.

And then suddenly they wanted me to come back to work. Which means I’ve had time for watching about a gajillion movies, but reading has just fallen apart on me. And at a snail’s pace crawl, I found that I just didn’t really care much about the revenge half[1] of the book. My assumption here is that reading the book with any kind of momentum would have prevented this malaise, and I would be glowing here instead of all mehed out.

Ultimately, I think the failures of the book were either the failures of my circumstances, or (less likely but certainly possible) the failures of the source material. Or, so unlikely that I hate to think it after the stretch of great books I’ve previously read by him, it could actually be the book, and this is a failure on Brust’s part.

But whatever the case, a book whose plot I did not care about and whose characters’ motivations were mostly uninteresting to me for an entire half of the story, and the second half no less!, a book who I mostly kept reading because, whatever else was going on, Paarfi knows how to make me laugh? That is not a book I can be excited about in a review. Alas.

[1] I should say here that I’m not actually hurling out spoilers; this book, like the others that “Paarfi” has written, are based on popular works of adventure fictions from the 18th or 19th centuries.

Into the Forest (2015)

Into the Forest was sold to me as an apocalypse movie, and I’m not quite sure that’s right. It’s a (usually) quiet family drama about young adult sisters and their father living in a remote but fancy home in the forest, with technology that still codes as “near future” even though the film is five years old. Only, some kind of long term power outage strikes[1] and all the fancy technology is no longer quite so useful.

Which reminds me of the speech on every Walking Dead graphic novel about being forced to start living now that we no longer have all these modern conveniences. So I suppose in a way it is an apocalyptic movie after all, despite the lack of zombies and/or regularly paced explosions? Mostly, it’s daily life plus survival in a quiet but never quite empty world.

It was also described as a feminine take on an apocalypse, insofar as masculine takes involve trying to Get to Somewhere and Solve Everything, whereas this is about staying in one place and staying alive. I’m not sure that’s quite right either, at least the motivational gender split, but I agree that it was definitely a non-traditional take, and also that it was created by and largely populated by women, so maybe that one is more fair than I’m giving credit as well.

Either way, it was a worthy way to spend a few hours. Downside for you: it will only be on Netflix for a few more hours, and after that, man, who knows?

[1] the state? the coast? the nation? the world? Who knows, when the lack of power and rapidly dwindled gas supply means news is not really forthcoming.

What Remains of Edith Finch

I played another entire game over the past few days. This is so so weird. (Which I say every time I finish a game, I know. But it is! Especially relative to how long it’s been since I finished a book[1].)

This time, What Remains of Edith Finch, which is another plot-heavy / game-light exploration game in which … you know, I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a game like this, except, minimally, Gone Home. Edith Finch has, um, returned to her ancestral dwelling after the death of her mother and the receipt of a mysterious key, which grants her access to the majority of the house, which has been sealed up and inaccessible since before her earliest memories.

What follows is an exploration of generations of Finch family history and the simultaneous exploration of a truly ridiculous plus awesome house, with mysteries galore. There are elements fantastical, elements tragic, and elements personally very uncomfortable. If you want trigger warnings, you should expect that most things people get triggered by (besides inflicted violence) will be in play.

It’s barely a game in the way that all the things which fall into this genre are, in the sense that there are minimal choices to be made; you only move forward through the sparse and lonely plot. But it was a plot full of people and events I cared about, which is what I was looking for.

[1] Outside of a specific reading schedule

Tacoma

So far, my favorite thing about Xbox’s Game Pass service is that it gives me the freedom to try things out that I cannot otherwise convince myself to pay for. To wit, Tacoma, which is apparently the only other game from the people who made Gone Home.

The upshot being, a) I really liked this story, about an abandoned orbital station where I was tasked with downloading the station AI and acquiring the associated hardware, which perhaps (or perhaps not?) inevitably involves learning some details about why exactly the station is abandoned; but b) I felt somewhat misled into believing that I would have some kind of influence over the outcome, rather than only walking through a story. I am not per se opposed to this form of visual novel, I just want to have a clearer idea of what to expect? I don’t think I ever felt this way about Gone Home, and by contrast I think I actually did have some minor influence over the outcomes of Firewatch, which was also a much larger game.

But that is an issue of expectations contrary to reality; the game taken as is was pretty excellent, and I would have no trouble recommending it. Which would be easier to do if it hadn’t fallen off the Game Pass thing at the end of the month, some very few brief hours after I finished it. Which is good news for me, but… oops.

A Night in the Lonesome October revisited

Cool thing about finally reading A Night in the Lonesome October again: I have done this on a month when October ended in a full moon, as the plot demands. Also, and if I’m being real, moreso cool, I did it as a family. I mean, Malcolm wasn’t really old enough to catch the finer points of the adventures of Snuff and his human, Jack, and he doesn’t have the literary context to catch the sundry references on display, but he does like to hear me read.

If this gets to be annual, which I don’t fully expect that it will, I am not going to write a new review each year, in which I decline to discuss the plot any more deeply than I already have. But this time seems relevant nevertheless. And so, a fairly belated Happy Halloween!

From the Dark (2014)

There’s something to be said for a tidy, self-contained monster movie. I mean, look at Alien!

From the Dark is one such entry into that genre, in which a happily bickering Irish couple run into trouble when the driver[1] ignores GPS instructions, resulting in their being stuck in the mud, way off the beaten track[2] and just after sunset, but conveniently near a farmhouse where the old man who owns the place is sitting in the dark in his living room, mumbling incoherently and totally incapable of providing the assistance for which they had gone looking. Things go from bad to worse when they discover something else is out there in the dark with them.

Late October is the perfect time to watch this movie. Not only is it scary movie season anyway, but also the gray dreary outside keeps the house nice and dark any time of day, which fits the extremely minimal lighting aesthetic of the flick. As you can see, I don’t really want to say anything else about the movie itself, as, spoilers, but: it was a good ‘un.

[1] Guess which one was the driver. Go on, have a guess.
[2] Get it?

Party Hard Die Young

There are two kinds of slasher movies. The first kind is a gradually building sequence of events and accompanying tension in which targeted characters first learn that murder is on the menu and then over the remainder of the film try desperately to stay alive long enough to find out who is behind the murders, in the hopes of saving themselves; this of course does not work for virtually any of them, but that’s the tenor of the semi-genre. Examples: Friday the 13th, Friday the 13th: A New Beginning (aka part 5), the majority of one-off slasher films.

The other kind is almost always a member of a longer series, and everyone knows who the killer is because he’s[1] an unstoppable supernatural force. The trying to stay alive part is the same, as is the success rate, just without the false hope that figuring out what’s going on would help. Examples: any movie set on Elm Street, the remainder of the F13 franchise.

Party Hard, Die Young is a literal-minded (or, more to the point, -titled) example of the first kind of slasher movie, about a small group of graduating German high school seniors, or whatever they might be called instead in Germany, who were all in the same home room, or however German classes are divided up. Eight or ten of them, anyway? I lost track of that sentence. Let me start over. It’s about a group of German teens off to a summer EDM[2] festival on an island in the Adriatic, to party hard before going off to college, but then most of them die young instead.

Get it?

The description on Shudder and in IMDb makes reference to how slick and stylish and post-Scream it is, and, man, I just can’t tell what they’re talking about. Like, it has a modern feel to it, both the film quality and of course the lighting and soundtrack; it’s definitely not an ’80s slasher movie. That’s fine, but if you say post-Scream to mean everything looks and sounds better, instead of grainy 35mm film stock and spooky sound editing, man did you miss what made Scream ground-breaking.

In summation, this was a pretty good albeit by the numbers slasher mystery, and mainly it made me hungry for someone to make the same movie, but the setting is Burning Man.

[1] Where, I ask you, are the female-led supernatural slasher serieses? Get it together, not-Hollywood!
[2] Electronic Dance Music, boomer

Guns Akimbo

I have heard of Guns Akimbo before, so the Amazon Prime rule does not apply.

So, remember BumFights, where people would pay bums to, y’know, fight each other, and record it on their phones, and then upload those videos and charge people to watch them, and voilà, instant albeit troubling profit[1]? Imagine that world advanced by technology and the decline and fall of civilized society, and you have Skizm, a website where people pay to watch random folk hunt and murder each other.

Now imagine that Harry Potter hadn’t been a wizard, so he ended up as a mobile game software developer with a way too cool girlfriend who came to her senses and dumped him, and now he’s got nothing going for him, so he trolls the Skizm website insulting its viewership one at a time. Until he insults the wrong person, and ends up home-invaded, knocked out, and wakes up with a pair of guns literally bolted to his hands, because he has become the latest contestant, with 24 hours to kill or be killed by his opponent.

Sure, the plot is a little deeper than that, but you know everything you need to know. Either that’s hilarious and you want to watch it, or you’re a better person than I am.

[1] I did a modicum of research and determined that it was too long ago for phone recordings, was released on DVD, and also maybe what I’m remembering was more backlash hype that reality. But that’s not important to the metaphor.

The Love Witch

Movies in the ’60s were weird. Because they had all these eye-popping colors, and would film people in sharp focus while driving and the background looked like completely different film stock, even though I think it was actually real instead of matted, and everyone’s performance was very earnest and serious, like the fate of the world depended on finding a new boyfriend or solving that mysterious murder or discussing whether feminism is worthwhile in the modern world. No naturalism to speak of in really any aspect of a ’60s movie, is I think my point.

The Love Witch was made just a handful of years ago, but you’d believe the filmstock was kept in an airtight container for the past 50+ years, if not for the occasional modern vehicle in street shots, because every other aspect is pitch perfect. Elaine, per her interior monologue, recently lost her husband and became a witch, and now she needs to find love again, which she plans to do by finding a man, giving him everything he could possibly want[1], and also a love potion she mixed up on top of that. That premise established, all that remains is to find out whether she actually knows what she wants, as well as how far she will go to get it. Plus a bunch of random burlesque dancing, naked coven ceremonies, creepy MRA-disguised-as-ultra-feminist warlocks, largely gratuitous tarot, and the most random, tiny renfaire you ever did see.

And a theme song that must be heard to be believed, “Love Is a Magikal Thing”.

[1] Free access to sex and sandwiches? I’m only barely clear on what else she had in mind, if anything.

Humanoids from the Deep

I cannot justify any claim that Monster (Humanoids from the Deep) is a good movie. First of all, were coastal fishing towns in California ever even a thing? I have the sense that every inch of usable beach is for being beachfront for zillionaires, not for fishing boats that compete with each other and sometimes blow up and also there’s a cannery being built that will save the town, unless it will violate a treaty with the local tribe and they decide to sue about it and ruin the town. It’s like, what even was the point of manifest destiny?

None of that has anything to do with any humanoids from the deep, but then again neither does a guy in a tent seducing chicks with a ventriloquist dummy (and the same ventriloquism jokes you hear every time that concept is raised), and yet here we are. My point, if I am somehow failing to make it, is that this movie doesn’t make a lick of sense, and is also generally offensive in that 1980 second card on the late night double feature kind of way.

But that’s okay! It revels in being nonsensical, since really everything that happens is a vehicle for ladies to get naked so they can be chased (and as you can clearly see on the poster, be mated with) by fishmen (not to be confused with the fishermen, although clearly this also happens from time to time; the difference is the fishermen understand consent) who have evolved for… some reason? The scientist who was clearly an inspiration for the scientist lady in Deep Murder explained it at some point, but I didn’t really follow.

Roger Corman was probably not a good man? But he knew how to produce a B-movie, is all I’m really trying to say here. Another thing I suppose I cannot justify is how to square being a modern liberal with loving this kind of trash. Mostly I don’t try, though. It’s just who I am?