Tag Archives: black comedy

The Healthy Dead

So yay, I finally finished my Malazan short novels collection, which you may remember (although, notably, I did not) I wasn’t so sure about continuing, because of a certain moral brokenness to the second story. So, good news: the third story was not like that. (Bad news: since I read those two out of order, I can’t consider the trendline broken.)

The Healthy Dead was, however, pretty silly. It staked out a position against zealotry related to exercise, good eating, and other aspects of bodily morality, and then… do you know how sometimes authors can draw up fully-realized characters on both sides of an issue and let them fight it out, and while you maybe know the author’s opinion, the debate as written was a fair one? This was not that.

It was also, thankfully, not axe-grindy, since it was written for comedic value and largely worked on that level. But you can definitely tell, underneath it, that the axe exists to be ground. Plus, Erikson’s inability to write good bit characters in his short work continues apace, which is bizarre since he is one of the best I’ve seen at fleshing out throwaway characters in his longer work.

My best guess is that he is so enamored of Bauchelain and Emancipor Reese (and I suppose of Korbal Broach, in a different way (I hope! For my part, it was nice to not see much of him in this story)) that he jealously guards them from losing the spotlight to any minor characters in their own stories.

To sum up: this is a cute little story with almost nothing to recommend it save the force of personality of its main characters, but as I usually tend to like them, that is enough to recommend it to me. But I’ll remain perfectly happy to get back to the big story.

Ready or Not (2019)

Here’s how you can tell you’re too far inside an industry: when I watched Ready or Not, I had no concern about the deadly game of hide and seek[1] (after all, the rich are different from us) nor about old stories of demonic deals for wealth (that’s just how you get rich), but it really bothered me that they were rich enough to have that kind of sprawling Victorian estate, full of secret passages for servants (and also not incidentally still full of servants) based on creating board games. I guess in real life it’s feasible that the brothers Parker, back when there were only like six boardgames to choose from[2], really did get outsizedly wealthy, and as a result this makes perfect sense. But man does it feel wrong based on my experiences watching a board game in development / following other games with at least a layman hobbyist’s knowledge of the industry.

If you can get past all that, though (I could, and my friends who are actually developing a game apparently could as well, so you should have no trouble), this is a movie that strikes the perfect balance between comedy and gore. To explain the setup a little more clearly than I probably already did, there’s this wealthy family, and on the night of your marriage into the family, you have to play a randomly selected game, in the old style. Like Old Maid, or checkers. Nothing that qualifies as a boardgame even by post WWII standards. And as long as you don’t pick Hide and Seek, that’s as far as it goes. But every generation or so, a sacrifice is required…

The reason it works is because both the writing and casting are top notch. I want to go into it more, but I try not to ever spoil more than the premise, and to elaborate further has all kinds of character and joke spoilers; not plot spoilers, because horror movie genre conventions almost always trump plot, and in the rare occasion where genre conventions are subverted, I would still lie and say there’s no plot to spoil, because anything else would itself be a spoiler again. Long story short, if you like things that are funny and aren’t allergic to violent deaths, this is a good way to spend a couple of hours.

[1] Fun fact: this is not the first hide and seek horror movie named Ready or Not. I’m guessing it’s the better one, though.
[2] Although the same percentage of them were Monopoly

The Lees of Laughter’s End

Well, this is incredibly annoying.

As you may or may not be aware, I am deep in the guts of a reread / relisten of the Malazan books, wherein I have audiobooks for the ones I already read once (which is four-fifths of the original ten book series) and physical books for the ones I never read before or didn’t yet get to. I am doing this by publication date, partly because researching a series chronology is potentially spoiler-laden, partly because the main series already has no truck with a strictly chronological presentation of its story, and partly because that is what the authors of the world recommend. Fine then.

Except, I just read The Lees of Laughter’s End, the second story in the three story collection of the tales of Bauchelain and Korbal Broach (a probably evil wizard/theoretical necromancer and a completely amoral (in the literal sense) eunuch/practical necromancer), only to realize when I was pulling up Amazon to find a cover picture for the standalone book that it is the third story in publication order, even though it starts off merely days or weeks after the first one, Blood Follows, ended. Which is an understandable way to order a story collection, fine, but I clearly was not paying close enough attention to what was going on when I picked up the book and just started reading on the page after I’d left off. (Notably, this would have been even more likely / harder to deal with if I’d had it in electronic form.)

So much for doing a thing right.

Anyway. I think this may be the first Malazan book I haven’t really cared for. Here are a scattershot list of reasons why.

  1. The biggest one is ironically a strength of the series. It starts off res in the media of a really bad night on a ship bound for… you know, I have no idea where they were going? I suppose I know where they ended up, but that’s in dim and distant future from now. But my point is, things start happening fast and furious, and where a book or in some cases a series can benefit from in media res storytelling because you have time to ponder and cogitate and assemble pieces of the puzzle for yourself, a novella does not afford you that luxury. By the time things started being spelled out for me, the story was nearly over and I’d spent 80% of my readthrough confused. Whereas a couple of hours out of a book, or a lot of hours out of a massive series, that’s not nearly so bad. More time to care what’s going on now that it makes sense.
  2. I also usually like a good comedy of errors, and I think I know why I didn’t like this one. The reason a comedy of errors works, structurally, is because all these horrible, blackly funny things are happening to people you care about. All of the new characters in this one, okay, I did like them a little, but I was too busy being confused (see above) to really latch onto any of them; and as for the three main characters, I like one, appreciate one, and am completely creeped out by one. This is not the recipe for a successful iteration of the genre.
  3. Right in the middle of the story, there is an inadvertent crime against one of the bit characters by one of the main characters. It was not preventable, and nobody was at fault[1]. It was exactly the kind of fluke occurrence that fits right into a comedy of errors. Only, I’m really zero percent comfortable with this particular type of crime, played for laughs probably ever, but triply so when written by a male author and where the victim is female. The more I think about it, the less sure I am that I will continue to read these offshoots. But it’s long enough between now and the previous one that I will be reading next, because sigh, that I’ll probably make another attempt. Still, though.
  4. It’s really the “for laughs” that is crushing to me, because without that tone… What worked about the first book is that it was all from the perspective of the necromancers’ manservant, Emancipoor Reese, who has a very Edd Tollett[2] outlook on life. Everything was either happening to him, or through his lens, and that kind of comedy I can get behind. This was more, look how zany and also legitimately bad but in a zany way things can get, and Reese was involved in maybe 20 percent of the events, and mostly his bits were what was good, but I just cannot with my point 3. I was wrong that the first point was the biggest problem after all.

Yeah. This is a book that is nowhere near good enough to justify how problematic it also is. It has not soured me on the original main series, but on its own merits I strongly disrecommend it, and it may well have soured me on this side series.

[1] Because magic, basically.
[2] A member of the Night Watch in GRRM’s A Song of Ice and Fire Series. If you get it, you get it.


First things first: ugh, commercials. Like, I dislike them, sure, that’s fine, so does everyone. But there’s a qualitative difference between a show made with commercial breaks in mind, and a movie. Hell, even old school movies on network television, they had people with talent who selected break points as naturally as possible. Modern streaming services with commercials, though… man. It’s just so bad.

Anyway, though, I did watch a movie, despite the many travails involved. Fido exists in relatively unexplored territory: this is the zombie post-apocalypse. Humans won, at least sort of? According to the instructional film at the beginning of the movie, our species continues in walled safe zones, controlled by ZomCon, who has also developed a collar to keep zombies under control. Upshot: sure, the world’s a mess, but in the places where people are alive, they’re thriving. Zombies keep the houses in order, they keep the factories running, they keep the parks clean, and so on, leaving everyone else free to live out their 1950s utopia.

Enter one lonely neglected boy and one newly acquired zombie manservant, mix in a few hilarious mistakes, and there you have it. Black comedy, with zombies! But seriously, it was pretty funny. It was for sure the funniest Carrie-Anne Moss has ever been.

Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri

Monday was random movie night, and the random movie I ended up seeing was Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri, which is about, well, honestly the title is not wrong, you know? You see, some amount of time has passed since Frances McDormand’s daughter was killed, and she is unhappy with the speed of justice, so she takes matters into her own hands via the powers of advertising!

It is my understanding that this movie is not being well received in the liberal community because it is making heroes out of really terrible people. I don’t think that’s right at all, though. It is a movie about people who either are outright terrible, or are deeply flawed but recognizably trying to do right, or are too consumed with their own problems to remember to care about anyone else. (Or, at best, they are the people being hurt by the three people I just described.) So, right, it is a movie about those people, and their attempts to do the right thing.

I’m assuming that’s what is disliked, that they are clearly trying to do the right thing. That is a little too shades of grey in a political climate where we would prefer everything be as cartoonish as it is in the news right now. I have two reactions to that: 1) People in real life mostly are not cartoonish, despite the implausible reality of the current news cycle. 2) If someone is trying to do the right thing, that does not mean they’ve been given a redemption arc. Even if you accomplish doing the right thing, which is not guaranteed, one right does not make up for years of wrongs. Sometimes years of right don’t.

Anyway, I’ve gotten very far afield of what this review should have been, which is why I hate so much that I’ve gotten bad at writing reviews before I see other responses to a movie (or really anything else I review) before I’ve formed my own. I don’t like responding to responses instead of to the thing itself, because it always ends up dumb, like this did.

I would mostly not recommend the movie, although it is at times extremely funny, because it’s also extremely dark, and mostly people know better than I do if they would like that. But if you would, you probably will.


MV5BNDc0ODk4MjMzNF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNjU3NzkzNzE@._V1__SX1859_SY893_Bavarian Alps folklore speaks of a being who, rather than merely dumping coal into stockings, takes a more… biblical approach to the annual judgment of naughty children. Fast forward a few hundred years and cross an ocean to where the super-jerky versions of the Griswolds and their in-laws are preparing to deck the halls and/or each other in stereotypical horrible family style, and who wouldn’t expect Krampus to drop in for a visit? Well, besides most of these folks, and boy are they in for a shock!

The confusing thing about this movie is that by all rights it should be terrible. It felt like, and bear with me here, because this next statement defies legitimacy. It felt like Troll 2, except if that movie had a talented acting pool and a script that made sense. To which there are three possible responses, I think. Lack of reference knowledge, disbelief in the possibility of those words existing in that order, or realization of what very high praise that is, in the unlikely world where it’s possible to be said. Mostly, if you’re lucky, lack of reference knowledge.

Long story short: as Christmas horror goes, this rises well above the pack. I don’t even resent the PG-13 rating, except for how it would have allowed more realistic language if rated R.

The Boys: The Innocents

boys_vol_07I find that the triumph I should have felt at the second half of Ennis’ The Boys beginning with the plot turn I had been awaiting since pretty much the first book has turned to ashes in my mouth, since it simultaneously removed my empathy for usually likable lead Hughie, who was of course twice as likable for being based on Simon Pegg.

Since reviews should last longer than one sentence if you are not Mighty God King, I will add that despite my belief that any redemption from Hughie’s horrible actions will feel contrived or else insufficient, I’m going to continue with the series for a few reasons. There are still a handful of characters who I do not despise, and a handful more who I am interested in learning more about. Also, there’s something big brewing in the superhero sphere, and the plotting has been good enough so far that I could probably choke past my dislike of humanity’s erstwhile saviors to find out how the actual savioring works out.

Then again, I need to shop for and buy the remaining volumes, since my free supply has run out as of this one, so who knows what I’ll actually manage? Because, ashes, I tell you. Ashes.

The Boys: Self-Preservation Society

boys6My research indicates that, having finished Volume 6 of  Ennis’ The Boys series, I am halfway done. (Also, that all of them are published, so that’s nice.) This particular volume is pretty much just going through the motions, with no real plot development to speak of.

Which, okay, it’s not an especially fair claim, but I can’t help being disappointed in a book which, when all is said and done, provides no real movement. Sure, the author has ticked off his “I’d better parody the Avengers” checklist, including the spectacularly over-the-top inclusion of a Nazi super-soldier as their leader.[1] And yes, it’s nice to get origin stories on the three supporting members of our titular band of ne’er-do-wells. (Except for how I found the Frenchie’s origin to be actively annoying. But I could be biased.) But that’s just not enough.

It’s strange to realize, I guess, that the most interesting story and character development occurred among the bad guys this time, is all.

[1] Probably I’d be less irritated if it hadn’t felt exactly like a tickbox instead of an actual event. Also, if it hadn’t seemed so nakedly steeped in shock-value. Also, if there had been consequences.

The Boys: Herogasm

the_boys5In its way, Herogasm is pretty clever. See, it starts off with the concept that big superhero crossover events are all faked, and while the various teams are off “fighting off the alien menace” (or whatever it is this year), they’ve really taken a week or two off at an orgy resort, to recharge their batteries. And since the biggest conceit of the Boys series is how superheroes are basically all horrible people who make the world a consistently worse place, I can appreciate what Ennis is doing here.

Of course, then he and his artist take this premise as a challenge to draw and write the filthiest scenes they can come up with, and they keep throwing it at you nonstop, and at some point even my prurience threshold was overcome. I like to hope this was the point, but I imagine I’m fooling myself there.

But then (and here’s the clever bit), suddenly there’s all kinds of deep politics, both in the present-day and flashback portions of the story, bubbling up around the non-stop porn, and before you know it really big events have occurred and you were still trying to figure out if you were tired of the nipple parade and you almost missed it. I’m definitely not saying that Ennis was trying to slide some mocking social commentary over on his readers here; like I said, I’m not even sure he was trying to make the point that I should have been getting tired of it in the first place. But I am saying that it was an artful job of playing to his strengths.

The Boys: We Gotta Go Now

618Jw8k7spLIf it looks like I’m reading slowly, it’s because I’ve been hyper-focused on old Marvel stuff, both the ongoing acquisition and consumption thereof. But I finally read the fourth volume in Garth Ennis’ The Boys series, so that’s nice at least. It occurs to me that this is an incredibly aptly named team, insofar as its one female member (cleverly named “The Female”) never speaks and has yet to actually do anything that was her own event on the side, unlike all the other team members. I pretend to myself, each new book, that we’ll suddenly learn something about her. Maybe a name of some kind. (I will say that she’s not also sexualized, so that’s… something?)

But anyway, though, the ongoing war between Butcher and his team versus the supes continues on, this time extending to Ennis’ X-Men parody, with its vast number of teams and splinter groups. Which made a fine, albeit occasionally horrific, story. But I’m really ready for the meat of this series. Our main character, Hughie, who I probably mentioned is based on actor Simon Pegg? He and his girlfriend have been carefully concealing themselves from each other this whole time, and it’s a ticking time bomb, and I really want to see what happens when the truth gets revealed. Downside: probably that will start the roller-coaster ride toward a series climax, and Ennis probably isn’t done poking fun at superhero comic tropes and standards just yet.

So, okay, but at least give me some character development on the Female and the Frenchman. ‘Cause seriously, especially that Female thing I mentioned back at the start? It looks bad. (It probably is bad instead of just appearing that way, and probably having the whole plot laid out in front of me would not change that, but since it isn’t yet, it feels premature to judge. He tricked me on the homophobia. Sort of.)