Thursday, May 25, 2017

Strange the Dreamer

Lazlo Strange grew up an orphaned nobody, first callously raised by monks and then callously raised by librarians. Since he was a child, the legends of a forgotten land called Weep have fascinated him. From then to adulthood, he compiled every scrap, every story, and every mention of the lost city that everyone else think is a fairy tale. As an adult, Lazlo is a lowly librarian, but inadvertantly helps an enemy discover his beloved city. He seizes the opportunity to help Weep and its envoys with a unique problem that the envoys won't reveal until they get there. The problem is hugely obvious, puzzling, and the reason why the inhabitants of Weep have travelled the world so the smartest, most skillful, and most innovative people can try to solve it.

I was a bit doubtful going into this book because the beginning took a little bit to get started. As the story goes on, I was completely hooked. Lazlo is such a relatable character because he comes from so little and keeps his kind heart despite the way everyone above him treats him. His polar opposite is Nero, the privileged golden boy who is miserable, rich, and given every opportunity under the sun. Lazlo is happy despite his low standing and even goes out of his way to selflessly help Nero who works to steal everything Lazlo has worked for. He doesn't let rivalries or even his own frustration and anger get in the way of his kindness. In a rare moment of confidence, Lazlo convinces the Weep envoys to take him with them and his lifelong dream comes true. Unlike the others invited, he doesn't have special skills and isn't widely known, but he learned the language of Weep and everything he could about their culture and history.

Five teens live above Weep who are half god and half human known as godspawn. They all have magic abilities. Minya can command the souls of the dead. Sparrow has power in plants and nature. Feral influences the weather. Ruby can create and control fire. Sarai has the most unique ability to put her consciousness in a swarm of moths and enter the dreams of mortals to either observe or control the events. The people of Weep slaughtered the gods while Minya, the oldest of them, rescued as many babies as she could. The gods ruled tyrannically, kidnapping people for their whims and bringing them back with no memory. Both sides have legitimate grievances and committed terrible atrocities towards each other. Minya is filled with rage and literally stunted her own growth because she can't move on from the slaughter she witnessed. Sarai has done so many things against humans because of Minya coaching her from a young age, but she's beginning to doubt Minya's way after realizing that humans aren't that much different than her.

Sarai meets Lazlo in his dream and he can actually see her unlike any other person. They form a relationship and get to know each other, leading to the one of the sweetest Romeo and Juliet type romances ever. Although it is a trope, the interactions are so organic and the language is so lyrical and beautiful that it seemed like new. The world building amazed me. Taylor creates such mindblowing worlds that I have trouble putting her books down. The beginning goes a little slow to get to know Lazlo, but once the group heads for Weep, the pace takes off. This is the rare book that I want to read slowly to savor the world but I also want to devour it as fast as possible to find out what happens. The ending has so many twists and turns that I never saw coming. It does end on a bit of a cliffhanger and I can't wait to see what happens in the second installment, Muse of Nightmares. After this novel and the Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy, Laini Taylor has a lifelong fan in me.

My rating: 5/5 fishmuffins

Saturday, May 20, 2017


Gloria is going through a rough patch in her career and life as she drinks too much, parties too hard, and lives off of her disapproving boyfriend's resources while she does it. He's finally had enough of it all and kicks her out, forcing her to return to her parents' deserted house in her home town in shame. While gathering supplies to make the house a little more comfortable, she runs into her childhood friend Oscar, who owns a bar. They quickly fall into the habit of hanging out at the bar and drinking until morning. More often than not, Gloria wakes up with no recollection of the night before and only gets clues from Oscar. Meanwhile, a giant monster is terrorizing South Korea, but only for a short time at one particular time of day. Gloria figures out that the monster follows her own movements when she's in a local playground at exactly 8:05am. Of course she's horrified and has to decide what to do about it when Oscar's true colors are gradually revealed.

I expected Colossal to be a fun giant monster film that had a quirky, independent feel and I was partly right. However, it proved to me much more emotional and hard-hitting. Gloria is a mess of person who slinks off to her childhood home to figure out what to do next. She falls into a habit of ignoring her problems and hanging out with other toxic people who support her alcoholism. The giant monster debacle is her first wake up call to do something more productive than working in a bar or getting blackout drunk. It's symbolic of the damage she inflicts on people around her with her thoughtless actions and excessive drinking. It also forces to her to reflect upon how many people were hurt by her thoughtless actions and make a real decision about what do moving forward instead of continuing the same avoidance behaviors. She eventually writes out an apology in Korean and vows to leave the city alone. Oscar during this time seems supportive, friendly, and willing to help her out. He gives her a job at the bar, helps furnish her house, and lends an ear when she needs one. Unfortunately, this behavior isn't reflective of his true feelings.

Oscar turns out to be one of the most odious, enraging characters I've ever hated. The first indication of this is during the first night she spends hanging out with his friends. She moves to kiss Joel, the most attractive of them, and Oscar suddenly yells at her our of nowhere as if she's ruining something. Gloria most likely doesn't even remember the interaction (plus who knows how many similar ones) and goes on as normal. When Gloria reveals her odd ability to him and his friends, he discovers he has his own giant robot avatar that appears in the same place. He doesn't share Gloria's feelings about the unexpected power and starts to drunkenly terrorize the city on his own. He apologizes, but the cyle of abuse continues. When she refuses to drink, he threatens to terrorize Korea if she won't comply with his demands. This starts a series of uncomfortable and enraging displays of his attempts control over her (because she doesn't want Korea smashed) interspersed with increasing insincere apologies. It all culminates when she lets him know she will return home with her boyfriend. He goes to smash up Korea in the playground. When she tries to physically stop him, he overpowers and beats her in a disgusting display of abuse.

Up until that point, I had hoped that Oscar was just a damaged person making mistakes much like Gloria, but he proved that his ultimate goal is control her and continue his sick cycle of abuse out of self loathing and failure. That beating also showed that this film goes a lot deeper than I expected. Much of the earlier events were more comedic and light, downplaying a lot of his earlier abusive actions. This method makes us feel like Gloria, finally realizing that previous actions weren't mistakes or misunderstandings. This scene felt like the genre of the film changed. It was looking like she had to choose between these two men who ultimately want to control her as is typical in romantic comedies, but she chooses a much more realistic third option. The ending was incredibly satisfying and a sound deconstruction of the romantic comedy formula that continues to insist that women need men to feel complete and solve their problems. The last scene shows that Gloria is still a flawed person who has to work through her issues.

My rating: 4.5/5 fishmuffins

Friday, May 19, 2017


Val Russel lives a normal life with an annoying mother, a loving boyfriend, and lacrosse. A bit hot tempered, she clashes with teammates one too many times and finds herself kicked off the team. Then she goes home unexpectedly only to find her boyfriend and her mother kissing. Distraught and betrayed, Val decides to escape for a while and goes to New York after impulsively shaving her head and going to the hockey game she and her now ex were going to attend. Two homeless teens happen upon her sleeping and take her under their wing, teaching her how to survive and their own tips and tricks. They also introduce her to the world of faeries much darker than expected, but with addictive faerie medicine that gives humans faerie powers for a short time. Val spirals out of control more and more until she's caught stealing some it by Ravus, an exiled troll, and he binds her as a servant until she has repaid her debt. As both her feelings for Ravus and her addiction deepen, Val finds herself the only one willing to save him and has to fight literal and metaphorical demons to do so.

I expected Valiant to be a direct sequel to Tithe with Roiben and Kaye, but it only exists in the same world. I would have been disappointed if Val and her story hadn't completely won me over within the first few pages. She feels like a real person with numerous flaws who just experienced her first real betrayal by those closest to her in addition to being soundly rejected by the only thing tying her to her school. Her escape to New York is far from idyllic, but it introduces her to a completely different world with ultimate freedom and very little repercussions. At first, the world is fun even with the seedier parts like digging through dumpsters and sleeping outside. Then, things improve even more with the discovery of the faerie world and "Never," a faerie medicine to help them cope with living so closely with huge amounts of iron.

The effects are much different for humans and allow them to have faerie powers of glamour and compulsion along with feelings of euphoria and dreamlike disorientation. She and her friends start by taking it sparingly to get what they need to survive and then progress to taking it at least daily and stealing from people off the street and upscale shops. The first half of the story moves rather slowly, focusing on Val and her descent. Despite poor decision making, I was on her side the whole time. I felt for her, especially when the more monstrous sides of her friends were revealed. The need to escape and avoid negative feelings is completely understandable. When she realizes how far into the drugs and horrible lifestyle she is, it's so much harder to go through the withdrawal and get out of that situation.

Val's relationship with Ravus bloomed organically and unexpectedly. It has a Beauty and the Beast dynamic that is much more complex. Ravus won't become a handsome prince with true loves kiss; he will always be a hideous troll, but Val loves him anyway. Val steals from him and lies to him before her feelings developed, complicating things and making it seem like she was just using him. Their sword sparring is one of my favorite parts of the story because it's where they get to know each other the most. With some subjects, they don't mind sharing, but others are avoided. From the time Ravus is introduced in the story, a murder mystery is revealed with Ravus as its prime suspect. This series of murders has ties to the Seelie court where he is from and exposes even more corruption of the supposed good side of the faerie world. Val is alone in fighting for Ravus' innocence. She's a drug addict, a thief, a vagrant, and casual with sex, all of which are seen in society as immoral. However, she's the hero of this story and fights with all her might to free the one she loves, showing that mistakes and others' perception doesn't define her. At her core, she's a hero through and through.

Valiant is a very different story than Tithe and one that I enjoy just a little bit more. The hero has so many things going against her that she actually has to deal with when her adventure is over unlike Kaye who then lived in the faerie world. Val's object of affection isn't a handsome prince (although Roiben is much darker than the usual), but someone she connects with completely. So much of the story portrays reversals of tropes that ring much more true to me. I read this installment in only a couple of days and I will devour the last of the series as soon as I can.

My rating: 5/5 fishmuffins

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Horror Movie Mini-Reviews: Personal Shopper and Splinter

* Personal Shopper

Maureen mourns for her twin brother's recent death and returns to the place where he died in Paris. She's convinced that he will give her a sign of the afterlife (if there is one) as they promised. Her living expenses are paid for by being a personal shopper for Kyra, a moody and demanding fashion model. I had high hopes for this one because I thought it would be a film that never actually shows anything supernatural and deals more with her grief. I was wrong and it was also very boring. Kirsten Stewart sighs and mopes through the whole thing with her signature expression. A CGI ghost shows up to terrorize Maureen at her brother's house, which didn't look convincing and didn't seem to actually mean anything in the grand scheme of things.

The most interesting part of the film is when Maureen receives text messages from an unknown person, daring to her to do things she's afraid to do and pushing her boundaries. It's never revealed who this person is, but the implications expand when she finds her boss murdered. Nothing in the story really seems to connect with anything else. I started to like Maureen as she tried on her boss's clothes, but then she went way too far with it and lost me. The ending has a very cool moment that goes largely unnoticed by the characters, but proves to be rather anticlimactic. Personal Shopper is an incredibly boring film with some moments of brilliance and lots of wasted potential. Long stretches of time felt like nothing was going on at all. It's visually striking and Stewart is adept at moping, but it felt like a dull waste of time.

My rating: 1.5/5 fishmuffins

* Splinter

Two very different couples collide in a remote gas station. Seth and Polly are a young, sweet, affluent couple out for a romantic camping trip. On the other hand, Lacey and Dennis are out to rob people to feed Lacey's drug addiction and continue to flee from the law. Lacey and Dennis hold Seth and Polly hostage, but are forced to stop at the gas station where a mysterious creature infects the attendent. The two couples have to work together if they want to survive despite their differences. I wasn't expecting a lot from Splinter, but it was surprisingly decent. At first I was annoyed because Dennis was such a chauvinist idiot, but he was nicely balanced by Seth and Polly plus his obvious care for Lacey. Seth is not stereotypically manly or physically strong while Polly is very physically capable and knows much more about mechanics. I enjoyed the contrast of one couple portraying conventional gender roles while other breaks them. Polly and Dennis often clash, but work together weirdly well when everything goes to hell. All of the characters do whatever they have to in order to help each other escape.

The splinter here is an unknown parasite that grows rapidly in organic matter. Even the slightest bit of it can eventually take over a whole person in a matter of hours. If infected, death is definite and it's only a matter of time until that person attacks the rest. It doesn't attack like a zombie, but does whatever it can to impale its spikes on more organic matter. The way this thing makes living or dead bodies move is eerie and unique as bodies weren't meant to do that, even combining multiples together for a bigger organism with many more spikes. It hunts by sensing body heat and (of course) has one fatal flaw. The effects for the spikes and the performances of the infected were superb. The start of the movie seemed to stereotypical and dumb, but by the time the splinter showed up, I was hooked. The body horror elements made me so happy and everything from the arrival at the gas station on was incredibly suspenseful. Our unlikely heroes came up with surprisingly intelligent ways to try to contact the outside world, combat the creature, and escape. Splinter delivered a creepy body horror seige film that is definitely worth your time.

My rating: 4.5/5 fishmuffins

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Films of the New French Extremity: Visceral Horror and National Identity

The New French Extremity film movement has been popular for years because of its tendency to push the boundaries of cinema even beyond the horror genre. These films are typically nihilistic with extreme violence, social commentary, and other taboo that most consider beyond the pale. Alexandra West's book starts out with a history of France with turmoil, resistance, tyranny, and blood soaking it all. It's completely the opposite of what people typically view as France: romance, the city of lights, and idyllic beauty. Their history (and present in some cases) of beheadings, fascism, concentration camps, and racism isn't widely known and not represented in their film. Charles de Gaulle famously advocated moving forward without acknowledging or coming to terms with French support of the Nazis during the occupation, causing any film to do so fail. Many of the films in this genre acknowledge this denial and cite it as the cause of reactionary attitudes and politics as well as the resulting public unrest and riots. I found this fascinating as I knew about Vichy France, but never studied the events that followed.

Then, West covers a brief history of French cinema, starting from the very first horror movie ever created, The Haunted Castle in 1896. Later, horror in France was characterized by surrealism and the conflict surrounding self and identity, especially after World War II. The New French Extremity movement took real life fears and made them even more horrific. Interior struggles become exterior and irrevocably damage the world around the characters. They also take the buried history of France, especially the atrocities of WWII that went largely unacknowledged, and make it a focus. Many of the films have that seed of racism, fascism, and violence either festering over years and growing or exploding. Many of the films have civil unrest in the background usually as a response to a conservative government. She mentions Antonin Artaud's Theater of Cruelty, which uses theater as a means of confronting harsh realities for an uncomfortable catharsis instead of escaping into fantasy in idyllic films such as Amelie and The Artist. The concept describes this movement well. These directors take the formula for horror films and alter them in unsettling ways to make something unique.

The first wave of French Extremity was based in art house films by the likes of Gasper Noe, Catherine Breillat, Claire Denis, Marina de Van among others. The most notorious of these was Irreversible, which many don't consider horror at all. It has all of the elements of this movement in the extended rape scene, its brutal violence, and its nihilistic ending. Its homophobia and racism were frequently called out by critics, but proponents argued that they are both an intrinsic part of France and its history portrayed honestly. Breillat's Romance showed that family isn't the happily ever after everyone expects in the face of an unstable and insecure society and critiques society's view and expectations of women. Palo X has a successful man rejecting the society that valued him and has the viewers act as observers rather than judges of his morals. In Baise Moi, lower class women inflict violence that they have become accustomed to onto others in a Thelma and Louise-esque road trip. My personal favorites of this sub-genre are the cannibal films Trouble Every Day and In My Skin. They act as this movements version of body horror. The former centers on love and desire as a disease and the other on isolation in success and the need for connection. Both have shockingly tender moments among their carnage that I respond to.Many of these films subvert expectations in the horror genre and in gender norms while pushing the boundaries of cinema and audiences.

The last evolution of the genre takes conventions of American horror films and infuses them with the brutality, nihilism, and social commentary of the art house wave. The first and most iconic is Alexandre Aja's High Tension, which takes a slasher film and twists it. I found the twist to be homophobic in nature, but West reads it differently. Although I don't agree with her, it shows how complex these films are and how even a decade later they are still being hotly debated. Calvaire is a particularly odd film that almost feels like it doesn't belong and the film I liked the least of this genre. West's observations let me see another side of the film. Xavier Gens' Frontier(s) is my favorite of the later wave. I had seen it years ago and dismissed it as a Texas Chainsaw ripoff, but I gave it another chance and it has so much more going on than that. The historical implications make the film so much more tragic and upsetting. Martyrs is the most notorious entry and even West can't convince me that it isn't poorly constructed, misogynistic, exploitative, and ridiculous. I do enjoy her reading and interpretation of it even if I disagree. For instance, although the plot is linear, the way it deals with trauma isn't. It starts with the aftermath, follows with the trauma, and ends capture and torture. Its condemnation of religion and the exposure of its inhuman sides set it apart from other religious themed films that usual uphold religion's patriarchal system. Inside is another amazing film, but the added critique of the media and their portrayal of violence and conservatism makes the film even deeper than I thought.

I have seen and reviewed many of these films throughout the years on my blog because I feel so strongly about them. (Here are my reviews for my more extensive thoughts on these films: Inside, In My Skin, Frontier(s), High Tension, Trouble Every Day, Martyrs, and Calvaire.) Whether I find them problematic or I absolutely love them, I keep returning to them because they have a singular element that combines violence, social commentary, and true emotions. I see the echoes of this movement in more recent films like Raw, which isn't as extreme, bleak, or violent, but shares a lot with films like In My Skin and Trouble Every Day in breaking gender and societal norms through cannibalism and body horror. Although I didn't entirely agree with West's reading of a few of the films, she still gave wonderful insights on all of the films as well as a look into the cinematic history, social history, and hidden conflicts within France that give much needed context to these films. I will definitely be watching more of these films as I didn't know some of them even existed before reading. I hope this book with help other viewers expand their view of this genre beyond the most popular films.

My rating: 4.5/5 fishmuffins

Thursday, May 11, 2017


* spoilers *

Justine, a lifelong vegetarian, goes to veterinary school where her sister already attends. She complies with her parents wishes in all things, shown when she refuses to eat when accidentally given meat. Her mother's reaction is way over the top as she berates the server who gave it to her. Justine dresses conservatively in clothing that makes her look much younger. She is woefully unprepared for the school's hazing and party atmosphere which hits her like a freight train. The very first night, students are dragged out of their beds and forced to party for hours while the elders trash their rooms and party even harder. It's the first time Justine has had so much freedom plus access to alcohol, drugs, and sex. Her initial reaction is confusion and withdrawal. She reconnects with her sister Alexia and avoids the rest of the party.

In one of many hazing rituals, Justine eats a piece of rabbit kidney, pressured by her Alexia after refusing. Despite the fact that she threw up just after she ate the kidney, the effects of the meat wreak havoc on Justine's body in the form of itchy, huge rashes that she scratches until they bleed. When she's treated for the rash and it finally goes away, she find herself craving meat. It starts out as attempting (and failing) to steal a hamburger patty from the cafeteria and then eating schwarma at a gas station, away from the prying eyes of classmates with her friend Adrien. It seems fairly normal for a person to push the boundaries past what they were allowed at home and explore other choices not endorsed by parents. But then she escalates to secretly eating raw chicken and finally eating human meat.

The scene where Justine finally has the opportunity to eat human flesh changes tone lightning fast. Alexia convinces Justine to let her wax her bikini line. Alexia views Justine's body hair as a sign of immaturity and naivete. The first side goes well, but of course it's painful. Justine tries to say no to any further, but Alexia already puts the gunk on the other side and it's stuck. This scene feels realistic and like the type of thing sisters would do together that goes hilariously wrong. The turn comes when Justine kicks wildly and Alexia's finger is lopped off by the scissors meant to cut out the wax. Alexia faints while Justine is left alone with the severed finger. Her fascination with and eventual consumption of it feels so forbidden and uncomfortable to watch. Every fiber of my being was silently screaming no. After the incident, Alexia covers for Justine and reveals she also eats people, but chooses to kill in order to do so. She opts to show Justine how she does it instead of talking to her about it, likely a familial habit to avoid uncomfortable conversations. Justine rejects Alexia's method as immoral, but she still craves human flesh.

Sexual desires accompany the craving as well. Justine starts to dress in more revealing, formfitting outfits, wearing makeup, and being more open to the school's party atmosphere. In one scene, she is splashed with blue paint and shoved into a room with a guy covered in yellow paint and told they wouldn't be allowed out until they are both green. Normally she would just leave, but she chooses to touch and kiss. The scene ends with the guy screaming with a chunk bitten out of his lip. Another instance of this when she has sex with her best friend Adrien. Throughout the encounter, her attempts to bit him were rebuffed and redirected. She only achieves orgasm when she bites on her own arm so hard she draws blood. Adrien seems fascinated by her but later lashes out when he feels his sexuality is threatened. Much like Claire Denis' Trouble Every Day, the cannibalistic urges are inextricably entwined with her sexual desires.

At the heart of this film, Raw is about two sisters dealing with the exact same feelings and trying to deal with them in different ways. Justine hasn't really decided concretely how to deal with it, but soundly rejects Alexia's method. The rejection causes an unspoken rivalry and enmity between the sisters that culminates a series of increasingly violent events. The first is Alexia's very public humiliation of Justine. The second is a fight between them involving savage biting that was also a public display in front of their classmates. The fight ends with others rushing in to pull them apart. Justine and Alexia fight free and go off together to tend each other's wounds, showing that they still care for each other despite everything. All of this culminates in Alexia murdering and eating Adrien, the object of Justine's affection, lust, and hunger. The central conflict is essentially a sibling rivalry that goes further than most.

After the murder, Justine returns home, forced to return to her vegetarian, controlled life with her parents. Justine isn't the same, rejecting their food and refusing to be the person they want her to be. Her father reveals that her mother has that same cannibalistic lust when he shows her his bare chest full of scars and partially healed wounds. He thinks she will find her own solution to the problem, which boils down to society's view of womanhood compared to the reality. This includes female sexuality, anger, and rebellion with an added fantastical layer of violence and taboo in cannibalism. Both Alexia and Justine were raised in a restrictive household that didn't prepare them for the realities of the real world, how to communicate in healthy ways, or even the changes of their own bodies, which caused this whole mess.

Raw is a fascinating coming of age film that takes the concept from Trouble Every Day and gives it relevant meaning, interesting characters, and a true plot with direction. The acting is superb, especially from Garance Marillier as Justine. Julia Ducournau's writing and direction put the viewers right into Justine's journey in alternately relatable and offputting ways. I didn't love Raw the first time I saw it because of the fainting people hype. I expected it to be a lot gorier. I braced myself for the worst and came away disappointed. However, after repeated viewings, the story and characters ring so true. The film has an odd, magnetic quality that shows an honest coming of age story with humor, horror, and emotion.

My rating: 5/5 fishmuffins

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Horror Movie Mini-Reviews: Life and Cabin Fever (2016)

* Life

The International Space Station is home to 6 astronauts from all over the world. A probe returns from Mars and is narrowly caught flying through space. Exobiologist Hugh Derry sifts through all of the samples and finds the first instance of extraterrestrial life, named Calvin by an adorable elementary school class on Earth. Calvin rapidly grows and turns sinister when it views the crew as a threat to its existence. I thought life would be a complete Alien rip-off, so I was pleasantly surprised when it was quite different and the characters weren't all complete morons as they usually are in this genre (looking at you, Prometheus). Each of the characters has something to humanize them to the audience so we care when they start dying. Sho's child was just born. Hugh shares his feelings about his paralysis and why he wanted to be an astronaut. Rory is the loveable jokester while David is much more serious and obviously more at home in space than on Earth. Ekaterina and Miranda are the type of women I like seeing in these movies. They are no-nonsense people who don't let their emotions get in the way. Both do everything they have to in order to keep others safe. All of them are intelligent people who do everything from following set protocols to even sacrificing their own lives in order to save others.

The alien in the film is unique in that all of its cells act as muscle, brain, and nervous system. It starts out as a single cell and quickly develops into a large multicelled organism similar to a flower mixed with a jellyfish. It turns violent when it lies dormant, possibly dead, in a lab accident and Hugh shocks it to revive it. Perceiving it as an attack, Calvin lashes out and crushes his hand. From there, it's a cat and mouse game to either trap Calvin, suffocate him, or keep him out of the space station. The creature swims through zero-gravity with deadly grace. Blood in this atmosphere looks pretty awesome and is used with restraint. I didn't like that as the creature grew bigger, the front and back are defined and it has a sort of face. There's no reason for that at all, especially when it was symmetrical on all sides up until then. I'm also curious as to how it would fare in Earth-like gravity. The moments of romance between Miranda and David were completely unnecessary and out of character for Miranda. That was at least 10 minutes that could have been used to figure out the problem threatening their lives. Other than that, Life is a textbook sci-fi horror creature feature that ends up being enjoyable but forgettable.

My rating: 3/5 fishmuffins

* Cabin Fever (2016)

Awful teens go to party in a remote cabin, pissing off the locals and inadvertantly spreading a flesheating virus. This is the remake of Eli Roth's 2002 debut film that I enjoyed for all its cheesiness. This version is borderline unwatchable and I'm very confused about some of the choices made. First, the teens are the worst and make the dumbest decisions ever. Bert is the most horrible with his "barely legal" gun that he shoots to stroke his ego even though he accidentally discharges it next to people multiple times. If only he had just shot himself. That gun causes so much trouble. He shoots the drifter infected with the virus. When that drifter goes into their car, Bert succeeds in shooting the car a bunch of times, causing it to break down and cutting off their only mode of escape. The others aren't much better.

In the original, the teens are kind of awful, but they had distinctive personalities plus Paul and Karen were the two to root for. In this one, they may as well be interchangeable. Bert is only distinctive because of his stupidity. Jeff was hilarious in the original with his obsession with drinking beer instead of water and staying away from everyone else. His death was funny because he worked so hard to stay uninfected. New Bert was infected early on and ruined the humor. The Deputy is an attractive woman using similar humor as the last, but the delivery was terrible, making her character boring. The only part I liked of the new movie was the extended view of the locals. When looking for help, they stumble upon a woman butchering a pig, ranting crazily. She actually turns out to be helpful, but also serves them glasses she covered in pig blood. The pig blood gets in her hair, on her face, on her shirt as she obliviously touches things with her bloody hands. It's the only moment of real humor in the whole movie. Everything else is tired cliches, horrible decision making, and paper thin characters. The Cabin Fever remake is a carbon copy of the original with nothing to add. The comparison only makes the remake look even worse than the cult classic that I thoroughly enjoy.

My rating: 1/5 fishmuffins

Monday, April 17, 2017

The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America

The Devil in the White City tells the stories of two men who made a big impact during the time of the 1893 World Fair held in Chicago: architect Daniel H, Burnham and serial killer H.H, Holmes. Most of the novel focuses on the planning and building of the World Fair by Burnham and all of its problems, pitfalls, and successes. Practically everything that could have gone wrong did, including the poor health and death of his partner, the great economic downturn, the growing demand to pay workers a living wage, the interference of government officials, disastrous weather destroying buildings, and hard to work with land. With all of these obstacles, its opening was a bit lackluster with so many things incomplete. Later on, it proved to be successful anyway, spanning 690 acres, breaking the record for outdoor event attendence, and welcoming over 27 million visitors. The biggest innovations were in the use of electricity to power the fair and the original Ferris Wheel.

While the fair is entertaining in its own right, the more interesting part of the book was about H.H. Holmes, amateur architect, opportunist, and serial killer. He started out as a con artist, using his charm and manipulative nature to start businesses and never pay any debts. His murder spree either targeted people who were in his way financially or women he dated and/or married after he had grown tired of them. After masquerading as a doctor and owning a pharmacy, he took advantage of the World Fair hype to build his own hotel. He built it over a long time, hiring and firing many workers without paying any of them. The resulting building was dark and odd with apartments and retail spaces. Unbeknownst to the occupants and employees, many hidden chambers, hidden passages, heavy duty locks, and hidden gas lines. The basement was outfitted with a huge furnace, lime pits, and acid pools to dispose of bodies when he was done with them. The building surprisingly attracted many people wanting to go to the fair. He only allowed women to stay and redirecting male customers to nearby hotels.

When people started disappearing around him, Holmes claimed they moved, eloped, went back home, or just left in the night with no word. It was years before he was even suspected of anything because of his manufactured, affable personality. It's chilling to think that people could disappear without a trace and it could be months before anyone would even look for them at that time. After he killed, Holmes would dissect the bodies, then sell the skeletons to medical schools as they wouldn't ask any questions about where the body came from. This whole situation with the fair seemed like a coincidentally perfect situation for him to be able to target numerous people and go unnoticed for so long. At his trial, he confessed to murdering 27 people, but it could have easily been many many more. He was suspected of killing his associate Pietzel for insurance money and then killing Pietzel's three children in especially grisly ways. The investigation of these murders was the most interesting part of the novel as it was written more narratively to show the detective's journey.

The Devil in White City is an easy book to read, but it's deceptive. I expected it to mostly be about H.H. Holmes because of the title. At least I expected half of the book to be about him, but it was much less. While the Chicago World Fair is engaging, I read this book for the true crime aspects and they were lacking. H.H. Holmes is a horrific person who got away with a shocking amount of crimes before being put to death. His audacity and the volume of his murders are both shocking and fascinating, making the fair chapters eventually tedious to get through.

My rating: 3/5 fishmuffins

Saturday, April 15, 2017

The Belko Experiment

* spoilers *

In rural Bogata, Belko Corp employs numerous American people who are the only ones allowed in the building one day. New security search cars and belongings while turning away the local Columbian employees at the gate. 80 employees are left and they go about their day as normal until a voice comes on the intercom to inform the employees to kill two people or four would be killed randomly. People dismiss it as a joke, but soon after, the doors and windows are sealed with giant metal blinds. They panic and four of them die by the exploding tracker in the base of the skull the company implanted supposedly in case of kidnapping. Now, the employees either have to do what the voice says and kill whatever number is chose or wait for more to randomly die.

The film starts out with establishing the relationships in the office after the imported employees are allowed in the building. Mike is quickly established as a nice if a bit cheesy guy who loves Leandra. They are clearly dating, but Wendell constantly harasses her whenever he can, convinced that she should be dating him instead. Dany is the new hire on her first day while Barry, their boss, seems to be pretty sensible but firm. There are a bunch of others, but these are the main ones. When the announcement comes to kill 4 people, most treat it as a joke and go on with their day until heads start exploding. When the danger becomes real and all of their escape routes are cut off, the employees split into 3 groups: the rich white men (including Wendell and Barry) who try to take charge and want to actively kill, Mike and a lot of others who want to try anything else, and the rest of the employees who have no plan at all, but merely want to survive. The rich men group take charge only so they won't be chosen to die plus they seem pretty comfortable with killing later in the film. The rest of the people kill for survival, but shy away when they can.

Mike quickly establishes himself as an enemy of team rich guys by first loudly proposing an alternative to their plan and ruining their chances of breaking into the security armory. He also opposes the unseen voice by trying to cut out his transmitter and putting up signs asking for help. It does seem like he got special treatment because he wasn't killed immediately after the second infraction. Dany spends a lot of the film hiding and survives way longer than I expected. She kills someone accidentally in defense and shows innovation in her idea to hide in the elevator shaft and turn off the power. I was cheering for her because everything was against her. She would have been the best winner to subvert expectations if this is to be taken as a violent metaphor for corporate America, but it didn't turn out that way. After much back and forth, Team Rich White Dudes decides to organize people by arbitrary categories and starts shooting them. The submission to being killed is believable because panicking people in shock will follow authority figures and so many more lives are at stake. Dany subverts this by turning out the lights, allowing people to escape, but her death was the result of the dumbest decision. It wasn't realistic with how her character was established at all.

The story continues as more and more people are expected to die. The conflict between peace and violence doesn't even matter because the end rule is that whoever kills the most people at the end gets to live. The gore flows freely and looks realistic. However, when it's down to Mike against Barry, it seems to be saying that corporate America boils down to two white dudes against each other, which is pretty tonedeaf. I couldn't really care much about which one won even though Barry is terrible because Mike honestly isn't much better. He seems too much like guys who insist they are nice and deserve things as a result. I loved the ending and thought it was clever, but Mike as the final guy is too expected. We glimpse other Belko experiments where an old woman won, which would have been really interesting, but we just get this predictable plot. It seems like James Gunn wrote a fantasy movie for the guys that see themselves in Mike. He seems to think they make up most of his audience. Michael Rooker and Sean Gunn are criminally underutilized and so many much more interesting characters than Mike died well before they should have.

The Belko Experiment merges aspects of Battle Royale and Office Space to make a pretty entertaining movie. I appreciate that the marketing made it clear that it was referencing Battle Royale with its use of Verdi's Requiem, which is featured in the dramatic beginning of the Japanese film. However, Mike as the main hero is problematic and pretty boring in a number of ways. I didn't care about him or his lame shoehorned romance and it really brought down the film for me. The film addressed other office issues that effect people of color and women, but the ending just shows that it didn't really matter at all.

My rating: 2.5/5 fishmuffins

Thursday, April 13, 2017


Sixteen year old Kaye Fierch is used to moving to different places at odd times with her mother, a musician in Stepping Razor. When her mother's boyfriend of the moment suddenly tries to stab her, they flee to Kaye's grandmother's house in New Jersey. Kaye reconnects with old friends from when she used to live there and can't shake the memory of her old imaginary friends, Lutie-Loo, Spike, and Gristle. She starts to believe they really were imaginary figments no matter how vivid until she runs into Roiben, an injured fairy knight who she helps in exchange for his full name. Her childhood friends in addition to a whole world of faeries are revealed to be true with Kaye playing a key role in the freedom or subjugation of many.

Kaye is used to a lot of things no sixteen year old should be used to: moving around, working instead of going to school in order to survive, taking care of her mother, and cleaning up her mother's messes (literally and figuratively). She is the authority in her family who makes sacrifices to provide for her family while her mother follows her dreams, a sad reversal of what should be happening. She is also used to strangers' fetishized or flat out racist assumptions about her with her Asian features and blond hair. I love this detail because it points out socially acceptable racism and shows how it hurts people first hand. Corny, her best friend's older brother, befriends her in an unlikely friendship because they have practically nothing in common. Both are outsiders in a way, Corny being gay and antisocial while Kaye is Asian and prone to repelling people with her stories and weirdness. Small things have always happened around Kaye that she couldn't explain, but she dismissed them time after time. Until one day, she makes something happen too big to dismiss and she runs into faerie knight Roiben which sinks her and Corny deep in the faerie world.

The faeries of this world can be good or evil, just like humans. However, the magic is in the shades of grey in between where most of the characters lie. Some are truly evil and some good, but most are stumbling through trying to do the best they can with huge obstacles and supernatural powers which puts them in between. At first, I thought the plot would be pretty straight forward. It's presented as Kaye saving the faeries outside of the Seelie and Unseelie courts from being enslaved by submitting to be the tithe or sacrifice. Unseelie is evil; Seelie and outsider faeries are good. About midway through the book, deceptions are revealed where the faeries inhumanity at a basic level is shown. Faeries are not human and don't hold human morals. Good is seen in the midst of the depravity of the Unseelie court and corruption is shown in the Seelie court despite its perfect facade. Kaye navigates this world imperfectly, but Corny finds himself lost in it, manipulated by a powerful faerie. The stakes are high as the human world hangs in the balance. Some of the most tragic, emotional scenes are when her human friends clash with the faerie world.

This novel came out when I was a teen and I've waited years to read it for some reason. I love every book I've ever read by Holly Black, but for some reason I always put off this series. Now, I wish I had read it when it came out because it would have introduced me to a more realistic, nuanced version of fantasy. Both the teen experience and the faerie world are illustrated realistically. The teens drink, curse, have attractions to each other, and aren't perfect. The faeries have their own sets of rules and laws based in mythology that feel alien to us. Tithe is still a wonderfully dark faerie novel that defies expectations at every turn and brought progressive elements to the teen genre.

My rating: 5/5

Monday, April 10, 2017


An ultra conservative is elected as the French president, giving rise to riots in Paris. A gang of Arab Muslims that include Tom, Alex, Farid, Sami, and Yasmine steal money to escape the regime, but Sami is shot. They split up, hoping to meet up in a remote location later on. Yasmine takes her injured brother to the hospital with Alex, where he dies and she escapes the authorities. Tom and Farid with the money go to an in run by a strange family near the border. The people are welcoming in an uncomfortable way and something is deeply wring. They have no idea the inn contains horrors that they never imagined.

I watched Frontier(s) years ago and felt underwhelmed maybe because of its similarities to other films. However, upon rewatching, it's a powerful, intense film that's part Hostel, part Texas Chainsaw Massacre and pushes it further than either of those films. The film starts with the riots in Paris, establishing the city as dangerous. The drama within the Muslim gang is quickly revealed as Yasmine is pregnant with Alex's child and thinking of having an abortion because they aren't together anymore. Yasmine and Sami are the most likeable of the entire group, which makes it all the more tragic that Sami dies at the hospital. I was completely outraged when the hospital staff opted to notify the authorities of possible criminals rather than helping the man bleeding out. This shows how the world won't help them due to some brand of bigotry because there was no indication that they committed any crimes beyond the color of their skin. The imperative of the hospital to help people is secondary to that bigotry. Alex and Yasmine have no time to mourn Sami before they are forced to flee and meet their friends at a remote inn.

This brings us to the Hostel segment of the film where Tom and Farid arrive at the inn, greeted by Gilberte and Klaudia. The women offer them rooms free of charge and seduce them. Tom is completely into their offer, but is also quick to insult them when they reject sexual advances later. Farid rejects them at first, but then ends up videotaping their encounter. Like Hostel, the seduction proves to be a way of luring and distracting the men for more nefarious purposes. Through all of their seduction, it's pretty clear that Klaudia and Gilberte feel scorn at best or hate at worst for them.Then all of them plus the women's brother Goetz and their mother have the most awkward family dinner ever. Farid and Tom FINALLY get the hint that they are in danger, but their escape foiled by Goetz who runs their car off a cliff. They survive, but they wander into a mine shaft full of horrors. Meanwhile, Yasmine and Alex arrive at the inn, but aren't as easy to seduce or as gullible as their friends.

Yasmine is eventually captured by the family who are revealed to be Nazis. Their patriarch, von Geisler, stayed in France after World War II and created his twisted family by capturing children and having his own children to raise as Nazis and to carry on luring and killing people for their possessions and for their meat. He decides to use Yasmine to save them from inbreeding, as many mutated products of it live in the mine shaft. He isn't bothered that she is already pregnant and plans to force her to wed his son Karl who will eventually take his place as patriarch. This neo-Nazi family is the product of France's complicity in their occupation during World War II. Some resisted, but others gladly participated. The focus on moving forward afterwards led to the nation refusing to acknowledge the atrocities committed on French soil. In the present day of the film and of real life France, this also led to conservative, racist ideals to fester over time, leading to the election of President Sarkozy and the horrible treatment of immigrants, especially of Muslims. The Geisler's aren't shown to be odd outliers, but a product of ignored French history left to develop in a remote part of the country.

The Geisler family isn't completely devoid of good people. The most sympathetic member is Eva, a child-like woman underestimated by her family. As a child, she was kidnapped and told that she might be returned to her family if she was obediant. Her own children are the monstrous mutants in the mine shaft, but she loves and cares for them as she would any other child. Her kindness sets her apart from her family even though she is complicit in their crimes. Yasmine and Eva reflect each other in a way, as pregnant mothers doing their best in the midst of criminals and being criminals themselves. Both go to extraordinary lengths for their children even in the face of great opposition and they help each other. As von Geisler resolves to teach Yasmine's child to hate its own history and people (echoing Sarkozy's recent comments of immigrants rejecting their own culture to become truly French), she resolves to make her baby safe and allow her child freedom in the face of a toxic society. It's clear right from the beginning with her treatment at the hospital that if she does return to conventional society, her treatment would not be much better.

Fronter(s) does have familiar elements seen in other films, but the basis in French history and society plus additional elements such as Eva sets it well apart from American horror films. It's a particularly brutal film in the New French Extremity movement and one of the best in my opinion. Alexandra West's book on the subject was instrumental for me to gain historical and social context for this films and others in the movement. French history is much more tumultuous, dark, and bloody than a lot of media will have you believe and it's fascinating that the horror genre is the one to show that dark underbelly.

My rating: 4.5/5 fishmuffins

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

A Court of Mist and Fury

Feyre can't sleep or eat since her horrific experience Under the Mountain where she defeated Amarantha, died, and resurrected as a High Fae. Her new state as an immortal with unknown power doesn't do anything to help since she no longer knows her own body or abilities. She tries to help Tamlin, who is almost as emotionally broken as she is, but he shuts her out again and again for her own protection. Time and time again, others in the Spring Court tell her to get in line and blindly obey even though her mental and physical state deteriorate daily. When Tamlin literally locks in her in the house with magic, Feyre loses herself in her powers until  takes her to his realm, the Night Court. Their bargain to spend a week with him every month also interrupted Tamlin and Feyre's wedding, but this was an answer to her distress. Is Rhysand more than the depraved, arrogant High Lord that he appears to be? How serious is the incoming war and what can Feyre do to stop it?

Feyre starts out the novel as a shell of her former self, tormented by traumatizing memories of Amarantha and her minions. Every night, she wakes up terrified and sick to her stomach. Over months, her body is hallow and thin while her mind is tortured. Her relationship with Tamlin suffers because of her insistence on being free to go where she wants and being involved with every aspect of ruling, not just the parts Tamlin deems appropriate. I loved Tamlin's character in the last book, but his actions in this one are horrible. He slowly shows his true colors as an abusive person when he consistently refuses to allow her to have freedom of almost any kind. I understand his reasoning to make the tough decisions in order to keep her safe, but he treats her like an object instead of as an equal. His entire court falls in line behind him, making Feyre even more physically and emotionally broken with no one to even confide to except Rhysand. All of them tell her to simply follow orders to make Tamlin look powerful instead of doing what would be benefit her in any way.

Rhysand is arrogant and infuriating, but hides his dreams of a world where all elves and humans live in harmony. His past is full of trauma, violence, and abuse, but he never let it break him or turn him into a monster. His Nightmare Court of atrocities and sadism is a front to hide his idyllic city Velaris, where the people have been hidden safe for thousands of years and cultivated a society of art and music. He accepts his reputation as cruel and monstrous in order to preserve something truly good. Rhys holds Feyre to their bargain to save her from her wedding day, taking the time to teach her to read and how to protect herself from mental attacks. He's the first person to treat her like a person and teach her useful things even knowing she would report everything to Tamlin. When he saves Feyre a second time, he asks only that she keep his secrets about the city and his movements. She can do what she likes with no ultimatums or demands. Tamlin's treatment of her contrasts starkly as abusive, selfish, and thoughtless. Feyre starts to heal both physically and mentally, slowly learning how to harness her unpredictable new powers. She gains her agency back and helps with the fight against the King of Hybern, just as she always wanted.

A Court of Mist and Fury is just as addicting as its predecessor and even better. The world is explored beyond Tamlin's Spring Court and Under the Mountain. We see the beautiful Summer Court, the human world from a different perspective plus the powerful queens, Velaris, the actual Nightmare Court, and even the castle of Hybern. Feyre, Rhysand, and Tamlin are all much different than they were in the first book both due to events and changes in perspective. Much of the past is dredged up to show why Rhys and Tamlin hate each other so much and how Rhys came to be surrounded by his band of trusted friends, most rejected by their own homes and families. His confidants are a whole new cast of characters that I grew to know and love. They trust each other completely, but aren't afraid to call each other out when one is out of control or making the wrong decisions, another stark contrast to Tamlin's Court. The ending had me on the edge of my seat and I couldn't believe what happened. I'm glad I waited so long to read it because the third book is out in about a month and I need to know what happens!

My rating: 5/5 fishmuffins

Monday, April 3, 2017

Upcoming Horror Sneaking Up Behind You: It and The Mummy

* It

It, the miniseries from 1990, introduced Pennywise into film with an iconic performance by Tim Curry. Of course I don't expect the new portrayal to be the same, but what I've seen of it in the trailer is underwhelming. His look is offputting already and not conducive to luring children in to scare and consume. The outfit brings to mind medieval jesters which is an odd reference that I hope will eventually make sense. The most disappointing part to me is that jump scares have replaced the deep unease that Pennywise used to bring. I truly hope it's just how the trailer was cut, but all of Pennywise's appearances are jump scares. That only stays effective for so long and it's a cheap way to keep the audience on edge. I liked Curry's interpretation of approaching Georgie and striking up a normal conversation even though he's standing in a storm drain. Pennywise's voice will also be key, which isn't heard here.

The Loser's Club looks great and I like setting the kids' story in the 80's so it's a little more updated. The dilapidated house looks awesome and the ominous red balloons are chilling. I believe the town of Derry with a dark secret that has people disappearing at an alarming rate with the adults turning a blind eye to it all. I hope my doubts are unfounded and it's really good because everything besides Pennywise looks amazing. He will make or break the movie. We'll see if the film leans more towards jump scares or creating and maintaining suspense.

* The Mummy

I've always loved mummy stories from Boris Karloff's film in the 30's to Brendan Fraser's film in the 90's to the Mummy's Alive animated TV show. This remake of The Mummy looks like a steaming pile of garbage. Tom Cruise plays the same character in everything he does now and I hate to see this franchise start with this type of action movie. Brendan Fraser's movie was a fun mix of action and horror, but this looks like literally Mission: Impossible with a supernatural enemy. There's no reason for military to even be involved with this story. Cruise's "acting" is hilariously bad especially in the screams in the plane crash. I think the studio thought it was being clever by gender swapping the mummy and the heroine, but there's nothing unique about it. I hope it miserably fails to let them know that people want real horror instead of this action crap.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

The Lure

Mermaid sisters Golden and Silver decide to join human society in the 1980's, using a seedy nightclub as their gateway. They start off as strippers and backup vocals until the crowd is so ravenous for their performances and transformations that they become the main event. The mermaids have a good time at first making new friends and experience all the human world has to offer, but their desires start to diverge. Golden's hunger for human flesh grows while Silver falls hopelessly in love with guitarist Mietek.

The Lure is a unique film that merges a dark retelling of The Little Mermaid with an 80's setting and a musical. These mermaids aren't like Disney creations. Their tails are impossibly long and powerful and their teeth are razor sharp. They lure humans with their beautiful voices, which seem to have a magical element that compels their prey, in order to eat their throats and hearts. The difference compared to to most lore is in their ability to appear human with legs, but with no sex organs. Too long without water makes them weak and sick, but they adapt comfortably to living on land. After so many years of boring mermaids, these ones are a refreshing change.

The mermaids are one hand beautiful, impressionable teenage girls and on the other hand inhuman monsters. Golden and Silver are exploited as sex workers by the band and the nightclub management despite the acknowledgement of their young age. They don't seem to mind as they earn their keep and receive the increasing adoration of a growing group of fans. Through their experiences, they are torn in different directions. Golden embraces her true nature by eating people and seeking creative outlets with other groups where she can write her own lyrics and sing with others of her own kind. She also has love affairs with humans, but it seems more like experimentation and fun rather than anything lasting.

Silver, on the other hand, is the more innocent and emotional one. She tries to deny her true nature because of Mietek, who makes it clear that he likes her but will always view her as an animal. Her voice seems to make him forget it for a while as they build a romantic relationship that stops short of sex because of her mermaid body. She opts to surgically trade lower bodies (from just above the navel down) with a human woman in a delightfully surreal scene. Afterwards, she's a shade of herself as her voice is completely gone and her body is weak from the surgery. Mietek deigns to have sex with her, but recoils, disgusted when she bleeds on him. Her humanity repels him just as much as her inhumanity and he quickly rebounds with a beautiful singer. Through all of this, Golden supports her sister even if she doesn't agree with her decisions, which was an especially beautiful aspect of the film.

Some aspects of the film fell flat for me. Most of the songs were good, but either the translations of the lyrics were bad or the lyrics are just bad in some of them. Other aspects of the film are scattered and don't make sense. For instance, the band was pretty clearly dead in their aparment and then suddenly come to life with some drugs in their system. The drummer punches out the mermaids and then dumps their bodies in the ocean as if they are dead. Golden and Silver return with a minimum of vengeance and still perform and live with them. A few random events like this don't add anything to the story and serve to make the plot more convoluted than it needs to be. Also, all of the human men are terrible, either being physically or mentally abusive and using women for their own ends. I wish these characters had more nuance, but I get that the focus was on the mermaids and their journey.

The Lure is definitely an experience. It's much different than any other film I've seen this year. The plot meandered a lot before it got to anything resembling The Little Mermaid and then the fairy tale ended up being the main story. It's definitely more good than bad, but the messiness takes away from the unique tale.

My rating: 2.5/5

Friday, March 31, 2017

Podcast Friday: My Favorite Murder

My Favorite Murder is an amazing true crime podcast hosted by comedians Georgia Hardstark and Karen Kilgariff. You might think "murder and comedy? That sounds awful!" but you would be wrong. Georgia and Karen are a hilarious duo that casually discuss a variety of murders, their own lives, mental illness, flaws of our legal system, and so much more. I've listened to every single episode and I want more. The humor isn't at the expense of murder victims or anything offensive like that. They find humor in dark situations to combat the horror and shock they feel.

The murders they discuss come from all time periods and places. Some are infamous like the unsolved JonBenet Ramsey case, the murders of serial killers such as John Wayne Gacy and Ted Bundy, and near murders plucked from the show I Survived. Some of the lesser known ones are the most shocking like the Lululemon murder where a woman murdered her coworker, then attacked and tied herself up to make it look like an intruder. It was all over the coworker witnessing her left of crazy expensive yoga pants. The hosts are quick to say they are not well researched. They get most of their information from Wikipedia, Murderpedia, TV shows, or documentaries on the events, but the conversations are what I value more than the events reported.

Karen and Georgia usually talk for at least twenty minutes before they get to murders. Often, they talk about their own journeys in therapy and struggles with anxiety, depression, and past abuse of drugs and alcohol. Their transparency about their struggles with and treatment of mental illness has been instrumental for numerous listeners to go out and get help for themselves. It's refreshing to hear people talk so frankly about this because there are still social stigmas despite so many people being affected. They are quick to admit any mistakes they made in their corrections corner and keep listeners informed about merch, live shows, and whatever else they want to talk about.

The murders bring about a lot of surprising discussions about a variety of different subjects. They criticize social pressures that condition women to be polite at the expense of their personal safety. Karen and Georgia coined the phrase "Fuck politeness" and "Stay sexy. Don't get murdered" to encourage more people to put their safety first, be a little rude, and apologize later if it turns out they were wrong. Blame for crimes is always firmly on the perpetrator and never on the victm, but they encourage people to look out for themselves and recognize danger. Both women have shared stories where they made poor decisions that put them in dangerous situations eerily similar to many of the murders they cover. They also discuss the sorry state of our justice system that often botches investigations, doles out way too short sentences for murderers, leaves thousands of rape kits unprocessed for years, doesn't take the murders of sex workers and people of color seriously, and doesn't seek to treat people with mental illnesses.

These ladies aren't perfect and they strive to better themselves and do something about these horrible attitudes. Some of the money from their merchandise is donated to End the Backlog to test those rape kits and advocate for comprehensive rape kit reform legislation and policies at all government levels. When they first talked bout sex workers, Karen and Georgia used the word "prostitute" and said some callous things about them. A listener called them out and it led to a good discussion on how sex workers' murders are often dismissed because they are not seen as people to not only law enforcement, but also to the general public. They realized their mistake, apologized, and changed their behavior. Now, they are quick to criticize reports that describe a woman as a sex worker before anything else and even changed the story to identify her as a mother first to show how just a little word change makes a huge difference.

Their podcast has led to a huge force of "murderinos" who total over 120,000 on Facebook. They share hometown murders (which Karen and Georgia do present during their Minisodes), organize meetups, discuss various murders or TV shows or documentaries, ask about finding a therapist, and so much more. Karen and Georgia encourage people to make their own My Favorite Murder merchandise, so many Etsy pages are shared with cool creations. Murderinos are mostly women and I have seen very little craziness or rudeness while on their page. (Except this one crazy lady who insisted atheists are evil and Muslims will enslave everyone. She's not the norm and exited the group quickly afterwards.)

Each episodes ends on a cheerful note as Georgia asks her cat (not goat or baby) Elvis if he wants a cookie. It's so charming to hear him meow down the hall and run over for his cookie. (Once her other cat Mimi meowed for it and I almost died it was so cute.) It serves to let the listener (and the hosts) recover from the often depressing subject of murder. Listening to these ladies every week is one of the things that makes my miserable hour long commute to and from work just a little brighter.

My rating: 5/5 fishmuffins

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Beauty and the Beast

Maurice and Belle live in a small French town. He goes to sell some of his inventions and gets lost along the way, stumbling upon a dilapidated castle. Unseen people give him food and shelter until he leaves frightened at the animated teacup. He takes a rose from the garden as a present for his daughter, but the master of the castle known as the Beast, cursed for refusing to help a beggar woman, throws him in a dungeon as punishment for the theft. Belle saves Maurice by willingly taking her father's place. Maurice frantically tries to gather people to save her, but succeeds only in angering Gaston, the man dead set on marrying Belle even when they have nothing in common.

This version of the fairy tale obviously shares a lot with the cartoon version, but the magic is in the differences. The Beast's past is a little more fleshed out at the beginning. His greed, lust, selfishness, and decadence, portrayed in a lavish party with only women in attendance, show that his punishment is at least a little more reasonable. He was also an adult when this happened rather than the eleven year he was in the animated version. Belle's story is also more detailed with her talent for mechanics and her mother's tragic death due to the plague. The added plot of the town being hostile towards her when she tries to teach a girl to read or when she uses her new inventions in public also fleshed out her character and her relationship with the townspeople more than the "Bonjour" song does alone. These added details of realism for the time period make the story come to life and set it apart from the animated version. The sets and costumes are amazing and make the cartoon version look terrible in comparison. The grandeur of the castle and the quaint air of the town are better depicted and constrast well.

The other improved aspects of the film are in Gaston, LeFou, and the relationship between Belle and the Beast. Gaston is not the overexaggerated, stupid character in the cartoon. He's a war hero who is only interested in Belle because she resists him. Belle's opposition is sport for him as he doesn't view Belle as a person, but a prize to be won. Every other woman in town fawns over him, offering no challenge for him to overcome. For the first part of the movie, he seems like a decent person. Le Fou keeps his ego stroked, even stooping to bribery to get people as excited about Gaston as he is about himself as seen in . When Maurice refuses to give permission to marry Belle, it's the first time Gaston has been opposed by someone with power over him. Gaston is quick to tie him up and leave him to die, showing his cowardice and more realistic villainery. He shows the same attributes when he later turns the townspeople against Maurice to discredit him and put him away in an asylum. Le Fou has numerous doubts about Gaston's  evil actions and tries to counsel him away from them. He ends up following anyway because of his unrequited crush on Gaston.

The romance between Belle and the Beast is much improved. The Beast is less prone to screaming and bonds with Belle over saving each other and literature. Their discussions are beautiful and give him a new perspective on his surroundings. The story is inherently problematic (detailed in this article from Tor but the changes make it a little more palatable. We accept it because it's familiar and don't give much thought to the fact that Belle probably would have died if the cursed staff hadn't intervened. I enjoyed the new songs, the filled plot holes, and more realistic situations, but some things still put me off. The CGI, in particular with the Beast, looked off especially when next to real people. The extra castle staff added color, but only made the film a little more bloated time wise. Overall, Beauty and the Beast is a beautiful movie that really portrays the grandeur of the story. I honestly felt more emotion than I expected with such a familiar story. It is largely unnecessary and has some flaws, but manages to be enjoyable.

My rating: 4/5 fishmuffins