Thursday, November 30, 2017

Ms. Marvel: No Normal

Kamala Khan is a teenage girl, living in New Jersey with her family and struggling with her identity. At school, she's teased for bringing food that "smells weird" and condescended to about her own faith. The mocking nature of this concern troll goes over Kamala's head because she wants to be More than anything, she wants to belong and be comfortable, not an outsider who doesn't belong. One night, she sneaks out to go to a party which she was expressly forbidden and feels rejected once again. The partgoers assume that since she disobeyed her family, she rejects everything they stand for including her Pakistani heritage and Muslim faith. This friction between her culture and the schools dominant culture wears on her.

Each of Kamala's family members put their own expectations on how she should be behave and what she should become as well. Her father Yusuf wants her to focus on her studies and become a doctor. Her mother Muneeba is more worried about her becoming pregnant and keeps her away from boys. Kamala fulfilling her familial duties out in public is also very important to her. Kamala's older brother Aamir is incredibly devout and strict in his religious beliefs, much more than their parents, and wants her to live as he does. With all these people pulling Kamala in different directions, she has to decide what she wants for herself.

On the way home from the party, a fog engulfs her and she emerges with shapeshifting powers, looking exactly like Carol Danvers' Ms. Marvel. With this transformation, Kamala gets everything she thought she wanted. She becomes the norm she sees around her with blonde hair, pale skin, and a skin tight revealing outfit. However, her emotions don't match her expectation. She feels uncomfortable and exposed instead of confident and comfortable. Over the course of the book, Kamala becomes more comfortable with herself. She creates a unique costume, gets more used to her new polymorph powers, and decides that she wants to save people. Her first super hero act is saving the girl who was so mean to her because that's the right thing to do.

Kamala is just learning to be a superhero so she makes quite a few mistakes. She gets shot and accidentally discovers that shifting back to herself makes her heal instantly and simultaneously exposes her identity to a friend. Second, she fails trying to save her friend from Robot Spiders. Her perseverence is eventually rewarded in victory, but it took a few tries. Then, her commitments to her family suffer as she tries to save Jersey City from various threats. Through it all, Kamala doesn't lose herself and finds inspiration from her faith. She's a relatable character struggling to see who she wants to be and I can't wait to read more of her story.

My rating: 4.5/5 fishmuffins

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Pulse (2001)

Two separate groups of people discover a mysterious website. Kudo Michi is introduced to it when a co-worker casually commits suicide while she's in his apartment and finds images of it on a CD of his. Ryosuke stumbles upon the site when connecting to his new internet and sees videos of people acting strangely. Both people struggle to find out about the website and what it means.

Pulse is a strange movie that doesn't feel as familiar as others in its genre. The two parallel stories are a little odd because they don't have anything to do with each other save the website until extremely late into the movie. Both main characters are nice, well meaning people. Kudo wants to know why her coworker committed suicide and in such on odd way, leaving behind a black grease mark. Ryosuke wants to know more about the website that seemed almost like snuff films. He understandable shut off in terror after a man put a plastic bag over his head. He befriends a woman named Harue who drastically changes since he introduced her to the site.

The film brings up the fear of death and the possibility of contacting the dead. Harue is one of the people that can't handle being faced with her own mortality, but becomes comfortable with it when she's convinced she won't be alone as she feared. The situation worsens until it's a complete apocalypse situation. I didn't completely enjoy it because this aspect seemed to come out of nowhere. We follow these two characters' stories and then suddenly Tokyo is deserted. The film also moves glacially slow and didn't have enough scares or interesting events to keep my interest throughout the movie. It started off so well with unnerving images, but couldn't keep up the momentum for me.

Pulse is a unique film in it's approach, tone, and story telling. The concept of the dead returning to create a world wide situation is interesting, but the actual story lost me somewhere along the way. There are interesting concepts and images, including this red duct tape that somehow denotes the involvement of the dead and the stains left on the wall by the dead. However, they didn't seem to connect and weren't explained at all. They came off as a not well thought out collection of unsettling images. It might be a cultural reference or concept that I'm not familiar with. I can't say I recommend it.

My rating: 2/5 fishmuffins

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Thor: Goddess of Thunder

Thor is no longer worthy to wield Mjolnir, his hammer, and it's stuck on the moon with no one being able to lift it. He desperately tries over and over, but can't due to some comment Nick Fury whispered into his ear. A woman comes to the moon and takes the hammer when Frost Giants invade Earth. The leaders of Asgard act as if it's been stolen and react accordingly, making pacts with dangerous beings. This mysterious woman may be Earth's only hope of survival.

Thor: Goddess of Thunder is quite a controversial comic. Many fanboys didn't even bother to read it and automatically rejected the new character out of principle, citing that Thor can only be male and writers can't just slap the name on another character. Many of them also said that it's somehow disrespectful to the history of the comic and the myth alike. If they had actually read the book, many of these points are addressed except the "disrespect" issue. Only misogynists thinks it's disrespectful to have a female character in a traditionally male role and I don't see them condemning other stories that change ancient mythological characters around. The Mjolnir wielder didn't want the name Thor, but Thor gave it to her. Of course not before blaming her for his own incompetence and fighting her for the hammer. After his initial rage cooled and he saw reason, he stated he was no longer worthy of the name. I especially enjoy how all of these complaints are addressed clearly within the plot.

The new Thor is an admirable character and her identity remains a mystery throughout this book. She has to adapt to the powers quickly in order to address the emergent situation with the Frost Giants. Mistakes are made at critical times, like having the hammer trapped in a vibranium room which will eventually sap her supernatural power on top of revealing her identity. Her wonder and delight at the newfound powers are refreshing to see and her strength and power are formidable. However, she's automatically dismissed and underestimated due to her gender by the Frost Giants who see her as an easy meal and a mockery of the previous Thor. She beats them handily and, as many women do, she simply shows It's nice to see Freya in a place of power as well. Before this story started, Freya became the All-Mother in Odin's absence. When he returned, she refused to cede power to him and came to Midgard's aid when Odin refused to, much too distracted by his son's failure and teaming up with old enemies to care.

Thor: Goddess of Thunder lays out the tone and reasoning of the haters and has Thor smash through them, showing her to be maybe even better than the previous Thor (as he admits himself).So many comic book characters give the mantle to someone else and it makes sense to reflect the current time and culture. Gatekeeping fanboys can whine all they like, but the male Thor still exists as a character as do Peter Parker and Carol Danvers even though Miles Morales and Kamala Khan have their own comics. This is honestly the first time since I was a child that I read a non-Deadpool non-zombified superhero comic and this new trend of much more relevant characters makes me want to read them all.

My rating: 4.5/5 fishmuffins

Friday, November 24, 2017

The Innocents (1961)

Miss Giddens becomes a governess for two adorable children, orphaned and financially cared for by their rich and uninterested uncle. At first, she is delighted to care for Flora while Miles is away at school. When he's expelled and returns home, both children have bouts of odd behavior. Unexplained noises and visions of a man and woman haunt Miss Giddens, increasing in intensity as time goes on. She is convinced the children are possessed by spirits of the dead and vows to save them.

The Innocents is first and foremost a beautiful film. In a time when color was the norm, the black and white color sets the mood of the story as well as the dramatically lit scenes, crumbling statues, and mysterious figures. Miss Giddens is the story's unreliable narrator who grows convinced that the children she cares for are possessed by the ghosts of a valet Peter Quint and the previous governess Miss Jessel, who were in love and had a very public affair. She sees their figures and Quint’s face clear as day, but no other character acknowledges them. The film never confirms or denies the existence of the ghosts and cases can be made for either side. I personally find it a little more interesting if the ghosts are merely figments of  Miss Giddens' imagination.

The title could refer to the children, who are by definition innocent. The odd behavior that puts off Miss Giddens is in Miles' almost flirtatious manner and both children's acting as if they have a secret. Flora nonchalantly described a spider eating a a fly in a creepy manner. These can be fairly normal children's behavior. They imitate grown ups, spontaneously kiss people, describe things without being aware of the connotations, and have their own secrets. Miss Giddens may be coloring the situation with her own meaning that comes from someone fairly innocent herself as a spinster in the suppressed Victorian era. Whether the children are possessed or just precocious, the tragic ending is the same and equally heartbreaking.

The Innocents is a beautiful movie that is a gothic horror classic. The atmosphere built and maintained is masterful at capturing Miss Giddens’ mental journey as the house and spirits grow more and more oppressive. Miss Jessel’s figure on the edge of a river is iconic. The scene occurs in broad daylight, but her face is slightly blurred. It amps up the tension and has been copied over and over in film. This film is well worth a watch.

My rating: 4/5 fishmuffins

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

The Belles

Camellia Beauregarde and all of her sisters are Belles, who have the power to make people beautiful. They rise to power as the previous generation retires to provide services to the rich and powerful. She desires above all else to be the Favorite, the most famous Belle that will live at the palace to serve the royal family. When the time to show off her skill comes, Camellia completely ignores instructions to partly to deal with a difficult situation and partly to put her above the other girls. Her plan backfires and she's named second to her sister. Crushed and overwhelmed by her demanding career, she works at a prestigious place until her sister is ousted as Favorite. Camellia is thrilled, but this world of beauty isn't as frivolous as it looks.

I honestly wasn't expecting a lot from The Belles. The world is rife with gowns, beauty, and luxury, but it has a science fiction premise and a dark, horrific underbelly. The people of this world are born with grey skin, red eyes, and straw-like hair, known as Gris. The Belles and their power are the only way they can look what they would call beautiful. Skin and hair color change with the fashion trends, the same as colors or cuts of clothing for us. The society seen in the majority of the novel is the upper class because they are the only people who can pay for Belle services. Their concerns are largely superficial especially when worth is measured by beauty. I am interested in seeing how the poor live. The only glimpse seen of them is in the little girls changed during the Belle debut demonstration where one of the girls isn't shy about condemning the beauty treatment as useless to her situation.

The Belle mythology and treatment by the public are at odds. The people are polytheistic and believe that the Belles inherited their power from the goddess of beauty. Their power includes the ability to change others' appearance (from hair color to their size to bone structure) and emotions. As children, the Belles are separated from the outside world to grow up and hone their skills without their parents. As adults, they are forced to provide their service no matter how the rebel or resist. Edelweiss in particular hates being a Belle and purposefully fails and offends whenever possible. They aren’t allowed to marry or have romantic relationships. Men aren’t even allowed to be alone with them. The Belles are revered and coveted in public, objectified and exploited behind closed doors.

Camellia experienced the realistic fatigue of working a demanding full time job. She is supposed to be guided by a seasoned Belle to learn the clients’ preferences and the ins and outs of the house. This doesn’t actually happen, leaving her to sink or swim on her own, which feels pretty realistic to how jobs usually go. Changing one’s appearance is a painful often disgusting endeavor with an opiate tea needed to sit through the procedure. She is understandably distressed when unwilling, screaming children are subject to her treatment (while their parent cruelly derides their appearance) and adults who refuse to recognize their own limitations. These rare encounters can be horrific, but the real horror comes in the wailing each Belle hears every night and the cruel, demanding princess. This adds and horror and mystery element that surprised and delighted me.

The Belles is a well built world that feels different than others of its genre. I enjoyed the story, but the ending fell apart a bit. The main villain is too flat compared to the other nuanced characters and her exploits went way too extreme. It went into ridiculous territory for me. The Belle powers also aren’t completely defined until convenient to the plot, which felt messy and unplanned. Other than that, this novel is a look into a unique world with a horrific underbelly. I am interested to see where the next book goes.

My rating: 3.5/5 fishmuffins

Monday, November 20, 2017


Derek Cho is slowly climbing up the corporate ladder at his work by finding loopholes to save his clients money. He’s not very happy, but he’s successful so he doesn’t think much about working constantly and not spending time with his family. It all comes crashing down one day when a toxic but influential coworker frames him for a huge mistake and he’s fired. At the same time, the whole building is under quarantine due to a dangerous contagion that reduces people to their base emotions. Can Derek get his job back? Will he even want it back when the disease runs its course?

Mayhem is so much fun. I expected it to be a carbon copy of The Belko Experiment, but it was so
much better. Steven Yeun as Derek Cho is so likable despite being a soulless corporate tool at the outset of the movie. He came into the job so fresh faced and hopeful only to become jaded so quickly when faced with reality I felt so angry for him that his coworker (the Siren) constantly disrespected him because of her position and then get him fired to save herself. The coffee cup theft was particularly infuriating because it symbolized her entitlement to all that is his and her disdain. Even when Derek is affected by the virus, he remains sympathetic because of his righteous fury and charming nature.

The disease rampant in this office unleashes the infected people's base desires and emotions. They have the urge to brawl, kill, cry, scream, eat, do drugs, or have sex depending on their mood, all without the usual filters that prevent us from doing so. One eye of the infected looks like a blood vessel burst and it eventually spreads to everyone in the building. A precedent has already been set legally that any crimes done in this state are not responsible for their actions even in cases of murder. As a result, the bosses hole up on the inaccessible top floor with their drugs, luxuries, and relative peace while chaos reigns everywhere else. It also puts a time limit on Derek's mission.

The violence has a cartoonish, over the top quality with humor and a video game formula that keeps the film from becoming too dark or serious. Derek has to go through mini-boss figures to get to his true target, John Towers AKA the Boss. At first, his goal is to make his case and get his job back. When it's clear they have no interest in hearing his side and he becomes infected, he wants to kill the Boss. The first mini-boss is the Reaper, a sardonic man who carries out firing employees. The next is the Siren who whispers life ruining lies into the Boss's ear. Derek is accompanied by Melanie, a woman caught in the building after he refused to help her get her house back from foreclosure.

Mayhem is a blast to watch with humor, over the top gore, and biting social commentary. It was seriously one of the most enjoyable films of the year and close to the movie I wanted The Belko Experiment to be. Steven Yeun and Samara Weaving are so fun to what and remain sympathetic no matter how many people they kill. Anyone who has worked in a corporate job will relate to him and cheer for them cutting down the corporate ladder to get to the boss.

My rating: 4.5/5 fishmuffins

Saturday, November 18, 2017


Androma Racella is also known as The Bloody Baroness, a ruthless mercenary who travels with her crew of trusted friends. They are the best in the business until Dex, a jilted lover of Androma’s catches and imprisons them. This is as far as I got in the book.

A book about space pirates sounds cool, but this one was not. I gave up at the 50 page mark because of many issues. First, Androma is a mercenary, but she committed a senseless murder revealed early on. How is she not a terrible person? Why should I care about her at all? The woman’s only crime was being a powerful man’s mistress, which left a bad taste in my mouth. She had no problem killing a woman presumably because the man in question much more powerful or important. The whole situation is troubling and gross. If your main character is a straight out murderer, they have to be justified or like able in some way. Androma isn’t.

Second, her crew members’ entire back story is described with almost no indication of them or their relationship to Androma. They are supposed to be the best of friends, but they acted like acquaintances at best. The crew is suppose to be the very best at what they do, but that isn’t shown either since they are caught so early in the book. Third, the love interest seems like a total tool and of course he’s the only one who could beat Androma at her own game. They have a predictably messy past. All the characters are paper thin and I didn’t care about them at all.

The writing irked me. All of the descriptions are flowery yet stilted. I love lyrical and poetic  language, but this was not well done. Reading this right after reading a Seanan McGuire book was a mistake since the writing seemed even more amateurish and awkward in comparison. Everything was told to the reader with nothing in the actions of the characters or the plot to support any of it. I struggled to get to page 50 and put it down when I didn’t care at all for the characters, the world, or the story and there were over 400 pages left. I suppose it could have gotten better from there, but it just wasn’t for me.

My rating: 1/5 fishmuffins

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Horror Movie Mini-Reviews: The Houses October Built 2 and Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers

* The Houses October Built 2

The gang is back and infamous on the internet. Brandy, widely known as Coffin Girl, refuses to go to any more haunts after the Blue Skeleton incident. Jeff, Mikey, Bobby, and Zack want to ride out their wave of fame and continue their haunt tour across the US, but they would earn much more money with Coffin Girl in attendance. They basically bribe her and won’t leave her alone, so Brandy concedes with the caveat that if weird stuff starts happening like last time, she’s out. Will their trip be conventional scary fun or is there something more sinister at work?

I loved the first film despite its flaws because it captured the Halloween spirit, had lovable if a bit annoying characters, and included a discussion on people’s obsession for more and more disturbing haunts in the form of interviews with scare actors and documentary style clips. The cast is back, but the discussion aspect is gone with the entire film being found footage. It’s a lesser rehash of the first film where they go to haunts across the country and weird stuff starts happening. The actual haunts are real and awesome including a huge zombie 5k and a zombie themed escape room among others. That’s the only good thing about the whole movie. The raise in production value does nothing for the film except remove the charm and make it seem more like a conventional film.

The characters aren’t as fun this time around except Brandy. She is traumatized from the events of the last film and doesn’t want to go on this trip at all. Her “friends” don’t care and only want to cash in on her more considerable fame. The ending of the film shows they were lying to her and exploiting her even more severely than on the surface without care for her wellbeing. They figured the bigger payout would be worth the damage which it obviously isn’t to her. The guys are scum and I only took away that these guys are even bigger idiots than they were in the first movie plus having the capacity to be cruel to the woman they previously seemed to care about. I’m disappointed in this movie and all its male characters.

My rating: 2/5 fishmuffins

* Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Meyers

The day before a Halloween 1998, Michael Myers awakens from his coma after ten years to pursue his niece, Jamie, who is cared for by a foster family in Haddonfield. A scarred Dr. Loomis returns to save the girl and subdue Michael once and for all.

The fourth installment of the Halloween series follows the slasher formula well and looks especially amazing next to the convoluted mess of Season of the Witch. Jamie, played by Danielle Harris, is bullied mercilessly at school as its common knowledge that her uncle is Michael Myers. Her family doesn’t do much to help and she has strange dreams of Michael even though she doesn’t know it’s him. Her foster sister Rachel is kind of awful and horrible at a babysitting. She’s a typical teenage girl who would rather be on a date, but she loses track of Jamie when she finds out her scumbag boyfriend was cheating on her. Afterwards, she makes up for it by fighting Michael and trying to protect Jamie the rest of the film.

The biggest difference between this and the first couple movies is the formation of a lynch mob. Before, people thought Laurie screaming for help was a joke and refused to even open their doors. This new Haddonfield rises up and goes after Michael, which was refreshing. The ending is tragic, but not unexpected considering her choice of costume. The film ends as the series began. The only drawback is the new mask. It looks like a cheap imitation of the old one. I’m interested to see what The Curse of Michael Myers will bring. The Return of Michael Myers has a few tricks up its sleeve, but stays firmly in slasher movie tropes.

My rating: 3.5/5 fishmuffins

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Into the Drowning Deep

Seven years ago, the Atargatis was found empty after a voyage to make a faux documentary about mermaids, funded by a sci-fi channel Imagine. No one was ever found. Now, in 2022, a new ship is chartered by the same company, much more prepared, with a crew of all different types of (mostly skeptical) marine scientists, a pair of big game hunters, and cutting edge technology to find out what happened. Will they find nothing or something the world has never seen?

Into the Drowning Deep takes place in the near future of 2022 where things are just a little bit different. Advances in medical technology have been made including repairing spinal injuries that would normally leave a person without use of their legs. Self driving cars are a typical sight on the road. Unfortunately, pollution and climate change have taken a small but significant toll on day to day life. Human sympathy and care for animals and the environment is outweighed by indifference at best and greed or flat out ignorance at worst. This sets the stage for what will come later for both a creature relegated to myth and intelligent beings relegated to entertainment and containment. There is a running discussion about marine mammals and how sentient they are. Legislation was passed to improve treatment of marine mammals, but they are continually used selfishly by humans no matter how well meaning.

Seanan McGuire especially excels at getting into the heads of each and every character. Each one of their unique experiences and points of view is showcased without judgment or censorship. The cast of characters is large and diverse with different ethnicities and expressions of sexuality in addition to numerous disabled people. It felt like real life where people aren’t homogenous. My favorite character is Tory, a marine biologist focused on marine sounds, who lost a sister in the Atargatis. Her life’s obsession has been finding out what happened to her, working as a whale watching guide for use of the boat on its off time. Olivia is an unexpected character as a person with autism working as a reporter for Imagine. She copes with intense social situations by exploring the place thoroughly in advance and always being accompanied by her camera man. I love Olivia because she goes against so many stereotypes of people with autism and shows that they aren’t limited to certain industries or activities.

Less sympathetic characters, such as the Australian poacher couple, are given the same treatment. Their hatred of and blatant disregard for animal preservation laws and enthusiasts is on display along with their love of the hunt, the kill, and each other. All of the characters are well rounded no matter their politics or opinions. Jillian Toth has been talking about mermaids for years and knows she’s right. She didn’t want to go on the first voyage because she rightfully had no desire to encounter them. Filled with guilt over the first voyage, she feels obligated to be on the second one, accompanied by Theo, her estranged husband who she still loves but refuses to be around. I loved the inclusion of complex, unconventional relationships. Human emotions and situations are messy and not always easily defined.

The horror elements of the novel are amazing. It’s starts off like a typical horror film with the last footage of the Atargatis. The plot reflects that of Aliens, seen in many horror sub genres, and feels familiar even with the difference in creature and location. The ocean is so unknown that the story feels plausible. The mermaids themselves are slender with fish tails, humanoid upper bodies, and full lips. Other than their basic shape and lips, they are eerily inhuman with bioluminescent fibers like hair on their heads. They masterfully mimic other sounds when hunting and have a sort of sign language to speak to each other. As amphibians, the mermaids can survive out of water for a time, trailing slime to move around more easily and moving with much swifter speed than expected. Their attacks are savage, quick, and incredibly bloody. Their bodies are host to its own ecosystem never before seen that is deadly to humans. While these creatures are deadly and frightening, human shave some culpability for forcing them to the depths of the ocean and invading the only territory they have.  A discussion for their preservation is posed with both sides being argued. One side arguing that they are dangerous and the other arguing that humans should preserve all life, not jus the cute and cuddly.

Into the Drowning Deep is a well researched, engrossing novel that speculates on where we are going as a world. It has everything: an exploitative corporation, science, gore, horror, suspense, dynamic characters, romance, and critique of society. The only small problems I had were in the pacing (but science takes a while to explain) and the fairly abrupt ending. I hope there will be a continuation to the story. In the meantime, I will be reading the short story prequel, Rolling in the Deep.

My rating: 4.5/5 fishmuffins

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Horror Movie Mini-Reviews: The Bad Seed and Night of the Hunter

* The Bad Seed

Rhoda Penmark is an angelic, sweet little girl until she doesn't get what she wants. Her mother starts to catch on to her deceptive ways when Claude, a boy at her school, dies in a seemingly tragic accident. I had seen this movie years ago and it's an amazing watch. The entire thing is set up like a stage play and takes place around Rhoda's house and the yard just outside. All of the information is conveyed through conversation between characters, but Rhoda's actions are no less chilling than if they were full view of the audience. Her failure to understand right from wrong and her charming facade make the stories believable. It's even more disturbing that she has so many people under her thrall when she would kill to get what she wants. Patty McCormack does a phenomenal job oscillating between enraged and sweet

Two other women give the film emotional weight: Rhoda's mother Christine and Hortense Daigle, Claude's mother. Christine starts out happy and healthy, but rapidly deteriorates emotionally when she realizes the truth about her child. On one hand, her little girl deserves protection and love and on other, Christine has a responsibility to stop her and save others Rhoda would kill. It tears her up inside, especially when she finds out her parentage isn't what she's been told all her life. Hortense is a complete mess after her son died. Multiple times, she shows up at the Penmark house, sloppily drunk and full of questions and stories. This role could have very easily been overacted or badly acted, but Eileen Heckart makes Hortense's pain heartbreaking. Although the scenes are uncomfortable and outside of social norms, she's doing whatever she can to cope and find out what happened to her son.

The Bad Seed is film that stays with you. This murderous intent and lack of emotions behind an angelic smile are absolutely chilling. The scene that encompasses Rhoda is when she's set fire to Leroy and plays Au Claire de la Lune on the piano faster and louder to drown out the ensuing chaos. For a film entirely dependent on dialogue, the performances are all strong and well done. The weakest part of the film is the ending due to the Hayes Code, which basically didn't allow the true ending of the play. The ending undermines Rhoda's character and the curtain call undermines the tone of the entire film.

My rating: 4.5/5 fishmuffins

* Night of the Hunter

Siblings John and Pearl are shown where the $10,000 their father Ben stole is right before he's carted off to jail to be hanged. Reverend Powell shares a cell with Ben and weasels his way into the family when he gets out to find the money. Night of the Hunter is a realistic movie with dark fairy tale elements from the point of view of children. John is older than Pearl and sees things she doesn't, like the local children singing a cruel song about their father and the danger in Rev. Powell. He has to step in as an adult to protect his sister and himself when no adult will intervene. Rev. Powell is incredibly adept at manipulating adults with his charisma and his shield of religion. He has a relaxed air about him in every situation because he's completely sure things will go his way. John's defiance infuriates him like no other.

The other aspects that make this film memorable are Rachel Cooper and the beautiful cinematography. Rachel is a harsh, stern woman who takes in essentially stray children. She uses religion to strengthn the children's moral compass and bring them in as a family, counter to the reverend. While he would kill a woman for sexual interest in men, Rachel understands one of her oldest and reacts with love. One scene encompasses these difference. When he is stalking them in the night, Rev. Powell sinces the hymn Leaning on the Everlasting Arms. Rachel joins in harmony while she sits vigil with her shotgun to protect her children, singing the same song with very different meaning. The look of the film is gorgeous with deliberate use of shadow and light. The scene where the children's mother is discovered in her car underwater is hauntingly beautiful. The look enhances the fairy tale and horror atmosphere.

Night of the Hunter is a film I didn't expect and will revisit in the future. The view of children was especially unexpected because so often children aren't treated as capable. This film treats children as real people trying to overcome impossible obstacles. The music used also creates and sustains the atmosphere, especially Pearl's lullaby in the journey down the river with her brother. The only weird part of the movie is the almost slapstick quality of physical fighting scenes that are deadly serious. It lightens the mood and perhaps shows that children don't truly know what danger they are in. Highly recommended.

My rating: 4.5/5 fishmuffins

Friday, November 10, 2017

Batman: Nightwalker

Bruce Wayne is a young man with his whole future ahead of him. He has everything he could ever want at his fingertips except the parents killed by a thief when he was a child. While testing out a prototype car, a police chase passes him by involving the notorious Nightwalkers responsible for terrorizing Gotham City. Despite the police telling him repeatedly to stay away, Bruce decides to chase down the Nightwalker car and disable it so the police can catch it. The police give him community service that entails cleaning Arkham Asylum, home to hundreds of the most notorious criminals the city has seen. He's immediately drawn to a young girl named Madeleine imprisoned for murder and working for the Nightwalker gang. She only speaks to him and the police agree to allow him to try to get information from her, but she is more than she seems.

Batman: Nightwalker isn't like any other Batman incarnation because he isn't Batman yet. Bruce is the most innocent and naive you will ever see him. His intentions are pure and he still acutely feels the pain of his parents' absence. Unfortunately, he also is heavily influenced by his own arrogance and the assumption that he knows everything. Even when warned of Madeleine's methods of manipulation and reading people, Bruce assumes that he's just too competent to fool. (Spoiler alert: he wasn't.) He succeeds in feeding her information and making himself look like a fool. His whole attitude around Madeleine frankly disgusted me. He invented an entire senario in his head where she is truly innocent because she's female, young, and attractive. I was doubly disgusted when his sexist theory was correct to a point. The entire narrative only proved to reinforce his arrogant and sexist ideas.

Many plot points in this novel are hard to believe or unnatural feeling. The police having a teen work at Arkham Asylum is like having one work at a maximum security prison. No one would do that because that teen would be at risk. They also wouldn't ask him to do exactly what he was being punished for: interfering in police matters even when he thinks he's helping. It kind of ruins the whole point of his community service. The drones Lucius Fox made seemed more like something out of Robocop than something made today. The whole situation with them was completely predictable. The most egregious part of the novel for me was Madeleine's turnaround from bloodthirsty killer to reluctant criminal in love with Bruce Wayne. The entire time they spoke, she was manipulating him (too much like Sherlock Holmes if you ask me), but somehow she grew to like him? I didn't see it at all and it came out of nowhere.

Batman: Nightwalker did not meet my expectations. The most natural feeling parts of the book are between Bruce and his friends. These parts are unfortunately few and far between. Very little of the book is believable and I found myself exasperated and annoyed most of the short book. Bruce didn't really learn anything by the end of the novel and his arrogance is reinforced. I would not like to see this Batman in the future.

My rating: 2/5 fishmuffins

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Haunters: The Art of the Scare

Haunters: The Art of the Scare is a documentary about all types of haunted houses, mazes, and events from traditional to extreme and the passionate people behind them. The beginning goes over the history of haunted houses and the inception of theme park haunts (at Knott's Berry Farm). I thought it was hilarious how many haunted house tropes originated in Christian Hell Houses that took you through horrible sins and their repercussions to get people to turn to faith. The documentary follows a variety of figures and their own endeavors in the scare industry, namely legendary scare actor Shar Mayer, Donald Julson creator of a huge home haunt, and Russ McKamey, creator of the infamous extreme haunt McKamey Manor.

Shar Mayer has been working as a scare actor for 35 years in almost every major scare event incuding traditional haunts, extreme haunts, and hybrid haunts with theater. From a young age, she wanted to scare people and enjoyed her first experience scaring classmates dressed as a skeleton on Halloween. Later on in life, Shar almost leads a double life in October when she works very late, takes time off her day job, and leaves her husband, who doesn't really understand her love of the scare, to take care of their home. Her transformation of mannerism and movement is amazing as she gets into character. The coworkers at the haunt are her family with that dedication and love to scaring people binding them together. I could seriously listen to her stories for hours. She's a fascinating person with a unique point of view.

Donald Julson runs a haunt out of his parents house every Halloween called Nightmare on Loganberry. Every year, he works for over a month, spending a large amount of money, for an event that will only be open for 4 hours on Halloween. It's also offered free of charge. His talent for fabricating props shines in his sets in addition to his and his family's dedication to creating this grand event every year. Unfortunately, his wife isn't as thrilled with his passion and even bans Halloween talk the rest of the year. It seemed like they were going to get a divorce any minute as they refused to compromise or discuss or see each other's side. This event is not far from where I live, so I will definitely check it out next year.

McKamey Manor is the most controversial of the haunts shown and it takes up much of the film mostly because no one has ever covered it before. It's also the most extreme haunt representative of a growing movement. The haunt is harrowing to watch as people are subject to what amounts to torture that they can't choose to leave for hours. There is no safe word or ability to walk out of the room. Russ McKamey has many shady practices including having children victimize patrons and then banning children actors after an adult actor acted inappropriately and gave them drugs and alcohol. This is all in addition to making people eat disgusting things including their own vomit, waterboarding them, and otherwise beating, punching, and shoving them. Russ will not go through his own haunt, self admittedly scared of everything, but videotapes every event, actively mocking and laughing at the patrons. It seems like it might have to come to someone dying or being seriously injured to stop this haunt.

Other scare attractions seen are Knott's Scary Farm, Universal Halloween Horror Nights, Blackout, The 17th Door, LA Haunted Hayride, and Delusion. The creators of these events are interviewed as well as Jason Blum and the Soska Sisters. I wish the sisters would have been interviewed about Hellevator since it was a game show that used a haunt format in a new way. I wish we could have seen more of Blackout and The 17th Door. Blackout is another one that's more extreme, but the creators experience everything themselves and have a safe word. The 17th Door slants more extreme and has a theatrical element. Safe words can be used for individual rooms so you don't have to bow out of the whole event over one thing. Delusion was one that I would love to go to. It's a theatrical haunt that takes inspiration from video game RPGs and has the group accomplishing tasks and completing some sort of quest together. All of the events have something special to bring to the scare event format.

Haunters: The Art of the Scare is a well made documentary that shows all facets of the scare industry. Jon Schnitzer creates an emotional story with the main figures featured where they all experience some sort of heartbreak or hardship, which is resolved or overcome by the end of the film. I discovered many local events that I either hadn't heard of or hadn't been to. The only real criticism I have is that McKamey Manor was maybe too prominent in the documentary, but it's the most infamous event that people would typically be most curious about. The deleted scenes are fully realized features on many of the haunts in the film that just didn't fit in with the narrative. I highly recommend this documentary and I hope Schnitzer might make another documentary or even a TV show featuring different haunts.

My rating: 4.5/5 fishmuffins

Monday, November 6, 2017

The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina

Sabrina Spellman grows up without her parents with her aunts Zelda and Hilda. Her life is far from normal since her aunts along with the rest of her family (except her mother) are all witches. Her cat Salem talks and acts as her familiar. Sabrina doesn't have full fledged witch powers yet and has to partake in a grisly ceremony on her 16th birthday to accept these powers. She balances the magic world and the regular world of her town Greendale and her school. Her father's past actions come back to haunt her in the form of a jilted undead ex-lover dead set on ruining the entire Spellman family.

The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina is a horror revitalization of Sabrina, the Teenage Witch. Instead of light hearted foibles, cheesy jokes, and zany family dynamics, this series has a completely different mood and genre. This is hardcore horror with casual cannibalism, Satan worship, and bloody rituals all grounded in 60's era aesthetics (which is also when the series takes place). These witches are evil and get their power by pledging themselves to Satan. Small references are peppered throughout each comic that include name drops like Dr. Saperstein (the Satan worshipping OBGYN from Rosemary's Baby) and Mrs. Lovett (the human-meat pie baker from Sweeney Todd). Sabrina balances the much darker magic world with the mortal world, shown as she grows up through the 50’s and 60’s.

As a character, Sabrina is a fairly typical teenager. She is torn between the power of Satan and the promise of a future with Harvey, her high school sweetheart. The Witches Council bans relationships between witches and mortals, although Sabrina is the product of one, a point of contention with other witches who call her half breed. Her aunts don’t hestitate to use their magic when their charge is threatened, like conjuring a giant spider to terrorize an arachnophobic classmate of Sabrina’s who made fun of her heritage. My favorite character is Madame Satan, formerly known as Iola. She committed suicide dramatically after Sabrina’s father left her for a mortal and returned after spending years in Gehenna, faceless and tortured. Her revenge on everyone involved isn’t swift or painless and works exceedingly well. I’m honestly kind of rooting for her because she’s so much more entertaining than the other characters.

The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina is a delightfully dark comic (especially in comparison to the source material). The art is consistent with the era and beautifully done. The only real flaw of the story is the final installment focuses on the backstories of Sabrina and Ambrose’s familiars Salem, Nag, and Nagaina instead of continuing the crazy cliffhanger of the previous story. Other than that, I am excited for the continuation of the series and will be checking out other Archie Horror titles, including Afterlife with Archie, which crosses over with this story.

My rating: 4/5 fishmuffins

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Tragedy Girls

* spoilers *

Sadie and McKayla are best friends with a blog called Tragedy Girls that details the murders of their local serial killer. After luring him in with a teen couple making out in a remote area, they succeed in capturing him and imprisoning him. They are free to copy his habits and methods while targeting their own hit list and reporting the growing killing spree on their blog. To the community, Sadie and McKayla are either a nuisance getting in the way or renegade journalists exposing police incompetence. Can they keep the charade going or will they slip up somewhere and be revealed for the murderers they are?

Tragedy Girls is a horror comedy that merges a typical slasher film with the drive for internet fame. Sadie and McKayla strive for as many likes, shares, and comments as possible. Simply covering the murders that fascinate them isn't enough. They also aspire to be serial killers themselves and use the existing one to copy and displace blame. At the beginning of the movie, their blog barely has any attention at all. Over the course of the movie and their exclusive point of view skyrockets their site into internet fame beyond their town. Their exploits have to balance public outcry and fame with keeping anyone from getting close to their secret. Sadie and McKayla are cheerful in their normal lives and even more gleeful in their gruesome work, giving the whole film a lighthearted mood. Neither girl feels guilty or upset about their victims which gives a colder and harder core to their characters underneath their bubbly facades. Their murders are messy and riddled with mistakes, but the local police is incredibly inept.

A couple things threaten to tear the friends apart including a boy and an inbalance of fame. The boy in question is Jordan Welch, the sheriff's son. He edits the Tragedy Girls videos and shares a love for European horror films with Sadie. McKayla treats him like garbage, so he understandably doesn't like her and actively tries to separate them. After saving Jordan from the serial killer, Sadie is much more famous than McKayla with the media clamoring to interview her and it drives an addition fissure in their relationship. I personally didn't like Jordan very much and thought he looked much older than the other actors. His willingness to discredit and condemn her best friend is gross and weird. I got an inkling of racism in with his willingness to absolve Sadie for any wrongdoing and viewing McKayla as the corrupting force. The ending is awesome as it subverts the romantic subplot that felt icky the whole time. The film leaves McKayla and Sadie together in neon masks with the highest body count they could have hoped for.

Tragedy Girls is an odd film because the title characters are shallow murderers. However, they are made to be pretty likeable especially compared to the other idiots in their town. That line between annoying and charming is treaded carefully. The film is hilarious and many of the situations and murders made me laugh out loud. The story is fresh and fun while still including darker, more sinister elements and a healthy dose of gore. Highly recommended.

My rating: 4.5/5