Friday, August 31, 2018

Searching (2018)

David Kim goes about his daily life, not thinking anything is wrong. He checks in with his daughter Margot to shame her for not taking out the trash and see where she's going to be, then goes to sleep like any normal day. When he wakes up, the trash is still not done and she doesn't pick up her phone all day. After some misdirections and 36 hours go by, David discovers that Margot is missing. Detective Rosemary Vick is assigned to his case and he helps the investigation by questioning all of her Facebook friends and finding out when they last saw her and their alibis. He throws himself into the work, hoping that she will be found alive.

Searching takes the Unfriended format of the computer screen as the only view and takes it into the more restrained thriller genre. The beginning is brilliant. It shows the parents' computer home screens from Windows XP and scrolls through videos, photos, emails, and calendars to show Margot being born, growing up, David's wife Pamela being diagnosed with cancer, the family bonding together and working out with her to get healthy, and her remission. When Margot is in middle school, the cancer comes back and doesn't go away. The way it's shown is in videos and photos from Pamela's hospital room and in the calendar. Her coming home date moves forward a month and then gets deleted, which was surprisingly heartwrenching. Without any narration, the story of this family is told to inform what's going on as the story moves forward.

John Cho as David Kim shows every emotion a parent would if their child was missing. He's indignant if anyone implies anything negative about Margot. He repeatedly insists that he knew her (when he clearly didn't) and tries to make amends by doing absolutely anything he can to help the investigation. He calls people, talks to them on Facetime, and even plants some cameras when he thinks he's got the perpetrator. His desperation is palpable and he clearly deteriorates as the film goes on due to sleep deprivation and emotional distress. Debra Messing is equally good as Rosemary Vick. She keeps her cool as a police officer and seems very professional in how she goes about the investigation. The only subpar acting was Rosemary's son Robert. He's supposed to have some sort of special need, but I initially thought he was just intimidated by his overbearing mom who is always whisking him out of the room or yelling at him. I assumed that was the intent, but the acting didn't really convey that.

David's journey changes drastically as more and more time passes. Everyone he interviews seems pretty unconcerned, kind of over the whole situation, and awkward. No one seems to be close to her. She eats lunch alone every day and no one seems to anything about what's going on with her. When she's officially missing and the case goes public, those same people completely change. Suddenly, everyone is praying for her and clutching their pearls when they had already heard about it. The same teens who couldn't tell her from anyone else are making videos crying crocodile tears for likes and views or making incredibly insensitive jokes about the situation. This is a fairly minor part of the story, but it rang so true to me.

The clues for the mystery are carefully plotted out. Seemingly insignificant details have greater significance later in the film or if you have an eagle eye. I caught some details early in, but I was lulled into thinking it was insignificant since it didn't come up again until the end. There are still red herrings, secret conversations, insensitive commenters online, and a variety of other misdirections. The rift with his daughter and her odd behavior really boils down to not being able to process or talk about her mother's death with the only person who would understand. David never mentions her, maybe to spare Margot from pain, but it proves to build a wall between them instead. She chooses to cope on her own, sometimes in unhealthy ways, and isolating herself from everyone in her life. Having this as the base of the film really grounded it and made the stakes mean something.

Searching is a thriller with a heartfelt squishy center. The ending surprised me, especially when there was a sort of false ending where I thought "this ending sucks!" until more information came to light. I don't feel the need to spoil it since it's not ambiguous or anything, but it's definitely satisfying without being completely fantastical. I want to see this movie again to catch the tiny details that I missed the first time.

My rating: 4.5/5 fishmuffins

The Little Stranger (2018)

Dr. Faraday has intense memories of the grand Hundreds Hall as a child and finds himself returning as an adult to treat their fearful maid. As he befriends the Ayres family that includes Roderick, Caroline, and their mother Angela, weird and violent events start happening in their now dilapidated house.

The Little Stranger is an atmospheric film adaptation of Sarah Water's unconventional haunted house novel. Much of the film is well done, especially in the visuals, the performances and characters, the placement and intensity of the violent events, and the implications of the ending. The cinematography is beautiful with muted, dreary tones for the present and bright, colorful hues for the past. This is through Faraday's eyes because he idealizes the past. Hundreds Hall used to be a magnificent house with intricate moldings, fresh flowers on every floor, and home to the most exclusive parties. The home is owned by the Ayres family, part of the upper echelons of society even when the house has fallen into disrepair as a result of their fortune running out. Now, Hundreds is a ghost of its former glory with four people living in the massive structure, struggling to keep things running.

The characters feel authentic due to the superb writing and acting. Faraday is a restrained man stuck in between the levels of society. He grew up poor as a shopkeeper and nanny's son, only invited to the one party at Hundreds because his mother used to work there. That place is everything he ever wanted but can never have as someone born lower class. As an adult, he's known as a decent doctor and seems to be rather well off, but still doesn't fit in as the Ayres do despite their differing fortune. People still treat him as if he doesn't belong. The Ayres do belong, but the situation isn't good for them either. They hold on to the monstrosity of a house because of tradition even as it molders aroudn them. Roderick has control of the property and their money because of society's expectations even though he clearly isn't competent to do so. The matriarch Angela would rather suffer with mental illness rather than see a psychologist and bring further shame to her family. Both parties suffer in their roles imposed by society.

The horror elements are few and far between, but they are masterfully done. The rest of the film kind of lulls you into a false sense of security so when these moments come up, they are jarring, almost always violent, and graphic. The first scene of this nature is when the Ayres have a party and Caroline's old, docile lab mauls the face of a little girl. I was shocked at its graphic nature and the tragic ramifications for the girl, the dog, and the Ayres. The only non-violent incident is the wardrobe suddenly full of childishly scrawled S's, which solidifies Angela's will to stay in the house thinking it's the spirit of her dead daughter. The rest of the scenes are memorable, artfully filmed, and somber.

** here there be spoilers **

The ending has interesting implications. Faraday starts out the movie as a decent man. He befriends struggling neighbors and has either a pleasant friendship or awkward courtship with Caroline. Later in the film, he becomes extremely possessive, stooping to forcing Caroline's consent to marriage on the evening of her mother's funeral. It's a disgusting scene that automatically made me hate him. Days later, Caroline doesn't want to get married at all, sold the house, and plans to move away to Canada or America to start over. He refuses to accept it but still leaves. For him, Caroline becomes synonymous with the house. They both represent his longing for success, acceptance in high society, happiness, and love. However, equating a house with a woman gives his possessive view a misogynistic slant. The cause of all the Ayre family problems turns out to be an imprint of Faraday as a child. That scene is shown so many times in the film: his longing overcoming him so that he snaps an acorn from some molding on the wall and his mother humiliates him in front of Angela's daughter Sukey. The shame, anger, and wanting in that moment created a sort of poltergeist that terrorized the family their whole lives.

I have mixed thoughts about the ending. On one hand, it shows how toxic the hierarchy of society is to all involved. On the other hand, three people are now dead because a little boy didn't get his way. In terms of class, I think it's well done. It also portrays the destructive force of toxic masculinity when entitled men don't get their way. I hate that Faraday essentially wins in the end even though he's no better for it. The nail in the coffin for me was when he testified in court that Caroline's death must have been suicide due to her "mental instability" when she rejected him. It's unclear whether he truly believes this or if he's knows he's lying. I supposed I could believe a man thinking a woman is insane for not wanting him. The film could also be interpreted as adult Faraday murdering Caroline and then securing his innocence by lying, but that wouldn't explain any of the other phenomena.

The Little Stranger is as restrained a film as Faraday is a character. The supernatural and violent elements seem extreme in comparison, matching the extremes in visuals. There is a lot of development and quiet moments in between, so it takes a little patience and care about the characters to  Although I have mixed feelings about the ending, the film in undeniably well made and acted. Charlotte Rampling as Angela is an iron matriarch through everything. Domhnall Gleeson as Faraday holds up the bulk of the film and makes everything believable in a subtle way. Although I found the ending a bit controversial, The Little Stranger is worth your time.

My rating: 3.5/5 fishmuffins

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Movie Mini-Reviews: BlacKkKlansman (2018) and Sorry to Bother You (2018)

* BlacKkKlansman (2018)

Ron Stallworth is the first African American policeman hired in Colorado Springs. After being disrespected and relegated to the evidence desk, he requests a transfer to go undercover. His first assignment is infiltrating a local rally headed by a civil rights leader Kwame Ture. The only negative he sees is the white police officers hassling and sexually assaulting Ture and the college students who invited him. Then Ron is reassigned to Intelligence where he pretends to be a white man to join the KKK. Co-worker Flip plays Ron in person and Ron plays himself on the phone to cultivate a relationship and investigate if the organization is violent under its new leader with the perfect facade David Duke.

This film has Ron Stallworth stuck in between groups. He's not part of the civil rights movement because they have rejected the idea of trying to improve corrupt organizations of the inside. He's also not part of the white police force who largely treat people of color horribly with the support of everyone in that system. He tries his best to keep things from getting to him, but he feels the tension of being pulled at from both sides. The situation where he pretends to be white to infiltrate the KKK seems humorous and ridiculous. It proves to be quite serious and dangerous, especially when his own boss essentially sabotages him.

BlacKkKlansman is film that portrays real events in the 70's but also informs events happening today. One particularly well done scene compares the civil rights movement with the KKK where they tell personal stories and bond over shared experiences. The difference is that the African American people heard W.E.B. Dubois' horrific account of a lynching while the KKK watched Birth of a Nation and told racist stories about African Americans. The most telling aspect of the link between the 70's and the present is the real footage at the end of the Charlottsville Unite the Right rally with the white supremecists, counter protests, the car attack, and Trump's awful comments about the event. This film is timely, powerful, and critical of the current state of the US.

My rating: 4.5/5 fishmuffins

* Sorry to Bother You (2018)

Cash Green is struggling to make ends meet as a telemarketer and lives with his girlfriend Detroit in his uncle's garage that's converted into a bedroom. Once a coworker shows him the advantage of sounding white and carefree on the phone, he rakes in the cash and gets to the upper echelons of the company while his coworkers strike for better wages and treatment. Cash has to decide if financial success is worth turning his back on his friends and who he used to be.

Sorry to Bother You is an insane, over the top satirical film that merges critique of capitalism with science fiction elements. Cash is relatable to a lot of people struggling to afford to live and find success. His success stemmed from suppressing who he was and code switching to be acceptable to a largely white customer base. Even though his girlfriend Detroit is critical of him, she does exactly the same thing during her art installation where she affects an English accent to seem more sophisticated to white clients. This shows a problem that the white general public is offput by people of color. They are forced to not only have a cheerful facade like all people who work with the public, but have an added layer of changing their tone and way of speaking on top of that.

While his coworkers rally for higher wages, Cash is led into a luxurious upper floor where he has to sell people or weapons. The people are from an organization called WorryFree which is essentially slavery in a lifetime work contract in exchange for free food, free housing, and being free of debt. Cash enjoys the money, but has some guilt when Detroit breaks up with him and when he has a can thrown at him while crossing the picket line and becomes a meme. Is all this worth it to be rich? Late in the film, a jarringly science fiction aspect is introduced that pushes the film in the absurd, but it's effective. It's offputting and you'll either love it or hate it. Sorry to Bother You is hilarious, weird, and crazy in addition to critiquing the capitalist, exploitative, and racist aspects of our society.

My rating: 4/5 fishmuffins

Muse of Nightmares by Laini Taylor

Lazlo and Sarai are reeling from recent events where he was revealed to be a god and she became a ghost. Minya holds Sarai's soul and threatens to let it go if Lazlo doesn't comply with her commands, which includes taking the citadel to the city so Minya can murder everyone. It's an impossible decision for Lazlo and Sarai finds that he powers have changed as a ghost. A separate enemy arrives, throwing everything into chaos, making everyone reasses their alliances, and revealing the secrets of the dead gods.

Muse of Nightmares is one of my top anticipated reads of last year after reading Strange the Dreamer early. Every aspect of the story from the lore to the romance is detailed, fleshed out, and thoughtful. Lazlo and Sarai are the cutest couple ever. I wish more YA books could be written without romance because it seems expected, but this is such a sweet relationship. Now that Minya can make Sarai evanesce or control her absolutely at will, their angst is understandable and heartbreaking. Sarai doesn't expect Lazlo to commit atrocities just to keep her alive and Lazlo puts himself in danger to save even Minya because Sarai loves her even through her evil actions. These two are the best and I just want the best for them.

More information is discovered about why the gods produced so many godspawn (by kidnapping, raping, and removing memories from hundreds of human women) and what happened to them. The original gods aren't seen very much, but their actions have far-reaching consequences. The new antagonist isn't a true villain and proves to be yet another person harmed by the gods' imperialist ways. She and her sister were essentially enslaved by their partiarchal society and saw the floating citadels as a way to freedom. They discover that the gods are a more powerful enslaving force that blackmails one sister into using her power for them and threatens the life of the other to ensure her cooperation. Their place of origin is impossible far from Weep and shows the true breadth of the gods' devastation.

More locally, both Minya and Erik-Fane are completely changed, angry, and traumatized. She wants to perpetuate the cycle of violence and intolerance because he was treated the same way and continued it. For something else to happen, either side has to decide to do something different. The way both feel is understandable, but the impulse for violence never ends well. The connection between these two very different characters plus the antagonist is well drawn and makes sense with their similar experiences from either side of this war.

One of my favorite more light hearted aspects of the story is the transformation of Thyon Nero. At first, he's shocked that Lazlo is the one flying citadels and discovering his remarkable origins. He bonds with the common people he works with and has to work against his high class upbringing to just be a person with them. They open up to him over time as they see him do manual labor with them and the change in his usual snooty responses. I didn't like him in the last book even though I understood his reasons, but he sees the errors of his ways now. It just warmed my heart.

Muse of Nightmares is everything I wanted it to be. As usual, Taylor's words transport me into her world from the first sentence. Sarai, even though she is a ghost, plays a huge part in the story. I feared she would be in the periphery despite the title, but Taylor handled the story well. This book played with my emotions and had some huge, earth shattering revelations. While I would love to see a longer series in this world, the two book series is perfect.

My rating: 5/5 fishmuffins

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Action Movie Mini-Reviews: Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom (2018) and Misson Impossible: Fallout (2018)

* Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom (2018)

Claire Dearing and Owen Grady are back to save dinosaurs threatened by the erupting volcano on the former theme park. Benjamin Lockwood, Hammond's old partner, agrees to fund the endeavor, so they go back to the island along with a paloveterinarian, a former park technician, and a para-military force. Tracking down important dinosaurs trying to be the volcano is hard enough, let alone when that para-military force turns against them and leaves them for dead.

Jurassic World is better and worse than its predecessor. It's better in portraying women, the basic plot, and the aesthetics. Claire ran around the first movie in a skirt and heels, not letting go of her proper ways. This movie portrays her much more realstically and as a more even character instead of a caricature. Zia as the paleoveterinarian is also a breath of fresh air with her sardonic humor and genuine care for dinosaurs.Owen is pretty much the same with his smarmy face and constant jokes even in the face of certain death. The plot is much more dynamic, involving a greedy man selling dinosaurs to the highest bidder. The aesthetics are much better, especially in the second half. A newly made dinosaur stalks a girl in her room and the cinematography makes it look like a dark fairy tale or gothic story.

The story has its flaws with so many plot holes, it's best not to think about them. For instance, no one seems to notice the heroes drive a jeep by dramatically clearing a large gap as the boat leaves from the dock. It's loud and unmistakable, but no one comes to investigate. Most characters don' have much development and prove to be quite one dimensional, especially the villain. With these flaws, the film is enjoyable but nothing very special. Although it doesn't surpass Jurassic Park, it is the best of the sequels in my opinion.

My rating: 3/5 fishmuffins

* Mission Impossible: Fallout (2018)

Ethan Hunt refuses to sacrifice his friends (as an agent is supposed to) and as a result, the bad guys get three spheres of plutonium. He is forced to pose as the enemy, find the plutonium, and obtain it by any means possible before the Apostles use it to bomb major cities.

I had no idea this was the sixth Mission Impossible film. I was surprised at the Rotten Tomatoes score and I went in with tepid expectations which were not met. Ethan Hunt seems genuinely inept at his job. He was supposed to protect his country by getting the plutonium away from the bad guys, but he's unable to allow his team to die. While this is understandable and we're supposed to feel for him, I agree with Erica Sloane (played by Angela Bassett) when she says "That's the job." This whole film's plot could have been avoided if Ethan would just do his job, but he's continually praised for being inept.

This film is enjoyable if all you want is Tom Cruise running, jumping, climbing helicopters, and beating up guys while he's up there. The stunts are well done, but a movie is more than stunts. The twists and turns are so steeped in tropes and done by this series before that nothing is much of a surprise. This series wants you to think it's sophisticated and well plotted, but it's the action equivalent of the Saw franchise. The trailers even broadcasted a character as villain, so it was no surprise when that character revealed his plot and then did a horrible job trying to lie his way out of it. I don't recommend this movie, but many seem to enjoy it.

My rating: 2/5 fishmuffins

Monday, August 27, 2018

More Upcoming Halloween Events

More Halloween events!

* Queen Mary's Dark Harbor

The Dark Harbor was greatly improved last year and I'm looking forward to what they have in store this year. The mazes announced are B340, Scary Mary, Lullaby, Circus, Dead Rise, Intrepid, and Feast. These won't be the same mazes as last year because there will be new maze designs and interactive alternate paths. I'm excited to see repeat mazes with the new aspects. There will also be Sinister Swings, live entertainment, and more bars than you know what to do with.

* The Huntington Library's Drama After Dark: A Night of the Macabre with Poe and Gorey

I went to this event last year (and then forgot to write about it) and it's one of the most unique experiences I've been to. The works of Edgar Allan Poe and Edward Gorey are performed at the Huntington Library after dark. There are few lights on site, so bring a flashlight to walk around. The gardens and paths look very different at night. Each performance is only lit by candles and the actors work without microphones. It's intimate and old fashioned feeling. Last year, my favorites included The Oval Portrait, The Pit and the Pendulum, and The Cask of Amontillado. Unfortunately, it's impossible to see all the performaces so I'm so excited to see some that I didn't get to last year. This is a once a year event on October 27th.

* Pageant of the Monsters

Laguna Beach's Festival of Arts and Pageant of the Masters bring monsters with an artistic twist. The event will feature a haunted house backstage with other tricks and treats such as art activites, live music, wandering zombies, and other spooktacular surprises. This one is a little vague on the details, but I think it'll be fun.

* Los Angeles Haunted Hayride

I've wanted to go to this haunt for years because it always looks amazing from the videos on Youtube. In Griffith Park and the old LA Zoo, a tractor drives you through scary scenes and  let out for a separate maze. In addition, there are other scare zones and mazes to enjoy like Purgatory and Trick or Treat. Last year, the focus was creepy clowns and there's no word on this year yet. I don't know anyone who's gone to this event, but the different format and setting could set it apart from the other more conventional events.

Sunday, August 26, 2018

Genuine Fraud by E. Lockhart

Jule West-Williams is running from something. She affects a British accent, wears wigs, steals passports, and pays for everything with cash. Jule seems pretty comfortable staying at a Mexican resort until a woman strikes up a conversation. Suddenly, that woman (who turns out to be a cop) is following her even when she thought she was stealthy. What is she running from and who is chasing her?

Genuine Fraud is one of the most unique teen thrillers that I've read. So many fall into the same tropes (a teen having an affair with a teacher, a love triangle, a new friend to be jealous of, etc etc.) that they blend together in my mind. This one doesn't fall into any of those tropes and stands apart from those thrillers. The book is told backwards. It took a bit to get used to and figure out what was happening in what order. I spent way too long looking at the dates trying to figure out the pattern, which is that each chapter backs up one month. Once I got it, the story flowed more freely for me.

Jule is a bit of an enigma for most of the book. She imagines herself as a bad ass secret agent, but we don't know her situation until the end. Her view is completely clouded by her fantasies, making her narrative completely unreliable. My view of her changed as the novel traveled backwards in time. At the beginning of the novel, Jule seems to be some sort of heiress with unlimited funds for resorts, luxuries, disguises, and payoffs. Then the police are following her and my mind races with possibilities. Her true origin is much less glamorous. I love how the story reveals the mystery, introduces characters, and uncovers twists and turns bit by bit.

Genuine Fraud is a surprising book that seems more adult than its YA marketing. The cover makes it seem like some sort of fluffy contemporary romance. Everyone involved is college age and I think it might have been better received as an adult thriller. There's a missing heiress, her jealous boyfriend, and Jule somehow fitting into it all. As thrillers go, this one surprised me and kept me guessing all the way to the end. It's a short book that only took me a day to read and it's definitely worth your time.

My rating: 4/5 fishmuffins 

Saturday, August 25, 2018

Even More Upcoming Fall Horror Films

* Lizzie - September 14

Lizzie tells the infamous story of Lizzie Borden killing her father and stepmother, but centers around her secret romance with a maid named Bridget as a possible reason for the murders. At this point, everyone thinks that Lizzie killed her parents even though no solid evidence was found. Many will point to this new development as a way to demonize gay people. However, Chloe Sevigny (who plays Lizzie) talks about the film showing Lizzie's relationship and the murder of her rapist, abuser father as the only way to freedom in an oppressive patriarchal, heteronormative society. I'm willing to give it a shot plus it has to be better than the cheestastic Lifetime movie and series with Christina Ricci.

* Assassination Nation - September 21

In Salem, Massechusetts, an anonymous hacker exposes the secrets of all the residence with chaos and violence ensuing afterwards. This film looks like a cross between Heathers and The Purge with digital privacy gone. I'm definitely intrigued about this film. It looks satirical, brutal, and honest. It's reminiscent of Mayhem or The Lobster where people just act truly on their impulses and say what their really thinking, but in this film they are freed by all of their secrets being released into the public. I'm hyped for it.

* A Simple Favor - September 14

Mommy vlogger Stephanie and sophisticated, enigmatic Emily become unlikely friends because of their sons. After spending some time together, Emily goes missing and Stephanie digs into her past to find out what happened to her. Just from this trailer, there are a lot of possibilities for this mystery: a murdering husband, insurance fraud, or Emily being tired of her constrictive life. Blake Lively and Anna Kendrick are perfectly cast. The whole trailer had an air of tension that hope the film has as well. This looks like an intriguing thriller and I can't wait to watch.

Friday, August 24, 2018

Summer of '84 (2018)

It's summer and Davey Armstrong has more time than ever to hang out with his best friends Eats, Woody, and Faraday. When they are playing "Manhunt," a tag game played at night with flashlights, Davey notices a curly haired kid in his neighbor Wayne Mackey's house only to have them disappear a moment later. He doesn't think anything of it at the time, but the next time he sees the kid's face is on a milk carton. Davey is convinced that police officer Mackey is a murderer and spends all summer snooping around and trying to prove it.

Summer of '84 is more of a mystery than a horror film that pits four teens against a possibly murderous cop who lives next door. The friends are pretty different from each other and most are fleshed out. Davey is a conspiracy theorist whose walls are papered with a paper that's essentially the Weekly World News. Eats is a wannabe punk who tries to be as abrasive as possible and has a troubled home life. Woody is the "fat kid" so common in 80's movies. He's the nicest character. Faraday is a nerd. These kids are all so different, it begs the question why they are all even friends. Faraday gets next to no character development and Eats does, but randomly leaves before the finale of the film. They do lots of typical things together like playing their "Manhunt" game, hanging out in their tree house, and looking at porn or the dressing girl next door to Davey.

Even though it has all the things that make 80's media successful, it feels a bit artificial here. The film strives to be more "adult" than Stranger Things, but comes off more offputting. Women have no major role beyond Nikki, the girl next door. Her character is completely unbelievable. First, she's the unattainable dream girl next door that Davey watches undress and then becomes something more. After she realizes this, she comes over to his house like a fantasy, pours out her heart, seems to have sexual interest in him (even though she used to babysit him), and helps with his investigation. This felt like complete wish fulfillment for Davey. Nikki is a popular seventeen year old girl. There's no reason for her to hang out with Davey when she has friends her own age beyond the artificial wish fulfullment. It's also disappointing that the writers wanted "80's authenticity," so women have no real role outside of a sex object.

Summer of '84 is overall an enjoyable movie to watch. The pacing is glacial for the majority of it and takes forever for anything to actuall confirm or deny if the cop next door is a murderer. I enjoyed the misdirections, but most of the movie was a mystery with teen antics as opposed to the horror I expected it to be. The ending is worth the wait with all the horror elements I wanted stuffed into about 20 minutes. The characters and pacing are flawed and obviously tries to capitalize on the 80's nostalgia so popular today, but it's worth a watch.

My rating: 3/5 fishmuffins

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Upcoming Halloween Events

Halloween is not just a day for me; it's a whole season. It starts in late September with some wonderful Halloween events I attend every year. Here are some of them plus a couple of new events.

* Knott's Scary Farm

Knott's Scary Farm has been raising their standards year after year with interesting concepts, better sound and visual effects, improving makeup effects, and original ideas. The announced mazes are Red Barn, Paranormal Inc., Special Ops: Infected, Trick or Treat: Lights Out, Pumpkin Eater, Dark Ride, and Shadowlands. Most of these are amazing attractions that have been improved year after year. It's the first repeat for Pumpkin Eater so I'm excited to see what's changing with that. Shadowlands is insensitive, awful, and not scary. That's disappointing, but the rest are enjoyable. Two more mazes haven't been announced and I'm hoping for Nevermore. Very excited for this park.

* Universal's Halloween Horror Nights

Universal is my gold standard for Halloween haunts. It always has amazing makeup, sound and visual effects, music, and actors. The announced mazes are Stranger Things, Universal Monsters (!!), Trick 'r Treat (!!!!),  Poltergeist (!!!), The First Purge, Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Meyers, The Terrors of Blumhouse: Chapter 2 (Truth or Dare and Unfriended), and Hollywood Harry's Dreadtime Storiez for the Terror Tram. I am so excited for this!!! So many of my favorite movies are being covered. The only lackluster entries seem to be Blumhouse and The First Purge. I'm interested how Unfriended is going to be since the whole movie was on a computer screen.

The RIP Tour is back for the second year in a row and it's better than ever (and a tad more expensive). It's totally worth it for the food and valet parking, but the added trams to the backlot and Terror Tram, makeup effects demonstration, and dessert make it even more so. I have high expectations for this park.

* Six Flags Fright Fest

Every year Six Flags has their Fright Fest. I haven't gone because it's pretty far from where I live, but this year, they are collaborating with the film Hell Fest. One of their mazes will replicate the horror attractions in the film that will include The Mausoleum's narrowing corridor, The Mask Room's sea of floating white faces, The Doll Room, and The Torture Chamber's carnage. The other mazes are original content that include Red's Revenge, Sewer of Souls, Condemned- Forever Damned, Willoughby's Resurrected, and Aftermath 2: Chaos Rising. I'm debating on whether to go to this or not, but the Hell Fest maze interests me. The concept of the film is brilliant and what I've seen of the mazes look pretty good.

Wednesday, August 22, 2018


Anya St. Clair is clawing her way to the top of the fashion industry as a writer. She needs to be just a little bit thinner and prettier to make it to the next level, being invited to the most exclusive parties and fashion shows with front row access. The person she simultaneously puts on a pedestal and identifies as a rival is the flawless and beautiful Sarah Taft. Success and fame come to Sarah effortlessly while Any works hard to fall short. Anya wants to be her best friend, be her, and destroy her all that the same time. To claw her way to the top, she has to take the cutthroat nature of industry literally.

#FashionVictim is kind of like You meets The Devil Wears Prada with the dark humor and social commentary of American Psycho. Everything is pitch perfect, hilarious, and biting. Anya St. Clair seems like a struggling fashion writer at first. Her name is never recognized or found on a list right away and her seat is never in the front. She's tagged in hideous Instagram pictures and constantly teased about her weight. I thought I knew what to expect until she had visions of an assistant with a shard of glass in her eye that turned into a real murder. Anya decides to solve her work problems with murder. Toss in her very unhealthy love/hate obsession with Sarah, the woman whose every move is front page fashion news, and things couldn't be more uncomfortable.

As she spirals out of control, Anya still completely follows the fashion industry and their ridiculous expectations. She doesn't really fit in, but she's willing to break herself to do so. Over the course of the novel, Anya's troubled background and delusions become more apparent. It starts with small comments like her recognizing the sound of bones breaking to more obvious things like being annoyed with typical police questioning. Her delusions include hallucinating her victims around her and considering the police investigator an interested suitor. The story bounces from her normal work experiences to her creating obsessive collages to her carrying out her planned murders. It plays out like a slasher film from the perspective of the killer with a large dose of black humor. Every detail drew me in and proved to be different than other killers.

The fashion industry comes out looking pretty terrible here. Everything is extremely superficial and nothing is based on merit. People only care about weight, fashion labels, and accessories. Conversations are riddled with backhanded comments, cruel gossip, and vapid subjects. All out screaming is only acceptable at very top along with outright abusive treatment. The book also touches on institutionalized racism within the industry that has companies not wanting to be branded "ethnic" and hiring one person of color per department to basically not be sued. When the body count piles up, most people aren't bothered. Sarah makes particularly cruel comments about the murder victims, which makes me root more for Anya even though she's a literal murderer.

I read #FashionVictim in a day because the story just grabbed me and ran. The world of fashion felt alien and cruel, not too different from Anya's twisted mind. With both, certain people have no value and are treated accordingly whether that's screaming and basically being treated like a slave or murder. This book worked for me on every level. It's a biting commentary of the fashion industry that brings in pitch black comedy. I would love to see it as film because it's untreaded waters and could be super fun. Highly recommended.

My rating: 5/5 fishmuffins

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

More Upcoming Horror Movies in the Fall

More upcoming horror films to look forward to!

* The Nun - September 6

The Nun takes place in the 50's and focuses on a Vatican investigation into a nun's suicide. I am not a fan of The Conjuring movies or any of its offshoots. This one seems no different. The main crux of the trailer is the creepy look of the nun, who actually looks more like Marilyn Manson in a nun habit, and the jump scare at the end. The only interesting thing about the jump scare is the misdirection of it. I expect most of the scares to be similar, but I might be surprised. The one bright spot of this trailer is Taissa Farmiga.

* The Little Stranger - August 31

The Little Stranger has a lot of potential. It could be similar to The Others or The Innocents. Of course I could be wrong. The actors are all amazing and the look of the film is remarkable. Just the contrast of the house from the vibrant colors of the past to the monochrome of the present. I have no idea what's going on this movie, whether it's ghosts or something more conventional, but I'm excited to find out.

* The Predator - September 14

In the 6th Predator film, a new type of predator emerges, bigger and stronger, to kill its smaller brethren. Military people try to figure out how to beat it. The problem with this new predator is that people barely beat the regular ones, let alone something even tougher and stronger. Plus it messes up the lore built about the aliens. Perhaps the regular predators and humans will team up? I'll probably watch this and I expect it to be better than the Alien vs. Predator movies.

More to come!

Monday, August 20, 2018

The Bright Sessions Season 3

Dr. Bright's plan to save her brother fell apart because of Damien, who kidnapped Mark, used his manipulative power, and lied to him about everything. Joan and Sam are distraught and have no way to find Mark. The AM is all over Joan and her patients, making sure she won't step out of line again. Caleb and Adam are back together. Chloe continues to help Frank and struggles with Joan's hypocrisy. Unresolved issues between many are brewing beneath the surface and threatening to explode.

The Bright Sessions becomes more complex as it goes on. The characters continue to develop, grow, and create new relationships. Joan is worried for her brother since he was kidnapped by Damien. She also struggles with her ties with the AM that simultaneously allows her to help Atypicals live normal lives and puts her patients in danger if their abilities prove too interesting for the AM to ignore. The AM also forces her to work with Wadsworth, her former friend and colleague, who she still finds herself admiring and achieving breakthroughs with. Chloe criticizes Joan for chastising her for being unable to give people privacy with her ability to read minds while Joan records people without their knowledge and feeds information to the AM. This situation isn't black and white, so there's debate on all sides with good points.

The AM is seen in more detail this season. It's always loomed in the background but now we get to see how it operates on an everyday level and its deeper recesses. Every day, they take in Atypicals to test them and assess if they need help on a more intense level to control their ability and blend into normal society. On the surface, this seems normal and even altruistic to help people. If you probe deeper, they are conducting unethical experiments and trying to find people with specific, rare abilities to exploit. Mark fills in many of these gaps with the abhorrent way he was treated while confined to the AM that includes mental torture, physical torture, and threats to his family to comply. Each season, the veil gets pushed back a bit further on this organization and it's not pretty.

The character who grows the most is Frank. He's always been in the periphery of the show and only appeared in person last season. Joan talks through some things with him and it's truly heartbreaking. He reveals details about his military service and the experiment his unit consented to. They all had an artificial empathic connection to one another that lost focus over time. Their shared decision to not tell anyone about the complication so they could stay together had devastating consequences, but was understandable in the situation. The fact that a huge revelation about Mark's story line happened the episode right before took away a bit from this emotional episode.

The last few episodes of this season went places I didn't think the show would go. It was surprising, devastating, and hopeful all at the same time. Damian goes from fairly harmless to dangerous through his rocky journey. The ending is explosive in a variety of ways. Many characters who have kept their feelings hidden have meaningful conversations with others to hash out feelings, articulate what has been unspoken, and get issues out into the open. It's also the most violent episode from an unexpected source. I'm hyped to see what happens next season both in the relationships and in the main action of the show.

The scope and cast of the show continues to grow. It's wonderful to see representation in so many different spheres. A glimpse of a new Atypical is seen. Rose travels through dreams and doesn't know whether to be honest with her girlfriend about her ability. I'm interested to see how she will fit in with the group and how the group will move forward in the face of the traumatic events of the last episode. The next season is ongoing so I'm excited to listen as it's being produced.

My rating: 5/5 fishmuffins

Saturday, August 18, 2018

Slender Man (2018)

High school students Hallie, Chloe, Wren, and Katie are best friends who dream about running away from their small town together. When the guys of their group are hanging out and plan to summon the Slender Man for fun, the girls decide to rise to the challenge and summon him as well. They watch an eerie video and close their eyes after a series of bells. Nothing happens for while and everything returns to normal until Katie suddenly disappears. Hallie decides to investigate theories behind the Slender Man to try to get her friend back.

Slender Man is a supernatural horror film based on the infamous creepy pasta. This film tries to take a sweet, wholesome group of girls and throw the Slender Man in to make their lives fall apart. They all have their own problems and reasons for wanting to get out of the small town they live in. Most of them are essentially interchangeable and not well acted, but Joey King seems to be the only committed actor. These girls are supposed to raise emotional stakes, but the audience doesn't really care about them. One character disappears at the beginning of the film to kick off the mystery. Wren disappears for most of the movie for no reason only to reappear for a second at the end. Chloe has creepy stuff happening but is never mentioned or seen again. The emotional stakes for the characters are about the same as for the audience: very low.

Even though it has its own lore and mythology, this Slender Man steals from The Ring with a much less creepy internet video. The people who watch the video have weird stuff happen as time goes on, but it comes off terribly. The effects look awful and come off unintentionally funny. On top of that, the latter half of the film is about as boring as watching dirt. The Slender Man is barely seen and is less threatening than The Bye Bye Man. That film is a masterpiece compared to this one. There's also the added factor that the real life attempted murder in Wisconsin put Slender Man in the public eye. The film avoids direct parallels, but the concept of sacrificing things or people to the Slender Man is there in addition to characters growing obsessed with him. It's distasteful.

The Slender Man is one of the worst cinematic experiences I've had in recent years. There is no tension, little scares, and numerous dropped plotlines and characters. The visual effects are lackluster at best and there's no reason to care about any character. The one brief shining thing was Joey King's performance even though she was gone for a third of the film. Avoid this like the plague unless you have insomnia or just like being bored.

My rating: 0.5/5 fishmuffins

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Stalking Jack the Ripper by Kerri Maniscalco

Audrey Rose Wadsworth has a privileged life with a wealthy family. After her mother dies, a rift appears in her family as her father isolates himself. She turns to science and throws herself into studying anatomy and forensics at her uncle's laboratory against society's expectations and her father's wishes. One day, the body of a mutilated woman is delivered for her uncle to collect evidence in a disturbing case of multiple murders. Audrey throws herself into the investigation along with an annoying but brilliant rival Thomas Cresswell despite the risk of danger and irreparable damage to her reputation.

Stalking Jack the Ripper is the story of Audrey and her unconventional science education, her endeavor to solve the true crime mystery, and her first love. Some of these aspects work better than others. Audrey is a smart young woman who suffers from "not like any other girl" syndrome. She soundly rejects other women as frivolous and beneath her, which left a bad taste in my mouth. Victorian society pressures women into a certain mold that doesn't necessarily show how they are inside. This goes against her anachronistically modern view of women and their abilities. I relate to Audrey's grief about her mother's death and the negative changes she sees in her father. Her grief also led her to learning about anatomy and forensics. She takes courses dressed as a boy and stays silent even though she knows the answers. As a whole, I didn't hate Audrey, but she annoyed me.

The biggest problems I have are with Thomas Cresswell, the picking and choosing of what part of Victorian society are used, and the way the villain is treated. Thomas Cresswell is incredibly intelligent and also incredibly arrogant. His condescending nature has a misogynistic tinge to it as he mocks Audrey for not being as educated as him (because women are barred from classes). He seems to be there only to be better at everything than Audrey. I didn't find him likeable in any way and grew even more annoyed that she grew attracted to him when he's so awful. The book played lip service to some aspects of Victorian society at the beginning and then completely ignored them by the end. Audrey gallavanting around the city with Thomas and no chaperone would have destroyed her reputation. The final nail in the coffin of this book was how they treated the villain when his identity was revealed. Audrey and Thomas has the audacity to offer him resuming his normal life if he agrees to stop murdering. I felt so angry reading this because this isn't the action of a hero and it shows such privilege.

Stalking Jack the Ripper is not my favorite book. It has numerous flaws that include an annoying love interest who puts her down at every turn, inconsistencies with Victorian society (either go with it or ignore it), and an infuriating protagonist. My favorite part of the book is Audrey's view of anatomy, how she's adapted to work with the bodies, and her skill at finding clues. I also didn't guess the mystery before the end, which is rare for these teen mysteries. I am a sucker for Victorian era mysteries and this one lost me. I won't be continuing the series.

My rating: 2/5 fishmuffins

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

The Devil's Doorway (2018)

The Vatican sends a team of two priests, Thomas Riley and John Thornton, to investigate a possible miracle in 1960 Ireland. At a remote Magdalene Laundry, a statue of the Virgin Mary supposedly cries blood. Father Thomas expects its nothing, but more idealistic and young Father John sees the possiblility of an expression of the divine. As they stay longer, children can be heard playing at night and more and more about this place shows that there is much to hide.

The Devil's Doorway takes the very real horror of the abusive Magdalene laundries with the supernatural. This institution within in the Catholic church hid "fallen women" (meaning sexually active, pregnant out of wedlock, or sex workers) from their communities, abused them, forced them to work, and keep them confined. In the last few decades, the mental, physical, and sexual abuse of the women by priests and nuns who ran the laundries in addition to taking thousands of children born and selling them overseas. All of this is much more horrific than anything supernatural writers can come up with, so I thought some of those aspects fell flat.

The whole investigation starts because of a statue of the Virgin Mary crying blood and it turns out to be so much more than that. Strange sounds are heard at night including the eerie sound of children playing. All of the Mary statues cry and then explode in one of the most effective scenes of the film. A particularly violent pregnant woman is chained up in the basement, apparently possessed. These aspects could have been a bit more streamlined. It's a lot of supernatural just thrown around that don't really seem to be connected to each other. The possession in particular seems to be there just because it's expected to be rather than furthering the story. The payoff for the creepy children voices wasn't executed very well and seemed rather cheesy even though it pointed to the reality of children dying in the "care" of these institutions.

Father Thomas and Father John are the duo sent to investigate the miracle. Thomas is borderline atheistic and jaded while John is idealistic and fairly innocent. This type of pairing is pretty typicaly in possession movies and works well here. They are a bit shocked when the Mother Superior directly calls out the corruption of priests and points out that quite a few girls at the laundries were abused by priests. Her character had great promise, but she remained one dimensional and villainous. The priests are the most likeable characters as they stumble around trying to solve this mystery and getting caught up in the deeper, sordid secrets of the laundry. I didn't like the nuns are basically painted as what's wrong in this situation (even though they aren't blameless) considering that they have no real power in the church as a whole.

The Devil's Doorway does some interesting things. It's a found footage film set in the 1960's and has the visuals to match. The atmosphere can be suspenseful and the plot is fairly well crafted. With the subject matter, I was hoping for a much more critical view of the Catholic Church and it turned out to lay the blame to the nuns who are partially at fault, but don't make the overarching decisions that made the institution and its abuse a reality. Having the priests clutch their pearls about the abuse didn't ring true to me at all, let alone anything else. Overall, it's a decent horror film, but I left disappointed at the tired tropes and random grab bag of supernatural.

My rating: 3/5 fishmuffins 

Sunday, August 12, 2018

We Sold Our Souls by Grady Hendrix

Kris Pulaski founded a metal band in the 90's called Durt Wurk with her high school best friend Terry Hunt. They were on the verge of something big when Terry threw a tantrum and ruined it for them all. He split from the group, made them all sign contracts to never play music again and sign over ownership of their music among other things, and left them. Twenty years later, Terry is the height of corporate rock music while Kris is reduced to managing a Best Western. She rediscovers her love of music and sets out to reunite with her bandmates, confront Terry over his betrayal, and make music again.

We Sold Our Souls mixes a deal with the devil, a Lovecraftian cult, and a scrappy metal band to create its weird and wonderful mythology. It all starts with Kris moldering at the Best Western, struggling to deal with naked, deranged patrons.  Because of Terry and his contracts, Kris has no prospects or real future. I am completely on board with her when she sets out to rebuild her band and face Terry. The situation is all the more heartbreaking when their relationship is shown. She and Terry grew up together, mourned legends, traded tapes, learned music, and finally founded Durt Wurk together. He threw it all away to become the Blind King and head Koffin, the most commercially successful and soulless metal band. It merges the commercial nature of Kiss mixed with Nickelback, only with metal music. Melanie is a huge fan of their music who is disillusioned and drowning in college debt. She proves to be significant to the story in surprising ways.

I love the way Hendrix talks about music. Kris started out as a kid in a basement struggling to make music with hurting hands and strings only to transcend the pain and frustration when she finally plays the opening chords of Iron Man. The same music heard by thousands finally came out of her own guitar. Later on, Durt Wurk played for a different crowds (hostile and not) and succeeded in transforming them with their music and energy. Melanie and Kris bond over their shared love of Dolly Parton (after butting heads over their differing views of Koffin) and pass the time singing her music all the way to Vegas. The manufactured to appeal to the widest audience type of music fro Koffin is described very differently than Durt Wurk's earnest and heartfelt but imperfect songs. The way music is described borders on magical but feels accurate. It has a way of bonding lovers of the same music and transforming listeners and performers alike.

The horror elements took me by surprise. I thought it would be similar to The Devil's Candy or something more straightforward. The creatures that gave Terry the contracts are bigger and more monstrous than our perception allows us to see. They never communicate directly because they don't even speak the same language. The minions are only aware that they know human greed and feast on souls. Their main minions are cookie cutter UPS drivers that aren't much more than automatons. In addition, all the followers of Koffin act as their eyes and ears. When enough followers gather, they stop truly being individuals and answer commands to destroy. Kris isn't safe anywhere. The creatures have already gotten to anyone that might matter to her and every person is a potential informant or attacker. The eldritch nature of the villains plus their far feaching eyes and ears keeps the suspense and sense of danger high as the novel moves along.

We Sold Our Souls is a treat to read. There are so many different elements that Hendrix melds together to make this unique novel. I loved everything from the music to the characters to the villainous monsters. The story is a love letter to metal music that still critiques the negative things about it like how women can be harassed at concerts. I have no issues with this book and I loved how it ended like it started. I highly recommend this and any other Grady Hendrix novel.

My rating: 5/5 fishmuffins