Movie Review: IT

Saturday night a friend, myself, and several member of the San Diego chapter of the HWA went to a screening of IT. I have not seen the 1990 adaptation nor have I read the book so my review is based solely upon the screenings I attended.

IT is based on the mid-1980s horror novel by Steven King and the story had been previously adapted in 1990 into a two part miniseries. The story concerns a group of just barely pre-teen adolescents of outcasts and misfits that call themselves ‘The Losers Club.’ When they discover that the rash of child disseverances currently plaguing the town of Derry Maine is the works on dark supernatural forces, they take active control of their lives and battle the demonic force. The’ big bad’ takes the form of Pennywise, The Dancing Clown making this a particularly difficult film for those that find clowns inherently creepy or frightening. The original story dealt with two plot line the Loser Club as children dealing with Pennywise and a 27 years later as adult when they discover that Pennywise has returned. The film wisely adapts only the children’s story then attempt too much in a single film.

The movie works well enough. It has plenty of suspenseful scenes that work, it has a number of jump scares that are well timed and effective and utilizing an ‘R’ rating it does not shy away from the more graphic elements of horror. . While all of the on screen talent is good and credible in their performances it is Bill Skarsgard as Pennywise that dominates the film. That said for me the film’s ending didn’t quite find its target. I do not think that this is an artifact of the split storyline. Plenty of questions are raised about the town of Derry and Pennywise but very few are any are truly answered. From what I know of the novel the adult storyline barely answer these questions either. Perhaps the sequel will tie this up, and after a 117 million dollar opening weekend there will be a sequel, but I can only judge this film on its own merits. The movie works, I enjoyed seeing it, but the lack of a strong ending weakens the presentation and it is not going to be joining the other horror films in my library.


The C.O. is Always Responsible

When a ship or military unit suffers a disaster the reasonability falls on the commanding officer. It doesn’t matter if junior officers messed up, it doesn’t matter if the civilian government gave them unrealistic goal, it doesn’t matter if the weather turned terrible, the C.O. is responsible. It isn’t fair but it is the way it is.

The same is true in politics, hence Harry Truman’s ‘The Buck Stops here.’

From reviews from both her supporters and opponents it would seem that Hillary Clinton would like to pass the buck for her electoral loss. Certainly before her book was released I heard from the left side of my internet friends that she shouldn’t be blamed, that we should say she was a bad candidate, that other forces and events stole the election from her.


Before I go further let me just make something clear. Trump is the worst person to ever occupy the office of President. I did not and do not want him there. His damages are incalculable.

Hillary Clinton won, in round figure, three million more votes than Donald Trump and yet she still managed to lose the election.

Yes, she had headwinds, the media’s obsession with her emails, the interference from foreign powers, being on the wrong side of the insider vs outsider divide. All these things hurt her campaign and made the road longer and rougher.

You know what? Life’s not fair. None of those elements were unknown during the campaign. None were so powerful that there was no counter. IN fact despite all those things she got those three million more votes still.

She lost because she ran a poor organization. She wasted resources on states like Arizona trying to run up the score while ignoring the cries for desperate from help coming out of states she had to have to win. She lost because for decades now that Clintons have favored loyalty over competence. It is why Barack Obama beat her in the 2008 primaries. Right or wrong the Clintons act from a state of continual siege, seeing enemies all around and because of that they pick their inner circle based on personal loyalty. (Trump is similar but loyalty for him equates subservience and boot licking yielding even worse people.)

Hillary Clinton was a bad campaigner because she could have won this election. She could have watched the details and focused on the states that mattered instead of assuming her opponent’s terrible nature would deliver the win she and the nation needed.


Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan 35 years later

Last night I went the Fathom Event Anniversary screening of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. I remember standing in line on a hot summer day on San Diego 35 years ago waiting to see this movie. It did not disappoint then and it did not disappoint last night. There are few SF/Fantasy films that hold up well over a single decade much less three.

Last night’s presentation was the Director’s Cut, presenting a few expanded scenes and a couple of alternative takes, but essential the movie, like the song, remained the same.

I am not going to recap or review the film. By now you have seen it, known about, or just don’t care.

I was surprised by how much the film moved me. Mind you not only have I seen this multiple times before, but I own this edition on home video. This is one of my very favorite films, a movie that has very very few flaws, and one I often watch to raise my spirits. I went last night because it had been more than 20 years since I last watched it on the big screen and never this particular edition, I expected to enjoy it, but not get emotionally invested all over again, yet that is exactly what happened.

The battle in the nebula still excited me, set my heart racing and quickened by breath, I still wanted to scream at Kirk as he walked into the trap upon the Enterprise’s first encounter with Reliant, and Spock’s sacrifice continued to be a gut-punch. This is the power of art, to move you, to reach in and grab you by the feels even when it is well know and familiar territory. This is why re listen to albums over and over, buy television program on home video, and re-read books. It is humbling and astounding.


An Additional Theory on Horror

There are plenty of theories as to why someone may enjoy the horror genre, be that in book, movies, or some other media.

There’s the safe-danger theory, which to me sounds like it really comes down to adrenaline thrill. This is much like why you might enjoy roller coasters. It feels dangerous but you are aware that you are safe for the entire experience. To me there is an element of truth to this idea.

There is the related but slightly different cathartic theory. This one posits that people enjoy horror as a way of facing fears in a safe environment and vanquishing them. You might then of it as an immunization theory, we face what scares us in safety the way we face weakened or killed diseases when we get out immunizations. Again, this is not without merit.

While I was watching horror films all weekend long at the Horrible Imaginings Film Festival I thought about the nature of horror cinema and how often those of us who enjoy started it quite young. This prompted an idea that perhaps one of the key elements of horror and why we enjoy it is control.

Children have no control over their lives and even as we progress through adolescence and on into adulthood we never experience full authority over the events to determine our fate. The lack of control is perhaps an essential element of horror. When you are trapped in a haunted house, the bridge is washed out, or there is nothing but the terrible vacuum of space outside you are trapped and isolated but you are also denied the control over your actions that might allow you to flee, Hunted, haunted, or stalked all have strong elements where the control, the power, and the authority over events passes from the character to the antagonists. If the story ends happily the protagonist gains control over their life, if the story has a darker ended then as the audience/reader we are comforted that in our own lives we retain more control that those poor bastards.


The Past Weekend

The weekend just passed was a pretty good one, though not without its frustrations. (Nothing compared to my family back east dealing wit hurricane Irma. Everyone is well, safe, and for that I am thankful.)

The most irritating aspect to the weekend and the reason there were no daily updated about the festival was that my desktop computer began misbehaving. The issue appears to be resolved but for several days there any attempt to use any browser was futile, pointless, and terribly frustrating.

That said, the weekend was a blast. This was the 8th annual Horrible Imaginings Film Festival, San Diego weekend devoted to new and fresh horror cinema. Start my festival director Miguel Rodriguez the fest attracts entries from around the world with both short and feature films exploring the entire range of horror.

Most people think of horror as a narrow genre but that does it a disservice. While horror certainly includes the spooky supernatural stories of ghosts and monsters, the stalking unstoppable killer, and outlandish aliens, the genre also includes thrillers and psychological stories. There were a number of critics and film experts that considered the academy awarding film The Silence of the Lambs as a horror movie. HIFF covers all that and more. With themed blocks centered around the themes such social issues or LGBTQ subjects Miguel Rodriguez shows that horror can make you think as well shiver.

This year’s selection of movies, both short and feature, were outstanding. I had hoped each night or morning to give you a few stand out titles but those computer woes I mentioned earlier killed that idea.

This years low point, the films that did not work for me, were still quite good and I can’t say that I ever felt I had wasted time sitting in the lovely venue at the Museum of Photographic Arts in Balboa Park.

In addition to seeing wonderful films, movies that for the most part I could never see elsewhere, I also helped man the information table for the San Diego Chapter of the Horror Writers Association. On Sunday I was there for several hours talking stories, films, and writing with people who are much better at this craft than myself, learning from their feet.

I can’t recommend enough if you have an interesting in horror cinema and have the means, come to San Diego next year, see our large and wonderful park, and have you blood chilled and your spine tingled.


Horrible Imaginings Film Festival

This weekend is the 8th annual Horrible Imaginings Film Festival. Last year was the first year I had the ability to attend and I had a blast. The quality of the films was quite impressive. The festival is made up of mainly short subjects, with each evening having one or two feature length films to round out the day. The films are presented in themed blocks, such as monsters and things that go bump in the night, or killers and other human horrors.

This year I will not only be attending the full festival but I will also be participating on a panel discussion about horror literature and the coming century. That will be on Saturday afternoon.

If you are in the area and have an interest in horror, you should make time to attend the festival. This year there will be a spotlight on local film talent and that should be interesting.


A Pleasant Surprise

In addition to just hanging with family I haven’t seen in three years one of the joys going back east on vacation was seeing which games my nephew David had acquired and wanted to play.

On this trip he introduced me to Viticulture: The Essential Edition a game of growing grapes and making wine. Okay so it principally an economic game about a subject that I have low interest in, after all even before my no-alcohol medications I was a very spare drinker. The game mechanic is ‘worker placement’ so there’s no dice rolling in this game, only card draws for randomness, and very little direct action against the other players. All in all this sounded like a game that would have at most just a passing interest for me.

At my urging we played it nearly every single day I was there.

I still can’t break it down logically why this game worked so well for me, but it truly sang with fun. Perhaps it was the mechanic, ‘worker placement.’ I look at my collection and I see that I have no game that use that mechanism as their core play. Perhaps it was the simplicity of the game play without degrading the game’s reply value. Whatever the reason I really enjoyed Viticulture and I am thinking about introducing it to my friends, though I suspect except for one it is really not their gaming style.

It has also gotten me more interested in the whole ‘worker placement’ game mechanic. I shall have to look up more games with this and give them a try. Perhaps last month I discovered a whole new world.


Blu-Ray Review: Shin Godzilla

One of the pleasant surprises from my vacation visiting my family on the east coast was getting a copy of the Blu-ray of Shin Godzilla, Toho’s reboot of cinema’s most successful franchise. Regular readers of my blog may remember that I saw this movie in a theater last year and enjoyed the experience. I can say that re-watching it on home video only enhanced my enjoyment and appreciation.

The Blu-Ray itself is thin on bonus features, containing only a trailer and a panel interview about the movie, however the transfer looked great. The picture was sharp, vivid with a clear and powerful soundtrack.

As I stated Shin Godzilla is a reboot of one of film’s most iconic characters. Rather than stick with the convoluted continuity stretching all the way back to 1954, this story wipes the slate clean and proceeds with a story in which Kaiju monsters have never exited.

One of the more difficult aspects to this sort of movie is finding the human story that takes place within the setting of a giant rampaging monster. The original Gojira cracked this using the story as a frame to discuss the recent war, the fears of nuclear power, and the conflict between what you want for yourself and sacrificing for the greater good. Shin Godzilla, well removed the horrors of World War II, centers it story on government officials tasked with dealing the impossible situation. While carrying forward a story about a young idealistic politician and his team of misfits and heretics the movie also finds organic methods of discussing nuclear weapons, governmental paralysis in crisis, and Japan’s international relationships, particularly with the United States.

The film has plenty of unobtrusive call backs to the 1954 original, principally in the soundtrack with sound effects and music well repurposed. Nearly all of the effects work quite well. (I did not like the eyes of the monsters earliest form. They struck me as pasted on and looking like the toys eyes you can stick on just about anything. This, however, is a fairly minor flaw.)

This is film that in many ways mirrors the tone of the original, approached with a seriousness that works and well worth having on Blu-ray.


Movie Review- Morgan

A few weeks ago I had Netflix send me the disc for The Belko Experiment and on that blu-ray were previews for two films that sparked my interest one of which was Morgan.

Now I will admit that I had low expectations foe this movie. After viewing the trailer it seemed to me that it had a fairly high probability of being a modestly budgeted Alien clone, but that was not the case.

Morgan is a mid-budget SF films about a corporation’s secretive artificial life experiments, the L-9 Morgan project. After an incident resulting in the serious injury of program personnel Lee Weathers (Kate Mara) a risk assessment and management specialist is sent to the isolated facility to determine the dangers to the corporation and if the project should be terminated. The staff, having developed emotional attachments to their projection, resent her presence and her mission.

As I stated this did not turn out to be an Alien copy but Morgan is its own thing. (Some reviewers have unfairly compared it to ex Machina but that I think is a misreading based on surface elements alone. A tight, mostly one set locale, an artificial intelligence of unknown motivations, and a general atmosphere of suspense.) I believe, and unfortunately because this was a rental disc with all the bonus features crippled, it is only a belief, that the filmmakers were more directly inspired by Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and James Whale 1931 adaptation. This is the story of creating life and the relationship between the created and the creator. Unlike Frankenstein there is not a single genius but rather a talented team of scientists played by a group of experienced character actors including Michelle Yeoh, Paul Giamatti, Toby Jones, Jennifer Jason Leigh, and with Anya Taylor-Joy, whom I last saw in the lead in the terrific horror film The Witch as the titles character Morgan.

Morgan is a decent, enjoyable, and competently produced movie. Directed by first time direct Luke Scott and produced by his father Ridley Scott, the film makes the most of its modest budget, never looking cheap or like corners were cut, but rather utilizing the limited location and cast to created a confined suspenseful story. This is not a must see movie but it is still worth your time and an enjoyable way to pass 90 minutes.


Time Scales

As a writer of science-fiction I often have to think about the time scale of future history, which wraps around and has me thinking about the time scale of actual history.

For example take a hypothetical person born around the time I was 1960. (I was not actually 1960 but it good enough for an example.) If that person lives until they are 80 they die in 2040, that an interesting stretch of history. Now say that person has a grandchild or great-grandchild born when in 2030. The kid and the oldest hang out for ten years because the oldster has cool stories before personal computer, home video, cell phones and so on. The kid born in a better time has a better run and dies when they are 90, or 2120. That kid, when they die, has spoken with and interacted with a person who was alive before man flew in space, but is passing away in the 22nd century.

With the rapidly expanding abilities of our medical technology there’s no doubt those number are on the conservative side. To me this gets more staggering when you play these numbers against history.

Move it all back and we have someone passing away in 2020 who had direct contact with someone born in 1860. That old person in 2020 could very well have known someone who had born on a plantation as a slave. That’s how tight and close our history truly is. Things and events we think of as the distant past are really just barely one step removed from living memory.

It is staggering.