A Day of Classic Universal Horror

This past Saturday I had a few friends over ordered pizza, and we enjoyed an afternoon of classic horror films from Universal Studios.

This is actually the second Monster Marathon we’ve done in this fashion. Marathon I we watched Frankenstein, The Mummy, and Creature from the Black Lagoon.

For Monster Marathon II the selection, based upon votes from the participants, were: The Invisible Man, The Wolf-Man, and The Phantom of the Opera (1943).

The Invisible Man is of course based up the novel by H.G. Wells. Wells had been unhappy with another studio’s adaptation of his novel The Island of Dr. Moreau into the film The Island of Lost Souls and Universal tried to stay closer to the source material the make the author happy. In the film, it is the invisibility serum that drives Jack Griffith mad, turning him into a megalomaniac and a murderer. Wells’ original concept revolved around the idea that power corrupts and that an invisible man, freed from the consequences of his action because he cannot be brought to justice, will surrender to his base drives and rages that are only kept in check by the iron rule of society. It is really a rather cynical theme. The 1933 film is well made and wastes no time in getting to the action and the character. James Whale knew to not bore the audience with dready set-up and exposition, something following horror filmmakers too often forget.

The Wolf-Man I have written on in another essay, but it bears repeating the central thing to know about this movie; nearly everything you think you know about werewolves can be traced to this script, this production. It is not as deftly made as The Invisible Man, concepts are repeated needlessly and there is too much set-up before we get into the meat of the plot. because there is too much set-up the plot resolves too quickly leaving the movie feeling rushed and unfinished.

Phantom of the Opera is the only movie of the marathon filme in color, and it was glorious technicolor. taking liberties with the source material, as Hollywood often does, this film also spends an elaborate about of screentime setting up Erique Claudin as the tragic violinist who when dismissed from hos post in the orchestra and murders a man he believes has stolen his composition (May I state that lawyers are a much better course of action in suspected I.P. theft cases than murder.) flees to the Opera house and becomes the phantom. This film is better made than The Wolf-Man, but the comedic aspect between Christine’s two suitors, and the missing mystery resolution as to why Erique is so invested in Christine’s future, damage the over-all movie.


All in all it proved to be an enjoybale Saturday afternoon followed by an evening of board and ard games. I hope everyone had a weekend as pleasant.


SpaceX’s bad day



You were wondering how SpaceX worked out what went wrong in that launch? Watch this…


Movie Review: Maggie

Yesterday was massive movie day here at my condo. During the afternoon I have a few friends over, ordered a couple of pizzas, and we watched three classic Universal Horror Films. (The Invisible Man, The Wolf-Man, & The Phantom of the Opera [1943]) Afterwards we spend a few hours playing board and card games, making for a rather enjoyable day just on that, but there was an interesting discovery still waiting for me.

The zombie genre has seen all sort of films mining this public’s fascination with the terminally hungry. We have the zombie movie as horror, (Night fo the Living Dead-1990), social commentary (Night of the Living Dead-1968), comedy (Return of the Living Dead), satirical commentary (Dawn of the Dead-1979), Romantic-Comedy (Shawn of the Dead), and many more but last time I watched for the first time a film that was a family drama set in a zombie apocalypse, Maggie.

Maggie stars Abigail Breslin, Joely Richardson, and Arnold Schwarzenegger . The set-up and the setting are stark and simple. A father (Arnold Schwarzenegger) is trying to care for zombie virus-infected his daughter Maggie (Abigail Breslin) while dealing with the strain of a world collapsing around him and the forces tearing at at his blended family.  Nearly all of the film takes place at the family’s isolated farm, but it is not isolated by hordes of the undead, but rather the collapse of the infrastructure is isolating people as the world slowly descends into zombie fueled chaos.

There are no action set pieces, there are no massive scenes of the undead tearing into people, there are no scenes of high-velocity destruction as fight off faceless hordes. Instead this a story about people caught in emotionally impossible situations and the terrible decisions and unavoidable fates that lie before them. While this story uses zombies and turning into a flesh-devouring automaton as their plot devices the themes apply equally well to anyone watching a loved one suffering under a terminal condition.

This is film also surprises in the range of acting talent is displays for Arnold. This is a quiet movie about emotional hell and he plays it well. Who knew he could cry on cue? Much like Boggart and The Caine Mutiny, this is the sort of story he could not have made under a studio system.

Maggie had a limited releases this year and is currently available on DVD. It’s worth the time.


Another Benefit from the Internet Age

Clearly there are nearly countless benefits from the internet and the vast and myriad  ways we have to spread information these days, but there is one in particular I want to look at briefly in this post.

I have been a cord cutter (someone without cable television service) for several years. All of my video entertainment arrives on disc or by way of a streaming service. For the last couple of weeks I have been watching various film noirs on the HULU plus service. Some were good, some were not, but the general mood and atmosphere I am marinating in will be helpful in crafting my SF/Noir novel.

I think all of the films I have been watching on HULU are ones that fell into the public domain when the original rights holders opted to not extend their copyrights. Just a few years ago that would have cast these unprofitable properties into the trash bin of entertainment history, subject only to the occasional late night broadcast as part of a station’s ‘Movie ’til Dawn.’ (And not even that as the infomercial killed that.)

Now, thanks to streaming and the status of public domain, these films are available to new audiences. (I particularly liked The Red House. Both a noir and a snap shot of rural living in the mid 40s.)

Many more public domain movies are available on Youtube and sites such as Public Domain Movies.com. True more than 9/10s of these are truly terribly movies, but one usually pans through a lot of mud to find a single nugget.


Politics and Prose

Today marks the one-month anniversary for me being represented a literary agency. While no sales occurred in that month, nor were they expected, it has turned my eyes towards the future and what it means for me.

I often spout politics on this blog and now I may actually have some sort of literary presence that those political rants could affect.

Authors I know seem to be of several minds on the intersection of politics and their writing careers. Some take the approach that their author-selves should remain utterly apolitical. Take no stands, express no over political opinion, and remain as neutral as possible. Facebook and social media are for self-promotion, jokes, and cat videos. I see nothing wrong with that position, but I think I would have a difficult time maintaining that line.

Other authors fly their political flags at every parade, Nearly every issue must be commented one, positions must be debated, and guidance given to all. The thought of such constant debate I find terribly weary. While I often comment on politics here, there are many many political thoughts and positions I don’t bother to place formally on-line. I’ll leave that to those for whom politics is a passion and not a pastime.

I think I will continue with the occasional political post. I could not silence myself on some matters and remains true to who I am. It would feel deceitful. Anyway, I think much of an author’s political views are there for the uncovering in their fiction, particularly in genre fiction. World-building, as SF and Fantasy require, is inherently a political act. The author is constructing a world that he or she believes is plausible and in doing so they tip their hand in what they think works and does not work. This applies to me as well as any other author. I think if you look closely you can see the general shape of my philosophies hiding amongst my prose.


A pretty decent science video

Here’s something I found during my goof-off day yesterday. It’s about 12 min long but worth it.


No Plan Survives Contact with the Enemy

So, last week I arranged to take today off from my day job. I had been feeling a bit of stress and with my knee giving me issues and the expense of next month’s WorldCon trip I ruled out my usual anti-stress measure a trip to Universal Studios Hollywood.

My plan for the day was to do nothing of importance. Play video games, mindlessly surf the internet and speak to no one except my sweetie-wife when she got home from her work.

Mostly my plan survived intact. I have played quite a few games of Call of Duty, watched a few interesting videos on-line,  spun up bonus material on my Classic Universal Horror Blu-rays, and in general goof-off.

I also finished my scene level outline for my new novel. I had not intended to work on any writing today. The concept had been fun and zero responsibilities, however, the urge to finish this part of the job proved too strong for me to resist. I am glad I gave in. When I reached the final line of the final scene I also reached a fuller understanding of the theme of my story. Truly you do not know what you story is about until you actually write the damne thing.


Movie Review: Ant-Man

The Marvel Cinematic Universe moves into Phase III with Ant-Man. (Phase I ended with The Avengers, Phase II with Avengers: The Age of Ultron and Phase III will culminate with Avengers: Infinity War Part 1.)

AntmanAnt-man is a film with a  troubled history. Numerous re-writes and replaced directors rarely yield a classic movie. While that trouble it evident in a somewhat schizophrenic storyline, this film is not a failure. The characters are likable, the action interesting and different, and the intersection with the Marvel Cinematic Universe consistent and  on point. There are nice call-backs to the earlier films with appearances from characters such as Agent Peggy Carter and Howard Stark. The digital process pioneered in Tron: Legacy that allows older actors to portray younger versions of themselves has matured  allowing Michael Douglas to play troubled genius Dr. Hank Pym across a span of ages. The film also pays tribute to the twisted history of the Ant-Man character, paying respect to both the Hank Pym Ant-Man and the new Ant-Man Scott Lang.

In the movie Dr. Hank Pym, decades after being forced out of his own company and from the international security organization S.H.I.E.L.D. is forced into action, replaying upon his daughter and an idealistic ex-con, Scott Lang, to prevent devastating technology from fallen into evil, insane hands. Scott Lang, played in a fairly likable comedic tone by talented actor Paul Rudd, struggles to find himself and a way back into his family’s good graces while dealing with becoming the newest hero in the expanding MCU.  In the end, it is friendship and ingenuity that save the day.

The film is serviceable and I enjoyed the two hours watching it, however, more than once it falls into formula. There is a cliche, well worn in genre films, where an experience or warning that occurs early in the film establishes the method for the hero’s final victory. This was subverted nicely in 2008’s Iron Man when the ‘icing problem’ Tony encounters during his first flight as Iron Man is only part of the climax’s resolution and not the totality of it, In Ant-Man the telegraphed information, plays straight into the hero’s victory in an unoriginal manner typical of the cliche. that said this is a problem that is likely only to be visible to those already deconstructing plots and stories.  Over all I think most people who enjoy the popcorn fun of summertime superheroes will enjoy Ant-Man.



A lovely image

After a more than nine-year transit the spacecraft New Horizon this week achieved a historic fly-by of Pluto.  Pluto, planet or dwarf planet depending on your passion, has been a mystery for decades. Seen through the Hubble Space Telescope as barely more than a smudge, this world has been a favorite and an unknown lurking at the edge of the solar system.

Now we have wonderful images taken by the spacecraft and in my opinion Pluto is one of the loveliest worlds in our system. The scientific data continues to pour in and understanding it will take years, but this week it is all beauty and excitement.



New Theme

So, I decided to experiment again with a theme for my blog. This time I wanted something simple and direct. Go ahead and let me know what you think.