Why You Absolutely Should Read Lilith’s Brood by Octavia Butler

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I’ve recently finished Lilith’s Brood (still known in some circles as The Xenogenesis Trilogy) by Octavia Butler. It’s become an instant new favorite, and I really want everyone to read it. I thought of doing a full series review, but I realized that, due to my love of it, it would just be me gushing. I’d be hard-pressed to be critical, since there’s so little that is wrong with it in my mind. So instead I’m going to indulge myself and talk about all the reasons it’s great and should be read by everyone.

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Reading Wrap-Up: February 2017

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I read so much this month. Let’s not delay then and get right into it.

Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh. (My Rating: 5/5) I was already a fan of Brosh from her blog. In fact, if you’re curious, I suggest having a look at that first to see if you like the style. It’s a mixed media type of storytelling, with simple images and text, like illustrated stories. And it’s hilarious. And sometimes surprisingly moving. While there are some previous blog posts of hers collected in this volume, there are also lots of new installments that can only be found here. I highly recommend this as a quick and amusing read that also packs a punch in spots, especially when she gets very honest and raw about her battle with depression.

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Reading Wrap-Up: January 2017

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Souichi’s Diary of Delights by Junji Ito (My Rating: 2/5) Junji Ito is normally a safe bet for me. I love his art and his bizarre stories that chill me to the bone. In this case, this was my first go round with Souichi, who is a fan favorite up there with Tomie. I officially don’t see it. Souichi annoyed the living hell out of me. Normally, I would see the appeal. In a way, he has that Edward Scissorhands vibe to him. That he doesn’t follow the norm and takes his own path. He draws in the outsiders who are always looking for mirror images of themselves. Except that he’s a spoiled brat. So unlike Edward, who is a great example, he’s not sweet or well-meaning. He’s godawful. And not like, another great example, the Joker, where someone could get glee out of him doing whatever he feels. Because he’s simpering and whiny and gives up as soon as opposition presents itself. He’s just not fun.

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Rise of the Antihero: Deadpool and Suicide Squad

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There’s simply no denying that two of the highest grossing movies in 2016 were superhero films wherein the characters weren’t heroes. Hollywood has done this sort of thing in the past, disparate studios releasing movies with the same basic thrust at the same time, accidentally creating a kind of phenomenon. For me, the idea of antiheroes becoming the norm is an interesting idea for our current atmosphere. Let’s discuss.

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Review: Star Trek Beyond

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First, it needs to be addressed that I’m a weird Trekkie. The first reboot film in 2009 is what brought me to the Star Trek fandom. I watched some of the original series and thought it was all right. Sacrilege, I’m sure some of you are crying. Then I found The Next Generation. There it suddenly was. My brand of Trek. Everyone has the incarnation that is their baby, and I don’t judge anyone for whichever show or set of films that is. Even in discovering that Next Gen was definitely my favorite, the reboot films are still beloved by me. You’re always going to show favor to whatever brought you to the dance, even among naysayers.

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My Favorite Season of MST3K

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I’ve been a fan of Mystery Science Theater 3000 since the film, wherein they riff This Island Earth, came out. I didn’t have Comedy Central when the show was airing there, but I did have Sci-Fi Channel (remember when it was called that?) when it switched stations. Maybe that makes it obvious when I say season eight is my favorite of the show’s entire run. That season was the beginning of my love affair with the show, and there’s a lot of nostalgia for me there.

Still I find when I watch episodes now, which I do often, season eight is still my favorite. I seem to laugh the most at those riffs, have the most fondness for those particular terrible films. Let’s talk about a few of the episodes that I feel made this season shine.

I Was A Teenage Werewolf. This isn’t just a classic for MST fans. It’s a classic horror film in general with an actually decent performance from Michael Landon. But it was also full of tropes from the time and a random sock hop scene that completely diverted from the movie’s tone and story. I love werewolves, so anytime they get to make fun of that genre, it’s bound to be a favorite of mine.

The Giant Spider Invasion. I know I’ve watched this one a million times. Overly moist rednecks in Wisconsin fight a felt-covered Volkswagen. The Skipper from Gilligan’s Island is the town sheriff. Barbara Hale gets rolled on. The stunning downward spiral that is this movie has to be seen to be believed, and the MST writers mocked it for all it was worth.

Jack Frost. A Russo-Finnish fairy tale about a mushroom-hatted guy, Prince Valiant turning into a bear, and a love interest so cute it’s actually haunting. It’s frankly mind-boggling to watch this as someone mostly unfamiliar with the cultural folk lore. Oh, and some Baba Yaga action is had, with the house with chicken legs and everything. If you’re a fantasy fan, you’ll be ROFLing.

Riding With Death. The inexplicable seventies trucker genre meets science fiction. In a made-for-TV movie. Are you wincing yet? This was clearly meant to be a pilot for a TV show, and what we receive are two episodes crammed together with some questionable weaving together of plots. With lines such as “you’re as elusive as Robert Denby!” before we’ve even met the man. It has to be experienced to be believed.

Agent for H.A.R.M. The very, very poor man’s James Bond. With a lot of smirks and smarm from our “hero”. There’s a vague SF plot, but mostly it’s a total lack of action and intrigue that results in the most boring spy movie ever. Punctuated by drawn out scenes (probably meant to pad out the running time) featuring one of our riffers belting out the Bond theme in full irony mode. Delicious.

Space Mutiny. I’ve watched this episode to the point that I can never watch it again because I have it memorized. It’s my all-time favorite. In an attempt to duplicate Star Wars, we end up with a heavily muscled space pilot and a middle-aged teenage princess fighting a villain whose chief weapon is his ability to overact. If you’ve not heard of this, you’ve at least heard Ryder’s many nicknames as coined by the MST writers, my favorite being Big McLargeHuge.

I could go on. Which is why it’s easier to just say check out season eight for yourself. I’ll let you in on a little secret. You can watch these episodes pretty much anywhere. Give them a google. You won’t be disappointed. As always, happy geeking!

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Review: High-Rise

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Based off of a J.G. Ballard novel of the same name, High-Rise is about an apartment building that was designed to be a self-contained community. There’s a built-in grocery store, garbage chutes on every floor, a pool, a gym, anything you could want. The only reason to go out would be to go to work. But there are bugs in the system. The lower floors are for those with lesser incomes, and the elite take the higher floors. When the lower floors start having technical issues, they blame the rich. The system breaks down. Chaos ensues.

Here’s a very important question the movie doesn’t answer: why doesn’t anyone leave? This scenario serves as a mini-apocalypse, with the high-rise going Mad Max in short order. Yet not a single person flees. One character, the wife of the building’s architect, considers it. Packs a bag. Then the architect hits her, and she never tries again, even though that moment of physical abuse doesn’t really seem to affect her.

Which leads nicely into me saying this movie is weird. Very, very weird. Motivations are simply not going to make total sense. The direction was clearly more style and image than it was natural character development and story progression. A rather essential chunk of the story, wherein the denizens of the building go from merely wild to completely unhinged, is shown in montage. A quick glossing over of everyone descending into pure anarchy.

The only character whose story feels whole is Dr. Robert Laing, played by Tom Hiddleston. His journey makes sense, but his encroaching madness has little to do with the fluctuating tribes of psychopaths around him. It’s because of a petty thing he did that had devastating consequences. That made sense. It was vivid and done well. Here’s the problem. Laing isn’t the only character we’re following. There’s a whole cavalcade of characters, and I can’t answer the myriad questions I have about most of them.

Especially Jeremy Irons as Royal, the architect. (Also, his name is Royal? Subtle. Anyway.) Royal has a tendency to be equally good and equally shit as a person. He bestows kindnesses. He dishes out abuse. He rescues his wife. He cheats on her. He makes a place for all the stray dogs that have amassed in the building. He refers to a woman he slept with by her apartment number rather than her given name. What is he? Who is he? The picture we’re given is complicated but not actually deep. More confusing than anything.

Luke Evans as Richard Wilder has some depth to him, but again not as much as Laing. Evans manages to make it work in spite of that, but it’s only because he’s clearly acting the hell out of the part. The women have some good moments, but there were at least two I couldn’t tell apart, because they were merely faces in the crowd that happened to keep popping up. And notice I called them “the women.” That speaks to how little character there was. There was Charlotte, whose major characteristic was that she was a free spirit who had a lot of sex. And there was depressed, pregnant Helen. Not a lot to work with there, and not a lot to discuss either.

I’ve not read the novel by Ballard, but I get the feeling this is about the gist of what they had to work with. I have read a collection of his short work, and this seems par for the course. Women with little to no character. The men who generally don’t seem to like them very much. An opinion of mankind that makes Lord of the Flies look like Winnie the Pooh.

And that’s where I’m not sure what the message was. People are crap? That seems too simple. Especially when the tone of the film edged so often and strongly toward dark comedy. So is it about the absurdity of this scenario? Because the director did make it seem very absurd. Or the absurdity of violence? I don’t know. It was a spectacle that comes off as pretentious for that very reason. Because greatness would require the movie having a moral or a message that’s tangible and not lost in the muck. It feels like something I would’ve written in high school. The hilarity of human folly. But it’s not clever or deep. It’s sophomoric.

It also wasn’t all bad. There were some very powerful scenes. Some hilarious scenes. Luke Evans put in an especially fantastic performance. It was beautifully shot and works as a piece of art to admire. It’s a movie that could probably benefit from multiple viewings, but could you stand to watch it over and over? Not because it’s violent or subversive. I don’t mean that. Because it’s sloppy and imperfect. How many times can you sit through a swirl of colors and sound with the hope that it will eventually make perfect sense?

A very mixed bag, but I do actually suggest checking it out for yourself. Thank you for reading, and as always, happy geeking!

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Review: Crimson Peak

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I live in a town with no movie theater. We used to have one. Then everything went super duper digital, and the people running the tiny theater couldn’t afford the new equipment, and that was that. I said that to say I’m never up on new movies anymore. The closest movie theaters to me are thirty minutes in either direction. It’s become a hassle. I’m one of those people now. Forever waiting for DVDs and Blu-Rays. So if you’re looking at this review and going, “wow, real current there, Quill,” my response is, “hey! …shut up.”

Crimson Peak is the most recent outing of Guillermo del Toro. It’s a gothic tale about a haunted house, grisly murders, and an unfolding mystery. We follow Edith (Mia Wasikowska) as she heads to her destiny with said haunted house and unravels the clues. Right out of the gate she’s a fantastic lead. She’s an every-woman with some extra flourishes that flesh her out and give her some good depth. I found myself rooting for her the whole time, and it’s part of what kept me glued to my screen.

Rounding things out, we have Thomas (Tom Hiddleston) and Lucille Sharpe (Jessica Chastain), a mysterious duo with a boatload of secrets. Also, Dr. Alan McMichael (Charlie Hunnam) who has “Jonathan-Harker-esque hero” written all over him. And because I simply have to mention it, Jim Beaver plays Edith’s protective father. I’m always glad to see him pop up. While it’s easy to pigeonhole these characters into easy categories, as I have for the benefit of the reader, they’re not cliches. There’s some really interesting gender role reversal going on with Thomas and Lucille. Alan is a very savvy guy that I wish there’d been more of. These roles are what they need to be but also more. It’s what makes the movie feel so rich.

Well, that and the setting. My God. This thing is a feast for the eyes. Del Toro always brings the fantastic monsters, and the ghosts here are some of the most disturbing I’ve ever seen. Rest assured a couple of those ghosts were Doug Jones, meaning they have all that creepy movement and wonderful awfulness you look for in a monster. The house itself is like a dark wonderland, falling apart at the seams with a huge hole in the roof, which allows it to snow inside the house. Sinking deep into red clay that makes it appear as if blood is seeping up from the floor and running down the walls. It’s gorgeous. Even if this doesn’t sound like your thing, this is one to enjoy simply as art.

Does this movie have downsides? Barely, but the one I’d call out is a very personal thing. I’m a very observant viewer. I’ve also read widely and watched a lot of movies. Little gets past me. So I was never really shocked by revelations that came later in the film. That’s not to say other viewers won’t be. This is something that I tend to go through, so it wasn’t one of those films I could crow about on the grounds that it caught me off guard with its mysteries.

I can say that it pulled a very strong, positive reaction out of me. It’s Poe-esque, with its sinking mansion, howling ghosts who serve as warnings, and pale, brooding characters. Edith is the perfect audience surrogate if you’re a sensitive type who likes to write and enjoys intrigue. I thought her journey was very powerful. I fangirled. What else can I call it? It left me fangirling, which doesn’t happen that often anymore. So of course I want to scream from the hilltops now that everyone should watch this.

I’ve had a very up-and-down relationship with Guillermo del Toro and his films. I loved Mimic and Hellboy. Blade II and Hellboy II were disappointments. Pan’s Labyrinth was beautiful but left me feeling hollow with its nihilistic message. So it feels nice to be back on his bandwagon and waiting for his next project. Also, I need to watch Pacific Rim. Damn my lack of a movie theater.

Thank you for reading, and as always, happy geeking!

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