#T5W: Fandoms I’m No Longer In

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Welcome to another Top 5 Wednesday. This time we’re talking about fandoms. Oh, fandoms. Those things that have such enormous highs and lows. That can fire up your interest in something until it becomes obsession or kill you’re enthusiasm so completely you never want to think about it ever again. I’ve seen some stuff. I’ve been in the mud and the blood when it comes to fandoms, for better or for worse. There are some I’ve stuck by, but this isn’t about that. These are the ones that I had to leave behind.

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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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Top 5: Nicktoons

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Here’s something new I’m trying. Random Top Fives! This could be fun, methinks.

Starting us off, let’s talk about Nicktoons. Like most modern people, I grew up with these. I watched them well into my teens and early twenties. Don’t judge. And some Nicktoons clearly outclass others. I know we view most things like this through nostalgia goggles, but there are some Nicktoons I watched that I didn’t enjoy, and I kept watching them. I don’t even know why I did that other than when you’re young, you’ll watch just about anything. But here are the ones that stuck with me. That, in my opinion, have stood the test of time.

5. Ren and Stimpy. Okay, this might still be those nostalgia goggles I was disparaging up there, because I haven’t actually had a ton of luck rewatching this one. It appealed so perfectly to me as a kid. I adored it. I had a Happy Happy Joy Joy poster on my wall. I watched every, single episode. In hindsight, this show was incredibly twisted and disgusting and bizarre, and it probably shaped who I am today with it’s nastiness. I probably shouldn’t have even been watching it, which makes it even more magical in a way. This one made the list for the undeniable impact it had on me.

4. Spongebob Squarepants. Not exactly covering new ground here. Everyone holds a place in their heart for Spongebob. The question is more “why so low?” Because the show has outlived its creative drive entirely. The original showrunner is off the project, and it shows. But there was a beautiful time when this was one of the funniest, most entertaining cartoons on TV. Still, another reason it’s so low is I’ve watched those episodes to the point of memorization. I have no desire to watch it again, because I’ve exhausted it. I know every joke. That also means it had to make the list, because anything that unforgettable is worth mentioning.

3. Angry Beavers. This one came out at a time when the new Nickelodeon cartoons were becoming hit or miss for me. It seemed like these shows all wanted to be Doug or something like it, and I was never that much of a fan of Doug in the first place. Then Angry Beavers arrived. It was fast-paced humor with two incredible voice actors that knew how to manipulate already funny material into gut-busting material. I’ll put it this way. My mother had very little tolerance for Nicktoons, but she loved this one. It had some kind of universal appeal, like lightning in a bottle. I’m sad this show didn’t become more of an “it” property for Nick.

2. Invader Zim. Another show that was too short-lived for how utterly brilliant it was. And brilliant is the word. Not just funny and cute and entertaining for a few minutes, but genuinely a work of genius. The jokes were deeper and wider than their audience. The stories and characters, too. Ren and Stimpy was a dark comedy, which was strange enough for a kid’s show, but this one took those same bricks that had been laid down before it and built higher. There’s a reason we still talk about it, still watch it, still walk around in Gir shirts.

1. Rocko’s Modern Life. But this might just be the perfect Nicktoon. It bridges the gap between Ren and Stimpy and Invader Zim, with an adult sensibility but a more subtle and mature sense of humor. It has the day-in-the-life of a show like Doug, but with a much more compelling cast of characters. It’s absurd, but not to the point of total, inane randomness. It never talked down to its audience. It can still be watched at any age and carry the same amount of enjoyment and laughs. If you don’t believe me, rewatch it. It’s still so smart and so good.

What were your favorites? Talk to me in the comments. And as always, happy geeking!

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Review: Penny Dreadful Season 1

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A little while back, I watched the first season of this show and fell in love with it. It wasn’t hard to do so. It’s the sort of show I’d flock to no matter what went on in it, with all those classic horror characters hanging out and getting into scary shenanigans. I got lucky in that it was also well-written, well-acted, and generally fantastic.

The premise is that we get to see those Victorian classics that give us chills in a semi-realistic setting full of grit and drama. Stories like Frankenstein, Dracula, and The Picture of Dorian Gray take center stage, weave in and out of each other, and create something entirely new. That’s where the uniqueness of this series really comes in. It’s not a straight adaptation. There’s enough there for fans to recognize all the pieces, but the twists abound. In great ways, so not even the stodgiest fan could bemoan how they ruined such-and-such book or character.

Frankenstein and his monster shined the most for me in that regard. There’s a major, sudden jolt from one type of story to another as the plot plays out, a reveal that is masterfully done and leaves your jaw hanging. Even aside from the shocks and thrills, their story as a whole gave me the same feeling the book did when I first read it. I remember feeling that Victor and the Creature were both equally sympathetic and wicked. The Creature was more like his father than he realized and vice versa. That comes across beautifully here.

The overall plot involves a play on Dracula, with lots of vampire hunting. We have Vanessa Ives, played spectacularly by Eva Green, who takes on a Lucy Westenra role. If my saying that makes you feel like you’ve got her part and the story as a whole all figured out, no, you don’t. Everything in this show comes with a twist or a catch or an all new perspective. Really what this show does best with things like having the Creature nicknamed Caliban or making Vanessa a stand-in for Lucy is hide Easter eggs. You needn’t know these things to enjoy the show, but they enhance the watching and highlight the show-runner’s cleverness and his obvious love for these stories.

I could go on about the fantastic performances and the cinematography and how the story kept me glued to my screen. At the end of the day, it’s the affection and respect John Logan, the show’s creator, has for these classics and this time period. What he’s crafted here wasn’t some goofball cash-in, using beloved characters for a slapdash story. It’s intricately woven and perfectly paced. It’s cohesive and makes perfect sense no matter what kind of fan you are. Everyone ought to experience this, and with it being nearly Halloween, now is certainly the time.

I hope I convinced you to give this show a try. If you would like to support this blog, check out my Redbubble shop. As always, happy geeking!

#T5W: Books You Want To See As TV Shows

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You know what I like about this topic? It’s not about movie adaptations. It’s about an entire television show. Meaning the choices for this list are substantial enough that they could sustain an ongoing series with multiple seasons. So let’s do this thing.

5. The Sandman by Neil Gaiman. This one seems to be caught in some sort of development hell, but whenever I hear some whisper about it, it’s always about a movie. No! Show! It’s such a long series with so many different ideas addressed. It would be very easy to make this a visually stunning TV series that would become the new thing everyone obsesses over. Also, the series is complete, so there’s none of that waiting on an author or the show getting ahead of its own story. It’s simply ready to be adapted if someone just will.

4. The Works of H.P. Lovecraft. I love horror anthologies. I think they’re loads of fun, and I wish they’d come back into style. This could be the way to do it. Again, everyone wants films of Lovecraft’s work, but aside from maybe “At The Mountains of Madness”, none of it’s long enough to sustain a two hour movie. But an hour long episode? Sure. They could set them in the time they were written. They could modernize them. They could make the characters more diverse. The possibilities really get your brain working when you start thinking about it.

3. Swamp Thing by Alan Moore. I’m specifically invoking Moore’s version of Swamp Thing here, but just Swamp Thing in general would be fantastic. It could be one of those shows like The X-Files or Supernatural, but the one dealing with the strange and unknown is a monster himself. The comics always handled that in very interesting ways, and if they can transfer that inspiration to a show, it would be incredible.

2. Swan Song by Robert McCammon. How many times am I going to talk about this book? As many times as it takes to get everyone to read it. It’s massive, I know. Meaning it wouldn’t make a very good movie. There’s too much there to squeeze into a small space. Something like this needs a TV miniseries. Remember when those used to be big events? Give it about four weeks to get the whole story onscreen. Not all TV series need to go on and on. Just long enough to make it epic.

1. The First Law Series by Joe Abercrombie. We have Game of Thrones. Which maybe isn’t a great example, since I personally love the books and have given up on the TV series. But I still hold out hope that GoT’s popularity could make it possible for The First Law Series to get made. It’s dark, gritty, and surprisingly funny, and anyone who loves dark fantasy would love this. I also would love to see who they’d get to play Glokta. That’s a prime role for any actor right there.

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Review: Stranger Things Season One

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Like many right now, I’ve fallen in love with the Netflix original series Stranger Things. It was tailor made for someone like me. It’s set in the 80s with an accurate aesthetic. There are references galore to the 80s mainstays with a special emphasis on Spielberg and Stephen King. It’s a horror-heavy science fiction story with a mystery to unpack as the series plays out. They couldn’t have asked for an easier audience to hook than me.

What makes Stranger Things work for everyone, in my opinion? For starters, the references are fun but not essential. By that I mean that you needn’t be an expert on early King or have watched E.T. and Alien. That makes it more fun certainly, but you don’t have to be on the inside of every nod to another work. It works on its own.

That’s where what Stranger Things does is unique in our current, entertainment atmosphere. We’ve all heard it said that we’re stuck with remakes, reboots, and adaptations. Stranger Things is none of that. Yes, it’s an homage to the things we love that have come before, but it’s not only that. It’s original. One of the best examples of that is when we reach a moment that looks like it’s about to play out exactly like a famous scene from E.T., then it’s beautifully subverted. It handles the same situation from that film in a much darker and frankly more badass way. I feel like that was The Duffer Brothers, the show’s creators, telling us that it’s all well and good to nod to the things that came before, but you better do something different with it. Otherwise, what is the point in perpetually repeating ourselves?

We have the group of kids getting in way over their heads. We have the mysterious girl with powers. We have the washed-up cop trying to do the right thing. We have the frantic mother of the missing boy. But we also have nuance and character development and fantastic acting to go along with this familiar territory. It’s not stale, and it’s not cliche.

When talking about this, I have to mention the monster. The Demogorgon. When it first appeared, I thought we were headed toward alien abduction territory, and I felt myself yawn inwardly. There’s not much that hasn’t already been done with that, considering The X-Files has spent ten season and two movies covering the topic. Then it went in a direction I didn’t foresee, and the Demogorgon became one of the most existentially, cosmically frightening creatures I’ve ever seen in fiction. Many horror writers would blush upon realizing they’ve never managed to be this scary before. As a horror fan, I want to recommend this show based on that. You will find yourself with that dawning fridge horror, understanding slowly how terrifying a creature like the Demogorgon really is. It would actually be preferable if all he did was eat you.

Even beyond that, the great story and the great monster, this show has an incredible emotional core. It will rip your heart out, put it back, and rip it out again several times over. For only eight episodes in all, it packs such a punch. That ending was deliciously ambiguous, too. Bring on season two, please!

I hope this review convinced some of you to try the show. It’s a solid 5/5 from me. If you want to support this blog, check out my RedBubble Shop. I just recently put up two designs inspired by Stranger Things. Buying, sharing, anything at all helps me out a lot. And as always, happy geeking!

Episode Review – Sherlock: The Abominable Bride

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I’m late to the game on this. I usually am. But I can officially say I’ve seen the Sherlock “Christmas” Special that everyone else has already seen and analyzed to death. Yes, I know how Sherlock fans are, being one myself. Mild spoilers ahead!

First off, “Christmas” is in quotes because it sort of takes place during Christmas for a space, but then it doesn’t really have much to do with Christmas. It’s even sort of lampshaded with everyone saying “Merry Christmas” and Sherlock being relieved they got that out of the way. So is this an episode you can watch during the holiday season and feel all cozy? No, but if you wanted that thin excuse, it is there.

“The Abominable Bride” takes on the traditional Sherlock Holmes set in the Victorian era with all the trappings. The characters are mainly cut from the cloth of the books and previous adaptations here with little flourishes that remind us of the modern take we’re accustomed to from the show.

There’s a grand twist in there, as well. For the case, yes, but also for Sherlock as a character and the entire reason we’re watching old-school Holmes and Watson running after ghosts. It’s enough to have any fan speculating for years to come, but I will say that I take it more at face value than some fans seem to. I don’t believe it’s going to destroy the whole series and become a cheap, it-was-all-a-dream cop-out that will echo through the ages. I did think it was clever, and this show always delivers on that front.

I’ve seen a lot of backlash from what the ultimate solution was. Many felt that the show-runners tackling feminism sent the wrong message. For my part, I was relieved they finally broached the subject. After Sherlock’s treatment of characters like Molly and Janine, their introduction of Irene Adler as a lesbian turned straight thanks to Sherlock’s awesomeness… They needed to answer for some things. They needed to address that Sherlock’s attitude toward women, and in some ways their own, is flawed. I use that word “flawed” very specifically. No one needs to be strung up from a tree, but improvements could certainly be made. This episode felt like an apology, a love letter to the women of the series, who are all amazing by the way. I appreciated it. Especially after Janine (has ever a fictional woman been more used, scorned, and tossed aside?), I wanted some form of apology, and this felt like I got it. So good job, I say.

That’s actually a nice way to slip into talking about Mary Watson. A character generally panned and hated, and I know people’s reasons. For me, the only one that might hold even an ounce of water is that she shot Sherlock. How can she be trusted after that? I find myself not questioning it, not caring about that part of things, and simply marveling at the character Mary is. Also, wishing she was much more a part of things. I love how unassuming she is, how her skills and prowess come as such a pleasant surprise. I love that she’s much sneakier than Sherlock and John. I just adore this character, and it needed to be said. Her role here is small, but I noticed every second of it.

Again, a little spoilery, but Moriarty is here. He’s sort of the main reason we’re here. He’s as fantastic as always, raising the bar of every scene he’s in. We get a lot more insight into the relationship between Mycroft and Sherlock, both heartbreaking and making me wonder once again what Mycroft isn’t telling us. We get a tiny dose of Irene Adler. There’s enough in this episode for a bucket-load of squee.

This story, for me, was less about a case to solve (and the episode itself basically says that) and more about Sherlock’s psychology. In that way, it’s being picked apart by fans who want answers, but I don’t think all that is entirely necessary. Sherlock himself is all about details, but “The Abominable Bride” is about a general feeling, showing us the brush that his mind is painted with. Obsession, addiction, excuses, and sadness. And I hope Series 4 continues to explore these ideas.

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Why Is Richard III My New Favorite Shakespeare Play?

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Admittedly I’m not as well-read in Shakespeare as I want to be. I’ve read/experienced pitifully few of his plays, and I’m trying to rectify that as I read by choosing Shakespeare more often than I have in the past. Of what I had read, I was a Hamlet girl. 100%. I was fascinated by the depth of Hamlet himself and the tragedy of his situation and how it played out. How his youth and his grief resulted in what it did. I still feel that way, but Richard III sort of sneaked in and grabbed me unexpectedly.

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The edition I read. It’s very good, if you’re looking for a recommendation.

Is it actually a better play than Hamlet? No. It’s not as tightly written. The characters rather than being a pastiche of grayness are desperately black and white, which is not nearly as interesting to read. Some of the character motivations, especially Anne, my God, are baffling. As a historical piece it doesn’t work at all, because we know now that Richard III is propaganda as written by a man trying to appease the winners of the War of the Roses.

What about it works then? What grabbed me so hard? Richard. No, this is not an accurate portrayal of the man as a historical figure, but as someone who has gone on to inspire a plethora of villains and disabled characters unjustly viewed as villains (Tyrion Lannister, for example), this Richard is a legend.

I fully understand, by the way, the dangerous implications of Richard being disabled and also horrifically evil. This play was written at a time when disabilities were considered “God’s curse”, and in that we get into a lot of uncomfortable and hurtful territory. I wouldn’t blame anyone for not being able to stomach it on that level. For my part, and apparently for the part of many who adapt the play, it’s a lot easier to see that what turned Richard was hearing that for his entire life. Being treated differently. In a way, it’s still a valid play that we can constantly turn back to in an imperfect world.

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Benedict Cumberbatch in The Hollow Crown

Which brings me to the recent BBC adaptation of Richard III via The Hollow Crown, starring Benedict Cumberbatch as the lead role. He does play the character as someone who, being viewed as he was simply because of his appearance, has carried not only his disability but the pain others have heaped on him. It comes through beautifully, and I highly recommend this one as an adaptation to watch if you’re even halfway interested. His corruption by choice starts to become a whirlwind by the halfway point wherein Richard seems unhinged, losing his grip on reality, and the tragedy rings throughout it. They manage to balance Richard’s villainy with pathos and deepen the character substantially.

But what about a version where he’s gleefully evil? Ian McKellan is your man here. The film adaptation he starred in is titled simply Richard III, but it stands out uniquely. It’s set in England in the 1930s and takes on a World War II aesthetic. With Richard as an obvious figure. I say obvious, but it’s not a bad thing really. Richard lacks a bit of nuance because of it, but Sir Ian looking us dead in the eye and smirking over his wicked deeds is too good. It raises the level of heavy-handedness to incredible heights. Another I recommend.

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Ian McKellan in Richard III

I’m actually on a quest to watch more adaptations. I’d like to check out Laurence Olivier, of course. I’ve seen some clips, but I’d like to see the full film. Martin Freeman, Kevin Spacey… This play is so tempting for actors, and it attracts the very talented because of the opportunity to play Richard on so many levels, with both glee and regret. A clever, winking villain seems to be an actor’s playground.

Now to the real core of it all. The play itself. What makes these adaptations work, I’m surprised to say, is that they cut out a lot of unnecessary trifles. A lot of people die in Richard III. Spoilers, though non-specific ones. It’s a war for the crown. People will die, if we’ve learned nothing else from George R.R. Martin. Shakespeare was bad to introduce a character, seal their fate, and then give them a monologue about how sad it all is. It’s not very compelling to read. Apparently it’s not very compelling to film either, because I’ve yet to see anyone really use those moments without cutting them to shreds. Necessary shreds, I want to emphasize.

What the play needed more of, all of, was Richard. His lines sing. His banter with Elizabeth and Anne is quick and potent. Focusing in on him, perhaps to the exclusion of some other characters, works. It seems to be universally accepted that this is how you make this play great, by zeroing in on Richard. Because with all the excess, the fat that needs to be trimmed, it’s slow. You find yourself wondering when Richard will pop up to grin at you again.

This was one of Shakespeare’s earliest plays. He was still learning, still honing his skills. No writer, not even him, could achieve perfection right out of the gate. But he hit on something. A thing he’d continue to explore throughout his work. Why does an “evil person” do evil things? What motive do they have? Would they ever doubt themselves? How can they love themselves and do evil? In Richard he created a devil, someone who should seem entirely irredeemable, and made them tempting, fun, and even miserably tragic and sympathetic. For an early work, that’s very good.

I say again, as an overall play it’s not better than Hamlet. Yet Richard as a character fired my imagination and has clearly done so for others. For that alone, it’s taken a special place in my hierarchy.

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The X-Files Season 10 Review

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I’m taking on quite a vast subject talking about season 10 of The X-Files. There’s so much to say about it, so much that ties into the old series and looks to the future. The easiest place to start is to say it had its ups and downs. Chris Carter struck gold with The X-Files, and he’s been trying to do it again ever since. Does he still have what it takes to run a show like this? Yes and no. Running the show, he surely does. Writing the scripts, I’m not convinced.

The show’s premiere was crammed with info, moved at too quick a pace, and felt a bit weak. But by the time we get to the show’s finale, it does pay off. Does that make a weak beginning worth it? I can’t answer that, but I will say by the time it was done, I wanted more. Of course, Carter is the king of the cliffhanger, so that’s part of why anyone would feel that way. We simply can’t leave it there. He does a lot with the less-than-two-hours TV that is “My Struggle” parts one and two, but I look forward to a smoother ride later on.

Admittedly, he had a lot of ground to cover, a lot of simplifying to do, and unlike other fans, that definitely didn’t bother me. I was glad to be relieved of most of the mythology so that I could enjoy the show with a clear head. Could the transition have been better handled? Sure. I do agree with that sentiment.

Now what about the in between? The episodes handled by old mainstays (James Wong, Darin Morgan, and Glen Morgan) were certainly the strongest. That felt like classic X-Files with updated characters with a vast history, and it played so well. In a way, that premiere episode was the show trying to get its sea legs. The rest was it hitting its stride. That’s the shame in only have six episodes in all. By the time it does that, we’re winding down again.

Of all the episodes, “Babylon” is probably the weakest. Talk about not knowing what type of story you want. A gag-filled episode about terrorism? That was a misstep. It had its moments, but it was all over the place tonally. Even saying that, I probably enjoyed it more than “My Struggle I”. Because it didn’t feel as shaky overall, but it’s not an episode I could see myself rewatching.

I imagine people want to know what I thought of Monica Reyes’s return, and I can do that while sparing you spoilers entirely. I never was on board with Doggett and Reyes. I know both of them, especially her, have a loyal following, but that’s where the show’s later seasons lost me. Many fans felt betrayed by how Carter handled her here, but my reaction was pretty neutral. I’m more concerned with Einstein and Miller. Why do we have thinly veiled Mulder and Scully clones just hanging around? I don’t want yet another set of replacements, Carter.

This season overall was a success. Even the weak moments can’t hurt it, because what we’re really here for is clear. To see Mulder and Scully reunite with all their personal history and attempt to save the world. To watch their personal journeys blossom even further, and that emotional impact was there for anyone who is a fan. We’re reminded that these two people have a child together, that their impact on this conspiracy always has been and always will be substantial, and that their friendship, through breakups and whatever else they endure, is very strong. As the center of the story, they bring everything you need to enjoy this show all over again.