So I capped off my Halloween watch season with two final movies — last year’s disappointing Japanese remake of “Cube” and this year’s truly unnerving “Smile.”
The new “Cube” wasn’t terrible — it was better than the glut of lackluster low-budget horror films that we fans endlessly contend with. But it’s still a watered-down, somewhat milquetoast facsimile of the devilish 1997 Canadian original. The makers of the new film seem to have consciously traded booby-trap horror for some belabored personal drama. (If you see this movie, you might note that the plot-driving booby traps in the titular futuristic prison get surprisingly little screen time.)
This decision doesn’t pay off too well … the melodrama slows the film down without making the characters any more engaging. And the overused flashbacks disrupt the claustrophobic setting that is supposed to be essential here. Maybe this script was written to better anticipate the expectations of Japanese audiences? Or maybe the movie simply had a limited special effects budget — the deadly traps that we do get to see in action are depicted by CGI that is a little unconvincing.
“Smile,” on the other hand, was scary as hell. Yes, it bears a striking resemblance to another well known horror film (which I won’t name, as that might be a general spoiler). And some of the twists and jump scares are easy to predict (or were spoiled by the trailer).
But … goddam. This movie worked. I can’t knock a horror film that had me genuinely scared. The supernatural plot device is undeniably creepy, and writer-director Parker Finn wisely employs methodical pacing to gradually ratchet up the tension. Sosie Bacon (daughter of Kevin Bacon!) was also convincing as the protagonist, and created a sympathetic character to root for.
“Smile” is strong stuff. I’d definitely recommend it.
I discovered something incredibly cool this afternoon — it turns out that the good people over at Dark Horse Comics quoted me in their 2019 promotion of Matt Wagner’s superb Grendel: Devil’s Odyssey. The eight-issue limited series marked the return of the iconic Grendel Prime, who I last followed as a zealous young fan in the pages Grendel Tales (1993-1997), Batman/Grendel II (1996) and Grendel: Past Prime (2000).
Dark Horse quoted a review I wrote of Wagner’s Grendel: Omnibus Volume 1 (2012), which was a compilation of the writer-artist’s brilliant early work on the title.
I’m thrilled. Wagner’s a genius — and while Grendel’s dark, violent content is not for everyone, it’s always been a seminal title for the medium of comics. I remember greedily snapping up back issues when I was a college student in 1992 — I never thought the day would arrive when a review of mine would be referenced to attract new fans.
Sony Pictures Releasing.
The morning after declaring a national emergency to fund the border wall without Congressional approval, the President of the United States asked (via tweet, of course) how television networks could “get away with these total Republican hit jobs without retribution.”
This is the President of the United States, people.
The tweet can (arguably, I suppose) be interpreted as an implicit call to violence against television networks. It all boils down to whether or not you view the word “retribution” as intrinsically violent. In fairness to the president, the various online dictionaries don’t actually require that — “retribution” can be defined as benignly as “recompense” or “reward,” or as ominously as “punishment for a crime” or “the act of taking revenge.”
But I will tell you that “retribution” is a word that I immediately associate with organized crime movies. (The example that springs to mind first is Robert Patrick growling it ironically in 1997’s “Cop Land.”)
Where were you that night, Jack?
I had nothing to do with it. That would be retribution, and that I leave to God almighty. I’m Gandhi.
If it helps to determine the president’s intention any, we can look at the Stalin-esque phrase he invokes, yet again, in his follow-up tweet: “THE RIGGED AND CORRUPT MEDIA IS THE ENEMY OF THE PEOPLE!” (And we know the man is sure of his assertion when he types it in all capitals.)
I’m personally reading the man’s comments in the context of what I’ve been reading lately from a few Trump supporters in my orbit via social media. I wrote previously on this blog about one of them openly calling for the large scale execution of “journslists” (they can never quite spell it) and Democrats. I have also heard from these individuals that the Second Amendment was created to protect us from journalists, while another hoped brightly that journalists get “eaten alive” (a metaphor, to be sure, yet hardly one that suggests a peaceable course of action).
But back to the tweet about “Saturday Night Live.” As though he were proceeding from some official Online Imbecile checklist, he was sure to include the term “Fake News” (his dumbed-down catchphrase for whatever he perceives as propaganda), as well as something childish (“very unfair”), something vague (“many other shows … should be looked into”) and something with inscrutable logic (“This is the real Collusion!”)
Again — this is the President of the United States, people.
Enjoy your Sunday.
Eilis Dillon’s “The Singing Cave” was another favorite childhood book of mine for the obvious reasons — a young boy explores a seaside cave and discovers a Viking skeleton, complete with a sword and armor. That pretty much hit all the right notes for me when I was in early gradeschool in the 1980’s. (Some sort of age-appropriate young-adult mystery unfolded after the skeleton disappeared, possibly involving the townspeople, but I don’t even remember that very well. What thrilled me and stayed with me was the kid finding a armored Viking skeleton in a cave.)
The book was published first in 1959 in the United Kingdom by Faber & Faber; Dillon was Irish and the story was set in Ireland. It was released here in America the following year by the now defunct Funk & Wagnalls — the same company that produced those huge reference books that Gen X’ers remember lugging around before the arrival of CD-Roms. (Funk & Wagnalls is a name I haven’t heard in a very long time. It turns out they quite bein’ a thing in 1997.)
I went through one hell of a Viking Phase when I was a kid. (I suppose it wasn’t too different from other kids wanting to be pirates.) I was thrilled with stories about Leif Erikson, and I was pretty happy that his last name sounded like my first. It would be years later when my parents told me that I was actually named after another Viking, Erik the Red, albeit very indirectly. (My parents like the name featured in the “Erik” cigars television commercial.)
I might have talked about this at the blog before, but I even constructed my own “Viking ship” with the kid next door when I was very young. It probably wasn’t seaworthy; it was really just a wooden pallet with some two-by-fours nailed together as a mast, and a white sheet for a sail. (Where had we gotten that sheet? It seems to me that if I’d stolen it from the laundry, I’d have gotten into some trouble for that with my Mom.) Bizarrely, my friend and I etched a bright red Spanish Cross on the sail — even though that emblem had nothing to do with the Vikings. You kinda can’t excuse our stupidity because we were kids … we’d seen plenty of pictures of the Nina, the Pinta, and the Santa Maria in school.
My Dad also cautioned me and my buddy that our Viking ship might not float. (The hindsight of adulthood assures me that it definitely wouldn’t have floated, but my Dad didn’t want to dash our hopes too abruptly.) He explained to us patiently in the backyard that in order for something to float, it had to “displace its own weight in water.” And … I actually understood that, surprisingly enough. It’s probably the only physics lesson I’ve understood in my life.
In fact … I don’t think we even had a plan in place for moving that boat from the backyard to the water. We were so enamored with the concept of shipbuilding that we kinda didn’t think things through very far at all.
I just started the Twitter hashtag #spaceforceselfies to troll Donald Trump’s planned “Space Force.” Just take a shot of yourself in any sci-fi getup to parody an eager recruit. You get extra points if you work in a gag directly at the president’s expense within the photo.
This could be a lot of fun if it gains traction among the cosplayer crowd. I’d go first, but I haven’t the slightest idea how to make a costume.
I’d love to figure out a way to make a convincing costume for the Mobile Infantry depicted in Paul Verhoeven’s 1997 adaptation of Robert A. Heinlein’s “Starship Troopers.” This … this might actually just be an elaborate excuse for me to dress up as “Starship Troopers.”