New Eps Are Up

Dangerous Thoughts: Episodes 1 through 3 are currently up at Amazon. Begin your journey now! Click on the book cover you see below! Your very life may depend on it! *

 

* Your life probably doesn’t depend on it, but mine definitely does (might), so please go buy those books and read them and come back here and talk about them.

Hysterical

One of the things I really miss about the old 1930s horror films is that one scene were someone completely loses their shit on screen. I’m talking about the scene in The Mummy where a shadow falls over the young archaeologist who has just read the scroll of Thoth out loud, inadvertently releasing the title creature. Or the scene in Frankenstein where the good doctor realizes his experiment has succeeded. Or, the coup de grace, any scene involving Renfield from Dracula.

In the case of the Mummy, the young archaeologist simply starts laughing louder and louder until he becomes unhinged. For Frankenstein, it’s the familiar refrain of, “It’s alive” over and over until he collapses from the sheer exhaustion of mania. For Renfield, it happens when his master turns on him and things get… ugly.

I don’t know if there’s an actor working today who could convincingly melt down this garishly, but it appears to have been a tool in the standard bag of tricks for actors in the 1930s. Maybe Pacino, but I don’t think even he could do the “It’s alive!” scene with the same unnerving sense of mounting hysteria and decaying sanity as Colin Clive did.

Likewise, there’s something remarkably malicious about Dwight Frye’s turn as Renfield. It’s a brand of lunacy that’s as hungry as it is unhinged. But of all of these, my favorite is the one from The Mummy. I remember quite clearly experiencing that scene on a dreary Saturday night Creature Features when I was a kid.

At first, I thought it was funny. The guy’s laughing. That’s funny, right? He sees this creature shambling toward him and starts laughing. So I started to laugh. But then the tone and pitch of the laughter quickly twist into something else, something terrifying. I mean, if you were standing in line at Wendy’s and someone started laughing like that, you would clear the hell out of there like your hair was on fire. That is the laugh of someone who has taken one giant leap away from his sanity.

Maybe Jared Leto could do it? I guess we’ll see when he struts and frets his Joker across the stage in Suicide Squad though I’m doubtful. The last time someone went Method on a comic book character we ended up with Blade 3.

Now that’s a terrifying prospect.

Return of the Living Dead

After mentioning this 1980’s classic in a previous post, I realized I had never sat through the entire thing so I decided to Netflix it and chill with it. After all, how bad could it be? It’s got a respectable 7.2 on IMDB and a 90 percent fresh on Rotten Tomatoes. It’s got Dan O’Bannon (Alien, Dead and Buried) and Clu Gulager. Plus, one girl spends the entire movie completely naked, even after she turns into a zombie.

This is also the only Dead movie where the word Zombie is used and is the origin of the quest for BRAINS vis-a-vis zombie dietary requirements.

So why is it so stinking awful? Probably because it would be fucking hilarious if you were stoned. Unfortunately, I was straight up sober for the whole thing and it’s a mess to behold.

O’Bannon, who had never directed a feature before and would only go on to direct one more, adopts the high school drama club mugging for a static camera style, stitching together master shot after master shot filled with people running around looking for something to do, stepping on each other’s lines, and mumbling into their hands when they’re not overacting.

There are three music videos embedded in the movie for some reason. Bad 80s music videos for generic 80s synth pop tunes that almost sound a little bit like that one song you hear a lot on that one radio station.

It’s no wonder that Clu Gulager is rumored to have had multiple violent meltdowns on set. The man was a quality actor whose agent somehow got him stuck up to his neck in this quicksand of lunatic amateurishness.

But, again, for a Doug Loves Movies or an MST3K night with the right mixture of mind altering chemicals, this movie could be deadly funny. Seriously, it could kill.

iZombie

I’ve been catching up on this show recently and have really come to enjoy it. Good writing and strong performances from the cast make this the closest thing to Buffy Season 3 I’ve seen in a long time, though they’ve been smart enough to keep the Scooby gang small for the time being.

There always comes a point in shows like this when the heroine’s secret is completely public and the universe the show exists in has to shift to accommodate the weirdness that keeps happening.

Murder, She Wrote really needed a Hellmouth to explain all those murders. Although, I have to say, I prefer this theory that Jessica Fletcher committed all the murders and the TV show is a story she’s telling in an attempt to blame other people for her actions.

But… back to iZombie. It’s truly refreshing when a zombie story doesn’t follow the usual formula:

  1. Neighbors look a bit funky.
  2. Oh, my God! My Face!
  3. Hole up somewhere (house, mall, fortress)
  4. Find out there is no escape from the Zombie Apocalypse.

Which is what made the book World War Z so fabulous and the movie such a piece of shit.

This zombie plague is spreading with the slow, irregularity of a particularly middle of the road influenza. This allows the writers (and us, the viewers) to focus on the characters and relationships instead of screaming, “Don’t open that door!” over and over at the television.

Interestingly enough, there’s only one major movie that I can think of in which the zombies actually feast on brains and that’s the off brand Return of the Living Dead, written by John Russo (Romero’s long lost partner from Night of the Living Dead) and directed by Dan O’Bannon who has done much better work, see Dead And Buried.

The only explanation I’ve heard about the need to eat brains is that the zombies use the serotonin to lift their spirits and quiet their pain. I don’t know about that, but I like iZombie’s explanation that it’s to stave off brain degradation and the characteristically shambolic behavior normally associated with reanimated dead bodies.

What they don’t explain on the show is how no one is suspicious of Olivia’s sudden loss of all pigmentation. Also, if their hearts only beat once every seven seconds, shouldn’t her skin feel uncomfortably cold and clammy to a living human like Major?

Meh, quibbles. It’s a fun show. You should watch it.

Check It Out

Check out the new Dangerous Thoughts page I added. That’s it right there… no, to the right. On the tab bar. The tab bar. The tab that says, “Dangerous Thoughts.” No, that one says “A Girl Unseen.” The tab next to that… yes, that one. Dangerous Thoughts. Sheesh.

With the first five episodes coming out in the next month, I thought I’d better put a page up where folks can keep track of the progress.

Look, you can even just click this: Dangerous Thoughts

Jessica Jones & Daredevil

I don’t remember the day I bought my last comic book, nor do I remember the reasoning behind the decision to stop buying them. I know it was my sophomore year of high school so I can assume leaving those illustrated stories of derring-do by men in tights and women in low cut tights had something to do with the presence of girls in my life.

But I like to think that part of it was also the dissonance between the world of the comic books and the world I was living in. The cleanly drawn line between good and evil, right and wrong in the books was more a fuzzy, wavering line in the real world and, while there were some straight up bad guys out there, I was starting to believe the good guys weren’t up to much good, either.

I was reading books like the Thomas Covenant Trilogy, Stranger in a Strange Land, and the Dune series along with stories by Philip K. Dick and Harlan Ellison. All with extremely conflicted ideologies and complex protagonists (if not complete anti-heroes as in A Clockwork Orange and A Boy and His Dog).

Even though I was still fond of my favorite heroes like Captain America, Nick Fury and Spider-Man, the crisp divisions of the four color pallet just didn’t seem relevant anymore.

Daredevil was a big part of that world, too. He stayed the longest because he was a vigilante who was conflicted about being a vigilante even though he meted out justice with extreme prejudice.

But he was still a guy in spandex starring in illustrated stories for kids.

The thing that I really longed for wouldn’t come along until I had stopped paying attention: Comics for grownups. I wanted that great artwork and those exciting panels to be put toward something that challenged my growing mind.

Earlier this year we got a truly dark, truly artful telling of the Daredevil story on Netflix and it was wonderful. I’m really looking forward to the second season. Where The Flash (and probably Arrow and probably Super Girl) is more of the simpleminded fun of the comics from my youth, Daredevil dwells in a far darker world, one more reminiscent of the one actually live in. I like them both but I get a stronger sense of satisfaction from Daredevil and Gotham than I do from The Flash.

And then there’s Jessica Jones. What was awful in the comic book, I can only imagine will be truly horrifying in live action. That David Tennant, my favorite Doctor, will be playing the Purple Man, makes it even worse.

Does it sound like I’m not looking forward to it? Wrong. Some fiction should be difficult. I’m filled with trepidation not because I don’t want to see this story brought to life but because I know that I’m going to feel all the feelings and as you get older you have a tendency to not want to do that, but every now and then good things come along and force you out of your cocoon.

Krysten Ritter is going to do a fantastic job. I’ve seen a couple of trailers, one short and one longer, and they both look as good as Daredevil. Tennant will be great, as usual. Mike Colter is perfect for the part of Luke Cage and the damn thing even has Carrie-Anne Moss in it. When it came to casting, Netflix wanted to make sure they had it nailed down.

It may be difficult to watch, but one thing is for damn sure: It will be better than Blind Spot.

Continuum

My first thought was that this was meant to be a CW show. Everyone is too pretty and too young. It just has that “The FBI’s hottest agents are all in one apartment complex” feeling.

For instance, Rachel Nichols who plays time traveling supercop Kiera Cameron was 32 when this show debuted, however she looks like she may be 28 at most. Still, her character is supposed to be a former soldier and current police detective/mother of a six-year-old. She just looked too young to be that person.

Secondly, her present day partner Carlos is played by Victor Webster, a former chin model and star of such soap operas as Melrose Place and Lincoln Heights.

Needless to say, I was not hyped for this show, but I had a whole weekend upended by cancelled plans and nothing else to fill it with so I decided to watch it anyway.

It gets off to an unsteady start (like most shows) but I was struck right away by the quality acting coming from Nichols and Webster. They had almost instant chemistry and never once let a line reading go flat.

This is the problem with dismissing actors just because they’re attractive. Some — though, probably very few — attractive people actually have soul it turns out.

SPOILERS FOLLOW

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Castle And POI

Every TV series seems to go through a similar arc. They get off to a wobbly start while the writers are trying to define the characters in terms of the actors. Hopefully, this happens in the first season and by the second season the actors have taken full ownership of their characters. Then, by the third or fourth season, when all the cylinders are firing in time, the series hits its peak.

Then it continues on for another four seasons or so until it has used up all its previous good will and everyone just wishes it would go away.

Buffy went on for four seasons after its untoppable third. There were highlights and great moments to be had (in increasingly sparse amounts) but the Mayor was the best villain, the Scoobies were at their best, the comedy was funny and the drama was hard.

But think about what it means to a writers room that you’ve truly hit your stride in the third season: In America on Network TV, that means you’ve already told over sixty stories about your characters.

These aren’t sitcoms. The characters aren’t just mouthpieces for jokes. They have lives that the audience has to empathize with. Very few of even the most adventurous people in history have done sixty exciting things in their lives.

It must get a little crazy in the writers rooms of shows once they pass that peak at season three. They’ve got be constantly asking themselves, “What could possibly happen to our main characters this week that hasn’t already happened to them?”

Castle is entering its 8th season while Person of Interest is about to begin its 5th. The writers rooms of these two shows have taken different approaches to dealing with story fatigue, though neither are handling it particularly well.

On Castle, everyone has now been kidnapped (some more than once), everyone has also been trapped in a burning building, strapped to a bomb and left for dead hanging off the side of a ledge. A show that started out as clever and intriguing has become increasingly ridiculous.

Person of Interest, on the other hand, started out as slightly ridiculous, became temporarily relevant and then slipped into speechifying at the expense of storytelling. It has become a show in which one of the main characters (usually Root) shows up and explains in one long sentence how she compromised a secure network, what the stakes are, and what needs to be done. This is followed by lots of knees bent running around and shooting with less accuracy than a Storm Trooper.

This is one of the reasons why I like the idea behind shows like American Horror Story and Fargo. They tell a whole new story every season, sometimes using most of the same actors in different roles and other times replacing the cast entirely.

Also, the quality TV coming from the upper cable channels on shows like Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul have wised up to the British way of things and are limiting their seasons to ten or so episodes.

I have to admit that, while I like that just doing ten shows allows them to provide the kind of quality normally found in Swiss watches, waiting ten months to get more of Saul Goodman is a tough stretch.

Especially when you have to fill it with 22 episodes of blather like Castle and POI.

Dark Matter

This is a fun show once you get into it. Like any show, the first few episodes are as wobbly as a new fawn but this one carries the extra baggage of being easily and unfairly compared to that beloved child murdered in its crib, Firefly.

I say that it’s easy to draw comparisons between the two shows because of some glaring similarities: a group of people stuck together on a space freighter who are either reluctant or unable to reveal their pasts. In the case of Firefly, the crew were criminals and ex-rebels who craved the privacy space affords. In the case of Dark Matter, they are a group of criminals who have had their memories wiped.

It does sometimes feel like a bunch of frustrated Browncoats got into a room after Firefly was cancelled and said to themselves, “How can we bring that back without having to pay for the IP rights?”

But I won’t go into further comparisons here. Either you will get over the similarities and like the show for what it is or you won’t.

I do like it. Once the characters differentiated themselves (a process that seems to happen in all non-Whedon shows where the writers allow the actors to flesh out the 2D characters) it’s a quite engaging story.

There are a few tropes that fall flat. Four’s character seeming to be transported directly from feudal Japan, swordplay included, seems like a wasted chance to do something new. Even though they tried to flesh out Six’s hardcore military type with a nice back story, he remains two dimensional (if well acted).

But the high points really allow you to gloss over the TV tropes. The constantly shifting interplay between the six crew members, disturbed and reinvigorated by new information about their pasts, keeps the show from getting bogged down in an emotional stalemate and Melissa O’Neil does a great job bringing humor and life to a character that could have been overly grim.

It’s fun and the first season cliff hanger seems organic rather than tacked on. I’m looking forward to season two.

Black Mirror

This is the most appropriately named show ever.

First things first: Three episodes per series? Now the BBC is just straight up trolling us.

But, more to the point, you couldn’t find a blacker mirror to hold up to society. I can only assume that one cup of coffee with creator Charlie Brooker would leave you ready to slit your wrists. His vision for modern humanity is so bleak the few laughs that pop up in this show are darker than the damning social critique.

The problem is not how bleak it is but how accurate it feels.