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Sunday, September 25, 2016

6WH: Week 2 - When Animals Attack
The killer animal sub-genre is a pretty goofy one, though some classics have emerged, notably the likes of Jaws and The Birds. But then, not everyone is Steven Spielberg or Alfred Hitchcock and most efforts come off less successfully. Let's see if any of these filmmakers can step up:
  • The Chickening (short)
  • Cannibal Cows (Robot Chicken)
  • Night Of The Lepus (trailer)
  • Cujo - A rabid St. Bernard dog goes on a killing spree. A bit thin, but horror movies have been built around less. Of course, there is more to it than that, what with a marriage's troubles and whatnot, but this is all basically an excuse to trap a mother and asthmatic child in a car in what is actually a decent set piece. It is mildly harrowing, I guess, but it all feels a little silly. Again, not particularly unusual for horror movies and this sort of goofiness often makes a movie more entertaining, but I found myself generally unengaged by the film. The craft is done well enough. Good performances from Dee Wallace and it's always fun to see character actors like Ed Lauter and Jerry Hardin. Jan de Bont has a keen eye and does a good job with the photography.
    Good doggie
    Adapted from a Stephen King novel of the same name, I can't help but think that this is an object lesson in a concept working better on the page than the screen. Cujo eventually becomes menacing enough (once he gets smeared with blood and gore), but King's choice of a St. Bernard, while a clever and ironic idea in a book, really saddled the film with something untenable. The filmmakers do their best and I wasn't bored by the movie, but it never clicked for me. I understand this movie has a devoted cult following and I can see why, but it just didn't work for me. **
  • Jaws (trailer)
  • Land Shark: Jaws II (SNL)
  • The Simpsons: Treehouse of Horror XI: Night of the Dolphin
  • Roar - This movie really amps up the batshit insanity quotient of this year's marathon. I guess there's a plot: a doctor in Africa who allows dozens of lions and tigers and assorted animals to roam freely at his palatial estate. When his family arrives and he is unable to meet them, they are in for a surprise. The tagline of this film gets at its brilliance: "No animals were harmed in the making of this film. 70 cast and crew members were." The movie is basically improvised around several dozen untrained (and very rowdy) lions, tigers, cheetahs, even the elephants get a couple good rampages in. It was so uncontrollable they decided to give the cats actual writing credits on the movie. Made over the course of 10 years and apparently meant as a lesson in the need for conservation and preservation, it has roughly the opposite effect. It's not supposed to be a horror movie, but it kinda is... all the moreso because you can tell these actors are actually getting mauled by giant cats. It reminded me of Grizzly Man, though Roar has a less tragic ending (on the other hand, look at the number of reported injuries from the set of this movie).
    Happy family portrait
    It's almost comical how easily the family goes from being terrified to being in love with the big cats. I mean, the whole thing is comical, but that part especially. There's no real acting to speak of here, though I suppose genuine terror shows up on the stars faces and there are some biggish names here like Tippi Hedren (famous for being in The Birds, another animals attack movie) and a very young Melanie Griffith. The film looks gorgeous, lots of great, almost documentary-like nature vistas, and would you look at that, Jan de Bont was the DP on this one too (he apparently got run over by some lions and had to have facial reconstructive surgery... and was back filming a week later). There's so much bonkers stuff in this movie that it's just impossible to look away. Great. Insane, but great. ***
  • Black Sheep (trailer)
  • Curiosity Killed Us All (Robot Chicken)
  • Phenomena (trailer)
  • Monkey Shines - George A. Romero is best known for his pioneering zombie movies, but I've actually been very impressed with his other, non-zombie efforts. Martin is a surprising and affecting take on vampires and Creepshow is arguably the best anthology horror film of all time. Monkey Shines is the tale of a man having difficulty adjusting to his new paralyzed state and becoming codependent with an experimental helper monkey that has psychic powers and murderous intent.
    Killer monkey
    I won't pretend like this is some sort of untold classic or something, but I found it shockingly engaging and a whole lot of fun. Where Cujo's silliness fell flat, Monkey Shines' silliness just soars. It is unintentionally hilarious at times, genuinely interesting at others, and surprisingly entertaining if you're willing to go with it. Again, not exactly fine cinema, but it's a lot of fun. It doesn't quite stick the landing at the end of the film, but I was still pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed this movie. **1/2
A fun week, for sure. Stay tuned for kids getting lost in the woods and some Tobe Hooper...
Posted by Mark on September 25, 2016 at 10:18 AM .: Comments (0) | link :.

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Wednesday, September 21, 2016

6WH: Week 1.5 - Slasher TV
As sub-genres go, the slasher film is not particularly well respected. And yet it has its partisans, and I count myself among them. Longtime readers already know this, as I've written about slashers in a general sense many times, and covered lots of specific slashers during previous Six Weeks of Halloween marathons. While the sub-genre has fallen greatly from its heights in the early 80s and temporary revival in the mid 90s, the past year has inexplicably seen not one, not two, but three attempts to bring slashers to television. I was not terribly impressed with Scream Queens last year and never got around to the other two. Now that they're both streaming on Netflix, I figured I should hop to it:
  • Scream (trailer)
  • How Scream Should Have Ended (short)
  • Scream 4 (trailer)
  • Scream - S1E1 - "Pilot" - After a viral video/bullying incident, the culprits are found dead in suspicious circumstances that recall a 20 year old tragedy. The best thing about this Pilot episode is just how different the particulars are from the Scream film series. Sure, there's a masked killer, but even the mask appears to be different from the infamous Scream Ghostface.
    It's definitely retained the cheeky, self-aware flair of the films, with characters openly discussing slasher movie tropes and brazeny declaring that, for instance: "You can't do a slasher movie as a TV series... Slasher movies burn bright and fast. TV needs to stretch things out." It remains to be seen whether the series will actually defy that notion, but this pilot shows a lot of potential and again, it's distinct enough from the movies to establish it's own identity (at least, in the pilot). There's a very large cast of characters, nearly all of whom have something to hide. The amount of red herrings is a bit daunting at this point, but it's got me hooked. The tragedy of the past being revisited upon the present (a favorite slasher trope) is actually a big improvement over the films, resembling a more old-school, golden-age of slasher incident. The kills were somewhat restrained in this episode, with a few false-alarms thrown in for good measure. The cast is young and attractive, as befits MTV's stereotypical style, and does a reasonable job. Ultimately, it feels to me like this is succeeding where Scream Queens failed (that show basically felt like a schlockey comedy that never cohered more than anything else, honestly). Look, it's not high cinema, but it's fun and entertaining and I will most certainly be watching more episodes and could see myself finishing it off.
  • The Prowler (trailer)
  • My Bloody Valentine (trailer)
  • Thanksgiving (fake trailer)
  • Slasher - S1E1 - "Pilot" - This Chiller channel original series is notable in contrast to Scream (and Scream Queens, for that matter), which is a very good thing. We start out with the tragedy in the past, a pregant woman and her husband are brutally murdered on Halloween night, with the killer extracting the baby for extra-creepy flavor. Cut to a couple decades (and change) later and Sarah, the baby who survived, returns to her old house in order to make a life for herself... only to be confronted by a copycat killer wearing the same Executioner costume as the man who killed her parents.
    The Executioner
    After visiting with the original killer, Hannibal and Clarice style, Sarah begins to investigate, finding out more about her parents in the process. The contrast here is that while Scream is very self-aware and humorous, this plays the story straight. There are a couple of jokes thrown around to spice things up, but the story takes itself seriously and that actually feels a bit refreshing. Ironically, the story here actually resembles the original Scream movie, though they put a decent spin on it, which is all you should ask for. Slasher stories aren't particularly known for their originality; indeed, it's their formulaic nature that makes them work. And this one seems to be doing its job well. The cast of characters isn't as large here, but there's a decent whodunit structure that shows promise. The red herrings are a little less obvious and not as bombastic, but they're still lurking here. The cast is a little more mature and they do a pretty good job. Sarah is played by Katie McGrath, who is probably best known for her needlessly ornate death sequence in Jurrasic World, and does a pretty good job. The killer becomes surprisingly prolific, even in this episode, taking out several people. Once again, we have a show here that has a lot of promise, and I'm hooked.
I'm guessing I will finish both of these series during the Six Weeks, so I'll be sure to keep you updated as I go. In the meantime, check out Zach's progress over at Film Thoughts. The man, the myth, the legend, Kernunrex has not checked in yet, but I'm sure we'll here from him soon enough... Anyways, up next: When Animals Attack!
Posted by Mark on September 21, 2016 at 06:08 PM .: Comments (0) | link :.

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Sunday, September 18, 2016

Six Weeks of Halloween 2016: Week 1 - Moar Giallos
The weather is turning, leaves are falling, decorative corpses are showing up at grocery stores, the pumpkin spice is flowing... it must be my favorite time of year! To celebrate, I always embark on a six week long horror movie marathon. That's like two weeks longer than most Halloween movie marathons, because we're awesome and Halloween totally deserves the extra time and attention.

This year we kick things off by returning to our Italian roots and watching some Giallo films. We've covered many Giallos before during the marathon, but I haven't ventured far from the big names like Mario Bava, Dario Argento, and Lucio Fulci, so I figured it was time. Giallos have their roots in pulp fiction and cheap crime novels which, when published in Italy, often featured yellow covers (hence "Giallo" which is just Italian for "Yellow"). They were prefigured by The German Krimi films of the 50s and early 60s and themselves presaged the Slasher boom of the 80s. It's a pretty wide-open genre, generally a murder-mystery type, but with dense, complicated plots, lurid nudity (all three of the below feature frequent nudity), gruesome killings, and lots of other trashy components. Again, I've seen many of the most prominent examples, but not a lot of the obscure ones, so I took a swing at these three. The first is reasonably well known and widely available. The next two were out of print (or were only available in horrible pan-and-scan abominations) but just came out in a handsome two movie set with a great restoration and lots of special features (including fantastic commentary tracks). One thing I really love are the baroque titles, often very long and evocative. I wound up enjoying all three of these (admittedly flawed) movies quite a bit, so let's dive in:
  • Thursday the 12th (Robot Chicken)
  • Friday the 13th (trailer)
  • Alice, Sweet Alice (trailer)
  • What Have You Done to Solange? - An Italian gym teacher has the hots for one of his students at an all-girl Catholic high school and takes her out for a romantic boat ride whereupon she witnesses glimpses of a gruesome murder. More bodies start showing up around town, and the teacher, at first a suspect, is determined to get to the heart of the matter. So. Where to start with this odd little bit of grindhouse? We could start with the rather bizarre acceptance of the teacher's fling with his student. Other teachers don't seem to have any problem with it (some having sleazy habits of their own), even his wife seems to tolerate it (oh, yeah, he's married) and eventually joins forces with the teacher.
    A Bunch of Pervy Teachers
    A Bunch of Pervy Teachers
    The gruesome placement of the knives during the murders seems needlessly misogynistic. The titular Solange isn't even mentioned until over an hour into the runtime and we don't actually see her until the last 20 minutes. And yet? It all kinda works in the end. It turns out that the teacher never actually knocked boots with the student (alright, he's still a creep, but this is a typical attempt at partial giallo fakeout). The placement of the knives actually has narrative significance (alright, it's still gross). And once Solange shows up, the byzantine plot begins to actually take shape, ending on a solid note. It works stylistically too, prefiguring many slasher tropes (killer's POV, tragedy of the past revisited upon the present, revenge plot, etc...) and features a good Ennio Morricone score. Perhaps not top tier giallo, it's certainly in the top of the middle tier. **1/2
  • Grindhouse: Don't (Fake Trailer)
  • Rebecca (Trailer)
  • Les Diaboliques (Trailer)
  • The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave - I don't think I can do much better than IMDB for the plot summary: "A wealthy pervert lures beautiful young women to his castle so he can have his way with them." Indeed, it's implied that this guy is killing these women (there's an attempt to soften this later in the movie, implying that maybe he didn't do anything wrong, but again, it still seems unnecessarily lurid) and once again, all his friends and family seem to be mostly alright with it, even if they want him to get over his previous serious relationship with the titular Evelyn, which ended tragically. Soon, after being invited to an outlandish party (seriously, what are these people wearing?), he does take his friends' advice and proposes to the first woman he sees. As he adjusts to married life, people start seeing Evelyn around the castle, and finally our, er, hero?, thinks he might be going crazy.
    Evelyn, risen from the grave
    Hi! I'm Evelyn!
    Alright, fine, giallo plots never make sense anyway. I know I didn't make this sound particularly good, and once again I'm struck by an unlikable protagonist, but this is probably the most interesting of the three movies I watched this weekend. It has all the giallo tropes, but it mixes in elements from gothic horror as well (i.e. castles, crypts, the reading of a will, hauntings, and so on...), and that really works well. It seems like a particularly lurid version of Henri-Georges Clouzot's classic Diabolique, with a dash of Hitchcock's Rebecca for flavor. Lead actor Anthony Steffen isn't perfect for the material, but he does his best. More notable are his female costars, especially Marina Malfatti and Erika Blanc, who both elevate the film from pure trash to, um, trash with a heart of gold. Or something like that. Director Emilio Miraglia gives some stylistic flourishes that work well, and the film looks great (I'm watching the recently released restoration on BD, but it's more than just that - the compositions are well done and effective too). The plot is extremely convoluted and keeps trying to confuse you, but it all comes together in the Scooby Doo-esque finale of the movie. This is far from a perfect movie, but once it gets going, it really takes off and the last half hour is the best bit I saw all weekend. ***
  • Black Sunday (Trailer)
  • The Simpsons: Treehouse of Horror IV: Bart Simpson's Dracula
  • Deep Red (trailer)
  • The Red Queen Kills Seven Times - This movie has the best opening and setup of the three, though it is a bit goofy at the same time. Two young girls stumble upon an old, gothic painting and their grandfather explains that it is a family legend about a Red Queen who is murdered by her sister, and then rises from the dead to seek revenge. It happens every 100 years and is due to happen again in 14 years, which seems to perfectly align with when the little girls will grow up. Flash forward to the present and lo, the Red Queen is sighted at several murder scenes, cackling her head off. Once again, we're thrust into a senselessly convoluted plot here, with tons of curveballs and twists and turns along the way. New characters show up that make no sense given the prologue, and yet, it all fits in the end. It turns out that the grandfather had set some sort of elaborate scheme involving adoption and isolation in order to foil the family curse... and it kinda works? I mean, lots of people still die, but some people survive, which is good, right? It's a solid little mystery, and once again director Emilio Miraglia treats us to some great shots and gorgeous compositions.
    Stylish composition
    This is another successful melding of giallo with gothic horror, though perhaps a bit less than Evelyn. Many of the same beats are hit here, but in a completely different way (i.e. siblings wrangling over an inheritance, etc..) Also of note a great score from Bruno Nicolai, a contemporary and frequent collaborator with Ennio Morricone (though Nicolai never quite earned the same reputation). The ending doesn't quite pack the punch of Evelyn, but it works well enough. **1/2
Those were indeed fantastic and I may just have to dip my toes into more giallos later in the six weeks. Up next, though, are killer animals. Stay tuned.
Posted by Mark on September 18, 2016 at 02:43 PM .: Comments (0) | link :.

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Sunday, September 11, 2016

SF Book Review, Part 24: The Killer B's
Without going to far into the history of Science Fiction, there was a revival of epic, large-scale Hard SF in the 1980s led by three authors: David Brin, Greg Bear, and Gregory Benford. Dubbed the "Killer B's", they seemingly incorporated the strengths of New Wave authors while returning the genre to its rational, optimistic, Campbellian mode. Less navel-gazing, less counterculture, less dreary pessimism... Interestingly enough, it feels like we could use another such revival these days. Alas, we seem to have descended into an ill-advised political morass, misdiagnosing core SF tenants for political victimhood. It sometimes feels like there's no escape in modern SF (this is probably something worth exploring in its own post sometime, not in a short intro to some reviews)... but luckily, I have plenty of books like these to discover. Three are from the Killer B's, the other two are just from authors whose last name starts with a B (and one isn't even SF!) Cheating? If you say so. Let's stop quibbling and get to the books:
  • Startide Rising by David Brin - Earth's first Dolphin-led exploration vessel Streaker has crashed in the uncharted water world of Kithrup, pursued by bloodthirsty zealots fighting over them in orbit. They'd discovered a long lost fleet of spaceships thought to belong to the fabled Progenitors, an idea that is heretical to many competing and hostile alien races, who are now out to destroy the Streaker and its human/dolphin crew in order to hoard the secret to themselves.

    Technically a sequel to Sundiver, this could potentially be read as a standalone, and while I enjoyed both books, this one represents a dramatic improvement over Sundiver (which I'd say is overlong and muddled). At first I thought this might suffer from the same flaws, but it turns out that much of what I thought of as being needlessly tangential or episodic turned out to be artfully tied together in the end. And it's a really fantastic ending, one that surprises and delights at each new turn. There are a lot of plot lines here and Brin does an exceptional job setting them up and then bringing them together. There are still some loose ends which I presume will be addressed in the third book in the series, but this one remains satisfying in itself (a trick I wish modern authors could pull off better, if this past year's Hugo finalists are any indication).

    The perspective of "uplifted" dolphins is an interesting one and makes up the bulk of the novel, though we do get ample exposure to their small coterie of human crewmates as well. It's funny, I was trying to think what a film/tv adaptation of this might look like, and I suspect we'll never see it because the Dolphin bits might seem ludicrous if they're not visually perfect, even if it works great on the page. I suspect many will see Brin's optimism and notion of Earthican exceptionalism (uh, my phrasing, not his) as jejune and unsophisticated, but I kinda love it for that. Their escape plan is only hinted at, but you can piece together the big parts, leaving enough twists and turns for the finale. We don't find out much about the Progenitors, but the planet Kithrup has its own mysteries that make up for that (and it turns out, are not wholly unrelated). The book periodically checks in on the alien forces fighting in orbit, but these sketches are less successful. Perhaps it's because we only get little glimpses, but something about these races has never really clicked with me (even the ones from Sundiver). But that's only a quibble, this comes highly recommended, especially for fans of Hard SF and Space Opera.

    It won the Hugo and Nebula and while it is not the first work from the Killer B's, it seems to represent the tipping point at which people seemed to realize that something special was going on. This novel paved the way for Bear and Benford (even if, again, they were writing before this novel). This is perhaps an oversimplification and worthy of further exploration in its own post, but for now, I'll just say that I can see why this novel would have been inspirational. I will most certainly be revisiting this series in the future...
  • Blood Music by Greg Bear - Vergil Ulam is a scientist working on unlocking the computational potential of cellular material. When he crosses the line and uses human cells for his experiments, he's fired and directed to destroy his samples. Instead, Virgil secretly injects himself with the engineered cells with the hope that he could smuggle them out and recover them later to continue his work. Naturally, the cells have other plans. The mad scientist experimenting on himself is a time-honored, if a bit silly, story. One would think it's the sort of thing that wouldn't work in the rigorous confines of hard SF, but this turns out to be one of the best executions of such a trope that I've read. Virgil isn't exactly the most exciting protagonist, but he gets the job done, and Bear takes this story way, way beyond what I would have expected from the opening of the book. I mean, it goes to some really bonkers places. I don't want to say much to spoil it, but this is a great, standalone story that is well worth checking out. This was also nominated for the Hugo and Nebula, but lost out because it had the great misfortune to be published the same year as Ender's Game. You better believe I'll be reading more Greg Bear.
  • Timescape by Gregory Benford - Thrill to a story of time travel, tachyons, environmental disaster, encoded messages from the future, and... dinner parties? The politics of academia? Barry Goldwater? Marital infidelity and more dinner parties? Yes, so I'm a little more mixed on this tale of future academics (in the far flung year of 1998!) attempting to send a message back to 1962 in order to forestall an environmental disaster.

    The meat of that plot is fantastic, and Benford hits many hard SF tropes right in the sweet spot. I particularly enjoyed the examination of sending a message back in time, where Benford actually takes the movement of earth's entire solar system (and galaxy) into account whilst aiming the message (though that is later overridden by other considerations, it's still something I'd think more time travel stories would take into account, but don't). Likewise, the work of decoding the message and trying to figure out what it means is interesting enough, and even the bureaucratic encumbrances encountered during that process make for interesting reading.

    Where Benford falls down is, well, the dinner party portions of the novel, which, unfortunately, comprise far too much of the narrative. It's not that they're necessarily bad (though, yeah, some of it really is bad), just that they don't really fit with the rest of the story, feeling oddly out of place and wreaking absolute havoc over the pacing of the story. As a result, it feels like almost nothing happens until near the end of the novel, when you start to see repercussions of the messages from the future. What's more, as the reader, you're operating under more information than most of the characters, so you know what's coming next and not in a good, Hitchcockian sort of way either. It's one thing to have your characters go through the paces so that they can reach a logical conclusion that the reader already knows, it's another to have them spend 80% of the novel doing so. I've read some Benford before and while he always includes interesting bits and even some good turns of language, I always find myself disappointed on the whole. I can't say as though I'll be pursuing more Benford anytime soon...
  • The Player of Games by Ian M. Banks - A while back I got all fired up about finding some new space opera worth its salt and decided to read the first novel in Ian Banks' long-run Culture series, Consider Phlebias. Episodic, sloppy, and overstuffed, it was nonetheless imaginative, intelligent, and stuffed with extra-crunchy space operatic tropes. While I ultimately found it disjointed and mildly disappointing, I liked it enough to proceed with the series (uh, a few years later).

    It turns out that this second novel in the Culture series is a narrowly focused and sharply drawn narrative that represents pretty much the stylistic opposite of Consider Phlebias. No series of jumbled vignettes here, everything is tightly plotted and interconnected, following the perspective of a single character: Jernau Morat Gurgeh, the titular Player of Games, the best strategic gamer in the Culture. Having mastered all forms of gamedom, he's also bored out of his skull. One suspects this is meant to illustrate the dissonance that the concept of the Culture, a post-scarcity utopia governed by AI, represents. Would human beings react favorably to such a situation, or would the devolve into pure hedonism? Or violent rebellion? Gurgeh represents this conflict well. Left to his own devices, he has mastered games but discovered it an ultimately hollow achievement. What's next? What matters enough to be next?

    The answer comes in the form of Contact, the group responsible for interacting with other civilizations (diplomatically... or not, as the situation dictates). After some prodding and outright coercion from an annoying AI, Gurgeh accepts a long-term assignment to the empire of Azad in order to represent the Culture in their culturally-ascendant game, also named Azad. It seems that the entire empire, from the lowliest worker to the emperor, is governed by the game. In essence, ruling the empire equates to playing the game, and the philosophy of the game represents the philosophy of the empire.

    Fictional games are tricky to deploy in a narrative like this, and Banks gets around many of the difficulties admirably, describing higher-level meta-gamed and strategic philosophy more than tactical moves. This allows for some maneuvers that would be otherwise suspect, such as when Gurgeh manages a near miraculous reversal after almost immediately falling prey to a talented game player. But it also allows Banks to leverage an underdog sports analogy as well as provide several interesting game-related revelations that are insightful without feeling like a cheat on Banks' part. It is a little surprising that the empire of Azad would allow some of these shenanigans to go on as long as they do, but Banks manages to keep the explanations for Gurgeh's continuing success satisfying enough that it works. Some of the final revelations, while surprising to Gurgeh, might not be as surprising to experienced readers of SF (You mean to tell me that Contact has more pointed motives for Gurgeh's presence than they let on? No way!), but it all works well enough in the end, retaining just a hint of ambiguity as to what Gurgeh's endeavor actually means. Meanwhile, Banks' elevation of a game to civilizational levels gives him ample room for a multi-layered exploration of various themes and philosophies. I ultimately enjoyed this a great deal more than Consider Phlebias, and it hangs together as a narrative much better as well. Banks wasn't a member of the Killer B's and comes out of a different tradition, but I'm happy to include this one in a post like this. Once again, this is a series of novels that I will most certainly be revisiting.
  • Penric and the Shaman by Lois McMaster Bujold - A follow up to last year's Penric's Demon, this one follows Penric as he consults on the murder of a pig farmer and the request of Locator Oswyl (basically a police detective). They seek Inglis, a young shaman whose role in the pig farmer's murder is unclear. This takes place a few years after the last story, and Penric has gone through all the training needed to become a sorcerer, and his relationship with Desdemonia (so ably established in the previous novella) has grown and matured. As usual, Bujold weaves an interesting and entertaining tale, one that is, in some ways, simpler than the first novella, though it turns out to be a lot more complicated than that. I won't ruin it by getting into details, but it's a worthy read. It probably ranks below the last novella for me, but still pretty good on the whole.
And there you have it. The Six Weeks of Halloween fast approach, so put your horror hat on, it's going to be a bumpy, terrifying ride.
Posted by Mark on September 11, 2016 at 01:44 PM .: Comments (0) | link :.

End of this day's posts

Sunday, September 04, 2016

Fantastic Feud
Every year, during the Fantastic Fest horror/action/weird film festival, they play a game of Family Feud, but with more horrific questions. They poll the internets in advance to get the survey answers, and these are the questions this year. In the spirit of those film quizzes I love answering, here are my responses. Note that because of the feud context, I'm going for more obvious answers here, even if I sometimes note something more obscure.

1. Worst John Carpenter Movie

Ghosts of Mars, with strong competition from Vampires and maybe even Memoirs of an Invisible Man.

2. Best Sequel Subtitle

That would almost certainly be Breakin' 2: Electric Boogaloo. I'm also partial to House II: The Second Story, but that's almost certainly too obscure (even for the FF crowd). I like Die Hard 2: Die Harder (in a so bad it's good kinda way) but I'm not sure how official that is (it's not listed as such on IMDB, but it's almost always referred to that way).

3. Favorite Lethal Lady of Film

That would be Ripley from Alien/Aliens, but I'm guessing you'll also see The Bride from the Kill Bill movies and Furiosa from Fury Road.

4. Most Successful Alien Invasion

Invasion of the Body Snatchers comes to mind for me, but someone mentioned The Thing, which is an interesting spin on this one

5. Cult Film Unworthy of Its Reputation

For me, it's Starship Troopers. Lots of leeway here, but some other good answers would be The Boondock Saints and Donnie Darko. You could argue The Big Lebowski, but you'd be wrong (er, maybe).

6. Stupidest Artificial Intelligence

Almost certainly C-3PO from the Star Wars movies. Skynet, especially in the sequels, would also be a good choice.

7. Worst Horror Movie To Watch on a First Date

My first thought goes to Martyrs, but this being Fantastic Fest, A Serbian Film will certainly place in the survey...

8. Most Lovable Monster

Gizmo from Gremlins works well here. I want to say Aylmer from Brain Damage, but he's not really "lovable" so much as I like his cheerful villainy.

9. Remake That's Better Than The Original

It's boring saying The Thing and The Fly for these questions, but here we are. More unconventional picks: Ocean's Eleven, Ben-Hur (1959), and The Departed.

10. Deadliest Assassin/Mercenary/Hit-person

Anton Chigurh from No Country for Old Men will place highly here. The Killer and Leon: The Professional will get some love here too.

11. Sequel That *Almost* Killed The Franchise

Batman & Robin seems appropriate here, as it put the franchise on hold for almost a decade...

12. Scariest Plant(s)

The tree from The Evil Dead works here, though I guess you have to also mention The Little Shop of Horrors

13. Most Rousing Revenge Flick

I'll go Oldboy, but there are probably a dozen other good answers. They're mostly Korean, as they apparently love them some vengeance.
Posted by Mark on September 04, 2016 at 12:15 PM .: Comments (0) | link :.

End of this day's posts

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Link Dump
As per usual, just a random assortment of ye olde links from the internets:
  • "Team Thor" Comic-Con Video - I heard about this a while back and thought it sounded fun; it's finally been released, and lo, it is very fun. If you like the Marvel movies, you should watch it. Potential nominee for Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form for next year? I think so.
  • Aquaman, King of the Seven Seas, Has Fucking Had It With You, Man. This will naturally become more relevant the further we get into DC movie universe land.
  • Getting to the Heart of David Letterman - Interesting nugget in this interview with David Letterman:
    DL: We did this television show - my friends and I - for a very long time. It's probably like anyone else's professional pursuit. When you are doing it for so long, and for each day - I have always likened it to running a restaurant—because you get response to the day's endeavor immediately. Either from the audience or the ratings, but you know as early as the next day how you did.

    And because of this introspection, you believe that what you are doing is of great importance and that it is affecting mankind wall-to-wall. And then when you get out of it you realize, oh, well, that wasn't true at all. (laughter) It was just silliness. And when that occurred to me, I felt so much better and I realized, geez, I don't think I care that much about television anymore. I feel foolish for having been misguided by my own ego for so many years.
    I don't think you need to feel foolish for working on things, but it's a good idea to keep things in perspective. If we were all this introspective, the world'd be a better place.
  • Mary Carillo's Badminton Rant - I went on an Olympic badminton jag on YouTube and wound up at this video which is absolutely glorious.
  • On 'Going Away' - It doesn't go where you'd expect, but it's always worth reading Julieanne Smolinski:
    When I was in junior high school, my broke single mom got her first decent paycheck and took my sister and me on a trip to a small, sparsely populated, tremendously beautiful island in the Caribbean.

    All local transport there had to be secured through a man named Scooter Dave. Scooter Dave looked like Captain Ron’s tartar-sauce stained rap sheet. I remember him telling us some suspect origin story about fleeing a dull corporate job for the island life, but he was almost certainly fleeing something more sinister. He lived in an actual beach shack and each night, could be seen at our hotel bar, spinning raunchy yarns for uneasily entertained guests while palming a miniature snifter of rum as though it were a small, shapely breast.
  • Why 'Stranger Things' worked while 'Ben-Hur' and 'Ghostbusters' went wrong - It's not a mind-blowing sentiment, but it's well put and apparently needs to be said since we're drowning in uninspired remakes and sequels right now:
    "Stranger Things" was a wholly original confection, one with a pleasing synth-soundtrack aftertaste. It's the story of a trio of boys teaming up with a little girl who has superpowers to track down a friend who has been kidnapped by a monster. And it's the story of a mother's love for her lost son, her refusal to give up searching for him in the face of interference (and worse) by the federal government. And it's also the story of teenage angst, young lovers coming to grips with the desires and their responsibilities in a world that doesn't particularly care for, or about, them.

    Sure, there are echoes of "E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial" and "It" and "The Thing" and even "Pretty in Pink" and "The Breakfast Club." Yes, there are classic 1980s touchstones, like Dungeons & Dragons and walkie-talkies and "Evil Dead" posters and cassette mix tapes. But any sense of nostalgia "Stranger Things" inspires in viewers is healthy, earned - because it comes wrapped in an original story, one that stands on its own whether or not you ever rolled a 20-sided die or swooned over a John Hughes creation.
    Indeed. It's hard to make a generalized statement, but I usually tend to prefer something new and interesting over a note-for-note retread. This can be done in a remake, but it hasn't been done in most of the recent, inane remakes we've been inundated with lately. I don't usually want remakes or sequels, but rather, new and interesting things that make me feel the way the originals did. Sometimes a reboot or sequel can do that, but mostly they don't. Fortunately, there are lots of alternatives if you're willing to hunt for them. This weekend alone, I got Hell or High Water, Don't Breath, and Blood Father. None of those movies are perfect or even particularly great, but they're far above the grand majority of remakes/sequels we've seen lately. There's more to this idea, I think, so I'll save that for a later post. Er, yeah, I'll get to that sometime. Right.
And that's all for now.
Posted by Mark on August 28, 2016 at 08:45 PM .: Comments (0) | link :.

End of this day's posts

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Hugo Awards 2016: The Results
The Hugo Award winners were announced last night and I'm having a hard time caring all that much. I've played along with the Hugos for the past few years, but unfortunately, that roughly coincides with the rise of Sad/Rabid Puppy movements and by intention or not, the award and seemingly the entire field has become a politicized morass. Of course, this isn't new and this year fared significantly better than last year's disaster, so let's look closer. (Also of note: the full voting breakdown in case you wanted to figure out how instant-runoff voting works.)
  • The Fifth Season, by N.K. Jemisin won the best novel Hugo. This was a bit of an upset since Naomi Novik's Uprooted seemingly enjoyed a broader fanbase and scored previous wins in the Nebulas and Locus Fantasy awards. On the other hand, The Fifth Season was the only novel not present on any Puppy list, so it's hard not to see this as a political win rather than a joyous celebration of a great story (especially when combined with Jemisin's history with Vox Day). Back on the first hand, though, while I wasn't a fan of the book, I can also recognize it as a well written work that makes for fine award material. I found it to be misery porn (which is emphatically not what I look for out of SF/F), but really well done misery porn. I will admit to being a little surprised at 480 votes putting Seveneves under No Award, which again seems like a political response to its inclusion on the Rabid slate. Then again, I've long since stopped being surprised when Stephenson's work rubs some people the wrong way, which has always been the case (and long before any Puppy controversy) in my anecdotal experience.
  • Binti by Nnedi Okorafor takes the best novella award. Again, hard not to see it as a political choice, but it was a decent enough story, even if I found it to be lacking. It was the only finalist not to appear on the Rabid list, though it did get the nod in Sad Puppies. Also of note, No Award did not place in this category, which is fair - it was a strong category.
  • "Folding Beijing" by Hao Jingfang, translated by Ken Liu wins in best novelette. Yet again, this is the only finalist not to appear on the Rabid list, even if it was on the Sad Puppy list. No Award shows up in the rankings here, beating out the two Castalia House nominees.
  • "Cat Pictures Please" by Naomi Kritzer wins the short story award. I can't really argue with that since I voted for it, but once again, it was the only non-Rabid choice, even if it was a Sad Puppy choice. No Award places second. This was a dumpster of a category this year, so this isn't surprising at all.
  • The Martian takes home the Long Form Dramatic Presentation award, which was a nice nod to the type of SF that I really enjoy, and Andy Weir got himself a Campbell award for best new SF writer, which is also very cool. I look forward to his next book with great anticipation.
  • Once again, the Puppies are trounced. It's the same old story: Action, Reaction. The Sad Puppies seem to have faded from the ire of fandom, but the Rabids remain steadfast in their quest to destroy the Hugos. Or do they? There appears to be a dramatic drop-off from the nominating stage to the voting stage this year, so perhaps there is hope yet for the future of the award. Then again, their divisive tactics have polarized fandom into awarding the types of works I tend to dislike. As usual, my hope for the future is that we can all just calm the fuck down, read some good stories, and celebrate them with the awards. Yeah, politics are inherent in the process, but we shouldn't be able to look at a list and predict the winners without looking at the quality of the work at all, which you could have done with this years awards.
  • Last year, I noted that "The notion that voting on the current year gives you the ability to nominate next year is a brilliant one that might actually keep me participating." This year, they apparently voted to revoke that practice, which means I'm much less likely to participate next year (or whenever it takes effect - may not be next year). I'm guessing this was because of Rabid interference this year, but it also feels short-sighted. Also of note, they appear to be pushing the deadline for nominations up from January 31 to December 31, which probably spells doom for any SF/F story released in December. I'd have to look into both of these things more to really figure out how much I like them, but their intention seems to be to decrease participation, which doesn't feel like a great idea. I'm still on the fence about participating next year, but I guess we'll see how things go. The crappy thing about politicization of the awards from my perspective is that I feel like simple celebrations of great writing are being eschewed in favor of virtue signaling (on both sides of the divide). It's become a polarized field, which leaves me in the middle, not really caring about either side and wondering why I'm even participating. As H.P. notes:
    So which side "won"? Which side lost? The Rabid Puppies/alt-right/Vox Day and the SJWs both won. That is, the people who wanted to hijack the awards to make it just another venue for their political fight (see the longlist of Best Related Works nominees for a good idea of the relative importance placed on politics versus reading). People who actually love to read and would prefer to think about books first lost. It's probably been a foregone conclusion for many years now, but the Hugo Awards will continue to long decline into irrelevancy.
    Well said. Like H.P. I'm just going to go and read a book rather than dwell on it. I'll see you next year, when the Hugo whining begins in earnest.
And that's all for now. I've actually been reading some great SF of late (none of it is recent though) and we're about to shift gears into the most wondrous time of year, The 6 Weeks of Halloween horror movie marathon, so stay tuned.
Posted by Mark on August 21, 2016 at 07:11 PM .: Comments (2) | link :.

End of this day's posts

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Professor Abronsius's Robustly Random, Eccentrically Inquisitive, Garlic-Infused Mid-Summer Back-to-School Movie Quiz
Dennis Cozzalio of the Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule blog has posted another of his famous movie quizes, and as always, I'm excited to participate. Previous installments answering questions from Professor Hubert Farnsworth, David Huxley, Professor Fate, Professor Russell Johnson, Dr. Smith, Professor Peabody, Professor Severus Snape, Professor Ed Avery, Dr. Anton Phibes, Sister Clodagh, Professor Arthur Chipping, Miss Jean Brodie, Professor Larry Gopnick, Professor Dewey Finn, Ms. Elizabeth Halsey, Professor Abraham Setrakian, and Mr. Dadier are also available. Let's get to it:

1) Name the last 10 movies you've seen, either theatrically or at home

Zoinks! Good thing I try to keep Letterboxd up to date (if we're not friends there, we should be). Let's take a gander:
  • The Silence of the Lambs - Not sure what prompts my periodic viewings of this movie, but I appreciate it more every time.
  • Everybody Wants Some!! - As pointless Linklater discussion-fests go, this is on the more enjoyable side for me and yet, it's still a pointless Linklater discussion-fest... It's like a genre unto itself, and one that I've never really bought into...
  • Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home - Post Star Trek Beyond viewing (which says something about Beyond, see below), one of the most unusual of the films and better for that. I mean, it's basically a fish-out-of-water comedy (almost literally, heh) and The Enterprise isn't really even in it (sorta).
  • Marathon Man - Put on my Netflix queue when The Canon podcast covered it and lo, it finally showed up. Then I realized the disc was broken (yeah, I still get discs from Netflix, wanna fight about it?) and had to get a replacement. Finally watched it, and really enjoyed it. Maybe not top-tier, but quite unusual and entertaining.
  • Jason Bourne - Retreading the same ground over and over again was a strategy that worked surprisingly well for the first three movies, but it appears to have diminishing returns. This movie is fine but the formula has worn out its welcome. It's so mediocre that I bet critics will be putting it on the worst movie of the year list or somesuch.
  • Star Trek Beyond - This reboot series, after a stumble in their second installment, has turned in a strong rebound, maybe even better than the first in the reboot series. I still lament that the franchise has moved into more action-adventure territory than heady SF, but this one executes really well. Check it out.
  • Green Room - Dark and tense, as advertised. Great and unexpected performance from Patric Stewart, and yet more evidence that we're really going to be missing Anton Yelchin.
    Patrick Stewart is not a Nazi
    I'm not a Nazi!
    Writer/Director Jeremy Saulnier is getting stronger, and I'm really looking forward to what he tries next.
  • Star Trek - In preparation for Star Trek Beyond, I still find this reboot to be highly entertaining and fun. Once again, a little more Science in the Fiction would have been nice, but as action/adventure, it's great.
  • Ghostbusters - Just good enough that if you're so inclined, you can trumpet it from on high, but there's enough flaws that if you were predisposed to hate it, you'll find plenty to gripe about. The perfect stew of fomenting culture war. On its own, I laughed a fair amount and enjoyed myself, but it's not the original... but then, what could be?
  • 10 Cloverfield Lane - I was really surprised by how much I enjoyed this. Takes a standard premise and flips it around multiple times. Really solid stuff, great performances all around, and a well executed plot. I know the ending is a bit divisive, but I enjoyed it quite a bit...
Phew, that's a lot of movies.

2) Favorite movie feast

The first thing that came to mind was Denethor's feast whilst he sends his son out to die in The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. I mean, it's not a fun scene, but for some reason very memorable, including the food being served (which looks tasty, I guess, certainly a feast).
Denethor feasting
Upon further reflection, other candidates include: the scene in which Orson Welles interrupts his own movie to order more food in F for Fake, the titular meal in Soylent Green, the campfire scene in Blazing Saddles, and, of course, most scenes in Tampopo.

3) Dial M for Murder (1954) or Rear Window (1954)?

I love both of these movies, but Rear Window strikes me as the more well-rounded choice whereas Dial M for Murder feels like trash elevated to greatness solely by Hitchcock's force of will (nothing to sneeze at, for sure, but Rear window has it all). Rear Window works on many more levels, even if I'd watch either of these again in a heartbeat.

4) Favorite song or individual performance from a concert film

Honestly not a big fan of concert films. Does The Blues Brothers count? I kinda like that one, I guess.

Excluding another film from the same director, if you were programming a double feature what would you pair with:

5) Alex Cox's Straight to Hell (1986)?

I have never seen this, but now I want to. From the description, I'll go with The Wild Bunch. Looking at other answers, though, I see Reservoir Dogs and am now kicking myself.

6) Benjamin Christensen's Haxan: Witchcraft Throughout the Ages (1922)?

I've actually seen this one! I'll go with this year's exquisitely staged The Witch as the pairing (though maybe The Blair Witch Project would be more fitting, given its more explicit mock-documentary nature... but then, The Witch has so much verisimilitude that it approaches mock-documentary as well. Hrm.)

7) Federico Fellini's I vitteloni (1953)?

Another one I have not seen, but from the description alone, the answer has to be American Graffiti, right?

8) Vincente Minnelli's The Long, Long Trailer (1953)?

Not seen this one either, but judging from the description, let's say Bonnie and Clyde.

9) Sam Peckinpah's The Ballad of Cable Hogue (1970)?

Again, I have not seen but from the description, let's say McCabe & Mrs. Miller.

10) George Englund's Zachariah (1971)?

Nope, not this one either (I'm the worst), but judging from the description, let's just say El Topo... though I should probably watch Zachariah first because it seems vaguely irresponsible to recommend El Topo without really confirming that it fits.

11) Favorite movie fairy tale

The Princess Bride seems an obvious choice here. I suppose nostalgia plays a role in how much I like this movie (I mean, I was basically the Fred Savage character - a kid sick and in bed, objecting to the same girl cooties moments, etc... - when I first saw this), but I've seen it recently and it still retains that almost timeless fairy tale feeling.

12) What is the sport that you think has most eluded filmmakers in terms of capturing either its essence or excitement?

Wrestling. No, not professional WWF/WWE stuff, the amateur stuff that'll be on the Olympics at 3 am on CNBC sometime late next week. Few movies have even attempted it, notably Vision Quest (oy) and Foxcatcher (a slog, not really about wrestling, per say). Of course, I'm not really holding my breath on this one either.

13) The Seventh Seal (1957) or Wild Strawberries (1957)?

The Seventh Seal I guess? I mean, not really a fan of either (or, sadly, Bergman in general - remember this when we get down to the blasphemy/contrarian question below)

14) Your favorite Criterion Collection release

First thought is Brazil, an epic three-disc study in commercial filmmaking. There are lots of better movies in the collection, but it's the extras here that put it over the top. Troubled productions are always more interesting than normal ones, even if the resulting film (and various cuts) never quite live up to the promise of the material.

15) In the tradition of the Batley Townswomen's Guild's staging of the Battle of Pearl Harbor and Camp on Blood Island, who would be the featured players (individual or tag-team) in your Classic Film Star Free-for-all Fight?

Hell, I don't know. Let's just name some people: John Wayne, Humphrey Bogart, Clint Eastwood, Dick Miller, Toshiro Mifune, Jackie Chan, Sammo Hung, Michelle Yeoh, Raquel Welch, Tuesday Weld, Sigourney Weaver, Audrey Hepburn, Katharine Hepburn, and Rosalind Russell.

16) Throne of Blood (1957) or The Lower Depths (1957)?

Well, I've actually seen Throne of Blood, so I guess that sez something, eh?

17) Your favorite movie snack

I'd say popcorn, but usually when I go to the movies I get soft-pretzel bites. They're usually terrible too, but good theaters (i.e. that time I went to Alamo Drafthouse) sometimes do homemade soft pretzels that are awesome, and I love them. But popcorn is the safe answer, as that's always actually available, and usually fresh popped.

18) Robert Altman's Quintet-- yes or no?

I have never seen it, but I think that if you look at my answers to all of these "yes or no?" questions over the years, I can safely say "yes" (since, you know, I've never said no in answer to one of these questions, ever.)

19) Name the documentarian whose work you find most valuable

Errol Morris works here. Opened my eyes to great documentary filmmaking with The Thin Blue Line, and has continually surprised me throughout his career, even with supposed trivialities like Tabloid.

20) The Conversation (1974) or The Godfather Part II (1974)?

The Godfather: Part II, though that's a pretty fabulous one-two punch for 1974. Still, something about the Godfather's epic sweep bowls me over in ways that The Conversation never has...

21) Favorite movie location you've visited in person

Can't say as though I actually seek out movie locations, but I do love the Philly Art Museum steps from Rocky, and it's even better at night (looking back through the city, all lit up, is nice).

22) If you could have directed a scene from any movie in the hope of improving it, what scene would it be, and what direction would you give the actor(s) in it? (question submitted by Patrick Robbins)

This is an impossible question, but I came up with an answer because this movie comes up again below: There's a scene in The Thing where Wilford Brimley has been locked up in the shed for a while, but kinda escaped into some underground tunnel and started... building a spaceship? Out of junk that was laying around? I would have reshot this scene such that the spaceship would not be completely visible and thus would be more ambiguous as to what it actually was (I would also revise the dialog to maintain the ambiguity). All you need to know is that he was up to something, not that it was actually a spaceship, because the spaceship is sad looking and stupid.

23) The Doors (1991) or JFK (1991)?

Hands down, JFK. It's just an inherently more interesting premise, and it's extremely well executed, even if it's almost certainly all hooey.

24) What is your greatest film blasphemy or strongest evidence of your status as a contrarian? (H/T Larry Aydlette)

There's several examples above (i.e. disliking Linklater's talky pieces, indifference to Bergman, not having seen the majority of movies explicitly referenced in this quiz, etc...), but I'll say as a general point of blasphemy/contrarianititvity, I don't like slow, plotless films. It's not that they can't be good or that I can't appreciate them at all, it's just that a film has to be really, really good in order for me to really get into it, and apparently my threshold for this sort of thing is much higher than most critics/film lovers. Go figure. I was much more willing to put up with this kind of indulgent wanking earlier in my life, but I'm getting to an even more impatient point in my life now, I guess. Maybe I'll rebound, but I'm not counting on it.

25) Favorite pre-1970 one-sheet

This question was sorta asked before on Ms. Halsey's quiz, only it didn't limit the timeframes. My answer then was the one-sheet for Vertigo:
Vertigo poster
Indeed, a classic, even if there are probably hundreds of others that I'd like just as much, like: 2001: A Space Odyssey, Nosferatu, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, Dr. Strangelove: or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, Anatomy of a Murder, and Metropolis.

26) Favorite post-1970 one-sheet

I mean, Jaws, right?
Jaws poster
But that's probably too obvious, so let's go with Halloween:
Halloween poster
Also of note: Alien, Star Wars, E.T., The Godfather, The Exorcist, Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark

27) WarGames (1983) or Blue Thunder (1983)?

WarGames is the more memorable and probably more prescient of the two, I think.

28) Your candidate for best remake ever made

Either John Carpenter's The Thing or David Cronenberg's The Fly. They're both so good that I find it impossible choose between them though.

29) Give us a good story, or your favorite memory, about attending a drive-in movie

Sadly, I do not have any memories of drive-in theaters and it's quite possible that I've never been to one. I suppose I was old enough, and it may have happened, but I don't think so. My parents weren't much into movie theaters in general and my movie-going heyday began in the late 80s, early 90s, at which point, drive-ins were mostly dead.

30) Favorite non-horror Hammer film

The Hound of the Baskervilles might skirt horror I guess, but it will have to do, and it's really about the subversion of horror, so I feel ok with that.

31) Favorite movie with the word/number "seven" in the title (question submitted by Patrick Robbins)

It feels so boring to say Se7en or even Seven Samurai, but then, here we are.

32) Is there a movie disagreement you can think of which would cause you to reconsider the status of a personal relationship?

Nope. I suppose such a thing is possible, but I can't imagine that being the only thing at work in that particular relationship (i.e. it would be the tip of an iceberg in a much deeper component of our relationship).

33) Erin Brockovich (2000) or Traffic (2000)?

Traffic is more stylistic and tackles a subject that is orders of magnitude more complicated without resorting to any trickery. Both are good movies though.

34) Your thoughts on the recent online petition demanding that Turner Classic Movies cease showing all movies made after 1960

I suppose I can see the thought process here, but they seem to maintain a pretty good mix right now (i.e. heavy on the pre-1960 stuff, but not exclusively so) and I'm generally not one for arbitrary rules like this. Not something I'd sign on to, but more power to you, I guess.
Posted by Mark on August 14, 2016 at 03:08 PM .: Comments (1) | link :.

End of this day's posts

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