October 2015

October was a relatively quiet month. I spent a lot of it watching episodes of Person of Interest.

I did manage to see sixteen movies:

  • Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter
  • The Martian
  • The Final Girls
  • Casino Royale
  • Focus
  • Tremors 5: Bloodlines
  • The Trip to Italy
  • No Way Out
  • The Day the Earth Stood Still
  • Barbarella
  • Crimson Peak
  • A Bridge too Far
  • The Uninvited
  • Saw
  • Ju-On: The Grudge
  • Dracula

I think Crimson Peak was easily my favorite of them — almost not at all the horror movie its advertising seems to suggest, but a remarkably well crafted gothic romance. How well it adheres to the accepted “rules” of that genre, I couldn’t necessarily say, but it was a ridiculously beautiful (and sometimes beautifully ridiculous) movie, and it’s definitely, as the lead character says at the top, not a ghost story but a story with a ghost in it.

Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter is such a strange movie. There are some stunningly beautiful shots, a great performance by Rinko Kikuchi, but it’s so desperately, weirdly sad.

The Martian is a very entertaining movie of no real depth or consequence. It might therefore be the most faithful book adaptation of all time. The movie drops some of the book’s engineering procedures and mishaps in favor of making the characters seem more like real humans. But most of the heavy lifting is done by casting good actors and hoping the problem-plot will move fast enough you can ignore that the characters themselves are remarkably underwritten. (When I read the book in September I was hesitant to even call anyone in the book a character, they’re so thinly sketched.) Like the book, it’s unremarkable but enjoyably successful for what it is.

The Final Girls looked a lot more fun in its trailer, a silly meta-commentary on ’70s and ’80s slasher movies. And it is that…to a point, with some amusing moments and occasional cleverness, and the cast is really good. Heaven knows the movie wears its heart on its sleeve. But ultimately it was just disappointing.

But then, so too were some of the actual horror movies I watched this month — particularly Saw and Ju-On: The Grudge. I think I understand what it is about Saw that spawned so many sequels, and even when he’s making terrible movies I think James Wan is a talented director. But hoo boy, Saw really is a bad movie. It’s one of those things you maybe have to watch if you’re going to stay culturally aware, if you’re going to talk knowledgeably about the horror genre. And it’s legitimately tense. But it’s also ridiculous, a whole lot less clever than it thinks, and ending on what’s both an incredible twist and just plain dumb. The idea of watching six more of them makes me want to saw my own leg off.

Ju-On was a lot better, but also a whole lot less scary than I was expecting. I don’t know if it’s the practical nature of the effects — ghosts played by actors in white makeup — or that I’ve seen these j-horror tropes repeated so often elsewhere, but for me the movie failed on its most fundamental level: it didn’t scare me. It’s interesting beyond that — if only to glimpse a more suburban Japan — but not hugely compelling.

In fact, despite Halloween, and despite having watched a fair number of horror movies this month, the scariest was probably 1944’s The Uninvited. And, good as that is, it’s also not especially frightening.

As for Tremors 5…well, if you absolutely loved all the other movies in the franchise…this might still be a Graboid too far, but it’s not without its entertainment value, thanks mostly to Michael Gross, who’s basically the only thing still tying this to the original film. I’m not exactly a Tremors completist — I saw most but not all of the prequel movie and didn’t see the TV series at all — but that’s basically who this was made for.

Lots of older movies in the list. Like Casino Royale and Barbarella, which are both ridiculous, but only one of which wears that well. (Hint: it’s the movie with the weightlessly floating naked Jane Fonda in it.) Roger Ebert pretty accurately summed up Casino Royale — not the Daniel Craig version — as “…a definitive example of what can happen when everybody working on a film goes simultaneously berserk.” It has a sort of shiny incoherence to it, a totally terrible movie, but one worth watching strictly because of that terribleness. I finished watching it and my only thought was, “What even was that movie?”

But hey, it gave us Burt Bacharach’s “The Look of Love”, so it’s not all bad.

Barbarella, on the other hand, I found delightful. I don’t want to suggest it’s a good movie, since it is deeply weirdly and nonsensical. But…well, you have to understand, I’ve seen Zardoz, so my tolerance for weird and nonsensical might be a little inflated.

There’s not a lot to say about the other movies. Focus was better than I’d been led to believe, but I’d been led to believe it was pretty dire, so… The Trip to Italy isn’t much different than the original The Trip, although this one maybe belongs more to Rob Brydon than Steve Coogan. No Way Out is very much a late-’80s political thriller, just like The Day the Earth Stood Still is very much early-’50s message SF, both effective for what they are. Dracula has Lugosi’s performance — and such a legacy you almost have to watch it — in what’s a very condensed version of the book, closer, apparently, to the stage play, which I’ve never seen. And A Bridge Too Far does a good job of recreating an unsuccessful war operation, and an even better job of creating an unsuccessful movie. I spent a lot of time talking about it on Twitter, but I think that’s only because the movie itself is several months long.

I read two very good books in October: Zen Cho’s Sorcerer to the Crown and M.R. Carey’s The Girl With All the Gifts.

I knew Cho’s work mostly from a story I published earlier this year in Kaleidotrope, while Carey’s work I knew exclusively from comics, like his long run on DC’s Lucifer. Both books were great, very different from each other, but highly recommended.

I read thirty-six short stories in October. My favorites among them:

  • “Solder and Seam” by Maria Dahvana Headley (Lightspeed)
  • “Follow Me Down” by Nicolette Barischoff (Fireside Fiction)
  • “Silencer, Head Like a Hole Remix” by E. Catherine Tobler (Interzone)
  • “The Fresh Prince of Gamma World” by Austin Grossman (Press Start to Play)
  • “The Shapes of Us, Translucent to Your Eye” by Rose Lemberg (Unlikely Story)
  • “Soteriology And Stephen Greenwood: The Role of Salus in the Codex Lucis” by Julia August (Unlikely Story)
  • “Crystal” by Ken Liu (Daily Science Fiction)
  • “The Game of Smash and Recovery” by Kelly Link (Strange Horizons)
  • “8 Steps to Winning Your Partner Back (From the Server)” by A. T. Greenblatt (Daily Science Fiction)
  • “The Law of the Conservation of Hair” by Rachael K. Jones (Shimmer)
  • “The Devil Is Beating His Wife Today” by Sandra McDonald (Daily Science Fiction)
  • “The Lonesome Place” by August Derleth (American Supernatural Tales)

And my own story from Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine #61, “When Jane Was Nine,” finally became available in electronic format. Just five bucks — and that might be in Australian dollars — you can read my robot shark meets girl detective story, plus lots of other great work!

And finally, in October, I listened to some music. If you wanted, you could listen to it too: