There Are No Metaphors in Halloween Hell

Oh, hai there.

I’m medicated again.

It’s a sad truth in modern America that sometimes you try to go without your meds in order to pay other bills. Blood pressure pills seem pretty necessary, but we can probably go without this statin that’s seemed to have no effect for five years, we can probably tough it out without the mood elevator.

Until a week ago when I realized that I temporarily had a little extra money and likely the best thing I could do was get the refill on the mood elevator I had put off for two or three months. And I have to say that waking up the next morning without thinking of suicide was quite refreshing. (My doctor says it takes two or three days for the pill to take effect, but I’ve not found that to be the case. Maybe my serotonin imbalance was minor enough that it only needed a nudge in the right direction. In any event, one less dragon to fight)

While my writing has been the most visible casualty of the crushing mantle of despair, I haven’t exactly been slacking. Still watching Prestige TV With A Capital P, though Real Life work has put a crimp on the time allowable for that. Having finished the current seasons of Legion and The Expanse, my sense of symmetry told me I needed to find two other series to accompany the second season of Westworld, so it was time to start Sense8 and the first season of Luke Cage. I’d been putting Cage off to watch the Netflix Marvel series in order, but hit my usual getting-sick-of-Netflix-series-around-episode-8 wall with the first season of Daredevil. Really enjoying these series so far, although I’m only two episodes in of each.

DON’T DO IT DON’T DO IT DON’T YOU DO IT

Noted Canadian war criminal Doug Tilley (he made me watch Science Crazed) asked me to guest on one of his podcasts, Eric Roberts is the Fucking ManHe then asked me to be a participant in my own damnation by having me select the Eric Roberts movie we would be discussing. That’s harder than you might think – Roberts’ IMDb page lists 513 actor credits, with probably 200-300 in the last few years. He’s like the modern-day John Carradine.

I discounted all the movies where he played “The Devil” – there are several – as that meant he was likely on set for twenty minutes or so. But there was one that drew my eye, and that was Halloween Hell, where he is listed as playing “Count Dracula”. And it was on Prime Video. You can listen to that episode of the podcast at the site above, but you’re already here, so I might as well use my notes and grumble about the stuff I never got to in the podcast. (ERITFM likes to clock in at an hour, which is something I appreciate in a podcast, my fanboy love for The Projection Booth notwithstanding)

We start with a bunch of kids wandering through a warehouse with a video camera (you are going to become very familiar with this warehouse). They find a misshapen black statuette with Sculpey fangs (ditto the statuette). These teens are three guys and two girls, basically the Scooby Gang without the budget for a Great Dane with a speech impediment. One girl freaks out and tries to run, resulting a door magically slamming shut and The Demon (I think it’s a Type IV) appearing from the statuette and offing the kids one by one.

  1. We start with a disembowelment, shot at floor level, behind the victim. Classic movie cheat.
  2. A throat slash. First appearance of CGI blood, notable for its neon color.
  3. The demon presses a face mask on a girl’s head, then pulls it away, revealing that the other side of the mask was coated with blood. Oh, wait, I think he was supposed to be pulling her actual face off.
  4. The last girl starts flailing around on the floor and screaming while hoses pump blood through her clothes. This will be our first example of death by overacting.
  5. The last guy almost gets away, but the Demon shows up and get our B-movie deal sealed by my old favorite: facial lacerations are fatal.

Blah. Blah.

Eric Roberts tells us those deaths were “years ago” and remained unsolved. He then informs us that he is Count Dracula, and he is hosting a once-in-a-lifetime Internet event: He has the statuette, carved by Haitian slaves “from lava from the depths of Hell”. It houses a demon, and there will be six contestants who will spend 24 hours in a camera-festooned room with it, those 24 hours being midnight-to-midnight on Halloween. Each will earn $100,000 for getting through the day. The cost for the pay-per-view is a mere $24, “One dollar for each hour.”

The contestants are basically what used to be defined in Dynaman as “six good-looking young friends from all walks of life”:

  1. Nerd Boy, who wants the money to open his own high tech company and become Bill Gates
  2. Gothia, a Russian import and stripper exotic dancer, needs $100,000 worth of clothes and make-up
  3. Jessie – “The All-Star’s sweetheart”, who is given no motivation for the money
  4. Toby – who wants the money to start his country music singing career
  5. Rose – an undocumented immigrant who wants the money to go to nursing school and help her brother open a car repair shop (no stereotypes here)
  6. Mr. Jones – our token black who intends to use the money for an independent film

It’s the tusks that get me.

The statuette is in a room in that damnable warehouse which has been tricked out with the entire contents of somebody’s storage locker where they stuffed their Halloween decorations each year for the past decade or so. This is, I guess, meant to be ironic, but god it is cheesy.

Toby the country boy was obviously instructed to go over the top and given no further direction. When you do something like that to an actor, they keep trying to find the top, and getting no further instruction, keep going further and further out. In short, Toby looks like he’s being prepped to be the first to die, just to give us some relief. However, as Mr. Jones points out, “The Brother Man is always the first to go.”

This brings us to another bizarre sidetrip: Dracula is also running a website where you can bet on who will die and in what order. The janitor for the building where Drac is hosting his part of the show logs on to bet that Mr. Jones will be the first to die, causing the Demon to manifest and kill him by making blood gush from his scalp. In a few scenes, a woman will come in looking for the janitor, find his body, and she will be our next Death by Overacting.

Neither of these scenes are long enough to actually qualify as the sort of padding you do when your picture is not an agreed-upon length for distribution. It asks the question, is this happening to everyone who bets on the site? If it is, it would certainly mean more money for Dracula, since he’ll never have to pay out, but that’s never explored. If the Demon can just manifest anywhere, why the hell is the statuette even necessary?

Back at the reality show: we’re basically trying to make what is known as a “submarine film” here, with all the action taking place in a single room. The thing about those are they’re cheap, but you need to have crackling dialogue, something interesting for the characters to do. We don’t get the former, and for the latter, we have Toby singing a song, and strip poker. At least Friday the 13th had the class to switch that up with strip Monopoly.

(At one point, one of his “brides”, either “The Dragon Lady” or “Nectar-feel-ya”, asks Dracula “Where did you get him?” about Toby. “Texas! Where else?” which led me to a hearty “Fuck you movie!” which had been building up for at least a half-hour. Then I realized I could pinpoint within 30 miles which town Toby came from)

“You’re getting CGI everywhere!”

Mr. Jones does indeed get his throat slashed, with a fair amount of CGI blood sweetening so they don’t get the couch he’s lying on messy. Rose demonstrates why she needs to go to nursing school by attempting CPR on a guy with a cut throat. Jessie stabs herself in the eye with some dagger that was obligingly stuck in the wall. Toby and Nerd Boy start yelling to be let out or an ambulance to be called, allowing Roberts to have the best line of the whole movie, “Children of the night! What music they make!”

Now luckily, as our cast keeps getting whittled down, Nerd Boy, before showing up, had gone to a “Voodoo Lady” to find out about demons. “Voodoo Lady” is never given a name, so I dubbed her “Mama Machina” (first name Deus, middle initial X). She gave him some “magnets” (which look more like those stick-on lights for your closet you see on late-night TV)  and a steel urn to capture the Demon.

Guh.

This was written and directed by Ed Hunt, who I was familiar with from Starship Invasions, which I admit I had only seen because it was shown at a Crapfest. He also did Bloody Birthday and The Brain, which are both better regarded (I’ve seen neither, though). This is his first movie since 1988, make of that what you will.

Roberts makes sure Hunt gets his day rate’s worth. Almost all the rest of the money went for that Demon makeup, which is pretty damned good – which is fortunate, because he gets more screen time than Roberts. Also thrifty is the design choice that from the waist down he’s CGI flames, a type III floating torso, as Ray Stantz would say. As for the rest… I’ve seen worse. The script does them no favors.

Really, the tagline of this blog should be, “I’ve Seen Worse”. That doesn’t mean you have to.

 

 

Another Interlude

Okay, I found the Man of Steel disc I alluded to in the last interlude, so I gave it another shot, as promised. I hate it a little less.

“Wait… there’s a building I haven’t knocked over yet.”

There are still some things I will not get over, no matter how much Internet urging washes over me. The fact that apparently, the one time Ma and Pa Kent joined the Smallville Library Book Club the selection was Atlas Shrugged; Kal has several opportunities to carry the fight to less populated areas, but doesn’t (how else are we going to get our spectacle, our 9/11 as performed by aliens?); and, of course, the killing of Zod. The script, at least, probably felt like it did a good job justifying that – but, as I’ve kvetched before, it is such a blatant, lazy shock tactic, the negating of 80 years of character development and mythos.

In Man of Steel‘s favor was my recent watching of the Extended Edition of Batman v Superman. The former movie now feels like an extremely focused and serious entry. And this time, forearmed and able to ignore these points I listed above, I was at least able to appreciate the hard work that went into all those visual FX.

And Michael Shannon’s voice really annoys me, which I realize is totally unfair to him.

Also pretty amazed they manage to rebuild Metropolis so quickly. I’d say Superman probably helped, except that this Randian version wouldn’t; he probably used that time to read The Fountainhead. Yes, I went for the low-hanging fruit concerning Zack Snyder’s next announced project.

Now, back to The Great Experiment in the Land of TV.

S2E2 of Legion has me asking some hard questions and not liking the answers. It felt largely like some poorly motivated filler. We finally meet Amahl Farouk face-to-face (and wonder of wonders, is an actual Middle Eastern actor, Iranian Navid Negahban). I am concerned that there seems to be some “Oh yeah, we’re expected to be weird” going on here when it’s not, strictly speaking, necessary.

S3E2 of The Expanse continues to impress with a space chase and battle that’s almost episode-length. The series has done sequences before about the stress of extended high-g travel on the human body, and this time uses some poorly-secured tools during battle maneuvers for nice suspense. The non-space sequences mainly center on a new character played by Elizabeth Mitchell (talk about your sudden Lost flashbacks!), the Reverend Anna Volovodov, whom I really like, a contentious moral compass in the events Earthside. It also ends with a cliffhanger that sorely tested my plan to just do one episode of each series a week.

And I was warned:

Great. Actually, I suppose that’s a good problem to have.

Westworld S1E2 continues to play the long game, and I’m really appreciating that. Also appreciated is more insight into Delos’ day-to-day, as we are introduced to who I guess are our equivalent characters to 1973’s James Brolin and Richard Benjamin – Simon Quarterman and Jimmi Simpson, I believe. Anthony Hopkins is up to something because Anthony Hopkins is always up to something. Ed Harris’ Man in Black is still being a complete bastard in search of something deep within Westworld, and his quest demonstrates that there are remote sections of Westworld that the clients have probably never yet encountered, yet the androids perform their story duties, day in and day out. Intriguing.

Westworld is another series that’s sorely testing my no-binge vow.

But I stood my ground, so I deserved a reward. And that reward was adding on to my task. In other words, I added another series. But that series was Ash vs Evil Dead.

Yeah, you’re probably saying, “What do you mean you haven’t been watching Ash vs Evil Dead?” Well, having cut the cable long ago, seeking out shows like this is something of a process (usually involving Amazon Prime or Netflix or even – how primitive! – physical media). That, and – much as I love Evil Dead 2, a top 10 horror movie for me – I didn’t care for Army of Darkness. There, sue me.

Anyway, age has not rendered Ash any less of a horse’s ass than he was in that movie, and for some reason he is toting around a copy of Necronomicon ex Mortis (isn’t that “Book of the Dead of the Dead?”), gets stoned while trying to make time with a poetry-loving hippie chick and reads the incantation. Because, remember, Ash is an idiot. Luckily, he is an idiot who still has his shotgun and chainsaw because his trailer park is about to become wall-to-wall demons.

Sam Raimi directed the first episode, so it’s got a fair amount of hyperkinetic gore. So far Ash has two assistants from the knock-off Best Buy he worked at, and there’s a compelling parallel storyline with a cop who encountered that earlier hippie chick, now in full demon mode.

Seemingly, Raimi only directed this first hour-long episode, but the rest are all a half-hour. This will be a nice cool-down from the other, more thoughtful series. It’s been cancelled after its third season, and it seems that was a bit of a relief for Bruce Campbell. Really, there’s not much left for him to do with the character, and I’m sure the desire to just do something else for a while is pretty strong.

The Catch-Up: Interlude

“So how did that grand experiment you alluded to in your last blog post go?” asked nobody. (C’mon, pay attention to me! It’s not like our country is being burnt to the ground or anything)

That experiment was: while I’m catching up on reviews of movie watched during my hiatus, watch episodes of some TV series on Friday nights instead of three or four movies, alleviating the buildup. Simple.

(Hold for laughter)

Have you seen me?

Cold turkey didn’t work this time. Last week’s entry, in fact, wherein I excoriated Batman v Superman (and trust me, I cut myself short), prompted a bit of discussion on Facebook where there was some spirited defense of Man of Steel (there was also a complete lack of name-calling and similar drama because my friends are not dicks). There was enough that I thought maybe, just maybe, I should peek back in on that disc to see if I had actually missed anything.

And I couldn’t find the disc. That bothered me more than it should. After all, I’ve gone on record as actually hating that movie, I shouldn’t be surprised that I was lackadaisical about its location in my collection. My database says it’s still there, but it wouldn’t be the first time I’ve lent out or even given away a disc that I had no further use for, without noting it. I am, in fact, annoyed at myself for being annoyed that I can’t find a movie I hate.

That’s three discs, people! THREE!!!

So I defaulted to another Facebook thread from a week or two earlier, wherein I stated (on the subject of worst Marvel movie) that I would watch The Incredible Hulk again before another viewing of Iron Man 2. So, since I couldn’t watch one hated movie, I watched another. And it’s the 3-Disc Special Edition, bitches. I am serious about this stuff.

My opinion of The Incredible Hulk remains unchanged; I think it’s a pretty good Hulk movie. This opinion may be suspect, in that I’m not a Hulk fan. But I’m also not a Spider-Man fan, and I still recognize that the first two Raimi movies and Homecoming are good Spider-Man movies. The tropes are all there: Thunderbolt Ross continuing to run operations that are guaranteed to make Bruce Banner’s heartrate skyrocket and become the Hulk; the seeking of a cure that only winds up creating more Gamma monsters; and, of course, wanton destruction.

The CGI is ten years old, and is adequate, largely unembarrassing. As the second movie in the MCU, this is valuable mainly for the things it does not have. I couldn’t help but think about how – were the movie made more recently – certain action sequences would have been slicker, better staged and paced. There would be more humor. But it’s not terrible. It’s a shame that the MCU has ignored the movie, retaining only William Hurt’s General Ross, and tossing Liv Tyler’s Betty, The Abomination and The Leader down the memory hole. There was a mention of the Battle of Harlem in one of the Netflix Marvel shows, and that seems about the extent of admission of the movie’s canon-icity.

Also it doesn’t get near enough credit for running the Hulk’s origin story under the opening credits. That’s something we all know, and that saved ten-fifteen minutes or more screen time.

And then I could finally get down to the Great Experiment.

The second season of Legion is even trippier than the first, and sometimes self-consciously so. I don’t mind that at all – the trippiness is what I’m here for. Having not read the comic book, I can’t testify as to how much is derived from the comic and how much madness is coming from Noah Hawley. But in a lot of ways Legion is what I wanted from Twin Peaks: The Return and often got, but in a continuous, high-pressure firehose stream.

Not much Aubrey Plaza or Jemaine Clement yet, though. Sad!

Who knew I’d end up really liking Bobby?

The third season of The Expanse remains solid science-fiction, which is to say solid drama with a nice hard science background. The crew of the Roci remain the unluckiest SOBs in the solar system, and they just renamed the ship, so that’s going to take a while to adjust. Relationships continue to grow and evolve. The penultimate episode of season two gutted me, and the next day Syfy announced it was not coming back after season three. Double Whammy! There’s lots of fan turbulence over its cancellation, so maybe I’ll get to enjoy it past this season. That would be a good thing. (Good Things Do Happen Dept: while I was typing this, Amazon announced they would be carrying Season 4)

Westworld is going to be a hard sell for me, but the first season’s premiere episode is a good start. It’s – no surprise – based on the 1973 movie, concentrating more on the androids and the technicians of the Delos parks. The basis for the events in that ’73 flick seem to be laid out in this episode, and much more. I’m impressed with the amount of screwing with audience perception that’s going on, and appreciate the attention being paid to the day-to-day operation of the park (though that also leads me to some questions that may or not be answered in future episodes. Guess we’ll see).

I like Bernard, so I figure he’s not long for this world.

Why should this be a hard sell to me? I don’t have a good history with these prestige TV series. I’ve yet to actually finish a Netflix series – 8 episodes seem to be my limit. Miss me with Game of Thrones, the first episode landed with a dull thud. The record holder so far is Deadwood, with two seasons under my belt before I got exhausted. Westworld, though, has presented me with enough hard science fiction puzzle boxes to give me hope.

One of the questions I had immediately was if this version of Delos only had the Westworld attraction, but I see from some social media that Shogunworld has entered the series. Of course social media is also coughing up entries that amount to “Y’all are still watching Westworld?!” This doesn’t dismay me. I stuck with Lost until the bitter end. I still have hopes for Westworld.

So the Grand Experiment was a success, mostly. Besides the fact that I’m here writing about what I watched instead of catching up on those older reviews.

Crap.

 

Oh. Hi.

Yeah, I’m still alive. January was ridiculously busy for me, and now that I’ve got a little downtime, I’m feeling remarkably decrepit. Standing up is a major production. Stairs are an invention of the devil. That’s one reason I’ve not been around here so much. I’ve been sinking a fair amount of time into just watching some movies and performing my primary function, being a pillow for my Monkey Dog.

Another stumbling block: there I was, writing right along on what was supposed to be the second post of January, when I was stopped dead; I was trying to get back into my groove of watching Important World Cinema That I Had Been Ignoring, and was struck by the singular terror of writing something about a fairly well-respected film.

This has happened to me before, of course. The last time it was this bad was back in the days when I was writing The Bad Movie Report, and decided to do a series on the classic Universal horror movies that were being reissued on VHS at the time. I started working on Frankenstein, my personal favorite, and was again stopped dead. What more could possibly be said about a sixty year-old flick? What new? Why was I even trying? This crisis shut down the site for quite some time.

I eventually climbed back on the horse, and will do so again. I do keep watching movies, leading to yet another thread of percolating anxiety in my life. When am I going to be able to write about them all? Why am I even doing this?

I also think cold, dreary February is fertile ground for existential nannydiddering like this.

I’ve been called in to work this evening, covering for a sick co-worker. I could mumble there goes more writing time, but I’d be lying. I’d probably watch another movie. And then not write about it. And seethe about not writing about it. And next week’s gonna be another busy one.

See you in a bit. Sooner rather than later, I hope.

 

 

December Already

There is an odd perceptual trick that as you get older, time goes by faster. This phenomenon likely has its roots in the crush of past experience pressing up against the present moment, with a constant increase in supposedly adult matters burning away your time. I suppose the current administration was the solution for that, as there were instances when time ground to a maddening crawl, like a perpetual few seconds just before the impact of a car crash. Hurricane Harvey was only three months ago; it feels more like a year.

Life definitely feels like a circus act where you’re pressed up against a board and some idiot with a blindfold keeps throwing knives at you. December’s always hectic, and I doubt it’s going to calm down until the year is nearly over. Maybe not even then.

I think you’re getting at least one more post out of me this year. In the meantime – since I have a few minutes to catch my breath – here’s the few movies I’ve had the chance to watch:

The Limehouse Golem is based on a Peter Ackroyd novel, and delights in moving the timeline back and forth as Inspector John Kildare (Bill Nighy) is a sacrificial detective set up by Scotland Yard to investigate the Limehouse Golem murders, a series of bloody mutilations that predate and outdo Jack the Ripper for sheer ghoulishness. His investigations run counter to the murder trial of music hall star Lizzy Cree (Olivia Cooke), whose poisoned husband seems a very likely suspect for the Golem.

The world of the English music hall wasn’t something I was expecting to be immersed in when I started the movie, and that was a pleasant surprise. Douglas Booth, as music hall superstar Dan Leno, is a continuing thread through the story as it unfolds, enabling the unique story structure. I’ve not read Ackroyd’s novel, but that structure feels uniquely literary, and director Juan Carlos Medina pulls it off well. While I can’t hand it an enthusiastic recommendation, I can still say it’s definitely worth a look. If you’ve not had your fill of Edwardian murder mysteries, you can certainly do far worse.

I finally watched Atomic Blonde, and I’m sort of glad I didn’t get over my animosity toward theaters to see it. It’s a pretty good retro spy movie, taking place just before and during the fall of the Berlin Wall. Charlize Theron is Lorraine Broughton, an asskicking troubleshooter for MI5 tasked with finding a wristwatch containing microfilm with the names and records of every agent on both sides of the Cold War, including a double agent known only as Satchel. She meets up with the local handler, Percival (James McAvoy), who has gone native in a big way. She spends most of the movie getting the crap kicked out of her, but you should see the other guy(s). What’s left of them, anyway.

Let’s be frank, Charlize Theron just plain owns me, and has for years. She is incredible as the agent James Bond would rightly be afraid of – except incredible doesn’t really cover it, she is credible in the role. Great supporting cast, too – John Goodman, Sofia Boutella, Toby Jones, Eddie Marsan. Incredible soundtrack. Great editing. Pretty much what you would expect from David Leitch, who was one of the directors of the original John Wick.

My only real complaint is that the movie feels over-extended at nearly two hours, giving me far too much time to figure out the true identity of Satchel. Minor complaint. Some directors would have stretched it out to two and a half hours.

That same day I saw Takashi Miike’s Blade of the Immortal, so I must have been in the mood for a fight. If you dug on the 45 minute long battle scene that ended 13 Assassins, good news! This is basically a movie-length version of that! In the very first segment, Manji (Takiya Kimura) informs a mob of about a hundred lowlife bounty hunters – who just slaughtered a girl for fun – that he is going to kill each and every one of them. And does. As he lays dying from his wounds, he is infected by bloodworms, which will heal any wound, even rejoining severed limbs to his body.

As Blade is based on a long-running manga series, I don’t know if there is ever a good reason given why a mysterious old woman gives Manji this curse/blessing – it still hurts when he gets injured, and the healing is far from instantaneous. He just can’t die from his wounds. He eventually takes up the cause of young Rin (Hana Sugasaki), whose family was killed by a group of rogue martial artists who want to take over the Imperial Guard (a ploy familiar to fans of “rule the world of martial arts” movies). The story gets somewhat involved from there, with plots, counterplots, a bloodworm poison that significantly slows down Manji’s healing, many colorful opponents, and my second two exhausted, bloody combatants still taking each other on fight scene in one day.

Overall, I liked it, but I wanted to love it. Miike’s samurai flicks are really good, though – see it and make your own decisions.

I watched two more movies, but I promised the review for one to Daily Grindhouse, so you’re going to have to be satisfied by closing things out with S&M Hunter.

I’m always downloading movie trailer collections and watching them at my leisure; one group was some movies available from PinkEiga, which specializes in Japanese “Pink” movies – so called because they involve nudity. That’s a subject that has a Wikipedia page all to itself, so I’ll direct you there for the broader picture. Pun definitely not intended, by the way. S&M Hunter caught my eye with its outrageous stylization and definite kinkiness (it’s right there in the title, after all), so I sought it out.

A man comes to “The Pleasure Dungeon” and chooses to whip a submissive dressed (briefly) as a nun until she faints. The Dungeon Master states “You are not a true sadist. I can see it in your eyes.” (Never mind that both men are wearing sunglasses) It turns out that new customer has a massive hate on for women because he’s gay and his lover has been kidnapped by a high school girl gang and is being used as their sex slave. Enter the dungeon’s superhero, S&M Hunter, dressed as a priest with a skull eyepatch, who agrees to rescue the boy. His super power is an amazing – and like all super powers, essentially impossible – mastery of rope tricks and the fact that every woman he is up against gets pleasure from the act of being tied up.

S&M Hunter would be classified in the realm of “Pinkie Violence”, I guess, but the whole setup is so silly and over the top that it comes off as a lighter parody of that genre. S&M Hunter has his own spaghetti western theme song. The Hunter’s archenemy feels it necessary to dress up in a gestapo uniform, complete with Nazi flag. The Dungeon Master has all the good lines. It’s only an hour long.

I was considering this for a Crapfest entry. But. It still remains a sex film, and that’s a level of tawdry I’m not willing to subject the fest to – titillation is fine, but S&M Hunter, while not explicit, still crosses that line. It is a pretty subversive entry in that genre, though, as the only truly loving, normal relationship is the homosexual one. Here, have a censored version of the trailer that sent me on this odd sidetrip:

Things only get busier from here on out. Hope to see you betwixt Christmas and New Years, if some moron doesn’t get us all killed. Happy Holidays, everybody, as possible.

 

A Critical Mishap

It’s possible that one of the contributing factors to my current paucity of critical writing is an incident that happened years ago (ain’t that always the Freudian way?). Lazy afternoon, the wife and I were watching something on Netflix that was a compilation of 50s-60s horror movie trailers with snarky commentary. The snark frequently bordered on the mean and hateful, and I said so. “They sound like your reviews,” she said. I answered that my reviews started from a basis of affection, but she was having none of it. “Nope. They sound just like you.”

That’s bothered me off and on in the intervening years. The instances of bother seem to coincide with periods of scarcity, like now. Am I contributing anything to the discussion? Or am I simply a low-rent MST3K substitute, available without subscription? And really, isn’t this kind of a pathetic existential crisis?

I suspect this will soon be rendered rear-view mirror material; I have a Crapfest coming up in a couple weeks, and such pearl-clutching will go out the window, where it belongs. I’ve been feeling a slight yearning to return to movie-watching, to that pledge to watch all of Tarkovsky’s movies this year. Some of this may be fueled by a bit of brightness, that the current efforts to take away my health insurance have failed; however, there is also the awareness that when the Death Star explodes, the Empire just builds another one.

So it goes.

So once more it is asked, what exactly are you doing with your evenings?

Guess.

Yes, I wrote about some a few weeks back. I’m still exploring the form. Greg Wilcox told me my price quote of $15.99 was due to a poor sampling (though some of the prices I’ve seen on YouTube have been that bad if not worse. I suspect those were from the heyday of the fad, and the market is cooling); I’ve since seen spinners in the wild recently for $5.99. I continue to get them on a slow boat from China for two to three bucks. The truly dangerous ones I ordered still haven’t arrived, but there is enough to confound and bore you with.

There are a number of Batman forms available, but I went for the more retro curved version, as opposed to the modern, angular and sharp versions. The design’s asymmetry works against it; I like to spin and move the device, enjoying the gyroscopic feel pushing against me. It reminds of that cool-ass toy gyroscope I had when I was a kid. This design, though, doesn’t engender the same smooth force – it creates a clunky, bumpy spin. If you’re poetically-minded, it does sort of recall the flapping of a bat’s wings.

(guitar solo)

I did have to also get in this combined copyright nightmare. This is essentially the former spinner with a rubber Captain America shield plopped in the center disc, no other changes. It did however allow me to post on Instagram:

WE’RE AN AMERICAN BAT
WE’RE COMIN’ TO YOUR TOWN
WE’LL HELP YOU PARTY DOWN
WE’RE AN AMERICAN BAT

With Marvel movies making serious coin in China, you can be sure that there are also spinners of his shield, and here I finally hit a cropper: I knew it would be a disc spinner, which I don’t really care for. It is pretty large and colorful, but, in a departure from most of these spinners (except my beloved Behemoth steampunk spinner), it is entirely plastic. Most spinners also have a version of a skateboard bearing at its center, and this one does not, so it has no spin stamina. Being a cheap bastard, I go for the “Free, Just Pay Shipping” versions where possible – it’s possible if I spent a few more bucks I could get a metal version, but again: I’m not going to use a disc spinner, so why bother?

Putting the lie to that almost immediately is this beast. I love dragons, especially the classical Asian type, so this baby was calling my name. A disc type, but the spines and horns give my middle finger enough purchase to spin it in my preferred style. Heavy and metal, it spins a looooong time, though. If it were a little larger, it would be ideal. Though even at its size, it feels inordinately heavy, so wishing it larger might be some monkey’s paw foolishness.

Also in our last installment, I introduced you to the fidget spinner full of ancient evil, and the spinner filled with ancient pseudoscience. In my increasingly deranged head canon, the ancient evil and astrology spinners teamed up, so I had to get a spinner filled with the power of SCIENCE. Besides the fact that it looks pretty cool (and reminds me of my favorite Silver Age Metamorpho villain, back in the Ramona Fradon days), that design is perfectly balanced (SCIENCE!) and its spin stamina is off the charts. Go, Science!

Now wait, you may say, you keep going on about dangerous spinners, but none of these has seemed particularly damaging, although we are worrying about your mental health in general. I KNOW. All my really lethal spinners have yet to arrive, and I am beginning to suspect customs may be confiscating them against the coming civil war. But I do have one that is proven dangerous:

Hahaaaaa, yes! Come here, you lovely little monster! If you read the article, it’s exactly two of these gizmos that have done the Johnny Storm bit, and it’s because of the same problem that gave us exploding Galaxy Notes: too much battery in too small a space. Well, we are very safety conscious here at Freex Labs, so while charging we placed the spinner in a metal container and did not leave it unattended. There were disappointingly few sparks, flames or explosions. The damn thing didn’t even get hot. It paired to my phone easily and produced quite the light show while streaming music from Pandora – my wife is extremely jealous and I have to lock it up at night.

What caused most of the adverse reactions to this was not so much the exploding part as “a bluetooth spinner?” I grant you, it is puzzling. The music sounds alright, but it would sound so much better from a bluetooth headset or dedicated speaker. Those damned kids! They’re just doing it to be annoying!

So, that’s it until Customs decides I’m not a terrorist looking to cause mass destruction with my questionable spinner purchases. But wait… what’s this?

 

I, um…. I’ll see you later.

IT WAS COMING RIGHT AT ME

The Block of the Writer

First off, I’ve had writer’s block before, and this really isn’t it. Writer’s Block is usually a perceptual crisis where nothing seems to fit right and no way forward can be seen, and thus paralysis sets in.

Okay, so maybe what I have is writer’s block. A form of it anyway.

The diet seems to consist mainly of despair these days, and if you don’t understand why this is, you are A) Lucky or B) Not paying attention, or both. Everything is burning or falling apart or getting shot and in an atmosphere like that, you start to wonder if something like watching movies and gassing about them for a thousand words or two actually matters in any way.

This is, I suppose, an existential crisis that all writers – and other artists – go through at some time. “Is there a point to what I am doing?”

Now, I’ve carved out a minor career in examining the pointless, absurd, and disposable – it’s inevitable that I’d eventually consider that career to be pointless, absurd and disposable – because it is. But it’s my piece of the turf. It’s what I do. I keep trying to return to it, but again: it’s currently a grind setting off sparks against a much bigger grind. I don’t expect this to be permanent – it hasn’t the other times it’s happened. But that could also just be the psychic equivalent of thinking that chest pain will go away, because it has every other time.

I do really miss yanking the page out and crumpling it while screaming “GARBAGE! IT’S ALL GARBAGE!”

I’ve had my experiences with depression and this is similar to a worrisome degree; the major difference is this time I’m medicated and able to function better (and in the Paying Attention category, you know there are forces at work trying to take that away from me). And that adds a new wrinkle into the current Block: do my meds dull my creative spark, or whatever the hell it is that drives me to link words together in a semi-coherent and hopefully entertaining manner?

There have been essays about all the great writers who were also addicts in one way or another and think yeaaaaah probably not. Did Hemingway need booze to write? If Coleridge’s doctor had not prescribed Laudanum for rheumatism, would we still have Rime of the Ancient Mariner or Kubla Khan? That one, at least is easy to refute – he wrote both before he became addicted. Writing is a complex, solitary chore – more people choose to not do it than do.

I hit a point recently where I ran out of my happy pills and couldn’t afford the refill (this period is now luckily past) and I found out that one of my other addictions filled in somewhat, and that is the fidget spinner.

Oh, so much digital ink has been spilled on these things! Teachers hate them! Boing Boing loves them! Allow me to fill up some space about them, and maybe bust through this writing blockade.

If you have not yet encountered the fidget spinner, welcome back from Mars, I look forward to seeing your slides. This picture is the most common style: usually three arms spinning around a central base with a bearing. Each arm usually has another bearing, so when you get tired of spinning around the center. there is another way to fiddle with them. There is apparently an entire subset of YouTube tutorials for tricks with them.

These were the big fad in schools last Spring. Teachers I know shared pictures of all the spinners they had confiscated at the end of the year. When I had first heard of them, they were being marketed as an aid to students with autism or ADHD. Whatever else you may call them, that does not cover most of the kids in public schools; so yeah, they’re a distraction in those settings. In my day (*cough cough*) the schoolhouse craze was a lot noisier and more dangerous:

Ladies and gentlemen, that shit could explode on you in a cloud of supposedly high-impact acrylic shrapnel. Spinners at least are quiet and non-explosive. You will recall the autism/ADHD claims; my wife runs a private school for children with learning disabilities (ADHD among them) and used some spinners during testing. The improvement was dramatic – then, this is the actual setting for their intended use.

So. given that the fad has created a famine of the things in local stores, and looking to get a supply for her school, she gets in a package of several from a website that seems to be the Walmart of Chinese vendors, and hands me one and I fall in love.

If you’ve interacted with me for any length of time in fleshspace, you know that I am a thumb-twiddler. It’s something I do while idle without realizing it. That’s one of the reasons I try to avoid clicky-pens – I can get really annoying with the dang things. I run audio for live broadcasts of City meetings, and there is one guy I want to take the pen from and hand him a spinner. Much quieter.

Oh, all right, the website is Wish dot com. It’s not like I get any referral fees or anything. Given that a recent trip to NYC revealed that spinners go for $15.99 or so, waiting a few weeks for a $1 spinner to make it over from China seems reasonable. Because I got really interested in the many forms of the device. Especially the ones that look kinda dangerous.

This is the first one I bought, and still my favorite.  I was wondering about how the gears would interact with the spinning, and the answer is, they don’t. But when you get bored of spinning – it happens – you can turn the gears manually, a variation on spinning from the arms rather than the center. It’s a little bigger and clunkier than most spinners, and feels more comfortable in my hand. Also, most of the spinners I’ve encountered are metallic, and this one is almost entirely plastic.

Now look at this sucker. Just look at it. This is one I simply could not avoid owning. I posted it on Instagram with the caption “My new spinner is here! Unfortunately, it also came with ancient, unrelenting evil.” This is the most dangerous one I own so far, and not just because it looks like a prop from a Full Moon movie. My fidgeting usually takes the form of holding it in my left hand, and my middle finger doing the spinning. Those flanges on the bat wings can hurt, especially since it’s metal and fairly heavy. Also slightly smaller than the steampunk one above, and not as comfortable in my hand.

Next to arrive is this beauty. Instagram caption: “To combat the spinner full of ancient evil, I got one filled with ancient pseudoscience.” My first disc spinner, and I find that form doesn’t jibe with me at all – my usual practice of spinning with the same hand’s middle finger doesn’t work well. It’s a two-handed spinner. But it’s also metal and beautiful. Maybe I can wear it as an oversized medallion or something. Doesn’t bode well for enthusiastic use of the Captain America’s shield spinner that’s on its way, but come on. That purchase was necessary.

And I still haven’t gotten into the really dangerous-looking ones, the ones that are obviously re-purposed shuriken or look like the little brother of the Glaive from Krull.

That was a thousand words on gewgaws that no one will remember existed in ten years. Guess I can still write, after all.