Friday, September 22, 2017

CosmicSparky's Halloween Haul: September 2017

Some traditions are firmly set in stone, something to follow with little if any thought to how it began or what it means. Others sort of form out of nothing with little emotional background to them. That sort of thing has been steadily forming over the past several years as I tend find myself with a higher than normal amount of cash and a craving for new seasonal goodies. I swear I've made no choice or effort to make this happen yet here we are at I believe the third or fourth year in a row where I go out in September and come home with a rather remarkable unplanned haul. Honestly I didn't spend too much either. That said let's check out how the lingering remnants of a tax return magically became a pile of decorations.

The majority of this occurred during a rushed trip to Lansing. The main intent of the night was to usher in the nephew's birthday with a trip to Five Guys Burgers. After filling our bellies with beefy goodness there was roughly a scant two hours before everything closed. Thankfully we were fairly close to the Frandor shopping center which allowed us cover a substantial amount of stores with one stop.

Kirkland's is by no means a favorite store but they do have a track-record for nice holiday items and I was eager to check out their lighted pictures. I love this thing. It's the sort of image that evokes feelings of Devil's Night or Halloween night itself when the jack-o-lanterns are burning out, the moon is bright, and the streets quiet as people return to their homes in need of relaxation and cheap frozen pizza. It's that perfect peaceful moment that makes this season so great. There were other nice pictures available but this was the one for me and if you're interested I such things I'd suggest seeking them out as they were already 25% off plus in store coupons.

Party City was decent enough to have some cheap hanging ghouls. These are decent, inexpensive filler to hang from the trees as that extra bit of visual clutter that puts your display over the top without breaking the bank.
Michaels is pretty much a requirement for every Halloween and while this year wasn't their best offering it still had a few excellent items. The bats are nice yet another great tree hanger that some kid will inevitable collide with face first. Good thing they're soft and rubbery. Next there's the light up skeleton statue that I'd seen on the Kirkland website only to not find in stores. I ain't complaining mind you, just found that a tad odd. Lastly we have a ghost projector. Not unlike inflatables, these are far too often a crutch for lazy decorating but I've found when properly paired with a nice set-up they make an excellent final touch. Plus every graveyard needs ghosts.

Then there's Target, absolutely one of the kings of Halloween and they did not disappoint. I was overwhelmed by this years offerings, self-control prevailed however and I walked out only with the most important items. Recent years have marked an effort to escape the suckfest that is Styrofoam tombstones so I picked up this lovely grave marker complete with giant spider. Next up was a simple five dollar strobe light that serves double duty as a cheap horror soundtrack with screams and the like. Last but not least is an over sized snake skeleton. Skeletal animals have been a fad I've mostly dodged but this guy spoke to me. He just demands to spend the 31st hanging out of a tree branch, tormenting the wee children below. As payment he had to endure being awkwardly draped over one shoulder so that his face repeatedly smacked against my ass as I sauntered through the aisles.

Of course all this rank consumerism left me with a bountiful thirst and more than a few ways to quench it. World Market has a nice spread of spooky sodas including some drinks from Orca Beverage. Dr Jekyl's Pepper Elixir was a pretty solid choice though the pepper aspect was overdone. Spider Venom on the other hand was outstanding. Someone please show the way to the spider nest responsible for such goodness so I can jump straight in and let the little buggers fill me with tasty diabetes. Captain Morgan Jack-o-Blast was an item I've largely ignored in the past though I've found that it pairs wonderfully with brandy. Murphy's Stout has nothing to do with Halloween, it's simply delicious.

As if all this wasn't enough I visited the local Wal-Mart plaza only to end up with more additions like plastic tombstones and dollar store ghouls. The biggest thrill here is more Pumpkin Masters books. We have a library of these things reaching back into the mid-nineties with so many patterns that I really should create a digital database of them all. The company is largely responsible for my love of and skill at carving. Nowadays I tend to aim for at least one of two unique creations but it simply wouldn't be Halloween without a few PM patterns.

And with all that I'm pretty much ready for the month of October. No doubt I'll put together some crafts and maybe grab an extra strand of lights but for the first time in......I'd say ever, all the important stuff is out of the way. I'll be able to trick the house out and ride out the season in comfort and style. Best of all I'm able to replace some older stuff, sending it out to thrift stores where some kid can begin to grow his own stash of goodies on the cheap. And on that note I'm out for today. How about you guys? Any nice new decorations to scare kiddies with? Or are you just enjoying the usual onslaught of pumpkin spice everything? Hit up the comments and we'll be back soon.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Candlemass Bewitched Video Review.

Holidays are a time for music. For many such a concept is solely represented by the usual Bing Crosby or Nat King Cole Christmas fare, but that's not the kind of merrymaking I'm here to talk about. This isn't the time for songs of goodwill and cheer. No sir, this is the time for ballads of dark magic and blood sacrifice. If Halloween had one specific musical genre to call its own, most assuredly it'd be metal. From classic power metal like Helloween to the modern posturing of Ghost, the genre falls right in line with the style of the season. That's why today we'll be spending our time checking out the fun and bad in all the right ways video for the Candlemass classic, Bewitched.

Now I'm no musical historian, so I won't pretend to know the history behind Candlemass its musicians. I had never even heard of the group until a few years ago when some drunken Youtube browsing brought them to my attention. I was in love from the start for reasons you'll hopefully soon understand. Over time the video evolved from an occasional diversion, to family running gag, and eventually a Halloween staple. The damn thing even served as my text alert for a time, warning me of work. Now let's see if we can make it a part of your yearly celebrations as well.

The video begins with a woman running away from one of the least classy funeral processions I've ever witnessed. I mean one of the pallbearers is practically having a smoke break. I guess this could illustrate just how badass these guys are, but it's probably just a goof as the cigarette quickly disappears. I suppose it was a necessary stress reducer during multiple takes of pretending to strain under the weight of a fake coffin. Upon reaching their destination, that is conspicuously lacking a hole in which to to place the coffin, we find they are at the already desecrated headstone of one Messiah Marcolin. Who's that you ask?

That's Messiah Marcolin! A frizzy haired, melodramatic, pantomiming dark metal jester who refuses to stay dead. His sudden outburst from beyond the grave sends his funeral crew scurrying like future man before hyper-intelligent apes. Can you guess what Messiah gets up to fresh outta the pit? Bewitching people of course. Lucky for him the surrounding area is almost entirely populated by metalheads who fail to notice the caterwauling warlock in their midst.
Soon enough, Marcolin attempts his witchery on the pretty girl who was previously seen fleeing in terror from his funeral procession. Didn't she have an inkling something like this might happen? Could she have perhaps left the area? Or at least warn some of the other victims in advance? These mysteries must wait for another day as she is soon bewitched.

His hypnotized army gathered together at last, Messiah takes stock of his victims during the extended guitar solo. What evil plan could he possibly have in mind? Will the streets soon run red with blood of innocents in some dark ritual from forgotten eons? Could the thin veil of reality be torn asunder by this accursed platoon of the newly damned? In reality the armada of black sorcery commences stomping towards the warlocks coffin where he returns to his unholy rest. Sounds like a bit of a let down but watching it is always a delight.

Essentially this whole music video boils down to being a crazy cheap horror flick about a corpse so disappointed with its own funeral that it rises to enchant people into partying. It's like Nightmare on Elm Street if Freddy simply wanted kids to dance the cabbage patch. Of course there's also a good amount of fog machine enhanced live performance footage sprinkled throughout the tale. Not as entertaining as the core narrative but you won't hear me complaining about the opportunity to see 80's era metalheads party till they puke.

Seems blogger won't let me include the video itself but it's not difficult to find. I highly recommend taking the nearly seven minutes out of your day. Gotta tell you there are multiple wonderful little extras that I haven't even touched on in this article. After surviving your viewing, be fine peopleand show it to your friends, have them share it with their family, and ever outward. Let's make Bewitched the White Christmas of pumpkin craving time. I must also thank giphy for helping to add some flair to this post. They run a good ship.

That's all for today, kiddies. Come back soon for....honestly not sure. That's the fun of this season. I could be doing simple candy reviews or writing a guide on how to make decorative blood vomiting spiders. TTFN.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Cryptocurium Parcel of Terror August Unboxing

The past few days have been a whirlwind of activity for me. A couple of folks have been outta the house which usually equates to a sort of vacation, though it also means there are less people around to deal with chores and such. Combine that with work and the yearly dig to unearth my Halloween decorations, one starts to feel the need for a reward. What luck that the first in a series of mystery boxes for our Halloween coverage arrived Tuesday. I'd like to say it was just what the doctor ordered, but...well, this one's gonna require a bit more detail than the usual subscription box review.

Cryptocurium' Parcel of Terror is a horror themed subscription service focused on handmade goods. We're talking completely unique items you can't get elsewhere which is something I appreciate in a mystery box. Usually these come in the form of magnets, wall plaques, or art prints. This homemade element also lends itself to a slightly higher price to item ratio. Turns out the the Parcel of Terror works out to being more expensive than a Funko box by a few cents. Even so; I've heard enough praise of the service especially from the patron saint of unboxings and fellow man-child, Johnny Tellez that I figured it was time to give it a try.

Before we even get to the box, I want to address the matter of timing. This box is the August, Summer of Fear edition. I ordered it in July, it didn't ship until the last day of August. It got here on the 5th of September. Pumpkin Spice foodstuffs have flooded the markets, cool temperatures have become the norm rather than the exception, Labor Day has past, for all practical purposes Summer is finished. If this sort of timing continues, future costumers will be opening their Halloween box while they're taking down decorations, and the Christmas box will arrive after the ball drops. This isn't the only service to suffer from such lackluster timing but it's still an element of the subscription service experience that I find very tiresome.

In the month of waiting for my box to ship, I learned a few things about Cryptocurium. First off is that the main site is essentially just a fancy etsy page. With that comes a certain lack of upscale features and customer service. Case in point is the manner in which one cancels their subscription. I ended up having to do this far in advance of receiving the box because I need the cash free to include some other items in this years Halloween coverage. Thanks to past experience I'm used to either having an account manager feature or just writing the guy in charge to cancel. Seeing as the former wasn't an option and I saw an e-mail address in the description for cancellations, I instinctively followed that outlet. After days without a response I was about ready to get sassy, until I realized I was a jackass who misread the whole cancellation instructions. You have to go into your paypal account and block further transactions. It's a cumbersome way of doing business though I understand the psychology behind it. Guy's busy making the items, he doesn't have time to micromanage his customers. On that topic, to my knowledge you can only buy this service with Paypal. It's not an issue so much as a notable limitation.

Finally we reached the day of arrival. The first thing I noticed is this box was small. I mean really small. Unlike the average mystery box this one fit into my mailbox along with the usual amount of ads and bills. Opening up reveals a one page letter describing the items, I always skip these things to maintain the surprise. One part that wasn't a surprise was the magnet which had been previously revealed online. It's the biggest one the service has ever done. Quite fitting for Bruce, the great white shark of Jaws fame. The magnet is made of resin and handpainted and is downright impressive. You'd have to be a real dick to say much of anything nasty about this piece of work. Unfortunately I can't say the same for the rest of this box.

The next item on hand is a small art print, well not really. It's more like a big postcard than a proper print. Titled Cruel Summer It's a purposefully rough and sketchy looking spread of classic summertime villains like Cropsy or the Humanoids from the deep. It's an ok piece, certainly not anything I'd frame, but ok.
After that is a Splatterhouse sticker. Not only do I not see the seasonal connection here but it's a sticker. As a man in his early 30's, what the hell am I supposed to do with a unique crafted sticker?
Then there's a sucker. Yep, just a random bit of candy. And that's it.
Ya want to hear the truly insulting part of this experience? Now keep in mind that that this Parcel of Terror costs $35, then take into account that there is a smaller Packet of Terror for $20 that is supposed to include the month's magnet and sticker along with some candy. That means all ya get for an extra $15 is that mostly forgettable art card.
Honestly I'm floored. I can't follow a train of thought that arrives at the conclusion that it's alright to take this much money from people only to give them so little in return. I understand that this is a small operation, lacking the corporate power that fuels so many other services. Not to mention I feel sorta mean for tearing a box like this apart as it's personal work and not mass produced nonsense from faceless corporations. The fact remains however that this is, without a doubt, the worst mystery box to ever come into my home. And I'm not saying this to be mean as I think Jason, the main man behind the operation has an immense talent for making some of these items. Yet I can not recommend his service to anyone. This was a lousy purchase that makes you feel like you've been swindled. That's not a feeling I enjoy myself and definitely not something I would wish on my readers.

For as much of a disappointment as this box was, it failed to diminish my good cheer towards the onset of Fall. On the very same day the parcel showed up I had already been to various stores, picking up new candies, decorations, and pumpkin beers. I'm more excited than ever for this season though I still can't leave Cryptocurium completely behind me as they have a crossover item with our next mystery box, Fright Crate. Until that arrives we've got plenty of fun topics to cover, which means I'll be seeing you all again soon.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Star Wars Book Club: Catalyst Review

Within mere hours it will be September 1st, or as it's known in retail stores, Force Friday II, the Star Wars focused product onslaught meant to dupe poor nerds like yours truly out of their valuable cash with toys, books, games, and the like. Not that I'm one to fall for such empty consumerism...though there is a new starter set for the Destiny game...and a new Claudia Gray novel. Shit, they got me! With a whole new wave of Star Wars goodies on the horizon along with the start of the four best months of the year, I thought it best for us to take a look at yet another expanded universe novel.

In all fairness it's been a little longer than usual since my last review, mainly because after going through so many books and seasons of The Clone Wars, I needed a small break from the franchise. I promised myself that upon my return I'd check out one of the books I was most interested in. The novel in questions is Catalyst by James Luceno who previously gave us Tarkin. Catalyst is a prequel to Rogue One that aims to better explain the history and relationships of the elder characters from said movie along with their roles in creating the Death Star. I was so eager to plumb the greater depths of these figures, what I got is something else entirely.

There's a scene in Rogue One, where Jyn recalls a night in her childhood when Krennic was visiting her parents and she wakes up, only to be escorted back to bed by her father. In this part, her parents and the future villain seem to be having a good time, a far different vibe than when he finds them in hiding years later only to kill Jyn's mother and take her father. That disparity hinted at a deeper emotional story that sadly isn't present within these pages. We're gonna have to tackle this one piece at a time.

Having read the over three-hundred pages that make up Catalyst, I hardly know anything more about Galen Erso than what was presented to me in the film. He's an incredibly intelligent man with strong morals who loves his family. His wife, Lyra on other hand I've now learned too much about. She's such an irritating goody-two-shoes it's downright sickening. She's smart, strong, one with nature, has high morals, is a good mother, physically fit, the woman practically shits gold bricks.
On the flip side I almost feel as if I understand Orson Krennic even less. Having him be underdeveloped in the movie was something of a given, I mean it was servicing a huge cast with just over two hours of story. Any potential for added depth here is thrown out the window as he's played up as a cartoonish, power hungry, ghoul. That scene of the three adult enjoying each-others company can't happen in this book as Lyra practically pulls out her cross and stake every time Orson comes around.
As for that other elder character begging for greater development, Saw Gerrera doesn't even show up until the last quarter of the book, and doesn't meet Galen and Lyra until the last 15 pages or so. Instead we get large chunks devoted to a smuggler named Has Obitt whom Jyn names one of her dolls after.
Tarkin makes his presence felt here as well, which should be a saving grace given how nicely Luceno portrayed him in his previous novel. Like Krennic, Tarkin has also taken a significant downgrade in depth for this outing. Even some of his dialogue seems uncharacteristic which makes no sense when Luceno's last crack at the villain was nearly flawless.

You might be wondering then, if these relationships aren't properly developed, just what exactly is going on in this book? Think of this as a sloppy road map of how the empire took on the massive undertaking of developing the Death Star, from gathering a work force, to securing supplies by stripping planets of natural resources. Many of these elements serve as tangents. For instance the subplot about the alien workforce constructing the station sorta fades away. There's an entire portion in the final quarter that deals with Tarkin waging war on a defiant solar system. This is meant to serve as something of forming event for the eventual rebellion but it could have been it's own separate story rather than be forced into this one.

There are some interesting bit pertaining to kyber crystals, hints that these stones may have something of their own will or an ability to influence people. The notion that being in close proximity to kyber crystals makes it difficult for normal people to sleep is very strange as that's clearly not an issue the Jedi faced. Of course there are no concrete answers to the mysteries these stone possess, perhaps that's something being built up for another story somewhere down the line.

I really can't stress enough how much of a disappointment Catalyst turned out to be. What could have been a neat mixture of character drama and espionage ended up as a dull collection of awkward interactions and go-nowhere plot threads. The structure of the writing, grammar, all of that is solid but it's a dull read, far below the standard set by the author's previous work. Let's put this one on the leaderboards.

1. Lost Stars by Claudia Gray
2. New Dawn by John Jackson Miller
3. Bloodline by Claudia Gray
4. Guardians of the Whills by Greg Rucka
5. Ashoka by E.K. Johnston
6. Tarkin by James Luceno
7. Thrawn by Timothy Zahn
8. Battlefont Twilight Company by Alexander Freed
9. Moving Target by Cecil Castelluci and Jason Fry
10. Before the Awakening by Greg Rucka
11. Catalyst by James Luceno
12. Smuggler's Run by Greg Rucka
13. Heir to the Jedi by Kevin Hearne
14. Lords of the Sith by Paul S. Kemp
15. Aftermath by Chuck Wendig
16.The Weapon of a Jedi by Jason Fry

And with that I now declare Summer officially over! Yes, I know there's technically still a few weeks left but you'd be hard pressed to convince me of that considering the current weather, let alone the decorative Halloween village above the cupboards. Every year I try to make both September and October on this site all about the wonders of the Halloween season, and for once I think there's actually enough content on hand to accomplish it. Look forward to some new unboxings, movie reviews, candy hauls, spooky crafts, you name it. We're finally at the last and best third of the year, it's gonna be great. Have a solid labor day, everybody.

Friday, August 25, 2017

Korean Sentai: Power Rangers Dino Force Brave Episodes 7-12

This week has felt very out of place. Currently the temperature is in the forties, kids are back in school, the store had plentiful amounts of pumpkin spice treats, it's hard to believe this is still August and not the middle of Fall. The best way to keep myself in check and not drape the entire house in spider webs is to buckle down and wrap up some leftover Summer business. With that in mind let's talk about the second half of that one and thus far only Korean Sentai spin-ff, Dino Force Brave.

Having established all the basic structure and character traits during the first half, the remainder of the series decides to focus soundly on the relationship between estranged brothers. This is both a good and bad decision as it makes the rest of the team even less important. Hell, they barely even factor into the final episode. That's not to say anything of the mascot characters like Torin who I can only guess where a part of this series as their guy-in-suit nature made them easy to carry over from original Kyuryuger. Speaking of Torin, at the end of this show he magically disappears for some unexplained reason. Is he like a ghost something?

The one step forward, one step back nature of the narratives narrowed focus applies to other elements of the show. Most of the normal action sequences have improved with faster, more elaborate choreography. Giant robot scenes on the other hand are even weaker than before as the more cumbersome dino combinations are fully CG, preventing them from properly interacting with the guys in monster suits. Seeing as jumbo battles are generally the shorter of the two we can chalk that up to a partial victory.

One of my previous complaints about the series has been slightly addressed. Some of the monsters begin to use powers themed around their appearance though nothing all that creative. One guy uses a trumpet, not to brainwash people or anything so special, just some basic explosive blasts. Likewise another enemy utilized icicles.....that explode. You seeing a pattern here? It really would have been fun to see this batch of heroes work to outsmart or overpower a uniquely powered foe rather than these stock villains with the same three attacks.

As for the story; we come to find out that the gold ranger has been intentionally misleading the villains all this time to convince them that he has inherited the power of the dragon king. What's that you ask? Basically it's the touch or quickening, pick your mystical power source. This whole ruse is meant to protect his lil bro the red ranger. Sure enough the bad guys get wise and kidnap the fearless leader. Of course he's rescued, the baddies are put in the ground, and everyone returns to their old lives. Oh, and the Zyuohgers shows up in a glorified cameo.

Gotta mention that one fun bit about watching this show has been the different languages. About two thirds of my viewing has been in proper Korean with subtitles. The rest however are dubbed into Japanese and translated from there. I'd like to think that explains some of the more colorful dialogue but who knows, maybe the writing is just that silly to begin with.

In the end, Dino Force Brave wrapped up it's existence much as it started. The whole production has been a bit simple, more than a little predictable, and far too childish. Can't deny that that simple nature has continued to be a little refreshing. It's like an afternoon of cartoons and hot chocolate.
On the downside, the majority of the cast has little if nothing to do and there's nothing distinctively Korean about the plotting or style. That's why I'd much prefer to this sort of project attempted again with a longer run time, smaller cast, and deeper cultural bent. It'd certainly be a welcome opportunity to have alternative Sentai for years like this where the flagship show is rubbish.

Dino Force Brave wasn't the saving grace we Sentai fans needed this year but it was a moderately entertaining experiment. I wouldn't outright recommend it to anyone other than franchise fans in need of something new. For me, it was an easy way to get my Sentai fix this Summer. Think of it like one of those highly superficial Summer romances, fun while it lasted but we've each got to move on to more meaningful things.

That's all for now, folks. I should be back soon with another regular feature post before we hit September and a new batch of seasonal fun. See ya soon.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

The Living Skeleton (1968) Review

It's no secret round these parts that I frankly dislike the month of August. Yes indeed, the fiendishly hot yearly counterpoint to February reeks of high temps, too much, sun, bugs, and a complete and total lack of a decent holiday. It's that final barrier before the outstanding final third of the year. Of course it doesn't help that as usual, I'm suffering from seasonal allergies as well though they are significantly lighter than usual. My point is I start going stir crazy, waiting for back-to-school stock to disappear in favor of Halloween goodies. At times like this, it's a miracle if you can find just the right item to scratch that oncoming Autumnal itch, without fully jumping the gun and pulling out foam jack-o-lanterns in summertime heat. Luckily I found a perfect item to sooth that itch, it's a delightful piece of entertainment I'd like to share with you all.

The Living Skeleton is a black and white late 60's offering from Japanese studio Shochiku, a production company that supposedly focused more on dramas but was experimenting with genre fare at this point in time. The cast is made up of, well, not anyone crazy notable but they're all game and put on some solid performances. Plus lead actress, Kikko Matsuoka is quite fetching. Strangest of all the crew may be the director, Hiroki Matsuno who has no other credits on IMDB. Not even something so small as a boom man or craft services. It's a shame too as he shows some major potential here and a real eye quality shots.

On to the story. It all starts with a bloody incident on a large Freighter. Most of the crew is chained together and shot by a band of traitors who then murder a young woman named Yoriko. Years later we catch up with her identical twin sister, Saeko who lives in a seaside church and who's only social life beyond the priest is a dog called Johnny and a fisherman boyfriend named Mochizuki. One night Saeko believes her sister is calling to her from a freighter passing in the night, Sailing out into a violent storm, Saeko finds the old ship along with a ledger containing the names of the murderers along with something more sinister.
The next portion of the film revolves around a possibly possessed Saeko traveling Japan in order to seek vengeance on her sisters killers. Meanwhile the priest and boyfriend attempt to track her down. Think of this section as something of a supernatural Charles Bronson flick, only this time Charlie's a pretty lady.
Lesser films would likely stretch that series of revenge killings out long enough to fill the 80 minute run time but here it cuts off a little after the halfway point. Thus allows the movie tp pull off some wacky twists and a return to the spooky ghost ship setting. The twists are actually a little hard to see coming too, not because they're well-hidden so much as the film didn't need them to stay entertaining. Still; can't argue with anything that makes the movie crazier while adding to the body count.

Speaking of body count, it should be noted that this is a surprisingly violent film given it's time and subject matter. Certainly it's no gory masterpiece by any means but when I'm watching these old B&W spook stories at most I expect to see someone get shot or fall into a vat of pretend acid. Here, people are drowned, gassed, melted, crushed between gears. Nothing especially graphic but boy does it ever add to the fun.

What really makes this movie stand out is its combination of style and atmosphere. Japanese horror flicks have had their own set of cliches for quite some time. It gives them their own unique feel but it's generally something you have to be in the mood for. With The Living Skeleton, it feels as if someone took that storytelling style and tossed it into a blender with art house sensibilities, and classic Universal Monster movies.
Honest to god, the mix of styles on display makes this film such an easy pick for a night when you need something spooky. There's old fashioned Gothic imagery such as bats, fog, and cobwebs along with classic J-Horror elements like freaky girls with long hair. Add to that a storyline which features crime, mad science experiments, catholic faith, and an interesting coastal setting and the movie's just a perfect storm of comfy horror viewing. It's like an old cozy blanket of terror.

Of course it isn't all sunshine and rainbows. Some of the editing leaves some scenes a bit vague. For instance I thought one of the villains had died only to see him playing mahjong a few scenes later. Elements like this can be jarring though I suppose it's a fair trade for a breezy run time. Beyond that are some underdeveloped plot points along with some major unanswered questions regarding Saeko's knowledge of the bigger picture.
Even with those issues, I can't stress enough how nice of a find this movie is. The whole production is just such a nice fit for any mood. It's old fashioned without being boring, violent but not grotesque, dramatic yet not overbearing. Think of it as chicken soup for any horror fans soul and seek it out when you need that boost of creepy spirit.
If you take my advice and seek out this neat little picture, it's available through Criterion's Eclipse series in a box set titled When Horror Came to Shochiku along with other offerings like Goke: Body Snatcher From Hell and The X From Outer Space. I've yet to view the entire set though I feel confident that Living Skeleton is worth a good chunk of the asking price.

All that being said, let's mark this roughly as the start of this years Halloween coverage. I know it's early but considering this place averages four posts a month it's better to get ahead of the curve. I'm expecting some major activity this year as a long time local inspiration/rival in the Halloween game is in the midst of moving this fall, giving me an opportunity to spread my fame, or infamy that much further. Don't be surprised to see some posts on diy decorations and some more movie recommendations. Stay tuned, kiddies. I'll be back before the week us up cause we've got a lot of fun to take care of.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Show and Tell: August 2017

Note: The bulk of the following article was written weeks ago before being sidelined. Recently there was a loss in our extended family due to a rather horrific accident. This event makes the following abundance of shiny baubles seem a bit less interesting and possibly even tasteless. That being said, I began this site with the intention of it being a fun place to look at different topics, and provide an escape from the stresses of the world, not to go on long winded speeches about loss or the meaning of life. As the recent tragedy effects the time available to work on posts, I'm finishing this one in order to keep the site updated for you fine folks while the family deals with the loss.

Way back when I was a wee lad, mail was an incredible novelty to me. Most kids get very little in the way of mail to begin with but once you factor in a lack of subscriptions, zero pen pals, and nearby relatives that offered up birthday and Christmas cards in person, I swear mail of my own was a yearly event at best. Maybe that could explain why nowadays I occasionally order too many items at once resulting in an embarrassing showcase of materialism or as I like to call it, Tuesday. All things considered, I'd say this makes a fine excuse to revive the long dormant show and tell feature.

In all fairness, such a monstrous bounty all at once was not planed. All these items had different origins be that long gestating pre-orders, late birthday gifts, or board game trades made in an attempt to downsize my collection. Universal law seems to dictate however, that if multiple packages are on route, all shall be delivered within the same day.

The Warlock Collection from Vestron Video collection is one of those items that seems too good to be true. The first film is an over the top mix of adventure, fantasy, comedy, and witchcraft which wormed it's way into my horror loving heart upon first viewing. Problem was the DVD was some hideous, fullscreen only abomination, a mistake I've waited years to see corrected. This set surpasses that meager dream by including the extra nutty second installment, along with a third I've yet to witness. As someone who tends to their horror collection as others would a rose garden, there was always a hole where these films should have been. Now that vacancy has been filled. Time to continue my efforts of convincing someone to release Pin, Split Second, Eyes of Laura Mars, and Full Circle.

Time Stories is one of the biggest titles from board game publisher Space Cowboys. They're one of very few companies to have actually earned brand loyalty from me. Given they're track record it's no surprise. From Favorites like Splendor and Black Fleet to innovative and frustrating titles like Unlock, and even fun shoot the shit games like Hit Z Road, these guys are responsible for some of my favorite board gaming memories. While this is a more complex title, there was no way I'd let one of their productions slip past. The added bonus of trading off two older titles means I'm maybe 1/49th of the way towards my goal of culling an overgrown game collection.

The Secret History of Twin Peaks was part of a duo of late birthday presents. I've heard mixed things about the book, including some complaints that it fails to properly mesh with the timeline of the series while potentially oversimplifying some of the key mysteries. Seeing as I'm no master of the franchise I didn't always catch the inconsistencies with established lore, though a couple still stuck out. What really struck me as unique is that I learned some honest to god real history from this collection of conspiracy theories and spooky stories. It's not unlike the old monster or UFO books I used to scare myself with as a kid, only with a sprinkling of legit educational value.

Then there's records, so many records. Disintegration comes curtsy of my sister as yet another belated gift. Barely had a chance to touch it yet though it oddly ties into current events as Lovesong is supposed to be a primary theme at the upcoming funeral. Certainly a coincidence though it's still strange how events tie together.
The other three LP's come from Collector's Choice Vinyl. One reason for the order was simply to try them out as they had some spiffy pricing and flat rate shipping which is a luxury when it comes to vinyl. The other reason is their exclusive variant of The Fly soundtrack. There is another mass market version but this green black mix was just too spiffy to ignore and at only 750 piece I made sure to jump on it as soon as possible. Part of my plan since getting into records is to enhance different times of the year and horror soundtracks will be a key element in to the Halloween season from now on, a practice that starts right here.
Also in the order are Neon Indian and Big Freedia, each of which are solid albums. So far, my record stash has become an invaluable relaxation tool with one downside. Like any new hobby, there's always that rush of excitement to catch up, meaning it's easy to go overboard. While I am of the opinion that money is better off spent, ya have to draw the line somewhere, which usually comes when you realize half a check went to LP's.

As noted above, I'm finishing this post during a week when nearly every conversation involves death which usually makes people think about their legacy or connections to others rather than mere objects. I've always been materialistic, yet looking at these items I see something more than just the newest acquisitions. Each of these helps to improve upon life, even if just a bit. Really that should be the goal of any purchase. Simply grabbing something because it's neat isn't enough. An item should add to our moods, minds, and relationships. True, these are all just objects, but they're also the tools I use to make life a bit better. And when mortality is the topic of the day, having something to improve our time here is pretty much priceless.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Korean Sentai: Power Rangers Dino Force Brave Episodes 1-6

It's hard to deny 2017 has been something of a rough year for Super Sentai. After Zyuohger managed to display some surprising depth with a solid conclusion, Kyuranger popped onto the scene and immediately started stinking up the joint to the point that I no longer have any interest in covering it. In fact, I recently checked in on the shows progress, and guess what? They've added even more characters to the already bloated cast. Luckily that show isn't the only avenue for fans to get their fix as there are theatrical films, video specials, and something wholly new, a Korean addition to the franchise. Let's see if the land of Kimchi can offer us some salvation from the woes of Lucky and his space goons.

First and foremost, Power Rangers Dino Force Brave is a sequel to Kyuryuger, a sentai season that proved to be highly popular in Korea. The Sentai franchise is called Power Rangers over there, and no I have zero clue what they call actual Power Rangers. However I feel it best to inform you all that I never watched Kyuryuger, so I can offer no real opinion on how this functions as a continuation. Even with some vague knowledge of that season I can only judge this on it's basic merits. To do that we'll have to cover a few production aspects that are odd to say the least.

When it was announced that this series would only be 12 episodes long I figured it was a sensible choice to maintain a low budget and not hold back the premier of the following series for too long. What wasn't made clear early on however is the running time for each episode without ads is about 12 minutes. When you take into account the standard length intros, outros, roll calls and transformation sequences there's maybe 9 minutes of legitimate content per episode.
That low running time per installment means every aspect of the show is very rushed or in some cases nonexistent. Characters are left mostly underdeveloped, fight scenes only get so complex, even some of the common tropes of the franchise are skipped over in favor of the running time. Take for example the monsters. Usually a monsters design designates it's tactics. For instance a spider might tie people up in webbing, a musical critter might attack with sound-waves, you get the picture. Generally the challenge within an episode is how the team learns to overcome said attacks. In this show, monsters may have those design elements yet no time is spent on showcasing unique fighting styles. So everybody simply has punches, kicks, a couple energy blasts, and maybe a sword if they're extra special.
Explain the arm pads then, ya dink.

Production wise the show is a mixed bag. There's a lot of on-location shooting which is nice as the sets all seem rather small and barren. The action sequences shift between quite adept to choppy and uninteresting. Most of the costumes are pretty solid though there is this odd thing where muscle pads are frequently visible. I've even noticed this with the girl and it's always goofy looking. Oh and then there's the robots which are decent looking when it's the standard guys in costumes footage. Then things switch to outdated CG which allows for more intricate choreography at the expense of looking like throw-up.

Let's call that enough on production and get to the story and characters. The story is as straightforward as it gets. Aliens are coming to destroy the Earth by harnessing the power of a giant robot dinosaur, naturally a group of youngsters is imbued with superpowers to strike back against the forces of evil. Our group of dogooders consists of:

Juyong/Brave Red like most red rangers gets more attention than the rest of the cast. Thankfully he fits into the nice guy mold of leaders. He's very upbeat and encouraging of his team, even admitting where they outperform him on the battlefield. Could they maybe launch this guy into space to take over for a certain lucky asshole?
Hyeonjun/Brave Black is your strong guy with a strong sense of justice and a good heart. That's pretty much it for him.
Sechang/Brave Blue is a pop star and supposed ladies man, though he seems far more interested in the smoothness of his skin, creepy.
Pureun/Brave Green is a spoiled rich boy in the midst of learning that money isn't everything. Oddly enough he's the best with guns.
Dohee/Brave Pink is an aspiring nurse and a fairly standard issue girl who does and likes girly things other than the color pink.
Juhyeok/Brave Gold is a later addition. Apparently the long lost brother of Juyong. He's generally standoffish and mysterious. He's a mercenary who works for the villains intially as he seems to have some issue with his brother.
Any job? Go on.

While it may sound like I'm picking this show apart, I'll be honest in that I sorta like it. Not a lot mind you as there are plentiful flaws, I haven't even gone into how awkward it is to have such obnoxiously pretty men in the team, especially during the ending credits dance. But even with everything wrong during these opening six episodes I found myself getting into the adventure. Nothing about the show is particularly deep or interesting. By design it can't be. There simply isn't enough time for deep storytelling or complicated character dynamics. One might even question what was the point of making all these new costumes and robots for so little airtime. The fact is that what is on display here is at least solid. The characters are two-dimensional but they're generally likable. Everything about the show is largely the same, undeveloped but structurally sound.

I can't call Dino Force Brave the saving grace of this years sentai offerings just yet. There's still a whole half of the series that could completely nosedive. For now I'm optimistic that given another shot with some more ambition, this Korean wing of the franchise could one day produce something really interesting. We'll check back with the second half soon.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

CosmicSparky's LP Stash.

Like most anybody from the first world, I began amassing music during my teens, late teens in this case. It wasn't the largest selection, primarily due to my notoriously picky nature, but boy was it ever solid. Of course poverty prevailed and one day those CD's were sold off to a nearby record store that at least had the good form to stroke my ego by praising the quality of my music selection. After that came years of lackluster downloads, and haphazard file organization. I began to miss the days when music was something to take a little pride in, so recently I wondered down the rabbit hole of getting into vinyl records. I'll tell ya, it's not a tough hobby to get started, albeit with a few potential pitfalls and some misinformation floating around. I figured it would be a fine time to start sharing some tips I've learned thus far and maybe start doing some coverage of the hobby as a recurring feature.

When I decided to look into a record collection, few things could have prepared me for the onslaught of crazy I was about to uncover. Turns out a good deal of record collectors are a truly nutty and superstitious lot. Of course like any other group there are some with more sensible outlooks. Still; there's an alarming amount of misinformation and half-truths floating around, seemingly in a sad attempt to keep the hobby feeling like an exclusive club.
Case in point, there are claims that inexpensive turntables will ruin your LP's. This is something of a half-truth. When it comes to those cheapo Crossley players I've heard legitimate, sensible explanations of how they could damage a disk. On the other hand, I've seen those same claims leveled at decent tables simply because they don't cost a months rent. Certainly it's a good idea to get as nice a player as possible but it's still totally possible to spend less than a hundred on a table and be just fine.
Even some positive reviews can make inaccurate claims. For instance, I eventually went with the Audio Technica LP60 as it is supposedly the overall best starter turntable. One favorable review of the item stated a flaw that the arm didn't automatically lift when done playing a side. As you might imagine I waited rather impatiently during my first time and guess what, the arm lifts and returns to it's rest every damn time, so why the misinformation?
Another of the big conflicts among record folk is colored vinyl. Many claim that colored vinyl has inferior sound compared to the standard black. However, I've yet to find anyone attempt an actual scientific test of this theory. Beyond that, the so-called proof of lower sound quality is a hiss, a phenomenon prevalent to all LP's due to varying amounts of static charge which can be taken care of by various means. As someone with a mix of black and colored releases, the most notable difference so far has been due to the audio master used for each release. Even on a single release, static hiss can change from one disk to another. My colored double LP of the Flower soundtrack has very noticeable static hiss on the first disc yet the second is as pure and wonderful as a purring kitten.
The biggest issue with all the different dramatic claims is the added difficulty in sussing out useful and trustworthy information. One area where there seems to be almost universal accuracy is the need for better record sleeves. Even with my fairly small collection I've already encountered several releases with god awful paper sleeves that leave bits of papery shit all over the LP. You can guess how happy the stylus is when it hits those leftovers during play. This is one area where you should totally listen to enthusiasts. A good number of them introduced me to Diskeeper Audiophile Sleeves and no joke, these things are incredible. They cut down on dust and static while making it easier to access all of my disks. A pack of 50 costs about as much as a new record but it's more than worth it.

So let's say that like me you want to get into nice physical music, but can't spend a ton. Let's look at what I picked up to give you an idea of a very basic set-up.
Turntable wise I bought the Audio Technica LP60, that companies entry level model. It's a solid piece of equipment all around, plays well, can handle two different LP sizes and speeds, plus a built in phono pre-amp which makes it crazy easy to hook up to speakers and start listening. There are a few issues however. The unit lacks a volume switch of any kind meaning you must rely solely on speakers with volume control. Also, it lacks most of the customizing options of higher end gear which means if you end up wanting something better you'll have to drop cash for a whole new machine. Honestly I'm enjoying the new hobby enough so far that I almost wished I'd opted for the next model up but this is still a good way to get started and it's easy to get for less than a hundred bucks.
Unless you're the sort who leaves sound equipment laying around, you'll need speakers. All we had in excess were some crazy cheap twelve dollar computer speakers which as you might imagine were horrid. Similar to the turntable I didn't want to destroy my bank account to get decent sound, especially since living conditions prevent complex set-ups and high volume. Thankfully I found out about Edifier. By all indications, these should be terrible. I mean we're talking about hundred dollar electronics straight outta China. After reading and viewing a stream of glowing reviews though I decided to give em a chance. Man have I ever been impressed. Once again, there's certainly a better option out there for someone with more room and cash but for a standard bedroom listener these offer surprising depth and clarity, and I haven't even begin to test the limits of their volume which is supposedly quite high.

Of course none of the means much without some tunes and that's where the real fun, and occasional frustration lie. Few hobbies offer such a wealth of content options from new releases, to rare special editions, and ancient thrift store finds. Yet even with that wealth of choice there's still some releases that will drive you crazy because of limited print runs, or finding out that one of your old favorites never hit the format. Then there's the harsh truth that albums with only two or three songs you love, simply aren't worth the effort. Vinyl is a format that promotes listening to the entire album, so be sure to get stuff that's at least 90% quality tracks.

If you're willing to go through all the work to get the equipment, some LP's, a spot to stash it all, then you get to have the real fun. I won't pretend this is a superior form of musical performance. Files are infinitely more portable and functional, not to mention a high level format like flac could potentially blow vinyl out of the water. That said, there's a comfort to the multiple step process it takes to turn on my gear, get out the Superfly soundtrack and relax. It makes listening to music an event again, and that was something I was really missing. I plan to extend that feeling into major events as well, playing horror movie soundtracks around Halloween or busting out holiday standards come Christmas Eve with the family.

And that's the newest hobby to worm its way into my bank account. I suppose that's the advantage of being a 30 odd year old without kids. I'm allowed to try new things. Plus it makes for a fine way to stay indoors and dodge the heat of summer. From here on out I'll occasionally post reviews on specialty labels, stores, accessories, and the like. Have any of you caught the record bug? Like to share any tips or info for a post? Drop a line.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Threadbare Mitten Film Festival 2016

Ample warning, dear readers. I've worked on this article in fits and spurts for a considerable amount of time, largely because I swear this word file may be cursed. No kidding! In the time I've worked on this article there have been power outages of anywhere from five seconds to over thirty hours, layoffs and rescheduling at work, animal madness, stock tables, and a monster I refer to as Tyrannosaurus Pigeon.
Anyhow, what I'm here to talk about is a new event called the Threadbare Mitten Film Festival that was held just last month in my little hamlet of Charlotte Michigan. Poor thing was saddled with me as the press, but I promised to report on it. This will be more of a disjointed personal take on the experience whereas a more professional take will be written up for Dread Central.

The festival was put together by the group behind last years Freakshow Film Festival in conjunction with the crew that put together the horror short The Third Day. Since I'd covered their previous efforts for Dread Central, I was invited to check out this new endeavor. I guess that counts as a disclaimer which is about as professional as it gets around here.

In all honesty I was fairly nervous walking into this situation. While I am a big film fan who owns enough titles to run my own video store, I find that by and large I don't get along with other film fans. That problem can be further exacerbated if those fans make their own content. Think of it along the lines of having the good sense to avoid musicians. Even if they can actually pipe out good music, it doesn't mean you want to listen to them wax poetically about it. Beyond that I've found that recent years have left me with less patience than ever for art house nonsense. Even so I gathered up my resolve and set out to witness the sights and sounds

The first night of the fest featured an opening party that I missed, followed by an opening selection of shorts and one nearly feature length film at Charlotte's own Eaton Theater. While waiting out front for the show to begin, I made sure to listen in on nearby conversations involving the different fans and filmmakers. Some I noted played the classic role of only touting the most obscure and duchy cinema, while others had only the most basic and disappointing appreciation for movies. Luckily I was introduced to one of the filmmakers, E. M. Spairow who seemed to have her head screwed on well enough. At the very least the poor girl was able to put up with my cynical ass. Talking to her as with any of the creators there came with a certain level of tension since there's always a chance of completely hating their film while they sit nearby. That's a matter for latter.

Anyhow the opening offered some literal jitters when the one and only bit of technical trouble reared its ugly head. For whatever reason, the first batch of short films would all start out fine before eventually bugging out and losing sync between the audio and video. It was the only such incident during the festival however and given that it was their very first showcase it's more than understandable. I've heard of some of the biggest film fests having worse issues even with years of experience. The nearly full film of that night was fine and the night ended decently enough with hugs from a drunken stranger.

The second day was held entirely at the Windwalker Antiques and Art gallery where further films were aired in themed blocks. Having never been to any film showcase at the location I was rather surprised at how decent their equipment was. Both the sound and audio were crisp and clear. Furthermore, this second day seemed to have a larger audience which I'd say is a good sign.

What about the flicks though? I mean this is a film fest, the main reason to check it out is the opportunity to see independent cinema. As a whole, there was a wide selection of genres on display, not to mention more films than I had time or patience for. Let's talk about some highs and lows from the blocks I was around for.

The Best:

Emory Wenden's Fantastical Autobiographical Museum
The grand prize winner was a surprisingly effective little faux-decumentry/drama that I already covered a couple weeks back. Seriously just scroll down if you want to learn more. I think this one has a future for itself,though I'd still like to see the director touch up the ending.

And the Earth Will be Lost to the Flames
Despite what the obnoxious title may have you thinking this was another effective faux-documentry, this time about a friendly neighborhood doomsday sign weaver. Instead of being some crazy old fart of middle aged hippie, the doomsdayer in question was actually a fairly attractive young woman, and a decent actress I might add. The plot has almost limitless potential in regards to whether her beliefs are true, false, and what could come of those outcomes. Sadly being a short means it just sort of peters out.

Girl Meets Roach
Usually I wouldn't take the time to praise what is in truth a pretty basic girl gets over her ex comedy, but after seeing far too much art house fluff it was refreshing to see somethings with characters, dialogue, and a plot. My praise would probably be higher if I were a bigger fan of the genre. It was a solid, if basic little flick.

Both Default and a prior short, Elephant in the Room made for somewhat tense viewing as I was sitting next to the writer/director E. M. Spairow. Both entries featured some of the usual issues associated with short, low-budget filming, but what really worked, and why I'm listing this one over her other entry is that there was such a unique concept here. This is another idea with huge potential. Honestly I could imagine this becoming some sort of over the top dystopian adventure or at least a very bizarre full length dark comedy.

The Worst:

Tyler is such a classic example of arthouse nonsense that if I didn't know any better, I'd swear it was a spoof of indie sensibilities. Absolutely everything, be that the irritating jazz fusion soundtrack, senseless dialogue, or the seemingly pointless story of a woman slowly turning into a gold statue seemed expertly designed to check off each box on the indie short checklist. It was a comfort that no one was sitting close enough to hear my alternating giggles and groans during this lump.

Fish was five of the longest minutes of my life. Imagine an extended sequence of elderly people making gross noises and struggling with the sink, only to wrap up with a sight gag that's visible from miles away. This one had me gripping the seat in the hopes that an old man would just die so I wouldn't have to listen to his coughing anymore. Probably not the sensation you want to create with your film.

The Ingress Tapes
A supposed horror film where a mumbly Brit describes a series of murders he commuted while grainy footage of buildings, train tracks, and reel to reel tape slowly air. You're liable to have a more thrilling time on the toilet.

There's one other flick I'd like to count among the low points of the festival but taking it on would require far more time than we have available right now.

As you can see there were some definite ups and downs to the quality of the films. That's not really the fault of the organizers however as they have to take in enough submissions to fill and fund the festival. And it's not like the terrible flicks don't make for a good story. Thankfully the good flicks were more than enough to make up for the occasional crap heaps.

As for what the organizers were responsible for I gotta say they did a pretty spiffy job. There was only the one instance of technical difficulties, and they were able to stay mostly on schedule with the entire festival maybe running an hour longer than originally planed.
There were plans for Q&A sessions with some of the filmmakers at a nearby coffee shop, though I've not sure if any such event took place. More of the filmmakers seemed to be at the first night events before going back to their own responsibilities the following day. Hopefully this idea can be put into action next year. Maybe a solid block of the festival's programming could be a sort of workshop where tricks of the trade could be shared.

Currently I have no official word about the festival's return, but I wouldn't be surprised to see the group return for another round. I say godspeed to them, it's not exactly easy to have to drive all the way out to the larger metros of Michigan to see some oddball cinema. Having the chance to see this sort of stuff locally is a treat. Plus it gives yet another outlet for up and coming storytellers to find an audience....or torment me with nasty old people noises. For anyone interested in learning more about the festival, you can follow the group at their website.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Star Wars Book Club: Lords of the Sith Review

As is usual around my birthday, I recently worked extra hard at wrapping up books, games, and the like in order to feel slightly more accomplished entering into a new age. This practice can be a saving grace for those items that simply took far too long to finish, stuff like Lords of the Sith, A.K.A. The subject of our latest Star Wars book review.
Honestly though, I bought this book back in April, hoping to cut a mad dash through it over an extended weekend. Instead I finished something like three other books in the time it took to work though this one. I suppose you can consider that a spoiler for the final score. Even so, let's take a look at what this novel has to offer.

Despite what the cover and title may lead you to believe, Lords of the Sith is hardly an in-depth look at the grim adventures of Darth Vader and the Emperor. Yes the pair does play a large part within the story but largely this is the tale of an early strike by a rebel cell lead by Cham Syndulla. If that name has you scratching your head as to who that is or why you should care, don't feel bad. Cham is a character that only exists within the expanded universe and only in small support roles at that, showing up a few times during The Clone Wars and Rebels animated series. His greater role in the universe is as Hera Syndulla's father and an early figurehead of the rebellion. Think of him as Saw Gerrera but with morals.

So the story goes that Cham's rebel cell is working towards the freedom of planet Ryloth when the opportunity arises to take down not just the corrupt senator Orn Free Taa, but Emperor Palpatine and his evil lapdog Darth Vader as well. To strike at all three villains requires a multi-phase assault on a star destroyer followed by a manhunt through deadly jungle. Also in on the mission are Cham's underlings like his potential love-interest Isval, and a treacherous Imperial Colonel named Belkor Dray who seeks to rise through the ranks no matter what.

First let's talk about what works, and that's most of the primary elements of writing and story-structure. Moreso than even some of the best books in the franchise, the story here stays largely on task, naturally moving from one event to the next. Likewise author, Paul S. Kemp doesn't write anything out of character or out of tone with these events.

There is one odd stretch that largely revolves around Vader and the Emperor battling an army of giant killer bugs that is a little out of left-field. I won't be too harsh on this section however as it the source of some much needed action.

According to the about the author section, Paul S. Kemp is a Michigan boy like me, so I lodge my complaints in the knowledge that he's just a day trip away from kicking my ass. That being said, what makes Lords of the Sith one of the weakest novels I've reviewed thus far is that it is straight-up boring. This is thanks in large part to the subject matter. The events and characters in focus here just aren't interesting and there's nothing surprising. We all know the rebels aren't going to make a dent in the Empire, the villains will survive, Cham will continue to not really matter. And who gives a crap if treachery takes a mental toll on a Colonel we've never heard of before? The whole book is over three-hundred pages of dull events that don't matter.

It's pretty neat that a book that took so long to read doesn't take very long to tear down. I have to post this far down the rankings. It's not the worst written, or worst structured Star Wars novel out there but it is easily the dullest. Let's place it.

1. Lost Stars by Claudia Gray
2. New Dawn by John Jackson Miller
3. Bloodline by Claudia Gray
4. Guardians of the Whills by Greg Rucka
5. Ashoka by E.K. Johnston
6. Tarkin by James Luceno
7. Thrawn by Timothy Zahn
8. Battlefont Twilight Company by Alexander Freed
9. Moving Target by Cecil Castelluci and Jason Fry
10. Before the Awakening by Greg Rucka
11. Smuggler's Run by Greg Rucka
12. Heir to the Jedi by Kevin Hearne
13. Lords of the Sith by Paul S. Kemp
14.Aftermath by Chuck Wendig
15.The Weapon of a Jedi by Jason Fry

That's all for today kiddies. Stay tuned for those film festival reports I promised and a new feature coming soon. In the meantime I have to do responsible stuff like pay my bills and start investing. That's what us old people do.

Friday, June 30, 2017

Emory Wenden's Fantastical Autobiographical Museum Review

A lot has changed in the four years since creating this site. Friends have been gained and lost, finances have increased nicely, I've taken on several new hobbies, purchased my first vehicle. Possibly the weirdest of all to me is the occasions when my writing here or on other sites such as Dread Central (Can't believe I'm allowed to post stuff there) nabs me an opportunity to cover an event. Such was the case last weekend when I was invited to check out the Threadbare Mitten Film Festival. It's gonna take me a couple posts to cover the whole thing properly but today I want to simply cover the grand prize winner.

Emory Wenden's Fantastical Autobiographical Museum is not the sort of film I'd usually go in for. The title alone makes me want to bash my skull against a brick wall in rhythm to death metal in the hopes of casting out whatever hipster demon put those words together. I'll admit I began referring to it as Mr Magoriums Wonder Emporium. The trailer, only deepened my worries that it was geared toward the Wes Anderson crowed which made me shudder. Even so, the festival organizers assured me I should check it out, which did little to clear my fears as these folks are much easier on films than I am. Imagine my surprise then when this movie I was mostly dreading that aired at a goofy time on a Saturday afternoon in the back of an art gallery I generally avoid like the plague turned out to be a pleasant surprise.

The basic storyline is one that's fairly unique. A filmmaker receives mysterious packages in the mail intended for his apartment's previous tenant. Eventually the guy and his cameramen travel to meet the sender, a man named Emory Wenden who has converted his childhood home into a museum in which to better understand his life. The vast majority of this takes place in one long take as Emory guides the filmmakers from one room to another, each representing another element of life.

I was largely surprised at how well the film worked. A good deal of this is on the shoulders director/writer/star Devin Cameron whose performance as Emory proves to be pretty endearing. He's an odd character, but one you can't help but root for. He's a proper mix of eccentric yet nonthreatening. All the better is that during his long-winded theories about life and love, he frequently seems on the edge of bursting into tears, adding just the right amount of emotion to the proceedings.

As you can probably guess, this is a difficult movie to discuss in normal terms as it lacks both a traditional narrative, and normal scene structure. It almost comes across as the world's most elaborate vlog, a style that works for and against the movie at different times. Some sequences like the room of love are terrific and speak to the audience as a whole, while others like Emroy going on about philosophy and science on the front lawn come across as meandering and overdone. Sadly with the nature of a one shot film, these scenes can hardly be edited down or else the interplay between everything would be lost.

Before I get to my biggest gripe with the movie, I want to note I think it has some real potential to grow and find an audience. As I made painfully clear earlier, this is the sort of movie I usually roll my eyes at and ignore yet even I found an entertaining and worthwhile time to be had here. I've known others who would be far more open to this thing from the start and would likely embrace it as a little cult gem.

But what about that issue I mentioned? It's something I feel truly damages the film as a whole and could be holding it back from reaching greater acceptance. Near the end of the film, Emory takes the film crew down to his basement for the last few exhibits of his museum. First is a physical representation of his heart, a very touching if somewhat on the nose scene. Next is one of those bits that doesn't work as well, when we're treated to a mathematical equation for life. This bit drags on for two long and pales in comparison to the heart. Finally there's a small model of the house with mirrors around it representing an infinite universe of possibilities. This is where the emotional breakdown we've expected through the entire film finally happens, and since Emory is a likable guy it works, but that's it. Movie's over, with one of the most abrupt endings I've seen in some time.
Now don't get me wrong. An ambiguous and inconclusive ending to this sort of picture is probably more realistic, but that doesn't mean it's appropriate. If this were a more cold and sad story than I'd say sure, go with the sudden ending. Fact is, this is a mostly warm and fuzzy film so wrapping in such a fashion simply leaves a bad taste behind. Not to mention the story begins with a framing bit by the filmmakers which isn't resolved. So not only do we not know what becomes of Emory himself, we're left wondering how this experience effected the two men filming it. A story like this needs a proper conclusion, be it happy or sad in order to properly satisfy the viewer.
Luckily the director has a perfect opportunity to add on to this foundation. All he needs to do is get the band back together and finish the framing device. Maybe have the film crew try to reconnect with Emory months or years later. Maybe they succeed and find him living a happy existence. Perhaps Emory disappears Bid Time Return style. Maybe he never finds an answer to his problems but decides to keep living. Point is, there needs to be an actual conclusion, not just an ending.

I actually had the chance to speak with the director the night before the showing, though I neglected to take the opportunity. Partly because at the time I was dreading the film, but mainly because he was usually in a conversation to begin with and my mother raised me not to butt in. Even then I likely wouldn't have had much to say having not yet viewed the film though now I'd certainly like to ask a few tidbits about production and of course the sudden onset ending.

From the selection of films I saw over the weekend, I can see why the organizers awarded the grand prize to this. It's a rare treat of an indie flick that isn't totally buried up it's own ass with self importance and I could really see it gaining traction with folks less cold-hearted and judgmental than I. If you hear about it showing at a festival anywhere near you I'd suggest taking a peak.

I'll talk about the festival in more detail in an upcoming post, including some bits from a filmmaker I took the time to talk with. I'll also be writing up another post on the festivals horror offerings for Dread Central, I'll let you all know when that's finished. Right now I gotta re-edit and post this thing so my ass can get some sleep.