The Christmas Chronicles (Dir: Clay Kaytis), Review by Case Wright


Netflix is known for taking risks and “The Christmas Chronicles” is no exception. There are six felonies in this film: 2 Grand Theft Autos, a kidnapping, money laundering, attempted murder, and whatever they did to that partridge in the pear tree.  Yet, it worked! I will admit that I am of the Y-Generation and Kurt Russell remains forever cool in my book, but this movie had some good story writing, great acting from veterans like Kurt Russell and Stevie Van Zandt, but great performances by up and comers Judah Lewis (The Babysitter) and Darby Camp (Big Little Lies) as well.

Clay Kaytis had his directorial debut with this film.  He is famous for being an animator for a panoply of films that you have taken your daughters to see: Frozen, Tangled, and Mulan…etc.  Clay was a pretty good choice considering the amount of animation that is in this film.  Honestly, it was a family movie that would have been a HUGE box office draw.

The film begins with a series of home movies featuring a classic nuclear family enjoying Christmas over the years…until 2017.  We learn that the father was a fireman who lost his life saving a family, leaving his family grieving and without the spirit of Christmas.  The mom is now taking extra shifts as a nurse, the daughter is REALLY into Santa, and the son is now a no-kidding degenerate car thief.  There are enough dark scenes in this film to classify it as Film Noir.

The family is trying to live as best they can and the daughter Kate is trying to reconnect with the memory of her late father by watching old home movies.  In one of the films, she sees a mystery arm delivering a package.  She convinces her brother that it could be Santa in the film and they decide to set a trap for him…..and IT WORKS!!! Not only do they catch Santa on film, they stow away onto his sleigh and cause Santa to crash.  He loses his sleigh, reindeer, bag of toys, and his magic hat.  The main ticking clock for the film is that Santa needs to get his presents delivered before christmas is up or christmas spirit will tick down to zero and it will be like the Hills Have Eyes or something.  The rest of the film is spent helping Santa retrieve these lost items and busting Santa out of jail to prevent the After Times.

And yes, Santa ends up in jail, charged with multiple felonies, and does a pretty amazing blues number with the E Street Band.  Yes, the E Street Band.  I know that a lot of this movie is starting to sound like a Christmas fever dream, but it works and my 7 and 9 year old girls were riveted and didn’t hurt each other for the duration of the film.  Thank you, Clay Kaytis…THANK YOU!

I would recommend this film and for you to subscribe to Netflix.  Otherwise, how will you understand half of my reviews?!!!!!

Merry Christmas!

 

Night Surf, Review By Case Wright


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Where do stories come from? Not important or interesting.  Why are some stories shot out like a cannonball from an artist’s brain in a matter of days like Kerouac’s “On The Road” and even written on a scroll; whereas, some stories take a decade or more of developing until they are born like Stephen King’s The Stand?  Very Important and Very Interesting!  I will not be discussing King’s opus The Stand, but rather how it evolved from Night Surf.

Night Surf was written for the University of Maine literary magazine in 1969 when King was twenty-two.   Night Surf introduces us to the plague that kills off mankind and how people can be pulled to darkness when no one is looking. The disease is even called “A6” just as it was called in The Stand, but The Stand didn’t get published until 1978.  Why did it take so long for The Stand to incubate and his other stories seem to shoot from him like they are on a sluice?

I see this dichotomy in my own writing.  For some stories, I’ll get pieces of dialogue and scenes in my head that kick around for years, but I don’t know how they fit together like a jigsaw puzzle with too many smooth edges.  I can’t speak for Stephen King, but for me the longer developing stories occur when I’m picking at something personal like an emotional wound that’s been puffed out by pus, but not yet ready to drain.  I guess I just want to hold onto the pain; maybe, King does too?

Night Surf takes place on the New England coastline when summer’s ending, but it’s not just the leaves dying on the trees; humanity is blowing out from a massive viral extinction event.  The disease is called A6- a superflu.  In The Stand, he refers to the virus also as Tube Neck and Captain Trips.  The world is not quite dead yet, but it’s getting there.  The story is narrated by Bernie who is spending humanity’s last days at a beach town.  At first, the group believes that they are immune from the disease and demonstrate their superior immunity with the most primitive act of all: Human Sacrifice.  A man who’s dying from the flu comes to their town and, instead of caring for him and helping him die, they burn him to death in a bonfire.

Why burn him?  They describe it almost like a sacrifice to the beach itself.  The act seemed to me to be more like a line in the stand between the dying world and themselves.  The mere mortals are simply cord wood and can be used for fuel.  Their perception as the kings of humanity is vindicated by their health because they are immune and the rest of humanity perished.  It harkens to the idea of the Puritans where the Select were touched by God and were guaranteed success in life and VIP treatment on the ethereal plane.  Of course, the Puritans would balk at using lesser people as a duraflame.

Soon after burning the flu victim alive, Bernie realizes that one of his comrades has A6 symptoms and will soon die, indicating all of them might expire soon.  The story forces us to look at what allows us to be moral.  Are we only good because society will punish us if we are bad?  It could be argued that they looked at the immolation as a last hurrah, but I think that is wrong because at the time in the story, they believed they were immune.  If their friend had developed symptoms before the unlucky traveler arrived, would they see him as their brother or would they have burned them both to adamantly declare their superiority?

The theme of people being seduced to darkness is throughout The Stand, but in this story, they don’t get the devil made me do it excuse; the group murdered because they could and felt like doing it.  After the immolation, we return to Bernie’s backstory, humanizing him even more.  It seems King is saying that this horrendous act was just another act in a number of countless acts that Bernie did from birth to his upcoming demise.  Maybe doing evil is just as common as getting the paper? I hope not, but as the great philosopher Bobby Dylan said, It’s not dark yet, but it’s getting there.

This story is more relevant to me today than when I first read it years ago.  What makes it more difficult for me is that the people in the story are just so normal.  I hope none of my readers will ever have to do this, but I’ve looked right into the face of evil once and the man looked like he could have been a cousin.  When I remember the encounter, it still chills me to the bone.  I met a Bernie once; maybe, you have too, but you didn’t know it.

The Lawnmower Man, Review by Case Wright


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The “Lawnmower Man” by Stephen King really makes me understand the power of peyote.  Stephen King has is very open about his drug and alcohol addiction and in the 1970s even regular folks were dabbling in the Yayo.  In fact, he has said that he doesn’t remember writing The Shining.  In those days, he would use cotton balls up his nose from the constant nose bleeds from his cocaine use.  The Lawnmower Man  has to be seen in this context.

Harold Parkette is a typical suburban man.  He’s lawn obsessed and needs to make it purdy.

Sidenote: This story takes me back to me youth.  In my football and track days, I would mow lawns and split wood to make extra cash.  I would never wear a shirt because I would get hot.  I never understood until later why only the wives would call me to do the yard work, would make really odd excuses to give me extra lemonade, and cash. A lot of times they’d just sit on their porch, watch, and occasionally wave. 

The Lawnmower Man is not that kind of story.  Harold gets an odd landscaper who starts working and then Harold takes a nap.  When Harold wakes, he sees that the lawnmower is moving on its own and the lawnmower man is eating the clippings.  The image that stuck with me the most is that grass was growing on the lawnmower man’s teeth- yuck. The Lawnmower Man reveals himself to be the Greek God Pan and proceeds to eat Harold.

This story is just plain weird.  Pan was into wine and sex, not landscaping.  Also, I get the economy can be tough, but if you’re a god wouldn’t you do better than a solo landscaping biz? All around, I’m very confused.

Strawberry Spring – The Youtube Video!!!, Review By Case Wright


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Sometimes films are done poorly.  Sometimes films stay true to the source material. Sometimes they are just kinda fun.

This adaptation of Stephen King’s- “Strawberry Spring” is just kinda neat.  I was looking for Strawberry Spring images online for my post and here this was.  It’s a High School student film of Strawberry Spring.  It’s just straight up fun. All of his friends are obviously in the film and the director did a pretty good job.

The story of Strawberry Spring is that a serial killer slasher is on the loose at a New England liberal arts school in the 60s.  The narrator is more than unreliable; he is a possible suspect.  The Strawberry Spring refers to a false spring that occurs in New England similar to a blackberry winter where warm weather occurs and then a severe nor’easter hits.  The book makes a point that a mist appears before the murders and that the mist itself is likely sapient who infects the narrator, causing him to kill.  The campus is terrorized by a series of murders and then when the Strawberry Spring ceases, so do the murders.

This student film tries to dramatize the story and although there a bit of overused fog machine sequences, it deserves a lot of credit.  There was obviously a lot of effort put in and I give a tip of the hat to these young artists.

You can watch it here and if you have 15 minutes to definitely check it out!!!

Nightmares and Dreamscapes: From the stories of Stephen King, Battleground, Review by Case Wright


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Happy Horrorthon!!! I decided to do a bit of a hybrid review of one of my favorite stories:  “Battleground” by Stephen King.  This book is part of a short story anthology in Night Shift.  Battleground was written in 1972 by King.  This was back in the days when he wasn’t just hungry, he was starving.  He was working in laundries, substitute teaching, maybe even a paper route.  This particular work was published in Cavalier, which was a low-rent Playboy.  In those days, he would sell stories to Swank – a low-rent Penthouse as well.  Many of these stories were real gems or at least gems in the rough.  For example, Night Surf (Cavalier and Night Shift) evolved into his opus The Stand about a decade later.  Battleground was made into a 52 minute long episode of the above short-lived series (watch them on youtube before they are taken down!!!).

This episode starred William Hurt and like the short-story there is ZERO dialogue, giving the episode a silent movie feel that is very compelling.  Throughout the episode, you only hear ambient noise or grunts or yells, but no spoken dialogue.  In fact, even when a newscaster is announcing that a murder has taken place, it’s done with subtitles.  This is as close to genius television as it gets.  I was truly saddened that it was not renewed.

The episode depicts William Hurt as a nameless hitman who is taskered to kill a toymaker.  He does.  When Hurt goes back home to his San Francisco condo, he receives a package.  Inside the package is compilation of army men and “additional surprises”.  These aren’t your grandpa’s plastic army men; however, they are alive and they have cruel intentions for Mr. Hurt!

Within moments of opening the package, the army men attack William Hurt in very Army like fashion. They take a covered position under Hurt’s couch and open fire, forcing William to flee to the bathroom.  This solace is short-lived because they have mini-howitzers.  Yes, I was primed to like this one.  There are even mini-helicopters that attack Hurt and they send nasty notes to one another demanding and refusing surrender.

The battle to avenge the toy maker’s death continues even out to the ledge of the building, which is likely an Easter Egg to another King story “The Ledge”.  Hurt prevails against the army men, but there are two more “Additional Surprises” 1) a commando who very resourceful and 2) a mini thermonuclear device.  The mini thermonuclear device is the only dumb part of the story because there is no such thing as a tiny Thermonuclear reaction – these are atoms we’re fusing or splitting afterall.  If detonated (regardless of its “mini” nature) , it would’ve destroyed all of San Francisco, but let’s give King- a liberal arts major- a break on that one because it’s still a fun story.

I will review a few more of these stories that were in Night Shift or episodes from this show.

Happy Halloween!!!!

Star Trek: The Next Generation, Through The Mirror, Review by Case Wright


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Happy Horrorthon!!! We are back in the eeeeeeeeevil Star Trek universe! Why is it evil? Obviously, it’s because they have beards and follow strict capitalist principles with a healthy dose of militarism.

Before I get into the story, I want to write that David and Scott Tipton do a good job of not having the mirror universe characters seeing themselves as villains.  This may seem obvious, but it’s actually very common – especially in comics.  For example, Stan Lee once had Magneto lead a group of mutants with the moniker of Brotherhood of Evil Mutants.  I get that the X-Men thought they were evil, but why would Magneto?

This volume: Through the Mirror brings our Mirror Universe to the Next Generation universe our youth for supplies and plunder.  Bearded Picard is faced with blockades from rival species in his universe and needs materiel and plunder to fuel his war machine in order to bring the Terran Empire back to its former glory before Emperor Spock made them go all drum-circle kumbaya…bleh.

My main complaint with the Volume Two is actually in the first installment.  It opens with Worf investigating the theft of precious minerals from a mining colony in the “good universe”.  He sees the thief and nearly catches him.  This is a recurring issue with volume 2; the story should be only from the perspective of the mirror universe characters.  There is simply too much of the “good universe”.  They also have the “Good Universe” find an Andorian Ship that has been attacked by Evil Picard after the fact.  WHY?  Show us the Evil Planning, Show us the Pirate Picard attack, Show us why they believe they are justified.  We bought the book; therefore, we are invested in these anti-heroes.   The story could be great if we just get to bathe in their villany.  Don’t judge them.  This is their code.  This is their society.  They don’t see themselves as evil and neither should we.  We can only judge them as evil if they violate their own code of morality not ours.  This isn’t our universe.  The good universe should be treated like MSG a little is … ok… too much and you vomit.

Back to the story, Pirate Picard lures the good enterprise into a trap, hoping to seize it.  They fail, but they failed too much.  It should’ve been more of a draw with a push to the evil universe. Scott and David – the evil guys are your heroes.  They need to win at least a bit.  You can have a close game, but don’t have them get their ass kicked because it makes it too much of a Good Next Gen story.  The other knock is that they left Evil Barclay behind, dragging us back unnecessarily into the good universe.  You are thwarting them waaaaay too much.

It’s time for Evil Picard to kick some ass, but it in a good way.  Is it just for wealth for Pirate Picard?  I don’t think so.  In this universe, the Terrans see themselves as Superior like the British or Roman Empire.  Therefore, when the Klingons and Cardassians took back a lot of the Empire they likely took many Human captives as slaves.  This must be disgustingly unacceptable to Pirate Picard or any Terran Empire member.  Have them liberate a planet, rescuing Human captives.  From their perspective, they are not only NOT EVIL, but good because they are reasserting rightful human dominance to their universe.   If you have to, make some propaganda posters with Pirate Picard.  Make it personal for Pirate Picard.  Maybe Picard’s brother joined the fleet and was captured?  Make it personal! Go for it!  Have Pirate Picard risk it all: mutiny, the ship, the Terran Empire to liberate and rescue his brother and nephew Robert.  It would be epic!!!!! You have an unending depth that you can give Pirate Picard.  Give him his version of humanity.

This volume was ok, but they are not fulfilling some great story potential here.   This could be a great way to reboot the series.  Just remember: They Don’t Consider Themselves Evil.

 

Cycle of the Werewolf, Book Review by Case Wright


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Happy Horrorthon!!!! We are already in week 2 and we are makin’ it work!!!  Cycle of the Werewolf is very 1980s Stephen King.  It clocks in at 100+ pages and moves briskly.  In comparison, The Stand was 1000 pages and one chapter was actually from a Golden Retriever’s point of view….really.  If you ever watched old movies on Showtime, you’ll remember this story as “Silver bullet” starring Corey Haim.  The movie was actually fairly close to the book, except no Gary Busey.

The book takes place over the twelve months of the calendar year and I almost did this post as Twelve Days of Christmas song, but with werewolves….it could’ve worked!  The first six months follow the werewolf killing on every full moon in Maine.  As usual in Stephen King’s books the people of Maine are total dirt bags of all varietals: blowhard dirt bags, wife-beating dirt bags, racist dirt bags, and drunken dirt bags.  In short, the townsfolk could all use some killing.

The month of July comes and the story shifts to Marty, a handicapped child, who really loves the 4th of July.  As in the movie, Marty gets a bunch of fireworks from his Uncle and uses them to make the werewolf purblind.  We learn the werewolf is the town Baptist preacher.  As the months progress, Marty starts sending the preacher poison pen letters urging him to kill himself and signs his name to provoke a final confrontation.  The confrontation is a bit anticlimactic because Stephen never really fleshed out the story and the final battle is no different.  There is no close game or near run thing…nope…werewolf comes into the house, leaps at Marty, and Marty kills the werewolf dead. Boom.  That’s it.  It is fun to read these old Stephen King stories; he’s clearly still flexing his creative muscles and not totally sure of himself.

Have a spooky night.