Watched in 2015: 108 Reviews in 108 Characters (or fewer)

2015 was kind of a shit year, to be honest. Not “my dog has cancer and now I also have cancer” shit, but let’s say that if 2015 got a passing grade, it was only because they didn’t care enough to hold it back a year. [2015 (2015) – (6/10)] A few speckles of gold here and there (friends’ weddings, some memorable nights of good camaraderie, the good fights that were fought), but boy howdy was 2015, in the grand scheme of things, a stinker. This review is even coming out three days late because 2015 decided to piddle on my carpet in the basement and fill my lungs with enough mold to leave me bedridden. Yeah, 2015 was a scumbag pretty much everywhere except in the movies.

(Well, in my movies, anyway.)

Because of some writing research I ended up surpassing my usual hundred-movie benchmark, clocking in at a robust hundred-and-eight. In the process, I ended up with thirty-two movies that I would call “the best”. (I’m not really one for the “10 Best of the Year” Thunderdome hooplah; so what if you’re the best of the year in a forgettable lineup?) Compare that to fourteen “bests” in 2014 and twenty-eight in 2013, and this year there were only five that I would label “the worst”–which I hesitate to do, because I wonder if negative reviews to warn away consumers are less useful compared to positive ones to promote unrecognized works? Maybe next year I just won’t include them at all. Ah, but I do love griping about the wasted hours…)

In a lot of cases, the big franchise hits–Ant-Man, Avengers: Age of Ultron, Jurassic World, Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens–all started to feel like duplicates of their forebears, unable to stand on their own without an identical substructure. I dinged a lot of movies for that this year; it tends to feel like a display of timidity to me, particularly when great creative minds end up extruded into blase demagogy by the increasingly Hindenberg-esque A-list titles that keep the producers’ lights on.

This was also the year in which we coined the term “fart house” to describe movies with such artsy pretensions that they end up baffling the viewer throughout or shitting on an otherwise straightforward narrative with the last five minutes of screen time. (“I’m looking at YOU Come Out and Play and Enemy… You know what you did.”)

As for other media, I did a number on books this year, and that number is twenty-seven-ish (two more than last year). (I read about 50% of Lovecraft’s entire literary canon this year, which I would estimate to be approximately two fuckoff big books.) I also watched a ton of television, new and old, often in background while working on things, and I’ll give a quick overview/review here: Daredevil (not bad), Orange is the New Black (S1; I like what I’m seeing, but DAMN is that drama thick), Supernatural (S1; I see why the people who like it do but no thank you), Constantine (not bad, the next season might be–oh.), The Wrong Mans (assd.; meh), Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries (S1; pleasant), Over the Garden Wall (FANTASTICO), Wayward Pines (E1-2, read the rest on Wikipedia; Shyamalamadingdong), Speed Grapher (E1-10, Wiki; meh), Sense8 (S1,E1-8,12 and Wiki; risque but toothless), Attack on Titan (why am I standing in my chair saluting?), Bojack Horseman (S1 & 2; also damn impressive), Steven Universe (S1, assd.; meh), Penn and Teller Fool Us (S2, assd.; a little weak), Rick & Morty (S1, S2; pretty damn solid), True Detective (S2; woof); Jessica Jones (yeah, okay!), Mr. Robot (S1; intriguing), Ash Vs. The Evil Dead (double woof), One Punch Man (great work adapting this), Stein’s; Gate, & The Expanse (Episodes 1-4; very intriguing).

But that’s not what we’re here for; we’re here for MOVIES! And here are my reviews, sorted by genre and alphabetized. As far as the numeric scores go, here’s a broad rubric:

10 – the absolute best of the best; movies I can speak no ill of
7 – a darn good showing, but not without flaws that detract
5 – movies I was tepid about, neither here nor there: meh
3 – poorly-received films, but with some redeeming effort


(2015) movies are indicated with their year in bold

® indicates any movies which were second-viewings in 2015 (no numeric reviews or best-of’s for these).

Yellow highlighted titles were my favorites among the movies I saw for the first time in 2015.

Struck-through titles were my worst movies of the year. (It doesn’t mean you’re bad; it just means I LOATHE YOU AND EVERYTHING YOU STAND FOR. But in a fun way!)

(Also, in previous years I only put trailer URLs for the best-ofs to save time; since time ended up not being a factor this year, I just went ahead and put them all in.)



Ant-Man (2015) – (6/10) Shrunk shots add flair but don’t minimize that it is a product from Marvel®’s Iron Man assembly line.

Assault on Precinct 13 (1976) – (6/10) Carpenter’s siege actioner is dramatically rangy, but decently shot, paced and acted: a fun gun ride.

The Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015) – (6/10) Juggling act forces hands to snatch breadth over depth, taxing Avengers rehash plot with hyperpacing.

The Dark Knight (2008) ® – (4th? 5th?) rewatch reveals all the plot holes skipped over like Mario sprinting over gaps; breakneck pacing

High Plains Drifter (1973) – (6/10) Turns Seven Samurai on its ear, but with a hero who does no wrong, victories come cheap. Dark climax!

John Wick (2014) – (8/10) World and kinetics carry this half-ironic charcoal sketch of an honest, vengeful, power fantasy trip.

Jurassic World (2015) – (5/10) Bland splice of an original nods at the crassness of its own existence, yet fails to rise above that.

Justice League: Throne of Atlantis (2015) – (3/10) Stilted dialog and off-the-cuff conflict cuts a story that looks poor to even a lesser DC production.

Kingsmen: The Secret Service (2015) – (5/10) Tacitly subversive & politically conservative: thugs by any other name. Over-mixes gravitas & whimsy.

Kung Fu Panda 2 (2011) ® – An opposing animal to Hero; panda prevents rightful heir from uniting kingdoms because dead parents said so?

Mad Max: Fury Road (2015) – (10/10) Whiplash insanity in a fiery world machined to epic proportions with fine details and roaring music.

Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation (2015) – (7/10) Fun though rote; nowhere near as unpredictable as its previous installment’s deconstructionist humor.

The Rock (1996) ® – The sort of movie John Wick roasts: every line bolsters reputations of those off-screen. Action’s so sparse?

Rurouni Kenshin: Kyoto Inferno (2014) – (7/10) Manga roots fetter progression but suitably action-packed and better-choreographed than the 1st film.

Rurouni Kenshin: The Legend Ends (2014) – (7/10) While in this one the cinematography distracts from choreography but offers a sufficiently grand end.

Scott Pilgrim vs the World (2010) ® – An a-traditional story about a jerk-ass M.C. trying to become a better person; “The World”, though? I dunno.

Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens (2015) – (6/10) A pretty, safe, mass-market museum tour of graven nostalgia in the chaotic shape of “what fans want.”

X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014) ® – “Magneto betrays” one of many recyclings, but dramatic overtures strike true, & the scale & scope impresses.



Coraline (2009) ® – Overeager in most ways, rushing lines and activity. Colorful male cohort added to Gaiman’s hero weakens her.

Inside Out (2015) – (7/10) Tidy execution of a clean concept, but one which affords little innerspace: a nice Pixar think-piece.

Little Witch Academia: The Enchanted Parade (2015) – (8/10) A gorgeous, sweet sequel from Yoh Yoshinari; with his flair for action I wanna see what he does next!

Paddington (2014) – (8/10) Some real heart shows through despite lummoxy CGI & a stock Dennis the Menace fish-out-of-water plot.



Brazil (1985) – (9/10) Bureaucratic 1984 from 1985 exemplifies Gilliam’s variegated mind: a lucid-dreaming meta-masterpiece.

Dear White People (2014) – (8/10) A dense tapestry of text and subtext leaves little room to say anything else, but does so with verve.

Death Becomes Her (1992) – (5/10) The writing is hypoplasiac & the effects are on life support, but the concept and the actors are fun.

Dope (2015) – (6/10) Why Stop Now with a total race-swap; “Why judge?” coda doesn’t play in such a preposterous narrative.

Going Postal (2010) ® – About as uneven and graceless as I remembered. Nevertheless, charm & moxie win out in a fun, memorable ride.

Knights of Badassdom (2013) – (2/10) Compares unfavorably to both Tenacious D and Role Models particularly in its overindulgent final act.

Once Bitten (1985) – (5/10) Jokes delivered via coroner’s while raunch and gay slurs fall flat today. A dance off? Why the F not?

The Three Stooges (2012) – (5/10) A commendable effort getting this mummy to walk but his time has passed and he shambles too ungainly.

Trainwreck (2015) – (5/10) Trades the players, doesn’t change the game; I think that the awkward pause comedy just isn’t for me.

The Trip (2010) – (6/10) Hushed comedy of egos, celebrity impressions, & (occasionally) food couldn’t compel me to ride along.

The Voices (2014) – (5/10) Candy-apple quirk A-to-B-to-C dramady has some fun managing its M.C.’s dissociation, but little else.

What We Do In The Shadows (2014) – (7/10) Sketch comedy shines sunlight on the supernatural, defanging it with its own Office-like absurdities.



12 Angry Men (1957) ® – A political microcosm that plays out effectively on all levels; the solution to the racist is a bit surreal.

A Time to Kill (1996) – (6/10) Might be a useful primer for the truly stone-hidden, but otherwise rather didactic; no subtexts here.

Amadeus (1984) – (7/10) The complexity of the score is unmatched by that of the plot, but the telling is finer than the tale.

Birdman (2014) – (8/10) Hypermasculine in focus but fanciful and distinct: more original yet more conservative than Whiplash.

Boyz N’ The Hood (1991) – (10/10) Captivating & crushing in equal amounts. This all-star cast birthed one of the realest milieus ever.

Byzantium (2012) – (7/10) Languid “mother versus daughter” fable with fangs has a fair bit of imagination and drama on display.

Chappie (2015) – (6/10) Colorfully-set. Relies overly on convenient timings, fuzzy science and caricature: a flattened fable.

Dallas Buyer’s Club (2013) – (7/10) Bale delivers, Academies are Awarded, a worthwhile niche story from the AIDS crisis is adroitly told.

Detachment (2011) – (8/10) Occasionally self-aggrandizing drama about our relationships is nonetheless devastating and poignant.

The End of the Tour (2015) – (7/10) Almost Famous arc sparks on scintillating ideas re: depression, art, marketing, junk food, and value.

Frank (2014) – (7/10) Unconventional dram-com about mental illness highlights disease of aspiration and art’s balmy crutch.

Grave of the Fireflies (1988) – (9/10) While Seita seemed dubiously-aged, impeccable artistry helped soldier forth a heart-thieving tragedy.

Glengarry Glen Ross (1992) ® – The acting occasionally gets trampled by the breakneck dialog, but the tone is what survives the transition.

The Hateful Eight (2015) – (8/10) Paranoid little potboiler in the fine Tarantino style. Pre-nut flashback might have had more tension?

The Imitation Game (2014) – (6/10) Oscarized structure is anti-innovative. Poor Bendybatch has been typecast for his Sherlock role, now.

Interstellar (2014) – (7/10) Suitably epic in scale and scope; perhaps too sentimental to be hard-sci-fi, but optimism usually is.

The Man Who Wasn’t There (2001) – (9/10) A tidy, absurdist caper/morality tale, gorgeously shot from start to stop: a short-form Breaking Bad.

The Martian (2015) – (8/10) Man + science vs. space-nature drama in Apollo 13 vein; bravado with just enough science in steerage.

Memories of Murder (2003) – (7/10) 2-hr runtime’s necessity is debatable but the hunt is worth following for setting & characters alone.

Mr. Holland’s Opus (1995) – (6/10) Well-trod ground given new life via Forrest Gump riff; a schmaltzy inoffensive & tepid anti-Whiplash.

Mr. Holmes (2015) – (6/10) Blunt characters deliver a decent little tale–movie offers kindness in Holmes’ dotage, if not rigor.

My Dinner With Andre (1981) – (7/10) Philosophical journey ivory towers a bit but presents its insights well; why a film & not a cassette?

Silver Linings Playbook (2013) – (8/10) In a world where everyone manipulates everyone else, romance comes with reservations or not at all.

Spotlight (2015) – (10/10) Muckraking machine shows muscle, gristle and bone of journalism. Does All The President’s Men proud.

Spring (2014) – (7/10) Much of its charm lies in its languid approach to its bad romance. Horror is a hurdle, not the focus.

Straight Outta Compton (2015) – (7/10) N.W.A. lived the classic “rags to riches to split” drama, even if it’s too polished for its own good.

Whip It (2009) ® – A little herky-jerky under repeat viewings, but the cast and script made backyard magic together that lives.

Whiplash (2014) – (9/10) Savage, spectacle-driven soul-foe of Infinite Jest. Paints in thick strokes to obtain maximum affect.



7500 (2014) – (2/10) A lopsided half-effort at producing Japanese ghosts at minimal cost, combined with a plane for fail.

Absentia (2011) – (6/10) The premise is agonizing, but the horror itself seems loosely-strung and over-reliant on jump scares.

An American Werewolf in London (1981) – (6/10) Awesome practical effects and comedic irony are bogged by lacklustre puppetry and a leaden homage end

The Birds (1963) – (8/10) Bird effects and violence are still impressive today, despite minimal blood. Classic for good reason!

Braindead/Dead Alive (1992) – (6/10) Dusk Til Dawn/Evil Dead 2 ridiculousness w/some genuinely cool effects, but not my cup of blood tea.

The Burning (1981) – (6/10) An uncomplicated addition to the post-Halloween 80’s slasher stable with a wide range of performances

Coherence (2013) – (9/10) Smart, witty, charming, clever, and dark: achieves what Triangle mucked up. Firm sci-fi with a heart.

Dr. Giggles (1992) – (6/10) A goofy cash-in on Elm Street‘s popularity. There’s great production here but nothing under the hood.

Eden Lake (2008) – (7/10) For a suitably tense fusion of “social contract gone sour” and “evil kid” plots, it doesn’t do a ton.

Fatal Frame: Zero (2015) – (3/10) Series of starkly lovely vignettes lazily slopped-together over a plot stolen from its eponymous work

Honeymoon (2014) – (7/10) Too minimal to tell when people are acting odd, but still has good effects and a serviceable premise.

Housebound (2014) – (6/10) Playful lampoons an otherwise standard ghost story; fitfully funny with some jarring editing choices.

Ich Seh Ich Seh (Goodnight Mommy) (2015) – (8/10) A German Tale of Two Sisters; The Babadook from the kid’s perspective showcases the wages of neglect.

The Innkeepers (2011) – (8/10) Hotel spookery meets paranormal quackery; the performances and social tension bring this spirit home.

It Follows (2015) – (7/10) Aggressively tense, subtle tract on sexual politics: Ring on Elm Street. I’m also frustrated w/flaws.

Jug Face (2013) – (7/10) Scaled-down tale’s not much of a looker, but she’s got a good set of teeth. Good casting and setting!

Livide (2014) – (4/10) A girl with two souls; a movie with two genres. Kind of a mess, with some cool images here and there.

Maniac Cop (1988) – (5/10) A harmless slasher, neither overly bad nor overly good. Meh.

Possession (1981) – (4/10) Impressive acting and one cool creature could not sustain me through the uncompromising expressionism

Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale (2010) – (7/10) A strangely sweet story about a boy, his father, and one bad Santa. Helps fill that Xmas horror hole.

The Shining (1981) ® – After reading I see King’s fault w/Wendy’s frailty, Jacks’ madness: a terror not of the species King penned.

Splinter (2008) – (6/10) Improbable, cliche, From Dusk Til Dawn plot gets a terrifying number of legs by its menacing monster.

Stake Land (2010) – (4/10) Plagued by inconsistencies in plot and setting, the End-O-Tha-World™ fangatorium just doesn’t dazzle.

The Taking of Deborah Logan (2014) – (7/10) Strong ghost mystery plus body horror merger. Rote setups and payoffs, but rattles the chains loudly.

We Are Still Here (2015) – (8/10) Fantastic performances hedge in a conventional house horror with some twisty complications bolted on.

The Woman (2011) – (5/10) Dad’s creepy performance, weird fade-cuts die w/3rd-act symbolism. A less-refined We Are What We Are.

Wyrmwood: Road of the Dead (2014) – (5/10) A dog’s dinner of posturing badasses; doesn’t presume to become more than a zombie exploitation film.



All The President’s Men (1976) – (10/10) 1970’s shoeleather journos drama needs no embellishment to delight; intrigue follows in chain smoke.

The Big Sleep (1946) – (8/10) Bogart nails it again, though at times the delivery is a bit clipped to achieve the desired velocity.

Blue Velvet (1986) – (8/10) Lynch’s most accessible (to me) thus far: a noir mystery framed in Lynch’s “just slightly off” lens.

The China Syndrome (1979) – (9/10) Thriller still thrills, sirens still shrill in our post-Katrina, infrastructurally-insolvent America.

Enemy (2013) – (3/10) Draggled pacing leaves me tortuously tailing an unpleasant cast, wondering “Why?” as often as “What?”

Ex Machina (2015) – (8/10) A paranoid garage-sci-fi premise executed with precision, style and gravitas. Minimal, if antiseptic.

Gone Baby Gone (2007) – (8/10) Affleck’s two-hander still unfolds powerfully, w/grade-A performances and a challenging moral center.

Lost Highway (1997) – (4/10) Nowhere as lush as Eraserhead, but more straightforward narratively. Drags with its extensive length.

Michael Clayton (2007) – (7/10) Fine. Just fine. Chooses its moments well, but when all’s said and done there’s little growth to see.

Natural Born Killers (1994) – (6/10) Loopy Fear & Loathing-meets-Videodrome psychedelic murderfest refutes consumption: is that the point?

Nightcrawler (2014) – (8/10) Network meets American Psycho: terrifyingly sane portrayal of monstrous advertising-driven reportage.

Repulsion (1965) – (8/10) Languished pace denies release from a suffocating tension; details and repulses male gaze with aplomb

Sicario (2015) – (7/10) Timely: nether realm between Americans and their defense, where protections go off the grid. Fascist?

Sleuth (1972) – (9/10) Two-man deconstructionist potboiler plays audiences’ and characters’ expectations with mystery afoot.

Winter’s Bone (2010) – (8/10) Like Nebraska, revolves less around a plot and more a way of life, expertly and artfully represented.



The Act of Killing (2012) – (10/10) Humanizing look at dehumanization; narrative unfolds on two brilliant levels and captivates totally.

Bad Writing (2010) – (?/10) Driftful, pleasant, earnest. Alights on a few creative subjects, sniffs around, then flits off again.

Best of Enemies (2015) – (6/10) Burns strongest in debates themselves; more on network, fallout, aftereffects, would have been nice.

Murderball (2005) – (5/10) Examines impotence’s manifestations among toxic-masculine; banishes all-important team to background.



MOVIES OF 2015 I WANTED TO WATCH (but haven’t yet)

(descriptions from IMDb)

45 Years – “In the week leading up to their 45th wedding anniversary, a couple receive an unexpected letter which contains potentially life changing news.”

A Brilliant Young Mind – “A socially awkward teenage math prodigy finds new confidence and new friendships when he lands a spot on the British squad at the International Mathematics Olympiad.”

Advantagous – “In a near-future city where soaring opulence overshadows economic hardship, Gwen and her daughter Jules do all they can to hold on to their joy together, despite the instability surfacing in their world.”

Anomalisa – “A man crippled by the mundanity of his life experiences something out of the ordinary.”

Beasts of no Nation – “A drama based on the experiences of Agu, a child soldier fighting in the civil war of an unnamed African country.”

The Big Short – “Four outsiders in the world of high-finance who predicted the credit and housing bubble collapse of the mid-2000s decide to take on the big banks for their lack of foresight and greed.”

The Boy and The Beast – One day, Kyuta, an orphan boy living in Shibuya, forays into the magical world of Jutengai and, as he’s looking for his way back, meets Kumatetsu, a lonesome beast from Jutengai, who becomes his spirit guide and raises him to be a man.

Bridge of Spies – “During the Cold War, an American lawyer is recruited to defend an arrested Soviet spy in court, and then help the CIA facilitate an exchange of the spy for the Soviet captured American U2 spy plane pilot, Francis Gary Powers.”

Carol – “In 1950s New York, a department-store clerk who dreams of a better life falls for an older, married woman.”

Deathgasm – “Two teenage boys unwittingly summon an ancient evil entity known as The Blind One by delving into black magic while trying to escape their mundane lives.”

The Diary of a Teenage Girl – “A teen artist living in 1970s San Francisco enters into an affair with her mother’s boyfriend.”

Faults – “A man who debunks mind control techniques as a profession must help a couple whose daughter has recently joined a cult.”

The Forbidden Room – “A never-before-seen woodsman mysteriously appears aboard a submarine that’s been trapped deep under water for months with an unstable cargo. As the terrified crew make their way through the corridors of the doomed vessel, they find themselves on a voyage into the origins of their darkest fears.”

Furious 7 – “Deckard Shaw seeks revenge against Dominic Toretto and his family for his comatose brother.”

Hitchcock/Truffaut – “Filmmakers discuss how Francois Truffaut’s 1966 book “Cinema According to Hitchcock” influenced their work.”

Krampus – “A boy who has a bad Christmas ends up accidentally summoning a Christmas demon to his family home.”

The Lobster – “In a dystopian near future, single people, according to the laws of The City, are taken to The Hotel, where they are obliged to find a romantic partner in forty-five days or are transformed into beasts and sent off into The Woods.”

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl – “High schooler Greg, who spends most of his time making parodies of classic movies with his co-worker Earl, finds his outlook forever altered after befriending a classmate who has just been diagnosed with cancer.”

Mustang – “Early summer. In a village in northern Turkey, Lale and her four sisters are walking home from school, playing innocently with some boys. The immorality of their play sets off a scandal that has unexpected consequences. The family home is progressively transformed into a prison; instruction in homemaking replaces school and marriages start being arranged. The five sisters who share a common passion for freedom, find ways of getting around the constraints imposed on them.”

The Overnight – “Alex, Emily, and their son, RJ, are new to Los Angeles. A chance meeting at the park introduces them to the mysterious Kurt, Charlotte, and Max. A family ‘playdate’ becomes increasingly interesting as the night goes on.”

The Revenant – “In the 1820s, a frontiersman named Hugh Glass sets out on a path of vengeance against those who left him for dead after a bear mauling.”

Room – “After five-year-old Jack and his mother escape from the enclosed surroundings that Jack has known his entire life, the boy makes a thrilling discovery: the outside world.”

Suffragette – “The foot soldiers of the early feminist movement, women who were forced underground to pursue a dangerous game of cat and mouse with an increasingly brutal State.”

Tales of Halloween – “Ten stories are woven together by their shared theme of Halloween night in an American suburb, where ghouls, imps, aliens and axe murderers appear for one night only to terrorize unsuspecting residents.”

Turbo Kid – “In a post-apocalyptic wasteland, a comic book fan dons the persona of his favourite hero to save his enthusiastic friend and fight a tyrannical overlord.”

Victoria – “A young Spanish woman who has newly moved to Berlin finds her flirtation with a local guy turn potentially deadly as their night out with his friends reveals a dangerous secret.”

White God – “Thirteen-year-old Lili fights to protect her dog Hagen. She is devastated when her father eventually sets Hagen free on the streets. Still innocently believing love can conquer any difficulty, Lili sets out to find her dog and save him.”

The Witch – “A family in 1630s New England is torn apart by the forces of witchcraft, black magic and possession.”

The Force Awakens – Plagiarism Edition (SPOILERS!)

And so, of course I joined the zeitgeist. I went to see The Force Awakens. It was a movie that I went to, not because of any prickling expectation of dazzlement (though dazzlement would have been welcome), but out of a love of the original trilogy and a good faith desire to see this new trilogy out on its maiden voyage under its new (hopefully less Ahab-ish) captain. And it was…alright?

It struck me as a concerted effort to make a not-bad movie, and it succeeded in making a movie that wasn’t bad. If anything, I would say that its greatest offense to me, personally, was simply that the business and history surrounding it forced it into an inherently, cripplingly conservative mien. I got the same feeling out of it as I did The Avengers: Age of Ultron–a somewhat overburdened, overstuffed sprint of a franchise installment, containing some distinct highs and lows and some gorgeous visual effects, but unified with no single melody and with too many characters to offer any time to characterization or pace.

(And I still don’t understand why a new republic has a “resistance” instead of an army?)

I think the underlying issue–conceptually–was well-highlighted by a recent episode of Scriptnotes on worldbuilding, in which Craig and John discussed the necessity of keeping parts of the map unwritten in a world so as to not create a setting that’s either too rigid to be modified later or that represents too big an investment of effort to scrap, both of which will strangle any real creativity in the womb. The same thing happened here (along with the billion-dollar investment hanging over it like Disney’s own asshole-puckering sword of Damocles). They ended up with a world that could neither flourish nor wither: a carbonite-frozen wasteland well-exemplified by the desert junkyard of old Imperial vessels and X-Wings. For all that griping, though, it wasn’t bad. It just didn’t do anything interesting either. It was a palate-cleanser designed to wipe the slate; the cinematic equivalent of a sorbet. It just had the misfortune of coming to me when I wanted a meal, and so I was understandably dissatisfied.

But there was one review in particular that I read that echoed one of my biggest nigglings about The Force Awakens, which was that “If this wasn’t a Star Wars movie, it would be plagiarism.”

There were, to be sure, a lot of moments included solely as referential material; to the extent that at times it felt more like we were meant to be experiencing the movie as a museum tour rather than a journey, with Finn and Rey modeling for us the proper delight fan-boys and -girls should be displaying. But when I sat down and started thinking about it, there were really only a handful of scenes that I couldn’t point at and source to one of the earlier installments of the franchise (particularly the original trilogy).

And so, as a sort of thought-exercise, here are all the scenes and plot details, arranged chronologically as they occur in The Force Awakens, that seemed to have been borrowed from earlier installments in the franchise. The scenes are marked with their episode numbers preceding them, scenes that I couldn’t think of an allegory for are italicized, and the moments that felt–to me–like they were the most directly copied are in Sith red(ish):


IV: The empire, suspecting that a diplomatic ship is actually harboring rebels, descends in force searching for the stolen Death Star plans; after a blaster fight in which the rebels are utterly overwhelmed, a single prisoner is taken–Princess Leia. Leia, fearing her eminent capture, has hidden the plans to the Death Star on a droid which she then secreted away to a desert planet where the first person who finds it is a scavenger for robot parts, from whom it is rescued by the intercession of a curious but unaware Jedi-to-be: our hero.
V: Rakish hero Han Solo, captured by the Empire, is taken by Darth Vader to be strapped onto a torture table and pumped for information
VI: Vader pulls knowledge of Leia’s sister out of Luke’s mind using the force
IV: Luke, disguised as an Imperial Trooper and pretending to be part of a prisoner escort, rescues Leia from her cell and makes a hasty escape with her help
III: Vader totally wrecks a room full of technical equipment with his force powers after suffering a major emotional blow (the loss of Padme)
V: Following a crash-landing on Degobah, Luke scrambles to collect his things from out of the crashed X-Wing–including his copilot.
V: Luke’s X-Wing sinks into the swamp.
[Callback Shot as Finn looks out at the desert city: IV: Luke and ObiWan look out over Mos Eisly from on a high dune]
IV: A dogfight ensues between our heroes and the villains: a single pilot struggles to outmaneuver two tie-fighters while the unexperienced gunner below barely manages to take one of them out. He cheers prematurely as the other tie fighter closes in, followed by a tense moment as the second tie fighter is destroyed just in the nick of time. The heroes hug and cheer, celebrating their narrow escape.
IV: The heroes aboard the Millenium Falcon are tractor-beamed inescapably into the just-discovered Death Star; they decide to hide in the smuggling holds to escape detection
[IV: “Kessel Run…parsecs…” Space chess.]

Han Solo is caught by one of the many people he’s screwed over, he sells out someone else who ALSO happens to be there. A big scrambling action sequence ensues, including the “creature danger moment” of the episode (other monster moments: II-the arena creature duel; IV-trash compactor monster; V-ice wumpa, swamp monster that eats R2-D2; VI-rancor, sarlaac pit).

(Sidebar: The action sequences reminded me–in how it was assembled and shot–of the “Spock beamed into the water main” scene in J. J.’s Star Trek reboot, but God save the copyright holders if those two franchises should ever cross-pollinate…)

VI: Lord Vader consults with The Emperor via hologram, with the latter questioning his loyalties and asserting that he must destroy his familial ties, to which Vader agrees
IV: The heroes enter Mos Eisley cantina: a bar populated with strange alien creatures and their strange alien music, where the heroes try and source a ship by which to deliver the plans hidden inside R2-D2 to the rebels
[Callback Shot? Big alien reclining on couch with his lithe female companion: Jabba with slave Leia]
IV: Han Solo, unburdened of his cargo and responsibility, decides to leave the resistance to their fate and flee the fighting to come, having never been a part of the Rebel Alliance anyway and putting no faith in their victory
V: Luke, following a strange feeling, is drawn into a deep cave where he is given a violent, prophetic vision of Vader
IV: Luke is handed down his father’s lightsaber by Obi-Wan Kenobi, an old hermit who had been safeguarding it for his descendant until the time was right
V: Luke, plagued by visions of his friends in grave peril, abandons his Jedi training
IV: The empire fires their new Death Star for the first time on an unaware, defenseless planet of civilian political enemies in a show of force, causing its utter annihilation
IV [AGAIN]: The empire, suspecting that a diplomatic ship is actually harboring rebels, descends in force searching for the stolen Death Star plans; after a blaster fight in which the [Empire is] utterly overwhelmed, a single prisoner is taken–Princess Leia.

Rey is strapped down to be tortured by Kylo Ren, but she draws on her innate force connection to not only resist his mind reading, but also to turn it back around on him. [I: “I sense much fear in you.”]
Later, she manages to use it again, instinctively, to mind-trick the guard into releasing her and letting her go.

IV: Ben Kenobi wanders the massive corridors of the Death Star, clabering along walls and over precipices while alternately hiding and seeking a means of escape
III [AGAIN]: Vader totally wrecks a room full of technical equipment with his force powers after suffering a major emotional blow (the loss of Padme)
IV: Finally arriving on the Rebel Alliance’s staging base, the plans of the Death Star are hastened to the planning area, where a weakness is limned and plans are made to attack it (Biggs and Luke share a brief, happy reunion as everyone gears up to fight again)
VI: The primary hurdle the rebels discover in attacking the new Death Star is that it is protected by a shield generator; Han, Leia and Luke decide to embark on a stealth mission to disable the shield generator themselves, thus allowing the primary air assault team to enter and attack the weak point directly
IV: The Empire closes in on the Rebel base and begins the slow process of maneuvering to fire the Death Star on their planet
VI: Han and the others infiltrate Endor and successfully destroy the shield generator [after a few…setbacks]
IV: A small group of X-Wings move in to attack the Death Star, maneuvering through a heavily-gunned, mechanical trench firing at them from all sides. They suffer some losses, but manage to fire on the weak point, only their attacks are ineffective.
VI: Luke, on death’s door, pleads with his father to see the good in himself and join the light side of the force
IV: Luke, boarding the Millennium Falcon, watches helplessly from afar as Obi-Wan is slain by Darth Vader
V: Luke, gravely wounded by Vader (who he’s just realized was his father) plummets away off a catwalk into a seemingly bottomless pit
(IV: Obi Wan, sensing the destruction of Alderann doubles over with shock and agony; alt., III: Yoda, sensing the slaughter of the Padawans, doubles over with shock and agony)
VI: A single rebel ship (the Falcon) deftly maneuvers inside of the second Death Star and proceeds to fire on its weak point, causing a chain reaction explosion in the core that the Falcon itself just barely escapes

Finn tries his hand at lightsaber-ry; gets jobbered by Kylo Ren, a proper-ass force-user

V: Luke, trapped in the Ice Wumpa’s lair, concentrates on his lightsaber lying half-buried in the snow and uses the force instinctively to pull it into his hand
VI: A climactic duel ensues between Luke, the young Jedi, and Vader, the Sith desciple, ending with the Sith wounded and helpless (Alt, II: with the rest of the heroes waylaid, Anakin manages to cripple and defeat Count Dooku
VI: The second Death Star’s core exploding beneath them punctuates the end of Luke’s brief reunion with his father, Darth Vader, as the two are, once again, separated (by death!)
VI: An emotionally-dissonant scene ensues following the destruction of the second Death Star: the Rebels hold a massive celebration while, elsewhere, Luke holds a solemn funeral for his father
V: Luke flies away on a secret mission to an obscure planet where a Jedi master is rumored to live, to begin his proper training as a Jedi


There are several species of writer’s block, and the average writer has tasted each variety at one time or another. There’s procrastination (that virginal dread of the sullied manuscript to come that will replace the beautiful yet vague image in the mind of what the piece might have otherwise been), there’s laziness (consummate sloths, they storytellers be), and there’s straight-up depression (fuck it all, why bother putting words to the page; I’m worthless, writing’s worthless; this whole planetful of bipedal ingrates would be better off gathered in a line and shot). These are the demons you court by trying to breed creation and destruction. (Shiva had a hell of a time, I’m sure.)

Each species has its own methodologies of realization and habitual haunts. Procrastination, for example, thrives best in idle hands: a lukewarm, uterine environment where chicken soup (or tea, if you’re British) is served every hour on the hour, and you never have to consider anything as pugnacious as an “editing phase” so long as you promise to never put word one to paper.

What it all amounts to though, is not dancing.

To me, there’s nothing as terrifying as a dance, not because I’m bad at it (which I am), but because to me dancing is as pure and inviolate an expression of the soul as there can be. It is so undeniably genuine that it horrifies me the same way that it horrifies to have one’s high school love poems read, the same way that the first seasons of Breaking Bad horrified me. It is this simultaneous fear of being misunderstood, either because you’ve misspoken (procrastination), you don’t think you have anything worth saying (laziness), or you don’t think there’s anyone who will listen to you at all (a truly depressing thought) or being perfectly understood and rejected utterly.

Ironically–aside from removing the vectors which most facilitate the conditions, distractions, poor healthcare and so forth–the best cure for not wanting to work is working, and forgiving yourself for it. Neil Gaiman rightly states that, despite endless lists of so-called “writer’s rules”, the only rule is that anything that gets you writing is good. Flaubert is quoted and translated: “Shut up and get on with it.” (A sentiment that applies universally, so much so that I keep it taped to my computer monitor, next to a copy of Hanlon’s Razor which should be part of any service-industry survival kit.) And another quote I’d love to attribute: “Successful writing arises when you can get over the guttural horror of reading your own work.”

The paradox is that artful development is 80% dissatisfaction and 20% leniency (or whatever approximation of big to small your inner idealist-sloth-nihilist requires). Indolence is strong in me and so I favor the lash. (Hypothetical Aside: Struggling artists would be better off as doms in BDSM relationships, having little control over their own lives, while those with careers might be better as subs who might find some pleasurable release in their loss of responsibility; then again, maybe that’s just not the way creators are screwed together, so to speak.)

At any rate, you need to get your butt in the chair, forgive the words that come out and just keep trying. That’s the only way to drain the pools of disdain that might drown the work while maintaining the subconscious sieves necessary for words of quality to come dribbling out.

Anyway, all of that’s just the kind of general information you can find anywhere. My personal discovery is that editing fiction doesn’t produce the same effect as writing fiction in keeping those shoals dry. As such, I’ve got a bumpy road ahead of me.

I Live

Was reminded by a friend of mine that I have a blog, and so I will begin adding content to it again, if only to keep it somewhere fresher in Google’s heuristics. I’ve been reticent about blogging:

  • 25% because the internet has moved on and the blog format itself is semi-dead in favor of Tumblrized matrices of hyperlinked, reblogged, short-form snippets, a free-form multimedial comments section
  • 25% because writing long-form tends to take time away from my primary writing work
  • 25% because I don’t really know what I want to put on here that isn’t too personal or politic to lump into the “brand” or to present without some anonymous buffer
  • 25% because I get sick at the idea of paying diligence to things like “brand” and “public image” in the absence of actual work to promote as being nothing more than an exhibition of an overinflated sense of ego. (…a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage and then is heard no more. It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury signifying nothing…)

I only blog at a whim, and I haven’t had much time for whimsy in the last year or so. That being said, you might get a better idea of my current state by looking at a cross-section of my tabs open in Chrome right now:

1-4) What to do when you get bored of your own writing and general writing advice
5) Reddit ELI5: why is genetically modified food considered bad?
6) Bird species common to American riverways
7-9) Eye-speculums: safe use and prices online
10) Wiki: 2011 San Fernando Massacre; Alleged Gladiator-Like Killings
11-13) Dialog and characterization techniques in Death of a Salesman
14-18) Amazon e-publishing guides and concerns for writers
19-21) Statistics and analyses on the decline of the ebook reader and the rise of the tablet/phone as e-reader of choice
22-25) RottenTomatoes pages for movies from this year: Spotlight, Spectre, Best of Enemies, Room
26) Half-written sketch of a blog post about the current swerve in short-fiction magazines towards non-white, non-male voices, the politically-divisive spot between equitable commerce and genuine competition when discrimination doesn’t allow for a level playing field, and the strange relationships between authorship, branding, and defacto anonymity on the internet. (Felt like it was too political, too much of a “take” piece, and so I stopped writing it.)
27-30) List of Parasyte the Maxim episodes, episode summaries, and streaming links
31-35) Random Reddit ELI5s on finer points of American politics and history
36-40) How to give yourself a haircut using a trimmer
41-50) Writing advice, outlining advice, subplot advice, and advice on writing stories with complex plots
51-52) Articles on the 7-second discrepancy between our subconscious producing a decision and our conscious sensation of having made it
53-56) Random comment threads
57) Article on a high school gym teacher caught in a three-way affair with two girls at her school
58-61) Funny animal pictures/webcomics
62-66) Assorted Wiki pages on different types of companies and their features/functions
67) Wiki: Maslow’s Heirarchy of Needs; Criticism
68) English translation of The Law by Frédéric Bastiat
69) History of the monetization of indulgences in the time of Martin Luther
70-73) Searches for lists of successfully captive-bred species of animals and challenges of captive breeding
74-77) Various defintion/synonym searches: suppurating, withdrawl, brindle
78) Fallout 4 System Requirements
79-87) Recommended replacements for AMD Radeon HD 7500 graphics cards and their prices
88-90) Apex Magazine poem, article, author pages
91-95) Writing and publishing tips in the digital age
96-98) Ray Bradbury’s The October Country and Lacanian psychoanalysis
99) Article denouncing the celebrated way in which authors are roundly rejected for many years then summarily (arbitrarily) picked up and made successes by the publishing industry
100-102) Data entry jobs in Missouri
103-110) How to get jobs requiring experience without experience
111-112) “Is it illegal to lie on a job resume?”
113-118) How to give yourself a haircut using a trimmer
119-130) Porn

Watched in 2014: 100 Reviews of 100 Movies in 100 Characters (or less)

I caught up on books (25) this year at the expense of video games (only about 12; a more than fair trade, if you ask me). Once again, I somehow managed to get in exactly 100 movies between January 1st and December 31st, and now, here I am at the end of another new year, and here are my reviews of everything that I’ve seen. I’ll admit, some of these are a little thinly-thought-out. At some point I started to forget some of my initial impressions of the movies, but I assure you, the best and the worst of the lot still shine through (for their own disparate reasons). Some of the reviews might seem unfair; some of the scores might need some tweaking. (Broadly, everything that was 4 and under was a “worst”, everything 8 and up was a “best”, but these aren’t hard-and-fast rules, and some leeway might be deserving if re-judged in a more official capacity.)

(UPDATE: After some time out, I decided to make 3 and under “worst”; a lot of stuff that got lumped in there actually had a lot of redeeming qualities, and I don’t think they deserved to be cut down so unceremoniously.)

Some additional rules to last time: I only gave ratings out of 10 to movies I saw for the first time this year. Everything else, I just gave any new insights on the most recent rewatch. I also (perhaps controversially) included movies I started, but never finished. These, I did not give proper scores to, but gave my impressions of anyway; they automatically ranked as among the worst. (This might seem unfair, but consider that, whatever their redeeming qualities, I just couldn’t keep watching them: I tend to look on anything that doesn’t compel me to read on as a failure (at least, for the consumer I am today).) I’m using the same code as last year:

® movies indicate any movies which I’d seen before this year, but just re-watched in 2013.

Yellow highlighted titles (hyperlinked to trailers) were my favorites among the movies I saw for the first time in 2014. (Re-watched movies were not eligible for these considerations.)

Struck-through titles were my worst movies of the year.

And I went ahead and emboldened any movies on my list which were released in 2014 to give them extra weight. And now…the reviews:



The Avengers (2012) ® – Juggling act of characters, jeopardies, motives still rocks. Light and fluffy, but even-handed care.

Batman – Assault on Arkham (2014) – (3/10) PG-13 violence without morals: a boring tale of treachery that plays bluntly to a bland end.

Batman – Under the Red Hood (2010) ® – Red Hood strikes close to home, revealing Batty’s inner conflict while constantly amping up tension.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014) – (8/10) Cap’s own “Red Hood” arc plays out as intrigue thriller mixed with Marvel action bash-’em-up.

Cool World (1989) – (4/10) Flawed, grimy, underground counterpoint to Roger Rabbit: technically weak; thematically raw.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014) – (7/10) Reaches for sci-fi heights, but drama relies overmuch on people not talking with one-another.

Doctor Who: Last Christmas (2014) – (7/10) More sci-fi than the usual Doctor fare, you can only do this once a series: they do it right.

The Edge of Tomorrow (2014) – (9/10) Sharp sci-fi looped-day actioner mixes charisma and character growth into an exciting medley.

Ender’s Game (2013) – (6/10) Imperfect adaptation is weaker than its source material however well it visualizes its world.

Frozen (2013) – (7/10) Lovely animated tale dares viewer to “be yourself” with two strong, progressive lead females.

Ghost in the Shell: Arise (Border 2) Ghost Whisper (2013) – (7/10) Pseudo-episodic movies give an intriguing retrospective look at Motoko’s joining Section 9…

Ghost in the Shell: Arise (Border 3) Ghost Tears (2014) – (6/10) …with a few interesting new conceptions and a bit of narrative experimentation. However…

Ghost in the Shell: Arise (Border 4) Ghost Stands Alone (2014) – (5/10) …the art is subpar for Masamune, & overall intrigue is clouded over this many installments.

Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) – (8/10) Blithe Avengers-lite performs admirably under its roster’s weight, yet spreads thin in spots.

How to Train your Dragon (2010) ® – Rollicking update to old “there’s a better way if they’d only listen” allegory. Toothless iz adorbz.

The Incredibles (2004) ® – Conservative sex politics time capsule of invoked 50’s era? Establishing info drops often graceless.

Kill Bill – Volume 1 (2003) ® – Still my fave. Tarantino delivers over-the-top spectacle and razor-wire tension too! What an ending!

Kill Bill – Volume 2 (2004) ® – Kill Bill Part 2’s gravitas has an underlining message about the importance of being yourself. Cool!

Limitless (2011) – (6/10) Ridiculous actioney premise (2011’s “Lucy”) concealed a surprising parable on drug addiction.

Now You See Me (2013) – (4/10) Utterly forgettable heist/mystery attempts to defy expectation without giving us rules first.

Pirates of the Carribean: Dead Man’s Chest (2006) ® – Some said that the tangled lines of motives and betrayals got too deep here; I savored the richness.

Pirates of the Carribean: At World’s End (2007) ® – Why not shoot Will for the compass? Was willing earlier. Should have just said he saw the chartings.

Punisher: War Zone (2008) – (5/10) Saw-like tints with grizzly spectacle; actioner throws plenty of punches, though not all hit.

Shogun Assassin (1980) – (5/10) Some phenomenal effects and cinematography; nonetheless falters due to choppy edited origins.

Snowpiercer (2013) – (7/10) Stylish, gorgeously-grim dystopia confines allegory to a single rail; feels cramped in spots.

Star Trek Into Darkness (2013) ® – Strikes all the keys in the right order, not because it wants to, but because it must contractually.

Van Helsing (2004) ® – Fun action flick with lots of monsters. Less precisely-crafted than The Mummy reboot, but still fun.

X-Men – Days of Future Past (2014) – (7/10) Plot of X-2, but with time travel. Comics’ penchant for “wipe the board” solutions shows too.



Despicable Me 2 (2013) – (4/10) Animated expertise in service of a hackneyed plot, scatological humor, and boring characters.

Emperor’s New Groove (2000) – (7/10) Fantastic animation & witty writing somewhat undercut by ultra-simple morality tale at heart.

The Lego Movie (2014) – (9/10) With its brand-named title and I.P.-laden cast, I expected trash, yet everything was awesome!

Mystery Science Theater 3000 – Godzilla vs. the Sea Monster (1991) ® – A really fun bad movie has heart to it, love: a straight-faced passion for the situationally absurd.

The Other Guys (2010) – (7/10) Great lampooner run admirably by dint of its two charismatic leads and a knack for absurdity.

Slapshot (1977) – (3/10) Sexism and homophobia wore thin fast as joke fodder in cruel-spirited, revered sports comedy.

Tangled (2010) – (6/10) Poor man’s Frozen fails to match its opponent’s narrative/political daring; is lesser for it.

Time Bandits (1981) ® – Among year’s best accomplishments, finally watching Time Bandits and “getting it” was high up there.

Unicorn City (2012) – (DNF) Gave rise to term “nerd blackface” describing mix of ignorant stereotypes for othering laughs.

Wrong (2013) – (6/10) Somewhat more accessible than Rubber; still surreal & filled with incorrigibly strange ideas.



All is Lost (2013) – (7/10) Gravity, but reversed: hero’s hope erodes under isolation and despair. Final act contentious.

Barton Fink (1991) – (6/10) Comedy about nebbish, self-absorbed screenwriter pastiches Hollywood to Hell. Goodman’s cool.

Cashback (2007) – (5/10) Cool cinematography hides a shallow, rapey narrator who purportedly “sees beauty everywhere”.

The Congress (2013) – (5/10) M.C. is either worst mother or a poor heroine. Either way, why is deafness a mental handicap?

Ernest Et Celestine (2012) – (6/10) Beauteous animation overlies a placid tale of misfits who find love. Cute, but quite shallow.

The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014) – (8/10) For some reason, didn’t strike me like Moonrise did this year; still gorgeous, charming, fun.

Her (2013) – (9/10) Despite ending manufactured conflict, offers outsider’s look in at human need for love, loss.

In The House (2012) – (DNF) Not nearly perverse enough a subversion to warrant extra attention—by the teacher or audience.

The Master (2012) – (4/10) Arid fictive biopic lost me at half-way point. P.T. Anderson’s voice just isn’t right for me.

Midnight in Paris (2013) – (9/10) Light romance across literary eras struck deeply despite chidings that “grass isn’t greener.”

Moneyball (2011) – (8/10) Turducken of an underdog story plays by the numbers but succeeds in humanizing MC’s struggle.

Moon (2009) ® – Only realized subtleties of Rockwell’s performance(s) on repeat viewing; added to my favorites list.

Moonrise Kingdom (2012) – (10/10) Hearty, childhood celebration brings world down to its level: we can do anything, so let us!

Nebraska (2013) – (10/10) Pitch-perfect perspective on aging, small-town life, history, love, loss, lies, truth, youth

Network (1979) – (8/10) A cynical “Being There”: prophetic glimpse of today’s blend of money, news and entertainment.

October Sky (1999) ® – Occasionally saccharine, catches “can do attitude” that’s so intrinsic to the American spirit/dream.

Only Lovers Left Alive (2014) – (9/10) Benign bloodsuckers lounge and lament while world whizzes by. Exquisite look in from outside.

The Theory of Everything (2014) – (6/10) Predictable tell-all focuses on drama with great performances, especially by Redmayne, Jones.

The Wind Rises (2014) – (6/10) – Miyazaki’s love of constructing complex animation astounds, yet tale falters on inaccuracy.



Cutie and the Boxer (2011) – (7/10) A subversion of the typical “obsessive visionary” story which also shows lives come after it.

Jodorowski’s Dune (2014) – (6/10) Lament to unmade masterpiece writ by unreliable narrator: like heist movie without the heist.



Abbot and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1947) – (4/10) Headliners play well together, but jokes, sets have aged severely; Dracula is way too chatty.

Arsenic and Old Lace (1944) – (6/10) Cabin in the Woods for the 1940’s shines funny, insightful light on horror tropes of the era.

The Babadook (2014) – (8/10) While Samuel’s behavior seems stacked against audience, motherhood horror’s message IS scary.

The Battery (2012) – (5/10) Another director whose style just isn’t for me: distinct voice bangs hard against convention.

Bunshinsaba (2004) – (2/10) No establishing shots! No pacing! No stopping! If it isn’t action, I don’t care about it! GO!

Cabin in the Woods (2012) ® – The dehumanizing horror of bureaucracy mixed with the ridiculousness of relying on it, sight unseen.

Chopping Mall (1984) – (6/10) Tiny ’84 horror about robots manages to bring nifty robo-props AND strong female heroes; wow!

Cujo (1983) – (5/10) Gravitas of final conflict demanded subtleties not within scope of director, cast to deliver.

Dark City (1998) ® – While still marked by evocative images, ideas, I can’t help but feel it’s lost its luster this year.

Dead Snow 2: Red vs. Dead (2014) – (6/10) Hit-or-miss zombie spectacle takes off gloves for gore, but much comedy falls flat on tropes.

Diary of the Dead (2007) ® – This year I learned that Stephen King, Rob Zombie, and Simon Pegg had voice-over cameos in this. OK.

Dog Soldiers (2002) – (5/10) Opening’s a mess of jump cuts. Some plot errors too. Decent effects; interesting wolf design.

Dracula (1931) – (5/10) Camera-work and effects aged poorly, but Frye’s performance still spooks me. So much silence!

Eraserhead (1977) – (7/10) Surreal nightmare vision of a world where the Ancient Ones arose in an industrial Armageddon.

Europa Report (2011) – (6/10) Behaves like any found-footage slasher with dumb character-caused predicaments propelling it.

Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man (1943) – (3/10) Alt. Title “Wolfman 2 (with Frankenstein!)” Better cinematography but just as poorly written.

Grabbers (2011) – (7/10) Creature feature farce hits on funny bones and creepy bones without breaking much new ground.

Grave Encounters (2011) – (4/10) Nicks ideas from House of Leaves, but fails to make characters or sets to grab our attention.

The Guest (2014) – (9/10) Mix of “fix the family” & “home invasion” plots goes down smooth with great casting & style.

The Loved Ones (2013) – (7/10) Dad & daughter’s great sexual chemistry speaks volumes about tone of odd Aussie torture tale.

Martin (1978) – (7/10) Dexter? Is that you? Bloody family drama seems predisposed with keeping its ambiguity stable.

The Mummy (1932) – (6/10) Plot holes, racism, and sexism abound (the 30s), but neat shots and Karloff are worth seeing.

Oculus (2014) – (5/10) Creepy concepts and experimental editing can’t hype up a foe that the heroes will never beat.

Return to House on Haunted Hill (2007) – (2/10) This is a misguided, lazy cash-out, churning a ghost story into a bad slasher flick. (Boobs!)

Strange Circus (2005) – (DNF) Perhaps too strange. Lost interest at final stretch, waiting for split dream narrative to gel.

The Wolf Man (1941) – (2/10) Non-starter characters, plot. Creep saves girl from wolf, gets bit, kills a guy, gets killed.

Triangle (2008) – (3/10) Despite coolness of crafting a looped narrative, it crashes by the very logic of its premise.

Tusk (2014) – (4/10) Scattershot of the farcical and horrific just missed: neither side sank in enough to grab me.

Frankenstein (1931) – (6/10) Best of the five I watched; plot structure clearly became a template for all that came after.

V/H/S Viral (2014) – (5/10) Like “cheese flavorings”: may not contain actual horror, but has tasty bits mixed throughout.

Village of the Damned (1960) – (5/10) Old “enemy within” tale treats female characters the same way aliens do: gestation pods only.



A Most Wanted Man (2014) – (7/10) LeCarre novels come more regularly than Bond, provide a more complex, sober look at spy-work.

Godzilla (2014) – (7/10) The saddest moment is when Joe Brody dies, because then we’re stuck with Ford for our “hero”.

Identity (2003) – (6/10) Cliched, preposterous premise nevertheless delivers an unsettling situational horror mystery.

The Interview (1998) – (5/10) A mystery that only really has two or three tricks up its sleeve; canvas for the camera only.

Magic Magic (2013) – (4/10) Weirdout, blue-balling thriller sets up dozens of possible endings, yet chooses none of them.

The Maltese Falcon (1941) – (8/10) A plot filled with intrigue and red herring never gets jumbled while the cast brings it 100%.

The Name of the Rose (1986) – (8/10) Re-imagines Sherlock as a monk in the dark ages with a mystery that winds along satisfyingly.

Predestination (2014) – (7/10) Smart, human sci-fi story is hampered by its own rules: what it is and isn’t allowed to show.

Solyaris (1972) – (3/10) My final attempt at Russian cinema: far too sparse, slow, sleepy, and thin for my base taste.

Super (2010) ® – Like “Time Bandits”, I finally got “Super” on its own terms on a re-watch: a discourse on “heroism.”

Horror – The Unresolution

In response to:


I agree with most of this article, save for a few points. Firstly, I think that Ligotti’s answer is a cop out, or at least a retreat from the true heart of the question. His answer to “why horror” seems to be “because people want to know that other people feel horror,” yet this doesn’t address the reason that emotion is there to begin with. Secondly, I don’t think the political element to horror can be so summarily discounted.

The suffering of the characters might be necessary to keep the story’s pacing and a sense of jeopardy, but the beating heart of any work of horror is an unresolved (perhaps unresolvable) abstract source of anxiety in the hearts and minds of the consumer. The terrors in works of horror help give us a catharsis against ephemeral fears by making them concrete. The fears we’re fighting are those which we, the consumers, have to push to the backs of our minds in order to function in the world each day.

The “paradoxical relief and dread of seeing our civilization rent to pieces by the bigger world it was designed to displace” is only a paradox if one does not acknowledge that civility is, itself, an illusion, a put-on that we all buy into, implicitly, in order to produce works greater than ourselves. How many of us would willingly go to our daily grind if we we awoke each morning with the terror of knowing that each throb of our hearts might be our last? That our pulse is a ticking second hand on a clock run on cheap batteries? And that’s just the fear of death.

As the author says, a consumer of horror engages with the question, “How will this particular narrative peel back the blemish-less skin of apparent reality?”

Horror is an exercise in giving the conscious mind license to examine the concealed fears of the subconscious, whether they be infantile (object permanence as confounded in ghost stories) or societal (viral media and The Ring). Successful horror has always been an echo chamber for the subconscious (or sub-societal) fears which we suffer in the present. Subsequently, the things which we fear cannot be separated from our ideologies, and therefore it is folly to outright reject any political or ideological underpinnings within a work of horror–global warming, terrorism, pollution, racism, nuclear holocaust–as nothing more than a facade or veneer over the work as a whole.

That this anxiety comes from concrete sources in our shared experience of the world seems to suggest (to me, at least) that our desire for horror isn’t just a product of some base, generalized hunger for the morbid. Rather, morbidity itself is just a reflection of one more unresolved fear which, like all fears, some individuals feel a nagging compulsion to address.

I think that those of particularly anxious temperaments are more interested in (and subject to) horror, because their psyches lack some facility for the exhaustion of interest in danger–they possess an aptitude for hypervigilance. For these individuals, there IS a catharsis there. We seek (perhaps vainly) for an answer in the hero’s success or failure, to finally close the book on the thing we fear and relegate it or reintegrate it into the subconscious once and for all. Yet these fears will never be satisfactorily defeated, and so we horror aficionados come back again and again and again, to our old favorite fears or newer, more exacting ones

Freud believed that by suppressing our inner fears and desires, they boil up and intensify. So too, our symbols of horror must be intensified to match their emboldened counterparts within ourselves. As the blogger concludes, “our anxieties will once again reach the boiling point soon enough, at which time we can reach for the black-bound book or select the apt DVD from our neatly alphabetized library of mayhem.”

Commercialization, Art, and Innovation (from my Twitter feed)

. . .INCEPTION. . .

Inspired by:
@dirtytea: reddit crashed this great Ubisoft Game review, here’s a grab. Spot on:
@dirtytea: cont… &

“Ubisoft game” article underscores a fine question about criticism. When a publisher keeps making the same game while leaving old problems unaddressed, at what point do we stop tolerating it?

Same can be said for cross-company genres as well, in all mass-market media. Cliches of design prevail, even when they are unsatisfactory. Old maxim: Democracy is the worst form of govt., except for all the others, has implicit learned helplessness baked right into the crust. Being “mostly functional” isn’t good enough. Innovate! INNOVATE! (Sorry. Got a little @DalekAdvice there at the end.)

Back to first point, though: should we review eying the past askance, or to set a bar only to be exceeded on occasion? (I hope the former.)

At the same time, HBO’s Game of Thrones (which I enjoy) is largely homogeneous, episode to episode. The tension, ebb and flow, is consistent, as is style. I don’t ask for more of following seasons, so long as there isn’t “less”. I guess there’s a baseline of refinement to public scrutiny, in any art form. A “perfected” form is an opportunity to tenure or innovate.

[In this regard,] Art, in the public sphere, is much the same as advertising: A constant drive to find unrealized desires and then feed them.

. . .EXPOSITING. . .

To be deserving of tenure, however, demands refinement. Or did. Today’s consumers seem less demanding than in the past. I wonder why? Maybe it’s just a perception on my part. Maybe there has always been a The Animal/Zookeeper/Jack & Jill/Madea crowd that, in an earlier time, would pass the evenings sitting around watching the cows fart and giggling.

Maybe that subset of Americans (and their desires) hasn’t been directly catered to until just recently? In which case I can’t disparage that style of comedic “art” without likewise disparaging the clearly substantial subset of Americans who are happy with it, which I don’t have any right to. It would make me no better than a bully, and who am I to say someone else’s taste is “poor”? An individual’s tastes being simpler or more complicated doesn’t make them “better” or “worse” in any way.

At the same time, the majority of media reviewers demand a more complicated, refined fare.

What’s the difference between “good art” and bad? The only thing I can figure is that good art has staying power: it lasts, no matter how many times you consume it. In most refined art, the experience is refined to the point where there is no difficulty in engaging with it (though this, in truth, has more to do with the consumer than the product), yet has layers to be discovered and enjoyed. Most of all, there is a perceived “ideal” performance in any piece.

I’ve been thinking about this in regard to the film adaptation of The Silence of the Lambs lately. Everything about that film works: the performances, the music, the pacing, the cinematography, the characters, the setting… I consider it a masterpiece for this reason. But why does it “work”? Why is it “good”? Any review that strays into “perfect” territory is, in truth, telling more about the reviewer than the work being reviewed. (The climax of Pixar’s Ratatouille is a beautiful illustration of this fact.) Indeed, some works can only be appreciated by building upon past experiences, the same as how people can only be loved once you understand how they are who they are.

The best that a reviewer can do, dispassionately, is to scrutinize for technical excellence: did the creator succeed in doing what she or he was trying to do with each element of the work? At the same time, this leaves out those joyous moments of recognition, in which we find another human soul looking back at us from the screen/page/monitor, which is the first and foremost drive to art.  There’s something celebrational in a film topping out at 90% to 100% on RottenTomatoes or Metacritic; we embittered and argumentative humans find a common ground to every man. (Or at least every reviewer.)

Thus, there seem to be two kinds of reviews–the technical and the experiential–with a lot of overlap in between. (Indeed, the technical cannot exist without the experiential, for how well a work communicates is intrinsic to the “languages” of appreciation that the consumer has learned, and vice-versa.)

. . .DIVERGENCE. . .

What disturbs me most is not the failure of a work of art to evolve, but that it will be allowed not to by a lazy populace backsliding into its basal, animal satisfaction (the “bliss point”). I find it repellent that humans are being domesticated by our own systems, and this extends to all systems of human interaction, including finance and government.

It’s a problem driven by marketing and public sway. It seems as if all a movie needs to succeed today is to be pushed out mid-summer and receive sufficient advertising. Capitalism is meant to be a system where the strong survive and the weak die out, yet the will to fight has gone out of American ideology except in a reactionary panic, and so stagnates on both fronts. There’s a suffocating comfort in America today, a golden cage of consumerism, and it needs to be fought. Yet we there seems (to me) to be a force breeding combativeness out of certain subsets of the population. If you don’t demand more of your media, your goods, your country, you will be devoured by those who do.

Too many people consume what they consume because they think that there’s no other choice. At the same time, they aren’t interested in working towards something better. People need to be critical thinkers, to be questioners, demanders, and most of them aren’t.

This might be a result of American society’s obsession with specialization, which raises us to neglect other facets of our lives and removes from us a sense of meaningful control over the public sector. Thus, we find ourselves living in a polarizing, defacto two-party country run by professional politicians and installed fixtures. Would you rather see Transformers or Iron Man? Would you rather vote Democrat or Republican? The ballot box and the ticket box are one in the same. I would decry the death of the debate, except that there’s no point in debating when both options are essentially the same.

America needs to go on a fucking diet, exercise, and get a damn haircut. I don’t want you to read all this and come away with it as being a treatise on being victimized. DO SOMETHING. Do not buy from a company who treats you or the parts of the world you love poorly. Do not watch movies from a studio that puts out nothing but recycled garbage. DO make an effort to educate yourself about the products you consume and where they come from. DO get involved. DO rebel. DO form grassroots organizations.

Don’t be afraid of being an individual, of being different; this is not synonymous with being alone. You may have fewer connections, but they will mean so much more than those predicated on comfortable, prefabricated substrates of homogeneity, on a fabricated version of yourself. It’s the difference between craft and passion, the technical and experiential. We need a balance there to be happy.

Never forget the reason why we make art.

Idea: Deprivatization of Vital Industries

After reading this––I had a thought.

What if companies that made over a certain percentage of gross income of the industry at large were automatically absorbed into and regulated by the national government as an infrastructurally-vital industry?

Structurally, it would be similar to a legal monopoly, like that of the utilities companies: the government buys out the company, then continues to run it as a for-profit industry, but with all executive control (elections, etc.) kept in the hands of the voting public.

A system like this might have prevented the destruction of Detroit and East St. Louis at the hands of the automobile industry’s sudden outsource. It also would have fundamentally altered our relationship to pharmaceutical and health-care companies. Under the current free market, a system that’s “too big to allow to fail” like how the U.S. banking industry gets bailed out by the government while also being free to act recklessly with no repercussions, much like a teenager with rich parents; as a result, you end up with bratty kids that don’t take responsibility for their actions.

We’re willing to recognize that certain industrial and corporate entities are vital to the functioning of our society, yet we, as citizens, have no direct influence over them due to an increasing oligarchical divide. You can “vote with your dollars”, but it seems that as America becomes increasingly specialized (the common metric of social growth), individuals become less capable of making meaningful consumer choices. (Consider the limited options a rural citizen has when the only place they can get groceries locally is a Walmart SuperCenter.) It might also help curtail the influence of wealth in our electoral system, by de-privatizing those companies which have the most economic sway.

It would also help out the workers within such industries by maintaining standards of health care, retirement funding, and workplace safety, with direct governmental oversight. A right-to-work system rarely protects employees, particularly those who cannot afford to go on strike. (Consider the plight of unsafe work conditions in warehouses.) Then again, failures within American bureaucracy are pretty commonplace (and often swept under the rug), particularly as regards politics around law enforcement, so maybe not.

Even so, however tangled American bureaucracy can get, the road to redress is still infinitely shorter within the political system than in trying to effect change on a company outside of it, particularly when the industry in question is so vital to the nation. (See: pollution of American meat industry and chemical manufacturing.)

(Idea for strikers: hire “toxic scabs” that are plants, who allow themselves to be hired on, waste training resources, and then immediately quit to go on strike as well, further damaging the company’s recovery.)

The cut-off point would have to be staggeringly high to keep it feasible, and a system which fails to make the same profits might backslide back into private control.

I’m sure there are tons of reasons why this wouldn’t work. Still, in the face of politicians who tout “keep government out of business” and raise devout followers among a class of Americans that really should be fighting for the opposite, it’s an idea.

Experimenting With Writing

Whoo! Been a while since I’ve been on here. I’ve still got two monster-big blog posts in the hopper that I’m not sure what to do with, along with a handful of other side projects. It’s getting close to planting season here in Missouri, so that’ll be occupying some of my time once I get the tiller up and running. (Philosophically, I disagree with using a gas-powered tiller, but at the same time, I’m looking to efficiency, so I’ll give it a try.)

Similarly, I’ve been experimenting with how I write. I recently switched schedules and now write for two hours, first thing in the morning. That was two months ago, and so far I’ve only missed the mark on Fridays, when I often have an early shift at work. (I usually end up writing when I get home instead.) The system seems to keep me writing consistently. (I reserve judgment as to the quality of what I’m producing.) Some days find me more pessimistic than others. An increasing reticence and stress about the current story has been plaguing me, making it difficult to work, as often happens when I start meandering.

To wit, I felt my first draft of short story, “Silkworm”, was running too slow, so I started editing. I’d hoped to correct out the pacing for the first half and, ideally, give myself something tangible to vault off of for the conclusion. (I already know how the story ends, where the characters go, and I’ve written out those scenes in broad strokes.)

In particular, I was itching to try out Susan Sontag’s method of editing, so I printed out a copy and scribbled it up a bit. I didn’t really tear into it as I was meant to, though: my edits and additions are dainty little things carefully pushed to the margins of the pages. For the most part, any addition or omission occurred in the transference from hard copy back to the computer again.

[I recently read some advice that reading copy aloud is a good habit to get into while editing: it gives you a better sense of the pacing of a story, and it red flags any unnatural-sounding dialog.]

Today ended with me stuck at around 5,000 words, looking back with apprehension at a bulky segment of flashback that I spent two days on and now morbidly pondered cutting out entirely to improve the pacing.

I want to finish “Silkworm” and move on to a new story, something clean, untainted by my stylistic meddling and constant self-correction. Something in a deep, dark hole. But to get to my desert, I need to finish what’s on my plate. Only thing is, I’ve spent almost a month working on it, and I’m still concerned about length and pacing (for its genre).


On the upside, I started writing “Silkworm” with a focus on improving my dialog, and I think it’s the strongest out of any of my work–well-applied and natural-sounding–though it took a few revisions to get it so…

Undead Stories

Stories are like zombies. I start off by murdering them onto the page, a stab of the pen at a time, until it’s all good and bled out. Then I toss the body on a midden heap and forget about it.

It takes a long time to forget what I’ve perpetrated.

Once I do finally forget, though, the story comes crawling back to me: it wants revenge. Things are never so terrifying as when they’re forgotten. That’s when they can catch you by the shoulder and spin you around and you at last see them for what they really are: bones and rotting meat.