Friday, March 25, 2016

The X-Files Rewatch: Season 1, Episode 4: Conduit

You know, I had my reasons for deciding to move back to Virginia. However, none of those reasons involved aliens in Sioux City. That being said, it presents another good argument for not living there, apart from the Nebraska truck drivers that attempt to kill you on I-80.

Darlene Morris has taken her two kids camping. Quite unfortunately, her daughter gets abducted by aliens. While it's not "there is a spider in the toilet" bad, it's still pretty bad.

Worst camping trip ever.

When Scully finds out that Mulder is eager to go investigate, it turns out that the incident is pretty close to what happened to his sister. It also comes up that Darlene Morris witnessed a UFO when she was a Girl Scout.

When they visit Darlene, Mulder watches as her son Kevin writes what appears to be binary code. He says it comes from the staticky TV. Everyone resists the urge to make Poltergeist jokes, and Mulder takes a few pieces of paper to analyze. While that's going on, they also discover that the missing girl Ruby was a troublemaker who had run away before, and her friend Tessa says Ruby was pregnant and planned on running away with her boyfriend Greg.

That night, the NSA arrives to knock down Mulder and Scully's doors. Kevin's code is part of a satellite transmission, and when Scully tells them the source, they ransack the Morris house and drag the poor kid away. HI HO GOVERNMENT, AWAY.

The usual fate of creepy children.

Mulder and Scully return to the scene of the abduction. Sand has been turned to glass, and Mulder insists it indicates a massive heat source. It's aliens, not lightning. Remember that. Then wolves appear, and they follow them to a shallow grave: Ruby's boyfriend. A note in his wallet leads them back to Tessa, who admits in interrogation that she is actually pregnant, and killed Greg. She has no idea where Ruby is, though.

When they return to the Morris house, Mulder spreads out Kevin's papers and realize that the "binary" actually makes a picture of Ruby's face. Back at the lake, they find Darlene and Kevin in the woods. Also, a wild motorcycle gang appears, but they aren't actually relevant at all. What is relevant is Ruby, also asleep in the woods. She is dehydrated and in a coma. Mulder notes that her symptoms are similar to what astronauts experience in low gravity.

Ruby says that she was told not to say anything about her experience, and Darlene refuses to let Mulder question her further, fearing her daughter will endure the same mockery she did. Mulder leaves, dejected, no closer to understanding what happened to his sister.

And, presumably, preparing for Confession.

While it wasn't directly related, I do love that they gave a little hint to the overall arc, with Ruby being cautioned to say nothing by an unknown group.

Monday, March 21, 2016

X-Files Rewatch: Season 1, Episode 3: Squeeze

My brother's description of this episode: "Nightmares for years"

Truer words have never been spoken.

What we have here is a locked room mystery. Three killings, the latest being a Baltimore business, have all ended in a devoured liver and no plausible ingress or egress. The FBI agent in, charge, Tom Colton, asks Scully for help in getting Mulder to take a look, which he does, after talking about the Reticulians' need for more iron in their diet.

Mulder, having access to the X-Files, notices that similar killings took place in both the 30s and the 60s, displaying a 30 year pattern. The crime scene does have some evidence: a very elongated fingerprint, which is also similar to the previous crimes. They also contained five murders each; Mulder warns everyone that the killer isn't finished.

Scully, uses textbook FBI teaching, believes the killer will return to the scene of his previous crimes. Mulder is skeptical, but they wind up catching a man named Eugene Tooms crawling through the vents. His story is that he works for a pest control company and had been sent out, a fact corroborated by his work place. He passes a polygraphy test with flying colors, but when Mulder takes his fingerprints and elongates them, they are a perfect match for the print found at the crime scene. He is, of course, dismissed out of hand, since he explains that Tooms can obviously elongate his body at will. Fortunately, no one makes the inevitable dirty jokes that Mr. Fantastic always has to deal with.

No one dared make Santa jokes either...

Meanwhile, Tom Colton proves his worth as an agent by ignoring Mulder after asking his advice. Scully points this out, and shouts at him quite a bit.

Mulder and Scully can find no information on Tooms, and they find out that he has not returned to work since being released from custody. They find the retired detective that worked on the first case, and even though he was dismissed from the 60s case, gathered up enough evidence (including photographs) on his own to show that Tooms is the same man, still living in the same apartment. He also says something about "pure evil".

Our heroes investigate Tooms' apartment, and find a crawlspace turned into a nest of newspapers and bile, with trophy items to, you know, decorate. Yes, it is just as creepy as it sounds.

"Is there any way I can get it off my fingers quickly without betraying my cool exterior?"

And as they leave, Tooms secretly steals Scully's necklace.

That night, Tooms gets into Scully's apartment through a tiny vent, and if seeing his arm slowly stretch longer and longer did not freak you out, you are stone, my friend, stone.

Mulder goes back to watch the apartment even though Colton demanded he stay away from the case. he finds Scully's necklace in Tooms' trophy nest. He gets back to Scully's apartment just in time to prevent her from not having a liver anymore.

Tooms is locked up in a room without vents. But, quite unfortunately, there is this very tiny slot they use to shove food through...

Sleep well, everyone.

This episode was pure, unadulterated nightmare fuel and that is high praise.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Book Review: Windwood Farm by Rebecca Patrick-Howard



You know, I really wanted to like this book. It sounded incredibly interesting. A young woman who paints recreations of old houses finds her camera picks up paranormal phenomena. In a way, it was exactly what I expected: she investigates the paranormal and solves a very old mystery connected to it at the same time.

However, the book really let me down in several ways.

First off, let's talk about editing. Self-published people-and I'm including myself since I've started posting some stories on Wattpad-FOR THE LOVE OF GOD EDIT YOUR DAMN BOOKS. The narrative gets so repetitive at times, and the sequence of events (which shows Taryn reflecting on an event, then showing the event, which repeats what she already thought about the event) is tedious and confusing. Switching viewpoints is not a bad thing, but the author does it only once or twice with one character, as though she realized she wasn't setting up two characters relationship enough to make it plausible and so switched to his point of view. (The only proof we have of this character's feelings for Taryn is that he is sexually attracted to her.)

Speaking of characters, I liked that Taryn was depicted as someone who was passionate about her work, but at times it sounded less like the character and more like the author going on a ramble about whales the preservation of historical sites.

Taryn also spent a lot of time mourning the loss of an old lover, yet we hear so little about their relationship except that it was "perfect" that I had no emotional connection to it at all.

On a similar note, if you are going to have your character complain about barely having money to fix her car, don't have her constantly buying Starbucks and then go and buy over a hundred dollars' worth of psychic stuff that doesn't actually do much at all for the plot except show her more spooky things. I know what it's like to have a car like that, and there's no way I would have bought a bunch of stuff because I was simply curious about something.

Now let's talk about horror. This is supposed to be a scary story, and I thought it would be. But then...that kind of fizzled out. Taryn senses something dark and malicious in the house...which is then totally ignored because there's a murderous old lady, and that's way scarier, amirite? The plot becomes convoluted, the backstory gives us tantalizing hints that go nowhere, and the resolution comes about only because the main character behaves very stupidly. Poor Taryn also drinks Pine-Sol because she thinks it's just bad tasting tea, and she does this several times, and at that point I gave up on the character and the narrative.

The book had a great concept and some great ideas, but they simply weren't executed properly.



Bonus Review: I read a chapter of Half-Made Girls, and gave up because I genuinely hoped the main character would die as quickly as possible.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

The X-Files Rewatch: Season 1, Episode 2: Deep Throat

In Idaho, Land of Potatoes, Colonel Robert Budahas has stolen a military vehicle and barricaded himself in his home. Military police from the nearby air force base bust in, only to find him shaking and covered in rashes. Most people do not have this reaction to chicken pox, but manflu is also a thing, so we can give this a pass.

I just wanted my wife to make me soup...

Four months later, Mulder tells Scully that Budahas hasn't been seen since his arrest, and six other pilots have vanished the same way. When he goes to the bathroom, an informant appears (seemingly out of nowhere-Apparition is also a thing), and warns him away from the case, and that Mulder is being watched.

Naturally, this means that our heroes have to visit Idaho. Mrs. Budahas says the colonel had been behaving strangely, as did another test pilot nearby. Scully tries to make an appointment with the base's director, but is consistently put off. A local reporter, Paul, has been looking into the strangeness as well, and directs the two to the local bar where UFO groupies hang out, and, presumably, talk about that time they totally followed Ziggy Stardust on tour, for realz you guys. The bartender tells them to watch the base from an adjacent field.

Once there, they witness strange lights, and then are chased away by a black helicopter, running into a teenage couple while they're at it.

When Scully and Mulder return home, they find out that Colonel Budahas has come back home. His behavior is fairly normal, except for one thing: he has no memory of ever flying a plane or helicopter. They are stopped on the way back by men in black (no, not Will Smith), who take all their papers and order them to go back to D.C.

Mulder does what Mulder does best. The teenagers show him how to get onto the base via a field (afterward fretting that they didn't warn him about the landmines). On the base, he witnesses a saucer rise up from the ground. However, he is caught and taken to a lab.

Fact: aliens' main attack is bright lights. This would eventually translate into the dreaded Lens Flare.

Scully wakes up the next morning to find Mulder still isn't back, and all the phones in town aren't working. While talking with Paul, she hears orders being given to him over a walkie-talkie, and realizes he works for the base.

Then Scully explodes into awesomeness. She forces Paul. at gunpoint, to take her to the air force base. Mulder is brought out, with no recall of what happened or what he saw.

Scully's report is ignored by her superiors. While Mulder is out jogging, he runs into "Deep Throat" again. Chillingly, the man tells him, "They have been here for a long, long time."

Exhibit A: Giorgio's hair.

This took a common theme among the UFO and alien theories, the government reverse engineering from alien technology, and ran with it. It also showed us a lot about both Mulder and Scully. Both are willing to take great risks, both for the truth and to protect each other.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

NuWho Reviews: A Good Man Goes To War, Let's Kill Hitler, Night Terrors, The Girl Who Waited

A Good Man Goes To War

Last time on Doctor Who, we discovered that: 1.) Amy has been a replicant this whole time and 2.) Real Amy has woken up to discover herself in labor, which has got to be a really horrible way to wake up.

Amy, held prisoner in a place called Demon's Run, has given birth to a girl, who she names Melody Pond. For some reason we still have this last minute "WHO IS THE FATHER" nonsense that wasn't needed, and also one of the soldiers working for Eyepatch (actually named Madame Kovarian) is a fangirl, because she met the Doctor once and he was awesome. Also, she is a soldier who can embroider, because she's making a little charm with Melody's name on it.

Meanwhile. Rory has put on his Centurion's uniform, because of course he has. He and the Doctor are gathering up an army to rescue Amy. Rory blows up a Cyberman fleet.

Need I say more?

However, when he goes to fetch River, River says she can't come with him; this is the day the Doctor finds out who she is.

The Doctor gathers up people we've never met before: Vastra, a Silurian who has taken up the path of detective work in Victorian England, her human wife (look we've already had cat-human hybrids; just go with it), and a Sontaran who has been forced to work as a nurse due to a past dishonor. He promises the boy he's healing that one day they will meet in glorious battle. Strax, for the record, is the greatest Sontaran ever, and I will fight everyone over this. Captain Avery comes along, with some Judoon, that fighter pilot from World War II, Dorium Maldovar, this blue guy who I didn't even remember, but was apparently in The Pandorica Opens.

Madame Kovarian's army is ready, some of whom are literally headless monks. Why do they need to be headless? So they can't be fooled? Well too late, because one of the "headless monks" is the Doctor, so they got fooled anyways. Probably could have used those brains in the heads they don't have.

LOL @ U HEADLESS MONKS

During the fight, Amy and Melody are freed, Rory cries as he holds his little girl, and then it is revealed that the baby does indeed have Time Lord DNA, SO WE GET ANOTHER STUPID "WHO IS THE FATHER" THING THAT WE DIDN'T EVEN NEED, because like two seconds later we realize that she was conceived on the TARDIS and the time vortex was involved, which kind of makes the TARDIS calling Rory the "pretty one" all that stranger, but look at this point we've had cat-human babies and lesbian Silurians, pretty much anything is up for grabs now. The Doctor gives Amy and Rory his old cot, inscribed with Gallifreyan words, for the baby to use.

Anyways, everyone gets cornered outside the TARDIS; Lorna the fangirl soldier changes her mind and tries to help them, only to die. Dorium gets beheaded, and no one cares because we saw him like once. StraX is fatally wounded, but don't worry, he'll get better, with hilarious results.

Madam Kovarian calls to taunt the Doctor about fooling him twice, and he freaks out, but it's too late because Melody is actually a replicant baby too, and she just melted, which isn't traumatizing at all.

Then, River arrives. and reveals that this whole army gathered against him because they think he's really really scary, and apparently only heard the parts about how he was awesome and not about how he saves all the things.

The Doctor demands River explain who she is. She takes him over to the cot. The Doctor starts making very undignified squeaky noises, and then the audience does too. But then he gets confused, because he has kissed River, and he's worried how Rory and Amy are going to react, but then he says he'll find Melody and runs off, leaving River to explain things as Amy points a gun at her. River shows them that embroidered charm with Melody's name in Lorna's language. Turns out, Lorna's home doesn't have anything but rivers, and they write last names first.

So Melody Pond becomes...




Also, this will be the third time Amy has pulled a gun on her own daughter. Just saying.


Let's Kill Hitler

You heard that right. Finally, we will touch on the age old time travel trope of killing a horrible person in history.

But first, Amy and Rory are creating crop drawings in a field to get the Doctor's attention, because he won't answer their phone calls. But when they look at the newspaper clip of the drawing, they see an extra line. Who's doing that?

Why, it's their old buddy Mels, who you never heard of before but who has been their friend since they were all kids, and Amy and Rory have always had to keep an eye out for her. Why yes, Amy did name her daughter after Mels, there is no need to side eye the episode that hard.

The police arrive, because Mels' car isn't actually Mels' car, and Mels pulls a gun on the Doctor. What does she want to do? Oh, let's kill Hitler, and use the title of the episode while we're at it.

We get some flashbacks, in which Mels is generally crazy, and also is instrumental in getting Amy and Rory together. She's also very obsessed with the Doctor.

Meanwhile, in the 30's a shapeshifting robot containing tiny time police has insinuated itself as a German officer and tries to kill Hitler, but the arrival of the TARDIS accidentally stops it. Chaos ensues, Hitler starts firing a gun, and Rory punches Hitler in the face, tells him to shut up, and puts him in a cupboard, fulfilling everyone's wildest fantasies for them.



Mels has been shot. Mels is regenerating. Literally no one except the characters are surprised when Mels pops back up with the most glorious hair ever.

She flirts with the Doctor and declares she will wear lots of jodhpurs.

Amy and Rory are a bit disturbed, to say the least.

Hitler just wants out of the cupboard.

The Teselecta are freaking out, because the Doctor's murderer is in the room with them. That's right, River. That's why she's in prison.

We get River's back story: she's been raised by Madame Kovarian and the Silence as an assassin to kill the Doctor. She regenerated in New York and spent years looking for her parents, then, essentially, was raised by them.

The Doctor replaces River's gun with a banana, but she manages to kiss him with poisoned lipstick. She jumps out of Hitler's office window and tries to explain herself to the guards.


She kills the guards with some leftover regeneration energy, and Amy and Rory pursue (after Rory punches the Teselecta guard).

The Doctor finds inspiration to fight on despite being poisoned by thinking of fish fingers and custard.

River steals clothes at a fancy restaurant, and Amy and Rory are turned into tiny people and taken aboard the Teselecta. The Teselecta plan on killing River for her crime. Which she hasn't committed yet. So basically, Minority Report. However, before they can, the Doctor arrives in the TARDIS. He's dressed in a tux and top hat, and he's a bit miffed. Apparently, the Teselecta take people who commit heinous crimes out of their timeline, torturekill them, and replace them with robots so they still "die" in their regular time period.

Apparently, also, the Silence are an order that believes that the universe will change when "the last question is asked". Everyone already knows the question, because it is the title of the entire show, but the Silence don't know this. I blame Silent Steve.

The Teselecta don't listen to the Doctor, who you would think would have a bigger say in all this since he's the one dying, but when they start their torturekilling thing, Amy turns their safety wristwatches off with the sonic screwdriver. The antibodies start killing people, and River pilots the TARDIS around Amy and Rory to save them. It is there we learn that the TARDIS really was rather involved in her conception, and we can think about that as little as we think about the human-cat hybrids.

River is still calling herself Melody at this point. The Doctor asks her to "find River", and Amy has the robot transform into River. Realizing what this means, River lays a non-poisonous kiss on the Doctor, using up the rest of her regeneration energy to save him.

Talk about your mixed signals, amirite?

They drop her off at the cat-run hospital, and the Doctor leaves the blue diary for her, blank and ready to be filled. River decides to pursue archaeology, in order to find the Doctor again. And, presumably, to deface monuments.

I liked this one, a whole lot. River's backstory started coming together, and the Teselecta were a good foil to the Doctor. They, like the Doctor, try to keep the historical timeline in order. Unlike the Doctor, however, they do it simply to punish wrongdoers, in the worst way possible. The Doctor's actions are benevolent and positive-he is dedicated to saving lives and righting wrongs. The Teselecta are out for revenge, and use their abilities for cruelty, to the point that they refuse to listen to both the wronged party and the parents of the person they are punishing. This myopia shows that they do not want justice; they are as cruel as the people they punish. It's an interesting philosophical point in what started out as a rather lighthearted episode.

Night Terrors

The Doctor receives a distress message on his psychic paper from a scared little boy. Poor little George is constantly terrified. His mom told him to put all the things that scares him into the cupboard, but now he's terrified of the cupboard. For the record, Hitler is not in his cupboard, although that would have been hilarious. His parents declare his need for a Doctor, and...well...here we are. The Doctor faffs about pretending to be official.


Meanwhile, Amy and Rory are in a large, creepy house, and Rory figures they died again. He knows how Moffat's mind works. Also, the house is inhabited by creepy dolls, because Mark Gatiss is also evil. As other residents at George's apartment complex appear, they are turned into dolls.

The Doctor realizes something horrible is in fact in the cupboard, based on the sonic screwdriver readings, but Alex isn't having any of it and tries to shoo him out, with nary a Jammie Dodger to be found. The Doctor finally decides to open the cupboard...and finds a lot of ordinary things. Then he remembers that there were no pictures of Claire actually being pregnant, and Alex remembers that Claire isn't able to have children. George suddenly panics, and the Doctor and Alex are forced into the cupboard.

The house is the dollhouse. There are creepy dolls freaking everywhere, and then Amy gets turned into a doll.
nope

The Doctor asks George to join them, but when he gets there the dolls surround him-he is still terrified.

George is a Tenza. The Tenza place their children in other homes, like cuckoos. They are empathic to the point that they instinctively fit themselves to the adoptive parents' perception of children, and completely conceal that they are not the parents' biological child. George's reality warping ability also means that his fears really do exist in the cupboard.

Alex fights through the dolls to embrace George, explaining that he is still his son.

His Space Son.

This, apparently, was the source of George's fear: he was not conforming, and he would be rejected. With this acceptance, everyone is back in the apartment complex, with George's fears gone. The Doctor promises to come back when George hits puberty; apparently it can get...interesting.

As our trio leave, the TARDIS display screen shows the date and time of the Doctor's death. And then we hear a creepy nursery rhyme about it too, because we needed more creepy for this episode.

It was an okay one. I found the concept of the Tenza to be interesting, and the dolls were creepy. But it didn't pack a punch. Not like the next one...


The Girl Who Waited

Tired of all this creepiness and nonsense, the Doctor decides to take Amy and Rory to the vacation planet of Apalapucia. Unfortunately, it has been hit by a plague. The Doctor and Rory are trapped in a "waiting room", while Amy is stuck in an accelerated time stream, intended for victims of the plague so they can live out their lives while communicating with their loved ones. All three must avoid Handbots, that want to administer cures that are intended for alien physiology.

Amy discovers a way to hide from the Handbots using the time engines that run the time stream. Meanwhile, the Doctor and Rory get back to the TARDIS and pop over into the other time stream. Since the plague only affects beings with two hearts, the Doctor must stay behind, and sends Rory out to find Amy, which he does when she saves him from a Handbot dressed in makeshift armor and wielding a sword.

She's also been there for 36 years.

She learned how to use a katana, survive off berries, and keep her hair looking fabulous without a stylist.

What follows next is a lot of running around while Rory has to make a choice: find a way to go back in time and save the younger Amy, or save the older one right then and there. Older Amy is embittered from being left alone for so long, and angry that he would even think of leaving her there. Rory uses the communication mirror from the waiting room to find the younger Amy from earlier in the time stream. She eventually convinces older Amy to help out, but older Amy insists the Doctor rescue them both.

As they reach the TARDIS, the younger Amy is sedated by a Handbot, and when Rory carries her inside, the Doctor shuts the door on older Amy. It turns out the TARDIS can't handle the paradox of having them both in there. The Doctor refuses to make the choice, and Rory can't, so older Amy finally decides to stay behind.

I feel like there's a huge plothole in this, since the Doctor has been on board with one of his previous incarnations (and later on, with an older version of his 11th incarnation), and this wasn't brought up, except for the Time Lords pursing their lips. They also barely missed the plothole of how River could be on board with her pregnant mother by having Amy be a replicant.

That said, I thought this was a really gut-wrenching episode. This Doctor is known for his goofiness, but in actuality he has a very dark side, which is in keeping with how characterization has played out. The odder and sillier the Doctor is, the more likely he is to be morally ambiguous. Think Four, Six, Seven, Ten, and Eleven. He is used to making impossible choices that have no good answer, but your average person isn't put in that kind of situation, and they will struggle to choose. We saw this with Amy and the space whale, and here with Rory. We'll see it later with Clara. In a way, it made the Doctor more sympathetic, because you realize the kind of burden he is under as literally the only person out there stuck with these choices. The plot is sparse but the character development is magnificent.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Book Review: The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux

NO!


ONE!


WRITES LIKE GASTON NO ONE INKS LIKE GASTON NO ONE TAKES LSD FOR THEIR BOOKS LIKE GASTON!


Let's talk about Phantom. Not the musical, although the musical is like crack. The book. It's crazy. The book is absolutely crazy.

There's an opera house in Paris. A lot of people like the opera house. It comes under new management; they are given a book of rules to appease the opera ghost.

There are two brothers, but we're mainly concerned about Raoul. Bless his heart, the poor boy doesn't have two little grey cells to rub together, but he tries. He's madly in love with Christine, a girl he knew as a child, and who is a singer at the opera house. When the diva of the house unexpectedly becomes sick, Christine takes her place and wows everyone with her voice. Raoul is even more infatuated, and tries to see her in her dressing room. She shoos him out, and when he hears a man's voice in there, waits until she's gone and goes in to look around, because that's not creepy.

Christine, see, has been trained by a voice (or VOICE as the Project Gutenberg translation puts it) to sing well. She thinks said voice is the Angel of Music sent by her dead dad. Because Daddy Issues.) Raoul's one brain cell tells him that the mysterious voice is also the mysterious Phantom. No one believes him, because reasons.

Raoul behaves erratically, and Christine finds this endearing, so she agrees to marry him. She then reveals that she was kidnapped by the Phantom. Creepy lair, insane musical genius, not much to look at though. He's also behaving erratically because of Christine. The night she and Raoul plan to elope, the Phantom kidnaps her and makes plans for them to marry and go, like, shopping together and stuff.

Look, the story itself has been very complicated up to this point, because we have a lot of confusing flipping back and forth through the story, and Christine ain't saying nothin', and Raoul, as I said, is kind of an idiot.

Then we get to the rescue. This is where Gaston Leroux was basically "I GOTTA FIND A WAY TO MAKE THIS STORY LAST, I'M GETTING PAID BY THE WORD HERE". There's this Persian guy, right? No, not Madame Giry, she's just a dotty old lady. See, Erik was this horribly deformed person. No, not Gerard Butler with a third degree sunburn. Think Tyrion from the Game of Thrones books deformed. He was a genius. He was also a little crazy, since at some point he was teaching a sultana how to torture her servants. He's made himself a nice little lair with all these little inventions, including a torture room that apparently makes you think you're in the desert? I guess you wouldn't think that until you'd been in there a while. It takes Raoul about, oh, five minutes to lose it. Bless.

While the authorities do exactly nothing despite evidence that there is probably a creeper in the opera house, the Persian and Raoul shout Christine's name a lot, Erik is crazy and not Gerard Butler, and also he plans on blowing up the opera house and a good chunk of the surrounding area.

This is Andrew Loyd Webber's romantic anti-hero. But, I mean, he's still better than Christian Grey, AMIRITE.

But Christine conquers with the power of love, and she and Raoul flee into the night, while the Phantom makes plans to die, because apparently he was running out of prank ideas, or something.

Look, I know I made the book sound ridiculous, and it is, it's very ridiculous. Raoul is an idiot, Erik is crazy, everyone else is incompetent, and Christine, the only smart person in the book, has Daddy Issues (I refuse to stop making Cleolinda references). I started questioning Leroux' sanity after a while. But it was fun, and it was a good addition to Gothic fiction.

And it gave us some really great songs, so we can all be thankful.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

The X-Files Rewatch: Season 1, Episode 1: Spooky Pilot

A long time ago, when I was a wee lass, I discovered Sci-Fi Channel (now spelled SyFy for inexplicable reasons). And I discovered re-runs of my brother's favorite shows. The one I actually watched was X-Files. Now, here we are, with a new season granted us, and I have decided to go back and refresh my memory of the previous seasons. What do I remember? I remember the big reveals with the whole series arc; I remember Krycek was vaguely annoying; also, there were Lone Gunmen, who were all, like, action nerds? And there was also a very dreadful Jersey Devil episode. Anyways, point being, this is going to be a journey.

Our story begins with a young woman running through the woods in her pajamas. Look, I'm not judging, but I can't help but think that was impractical running wear. Whatever, she falls down, someone comes toward her, and they are enveloped in bright Alien LightTM. The next day, she's found dead, with two marks on her back.

Meanwhile, in D.C., baby-faced FBI Agent Dana Scully is asked to work with baby-faced FBI Agent Fox Mulder. Did I mention they're baby-faced? I don't remember them looking like that. I'm not sure I like this "growing up" thing. Of note is the mysterious Smoking Man. He smokes. Season 10 rumors say he has still not died of lung cancer.

Anyways, Mulder is a legend, not only because he is a good agent, but also because he's a bit obsessed with government and alien conspiracies. Because of this, he's been sent down to the basement where they keep the X-Files: unsolved cases that are really, really weird. Such as the case of Pajama Girl. It turns out, Karen Swenson was the fourth person in her graduating class to be found dead out in the woods. While the other victims didn't have the marks on their backs, it appears a different doctor examined Karen's body.

Strange things happen to them when they head out to Bellevue. Their plane encounters sudden turbulence. Their car stalls in the middle of the road, and Mulder apparently keeps spray paint in the trunk of the car so he can mark places like this, or something. At least he'll never be unprepared? I wonder what else he keeps in his trunk just in case.

Mulder arranges to have the third victim, Ray Soames, exhumed, despite the medical examiner's complaints. However, they discover a deformed body in the coffin. Scully, who has a medical degree, examines it, finding a metal implant within the nasal cavity. Mulder starts salivating worse than Giorgio Tsoukalos, and Scully's glasses are skeptical.

"I don't even want to hear the word alien while I'm wearing my Skeptical Glasses."

Soames was staying at a psychiatric hospital before his death, and two of his classmates also happen to be there: Billy Miles, who is comatose, and Peggy O'Dell, bound to a wheelchair and suffering mysterious nosebleeds. During a fit, Mulder and Scully notices she has marks on her back as well. Mulder declares aliens, and Scully declares cults, especially when they find ash out in the forest. However, before they get much further, Detective Miles arrives and tell them to clear out.

On their way back, their car stalls in the same place, and after a blinding flash of Alien LightTM Mulder discovers they have lost nine minutes-which Scully is skeptical of, despite looking at the clock.

"You're not even wearing your Skeptical Glasses!"
"BECAUSE IT'S RAINING"

At their motel, Scully is preparing for a bath when she notices two marks on her back. Severely freaked out, she runs over to Mulder's room, in her bathrobe no less, and gives everyone and Mulder some fanservice, before he says they're mosquito bites. It's pretty clear he's lying, since they look nothing like mosquito bites and everything like the other marks. He then explains to Scully why he is so adamant about his beliefs: when he was a child, he remembered seeing a blinding light in his room, and his sister vanished that night.

Then, they receive an anonymous phone call! O'Dell is dead, hit while running into traffic! They visit the scene, and sure enough, she was on foot, no wheelchair in sight. And when they get back to their motel...

It is on fire. Along with their evidence. The medical examiner's daughter finds them in this state, and has a story for them: she has the marks on her back too, and she's found herself in the woods in the middle of the night several times. Her father shows up to take her away, but our heroes are undeterred.

Upon exhuming the other graves, they discover them empty. Mulder realizes that Billy must have taken them out to the woods. Skeptical Scully is Skeptical, but when they visit the hospital, they find dirt all over Billy's feet.

That night, they return to the woods, and find Billy crouched over Theresa, lifting her up as a blinding light begins. However, when it ends, they find the two as they were, unharmed. Billy is returned to his right mind. Later, he is put under hypnosis, and claims he and some of his classmates were abducted during a forest party after graduation. They were being tested, and those who failed the tests were killed. Scully gives her boss the metal implant, the only evidence they have left. But she finds out that their case files are missing. We end with Smoking Man locking everything away in a Super Secret Room in the Pentagon.

Government conspiracies single-handedly keep the filing box companies in business.

The pilot did a great job of setting up the story, and I love that the overall series arc began immediately. It's easy to see why it caught on so quickly, and has been so beloved.

Monday, March 7, 2016

Movie Review: John Carter of Mars

What did I think of John Carter of Mars? Well...



Look, the book is silly. But there were hints, little bits, that showed that the movie could have been so, so much better. But let's start with characterization.

Book!Carter is a man who is proud to have done his duty, and is happy to go wherever he has to in order to carve out a life for himself. While it's subtle, we have to remember that we're looking at a man who fought for a cause that was destroyed. His world was completely altered by the war. His arrival on Mars gave him a new cause to fight for, and he was glad of it.

Disney took this, gave his previous occupation a passing mention, and made him the stereotype of an Angry Ex Soldier. He's not in this for your revolution, Princess!

Speaking of stereotypes, let's talk about Dejah Thoris. Look, she wasn't the best character in the book. She was mainly a Dulcinea for poor Carter, but at the very least there was mutual respect between them, and they actually had time to develop a relationship. Dejah, whatever her weakness, was characterized as a brave woman who was willing to do whatever it took to save her people-including marry the guy she did not want to marry. (For the record, Sab Than was mainly just this decent guy who was in love with her, and his dad was the jerk. But he had to die, so Carter could boink her instead. Poor Sab Than.)

Disney decided to make Dejah a Strong Female Character. She is a warrior and a scientist. And I have no problem with that. One of the better moments in the movie is when Carter tries to be gentlemanly only to find she can hold her own in a fight. Her being the scientist to discover how to save her planet is also keeping with her characterization of someone determined to save her home.

The problem is that these good added traits are undermined by turning Dejah, not into a strong character, but a Strong Female Character. This means, basically, that she throws temper tantrums when things do not go her way. Unlike her calm, wise book counterpart, she flips out at her father, consistently lies to Carter, and finally screams, "I CANNOT MARRY HIM!" in the manner of every ridiculous novel heroine ever. Book Dejah may not have fought, but compare her to the petulant child in the movie and she comes out looking much better. Why do we think that strong characters have to scream and rage and wail? Why do we think that emotion can only be conveyed in this way? I can't see Dejah from the movie standing with her back straight and head held high when facing torture. I can see her screaming and flailing uselessly though, and it doesn't look quite so good.

This also leads me to wonder, what is it with movies and the way they characterize relationships? In the book, yes, Carter is immediately in love with Dejah. But he spends time actually getting to know her long before they get together. His initial attraction is built upon by mutual respect, and even though Dejah can be supercilious at times, you can see why he becomes so attached to her. In the movie, they fight and argue and continually distrust each other, all whilst smoldering at one another. Apparently this is a good enough basis for a marriage after, what, a week at most? They barely trusted one another up until almost the very end.

Let's talk about Carter's other relationships in this movie. The only one that stayed really true to the book is his friendship with Tars Tarkas. And, by the way, that's one part I love. Tars Tarkas and his goofy grin. No, that grin was goofy, and it was hilarious.

But then, we get to Sola. Sola's part was severely cut in the movie, and it's sad. One of the best parts of the book is her growing friendship with Carter, and her helping him and Dejah because her own parents were truly in love, and she knows the value of it. In the movie, she is basically reduced to a third wheel that helplessly tells Carter and Dejah to stop doing unwise things while being ignored. Her entire backstory of being raised by her mother in secret for several years is barely mentioned, and instead of coming from her, Carter randomly guesses it. Her story isn't intertwined with Carter's because she wants to help him do what's right. It's intertwined with Carter's because Carter is the hero and we say so. Her one moment to shine is quickly eclipsed by Carter Being Awesome.

In terms of story, it was clunky, and with little pacing. The Therns confused the heck out of me, because I haven't read any of the other books yet, so to me they were just a bunch of annoying Self-Righteous Higher Life Forms making specious arguments for why they're The Best Beings Ever while they show off their Dr. Manhattan eyes and manipulating events that don't even need to be manipulated.

Also, everyone has midriff baring armor. Why? I imagine the discussion went something like this:



Seriously.

What did I like? Tars Tarkas' goofy grin. The design of the green martians in general. Kantos Kan being more attractive and engaging than the hero in, like, one scene. (Okay, Carter was attractive until they shaved him and made him look like he hadn't quite gone through puberty yet.) Woola. Woola was awesome. Edgar Rice Burroughs looking as confused as the audience. Virginia being shouted with joy by millions.

It's just a shame that they didn't do the story or the characters justice.