Film Corner: Easy A

Since Netflix keeps shoving it in our faces, we'll be taking a look at Easy A (2021) directed by Will Gluck. "A clean-cut high school student relies on the school's rumor mill to advance her social and financial standing." I've also heard something about those rumors including having sex, so warnings as needed for that, I guess.

The movie makes sure we know this is taking place in a high school located in Ojai, CA. Our protagonist, Olive, gives us her video diary intro. She swears that this isn't another Lost Girl Teen Movie and she's going to tell us the truth starting now. I think it should be pointed out that this movie is very dialogue/monologue-heavy. That's not a bad thing, but it's something to definitely be aware of going in.

We start with Olive talking about how she "lost her virginity" and how it's false. It starts with her friend Rhiannon wanting to go camping, but Olive refusing because Rhia's parents is the bong-hitting, patchouli-eating, nudist type of people. Olive lies about having a date that weekend. Come Monday morning, Rhi wants the details. In fact, Rhi wants the details so bad that she pressures Olive into lying about losing her virginity.

I can't say I've been in this situation before, but someone *insisting* that you did something very naughty when really you haven't... I've been there. It's very frustrating. And already Olive is different from me for lying about it instead of holding her ground. Turns out that Marianne, the self-righteous and overbearing Christian-Girl, overheard everything. And spread the rumor everywhere. Because that'll teach her for having sex? I think it's time we did a good run-down of the characters so far. Get a good feeling for their personality and stereotype. I'll probably do this for any other characters that pop up and seem important.

- Olive: protagonist, white-liar, Good Girl but no too good, not that popular, still learning about herself, typical teenager.

- Rhiannon: self-proclaimed "Super Slut" for letting a guy motorboat her in public, pushy and nosy, pretty preppy, cares about the usual Girl Gendered Things (TM).

- Marianne: Good Girl To A Fault, teenaged Worried Mother (has no kids), is worried about "Satanic Worshipping", probably Christian but not showing it, rumor mill, Fun-Ruiner.

Okay, back to the story. So now the whole school knows that Olive "lost her virginity". And she's getting a lot of attention that she's not sure she likes. She also has some internal whorephobia she needs to get over. So someone tells Olive in class that she's a skank. Olive responds with a name that gets her sent to detention. I will say one thing about this movie: it has some fun dialogue that really needs to be experienced. Typing it in a tweet doesn't do it any justice. In detention, she talks to Branden, the Kinsey 6 gay guy who called the principal a fascist (LOVE HIM). They clearly bond. He goes to her house and asks a personal favor: be his beard through high school.

- Brandon: Kinsey 6 gay guy (his words), bullied constantly, just wants some peace, is willing to lie just to get that peace, actually really cute, male foil of protagonist.

So Dan Byrd, actor playing Brandon, is not out as a gay man. He does well not to do the over-the-top gay BFF, but why couldn't this role be someone who was currently out as queer? Nothing on Dan Byrd, all on the casting choices. Olive agrees to help, so long as they do it at the rich girl's party. They show up "drunk" and ask for a room to do it in.

Some warning, already there's a pretty fucked up line about gay men being disgusted over vaginas. Fortunately it lasts that one line, but WOW is that all kinds of transphobic! Oh, and some people call him a "Homo" instead of just "gay". So be warned. The term "micro aggressions" come to mind, but unsure if I can use it to describe this movie. I'll let Twitter be the judge. Olive and Brandon make a lot of porno noises for their "audience". There's times where she has to hit him to make sure he makes the right noises. She even lets him have her sexy panties "for evidence".

Here I have a problem with the writing: it's not queer enough to deal with this situation in a comedy. The parents are so busy trying to be accepting cool allies that they don't add anything to this part of the story, except some examples of bad ally-ship. "Oh, your boyfriend is gay! I was/dated a gay boy too! What a coincidence!" No questions of why they're still dating, or what their plan is, or if the dating is a lie. Just unquestioning acceptance and then making it about themselves. I get that it's a comedy, so sometimes serious talks don't happen, but we've seen this movie handle serious conversations with fast-talking hilarity! I think the writers didn't know how to handle the queerness, so proceeded to fake it.

I mean, they didn't even use the word beard! I put that there because that's exactly what's going on! This whole mess could have been fixed with an out queer actor or an out queer sensitivity writer, or something similar! Opportunity wasted! ANYWAY, Rhi calls Olive up to ask "why did I have to her about your sexcapades from some nobody?" and then breaks up the friendship with her. Olive says "got it" and makes a huge wardrobe change. The next day, Olive has a bright red A on her chest and proceeds to make herself a walking distraction for the rest of the school. And it works!

Another guy comes up and asks her to do the same for him. This one hurts me on a personal level because I'm probably going to look like him after another couple years on T. Hearing him call himself a "fat PoS" is a little personal. At the same time...the actor is already clearly fat. No fat suit needed either (he's shirtless). But he's eating a candy bar during the convo. There's implications he's unloved and unsexy. She talks about how she feels "better than cake". In short, the fatphobia is still present. I feel like this whole movie is going to be "how can we talk about the point, but still completely miss it?" and I'm annoyed by this as I'm a fat non-straight trans man.

We continue on with Olive now getting a LOT of customers who want to say they had sex with her, while the general populace knows her only as the really busy sex-getter. But she says it gets worse, as she became a Home Wrecker, too.

- Mr. Griffith: teacher of literature, doesn't like to take his job seriously, married to the guidance councilor, tries to be the cool teacher and succeeds by not going overboard, knows something is up with Olive, likes Olive's company, hates Facebook.

Olive finds herself in the counselor's office via Mr. Griffith's referral. She proceeds to NOT to listen to Olive and just hands her some condoms. Great counseling there, Phoebe. When Olive leaves the office, she ends up accidentally making Marianne feel better about her boyfriend's parent's divorce, which leads to Marianne thinking that she brought Olive around. Not that Olive is a good person already, no, that she *made* Olive a good person.

That lasts all of 24-hours as big things now happen. We find out that Marianne's boyfriend has chlamydia. He panicked and said he got it from Olive. He actually got it from Phoebe, the guidance counselor. (I call her Phoebe because the actress plays Phoebe in Friends.) Phoebe tells Olive everything and Olive says that she'll keep the secret and "have chlamydia" for her. The Christian posse makes signs and starts a protest against her. So she goes to a confessional so she can talk to someone.

For a movie that wants to talk about a girl fake-sleeping around, there is a LOT of whorephobia going on here. Again, my mind goes back to the words Micro Aggressions. It's not saying it hates fat people or gay people or "sluts", but it certainly acts like it. The confessional was empty and since the other option is Marianne's father (because of course she's a pastor's daughter), Olive is out of luck. Or is she? Rhi's ex boyfriend asks her out on a date, so why not? Unfortunately, Rhi is there and this guy wants to pay to bang Olive. Like, for real--not as a "story" to tell others. And it takes a while for her No to sink in.

[TW: Sexual Assault] He doesn't do anything more than force some kisses on her, but it was said he wanted more. [/TW]

Olive's crush, Todd, was working at the restaurant and saw her in tears, so he offers her a ride home and asks if she wants to talk about it. Todd tells her that she's wonderful and he doesn't believe the rumors. She seems happy to hear it. Then he asks for a kiss. She says no, but not because she doesn't want to, she's just not ready for one right now. And he accepts it. They hug instead. It's sweet.

- Todd: Olive's crush, mascot for the High School, might like Olive back but unclear, generally a nice guy so far.

Olive now thinks it's time to set the record straight and get people to believe the truth. Problems: Brandon skipped town, second guy won't drop the lie, and Phoebe is comfortable with the fact no one will believe Olive. So Olive does something impulsive. Olive runs into Mr. Griffith's room, tells him about his wife in a hurried way, then runs out apologizing. Not the best way to tell someone bad news, and she apologizes for it in her v-log.

Now Olive tells her mom the truth. Turns out her mother was in a similar situation because she was actually a "slut" (her words). Again, more whorephobia. But her mom gives her an attagirl and tells her she'll be just fine. Todd pulls some strings and gets her to advertise her webcast to the whole school. And here we are. Olive ends the confessional webcast with Todd blasting speakers on his neighbor's mower and they drive away into the midday sun. The End.

There's a LOT of little issues with this movie, but otherwise it's alright. The actors were having fun and the jokes mostly land well. 6/10, it's off Netflix come this Sunday (2/28), so watch it now if it sounds like your cup of tea! Just mind the warnings.

Narnia: Screaming at Scum

[Narnia Content Note: Ableist Language, Animal Cruelty]

Narnia Recap: Digory and Polly have returned home, but have accidentally brought Queen Jadis with them. She has ordered Uncle Andrew to procure means of transportation so she can begin her world conquest.

The Magician's Nephew, Chapter 8: The Fight At The Lamp-Post

When we last left Narnia, the Empress Jadis was taxi-surfing through the streets of London after apparently having burgled a jewelry store. She has returned to Digory's house not because it is considered a safe haven to Andrew or a source of escape to Jadis but merely through narrative chance. Digory has been considering whether he should do something protagonisty, while Jadis has introduced herself to the crowd. Lewis wants to take Jadis down a peg or three, so the crowd is about to react unkindly.

   “HO! HEMPRESS, ARE YOU? WE’LL SEE about that,” said a voice. Then another voice said, “Three cheers for the Hempress of Colney ’Atch” and quite a number joined in. A flush of color came into the Witch’s face and she bowed ever so slightly. But the cheers died away into roars of laughter and she saw that they had only been making fun of her. A change came over her expression and she changed the knife to her left hand. Then, without warning, she did a thing that was dreadful to see. Lightly, easily, as if it were the most ordinary thing in the world, she stretched up her right arm and wrenched off one of the cross-bars of the lamp-post. If she had lost some magical powers in our world, she had not lost her strength; she could break an iron bar as if it were a stick of barley-sugar. She tossed her new weapon up in the air, caught it again, brandished it, and urged the horse forward.

I feel like this read of TMN has been disappointing to me, and here's a good example of why. This is supposed to be the origin story for Lewis' Satan. Jadis should be terrifying, but she's just... not. Digory and Polly have a vague fear of her because she's an adult and she's physically strong, and that seems to be all Lewis can think of for her to have. We've noted before that he has a philosophy of "might makes right (and Right make Mighty)" but rarely has it felt so blatant as this? A crowd of peasants is laughing at Empress Jadis and her response is to... reach out and bend an iron bar to show off? This isn't anywhere near the league of villains like Ursula or Maleficent; it's barely even worthy of Gaston.

So much of this scene feels stilted and childish. We were sold a Jadis who wanted to conquer the world and might at any moment reduce Buckingham Palace to a little pile of dust. Instead she rode to a jewelry shop, robbed the store like a common brigand, rode away in a panic rather than defend her rights there and then at the scene (an utterly out-of-character choice that seems to exist only to bring her back into proximity to Digory), and now she's riding bareback on an exhausted horse and waving a knife and a steel bar at a crowd. This isn't the Jadis we were given in Charn, the one who waited patiently for her sister to approach with her armies before saying the deplorable word that would ruin the planet. This is someone getting into an undignified brawl with a mob which she's almost certain to lose because even the strongest person can be zerg-rushed.

Satan is interesting as a character because he's subtle. He takes his time, lays his snares, and executes clever plans to catch the unwary. Jadis is about as subtle as a lamppost to the face. And it's honestly hard to tell if Lewis knows how silly she looks here? On the one hand, I can well believe he would intentionally defang his own Satan by writing her as a silly, vain, image-obsessed woman who is too foolish to realize that defending her title via street-brawling is itself a betrayal of her supposed nobility and more inherently lower-class than the lowest born peasant here. On the other hand, Jadis wading into the crowd of bullies to defend herself via physical combat reminds me strangely of the ending of The Silver Chair when Jill and Eustace go after the other students with sword and whip. Again we come back to the problem that Lewis' villains rule by might and bullying, and his heroes differentiate themselves by having more and better bullying.

Anyway before I disappear down that rabbit hole, Digory decides to act:

   “Now’s my chance,” thought Digory. He darted between the horse and the railings and began going forward. If only the brute would stay still for a moment he might catch the Witch’s heel. As he rushed, he heard a sickening crash and a thud. The Witch had brought the bar down on the chief policeman’s helmet: the man fell like a nine-pin.
   “Quick, Digory. This must be stopped,” said a voice beside him. It was Polly, who had rushed down the moment she was allowed out of bed.
   “You are a brick,” said Digory. “Hold on to me tight. You’ll have to manage the ring. Yellow, remember. And don’t put it on till I shout.”

I have so many questions about all of this--why Polly's parents let her run outside into what appears to be a violent mob, why Polly is suddenly talking and acting out of character for the frightened little girl who understandably didn't feel like this whole Jadis stuff was *her* problem, why Lewis didn't write this conversation as happening *before* Digory "darted" forward rather than somehow these two having a conversation whilst darting alongside each other--but Polly is here now and that's all that matters I suppose.

   There was a second crash and another policeman crumpled up. There came an angry roar from the crowd: “Pull her down. Get a few paving-stones. Call out the Military.” But most of them were getting as far away as they could. The Cabby, however, obviously the bravest as well as the kindest person present, was keeping close to the horse, dodging this way and that to avoid the bar, but still trying to catch Strawberry’s head.

I have a lot of questions, too, about what this Cabby thinks he's doing; he previously said he's trying to get to Strawberry to calm him so the horse doesn't lash out and kill someone, which: fair enough. However, surely the highest priority here is to get the woman who is goading him into a frenzy off of him? Because as long as she's on him, she can (a) strike the Cabby with the iron post, (b) strike Strawberry with the iron post, and/or (c) keep goading Strawberry on indefinitely. I don't think, in a contest of wills between Horse-Whispering and Horse-Whipping, that the whisperer has the advantage over the situation.

   The crowd booed and bellowed again. A stone whistled over Digory’s head. Then came the voice of the Witch, clear like a great bell, and sounding as if, for once, she were almost happy.
   “Scum! You shall pay dearly for this when I have conquered your world. Not one stone of your city will be left. I will make it as Charn, as Felinda, as Sorlois, as Bramandin.”

*sigh* I feel like I've been putting this chapter off for too long, and even now while I'm writing it I keep getting up to do housework, because how many more times can I say the same thing? THIS DOESN'T FEEL LIKE JADIS. Not the outrage; the outrage is fine. But the yelling just feels so impotent and beneath her? Great queens do not shout insults in the street like Dickensian fishwives. This mob (which is apparently attempting to stone her?!) is treating her like a stereotypical madwoman because she's acting like one. And Jadis must surely be aware of that! None of this comports with her behavior as we have previously known it.

To be clear: it is inarguable to me that this situation would leave Jadis shaken. She has left a world where she was born into power, and come to a place where no one recognizes her right to rule. Moreover, her own powers aren't working. That would be extremely alarming to anyone and I'm not saying she should handle it with grace and aplomb. But this isn't Iago experiencing a momentary major setback; this is King Lear screaming at the sky. Jadis should have the intellect and iron self-control necessary to collect herself, realize that Charn wasn't built in a day, and start worming her way into the fabric of this new world. Learning its secrets and uncovering its magics. We know she can do that because that's precisely how she's going to interact with Narnia when they take her there. Why not here?

The easy answer, of course, is that Lewis just wanted a comedic scene in which a lot of folks are pulled into Narnia in the style of the Golden Goose story where everyone who touches the end of the conga line is "stuck" and brought along for the ride. There's probably a more complicated theology under all that--perhaps Jadis can't be Satan in a world where a Satan already exists? perhaps she's only able to learn the Narnian magics because she was there at its creation?--but if there is, I can't say what it would be.

   Digory at last caught her ankle. She kicked back with her heel and hit him in the mouth. In his pain he lost hold. His lip was cut and his mouth full of blood. From somewhere very close by came the voice of Uncle Andrew in a sort of trembling scream. “Madam—my dear young lady—for heaven’s sake—compose yourself.” Digory made a second grab at her heel, and was again shaken off. More men were knocked down by the iron bar. He made a third grab: caught the heel: held on like grim death, shouting to Polly “Go!” then—Oh, thank goodness. The angry, frightened faces had vanished. The angry, frightened voices were silenced. All except Uncle Andrew’s. Close beside Digory in the darkness, it was wailing on “Oh, oh, is this delirium? Is it the end? I can’t bear it. It’s not fair. I never meant to be a Magician. It’s all a misunderstanding. It’s all my godmother’s fault; I must protest against this. In my state of health too. A very old Dorsetshire family.”
   “Bother!” thought Digory. “We didn’t want to bring him along. My hat, what a picnic. Are you there, Polly?”
   “Yes, I’m here. Don’t keep on shoving.”
   “I’m not,” began Digory, but before he could say anything more, their heads came out into the warm, green sunshine of the wood. And as they stepped out of the pool Polly cried out:
   “Oh look! We’ve brought the old horse with us too. And Mr. Ketterley. And the Cabby. This is a pretty kettle of fish!”

Honestly, I'm surprised they only brought the horse, the Cabby, and Andrew. It sounded like the mob was physically closing in on Jadis and trying to pull her down from the horse; they're lucky they didn't bring the entire street scene with them.

   As soon as the Witch saw that she was once more in the wood she turned pale and bent down till her face touched the mane of the horse. You could see she felt deadly sick. Uncle Andrew was shivering. But Strawberry, the horse, shook his head, gave a cheerful whinny, and seemed to feel better. He became quiet for the first time since Digory had seen him. His ears, which had been laid flat back on his skull, came into their proper position, and the fire went out of his eyes.
   “That’s right, old boy,” said the Cabby, slapping Strawberry’s neck. “That’s better. Take it easy.”
   Strawberry did the most natural thing in the world. Being very thirsty (and no wonder) he walked slowly across to the nearest pool and stepped into it to have a drink. Digory was still holding the Witch’s heel and Polly was holding Digory’s hand. One of the Cabby’s hands was on Strawberry; and Uncle Andrew, still very shaky, had just grabbed on the Cabby’s other hand.
   “Quick,” said Polly, with a look at Digory. “Greens!”
   So the horse never got his drink. Instead, the whole party found themselves sinking into darkness.

Hi, here's a question: Why???

I know why Lewis wants Polly and Digory to switch rings, because it's the only way to get everyone into Narnia. But why does Polly and Digory want this? They know that Jadis is weak in the woods and that she is NOT weak in the worlds inside the pools: she was fine in Charn and she was fine on earth. If the concern is to keep her weak and ineffectual so that she can't hurt anyone, then keeping her in the woods would seem to be of paramount importance.

It's possible that Polly and Digory are afraid of falling asleep here, as Polly nearly did once, but that no longer seems to be a concern. That didn't happen before when they were here with Jadis, and it doesn't seem to be happening now; the Cabby is bright and talkative, and Strawberry is shaking himself down and whinnying cheerfully and otherwise going about his day like a normal happy horse. Whatever effect of the woods caused Polly to feel sleepy when she was here on her own doesn't seem to be in effect when there are other people around.

Heck, while I'm here questioning Polly and Digory's choices, what is going on with this horse? He's calmed down and cheery and decided he wants a drink, but he doesn't shake off the rider on his back? You'd be forgiven for assuming that Jadis crumpled to the ground but no: "she turned pale and bent down till her face touched the mane of the horse." And then when the horse bends to drink, "Digory was still holding the Witch’s heel". I have ridden a lot of horses in my day and they are ornery creatures that will throw you off just for sneezing, let alone for having whipped them into a frenzy five minutes before. I find it incomprehensible that Strawberry wouldn't dump his "deadly sick" rider off onto the ground and step over her without a second thought.

We'll pause here and come back to the creation of the world.

Film Corner: Sundown, the Vampire in Retreat

Sometimes I ask myself, "Self, why do you keep watching terrible movies on Amazon Prime?" and the answer is that sometimes I stumble onto a cult-classic gem like SUNDOWN: THE VAMPIRE IN RETREAT. It has David Carradine (star of many @/RiffTrax stinkers) and BRUCE CAMPBELL.

Here's the description and I'll note that it manages to already misspell a major character's name (Mardulak): "Count Margulak, the leader of the vampires, has ended their tradition of human bloodletting and has placed his followers on a diet of synthetic, bottled blood. But when a new [editor's note: HUMAN] family moves into the [editor's note: VAMPIRE] town, the [editor's note: LOCALS] natives start to crave the real thing." Yes, I am having to copy-edit their film description.

There's an opening scroll ("More reading than Star Wars," Kissmate notes.) in which we learn that "The Powerful and Righteous Count Mardulak" has led the last remaining vampires into hiding so they can no longer be hunted. Hoping to evolve and coexist in harmony with humans, these vampires are "armed with sunblock, UVA/B protected glass, and nourished with fake blood from a synthesizing plant." That's plant-as-in-factory, not a TREE-plant, which confused me for a while. Slight problem: the factory plant has developed a problem and only one human can save them all from losing their synthesized fake blood.

There's a title drop, and here's where we knew we were in for a good time: WESTERN MOVIE MUSIC, triumphal and familiar and utterly out of place for a *vampire* movie. We start with a middle class family composed of one Man-Doctor, one Woman-Mom, and two young daughters. They are readying for a road trip to somewhere called Purgatory.

Smash cut to three elderly men in overalls, sunglasses, and sun hats sitting in a rocking chair together under a sun-roof. They're watching a man in a jeep speed towards their gas station while DOING COCAINE as he drives. As one does. One of the old men, Emmet-fucking-Walsh who you probably know without recognizing the name, grumpily agrees that it's his turn to service today's customer with gasoline, just as soon as he gets his sunblock. While inside the decrepit gas station, he sets off a secret alarm. We cut to various scenes of people--folks in a science lab, people in a diner, an elderly couple in rocking chairs--seeing and hearing the alarm go off and looking alarmed and unsettled.

Mort (Emmet Walsh) heads out with sunblock and a hat to pour gas for the stranger. The stranger verbally abuses him for awhile before Mort loses his temper and decapitates him with a wave of his hand--after carefully checking whether his name is "Dave Harrison" (it's not). Two nearby human campers, and apparently friends of our cocaine-using deceased, witnessed the decapitation from afar while looking through their camping binoculars. Oops.

One of Mort's brothers drives into town to report the killing and beg for mercy from the powers that be. We see people walking in a small desert town with umbrellas. "False alarm! False alarm!" he calls to everyone as he drives by. People wave to him and go back inside, putting their umbrellas away. He pulls into a factory ("Hemotechnics") where some scientists with delightful French accents and fancy clothes from a variety of eras struggle with malfunctioning equipment. "Merde!" one of them says, looking distraught. "Relax boys," says a nearby slicked-back jackass. "Dave Harrison is on his way."

Our human family drives through the desert towards Purgatory. We get the detail that Mom-Wife's ex-lover works at the factory and she's not looking forward to seeing him again because he was violent and possessive. Back in town, Mort's Brother fiddles with his tie before seeing "Jefferson", the man in charge of all "disciplinary problems". Mort Brother's first sheepish words: "The good news is, it WASN'T Dave Harrison." (My heart. This feels very me.)

CAN I JUST SAY, as a student of narrative pacing, that this is all surprisingly well done? It's WEIRD to have a whole town of people repeating "Dave Harrison" like he's the second coming of Jesus. Tension and intrigue are building. I love it.

The human campers watch Mort and his other elderly brother clean up the corpse Mort created. The girl stresses that "no one will believe us! *I* don't believe this!" but they figure the best thing to do is hike to the nearby town and find a police officer. In the cafeteria, the lab scientists drink from two-prong straws (like drinking from a human's neck!) and complain about the taste of the synthetic blood. Only the Englishman doesn't mind the taste, and the French scorn him for it. I LOVE their various "era" clothes. The short version is that they can produce the fake blood in small quantities, but any time they attempt mass production the machines shut down.

The human family (Mom, Dad, and two girls) pull up to the gas station and ask for directions to Purgatory. "Would YOU be Dave Harrison?" one of the men ask while he hides a decapitated head behind his back. Dave is surprised but affirms he is. "Purgatory is that way." Dave-and-family pull into Purgatory and meet the sheriff and only law enforcement in this Western movie: a Rastafarian Black man. "Ah, you must be the Harrisons!" Dave-and-family are puzzled. "Did, uh, we leave our nametags on?" he jokes.

The Sheriff has a smooth answer for why he knows who they are: it's a small town, everyone knows everyone, and the plant (which Dave is here to fix) is critical to the town economy. Well done! The Harrisons walk into the nearby General Store, where an elderly German couple cover their eyes at the opening door. They fawn over the children and I love them; they mention they have outlived their own children. (BECAUSE THEY ARE VAMPIRES.)

"Juliet and Gwendolyn! Such names! Your parents must be very romantic!"
"They're very horny!" (The kids are, for once, written like actual kids because they will absolutely pull this shit on you.)

Otto, who seems to struggle a little with staying in the present, explains that the town used to be a copper mine until the veins dried up and everyone left. "Jozek Mardulak" moved in and bought the whole town as an industry investment.

Otto: "Now it's a whole town for-"
Anna, warningly: "Otto."
Otto: "Blood-makers, Anna."
(Kissmate notes that their names are both palindromes.)

Dave agrees that blood-making is a noble task much needed in the world of medicine, and Mom breaks in to ask if they carry garlic. "Garlic!? Where!?" Otto panics. As the Harrisons drive merrily away, the store keepers notice the two human campers walking into town. Otto gripes that the gas station attendants are *supposed* to sound the alarm when this happens, but they didn't. Anna says she'll call the cafe to warn them that humans are coming.

In the town cafe, customers quietly stare at undercooked hamburgers and moldy fries. "I can't look at that food any longer!" one complains. "Oh boo-hoo," snaps the chef. "I have to COOK it." A pretty blond named Sandy picks up the phone and reports (from Anna) that more people just came into town and everyone needs to sit back down and behave. They grudgingly sit back down and stare balefully out the windows at the humans walking by.

The two human campers see a police cruiser taking Mort to jail (as a "time-out" for killing) and flag the Sheriff to stop. The humans identify themselves as witnesses and notice that the Sheriff and Mort seem a little too friendly. When Sheriff asks whether anyone knows the two campers are in this area, the humans *immediately* wisen up (BLESS THEM) and offer to leave since their testimony isn't needed anymore, haha, bye! The Sheriff locks them up until they decide what to do with the humans.

I KNOW THIS SOUNDS LIKE A LOT OF PLOT THREADS, BUT I SWEAR THEY ALL COME TOGETHER SOMEHOW. In the desert, late at night, BRUCE CAMPBELL drives a car in a plaid jacket and bow tie. His car breaks down and he starts walking.

[TW: Sexual Assault Situation] Jackass from the factory, who we will later learn is Mom's possessive ex-lover, flies into her room as a bat. We briefly see him naked with a cock-sock, then he turns into a bat again. With VERY BAD CLAYMATION the bat chases Mom into bed and crawls menacingly around on her covers. The daughters interrupt and the youngest--who is psychic in confusing ways--sees the bat's true Man-Form. The bat flies away. [/TW]

In another seemingly random scene, Jefferson--second in command of the town after Mardulak--recruits two rave-goers to become vampires in his secret army. He teaches them vampire rules: how to fly as bats, what their powers are now, and what their weaknesses are. The narrative establishes that this is a "crosses hurt" setting, both to touch and to look at: "[As for crosses], I don't recommend joining the church."

In the heat of morning, Bruce Campbell drags himself tiredly into the gas station. He's told firmly that there is no tow truck, no phone he can use, and the town of Purgatory doesn't exist. Oh, he has an old map with Purgatory listed on it? The town must've gone down in "the earthquake". Ignoring their directions, Bruce walks into town and visits the Purgatory diner where his eyes meet Sandy's. Sparks fly, tiny cupids shoot their bows. (Not on-screen, mind you.) Sandy shyly runs to get him coffee. Everyone else in the diner just *stares* balefully at him. Stealthily, Bruce asks Sandy if she's seen a man in an ancient pocket-portrait he keeps. Sandy gasps, "Count Mardulak!" before writing a note on his check to meet her outside of town at noon. She can't tell him here in front of the others.

Dave goes to the plant and he and Mom's ex-lover (Shane) snipe at each other. Dave finds that the mass production is breaking down because Shane fucked up the machine assembly. Shane tries to blame the engineers, but Dave points out that the problematic assembly was specified in Shane's own notes. Panicking under the gazes of the others, Shane picks a distracting fistfight with Dave. Meanwhile, Sandy brings cheeseburgers and "protein drink" to the jail where Mort and the two human campers are locked up. Mort spills the vampire beans to the campers, seeing that there's no point in hiding things anymore: "All we can do is kill them or convert them."

The two human girls go exploring through a secret passage and waken a sleepy Count Mardulak from his coffin. It's DAVID CARRADINE. He introduces himself and has a reasonable explanation for what the girls "think they saw" and everyone is happy and satisfied. It's very cute. Outside of Purgatory, Sandy meets up with Bruce away from the cafe who introduces himself as "Robert Van Hel- Val Hel. That's all." *delighted screaming*

Sandy just wants to flirt with Bruce, who is clearly into her but really wants information on Mardulak. He's about to kiss her anyway when he sees she has no reflection in the car chassis. He has her on her back and a stake in position in SECONDS. He's dressed so nerdy but he's all action hero when it counts? and I love him? Sandy swears she wasn't going to bite him, she's just really into him, and she'll take him to Mardulak. He restrains her and takes her to go investigate a sheriff siren nearby.

The Sheriff has caught Jackass Shane smuggling weird crates into (or possibly out of) Purgatory. We establish that older vampires are stronger and that Shane--a new addition to Purgatory--has no chance in a fair fight against the Sheriff. Until he pulls out a gun with wooden bullets and kills our only Black character. Shit. Jefferson (second in command) and Jackass Shane, it seems, are planning a revolution against Mardulak. They have an army of young vampires armed with new wooden bullets.

Outside the jail, hungry vampires gather and form a burgeoning mob ready to eat the two campers. The Harrison girls ride by on their kiddie bikes. "Hi!" they call. "Hi!!" calls the crowd back. It's utterly adorable. Mardulak drives up and stops the mob, reminding them of how miserable they were back when they were murdering farmers for food. I love that OF COURSE David Carradine signed up to be Vampire Jesus.

Sandy takes Bruce to Mardulak's mansion and tells him he's cute. He's clearly into her but mutters to himself that it would "never work" with a vampire. They wait until nightfall for Mardulak to return home so Bruce can ambush him. Bruce plans to jump down through the skylight to stake Mardulak. He preps with his crosses and Sandy wails until the cross is tucked under his shirt. She keeps trying to explain that Mardulak is a good man and not a human-eater, but Bruce doesn't believe her.

Mardulak and the Harrisons gather at his home (to hear the littlest girl's prophetic dreams, which influence nothing in the movie--kind of a strange writing choice). Bruce falls through the ceiling and reveals himself as VAN HELSING. Mardulak looks tired. "That sweet, misguided idiot was your great-grandfather?" Bruce threatens to stake Mardulak and Sandy drops through to disarm him and beg for his life. Mardulak is tickled to see she's in puppy love. "A vampire in love with a human! Better integration than I could possibly dream!"

The Harrisons, believing none of this, decide to cheerfully leave town. Mardulak is happy to let them, certain that they aren't going to tell anyone since they think this is all an elaborate joke. Bruce is another matter and can't possibly be allowed to go, but Sandy pleads to turn him. Bruce appears to, umm, enthusiastically *enjoy* the experience. Cough.

Back at the gas station lookout, Jefferson's vampire army GALLOPS THROUGH ON HORSES to ominous Western music, shooting the remaining two elderly lookouts. My heart. (Mort is still in prison chilling his heels.) The Harrisons' exit from town is hampered by the fact that this WALL OF HORSES are blocking the town entrance / exit, each one ridden by a gun-toting vampire. Jackass Shane has announced that he wants Wife-Mom as his bounty.

Back in prison, Mort has changed the two campers into vampires because shit is going down and they'd die otherwise. ("What am I gonna tell my mother?" the woman wails.) They all go out to confront the Vampire Army. Back at Mardulak's, Bruce wakes up screaming because the cross under his clothes is burning him and he has to remove it. Sandy welcomes him to the other side while Mardulak and the others break out crossbows for the war happening outside.

A showdown at the factory ends with most of the supporting cast dead but at least the French scientists get some good moments in before their deaths. A moment of silence for their sacrifice, please.

Mardulak rides up in his car with reinforcements while the soundtrack bellows BIG SHERIFF IN WESTERN TOWN music. In the ensuing gunfight and associated chaos, the Harrisons get separated from Mardulak and his people. Wife ends up in their rental home with Jackass Shane hot on her heels.

[TW: Sexual Assault Situation] Shane corners Wife and explains how all this was his Plan: the factory tried to hire Dave but Dave was too busy so he passed the job to his old friend Shane. Shane ends up vampire'd when he figured out what was going on in town and threatened to tell people. Newly vampire'd Shane then sabotaged the blood-making plant on purpose to get Dave and Wife out here so he could kill Dave during Jefferson's "revolution" and turn Wife into his eternal vampire bride. Wife is NOT interested and screams for help. Dave arrives in time to save Wife with a combination of wooden bullets and holy water. Goodbye, Jackass Shane! [/TW]

The war in town is going very badly. Jefferson has taken Sandy hostage and Mardulak surrenders (it's been mentioned he's very fond of her). Mardulak then goads Jefferson into a one-on-one dual to see who is the strongest when they're supposedly "the same age". A Western movie quickdraw gun battle ensues and Mardulak calls his opponent "Pilgrim" because Jefferson was an *actual* pilgrim. Hahaha. Jefferson loses to Mardulak and asks how this can be. Mardulak reveals that he's actually older than he's been letting on.

Bruce has previously made references to Mardulak's "real name" and you may have noticed that "Mardulak" is a sorta-not-quite anagram for Dracula. If you add an M and change the K to a C. But anyway, yes, he is THE OLDEST AND MOST FAMOUS OF ALL VAMPIRES. "Dracula" had gotten a little too famous so he took on this newer, younger identity. Jefferson falters at this news but doesn't die--he was shot, but not through the heart. Things look grim again!

Yet all is not lost! Dave breaks up a LOT of furniture inside the mansion and manages to engineer a massive giant cross to erect on the roof. But what's this?? Mardulak and his followers are NOT burned by the cross! God has forgiven them, since they're trying not to eat humans now. Because OF COURSE David Carradine would play a Dracula who is so cool that God himself can't help but forgive him.

Now the happy ending: The Harrisons get to go home in a limo. Bruce is a happy vampire who laughs at "vein/vain" jokes. Sandy adores him while the others clearly consider him an acquired taste. (SEE WHAT I DID THERE? TASTE? BECAUSE THEY DRINK BLOOD?) And so ends "Sundown: The Vampire in Retreat" and the only vampire western I've ever seen. It was an amazing experience and I only wish for RiffTrax to be able to acquire it.

Film Corner: Santa Jaws

It's time for a terrible Amazon Prime movie. SANTA JAWS: "A young aspiring comic book artist is gifted a mysterious pen that brings his drawing to life. Now his creation Santa Jaws begins to devour his family and they must battle for survival against this creature." As one does.

We open with an evil Santa man threatening a pretty girl until her boyfriend saves her by kicking Santa into the water to be devoured by sharks. A shark fin surfaces while menacingly wearing a Santa hat. Slam cut to a comics shop; everything we saw before was IN the comic and the creator--a young boy named Cody--can't figure out how to end the last panel. He and his co-writer Steve can't decide whether the ending should be happy or sad. (I resisted a "naughty or nice" joke.)

Cody heads back home where Mandatory Holiday Celebrations are occurring. Family roll call:
- Nice grandfather; sweet
- Stressed "normal" parents
- Older jock brother; decent sort
- Day trader uncle who arrives with:
- Young "Instagram model" girlfriend

Maybe they can't say Instagram in movies, because she says she's a Snapstagram model. She talks in emoji speak, saying "L-O-L" instead of laughing. But Cody has little time to stress about family because he's in trouble: Mom receives a phone call about an "offensive cartoon" he circulated around school protesting the introduction of mandatory school uniforms. (The cartoon seems to be the principal wielding a whip and shouting in an authoritarian manner. It's very tame.)

Mom is terribly unreasonable about this teenage infraction, grounding him from attending a major Christmas Eve "comic party" he's been looking forward to because what will the neighbors think about his anti-uniform screed, etc. Grounded in his room, Cody finds a present from his grandfather: a beautiful wooden pen case inscribed in German. (Wer diesen Stift hält, hat groBe Macht. Mit GroBzügigkeit im Herzen, kann es nur gut. Votsicht, wer es nutzt für egoistsche Gewinne. ...I think.)

Cody takes out the fountain pen and immediately tries it out by tracing over his Santa shark creation: Santa Jaws. In the harbor, a magical green light glows and the shark manifests. Early in the morning, grandfather convinces Cody to go fishing with him and they can stop by his Christmas comic book party after without Mom knowing. Cody and his grandfather talk about Cody's latest crush: a new neighbor who is a track and field star. Cody then accidentally spills a mug of eggnog in the water (OH NO) and a SHARK CYBORG instantly surfaces from the water to eat Grandpa.

...Kissmate says it's not a cyborg, it just has glowing red eyes.

Cody runs home in a panic and tells his parents that a shark attacked Grandpa. Mom calls him a liar, threatens to take all his art supplies (what the fuck?), takes his cell phone (WHAT THE FUCK?), and grounds him further. We hate her, but it feels a little over the top, characterization-wise. Cody frets about disobeying the rules but people are in danger! He packs his bags, pulls on his best Christmas sweater, and bikes to the comic shop to tell them what happened.

We learn, backstory of Santa Jaws. She was born the runt of her litter but gained size and power by eating Evil Santa. AS ONE DOES.

Meanwhile, Instagram Girlfriend is having fun on her boyfriend's yacht. "My followers are gonna be so excited! They haven't seen me in a bikini for months! Hashtag Christmas Spirit!!" Despite the movie's best effort to make me hate her, I kind of don't? She selfies for her followers while Uncle struggles with a string of Christmas lights caught in the propeller. Santa Jaws monches him.

Elsewhere, Cody has to talk to his Neighbor Crush (Jena) because the comic store owner gave (?) her the only copy of Santa Jaws and Cody and Steve need it back (?) for reasons (???). Jena relates that the comic is on her Dad's boat in the harbor. Where the shark is.

Meanwhile, Miss Instagram tells Mom and Dad that Mike was pulled into the water by a Santa-themed shark. Mom doesn't call HER a liar or take her phone. Elsewhere, a man dressed as an elf sits down at the end of the dock to enjoy his no doubt long and happy future. KIDDING! Santa Jaws cuts both his legs off by pushing a boat gently against the deck. The kids arrive to his screams just in time to see him be eaten.

Everyone meets back up at the comic book store and Jena points out the obvious: as long as no one leaves the comic store, they should be safe--sharks, even magical Christmas sharks--being loathe to leave the safety of the water to enter the dangerous comic store environs. Unfortunately, there are other people in town--most of them yacht owners and Cody's terrible parents. For reasons unclear to me, Cody wants to save them. Steve protests that they have no weapons and Comic Store Owner points to his collection of cosplay weapons for sale which absolutely would not be battle-quality.

On a boat in the harbor, Santa Jaws tragically fails to eat Cody's terrible parents.

Cody pulls out his pen and Jena translates the German. Short version: it makes things real and you should never use it selfishly. Seems unfair to Cody; he wasn't being selfish, he just didn't know. The kids and Instagram head down to the harbor with their weapons, planning to attract Santa Jaws with Christmas music. The weapons don't work against the shark, partly because the kids have no training in them whatsoever, but apparently also because they are insufficiently magical.

Instagram foolishly sucks a candy cane, attracting Santa Jaws, who loops Christmas lights around her midriff and pulls her in and underwater. Instagram takes the shark's glowing eye out with her candy cane, tho. Jena theorizes Santa Jaws can only be harmed by Christmas weapons. They find a stash of explosives ("exactly the same Papa uses to kill boars at the camp" and like??? what? do people kill boars at a camp? what camp? where?) and dress them up with tree baubles. They then chum the water with sugar cookies. I feel like I need to repeat that sentence: they chum the water with sugar cookies.

The weapons clearly hit and hurt the shark this time, despite not coming close to hitting her in the action shots, ha. Steve is eaten. RIP, Steve. Cody's parents threaten the comic book shop guy with guns until he tells them where Cody is. Jena then wonders if the pen could be a weapon against Santa Jaws, but they left it at the comic store by accident. This entire movie is spent with everyone running back and forth between two scenes--the comic shop and the harbor--and constantly missing each other.

The comic book store guy--who is really skeezy--has used the pen to draw himself a car, bundles of cash, and a silent Russian girlfriend. I thought people who used it selfishly were supposed to beware because their creations would turn back on them!? Does that rule just not apply anymore? Or was the Russian girlfriend unkindly deprived of the chance to bite his throat open? These are the questions that haunt me at night.

The kids bike after the comic book store guy (who has fled with the pen) while the parents stand around on the dock and quote Tolkien, who did not deserve this movie. (In response to finding the abandoned cosplay weapons: "Well, it is a dangerous business walking out your front door.")

Comic Book Store Guy tries to escape via boat but the kids catch up to him and get the pen back. Jena falls into the water and is eaten. Cody and his brother try to work out how to use the pen to stop the shark. "Create a candy cane big enough to impale her" makes sense but unfortunately all it does is make the shark more narwhaly. Now it has a candy cane horn.

Cody reunites with his family, draws holiday-themed firearms for them to manifest and use, and together they shoot the shark. The shark sinks to the audible strains of Ave Maria and I'm not sure why? Cody gets his pen back and, with his entire family dead, he writes into the unfinished comic book panel that whoever kills the shark gets a Christmas wish. He wakes up and everyone is alive, well, and doesn't remember the day before. His wish!! Such a happy ending!! The end!!

Film Corner: Pirates of the Caribbean

We're watching Pirates of the Caribbean (THE ONLY ONE) with the RiffTrax riffs, and I only just realized that the guy who wants to marry Elizabeth later is a whole adult in this scene of her as a child. I do actually know a ~15 year age gap isn't historically unprecedented, but that was a Choice that I do not think I like. (He's probably supposed to be younger than he looks, but he *looks* old.)

How is he giving her this gown TODAY when he plans her to wear it? They'd need to fit it to her! I don't care if they gave her measurements to the seamstress, you still have to have a fitting to check that no one made a mistake anywhere! Clothes are actually very complex creations! ...How did I never notice before that Swann and Sparrow are both bird names, lol.

Why are the pirates screaming and falling over in pain when weapons hit them? It preserves the twist that they're immortal unstoppable skeletons, but why? Do they still feel pain when not touched by moonlight? Later Barbossa shoots one of them in the heart as a test (in the cavern) and they feel no pain and don't fall down, so I'm puzzled about the raid on the town and the "dying" pirates in the streets.

Why are they all so panicked that she could drop the gold piece into the sea? They can sense its presence AND they can walk the ocean depths. Norrington is whole ass banana nut butter. "The pirates aren't Sparrow's allies, therefore he must not know anything about them. Not worth bothering to ask." This movie is to be praised for moving with a speedy pace and reckless confidence that made me not notice several of these issues my first dozen watch-throughs.

Barbossa has a blue apple. Heirloom strain?

I feel like this movie works in part because we really DON'T know if Jack is a good guy or a neutral guy or even hell an evil guy. Will's suspicion of him is reasonable! Speaking of which, it's kinda impressive that Sparrow was able to alienate his crew SO MUCH in his FIRST DAY at sail that they: (A) marooned and left him for dead and (B) were ready and wanting to shoot him on sight in the cavern. It says a lot about his management style, that's alls I'm saying. Either that or Barbossa was, like, going around to everyone behind his back being all "by the way, Jack banged your mom" and the pirates believed him.

The monkey is a skeleton, right? That strongly implies that he took gold from the chest, that the curse applies to animals, and that he's been ceremoniously blooded. This brings up a lot of questions about other potential skeletal animals. Like: They don't close the chest when they're not there. What if, say, an unaffiliated rat took a gold piece, became a cursed skeleton, left the gold piece on the cave floor (thereby becoming untrackable himself, since the pirates can only sense the gold and not a cursed person), and then walked into the ocean to explore the Mariana Trench? Presumably the pirates would be stuck forever.

Elizabeth has amazingly manicured nails. What did Jack use as barter for passage? In this essay I will explore queerness in pirate culture, and sexual work in exchange for passage--

Wait. Turner sent the gold to his son because he didn't want the curse broken and they deserved to stay cursed...but they only learned AFTER they killed him that they needed his blood? So at one point they knew they needed the gold pieces, but DIDN'T know about the blood?? What, did the chest come with two-sided instructions and they only read one side at first????

Apparently Elizabeth was able to lower a rowboat entirely by herself and totally silently, which makes her stronger than every other person on board by far. WHAT. It's a silent night and sound carries over water! They didn't hear the gunfire and sword fighting on the ship UNTIL the dying dude rang the alarm bell?!

Barbossa threatening Elizabeth with his gun in order to stop Jack is...interesting. He has no reason to believe Jack cares about her, and he's not particularly sentimental about others himself, so for him to assume Jack will care about her is an interesting leap and/or insight into the character of a person he really shouldn't know very well? (Given that, again, per the backstory we were given they only sailed together for one day before the mutiny.)

That's a fun movie and I do respect that it has enough confidence to barrel through plot holes the size of undead elephants.

June Newsletter (2021)

This newsletter is late but it's for a good reason: the writing bug has bitten me. I have written 8 stories in 5 days and I'm just so excited and happy and I can't wait to share them all with you. I've also been doing some book-planning to work out how I'm going to publish all this: the best guess right now is two volumes of ~65 stories each for about 130k words apiece. To shorten the book finalization process at the end, I've gone ahead and sent the first 10 stories to my editor so she can start working. I'm very excited!

In other amazing good news, Kissmate is now fully registered to return to university in the fall, which is very exciting and part of our 4-year plan to get out of Texas. I'm so proud of him! AND his legal name change is official (we're just waiting on the documents so we can change his driver's license). AND I finally summoned the courage to tell my parents about his transition and they're a little confused but they've agreed to call him "he/him" and I'm so very very very relieved about that. That's been a sword of Damocles hanging over us for over a year now. Phew!

Lesser good news: the change of the weather, and the massive amount of rain Texas has been getting, has brought the pain gremlins out. My neck has been in agony all week and I've been fighting some kind of head-cold; I assume there's an allergen in the air after all this rain. Kissmate has been having some knee troubles and we've just found out that his pre-pandemic job basically ruined his kneecaps and he may need a full knee replacement. So that's was a bit of a downer. He has a thread about that here.

I'm so glad again that you're all here with us. Bless you and thank you.

My Patreon: Here.
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Film Corner: Anna and the Apocalypse

There's something on Amazon called "Anna and the Apocalypse" and it's apparently a...zombie musical? They've already done the trope of the radio announcing a lethal pandemic and they turn the radio off because it's boring, and this feels very pre-covid, lol. They're....they're singing in school. The teachers are all garbage, but that's pretty standard television school fare. A girl is coughing in the background of the chorus--ominous. I'm sorry: apparently it's a CHRISTMAS zombie musical.

Kissmate is digging the songs so far, but it's very high school. There's a perfect queer baby, though, so we're rooting for her. One of the girls sang an Unapproved Sexy Santa Song at the school musical and I love her for it. The principal is having kittens. Ah, now the protagonist is dancing in the streets and singing along to her earbuds while zombies eat screaming neighbors in the background.

They noticed the zombies when a zombie in a Frosty The Snowman costume chased them, but she took his head off with a playground see-saw. Meanwhile, the queer baby has the highest kill count so far and we love her to pieces. The Sexy Santa Song Girl is having an argument with the Terrible Principal over whether an apocalypse should feature compassion or brutal triage. I'm most upset that the protagonists aren't cleaning the blood off their hands and faces.

The 4 students at the bowling alley want to get to the survivors at school, so they are...walking as a team under a plastic ball pit. The school Bully Jock Handsome Jackass has saved them. The queer baby isn't impressed with him. He and his mates have been Lost Boying around town killing zombies and looting. ....dammit, I like them. That was the first song I've liked and it isn't just because I have gender envy from this beautiful asshole, lol.

The survivors at the school--mostly parents who were present for the talent show--are getting antsy and prepping to leave. Not sure that's the best idea. Like. Can I just. This man has the voice of an siren and the face of an angel.

The group of students are walking through a Christmas tree store, have been attacked, scattered, and have been trimmed to a more reasonable cast number. The students arrive at the school to learn that the Terrible Principal killed all their parents and loved ones by letting zombies into the school to keep them there. He locks the students in the zombie cafeteria and whistles for the zombies' attention. I'm pretty sure the gorgeous boy just shared something personal and immediately died via Heroic Sacrifice Cutaway, so I'm pretty upset.

I will never understand the whole "Leave him, he's not worth it" when the he in question is a human intelligence that has devoted itself to your personal destruction and multiple murders. It's like "we briefly defeated him in a non-permanent manner, I'm sure he'll never bother us again!" The protagonist fights a horde of zombies--while singing!!--to save her dad, and only at the end does he reveal he's been previously bitten and can't go with her. "YOU COULD'VE MENTIONED THAT EARLIER," Kissmate and I bellow.

Oh, good! The gorgeous boy is alive! And then the queer baby saved everyone, as is right and proper. They drive into the sunset.

Well, that was certainly a movie! Kissmate liked it a lot. I think I wasn't quite in the right frame of mind to embrace some of the zombie parody silliness, but maybe next Christmas. Still, the queer girl survived so 10 out of 10. 5 stars. Give more queers surviving things.