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Trailer for del Toro's "The Shape of Water" echoes the Gill-man

This looks very interesting. I'm a huge del Toro fan, hence my edited book The Supernatural Cinema of Guillermo del Toro. But this looks like his unique twist and nod to one of his favorite films, The Creature from the Black Lagoon.

RIP George Romero

Multiple media source are reporting that George Romero has passed away at 77 from lung cancer. He launched the modern zombie fascination and was a huge influence on horror for generations of fans and filmmakers. He will be sorely missed.

"WAR" completes great "APES" trilogy

The final film in the APES reboot trilogy, War for the Planet of the Apes, has been well received by audiences, fans, and critics alike. As a result, a lot has been written on the film that covers a lot of ground by way of commentary. I've written quite a bit about various aspects of the Apes films as an almost lifelong fan going back to my childhood, and in light of the volume of material available on War online, I'll simply share a few impressions after watching this great film.

To begin the acting was top-notch. Woody Harrelson gives a good performance as the human villain, and like many have noted already, Andy Serkis is wonderful as Caesar. I join the chorus of calls for those who want to see performance-capture added as a category for consideration by the Academy Awards. Serkis' performance is very moving, and with that coupled with the ability of technology to capture facial expressions, the viewer forgets that one is watching a non-human animal, which makes it easy to get caught up in the story and empathize with the apes against one's own species.

The visuals are also amazing. From the wooded home of the apes who flee like refugees, to the human military camps, the cinematography in this science fiction film rivals that of any standard drama. At one point I caught myself mesmerized by a scene with a waterfall, simply because of the beauty of the imagery in connection with the developing story.

Like it's trilogy predecessors, War includes elements that connect it to the five films in the original franchise. This makes for a great time Easter egg hunting, and provides a nice sense of nostalgia for older fans. In addition, it also makes for an interesting bit of storytelling as the script writers work to make seemingly natural connections between the updated story and the films of the late 1960s and 1970s. In War viewers will find many nods to the original film of 1968, but also to Beneath the Planet of the Apes with the use of "Alpha and Omega."

Previously I've written on religion in the Apes franchise, and it surfaces in War as well. The Colonel wears a cross, and has a cross and Bible in his quarters, even while engaging in atrocities against apes as well as his fellow humans. In one scene after speaking to his troops he finishes his audience with them by making the sign of the cross in the air, mimicking a priestly blessing on the people, which is connected to his conception of his military action as a holy war.

Then there's the social commentary. In our age characterized by deep political and religious divisions, at times involving violence and even genocide, War, as well as Rise, speak well to this situation. Human beings are incredibly tribal creatures, and we tend toward inter-group as well as intra-group conflict with very little provocation. This is accompanied by hatred toward others, the desire for revenge, all of which puts empathy and forgiveness in short supply. One of the best elements of War is the way in which it takes audiences on Caesar's journey for his soul, picking up where Rise left off with the death of Koba who was consumed by hatred of humans and a desire for revenge. Caesar seemingly wants to pursue a different path, but tragic personal circumstances make him wrestle with his own demons of vengeance in this film. For viewers able to connect the dots self-critically from [to current events, whether the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the legal battle over Middle Eastern refugees, or the fate of war-torn Syria, War provides plenty of material to help us look carefully in the mirror at human nature.

Director Matt Reeves has said in an interview that he's interested in one more film in the Apes series, one that helps bring this prequel trilogy up to the point of the 1968 film. Given his successes in handling of the Apes mythology, I hope for at least one more film.

Caesar's speech of hope

Planet of the Apes: Science Fiction of Social Fears

Mythicworlds: Straddling the way between sci-fi conventions and transformational festivals?

I'm finishing the editing of a manuscript for McFarland that explores aspects of fantastic fan cultures in relation to the sacred. I am waiting for one more chapter to be submitted and then the manuscript goes off for peer review. In addition to editing and writing he Introduction I am contributing a chapter that contrasts fantastic fan conventions and transformational festivals. The latter are those like Burning Man (on which I wrote my graduate thesis) and Faerieworlds, weekend societies that people participate in as a means of personal and spiritual transformation. In my chapter I argue that the use of mythos and ritual (in one example by way of costuming and cosplay) in both conventions and festivals makes for an overlap and that the sacred is literally in play at both.

During the research for my chapter, one of the interesting things I discovered was Mythicworlds. This is related to the producers of Faerieworlds, so technically it's a transformational festival. But it has many similarities to fantastic fan conventions. It is held indoors (most transformational festivals are outdoor events), it draws upon myths and legends for participants to live out, it includes a heavy emphasis on costuming (similar to cosplay), and a masquerade is held in connection with it. This has me wondering whether it is possible to view Mythicworlds as a form of festival or convention that straddles a middle way between fantastic fan conventions and transformational festivals.

I'll post more on this book of mine once a publishing date is known.

STAR WARS Droid Treatment: Racism or Conflicted Relationship with Robotics?

Previously I've shared Robert J. Sawyer's lecture and critique of George Lucas and Star Wars. In Sawyer's view, Lucas damaged science fiction for years to come. A part of Sawyer's critique is the alleged racism behind the way C3PO and R2D2 are treated when they try to enter the cantina bar in the first Star Wars film. The image accompanying this post includes the language used in reference to the droids that Sawyer's cites as racist.

Racist elements lingering below the surface remains a possibility, but another is our conflicted relationship with robotics. Nautilus magazine picks up on this in an essay titled "Our Conflicting Feelings for R2D2." The essay explores two sides of this equation, and this quote relates to one of them:

We are challenged to accept machines like R2 as living, feeling beings when they are “good guys,” and then to dismiss them as senseless automatons when they are not.

The topic is worth reflecting on as we continue to develop robotics and artificial intelligence, and then bringing into dialogue with assertions like those of Sawyer.

Dr. Syn: Scarecrow of Romney Marsh items

Disney was a formative influence growing up, especially the dark aspects that would come out of his imagination at times. One item that I still appreciate was his film released on television in installments as Scarecrow of Romney Marsh in the U.S., but with a different title as a film in the UK. Above is a good documentary on the Scarecrow that I assume is a part of the release as part of the Disney classics on DVD but which is very expensive to purchase these days.

One of those featured in the documentary is Bret Blevins, a comic artist, who was associated with the Disney comic book series based on the program. I've copied some of his great Scarecrow art below.

 

 

"The Autopsy of Jane Doe" - Surprised by Witchcraft

I'd heard quite a lot of positive buzz about The Autopsy of Jane Doe. Since I added it to my Blu-ray collection I watched it Saturday. I don't have much to say about it other than it was a satisfying horror film that focuses more on suspense and the creep factor than gore. Even the nudity of the main autopsy victim isn't gratuitous. One surprising aspect of it, however, (spoiler alert) is the inclusion of a variation on the evil witch trope. I didn't see the witchcraft angle coming, and I'm surprised this hasn't been featured more, either in interviews with the director or in commentary related to the film.

Synopsis

It’s just another night at the morgue for a father (Brian Cox) and son (Emile Hirsch) team of coroners, until an unidentified, highly unusual corpse comes in. Discovered buried in the basement of the home of a brutally murdered family, the young Jane Doe—eerily well preserved and with no visible signs of trauma—is shrouded in mystery. As they work into the night to piece together the cause of her death, the two men begin to uncover the disturbing secrets of her life. Soon, a series of terrifying events make it clear: this Jane Doe may not be dead. The latest from Trollhunter director Andre Ovredal is a scarily unpredictable, supernatural shocker that never lets up.

"The Girl With All the Gifts" - Interesting Variation on the Zombie Film

I had seen advertisements for the film The Girl With All the Gifts (2016), and after almost buying it at my local Walmart over the weekend, I found it for video on demand through internet streaming and decided to give it a viewing. I'm glad I did. It presents an interesting variation on the zombie film and can be understood almost like a hybrid of Night of the Living Dead meets Invasion of the Body Snatchers. The film takes place in a post-apocalyptic UK, where presumably the entire world has been overrun by "Hungries," human beings who are under the control of a fungal infection that destroys their free will and gives them insatiable hunger for the living. The film focuses on children of the Hungries, in particular one girl named Melanie. These children have free will, for the most part, and may hold the key to the development of a vaccine that can save humanity. The Girl With All the Gifts, like the film Maggie, is a part of small number of zombie films that seek to explore aspects of humanity by rehumanizing the zombie monster.

The IMDB storyline summary and film trailer are below.

In a dystopian near future, humanity has been ravaged by a mysterious fungal disease. The afflicted are robbed of all free will and turned into flesh-eating 'hungries'. Humankind's only hope is a small group of hybrid children who crave human flesh but retain the ability to think and feel. The children go to school at an army base in rural Britain, where they're subjected to cruel experiments by Dr. Caroline Caldwell (Glenn Close). School teacher Helen Justineau (Gemma Arterton) grows particularly close to an exceptional girl named Melanie (Sennia Nanua), thus forming a special bond. But when the base is invaded, the trio escape with the assistance of Sgt. Eddie Parks (Paddy Considine) and embark on a perilous journey of survival, during which Melanie must come to terms with who she is.

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