Four horror movies for Halloween 2016

Halloween is approaching, and I watched a few horror movies recently to enjoy the atmosphere of the October. Spoilers follow – be careful about going into the woods.

It doesn’t change into autumn, where I’m from, in early October, but the atmosphere does change a bit, and the nights are still cold.

I saw 4 horror movie recently in the lead up to Halloween 2016. Here’s my thoughts and ideas on them:

The Gallows (2013) Metacritic score of 30 – I thought it was a bit better than 30/100, with some great atmosphere and setting. Definitely suitable for Halloween watching if you don’t mind the found footage genre or unlikeable protagonists.

Back in the early 1990’s a high school put on a play that ended in a terrible accident, but twenty years later, a drama student named Pfeiffer pushes the drama department to try the play again, and maybe try and redeem it.

Unfortunately, the lead actor can’t project, and his best friend is a Jerk. They decided to sneak into school at night to destroy the set and stop the play.

Starting as a found footage movie, this film shifts gear into a supernatural team slasher.

The characters are misanthropic vandals. I didn’t like any of them, but unlikeable protagonists is a big part of some horror films.

Theatres and schools both have a certain chilling atmosphere at night when they’re empty and quiet, and this film certainly delivers on atmosphere. The supernatural special effects are also suitably scary, without relying on jump scares too heavily.

Chernobyl Diaries (2012) Metacritic score of 32 – I thought this was accurate. The film started well, but was not coherent all the way through, with less then memorable characters (Except for Nathan Philips). Not really good Halloween viewing.

A group of daredevil tourists go on an extreme adventure into Chernobyl. Everything goes wrong. Something about zombie mutants.

I completed a cursory search about the film, and it received criticism for disrespect toward those that died in the Chernobyl reactor explosion.

Nathan Philips appears playing adventurous Australian tourist Michael, which was a highlight. Apart from the fighting between Chris and his daredevil brother, and the stoic ex-soldier Yuri, The other characters did not stand out.

The Witches of Eastwick (1987) Metacritic score of 68 – I thought slightly higher than 68/100, this film stars Cher, Jack Nicholson, and Susan Sarandon (several academy award winners). Content warning for some misogyny in the third act of the film. A good movie, regardless if it is Halloween or not.

A film that might be more of a fantasy than a horror movie, the depiction of fantasy elements as a metaphor for relationships turned from full filling to horrendous makes The Witches of Eastwick a thoughtful fantasy.

The phrase “Be careful what you wish for” plays out here, as three women wish for the perfect man, and Jack Nicholson arrives. He may or may not be an incarnation of the devil.

Blair Witch (2016) Metacritic score of 47 – The film largely copies the first film but tinkers around with the perception of time and illusions in the Blair Witch’s forest. A decent Halloween movie, but consider The Blair Witch Project (1994)

I had several problems with Blair Witch.  Overall, scenes with images of trees and scrub bushes rushing past the camera while an actor screams were borrowed directly from The Blair Witch Project. This was a let-down.

Settling into a good, slow build is dropped for this sequel (or soft reboot). The characters are barely in the forest for two nights before the film reaches it’s end. Playing out the long ordeal of being stranded on a interminable camping trip built tension in the first film.

To it’s credit, Blair Witch tinkers the perception of time, adding something to the folklore. Perhaps the force behind the Blair Witch’s forest can create illusions, adjust time, and amend space.

What are some of your Halloween films? Let me know in the comments.

Other Good Movies: The Conjuring, and The Conjuring 2 plus Insidious are both excellent (from Director James Wan). The VVitch is a painstakingly researched New England folktale on witches in the forest, and Cabin in the Woods is great for a more intricate and complex (less scary) Horror film.

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Yokai in Kubo and the Two Strings

This summary contains spoilers – character and story details for Kubo and the Two Strings – if you must blink, do it now.

The new stop-motion fantasy film from Laika travels through a ancient Japan inspired by mythology such as The Bomboo cutter and mythology surrounding the moon diety Tsukuyomi.

It also calls out to various strange creatures called “yokai”.

But what are these things?

They’re not just a ghost or a spirit, according to the Nintendo game and anime Yokai Watch.

They are their own class of fairytale characters. And fairytales are often cautionary tales.

Even if the creators at Laika did not explicitly consult these specific spirits from Japan’s folklore and yokai history in depth, the cultural symbols, creatures, and ideas are still invoke and resemble yokai.

Kubo and the Two Strings brings to life some of these obscure monsters. Sometimes the resemblance is comic, and even a bit hazy. The movie narrative still has elements that are in harmony with the folklore and folk knowledge that surrounds these yokai. The cautionary aspect of some of these creatures remains.

Here are some that I spotted:

When telling an enthralling tale about Hanzo and the Moon King to his friends and neighbours, Kubo folds a giant spider from paper. This is a Tsuchigumo.

The Tsuchigumo appear early on, when Kubo begins telling a tale of Hanzo and the Moon King. His tiny, paper hero dispatches an enormous paper spider. While the legend of the Tsuchigumo (which translates as “ground-spider”) is from centuries before Kubo was born, They’re a fearsome opponent for him to pit against his hero hanzo.

Kubo’s elderly friend Kameyo demands a “fire breathing chicken” appear in the paper samurai story. Kubo obliges with a yellow, red-confetti spewing monster, which resembles the Basan.

A fire breathing chicken is a Basan. Kameyo asked for it because it sounded funny to her. The folklore behind the bird is a bit comedic – its fire does not burn anything, and produces no heat. That’s just like the ineffectual paper confetti Kubo crafted for Kameyo.

A Bakekujira is a ghost whale, that resembles a skeleton, and is said to bring bad luck and misfortune to anyone who sees it. Kubo and Monkey sought refuge from a snowstorm inside a frozen, dead whale.

The whale itself was frozen, and long since dead, however there was something eerie about the ocean giant frozen and lying in the ice. After staying inside it for shelter, misfortune did find Kubo as the story progressed. Arguably, this had nothing to do with the whale from earlier in the film, but the connection can’t be ignored completely. However, this may be just a case of folklore correlation, and not causation.

Mischievous, supernatural sparrow yokai do exist – the Yosuzume. Kubo encounters a sparrow, and creates his own flock of the tiny birds with blue paper of various shades

Kubo is tired and frustrated after meeting his bossy, monkey companion. Naturally, he feels like letting out some of the frustration. That’s when he sees a sparrow, and inspiration strikes. Kubo himself is the bringer of misfortune here. He sends one of his birds after monkey, who does not appreciate the ninja-like stab from behind. The folklore surrounding the Yosuzume in particular is associated with bad luck – it’s recommended not to let these birds fly up a shirt sleeve, anywhere near your body.

The giant skeleton – the O-Dokuro or Gashadokuro – has been covered expertly on tumblr by GloriousPancakes

The giant skeleton has several folktales surrounding it. The film even references the famous print by Utagawa Kuniyoshi “Mitsukuni defying the giant skeleton spectre”.

takiyasha_the_witch_and_the_skeleton_spectre

As depicted in the film, the Gashadokuro is capable of disassembling itself to fit into small spaces.

At an emotional high-point in the film, Kubo’s Shamisen breaks, losing its strings. A broken Shamisen left in disrepair can shift into a yokai classed as Tsukumo-gami.

A Tsukumo-gami (translates to “haunted relics”) are sufficiently aged antiques that gain a life of their own if they are loved, and then left behind. Usually, and completely understandably, they are remorseful, but in the case of the Shamisen-choro the instrument was so well loved in life, a shade of the master musician’s spirit remains with the instrument. Thankfully, Kubo finds a novel (and powerful) solution to repair his shamisen. No guitars were harmed, or left to gently weep, in the making of this film.

Those where my thoughts, but did you spot any yokai hiding in the film? Let me know in the comments.

Bibliography:

  • http://yokai.com/ (2016) Matthew Meyer.
  • Yokai Attack! The Japanese Monster Survival Guide (2012) Hiroko Yoda, Matt Alt, Tatsuya Morino.

 

Pokemon Sun and Moon – Elements and Alchemy (part 2)

In my earlier post on alchemy and Pokemon, I looked at element systems, and found connections between the new Pokemon Sun and Moon Starters, Alchemy, and element systems.

Western and classical Greek element systems enlist four elements, and ancient Chinese alchemists use a five element system. But do Rockruff and Togedemaru both have places alongside the starter Pokemon in both of these systems?

Another element system from Japanese folklore also used five elements too. I’ll return to this later, but to look back at the question from the last post:

Why Togedemaru? Since when did this Pikachu Clone become a part of the element systems speculation?

That’s a good question. and I thought that just Rockruff alone had a link to the starter Pokemon.

In fact, Rockruff is going to be the starter Pokemon for a new character in a new comic book series to be published in Japan (reported by PokeJungle).

corocoro-rockruff-comic-620x847

His sleeve has Red, Blue, and Yellow stripes – a possible clue, and reference, back to the original Pokemon games?

But the answer for why Togedemaru ties into the elemental patterns can be found by looking back at the first Pokemon games from 20 years ago.

Pokemon Red, Blue, and Yellow also have their own element system, and it looks a lot like the alchemical and classical patterns.

Red Blue and yellow has two starters that closely embody half of four classical elements. Charmader’s tail is on fire. Squirtle readily sprays water. But what about air and earth?

Pikachu’s Lightning forks out of the air the same way that Bulbasaur’s bulb is a plant that grows from the earth. Their design choices both evoke the elements, even if the tie is slight.

Together, the four starter Pokemon form a classic element pattern.

If Charmander, Bulbasaur, Squirtle, and Pikachu represent the four elements, with each being a starter you could choose, what about the starter you could not choose? What about Eevee?

Rockruff’s special link with the Pokemon Sun and Moon starters parallels Eevee’s special status as a starter Pokemon.

Professor Oak intends that the player receive Eevee before the Rival steps in and claims the little brown dog.

So what elemental system fits, which includes Eevee? The answer is one I mentioned earlier – The Japanese element pattern. Japan’s folklore describes five elements called the Godai (五大) which means “The Great Five”. They are Air, Fire, Water, Earth, and Void.

Void, The fifth element, represents creative potential, nothingness, acceptance, and communication.

Godai_RBY

Eevee represents some of the aspects of the element Void – a blank slate, with the creative power to become many different Pokemon.

Comparing the older Pokemon games to the upcoming Pokemon Sun and Moon, the link between Rockruff and the starters becomes more clear.

Why Togedemaru has a place in a five element pattern, instead of any other steel type, also has an explanation. Togedemaru stands in for Pikachu, referencing the older games. A small woodland animal representing an element – Pikachu (mouse) representing air, and Togedemaru (hedgehog) representing metal.

Togedemaru is a reference back to Pikachu’s place in the older five element system. There is a similar reference to Rockruff standing in for Eevee, a small brown dog with a fluffy tail.

The design choices behind the Pokemon games and mythos certainly are deep, but what are your thoughts on these patterns and design choices? Do element systems explain the patterns of starters? Let me know in the comments.

 

Pokemon Sun and Moon – Elements and Alchemy

It’s fairly clear alchemy ties into Pokemon design and folklore, especially when the Pokemon designs resemble alchemical properties, as Tim Poultney picked up on in their sketch.

Pokemon Sun and Moon draw from Alchemical influences.

The most basic building blocks of matter defined by alchemists are the elements Earth, Fire, Water, and Air in western alchemy, which stems from Greek philosophy.

Based on body shapes and markings, the new Pokemon Rowlett, Popplio, and Litten link to these elements, and with one specific entry in Alchemical lore – Salt, Sulphur, and Mercury. These were ‘Philosophical’ versions of familiar elements, not found on the periodic table of elements.

The three new starter Pokemon are designed after the ‘Prima Materia”, or basic alchemy symbols

Popplio looks like the alchemical symbol for mercury.

Litten’s markings resemble sulphur

Rowlett is round like the symbol for salt.

Then there is Rockruff, the little dog that shares a secret connection with the three starter Pokemon.

Youtube creator Eryizo proposed an interesting theory that ties the four new Pokemon together in a 4 minute and 30 second video:

With Rockruff linked to the starters, A four element structure becomes clear, where Rockruff represents earth and lead – the starting points for alchemical work

Iwanko, or Rockruff,  represents earth in a four element structure, and potentially the element lead, which is the mineral alchemists begin working on when attempting to transmute gold. Rowlett shifts from representing earth to air, which fits its design as an owl.

But what about a five element structure?

However, Alchemy from Zhou Dynasty China (1000 BC) involves five elements.

In a traditional Chinese elemental system, there’s another element. Chinese alchemy is similar to the Western discipline. The pursuit of immortality is considered noble, which transmuting metals is derided as common.

This is where Togedemaru fits.

The five elements from this point of view are Earth, Fire, Water, Wood, and Metal.

elements_1

Togedemaru is a steel type, and the Pikachu-clone of the Alola region. Fitting in with Rockruff, Rowlett, Popplio, and Litten there is a five element structure.

What’s important about comparing and contrasting both element patterns and perspectives is Rowlett’s types play a role in each pattern. Grass is wood, and flying is air.

But why Togedemaru and not any other steel type? Well, there is another element pattern, which ties back to Pikachu and Pokemon Yellow, which I will clear up in my next post.

Is there room for this five element theory? Let me know in the comments what you think.

Thor #6 – Comics Review

The mystery of “who is the new Thor?” unfolds while closing in on a suspect. Thor #6 offers:

  • Strong choice of colour and details.
  • Strong character connection scenes.
  • Themes of the environment, and identity.

This issue contains minor spoilers for Thor #6

Colour throughout the comic builds up a specific tone for each scene. Background details in the comic show off key points of identity for Roz Soloman and Dario Agger.

While early scenes in the comic deal with Dario Agger’s past, a scene on Asgardia shows off the miraculous colours of the Bifrost bridge, and gold clockwork that drive Asgard’s connection between worlds.

Colour effectively lays out the main emotional moments of the comic. Dario Agger’s past is painted with black and blood red. Thor takes down a horde of trolls under fiery orange light. Thor, hammerless, laments his loss of worthiness, and sombre blue light floods the page. Jane Foster rests in the Asgardian Hall of Medicine, which is surrounded by Sakura pink trees. Their colour and falling petals set a romantic tone when hammerless Thor visits Jane during her rest.

Background details in the art are also effective. Dario Agger and Ros Solomon both have forms of identification turn up as background art. Ros’ SHEILD identity card appears in one scene. Agger is surrounded by framed, poster sized copies of his appearances on the covers of Forbes, the New York Bulletin, Fortune, and Time. Agger has a tiger skin thrown casually over an expensive couch in his office. His ego, and disdain for the environment laid down in past Thor comics continues in Thor #6

Several key connections between characters are made here, which speeds their development: Dario Agger and Malekith, Thor and Jane Foster. Thor meets with a popular SHIELD agent on his search for the new Thor.

Malekith of Svartalheim discusses a business deal with Dario Agger. Heimdall hints at the significants of this connection. He
observes many meetings and events that he passes on to the hammerless Thor. But hammerless Thor is far more interested in identifying the name and face of the new Thor.

The woman wielding mjolnir is mostly absent from this comic. With the help of a popular SHIELD agent, Thor crosses names off his list – yes, he has made a list of women he thinks are the new Thor – and moves toward the last name of that list.

Thor’s handwriting is excellent, which belies the savage fighting style he has adopted when wielding his axe, Jarnbjorn. without the hammer, Thor’s loss of identity grows further in this issue. Jane Foster comments on his taking of the name “Odinson”. She says “you’re so much more than just your father’s child.”

While the environment themes continue here, identity emerged as a large theme – connections and ties with others builds identity rather than only names, property, or physical attributes.

The large scale environment theme still continues, linking this comic together with recent Thor comics. Dario Agger is not interested in the wildlife found on Malekith’s world. He only wants to know if elves ever drill for oil.

Identity is a larger, new theme that is brought out in this comic. Property, physical appearance, talents, and names are all mentioned or appear while Thor searches for the identity of the new Thor. The comic collects together all the items that a person might use to define their identity.

A value emerges close to the end of the comic. Apart from names, property, and appearance, connections with others that define identity. What catalyses and mobilises a person’s identity, or even god’s in this case, is connections. Thor’s identity is clarified when he meets with Jane. Malekith and Dario Agger

A QR code that appears on Jane Foster’s SHEILD identification card is a link to her marvel.wikia.com page

Thor #6 is published by Marvel Comics ($3.99 USD) Jason Aaron (W.) Russel Dauterman (A.) Matthew Wilson (C.) VC’s Joe Sabino (L. & P.) Cover artwork by Dauterman and Wilson.

The Wicked + The Devine #8 – Comic Review

Despite having only two years to live their lives and use their powers, the incarnated gods of The Wicked + The Devine head in a more relaxed direction. The Wicked + The Devine #8 offers:

  • Artwork that plays with, modifies, and stretches perceptions on panel arrangements
  • Art choices that interact with character development effectively.
  • A value: taking steps to reduce others heavy and problematic emotions is a good thing, even
    if personally costly.

Dionysius’ altered states are created through contact. This contact high introduces wild colour to the comic, and shifted perceptions on panel arrangements.

The artwork for this comic takes a leap into a new direction. Contact with the most recently introduced god, Dionysius, creates an altered state. Laura, the protagonist, describes the sensation as vintage acid. Parties created by Dionysius are a  shifting parade of colour. The artwork captures a glimpse into this altered state. It is the panel arrangements, however, that bring the altered state to life.

Following a moment of contact with Dionysius, Laura starts to see numbers appear in front of her.

The panels are a close portrait shot of Laura. The numbers are layered, transparent, over her. They act as a guide to the reader what order the page can be read.

It’s a clever way to warp the reading order and basic perception of panel arrangements on a page. While the party continues, the numbers appear in two by four grids across each page. The comic story reads from the top left to the lower right each single page. Alternatively, the events can unfold across two adjacent pages, following the sequence of numbers. the pages could also be read diagonally. Dionysius also makes a reference to his powers causing heart rates to accelerate to 120 beats per minute. The numbers are a representation of these rapid heartbeats.

Colour choices are also changed dramatically by character. When the dour, underground god Baphomet arrives at the party, the neon-acid glow that Dionysius brought to the party goers drains from their heads down to their feet, leaving black shadows on the floor. Black ink fills the gutters between panels. These two deities powers are entirely opposed to each other.

The Party brings the characters together, and contrast them. Art choices interact with character development, and it becomes clear that heavy emotions bring down Dionysius’ happy, altered state.

Contrast between opposing characters is highlighted in this comic. The party brings together most of the cast. Cassandra, a journalist cataloguing the deities behaviour, contrasts with Laura. Cassandra has not taken Dionysius party drug. Dressed in black, she is a monochrome opposite to Laura‘s garish glow.

Art choices also interact with character development. Line and colour choices give significant insights into the past and current relationship between Inanna and Baal. When they meet, the smooth trails of light – white lines – that the characters leave behind them as they dance change to wavy lines the moment Baal and Inanna are close. As Inanna explains to Laura how their brief relationship collapsed, the light from Dionysius party effect drains from them.

Heavy emotion brings down the happy, altered state Dionysius pours out into the space around him.

Delving deeper into Dionysius’ personality allows a value to emerge. Laura is half correct in her insights about the party god. The comic takes the The Wicked + The Devine in a new direction.

In two years, this group of talented human deities – just like popular musicians and artists trending on social media and performing on tours around the world – will be gone. In the comic, the ending is more severe and more final with the death of the gods. They burn bright in the short time they have. The comic takes a moment to examine the toll that burning bright in a short time frame takes.

Dionysius has not been alone in his head for two months, and does not sleep. His eyes are a red and inflamed.

The god reveals to Laura that while he looks happy on the outside, the truth is not glamorous. Laura is half correct about her summary of Dionysius. He is trying to help by making people happy. He is not happy though. The value that emerges here is that relief from heavy emotion is a good thing. Even if it’s personally costly, doing something to alleviate others heavier, problematic emotional states with a happy state is a good thing.

Specifically, Dionysius literally gives people a safe contact high. A party god, he stores his guests coats in a pocket dimension. These are important details, which help take The Wicked + The Devine in a new direction.

The Wicked + The Devine #8 is published by Image comics ($3.50 USD) Kieron Gillen (W.) Jamie McKelvie (A.) Matthew Wilson (C.) Clayton Cowles (L.) Cover artwork by Jamie McKelvie.

Klarion #5 – Comic Review

The gifted witch boy Klarion fights against what he sees as an undisciplined foe. Klarion himself is not a hero, however, and shuns responsibility when it suits him. Klarion #5 offers:

  • Unorthodox but effective art choices.
  • An interesting central character.
  • A discipline versus easy power theme
  • The message: technology use must be responsible at the very least.

Despite opening with strange dialogue, unorthodox but effective panel arrangements provide strong and colourful images. With clever wordplay, the comic closes with a powerful scene for Klarion.

The comic opens with a flurry of strange new words. The language might be confusing at first. The comic introduces the characters inside Klarion’s pocket universe. Panel arrangements are unorthodox, but well chosen. Space on the page is balanced with small dialogue balloons.

Overall, the layout presentation is strong. Detailed choices, such as the use of dark blue with bright red and yellow contrast well with some neon bright highlights around large, weird shapes in the background of Klarion’s pocket universe.

Other key details contained in the comic include a clever use of wordplay, and hard, harsh lines around panels for scenes with the villain of the comic contrasted with softer, curved lines for scenes with more heroic, magical characters.

As an examples of the wordplay, Klarion digs through data to find information on the villain on the comic – a time traveller named Coal – saying “I need dirt on Coal”.

The final page shows Klarion summoning a flock of ravens. His pre-battle speech brings together all the themes of the comic. Hundreds of black birds engulfed in light fly around him as he summons a bolt of blue lightening.

Technology versus magic makes up the core conflict of the comic. Through Klarion’s fight with Coal, a theme of discipline versus easy power emerges. Consumers who take Coals technology have a strange experience ahead of them.

The narrative conflict of the comic is Klarion choosing to face off against Coal. The villain Coal comes from the future, and is using powerful technology from that time period. His technological gift is eaten, which grants the consumer some useful abilities. Things become strange when the buddy bot system activates, and a tiny, rapidly growing android slips out of the consumers left palm.

It’s interesting to see right down to the core of the comic’s idea. Arthur C. Clarke’s statement that “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic” is the kernel idea here.

There is a sub-narrative about artificial intelligence, and parenting. It’s this sub-narrative that helps build Klarion as an anti-hero. It’s interesting Klarion would criticise Coal for selling a technology that gives easy power without discipline since he consumes the Buddy Bot system himself for extra power, but walks away from the responsibility and duty of care that comes when his own Buddy Bot emerges.

Technology used irresponsibly without discipline is shown as a dangerous addiction. Useful sorcery is shown as an exact discipline. If the two are not so different, with magic being explained as advanced tech, a message that tech must be used responsibly plays out.

Technology squaring off against magic, in this comic, brings out theme of discipline versus easy power. Klarion’s point of view gives all the information needed to build up this theme. While he is a conflicted anti-hero, and potentially an unreliable narrator, his perspective is consistent.

He compares magic and sorcery to the exactitude and discipline of learning to play an instrument, moreover conduct an orchestra. Magic is put on the same level as forces of nature, and the disciple and industry of Daedulus, the inventor mention in Greek myth concerning the Minotaur, the flight of Icarus.

Technology is compared to Icarus flying to fly to quickly, and burning up from harsh sunlight. Technology  is a drug, and a source of addiction.

It’s in these scenes placed through the narrative that themes of discipline versus easy power emerge. If the two are not so different, with magic being explained as advanced tech, a message that tech must be used responsibly plays out

It’s also worth pointing out that the Buddy Bot System that emerges from the consumer can be seen as similar to the Greek god Athena, who sprung forth from her father Zeus. Two references to Greek Myth in one comic appear here. A strange and weird story overall, but with an interesting theme, message, and character.

Klarion #5 is published by DC Comics ($2.99 USD). Ann Nocenti (W.) Trevor McCarthy and Szymon Kudranski (A.) Guy Major (C.) Pat Brosseau (L.) Cover artwork by Raymond Bermudez.