Dune is Breathtaking. I Was Having Trouble Breathing

Dune is Breathtaking. I Was Having Trouble Breathing

The Villeneuve Dune is breathtaking. I was literally having trouble breathing during the closing scenes. While I watched, I kept mulling over why this version works so well and Lynch’s fails so badly. Lynch is a genius; he had a strong cast; he had enormous financial resources to deploy.

Villeneuve might just be more in touch with this kind of story. (Despite the POV drifting in and out of consensus reality, Dune is not Eraserhead.) But a more important factor is time.

Lynch’s Dune was 137 minutes long in its theatrical cut. Villeneuve’s Dune is nearly 20 minutes longer and it only takes the audience near (but not quite all the way) to the end of the novel’s Book One, covering less than half the story. The completed version could easily run to more than 6 hours. Lynch simply wouldn’t have been allowed to create a movie that massive in the mid-80s.

Read More Read More

New Treasures: The Year’s Best Science Fiction Volume 2 edited by Jonathan Strahan

New Treasures: The Year’s Best Science Fiction Volume 2 edited by Jonathan Strahan

The Year’s Best Science Fiction, Volume 2 (Saga Press, September 2021). Cover design by Richard Yoo

Year’s Best Science Fiction anthologies have been popular for seven decades — since Everett F. Bleiler and T. E. Dikty published The Best Science Fiction Stories: 1949 — but one thing hasn’t changed. You can still tell the hottest writers in the genre by whose names get plastered on the covers. So I was very curious to see who make the grade in Jonathan Strahan’s latest, a huge, nearly Dozois-sized volume crammed with top-notch writers like Alastair Reynolds, Rich Larson, Pat Cadigan, Maureen McHugh, Suzanne Palmer, and many others. For the record, here’s the official list:

Charlie Jane Anders
Max Barry
Sarah Gailey
Yoon Ha Lee
Ken Liu
Usman T. Malik
Tochi Onyebuchi

Jonathan’s The Year’s Best Science Fiction, Volume 2 was released in trade paperback just a few weeks ago. Tor.com calls this installment “a must-read for anyone who enjoys the vast and exciting world of science fiction.” Here’s a snippet from Reading Llama‘s enthusiastic coverage.

Read More Read More

Fantasia 2021, Part XXXXVIII: Born Of Woman 2021

Fantasia 2021, Part XXXXVIII: Born Of Woman 2021

For each of the past several years Fantasia’s gathered together short genre films by women into annual showcase presentations called Born of Woman. I’ve seen all of them, and they’ve all been strong collections. So I was eager to see this year’s version, with eight films from six different countries.

The first was “Lucid,” from Canada, directed by Deanna Milligan from a script by Claire E. Robertson. It’s a 17-minute story about Mia (Caitlin Taylor), an art student in the early 1990s, who presents her class with a self-portrait that’s critiqued remorselessly. The movie that follows shows her digging deep into herself to find a project that will give her a good grade, and presents us with the gory yet oddly cheery results. The film looks very nice, with lush saturated colour, and an impressive long travelling shot at the start following Mia into and through her school. I found the period background didn’t come out very much, though that may be a function of the film trying to speak to the art world and art trends of that time, with which I am basically unfamiliar. At any rate, it’s a funny, weird, and engagingly gross movie.

Next was “Inheritance,” a 14-minute American movie written and directed by Annalise Lockhart, about a Black family in Vermont who are haunted by still silent White ghosts. When the youngest of the family of three, Norra (Victoria A. Villier), inherits the deed to her family’s cottage she sees the ghosts for the first time, and we follow her as she tries to find a way to free herself and her family from constant surveillance on their own property. The end’s a bit surreal, moving from horror or dark fantasy to science-fictional themes with a traditionally Vermont flavour; the way out of past threats is in this case Afrofuturist technology. It works, but there’s also some ambiguity in the solution Norra and her family find. Still, the story has a strong feel, establishing its characters as rich individuals, and memorably insisting on their dignity.

Read More Read More

Guran strikes again! The Year’s Best of Dark Fantasy & Horror, Volume 2

Guran strikes again! The Year’s Best of Dark Fantasy & Horror, Volume 2

The Year’s Best of Dark Fantasy & Horror, Volume 2 (Pyr, October 2021)

Widely known, well respected, prolific editor of dark fiction Paula Guran returns with a new volume of her Year’s Best of Dark Fantasy & Horror. This new, huge anthology collects thirty short stories that previously appeared in 2020 in various books and magazines.

Clearly it would be impossible (and tedious) to comment upon each one, hence I will only mention those which especially impressed me. In other words my personal “best” among Guran’s best.

“Recognition” by Victor Lavalle is a disquieting story set in a New York apartment building where flats are vacated little by little during the first COVID outbreak, while “ Odette” by Zen Cho is the neat description of the difficult relationship between a young orphan, her stern uncle, and the house where they live.

Read More Read More

Fantasia 2021, Part XXXXVII: Kakegurui 2: Ultimate Russian Roulette

Fantasia 2021, Part XXXXVII: Kakegurui 2: Ultimate Russian Roulette

Last year I reviewed a movie called Kakegurui (映画 賭ケグルイ, Eiga: Kakegurui). This year served up Kakegurui 2: Ultimate Russian Roulette (also Kakegurui Part 2: Desperate Russian Roulette, originally 映画 賭ケグルイ絶体絶命ロシアンルーレット, Kakegurui the Movie: Zettai Zetsumei Russian Roulette), the second movie in the franchise, like the first directed by Tsutomu Hanabusa and co-written by him with Minato Takano. And this is indeed a franchise; starting with a manga (written by Homura Kawamoto and illustrated by Toru Naomura) it branched out to an anime, a live-action TV show (streaming on Netflix), and these two live-action films starring the cast of the TV show — as well as spin-off manga, light novels, and a now-discontinued video game. After being entertained by the first movie last year I added the show to my Netflix queue, although I haven’t watched it yet (I have only so much time to dedicate to watching TV, and the Criterion Channel has a lot of films and many of them are really good). The second movie played this year’s Fantasia bundled with the first one, and remembering that there was a lot of plot in the first, I decided to check it out again and then catch the sequel.

What I said last year still applies. The movies are set at a private school in Japan for the rich and powerful, with no adults or fixed classes; the curriculum is entirely based around gambling, as students bet vast sums in complex games of chance. Students who lose too much money become the pets of the winners, kitties if girls and doggies if boys. A tyrannical student council oversees the whole affair, but is troubled by a mysterious transfer student named Yumeko (Minami Hamabe, also of Ajin: Demi-Human), our heroine. The first movie follows events at the school as a village of anti-gambling students secede from the main campus.

Read More Read More

Goth Chick News: The New World That Is Wizard World Chicago

Goth Chick News: The New World That Is Wizard World Chicago

As life cautiously assumes a stance something close to, if not entirely, “normal,” some of the most anticipated events are finally sliding back into the Goth Chick News calendar.

It’s no surprise that pop-culture conventions took an especially hard hit in 2020, which saw large, in-person events cancelled across the globe. Wizard World put on some of the biggest conventions in the US, hosting annual cons in six cities; Chicago, Philadelphia, New Orleans, Portland, Cleveland, and St. Louis. This year, Wizard World Chicago was back, albeit later that its usual September dates, but with another significant change. Fan Expo, which already runs almost a dozen events across North America, has just acquired the rights to Wizard World conventions.

Read More Read More

Fantasia 2021, Part XXXXVI: Agnes

Fantasia 2021, Part XXXXVI: Agnes

Last year at Fantasia I reviewed a movie called Climate of the Hunter, directed and co-written by Mickey Reece, an underground filmmaker who’s made over two dozen features. Reece is back this year with Agnes, a strange take on exorcism and nunsploitation films, which like Climate he co-wrote with John Selvidge. It’s a bit like Climate in that it takes horror-movie conventions and upends them; I think it’s overall more successful, though I’m not sure it works overall.

Agnes opens at a convent where a young nun, Agnes (Hayley McFarland), has apparently become possessed by a demon. To take care of the matter the Catholic hierarchy sends a veteran priest, Father Donaghue (Ben Hall, in Climate last year and also at Fantasia this year with a role in What Josiah Saw) and a bright-eyed idealistic younger acolyte named Benjamin (Jake Horowitz). Things do not proceed as planned. And then comes the midpoint of the movie, and the story jumps ahead in time, and the plot of the first half is largely abandoned to follow a secondary character from the convent, Mary (Molly C. Quinn), who is now trying to make her way in the world despite all the things she’s seen and the doubts she now has about her God.

The two halves of the picture have different tones. The first half, surprisingly, has more comedy. Father Donaghue is funny and charismatic. The nuns are eccentric, but human, and Mary Buss as the Mother Superior in particular is both of those things as the problem of Agnes continues to resist easy exorcism. And then in the second half Mary in the outside world faces a colder reality. Not only is there not much obvious genre content, there also isn’t any obvious sense of the divine or of otherworldly powers.

Read More Read More

Weirdbook Annual #3: Zombies: Available now!

Weirdbook Annual #3: Zombies: Available now!

Cover by Fotolia

Wildside Press, ‎ 295 pages. ISBN 978-1479463312

(US Amazon prices: $3.99 Kindle/ $15.00 Paperback/  $29.99 Hardcover)

Zombies! Available now for your Halloween needs!

In 2015, Douglas Draa resurrected Weirdbook with issue #31 (the weird fiction magazine had been dormant since 1997). Fast forward to 2021, and issue #44 is now available. In addition to the core issues, there are themed anthologies spawning. Annual #1 Witches came out in 2017; and Annual #2: Cthulhu appeared in 2019 (discussed on Black Gate).

This year, for Annual #3, Weirdbook challenged authors to come up with memorable takes on zombies. The result is this fantastic collection of 34 new stories. Draa looked for tales that were fun, entertaining and scary. He also wanted fresh meat (i.e., he didn’t want to serve up a bunch of Romeroesque, plague zombies).

Read More Read More

Ellsworth’s Cinema of Swords: Mash-Up or Shut Up

Ellsworth’s Cinema of Swords: Mash-Up or Shut Up

Zorro and the Three Musketeers (Italy, 1963)

Everyone likes crossovers and mash-ups, right? If you’re a fan of two heroes in the same genre, then of course you’d like to see a story in which they meet and confront a challenge together. That is the commercial calculation for crossovers in every medium, whether it’s comics, games, TV shows, or movies. It’s assumed a crossover or mash-up is a sure thing that will draw in the fans of both franchises. It’s a no-brainer.

In principle, maybe, but not in practice. In practice, the story or personality elements that create the appeal of one character don’t always fit comfortably with the elements of another. Zorro and the Three Musketeers, for example: all cheerful swashbucklers, but the musketeers are a disparate bunch that rely on teamwork, while Zorro is fundamentally a loner, so mashing them together in a coherent and credible plot is a task that shouldn’t be underestimated, calling for a top-notch screenwriter. Or what if you put together two characters like Yojimbo and Zatoichi, each of whom usually functions as the fulcrum of the plot? What do you do with two fulcrums? Solving these problems can be a high bar to get over, and sometimes a low-budget genre picture just isn’t up to it.

Though one has to admit, Zatoichi Meets the One-Armed Swordsman actually pulls it off.

Read More Read More

Fantasia 2021, Part XXXXV: Glasshouse

Fantasia 2021, Part XXXXV: Glasshouse

“Cloud” is a 29-minute film from France, directed by Joséphine Darcy Hopkins and written by Hopkins with Jean-Jacques Kahn. Hopkins is part of Les Films de la Mouche, a collective that (per ScreenAnarchy) aims to “mix very personal obsessions with ‘genre grammar.’” That’s visible here, in a story about a radioactive cloud descending on a small town, which prompts 15-year-old Eugénie (Cypriane Gardin) to run away with her friend Capucine (Solène Rigot) and Capucine’s ailing mother (Catherine Salée). The movie takes some unpredictable twists, and spends much of its time as an unusual character-centred buddy movie. It looks very nice, with some lovely natural backgrounds in a forest at night and among the mountains by day; the threat of the cloud is sometimes distant, but never entirely absent, flavouring the story with a science-fictional overtone. I thought the ending was a touch too ambiguous, but then again it’s difficult to see a better resolution.

Along with the short came Glasshouse, a post-apocalyptic tale from South Africa and director Kelsey Egan, who co-wrote with Emma De Wet. It’s set some time in the future, when Earth’s atmosphere’s been contaminated by a plague called the Shred, which destroys human memories. One small family — consisting of an old matriarch (Adrienne Pearce), three sisters, and a brain-blasted brother (Brent Vermeulen) — all live together holed up in an expansive greenhouse, a self-sufficient ecosystem where the plants create clean air (don’t ask where the family’s protein comes from, because I don’t know and the film isn’t really interested in that kind of detail). A mysterious stranger (Hilton Pelser) enters the house from outside, his memories apparently more-or-less intact, disrupting the family dynamic and unearthing old secrets. The oldest sister, Bee (Jessica Alexander) is drawn to him; the mother is more suspicious.

Read More Read More