Fantasia 2019, Day 10, Part 3: The Incredible Shrinking Wknd

Wednesday, August 28th, 2019 | Posted by Matthew David Surridge

The Incredible Shrinking WkndThe evening of July 20 saw me stay at the De Sève Theatre after the Born of Woman showcase for a feature film written and directed by Jon Mikel Caballero: The Incredible Shrinking Wknd. It’s a time-loop story, a subgenre that strikes me as having increased in popularity significantly over the past few years. We’re at the point, then, that a time-loop story has to do something different to stand out. So what does Wknd do?

It’s the story of Alba (Iria del Rio), newly turned 30, who’s spending a weekend partying at a cottage in the country with a group of acquaintances as well as her boyfriend of three years or so, Pablo (Adam Quintero). Alba’s generally thoughtless and lives for the day; despite having spent time at the cottage when she was young, she forgets to bring bottled water to a house with no indoor plumbing. Pablo wants something more, and in an argument one night breaks up with Alba. And then, not long after, reality resets and Alba gets to live through the weekend again. And again, and again; and then she notices the weekend’s getting shorter, and the time she has to live through is dwindling.

I’ll note to start with that the movie’s technically well-done. It looks very fine, with colours that establish moods, and a good variety of visually-interesting natural settings. Iria del Rio gives Alba a charismatic energy while making it clear that charisma’s covering up a certain kind of emptiness; there’s less to Alba than there appears, in a nicely-calculated way.

Narratively, the movie’s clever, almost a necessity in a time-loop story. The dialogue’s solid, and there’s a very nice visual idea (best left for the viewer to discover) that brings out the way the weekend’s shrinking. That twist itself is handled well, giving an increasing sense of tension as well as contrasting nicely with Alba’s tendency to care only about the present.

It gets a little odd in that Alba herself doesn’t reset, which becomes a minor plot point. If she gets drunk in one go-round, say, she’s hungover in the next. This is perhaps a way to talk about consequences, but it raises questions about the mechanism by which the time-loop exists in the first place and whether matter’s actually being transported through time. This is a film largely uninterested in such questions, though, and indeed the lack of concern with why the loop exists and why it works as it does is one of The Incredible Shrinking Wknd’s more frustrating aspects.

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Feet: Pedipulator, Walking Truck

Wednesday, August 28th, 2019 | Posted by Steve Carper

1962-01-31 [Pittsfield MA] Berkshire Eagle 1 pedipulator headline

1962-07-24 Allentown [PA] Morning Call 21 pedipulator illus cropped - Copy

“Machine Walks on Moon” doesn’t have nearly the headline power as “Man Walks on Moon,” but for a short time in the early 1960s the U.S. Army funded a project for a moon walker.

The “Pedipulator,” as General Electric’s ordnance department in Pittsfield, MA, called it, was a concept vehicle. The concept, all but admitted in so many words by ordnance GM Gene R. Peterson, was to pump money into GE. Cold war spending in the US/USSR missile race had boosted employment in the department by 250%. They needed something to do. So they turned, once again, to the incredibly fertile mind of Ralph Mosher, whose Man-Mate, Handyman, and Hardiman I talked about in my last column.

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Fantasia 2019, Day 10, Part 2: The Born of Woman 2019 Short Film Showcase

Tuesday, August 27th, 2019 | Posted by Matthew David Surridge

LiliOn the afternoon of Saturday, July 20, I passed by the De Sève Theatre for the Born of Woman 2019 series of short genre films directed by women. It was the fourth iteration of the showcase, and in four years it’s become a hot ticket; I nearly didn’t get in. But there was just space enough in the end, and so I was able to see the collection of 9 films representing half-a-dozen countries.

The showcase started with “Lili,” a 9-minute piece written and directed by Yfke Van Berckelaer. An actress (Lisa Smit), Lili, comes to audition for a role. The camera’s fixed on her, the man (Derek De Lint) she’s reading for unseen. He seems receptive to what she brings on her first reading, but has her try the dialogue again, and again, pushing her more and more. You can see what’s coming, and what the reversal will be, but the movie works because the slowly pushing-in camera’s a disturbingly effective point of view, because Smit in particular is very good in her part, and because the dialogue’s cleverly and subtly ironic.

The art of sequencing a short film showcase can be overlooked, but in this case the arrangement of the shorts (most of which, in my opinion, were extremely strong to start with) was perfect. A good case in point was following “Lili” with the melancholic “Sometimes, I Think About Dying,” a 12-minute story from director Stefanie Abel Horowitz from a play by Kevin Armento, adapted by Horowitz, Armento, and Katy Wright-Mead, who also stars. It’s the story of Fran (Wright-Mead), a quiet, depressed woman who makes a connection with a male co-worker, Robert (Jim Sarbh). Will she be able to come out of her shell enough to maintain a relationship?

The movie’s almost unbearably painful in its portrait of a woman lacking in self-confidence. At the same time, Fran’s oddly sympathetic, so that by extension Robert feels like a lifeline for her. The orbit of the two of them is well-crafted, and the film really lands solidly because it knows where to end — not just what point of the story, but what seems like the exact right frame of film to end on.

Then different again was Australian writer-director Adele Vuko’s “The Hitchhiker,” about three women driving through the night to reach a music festival. Jade (Liv Hewson), the driver, picks up a hitchhiker (Brooke Satchwell), in part to distract her friends from innocent questions cutting near to a secret Jade doesn’t wish to reveal. The hitchhiker has a secret of her own, though, which only becomes clear once the friends pull in to a roadside bar.

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Not Your Typical Hero

Tuesday, August 27th, 2019 | Posted by S.M. Carrière

God of war

Good morning, Readers!

On occasion, I review video games for the site chalgyr.com. It’s really just a small thing I do every so often, when I’ve finished playing a game.  Currently, I’m working my way through Far Cry Primal, and enjoying it immensely. Not too long ago, though, I played through the latest iteration of God of War. I enjoyed the older God of War games on a very surface level. I moved my avatar, rage-incarnate, Kratos, across the screen and used him to utterly obliterate my enemies. I felt nothing for Kratos, and despite cut scenes that were designed to make him at least a little sympathetic, I wasn’t particularly attached to his story. There is nothing compelling or appealing about the embodiment of toxic rage. I played for the mayhem and the silly fun.

Then came old man Kratos and his son, and everything changed.

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Reading the Classic Comics: Lazarus by Greg Rucka and Michael Lark

Monday, August 26th, 2019 | Posted by Derek Kunsken

Lazarus One-small Lazarus 4-small

It’s wonder to be living not only in a golden age of prose science fiction, but in a golden age of comics. The only downside is that it becomes nearly impossible to keep up with every title that ought to be read.

Case in point, I just watched the Hugo awards in Dublin. It was a great set of winners, voted from an impressive ballot. Pretty much any nominee could have won without shocking anyone. I left Dublin resolved to do my best to read the works I’d missed. But first, I had to make more progress in my comic book backlog.

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Fantasia 2019, Day 10, Part 1: Ride Your Wave

Monday, August 26th, 2019 | Posted by Matthew David Surridge

Ride Your WaveOn Saturday, July 20, I was down at the Hall Theatre bright and early — relatively speaking — for an 11 AM showing of Ride Your Wave (Kimi to, nami ni noretara, きみと、波にのれたら), an animated feature from director Masaaki Yuasa. I’d seen two of Yuasa’s previous works, Lu Over the Wall and the excellent Night Is Short, Walk On Girl, and was eager to see what was in store this time around. As it turns out, Ride Your Wave, written by Reiko Yoshida, is a solid story that in a quiet way keeps doing unexpected things. It’s a romance, and then it isn’t; it’s a realistic story, and then it really isn’t. It’s a little reminiscent of Night Is Short, but is nowhere near as strange as that movie. Still, it does what it does quite well.

It follows Hinako (Rina Kawaei), a surfer and oceanography student, as she moves back to the coastal town where she lived as a child in order to go to university. There, she meets Minato (Ryôta Katayose), a young firefighter. They embark on an intense relationship — and then things go awry. It is in what happens next that the film perhaps gains its identity, though it’s worth preserving the twist that sets it up; enough to say that the supernatural manifests through water, in a kindly way. The question, then, is where the characters go, and particularly how Hinako will develop as a person.

That sounds vague, and Ride Your Wave isn’t. But it does take enough surprising turns it’s difficult to talk about as a story without giving away things better left to the film. So let me say this: it consistently nails the emotional tones it tries to evoke, and is a solidly-built story with a theme that slowly emerges of Hinako’s personal growth. It is a movie about her self-realisation, her coming of age, and it manages that in a surprising and touching way. It is a movie about sacrifice, and heroism, and letting things go, and it powerfully combines them all in Hinako’s story and background.

(I will note that there is one peculiar note. We learn something about how Minato and Hinako first met, or at least when they first met, that Minato knows but does not reveal to Hinako. It’s an odd choice to have him not tell her this thing, though it’s perhaps true that it comes to nothing. Still, it darkens Minato in a way I’m not sure was intended, turning him into a keeper of secrets, however benign.)

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A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Hugh B. Cave’s Peter Kane

Monday, August 26th, 2019 | Posted by Bob Byrne

Cave_KaneCoverEDITED“You’re the second guy I’ve met within hours who seems to think a gat in the hand means a world by the tail.” – Phillip Marlowe in Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep

(Gat — Prohibition Era term for a gun. Shortened version of Gatling Gun)

Matt Moring of Steeger Books (and Altus Press, and Black Mask, and…) allowed me to write the introduction to Hugh B. Cave’s The Complete Cases of Peter Kane. Matt has kindly let me reproduce that intro as an entry here for A (Black) Gat in the Hand.

Hugh B. Cave was the last of the great pulpsters. From hundreds of short stories in the pulp magazines of the thirties, to his final novel in 2004, Cave wrote over a thousand shorts and over three dozen novels. He was also a war reporter and later even owned and managed a coffee plantation in Jamaica.

While H.P. Lovecraft, Clark Ashton Smith, August Derleth and Robert E. Howard are better remembered for weird menace/horror stories, Cave is worthy of standing alongside them. But early in his career, Cave also wrote extensively in the mystery field.

He was one of the few to write for the last three (named) editors of the king of mystery pulps, Black Mask: the legendary Joseph ‘Cap’ Shaw, Fanny Ellsworth and Kenneth S. White.

Black Mask’s major competition came in the form of Dime Detective Magazine, which touted itself as “twice as good – for half the price” (Black Mask cost 20 cents at the time; though the price would shortly drop to 15 cents, in part due to Dime Detective’s success at the cheaper cost).

Editor Kenneth White (the same mentioned above) was instructed to lure as many writers from Black Mask as he could, paying an extra penny a word as enticement. And with a going rate of one to two cents for pulp writers (Black Mask’s three cents a word was indicative of its standing and quality in the field), the four cent rate made a significant difference to writers. As the prolific Erle Stanley Gardner supposedly replied to observations that he always seemed to use his hero’s last bullet to knock off the story’s antagonist:

“At three cents a word, every time I say ‘Bang’ in the story I get three cents. If you think I’m going to finish the gun battle while my hero still has fifteen cents worth of unexploded ammunition in his gun, you’re nuts.”

Writers were forbidden from doing novel serializations (The Maltese Falcon was first a serial) and were also instructed to create their own characters, which could not appear elsewhere, for the magazine. The onslaught was successful, with many of the era’s most popular writers switching to Dime Detective. Carroll John Daly (who brought the iconic Race Williams with him), Erle Stanley Gardner, Frederick Nebel and Norbert Davis (whose humorous stories were frequently rejected by Shaw but who flourished at his new home) were among those lured to Dime Detective.

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The Golden Age of Science Fiction: “Sandkings,” by George R.R. Martin

Monday, August 26th, 2019 | Posted by Steven H Silver

Cover by Peter Goodfellow

Cover by Peter Goodfellow

The Hugo Award was first presented at the 11th World Science Fiction Convention (sometimes called Philcon II), held in Philadelphia from September 5-7, 1953. No short fiction awards were presented the first year. In 1955, the first award for Best Novellette, not yet known as a Hugo Award, was given to Walter M. Miller, Jr.’s “The Darfsteller.” The award for Best Novelette was not presented in 1957 or 1958, returned in 1959 and then disappeared until 1967. It was on hiatus again from 1970 through 1972 and became a permanent ficture in 1973. The Hugo Awards are nominated and voted on by the members of the World Science Fiction Convention. Martin won two Hugo Awards in 1980, for “The Way of Cross and Dragon” in the Short Story Category and “Sandkings” in the Novelette category. He had previously won a Hugo for his novella “A Song for Lya” in 1975 and would win a second novella award for “Blood of the Dragon” as well as a Best Dramatic Presentation: Long Form Hugo for season 1 of Game of Thrones. The only fiction category in which he has not yet won a Hugo is the Best Novel category. In 1980, the Hugo Award was presented at Noreascon Two in Boston, Massachusetts on August 31.

The Locus Awards were established in 1972 and presented by Locus Magazine based on a poll of its readers. In more recent years, the poll has been opened up to on-line readers, although subscribers’ votes have been given extra weight. At various times the award has been presented at Westercon and, more recently, at a weekend sponsored by Locus at the Science Fiction Museum (now MoPop) in Seattle. The Best Book Publisher Award dates back to 1972, although in 1975 and 1976 the Publisher Award was split into paperback and hardcover categories. Ballantine Books won the award each year from its inception through 1977 (winning the paperback for the two experimental years with the Science Fiction Book Club winning the hardcover award). In 1978, when Del Rey was established as an imprint of Ballantine, Ballantine/Del Rey began winning the award. The award was not presented in 1979 for works published in 1978, but when it was reinstituted in 1980, Ballantine/Del Rey picked up its winning streak. In 1980. The Locus Poll received 854 responses.

In many ways, “Sandkings” is a predictable story. Simon Kress is depicted from the start as arrogant and cruel. Although the world of Baldur is not particularly well depicted, based on Kress’s personality and actions, the world seems to provide a breeding ground for a decadent society, at least the part of it that Kress is part of, although Martin does indicate that he has some sort of business that he must occasionally attend to which provides him with the means to pursue his decadent lifestyle, which centers on the collection, exhibition, and eventual discarding of various exotic animals/aliens.

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19 Movies That’ll Make You Think About Life, Love, Reality, And What It Means To Be Human

Sunday, August 25th, 2019 | Posted by ZZ Claybourne

Amelie poster-small Blade Runner poster-small Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory poster-small

There’s something about movies that fascinates us, likely because we’re so addicted to dreams we need them even awake. Whether laughing, crying, thinking, or longing, we need these special lenses to show our individual places within the world, to shape, guide, and make us — for a couple hours — want to be more than who we are.

Let’s look at a few movies that do precisely that so well, they transcend their medium.

LIFE

Life perplexes. Life mystifies. It teases, enraptures, amazes, enrages, and ultimately silences. The best films to capture the messy grandeur of life do all those things. The endings may not be clear-cut, the scripts at times largely improvised, characters will behave in ways we might not have predicted, but we love these movies for the heart they provide in an often uncomfortable world.

Amelie

If you’re one who never thought they’d see Amelie featured on Black Gate, welcome to Zig world. Everything is chance, even when we plan. Everything is wonderful, even when we cry. What if you could ensure that a life here and a life there would turn out a little brighter because of something you did? Would you do it? Amelie, by director Jean-Pierre Jeunet, is a delightful fantasy of questions accompanied by a sense of wonder, one that reinforces the truth that just because life isn’t tidy doesn’t mean we can’t tidy our corners of it.

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Fantasia 2019, Day 9, Part 2: J.R. “Bob” Dobbs and the Church of the Subgenius

Sunday, August 25th, 2019 | Posted by Matthew David Surridge

J.R. My second and last movie on July 19 was a documentary named for its subject: J.R. “Bob” Dobbs and the Church of the Subgenius (a film known in some quarters as Slacking Towards Bethlehem). Directed by Sandy K. Boone, it’s a history of a mock religion which got started more than 40 years ago, and still goes strong today.

It was begun by two bright misfit young men in the late 1970s, when Douglas Smith AKA Ivan Stang and Steve Wilcox AKA Philo Drummond took on aliases and began writing satirical pamphlets outlining the gospel and worldview of the Church of the Subgenius. They swiftly developed a specific tone and weird doctrine, praising the figure of J.R. “Bob” Dobbs, a piece of 1950s advertising clip art. “Bob” (there must always be quotation marks around his name) represented a quality called ‘slack,’ which was never really defined except that it was a good thing to have; organised religions, by contrast, did not have slack. At any rate, the Church of the Subgenius developed a complex set of myths around gods, mutants, and aliens, and began selling their pamphlets through the mail. They came along at the right time to take advantage of zine culture as it developed through the 80s, and more and more people wrote away for their strange handmade tracts sending up the whole idea of mythology and religion. Live events followed, including annual “devivals” at which the end of the world is expected and awaited with joy. All the while the Church maintained its basic parodic aim and attitude, and, still in existence, keeps up that attitude in the face of an increasingly bizarre reality.

The movie tells us the story of the Church through a basically chronological structure. There are extensive interviews with Church members, especially the two founders. Ivan Stang is the more voluble, slightly manic with an odd edge, a recurring figure through the documentary that anchors the film. There are also interviews with well-known members of the Church, like Paul Mavrides, Alex Cox, Richard Linklater, and Penn Jillette. And there is a lot of archival footage, some of it taken by members of the Church and some of it footage from TV news shows showing baffled reporters trying to cover a Church event.

There’s a certain amount of care taken to explain to the wired world the zine subculture of the 1980s. The Church of the Subgenius took off in that context, reaching people who risked sending a dollar to a perfect stranger to get something weird in exchange. In the days before the internet, zines were a way for largely-bright and largely-young people to connect with each other, with the Church perhaps one of the odder examples of this alternative culture. Time having passed, it has also proved one of the longer-lasting.

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