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  Belittling Horror Excessively: Patient Seven 08:54 PM -- Thu October 5, 2017  

WARNING! This post contains extensive spoilers for this movie. Watch the movie before reading! Or don't. You have been warned.

Patient Seven (2016)
Unrated
IMDB Says:
“The film centers on Dr. Marcus, a renowned psychiatrist who has chosen 6 severe mentally ill and dangerous patients from the Spring Valley Mental Hospital to interview as part of research for his new book. As Dr. Marcus interviews each patient, one by one the horrors they’ve committed begin to unfold. However, Dr. Marcus soon learns that there is one patient who ties them all together.”
IMDB Rating: 4.9/10
Metacritic Rating: N/A
Rotten Tomatoes: N/A critics, 29% audience
Solee: 4.5/5
Mikey: 4/5
We watched this on Amazon Prime.

Mikey: So you chose this movie (though from a list I made for potential consideration). I always like to know: what made you go with this one?

Solee: I like anything psychological. So when I saw that there was a psychiatrist and a mental hospital AND it was hinted that Dr. Marcus wasn’t as clean-cut as we might believe (I think that was in the Amazon Prime synopsis--something about wondering who really belonged in the hospital) … well, that hit all the right buttons for me.

Mikey: And then it slowly dawned on us after the first couple of patients… a SURPRISE ANTHOLOGY! Nobody expects the Surprise Anthology. This movie was actually a series of seven short films, all by different directors, stitched together with a wrap-around story of interviewing asylum patients.

Solee: I feel like it should be stated here that I LOATHE the idea of movie anthologies and if I had known it was an anthology I wouldn’t have picked it.

Mikey: But I love anthologies!

Solee: I SHOULD love anthologies. I’m all about the short story! But most movie anthologies are so poorly done. It’s not like in a book where you can turn the page, see a new title and adjust your mindset for something new. I find movie anthologies very jarring. Usually.

Mikey: Once we knew it was an anthology though, it was quite clear when a new one was starting. We even got flashy transitions. I was thinking during this movie that what is great about short stories is that, while someone will happily publish something completely rote in long-form (i.e. a zombie movie that is everything you’d expect, no surprises), they’ll routinely reject any short-form that doesn’t have some sort of twist or gimmick (usually). So you get a collection of fun and interesting twists, or at least attempts at them. Short stories are sort of like jokes in that sense - there’s almost always a punchline, which long-form movies/books often do not have. I think in this movie, we got that about half the time.

Solee: Related Aside: I've recently been addicted to the stories from a blog called Little Fears. Each story is VERY short, sometimes more of a long-form pun, and the author wrote a blog post about how people who buy his books get mad that they are filled with "jokes" instead of stories. Except that you are exactly right ... very short fiction is often built around a joke or gimmick of some kind. I think that's what I like about it: the unexpectedness of the endings. And this movie did that very well. Each piece was unique and interesting in some way.

Mikey: What made it hard to tell this was an anthology, besides the fact that they usually announce that in advance, is that the first story ends abruptly and really… there’s like no story to it at all. I’m honestly not sure what it was trying to say. So I left that ‘flashback’ assuming it was just the first piece of a connected larger story.

Solee: Me, too. I wonder if that was done intentionally to keep the “secret” of the anthology or if that was just a poorly chosen first story. It was more of a vignette, giving us a peek into the life of this poor little girl with the hallucinating mother. Also, it would have been more twisty if Dr. Marcus hadn’t told us what happened before it even started!

Mikey: That’s true. And then at the end of it, he said “and then you killed her”, which I found confusing because I can’t imagine a scenario how she could’ve possibly killed her mother from the point where it ended!

Solee: Several of them felt like they had been shoehorned rather roughly into the overall movie. Which is my main problem with anthologies. This one did better than most, in trying to make them all work together, but it was pretty clear to me that the writers/directors of the individual pieces weren’t told or didn’t care about the thread tying them all together.

Mikey: Yes, I got the impression that they put out a call for short films, collected them all, and then said “let’s come up with a way to connect these”. And didn’t do it very well. It would’ve actually been better if they hadn’t tried to make it so ‘connected’. Just make it the doctor reading some case files, and then we fade into the movie of the case file.

Solee: The problem there is that the main character of the piece often wasn’t even the person the doctor was interviewing! I really had a problem with JD’s story because of that. He wasn’t even IN the story really, and there he is in the hospital? The “recurring nightmare drives you crazy” explanation can only be used so often and to minimal success, if you ask me.

Mikey: That was ridiculous. I think it supports my theory - they clearly had no access to ANY of the actors involved in the shorts, so they came up with all these dumb connections to cover it - you were a kid back then, you were the ZOMBIE, you were just a dead body the whole time wrapped in plastic, you aren’t even from New Zealand so you try to fake the accent and sound cockney instead....

Solee: Aaahhhhh… I only just realized that is true! They didn’t have ANY of the same actors! Huh. All that aside, it’s still one of the better anthologies we’ve seen.

Mikey: I will confess to having a lot of fun the whole time. It’s always important to pick favorites and least favorites. So best/worst stories? Not counting the wrap-around which was the worst.

Solee: My favorite was … Sarah’s story: “The Sleeping Plot” (the little New Zealand girl scamming money to buy a shovel). I liked how silly it was while still being creepy. The color choices, the music, the girl’s acting choices … they all worked together to make it feel like sugary Saturday morning breakfast cereal, but with maggots at the bottom of the bowl. What was your favorite?

Mikey: That one was awesome actually. I also really enjoyed “The Body” (Theon Greyjoy as American Psycho), which was really weird, and really funny. It even had a random twist ending for no reason. Though I had a real problem with how nobody noticed that the feet hanging out of his dead body were absolutely undeniably real human feet, two inches from their faces, as they were carrying it. Could’ve just fully wrapped it to prevent that.

Solee: That was just the icing on the cake. I felt SO MUCH SYMPATHY for this poor murderer just trying to do his job, being harassed by all these idiots who were too stupid to even know the difference between real feet and fake feet. It was a workplace comedy like Office Space, only with murder. So what was your least favorite?

Mikey: One stands out as the worst for me pretty easily - the first one (“The Visitant”). It’s just not even a story at all. I get how it sort of has a twist, where we don’t quite know what reality is, but it’s more like one scene out of a much longer movie, and the monster is way way too visible, nothing scary about that.

Solee: Ah, but the special effects for that monster were a-MAZE-ing! I agree it wasn’t a whole story, but I loved the choices the director made in filming it, so I rank it higher than my least favorite: “Undying Love”, the zombie girlfriend. First of all, it was SOOOO slow to get going. I was bored. Secondly, that twist wasn’t all that twisty. I hadn’t figured it out, mostly because I was desperately trying to figure out if I had accidentally chosen an anthology movie at this point, but also because I was just not interested enough to care where it was going. And that is a very played out zombie twist. Shaun of the Dead did it better.

Mikey: Well, obviously! But that one I liked! You only had to sit through a few minutes of setup, and then BAM punchline, over. It hits hard with it because it works hard to make you think the opposite. And it did have a twist, unlike “The Evaded” (my 2nd-least-favorite), which was also a straightforward zombie story, only zero twist at all. Just “here’s the same dilemma we face in every zombie movie”. In other likes, “The Banishing” was good (though the exact twist from an episode of Angel), and “Death Scenes” was good. Almost the same twist. A good ratio of good to bad in here, I did enjoy it overall.

Solee: “The Banishing” and “Death Scenes” were also on the top of my list. I especially liked realizing that the vampire slayer had gotten himself arrested on purpose.

Mikey: Oh, but speaking of how lame it was that they didn’t have access to the actors, that connection was horrible. “You hired somebody to kill vampires for you”... ugh.

Solee: Hahaha! I totally didn’t realize that’s why they did that. I did wonder why the institutionalized guy (who looked plenty capable of killing things) was dedicated enough to stalk the vampires and make sure of their identities, but too dainty to actually kill them himself.

Mikey: Yeah, he looked like a vampire himself. Of course he hired someone who looked even more like one. Good short.

Solee: It had a subtle touch that I liked. The vampire slayer rearranged the pictures into a cross, which gave him the slight advantage he needed in that interrogation room. I liked that detail very much.

Mikey: Yep, I liked it. So, do we need to dive into ratings and wrap this up with a crazy wrap-around story about two people, who look nothing like us, reviewing movies on the internet?

Solee: I refuse to LIVE an anthology! I will rate this anthology though. Hmm … this might be a little high, but I’m going to be generous and give it a 4.5 out of 5. I enjoyed watching these shorts and I appreciate the effort that was put into making it more than just a bunch of taped together monster stories. And the skill and effort that went into each short was very obvious. These were done by people who clearly knew what they were doing and enjoyed doing it. That goes a long way in my book (Solee’s Big Book of Horror Movie Ratings).

Mikey: I can’t believe an anthology has scored a 4.5 in Solee’s Big Book. So hard to deal with that. Especially since it’s higher than what I had in mind! I had lots of fun and really enjoyed this, but that’s only a 4 from me. Dumb movie, but fun movie. Going out and finding short films to watch would be a pain, it’s nice of someone to collect them together for me, and then throw some cheese on them to tie them together.

Solee: Like movie spaghetti!

Mikey: I don’t usually tie my spaghetti, but you can. Tomorrow, we shall be watching The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974). The original! Stay tuned!
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  Belittling Horror Excessively: Cabin Fever 02:51 PM -- Wed October 4, 2017  

WARNING! This post contains extensive spoilers for this movie. Watch the movie before reading! Or don't. You have been warned.

Cabin Fever (2002)
Rated R
IMDB Says:
“A group of five college graduates rent a cabin in the woods and begin to fall victim to a horrifying flesh-eating virus, which attracts the unwanted attention of the homicidal locals.”
IMDB Rating: 5.6/10
Metacritic Rating: 56/100
Rotten Tomatoes: 63% critics, 44% audience
Solee: 3.5/5
Mikey: 3/5
We paid to watch this on Amazon.

Solee: So, we watched the original Cabin Fever last night. When you settled on this movie you told me, “I think this is going to be gory.” Is gory a category you enjoy? If so, what is it you like about this subgenre of horror movies?

Mikey: I did not lie to you, to be sure! I don’t care for gore. In general it is one of those things that I just am not interested in, but not particularly put off by. I do avert my eyes from things that are too awful, but it takes pretty awful to have that effect on me (or anything, however mild, involving eyes). So the gore, and the fact that I was fairly convinced that was the sole “merit” to this movie, is the reason I didn’t watch it all these years since it came out. I don’t need to watch something for the purpose of seeing gore. But people have said it was good, so I decided it was time to see.

Solee: Because of the gore and the lack of taking itself seriously, this movie reminded me--in a very vague sense--of a movie we watched last year. Can you guess which one?

Mikey: Maybe the same one I thought of at a point or two… House of 1000 Corpses?

Solee: YES! It is a bizarre combination of slyly hilarious and really disturbing. I’m a little concerned at how much I like that combination. House of 1000 Corpses did end up being my all-month favorite last year.

Mikey: I KNOW! I don’t think this was anywhere near on par, but the stylistic similarity was there. I think it’s the throwback to 70’s/80’s grungy horror. Always with a knowing wink, though. This was unquestionably one of those “director loves old movies from the genre so steals all he can from them” scenarios.

Solee: Which I do NOT have a problem with. Especially when it’s done well. This was … not done terribly. One of my notes is that the characters were all very tropey (the rich guy jerk, the good guy, the sexy girl, the girl next door, the redneck were all represented) BUT their stereotypes were established with just-nextdoor-to-normal things. For example, the loser/immature redneck left the campfire unattended to go shoot things and pee in the woods.

Mikey: Well, I think there was some reality and natural behavior brought into it. Like the good guy and his unrequited love, the way that played out was not strictly to trope, more like just a realistic situation. It was never over-the-top like “she loves him now” or “she thinks he’s a loser”, just sort of muddled.

Solee: Maybe that’s it. It felt less stereotypical because they acted like real people, not characters. For part of the time, that is.

Mikey: I think the comedic take on things gives you lots of leeway… if something is a stereotype, well you’re just kidding. If it’s not, then good for you for dodging stereotypes! If a scene comes across silly instead of good, that’s fine too. It’s the Chandler Technique.

Solee: Clever strategy. It worked on me! One of my favorite characters was Dennis. You know what they say about Dennis, right?

Mikey: Don’t sit next to him.

Solee: Yep! That was one of the jokes that had a callback later … what was that called?

Mikey: That’s a Brick Joke. They had two major ones in this movie, and it made them very funny to call way back to something you saw an hour ago, out of the blue.

Solee: I feel like Brick Jokes are a sign that the writer/director are clever and have a sense of humor. Which then makes the whole movie better. Anyway, what did you think of the plot? Unknown zombie-like pathogen meets gang of college kids on week-long vacation in the woods. Did the story work for you?

Mikey: One of the reasons I never saw this movie before is that I knew what it was about in a vague sense (an ordinary disease, no monsters or zombies), and I didn’t see how that sounded very interesting. But in practice, it actually was interesting as the driver to all kinds of crazy situations. All the quarantine madness and people violently protecting themselves against infection. Kind of the same issues as zombies, just with nobody (usually) trying to infect you intentionally. Or eat your brains. So I think it was a good idea for a movie, very different than anything else.

Solee: Throw in the fact that the locals are all loco and it was the perfect recipe for violent hijinks.

Mikey: Yes, it had to take place in this really goofy world of nutso people to really be fun, much like House of 1000 Corpses. You can probably make any story interesting by making all the people nuts.

Solee: It’s easy to take it too far or at least get the balance wrong and make those over the top characters ruin the movie though. Did you have a favorite bit in the movie?

Mikey: Hmm. I don’t know if it was actually fun enough for me to have a favorite bit that stands out. That’s why I say it wasn’t on par with the other movie… it was all riding around just below my level of deep appreciation. Like one thing I noticed was that I should have loved Dennis’ “Pancakes!!” scene, and I didn’t. It was okay, but you’d think all that craziness would’ve been amazing, and it was just okay. That’s sort of how I feel about the whole thing. It might not have gone crazy down quite the right avenue for me.

Solee: I remember feeling like I was going to rate it poorly as the final credits rolled last night, but as I look back at my notes, I’m actually remembering it fondly. I think that’s because I’m remembering the goofy and forgetting some of the really nasty stuff. OH. I just remember the really nastiest scene (which I don’t think we can describe due to our possible audience) and … blegh. It was REALLY a gross movie.

Mikey: Yep, that was definitely the goal of the movie for sure. I was surprised actually at how tame it was though. I can recall two scenes that were really too gross (the other was in a bathtub), and other than that nothing really grossed me out. There must have been 20 gallons of blood vomited in this movie, and my only thought about that was “Man, vomiting blood is so much less disgusting than vomiting vomit!”

Solee: Hmmm … I think we’re gonna have to agree to disagree on that one. So the one thing I really didn’t like was all the instances of racism, sexism and homophobia being used as “jokes”. They weren’t the “we need to be better” kind of jokes, either. Just straight up exclusionist type things. I think the movie could have been done just as well without them.

Mikey: I think the creators would use some excuses about how it takes place in the 80’s and it’s realistic and all that, and I think that’s bunko. It’s not a documentary. I think the clothes pretty much covered 80’s for us.

Solee: There’s a way to include some of that behavior to really develop a hateful character … but these weren’t the “bad guys” of the movie. They were the “heroes”, if you will. Yes, you were supposed to see that they were being dumb, but it gave off a “boys will be boys” vibe that I dislike intensely.

Mikey: I totally agree, but one other factor does remain: as modern as a number like 2002 sounds, it’s actually 15 years ago. I suspect these same people would do things differently today! The world is changing fast.

Solee: I think you’re right about that. And how on Earth did 2002 get to be 15 years into the past? It was, like, LAST YEAR that we were all worried Y2K would cause all the nukes in the world to go off.

Mikey: I think Y2K DID happen, and it caused a massive timespace distortion. That’s the only reasonable explanation.

Solee: Ha! True story. So … speaking of the distant past, Rider Strong (of Boy Meets World sidekick fame) is one of the main characters in this movie. That really threw me for a loop. I couldn’t stop seeing him as Shawn Hunter. I kept waiting for Topanga to show up.

Mikey: I reviewed a Topanga movie (that was aMAHzing) a few years ago in BHE! Hey, sudden realization speaking of the distant past: 2002 is as long ago as 1987 was before 2002. So they were making this movie about as far before them as they are before us. Or something. Deep.

Solee: It’s that nostalgia loop, like I was talking about for IT, only a 15 year loop instead of a 35 year one.

Mikey: I want to throw down real quick with some major writing issues I had with this movie before we quit. Just to get these out there: after Bert met the infected stranger and warned him away, he acted like nothing had happened and they all just had a bonfire until eventually he showed up. The guy was laying like 50 feet away and had already seen their cabin. Super weird. Also, you can’t make a car stop working by hitting it a few times with a bat! All the cars in this movie were crazy fragile. Also … oh I forgot the third one. These are some things that were really bugging me and seemed like major flaws in the writing.

Solee: It was a little weak in places. Like when the sexy girl decided to “go for help” the next morning and they just let her wander off into the woods alone in her tight, tight jeans.

Mikey: Slo-mo jeans!

Solee: Indeed. So when you combine all the issues and all the goriness and all the silly jokes … where does it fall on the rating scale for you?

Mikey: I was surprised at how well-done this was. It definitely held my interest (I especially enjoyed trying to track who all was infected). Oh that reminds me of a huge problem: the disease’s incubation rate was both totally random and ludicrously fast (when it wasn’t slow)! This was not a realistic situation. Anyway, I found myself totally engrossed and enjoying it, but I also respect that it wasn’t super great either. So that lands us right where you’d expect: at a solid 3.

Solee: I was going to give it a 3 last night, but I think now I want to give it a 3.5. This movie obviously knew it wasn’t going to be the next Great American Movie, and it used humor to make up for it in a way that worked on me. That being said, it was WAY too gory for me. I can see how some people would really enjoy it, though. And it was pretty polished all around. Except for that terribly terrible fake deer at the end!

Mikey: Oh, that crazy deer. So do you think this movie would work without the gore? I guess it’d be more of a comedy.

Solee: That’s a good question and I think … no. The comedy is only funny because it’s the contrast to horrific violence and gore. Without the counterpoint effect, it would just be corny. Some of those jokes were almost punny.

Mikey: Everybody loves a pun!

Solee: NO.

Mikey: Do you want to close by sharing Solee’s Rules For Infection?

Solee: Heck yeah! Solee’s Rules for Infection are easy. 1) Don’t get infected. 2) If you DO get infected, you’re done for. Humanely, but immediately. #SorryNotSorry Too many zombie movies get rolling because someone can’t say goodbye to a loved one who has clearly been exposed to the virus. Instead of a quick, clean bullet to the brain, they let them linger on in pain, usually infecting lots of other people. NOT COOL. I will say that these kids almost did a decent job of this. But then they didn’t. And look where it got them.

Mikey: It scares me that I live with you and sometimes get colds.

Solee: You just better hope you don’t get a cold during the zombie apocalypse. The thing is, it’s NEVER symptoms that really look like something innocuous. Even I wouldn’t have taken out the Girl Next Door when she was feeling nauseous. That’s a perfectly normal reaction to watching someone burn to death. Once it was clear she had what the hermit guy had … game over. It’s always that someone is trying to bite other people’s faces off or their own faces are sliding off in puddles of goo and their loved ones are saying “Oh, I’m sure he’ll be alright soon.” NO.

Mikey: Okay, so it’s a rash I should be afraid of having. I will never let you see if I get one.

Solee: THAT’S EVEN WORSE! Hahaha! Maybe we should avoid zombie/virus movies for a bit. What’s coming up next?

Mikey: Oh no, my arm is itching… I mean IT’S NOT IT’S FINE. Let’s just go watch Patient Seven.

Solee:
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  Belittling Horror Excessively: The Disappointments Room 07:54 PM -- Tue October 3, 2017  

WARNING! This post contains extensive spoilers for this movie. Watch the movie before reading! Or don't. You have been warned.

The Disappointments Room (2016)
Rated R
IMDB Says:
“A mother and her young son release unimaginable horrors from the attic of their rural dream home.”
IMDB Rating: 4.0/10
Metacritic Rating: 31/100
Rotten Tomatoes: 0% critics, 17% audience
Solee: 3/5
Mikey: 2/5
We watched this on Netflix.

Mikey: Wow, my first comment on this movie is that the IMDB synopsis is way off.

Solee: Indeed. I’m not sure I’ve seen a synopsis that failed quite so hard at capturing a movie while still being factually accurate.

Mikey: Yes, there was a mother and a son in here. And like in every ghost (or demon) movie ever, the second the family moved into the house, we see the son talking to the demon/ghost! Or so it seems.

Solee: I think in this case, that’s what was happening, although we don’t find out for a while. That cat was there to protect him, just like he said it was. Brave, brave kitty.

Mikey: Interesting … so you think he was talking to a ghost (or a magic cat)?

Solee: Yes, I think the spirit of that girl was influencing the cat. She was trying to protect them the whole time.

Mikey: I had the opposite impression! This is one of those movies I tag with the “natural” tag - seemingly supernatural events could actually just be natural. Mama was just nutso. Though there is no proof either way.

Solee: That’s a totally valid perspective. It really could go either way, don’t you think? I don’t remember anything that settled it beyond a reasonable doubt.

Mikey: I think it’s left up to us, and I think we chose opposite endings! What I am left with though is to wonder what really happened to the cat, and to the poolboy/contractor. Especially him - the cat could’ve just been gotten by any old animal.

Solee: *gasp* Or Mama got it?? While in a fugue state?

Mikey: She clearly had major problems. I think the climactic moment when she bludgeons her son to death with a hammer… that was so very shocking, and I really thought it was going to be that for real.

Solee: To be fair, that’s not what happened in either scenario. Either she was bludgeoning the ghost or she was bludgeoning NEXT to her son. But, yes, I did think that her little boy was gone-zo and I was terrified to find out what she’d REALLY done to her daughter.

Mikey: Yes, she has a history of infanticide. During that whole scene I was just biting my nails, thinking “they can’t really be going there, can they?” and I’m not sure why. People getting beaten with hammers is nothing new in horror. But her own son, unintentionally (or tricked into doing it), is just so so dark.

Solee: And with such violence. It wasn’t “oops, I dropped my hammer on you”. It was hard core smashing. Blegh. I don’t even like thinking about it!

Mikey: So since we’ve already jumped to the ending, let me cover my big issue with the movie. Huge issue. I was hooked in from the beginning, all set to get exactly what I dream of: a haunted house and a slow process of revealing exactly what the ghost is and what it wants, and resolving it at the end. It took until about ⅔ of the way through before it stopped doing that and instead just becoming a blast of events happening (or not happening - very confusing), and then wrapping up with nothing really happening. I hated how it all came together, or didn’t. Did that work for you?

Solee: I didn’t hate it … but it was very anti-climactic to me. I guess, as horrible as it was, it was … I hate to say it, but too normal? Like, I’m not really all that shocked that those stuffy, high-society types from that era (early 1900s?) would keep their deformed kid in the attic and then murder her when they get tired of taking care of her. I honestly don’t like what that says about my jaded-ness at this point. And perhaps that was partly the fault of the story-telling. It was building up with all that tension and what-not and then there’s just a very flat scene where Old-timey Daddy Dearest puts a hammer through deformed daughter’s skull while her mother watches from across the room (where he threw her, to be fair). It didn’t have the emotional impact that the mother-son thing did in the next scene, that’s for sure.

Mikey: That is for sure. I just realized as you were saying that that this is (as best I recall), the exact backstory of The Ring. The girl wasn’t deformed, but they kept her in a disappointments room! It’s a great concept that really was very minimally a part of this movie. It needed to come into play somehow in the present, like her locking her son in it or something weird.

Solee: Yes! The two stories didn’t overlap enough. Sure the ghosts were there in the house and yes, the room was scary, but otherwise there was no connection. And the present day dad (who I’m going to have something to say about later) and son were totally disconnected from the haunting, which was weird.

Mikey: Well, that’s why I watched a different movie than you - they had no idea there was a haunting because it was 100% in her head! It’s weird because I’m totally convinced of that. It seems very dead-set to me from all the elements I saw!

Solee: Sure, I see that. And it made the story not work for me. I mean … they didn’t seem to care a whole lot about her or her issues either way. I guess one could argue that they’ve been dealing with it for a long time and are somewhat desensitized to it, but STILL. It’s like they just did their own thing and ignored her for huge chunks of time.

Mikey: They sure did. It was two separate worlds, like she was alone in the house (with her poolboy) and her husband was alone in a different house with his son. Very strange, but I guess you could make some argument about how that shows the disconnection she feels as part of her issues. The thing with this movie is, it was all very polished and well-crafted, but it just plain didn’t work at all.

Solee: Agreed. Can we talk about her husband for a bit? Because I did not like him AT ALL.

Mikey: I’ve heard!

Solee: He’s got a huge inferiority complex and he just waves it around, taking credit for her work, cutting her out of a conversation with the roofer (who is not a poolboy at all, btw) -

Mikey: He’s a poolboy!

Solee: - and generally treating her like she’s crazy. I mean … maybe she IS, but he doesn’t treat her like I would expect a husband to treat wife who was struggling with mental health issues.

Mikey: Yep, he seemed very awful.

Solee: What I DID like was that she was not taking that passive aggressive, mansplaining, man-baby lying down. She put him in his place every time he pulled that garbage. Of course, then they acted like she was “getting all emotional”, but I still appreciated that she did it and she did it well.

Mikey: Yeah, that’s kind of like the movie (or the writer or director) mansplaining at that point. That whole thing is another issue too big to get into that I see in all media, but in general he seemed like a “play-xbox-while-the-wife-works” kinda guy. You are lucky to have no idea what that’s like!

Solee: Well, like many of the characters in this movie, what the screenwriter wrote is a very generic, simplified, stereotypical version of a real person like that. There was a scene early on where they were talking to the lady who owned the “general store” and it was like if someone who had never left Manhattan tried to write a person who lived in the midwest entirely based on things they’d seen and read about the midwest.

Mikey: I definitely got that vibe. Rich city folk moving out to the country for fresh air is such a classic movie trope. I suspect most of the writers of such things don’t know how that actually works. And why does this podunk American town have a giant castle in it?

Solee: Because the story needed a giant castle, duh. There were a lot of big “robber baron” houses build by railroad fatcats and such, but this felt extreme even for that. I guess that’s partly because people today are less likely to be as impressed by the size of what would have been impressive in the early 1900s. It’s like accounting for inflation.

Mikey: I think you have a point! So, other than pointing out the movie’s cluelessness about the logistics of mold remediation, I have nothing more to add here. How about you?

Solee: Haha! We know about that, don’t we? *sigh* I do want to go back to the idea of the disappointments room for a second. I found that very poignant. My aunt was born with Down Syndrome around the 1950s. By then disappointments rooms had been replaced with the equally disturbing asylum. Another way for folks to hide embarrassing offspring. That was recommended for my aunt, but my grandparents refused. They raised her alongside my mother and never treated her like anything other than the daughter she was. They were pretty ahead of their time and I find it disturbing how little progress has been made in this regard in the last 70 years. It’s a lot better, but there are still way too many people who think it’s okay to treat people with disabilities differently than those without.

Mikey: Yeah… and what you just said would’ve been a much more powerful movie!

Solee: True dat. One thing I actually LOVED about the movie was that the librarian/historian was played by Marcia DeRousse, a little person actor, and it wasn’t mentioned at all. The son was a little surprised, but none of them actually mentioned it. They just went on with the discussion about the disappointments rooms. And I only just a few minutes ago realized that her character would have felt particularly strongly about the idea, being someone who would have ended up in one if she’d been born in the wrong time to the wrong family.

Mikey: That’s funny because I was going to mention Tyrion Lannister earlier, but I didn’t want to bring up the Lannisters two reviews in a row. I honestly didn’t even realize she was a little person… Thinking back I see the eyelines, and I thought she was just standing on a lower floor than them. Oops!

Solee: It wasn’t highlighted at all. The scene was about a historian imparting her wisdom. Her height wasn’t relevant. (Although if they’d written the more meaningful story we discussed earlier, she might have had some thoughts on it.)

Mikey: Yeah, I think that is good. People actually come in all sorts of different formats, we’re not all tall blond straight skinny white people with big muscles and fully functioning body parts (or “poolboys” as I like to call them). It’s nice when the normals get represented a bit.

But this brings us to the moment of official rating. Officially, you must rate this movie now.

Solee: Officially, I give this movie a … 3 out of 5. It had polish, like you said, and the acting was good. I don’t regret watching it, but I surely wouldn’t watch it again and I’m not sure I’d strongly recommend it to anyone. It was an “eh” movie, in my official opinion. How about you?

Mikey: You know, in the first 15 minutes, I might have given a 5. Then in the next 30, maybe a 4. Then a 3 for a while… and by the end I was worn down to a solid 2. Great filmmaking in service of a garbage script. Just not worth watching at all. Incidentally, did you know this movie has a LOWER score than Altar on IMDB? I wouldn’t go that far.

Solee: Well, that’s just ridiculous. You know what I want to watch next? The movie we talked about where they tackle the crappy way society treats people with disabilities and challenges us to be better, all while giving us an exciting horror story. Alas … that is not a movie that exists as far as I know.

Mikey: I’m not aware of it either (hey, the kid in Silver Bullet is in a wheelchair, though!), but I do know we are about to watch Cabin Fever. Close enough! (Note: they apparently have already remade this movie for some reason, even using the same exact script. We’ll be seeing the 2002 original).
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  Belittling Horror Excessively: Altar 11:50 PM -- Mon October 2, 2017  

WARNING! This post contains extensive spoilers for this movie. Watch the movie before reading! Or don't. You have been warned.

Altar (2016)
Unrated
IMDB Says:
“ALTAR is the terrifying story of a group of former college classmates who get lost driving to a college reunion camp out in the Sierra Nevada mountains. After stopping for the night, they stumble onto something much darker. They must battle to escape the evil they unleashed to not only save their own lives but their souls as well.”
IMDB Rating: 4.0/10
Metacritic Rating: N/A
Rotten Tomatoes: N/A
Solee: 1/5
Mikey: 1/5
We watched this on Hulu.

Solee: So we watched Altar, a 2016 movie about some kids lost in the woods. You chose this one. Was there a method behind your madness?

Mikey: Well, I looked through Hulu’s movie list and the title and picture seemed interesting, so I clicked and saw it was found footage, and was like, “there we go.” I think I was specifically trying to avoid quality. Don’t want two good ones in a row, you know.

Solee: Is it too soon in this conversation for me to say you succeeded in that? This was the tropey-est of tropey movies.

Mikey: I want to single it out for the most lampshades ever hung on one movie in history. While they proceeded to do everything the same as every movie, they constantly mentioned “We’re not like those people in scary movies, we’re gonna do the smart thing!”

Solee: Those kids wouldn’t know smart if it glowed bright blue and snuck up on them with an ax. So found footage movies are tricky because we have to believe that they’d be recording the whole thing. What did you think about this one? Believable?

Mikey: No. And they really kept harping on it. Not the usual “Stop filming, Jim! You’re so obnoxious!” but just endless references to the camera. Probably every 5th line of dialogue was something about the camera. I’m gonna set it over here, I stole it, you sure like filming, etc.

Solee: My theory is that they were ad-libbing a lot of the dialogue. One of those scripts where the director said “A and B have to happen in this scene” and maybe gave one of the actors a secret task and then let them just ham it up. These kids weren’t so good at the ad-libbing, so there was lots of talk about the camera and the weather and lots of girls touching their hair.

Mikey: That kind of filmmaking requires a lot of faith in your actors. Misplaced faith in this case.

Solee: Agreed. I was also mildly put off by the whole idea of Bo using the camera to “work through his Asperger's”. Working through his grief around the death of his parents I totally believe. But only someone who didn’t know anything about Asperger's syndrome would phrase it that way. Which makes me think they were using that diagnosis as a plot vehicle instead of for the purpose of diverse, interesting characters. That being said, I DID like the actor who played Bo.

Mikey: I did think he did a good job. I actually think they all did pretty well in terms of acting (except the jock and his high-school girlfriend), it’s just that they didn’t know how to ad-lib. HOWEVER, how about an honorable mention to Ripper? That guy was just some *wow* acting. Not the good kind of wow.

Solee: TERRIBLE. I’m sorry to be so harsh to Mr. Wainwright, but there was NO emotion or energy in that character. And if that was an intentional choice, it was a mistake. He was integral to the Horror Movie Life Lesson of the Movie -

Mikey: Was that “people have different ages all the time”?

Solee: Hahaha! No, although that sweet, dumb “She’s 18, guys!” girl had a point. No, the HMLLotM this time was “Don’t pop off to creepy strangers carrying weapons.”

Mikey: Speaking of creepy strangers, I can’t believe the super creepy weirdo couple they met and camped out with (and their adorable rottweiler-pug puppy!) turned out not to be part of this evil cult that I assume exists somewhere.

Solee: Same! Maybe they were part of a rival cult? They were definitely part of something weird. I mean … that “storage tent”. Like with the Asperger's … it reads like someone who has never actually been camping trying to write a camping scene.

Mikey: Yeah, there’s some backstory we’re missing about the battling cults.

Solee: Now, THAT’S a movie I want to watch.

Mikey: Okay, so this movie tells you nothing. In brief, the kids go into the woods, run across an evil altar, and it possesses one of them who kills the others. Sooo… this altar surely requires a cult, right? It didn’t just happen. And Ripper is … some well-meaning guy who likes carrying axes and wanted to make sure everybody was safe? Or the cult leader?

Solee: My take was that the altar held a demon. Ripper let the demon out the first time … leading to the deaths of the newlyweds, which MAYBE contained it again? Because he said something about them letting it out after they fiddled with the glowy balls. Anyway, this time, the kids took the bad guy out RIGHT AWAY LIKE SMART PEOPLE and it attached itself to Bo.

Mikey: They did say they were going to do that. But there’s holes in that. I mean, he sure wasn’t possessed like Bo was (when he met the kids, I mean). Was it post-possession depression? Probably not, since he was just as surly and weird when he was telling the honeymooners not to go for a walk.

Solee: Maybe he was a surly, creepy serial killer type who just happened to also be possessed by a demon. He didn’t seem possessed when he met them on the road, just creepy. And ax-wielding.

Mikey: Yeah, normal road behavior. I think we have put more thought into this movie than the creators at this point.

Solee: Yep. There were a ridiculous number of holes in the timing/travel. None of it made sense if you thought about it. Best just not to think about it.

Mikey: That’s what the writer said! Now, the other thing the writer said was “I love Game of Thrones! How can I get Cersei and Jamie Lannister into my movie?”

Solee: Come on … it wasn’t THAT bad. But there was definitely a brother-sister sexual tension going on that I did NOT like. And it was completely unnecessary. They went all out with the taboo relationships in this film: teacher/student, old guy/young girl, brother/sister. And none of it moved the plot.

Mikey: Maybe it did, and we just haven’t figured out the plot yet. Well, that aside, I want to point out that we had a… hmm… a very special scene at the end of the movie where Bo levitates his camera into following him around rather than having to carry it anymore. The most core problem I have with this, well is probably the silliness of it, but secondmost is WHY? He doesn’t have any reason to film anything if he’s a murdering demon man! He doesn’t care about the camera! Levitate the knife into some throats instead!

Solee: Ax-wielding guy still loved his ax after being possessed. Camera-loving guy still loves his camera!

Mikey: Just more of the taboo relationships.

Solee: Haha! It all comes down to the fact that they needed to show what Bo was doing, but had killed off anyone who could hold the camera for him. Gah. This movie has film school project all over it. It feels like the horror was an afterthought. Like a bunch of film school kids had a project due on Monday and a weekend trip in the mountains planned and were like “Hey! What if we do them together!” and then they realized half-way through that they had to actually do something scary.

Mikey: Wish they had! Ba-dum-tssh!

Solee: Right?! This was the least scary scary movie we’ve watched together. Aside from ones that were being goofy on purpose. This felt like it was taking itself seriously and just missing the mark completely. Even the jump scares didn’t get me and jump scares ALWAYS get me.

Mikey: I think you’re right. They even managed to make walking through the woods at night with only a flashlight seem blasé and relaxing. I feel like that’s an easy one to get right. On that walk, by the way… one of them heard something in the woods, and they all go to investigate, and then walk for HOURS. If it was that far away, you wouldn’t have heard it!

Solee: It kind of makes sense though … because they also drove forward for 3 ½ - 4 hours after realizing they were lost. “I don’t even know how I’d turn around here!” *facepalm*

Mikey: Plenty of padding in this movie. Not sure there was any content between the padding, actually.

Solee: That reminds me. I did have one semi-thoughtful note from this movie (out of three pages of incredulous mocking): found footage films often have the “outsider” as the camera operator. It’s almost like directors/writers think that the misfit will have a clearer, more neutral perspective on the group because they aren’t in the middle of it. I think that’s total BS. The one left out carries SOOO much baggage about the group, collectively and as individuals. So many inner stories. It’s a flawed premise that most of these found footage films are built on.

Mikey: That is deep thoughts. I think they did it looking for scenes like the one where he decides to interview Chelsea - if he knew her, he wouldn’t be doing that (only he totally would, especially since this is a college reunion, so he wouldn’t have seen her in years). Not worth it.

Solee: Nope. So … I feel like I’ve ragged on this movie enough and I literally don’t have any positive notes (except YAY! PICKLES LIVED!) so … ratings?

Mikey: Pickles! You did appreciate Bo. I think ratings. That’s pretty easy here. I think we’ll find worse this month, but I still feel good giving a 1/5 for this winner.

Solee: Ha! At first I read that as ½ out of 5 and I was like … yeah, I can see that! I am with you on a 1, though. I definitely don’t want to give it more, but I want to reserve the 0 for something truly heinous.

Mikey: Remember #Horror was our only 0… hard to equal!

Solee: I thought that was the one. Wow. That was a truly terrible film. Please tell me that we have something better in the docket for tomorrow...

Mikey: I can’t promise that, I can only promise that it’s The Disappointments Room. Hope it doesn’t disappoint!
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  Belittling Horror Excessively: IT 02:23 PM -- Sun October 1, 2017  

Hey everybody! It's my favorite time of year! I get to spend this month watching a horror movie every day, and then discussing it in overwhelming, excruciating detail with my wife! Nothing could be more awesome. Well actually, we do limit ourselves for time, to avoid creating an unreadable novel of discussion. It would be more awesome to actually keep rambling and be able to cover every single little thing about every movie. But here in the real world, here is what we are able to discuss about each movie in forty-five minutes. Enjoy!

Oh, and as always, we will spoil all of these movies extensively during our reviews, so you should watch it first. In addition, we aren’t going to explain what we’re talking about, so that’s another reason you should probably watch it first. And then join the discussion in the comments below!

Okay, one last note: the last line of every review tells you what the movie for the next day is going to be. So if you don’t want to be spoiled on this movie, but do want to know what the next movie is so you can watch it first, read the last line!

WARNING! This post contains extensive spoilers for this movie. Watch the movie before reading! Or don't. You have been warned.

It (2017)
Rated R
IMDB Says:
“A group of bullied kids band together when a shapeshifting demon, taking the appearance of a clown, begins hunting children.”
IMDB Rating: 8.1/10
Metacritic Rating: 70/100
Rotten Tomatoes: 86% critics, 89% audience
Solee: 4/5
Mikey: 5/5
We watched this in the theater.

Mikey: It’s 2017, and here we are again at my favorite time of year! It’s time to review movies!! YAY!

Solee: Yay! We spent a ridiculous amount of time trying to come up with a clever plan for this year’s reviews, and here we are … back to the basics. A Google Docs convo from two different rooms in the same house.

Mikey: I really wanted to do a podcast, but… yeah. Hard things are hard. Let’s start this month off with a bang by watching a brand new movie in the theater!!

Solee: DONE! We actually left the house to see IT on the first day it was available here. What were you expecting?

Mikey: First showing of the first day! Not for the review though, but because we are both big fans of the book and Stephen King. We got to “enjoy” the movie version of The Dark Tower a month or two earlier, and now IT has come for us.

Solee: [spoiler alert: DT was NOT good. *sadface*]

Mikey: I had higher expectations of this one. Just from the previews it looked pretty good. But how could they possibly take a 1200+ page novel and crush it into a 2 hour movie? There are a ton of characters, who do a ton of things (a big chunk of the book involves all the other townsfolk, not just the main kids). So I expected something like Dark Tower, but better - the ideas and images of the book, in an Easy Reader format.

Solee: IT is one of my favorite King books. I’ve read it at least 5 times. I did not have high hopes for the movie because the trailers made it look like it was going to be a straight up horror flick. The magic behind the book (and most of King’s work, if you ask me) is that he gets way into people’s heads. You get to know each character, even side characters, on a very intimate level. That’s just not possible in a movie format. And yet … I was extremely pleased with the movie.

Mikey: Yes, actually I should say the trailers made me expect it was a “clown as Freddy Krueger” movie (whereas in the book, the clown is not so central - It can appear in any form and just uses the clown a bunch of times), which we sorta did get, but it was much more true to the book than I expected. I was happy!

Solee: I was relieved when I realized, about half-way through, that they weren’t going to try to do the whole book. This was very clearly a movie with a sequel set-up. Which actually fits the book quite well, if you unshuffle all the past and present scenes.

Mikey: I got scared at the point you got relieved! I thought they were going to do only the kid half, sure, but I thought that was it. Just ignore half the point of the book. The sequel-bait made it better.

Solee: The REAL horror would have been if this movie didn’t do well enough and they scrapped the second half!

Mikey: I’m really glad that’s not the case. I’m burned by The Dark Tower.

Solee: And just about every other adaptation of Stephen King books!

Mikey: I guess I’m glad Dark Tower didn’t do well and spawn more sequel garbage, but we still need the 8 season TV series for it…

Solee: Yes, please. But this review is about IT. What did you think of the casting?

Mikey: That was really great actually… One thing about this movie is that it’s pretty much the Stranger Things movie. So similar all around. I guess 80’s nostalgia is all the rage today (especially since if they were being true to the book, it would’ve been in the 50’s). So just like Stranger Things, these actors (one of which is from Stranger Things) really made you feel the “nerds growing up in the 80’s” vibe that just makes it very real and moving.

Solee: Interesting rabbit trail … King wrote the book in ‘86. He was born in ‘47, so the 50s were his coming of age period. Those of us who read the book in the 80s are now about the same age he was when he wrote about his coming of age. So it makes perfect sense that all us 40ish folks are waxing nostalgic about the 80s. Apparently your 40s is when that happens.

Mikey: That just makes me question my accomplishments. Kind of like when you see 18 year old superstars, only not so bad since I’m just now at the age where I haven’t written IT. P.S. IT was the first book I remember reading. It obviously wasn’t the first book I read (imagine THAT) but I read it much younger than I should have, maybe at 12 or 13. I found it on my parents’ bookshelf and just chewed through 1200 pages in a couple weeks, and then started grabbing every Stephen King book I could find. It is very formative to me! I still say it’s my favorite book, but it’s been like 10 years since I read it (for the second or third time, obviously…).

Solee: King’s “Eyes of the Dragon” was the first horror book I remember reading, also at about age 12. I did the same as you; once I finished that, I devoured everything of his I could get my hands on.

Mikey: Definitely my favorite writer, by miles! So rabbit trails aside, this was a movie. Was it a scary movie?

Solee: I’m going to say yes. I thought Skarsgaard did a lovely job of being creepy and there were lots of subtle things throughout the movie that really ramped up the tension. For example: the folks who were about to be eaten up would have a moment when their eyes looked like the clown’s eyes. The director didn’t make a big deal out of it, but it happened often enough for me to think it was very intentional.

Mikey: You told me that after the movie and it was too late for me to check. I’ll have to see next time. The woes of seeing a movie in a theater! I thought it was kind of in the middle for scares… it wasn’t super creepy (had some adventure/fantasy/action elements), but it did have its share of scary moments. I think the giant Pennywise in the garage was the most shocking moment for me.

Solee: Hmm. I’m not sure I have a stand-out moment, but I remember jumping several times. I’m a big fan of the psychological horror, though, and IT has that in spades. The monster takes on the form of each person’s fear and these kids had plenty of crap to draw from in their lives.

Mikey: Yeah, I think Bev’s story was the most powerful. That could’ve been a movie of its own, just caught in that family life and tormented by a malevolent spirit. But we’ve seen those movies before, so I’m glad this one was different!

Solee: Was it THAT different though?

Mikey: Well, I mean it was about all the kids, and their quest to defeat It. That’s a lot different from “boo hoo, my life is horrible, the ghost is harassing me, AND I’M DEAD NOW.” which is all ghost movies.

Solee: I see. I’m wondering just how “unique” IT is. When I think about it … there are plenty of coming of age movies. And plenty of your-fear-manifested movies. Maybe not so many of the two combined? It doesn’t feel super original to me, but maybe that’s because 1) it’s a go-to story for King, and 2) I’ve read this exact story soooo often.

Mikey: I think it’s a unique movie. The combination, plus it’s just very rare that “horror” has any kind of quest, or any victory for our heroes, or really heroes for that matter (let’s just cheer for their deaths!). And it does impact the horror of it, it’s just not as scary when you know you have heroes in there. They’re sure to win in the end, and their very strength in facing the threat ruins the horror - it’s not scary if they’re not scared. Which brings me to my issues with the ending. That make sense though? It has real horror, mixed with real action/fantasy/adventure.

Solee: Quick comment on that … it’s a fine line to walk in horror storytelling, I think. If you make the characters relatable and strong, the audience isn’t truly afraid of their death (although that sets up some pretty devastating storylines, ie: Hoban Washburne) and if you make them expendable enough for people to wonder whether they will live or die, they tend to have less depth. I think this razor-wire is why so many horror movies are just terrible.

Mikey: Yeah, this movie leaned more on the side of making you care about characters, and I think that’s the better path, since you know, stories are about characters. I think most horror movies have that introduction phase at the beginning and you’re just rolling your eyes through it, going “when can we kill these people already?”

Solee: Indeed. Turns out there’s an art to writing good stories. Who knew?

Mikey: Stephen King! So I found an issue both times the characters confront Pennywise, and I think it’s a result of condensing a huge book. In the big book, there’s this dread built up over weeks of events and a very real fear to the confrontation, we know it’s dangerous because each of them has been personally attacked multiple times along the way. In the movie, each kid kind of gets one little jump-scare from Pennywise to let them see the threat, and then they face him. So then the actual fight seems weak… it also has to do with the very concept: because It feeds on fear, the only way they beat it is by overcoming their fear and being tougher than It. So in the end, it comes down to them beating a clown with a lead pipe. It’s… really appropriate, and a good concept, but it doesn’t work well in the movie. It’s just kids murdering a poor man.

Solee: YES! That scene disturbed me and I just now realized the logistics behind why. Because if they aren’t afraid of It, if they stop believing in its supernatural power, then they essentially believe it’s just a regular guy. A regular guy they can take turns attacking. I know that’s not the story … but that’s how it came across on screen and it was disconcerting.

Mikey: That’s a good point, just a dude. It reminds me of a negative review I saw on IMDB - the reviewer thought it was crazy how all the adults in the town were evil, and the bullies were so extremely horrible. He thought that on top of the kid-eating monster, that was absurd, but he didn’t know that all that was part of the kid-eating monster. I’m not sure if the movie failed to impart that, or if he just didn’t get it, because I read the book, so I understood it anyway.

Solee: I don’t think that was addressed well in the movie.

Mikey: I really liked how that came off in the movie, though I think it could’ve used some on-the-nose explication (the balloon in the backseat of the car was a clue…). Just seeing these people get really creepy smiles and be really inappropriate. I liked that angle, though it probably needed more clarity.

Solee: So, after all that, how would you rate this new version of IT?

Mikey: As a fan of the book (it’s my favorite!), and how well this interpreted it, about as well as you could in 2 hours, I don’t know if I can go lower than 5/5. I want to, because it’s not perfect, but we grade on a curve in October. This was surprisingly great.

Solee: I’m going to give it a 4/5. Which is surprising because I tend to rate higher than you. I did really enjoy this movie. But I don’t think the “horror” is what I enjoyed about it. It’s just a great movie. Compared to other horror movies, though … I know I’m going to see ones I like more for that specific element. Does that seem unfair? Sorry, Mr. King.

Mikey: Now I feel dumb for fiving it! Actually during the movie, I kept finding myself having to re-adjust my expectations, because it really is a mix of genres. I kept trying to force myself to just look at it as a story, context-free, and whether I enjoyed the storytelling or not. And trying not to judge it on the book. This was a hard movie to properly rate!

Solee: Yes. I think it’s fairly clear from this discussion that we failed to consider it “context-free”. I’m okay with that. Even though I only gave it a 4 for the purposes of BHE, I would go see it again and I am glad I saw it in the theater. So that says something.

Mikey: One more note from me! What I really appreciated about this movie was Stephen King coming to life - it was all about the characters. I can always go for more movies like that. That’s what Firefly is too. Doesn’t matter it’s space cowboys, or evil clowns, what matters is how fun the people are.

Solee: Agreed. So how fun are the people in our next movie??

Mikey: I’ll tell you tomorrow after we’ve seen Altar (2016)!
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  We're back! 09:17 PM -- Mon September 11, 2017  

I fixed the site! SO QUICKLY! I bet you didn't even notice it was down. We're now hosted at a new place, with a lot of fancy new server power under the hood (not that we needed it, but it's good to be up-to-date). Enjoy the forums once again, and let me know if you see things broken on the site. I'm not sure what all broke during the transition process.
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  Assembly Programming For Fun! 02:42 AM -- Sun May 28, 2017  

Yeah, I'm still alive! For a minute there last month it looked like I was going to get somewhere with the website. I had somebody all set up to help me do it, but when he looked through it, we discovered all manner of complex issues as to what exactly we wanted to do and how we wanted it to end up (the site as-is does not function anymore, so changes need to be made...). So we're kinda back to square one, and I've been super busy transitioning Growtopia to Ubisoft. But we're getting somewhere. It'll happen, someday.

Anyway, I wanted to chat a bit about the idea of programming games (not the act of programming games, but rather playing games that are about programming). That's a genre that is very niche, and there aren't a ton of games in it, but nevertheless I intend to go deeper yet and specifically focus on games about assembly-language programming! There are even fewer of them, but they're the ones that are really fun!

You see, assembly language itself is basically a logic puzzle. It's the most straightforward and simple type of programming, in that there are just a few different possible instructions (sometimes very few), and each instruction is incredibly simple - it can have one, or in some languages/situations, two values attached to it, and that's it. For example "MOV AX,7" (I don't even remember if that's accurate 6502 assembly, but it's something like that) is an assembly instruction. It means "put a 7 into the register AX". Of course in a game, it might be more verbose but it comes down to the same thing. Super simple individual lines, able to access only a select few registers (data storage spots), and yet Turing complete. So it's very easy to grasp, yet very very complicated to get it do something worthwhile, and it's that process of building up from simple blocks into vast structures that makes it so compelling. If you can make the little parts work, then put them together logically, you'll have a bigger working unit. Simple concepts combining into great complexity.

So I thought I had played a few of these games lately, but it turns out it was just two. I just finished Human Resource Machine today (though I cheated on the last puzzle, which was like an order of magnitude bigger and more complex than all the ones before it!), and other games I've played along these lines are TIS-100 (I failed to finish, it gets hard!), and Carnage Heart (but that's going waaayyy back to the 90's). I know there's also Shenzhen IO, which I haven't played. SpaceChem actually shares many traits though it'd be hard to call it assembly language programming. It's no coincidence that three of the five games I just named are all made by Zachtronics. I guess there aren't a lot of people in the assembly game arena! It's too bad, because it really is fun, and makes programming accessible to anyone who likes logic puzzles. A great learning tool as well as a fun puzzle.

Anyway, if you like puzzles, you might want to try this kind because it'll really worm into your brain, and as a bonus it'll teach you a lot about programming! Human Resource Machine is a really nice simple example. The early puzzles are fun and easy, though you'll really need some chops to get all the way to the end. TIS-100 is way more hardcore. I would not recommend starting there if you aren't a programmer yourself.

I would love to hear about any others you know of in the comments, but yeah... the site isn't working too hot right now, speaking of programming. It'll be back soonish(tm)!
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  Checking in! 03:14 PM -- Thu March 30, 2017  

It has only been a few months since my last entry here. It's still true that I beat Bloodborne though. Still pretty amazing, I hope you're impressed. On that note, I just started playing Dark Souls 3 yesterday, so yeah.

Anyway, lots of big stuff going on. The good news from a Hamumu.com perspective is that I am talking to somebody about working on getting the site back up and running, because I still don't have time to do so myself. Hopefully that will work. And by the way, I have had a new site design in hand for several years now, with no time to set it up, so hopefully we won't just be restoring the missing functionality - we'll have a full overhaul, totally new look!

In mildly interesting other news, we have sold Growtopia to Ubisoft! Yeah, that's kind of a big deal. Seth and I will still be working on it for a while, helping them learn how to run the game and what the secrets of our awesomeness are. I'm really looking forward to this... freedom and free time to create the things I want to make again, instead of being chained to Growtopia 24/7. My life has been very different for the last four years, and while I have had an outlet for creativity - the updates I've been doing for Growtopia are often as complex as entire games - I haven't been free to just do what I want, it's all been inside the framework of that game. So I am really looking forward to that freedom, especially just inside my head. My brain will be set free by not being tied to those little block-headed creatures all day. It's been very draining. And there's so much more to it than simply making the updates. Nobody who isn't involved in the process can understand what it takes out of you to be facing the onslaught of millions of players, all wanting their personal issue fixed (or sometimes just want to shout profanities at me), every day. Our tech support staff are truly amazing for fighting that tide.

So once everything is handled, and I can step back out of the limelight, I am going to take a BREAK. I've said I was going to take a year off, but those in the know have said I wouldn't be able to handle that. I don't really know what the future holds, I'm just glad to be free to find out. It's gonna be a break whether I take a break or not. Yay!
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