Tag Archive | science fiction

Sam and Bucky: the 80s Want Their Plot Cliches Back

I didn’t write a review of the second episode of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier because the review would have just been: Not as exciting as the first episode. The action scene was lackluster and the scenes with the new Captain America were not very compelling. Even when the new Cap and his buddy are arguing with Sam and Bucky the scene didn’t have any bite. On the other hand, the bantering scenes between Bucky and Sam were awesome. I would gladly watch an entire series of the two of them just snarking.


Spoilers below!


If episode two was a let down after the opening, episode three may be a full-fledged crash and burn. The biggest problem is one that Cora Buhlert called out in her review of the first episode:

> the villain Flag-Smasher is a problematic and I would have preferred, if Marvel had not used him. In the comics, Flag-Smasher is just one guy (apparently, the main Flag-Smasher in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier is a woman, which is progress, I guess), not a whole organisation (though he later is part of one), and his reasons for wanting to abolish nations and borders are both understandable and actually make sense. The fact that this character was portrayed as a villain tells you a lot about what Captain America comics were like in the 1980s and 1990s, when I used to call Captain America “Captain Nationalism” and flat out hated the character. The Marvel movies did a lot to move Captain America away from the old “Captain Nationalism” model and turned him more into what he was intended to be, namely the positive side of America given form. Hell, the Marvel movies actually made me like Captain America.

This problem was more than hinted at in the first episode, in that the only thing we were told about the so-called terrorist organization is that they want open borders and for people to be able to move freely between nations. Most people living in the European Union have had that ability within the union for decades, and it has generally been viewed as beneficial economically, culturally, and socially.

American conservatives are horrified by the idea of open borders, which makes this show’s narrative lean into that Captain Nationalism idea. The new Cap being both a jerk and someone more than happy to promulgate the jingoistic propaganda is find for a character who clearly is supposed to be one of our antagonists, but when the two protagonists also immediately assume that open borders are bad, that’s more problematic.

I had hoped that the Flag-Smashers would turn out to be a worthy exploration of some kind of justice issue, but the third episode just muddles it up even more. The leader, Karli, is also angry that people who were dusted in the blip but then came back are getting aid and resources to reintegrate with society. That sort of resentment is something that happens in the real world in relationship to refugee crises, it’s true, however the people who feel that sort of resentment are also almost always the same people who vehemently opposed open borders.

The two beliefs just don’t go together.

Later she talks about another goal: destroying industries. As if destroying some people’s livelihoods and interrupting the production of necessary goods wouldn’t make the other issues she laments substantially worse.

The main plot developments of episode two were the revelation that some of the Flag Smashers are super soldiers (and that someone somewhere has re-invented a serum like the ones that gave Captain America and Bucky their powers), and that there were African-American soldiers experimented upon during the Korean War era, one of whom developed powers like Captain America, was used for some covert missions, and then locked up in prison for years afterward.

The main action of episode three has to do with getting Baron Zemo (introduced in Avengers: Civil War) out of prison on the grounds that his connections to Hydra will help them find whoever has made the new super soldier serum. Which leads them to the fictional city of Madripoor looking for the villain called the Power Broker.

Madripoor is a cliche lawless city/state. Such settings are cliches precisely because they serve certain kinds of stories well. The similar city/planet that appeared in the Star Trek: Picard episode "Star Dust City Rag" is an example of how it can be used to move both and action and comedy plot forward. Here it’s just portrayed as a generic Asian Cyberpunk town… that doesn’t seem to have any asian inhabitants. At all. Not one. And it is supposed to be in or near Indonesia!

I could keep going on and on about the logistic and plothole problems with this episode. It’s just mind-boggling how bad it got. (Shipping containers do not work that way!)

Now, one difference in episode three is that the action scenes are generally more exciting than what we got in episode two. It’s only when you think about the plot or logic that things fall apart. We also didn’t get much fun banter between Sam and Bucky. On the other hand, Zemo is a fun, and the actor does a really good job dancing between being charming and menacing. It was nice to see them doing something with Sharon Carter; making her be really angry about taking all of the consequences for actions in Captain America Civil War without any of the praise and certainly not a pardon, unlike some of the other characters (Bucky and Sam, specifically). It was also really fun surprisde to see the character of Ayo (one of the Wakanda Dora Milaje) at the end of the episode.

I enjoyed parts of this episode. But the way the plot, motivations, and logistics keep crashing through my willing suspension of disbelief leaves me worrying that I’m not going to enjoy the series at the end.

Because I like the MCU versions of Bucky and Sam so much, I will undoubted stick it out. I just hope I don’t regret it.


You may find these other reviews useful:

Marvel’s “New World Order” – Some Thoughts on The Falcon and the Winter Soldier

Falcon & The Winter Soldier is probably bad actually

The Falcon and the Winter Soldier meet “The Star Sprangled Man”

Why we love to hate the MCU’s new Captain America, John Walker

"Hydra" is Code for "We Don’t Want to Talk About White Supremacy"

‘Falcon and the Winter Soldier’ Uncovers Marvel’s Original Sin

The Falcon and the Winter Soldier tangle with the “Power Broker”


Edited to Add: Episode Four: "The Whole World Is Watching" is a considerable improvement, answering some of my plothole questions and moving character arcs forward. Full review soonish.

Bucky and Sam try to find their place in the “New World Order”

© Disney+

I’m going to try to give a review of episode one of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier without doing a recap and avoiding plot spoilers until the end. This episode is a good opening act, establishing where are characters are emotionally and situationally since the end of Avengers: Edngame. The trailers I had seen had made this seem mostly like a action adventure not unlike one of the theatrical Avengers movies, with more than a bit of the buddy cop vibe that some of the solo MCU movies pulled off. That isn’t quite what we get in the first episode.

I have to admit, while I have been looking forward to this show, I was wondering really what the writers had in mind for these two characters. What do they have in common other than they were each, at different stages of Captain America’s life his best buddy and sidekick. Which doesn’t seem like enough to build a good character repartee.

The first episode acknowledges this by showing us that the two characters are not interacting with each other at all. Bucky his working with a psychiatrist to try to recover both from years of being a brainwashed assassin, and the trauma of being one of the people snapped out of existence by Thanos, only to suddenly come back into existence five years later, to find a world that has moved on.

Which is another thing that he and Falcon/Sam Wilson have in common. In Sam’s case, he’s come back from the blip to find his parents dead, and his sister struggling to keep the fishing business that has been in their family for generations afloat, on top of being a single mother.

Before I talk about any of more of the set up, I should pause here to talk about the opening. On certain parts of the fannish internet a lot of women are losing their minds over the very opening where Sam is seen using and iron and an ironing board to iron a button-down dress shirt. There are memes out there already about how sexy women find it when a man knows how to iron his own shirt. As a man who owns an iron and an ironing board and has been known to iron dress shirts and slacks and such before going to certain important social events where one is expected to dress up, the scene didn’t quite have that effect on me. It seemed, to me, perfectly in character based on how self-sufficient Sam had been shown to be in the first MCU we ever saw him in, Captain America: Winter Soldier.

Sam was ironing the shirt because he was attending a ceremony at the Smithsonian related to the Captain America exhibit there. The scene’s purpose in the story is to establish that, despite having Cap himself hand over his shield at the end of Avengers Endgame and telling Sam to take over the role of Captain America, Sam doesn’t believe that he—or anyone else—should take up that mantle.

We next see Sam in an incredible aerial battle, where he is working with U.S. government forces to try to rescue an US Air Force officer from terrorists. It is an incredible scene that looks good enough to appear in one of the theatrical MCU releases. It clearly establishes that despite his misgivings, Sam is more than capable of stepping into Captain America’s shoes. The sequence will remind you a lot of the opening of Winter Soldier, and not just because the leader of the badguys is Batroc, who was the leader of the bad guys in that fight, as well.

Bucky’s sequences with his psychiatrist and some people he has tried to befriend do a great job of showing you how much of a struggle it is for him to try to lead an ordinary life. He’s trying to make amends for as many of the bad things he did during the years he was brainwashed by Hydra as he can. And his scene include a couple of particular heart wrenching moments in that regard. While Sam is working for the government as a contract operative, Bucky is apparently just working under conditions of a pardon. Regularly meeting with his psychiatrist is one of those conditions.

The first episode also sets us up with at a terrorist organization and at least one antagonist that we can assume will be the source of conflict for the rest of the series.

I was a bit worried when we reached the end of the episode, because I had assumed this series was going to be eight to ten episodes long, and they had done a good enough job putting pieces on the board in this one that I was worried the middle episodes would drag. I have since learned that the series is only six episode long, and presuming more of them with be about 43-minutes long as the first episode was, that probably is just enough to tell the story without needing any filler.

I do have a few spoilery comments on this one, which will be behind the cut-tag below. Before we get into that: may I remind you that this show appears on Disney+, and the Disney corporation is refusing to pay Alan Dean Foster and other authors money they are owed for media tie-in novels.

Spoliers ahead!

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Seriously, every single sentence below is full of spoilers…

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Seriously, turn back now!!!

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I warned you!!!

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Seriously, spoilers ahead!

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Read More…

WandaVisions Wraps Things Up in the Awesome “The Series Finale”

© Disney+

Having now seen the entire series1, I can sum up my feelings quite succinctly: It’s f-ing awesome2!

It did not end the way I thought it would. Thank goodness it didn’t end the many weird ways that some fans, fancasts, and so-called leakers were predicting. The show ended much, much better than any of those predictions.

The last episode took the meta of all the earlier episode titles all the way to 11: “The Series Finale.” It was fun, it didn’t have plotholes, it didn’t introduce wild twists (but it had more than one surprise3). Most importantly: it is a complete story. It did not feel as if it was just setting us up for the next show4.

It also is exactly the kind of story I, for one, needed right now. But I can’t explain why without spoilers. But before I warn you not to click through or otherwise read further, may I remind you that the Disney corporation is still refusing to pay Alan Dean Foster and other authors money they are owed for media tie-in novels.

Anyway…

Spoliers ahead!

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Seriously, every single sentence below is full of spoilers…

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Seriously, turn back now!!!

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I warned you!!!

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Seriously, spoilers ahead!

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Read More…

WandaVision gives us some answers and fills in Wanda’s backstory

© Disney+

The penultimate episode of WandaVision gave us a lot of answers, revealed a lie or two, and set the stage for a big battle. I think it also showed us that this show should not be thought of as a spin-off. It has leaned into the things that television does well, telling a story more nuanced that any of the big movies are able to with their set pieces and epic battles. Not that next episode won’t have a battle, because that seems inevitable at this point.

Episode eight, “Previously On” is not as delightful as episode seven, nor as fun as episodes one through six, but we’ve reached the point where answers must be forthcoming, and since the show centers around Wanda’s trauma, that means things have to be a bit more serious, at least for no. I can’t say more without spoilers, so the rest of the review will be behind a cut-tag

Before I get into it: this show appears on Disney+, and may I remind you that Disney corporation is refusing to pay Alan Dean Foster and other authors money they are owed for media tie-in novels.

Spoliers ahead!

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Seriously, every single sentence below is full of spoilers…

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Seriously, turn back now!!!

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I warned you!!!

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Seriously, spoilers ahead!

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Read More…

WandaVision goes Modern while really breaking all the walls

© Disney+

Things really got moving in this episode, “Breaking the Fourth Wall.” I think we may have learned enough that it’s possible to start making some judgement calls on some of the plot and delivery decisions made in earlier episodes. Despite the fact that there was a lot of wailing and gnashing of teeth during the first about hour after the episode became available for streaming. Disney+ was experiencing problems. For some people the service crashed completely and didn’t come back for a while. A lot of others experience multiple long pauses in the middle of the action. Many are inferring that a lot more fans of the show are waiting up on Thursday night until the episode becomes available, and simply overwhelmed the system.

This episode gave us a couple of answers to questions swirling around the underlying mystery and hinted at more to come. I’ve seen a few people already claiming that the reveal near the end of this episode completely eliminates a few other fan theories, and I think those people are jumping the gun. Which I will get to below. But before I get into any spoilers, I think it is worth mentioning that for the first time in the series there is a post-credits scene. I won’t tell you what it is above the break, but just in case you’re one of those people who stop playing or skip to another show once the credits start, you might want to stick around this time.

One more thing before I get into it: this show appears on Disney+, and may I remind you that Disney corporation is refusing to pay Alan Dean Foster and other authors money they are owed for media tie-in novels.

I can’t say more without spoilers, so…

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Seriously, every single sentence below is full of spoilers…

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Seriously, turn back now!!!

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I warned you!!!

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Seriously, spoilers ahead!

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Read More…

WandaVision Goes Even More Meta in “A Very Special Episode…”

© Disney+

Time for a review of the latest episode of WandaVision: “A Very Special Episode…” Since I keep taking too long to finish these, I’m going to try to do a bit less verbose in my recapping and focus on reviewing. And before we get into that, I want to mention up front that while I thus far love this show playing on Disney+, it is still unfortunate that the Disney corporation is refusing to pay Alan Dean Foster and other authors money they are owed for media tie-in novels.

This week’s episode continues the trend seen in the first three where Wanda, Vision, and the town of Westview moves through the decades with styles, decor, and so forth evoking sitcoms of a particular era. This episode has moved into the 80s, and while i recognized the styles and at least the homages during the opening sequence to Family Ties, but I have to confess that while I am familiar with a lot of the sitcoms of the 50s, 60s, and 70s, I didn’t watch much TV during the 1980s1. So I probably missed a bunch of subtle stuff in this one.

This episode moved back and forth between the viewpoint of Wanda and Vision inside the reality bubble, and the scientists and agents outside. With some direct interaction that did not go very well. It was interesting, it was intense in places, and the mystery managed to deepen some more. I don’t think I can say more without spoilers, so if you don’t want to read those, stop now!

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Seriously, spoilers ahead!

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WandaVision Interrupts the Program to Give Some Answers, and Raise More Questions

© Disney +

Time for the next installment in my weekly WandaVision episode review. I reviewed the first three episodes here. I’ll try to to stick to one episode at a time going forward.

This week’s episode, entitled “We Interrupt This Program” gave us a lot of answers while raising many more questions. It is also chock-full of connections to and characters from other parts of the Marvel universe. Which is cool for nerds such as myself. But I want to stress that you don’t have to be familiar with all of those other things to understand. The show is still doing a fairly good job of framing this story in a way that people who aren’t familiar with the other properties can follow and be just as perplexed about what’s going on as the rest of us. There is one bit at the beginning of this episode that might need a bit of extra explaining for someone who isn’t Marvel obsessed, but even then they gave some explanation that I think might have been enough for those not familiar.

So, I’m going to limit the body of this review to only what happens on screen, and if I feel the need to squee about any of the bonus things along the way, I’ll toss that into footnotes.

The only non-spoilery thing I can say is that this episode tells us what was happening from the point of view of government agents and scientists who are outside of Westview. Which is way the viewers (us!) gets some answers, obviously.

I can’t really say anything more without spoilers, so, if you don’t want to be spoiled, stop reading now.

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Seriously, spoilers ahead!

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What do you call a fourth wall that’s entirely inside the production, or, Let’s talk about WandaVision

© Disney+

The new series from Marvel, WandaVision dropped on Disney+ a couple of weeks ago, and I was thinking of doing an episode-by-episode set of reviews, as I’d previously done for Star Trek: Picard, but I didn’t get the first one done within a week. Anyway, we’ve now had three episodes (“Filmed Before a Live Studio Audience”, “Don’t Touch That Dial”, and “Now in Color”) which gets us far enough along that I feel I can comment on what I suspected the main themes of the show will be as well as just talk about how those episodes work.

First I wanna make a few unspoilery comments: this show is not a typical superhero adventure. It has a lot more in common with Twins Peaks than shows such as Arrow or Daredevil. You also don’t have to have watched any of the Marvel movies to understand what’s going on. Within the opening minutes the show tells you most of what you need to know to understand the framing mechanism: she has some sort of magickal powers, he’s not human, they are in love and they are trying to fit into a stereotypical suburban family neighborhood without any of the neighbors realizing who or what they are.

To me, it also became clear very early on that this show is more likely a horror-type mystery than a thrilling adventure/action story. A number of other reviewers I’ve read didn’t pick up the horror-vibe until episode three, so your mileage my vary.

I don’t think I can say anything more without spoilers, so if you don’t want to be spoiled, turn back now.

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Seriously, spoilers ahead!

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Age of Misinformation, or, how sf/f warned us of the current apocalypse

“The President has not been silenced. He has a press room right in his house. He's more than welcome to step up the the podium, speak and even take some questions. He is not a victim.”

The President has NOT been silenced. The entire White House Press Corps is waiting to report his words to the world…

One of the history classes I took in college was focused very tightly on the era from 1945 to 1980—and almost exclusively from the viewpoint of the U.S. My professor was literally the kind of guy who would show up on campus at least twice a week wearing one of many ponchos he had picked up during his frequent summer sojourns to Central America. He also wore turtlenecks a lot, and frequently had on one of more necklaces again, acquired during his Central American trips. He was the living embodiment of a particular academic stereotype of the time.

His tests usually had at least one essay question. He warned us that the final would have several of the shorter essay questions similar to those we’d seen before, and one much longer one that would make up a large portion of the grade of the test. At some point before the final, he gave us a list of sample questions for that large final one, telling us the question on the test would be either one of those, or a variant. When the day of the final arrived, the test at the end was along the lines of, “Of the technological advancements made in the 20th Century, what is the one which poses the greatest threat to the future of humanity. Explain why you think this is so.”

Which was, indeed, one of the questions that had been on the sample list. And I knew, because of things he had said many times in class, that he believed there was one, and only one correct answer: strategic nuclear weapons and the threat of all-out nuclear war.

And I had disagreed in class.

I could have written the essay he wanted. I felt, however, that I needed to maintain my own integrity, so instead I wrote about communications and data technology, and how as those technologies converged, they would create tools which could take propaganda to a point that could indeed send humans to extinction. I don’t remember all of the specific arguments I made in the essay.

As I expected, he didn’t give me very many points for it, and even wrote a derisive comment about how newspapers and television could never wipe out the human race.

You don’t know how tempted I have been of late to email him (he is still alive, though no longer teaching at SPU where I took classes from him—he is semi-retired teaching part time at a small college in Oregon, now), point him to the current series of fascistic, racist movements boiling over in many countries around the world, all fueled by misinformation driven by algorithms and ask him if he wants to reconsider that grade.

I should mention that I was taking this class in 1986 or 1987, at a time before most people owned personal computers, the protocols that would make World Wide Web possible were just being invented, and if you had cable television at all, you probably only had access to about a dozen channels. It is understandable that someone wouldn’t see where telecommunications was going. I can’t take complete credit for being prescient in that essay. It’s true that my minor was Communications, and being a mathematics and data guy by nature, I had an understanding of how tiny incremental changes could propagate out to create vast systemic disruptions.

But I also had the help of having been an avid science fiction fan for as long as I could remember. What most people think of as cyberpunk had only been around for a few years at that point, but the precursors had been percolating through science fiction works for a couple of decades. So I had some help in imagining what ubiquitous telecommunications technology might turn into.

Which leads us to the here and now. There are large segments of the population in live in information bubbles that allow them to believe (and receive daily confirmation) the most outlandish and provably false ideas. Ideas that inspire them to arm themselves and invade capitol buildings and kill public servants, all while thinking that these aren’t crimes and that they will be lauded as heroes who saved humanity afterward.

Way back in 1975 U.S. Secretary of Defense James R. Schlesinger said, “Everybody is entitled to his own views. Everybody is not entitled to his own facts.” A slightly different version of this statement is often attributed to U.S Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan. In any case, between the various siloed news sources, social media algorithms, and ubiquitous stream of data to devices many of us carry with us constantly, we’ve entered a world where a lot of people are forming opinions and making decisions based on their own “facts.” It’s not just that they are immersed in misinformation and lies, they are immersed in complex constructs of alternate realities built on misinformation and lies, but so reinforced (with the help of technology), that they might as well be physically living in a parallel universe from other people.

It’s not a new phenomenon, but the layering of misinformation, misinterpretation, misrepresentation, and misdirection has been accelerating and compounding to a point that it is becoming nearly impossible for people to reach across bubbles and have meaningful conversations—let alone the level of mutual understanding and empathy necessary to have good faith discussions of how to solve our problems.

We’re at the point where a bunch of loosely aligned sub-cultures have been (and are still) plotting the violent overthrow of governments as well as the literal destruction of people who disagree with them. The murder mob which invaded the U.S. Capitol building just last week is only one example of this problem.

And while it appears that the coup has halted because the Liar-in-Chief is so devastated at all his social media accounts being taken off-line (leaving him, by reliable counts, sulking in the residence portion of the White House and not just ignoring his job and duties, but ignoring even his most sycophantic aides), the truth is that his angry supporters and the allied neo-Nazis/alt-right extremists are simply doing their planning in slightly more obscure portions of the network. There will most certainly be more violent “protests” and threats in the coming days.

Which is not to say that I think Twitter and Facebook and the other tech companies were wrong to take the (long overdue) actions that they have to shut down the various accounts. Nor am I saying that Congress shouldn’t be proceeding with at least the effort to re-Impeach and so forth. The truth is that these mostly white supremacist haters and malcontents have been angry and raging for years, and they are going to continue to riot and cause trouble no matter what we do.

It is precisely because they will rage and riot no matter what we do, that all of us should do the right thing. We should continue to speak out against the lies and hate. We should encourage those with the power to de-platform violence to do so. We should continue to seek out and arrest the lawbreakers and prosecute them to the fullest extent of the law.

I’ve seen people on the progressive end of the political spectrum bemoan that fact that private companies such as Twitter and Amazon Web Services and the like have so much power to silence people. Specifically I’ve seen the assertion made that this “just moves us closer to the cyberpunk dystopia where corporations have more power than governments.” I have some news for you: we are already in that dystopia, and have been for a bit longer than you probably imagine.

But that’s just another layer of the problem. A problem we can only solve if we stay engaged and find ways to hold each other accountable.


Edited to Add:

Camestros Feloptan has a somewhat related post that I missed yesterday: Further Annals of Libertarians Discovering Capitalism Sucks.

And if I’m going to talk about Cyberpunk, even in passing as I did, I should include this song, from Billy Idol’s most underrated album, CyberpunkNEUROMANCER:

(If embedding doesn’t work, click here.)

ETA 2:

Elseweb I was asked which sci fi stories helped paint this picture. This is not a definitive list, just ones that come to mind:

Shockwave Rider by John Brunner

The Computer Connection by Alfred Bester

The Dueling Machine by Ben Bova

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep by Phillip K. Dick

On Wings of Song by Thomas M. Disch

Bladerunner the motion picture directed by Ridley Scott

“The Girl Who Was Plugged In” by James Tiptree, Jr

The Müller-Fokker Effect by John Sladek

I put a spell on you! Or, more of why I love spooky sf/f

Hocus Pocus!

I don’t remember when I first saw Hocus Pocus. While preparing this post, I was surprised to learn the movie came out in the summer of 1993. I was quite certain I had seen it long before that. Given when it came out, it is a toss-up whether it was a movie that my late husband (Ray) and I saw it in a theatre, or whether we didn’t see it until later when it was on cable or out of video. I know that since sometime in the mid-nineties that it has been broadcast during every October on ABC- and Disney-owned channels. It always gets high ratings, and the DVD/Blue ray sales have been a reliable strong seller every year. Which might make one wonder why I need to write about it at all, because it seems to be one of the most popular spooky movies, ever.

I love the movie. Spoiler warning: I can’t talk about why I think this movie is worthwhile without giving away a key part of the ending, so if you don’t want to be spoiled, go stream the movie now!

In case you aren’t familiar: the movie begins on October 31, 1693 in Salem, Massachusetts, where the notorious (and elderly) Sanderson sisters, widely believed to be witches, have lured a young girl into their cottage. They brew a magic potion which they force the child to drink, and proceed to leech her life away, making themselves young again.

The girl’s older brother, Thackery Binx, tries to interrupt the ritual and save his sister, but he fails. He is transformed into a black cat by the sisters and cursed to live forever with his guilt.

The townspeople of Salem storm the cottage and find the dead body of the girl. The witches refuse to say what has happened to her brother. The witch sisters are sentenced to be hanged, but before they are executed, the eldest with, Winifred, casts a spell which she claims will allow them to rise from the grave again—one an All Hallow’s Eve with a full moon, if a virgin lights the Black Flame Candle.

Jump forward 300 years, and Max (who will be our protagonist) is a teen-ager unhappy that his parents have moved the family to Salem. Max has an encounter with a pair of local bullies, which doesn’t make him like the new home any better. He is also not fond of the town’s local folklore about the Sanderson sisters and witches in general. He is really unhappy when his parents saddle him with the job of taking his younger sister, Dani, trick-or-treating. But early in the evening they meet a classmate Max has a crush on, Allison.

Because Allison thinks that Max’s skepticism is a bit too cynical, and because Max is anxious to impress Allison, they wind up in the old Sanderson Cottage (which has been preserved as a museum). When Max announces he is going to light the so-called Black Flame Candle and prove that witches are myths, a black cat attempts to stop him. Max manages to light the candle, anyway and the witches rise from the dead.

What follows is horror-comedy romp with some elements of musical theatre thrown in. The black cat is the cursed Thackery (who answers to Binx for the rest of the movie), who has lurked around the cottage for 300 years trying to prevent anyone lighting that candle. He can speak to the three kids, though know one else apparently can understand him. The kids flee, unsuccessfully try to warn the adults that the witches are back. The witches, meanwhile, have perform their life-stealing ritual on some children before sunrise or they go back to being dead, so there is a bit of a race.

At several points the witches capture one or more of the kids. At at least two points the kids appear to defeat the witches. Along the one a long dead lover of two of the sisters is raised as a kind of zombie/revenant who assists the witches in chasing the kids.

Eventually there is a dramatic stand-off in a cemetery, and with a bit of cleverness, bravery, and self-sacrifice, evil is thwarted.

The three witches are played by Bette Midler, Kathy Najimy, and Sarah Jessica Parker. It wouldn’t be fair to say that Midler steals the show, because all of the show’s comedy and menace are built around her character. The director, Kenny Ortega, said in later interviews that he told the three of them to play it as over the top and campy as if they were drag queens, and it certainly worked.

I’ve seen reviews that Max doesn’t really have a character arc, and I don’t understand how people can be that blind. In the early part of the film, the bullies are absolutely correct that Max looks down his nose at what he sees as the provinciality of the Salem natives. And when Allison scoffs at his scoffing, it’s clear that she sees his skepticism as performative. He doesn’t believe because it isn’t cool to be credulous. Just as he pretends not to care about his younger sister because, again, it would be uncool to feel warmth or affection for his kid sister. By the end of the film, that pretense is gone, and he doesn’t just take a risk to save his little sister, but he gulps down the potion and forces the witches to kill him in her stead.

It’s not bravado or a clever trick. He doesn’t reveal afterward that he only pretended to swallow it. He swallows it, the witches perform the next part of the ritual. We see his life force literally being taken from him.

Once the witches are defeated, we also get a nice pair of parallel scenes, one in which Max and Dani share a moment, and then because Binx fulfilled his mission, we see a similar scene between his ghost and the spirt of his little sister, who has been waiting for him to join her in the afterlife for 300 years.

Unlike the last campy & spooky two movies I’ve written about, this one came out after I was well and truly out of the closet. So I felt freer to revel in the camp vibe and all it implied. A few times when I’ve found myself in conversation with other queer fans of the show discussing it, I’ve found out that a lot of them like to ask the question: so which Sanderson sister are you? For the record, Ray was definitely and enthusiastically a Sarah. I had to admit that I want to be Winifred, but I’m really a Mary.

The film is funny. It has many nice spooky moments. If you haven’t seen it, give it a try. Maybe it will cast a spell on you, too.

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