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When people do something in a monumentally stupid way, I usually have no issue pointing out that they just did something in a monumentally stupid way. When people do something in a monumentally stupid way and then follow that up by doubling down in perhaps an even more monumentally stupid way, I usually have no issue with pointing that out. Occasionally, when someone doesn’t end up doubling down in ways that makes them come off as a bit of an ass, I’ll even try to be fairly polite about it. Blunt honesty about how someone is behaving might not come across as “polite” in a way Miss Manners would endorse, but, hey, she occasionally over the years came across as less than polite and sometimes even more than a tad condescending.

However, one thing I do hate to do is to punch down. A few days ago, a statement- perhaps in the eyes of some even a borderline challenge -was directed at me where I just rolled my eyes, joked with a few friends about it, and more or less decided to leave it alone and move on. At the time, as the person seemed to be desperately trying to sink himself and a project he wanted to launch, it seemed like responding in the way he suggested I do so would be a little bit like me punching down- in this case punching down on a guy barely holding onto a life preserver in shark-infested waters while simultaneously dumping chum all over himself.

It’s a few days later. I’ve thought about it. Not all that much, mind you, but enough. Just enough to realize that something I said to this fellow was fairly accurate and worth following up on. His actions and his reactions to the fallout from his actions are worth noting and discussing if for no other reason than they are a “How To” guide for everyone else out there. However, in his case, he is and seems to be intent on becoming even more so a “How To” guide on everything you want to not do if you’re hoping to do a project along the lines of his proposed project.

I’m going to work very hard to rein in my natural tendencies towards sarcasm here. There are three reasons for this. First, this is the kind of mistake many fans or fan/pros out there could easily make in this day and age. Second, while the man is acting in a damned fool way, he hasn’t exactly (yet) struck me as someone trying to be a jackass. That could change based on things he’s already expressed on the matter, but I’m going to give him some benefit of the doubt for now. Third… Well, I’ll touch on that reason towards the end of this.

Actually, I’ll add a fourth reason why I’ll rein in my natural tendencies towards sarcasm here. He may very well be a nice guy who doesn’t act like this very often. I don’t know. I have no real way of knowing that. He may normally be a nice, fairly on top of it guy who is just acting in an extremely poor manner here.

Oh, also… If the individual in question sees all of this and feels it puts him in a poor light or that my using him as an example for others of what not to do casts his recent actions in a negative light… Well, there’s a part of me that’s at least a little sorry for that. However, keep in mind; he basically suggested I do this.

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The Underground Space Station

About a week ago, I saw an article on-line that StarTrek.com was looking for articles. They wanted a quick description of what topic would be written about, so I dashed off a couple lines about PTSD and how it’s shown, or not shown, on Trek. Didn’t hear back yet. HOWEVER, some other people MUST have, since articles have started appearing.

Sadly, I fear I’ve started to label these less Trek, and more another Nimoy vehicle, In Search Of…An Editor. As can be seen here or here it’s like overhearing a conversation waiting in the autograph line at a convention.  The Mirror Universe article could be an analysis of the darkness inside, or which world we’re in, not an episode summary.  The Ferengi one could have been really insightful, with more discussion of the label as Outsider.  Instead, it becomes a Poor Me Screed.  There’s one about the Jewish origins of…

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It Came from Hollywood

Posted: May 2, 2019 in Uncategorized

The Assignment: Horror Podcast

It Came from Hollywood Poster and CoverOh, do I love this film. It’s probably a sign of a mental disorder on my part, but I really do seriously love this film. It just tickles the goofiest, weirdest, and likely dumbest funny bone that I have in my body. I think it also helped screw up my personal taste in some genres of film in a way that still makes my wife suffer greatly on the occasional movie night.

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Yes, It Really is a Big Deal

Posted: April 27, 2019 in Entertainment, Life, Movies
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Blog Cover - Big Deal

[I should note up front that at the time of this writing I have not seen Avengers: Endgame, so you don’t have to worry about spoilers.]

This is the weekend. It’s finally here. Almost one full week shy of exactly eleven years ago, Iron Man landed in theaters across the country and started us on a trip that is finally seeing its end. From Iron Man to Captain Marvel, 21 films have been made that have brought us to this weekend and film 22. We are at Avengers: Endgame.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, from social media to the workplace, there are people who want to downplay what this is. Some are just being deliberately insulting trolls or outright jerks, disparaging the nature of the genre and the fans who enjoy it. Some are simply playing the ‘I’m too cool to be into this popular film series stuff to that level’ bit. Then there are those who are not fans- outside observers as it were -who genuinely don’t understand why some of their friends, family, and coworkers are losing their minds this weekend.    

There’s little that can be said to the first two groups. They are what they are. As for the third group, I can assure you that, yes, what is about to happen in movie theaters across the country this weekend is absolutely a big deal. Here’s why. By the time we’ve all watched the last of the credits roll on Avengers: Endgame, we will have witnessed something that has never been done in the history of American cinema and, as far as I know, the history of cinema anywhere else.

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The Assignment: Horror Podcast

CoverThe first detonation of a nuclear weapon was conducted by the United States Army at 5:29 am on July 16, 1945. They used the code name of Trinity for the detonation. The name was inspired by the works of John Donne, a poet whose work often touched on the metaphysical and the religious. It was an interesting name as chosen by scientists for such an event; touching on concepts of the big bang and the creation of all things. For Hollywood, it inspired a bit of a different Biblical twist, the time of giant beasts.

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The Manitou (1978)

Posted: April 18, 2019 in Uncategorized

The Assignment: Horror Podcast

The Manitou Cover“It’s Misquamacus. The greatest medicine man of all. He turned rivers, made storms. Mountains rose at his command. No spirit ignored him. No demon denied him.”

In 1976, British horror author Graham Masterson had his first novel published. That novel was The Manitou. The novel would be fairly well received and Masterson would go on to write five sequels and a short story- the last sequel novel so far published in 2015 –and have lead character Harry Erskine appear in other works not directly tied to the Manitou series. The series would have a number of references to the works of H.P. Lovecraft written into them from the very start, and Masterson would write more than story outside of his Manitou works that were openly built on Lovecraft’s works.

It’s perhaps this- on top of his ability to write stories that play well to the reader –that not only…

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On April 16, 1988, 31 years ago in Japan, an animated film, an early film for the just shy of three-year-old Studio Ghibli, opened in movie theaters in Japan. The film was based on a 1967 semi-autobiographical short story, Hotaru no Haka, from writer Akiyuki Nosaka. The story itself had become well known in Japan, and Akiyuki Nosaka had reportedly turned down several offers to turn his story into a live action movie or television film believing that live action would not capture the intended spirit of the story. He had never considered animation, but first the pitch from Studio Ghibli and then the early storyboards convinced him that the story could not be properly told at that time in any medium other than animation. There are probably a lot of people all around the world who are glad he came to that conclusion, because had he not done so we would never have seen Grave of the Fireflies. Of course, that’s as much a blessing as a curse for some.

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Grave of the Fireflies is not the type of material one first thinks of when animation (American or Japanese) or Studio Ghibli are brought up. When I first saw it as a VHS tape being shown sometime in the early 1990s at a small convention, my impressions of the film were mixed. As far as animated movies go, it was perhaps one of the most beautiful films I’d seen. Visually it was and still is an absolutely amazingly rendered film. The animation is gorgeous; if not at points absolutely stunning to look at. But when it came to the story the film told and how it told it, it was perhaps one of the most emotionally brutally ugly films I had seen at that time. It is ultimately a very dark story told in very human terms, and I have seen the film cause entire audiences to break down sobbing. I’ve actually had people tell me in discussions about the film that it was one of the best animated films they’d ever seen, but they literally had not been able to bring themselves to watch it again since they first saw it.

Ernest Rister wrote a review of the film where he called it the most profoundly human animated film he’d ever seen and compared it on some levels to Schindler’s List. The late Roger Ebert praised it as one of the best and most powerful war films ever made, and he went on to included it on his “Great Movies” list. Believe it or not, none of that is unwarranted hyperbole.

Yeah, it’s that damned good. Yeah, it’s also that damned disturbing.

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The film’s story opens in Japan in 1945 (just after the end of World War II) so that we can see a young boy, Seita, dying of starvation in a beaten and battered train station. After his death, his body is removed and we see an individual digging through his belongings. What’s deemed as useful or valuable is taken, but one of his belongings, a candy tin filled with dust, is thrown out into a field. As the tin rolls on the ground and opens, a cloud of fireflies and the spirit of a young girl, Setsuko, come out of it. Setsuko is greeted by Seita’s spirit and he convinces her to board a train with him. As the train prepares to begin its journey, Seita begins to tell us the film’s story in partially narrated flashback.

The story proper begins in Kobe, Japan during the bombings of early 1945. As the first bombs begin to fall on their city, Seita and his younger sister Setsuko begin to secure their home as their mother is assisted with reaching the local shelter. Suddenly, everyone is caught off guard as the bombers begin to release wave after wave of incendiary bombs. In very short order, their neighborhood is almost completely destroyed and much of the city is likewise devastated. Having lost almost everything of material value they owned, the two children soon learn that their mother was one of the townsfolk badly burned during the bombing. She dies shortly after they learn this.

The two of them salvage what they can find of their family’s belongings and begin to try to survive. Their father is a member of Japan’s military and is already fighting the war, so the two of them turn to an aunt for help. The aunt takes them in, but once she does her motivations are not always in their best interests. She convinces Seita to sell what little of his mother’s belongings he salvaged in order to buy rice, although she doesn’t share most of the rice with them. She begins to berate them and push them for more. Seita goes out and retrieves some supplies he hid before the bombings began and brings them back to his aunt. He gives her all of it save a small tin of fruit candies that he gives to Setsuko throughout the film.

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This does little to change her attitude towards the children. As the days go by and turn into weeks, the rations begin to become tighter and tighter. Slowly, their aunt begins to withhold more and more food from the two of them, giving some of their share to her own daughter and a local man staying with them. She also grows increasingly emotionally abusive towards the two of them the longer they stay with her.

Eventually, Seita decides that they have better chances elsewhere and convinces Setsuko they need to leave their aunt’s home. After some searching, the two of them finally settle into an abandoned bomb shelter. To give them (primarily Setsuko) some light at night, Seita starts capturing fireflies and putting them inside the shelter. Setsuko wakes up one morning to find many of the fireflies have died. She becomes emotional and starts demanding that Seita tell her why they had to die. She then asks why their mother had to die. As Seita does his best to explain, Setsuko begins to bury the fireflies; creating a makeshift grave for them.

As the days go by, their situation grows worse. Their supply of rice is running out, rations as a whole in the town are being reduced, and the natural resources they might otherwise seek to live off of have become as battered and damaged as the cities thanks to the war. Seita begins to risk his life by going into the town when the air raid alarms go off so that he can loot homes or businesses during the evacuations to the shelters. This nets him very little, and he’s eventually caught and turned over to the police. He’s released a short time later and returns to the shelter to find his sister in dire need of medical attention. He takes her to a doctor in town and is told she’s suffering from extreme malnutrition and some dehydration due to both the inadequate supplies they have access to and the diarrhea she’s had for some time now. What the doctor doesn’t give them is any substantial help.

Seita goes out to find a bank in order to withdraw whatever money might still be in his parent’s account. Once he finally finds a bank and obtains some money, he learns from others in the town that the war is over and Japan has unconditionally surrendered to America and the other Allied Powers. He grows angry and then despondent as the news comes through to him and the townsfolk. Not only has Japan lost the war, but he learns that most of the vessels of the Japanese Navy have been destroyed at sea. From the information about how the war has actually been going, it becomes clear to him that his father has most likely been killed in the war; perhaps having been dead for some time.

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Seita goes back to the shelter and finds Setsuko delirious and near death. She’s hallucinating and talking to herself or to people who are not there and is not completely responsive to him. He gets her to lay down and begins to prepare the food he’s brought with him. He finishes cooking the food, brings it over to her, and tries to get her to eat it. He refuses to acknowledge for a moment what he seemingly already knows as he continues to try to get her to put food in her mouth and chew, but it becomes clear to him that she passed away while he was preparing the meal.

The next morning, he places her body and her ever-present stuffed toy into a small straw box and burns them until they’re cremated. He scrapes together the ashes and places them in the now empty fruit candy tin in order to carry them with him. Seita continues to travel and try to survive for a few weeks more before succumbing to malnutrition himself. Eventually, the film reaches the point in the story where we first see him dead in the train station.

The movie attempts to end on, if not a happy note, a less downbeat note. It succeeds to a degree, but by the end of the film most viewers are emotionally destroyed.

That’s not to say that the film is unrelentingly grim. The storytelling genius of the film is in the fact that quite the opposite is true. There are moments had between Seita and Setsuko that are moments of sheer joy even as their country and their very world collapses all around them. The filmmakers knew they had to give the audiences some moments of respite; not only for their emotional wellbeing during the film but also so that the audiences weren’t emotionally deadened to what they were seeing before the final acts of the story.

The pacing of the film and the construction of the various scenes is also brilliantly done. Many scenes- whether joyful or grim and everything in between –are given moments where the story pauses. You’re forced to dwell on the moments when they happen because the filmmakers take their time with them and don’t simply force the story quickly into the next scene or moment. There is a surprising absence of music from many scenes as well. Where many films- especially of the animated variety –attempt to force emotion by combining the visuals with an affecting score, the filmmakers here wisely let silence occasionally be the powerful emotional force it can be when used properly. It works in scenes of great beauty and scenes of tragic sadness equally well throughout the film.

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Grave of the Fireflies is one of those films that everyone should see at least once. It doesn’t matter if you don’t like animated films or war films or films with historical settings or films tightly or loosely based on real events. Grave of the Fireflies is a film that transcends its genre, the medium it was created in, and even on many levels the setting for the story in ways that few films can. It’s a film that cannot be fully understood by reading an explanation of it or being told about it by others no matter how detailed they get with the explanation. It is a film that has to be experienced in order for the power of it to be fully understood. Of course, the interesting thing with this film, it’s also one of those films where once you experience it, even if you cite it as one of your favorite movies, you may find yourself reluctant to watch it again any time soon if ever again.

Grave of the Fireflies is available in the United States on Blu-Ray. You can order it through most brick and mortar stores as well as through most online merchants. There’s an out of print DVD you may find while looking as well, and that one is worth it if just for how loaded it is with special features. But, in all honesty, even though I believe it’s absolutely worth owning, you might want to seek it out for a first time viewing as a digital rental to see how you handle it. I was not exaggerating earlier. I have met people who truly love this film and appreciate the fact that they saw it, but they cannot bring themselves to watch it again on their own.

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Jerry Chandler is a lifelong geek who, while enjoying most everything fandom has to offer, finds himself most at home in the horror, dark fantasy, and science fiction genres. He has in the past contributed to websites like Needless Things, Nerdy Minds Magazine,  Gruesome Magazine, and others while occasionally remembering to put up the odd musings on his own blog. He’s been a guest on several podcasts from the ESO Network, on Decades of Horror, and on the Nerdy Laser. He is also a regular co-host on The Assignment: Horror Podcast as well as the primary writer for its affiliated blog.