In the Hall with the Knife

It’s YA Clue! The End.

For some reason my editor didn’t think my first draft review of this book (see above) was long enough. So I’m going to take another stab at reviewing In the Hall with the Knife by Diana Peterfreund.

First, I want to take you back in time. No, we won’t need a DeLorean but we will need Christopher Lloyd.

I wouldn’t discover this for another five years, but in 1985 a totally bonkers film based on a board game with an all-star cast was getting mixed reviews. Critics didn’t understand at the time that they were witnessing cinematic gold; gold my family and I would watch repeatedly over the years to the point it became a family tradition.

I’m talking about the movie Clue. It takes the characters and layout from the board game and re-imagines it as a 1950s-era dinner party-turned-murder mystery. Thrills, chills, puns, and innuendo are all served up on a platter of physical comedy. While this might not sound amazing to you, it captured my heart and mind in a way that no other media has ever been able to do.

Author Diana Peterfreund had a similar backstory and relationship with the film. She gives a great shout-out in the book’s acknowledgements:

Finally, my eternal devotion to anyone even marginally involved with the beloved 1985 classic movie, as well as my parents, who thought nothing of letting us bring along our battered VHS tape of Clue on every road trip growing up. I could know a foreign language: instead I know that movie’s script by heart.

Same, girl. Same.

If you have a similar love for the film, you will appreciate the 5-6 subtle references I spotted in the text of In the Hall with the Knife. But rest assured that no knowledge of the film is required in order to enjoy what I’ve told friends is “a delightful murderous romp through a flooded and frozen Maine boarding school campus.”

Scarlet, Mustard, Green, Peacock, Plum, and Orchid are students at Blackbrook Academy, an elite, secluded boarding school in the wilds of Maine. It’s winter break and they are among the handful of students unlucky enough to be on campus when the storm of the century strikes. Flooding has wiped out the bridge to the mainland, making escape impossible. Flooding has also systematically invaded most of the buildings on campus until there’s only one place left for everyone to try to survive until help arrives: Tudor House.

Tudor House was once a home for wayward girls or some such nonsense. It housed teenage girls who somehow didn’t fit the norms established by society; in some cases they were accused of crimes and sent to Tudor House to be “reformed.” When Blackbrook went co-ed, they acquired Tudor House to serve as the first girls’ dormitory. For decades Mrs. White has served as Tudor House’s proctor and chaperone.

When it becomes clear that help isn’t coming, or is at least a ways off, the group of students, Mrs. White, Headmaster Boddy, and the school’s caretaker work to weather-proof the old mansion as much as possible while keeping spirits up and learning to get along.

But just as secrets are shared and trust is starting to form tentative bonds, tragedy strikes: Headmaster Boddy is found dead. At first most people try to convince themselves it was a suicide: he must have stabbed himself to death. The school’s caretaker leaves to get help, but Green is the only one who sees the absurdity of ruling his death a suicide and tries to convince the others that it’s definitely murder and the police are needed more urgently than ever.

Who murdered Headmaster Boddy? Was it Beth “Peacock” Picah, Orchid McKee, Vaughn Green, Sam “Mustard” Maestor, Finn Plum, or Scarlet Mistry? All we know for certain is he was killed in the hall, with the knife.

Trapped in a rambling old mansion with a sordid history (and wait–is that a secret passage?) during a brutal winter storm, will anyone survive to tell the police whodunnit?

Chuck

Recently, as I sat and pondered the meaning of existence, I wondered what it is that makes a particular television program one of my favorites. Writing and acting are important aspects of any good TV show, but there’s more to it than that. And so I realized that what I look for in a show, although not consciously, is a cast of characters that I like, people who I’d hang out with. Or invite into my living room.

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To this end, one of my favorite shows is Chuck, a series focusing on a nerdy computer geek who is recruited by the CIA after a virtual computer is downloaded into his head. In other words, an extremely realistic premise. (Pause). This is not so different from many other shows where an untrained person aids the police/FBI/etc., but what sets this show apart from the pack is the interaction between characters.

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Chuck Bartowski is a nice guy. He attended Stanford University but got expelled shortly before graduation for something he didn’t do. With his life-plan derailed, Chuck ends up repairing computers at the Buy More (the TV equivalent of Best Buy). He lives with his sister Ellie, perhaps the nicest person alive, and her husband Devon (AKA Captain Awesome), perhaps the most positive person alive.

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Outside of Chuck’s family, tucked away in the depths of the Buy More, we find Chuck’s co-workers, a cast of misfits, clowns and losers. These eccentric individuals provide the show’s comic relief with their scheming and meddling and general screwing up. The comedy they bring is essential to offset the drama and death-defying action of Chuck’s spy guy activities.

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This leaves us with Chuck’s spy co-workers, John Casey, a by-the-books ex-marine and Sarah Walker, Chuck’s handler and pretend girlfriend. As a nerd, Chuck is somewhat overwhelmed by the attention of this beautiful woman and he would really, really, really like to get rid of the pretend status of their relationship. As with many a TV show, this sexual tension is one of the mainstays of the program.

Chuck

So, why is this show better than countless others? The answer is simple: relationships. Due to their undercover status Chuck and Sarah’s relationship is quite complex. Chuck makes it no secret that he’s head-over-heels for this smart, funny, attractive pretend girlfriend, but Sarah is all business. Mostly. She obviously likes Chuck but knows it would be dangerous for a spy to become emotionally entangled with anyone else, let alone her spy partner. She will suggest that they kiss as part of their cover, or even spend the night together (doing absolutely nothing), but she won’t let any real emotions show. And after time, this wears on Chuck. He wants a real girlfriend, specifically Sarah. The subtle nuances that Zach Levi and Yvonne Strahovski bring to their rolls is impressive.

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So what we have in the end is an action-packed spy show, a comedy, and a romance all wrapped into one. Of course I’ve just touched on the tip of the spy iceberg (spyceberg), so to speak, so you’ll have to watch to find out how everything unfolds. In the immortal words of the Earl of Sandwich, “I highly recommend that you check this one out. And fetch me some bread and bologna!”

Unhappy Comedies

I’ve noticed a recent trend in sitcoms. Perhaps it’s nothing new, but an extra twist of lime has been added to the mix, metaphorically speaking. Here’s the 411 on the down low: Most of the characters in these comedies are not likable and the overall feeling generated by the shows is discomfort. Please, come with me to THE LAND OF UNHAPPY COMEDIES.

baskets

Our first stop is Bakersfield, CA. After flunking out of a prestigious French clown college, Chip Baskets is determined to fulfill his clowning dream. So, Baskets moves in with his less-than-supportive mother (played somewhat disturbingly by Louie Anderson) and takes a job as a rodeo clown. Chip’s only friend is Martha, an insurance agent who tolerates the poor treatment he heaps on her liberally. His twin brother Dale (mom’s favorite) is another source of irritation in Chip’s demoralizing life. And it’s a comedy! Don’t get me wrong, Baskets is a crazy good television program. It’s just not a happy viewing experience. Did I mention that it’s a comedy?

GettingOn

Moving approximately 135 miles to Long Beach, CA, we come to the Mount Palms Memorial Hospital where the dysfunctional denizens of Getting On help people who are ready to move on to their final reward. Meet head nurse Dawn Forchette, a woman who freely mixes her love life and job, failing miserably at both; nurse Didi Ortley, a compassionate and humane caregiver; Dr. Jenna James, who cares about nothing but her research, often at the patients’ cost; and supervising nurse Patsy De La Serda, a sexually ambiguous emotional wreck who puts a face on unhappiness. What better premise for a comedy? These characters frequently act with disregard for those around them, driven only by their own needs and desires. In Didi we have a reasonable person that most of us can relate to but the others are all toxic. The result is an uncomfortable but hilarious viewing experience.

LastMan

Our journey concludes in Tuscon and other ports of call. Humanity has been wiped out by a virus and Phil Miller is The Last Man On Earth. He travels the North American continent for two years looking for others but finds no one. As he sits in Tuscon contemplating ending it all, other survivors begin to arrive and we soon find out that Phil (who goes by his middle name, Tandy) is a real jerk with few redeeming qualities. After finding out that Carol will not have sex with him unless they get married, he (wait for it) marries her. But the bonds of wedlock do not keep him from flagrantly lusting after Melissa, who gradually falls in love with Todd, a shy and husky man who Tandy tries to kill in order to be with Melissa. Did I mention that it’s a comedy? The format of the show makes it simple for adventures to occur, with other survivors occasionally finding the group, some with evil intent, others not. As the show progresses, the group moves hither and yon, allowing for more variety in the storylines. No question, this is a great show, but the overall vibe is one of discomfort and shuddering. And it’s a comedy!

I enjoy all of these shows, but they leave me feeling a little bit dirty, a little disillusioned with humankind. Still, if you want to see superior writing, most excellent acting and clever plot twists, you could do worse than these unhappy comedies. Come on down to Everett Public Library and take one for a test drive. Mileage may vary.

Percy Jackson: Books to Movie

Let me just start this by saying Percy Jackson was my Harry Potter growing up. So when I heard that a movie was being made. I. Was. Elated. Before I go on, I do want to say that this is only my opinion and I would recommend you watch the movie with an open mind. After all, I’ve heard a lot of good reviews for the movie from people who haven’t read the book. So it can’t be all bad, even from my jaded mind.

So spoilers ahead for the books and the movie Percy Jackson & the Olympians.

First up in this review are the Things They got Wrong.

The directors of the movie seems to have looked at “The Prophesy” and then tossed it out the window. It is not mentioned at all throughout the movie nor is the Oracle of Delphi. To add insult to injury, the actors are way too old to be twelve like they were in the books.

Then comes the big Minotaur scene. Book Percy is devastated when his mom disappears believing her dead. It is referenced multiple times in the next couple of chapters about how sad he is. Movie Percy seems largely unaffected by his mom’s death.

Another thing that really bugged me in that scene was that the Minotaur didn’t return to dust. It was just a dead body. Never mentioned again, luckily, we don’t even get to see another monster die, aside from Auntie Em and that’s just another whole thing.

The next big scene that they royally messed up was the Capture the Flag Stream Fight. Clarisse doesn’t exist in the movie, so instead Annabeth fights Percy. She hurts him and then gloats about it. He doesn’t even get the floating Trident above his head. He was told that in like the first 15 minutes of being in Camp Half Blood by Chiron. Therefore ruining another great scene.

The worst scene in the entire movie is when Percy has to decide who gets a pearl. In the book he decides to save his friends, there by showing his fatal flaw, something every demigod has. Percy is cursed/blessed with how he will do anything to save his loved ones. This scene showed how hard it was to choose between his friends or his mom. In the movie, he leaves Grover behind in favor of saving his mom. Completely going against the book and undercutting what was a major decision.

On a personal note as well as the last con, there is no playing with Cerberus scene. Arguably one of the best scenes in the book.  So that’s a huge mark against the movie.

Now on to the Positives.

The visuals they did for dyslexia as well as for Olympus are quite nice. Olympus looks quite pretty actually.

One of the First scenes in the movie is a new one. It’s a conversation between Zeus and Poseidon talking. Zeus threatens Poseidon. Poseidon denies the theft. It’s kind of nice to have this little family discussion.

Riptide is handed over to Percy with the accompany lines “This will help protect you” “This is a pen… A pen”. Given in this scene he doesn’t know that it’s a sword, it is quite hilarious.

In the Lotus Flower Casino and Hotel, Movie Percy and pals are given some candy shaped like lotus blossoms. We are then treated to what looks like a drug swirly light show. Which is better than the book where they just get sucked into the magic video games.

Another great thing is that you don’t have to risk your money on a movie you might not like because it’s free at the Library!

All in all, from a book to movie standpoint, it didn’t do well.  I’ll probably never see it in a good light, but I hold the books close to my heart. It’s probably better if you watch the movie while having zero knowledge of the books, you will likely enjoy it more

Crew Expendable

Ah, the summer of 1979. If you were more than a gleam in your Mother’s eye, you might have noted the signing of the SALT II agreement, celebrated the Sonics wining the NBA championship or listened to Michael Jackson’s newly released album Off the Wall. If you were to ask my 11-year-old self what the most important event was, however, it would definitely be getting to see my first R-rated movie. After much cajoling on my part and vetting of the film by my parents, I was allowed to attend a viewing, with an appropriate adult of course, of the movie Alien. I still may not have fully recovered.

If you have seen the film (and if you haven’t: a. seriously?? and b. spoilers ahead) you know that there are many things that could leave an impression on a developing mind. The alien itself is a literal nightmare, its method of reproduction is grotesque to say the least, and a decapitated android admiring a ‘perfect organism’ while covered in milk/blood has a tendency to be disturbing. But no, my fevered preadolescent mind began quaking in fear because of…… air ducts.

Ridley Scott created a set so convincing that I felt I was trapped along with the crew in a cramped, grittily industrial and incredibly dark spaceship. When the camera slowly panned across a hallway, I was filled with dread even before the creature appeared. The final straw for me was when Dallas, played by Seattle’s own Tom Skerritt, crawled through the air ducts in a doomed effort to flush the alien into an airlock. As the device that is tracking him started to register two blips, I began slumping down in my seat getting ready to cover my eyes.

If you too are terrified by effective film set design, or just want to see a great movie again, now is a good time to check out Alien. Not only do we have the DVD at the library, but in honor of the 40th anniversary of the film’s release in the summer of 1979, it is being shown in actual theaters again and will be coming to Everett in October.

Now, if you would like to delve into the film a little deeper and learn all about its complicated creation story, the library has just purchased The Making of Alien by J.W. Rinzler. The book is an Alien aficionado’s dream containing new interviews with Ridley Scott and many others involved in the production, rarely seen photographs, and enough concept art of the Alien from H.R Giger to give you nightmares for weeks.

The story of the film’s journey from concept to creation is actually quite fascinating in its own right. It serves as an intriguing reflection of the shifting mores regarding gender (a female hero??), the creeping influence of commercialization (damn company!), and fear of automation (I can’t lie to you about your chances, but you have my sympathy). Either that, or I’ve seen the film way to many times.

Also, just let the cat go. Come on!

Auntie Em, It’s Six Sharknadoes!

Come a little closer.

Can we talk about something… embarrassing?

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I really really like the Sharknado movies. Ever since I was a young lad working in the smallest shafts of the coal mines where full-grown adults could not fit, I’ve loved movies that are intentionally stupid, that make fun of themselves. In formative days, these included Attack of the Killer Tomatoes and The Toxic Avenger. Later I  grew to love bad movies that didn’t know how bad they were, such as Dante’s Peak and Galaxina.

But today we live in a golden age, a time when movies about shark tornadoes are made by the half-dozen! Their premise, as I recall, is that strange weather patterns over the ocean result in, wait for it, tornadoes that are filled with sharks. Tornadoes. In the air. Filled with sharks. Reflect on that for a moment.

The basic plot of each movie is that people are being killed by flying sharks and everything appears to be hopeless. Our hero, Fin Shepard, tries to reunite his family, save kids trapped on a school bus and generally preserve the future of humankind. Meanwhile, flying sharks eat people. On the fly. In the air.

A dumb idea, but one that knows it’s dumb! In one of the later movies a character says something like, “How can these sharks breathe in the air?” And therein lies the beauty of this series. Nothing is remotely believable or possible, yet people continue to get eaten by sharks.

But it’s the sheer ridiculousness of, well, everything that makes this movie dynasty so entertaining. Take for example one moment from the third entry in the series. A minor character loses one arm, two arms, one leg, two legs via shark attacks. In a last ditch effort to save everyone else, he pushes a self-destruct button with his head (remember, no limbs), thereby destroying many sharks, as well as himself. Our savior Fin comments, “It’s too late. We can’t save him.” C’est magnifique!

Moments like this are plentiful. It’s kind of like Mystery Science Theater, except the commentators are in the movie rather than watching it. These shark movies just might fill the void in your chest that sucks you dry each and every night after work. (Note: Sharknado is not guaranteed to fill the void in your chest that sucks you dry each and every night after work.)

Titles in this educational series include Sharknado (2013), Sharknado 2: The Second One (2014), Sharknado 3: Oh Hell No! (2015), Sharknado: The 4th Awakens (2016), Sharknado 5: (Global Swarming) and The Last Sharknado: It’s About Time! (2018).

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So take a little chance, if you’re feeling lucky, and check out this series. And remember, wait 60 minutes after eating before watching Sharknado.

LA To Vegas

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It’s no secret that I’m always on the lookout for an entertaining new comedy. Thankfully, the quality of new television programs is higher than ever before. However, the flip side of this is that many sitcoms now have a mere 10-16 episodes per season rather than the classic 26. So if you’re a binge watcher, it doesn’t take too long to get through an entire season. Which creates a need for more high quality programs.

Fortunately, funny people are indeed filling this need. My discovery this week is LA to Vegas, a Fox sitcom that ran only for a single season. It’s not the best or the brightest of shining stars, but the premise is familiar yet unusual.

Each episode begins with the statement that many people fly regularly from LA to Vegas over the weekend. This leads us to Jackpot Airlines, a low-budget outfit that is based in Vegas and to a sitcom standby, the workplace comedy. The workplace in this case is a small aircraft with a crew of four. Rounding out the cast are three regulars on the flight: a gambler, a stripper and a long-distance dad. Additional plot material is drawn from other passengers who are not recurring characters.

In a way, this premise is not much different from your typical workplace sitcom. There are the staff members who we see each episode and there are customers who appear only in a single episode. But the feel is unique, moving from LA to Vegas, sometimes being in an airport, sometimes in a strip club for a children’s birthday party. The revolving cast of characters creates a wide variety of comedic situations and the fact that Vegas is the destination means, well, anything goes.

In the greater scheme of things, I would probably not rate LA to Vegas in the top tier of comedies. However, the jokes are clever, the actors are talented and the situations are amusing. All in all, not a bad way to spend a binge day.

Sadly, the show ran for a mere 15 episodes, as has been the case with many recent highly-entertaining comedies. So the crew and passengers will remain trapped in this small yet amusing world until time immemorial…

But I digress.

With the wide array of platforms currently creating programming it’s hard to keep up with what’s out there, so keep your eyes peeled for new TV shows at Everett Public Library. And please, remember to return your seats to an upright position.