Thursday, October 20, 2016

American Horror Story: Roanoke--Episode 6

Chapter 6

--I guess now we know the difference between real ghosts and fake ghosts. Fake ghosts are “characters.” They may be scary and deadly, they may scream and gibber, and they may be coated in blood and ichor...but they are, on some level, meant to entertain. Real ghosts, though...real ghosts are faceless shapes, distantly glimpsed. They don’t talk or explain themselves. They just haunt. They just attack. In a sense, American Horror Story is admitting that the past five seasons have been fakery, and now we’re seeing the real deal. But, in trying to scare us even more deeply, it still aims to entertain us. Is this ridiculously meta or what?

--This was the episode of the Twist. The Twist that Ryan Murphy was so excited about, he was stuffing his fist in his mouth to keep from revealing. The Twist the end...wasn’t too hard to figure out. Let’s face it, of all the directions Roanoke could have gone, plenty of people (myself included) considered this particular possibility. However, the way they’re handling the paradigm shift, the way in which this episode mixed black humor and real dread, bodes ever so well. If the first half of Roanoke paid homage to lurid TV documentaries “inspired by true events,” these next episodes blow a raspberry at reality TV in all its awful glory.

--Due to the brand-new storyline, I’d better include all the real actors’ names again, or we’re gonna get super confused. So. My Roanoke Nightmare was a smash hit and garnered everything from fan conventions to multiple Entertainment Weekly covers, which I highly doubt would happen with a five-hour miniseries, but whatever. We met the show’s charming and utterly amoral creator, Sidney Aaron James (Cheyenne Jackson), who was pitching the next iteration of his brainchild. He wanted to recruit both the real Millers and the actors who played them, stick them back into the real Terrorbithia, and let the sparks fly. As Sidney explained to his increasingly appalled assistant, Diana (Shannon Lucio), the house would be filled with cameras, which the residents would know about, but would also contain an assortment of remote-controlled fake scares, which they wouldn’t know about. Sidney is a creep, and his supposedly noble justification was that he wanted to tie up the original’s loose end: who killed Mason? If he could scare a confession out of Lee (Adina Porter), the audience would eat it up.

--Of course, getting the gang back together had its hiccups. Shelby Miller (Lily Rabe) had tried hard to put the past behind her, but she and Matt (André Holland) were on the outs, in large part because Shelby had a brief fling with Dominic Banks (Cuba Gooding Jr.), the actor who played her husband. Shelby hoped that Return to Roanoke: Three Days in Hell would allow for a reconciliation. Sidney assured her that Dominic wouldn’t be involved, and was lying through his teeth. Then there was the matter of Agnes Mary Winstead (Kathy Bates), who played The Butcher. She seemed like such a pleasant lady...but the truth was, she’d gotten so deeply into the role that her brain short-circuited and she became prone to furious, schizophrenic outbursts. Sidney forbid Agnes from coming anywhere near the sequel, but inwardly, he was counting on it.

--Needless to say, haunts began a-hauntin’, and were somehow more unsettling than the shocks from the first half of the season. Pig fetuses were found. A crewman “accidentally” chainsawed through his own neck. Diana had enough of Sidney’s sociopathic behavior and quit, only to be run off the road by the Pigman, her body subsequently missing. Still, Sidney’s gaggle of victims soon arrived. We had the triangle of Shelby, Dominic, and Matt...who was still so haunted that he walked in already expecting horrors. There was Lee, her life ruined by the way My Roanoke Nightmare implied her guilt. Completing the dysfunctional tinderbox were the boozy Monet T-Something (Angela Bassett), who played Lee; Rory Monahan (Evan Peters), the redheaded doofus who played Edward Mott; and Audrey Tindall (Sarah Paulson), the rather snooty Brit who played Shelby.

--Yes, Sarah Paulson now has a British accent, which seems weirdly inevitable. Also, Audrey and Rory were happily married, never a good sign. It wasn’t long before the seven stooges were passive-aggressively dissing each other and getting into fights. Matt hated Dominic. Shelby was picked on. Lee and Monet each held the other responsible for her woes. This is a remarkably scathing attack on reality TV, which encourages the worst in its participants (both regular joes scrambling for a shot at fame and Z-list actors clawing at a higher tier of recognition), manufactures drama when there isn’t any, and repeatedly tears at the scabs when there is. It’s AHS social commentary in fine form. And everyone’s gonna die!

--We literally know this. As the houseguests tried to settle in, pig-faced men and colonial phantoms popped up here and there. They glimpsed Agnes in full-on Butcher mode. Is she actually lurking about, and if so, is she a red herring? Probably. Before the end of the hour, blood was shed. Alas for Rory: an old bit of foreshadowing paid off as two rotting nurses appeared and slashed him to death. “MURDER” written on the wall in blood. “R is for Rory,” Matt announced to the others, his dead tone of voice making it clear he knew this was coming. Expect lots of British-accented screaming next week, as well as more death. As a title card informed us, every participant in Return to Roanoke -- except for one -- died horribly. Place your bets on who survives, and hope Sidney is among the casualties, because I think we all want to see him eat a meat cleaver.

--This season is just so damn fun. And remarkably damn scary. Two for two! My current prediction is that Lee will survive, but all the other deaths will be pinned squarely on her. Given the mean spirit of Roanoke, it would fit.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

To Squee Or Not to Squee, vol. 6

I began this blog as a college student in 2010, just for fun. Six years later, I’m still just doing it for fun and have no delusions that it’s ever gonna take off and make me into an internet celeb. As for my Cautious Enthusiasm series, it began as an excuse to write more lists (I’m way too addicted to writing lists), while providing future blog fodder. Again, nothing’s changed, but maybe I find comfort in the familiar act of blogging about nerdy stuff. Sorry to be so reflective; today’s my birthday, and let’s just say my age has a zero on the end.

Yeah. Anyway. Here are a parcel of things I’m rather excited about, though not without reservations.


The Great Wall
WHAT IT IS: A monster movie, but with some exotic spices sprinkled in the recipe. Set in ancient-ish China, this blockbuster stars Matt Damon and Pedro Pascal as armored mercs who arrive to discover that, in this version of history, the Great Wall was built to keep out hordes of giant reptiles, or something. Sing with me: Let’s get down to business! To defeat! This shit! Did they send Matt Damon...when I asked...for Pitt?
WHY I’M EXCITED: Uh, I adore modern monster movies? I drooled on Pacific Rim and continue to defend the new Godzilla? However, what actually matters more to me is that The Great Wall is directed by Zhang Yimou, who makes unbelievably gorgeous movies. Drink in the wonder of Raise the Red Lantern, Hero, or House of Flying Daggers. Based on trailers, The Great Wall should be sumptuous and grandiose, again proving that you can mix high art with popcorn entertainment. Even if it’s a bad movie, it’ll be a sensory delight.
WHY I’M SKEPTICAL: When venerable directors take a more mainstream approach, it doesn’t always go well. Especially when your number one goal is to appeal to Chinese and American audiences hooked on Michael Bay. In other words, The Great Wall could represent Yimou compromising his usual flair in favor of mass appeal. Plus, everyone’s already mad about the main character being white, because we all have the luxury of being offended over shit that doesn’t matter. Yes, I’m getting more conservative in my doddering old age. I expect to have fun watching this, but given how high Yimou has set his own directorial bar, I really hope he hasn’t sold out.

WHAT IT IS: Long, long ago, the Banjo-Kazooie games delighted us on the N64, before Rare defected to Microsoft and the franchise dissolved into a puddle of knockoff Legos and bitter tears. Now some of the original creative minds have crowdfunded their way to this spiritual successor, which follows the adventures of a chameleon and a bat as they attempt to save whimsical worlds contained inside books.’s also a Myst sequel?
WHY I’M EXCITED: I’d say that the first Banjo-Kazooie might be the most perfect example of the “cartoony platformer” genre. And Yooka-Laylee simply and literally IS a Banjo-Kazooie game, just with new characters swapped in. Since I still like to power up the ol’ N64 and revisit the classics now and then, I’m so goddamned happy that shameless nostalgia has hopped into bed with gleaming modern graphics to produce this love letter. Thanks to this, we can just forget that repulsive Nuts & Bolts thing ever happened. I hope someone at Rare is really mad right now.
WHY I’M SKEPTICAL: First off, modern platformers never seem to recapture what made the genre so special in the 1990s. Worse, gamers tend to scoff, insisting that the medium has long since evolved past cute, furry heroes collecting golden thingummies. (I dream of an alternate universe where the blueprint for today’s games is Conker’s Bad Fur Day.)  The crowdfunding success of Yooka-Laylee bodes well...but, even so, the whole Broken Age letdown (see below) has made me highly disillusioned. It can’t just look and sound like Banjo-Kazooie. It needs cartoony-platformer soul. What does that mean? I’ll know when I play Yooka-Laylee and see if it has it or not.

WHAT IT IS: This game is already out, but the more I’ve heard about it, the more I rub my palms together. It’s a very well-received indie hybrid of hack-n-slash and bullet hell, in which an archetypal Lone Warrior must carve and fillet his way through a string of powerful foes to unlock his memories, avenge somebody, regain his honor, or whatever cliché they’ve gone with this time.
WHY I’M EXCITED: Look, any game that consists entirely of boss fights broken up by peaceful treks through gorgeous scenery is going to remind me of Shadow of the Colossus. Which is my favorite game of all time. Have I not mentioned that in a while? Boss fights are often my favorite part of a game, and Furi’s showdowns look outstanding and unique. Plus the visuals remind me a bit of Killer7, another of my all-time faves. Was this tailor-made for weird, artsy little me?
WHY I’M SKEPTICAL: This is gonna make me sound like the world’s biggest twerp, but...I tend to abandon really challenging games partway through. And not just because they have terrible gameplay elements. If playing a game starts to feel like beating my head against an Easter Island statue, it doesn’t maintain my interest. I was gonna put Bloodborne in the last Cautious Enthusiasm list, until I realized I’d likely give up after its first half-hour. Everything I’ve read about Furi confirms it’s quite challenging even for hack-n-slash experts. Of which I am not one. I so want to play this and my fingers are so tightly crossed that I won’t be utterly, wretchedly defeated by its difficulty. Sigh.

Seasons 3 and 4 of Black Mirror
WHAT IT IS: Black Mirror emerged from Britain and quietly embedded itself in our collective consciousness with a mere seven episodes. It’s been compared to The Twilight Zone, but rather than dealing in aliens or the supernatural, it imagines different futures in which our relationship with technology and social media has evolved in strange ways. It’s bleak, satirical, and smart -- and Netflix has gobbled up the rights to make two more six-episode seasons.
WHY I’M EXCITED: I really enjoyed the original Black Mirror, and I’m pretty confident that the folks at Netflix are equally adoring of the property and will treat it with respect. It’s obviously calculated to hook the Stranger Things fanbase...but, hey, Stranger Things rocks just as hard. Thoughtful sci-fi and social satire are hot right now. And check out some of the cast: Bryce Dallas Howard, Kelly MacDonald, Michael Kelly, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, and that’s just for Season 3!
WHY I’M SKEPTICAL: I am definitely not one of those pop culture hipsters who insist that Americanized remakes always suck. However, I will admit that Americanized remakes can suck. The first seasons of Black Mirror had that unique British mix of manners and outrageousness; will Netflix’s continuation have the guts to show, say, a major political figure fucking a pig? Will they maintain the trademark dark cynicism? (Every original episode of Black Mirror ends unhappily.) Or will producers and marketing departments insist that us fragile Yanks can’t handle that much feel-bad storytelling? Black Mirror has teeth; don’t pull ’em!

Psychonauts 2
WHAT IT IS: Somehow I’ve never written much about Psychonauts despite the fact that it’s a fucking amazing game. It didn’t sell well, in part because of the aforementioned bias against platformers. But there’s nothing quite like it: a wacky, hilarious, and innovative adventure centering around a summer camp for kids with psychic powers. Creator Tim Schafer has turned once again to crowdfunding, and the sequel should hit us in 2018.
WHY I’M EXCITED: What a world we live in! My favorite games are getting new incarnations (Yooka-Laylee, Obduction, The Last Guardian, Silent Hills...wait, scratch that last one), but this isn’t a spiritual cousin or reboot, it’s a REAL SEQUEL. The first game ended with a cheeky cliffhanger and we never thought we’d see it resolved. There’s some sort of VR thing coming out as well, but I’m simply eager to step back into the heroic young Rasputin’s shoes, coast around on that awesome levitation bubble, set things on fire with my brain, uncover more evil conspiracies...aww, yeah. Trust me, there are a lot of cult gamers jizzing themselves over Psychonauts 2, and I am proud to be among those who require a change of underwear.
WHY I’M SKEPTICAL: Because of Broken Age, that’s why. Tim Schafer and Double Fine Productions already got everyone’s fervor whipped up for a crowdfunded game, and then they apparently spent most of that money on Twizzlers or something. Broken Age wasn’t awful, but it wasn’t anything special, either. Which was somehow worse. And Psychonauts 2 has even more riding on it, because the first game has such a rabid following. Imagine if they made a new season of Firefly but Adam Baldwin was the only returning actor. Broken Age gave us the kiddie-table version of a classic point-and-click adventure game. If Psychonauts 2 is similarly dumbed down, I’ll just be fucking done with crowdfunded dream projects. For a few months, anyway.

There. That should give me a smattering of blog posts down the road. Not that I’ve become sick of writing this blog or anything. I may be aging but I’m no less nerdy, and hallelujah for that!

Thursday, October 13, 2016

American Horror Story: Roanoke--Episode 5

Chapter 5

--Here’s your daily linguistic lesson. According to official sources, Gaga of the Woods’ name is actually “Scathach,” after a warrior figure from Celtic mythology. However, it’s surely no coincidence that the name is so similar to “Shachath,” the Angel of Death played by Frances Conroy in Asylum. Don’t ask for pronunciation; the internet can’t even agree on the correct spelling of “Thomasin.” But Frances Conroy (Frances Conroy Frances Conroy FRANCES CONROY) returned to AHS this week. And if you connect all these dots, they form a picture of a rubber duck!

--Seriously, though, Roanoke is aiming to be all seasons at once. There’s a Reddit theory that each episode chronicles the show thus far. Chapter 1 was Murder House: Fraught couple moves into a haunted mansion. Chapter 2 was Asylum: Creepy nurses and their ill-fated patients. Chapter 3 was Coven, with the introduction of witchy magic and the return of Leslie Jordan as a “magic user” of sorts. Next came Freak Show, tying Terrorbithia to the Mott family. And this week?

--Fucking brutal. The conclusion(?) to the Millers’ tale of woe was cruel, nasty, grungy, and brutal. And it wasn’t the stylized, borderline-goofy brutality this show often depicts. Horrible, vicious things happened to innocent people. Less Dario Argento, more Eli Roth. First, however, the Hotel allusion: we met the weirdo who built this year’s edifice of evil, and once again, he’s played by Evan Peters with a funky accent!

--Yes, Edward Phillipe Mott loved art, disliked human contact, and wanted a remote, isolated haven, a monument to himself, where he could enjoy his collection of priceless paintings -- and the attentions of his swarthy black lover. (“Let’s rouge each other’s nipples!”) So we did get Evan Peters naked, but we didn’t see his butt, so this season of AHS is not yet complete. When The Butcher and co. began their pranks, they targeted Edward’s art collection, and his resulting violent tantrum foreshadowed the lineage of shrill, entitled psychosis that would eventually culminate in Dandy Mott. That night, The Butcher sacrificed Edward in her usual over-the-top manner (impaled and burned alive), while the household staff starved to death, locked in the root cellar. Mean!

--We weren’t done with Edward yet, however. Still trapped, Shelby, Matt, and Flora had to fend off assaults from various phantoms, including a spidery little Asian girl in full-blown Ju-On mode. Shout-outs to specific horror genres are always welcome! Luckily for the Millers, Edward appeared in the basement and led them through some hidden tunnels, out of the worst danger. Briefly. In the woods, the Millers stumbled into the clutches of those damn dirty rednecks, the Polks. Remember them? Mama Polk made her appearance and was Frances Conroy! Hallelujah! She was only absent for one season, but it felt like an eternity! Also in attendance was Dr. Cunningham, who the Polks had kept alive just so they could eat segments of him. Mama ended his misery with a hammer to the face (mean!), so there goes my theory that he was a ghost. Mama also explained how her family had a deal with The Butcher...and sometimes brought her sacrifices. Well, FUCK.

--Yes, that’s Chaz Bono as the chubby, cognitively-impaired Polk. Proving that it’s possible to put a transgendered person onscreen without them being a cold, beautiful mannequin played by a Swinton or a Cumberbatch. Get a clue, Hollywood.

--Meanwhile, Lee spent 48 hours being grilled by her former fellow cops -- the span required to charge someone with a crime, and also a convenient time-delay for when you need a character to be offscreen for awhile. Free once more, Lee found a bajillion panicked messages from Matt on her phone. Here she comes to save the daaaayyyyy!

--Meanwhile meanwhile, Matt tried to escape the Polks’ clutches and killed one of them. In retaliation, Mama Polk obliterated Shelby’s fibula with a sledgehammer (MEAN!) before taking the Millers right back to Terrorbithia and the blazing bonfires and torture racks The Butcher had built for them. Alas, The Butcher did not comment on Mama Polk’s magical, ill-smelling horseless carriage emblazoned with the sigil of the god they call Chevrolet. Shelby, Matt, and Flora certainly looked doomed...and I even wondered if the big twist is that they did die, and the “real” Shelby and Matt are actually ghosts, telling their tale to a very ballsy documentarian. Nope! This time around, it was Ambrose who revolted, tackling his evil mother into the bonfire while Edward untied our heroes and Lee ran over the Pigman with a car. Badass. A flaming Butcher chased the Millers from Terrorbithia...and they never looked back. They got away with their mortal lives intact, and all that remains are the memories. And the nightmares.

--The End. But not really.

--I have not seen any promos for next week. And I don’t want to. I wanna be unspoiled, and therefore delightfully surprised (or disappointed) by whatever Roanoke throws at us next. I mean, this was definitively the finale to the Millers’ story, wasn’t it? What comes next? Hell, what’s even real? Keep in mind that we’ve been watching “re-enactments,” which means that everyone within them is a merely an actor, playing a role. A version of Shelby and Matt Miller’s tale, but not the real thing. So...all bets are off. Heh heh heh.

--PS: That lady historian at the beginning of the ep is an actual person, Doris Kearns Goodwin. No wonder she couldn’t act.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

American Horror Story: Roanoke--Episode 4

Chapter 4

--“Only men with full bellies have the luxury of conscience.”

--“Honestly, I’d murder for a Coke Zero.”

--These two lines, both spoken in last night’s episode of Roanoke, seem to perfectly sum up the human condition, don’t they? Especially when you consider that the first speaker ends up savagely eviscerating the second speaker. The philosophers would surely cheer.

--I’ve noticed that these episodes are building toward a very obvious climax that should be arriving very soon. Like, next week. Which makes it all the more likely that Roanoke is going to massively redefine itself somehow. Here’s an interesting theory: What if it’s all fake? What if My Roanoke Nightmare is entirely fiction (within the fiction of AHS, I mean), and even the “real” interviewees are hired actors? But then, when they all head out to the North Carolina woods to film fake scares for their fake documentary, a bunch of real spooks descend? And one of them is Evan Peters and he’s naked? Eh?

--More on Thomasin White and her merry band. The word “Croatoan,” it seems, has magical power; it’s like a verbal talisman. The Roanoke folk carved it into a tree at the site of the original colony, apparently just to confuse future generations (and it worked!), before moving deeper into the island and establishing a far more successful colony. Fields of corn! Bountiful feasts! And all it took was the occasional human sacrifice. Poor little Priscilla getting her skull caved in was surely a small price to pay. Hey, didn’t Shirley Jackson write a short story about this? Anyway, Ambrose eventually got sick and tired of the murder and turned the colonists against Thomasin a second time. But then she was all like, “I’ve totally seen the true light of God!” and they were all like, “We believe you without question even though you’re obviously evil and insane!” and then Thomasin fed them all poisoned apples, hacked them to death (Ambrose first), and offered her own life up to her mentor, Gaga of the Woods. More on Gaga of the Woods in a sec.

--Back in the present, Matt and Shelby snuggled and made up after last week’s strife, but Terrorbithia’s haunts were about to ramp it up. The Pigman appeared and chased them around with a knife, but was foiled by none other than Dr. Elias Cunningham, still alive. He’d maintained ownership of Terrorbithia for years, trying to keep innocent people away, but then...something about tax fees...and it wound up for sale. Cunningham showed the Millers some examples of the house’s past victims: hunters who’d shot themselves; a family of Asian immigrants (who got way too much screen time...guess a show needs its filler); the psycho Jane sisters. All done in by The Butcher’s band. One very noteworthy fact: the house was originally built by a man named Mott. Yes, fucking MOTT. As in, those rich inbred psycho assholes from Freak Show. More key trivia: there’s a six-day period in October when the moon turns red and the ghosts, usually reduced to scampering around acting scary, can kill. And guess what, Matt and Shelby? The maraschino cherry moon is nigh!

--I have a sneaking theory about Dr. Cunningham. It occurred to me when he and the Millers were in the woods, looking for Flora. They did find her, playing and/or being tormented by various specters. During this confrontation, Cunningham was shot with arrows by some ghost or other -- not the first time we’ve seen him get maybe-killed. Okay. My theory is that Cunningham is already dead. He’s a ghost. After all, if he’s trying to keep people away from Terrorbithia, why the hell didn’t he turn up to warn Shelby and Matt sooner? He’s a good ghost, more or less, but trapped on the property just like the rest. I’m not sure how the “red moon” thing ties into the overall AHS rulebook about ghosts. I thought they could kill you whenever they felt like it. Could Cunningham be full of shit? Regardless, he was full of arrows, prompting the Millers to flee back to the house, where they were greeted by the hybrid spawn of Edna Mode and the grandma from the Addams Family. By which I mean Cricket.

--One popular theory about ghosts is that they desperately want their stories told. Gaga of the Woods certainly does, though she might be a magically enhanced immortal, not a ghost. Gaga took Cricket on a tour through history, and later, as night fell, she lured Matt out to the root cellar and magic-roofied him. Then we learned Gaga’s story: she was a Druidic lass from the British Isles who stowed away on an ill-fated voyage to the Americas back in, I dunno, the 1500s or something. After murdering everybody else (as usual), Gaga embraced the wilderness, and her own Druid faith combined with the natural, organic, GMO-free magic of the New World to form a brand-new flavor of vaguely-defined spirituality. And then she founded the hidden wizarding school of Ilvermorny, but that’s a screenplay for another day.

--In the present, Gaga’s goal was to have awesome sex with Matt, but he managed to stay faithful this time. He returned to Shelby’s side and they watched as The Butcher emerged with her torch club...and prepared to sacrifice Flora. Luckily, Priscilla was all like, “This is for killing me with a rock that one time!” and little-girl-punched The Butcher, allowing Flora to escape. So Flora’s safe, only not really, because she, Shelby, and Matt are still trapped in the house. The episode ended with the horrific death-by-disembowelment of Cricket, who, in the end, was a decent man who really wanted to save Flora. Not bad for a guy who looks like if Lucius Malfoy suffered a transporter malfunction with a cockapoo. Cricket’s death was one of this show’s cruelest ever, but just remember: under the laws of ghostdom, his spirit might still stick around, hitting on Uber drivers for years to come.

--So next week is apparently going to be very action-packed, and then...who the hell knows? Chapter Six is when we’ll find out what’s actually going on, maybe...and it’ll be directed by Angela Bassett! Recompense, perhaps, for giving her lame, pointless roles for the past two seasons. I know I wouldn’t want to be on Angela’s Bassett’s bad side. She can kill people with her upper lip.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

American Horror Story: Roanoke--Episode 3

Chapter 3

--Sorry for the delay. I had a houseguest. AHS is hard to explain to houseguests out of context. “Yeah, that’s Lady Gaga getting fucked doggie-style by the guy from Jerry Maguire, and...hmm? A raw pig’s heart? Yes, I do believe you are correct, but lemme try and fill in the narrative gaps...wait, come back!”

--Anyway, I’m sure we’re all very excited and not at all exasperated by Ryan Murphy’s recent, puckish announcement that partway through AHS: Roanoke there will be a HUGE and MASSIVE twist that will redefine the entire season and make our fragile brainmeats go kablooey. Place your bets. Maybe we’ll go behind the scenes of the “reenactments” and meet, for example, the actress who is playing Shelby Miller and is played by Sarah Paulson (kablooey). Or maybe it’s all a book being written by Dr. Cunningham from last week. Or it’s happening inside somebody’s head. Or the real Shelby, Matt, and Lee are in prison after a shitload of murders were laid at their feet.

--This ep pleased me: it left behind the haunted house scares for a meatier story and the right amount of exposition. Flora still hasn’t turned up, alive or dead. For some reason, the cops let Lee wander around looking for Flora despite the whole kidnapping thing. She and the Millers found the homestead of those darn-tootin’ hillbillies, who were gone, save for a couple feral ginger kids suckling on a pig’s teats. Pigs, pigs, everywhere pigs. The kids only knew to yowl one word: Croatoan. Flora’s dad, Mason, was highly displeased with the entire situation and accused Lee of spiriting Flora away. Wouldn’t you know, that very night, Mason was found hideously burned to death. And Lee had been absent from Terrorbithia at the exact same time, and had no alibi. This rather significant hiccup was interrupted when the unholy love child of Andy Warhol and Zelda Rubinstein strolled in.

--Cricket. We need to talk about Cricket. I’m not sure how I feel about him, because A) he’s doing the “kooky psychic” archetype in a manner that edges past knowing homage and into the realm of the ridiculous, and B) he’s a cartoon character in a story that has been reasonably serious thus far. The sudden tonal shift was not entirely welcome, though I’d never ding this show for surprising me, I guess. As played by Leslie Jordan, Cricket is a fey, androgynous little gnome who you definitely wouldn’t want to share a train compartment with, but he looked capable of reading the aether and locating poor Flora. His candlelit séance was intended to conjure up Flora’s ghostly BFF, Priscilla; instead, it brought forth a window-smashing Kathy Bates, and, again, that word: Croatoan. Cricket figured out where Flora’d gone and was willing to help the tune of 25,000 dollars. Lee and the Millers were livid; Lee even pulled a gun on Cricket before common sense intervened. But when Cricket...

--Quick aside. This ep was a tour de force for Adina Porter as the real Lee (“ActuaLee”). Holy shit, where has she been? Her brief turn as a cripplingly boring psych patient in Murder House did NOT showcase her talent. Also, when ActuaLee had a meltdown, we got a glimpse behind the scenes of My Roanoke Nightmare. Foreshadowing? Who was the male voice asking the questions?

--Cricket made a reference to Lee’s first daughter, who vanished at age four (more foreshadowing?), and that convinced Lee to pony up the dough. Thus it was Cricket who finally tied this season to the lost colony of Roanoke. We now know the weird tale of Thomasin White, aka The Butcher, whose husband initially led the Roanoke colonists. In his stead, Thomasin ruled with an iron fist, and, well, the time period was unkind to independent women. The menfolk -- including Thomasin’s son, Ambrose (Wes Bentley) -- exiled Thomasin and left her to die in the wilds. She was saved by Gaga of the Woods, kickstarting some sort of unholy communion and exacting revenge with a meat cleaver. So Gaga’s the ultimate origin of evil this season? Sure, why not? The Butcher led the remaining colonists inland, hence their ghostly presence around Terrorbithia.

--His palms greased, Cricket contacted The Butcher and promised to keep future mortals away from Terrorbithia if Flora would be safely returned. Meanwhile, Matt wandered off, and Shelby found him balls-deep in Gaga of the Woods while some pervy rednecks looked on. He didn’t remember this event later (just as Lee didn’t remember possibly roasting Mason like a goose?), but Shelby threw down the next hand by calling the cops and having Lee arrested. Shelby’s a bit of a shithead, but can you blame her at this point?

--The shifting between serious horror and quasi-parody is an issue, but still, these awesome episodes feel way too short. I find myself scanning them for clues as to what might really be going on. Is anything as it seems? How many layers does the story have, or am I giving AHS too much credit? I’m ready for big twists, all right. Make them epic.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

American Horror Story: Roanoke--Episode 2

Chapter 2

--Dafuq are you doing, Cuba Gooding Jr.? You find a flaming effigy made of boughs and pig parts, and your response is to flail at it with a baseball bat? Do you want forest fires? Because that’s how you get forest fires. This isn’t Rat Race 2, guy.

--This season of AHS is my dream in terms of casting choices. Sarah Paulson is basically the main character, Angela Bassett’s finally playing somebody who fucking matters to the plot, and Lily Rabe is back full-time! (Though all she’s done so far is mumble in front of a gray backdrop. Lame.) As for Kathy Bates, she’s truly the queen of impossible-to-place dialects. Was that, like, Welsh or something? Kathy seems to be some type of tribal/colonial cult leader babbling about the mire and muck...or, as she put it, the MYRRRR and MOOOK. Picking up from last week, Shelby lurked in the bushes while Kathy and her torch club stuck a pig’s head on a dude and burned him alive. There’s the pigman from Murder House and the human/animal magic from Coven, so if you’re playing an AHS drinking game, knock a couple back.

--Funnily enough, our two main ladies switched roles this week. Shelby’s resolve hardened; the hauntings must be that dreadful redneck family playing pranks, and she’s not gonna turn tail. Good thing, because the Millers are stuck: they sunk everything into Terrorbithia and reselling would leave them destitute. Meanwhile, Lee has gone off the deep end. The trouble began when Lee’s daughter, Flora (Saniyya Sidney), came to visit. Kids in haunted houses, yikes. Sure enough, Flora began spending her free time in a closet under the stairs and talking to an invisible girl named Priscilla who claims that everyone in the house will soon be horribly slaughtered. Eh, I’m sure she’s just an energy-based life form struggling to understand us. Witnessing this, Lee’s ex-husband angrily dragged Flora away, and a despairing Lee hit the bottle hard. Cue the sad trombone.

--Lee also suffered some fresh scares, including bloody, squirming pig tails nailed to the wall, and a pair of unsettling nurses. Matt saw the nurses murdering an old woman. Mysteries abound! But not for long. A ghostly girl (Priscilla?) led Shelby and Matt to a root cellar in the backyard where they found a fresh VHS tape. On the tape: Denis O’Hare, bearded and babbling. He is Dr. Elias Cunningham, an author who moved into Terrorbithia to research past crimes. If you could follow his mile-a-minute exposition, you’d learn all about Miranda and Bridget Jane (Maya Rose Berko and Kristen Rakes), sisters who made Terrorbithia an assisted living home. Their true goal: to snuff residents in such an order that the first letters of their names spelled the word “murder.” That is such a bizarrely specific act of crazy that I really hope there’s an explanation for it. The Janes vanished, done in by a force even darker, and Dr. Cunningham’s video ended with him venturing back into the house and getting maybe killed by something-or-other. Matt tore down some wallpaper and found “M-U-R-D-E” inscribed on the wall. Key foreshadowing: the final R is missing. Has anyone with an R-name turned up yet? They dead.

--It would seem that every episode of Roanoke will end with a cliffhanger, which I like because it’s perfectly appropriate for the lurid TV documentary it aspires to ape. Fearful of losing custody of Flora, Lee essentially kidnapped her daughter and brought her back to Terrorbithia. Shelby and Matt did their best to clean up this hot mess, but Flora had enough time to vanish in the woods. Our three stooges went searching, and found Flora’s sweater hanging from the top of a very, very, very, very tall tree. Custody rights are now the least of Lee’s worries.

--Two eps in, and still going strong, though I’m getting a little sick of repetitive scenes in which people creep through hallways after strange noises. I’m glad they’re trying to have a logical reason for why Shelby and Matt don’t just move the fuck out (actual reason: they’re characters in a horror story). And, gosh, we still haven’t seen hide nor hair of Cheyenne Jackson or Evan Peters. It’d be funny if Jackson was the “real” Dr. Elias Cunningham in interviews. “Wait, I’m a bronze archangel of handsomeness and you have me played by Denis O’Hare the human ferret? Libel!”

--In the end credits, I noticed “special guest star” Lady Gaga. Apparently she was the crazed, antler-wearing person who scalped the guy in the first scene. Eh, she’s done weirder shit at the VMAs.

Friday, September 16, 2016

American Horror Story: Roanoke--Episode 1

Chapter 1

--Worst season of American Horror Story ever, am I right, guys?

--Hah. Not likely. But since hating on this batshit little show is probably more trendy than ever before, I figured I might as well throw a bone to the haters before making any serious effort to discuss the Season Six premiere. There is much to discuss, mainly because we had little to no idea what was coming. Like, at all. You may have heard: this year, the AHS showrunners decided to play a different gambit. Last time, it was all about the shameless stunt-casting of Lady Gaga. For Season Six, they went the other way, into the shadows. The great unknown, which is what scares us most, right?

--Yes, Season Six came shrouded in mystery, only slightly spoiled by leaked set photos and the online multitudes squalling, “It is Roanoke? IT’S ROANOKE! IT TOTALLY IS!” The posters and teasers hit us with a creative mishmash of red herrings, artsy doses of micro-horror that paid homage to the entire genre. We had spiders crawling from eyeballs, demon rednecks, amateur surgery, scarecrows, monsters, possessed dolls, Leatherface, The Creature from the Black Lagoon, the Children of the Corn, and Gordy, the talking pig from the ill-received 1995 family film of the same name. I may be misremembering that last one. But it was all intended to mislead and to get the hype machine a-chuggin’. What would Season Six really be about? And are we invested?

--Well. I’ve long said this show needed to really reinvent itself hard, and this may be the closest we get. The premiere felt pretty bare-bones compared to the blood- and sex-fluid-drenched spectacle of AHS: Hotel. Yeah, fine, this year it’s Roanoke. If you suck at history, Roanoke was an English colony established on a North Carolina island in the 1500s. The entire colony vanished without a trace, save for the word “CROATOAN” carved in a tree. It’s one of those mysteries that has more or less been solved (the colonists most likely moved elsewhere and intermingled with Native Americans), but enthusiasts of the paranormal love to speculate about aliens, time travel, etc. Roanoke is beloved by hack documentarians, which is quite appropriate...

--...because this season is a freakin’ mockumentary! Titled My Roanoke Nightmare, it provides a pitch-perfect homage to/parody of shows like Paranormal Witness, in which ostensibly real people recount their ghostly encounters and actors reenact the events they describe. I like it. It’s different. And I totally, sort of, a little bit, predicted that AHS might try this approach! So. Season Six (so far) is about the series of unfortunate events befalling Shelby and Matt Miller, played in the reenactments by Sarah Paulson and Cuba Gooding Jr. We also see interview footage with the “real” Shelby and Matt, played by Lily Rabe and André Holland. Confused yet? Shelby and Matt were happy as clams until a terrible gang attack and a miscarriage. Broken and reeling, they sought to reboot their lives.

--Thus, the Millers came to inhabit this season’s evil edifice, a very old colonial manse in the middle of a vast North Carolina forest. Nature! Peace and quiet! Shelby can do her yoga in the light of the pancreas-shaped windows and indulge her gluten-free diet in the way-too-huge kitchen! Buildings like this can’t not be haunted, and the Millers -- but mostly Shelby -- were soon experiencing spooky shit. Items moved by themselves. Something outside squealed and shrieked and flung garbage cans. In a very cool and freaky scene, human teeth rained from the sky. Unless Shelby was just off her rocker. She drinks a lot of wine, after all. And Matt was more inclined to suspect the gang of hillbilly stereotypes who’d also wanted to buy the house. Were he and Shelby being targeted because they’re an interracial couple? Maybe. Can AHS leave race issues alone for five seconds? Of course not! I did like how they nailed the subtle daggers of modern racism (that cop never would have drawled, “You her husband?” at a white man) while also making Matt a bit of a douche who was quick to take umbrage. The world of today, huh.

--Matt wanted someone to look after Shelby while he was on business, so he installed his sister, Lee, an ex-cop who got fired for her painkiller and booze addictions. How I smiled when Angela Bassett appeared. All is well in AHS land. Bassett is Lee in the reenactment and “real” Lee is Adina Porter, last seen all the way back in Murder House. Lee thought Shelby was a bit of a dumb honky. But she was more than reliable when dudes with torches started breaking into the house late at night. They, or somebody, left a video playing in the basement; it depicted a man hunting a humanoid creature with a pig’s head. Or was it just a pig mask? Ultimately, the torch club didn’t harm Shelby or Lee, but they did leave Blair Witch stick figurines hanging all over the house, as one does.

--Suitably hysterical, Shelby tore off in her car, only to run over Kathy Bates. We only caught a glimpse, but it was definitely Kathy Bates. Shelby chased Kathy into the woods and found more stick figures, then witnessed the ground itself breathing like it was blanketing some vast, slumbering giant. I dunno what to make of that, but it’s bizarre and neat, so I’ll roll with it. The torch club reappeared (one of them looked a lot like Wes Bentley), and the ep ended with Shelby screaming her butt off at a guy with his scalp missing and his brain exposed.

--So here we are with an inkling as to what Season Six is about, and a multitude of questions. My big concerns have to do with this mockumentary format and if it can last a whole season. Will they stick with it? Drop it after a bit? Weave in the stories of other rubes who tried to live in that remote colonial armpit? Shit, will we even get real opening titles? No clue. But the teasing, cryptic build-up to Season Six seems to have worked, because I had no idea what to expect and I really liked each new surprise and familiar face. Compared to the last, like, three seasons, this is bold. And scary-fun. Whether it will stay bold and scary-fun remains to be seen. I’ll give it the benefit of the doubt.

--I need a name for the haunted colonial house. I’m gonna call it “Terrorbithia.” Heh.