Autodidact: self-taught



by V. L. Craven


Eddie Morra (Bradley Cooper) is a writer with a contract to fulfill and he’s not writing. Or doing much of anything else, really. (Sponging off your girlfriend isn’t exactly a job per se…)

Said girlfriend (Abbie Cornish) has enough and breaks it off. Eddie crosses paths with his ex-brother-in-law Vernon (Johnny Whitworth). Ol’ Vernon used to be a drug dealer but now he’s on the straight and narrow. Yes indeedy, he’s corporate, though still pushing drugs. Just, you know, the legal variety.

He gives Eddie a sample pill to try that will sort out his problems. He gives Eddie the line about how we all only use a micron of our brains and how amazing it would be if we used 100% , which has been debunked already and only makes me rage out a little but whatever.

Eddie takes the pill and whizzbam he’s using all of his brain and making connections between everything he’s ever seen/thought/smelled/heard/licked.

I ask you, what person wouldn’t go back for more.

Remember how Vernon said he’d gone corporate? Well, Vernon was a bit of a fibber.

Eddie winds up with a sizable amount of these suckers. But he also winds up on the radar of some people who want those pills. The sorts of people who break off your body parts and then feed them to you.

But Eddie has a plan. And his plan lands him right in front of Robert De Niro. (That’s intentional–it could be a bad thing, but in this case it’s what he wants.)

Hey, you know what’s a GOOD thing? The FDA. You know what you shouldn’t do? Take drugs that haven’t been thoroughly tested by them. Because you don’t know what will happen to you or your brain!

Limitless NZT

Congrats! You’re ALREADY using 100% of your brain! :confetti!:

I know I was a bit heavy on the snark up there, but I really enjoyed Limitless. The visuals were pretty, the acting was excellent, it was unpredictable.

This is a bit of a quibble but it bothers me: Why doesn’t the drug have a street name? Why does everyone call it NZT? Every other illicit drug has roughly fifteen slang terms. Why isn’t it called…I don’t know… Clarity? What with it being clear and it giving the user absolute clarity. People would call it Claire for short. ‘You seen Claire around?’ ‘Nah, man, she ain’t been around in awhile and I miss her. I can’t find any of my socks. Like, none of them, brah.’

It’s a television show now and I understand from a friend whose opinion I trust that it’s quite good. I haven’t seen it, but I definitely give the movie 5/5.


Black Chalk by Christopher J. Yates

by V. L. Craven

Black Chalk

It began with six students from various backgrounds at the fictional Pitt College at Oxford University. And it ended in New York City in the present day. Sort of.

There are two stories being told. One of an American in England–Chad. Chad from the pig farm in upstate New York who managed to attend Oxford for a year.

The other story takes place fourteen years later. It is told by a person who has not recovered from that year at Oxford.

There were six of them–they’d invented a ridiculous, clever, devious, genius game–but it was only a game amongst friends, still.

And they’d been backed by an organization who made sure they played by the rules. The Games Society. There were loads of ‘societies’ at Pitt. Students were encouraged to join them. It’s healthy to get out there to do things. Engage.

So the gang from near and far invented a game and staked more money than some had on it.

And it wasn’t the game so much as the consequences .

You see, the consequences were specifically tailored to most destroy each person. Nothing physical, only psychological damage. You know, for fun!

Then someone died. Not during a consequence. But definitely due to the game.

There came a break in play but the final round must be dealt fourteen years later. To prepare himself, one of the final two is trying to remember what happened all those years ago, but his memory wasn’t all that outstanding to begin with and after basically allowing your cohort to give you PTSD it’s really shot to hell.

He writes and writes and tells his story and then goes about his daily routine. Trying to get his mind into some sort of shape to face the final round of this wretched game he started with his friends all those years ago.

* * *

I loved this book. I’m a big fan of anything set in Oxford and I love nefarious ‘games’ and little secret, incestuous societies. (Hello, The Secret History, which this book has been compared to in every single review and I’m going to do it again. But I loved them both.)

Yates has excellent insight into human psychology and gives the reader a range of believable reactions to increasingly stressful circumstances.

Black Chalk is hard to put down. If you’re still looking for something for a book lover for the holiday–look no further.



Trigger Warning by Neil Gaiman

by V. L. Craven

Trigger Warning

This Thanksgiving I am thankful for LibraryThing , as it’s through their Early Reviewers program that I received Neil Gaiman’s Trigger Warning. I had requested it (along with a few hundred other people) and the notification that I’d actually receive the thing had gone to my trash folder so I knew nothing. It just arrived one day. It was a day during a rough week–impeccable timing, it had–and I thought, ‘Of course. If any book is going to seemingly magically arrive just when I need something magical it’s a Neil Gaiman book.’

That is a long way to say I received this book for free.

Trigger Warning is a collection of poetry, fairy tales, science fiction-y stories and the like. It’s bits and bobs of Gaiman.

If you’re a fan you’ll like it. If you’re not a fan already, I wouldn’t start with this one, though I enjoyed every piece in it. It does showcase his ability to write in an array of genres, so if the reader isn’t interested in one piece they can skip to the next.

Something I particularly liked was, at the beginning of the book there was information about each piece–what inspired it, where he was when he wrote it, something. I find that sort of thing interesting so I’d read each section then go back and read the paragraph or so about the ‘making-of’ that bit. I wish more books had that. What fun.

The entirety of A Calendar of Tales is in the book, which was an interesting inclusion and was much shorter than I was expecting.

There was a labyrinth and various mythologies featured a few times, which is always appreciated by this reader, as were ghosts and leprechauns. Snow White and Sleeping Beauty were in the same tale, but this time the women were the hero(ines) and things aren’t always what they seem.

There’s even a Sherlock Holmes tale that read quite true-to-source for me.

And of course there are creepy children, because children are creepy.

It’s difficult to choose a stand out, as the pieces were so different, but an homage to Ray Bradbury called ‘The Man Who Forgot Ray Bradbury’ was wonderful and touching. The background Gaiman shared only made it more so.

There’s another story called ‘The Return of the Thin White Duke’ and you can easily guess who it’s about, but it made me smile and was wonderfully inventive.

‘Feminine Endings’ was TERRIFYING. And the story behind that one was hilarious.

If you’re a Gaiman fan, this is a must-read. 5/5

If you haven’t read anything of his yet, I’d probably start with something else, though you’d still be able to find something in here to appeal. 4/5


Kiss of the Damned

by V. L. Craven


Paolo (Milo Ventimiglia) is instantly captivated by flame haired Djuna (Josephine de La Baume). She’s drawn to him, as well, but warns him off and hints that she has a bit of a bitey problem.

He asks if she’s trying to tell him she’s a vampire and of course he doesn’t believe her.

So she has him chain her to the bed and they begin to get sexy with it (apparently sexy time is what makes the fangs come out in this type of vampire).

She vamps out and he decides he’s okay with that and she turns him.

The rest of the film is partially about him learning how to be a vampire in the modern world–there’s a dinner party scene that’s hilarious–and partially about their relationship. The two lovers want to get away from it all and start afresh.

Another big subplot is Djuna’s horrible sister, Mimi (Roxane Mesquida), arriving and acting like a rockstar. And I don’t mean staging free concerts to help the less fortunate.

Mimi is supposed to be shipped off to rehab in the American southwest, but she wants to stay in Connecticut. (I can’t say I blame her–dry heat sounds terrible for a vampire.) So she brings an offering to the lady of the house Xenia (Anna Mouglalis) in the form of a virgin.

She also brings an offering of her lady parts to Paolo because she’s one of those women who likes making trouble.

What goes around comes around though, you know.

Do you have any scarves I can borrow?

Do you have any scarves I can borrow?

Kiss of the Damned could be a little slow, but I enjoyed it and I’m not the biggest vampire film buff. So take that as you will.

I appreciated how non-exploitative it was–this could have been due to the writer/director (Xan Cassavetes) being a woman.

There was less gore than I was expecting, but the special effects that were there weren’t up to what today’s audiences are accustomed–I wondered if it was an homage to 70s horror films.

That said: Why are all these Europeans in the Connecticut countryside? The main vamps are ancient and from Europe–why don’t they live in New York or somewhere they won’t stick out? Like, you know, Europe?



The Addams Family Screenplay

by V. L. Craven

Addams Family

[This post is written with the assumption you’ve seen The Addams Family film. If you haven’t go! Watch it! It’s fantastic! Still, I’ll keep it spoiler-free.]

Recently, I re-watched The Addams Family, which came out in 1991 and I’m an old person, as I saw it twice in the cinema. I had magazines with interviews with the cast and costumers and set designers and pull out posters–I still have the Morticia one. It’s not on the wall, but I still have it.

There was a drawing for an Addams Family pinball machine in one of the magazines. You know I sent in my information for that. (I have just learned it’s the best-selling pinball machine of all time. Well, of course it is!)

I read the novelization of the screenplay, as well, which would have been around twenty-four years ago.

When I was re-watching it, there’s a place where Gomez tries to get Fester to say their secret name for one another. Fester, newly returned after twenty-five years away in the Bermuda Triangle, can’t recall it and winds up saying, ‘You almost killed me you demented freak.’ In the film, Gomez says, ‘Poor man! What did they do to you in the Bermuda Triangle?’ but it’s said off-screen and sounded, to me, like it was dubbed in.

And I could have sworn I’d read in the book Gomez saying, ‘Demented freak! You do remember the password!’

I’d sold or given away the book many years ago, but the internet exists so I searched and it turns out you can download (or just read) the actual shooting script here .

So I did that one afternoon.

It was great fun, actually, though I wouldn’t recommend it if you haven’t seen the film.

Boy, did it go through a lot of revisions.

There were several scenes that were cut from the film–including something that happened in the TV show, which was that Pugsley was a little chemistry genius and could turn himself into other things. During the opening section of the film he turned himself into a mouse.

Then there were all sorts of little details I’ve missed in the film that would have taken place in the background when I would have been watching the actors in the foreground.

Aside from cut scenes there were also lines here and there that didn’t make it to the screen. And Abigail Craven (a nefarious surname if ever I heard one)–her original first name was Virginia, apparently, as they didn’t change all of the times her first name appeared in later versions of the script.

But the most disturbing thing was that Cousin Itt–are you ready?

Originally had arms.

Excuse me while I go outside and scream to the heavens.


That’s bad creepy.

He sees Margaret at the dance and runs his hands through his hair.


No no no no.

And for some reason they spell it ‘Cousin It’ in the film script, rather than ‘Itt’ like on the TV show.

I know my Addamses. It’s Itt, dammit.

Then again, they changed some other things, geneology-wise. Fester was Morticia’s brother on the show and Gomez’s brother in the film. Grandmama was Gomez’s mother on the show and was Morticia’s in the film and was called Granny or Mama, depending on who was talking. (On the TV show, Morticia’s mother was played by Margaret Hamilton–the actress who played the Wicked Witch of the West. Inspired.)

But still, Itt was Itt.

And this is Morticia. The poster that was on my wall for years.

And this is Morticia. The poster that was on my wall for years.

Other things I recall from reading those articles a quarter of a century ago:

Cher was up for the role of Morticia at one point.

The actor who played Cousin Itt was allergic to hairspray and the way he got the part was by doing Hamlet’s soliloquy in the Itt voice.

The nutso sounding music that plays when Gomez and Fester are going down the slide to the vault is by the duo the Kipper Kids, one of whom is Bette Midler’s husband, Martin von Haselberg.

During the ball, the composer of the orchestra is played by Marc Shaiman, Bette Midler’s composer of many, decades, as well as the composer of the original score for The Addams Family. (He’s the guy playing the piano in the opening of Beaches, as well, if you’d like to see him out of Addams garb.)

After the film was released multiple offers were made to purchase the Addams residence, but it was just a facade.


The Perfect Host

by V. L. Craven

Perfect Host

John Taylor (Clayne Crawford) has just robbed a bank of a considerable sum and the cops are after him so he has to dump his car.

He blags his way into Warwick Wilson’s (David Hyde Pierce) house by saying he’s just got back from seeing a mutual friend, Julia, in Sydney–he found a postcard from her in the post box.

But the airline lost his luggage and he’s been mugged and the cousin he’s supposed to be staying with won’t be home for awhile. blah blah.

Warwick is hesitant to let him in, as he’s expecting several guests for a dinner party. But Julia would never forgive him so… come on in complete stranger with the bizarre story.

One thing leads to another and eventually Warwick discovers his guest isn’t who he says he is.

That’s all right, though, because Warwick isn’t exactly the most stable of human beings in the world, either.

What's happening here is even better than it looks.

What’s happening here is even better than it looks.

I love bad-guy-meets-worse-bad-guy films/TV. I knew that was the premise of this one, but I didn’t know what I was in for and it was so much fun!

David Hyde Pierce was clearly enjoying the hell out of himself. I had no idea what was going to happen at any time but laughed out loud multiple times.

Look, petty criminals–you never know when you’re going to stumble upon a total lunatic. Just stay home.

Unpredictable and hilarious, I highly recommend this one.


[Oh yes, apropos of nothing–one of the detectives looking for Taylor was Nathaniel Parker. He plays Inspector Lynley. His American accent was perfect, but every time he was on screen I’d think  What? Why are you in California being American in this teeny indie film? ]


The Suicide Theory

by V. L. Craven


Percival (Leon Cain) has been having no luck killing himself. He’s tried–honestly he has–but it’s not working.

Eventually he hires Steven (Steve Mouzakis), a hitman, figuring if anyone knows how to terminate another person’s life it’ll be someone who gets paid to do so.

Steven listens to his newest client’s inability-to-die problem (not believing a word of it) and shoots him multiple times.

It doesn’t work.

The two men form an odd sort of friendship based on shared tragedy–they’ve both lost their partners to tragedy.

Percival tries to work out why he’s still here–he believes fully in Fate. There must be a reason he can’t die. He must need to do something before he’s allowed to die.

Steven doesn’t buy it, even after trying other ways to kill his employer and friend, there are always ways to explain how he survived.

Then something happens and he begins to come round to Percival’s way of thinking. What if even he , someone who’s killed who-knows-how-many people, was alive for a reason?

Fate’s a funny thing, though.

Suicide Theory2

Pictured: a man clearly loving life.

Netflix recommended this one to me based on other things I’ve liked, which can be hit or miss, but this one was a winner. Dark and unpredictable (though, I admit, at the end I did think, ‘I should have seen that coming.’) and occasionally funny, it was worth the watch.



The Autodidact Goes to New Orleans

by V. L. Craven

As mentioned in a recent post , I’ve just spent a week in New Orleans.

Here's the photo I promised in my last post about N.O. (blech.)

Here’s the photo I promised in my last post about N.O. (blech.)

I was there with some friends (15 and my husband–17 total) whom I’ve known for ten years or so.

We rented three flats in the Western Union Building in the business district. This plan was all right. We had several kitchens, which included things to eat off of and to eat with.

And they were modern and a lil bit swanky. (Though not without problems.)

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I lost one day to a migraine, and with 17 people trying to get groups together to do things was like herding cats that all wanted to do different things waaaaay earlier than I was capable of so I wound up not getting to do some things I’d wanted, but I still had a great time and enjoyed seeing my friends.

And the food was excellent.

On to the food.

Food I Paid For

Most of what we ate was prepared in our kitchens because we were a bunch of broke people, but on occasion I spent money on something.

Beignets. Everyone was telling me to have beignets. It’s a New Orleans doughnut (or a French doughnut, depending who was doing the talking).

Holy crap you guys. Have a beignet. They come in servings of three.

The first round was from Cafe Beignet :

I may or may not have just licked my screen.

I may or may not have just licked my screen.

I had a cafe au lait (which needed a LOT of sugar and was still seriously strong coffee, yowza, but it was great). And the beignets… So good. It’s just fried dough, but man alive. So good. I’d weigh 900 pounds if I lived somewhere I could eat those regularly.

During that first sitting I ate four because one of our group couldn’t finish all of hers. Several people were impressed with this for some reason.

Others were impressed I was wearing black and wasn’t covered in powdered sugar. What can I say? I have a rare gift.

The ability to not wear my food was tested on my third trip for the wonder that is the beignet (the second was a repeat trip to Cafe Beignet).

We went to Cafe du Monde . A place that, apparently, doesn’t own a sifter. They just dump the box of sugar over the dough.

There were lumps of sugar. Really.

There were lumps of sugar. Really.

Cafe du Monde is open 24 hours and some of my friends went out around 1 or 2 in the morning and they thought the place had closed for some reason because the chairs were upside down on the tables.

Nope, they were just hosing down all the powdered sugar that had fallen on the ground during the day. Probably to discourage ants.

So I highly recommend those. And I did prefer Cafe du Monde over Cafe Beignet. Both were excellent, but the former was slightly crispier. The former also offers iced cafe au lait which is delicious.

Note that Cafe du Monde only takes cash, though.

ALLIGATOR. I ate some. It’s another thing I’d eat all the time if it were available where I live. I know it’s bad for my GERD so it’s good I can’t get it here.

The first version was a fried alligator po boy from Felix’s and the second was an alligator sausage po boy from Daisy Dukes .

I *definitely* licked my screen this time. GRAAAAAH GIMME

I *definitely* licked my screen this time. GRAAAAAH GIMME

There’s an enormous alligator that lives near a lake in this area and all I can think is, ‘I know what you’d taste like on a sandwich!’

And I would be remiss if I left off the first thing I ate in N.O., which was:

Voodoo tastes like salt and vinegar, who knew?

Voodoo tastes like salt and vinegar, who knew?

They were quite inexpensive and could be found all over so if you like salt and vinegar (which I do very much) go for it.

Places I Went to & Things I Looked At

Boutique du Vampyre : Located at 709 1/2 St Ann St. this was one of the highlights of my trip. It had lots of handmade gothic gifts and items and books and such. One of the ‘and suches’ are custom fangs. (I didn’t get any.)

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The Pharmacy Museum : (514 Chartres Street) Second highlight of my trip right here. It was like being in Professor Snape’s storeroom. They had a giant mortar and pestle for making large quantities of drugs, which of course they’d have to do on occasion. It’s something I’d never considered before, though.

Also they have a wonderful array of torture implements. I mean, surgical devices from way back when. Brings a tear to your eye just to look at some of them.

Faulkner House Books : (624 Pirate Alley) This was a tiny, but fantastic little bookshop. Plus they stayed open a little late when I got distracted by their New York Review of Books section. I wish I had spent more money here. I certainly could have (they had Karl Ove Knausgaard’s trilogy and dozens of NYRB books).

Marie Laveau’s House of Voodoo : Well, this was disappointing. I don’t know what I was expecting, but this wasn’t it. It was very small. And the fact that more than one site listed this as a ‘must-see’ didn’t give me hope for other voodoo houses.

While there, a white woman asked one of the assistants, ‘Where is Marie Laveau buried?’
Guy: ‘Under our floorboards.’ :points down:
Woman: :knowing tone: ‘Yeah but, where does everyone in the world think she’s buried?’
Guy: ‘Saint Louis Cemetery Number One.’

That’s when I rolled my eyes right out of my head and sighed so hard I died.

Speaking of cemeteries, I genuinely tried to go to one, but they all close around 2 in the afternoon (I guess people don’t visit their dead after then?) Some have guided tours and require visitors to purchase tickets. A good reference for that information is Save Our Cemeteries .

I completely understand closing before dark. But 2 in the afternoon?! These people clearly don’t understand that some of us aren’t awake and mobile and able to get transportation *to* the cemetery before 2.

We drove past several. They looked cool from the other side of the fences.

Other Things I Didn’t Get To See/Experience

I had wanted (and intended) to get to the house that was used in American Horror Story: Coven, but that didn’t happen.

We didn’t make it to the Garden District at all, in fact.

I didn’t try chicory coffee. Though, from what I’ve read , I’m not sure I’d like it.

I was intrigued by the Museum of Death , but it was $15 to get in and we were broke. Perhaps next time we go we’ll be able to afford it.

Miscellanous Observations

My friends and I did some walking around and chatting and looking at masks–there are mask shops everywhere.

There are gas lamps lit all the time.

Note how it is the middle of the day.

Note how it is the middle of the day.

Which is both beautiful and one of the least green things I’ve seen in some time.

Bourbon Street is the living embodiment of an anxiety attack. I’ve been on taxi rides in Rome that were less stressful than walking down Bourbon during the daylight hours of a weekday. I can’t imagine what a weekend night must be like. Sakes alive.

There were ‘Katrina Tours’ … I don’t know what those are exactly, but they were offered alongside ghost tours and alligator tours and that is terrible and wrong.

And finally, something I learned about myself

Up in the photos of the flat I mentioned Chekhov’s blanket.

Well. I’m not allergic to anything. Or so I thought. From the time I was in the flat the first night I found myself sneezing rather frequently when in our bedroom.

I tend to sleep with something over my face–it’s a comfort thing. At home it’s a pillow. I was using that cursed blanket because we only had one pillow each.

Look at it. Just... lying there.

Look at it. Just… lying there.

I don’t know what that… thing is made of (not a natural fibre in there, I’m sure), but by the third night my nose was running like it was crying and I was sneezing my face off.

I still hadn’t put it together it was the blanket, though, because I’m not allergic to anything.

I thought I was coming down with a cold… that only struck…wait a minute… when I’m anywhere near…hey, you guys… that blanket…

So I’m allergic to soft and snuggly, faux zebra blankets.


In summation, I learned a great deal on my trip.

Voodoo houses are tiny and overrated.

It’s impossible for beignets to ever be overrated.

Cemeteries in New Orleans close before the living dead can have their second cup of tea.

Alligators are quite delicious and, since they’re basically dinosaurs, a T-Rex steak would probably be tasty indeed.

Avoid Bourbon Street unless you’re drunk or planning to be in short order.


Interview with Louie Stowell

by V. L. Craven
Louie Stowall

Louie Stowell

In July I reviewed Louie Stowell’s delightfully dark School for Supervillains , which is about a young girl’s first days at the school her parents sent her to in order for her to become the best evil maniac possible.

She (Ms Stowall, not the evil maniac) recently agreed to answer some questions about writing and Fiction Express–the publisher of The School for Supervillains.

Fiction Express is a fun concept. Briefly explain it for my readers.

It’s essentially an online publisher. Schools subscribe, and each term they get a selection of stories (I believe it’s three now) at different levels. Chapters are published once a week, with cliffhangers at the end. The kids at subscribing schools vote online for the resolutions they want to each cliffhanger. Then the writer scuttles off and writes the next chapter, which is posted a couple of days later. More on the scuttling in a minute…

How did you get involved with it?

I think it began with a conversation on twitter. It sounded like such an interesting way of working and, as someone who grew up with Choose Your Own Adventure, having a chance to play in that sandbox was really exciting. I tend to think of stories as having many potential paths, so it naturally fits with how my mind works.

What was it like writing a chapter a week?

Madness. Utter madness. It’s not so much a chapter a week as a chapter in a day, as there’s not much time between the votes being counted and the next chapter being posted. Plus factoring in editing time (my editor at Fiction Express, Laura, is an utter badass when it comes to turning things around quickly. And she does it all year long, while I’ll do maybe one story for them a year!). However the adrenalin carries you through, and there’s a real joy to that kind of pace.

Was the concept of a school for evil little kids something you’d had before Fiction Express?

Yes. I originally had it in mind as just a short story, a what-if about a kid who came from evil parents, but they aspired to be good. So that conflict was there from the outset, the idea of parental expectations vs a kid’s desire. In the context of supervillainy, obviously.

Caligula? [One of the kids in the book.] Really? Was that put in for the adults?

That was for me. I grew up reading Judge Dredd, and Judge Cal (based on the real Caligula) was one of my favourite characters. And it made sense within the world – supervillains seem highly likely to pick names for their kids based on historical villains. Though Mandrake got her name from a root that screams when you pull it up, because supervillains also love the suffering of others.

What are you working on now?

I’m currently working on a teen novel about a boy who works for a secret government organisation, killing zombies. As I type this, I’m waiting for feedback from my agent, so I have no nails left…. 🙂

Do you have a website I could link to? I’ll add a link to your Twitter, of course.

I don’t update my blogs very often, but here you go anyway! One is my webcomic, the other is a general blog where I talk about publishing, politics, comics and other things that float through my brain…

Blog: Stowell’s Cosmology

Webcomic:  Gods Next Door  This is about gods from various pantheons living in suburbia.

Twitter: @louiestowell


Why There Are No Reviews

by V. L. Craven

I’m in New Orleans for a week so there will be no film or book reviews for a couple weeks.

I’ve actually left the house. It’s incredible.

It’s raining like nobody’s business here, which is what you want when you go on holiday. And I’m here with a group of friends from all over the U.S., U.K. and one from Australia, so people are handling the humidity and rain in various ways.

Those from the northern parts of the U.S. don’t understand warm + rain.

The U.K. people aren’t coping with humidity and heat.

The American Southerners are: What? This is strange?

And the Australian, being accustomed to living in a place where everything is trying to kill you, is happy to be somewhere relatively safe.

When we arrived at the airport the first thing we saw was a sign advertising crawfish strudel. This is an abomination. Our taxi driver asked if we’d tried one.


I should have taken a photo of the sign. I’ll try to get one on our way out of the city.



by V. L. Craven


Kylie Bucknell (Morgana O’Reilly) has difficulty living her life within the confines of the law. She’s been sent to various rehab clinics to no avail so, upon being caught once again colouring outside the lines, she’s sentenced to eight months house detention…at her mother’s (Rima Te Wiata).

As she’d left years ago without a glance back, this wasn’t her idea of a good time.

But back she goes and with an ankle monitor attached by security contractor Amos (Glen-Paul Waru). He shows her the distance outside she can walk (not nearly far enough) and explains any attempt to remove it will trigger an alarm.

That evening Kylie is listening to a radio show and hears her mother call in and talk about the ghost she saw in their house years ago along with all the other weird things that have happened over time.

Kylie may look like Lydia Deets but she most certainly isn’t in touch with the Otherworldly and doesn’t believe a word of it. This only furthers her belief that her mother and stepfather are the most boring humans on the face of creation.

But then, things start happening and Kylie begins to think perhaps her mother may be on to something. Luckily, Amos is an amateur ghost hunter and even has equipment to help look for disgruntled spirits.

Whilst the spirits are being prodded for information, our protagonist pokes about in the corporeal world and turns up unsettling information of her own. So which is it–reality or the otherworldly making her life a nightmare?

One of the gross bits

One of the gross bits

The plot is inventive–I didn’t know where it was going. The writing was witty–there was a part I was laughing about a couple days later. And the cast was excellent. Everything was really well-done. It was also occasionally gross. See above.

Housebound is the sort of film that can be watched repeatedly; I highly recommend this one.




by V. L. Craven


Louis Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal) is out very late one night, doing something less than legal when he sees the aftermath of a fiery car wreck. Two men (one is Bill Paxton) are filming the carnage and rescue efforts to sell to the news. Bloom is fascinated by this and gets a camera and a police scanner.

He begins going to crime scenes (competing with Paxton) and selling regularly to one station in particular, dealing primarily with the morning news director Nina (Rene Russo).

But getting the most interesting shots and the best stories sometimes means doing little things the police frown upon. Like tampering with evidence…withholding evidence…putting innocent lives at stake to be in place when a story breaks.

Louis Bloom has no problem with any of those things, though. He’s found his calling. And nothing is going to stand in his way.

Looking a little Patrick Bateman-esque here. Fitting, really.

Looking a little Patrick Bateman-esque here. Fitting, really.

Nightcrawler is unlike anything I’ve seen–I didn’t know where it was going. The writing and acting and directing were superb.

Gyllenhaal was excellent. Louis Bloom relates to other humans in an unusual way–detached and almost Asperger-like, but with sociopathological undertones. He is a malicious, bizarre, but believable guy.

I highly recommend this one. 5/5


The Kings of Summer

by V. L. Craven

Kings of Summer

Parents can be infuriating and lame. In Joe Toy’s case (Nick Robinson) his father (Nick Offerman) is infuriating. In Patrick Keenan’s case (Gabriel Basso) his parents (Megan Mullally and Marc Evan Jackson) are lame.

Really lame. So incredibly lame.

So one summer, after one too many crazy-making moments in both of their households, the boys decide to build their own house in a clearing in the woods. A place they can be men–away from the tyranny of parents. They’ve acquired a third somehow, Biaggio (Moises Arias) who is happy to help them out in any way and is…a bit creepy. But he’s all right, really.

Once built, they move in permanently–not telling their parents where they’re going, which prompts much fretting and police involvement.

The boys learn about themselves. The parents… well, some of them learn about themselves.

kings of summer pipe dance

Biaggio learns to dance on a pipe whilst his friends bang on it with big sticks. It ain’t easy.

The Kings of Summer manages to be heart-warming without making me want to die or vomit, which is saying something. Usually I’m allergic to that sort of thing. But it’s funny and unusual (if utterly unlikely) and there were moments of truth.

Nick Offerman as Suburban Dad Just Trying to Be a Good Father was a different role for him but felt real.

Seeing Megan Mullally play a ‘lame’ mom rather than a wacky, naked, swearing, drunk person was confusing. She nailed the character, though. It was uncomfortably accurate.

The boys performances were all excellent, as well. Arias was a particular stand out as the eccentric, vaguely disturbed Biaggio.

Something about it reminded me of Stand By Me. Perhaps that it’s one of the few coming-of-age films I actually enjoyed. Or about a bunch of boys in the woods? I don’t know. I just kept thinking of Stand By Me.

Oh, and watch all the way to the end of the credits. There’s a little bit at the very end.



Grace and Frankie

by V. L. Craven

Grace and Frankie

Grace Hanson (Jane Fonda) and Frankie Bergstein (Lily Tomlin) have been married to their husbands, Robert (Martin Sheen) and Sol (Sam Waterston), for forty years.

The husbands in question have been partners in the same law firm for that length of time, as well, and the women are ready for them to retire. They hope the men in their lives are going to announce their retirement (finally) at the fancy schmancy dinner they’ve invited them out to.

Or they could announce they both want divorces because they’d like to marry one another…because they’ve been having an affair for the previous twenty years.

That’s the other thing that could happen.

Like Transparent , Grace and Frankie is about what happens when an older person decides to start living their life honestly. The fallout, as it were, in regard to their family–their spouses, kids, lifelong friends, etc.

There are some very honest moments. There are also some rather contrived moments. Overall, though, the show is entertaining. It’s certainly nice to see people over 40 dealing with life (and technology) and sex and dating in a realistic way. More of that, please.

Netflix is on a roll with excellent shows. Last week I reviewed one and now this. (I promise I’ll return to films soon.) And they already have Orange is the New Black and I understand House of Cards is rather all right–no I haven’t seen it, give me a break.

Grace and Frankie can be a little uneven at times–the dialogue can go from laugh out loud funny to bad sitcom–but the cast makes it worth the watch.



Wet Hot American Summer

by V. L. Craven

Wet Hot American Summer Film

At the weekend I watched all of the Netflix series Wet Hot American Summer, but it’d been awhile since I’d seen the film and so rewatched that first.

It’s a spoof of the teen sex comedies of the early eighties and captures every trope beautifully. It’s also just… bizarre and hilarious.

The actions of the film take place on the final day of camp when the slack counselors are doing their level best to not counsel any of the campers, choosing to try to have sex with whomever they have their eye on for the final (or first) time.

The day is ridiculously long and the number of things that occur are impossible, but the cast (a mashup of SNL and The State with Christopher Meloni, Elizabeth Banks and David Hyde Pierce for good measure) play it with the perfect amount of seriousness and self awareness. These people inhabit a cartoon world and we accept it because they accept it.

The film was released in 2001 and people didn’t get it. The budget was $1.8 million and the box office was a little under $300.000. Ouch.

Still, it became a cult hit because it’s a riot. Which brings me to

Wet Hot American Summer TV

Fourteen years later Netflix has released a TV show–eight episodes–that take place eight weeks prior to the film.

All eight episodes take place eight weeks prior to the film–on the first day of camp.

The first day of camp is also insanely long, but this time it seems a bit less nutso, as several episodes follow certain characters on their separate journeys.

It also explains certain things that are established parts of the universe of the film–like the talking soup can.

Incredibly, they got the entire cast back together–more than a few of whom have gone on to be rather well-known. So it must have been a fun time they wanted to re-live. They certainly looked like they were having a blast.

The TV show brings in Jon Hamm and he and Christopher Meloni have a scene together that made my day (and probably made theirs, too).

Generally, I dislike goofball comedy. I don’t get it and think it’s juvenile. (I know, I’m a curmudgeon.) But this bunch of doofuses paired with the script were great. I was constantly laughing out loud and saying, ‘What is WRONG with these people?’

It’s a great time if you like weirdness or implausibility.

My only question is this: If all of this happened on the FIRST day and then we’ve seen the FINAL day, which really seemed to pick up where the first day ended… Was every day in between really long re-set days, where you end up where you started each day until the last day of camp?

I suppose I do have one other question: how is it that half the cast looks exactly the same fifteen years later and the other half actually looks fifteen years older? Talk about ouch.

One more question because it’s my site and I can ask as many as I’d like: Do they have a warehouse of 80s crap for these sorts of things? The cars and clothes and those braided bracelets and the giant boomboxes. It was so authentic and…painfully accurate.

The film is a 4/5 the TV show is 5/5. You can watch all of it in a day, though and laugh and laugh, which I recommend.

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