Tread Perilously — Star Trek TNG: Sub Rosa

tp1400-1Tread Perilously boards the Enterprise bound for Space Scotland for an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation called “Sub Rosa.”

On the occasion of her grandmother’s death, Dr. Beverly Crusher visits Space Scotland where the weather modification system is on the blink and Dr. Crusher encounters a strange young man. Her grandmother’s journals also make reference to a young man named Ronin — note the spelling — who brought her great pleasure. Now, he has his sights on Bev, the latest member of Clan Howard that he hopes to seduce.

But what does all of this has to do with the sudden appearance of fog on the bridge of the Enterprise?

Erik and Justin trot out their terrible Scottish accents and consider how difficult it is to place a Gothic romance (or is it horror) into the 24th Century of Star Trek. Erik reveals his ambivalence toward Rogue One: A Star Wars Story while Justin praises it. Erik declares that official Star Trek cannot do eroticism (even if Star Trek fans can) and Justin lodges a complaint against the term “lover.” Both also want Deanna Troi to get a better job.

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A Bad Movie Roundup

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!  If you’re anything like me, you love terrible films.  In the bad movie club to which I belong, Yakmala, we’ve watched a lot of truly awful crimes against good taste.  Here are some reviews to keep you nice and warm and maybe pick an enjoyably bad flick to work off that Christmas/New Year hangover.

after_earth_poster1After Earth: Charisma is real. Nepotism is a choice.

After Last Season: *stunned silence*

Alex Cross: Alex Cross is here to promote family values and kick ass. And he’s all out of family.

Ator, the Fighting Eagle:A baby bear was destined to help him marry his sister

The Avengers: Mmm… quite.

Barbarian Queen: Pretty much everyone is going to touch whatever they want

Battlefield Earth: A Saga of the Year 3000: Prepare to go for the exits

Battle of the Year: Maybe one guy is watching, and not for the reasons you’d hope.

The Beaver: He’s the last nail in the coffin of Mel Gibson’s career.

Blood Freak: A Dracula on Thanksgiving!

220px-breakin2Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo: My community center is being torn down to make a shopping mall. I dance for pennies on the street, and spend all of it on day-glo rags and leather gloves. I have no health insurance and have to go to a hospital staffed entirely by strippers. I am the 99%.

Bride of the Monster: Lugosi was paid in morphine. Cheap morphine.

Catwoman: Catch her in a giant cardboard box.

The Cocaine Fiends: The white dust from Walgreens!

Color of Night: One Killer, and No, She Didn’t Gnaw Her Victims to Death With Her Giant Horse Teeth.

The Crocodile Hunter: Collision Course: Crappy!

Deathstalker: The Grease of the Pecs… the Creepiness of Everyone…

Delinquent Daughters: YOUTH RUNNING MILD! UNSEEN…UNLIT!

220px-dreamcatcherposterDevil: Bad things happen because The Sixth Sense made a lot of money.

Diamond Ninja Force: His mustache demanded vengeance…

Double Down: The Bourne Incomprehensibility

Dreamcatcher: Evil Slips Through… Your Bunghole

Escape from Galaxy 3: In space, no one can hear you moan.

Exterminator City: We’re kind of hoping you mix this up with Terminator.

Fantastic Four: Beyond darkness… beyond fear… lies more darkness and some tedium.

Fateful Findings: I’ve been hacking into the most secret government and corporate secrets.

Fireproof: Women Are People Too, Just a Lesser Version

fateful-findings-film-coverFlashdance: Take your passion, and 33% of you will make it happen!

From Justin to Kelly: The embarrassing contractual obligations of two American Idols

Glen or Glenda: The ordinary case of a man who changed his CLOTHES!

Gor: Gor! What is it good for? Absolutely nothing.

Gymkata: The skill of gymnastics, the kill of karate, the thrill of lawn care.

The Hand that Rocks the Cradle: …is the hand that punches Rebecca De Mornay in the face

The Human Centipede (First Sequence): 100% medically accurate. In Germany.

In the Name of the King: A Dungeon Siege Tale: Rise and farm

Jaws: The Revenge: This time it’s nonsensical.

Judge Dredd: The team up only 1995 could give us: Stallone and Schneider!

513n7O1fLDL._SY445_Kindergarten Ninja: I can think of two things wrong with that title.

Man of Steel: In the grim darkness of the present, there is only angst.

“Manos” The Hands of Fate: I’m the Master, and I Approved This Message!

The Man Who Saves the World: The Scarecrow was only half right.

Miami Connection: Tae Kwon! Tae Kwon! Tae Kwon Do!

Mother, May I Sleep With Danger?: Row for your life, Tori Spelling!

Next: Nicolas Cage owes the government millions of dollars. Let’s see what he’ll do now.

A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge: Someone is coming on Elm Street’s back!

Ninja III: The Domination: He’s a hopelessly lost psychopath, she just happened to be nearby.

972451ninja-iii-the-domination-postersNinja Thunderbolt: We’re not racist, but…

No Holds Barred: No Shirt. No Shoes. No Homo.

North: A family comedy that makes you wonder why you have a family at all.

Omoo-Omoo the Shark God: Terrible Acting! Baffling Camerawork!

Paparazzi: Bo knows homicide

Passion Play: Thank goodness, helpful Indians!

Perfect Stranger: How Long Can You Stay Awake Watching People Chat Online?

Pink Force Commando: Holy. Living. Fuck.

Plan 9 from Outer Space: Who Did What To the Who Now?

Prometheus: Seventeen idiots shot into space. No way this goes bad.

Quigley: Dog backwards is God. So this is high concept stuff.

poster_of_revenge_of_the_red_baron1Revenge of the Red Baron: It’s Never Over

Samurai Cop: He’s here to chew bubblegum and disrespect Japanese culture… and he’s all out of bubblegum.

Sex Madness: Keep that dick holstered, cowboy. There are laws in this town.

The Spirit: What are you, dense? Are you retarded or something? I’m the goddamn Spirit!

Starcrash: A long time ago in a galaxy free of litigation…

Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones: A Jedi Shall Not Know Anger. Nor Emotion. Nor Acting Lessons.

Stealth: Fear the Vag

Steel: Man. Basketball. Food. Hammer. Noun.

Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li: Some fight for real estate. Some fight for pianos.

superman_ivStreet Trash: Um… so… that happened…

Sucker Punch: You Will Be Unprepared (As With Most Rape)

Superman III: Superman vs. dignity!

Superman IV: The Quest for Peace: Superman’s sick, son. We’re just going to have to take him out behind the barn.

Swimfan: Wanna pretend that never happened?

Tiptoes: Midgets, Midgets Everywhere!

Troll 2: The original boogeyman called in sick, so we dressed some midgets in sacks

Tuff Turf: Meet Morgan Hiller. He just wants his bike back.

Twilight: What’s a little pedophilia between friends?

vampire-raiders-ninja-queenThe Twilight Saga: New Moon: Necrophilia or Bestiality: One Girl’s Sexy Choice

The Twilight Saga: Eclipse: Two men must choose: an unattractive girl or hot, hot gay sex.

The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 1: Forever is only the beginning

The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2: The epic finale that seems to last forever

Vampire Dentist: You Maniacs! You Did It! You [made Vampire Dentist]! AH, DAMN YOU! DAMN YOU ALL TO HELL!

The Vampire Raiders: It’s Ninja vs. Vampire for Control of the Home Owners Association!

Warrior of the Lost World: Only one rider can destroy the Omega Force… and this isn’t him.

The Warrior and the Sorceress: An age of fat guys and grunting lizards… of shin-kicks and inconvenience.

Winter’s Tale: This is not a true story. True stories generally make a lick of sense.

Yor, the Hunter from the Future: He’s the man.

There you have it!  A bevy of bad for a (really) long weekend!

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Tread Perilously — Special Review Unit: Faith

tpsrvFor the last Tread Perilously of 2016, we reopen the case files of the Special Review Unit for an episode of Law & Order: Criminal Intent called “Faith.” A seemingly apt title.

Det. Robert Goren and Det. Alex Eames investigate the murder of a man helping Erica Windermere, a young author hiding from her dope gang parents. She’s written a book, Through The Darkness, about her struggles with Lou Gehrig’s Disease and her early abuse by her drug gang parents. Erica’s editor can only offer her email address as contact information. And when Erica responds to Eames’ email, Goren asks a most important question: “How has your disease affected your menstruation?” From her answer, he comes to believe that she does not exist.

Executive ADA Louis Allred joins the Special Review Unit once again as Justin meets Det. Goren for the first time. He also learns about the new La Croix Sparkling Water rule for white people. The SRU ends up talking about Taylor Swift. Several respirators are purchased. Doctor What appears to refill a drink and the discussion wanders into another look at Gone Girl. Also, Justin declares that Vincent D’Onofrio is a bad actor, Michael Nouri gets a name check, and Erik’s D’Onofrio impression lapses into William Shatner.

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Yakmala: Jaws: The Revenge

jaws_the_revenge

Hi, I’m a shark!

The original Jaws is a better movie than Mother Theresa is a person. That’s either the most or least controversial thing I’ve ever said, depending on who you are, but I’ll stand by it. The sequels, though, range from pointless to a garbage fire in an open sewer filled with skunks who all have exploding bowel syndrome. Let’s talk about the bowel explodiest of all the franchise with Jaws: The Revenge, shall we?

Tagline: This time it’s personal.

More Accurate Tagline: This time it’s nonsensical.

Guilty Party: Whatever dead-eyed mid-level executive who, like a shark, could smell the few droplets of blood clinging to the franchise and decided to wring that shit out over the baby birds’ nest of the American viewing public.

Synopsis: Roy Scheider had enough sense to call it quits after the first two movies, so Chief Brody is dead. His wife, Ellen (Lorraine Gary in her final role) still lives on Amity Island with her son Sean, who has become a cop like his dad. She’s also convinced that, despite the fact that Chief Brody died of a heart attack, the shark got him. With those kinds of critical thinking skills, I’m thinking Ellen’s later life is filled with a lot of reposting Breitbart articles on Facebook.

Sean gets eaten by a shark, because at this pint, there’s a shark mafia with a hit out on the Brody family. The other son, Michael (Lance Guest, a.k.a. The Last Starfighter), now a marine biologist in the Bahamas, returns for the funeral and convinces Ellen to spend Christmas with him and his family. He points out that the water in the Bahamas is too warm for great whites, which ironically marks the one time this series said anything accurate about sharks.

But, you know, this is a Jaws movie, and it would be perverse if the next hour was devoted to, say, counting snails and watching the elderly date. Which is why that’s exactly the plot of the next hour of the movie. Yep, Ellen starts romancing local pilot Hoagie (Michael Caine), who is also a degenerate gambler and is heavily implied to be a cocaine smuggler. Which… seriously, movie? Also, Michael and his partner Jake (Mario van Peebles) count conchs for their graduate work. It’s riveting stuff.

Then, finally, the goddamn shark shows up. Jake is psyched because fuck snails. He wants to study the giant monster shark who shouldn’t even be living there. Michael agrees, but doesn’t want Ellen to find out the shark literally stalked her on vacation. That’d be super awkward if they ran into each other at a social gathering, though, right?

…which is exactly what happens. The shark shows up at a big beach party and eats a lady. Then Michael has to come clean that oh, yeah, there’s totally a monster shark in the water. Uh, Merry Christmas, mom?

Ellen predictably freaks out, steals Jake’s boat, and decides to fight the shark. Somehow. I really don’t know what she has planned here. Michael and Jake pile into Hoagie’s plane to find her, and when they do, Hoagie radios in for a rescue, then crashes the plane in the water.

All three of them manage to make the short swim onto the boat (despite the killer shark in the water), and have to MacGyver together a solution. This involves using strobe lights to make the shark jump out of the water, and then Lorraine spears it through the neck with the bowsprit. Yay! Christmas is saved!

Life-Changing Subtext: Wildlife is at the core of most marital and health problems.

Defining Quote: Michael: “I’ve always wanted to make love to an angry welder.”

Gonna leave that one delightfully free of context.

Standout Performance: The shark is incredible. Somehow managing to look worse than the famously phony shark puppet in the first movie, this thing wobbles through the water on a clearly visible rail, and looks like the kind of great white whose chromosomes are only working about half the time. But that’s not the best part. The best part is this fucking thing can roar like a lion. Underwater.

What’s Wrong: Okay, you know how every Jaws movie ends? The shark gets killed. Despite this, Ellen Brody is somehow convinced that the same shark has been hunting her family. How is this even possible? The writer of the novelization figured this out and attempted to patch the plot hole.

…by making a voodoo priest mad at Michael and cursing him with a shark. Yeah. That’s a thing that happened. Somehow it never made it to the screen. We’re clearly not meant to be happy.

Also, avoiding sharks might be the easiest thing ever. I’m doing it right now and I’m not even trying.

Flash of Competence: A couple times the movie shows scenes from the original, in an effort to capture that magic. Those flashbacks are competent. Everything else, not so much.

Best Scenes: There’s no easy way to put this, so I’ll come right out and say it: Ellen Brody is an X-Man. She has a psychic connection to the shark. Yep, she can sense the monster like it’s her long-lost sister on Endor or something. Maybe that’s why she stole the boat in the final bit. She was looking for a tearful reunion before facing Darth Vader together.

She also has a flashback to when Chief Brody killed the shark (you know, the one she thinks she’s fighting now) in the first movie. Remember how Ellen was there? No, you don’t, because Brody was alone on a sinking ship at the time. So yeah, Ellen Brody is an X-Man.

My favorite thread in the movie might be the fact that whatever the shark bites, or wherever it goes, there’s blood in the water. There’s blood before it attacks anyone. After biting a plank of wood on the side of a boat, there’s blood everywhere like someone sacrificed a fatted calf. The only way this makes sense is if the shark is Bleeding Gums Murphy.

Transcendent Moment: In one cut of the movie, the shark explodes, marking the exact moment Michael Bay sprang into existence like Athena from the head of Zeus.

jawani2

See?

Jaws: The Revenge is a classic of bad cinema for a reason. Just don’t let it ruin the excellent first movie for you.

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Tread Perilously — The Star Wars Holiday Special

tp1400-1Television’s darkest, most misguided program becomes Tread Perilously’s Christmas special as we watch The Star Wars Holiday Special.

While Han and Chewie try to get to Kashyyyk for Life Day, Chewie’s wife Mala tries to make Bantha Rump, his grandfather Itchy beats off to Diahann Carroll and his son Lumpy watches a Star Wars cartoon pilot. Meanwhile, Darth Vader orders every household in the system to be searched for Rebel spies, and Art Carney raids another holiday special with his own brand of merriment. Bea Arthur sings “Goodnight, But Not Goodbye” and Harvey Korman kills comedy forever.

Erik praises Harrison Ford’s dedication to his character — even in this — and Bea Arthur’s performance. Justin uncovers horrors of the 1970s and ponders Itchy’s obsession with human women. He also denies that he is the Kwisatz Haderach. Period commercials are discussed as both discover unions could once afford airtime. The pair also meet Tobor the Robot and discover Whirpool knew about the world to come 38 years ago. Justin wants a stuffed Bantha for Christmas and leans the secret to braising is “Stir, whip, stir whip; whip, whip, stir.”

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Liner Notes: The Daughter Gambit

DaughterGambit-Cover.indd

It makes sense in context.

My first attempt at a League of Magi comic book story was a globe-trotting affair starring some of the characters that have already played a part in Coldheart. It was terrible. Like, unreadably bad. Characters reciting “as you know” exposition at each other, battles with fuzzy stakes and even fuzzier parameters, and worldbuilding hurled at the reader like a Nolan Ryan fastball. The one thing it did do was introduce the world all at once, so that the reader could understand the sandbox I’d made for myself. I’d call it a case of good intentions and abominable execution.

Then I decided to pull back and introduce the world as a human being might stumble into it, as detailed in the aforementioned Coldheart. The next story would span most of the other organizations, and be entirely different from my first, abortive attempt. This story, called Clay Soldiers, was more of an action tale starring the cannon fodder of the League on a desperate mission. I liked it. I thought it was pretty darn good. But it needed more foundation. It needed a story to bridge the gap for it to make sense in the larger construct.

The Daughter Gambit is that bridge. League of Magi as a project is all about how every character is the protagonist of their own story, so that a single individual can be the hero of one story, a supporting character in another, and the villain in the third. Chris Black, our own Coldheart, needed that entire transition. I also wanted to introduce the hero of Clay Soldiers and provide a bit of the backstory for why he is how he is. In addition, the villain of Clay Soldiers needed time in the limelight, so that his motivation in that novella would make sense. Lastly, Teotl needed a story of her own. She’s one of the more interesting presences in that first novella (to me anyway) in that she’s an antagonist, but it’s also clear that she’s not evil. There’s a strong argument to be made that she’s the nicest person Chris meets on his journey. Their connection interested me, and so I wrote a story to explore it a bit more.

That’s the fun part about being a writer. Find something interesting? You get to make up more stuff about it.

Because Clay Soldiers had already been planned out at this point (half-written as comic scripts and the rest outlined), I already had my players. My “hero” organization would the Butterfly’s, so they would be the antagonists in The Daughter Gambit. I’d shown off the Diabolists with the Twins and Sorcerers with the Priestess in the League, and now it was time to introduce the Necromancers.

As appropriate for a power based in the Far East, I drew on some of the folklore, traditions, and pop culture to build out the mythology of the Butterfly. Most obvious is probably the appearance of her ghost Servitors, who look like they stepped out of a J-horror flick. They basically did. What can I say? I like those movies, and they’re a fun take on ghosts, which in western traditions, have been a bit hidebound.

Necromancy is fundamentally about the soul. Theurgy, the Art of Rose Cross, is about the mind. So I needed to draw a distinction between the two. Pure soul is about desire and emotion. That’s why ghosts are so unbalanced and weird. They can’t really think rationally so they’re in the constant grip of intense feelings. When I was puzzling out how the Necromancers compelled their service, I came up with the idea of Masu Stations (I got the term “masu” for a samurai’s pay). Allowing the ghosts to indulge their biggest passion gave them an interesting hook, and created these houses of horror the Butterfly has to operate in order to keep some of her most dangerous troops in line.

There’s a hierarchy in the Underworld, which is apparent in the person of the Pale Lords. These are ghosts, usually older though not necessarily, who have accumulated great power by resolving their torments in life, and creating a sense of resonance with the “real” world. (Don’t worry, this will be explained more in subsequent stories.) As a ghost grows in power they begin to manifest more individuality. Their features begin to look more like them, and they show some kind of evidence on their bodies of what caused their deaths.

In the novella, I introduced the idea of Prodigals and Scions, so each would get a short story about them. “Children of the Snake” was a way to look at how Scions (though super, crazy illegal by the laws of the League) do exist and can function in their way. It also gives Shahmeran a little bit of depth and an interesting way to get her in trouble and a potential secret weapon against her enemies. “Conservation of Light” talks about the Prodigals a bit more and gives some contrast. We saw how the Twins deal with at least one example, now we see what the Priestess does.

“Forever for a Moment” and “Until There’s Nothing Left” are love stories, and those are difficult for me to write. They’re not my wheelhouse, but they need to be there in the fabric of the world. Love is a strong motivator, maybe the strongest one of all, and the members of the League are human beings or close to it. Logically, they would crave some kind of contact. I wanted to show that it’s nearly impossible for them to experience love the way normal humanity would. Any romance would be tied up inexorably in the Art through which they manipulate the world. I thought it was a nice bit of symmetry to use both Apprentices featured in “Wait,” so we can see what their lives are like when they’re not being diplomatic with each other.

“Playback” continues the theme of having one espionage story per book. I thought it would be fun to contrast the high magic of some of the world with what amounts to almost a crushingly mundane office situation. This also establishes an example of what a League intelligence bureau looks like.

Of all the stories I did for this collection, “Wooden Faith” caused me the most trouble. I decided partway through that the bakru can’t actually see the way we do since they don’t have, by a strict definition, eyes.. While this doesn’t matter for their introduction (one has a brief role in “The Menagerie), when you’re doing a story from their point of view, it informs literally everything you write. That one had to be torn down multiple times before it arrived in its present state. It was supposed to be an easy one too, just showing what it’s like when one organization has a replacement on hand for its bitterest enemy. Santa Orisha has been driven a little insane, but she’s not paranoid. She knows the Twins wouldn’t mind her dead.

The Daughter Gambit started as a simple bridge, but it gained outsized importance in my head and for the future of the stories. Teotl is far closer to a traditional protagonist than Coldheart can be, and she has concrete goals and complex motivations now. At least, that was my attempt. I ended up being quite proud of this story and plan to return to her frequently.

Don’t worry. The rest of the world gets introduced in the third book.

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Tread Perilously — The Night They Saved Christmas

tp1400-1Tread Perilously dives into the center of the Christmas spirit with a grouchy Santa and oil explorations in The Night They Saved Christmas (Now available on Amazon Video!).

An oil-digger’s family is abducted by Santa’s chief elf in an attempt to save North Pole City from the machinations of businessman Sumner Murdoch and his fear of the unseen Gaylord. While “they” learn the secrets of Santa’s power and tour Dr. Fernando’s lab of scientific wonders, the oil-digger gets chewed out by his boss and let’s down his emotionally distraught son. Will “they” save Christmas or will Murdoch ruin Christmas forever? Also, Paul Williams has a prominent role.

Erik reveals how the movie forms the first chapter of his gritty origin story while Justin blames Dr. Fernando for all of his troubles. The pair also discuss Phantasm, Dune, Dungeons & Dragons and the tall dwarf phenomenon in Hawk the Slayer. Erik diagrams his obsession with the phrase “Christmas Eve Day.” Justin imagines a time when the alt-right went looking for the Hollow Earth. Impressively bad dialogue is discussed as is Jaclyn Smith’s TV movie career. Also, Justin attempts to determine who the unseen “Gaylord” really is and why he drugged the Saudis.

Because nothing says Christmas like the high stakes world of petroleum production.

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