Yes, of course I went to see it. Apparently, most of the United States did. And it was a good time, to be sure. I don’t know these characters as intimately as many people do, but that’s the beauty of it: The film is designed to let you just jump on an enjoy the ride, without having to have a doctorate in Marvel superheroes. And it’s a good thing, too, since no effort is really made to catch you up. If you don’t know the comics, and didn’t see at least some of the previous movies, you might well find yourself asking “Who the heck are all these people?”

But the way the story carries you along, it doesn’t matter that much. It’s clear from the start who the good guys and the bad guys are; there’s never any doubt. (Okay, the Hulk is a monster who lives to smash things, but he’s still a good guy, somehow. It’s just something you have to trust them on.) And each character is drawm distinctly enough, and given enough time to establish a presence, that you’ll feel you know them by the end of this movie. It’s a tribute to screenwriter Joss Whedon that he makes it work not only as a sequel to the various other movies that led up to it, but a story that works on its own.

(Note to all movie studios: If you want a comic-book movie that will break the box office like this one, do what Marvel did: Get a writer who knows and loves comics!)

On a confessional note…I did doze off a few times toward the end. Huge fights, big explosions, buildings getting smashed – ho hujm. I’m much more interested in the twistefamily dynamics of Thor and Loki, or the heroes confronting Nick Fury with what he’s been hiding from them. That’s human stuff, and it’s done well. The big-budget action doesn’t have the same draw for me. But overall, yeah – A for effort, and I’ll plan on seeing the next one.

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“DS4EVR” – I knew someone who had that on his personalized license plate. And it does seem to be true. Novels, comic books, CD dramas…even when one revival after another has been short-lived, “Dark Shadows” has refused to die. To a younger generation, Tim Burton’s movie may seem brand-new, but as Burton himself keeps telling them, it’s just the latest spin on a franchise that dates back 45 years. Props to Burton and Johnny Depp: I’ve never seen the people involved in a remake speak so highly of their source material.
Which is what makes it so hard to look at the movie objectively. How do you shake off the urge to compare it to all the versions that have gone before? Maybe it’s good that most everyone who looks at this blog is already at least somewhat aware of that history; it saves me the trouble of worrying about that!
To try to judge this movie on its own: Yes, it definitely works for me. It’s very funny at points, but at its heart it’s a serious story. The threats are real; people really die, often pointlessly. There is a deep sense of moral ambiguity – our “hero”, Barnabas Collins, is a vampire with violent urges he can’t control, yet he is also a man who loves his family and his home. The question is: Can the audience forgive the crimes that he hates himself for? Or are they meant to be unsure if they should? At least it’s refreshing to see a vampire movie without any of that absurd “vampires are cool” crap that typifies the modern fiction. No Anne Riceiness here; this is a vampire who loathes being “this hideous creature” and deeply, if helplessly, regrets the evils he has been compelled to commit. That alone would make this movie stand out today!
What makes it work as well as it does is that everyone else has a role to play. The Collins family may redefine “dysfunctional”, but there is still something appealing about them. Michelle Pfeiffer’s Elizabeth is clearly a little nuts, but her commitment to preserving her family is sincere. When she vows that they’ll endure, you not only know she means it, you’re in her corner. Chloe Moretz, as sulky teenager Carolyn, can steal a scene with one quiet, rudely accurate reaction. The little boy’s strangeness is blatantly a way of crying out for someone to listen. There’s a vulnerability that makes you care what happens to these oddballs, and makes it clear why Barnabas cares.
Will there be more to come? Yes, one way or another, there will. This year we have a monthly comic (with a just-announced spinoff miniseries), monthly CD releases, and a new novel for Halloween. There may well be a sequel movie, but if there isn’t, someone else will do a screen revival; this is, after all, already the third! Barnabas Collins will go on being a symbol of the conflict between good and evil within all of us, and a figure that anyone who is isolated, lonely or “different” can relate to. The Collins family will go on making us glad that our own families are no weirder than they are (or, maybe, letting us feel that someone else understands just how bizarre your family can be). And Collinsport will remain a place where mystery, magic, and even true love can be real. And maybe that’s something that we all need in our lives now and then. DS4EVR.

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Runaround Pooh

To the tune of “Runaround Sue” – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c49klxPex-k

Here’s my story, it’s sad but true
‘Bout a bear that I call Pooh
He did every kinky thing he could
With everybody in the Hundred Acre Wood

Rum tum, Rum a tiddle iddle tum tum,
Rum a tiddle iddle tum tum
Rum a tiddle iddle tum tum, nah nah nah nah
Rum tum, rum a tiddle iddle tum tum,
Rum a tiddle iddle tum tum
Rum a tiddle um tum

Everybody’s fallen for that silly old bear
He breaks their hearts and he don’t care
Listen people, ’cause I’m tellin’ you, now
Keep away from Runaround Pooh

He came to Rabbit’s and he wouldn’t leave
He buggered Tigger like you wouldn’t believe
He knocked up Kanga with a baby Roo, yeah
Keep away from Runaround Pooh

Rum tum, Rum a tiddle iddle tum tum,
Rum a tiddle iddle tum tum,
Rum a tiddle um tum

He makes you feel so fine, yeah
You think he loves you all of the tme
But Pooh will leave you in the dumps
He goes out with heffalumps, so

Just keep your distance when that bear’s on the prowl
He’ll leave you cryin’ just like Piglet and Owl
I gotta tell you that’s why Eeyore’s so blue, now
Keep away from Runaround Pooh

Yeah, yeah, stay away from that bear
Don’t you know what he’ll do?
Keep away from Pooh

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This is something that happened when I was around six or seven, on one of the weekend hiking trips that our family used to take. By the end of the day those usually deteriorated into Mother and myself begging to rest or camp for the night, while Father strode ahead, insisting that we had to complete our twenty miles for the day, and telling us we’d be left behind if we couldn’t keep up. But at this point it was still fairly early in the day; I wasn’t tired at all yet, and Mother just wanted to sit down for a few minutes. Father went to check out a nearby stream, and after a minute he called to me to come and join him. He pointed to a smallish rock (big to my young eyes) and said, “If you lift up that rock, you’ll see something really interesting.”

I was hesitant and suspicious. I knew that snakes sometimes lived under rocks. I also knew that my father could be very sly and very scary. But he assured me that it wasn’t anything bad, just something really nice. After a minute I cautiously raised the rock off the ground.

The dark, wet earth was swarming with salamanders. They were an inch or two long, and shiny bright red, and they were scurrying around in confusion at having their ceiling lifted. They didn’t flee so much as run around in circles, winding up back where they started. They were the most beautiful things I’d ever seen. I watched them for a couple of minutes, fascinated. I could have watched them all day. But after a bit Father told me we had to get back to the hike. “Put the rock back gently,” he said. “You don’t want to hurt them.”

And then he shouted “No!” as I let the rock crash heavily back to earth.

I lifted it up again and most of the salamanders were dead. Some were mashed but still feebly twitching. For a moment I felt a terrible, cold, pitiless sense of power. But it didn’t take long for that feeling to be replaced by horror and disgust and remorse. I felt sick. I hated myself.

Father was genuinely shocked. For once he didn’t yell or say something caustic. He just stared and said, in a sad, shaken voice, “Why did you do that, Geoffrey? They were beautiful living things, and you destroyed them.”

I couldn’t answer him, because I really didn’t know why I’d done it. I just knew that I wished I hadn’t.

Father said, very seriously, “I want you to promise that you will never hurt any animal that way again.” I promised, in tears now, and I meant it. I never wanted to do anything like that again, and I never did. (Father, however, went on to poison another cat, two guinea pigs, two hamsters, and a lizard.)

Last night I remembered all this for the first time in many years, and I finally understood. The sadist who made my life miserable had suddenly totally surprised me by wanting to share something wonderful, and I had rejected that offer in the most brutal way I could. He had taught me to fear death, and I had shown him that I could kill, too. He had shown me years of scorn and contempt, and I had finally hurt him back. I had become like him.

I remembered and understood, and I wept – for the beautiful, innocent salamanders, and for a moment of magic forever destroyed – a fleeting moment when my father deserved the love he had already ruined.

I knew I had to make this confession. There are very few things in my life that I’m ashamed of, but this is one.

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Art! Fiction! Me!

I’m about to see my first professional fiction publication! The book is “The Sixty: Arts of Andy Bigwood”, premiering at Eastercon, National Exhibition Centre, Birmingham, UK. Each sample of Andy’s terrific cover art is accompanied by a short text piece, and I was invited to be one of the contributors. (I’m billed on the cover as “and many more”.) I’m havin’ a good day!

“The Sixty” can be ordered from amazon.com like most books these days.

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Shining Acres

Alf and Ralph Monroe, carpenters extraordinaire, stand side-by-side in an unfinished farmhouse, chanting eerily: “Come and help us fix the house, Eb. Forever. And forever. And forever…”

The camera moves slowly across the Rocky Mountain landscape, as the somber strains of “Todentanz”, the Dance of Death, gradually change into a sinister version of the theme from “Green Acres”. As the Overlook Hotel comes into view, we see the words “Shining Acres” painted on the roof in huge blood-red letters…and Oliver Wendell Douglas appears, jauntily driving a snowped.

Oliver: The Overlook’s the place to be
Psyy-chosis is the life for me
Snow pilin’ up so deep and wide
I’ve got urges to go commit homicide

Lisa: I’d rather just pack up and go
I catch pneumonia in the snow
My life has all turned upside down
Keep this marriage, just give me a lift to town

Oliver: The drinks!
Lisa: This stinks!
Oliver: Here’s Johnny!
Eb (talking with his fingers) Help, Mommy!

Oliver (brandishing a roque mallet): Come here, my wife
Lisa: Eb, run for your life!

Both: Shining Acres, we are there!

A ghostly chorus fills the air as they stand before the Overlook in the snow, he with the mallet, she holding up a large carving knife. And Oliver slowly, ominously thumps the mallet twice against the frozen ground…

See what happens to me when it snows too much?

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Another friend points out that the Flintstones, in fact, had an Amazing Morphing Bed. By the network standards of the time, it was forbidden to show a man and woman in bed together – but being a cartoon, the artists could change the furniture any time they wanted. So if Wilma was saying, “Fred, come to bed!” while he paces back and forth, or Fred was sitting up wondering where Wilma was, they had a double bed. But any time they were both in bed at once, it magically turned into twin beds!

Question for debate: Is ‘Q’ of “Star Trek” actually the Great Gazoo?

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