Mrs. Lunt

“Mrs. Lunt” by Hugh Walpole is not nearly the dud that “Seaton’s Aunt” is but it just doesn’t rise to the same heights of the other stories either.

It tells the story of a writer who goes to visit another writer, Lunt, whom he has never met before. The man is not what he expected, being more than a little strange acting. The writer sees an odd old woman a couple times and the house bothers him.

Lunt might have killed his wife. And she might be coming back to revenge. Here the uncertainty works far better than the confused nothingness of “Seaton’s”. Perhaps the writer imagines the supernatural things that happened–they are fairly minor–but they’re concrete enough to make one think it’s quite possible that a ghost was at work.

Walpole uses a framing device, however, that I do not understand. It begins with a literary critic fumbling for something to talk about at a dinner with the writer so he strikes upon the question “do you believe in ghosts?” The writer then launches into the story of Mrs. Lunt. Why couldn’t it be told simply from the point of view of the writer? Nothing much is added by the other character, certainly nothing necessary.

It’s not a bad story just not as good as the first three I read.

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The End of the Casual Consumer

The end of the Advertising Age is upon us.  Excessive ads on all platforms drives up things like adblock and as sites can’t make money off the ads that no one is seeing, more and more of them are moving towards paid subscriptions only.

When you’ve got to put out money, you really have to want that thing.  This makes it more difficult to discover new things on your own as there’s nothing free to stumble upon.  And if that thing is something you kind of like but aren’t nuts about?  You probably have better things to spend your money on.

I was disappointed to see that Viki.com, a site for streaming Asian TV shows, has changed their model.  Before all but a few shows were available to view (with ads) and ad-free was offered with a subscription.  Not being mad about K-drama (I think I’ve watched–actually finished–all of six shows) and seeing as Viki’s player sometimes glitches badly, I could take the ads.  I was a casual consumer, stumbling across a show that sounded interesting from time to time, but often going six months or more without ever thinking about it.  Viki has some free shows left, but for the rest you’ve got two tiers of membership with the shows from the major networks being more expensive.

Everybody seems to be moving in this direction.  Even authors are talking about the importance of services like Kindle Unlimited:

I’ve written before about the threat that streaming media poses to traditional book sales.  I’ve had a certain amount of pushback about that, particularly from those who don’t like the thought of their income from writing declining to such an extent.  Some have even refused to make their books available on streaming services such as Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited.  Now, however, the signs are clear.  We have to face up to the reality of streaming media in our future – or be swept aside.

Those signs are most clear in other areas of the entertainment industry.  Let’s not forget, that is our industry, too.  We’re not selling books.  We’re selling entertainment, and our products (books and stories) are competing with every other avenue of entertainment out there – movies, TV series, music, games, the lot.

I have serious doubts about how well streaming everything will work in the long run.  I  cannot afford to fork over $10 a month for a service I may or may not use.  I really cannot afford to do so for a dozen or more services. Entertainment’s not the only thing going subscription.  In fact it’s kind of late to the party.  Adobe’s been doing that for ages.  Microsoft Office has a subscription.  And lots of other programs like Quickbooks have been transitioning towards the model.  The more subscriptions you have the more that cost starts to stack up.

Most people have a limited amount of time and it doesn’t make sense to be shelling out cash for a service that you don’t use consistently.  I would not, for example, have even Netflix were it not for sharing a subscription with my roommates because months pass without my watching anything.

I read slowly so KU doesn’t make sense for me.  Most people don’t read at all or only the occasional book.  Services like KU benefit voracious readers.  The indifferent reader’s business is captured by single sales.

But what if you can’t buy an individual book?  Or if because the market for individual books is small everybody wants to charge $50 a pop or more?  Hopefully it won’t come to that, but that’s the position you’re in if you want k-drama.

You’ll find cheap (relatively speaking) ones for sale on ebay.  Those are probably bootlegs from China with subtitles so bad they’d make Google Translate blush.  The site to buy from I’ve seen recommended the most is YesAsia but good luck finding the one you want in the right region.  Netflix and Hulu have some available but the selection tends to be small and heavily skewed towards romantic comedy.  (If you were to find one worth watching, you’d still have the problem of shelling out $10 a month for more on a different site.)

I certainly hope a similar situation won’t come to the book world, but it’s not impossible.  The more niche the type of book the more expensive it is– with some odd ball academic works demanding hundreds of dollars for an ebook.  I’ve never been able to justify buying manga or pulp reprints when I could buy three (or more) used novels for the same price and get hours more enjoyment out of them.

When other purchase options aren’t available, are difficult, or excessively expensive, streaming and subscription services cut out the casual consumer, the person who might want to try it or only wants occasional access.  The world of books probably won’t be too badly affected by this but the more niche areas of the entertainment world are more likely to suffer.

 

Negotium Perambulans in Dunwich

H. P. Lovecraft’s appreciation of E. F. Benson’s “Negotium Perambulans” can be seen in the homage he pays the story in his own “The Dunwich Horror.”  Both stories beginning in rather similar ways focusing on the setting through the potential eyes of someone passing through:

The casual tourist in West Cornwall may just possibly have noticed, as he bowled along over the bare high plateau between Penzance and the Land’s End, a dilapidated signpost pointing down a steep lane and bearing on its battered finger the faded inscription “Polearn 2 miles,” but probably very few have had the curiosity to traverse those two miles in order to see a place to which their guide-books award so cursory a notice. It is described there, in a couple of unattractive lines, as a small fishing village with a church of no particular interest except for certain carved and painted wooden panels (originally belonging to an earlier edifice) which form an altar-rail. But the church at St. Creed (the tourist is reminded) has a similar decoration far superior in point of preservation and interest, and thus even the ecclesiastically disposed are not lured to Polearn.

When a traveller in north central Massachusetts takes the wrong fork at the junction of the Aylesbury pike just beyond Dean’s Corners he comes upon a lonely and curious country. The ground gets higher, and the brier-bordered stone walls press closer and closer against the ruts of the dusty, curving road. The trees of the frequent forest belts seem too large, and the wild weeds, brambles, and grasses attain a luxuriance not often found in settled regions. At the same time the planted fields appear singularly few and barren; while the sparsely scattered houses wear a surprisingly uniform aspect of age, squalor, and dilapidation. Without knowing why, one hesitates to ask directions from the gnarled, solitary figures spied now and then on crumbling doorsteps or on the sloping, rock-strown meadows. Those figures are so silent and furtive that one feels somehow confronted by forbidden things, with which it would be better to have nothing to do. When a rise in the road brings the mountains in view above the deep woods, the feeling of strange uneasiness is increased. The summits are too rounded and symmetrical to give a sense of comfort and naturalness, and sometimes the sky silhouettes with especial clearness the queer circles of tall stone pillars with which most of them are crowned.

One might think it possibly a coincidence but Lovecraft then goes on to name drop Benson’s story, or at least the phrase from whence the name comes:

A cold shudder ran through natives and visitors alike, and every ear seemed strained in a kind of instinctive, unconscious listening. Armitage, now that he had actually come upon the horror and its monstrous work, trembled with the responsibility he felt to be his. Night would soon fall, and it was then that the mountainous blasphemy lumbered upon its eldritch course. Negotium perambulans in tenebris. . . .

It’s a nice way to nod at works that one appreciates without having it be too obvious that one is doing so.  Lovecraft is more blatant in other works with name dropping and references but it’s still not overwhelming or annoying. All those people who go about writing “Lovecraftian” fiction might learn a thing or two from how Lovecraft himself did it.

Look Before You Like

I have been suspicious of likes and follows on WordPress for some time now.  As follows go, there is a guy who has followed four different blogs that I have been involved in.  He’s not following me because my name’s only been on two of them and he’s not following subject matter because none of them had anything in common.  I suspect that he’s actually following every single blog on WordPress.

Sometimes it’s obvious that the user’s blog is only an advertisement.  Sometimes the username is obviously pro something the blog is anti and in a way that makes it unlikely that they would want to read your content.

I published a post on Antelope Games sarcastically intitled “Make America Mexico Again” in which I was rather down on Fred Reed’s recent piece about immigration.  It got a like from someone whose user name made me suspicious.  So I clicked through to her blog and the post there at the top was something pro-Dreamer, anti-Trump.  So did she totally for real like a post wherein I say “they have to go back”?  I don’t think so.

On this blog I got not only a like but a comment on The Yellow Wallpaper by someone with the name Feminism Through Cinema and Literature.  Whaddya know she’s just recently put up a post about “The Yellow Wallpaper” in which she says its all about… masturbation?  Yuck.

It would seem that bloggers go out looking for posts on similar topics to ones which they have written recently and comment or like in order to draw attention to their own blog.  This would be perfectly fine if they bothered to read the post they’re interacting with.

 

Indiana Jones, No Son

Indiana Jones 5 won’t feature Shia LaBeouf’s character

Will an Indiana Jones protege soon snatch the iconic wide-brimmed fedora from atop Harrison Ford’s head? Perhaps, but it won’t be Mutt Williams — a.k.a. Indy’s son, Henry Jones III — the character Shia LaBeouf played in 2008’s Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.

“Harrison plays Indiana Jones, that I can certainly say,” screenwriter David Koepp, who has penned a script for the fifth film in the storied Indiana Jones franchise, tells EW. “And the Shia LaBeouf character is not in the film.”

This is a real shame.  Chadwick had the best idea for how to use Shia:

if they are going to plague the world with another Indiana Jones movie, the plot should revolve around the disappearance of his son, who is eventually found in a cabin in Finland and has to be hospitalized.

The Defenders

I never have liked superhero “team ups.” The team usually has too many characters and the one I like is neglected–not that any characters get development when a story’s overstuffed.  The Avengers surprised me with how well they pulled it off (only to ruin it later but oh, well, that’s sequels for you).  Regardless I didn’t have the highest expectations for The Defenders.

It also didn’t help that I never finished Luke Cage and never bothered with Jessica Jones or Iron Fist.  (Isambard said Jessica Jones sucked so I skipped it and I kept saying I was going to watch Iron Fist… but I always had something better to do.)  But I mostly liked Daredevil so I’d watch Defenders for him.

The DefendersThe Defenders is only eight episodes long so it’s amazing how bad it managed to be. It should have been shorter. What plot they have is not enough to fill eight episodes and instead they stuffed it with nice, boring stretches where nothing really happens. In episode four, you think “Finally! Things happen!” only to realize that show is half over.

It could have been shorter still if they’d left out the Defenders Ladies Auxiliary. Misty was annoying and looked like she had a mop strapped to her head.  Coleen’s problems seemed pointlessly tacked on and undeveloped but maybe they’d be better if I’d watched Iron Fist… I doubt it. Foggy and Karen need to shut up with their incessant “Matt, stop being cool!” nonsense.  I hate the character of Claire, and Rosario Dawson looks like she’s some kind of Lovecraftian fish person.  (Look at that mouth; look at those bulgy eyes.)

Not only does the show not have enough action but it’s poorly done and poorly shot. They kept giving the camera to some crack addict on roller stakes.  It would be one thing to use him for the fight scenes to hide the fact that those were no good but apparently somebody thought if the camera just kept moving constantly we wouldn’t notice that the talky scenes were no good either.

The acting was occasionally horribly stilted.  From actors whom I know can do better.

They succumbed to the stupid team up tropes of nobody wanting to team up, fighting each other over something stupid, and having somebody not agree with the plan so they have to fight some more. Could we, just once, have a team that wants to work together and doesn’t spend a significant portion of their story on idiotic, manufactured personality conflicts?  If enough other interesting things had been happening in the show, this might be forgiven.  But there weren’t.

And that ending.  Pardon my language but that ending was shit.  If they had pulled off a miracle and given us a real satisfying, awesome climax, one might overlook the fact that the journey there kind of sucked.  They blew up a building.  They fought a horde of evil ninjas.  That should have been cool.  But no, just it sucked more.

The positively worst thing about this is that The Defenders is going to directly affect the plot of the next season of Daredevil.  This does not bode well.  And even if they manage to keep Daredevil from sliding further down in terms of quality, you’d still have to watch this garbage to understand what the hell is going on.

But we’ve still got The Punisher spin off to look forward to, right?  Who am I kidding? It’s going to suck.

The Sword of Doom

It’s the mark of a good movie that it stays with you and makes you think long after seeing it. The Sword of Doom is like that. It’s an amazing movie. Unfortunately it’s also a movie that most people will probably find difficult to like. Do you want a heroic or at least slightly sympathetic main character? Do you like for the plot to be resolved? Not the movie for you. Do you want the bad guy to get what he deserves? Er… maybe? Depends on how you interpret the ending.

The Sword of Doom (1966)Released in 1966, The Sword of Doom is directed by Kihachi Okamoto, the same guy who did Kill! But where Kill! is comedic in tone, The Sword of Doom lives up to its name in grim brutality. It’s based on a serial novel which went on for 30 years.  The author died without finishing it, and as far as I can tell there is no English translation. (There’s never English translations of the stuff I want.)

The main character Ryunosuke, played by Tatsuya Nakadai, is a vile and irredeemable character. His first act is to murder an old man for no apparent reason. Wherever he goes, he leaves a causal path of destruction–both of lives and relationships–behind him.

The story is split in three parts: the duel with Bunnojo Utsuki, meeting Bunnojo’s brother Hyoma (now sworn to revenge), and the final convergence of the plot lines in Kyoto. There are gaps of time between each part with how Ryunosuke got to his new situation are skipped over. The viewer gets an idea of what happened but not any specifics.

The Sword of DoomNakadai is one of those actors whom one cannot truly appreciate until one has seen several of their movies. While Toshiro Mifune strides on screen with a recognizable presence, Nakadai is completely different in everything I’ve seen him in. It’s almost difficult to believe that this is the same man who played soft-spoken, sad-eyed Genta in Kill! Ryunosuke has a deep growling voice, glassy and crazed eyes. He acts a lot with those eyes too, his face mostly immobile except for the occasional twitch.

This is not the most violent movie I’ve ever seen but, man, is it rough. Limbs are hacked off. Piles of bodies are left in Ryunosuke’s wake. It’s made more brutal by allowing the viewer’s imagination to fill things in. Bloody hand prints on the walls in the background. The vicious twists of Ryunosuke’s blade. A man reeling backward, hands over his face, blood between his fingers, screaming. You don’t see what happened to his face; you don’t need to.

Wikipedia claims that the Japanese name for the movie is The Pass of the Great Buddha. On one hand, The Sword of Doom is a sensible name given the emphasis on the soul/sword connection– for Ryunosuke, both are evil. On the other hand, The Pass of the Great Buddha works better plot-wise. The film opens there and then brings Ryunosuke back to it–mentally.

While the plotlines are left hanging with the sudden way the movies ends, they meet again where they began: at the pass. Listening to the old man’s granddaughter tell of how she had once been there, Ryunosuke hears again the ringing bell of the man he murdered. One interpretation of the ending is in fact the character is dead and in hell. It’s an interesting theory but not necessary for making the ending satisfying in its own odd way. Even if what happens to Hyoma, the other characters, and Ryunosuke himself is unknown, Ryunosuke’s deeds have caught up to him regardless of whether they have got him killed or merely driven him insane.