Brightburn

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Spoiler Alert:
While I normally attempt to avoid spoilers in discussions of movies and books, the nature of the story of this movie means the discussion necessarily involves some spoilers.
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Brightburn offers an unusual take on the superhero story. Although in some ways there’s elements here that remind one of M Night Shyamalan’s Unbreakable trilogy, it is the Superman origin story that is important to be familiar with here.

Brightburn parallels the Superman story. Kyle and Tori Breyer replace Jonathan “Pa” and Martha “Ma” Kent. Brightburn, Kansas replaces Smallville, Kansas. Brandon Breyer replaces Clark Kent.

From the crash of Brandon’s spaceship on Earth through puberty, the story parallels that of Kal-El’s childhood from the Superman story. However, once the child hits puberty, the story takes a turn to address the nature versus nurture debate in terms of superhero stories.

Around the time of his 12th birthday, the young Brandon starts to develop abilities that are beyond the norm. Instead of a green glow and a message to protect the Earth, Brandon’s spaceship glows red and offers strange whispers in the night, hinting at a more ominous source than Jor-El and Krypton.

When he first comes in contact with his spaceship, Brandon, who up to this point in the story has never been cut or injured, is cut by a piece of the ship, which is also witnessed by his mother Tori, again paralleling that the one weakness Brandon has is similar to Clark’s kryptonite.

The origins of Brandon are left unrevealed in this story. However, the dark whispers to “Take the world”, the red glow of the spaceship, Brandon’s own acknowledgment of being “special” and “superior”, and the design of the mask Brandon takes to wearing as he goes about his actions hints at something Cthulhuish and Lovecraftian in origin.

The rest of the story is a play on the 12 year old Brandon discovering and using his powers to protect his powers and identity. Most of those who know Brandon’s secret, weakness, and identity are removed by the end.  The ending ambiguously offers the possibility of sequels and more stories to follow. As the closing credits run, they are interspersed with clips showing that Brandon’s actions stretch beyond the borders of the town of Brightburn and his alter ego is called “Brightburn” in the media.

Since this is billed as a horror movie, there are elements of horror gore in a few of the scenes, but otherwise, this is easily viewed as a superhero/supervillain origin movie. This is a must view for fans of superhero stories, fans of comic book movies, and those with an interest in the nature versus nurture debate.

Little Monsters

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Note:
I will avoid spoilers here and request that any comments remain spoiler free as well.
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So, Little Monsters is a movie that’s currently only available on Hulu. The Hulu description read:

A film dedicated to all the kindergarten teachers who motivate children to learn, instill them with confidence and stop them from being devoured by zombies.

I’m not really a fan of zombie movies. I’ve seen most of the big ones, but they’re just not my thing. However, between the description and the promotional picture in Hulu, the same photo on the image above, I got a Shaun of the Dead vibe about this one. And since SotD is one of my favorite movies, zombie, comedy or otherwise, I decided to push “play”.

The opening credits and the first part of the movie is slow. Sadly, it’s rather painfully so, but once the “real” story of the movie starts up, it’s worth the wait.

Based in Australia, the real story starts up with the school kids going on a field trip to a petting zoo, which just so happens to be right next door to a super-secret U.S. military base testing facility. What could go wrong? Glad you asked. Everything you can imagine is the answer.

Somehow the field trip group featuring the main characters manages to avoid the big wave of zombie attacks before making it back to a souvenir shop where they prepare for what they believe will be their last stand. This group of kindergartners is dependent on a school teacher who plays a ukulele and sings Taylor Swift, a womanizing alcoholic children’s show star, and the unemployed slacker uncle of one of the kids, who’s only agreed to go on the field trip only to improve his chances of hitting on the teacher. The odds don’t seem to support these kids making it to the end of this movie.

Surprisingly, for a zombie movie, gore is on the minimal side, at least until the final battle. Also, surprising is the fact with gore toned down so much, the adult language usage is still heavy.

But despite the language and several inappropriate jokes, the movie ends up being pretty funny and sharing a story about adults who care, make the best of a bad situation, and keep the kids unaware of how much danger they are really in,

I recommend this one to fans of zombie movies, fans of Shaun of the Dead, and fans of just general absurd humor. It does take a bit for the real story to start up, but it’s a pretty fun ride once the real story starts.

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Note:
I again request that any comments remain spoiler free.
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Aniara

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Note:
I will avoid spoilers here and request that any comments remain spoiler free as well.
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I watched the movie Aniara on Hulu this past week because the description about a doomed spaceship caught my eye.

After watching it and seeing it was based on a book, I requested the book from the library. I was not fully prepared for the book I received and read. The book edition I read was the out of print 1963 Hugh MacDiarmid and Elizabeth Harley Schubert translation of the poem.

Yes, you read that correctly. the Aniara story in its original form is a Swedish language, scifi, epic poem written by Harry Martinson. Epic poetry, or really any form of poetry, is a text form I’d never considered for scifi. Fantasy use of the epic poem and the poem makes sense to me because of Edmund Spencer’s The Faerie Queene, but scifi never struck me as a poetry subject prior to encountering Martinson’s epic.

The stories retain similarities in poem and movie form. There are a few gender swaps of characters; however, the way the story progresses, these gender swaps actually serve to make the tragic tale all the more tragic.

The most startling part of this work is that I’d never encountered it in my readings across scifi and human nature considering the subject matter is so close and compatible to the tale of The Lord of the Flies and The Heart of Darkness. While both of those stories focused on behavioral reactions to removed supervision, Martinson’s story deals with the emotional and mental side of how people deal with the knowledge that they have no hope of salvation from their situation.

At times chaotic, at times primal, at times shocking, both epic poem and scifi movie first ask the reader/viewer how would you handle and endure in similar circumstances? Then they counter your positive answer with the question of are you sure?

This is a must-see and a must-read for any fan of scifi period. If you’re reading on evolutionary psychology and studies of human nature, this should be added to your parables of human nature set as Volume Three (the society/the species) after Volume One: The Heart of Darkness (the individual) and Volume Two: The Lord of the Flies (the group). For everyone else, I say just check it out in both forms. As far as movies go, it’s a fantastic film. As far as books go, how many scifi epic poems have you read?

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Note:
I again request that any comments remain spoiler free.
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Night

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Thursday was the latest session of the VA OT Creative Writing group I’m participating in. I’ve missed a few sessions because of issues mentioned in a previous post. The writing prompt for the day was “Night”. This is what I came up with.

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We own the night.

For as long as there have been commando and special operations units, that’s been the unofficial slogan for all of them. Between the advantage of blending into the shadows and the weakness of human eyesight at night, quiet professionals work behind the scenes and usually minus the headlines. The inventions of infrared and night-vision systems produced greater advantages for the warriors who live in a world mostly colored by blacks, greys, and fluorescent green.

When the U.S. Space Command (USSC) stood up, it was only a matter of time before the first “ground” units were created, and, of course, since space is one endless night, they were spec ops from U.S. Special Operations Command (USSOCOM). The days of the large and clunky, but deadly and almost silent helicopters yielded to the slightly larger and more agile, but even deadlier, and actually silent drop ships as bases of operations shifted from static forward operating bases on the surface of Earth to the mobile Sheppard-class battle cruiser space ships operating beyond the asteroid belt.

While ground troop units now include non-special ops forces (sof), the sof units still hold the status of first in, last out, no matter where USSC deploys.

When the Aldrin, the newest of the Sheppard-class battle cruisers, ventured out towards Saturn, part of its unit component was two spec ops teams and their specially designed Artemis-class drop ships. When the Aldrin disappeared from the Sol System, while taking a shortcut over Saturn’s northern pole, enroute to an emergency on the moon Titan, on the non-Earth-side of the planet, it took with it the first two Artemis-class drop ships.

What was to be the first operational deployment of the military’s newest toy, instead became the USSC’s biggest nightmare. Worse, details returning from observatories, satellites, and other operational ships in the area display and describe an event not one observer believes their eyes on.

As the Aldrin passed over Saturn’s north pole, the hexagon previously believed to be a storm, much like the infamous red circle on Jupiter, turned into the base of some kind of hexagon-shaped box that formed around the Aldrin before filling with a purplish cloud. When the cloud cleared, the Aldrin was gone.

The USSC eggheads are still trying to come up with a theory to explain what the observers and camera systems recorded. Some say the ship’s destroyed. Others say the ship’s moved somewhere else. Either way, they’re lacking evidence to support either theory as no trace remains of the Aldrin within the Sol System.

In the meantime, USSC has twenty-four hours to come up with a way to explain to SOCOM how its newest assets are lost in space.

Roadside Picnic by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky

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Note:
I will avoid spoilers here and request that any comments remain spoiler free as well.
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The Russian scifi novel Roadside Picnic by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky is one of those books that kept showing up on lists of recommended books but I kept putting it off for some reason. Recently, it kept showing up in references and cross-references so I finally decided to pick it up and read it.

When dealing with non-English scifi, there’s always the question of which version or translation should you read. Luckily for me, I found and discuss here is the 2012 Olena Bormashenko English translation which Boris refers to in his “Afterword” as “completely restored and returned to the author’s version” (209).

Roadside Picnic is about the aftermath of alien visits to Earth and what happens as people try to make sense of the things that get left behind after they leave. The title and concept is best described by one of the characters:

A picnic. Imagine: a forest, a country road, a meadow. A car pulls off the road into the meadow and unloads young men, bottles, picnic baskets, girls, transistor radios, cameras… A fire is lit, tents are pitched, music is played. And in the morning they leave. The animals, birds, and insects that were watching the whole night in horror crawl out of their shelters. And what do they see? An oil spill, a gasoline puddle, old spark plugs and oil filters strewn about… Scattered rags, burnt-out bulbs, someone has dropped a monkey wrench. The wheels have tracked mud from some godforsaken swamp… and of course, there are remains for the campfire, apple cores, candy wrappers, tins, bottles, someone’s handkerchief, someone’s penknife, old ragged newspapers, coins, wilted flowers from another meadow… (131-2).

Of course, in this description, the aliens are the picnickers and the humans are the ants.

Specifically, Roadside Picnic follows the story of Red Schuhart, a stalker, who goes intot he visitation zones and brings back artifacts to sell. The story is told over a sequence of four period’s of Red’s life and primarily deals with the actions and consequences of messing with things we don’t understand.

Other themes that stick out are: The irony of jobs and statuses. When Red works for scientific institutes, he’s a hero and paid employee; when he works for the benefit of his own family, he’s a criminal and punished. Mutations and the dead returned to life, but not in the zombie and monster sense, and the impact on the families involved And the moral dilemma faced by those who recover the artifacts weighed against the knowledge that they might be used for weapons.

This book should definitely be on your must read list if you’re a scifi fan, post-apocalyptic/dystopian fan, or have an interest in scifi that doesn’t originate from U.S. and U.K. origins. The fact that this book, published in the Soviet era of Russia, has messages for our modern world, should push this one closer to the top of your to-be-read list.

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Note:
I again request that any comments remain spoiler free.
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