Tag Archives: Alien visitors

From Tudor England to alien/human miscegenation; movies

C\Charles Laughton netted an Oscar for Alexander Korda’s THE PRIVATE LIFE OF HENRY VIII (1935) which skips over Catherine of Aragon (the opening text tells us “She wasn’t interesting as she was a respectable woman.”) to start on the day of Anne’s (Merle Oberon) execution for adultery, leaving the king free to remarry (“If you want to be happy, marry a stupid woman.”) before moving on to Elsa Lanchester as the smart but sexually naive Anne of Cleves, Binnie Barnes as True Love Katherine Howard (who’s shown being involved with the king even during Anne Boleyn’s tenure, though torn between Henry Tudor and Robert Donat) before finally settling down with Everley Gregg as nagging widow Catherine Parr. This is about as faithful to history as Six: The Musical, but fun, with Laughton pulling off the role of Henry as a guy who wants True Love almost as much as he wants an heir. “Love is drunkenness when you’re young; at my age, it’s wisdom.”

The Russian documentary SPACE DOGS (2019) is a frustrating failure in which about one-third deals with Laika, the Russian stray dog turned cosmonaut, and the program that launched her, two-thirds to cinema verité footage of modern Moscow strays which lacks any point or interest. I got interested in this because the description talked about the ghost of Laika walking the streets of Moscow but while that may be a genuine Russian legend, it’s not part of the movie. “After weeks in stifling darkness, only a few dogs returned to Earth alive.”

Now, moving on to movies for Alien Visitors (some more thoughts later this week).  VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED (1960) does a remarkably good job adapting The Midwich Cuckoos, though the opening makes no sense: the aliens apparently impregnate the women by some kind of energy beam rather than physically so why do they need to put everyone to sleep (apparently getting graphic about what was happening made everyone uncomfortable)? This focuses primarily on the family unit of affable scientist George Sanders who’s thrilled he’s put a bun in wife Barbara Shelley’s oven; even when it turns out to be creepy Martin Stephens, Sanders hopes the child’s intelligence can be made a force for good. Despite its flaws (which I’ll discuss in more detail in the book), a first-rate movie all around. “A great deal has been said about the power of these children but nothing about the nature of that power.”

CHILDREN OF THE DAMNED (1964) claims to be a sequel but feels more like a reboot: six super-intelligent mute children with telepathic abilities show up in London where their various governments scheme to exploit their genius for the Cold War, but the kids have other ideas… This has some bright moments, such as one character pointing out even if the kids are homo superior (though given the unlikelihood of six parthenogenetic mutant births by chance, I assume it’s still aliens at work) that doesn’t mean they’re going to turn genocidal, but mostly it’s a muddled mess; the kids are supposed to be friendly but pressured (government uses force, they use force) but in the opening their leader sends his shrewish mother walking into traffic almost to her death — how is he a good guy? And why do they coerce one woman into serving as their voice when it turns out they can speak after all? “Suppose all they want to be is poets, or lovers or tramps?”

Charlize Theron is THE ASTRONAUT’S WIFE (1999) who begins to suspect that during the two minutes hubby Johnny Depp was cut off from Earth Something Happened — but that plot is buried by the slow pace and tedious detail with far too slow a build. The presence of Joe Morton and Blair Brown can’t save this one. “That’s what they taught us at NASA — always have a backup system.”

I MARRIED A MONSTER FROM OUTER SPACE (1958) has Gloria Talbot realize that hubby Tom Tryon is no longer the man she fell in love with, then discover it’s because he’s been replaced by an alien invader testing whether his womanless race can reproduce using human females. Sexist (I get into that in the upcoming post) but certainly effective, despite some cliches (Tryon’s race are emotionless but with her he’s beginning to understand love!). “I know where we can find men — human men!”

I MARRIED A MONSTER (1998) is all around a much inferior production, following the plot with slight changes but without any sense of style or inspiration, or really any good reason to be a remake.

John Carpenter’s VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED (1995) is a better remake but not a particularly good remake: inferior actors, particularly among the children (nobody with Stephens’ creepy presence), more graphic violence and several changes that either make no sense (why does one of the kids kill her mother early on?) or don’t work (one of the kids develops emotions).

I was surprised by the things it doesn’t change from the first film — why not go back to the novel and establish the aliens are physically there impregnating women, for instance (the closest we get is Christopher Reeve hearing Strange Whispering before the Dayout), or include the lesbian couple shown in the book? This version does give more time to the women (though the woman who gets the largest role is the one who saves her son) but most of the other changes, such as David developing emotions, are bad ones (and why does Mara kill her mother? I find myself wondering if that reflects the opening of CHILDREN). This also suffers from the lack of Martin Stephens who can pull off the Evil Kid roles. “First they knocked them out, then they knocked them up.”

Despite it’s title, SCHOOL OF THE DAMNED (2019) has no connection with Wyndham or with aliens — the kids here are government-created psis using their powers to impose Order on a British grammar school (presumably as a test run for something bigger). Adequate acting, confusing, meandering plot and excess gore, so I don’t recommend it. “I tried to stop the deaths — I’m thinking of the bigger picture.”

THE ASTRONAUT’S WIFE (1999) stars Charlize Theron as yes, an astronaut’s wife worrying husband Johnny Depp has changed since coming back from a space trip where NASA briefly lost contact. And slowly — very, very, very, very slowly — the movie gets around to revealing just how much he’s changed. A dull drama, though Theron gives a solid performance (Depp’s Southern accent is annoying); Blair Brown and Joe Morton have supporting roles.“I’m the one who gave you a reason to breathe.”

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Yesterday, I played hooky

I had to drive to the doctor Thursday morning for my flu shot. I combined that with dropping off library books and running an errand for TYG. By the time I got back I just didn’t feel like working, so I stopped. I didn’t even attempt to justify it with anything productive, I just sat and read the rest of the day. Felt good, even though it meant I once again got nothing done on Questionable Minds.

Well in fairness that’s not just because of yesterday. The dogs have been getting fidgety in the middle afternoon, so I take custody from TYG. Unfortunately they were consistently too fidgety — maybe because of confinement? — and I couldn’t get any of the little odds and ends done that I schedule for late afternoon (extra work on Questionable Minds, checking footnotes for Undead Sexist Cliches). If it keeps happening next week I may just stop work and resume in the evening.

That said, I did finish Chapter Eight of Undead Sexist Cliches, and I got a lot of work done on the Alien Pregnancy chapter of Alien Visitors. I will have to watch myself, though — it would be very easy to just fill up my writing time with watching movies even though this book is supposed to be less labor-intensive than my previous ones.

And of course, I got my Leaf work in, and blogged at Atomic Junkshop about Joe Simon’s bizarro 1970s series Prez (a rewritten version of an earlier post here).And now the weekend! Even if I’m not going anywhere or really doing much, it feels good to get here.

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Cross country trips, Romanian tragedy and more: movies viewed

LOVE ON A BET (1936) is a fun It Happened One Night knockoff in which Gene Raymond’s future as a theatrical producer hinges on his ability to leave NYC penniless in his underwear and arrive 10 days later in Los Angeles — in those pre-interstate highway days, a much more impressive feat than it is now — with clothes, $100 and a girlfriend. He soon finagles his way into traveling across country with fortune-hunter Wendy Barrie and her snarky aunt Helen Broderick, but will the burgeoning Raymond/Barrie romance survive when she learns she’s his ticket to fame and fortune (I hadn’t realized that particular rom-com plot went back that far)? A fun one.“I despise the odor of toasted marshmallow.”

MR AND MRS SMITH (1941) is Alfred Hitchcock’s only screwball comedy, the result of Selznick renting him out to RKO after Rebecca and Foreign Correspondent, though Hitch claims he chose it primarily because Carole Lombard wanted to be in one of his movies. Robert Montgomery discovers his affectionately squabbling marriage to Lombard is technically invalid but handles the reveal so poorly she walks out and starts over with Gene Raymond, this time as Montgomery’s blandly wholesome partner. This was an uninspired film but it turned a profit for the studio and proved Hitch could bring in a film without busting the budget. It’s also less of an outlier in Hitchcock’s work than I used to think, not that far from Rich and Strange or the rom-com bits of Young and Innocent, so perhaps the story appealed to Hitchcock as much as working with Lombard. “That’s fine — after I die, she gets the furniture.”

THE DEATH OF MR. LAZARESCU (2005) takes place over one night in Bucharest (it’s unclear if he actually dies at the end, but he clearly doesn’t have long) as the sick, pained drunk goes from hospital to hospital under the care of a kind but weary paramedic, only to encounter overworked doctors, arrogant doctors and exhausted doctors all coping with forms, bureaucracy and personal lives — it felt like Grey’s Anatomy or E/R without the compassionate doctor showing up to save the day. Given how universal these issues are, I’m surprised there hasn’t been an American remake. “These neoplasms are Discovery Channel stuff!”

For the first few minutes I wondered if E.T. — THE EXTRA-TERRESTRIAL (1982) wasn’t going to work for me on rewatching (for Alien Visitors, of course) but before long I found it as charming as I did first run. Elliott (Henry Thomas) discovers a kindly alien who loves Reese’s Pieces (one of the great successes of product placement) and helps him hide from Peter Coyote’s Men in Black while “E.T.” tries to figure out a way to phone home. This is seen almost entirely from Elliott or E.T.’s perspective, or occasionally Elliott’s little sister (Drew Barrymore) which works remarkably well. On one of the special features Stephen Spielberg says although it was a personal film he figured it would only appeal to fans of Disney’s live-action kidvid of the time (trust me, this was not a compliment) and felt quite stunned when it became a critical and commercial hit (Peter Coyote talks about how the crew on the movie he was making when E.T. hit the theaters started treating him as a lucky charm). The sentimentality that works here would bog down a lot of later Spielberg films, but that’s no reflection on this film, which deserves its spectacular success.“It’s a miracle, and you did the best that anybody could do.”

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A somewhat chaotic week, but a productive one.

Although today was pretty much a mess.

I got about a third of the way through the abortion/birth control chapter of Undead Sexist Cliches. I watched E.T. for Alien Visitors, as well as the special features on the DVD (I usually skip them when it’s a Netflix DVD, but they proved useful for my Aliens and Children chapter). I got my Leafs done, and a little bit of work on Questionable Minds. I also got word that No One Can Slay Her made it out of the slush pile to the second round of reviews and so did Southern Discomfort at Baen Books. Neither of which means a sale — I know that from experience — but still, that’s good news. And I sold a couple of copies of Sex For Dinner, Death for Breakfast in a discussion of Bond on FB.

The dogs, however, ate up quite a bit of time. I took care of them Wednesday while TYG was working on something demanding and they proved, as they often do, a distraction (they’re much quieter sitting with her in the bedroom). Then early this morning, Plush dog woke up in some sort of pain, and wandered around the bedroom, with his back legs giving out a couple of times. As TYG had been up late and needed sleep, I took Plushie down with me to the living room (I was already up — bad night of sleep again). Normally I’d have tried drifting back to sleep but while Plushie seemed fine I was worried enough that I couldn’t bring myself to sleep. And caring for him meant I didn’t get any early morning work done, nor did I exercise. The rest of the day I was pretty dazed; I managed to finish my Leafs for the week, then it was pretty much sleep and blogging. I’ll be taking him to the vet later today. Prayers appreciated that it’s something simple to fix and definitely not seriously threatening.

Oh, and I published a blog post on Atomic Junkshop about the insane, illogical plot of Avengers #60 which worked for me as a teen but looks more ridiculous every time I reread it. But the John Buscema art never stops looking good, like this shot of the wedding reception.#SFWApro. All rights to image remain with current holder.

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Alien cuckoos: this week’s reading

“One of the luckiest accidents in my wife’s life is that she happened to marry a man who was born on the 26th of September.” So opens John Wyndham’s 1957 novel THE MIDWICH CUCKOOS, an eerie SF/horror novel that I read last week for the first time in years (as prep for watching the film adaptation, Village of the Damned for my Alien Visitors book). I so much associate the story with my mother’s hardback, I was surprised to realize I had this paperback version and not Mum’s copy.

The narrator, Gayford (who explains that by virtue of talking to others about what they did, he’s able to incorporate scenes he wasn’t present for into the story) explains that he and his wife Janet were out of the small, extremely quiet, rather dull little village of Midwich to celebrate his birthday. As a result when something puts everyone in town to sleep and spreads a zone with the same effect for a one-mile radius around the community, the Gayfords miss it until they return. And unlike every woman of childbearing age in Midwich, Janet does not give birth to a golden-eyed baby nine months later. Every other woman does, regardless of whether they’ve had sex or not, married or not; Althea Zellaby, wife of an eccentric scientist/philosopher, is the exception because (I gather) she was already pregnant. In a nice touch, the village leaders (Zellaby, vicar, doctor) work to let all the women know what’s happened, as a group, so none of them has a chance to feel like a freak and nobody starts gossiping about the single ones.

In the best tradition of SF babies, the kids grow super-fast. And while they’re still infants, they demonstrate they can control others: women who left Midwich are forced to return, a mother who accidentally jabs her kid with a diaper pin has to jab herself with the pin repeatedly. As the kids grow older, the responses start to get more violent, which Gayford learns was there was a colony in the USSR and the Russians nuked it. Now the kids are determined to deal with threats as brutally as necessary.

Zellaby deduces that they’re cuckoos, planted in the human nest to eventually push us out. The British government is onto that too, but held off acting to see if they could exploit the alien kids. Now it’s going to be a lot tougher …

Part of what makes this work is that it’s so very low-key. It’s obvious the kids are Not Right (they’re two gestalts, one male, one female) but they aren’t attacking so the government and the village hold off. The response is muted bureaucratic and military observation and discussion rather than direct action (Zellaby at one point contrasts this mockingly with the typical 1950s alien invader film). This could easily produce a dull, talky story, but it’s quite gripping and creepy. A little less so in the last portion when it does get too talky. An argument about how England is simply too democratic and civilized to crush them as the Soviets did feels uncomfortably like the cliches of the Cold War where the USSR has the edge because they don’t respect life like we do.

While one woman does mention this is a creepy violation, Wyndham doesn’t do much with the rape overtones of this. In general, even though the women are the victims they’re acted upon rather than acting (in contrast to the female lead of I Married a Monster From Outer Space, though even there the men have to do the fighting). It’s the men who have Althea address the other women and convince them to stay calm; none of them is as horrified as I think they’d be in real life. Zellaby explains this for the author, saying that while he always deplored the idea of women’s natural role being stay-at-home mom, almost all the women he meets seem perfectly suited for the job. On top of which he adds that women simply can’t imagine the threat: in their simple, calm hearts they think the world just has to go on forever. It’s gratuitous sexism; why not just say the women were influenced by the babies even in utero?

Despite that, this is still an excellent book.

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This would be a great time hack if it only worked

Used to be that when I woke up early I would do some writing, then start my normal morning routine (meditation, stretching, yoga, exercise, breathing exercises). Trouble was, I usually wanted to sleep by that point which means I often just stretch out or yoga it (stretching is essential for my comfort, the rest is disposable).

So the past couple of weeks I’ve tried a new approach: get up, have tea while I read, then launch my morning routine early, then start writing when I finish. It should give me a jump on the day, and if TYG and the dogs get up early, I don’t have to work my exercise around them (Trixie loves demanding attention when I exercise. The exercise usually loses). But somehow when I get a normal night’s sleep — unusually this week, I did that consistently — it doesn’t happen. Either TYG and the dogs wake up and I’m occupied with them, or Wisp wants in (adorable though she is), or there’s this narrow window of time that I don’t use productively. So I don’t gain as much breathing room as I’d like. But I do get the meditation and other stuff done, so it’s not a total washout either.

I did have a productive week, or 3/5 of a week. I finished the sexual harassment chapter of Undead Sexist Cliches, rewrote Chapter Three of Impossible Takes a Little Longer for reading at the Tuesday night SF group, read The Midwich Cuckoos (as it’s the basis for several alien-invader movies, it’s a good kickoff to my Alien Visitors research) and edited several chapters of Questionable Minds. I hoped to get more work done, but Thursday Plushie began mysteriously whimpering in pain — not consistently but it was clear something was wrong, which didn’t lend itself to creative thought. Today was oriented around watching him until we could get a vet appointment; nothing obviously wrong, so they’re just sending him home with painkillers for now. We’ll see how it goes in the coming week. Man I hate unexplained dog problems!

That left me too fragmented for creative thought so I squeezed out some extra Leaf work. If I can’t make art, I can at least make money. And hey, I had a better week than this guy did!#SFWApro. Art by Dick Dillin, all rights to image remain with current holder.

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What rough book slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

So this week I began work on the new Alien Visitors book for McFarland. Not much done: work out my battle plan for the coming year, submit a list of possible movies to a friend to see if he could think of some I’d missed. But it’s begun! Next week I may begin the watching, or work a little on the writing side.

Otherwise I didn’t get much done besides Leaf but that’s partly because I took Thursday off. I had a doctor’s appointment in the morning (blood pressure is higher than usual but not in the threatening zone) after which I took the rest of the day off to think, read and chill (I try to do that at least once a month). That knocked out a chunk of time, obviously. I did get a little done on Undead Sexist Cliches and submitted a couple of stories though, so that’s cool. And I posted an Atomic Junkshop piece about a Strange Adventures story I thought captured why the Julius Schwartz edited books of the Silver Age were so fun. Yep it’s the one posted here with the giant winged gorilla snatching planes out of the sky.

I might have gotten more done but I had a little extra dog walking, and the temperature dropped enough I could give them both long walks. Which is a net win, but it did cut into my time.

And I did spend a lot of time reading Homeward Bound by Elaine Tyler May. Amazon had recommended it when I was looking for books on 1950s movies for Alien Visitors research, but it’s actually just a book about family life in the 1950s. Very good, though, in contrast to the previous two books I read (Welcome to Mars and Them or Us) and it has some useful information for Undead Sexist Cliches, which is why I kept reading.

Oh, and I sold one of my books on Amazon, though I can’t quite figure out which one yet (they notify me before the sale shows up on the site, apparently). So whoever you are, thanks!

One more full week to this month. I do hope to get more done before we enter September.

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Brooding and counter-brooding

So my flash fiction Rabbits Indignateonem came back Saturday with a “Excellent piece, we enjoyed reading it but …” response. Which is nice, because compliments are always better than “that had massive flaws in it” (I get those sometimes) or a No without comments (got that on Death Is Like a Box of Chocolates midweek). But it’s not a sale. And always leaves me worried I’m good, but not quite good enough. That I can’t sell to better markets or more frequently or that I’ve just run out of steam; the last new story I sold was 2018 (two reprints from earlier sold this year). Thoughts of this nature make me broody.

But then again, part of that may be that I haven’t had that many new stories. 2015-16 I was working on Now and Then We Time Travel in addition to my Leaf work; 2017-18 I was doing Screen Rant and those eventually consumed much more time than when I started (hence no longer doing ’em). The past year I’ve put in a lot of time on Undead Sexist Cliches. And of course I was finishing up Southern Discomfort somewhere in the middle of that too.

If I had more stories out circulating, the odds one of them would find a publisher who likes one of them would go up (at least I hope so). I wouldn’t say that’s the only factor in play — I’m definitely not at the level of NK Jemisin or Robert Bloch — but it is a factor.

Once I finish Undead Sexist Cliches my slate will be a lot clearer for fiction. Still doing Leaf, and I have my upcoming Alien Visitors book for McFarland, but that won’t be as demanding as Now and Then .. was (much less ambitious). So, who knows? Perhaps I can elevate myself to at least selling semi-regularly again.

Fingers crossed.

Now, as to this week, it was moderately productive. Did my Leaf articles, and I got close to the end of Chapter Four of Undead Sexist Cliches, which has proven the toughest to organize. Unfortunately the temptation to do just a little more on that book kept me from working on either Questionable Minds or Alien Visitors (formerly titled Space Invaders). Next week I’ll start with them to make sure I put some time in. TYG’s work is going to be crazy for a while which will probably lead to extra dog care, but I’ve had practice working around that.

And unfortunately my cover artist for Questionable Minds, whom I was looking forward to working with, seems to have been sidelined by pandemic stress. No blame attached, this is a rough time for all of us (I’m obviously not finishing the book as fast as expected), but I am disappointed.

Oh, and I posted on Atomic Junkshop about Cast a Deadly Spell as a hardboiled PI movie (matching with my post here about the movie as urban fantasy).

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