It's A Beautiful Day In The Neighbourhood
What I’m Watching
I was finally cajoled into watch not just IT Chapter One but indeed also IT Chapter Two. They’re… fine? Pretty typical Hollywood blockbusters but with slightly more jump scares.
Those jump scares do start to grate after a while, though, especially given IT Chapter Two’s nearly-three-hour runtime. The second chapter does, admittedly, do a better job of tying those scares into character growth than the first does, though it still has quite a few horror sections that are just… kinda there? The creepy old grandmother featured in the trailer is a good example—she’s genuinely unsettling at first, but then transforms into a big monster-grandma, and the point of it all is… what?
Actually, I think a disappointment carried across both films is the surprising lack of Pennywise content (since he is, by far, the most iconic part of the story). Other than a few major fight scenes in the first film, he mostly just shows up to taunt the main characters and occasionally dismember a child (to remind the audience that he is Threatening™️, I guess). Instead, most of the horror is carried by rather cheap jump scares that get old pretty fast. This is a shame, because Pennywise is genuinely creepy, thanks in large part to the shimmery camera work whenever he appears on screen, as well as Bill Skarsgard’s fantastic performance. Actually, all the casting is great—I’m impressed that not only do all the characters feel pretty perfectly cast, they also feel like the young and old versions of the characters are logically the same.
But, unfortunately, there’s just too many of them, and most of the characters end up underdeveloped as a result. There’s also some bizarre changes in emphasis between the two movies, like the introduction of a “dark secret” for comic relief Richie (played rather entertainingly by Bill Hader), which is that he’s gay? I guess? It’s never really explained, and it’s not mentioned at all in the first part. This is especially strange because the movies otherwise feel so tied together (with the second featuring arguably too much footage cut from the first).
And the plot is, well, fine. It does point to some larger themes, but those are relatively trite, like “friendship is good,” “abuse is bad,” and of course “it’s not your fault if your little brother is eaten by a transdimensional alien pretending to be a clown.” Also, there’s a whole subplot where the only black character from the first film becomes a Magical Negro™️ and spends time learning It’s secrets from a friendly Native American tribe. I’m pretty sure this is from the book, but still, ick.
So, overall, they’re fine. I wouldn’t rate them that much worse than, say, Avengers: Infinity War (though I didn’t really care for Infinity War, so…), but they just don’t really cohere into anything other than popcorn entertainment.
Meanwhile I cajoled Sherry into watching my-favourite-of-all-time Neon Genesis Evangelion. It, as expected, holds up perfectly on a rewatch, even if some of the episodes (cough “Magmadiver” cough) really aren’t that good.
What I’m Reading
I finally finished House of Leaves.
I think the easiest way to sum up my review is that I wanted to love it. What it does well, it does really well—the surreal horror, the touching love story, the cleverness of the construction—but it’s just so pretentious, so full of content, that getting through it was really a chore at parts. I’d tentatively recommend it to anybody that really likes horror, or really likes inventive novels, or just really likes reading (if you can get through Infinite Jest or A Little Life, House of Leaves will be a breeze by comparison), but if the idea of reading 500 footnotes doesn’t appeal to you, well…
I started The Need by Helen Phillips today and powered through a good half of it—it’s really punchy and goes pretty quick. Will report back in two weeks, though I suspect I’ll be finished in another night or two.
I also got halfway through Peter Thiel’s Zero to One and I didn’t care for it. Somebody described it to me as being exactly what it is—a disjointed set of lecture notes that they decided to publish for whatever reason, even though most of the statements really can’t be defended at book length—which is basically a perfect description. I started to want citations about the time he declared China a “definitely pessimistic” culture and America an “indefinitely optimistic” culture, and then decried biotech startups as… not trying hard enough, I guess? I’m sure this book is for somebody, but I didn’t find it remotely enlightening (though it is unintentionally hilarious how he basically just goes “yep greed is good, monopoly is good, I don’t have to justify that because this is a business class”).
Also! I’ve never recommend it here, but you should definitely consider reading the Analog Antiquarian by Jimmy Maher (who also writes a fantastic and wide-ranging history of computer games at the Digital Antiquarian). He’s been chronicling the story of the Pyramids of Giza (before moving on to the other ancient wonders of the world) and, well, it’s utterly fantastic stuff. Highly highly recommend.
What I’m Listening To
As mentioned last time, I wanted to check out the rest of King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard’s discography.
It’s really good. Like, really really good. Go listen to Nonagon Infinity (🎶opens the door/wait for the answer, to open the door🎶) and Fishing for Fishies, like, right now.
Also, based on listening to John Carpenter’s albums, I was recommended S U R V I V E, a synth wave band mostly famous for the Stranger Things theme (which is a really good synth wave track, mind!). They have a nice mix of high-tempo 80s dance beats and grinding horror-movie synths, though they don’t really have the imposing, storylike feeling of, say, Carpenter Brut.
(Carpenter Brut is just a really special synth wave act, okay?)
Aaaaaaaand I just found out that Men I Trust, my favourite little indie dream pop band from Quebec, just dropped their new album, so I probably won’t listen to anything else for the next two weeks.
What I’m Learning
I’m finally almost done with Type-Driven Development with Idris—two chapters left to go. It’s been a good learning experience but I’m ready to move on to something else now 🙂
What I’ve Been Working On
I’ve been working on a horror story (novel?) slowly (as in, it’s been more than a week and I only have ~2000 words) but consistently. The synopsis I’m working off is below:
Ever since she was a little girl, Alice dreamed of becoming a physicist, idolizing the mid-century American genius Tom Friedman and the science-fiction anthology that made him a household name, Dreams of an Alien God. But grad school woes cut short her ambitions, and she found herself working as a journalist and sometime podcast host instead. Now, however, she has been given the opportunity of a lifetime: a writers residency at the Grand Venetian Hotel, where Friedman stayed while working on the show, with the aim of producing the definitive biography of the man himself.
But Alice quickly finds that the Grand Venetian is not all it seems. The basement is strictly off-limits at all times, the doors and hallways seem to shift and stretch, there are mysterious figures watching her at night, and the television seems to be talking to her. And, as she continues to delve into the life story of her hero, she is surprised to find that she has a shocking resemblance to Friedman’s first wife. As her dream turns to nightmare, she learns the truth of the old adage about never meeting your heroes…
Thoughts? Feelings? Late-night stealings?