Seeing ‘Donnie Darko’

Drawing of a stylized rabbit head with fangs.

Rabbit rabbit, you’re following Donnie around town instead of him following you physically down a hole, but it’s a different kind of following since Donnie follows your instructions how to avoid the end of the world, strange indeed to go along with the advice of a person wearing a rabbit suit, yet to keep this world alive and kicking — including, of course, your family and friends — following that advice would be worthwhile, and perhaps we shouldn’t care if nobody else can see Frank (or Harvey in another life) or the liquidy columns stretching from some people’s chests and hardly anybody believes in time travel, because if those things are important enough to you that you believe in them while some people scoff at their existence (like the Easter Bunny, unicorns, hope), then believe in them with your heart—we need comforting things around us while some people demean things, perhaps merely to feel superior.

copyright © 2021 Dave Williams

Frederic Brown’s ‘Knock’ Story and Inspired Films

Photo of a door. Most of the door is in shadow, and there's a spot of illumination from sunlight coming through a window.
by Lillian Grace/Unsplash

“The last man on Earth sat alone in a room. There was a knock on the door…”

A two-sentence horror story by Frederic Brown. To me, it’s an example of brilliance in brevity. The first sentence creates an image in my mind, then the second introduces an unexpected sound, then the ellipses serves as a springboard for my imagination.

While the little story can sit on its own, Frederic Brown wrote beyond it for a fuller story. It was published in the magazine, Thrilling Wonder Stories (December 1948). The larger story dives into the science-fiction genre, with aliens coming to Earth. If you’re interested in reading a plot summary, that’s on Wikipedia.

I like that many directors have put together short films inspired by the two-sentence version of the story. Neat to see different approaches for the same, basic story. I watched a handful of films — there were more available! I can see how Brown’s story makes for a good idea for student-made films.

The films are on YouTube, just click on the producers’ names to see the films. 

  • Sergeii Studio. Bleak, foggy images of various exteriors before we pop inside the room.
  • Rafael Zambrano. Animated, in a painterly style. The shortest film of this group, at a little more than a half-minute.
  • Rocktor Productions. A teenager walks around a high school, trying to find the source of the knocking. With hardly varying action, this film still puts together a plot beyond the two sentences.
  • Erick XCX. Animal Crossing-style animation, with a storyteller relaying the story to a small group of people.
  • Korven production. A kid is alone at home, and since he calls his dad, he’s not the last person on Earth. The creepy level goes waaaaay up on this one.
  • Cutting Edge film. This one feels more “realistic” to me, since it has candles and flashlight instead of electricity that’s still running, so the last man can flick light switches and watch TV.

Seeing ‘Gunpowder Milkshake’

Photo of a hand holding a milkshake in a tall glass, and a red and white striped straw sticks out of the top of the milkshake.
by Content Pixie/Unsplash

While some women run with the wolves, other women are wolves—in this case: assassins, the main one (Sam, short for Samantha) having followed her mom into the business and is joined by a young girl through a quirk of fate and the young girl shows interest in assassin as a career choice, but thankfully Sam strongly discourages that, and we’re left to wonder (maybe just me) that if Sam’s mom owned a craft foods market, would Sam have followed in that business—but then, they don’t make movies about craft foods markets (or maybe they do, and I’ve missed them), yet that’s a detour I’ve unfortunately taken, which is kinda like Sam’s career, because through her choices, the male-run organization that used to employ her shifts to putting a bounty on Sam’s head, turning her into John Wick with lipstick, which is a nice little rhyme but is unfair because Sam is her own person, not John Wick or Jane Wick or Candle Wick—she’s Sam, short for Samantha, and she’s a wolf you don’t want to mess with.

(Speaking of wolves, the fierce anthology We Are Wolves contains horror short stories by female writers.
My review of the book is here.)

copyright © 2021 Dave Williams

TV Review: The Expanse

Bright Center Star Cluster, by NASA
Bright Center Star Cluster_by NASA on Unsplash

A year passed between when I finished watching the fourth season of The Expanse by myself and when my family started watching the series at the beginning.

While I liked the series the first time, the second viewing was even better. There was the sense of sharing the story with my family and talking about it together. And I more appreciated the arc of the characters who become the crew of the Rocinante.

James Holden says in the first episode, “No heroes here, Cap,” to Captain McDowell of the Canterbury, as Holden and a handful of characters are on a shuttle to investigate the distress call coming from the Scopuli.

Well, those characters go a long way, literally and figuratively, in five seasons of the show. Traveling the solar system (and beyond), they become heroes.

I enjoyed the series for the complex storytelling involving many more characters than the main folks of the Rocinante. And the characters are interesting for their motivations and goals, from Chrisjen Avasarala to Joe Miller to Bobbie Draper to Fred Johnson to Jules-Pierre Mao. All of them contribute to the plot’s weaving, their motivations pushing against each other, and conflicts arising.

The show takes place (mostly) in our own solar system, so we get a chance to see how fictional humans have ranged from Earth. And those new homes have consequences. The main source of conflict is among three factions — people from Earth, Mars, or the asteroid belt — in how they view and treat one another. We see how the effort to terraform Mars, and the delay of that goal, has affected Martians. And how mining has affected Belters, as well as scarcity of water. They view Earthers as spoiled by having breathable air and easy lives.

For an overview of the plot, split by seasons, where you can drill down to episodes, check out the Wikipedia article.

The Fandom hosts The Expanse Wiki if you want to check out that for more info.

The storytelling and characters are huge strong points for the series. To me, the details add a great deal to the show’s feel. I’m not an astrophysicist, but these details seem more “realistic” than other science fiction series and movies.

What I mean about the details…

Ships don’t have “warp speed” or “hyper jumps.” Instead of getting to a destination in a flash of zoomy lines, a ship takes a while to get there. This is important for different reasons, such as military ships traveling toward conflicts. And for rescuing stranded characters. In season 4, one character says it’ll take their ship a week to get to Illus. In The Expanse, ships are equipped with the Epstein Drive, which uses fusion.

Also on the note of speed, communications aren’t instantaneous. If characters are in close enough proximity, they can chat back and forth on video — such as Luna (our moon) to Earth. However, long distances can take more time for a video message to be delivered. In those cases, a conversation doesn’t happen, just a video clip is shown.

In the scenes on ships, we’re not treated to lovely backgrounds of stars through windows. The ships have video screens instead of windows, so the characters can check out different views on the screens. This might not be as scenic as windows, but it strikes me as more practical. Especially in battles, when fired rounds can punch through ships’ hulls.

Some ships have comfortable space for their occupants: Rocinante and various military vessels. But that’s not true across the board, as many ships have cramped quarters. For example, the Tynon, which Klaes Ashford captains for a time.

Gravity on board the ships isn’t automatic. When ships are not accelerating enough to simulate gravity, characters turn on the magnetism on the bottom of their boots, so they can walk and don’t float around.

This story began as a book series by James S. A. Corey. While researching for this post, I learned that isn’t one person, but the pen name of two writers: Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck. I haven’t read the books yet, but I’ll have to make time to do so.

The TV show ran on the Syfy Network for three seasons, then was picked up by Amazon Prime and came out with seasons 4 and 5. I’m looking forward to season 6. Wikipedia says that will be the final season, but the authors say that’ll be a pause.

It’ll be interesting to see what happens after that.