Mini Monster Movie Review + Sketch: “The Vast of Night” (2019)

I didn’t know anything about this indie film when I sat down to watch it on Amazon Prime; someone recommended it to me on Twitter when I asked about monster movies I might have missed. It turns out, there aren’t really any monsters in this movie, at least not like you’d expect, but it’s one of the best movies I’ve seen in a while. When it was over, we just let the tv be… silent. Nothing we could put on next would have topped the feeling created by the end of The Vast of Night anyway.

Today’s sketch: switchboard operator headset

It’s set in the 1950s, in Cayuga, New Mexico, which isn’t a real town but is a nod to Rod Serling, who spent a lot of his life here on Cayuga Lake (where I live, too). There are a few more overt gestures to establish this as an original-series Twilight Zone episode, but I think they actually detract from the movie. If you go in thinking it’s 90 minutes of old-school TZ, you’ll be expecting something less subtle, more neatly wrapped up. The Vast of NIght is more serious than that. Maybe it’s the effect I’d have gotten if I had seen TZ as it originally aired, unsullied by decades of all the knock-offs and commentary that enveloped Serling’s show over the years. Maybe, if I saw a TZ episode in the 1959, late at night, in the dark, in a world where I didn’t have the internet or cable tv or even regular access to a vast library of science fiction.

But The Vast of NIght manages to take a small town, a tiny cast, and tiny budget, and turn them into something deeply affecting. Mysterious things happen in small towns, in the middle of nowhere, at night, when everybody’s off at a party or a sporting event… sometimes you get questions that’ll never be answered. Do yourself a favor: don’t try to solve this one before you watch it.

Mini Monster Movie Review + Sketches: “Goosebumps” (2015) vs “Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween” (2018)

FX played both movies last night, so I watched them both and sketched my favorite creatures from both. I’m reviewing them together because I’d seen the first Goosebumps before but not the sequel, which means only Haunted Halloween is new to me. And looking at the movies together, it’s easy to see a distinct difference between them…

I’m a sucker for gnomes

Both movies have similar budgets/number of monsters (lots), and design; in that way, they’re pretty similar. If you only have time to watch one, you’re left to choose entirely based on the plot. In each one, author R.L. Stine (played by Jack Black) has to face his own demons when the monsters he created in his novels come to life. Each movie has individual kid vs monster fight scenes, each has parents/adults who don’t believe something is wrong in their little town until it’s too late, and each has awkward teens standing up to the monsters to help Stine save the day. It’s how the characters interact that makes the first Goosebumps the superior movie.

In Goosebumps, Stine is present from the very beginning, as the reclusive neighbor raising his teenage daughter in a small town, when a new boy moves in next door. In Haunted Halloween he only shows up at the very end to quip a few one-liners after the kids already solved their own problems. You might think that’s growth; probably, it was meant to be a “passing the torch” sort of thing, but Jack Black is such a presence that putting him in for just a few minutes means you miss him the rest of the movie, especially if you’re watching Haunted Halloween right after Goosebumps ends. But it’s more than that. In HH, the kids are siblings and though they end up sort of working as a team by the end, mostly the older sister treats her younger brother the same way their mom treats them both: she’s dismissive of the supernatural problem until she’s forced to believe in it, then takes over and orders everyone around for the next 90 minutes.

In G1, the kids are a team from the very beginning. New kid meets Stine’s daughter right away, and she’s the one who takes him out of his comfort zone to see the town he’s just moved to. He makes a new friend at school right away too, and the three of them work together to fight the first major monster. The moms in both movies are single moms, but in G1 she’s a widow trying to move on while taking a job as the school’s vice principal, supportive and loving her son even when she doesn’t know why weird things are happening around her… vs HH, where the mom is an overworked caregiver at a nursing home, expecting her teenage daughter to take on a lot of parenting, and blithely dismissing pretty much everything her kids try to tell her. In G1, Mom sees her son for who he is – a good kid who’s grieving the loss of his father but has a good heart – whereas in HH, Mom sees her kids as problems she has to deal with. Sure, she loves them – she even compliments her daughter once, right before telling her to watch the younger kids for the weekend – but it’s clear from the dialog that HH’s Mom just wishes they’d stop requiring so much of her time and attention.

Haunted Halloween isn’t the worst movie I’ll see this month. It just isn’t much fun to watch. Spend those two hours watching the first Goosebumps instead.

Probably the best moment from Haunted Halloween

Mini Monster Movie Review + Sketch: “Love and Monsters” (2020)

I’ve been doing this thing lately where I watch a movie and do a little sketch of something that stood out to me from the movie. Since it’s October, I thought I’d share some of the monster-related ones I’ve seen (and drawn) lately. First up is last year’s adorable post apocalyptic adventure, Love and Monsters.

Boulder Snail, from Love and Monsters (2020)

Seriously, this movie is adorable. If you’re looking for a Halloween/monster movie that’s cute and fun with gorgeously rendered monsters, this is the one. There’s a small amount of violence, with non-gory deaths at the very beginning and very end, but mostly it’s the story of a guy (played by Dylan O’Brien) who really needed to get out of his shell, then found some friends to help him do that. The creature effects are wonderful — you know they’re not real because they’re wildly mutated animals that don’t exist in our world, but they look real. They fit the world they’re in. Our hero is a little insecure, but he’s open to learning new things. His friends are a little sarcastic (the movie has Micheal Rooker in it, y’all) but kind. You can care about the people in this movie because deep down, they’re all decent. With the exception of some obvious villains toward the end, they’re all trying to do their best. It’s the story about folks coming together at the end of the world. Don’t we need more of those stories?

I missed Love and Monsters when it came out but rediscovered it this week, and I’ve already watched it twice. I’ll probably watch it again before the month is over. It’s the kind of movie that feels much quicker than 1hr 48 minutes because the plot is straight-forward, there are quiet moments to breath between each of the monster encounters, and the hero is focused on a single goal. You could put it on in the background while you do other things, but I’d suggest that you turn everything else off and just enjoy this movie for a few hours. Life’s hard enough. You deserve some fun.

  • Spoilers/Warnings: The dog does not die. In fact, no one you really care about dies. You can watch this movie confident that you won’t be too scared or too sad when it’s over.

Here’s the trailer:

Weeknotes 1.2 (Jan 15, 2020)

Second week of the new year. It’s been quiet here, warmer than usual for a January, and generally peaceful. I’m in between a lot of things right now, still figuring out what I’m going to do next. I don’t feel rushed, though. For the first time in years, I think I can take a minute to catch my breath.

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