A mom and her teenager attend M3GAN (because mom wants to see the stylish robot, and explore the AI/robotic ethics/parenting themes)

As I mentioned in my earlier blog post, The Teenager and I went to see M3GAN late Thursday afternoon. That in itself became a delightful adventure and you can read about that here. We had a lot of fun, but The Teenager still hates horror movies. We had a brief stint as reviewers on Crash Palace Production’s horror blog, watching horror films as a mother-daughter team. (Here ares our reviews of Little Shop of Horrors, Nosferatu, and others.) I had listened to an episode of NPR’s Pop Culture Happy Hour podcast on the film, where reviewers discussed its similarities and differences from the Child’s Play franchise and the changing ethics of robotics now that we have reached the age of AI.

As soon as I saw the trailer, I couldn’t help but make a comparison to VICI (pronounced Vicky, “Voice Input Child Identicant”) of Small Wonder, a sitcom that aired from 1985 to 1989. Now, VICI and M3GAN are both androids made to appear as girls about ten years old but man does M3GAN look like a badass compared to girl next door VICI.

If you never saw or don’t remember Small Wonder, it’s available on YouTube.

But forget the innocent, eager-to-please robot of the 1980s. M3GAN wears dark eye makeup and takes her role as the friend and protector of Katie– the child she’s paired with– very literally. I mean, she’s a robot so I guess that’s to be expected.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. One can liken a good robot story to a good vampire story, but from different sides of the human condition. I always considered any anthropomorphic, humanoid monster a way to explore the darkness of our souls. The monster does what many of us would like to do: give in to our urges, be violent, be sexual, be indulgent, and selfish. A good robot story examines what it means to be human and what happens when technology fails because they lack what makes us human: emotions, the ability to age, the capacity to see beyond black and white.

The reviewers at Pop Culture Happy Hour portrayed the film as homage to 1980s horror, and spoke about it with an enthusiasm that sounded more fun that just discussing its merits as a movie. And one reviewer said something that, especially when combined with the concept of what happens when AI goes rogue? piqued my interest; she said that everything the robot did was justified when you consider the basic command it was given.

I asked my friend, Bill Prystauk, founder of the horror website I referred to earlier (Crash Palace Productions), if he wanted to join me. He said apologetically that his schedule was tight and that he wasn’t sure he would enjoy the horror comedy.

I stared at my phone. Horror Comedy?

Did I happen to mention that I am very out of mainstream pop culture? I specifically listen to podcasts like Pop Culture Happy Hour and Why are People Watching This so that I might have a clue.

But I don’t.

But I did want to see this movie.

So what did I think?

The movie began with a satire of a Furby commercial. Which in itself was confusing in the best way. It was a not-so-subtle reference to the company where Aunt Gemma worked. And the toy Aunt Gemma had bought Cady for her birthday. And then we witness a car accident. And (MILD SPOILER– you might be under a rock if this is a spoiler) this is how Cady comes to live with Gemma.

And Gemma builds robotic toys. As a new guardian, Gemma has to struggle with work/life balance and her own inability to be emotionally available. When she gets the opportunity to use Cady to beta test what Gemma believes will be a best friend and babysitter, she takes advantage. The clincher is when Cady remarks that if she had a doll like M3GAN (Model 3 Generative Android) she would never need another toy. And the social worker had said that Gemma had to get Cady some toys.

Except for Gemma and Cady, many of the characters are two-dimensional in the satirical way. The ridiculousness of these people is what gives this movie its humor: the ill-mannered tech CEO, the overlooked assistant, the bully at school, the annoying and inconsiderate neighbor, the “granola” mom. The humor is far from complex, but certainly at a higher level than let’s say middle school boy.

The creepy factor is 100%. From how M3GAN baits her victims to how she does what does. I shiver a bit even now. Let’s just say M3GAN doesn’t need traditional weapons.

The CGI can be a tad over the top.

But the ending… is perfect. The final battle shows that Cady was paying attention all along and is way smarter than anyone gave her credit for.

But overall–

I felt like I was strapped into a roller coaster. Maybe an old wooden coaster trying to compete with modern steel. The way the film moved from campy humor to dark horror in seconds was a jarring transition, and overall the film felt super rushed. As a viewer, it felt like the entire movie spanned only two weeks. And I’d like to believe that if M3GAN is going to outgrow her original programming, it would have required more time. And this is amazing because in the first scenes of the movie, M3GAN’s head blew off in an accident with the construction of her face. She goes from melted to demonic in no time flat.

In totality, the movie was fun and as said earlier extremely creepy and if you take the time to think about all the topics they are tackling– from the dangers of AI to parenting with technology, there’s a lot going on. And in many ways, M3GAN finds her reasons to act on all the things we would really like to do: deal with the jerk at the office, the annoying dog, the obnoxious neighbor and the school bully. But the movie is also a satirical romp through all the horror tropes, which I did not expect, but I suppose I did enjoy.

In closing, let me offer you this review from Critical Drinker.

Stroudsburg Saturday Night

It’s a little before 9 a.m. and the creatures in my bedroom, which probably could more accurately be called an aviary as there are more birds sleeping there than people, let me sleep in until almost 7 o’clock.

I have a load of laundry started and I washed and cleaned some floors, with roomba’s help. The cats are fed and the dishes are going.

I had the pleasure of hanging out last night with my good friend Bill, also known as Billy Crash from Crash Palace Productions.

Bill has a horror-themed blog focused on horror movies and I don’t hesitate to say he is an expert on the genre. He was just lamenting last night that he hadn’t seen a movie worthy of inclusion on his “best of” lists since 2016.

To read more of Billy’s work—he has lots of degrees, used to be a college professor and has enough eclectic interests to either intrigue or piss off just about everybody, visit Crash Palace Productions.

I’ve written for him a few times: Search results for me on Bill’s site.

He and his partner-in-crime have a podcast, too.

So, anyway, there I go getting sidetracked again. Bill and I had dinner and drinks last night as I’ve been dying to try Banter’s Hard Cider which is in Stroudsburg, Pa. I think Bill might be their biggest fan.

First of all, being a good cockatoo mama, I got Nala a new toy to entertain her while I was gone.

After Bill and I had the preliminary getting-caught-up chatter, we headed downtown. Stroudsburg is an odd little university town that thanks to the influx of people from higher priced housing markets has struggled with a clear identity in the 40+ years of my life.

Banter’s is a very small establishment with various home-concocted ciders. The service is excellent, the atmosphere jovial and the staff knows their stuff, which in this case is cider.

The first time you visit, Banter’s suggests a tasting flight. They serve the flight from dry to sweet to dessert, and currently one peppery oddball in the middle, Green Drank.

The first selection was Bön, a dry cider with a flavor reminiscent of champagne. Of the unflavored ciders, I prefer Bön to the sweeter more typical Overcast.

The third selection was Jack Horner, so named for the plum in the mix. I enjoyed this definitely more than Overcast, as at this point sweet hard ciders have become a boring norm.

But Green Drank blew them out of the water. It starts as a semi-dry cider with kiwi, jalapeño and bell pepper. It smells peppery, but the spice was milder than it sounds. It was like a tickle in the throat versus full-out heat. Loved it, contemplated bringing home a growler.

But I didn’t. Because I’d have to drink it. And with the stress I’ve been under I didn’t think a growler in the house was a good idea.

Next came Dippins, the salted caramel cider. Delicious. Amazingly delicious. But I don’t think I could drink a whole glass unless I got one of the cocktails where they cut it with chocolate vodka. But… I’m not a fan of vodka. Or chocolate.

That left Deez Coconuts. Probably my second favorite after Green Drank. Coconut and chocolate notes. I couldn’t taste the chocolate, but I didn’t really want to. My favorite beer ever is Samuel Smith’s Organic Chocolate Stout, and I think I prefer my chocolate as stout, not in cider.

As I finished the flight, Bill asked if I had picked my favorite and if I was ready for a glass or a cocktail to which I promptly responded, “Not without dinner.”

So we went to La Morena BBQ, which is Mexican-influenced Portuguese food. And I had a tender, flavorful beef Baracoa sandwich and the French fries Bill has proclaimed the best in Stroudsburg.

Then we returned to Banter’s where I met some of Bill’s friends. It was incredibly delightful to meet Bill’s housemate, because he had told me so many wonderful things about her. The other gentleman was nice, too, but he dissed Eminem and I was too tired to start defending one of my favorite public figures.

Which that might be a great post for another day.

Happy Sunday, everyone!

**This post got interrupted and started again at 11 a.m. as my mom and I had a really lovely coffee date in my kitchen. Hey, Mom. That was really nice. Can we do it again soon?

Christmas Eve 2019

I started my Christmas Eve morning trying to make the house presentable for my mother’s Christmas visit, but I also treasured the silence and stillness of the house.

The teen got up early and finished her advent calendar…

The final window

My mom came down around 10, and the teen and I had made Pillsbury cinnamon rolls and some fancy break-and-bake cookies.

We exchanged presents and my mom left after about 45 minutes and took the teen to her father’s apartment. Apparently, he had intended to have my mom over for a tour and despite the fact that we’ve been separated six months she still hasn’t visited.

My day was pretty quiet. I did some laundry and loaded the dishwasher and tried to unclog the bathtub drain. At 2 pm, I realized I hadn’t really eaten so I ordered Dominoes.

I hung out with my three budgies (they do love to fly around my head) and watched two episodes of Jonathan Maberry’s graphic novel, now a series on Netflix: V Wars. I took a writing workshop with Jonathan more than a decade ago when he had just published his first (maybe two) novel(s).

The teenager just read my signed copy of Ghost Road Blues for her independent reading in English. She didn’t enjoy it. She then purchased his later book, Rot and Ruin, and devoured the whole tome in two days.

VWars definitely held my interest for the episodes I watched but I think I need to turn to something more uplifting for holiday viewing.

The teenager is with her dad and paternal grandparents.

She should be home soon. She wore her new dogs and cats in Christmas hats sweatshirt, complete with blinking lights. We opened that gift on Saturday when my friend and very talented nail tech Beth came over to see my tree and have some wine and cookies.

The teen’s ugly Christmas sweater

Holidays often bring a lot of anxiety for me, and this year has had its moments. But sometimes you just have to remember to be kind to yourself and do what seems right for you and your family.

Book review: William Prystauk’s Bloodletting

It has felt like ages that I’ve wanted to read William Prystauk’s Bloodletting—  so I purchased this new edition with great anticipation.

The book description and cover make it quite apparent that Bloodletting merges genres and has its own style: part mystery, part love story, quite erotic, yet all romantic. The character of Denny Bowie and his viewpoint present a man who won’t compromise who he is, brimming with intelligence, counter-culturalism, passion and curiosity. 

Denny’s lifestyle won’t appeal to everyone and his fantasies and desires may make some readers squeamish. In the end, Denny merely wants to find the person(s) who accepts him and loves him for who he is. 

The mystery combines murder, sex and greed. Prystauk artfully and ingeniously uses multiple techniques to weave a first-person narrative that includes information and scenes that Denny did not witness.

The characters throughout the story never fall flat. Every one of them has a flaw or a trait that builds them as real people and not the stereotypes they could be because of their involvement in the BDSM community. 

By the end of the book, I had to know the answer to the mystery and even once that was revealed there was still the emotional denouement of what would happen between Denny and his love interest(s).

New Adventure: Reviewing Horror Movies with my Teen

It’s probably been a decade since I met William Prystauk at an after-party of sorts when Kaylie Jones came to the Lehigh Valley to promote her memoir Lies My Mother Never Told Me. My attendance at that book signing was itself a convergence of factors, primarily two: my attraction to Paris and my experiences with parents dealing with alcoholism.

The party in question was hosted by a former work colleague then involved in an MFA program as one of Ms. Jones’ students. She invited me to her home after the event and that’s where I met Bill, also in the same MFA program. And we discovered we had similar interests and were practically neighbors so somehow we ended up meeting for coffee.

At some point in the last week or two, Bill suggested my teen daughter write for his web site, Crash Palace Productions, http://crashpalaceproductions.com/, reviewing horror movies. Except, I pointed out, that my daughter doesn’t watch horror movies due to bad memories of The Walking Dead.

That request got me thinking and I proposed doing a joint review. Last night we watched Netflix’s I am the Pretty Thing that Lives in the House. And this morning, I wrote and submitted the review.

My next hope is that my daughter will watch the 90s classic The Craft and examine whether it holds up with today’s generation. I might even consider that a project for today.