March 26, 2014 was a sad day in television as it marked the final episode of Psych on USA Network. Millions of fans across the country thought that was the last they’d see of Shawn Spencer and Burton Guster, the duo responsible for the titular psychic detective agency. Little did we Psych-Os know the showrunners had another trick up their sleeve: a movie. Airing on December 7th, Psych: The Movie reunites the bulk of the main cast and I, for one, couldn’t be more excited.
In preparation of the movie, I sat down and revisited all 8 seasons of Psych, which was no easy task since the show was removed from Netflix and I had to watch everything on DVD. Can you imagine swapping out all those discs as each episode ended? It was exhausting.
Anyway, here are my picks for the top 15 episodes of Psych. Wait for iiiiiiit…
Season 1, Episode 1
Pilot episodes usually aren’t the best episodes of any series; it often takes time for the characters’ personalities to gel and worm their ways into our hearts. But in the case of Psych, the characters are pretty much as they are fresh off the page. Shawn Spencer (James Roday) is lazy and unambitious despite his gift of hyper-perception and deductive reasoning. He uses this gift to call in numerous tips to the police in an effort to collect reward money but when the cops start to suspect him as the culprit, his only out is to feign psychic powers. Though he’s met with some skepticism, courtesy of Santa Barbara head detective Carlton Lassiter (Tim Omundson), he convinces the interim police chief Karen Vick (Kirsten Nelson) to bring him on a case. At that point, Shawn drags his best friend and enabler Burton “Gus” Guster (Dulé Hill) along for the ride. We also get a look at Shawn’s strained relationship with his father, Henry (Corbin Bernsen), an ex-cop who is not too happy with Shawn lying to the cops, but when he goes to bat for Shawn and reveals what he’s willing to do for his kid.
Scary Sherry: Bianca’s Toast
Season 1, Episode 15
When a sorority hazing goes badly and ends with the death of a college girl, the incident is written off as a copycat suicide based on the death of Santa Barbara’s urban legend, Scary Sherry. Juliet (Maggie Lawson), however, goes undercover in the sorority to investigate deeper, asking Shawn and Gus for help. “Scary Sherry: Bianca’s Toast” doesn’t feature any big name guest stars or off-beat musical improv but the teacup scene is one of the funniest moments in the show and I’m including it on this list for that alone. Also, the B-plot with Lassiter training an elder rookie has some great moments.
Season 2, Episode 1
When a judge on the hit singing competition reality show “American Duos” has a few brushes with death, he goes to the Santa Barbara police for protection. A parody of Simon Cowell, Nigel St. Nigel is portrayed to perfection by a smug Tim Curry and his performance carries the episode. Bonus points for the second special guest star, Gina Gershon, playing a booze-riddled and absent-minded former pop star, a clear lampooning of Paula Abdul. Bonus bonus points for the episode also giving us James Roday and Dulé Hill dressed as Roland Orzabal and Michael Jackson while performing Tears for Fears’ “Shout.”
Disco Didn’t Die. It Was Murdered!
Season 3, Episode 5
“It’s a big birthday cake!” Taking its influence from the pop culture of the 70s, including shows like The Mod Squad and movies like Shaft, Shawn and Gus are called in to find new evidence in a case that was recently overturned, which just so happened to be the biggest case of Henry Spencer’s career. The trio need to track down clues which brings smack dab into the middle of the 70s; from the polyester shirts to a ’73 Mercury Cougar to a 70’s-themed disco run by a dude named “Pookie,” “Disco Didn’t Die” hits all the notes to fan the flames of nostalgia in the most humorous way possible.
Tuesday The 17th
Season 3, Episode 15
Written and directed by James Roday, “Tuesday the 17th” is the first episode that takes film homage to the next level by taking influence from classic horror movies. When an old camp friend approach Shawn and Gus to investigate the disappearance of a counselor at his new camp, they soon find themselves being stalked by a masked slasher. But the swerve, that the camp is meant to be a murder mystery camp where people figure out the identity of the killer, is met with another swerve, wherein a real killer is picking off the counselors one by one. The episode features almost every horror movie trope known to man and, in general, has a ton of fun with the premise.
High Top Fade-Out
Season 4, Episode 7
There are a lot of things to point to as making “High Top Fade-Out” a great episode. It features guest appearances by Jaleel White and Kenan Thompson as old college friends of Gus, as well as 50% of Gus’s college singing group, Blackapella. Tony Todd also makes an appearance though slightly less Candyman and more undercover cop. The episode marks the introduction of Kurt Fuller as coroner Woodrow Strode, a character that would make multiple appearances through the series and become more off the wall each time. The intro song was rerecorded by Boyz II Men as a way to cement the singing quartet theme. But probably my favorite part of the episode is Dulé Hill’s performance. Though he’s never been a slouch in any episode, he emotes a full range from anger to pain to concern as he works to repair his relationship with his friends. Every minute of it is fantastic.
Mr. Yin Presents…
Season 4, Episode 16
The second episode in the Yang trilogy, “Mr. Yin Presents…” is a love letter to Alfred Hitchcock. The murder of a waitress leads Psych and the police to discover that Yang was working with a partner, the mysterious Mr. Yin. After Shawn fingers Mary Lightly (Jimmi Simpson) as the killer, he realizes how wrong he is when Mary winds up dead, murdered in the same manner as Detective Arbogast from the Hitchcock film Psycho. The gang soon find themselves in a trap, each playing a role from different Hitchcock movies; Shawn as L.B. Jefferies from Rear Window, Henry as Mark Rutland from Marnie, etc. The episode is filled with references to Hitchcock, both visual and in dialogue. It’s a fantastic watch and leads to some great character development for the rest of the series.
Season 5, Episode 12
Despite the recent revival, Twin Peaks was one of those cult shows that had a rabid fan base but never really struck a chord with the culture at large. The showrunners of Psych however, found enough to work with and centered an entire episode around its atmosphere. Featuring many of the original stars of Peaks, “Dual Spires” plops Shawn and Gus in the center of a small mountain town where the people are a little off-beat, forcing them to dig through the residents’ idiosyncrasies to discover the truth behind the murder of a young woman. Dana Ashbrook, Ray Wise, and Sherilyn Fenn all make appearances, as well as Chris Isaak’s “Baby Did a Bad Bad Thing” in a nod to the 1992 Twin Peaks movie, Fire Walk With Me.
This Episode Sucks
Season 6, Episode 3
Don’t let the title fool you; the episode is actually pretty good. Admittedly, I almost didn’t put it in but the more I thought on it, the better it became. This is the vampire episode and the showrunners went all in making that apparent. The episode not only guest stars Kristy Swanson and Corey Feldman, both vampire famous in their own right, but Tom Lenk show ups, who had a recurring role in the Buffy TV series. “This Episode Sucks” essentially benches Shawn and Gus, relegating them to second fiddle as they freak out over the idea of vampires in Santa Barbara (though they do dress up as famous vampires; Shawn as Lestat and Gus as Blacula). Despite all of that, I like this episode as it gives Lassie a chance to shine. It introduces Marlowe as his love interest which sets up his character arc for the remainder of the series. Shawn and Gus may be the protagonists of the show but it’s nice when some of the other characters get the spotlight.
Season 7, Episode 3
There’s no denying the impact found footage films have had on the movie industry. Luckily, the writers of Psych recognized this and blessed us with their own take on the genre. Wrapped around the search for Bigfoot, “Lassie Jerky” finds Shawn and Gus in the woods with some college film students when they stumble upon three dead bodies. The episode is a masterpiece shot from all first-person perspectives and perfectly homages the classic found-footage film, The Blair Witch Project. It also guest stars WWE’s Big Show and has probably my favorite scene in the entire series, an impromptu acapella rendition of the Bangles’ “Eternal Flame.”
Season 7, Episode 5
The landmark 100th episode of the series. Shawn gets himself invited to a dinner party in a swanky mansion and tries to smooth his relationship woes with Juliet. When she can’t make it, he brings Gus along and discovers that the party was thrown by a recently released from jail rock icon, Billy Lipps, with all of the party guests tied to the case that sent him to prison. A riff on the movie Clue, “100 Clues” was promoted with a real-time contest that allowed viewers to choose who the killer of the episode really was by using a special hashtag on Twitter. Much of the humor in the episode is based on Clue and also includes three of the film’s stars as guest stars: Leslie Ann Warren, Martin Mull, and Christopher Lloyd.
Psych: The Musical
Season 7, Episodes 15 & 16
This might be cheating a bit as it spans two episodes but “Psych: The Musical” originally aired as a 2-hour special so suck it, I’m counting it. Though I’m not a fan of musicals, I wholly enjoyed this episode, if only because of how they made each of the musical interludes diegetic. Shawn and Gus are tasked with tracking down an escaped mental patient, a deranged writer who learns that a version of his play based on the Jack the Ripper murders, is premiering at the local playhouse. There are a number of highpoints in the episode, including the return of Ally Sheedy in her role as Yang, Anthony Rapp, best known for as Mark in Rent, and Dulé Hill as “Jamaican Inspector Man.”
Remake A.K.A. Cloudy…With a Chance of Improvement
Season 8, Episode 3
One of the more off-beat episodes of the entire series sees the gang remaking an episode from the first season as a commentary on Hollywood’s remake culture. “Cloudy…With a Chance of Murder” focused on a school teacher who was charged with the murder of the local weatherman, with Shawn and Gus assisting her legal team in getting her acquitted. “Remake” follows that same premise but peppers it by recasting the guest stars, many of whom had already appeared in other episodes as completely different characters. Thankfully, they also saw fit to change the murderer and the method behind the murder, so as to deliver an almost new mystery. My favorite part, though, was the appearance of Ed Lover as the court bailiff and his delivery of the classic “come on, son” line.
Nightmare on State Street
Season 8, Episode 9
I really seem to like the episodes that homage classic horror movies, huh? Anyway, “Nightmare on State Street” has a lot going for it, most notably guest star Bruce Campbell. The film focuses on Gus’s nightmares, which stem from Shawn’s absence and leads directly into the end of the series. As such, the episode devotes significant time to A Nightmare on Elm Street, and more than just the title. But the episode also references Night of the Living Dead and Texas Chainsaw Massacre, all while framed within Gus’s dreams. Other guest stars round out the fun, such as Dean Cameron, who played Chainsaw in one of Shawn’s favorites, Summer School, William Zabka, a.k.a. Johnny Lawrence from Karate Kid, and Phylicia Rashad, who returns as Gus’s mother. “Nightmare on State Street” aims for horror lovers and hits the mark with its numerous references. Oh, and zombie Curt Smith.
Season 8, Episode 10
I really needed to add the series finale here, mostly because of how well it ties up each characters’ arc. Shawn has a difficult time telling Gus that he’s moving to San Francisco to be with Juliet, especially after Gus manages to find a new job and get his life back on track. This episode shows the depths of Shawn and Gus’s relationship, with Shawn blaming himself for disrupting Gus’s life but Gus uprooting himself to be with his best friend. It also gives us closure to Lassie’s respect for Shawn when he refuses to listen to Shawn’s video confessional that he’s not a real psychic despite years of Lassie’s skepticism. We also get to see McNab finally promoted, assuming the title of detective despite having the worst score Lassie has ever seen. All of this is wrapped up alongside guest appearances by two actors idolized by Shawn; Billy Zane and Val Kilmer. “The Break-Up” is an emotional finish to a hilarious train ride and, in my opinion, the perfect way to end the series.
Boom boom boom… Wrap up! I know a lot of my fellow Psych-Os out there may disagree with a few of my choices, which is fair. Narrowing down a list like that has been one of the hardest things to do, especially with a show as diverse as Psych has been through the years. So hey, if you disagree with me, let me know! What is your favorite episode? And what are you most excited for from the upcoming movie? Feel free to drop a comment down below or you can find me on Twitter, @IdiotAtPlay, and tweet me your picks.
Vampires are a staple of Halloween and one of the most famous horror icons around. So I figured reading a vampire tale for Hallow-Reads was as good an idea as any. That’s when I was presented with The Line by Rob Ferreri, a self-published novel about a team of vampire hunters.
The Line tells the story of Alexander, an immortal ex-vampire and his mission to hide an ancient amulet from Dorian, his ex-master. When the amulet is discovered in present day New York, Alexander assembles a team to help him combat the vampire threat and protect the amulet. The team, which he dubs “the Line” are chosen ones, people who come from a long line of vampire slayers. The plot boils down to Buffy the Vampire Slayer meets The Avengers and works in many ways. However, there are quite a few ways that it just falls flat.
The book opens with a scene of our Alexander being healed of his vampirism and turning against his former brethren. It’s an interesting concept, one that doesn’t get explored often in pop culture, but it also doesn’t get explored much here, either. We know Alexander had a history as a vampire and worked with Dorian, but Ferreri never delves into that. There’s no back story showing us how Alexander became a vampire or what regrets he may have. We’re only told he was a vampire, isn’t any more, and now wants to rid the world of vampires.
The dialogue tags were the most tedious part of the book. Dialogue tags should be straightforward as the most effective ones are a simple “she said” or “he asked.” Sure, it’s great to mix them up a bit for some exclaiming, questioning, or accusing. But The Line makes them all as homogenous as possible. Every dialogue tag follows all of the dialogue. Every time. Now, this isn’t how most authors handle it; in scenes with two characters, for example, it’s generally easy to follow the flow of the dialogue, making the need for a tag each time unnecessary. But Ferreri uses them for every line and it gets very distracting.
From my understanding, The Line was originally written as a screenplay, and after reading it, that’s fairly obvious. The dialogue tags, for example, reminded me of slugs, the character name that precedes each line of dialogue, making it easy for the actor to know which lines are theirs and which belong to their costars. Sure, Ferreri punches up his dialogue with adverbs, but these are little more than parentheticals, the stage direction used to indicate how the actor should deliver the line.
This isn’t the only similarity The Line as a novel has to a screenplay. The book focuses a lot on the action; every few pages, a new action scene occurs. Whether it’s a showdown between the protagonists and the bad guys or some sort of training exercise, action scenes take precedence. Which makes sense considering The Line is a vampire based action adventure more than anything else. However, this focus detracts from any sort of character development, of which there is very little.
The Line is straight forward, to the point, and exactly what one could expect from a ninety minute action flick.
Does a novel need chapters of deep backstory to be enjoyable? No, not at all, but unlike movies, novels aren’t constrained by a certain length. There’s no hard and fast rule that a novel should be a set number of pages. In that sense, novels have an advantage over films when it comes to character development.
The Line implements a sort of ticking clock, yet another action movie trope. Alexander and Co must stop Dorian from getting the other half of the artifact before the next lunar eclipse or the world will suffer. Because of this, the plot moves at hyperspeed. Characters are introduced, destinies explained, trainings held, and lots of fight. There’s no time to get to know the cast. We see them put through the wringers of training a total of one time before they accept their fate. They trust each other implicitly after knowing each other for at most a couple of days. There’s very little internal conflict and it gets resolved in a page or two, which diminishes the stakes.
The parallel between The Line as a novel versus a screenplay makes sense when you look at author Rob Ferreri’s history. He’s worked on a few full-length feature films, most of which were made prior to the publication of The Line. He clearly has a strong grasp of writing, but it seems that scripting is a difficult habit to shake. Novels and screenplays are two different creatures and what works in one doesn’t necessarily work in the other. I don’t feel that his writing style is bad; just that it’s not the ideal approach for a novel.
Don’t get me wrong; there are quite a few good parts about The Line, most notably the character introductions. When we meet each of the characters, they get the spotlight in their own little vignette of a story. Detective Jay Hong is ambushed during one of the biggest cases of his career. The Blades brothers, Diego and Julian, are career criminals and we first see them during a high-octane car theft and eventual chase. Lena Somnianti is a sophisticated artist and fencer, a well-travelled and intelligent woman. They all make grand entrances, yet don’t really live up to their promise. Sure, they’re competent enough in their own right but none of them ever feel fleshed out besides what we learn at the outset.
This is really the fatal flaw of The Line. It never really lives up to its own story. It’s complete, has a plot and a diverse cast, but that’s the bare minimum when dealing with a novel. As a film, The Line would have been magnificent fun. More Underworld than Anne Rice, it didn’t quite fit into my idea of “horror” so it probably wasn’t the best entry for Hallow-Reads, but I still found myself engrossed in the tale as it unfolded.
Nestled against the Hudson River at the far end of the Tappan Zee Bridge lies the small hamlet of Tarrytown. A quiet village, it has a large history, most notably as the setting for the classic story The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. Though these days, Sleepy Hollow is its own entity, having broken apart from Tarrytown in 1996. Why is any of this relevant? Because it’s one of literature’s most famous towns and is the perfect spot for a Halloween getaway.
Recently I spent a weekend in Tarrytown. Well, Irvington to be exact but it’s yet another town dedicated to the memory of Washington Irving, the writer of Sleepy Hollow as well as Rip Van Winkle. In case it wasn’t obvious, Irvington is named after Washington Irving, and a statue of Rip Van Winkle sits outside of the town hall in honor of him.
Tarrytown and Sleepy Hollow both offer a number of attractions for spook seekers, a few of which I was able to experience for myself. On Saturday, my wife, our friends and I visited the Van Cortlandt Manor in Croton-on-Hudson, an area slightly north of Sleepy Hollow, for the Great Jack O’Lantern Blaze. Featuring massive displays of carved pumpkins amazingly posed and lit, the Blaze was definitely a sight. One of the first things we saw was a rendering of the Tappan Zee Bridge, all in pumpkins, dubbed the Pumpkin Zee Bridge. Things only got better from there.
A Jurassic Park, a Circus Train, even a Pumpkin Planetarium featuring shooting stars and supernovas are bound to astonish even the most jaded visitor. After all, they wowed me and I’m mostly anhedonic.
Following up the Jack O’Lantern Blaze, we visited the Sleepy Hollow Cemetery to join one of their many walking tours. We signed up for “Murder and Mayhem,” an evening walking tour. They provided us with kerosene lanterns to light our way and brought us around to some of the creepier plots in the cemetery.
A few of the stops included a woman who was dubbed “the wickedest woman in New York,” the victims of what was called “the Sleepy Hollow Massacre” and Leona Helmsley. It was a two-hour tour, so definitely worth the price of admission given everything that we saw.
Oh, and we also made a stop at the cross that was used by the Ramones for their Pet Sematary music video.
Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to get many decent pictures, what with the pitch darkness and everything, but the few I did snap came out pretty good (I think, at least).
There are many other attractions (is attractions the right word for the graves of famous dead people?) hidden in the cemetery, like Washington Irving’s plot (duh), Andrew Carnegie’s resting place and the William Rockefeller mausoleum. The cemetery also allows free, self-guided tours so you can visit during the day and check out the sights without fear of running into the Headless Horseman.
Just kidding. The Headless Horseman shows up during the day, too.
That’s all that we had time to experience while in Sleepy Hollow but there’s plenty of other things to check out. Like the Horseman’s Hollow, a haunted house event that takes place in the historic Phillipsburg Manor. Though I wanted to experience Horseman’s Hollow, I was outvoted by my travelling companions so I had to make do with taking pictures of the effigies hanging in the parking lot. If you’re into haunted houses and being scared out of your gourd, check out the Hollow. (In fact, let me know how it is, too!)
Do also visit the Headless Horsemen monuments right across the street. The marble carving is an elegant tribute to the classic tale but the iron statue in the middle of the roadway is an amazing sight. Believe it or not, we almost missed it when we visited the area during the day. (No, I have no idea how we overlooked something so large.)
There’s also Sunnyside, a tour of Washington Irving’s home. The tour features a number of artworks inspired by The Legend of Sleepy Hollow as well as a look at the space where Irving wrote his famous stories. Sunnyside is named after the town as it was called during Irving’s day.
You can also check out a short performance of the Legend in the Old Dutch Church, which is a spit and a stone’s throw from the Sleepy Hollow Cemetery. Tickets for the show are $25 and it only lasts for about 45 minutes. Not having seen it myself, I can’t say the cost is justified, but I’d think any kind of live performance of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow is worth it, especially during the Halloween season.
Even though I only experienced a fraction of what Sleepy Hollow boasts, I still had a great time. All in all, the town is a great choice for a spooky, Halloween filled getaway, second only to Salem, MA. If you’re looking for an inexpensive jaunt out of town and want to fill it with as many family-friendly creeps as you can, Spooky Hollow is a great choice. But you may need to plan on next year; it’s a little close to Halloween to go now.
Halloween is one of my favorite holidays. Besides all of the cute decorations, cooler weather and delicious special edition food and candy, it’s also the time to plant oneself in front of the television and binge watch scary movies. But what does one do when movies get boring? Turning to books is usually a good idea. Thankfully there’s a subset of writers who focus on telling spooky, scary, or downright grisly tales that are best enjoyed during Halloween. I had the chance to check out one of these tales, Grim, Volume I: Teen Spirit, by Nicholas Meece.
Teen Spirit starts with a grisly murder outside of a nightclub in a small town before transitioning to the story of Steve, a teenager and budding writer, and his best friend, Jen. They share a passion for filmmaking and horror movies, so when Steve tells Jen about the murder and convinces her to investigate it with him, she’s all in. The murders don’t stop there, though, as the Reaper, as he’s known, tears through the town, killing people very close to Steve’s and Jen’s houses.
While I enjoyed Teen Spirit, I do have to say it’s full of missed potential. There are a lot of great moments in it, such as the opening prologue with the murder, which sets the tone for the horror-themed story. However, once our main characters are introduced, a lot just seems to get lost along the way. We meet Steve and find his passion for writing leads him to lock himself in his bedroom for hours on end to finish a work in progress. He’s secretive about his hobby, not allowing anyone to read his stories until he feels they are perfect. He’s in love with his best friend Jen and wants their relationship to blossom into more than just friendship, but they also plan on moving to California and living together, which is slightly weird but at least makes some sort of sense.
Steve gets the most depth while, unfortunately, Jen is more of a one-note character. We know she’s interested in filmmaking and wants to move to California. She likes Steve’s company but doesn’t see him romantically like he sees her. That is, until she’s told that she does see him romantically by a mutual friend. It’s an odd exchange and one that doesn’t really feel natural. In fact, most of the women in the book come off as caricatures, more like plot devices than real women. The exchanges between Jen and her friend Angela feel forced and stilted. There are so few of them that they’re easy to overlook, but the book is so short that these exchanges are huge chunks of the word count.
I thought the story started to pick up around the time Steve convinces Jen to investigate the murder with him. This could have made for an interesting tale and was the thread that I was most looking forward to; two teenagers struggling to use second hand knowledge of police procedurals and figure out who committed a grisly murder would have made for an intriguing tale. Couple that with the twist ending and Steve’s true agenda could have made it even more engaging. It soon becomes apparent, though, that their sleuthing isn’t the purpose of the tale. Meece is taking his love for horror movies and creating a slasher story. However, with a little fleshing out, he could have blended the two genres and created something with a little more meat on the bone.
That’s not to say Teen Spirit isn’t entertaining. It’s just heavily bogged down in horror movie tropes. A couple of fresh out of school kids in their sexual prime. An alcohol-fueled house party that swells out of control. The caring, housewife who’s concerned for the wellbeing of her taciturn son. The inclusion of all of these seem intentional based on Meece’s love of horror. After reading through Teen Spirit, I didn’t quite make this connection and the tropes bothered me. However, I dwelled on the story for a few days before starting writing this and I developed a deeper appreciation for it.
It’s hard for me to go into depth for a review of Teen Spirit only because of how short the story is. I read it entirely in a single train ride of only about an hour, which isn’t a lot of time for a “book.” That’s why my biggest disappointment with Teen Spirit is its length. As I mentioned earlier, there were plenty of areas that Meece could have elaborated on the story, delving deeper into character histories and motivations and actually following through with Steve and Jen’s intentions of tracking the killer. I assume he didn’t do this because he intended to write a short and sweet slasher tale which, if that is the case, he at least succeeded in doing. One benefit Teen Spirit does have is its cliffhanger ending, hinting at a much larger story looming in the distance. As of the time I’m writing this, there has not been a release of Grim, Volume 2, which is slightly disappointing. Hopefully, that’s still on Meece’s “To Do” list and hasn’t been abandoned completely.
All in all, I would recommend Grim, Volume I: Teen Spirit if you’re bored with horror movies on Netflix and are just looking for a change of pace. While it’s not as deep as a Stephen King novel, it provides a quick dose of horror-fueled entertainment. Not too long to get boring, but just long enough to create a creepy, slasher atmosphere. And if you crave more, you can always check out Meece’s non-fiction and movie reviews over at www.morbidmuch.com. He’s definitely a proponent of horror and a voice that adds to the genre.
Well, it’s finally October, the season of cooler weather, colorful trees and pumpkin spice. It’s also the time to watch scary movies in the lead up to Halloween, and there’s no shortage of choices when it comes to horror. But with all of the Freddys and Jasons and Sammi Currs out there, is there room in a Halloween movie marathon for a film that doesn’t contain buckets of blood? If Good Day is any indication, the answer to that is “yes.”
I first got the chance to see Good Day at the Kew Gardens Festival of Cinema in Queens, NY. I was invited to the screening by the movie’s director, Louie Cortes, and felt compelled to check it out. I’d only seen the trailer for the film and really didn’t know too much about it before I went in. What I saw, however, was much different than I imagined.
Written by Christine Clark and Cortes, Good Day follows the lives of six twenty-somethings in New York City. Much like Pulp Fiction and 2 Days In the Valley, their paths intersect in some meaningful way as they all converge on the same Halloween party. Unlike Pulp Fiction and 2 Days In the Valley, Good Day is a wholesome yet funny look at the gamut of emotions they’re struggling with. Depression, loneliness, loss of a family member, and the fear of a stagnating career. All of these themes are relatable to the audience, which makes the characters feel like real people. They express their emotions and feelings, sometimes in overly verbose ways, but at the end of it, viewers can easily understand their plight.
The film does all of this in a highly engaging and hilarious way. This was probably the most surprising thing about the movie because there isn’t the slightest hint of comedy in the trailer. Watching that, I assumed Good Day was a coming of age melodrama that happened to be set around Halloween. To be fair, though, that trailer was cut well as it didn’t set any expectations for the humor and may have worked in its favor as Good Day was recently nominated for “Best Comedy Feature” at the Alternative Film Festival.
Though the film didn’t win “Best Comedy,” it did walk away with the award for “Best Cast,” which was most deserved. The cast was one of the finer parts of the film. Though Good Day featured no big name stars, most everyone has a great on-screen presence, despite the one or two stilted performances,
The film focuses on Sam M, played by Christopher Poultney. Sam has a strong self confidence which borderlines on arrogance and is forced to reevaluate himself after he meets a girl who doesn’t reciprocate the interest he feels. His storyline comes to a head when he meets Lisa (Kaelin Birkenhead). Lisa displays a hardened exterior to the world despite having a very caring heart. The audience learns this early in the film when Lisa is shaken to hear that her grandfather, whom she’d never had a relationship with, had died.
The film is rounded out with other great characters, such as Lydia, played by Samantha Quintana, a small-town girl who moved to New York for the right reasons but with the wrong motivation and is struggling to find her place. Then there’s Matt (Michael Ryan Assip), Sam’s best friend who dreams of becoming the next great horror movie writer a la George Romero but lacks the focus to finish a screenplay. Though his performance was rocky at first, Matt quickly became one of my favorite characters in the movie, helped along by Assip’s great comedic timing.
Good Day is not a perfect film, however. It is plagued by a number of technical issues, most notably the sound in some areas. A few of the shots feel cramped and claustrophobic, which is likely due to the indie nature of the movie and the need to shoot in any place that feels authentic regardless of size. These things are easy to overlook, though, through the director’s deft cinematography. Cortes has a way of framing his shots that’s simple yet intriguing and makes the movie fun to watch.
As of writing this, Good Day has yet to find a distributor, meaning that it’s unlikely to get a wide release, either in theaters or streaming. There is some good news, though. If you are local to New York, Good Day will be screened for free on October 23rd at the Queen’s Court in Astoria. The film will be shown alongside two surprise short films. The event is BYOB and candy will be supplied so if you’re interested, be sure to check out their Facebook page for more info.
Overall, Good Day is a poignant look at the real issues young people face and the ways in which they cope. It’s the kind of movie that can easily fit into an annual Halloween screening, a welcome break from the horror films and slasher flicks that most people watch every October. Hopefully Good Day will find a distribution deal soon so more people can enjoy it. Given its newly found status as an award winning film, the chances of that seem higher.
Recently, I was asked to write an advance review for a forthcoming science fiction novel from a small press. I jumped at the opportunity to read the book before fully contemplating if it would be worth the time. Smaller presses are always a gamble in terms of quality, both with the writing and the printing, so for all I knew I was in for a terrible reading experience. I decided to plow through with the review anyway and soon found Leech Girl Lives by Rick Claypool and Spaceboy Books in my inbox. So, were my fears justified or was Leech Girl Lives worth the effort of a read through?
Leech Girl Lives takes place in a dystopian future where the majority of humanity has died out and what’s left live in a domed city called the Bublinaplex. While the Bublinaplex is surrounded by a “Fungus Wasteland” filled with large, horrendous and terrifying creatures, the people have managed to build a pretty stable world which is overly concerned with safety. This is where our protagonist comes in.
Margo Chicago is an Art Safety Inspector who investigates all works of art put on display to ensure that the artwork doesn’t hurt anyone. She has a fairly important job because the denizens of the Bublinaplex are all encouraged to work on some sort of “creative pursuit.” Some of these are worthwhile, like painting and singing while others, like Margo’s desire to crochet cats, are a little offbeat. Others still are just asinine, like Margo’s boss and his creativity in stringing nonsense words together in everyday conversations.
Due to a freak accident, Margo gets a pair of giant parasitic leeches attached to her arms. The leeches slowly eat away at her flesh and, through their symbiotic nature, become her new arms. It’s a unique concept. Although it sounded strange at first and had me questioning what kind of book I was reading, eventually the idea settled in and just flowed with the narrative. I wouldn’t have imagined that I’d enjoy a concept like that but I surely did.
Leech Girl Lives is author Rick Claypool’s first novel and that’s fairly evident in the way the book is written. Claypool builds his world and presents his novel using simple prose, which I liked. Lots of science fiction authors use long, flourishing prose and convoluted sentence structure that may sound pretty but can be confusing when trying to build an in-depth world. Claypool shirks that and just lays everything out on the table in easy bits for the layman. Whether this was intentional or just a byproduct of not finding his unique voice yet, I’m not entirely sure but the move worked in this instance.
One move that was intentional was the way Claypool split the chapters for the first third of the book. Each chapter vacillates between “Earlier” and “Later,” clearly delineating two different time periods. It’s an effective strategy that made the story more enticing; each time I finished one section, I wanted to find out what happened next but I had to read through a different section that piqued my interest just as much. Unfortunately, once the two sections converge, the story runs somewhat flat. It managed to remain interesting, but it lacked the oomph of the previous section.
The novel is also split into two distinct books, named Book One and Book Two. While I enjoyed Leech Girl Lives in its entirety, I did start to feel weighed down by the time I got to Book Two. It’s not that the second part wasn’t good; it’s just that I’d become burned out by the time I got there. I’d already gone through an entire adventure with Margo and her leech arms so to be thrown into another one right away was exhausting. I would have preferred if Leech Girl Lives ended at the first ending, with Book Two comprising an actual second book.
Doing so would have also allowed Claypool to expand on some of the themes he brings up in Book Two. While Book One dealt with the idea of stifling expression through the Art Safety’s mission to have artists alter any work they deem unsafe, Book Two explores the idea of a corporate run state as well as the division between the rich and the poor. By day, Rick Claypool is an activist who works with an organization that fights corporate power so if there would be anyone who can successfully integrate the dangers of a corporate state taking power in a silly little sci fi book, it’d be him. The way he breaks down the company’s rise to power makes us believe that the city would accept the corporate power, but everything that happens in Book Two happens so fast that it almost comes off as hokey despite the gravity of the theme. Claypool spends too much time focusing on scenes that don’t have much of an impact while breezing through others that are far more interesting. Characters speak in awkward, unnatural ways and the action doesn’t serve the plot but merely acts to hasten the transition to the next scene. I would have enjoyed it more if he slowed down and delved further into this new world he’s introduced. Allowed us to get to know a few of the newer characters better and see why they do what they do and how the corporation changed them from their previous lives.
The characterization is really the weakest part of Leech Girl Lives. Claypool focuses on Margo and spends a lot of time making sure she’s as fleshed out as possible, which is to be expected of the protagonist. Unfortunately he does this to the detriment of the supporting cast. Margo is surrounded by many unique and interesting people but they never feel whole. For example, Margo has a great relationship with her mentor, Cuthbert. Though we get a peak at Cuthbert’s home life, all we really know about him is he’s a great cook and he cries a lot. Even the book’s main protagonist, Lorcan Warhol, is a two-dimensional foil to Margo. Sure, his character takes an interesting twist during Book Two, but at a certain point he disappears and has no impact on the rest of the book. He had the makings of an interesting character but he’s flung off without a second thought.
I enjoyed Leech Girl Lives. The simple prose aside, the book played with some deep sociological themes and really dived into the darker aspects of society. Even the superficial nature of Margo’s affliction, forming a symbiotic relationship with a pair of parasitic leeches, was handled in a way that felt natural and believable. That’s not to say the book doesn’t have its flaws; in fact, there are quite a few of them, but they’re easily overshadowed by the depth of the symbolism. All in all, I’d recommend Leech Girl Lives if you’re looking for a fun adventure that doesn’t require too much brain power to really understand and enjoy.
Leech Girl Lives by Rick Claypool is available on September 26th from Spaceboy Books.