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Leah Schnelbach

The Revelation Will Not Be Televised: A Head Full of Ghosts by Paul Tremblay

A Head Full of Ghosts is literary catnip: a modern possession that turned into a reality TV show? A modern possession that might nor be possession at all?? Catholicism???

But like all great horror stories, it ends up being about human emotions more than anything, with, yes, an element of incisive class commentary, and, even better, an ongoing conversation with both The Exorcist and We Have Always Lived in the Castle.

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The Sandman’s Standout Episode Is a Great Work of Adaptation

There’s a lot of pressure on the (hopefully) first season of The Sandman. The show had to cover the first two major arcs of an iconic comics series, introduce dozens of new characters, and multiple fantasy realms, all while finding a consistent tone in a story that starts as a series of episodic chapters before turning epic, and starts as horror before turning into fantasy. (They also had to ditch a bunch of DC Comics continuity.) And, just as the comics had to do back in the ‘80s, the show needed to find a way to keep people invested after the bloody meatgrinder of John Dee’s visit to the 24-hour diner.

In the comics run, Issue #8, “The Sound of Her Wings”, is when The Sandman becomes The Sandman. It reestablishes the story’s theme, gives us new empathy for Dream, and introduces Dream’s sister, Death. It’s also a nigh-perfect issue, a compact jewel of a story that feels enormous. So in the midst of the pressure to get The Sandman as a whole right, the episode that adapted “The Sound of Her Wings” needed to capture a certain spirit to lead viewers onto solid ground, and send them off into the second half of the season.

I think Episode Six does this beautifully well, and it does it through tiny choices in adaptation.

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The Sandman Is Damn Near Perfect

Let’s get the obvious out of the way: Yes, it’s very good. Yes, it’s faithful to the comics in all the right ways, but also isn’t afraid to use the comics as a jumping off point that not only gives new life to the story, but makes me hopeful for the future seasons this show better get. Yes, the ending sets up one such future season. Yes, if it only gets one season the ten episodes here are satisfying as hell.

Honestly, I have a few minor issues, and I’ll talk about them below, but I watched this show in one marathon, stopping only a few times for basic necessities like gin, and for most of those ten hours I was very absorbed and very, very happy.

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On the Cultural Importance of Poltergeist’s “Meat Scene”

Welcome to Close Reads! In this series, Leah Schnelbach and guest authors dig into the tiny, weird moments of pop culture—from books to theme songs to viral internet hits—that have burrowed into our minds, found rent-stabilized apartments, started community gardens, and refused to be forced out by corporate interests. This time out, Leah waxes poetic about maggots, haunted meat, and a few highlights of ’80s cinema.

Last month was Poltergeist’s 40th anniversary. As it was a formative film in my childhood, I jumped on the chance to revisit it, and was surprised by just how weird and idiosyncratic it was. But the moment that stood out, just as it did when I was a child watching it, was The Meat Scene.

Y’all remember The Meat Scene, right? I think it might be one of the  primary touchstones of ’80s cinema.

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Series: Close Reads

“I’d rather be a pig than a fascist.” Revisiting Ghibli’s Porco Rosso 30 Years Later

“I’d rather be a pig than a fascist.”

Great movie line, or greatest movie line?

It’s a brief moment in Hayao Miyazaki’s Porco Rosso, when seaplane pilot Marco Rossellini—a man cursed with a pig’s head—meets up with his old pilot buddy Rory. The two have a clandestine conversation in a movie theater, and Rory warns Marco that the Italian Air Force wants to recruit him, and they’re not going to take no for an answer. This scene comes about 40 minutes into the movie; until now, the only stakes were whether Marco would make enough bounties to cover the cost of repairing his plane. But now Marco has a choice to make.

He can join the Italian Air Force, and the war that looms on Europe’s horizon, or he can remain an outlaw, and live with death threats over his head.

He can return to the world of men, or remain a pig.

One of the best things about Porco Rosso is that Miyazaki leaves this choice hanging in the background of every frame of the movie, but he never, never, gives it any real discussion beyond this exchange, because it doesn’t deserve it. Instead he proves the absurdity of fascism by showing us a life lived in opposition to it—a life free of bigotry, authoritarianism, and meaningless bureaucracy.

A life of pure flight.

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Erotica Author Chuck Tingle Has Some of the Best Writing Advice

You know how sometimes you’ll read a particular author and find that their cadences and word choices are creeping into your own head-voice? Or sometimes into your writing? I ask because I have spent these last few days reading a lot of Chuck Tingle, and my brain is currently a CAPSLOCK wonderland filled with buckaroos and sentient jet-skis.

The purpose, you ask? Well, aside from the sheer joy of proving love, I thought it might be a fun quest: is it possible that such an eccentric body of work could yield practical writing advice?

[The answer, dear readers, is yes.]

Ghosts of the New South: The House Next Door by Anne Rivers Siddons

When I’m reading a book here are two things I love above all else: stories that aren’t afraid to follow their own weird paths, and stories that dig into class. I’m ecstatic to report that The House Next Door does both of those things! And it’s scary!

Last month my beloved colleague Molly Templeton talked about Summer Reading Assignments in her column, Mark as Read. For once I’ve given myself a summer reading goal: I’m trying to work through as many haunted house books as I can fit into my eyeballs before Spooky Season. First up is Anne Rivers Siddons’ modern classic The House Next Door, a book I’ve been meaning to read for years.

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Faith, Worthiness, and God Butchery in Thor: Love and Thunder

In 1990, Lou Reed and John Cale collaborated for the first time in decades. After vowing never to work together again after the trenches of the Velvet Underground, they spoke for the first time in decades at Andy Warhol’s 1987 memorial, where the painter Julian Schnabel suggested they work on a tribute to Warhol. This eventually resulted in Songs for Drella, an album that is mostly loving, but occasionally shot through with a bit of venom directed at their old friend and album producer. (tbf, Warhol probably deserved it.) One of the best songs on the album is titled “Work”, and includes the line:

Andy was a Catholic, the ethic ran through his bones
He lived alone with his mother, collecting gossip and toys
Every Sunday when he went to church
He’d kneel in his pew and he’d say, “It’s just work…
All that matters is work.”

I found myself thinking about that a few times during Thor: Love and Thunder. I didn’t expect the film to get too much into ideas about religion, because it’s a Marvel movie and I don’t expect it too get too far into the ideas about anything. But I was pleasantly surprised by what it did with what it would mean to attack and dethrone gods.

[I PROMISE you I’m going somewhere with this]

Ms. Marvel Sticks the Landing and Blows Our Minds in “No Normal”

I’ll admit I wasn’t sure they could do it, but I think Ms. Marvel pulled off a finale that brought most of the threads together, introduced some new ones, and made me joy punch the air on several occasions. (They also dropped a couple of giant ideas into the final moments, but I’ll get to those further down.)

“No Normal” was written by Will Dunn and A. C. Bradley & Matthew Chauncey from a story by Dunn, and  directed by Adil & Bilall—let’s talk about it!

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Ms. Marvel Gives Love a Good Name in “Time and Again”

This week’s Ms. Marvel was written by Fatimah Asghar and directed by Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy! “Time and Again” takes us back to India in the 1940s, and gives us a time loop that is such a great payoff emotionally that I’m not even gonna worry about the logistics.

Plus? We’re getting one of Ammi’s glamour shots from the 1980s. This episode is full of riches.

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Ms. Marvel Takes Us to Karachi in “Seeing Red”

This week Ms. Marvel takes us to Karachi! “Seeing Red” was directed by Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy, and written by Sabir Pirzada and A. C. Bradley & Matthew Chauncey from a story by Pirzada. This episode was a bit cluttered for my taste, but the action sequences were fun, and the show is still so grounded in character that I’m happy to go with it.

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15 Years Later, Ratatouille’s Message About Art Still Inspires Me

When I went to see Ratatouille in 2007, I was trapped in a terrible job. I was exhausted all the time, I felt completely uninspired, and spent a sickening amount of energy questioning myself, beating myself up, hating every decision I’d made that led me to that moment in my life, and creating a vomitous feedback loop of self-loathing. When I went to the movie with friends, I was paying for two hours of forgetfulness. Two hours to stop thinking about my life, and lose myself in a cute Pixar story. I remember hoping I liked the short. And then the film started, and I didn’t get forgetfulness—I got a much-needed slap in the face.

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Kamala Deals With Interdimensional Wedding Crashers in Ms. Marvel: “Destined”

This week’s episode, “Destined,” was directed by Meera Menon and written by Freddy Syborn and A. C. Bradley & Matthew Chauncey, from a story by Freddy Syborn. It was a little rushed, and a little cluttered, but features an incredible wedding that I desperately want to attend.

That dance number! Aaahhh!

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I Rewatched Poltergeist for Its 40th Anniversary and I Have Questions

Earlier this month marked the 40th anniversary of one of my all-time favorite movies: Poltergeist. When I was a smaller Leah, I would sometimes hang out at a neighbor’s house—these neighbors had a collection of videotapes, among them E.T. and Poltergeist. The first time I went over they invited me to choose a movie to watch, presumably thinking I’d go for family-friendly E.T.

But nay.

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