Monthly Archives: June 2007


Stephen King novels that are adapted to film result in movies that are often, well, not very good. His short stories, however, turn into movies that tend to be pretty awesome. Most of the ones I would name just aren’t very horror-y, though, so maybe the problem is in the genre rather than the size of the adaptation? In the good news for people who have taken the bull by the horns of this particular dilemma department, 1408 came out a couple of weeks ago. John Cusack portrays a still popular but objectively washed-up author of scary-themed guidebooks (10 Terrifying Cemeteries, for example) who himself has long concluded that the paranormal just isn’t out there to be found. But he still has bills and deadlines to think about, and when he receives an anonymous tip that room 1408 of an upscale hotel in New York City would be worth his while, he naturally follows up.

In the novella, what follows is a Lovecraftian masterpiece of nightmarish hallucinations and gradually eroding sanity. The movie is a touch more straightforward than all that, but not in a way that bothered me. Mostly because the changes gave Cusack’s character a little bit more of an arc to grow into; the story was a lot more about the experience than the man having it. Although I found myself missing some really good interactions with the telephone that were kind of the essence of Lovecraft’s contention throughout his entire body of work that everything in the world is the enemy of mankind, biding its time and conspiring to remove us from the face of the Earth, the elements of the story that stayed in were more than good enough to keep me happy, and the acting was solid throughout. (They maybe could have removed or altered the scene in the mini-bar, but you can’t have everything.)

On the whole, it was that rarest of creatures, a horror movie released in the summer that’s actually scary. Plus, who doesn’t love Samuel L. Jackson? I say go see it. I will provide fair warning, though: there’s a scene that will make you, if you’re anything like me, want to walk out of the theater. You should ride it out, though, because things get better again. I promise. I think I need to watch more movies, though, because at the moment I’m quickly falling behind. Maybe someone has seen that Fantastic Four sequel by now, I guess? Any good?

Girls: Emergence

I’m reading pretty fast lately, I guess? Must be, if I’ve already gotten to Emergence this soon after reading the first Girls graphic novel. You may recall that the little town was trapped behind an impenetrable wall with a multitude of dangers around every corner. For example: a growing number of naked clone girls who have a very specific purpose in mind for every adult they meet. The other example I would name offhand still feels like too much of a spoiler to reveal. But it’s really something to see, I can tell you that. And as the dangers grow and more people die, those who remain are failing to really grasp the fundamental nature of their situation. Until they can learn to stop turning on each other, they’re pretty much doomed. On the bright side, they’ve got two books left to figure it out. Or better yet, to start dying off more rapidly so that the story narrows its focus back down onto the handful of characters that I’m actively interested in. It was suggested to me that I would find myself annoyed at some of the bad choices they make, and that’s been absolutely true.

Really, though, I’m okay with this stuff. The beauty of the horror genre is that, on average, whoever you find yourself annoyed with for acting stupid is going to pay for it with his or her life before very long. What I’m still not okay with is the art. All of the backgrounds and animals are quite good, and yet the people leave a lot to be desired. As before, I find a lot of my time is spent trying to figure out who is which; maybe I’d have investment in more than about five characters if I could tell them apart. But the rising death toll has helped out there as well, so yay?

This would make a really good sci-fi horror movie, as long as it doesn’t go terribly wrong plotwise. And with one notable exception, it wouldn’t even require that much of an effects budget. So that would be pretty cool. I’m ready to watch it now. (Well, not right now. But if I heard it was coming out, I’d finish the series right quick so as to be ready. So don’t delay production on my account; I’ll be fine.)

Dune Messiah

Wow. For such a tiny book, this thing is just jammed full of thought-provoking material. As you will doubtless remember, Dune left me a bit flummoxed. And at the end of Dune Messiah, I’m still not a lot closer to understanding the political and social forces that resulted in Paul Atreides becoming Emperor of the universe and his Fremen warriors unleashing Jihad upon that universe. For one thing, I don’t really understand either the religions being supplanted or the religion doing the supplanting to any real degree. But I’m starting to think that all of that is just background noise and only of minimal relevance.

There are several forces at play. The Fremen wish to continue their bloody holy crusade across the galaxy. The business interests, the Bene Gesserit, and the family of the fallen emperor want to restore their rightful places in the scheme of things, which is to say back on top. Paul wants to live out a life of peace and love and not be remembered as the man who unleashed the worst atrocities in history; and to his credit, he wants this not to be true more than he wants to modify the perception of the events. Then there are the lynchpin characters around whom all of these elements are turning: Chani, Paul’s Fremen wife who wants only his happiness regardless of what comes of the rest; Alia, Paul’s sister who wants that as well and the same for herself, even if she’s too blinded by the godhead that has been thrust upon her to fully realize it; and the being formerly known as Duncan Idaho, Paul’s teacher in his previous life and now shaped by fate to play as his Judas, who wants above all to know who or what he really is.

See, and that’s what’s cool about Messianic stories. At root, they’re the story of individuals. Once it becomes a story of a god, or even a story of one who is destined to be a god, the point is already too muddied. The huddled masses use gods for their own purposes. They always have, and the indication for this particular future is that they always will. Instead, then, Frank Herbert presents the story of two men hemmed in on all sides by fate and the choices that they make to escape that fate, or at least minimize the damage to everyone around them. There are two things I’m sure of after reading this. I’m going to have to read the Dune books again once I get through to the end, as it’s been a fair while since I’ve read sci-fi that was also fully literature. And I’m going to have to read the gospels again, because I’ve never viewed Jesus through the lens of somebody making the best of an impossible situation before.

Ocean’s Thirteen

The plot of Ocean’s Thirteen is one that resonated strongly with me. Elliot Gould portrayed a man who was confined to his bed by a devastating illness. Initially hospitalized, he’s eventually released home, but even there he’s lost in a fugue state, catatonic to everything that is going on around him. It’s as if, in the midst of a whirlwind of life, he’s frozen and unable to interact in any meaningful way. It’s a bad way to be. Okay, admittedly I’ve merely been ill for a week while he lost millions of dollars and had a heart attack thanks to Al Pacino’s diabolical plotting; still, though, I feel like we shared a common bond throughout my watching the movie, Elliot Gould and I.

Danny Ocean et al, having learned of their friend’s dire straits, immediately embark on a masterful plan to shatter Pacino’s empire as well as his pride. Sure, a lot of money is there to be stolen, but the payout isn’t the point this time; it’s all about revenge. The only flaw this one can boast below the so-fine original is that the twists were somewhat more predictable; Ocean’s Twelve has been left in the dust. There’s not really much I can say here that’s not a spoiler, though. You know there’s a fiendishly complex plot to rob a casino, right? The rest is the nuts and bolts details, and that’s where the movie shines. You get to watch eleven twelve thirteen people who are far cooler than you personally will ever have a hope of being doing things that you would be arrested for merely thinking about. (Well, it’s more like five people who are cooler than you and a bunch of other people who fill niche positions. But the cool ones more than make up the slack.)

It is both awesome and hilarious is what I’m saying. Given that you enjoy the cinematic experience to any degree, why haven’t you seen this movie yet?

Hostel: Part II

I had a seriously hard time reviewing the first Hostel, too. That time, I think the problem that was it was entirely plausible from start to finish, so it was hard to criticize any part of it. And since I try not to go the spoiler route, there wasn’t much left to present but vignettes. Hostel II is less plausible, although still quite good. Where the first movie had an underground torture-murder society that operated out of a run down factory and advertised to the wealthy via fliers, this one has an elite internet bidding system and an impenetrable fortress with five different kinds of security that I can think of offhand. Which, while good for the wealthy murderous clients, is unfortunate for potential sequels. There’s a fine line to be tread between knowing good guys will survive and knowing they won’t; at the former extreme, the movie is too predictable, and at the latter, it’s too oppressive.

Anyhow, despite these sequel-destroying differences, the movie is basically a duplicate of the original. Which is exactly how a horror movie is supposed to work, so this is definitely a point in favor. Instead of a trio of guys in search of easy European sex, our hero-victims are a trio of girls in search of relaxing European mineral spas. And instead of a bunch of cardboard cut-out bad guys and a two-dimensional antagonist, we have a two-dimensional mastermind and a couple of fully realized antagonists. So, less nudity versus a deeper plot. And you know, until I put it like that, I was thinking that this marked an improvement in the overall experience. Man, that would have been embarrassing.

It was a good movie and a worthy sequel. Its main flaw is one that is unavoidable in almost every horror sequel (and most first movies, for that matter) ever made: not enough real tension. The majority of the tension that drove the original is necessarily removed from this one due to the lack of novelty. On the other hand, there was a scene in which Anne Rice bathed in the blood of a virgin. You have to admit, that’s pretty cool!

Black Panther: The Bride

Things I do not do, a partial list:

1) Kick puppies, whether they deserve it or not.
2) Drive on the left side of the road.
3) Keep track of modern Marvel comics. (Well, or particularly the old ones, for that matter.)
4) Mine for diamonds in Siberia.

None of which would be relevant except that a co-worker happened to hand me a collection of Black Panther comics from last year in which the eponymous character goes off in search of a wife to be the queen of his kingdom in Africa. Despite hints of a super-powered bachelorette auction on the cover, apparently the Black Panther has had someone in mind the whole time: Storm, that one chick in the X-Men who controls the weather. (Apparently, she’s also their leader now? Not a big surprise that she might be without me knowing, since the most recent X-Men comic I’ve read was from 1968, well before the whole universe was reset a few years back. Hmmm. Maybe I do keep track of modern Marvel comics? Except, really, I don’t. I know people who feel obligated to keep me up, though. I’m not really sure why or anything, but I don’t mind.)

Anyway, it’s a pretty soap opera story. First they have the thing where they decide if they even like each other (apparently they have history that predates their herodom), then they have the shopping and parties and make-outs, then there’s a wedding. It all seems like an excuse to draw pictures of pretty people doing wedding things while random villains posture ridiculously and the Civil War storyline bubbles over from time to time. (Apparently, there’s a civil war between the superheroes, where some of them think they should all be registered with the US government for public safety and some of think they have a right to privacy. I guess Captain America got killed over it? Seems very involved.)

Things I have learned: comics are better when not taken in the middle, as it is easier to have an investment in the characters; super-villain-y declarations of their dramatic name and why they are not to be taken lightly because they’re so evil and effective worked a whole lot better in the 60s where it seems campy than today, where it just seems like they’re literally brain-damaged; that civil war storyline might be interesting, except that modern (and let’s be honest, historical) superhero comics are so convoluted and intertwined and downright incestuous that nobody could ever start at any arbitrarily defined ‘now’ moment and have a hope of catching up; and female superheros with average-sized breasts do not occur in nature. Well, okay, I already knew that last thing.

Y: The Last Man – Cycles

It is a serious difficulty to keep myself from just grabbing one of these series of graphics novels and devouring it from end to end over the course of a lazy afternoon. Because, well, they’re just so damn fun. But if I did that, I’d end up doing a shoddy job of this, plus in most of the cases I’d reach the end of the line and be stuck waiting for something new to come out months from now. Which will probably happen in some cases anyhow, but the more I can put it off, the better. If I run out of these, I might have to start coming up with new stuff that hasn’t been recommended to me externally, or maybe reread the Malazan series since two more books are out now but I have only the vaguest of ideas how the series was going when I finished the most recent-to-me book sometime last year. None of which would probably be much of a tragedy except insofar as change is terrifying and to be avoided at all costs.

For example, what if every male mammal on the planet suddenly died? That would be a pretty big change, and I for one would not approve. Heck, Yorick and his capuchin monkey survived that holocaust, and he doesn’t even approve. Of course, I can understand why not, but at least he didn’t die. Nevertheless, being the last man comes with its own sets of problems. Between government agendas, vengeful lesbian amazons on motorcycles, and cute self-sufficient women who hope he will give up on his nomadic search for a girlfriend on the literal other side of the planet, his hands are pretty full. And that’s not to mention the agent assigned to protect him who may be falling for him, or the Israeli spies in hot pursuit for undisclosed reasons, or the second, well, maybe third-worst family reunion I’ve seen in a comic. (Come to think of it, comic writers have a problem with family reunions, apparently. ‘Cause this by rights should have been the worst one, and yet.[1])

If there was a particularly deep thought buried in Cycles, I missed it. (I mean, sure, there’s a couple of puns there which you can probably spot yourself, but nothing below the surface pertaining to the seasons or the life cycle or anything like that. At least, not to my somewhat trained eye.) But no big; if there’s not another deep thought beyond the initial premise-setting events in the entire series, there’s still enough sheer entertainment value watching Yorick deal with all the twists and turns his life is taking as he tries to get to his girlfriend while everyone around him wants to clone him, study him, screw him, or murder him to last me for books and books yet. Also: I’m not saying who, but somebody ends up with an axe protruding from the skull. You can bet that’s entertainment!

[1] In case you’re wondering, I’m thinking of Preacher: Until the End of the World and of, well, probably several events in the Sandman series.

Cerulean Sins

I have now developed a formula for writing an Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter novel. First, come up with a supernatural crime. Next, come up with a supernatural political conflict. These may be but are not required to be intertwined. Next, write an opening chapter in which something related to Anita’s job as a zombie animator occurs. Be sure to include enough detail to seem interesting at the time, but not enough that it will be possible to remember what happened 400 pages later, because you’re certainly not going to reference the scene again for at least that long, and you want the sudden reintroduction of that dangling plothook to come as a total surprise when you get around to it. Okay, now that that’s out of the way, time to introduce the crime or politics in whatever order you prefer. As this is a latter-day Anita Blake story, you’ll also want to use these first hundred or so pages to include sexual activity; it may be angsty, but need not be as long as some sex somewhere within the story is. Now, in alternating intensity, the politics will overwhelm the crime and then the crime will overwhelm the politics, pushing Anita closer and closer to her mental, emotional, and often physical limits so that she’s tightly enough wound to snap in a satisfying way by the climax (heh) of the story. Also, be sure to reference how little sleep she is getting a few times. Bonus points if she takes comfort from her stuffed penguin. (Not like that! What’s wrong with you?!)

This is going pretty well. Be sure to have a couple of more sex scenes in this section. After all, it’s a mystical compulsion and now it’s possible to keep the fans from thinking she’s slutty, even if Anita does. (In fact, having her feel that way makes her all the more endearing; after all, it’s not her fault, right?) Time to wrap things up with a display of power and / or ingenuity from our heroine as well as a dramatic reveal that the information in the first chapter (remember that?) was intricately tied up with the supernatural crimes (and maybe with the political part as well, if you’re feeling especially bold). Close with a short taking-stock chapter in which Anita will reflect on how pretty much every major character in the book is miserable, but she hopes that they will improve with time. The end!

You would think, after the excrementality of Narcissus in Chains, that I would not have started another one of these so soon. (Or at all, you say? Ha. I have no choice in these matters. No choice!) And I probably would not have, but when I have just finished a book and am about to be on a plane, I find that I choose ease of use above other deciding factors. Thusly, Cerulean Sins. Which, thankfully, was far better than its predecessor. Sure, there are verbal tics that annoy me, but I’ve resigned myself to that. Sure, Anita keeps ratcheting up the bad-ass factor, but it’s that kind of series, so, fine, whatever. The important parts are that the sex stuff has ebbed back down to levels that are not actually reasonable but feel like they are by comparison and that the plot elements were paced appropriately and were interwoven well. Also, apparently our author is taking a longer view of the series now, because that mysterious dropped first chapter element stayed mostly dropped by the end of the book. Not in a way that indicates bad writing, even, just a lot moreso than I would have expected or which has ever occurred previously in the series.

Hard Candy

mv5bmtc0mzgznti3n15bml5banbnxkftztcwndk3mdizmq-_v1_sy1000_sx675_al_Ah, Netflix. How I have forsaken thee! Well, mostly how I have watched TV on thee instead of movies, but definitely there was forsaking that occurred as well. It’s cool, though, we made up. Which, come to think of it, is probably not the best metaphor with which to open this review. So forget the Netflix stuff entirely except if you care about where I got the movie from, and pretend like I started with the next paragraph instead.

So anyway, I watched a movie last night. Except, that’s not where it started. Around this time last year (except imdb tells me it was more like two years ago), I saw a preview for a movie. I’m not convinced it ever got wide theatrical release, and I am quite sure I never found a place it was showing. If I remembered where I saw the preview, that might help, I guess. But I only remember the preview itself and my reaction to it, instead. Basically, it was a series of scenes implying a cat-and-mouse game between an adult photographer and a teenaged girl, but with the added spice that it was difficult to say who was the cat and who the mouse. Which, of course, made it ironically clear that the sexual predator guy was going to end up the mouse. But this is a good thing, because I think it would have been impossible to want to watch it, without that assurance. Instead, I was filled with intriguement. So, I waited and watched and eventually slipped it into my Netflix queue, the payoff of which occurred last night.

The movie went largely as predicted, which was not any kind of problem at all. Of course the ending stayed shrouded in mystery, but knowing all the stuff up to then wasn’t the point. Because the acting was really good and the situation was compellingly disturbing from the first moment until nearly the last. I know it’s not a particularly controversial position to take here, but I really had no idea just how visceral my negative reaction to the predator guy was going to be. Going in, I had the thought that maybe I was going to end up feeling sorry for him being trapped in Hayley’s web (Hayley being the Hard Candy in question), but that never happened. Sure, some of her actions were horrific or at least uncomfortable, but not once did I feel like his targetting was unfair.[1] Which (I’ll assume) says something else positive about the acting quality.

It’s hard to say I liked it, because it was so unpleasant to behold. But it was really very good, and it’s easy to say I was impressed by it. I don’t think I’d watch it again if I could help it, though. Those movies that really root around in the darkness of the human psyche (8MM and Schindler’s List spring to mind) tend to provide everything on the first viewing, as starkly as possible, as if to say, “See this? Don’t do this! Ever!”

(Footnote contains spoilers, sort of.)

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The Hills Have Eyes II

Horror movie sequels are never necessary. You have to understand that before anything else. They are never, ever based on anything other than sheer whim. (Well, maybe except for Halloween II, which is why it’s one of the best sequels out there.) So when a review tries to explain that some sequel is unnecessary, this simply shows that they have no understanding of the genre and should be ignored. Did yet another remake of a horror movie from the 70s need a sequel, then? Of course not. Neither did the original movie need a sequel. Most likely, this one was better than that one, so that’s already kind of good news, right?

Anyway, The Hills Have Eyes II is just such a movie. Apparently, the military came in after the events of the first movie to clean out the eponymous hills, under the theories that we wanted some privacy over there and anyway there’s a carrot shortage being linked to the region. Except, of course, that eyes in hills are far cleverer than military dudes and ladies, so the first wave of scientists and techs and army guys get wiped out, just in time for a misfit band of National Guardspeople to arrive and initially miss all the classic signs of an old-fashioned Charlie-Foxtrot. About three deaths later, we are able to start identifying our cardboard characters. There’s Hero-Guy, bravely accompanied by Hero-Girl. There’s Slightly Insane Guy (Hispanic Edition), who can be counted upon to keep doing the wrong thing over and over again. There’s Black Guy, who is awesome in every way and by rights should share the Hero Guy title, except he’s black and in a horror movie, and will instead die dramatically and/or nobly. And because it’s a mutant movie, there’s Victim Chick. Normally she would just be a faceless casualty, but in this kind of movie, she has to serve double duty by being actively and unpleasantly victimized by the mutant guys, who are not able to get girls through like normal people.

Still, it was a pretty good sequel. For one thing, no stupid message getting in the way of the carnage. Also, the climactic scene included badassery rarely seen from a horror movie chick who is not played by Sigourney Weaver. Mostly there’s nothing to recommend it, though. I mean, it was a grotesque horror movie and I liked it, but unless you thought there was a chance you’d like it when you first heard it existed, you probably will not. (In the unlikely event that you did think there was a chance, well, nothing I can see to talk you out of it. It was pretty good, like I said.)