Monthly Archives: January 2011

Fertile Ground

MV5BNTM4MzM1NTg5Ml5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwMzMzNjM1NA@@._V1__SX1859_SY847_And, right, the last movie on the docket? My hopes were dashed, it was not a sex- and drug-fueled teen massacre. Still, there at least was nudity; only once out of five different films in the genre is a little hard to believe. Not as hard as zero out of five would have been, though! Fertile Ground is a good old-fashioned possession ghost story, with a bit of a pregnancy twist. It rated really well on the tension scale, and decently well on the creepiness scale, and I was actually relieved that the lead actor who looked like Nathan Fillion wasn’t actually him; he would have been entirely too frightening[1], compared to this guy who was merely competent. But it had the same problem that most haunting stories have in modernity, which is that the characters stay in the range of the haunting past the point of all reason. Even though our heroine had an excuse in this particular case, it was only enough to carry her through the first two thirds of the movie. I cannot think of anyone I know in a similar circumstance who would have stayed for that last week or so.

Still, if Accepting the Premise were really a big problem, I could not enjoy this entire genre, so, y’know, no big. Plus, it had a valuable life lesson, which is that you should not turn around a blind corner while leading with a butcher knife. I just wish the ending had been as strong as the lesson.

[1] If you think I’m wrong, it’s because you maybe didn’t see his turn in the last season of Buffy, or have forgotten just how intense Malcom Reynolds is when angry. And he’s still a good guy then!

Seconds Apart

MV5BMTYyNzUwMDg4MF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwMjMzNjM1NA@@._V1__SX1859_SY847_A thing I am forced to admit I didn’t care for in The Task is that it marked the continuation of a trend that remains unbroken by my viewing of the night’s other movie, Seconds Apart. Despite being 75% teenager-centric, not one of these movies has yet been filmed in the traditional slasher vein, full of stock characters who exist only to have pre-marital sex, drink illicit alcohol and/or consume still more illicit drugs and therefore demonstrate to some killer, supernatural or otherwise, that they deserve gruesome death over the course of a single, probably stormy, night.

And I feel a little guilty about that, because most of these movies have had something pretty compelling in them, and if there’s anything I should be happy about, it’s when people are making good horror movies. For instance, in this movie, they examined a truth that I feel is usually ignored in all the annals of cinema, and also in real life for that matter: identical twins are damned creepy. Sure, they can function in society and all, and many of them are probably quite nice, but all the same: creepy! They’re, like, nature’s clones and shit, am I right? And this is just the regular ones, much less ones that seem to be able to force other people into committing suicide as part of a personal, ongoing film project.

This would have been the best film of the weekend, if not for the fact that Orlando Jones'[1] investigating police detective spent so much time on his own (uninteresting) issues and backstory, instead of just acting as a stand-in for the audience. As it is, most of the movies have been about equivalent, and at fairly high quality water mark. Which is all well and good, but I still feel like I deserve a deliciously, hilariously bad horror movie in which the budget for gore outpaces the budget paid to the actors and the scriptwriter combined. Maybe tonight?

[1] You may, and by that I mean I did, remember him from his Sprite (or Seven-Up?) commercials in the ’90s. You do not remember him from his androgynous turn in the Jackson Lord of the Rings movies; that was someone else.

The Task

MV5BNzUzMDExMDUzNV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwNDMzNjM1NA@@._V1__SX1859_SY893_Last night, as foretold in prophecy, I saw a couple more of the AfterDark Originals films. (Horrorfest really was a much better name.) The first of these was The Task, which documents the production of a reality show set in an abandoned, blood-soaked prison. The generally unlikeable contestants must spend a stay through the night while performing various tasks centered around their previously professed greatest fears, in exchange for valuable cash prizes. Despite this rather distasteful premise[1], it turns out to have had quite a lot going for it!

Things of which I approved, in no particular order, were 1) the right proper evil backstory of the place, complete with abusive warden and suicidal prisoners, 2) the unrelenting tension and creepiness, 3) the believability of the characters despite that I’ve complained about this elsewhere, and especially 4) the probably best moment in the movie when the show’s producers decide that the guy who unexpectedly shows up in the prison to start screwing with their contestants that looks just like that prison warden and none of them seem to remember hiring is probably just a plant by the network to create an added level of “reality show” to the proceedings, this time with themselves as the victims of the premise.

S’pretty good!

[1] I believe the main cause of my distaste is how very plausible it seems that this show could (or indeed, already has?) pop up on my television someday. Well, that and how well-drawn the contestants were. You know, on the scale of reprehensibility.

Husk

MV5BMTMwOTQ0NDgxM15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwOTQ3MjY4NA@@._V1__SX1859_SY893_Tonight’s second movie, Husk, had all the makings of an old-fashioned splatterfest: teens in a van (okay, it was a truck, but it had van-like qualities from the interior camera angles I saw) discussing how they will be finding the girls who played strip poker at last year’s lake house party as they drive past some creepy corn fields. Then, to my surprise, it immediately defied expectations by veering off into a spooky and atmospheric ghost story, one that managed to include a murderous scarecrow without being ridiculous.

So, and this clause constitutes a spoiler alert, one of the key plot elements is a Cain-and-Abel story. The reason I mention this is that there was a random crow hanging out on the porch of the creepy house (that inexplicably wasn’t the house from either incarnation of the Chainsaw series) throughout the second half of the movie. And whenever I would see him, I would try to find a way it would fit the story for him to somehow be Matthew the Raven. I never really managed it, but the fact that I was trying to see my way clear to it should indicate the relative quality of the film more easily than any more relevant positive I could toss out.

All in all, while I really had been looking for it to be a brain-numbingly horrible slasher pic punctuated throughout by gratuitousness of every flavor, you’ll never hear me complaining about a movie that is instead actually a little bit scary, and far less so about one that puts me in mind of The Sandman.

Prowl

It’s been a long time since I made reference to the AfterDark Horrorfest; that’s because the fourth one didn’t have a theater in Dallas, so I missed it last year. And then there wasn’t ever a fifth one. Except, there kind of was after all? They renamed it, and it doesn’t have a number attached anymore, but it is nevertheless happening this weekend. Well, five of the eight movies are, anyway. In many ways, this is convenient for me, as eight would have been a lot harder to accomplish. Much less the marathon of reviewing I’d be doing. (Not that this will be nothing.)

The festival definitely started off right this year. I don’t necessarily mean because of the contents of the first entry, Prowl, so much as because of its first scene, which showed a blonde girl running in terror through a dark forest. You basically cannot describe a more iconic horror movie image than that, you know? The problems after that are hard to pin down. The premise certainly works: a girl with dreams of escape from her small town life enlists the aid of her friends on a road trip to the big city, until circumstances conspire to place them square in the middle of a horror movie. The acting was fine, although very few of the characters had a chance to do much acting.

I think I have to blame the pacing. After all the trouble the script went to to rapidly isolate lead character Amber and leave her free to live or die on her own strengths, it… just stopped doing anything interesting. There are no pivotal moments of strength, or cunning, or bravery. Okay, there’s a half-hearted swipe at revenge, but mostly there are just a lot more shots of her running through moonlit factoryscapes, and as well as that works for setting a mood, it rapidly loses its charms as a full-on plot and character element. By the time the admittedly cool third act turn occured, it didn’t seem like anyone in our theater had it in them to care anymore.

Love and Other Drugs

The sad part of the whole story is that I really only went to see Love and Other Drugs because I’ve had a crush on Anne Hathaway since Ella Enchanted, and she was reported to be extremely hot in this film[1]. Instead of the romantic comedy I expected, I ended up watching a heartfelt, romantic struggle against the odds set against the backdrop of the late ’90s pharmaceutical boom. If it happened to be funny now and again, so is every movie and every real life situation, for that matter; this doesn’t make them comedies! Enough with the pigeonholing, Hollywood advertisers. But, anyway, where was I? Oh, right, the movie: Jake Gyllenhall plays a young rising star pharmaceutical representative, in the heady days of Prozac, Zoloft, and of course, Viagra. If you’ve ever seen one of these people out in the wild, you know they’re all sexy, driven young professionals who haves sales in their blood, and the only things that like more than money are alcohol and intercourse. So, he’s like that, and then he meets an early-onset Parkinson’s patient, Anne Hathaway, who sees right through him. They clash, and then they, um, clash, and then, you know, the romance part of the movie kicks off. And from there, all the characters worth paying attention to[2] evolve in relatable ways while telling a story that left me jealous, introspective, and a little moody, instead of riding on the high of naked Anne Hathaway. Which, seriously.

Probably, this is no more than I deserved.

[1] Well. That’s just not true. She’s extremely hot in every film, but she was reported to be naked in this one. Plus, the previews looked interesting; I mean, I have the internet if that was really my only goal.
[2] You might think I mean both of them, but I consistently enjoyed Hank Azaria and Oliver Platt, too. Good supporting cast, really!

Saw 3D

Saw 3D is, they say, the last Saw movie. It is important to note here that lots of horror franchises have made this claim before, and it is almost never true. But I am forced to judge the movie as though it is true, since that has importance in considering not just it for itself but the franchise as a whole. I say that last part because Saw is as far as I’m aware unique among horror series for having maintained a single coherent narrative throughout its run, a feat which has always caused me to give it a goodly amount of respect. There was this guy, and he got cancer. And it made him angry, because he was going to lose his life, while people that he interacted with were so careless with their own lives. So he got the idea to put these people into situations that forced them to make painful, committed choices in order to live. Most such people died, but some survived, and were usually a lot stronger for it.

The last movie is explicitly about that, although Jigsaw’s survivors have always been important to the story as a whole. But in this instance, they have formed support groups, one of them has written a book and gone on tour, it’s really a whole theme. Quite a bit more compelling than last year’s indictment of the American healthcare industry, if only for being so much less hamfisted. So, there’s an interesting narrative. The devices, for a change, did not really impress me that much. They were every bit as squirmily uncomfortable to watch, don’t get me wrong, but they just didn’t feel as inventive as previous such deathtraps have been. But like I said earlier, the most important question is this: did the series as a whole come to a satisfactory conclusion?

Well, that’s a tricky question to answer. If you are looking for some kind of over-arching lesson, or a note that neatly closes the theme that was played so heavily for the events of this specific movie and that loomed so large over the series as a whole, the one about being mentally strong enough to choose life? I don’t think it managed that.[1] If you are looking for narrative closure, that I think was achieved, and I’m glad to have seen it done. If you’re looking for a slight crack in the closed door, some light allowing for another sequel after all? Well, of course there was. It’s a horror movie. Duh.

On a technical note, the 3D right at the beginning of the movie had some severe issues, and the fact that they cleared up so fast makes me think this might be a limitation of the format, not the people processing this particular film. The opening scene involves one of the iconic traps, in a glass-enclosed room, in the middle of a public space where passersby can observe what is about to happen. As a result, there are a large amount of reflections as the camera looks in one direction or the other through the glass. And the reflections cast onto the glass really screw up the 3D effect badly. I think it is because the reflections have some amount of depth that they would not have in a real world situation, and then my eyes freak out because it looks so wrong? I’m not sure that’s what it was, only that my eyes were freaking out over whatever cause existed. So, 3D film-makers? Fix that, or avoid the situation. That is all.

[1] More to the point, I don’t think it tried. I wonder if they saw no way to do it, or if it didn’t cross their minds that they should have? Because if that had happened, I would have to be singing some praises right now.

Jack of Fables: Jack of Hearts

The brilliance of splitting the Fables series by giving Jack Horner his own spin-off is that the mainstream series is free to switch to an all serious, all continuity focus while giving fans of lighter fare a place to go for that. I like both, don’t get me wrong, but all the same, I like them better separately than together, because now I know what to expect from each storyline, instead of guessing whether the next book will matter to the plot or not. (This theory probably falls apart entirely for people who read the individual comics instead of the collections, but I’ve got to say that I’m really glad the graphic novel format exists; as much as I’ve enjoyed my Marvel readings over the last years[1], the modern trend toward extended storylines fits my pleasure a lot better than changing focus every issue or three. Whether the graphic novel format led to or from extended storylines is a question for historians.[2]

The downside of reviewing a book in which you already know that the plot will be played for light comedy (nevermind how brutal or violent individual moments might be) is that probably nothing will really change, and there’s not a whole lot you can say about it except for spoiling the plot. So, to the minimal extent that I’m willing to do that, Jack of Hearts follows immediately from the events of the previous story, where Jack takes the time to tell his fellow escapees the possibly true story of how he became Jack Frost and the heads off to the warmer climes of Las Vegas, in pursuit of the two things it has in the most abundance, love and money.

On the bright side, though, the potentially very interesting story of Mr. Revise, the guy from the last book who has been capturing fables in order to remove them from pubic memory? It is not only not over, but figures to be the main arc of the Jack of Fables series, much as the war against the Adversary is the main arc of Fables. I really look forward to seeing where all it goes, though I trust Jack will stay for the most part light and comedic. Otherwise, it’s just a new series entirely, which defeats the purpose. Well, the one I laid out for it, anyway. Oh, and unrelated to almost anything else I’ve said about the book, I really hope to see more of Alice in future volumes.

[1] I’m in 1974, except that I went back to catch up on Daredevil, where I’m trapped in 1968.
[2] So, Fresh Air has a rock historian, right? I wonder how long until a show on NPR has a comic historian, and I also wonder why it cannot be me.[3]
[3] So, okay, there are a lot of really good reasons why. But still, what a cool job. If it existed, I mean.

Resident Evil – Code: Veronica – Book Two

Remember that time when I was reading a manga-as-walkthrough graphic novel of a Resident Evil game I never finished, because at least I’d get to know how the game ended this way? And it actually spent more time showing where to find the next emblem or key or blue herb than examining the story being told, and it was pretty much terrible, but hey, end of the story without having to plug in a Dreamcast, right?

So, yeah, it turns out that while the second book is the last book I have, it is not the last book in the series.

So. That was pretty sad.

The Honor of the Queen

I do not wish to be too sick to write a review, as what if I fall behind in my reviewings? But contrariwise, what if I write a useless review to which people respond, “Hey, stop writing reviews while you’re sick, Sicky!” And then… well, I haven’t really been able to define the bad thing that happens next, probably because my head is too simultaneously congested and medicine-floaty to concentrate that long. But clearly, consequences will abound. All the same, I’ve written way too much to back down now, even if none of it has anything to do with Honor Harrington just yet.

Which, yeah, I finally read the second book of that series, The Honor of the Queen. In a lot of ways, it is a clone of the previous book. Well, sort of. At least, the setting is unchanged.[1] That setting being some 1700 years in the future, where mankind has long since spread forth from Earth, discovered the means for faster-than-light travel, only of course politics are always basically the same and now there’s a cold war between the honorable, if occasionally too doveish, Manticoran system and the wily, expansionistic and probably pinko commie Republic of Haven. You may recall (or may not, depending on how much I mentioned any of this last time) that our plucky heroine Honor Harrington got caught up in the apparent beginnings of that cold war while On Basilisk Station, with the results that she proved her pluck to herself, her subordinates, and her Queen’s military chain of command.

Now it is some years later[2], and Honor has been picked to command a task force on a diplomatic mission to a pair of backwards religious worlds that rejected all technology[3], with the result that they are insular and range from sexist to incredibly misogynistic, all of which would be good reasons to continue ignoring them and leaving them to their petty internecine religious warfare, except that they make a good buffer (or forward base, depending on whose team you are rooting for) between Manticore and Haven, much like Basilisk Station did last time. If you think this means that we’re about to be treated to another display of extreme competence in the face of insurmountable odds, during which Honor will impress allies, enemies, and neutral third parties alike with her capability and her, well, honor, then you are clearly reading the correct series. It’s interesting, because even without knowing that there are a whole bunch of books left to read, I would have known after reading the first one that there’s really no chance whatsoever that she’ll fail at what she sets her goals to, but the pacing is so much improved[4] over the first book that I was able to wring almost as much excitement out of wondering how the success would occur as I would normally spend on wondering whether it would.

Things I am looking forward to in future books: whether the revealed personality “flaw”[5] will cause her any future problems; the outbreak into an actual war of some kind between the two rival, uh, nations I guess? That’s the closest analogue, anyway. Oh, and whether the hyper-intelligent empathic cat creature will stop seeming weird eventually. At least it no longer seems tacked on.

[1] I really feel like there’s a distinction I’m about to draw here, in which I define the setting more precisely instead of just saying the most uselessly inane piece of information ever presented in a review by anyone, ever. Nevertheless, the fact of my aforementioned sickness is definitely rearing its head, if only in my head.
[2] These years are not very relevant since most everyone in the developed parts of the galaxy has access to life extension technology. Yay, the future!
[3] I know. Believe me, I know. So do all of the characters. Weber’s penchant for straw men may start to grate on me, I reckon, unless he gets a little more circumspect about them.
[4] Seriously, from about the midpoint of the book on, there was very little action that did not feel climactic. Which makes up for quite a fair amount of previous political strawmanship, let me tell you.
[5] Scare quotes because of how certain I am that Weber doesn’t really consider it a flaw at all, despite that he acknowledged why it could be troublesome.