Monthly Archives: November 2007


519vbU0Qg1LThe upshot of all these Star Wars books lately is that after the next one, I’ll be caught up to the release schedule. Also, there are only two more after that one, so however you look at it, it ends soon by volume if not by calendar date. On to the 6th book, Inferno, where I am continuing to be amused by the Amazon reviews of the series. For five books, people have been complaining that the plot is moving along too slowly, and nothing is happening, and it’s lame. Now that we’ve come to the first book past the crisis point of the series, where events are spiraling rapidly out of anyone’s control, people are complaining that the writing used to be intelligent and character-driven and possibly philosophical, whereas now it’s flat and derivative. Luckily, I occupy a middle ground devoid of shrillness.

The truth is, the first few books were chock full of philosophy and character development, none of it outstanding in the literary sense but most of it quite good, and well above previous Star Wars fare. And those elements were important to providing a convincing fall from Jedi to Sith as well as to providing a plausible excuse for family and friends not to have acted sooner. Each incremental change wasn’t so bad, and it even seemed that an act as despicable as trying to destroy one’s parents’ ship could be forgivable in context, although obviously a sign of a mind darkened by circumstance. Now that Darth Caedus[1] has moved on to such actions as setting the Wookiee homeworld[2] to burn, well, you might say that’s a cartoonishly evil decision. But for my part, it doesn’t seem all that far out of line from the last such decision he made, and there has to be a point at which you take an action that is tactically as well as strategically sound but which people use as the catalyst to finally re-qualify you in their minds as the bad guy, no matter what they wish were the case. If you never do anything like that and are eventually able to bring peace and order to the galaxy regardless, then, well, probably nobody would oppose the Sith in the first place, right? The obvious parallel is to the destruction of Alderaan, and I’ll argue for hours that this was nowhere near as capricious and cartoonish as that.

Anyway, that’s what the book is mostly about. Now that Caedus has reached his turning point in the prior book, the remaining characters get the chance to catch up to the way the galaxy is these days and start closing ranks and drawing battle lines. Which means more space battles, more lightsaber duels, more pitched fights with blasters against menacingly-uniformed troopers, all the excitement that those early book reviewers were asking for. Both aspects have worked throughout the series, for me, but I’m not going to complain that the scales are tipping toward the exciting end of things. I do wish that one of the three authors of the series had a little bit more investment in R2-D2, but as complaints go, that’s pretty minor.

[1] Yes, he’s a full blown Sith Lord now. And yes, I’m finally able to allude directly to who I mean with still no fear of spoilers, just as though the original name would be one that more than a fraction of my readers had ever heard before.
[2] As Star Trek fans would call it. Kashyyyk for the sake of accuracy[3], but again, what fraction of my readers has heard that name? I feel confident that many of them have heard of Wookiees, at least.
[3] Did I know this prior to reading the book, down to the correct spelling? I did.[4]
[4] Still, ladies, I have a lot of good qualities!

The Wake

And now I’ve finished my Sandman re-read, this time with all of the volumes in hand[1]. Well, all but the first two, which are still packed up with the rest of my books for the past two and a half years now. Argh, I really need to build those bookshelves. Anyway. The Wake is flawed in a couple of ways, I’ll acknowledge right up front. The art is initially somewhere between soft and blurry, which could be a problem with the art, or with the printer, or a purposeful representation of the reader’s eye-based emotional state at the time. Second, it frankly lasts a little bit too long. After a three-issue denouement plus an epilogue, there are still two more issues. And they’re both very good, and neither could have come any earlier in the series. But they’re still a little bit too much for the confines of the final Sandman story. It’s not like I have a good answer for what should have been done instead, so I feel a little bad even complaining about it.[2] But still, this kind of thing is my job for now, right? Right.

Those complaints are for the most part minor, though. Primarily, it was poignant, occasionally funny in that way that makes you feel a little bit sadder after you’re done laughing, and inclusive, a thank you note to the readers from the author. “I’m glad we stuck it out together, and we’re all a part of this.” Which sounds goofy when I read it over, but I still believe it. And it was very cleverly constructed, using ‘wake’ in every sense of the term I’m aware of. First, consequence, as in dealing with the outcome of what has happened, the wake of events. Second, and most obviously from the title, a celebration of the passed life. And lastly, inevitably, wakefulness, as in the long dream has ended and it’s time to return to reality. That one, I simultaneously appreciate and reject. More on that in a second, though, because I need to especially praise the epilogue first. Sunday Mourning gives us a last look at a couple of the most important secondary characters[3] a little further down the road of time, to let us know in a manner simultaneously ironic and apropos that, sure, life goes on. And back on the topic of clever, the epilogue was that, too: it managed to nicely capture everything, everything that I love about these books and everything that they mean to me in just a few short pages in which the main character is only ever referred to by pronoun.

Anyway, though, the part I mentioned appreciating-slash-rejecting, right? I quote:

…and then, fighting to stay asleep, wishing it would go on forever, sure that once the dream was over, it would never come back, …you woke up.

(And make no mistake, the art surrounding those lines is equally perfect.) Anyway… it’s good, because it admits that you have to wake up, and move on, and live. But it’s also patently false, because dreams do come back. They’re not ever the same as they were the time before, sure. They might be identical in composition, but the fact is, the dreamer has changed by the time the dream returns, so no, they’re not the same.[4] But they come back, and you get to be terrified in a different way, or sad in a different way, or filled with hilarity in a different way, or just quietly happy in a different way. And only the most vindictive author (or for that matter, personification of the concept of dreaming) would take away the option to re-experience those most powerful dreams again, as a new person, and see what they mean this time.

It will have to be a while, but I’ll come back here again.

[1] That a beautifully restored and collected series of Absolute Sandmans (Sandmen? I think not, though) has been released in the middle of my multi-year purchasing schedule is kind of unfortunate, but it’s at least something to look forward to.
[2] While on the topic of things I feel bad for saying, the very last issue, The Tempest, took me right out of the story. It was extremely good and had its place both emotionally and thematically. But at the same time, and for the first time in the series, Gaiman felt a little too self-absorbed, or maybe too self-congratulatory, or maybe the former is a necessary aspect of the latter? And I had a hard time enjoying the story part, because it pulled me so hard out of what has otherwise been a reread in which I appreciated the series just as much as the first time over a vacation week in 1996, and often more than that first time. So it at least deserves a footnote’s mention.
[3] It says something about the strength of the series, I think, that I can name many of them immediately without being able to say who was more important, only knowing that it would be impossible to talk intelligently about the themes of the series (not the plot, for which there are dozens more than these that would be necessary) without talking about Hob Gadling, or Nuala, or Matthew, or Death, or Delirium, or Rose Walker… and I’ll just stop now, rather than waste more space on a footnote nobody would bother to finish reading anyway.
[4] If I might steal another theme from The Sandman, it is literally impossible for the dreamer not to have changed. To not change is to die.

Incubus Dreams

I’m a little bit pissed off right now. After reading 500 pages of porn broken up by less than 100 pages of plot, I’ve been relishing the degree to which I’ll at least be able to savage Incubus Dreams, since I insisted on putting myself through it. I want to be perfectly clear that I’m not exaggerating. The first four-fifths of the book had a smidgen of plot, but mostly it had a parade of discrete situations, unhampered by any particular connection to the plot of the book or even the over-arching plot of the series except in the broadest of terms. Anita Blake faces up to a personal problem with one or more of her relationships. Or, Anita Blake has a metaphysical crisis to resolve, related to her powers and the cost that accompanies them (or more rarely to vampire politics). Or, Anita Blake gains new, untested powers and isn’t quite sure how to handle the stress or use them properly. And each of these problems has a single solution, which is for Ms. (excuse me, Federal Marshal) Blake to have sex with anyone who happens to be at hand as the problem is experienced, preferably with more than one man at a time and preferably including some of the pain play or dominant-submissive dichotomies that she had never even heard of just four books ago.

Add to that the misspelling of “triumvirate” on such a consistent basis that it had to have been purposeful and the author’s continuous tic of having Anita think something and then say it aloud seconds later, with identical construction to the thought’s phrasing, and you can see where I was going to have myself a real head of steam built up. (Not to mention a tic new to this book where people are no longer aroused by something, or even more pedestrianly turned on by it. The only way to make reference to this phenomenon is that the act or thought being referred to “just flat does it for” whatever particular person is, er, flat done for.) I guess what I’m saying is that I had some real rage in me directed at this book, enough so that talking about it right now is dredging it all up again. Books this long do not normally take me three weeks to read, but there’s only so much of this crap at a time that a man can take.

But, despite all that I’ve said so far, that’s not what has me pissed off just now. Even though none of the dangling plot threads from the previous book were more than glancingly addressed here, and even though this book’s plot had somewhat more dangle than resolution its own self, the last 150 pages or so just flat did it for me. This is the Anita that keeps me reading these stupid books: clever and quippy, sensitive to her own emotions but able to get the job done, heading out into the night to kill the bad guys (a band of serial killers who are also vampires, this time) with extreme prejudice. There wasn’t quite as much mystery-solving as I’d like, but Anita the action hero is in her own way as entertaining as Anita the detective. And both of them are so, so much more entertaining than Anita the accidental ho.

So, am I pissed that I ended up having to say some nice things about the book? Why, yes. But that’s not the biggest problem. What pisses me off more than anything is that I had nearly broken free of the series.

Crazy Eights

MV5BMjAwMzczMzE4Nl5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTYwNjcwMDM4._V1__SX1859_SY847_Horrorfest 2007’s final film may have been the most solid of them all. Crazy Eights deftly mixes the setting and atmosphere of the approximately brilliant Session 9 with the loose plot outline of The Big Chill, except if they were being haunted. After attending the funeral of a friend, six people follow a treasure map at his request to an old barn in the woods, where they find a time capsule full of their old toys from when they were kids. And, in the bottom of the trunk, they find the curled up body of a dead child. Almost from the start, the movie plays tricks on their (and by proxy our) perceptions. Freudian slips and flashbacks scattered throughout the film reveal that they know a lot more than they’re willing to admit, even to themselves. And after circumstance traps them in a nearby abandoned hospital, the dead girl has them right where she wants them.

Here’s the thing, though. It was a long weekend, and it was pretty late at night. Sometimes I drift off during movies, and I notice and fix the problem. In this particular case, I seemed to drift in and out of consciousness with perfect timing to follow all of the plot but miss all of the revealing moments that explained what happened so many years ago that they are now being punished for. And since I never had any plot gaps, I never noticed that I’d done more than close my eyes for a couple seconds. Sincerely: I stated aloud that the movie had to have another 15 minutes left in which the explanations come forth, about 45 seconds before the credits rolled. Then my friend amusedly explained to me what had happened. So, based on the atmosphere alone I say this is a good movie, and it looked like it had some pretty deep themes as well. But, I’m pretty much going to have to watch it again before I can give it fair due. Oops?

Nightmare Man (2006)

MV5BMTA4NzAzNjI3MDZeQTJeQWpwZ15BbWU2MDA3NTY5Nw@@._V1__SX1217_SY911_As with the previous two nights, Sunday started out with the weakest entry of the evening. Of course, there were only two movies on Sunday, which might make the claim seem somewhat spurious. But I promise, if you were to name any three horror movies at random, this would be worse than 98% of them. Nightmare Man chronicles the trials of a woman (portrayed by a very bad actress) who has ordered a fertility mask from Africa or somewhere because her husband (portrayed by a reasonably bad actor) is having performance problems, and she wants babies. Unfortunately, upon its arrival she starts to have dreams in which a man in the mask is trying to kill her, goes generally crazy, gets prescribed pills that she infuses with a talismanic power to keep the evil Nightmare Man inside her from getting out, and semi-voluntarily commits herself to a psychiatric hospital.

Except, on the way to the clinic the car runs out of gas, and she’s left alone while her husband forges ahead to a gas station. Whereupon I start to have Penny Dreadful flashbacks, insofar as there’s a girl in a car being stalked by some kind of bad guy. Except: is he real? Then, suddenly, the movie changes gears entirely, to a pair of couples in a cabin in the forest, playing erotic[1] Truth or Dare. The next fifteen minutes are a treat as we cut back and forth between the bad actress being chased by the crazy mask dude and the couples ramping up toward a pretty flimsy porno premise. And then, against my express wishes, the two plots collide when the couples hear the screaming woman outside and go find her. Of course, there’s no sign of her Nightmare Man, and the psychological games continue. Is he real? Is he her husband? Is she as crazy as she appears? (I mean, make no mistake, she’s crazy. It’s just a question of whether there’s really anyone out there, on top of her being crazy.) One thing I can say without it being a spoiler: sure enough, people start dying.

As bad as the acting was all around, there was one bright spot in Tiffany Shepis as the bisexual cabin owner with an NRA membership. In a sea of both character and actor mediocrity, she stood out as a shining beacon. The film itself tried to have the tongue-in-cheek badness of Saturday’s Lake Dead, but between the abysmal acting and an incomprehensible[2] final act, it was doomed to failure. Still, if you can forgive those things, which you should not, it was notable for providing me with the most opportunities to argue with the characters about how stupid they were being and how easy it would be to do smart things and maybe not die instead. On the bright side, karma was out in full force?

[1] I have no idea why this was specified, as there’s not any other kind of Truth or Dare that anyone has ever played.
[2] I mean, I know what happened. It’s just incomprehensible to me that the writers made that choice.

Tooth and Nail

tooth_and_nail_xlgSaturday’s final film, Tooth and Nail, may well have been my favorite of the weekend. There are several I can point to along various axes and say, “I liked that because…”, but Tooth & Nail is the one whose scenes I’ve been flashing on whenever I think about the weekend. In a post-apocalyptic future (with a reasonably clever backstory), people must scavenge and struggle just to have sufficient food and water, but at least the initial waves of looting and killing have ended. Now, though, a new threat is rising in the form of bands of cannibalistic Reavers Rovers who roam the landscape in search of their own next meal.

And I know, I wasn’t all that impressed either. But it turned into something a lot bigger than its summary. The focus is on one such group of survivors, trying to eke out a day to day life in a hospital, rather than heading south where most people have gone. Out on a raiding party that includes one of the college kids from Borderland, they find the first live humans they’ve seen in months, in the midst of being murdered. They chase off the killer in time to save a girl, who turns out to be Penny from one of last year’s standouts, Penny Dreadful. (I mean, the actress, not the character. That would be cool, but somewhat unlikely.) And everything seems to be going pretty well, friction among some of the group members notwithstanding. But then their leader, Professor David Carradine, is murdered. And the next day, there are people outside the hospital. At this point, newcomer Neon (née Penny) admits to having heard of these Rovers before; they killed her family and neighbors where they were holed up in a supermarket. One per night, so the meat wouldn’t go bad. But she thought she’d escaped from them, and didn’t want to cause unnecessary panic.

A deadly game of cat and mouse ensues, as Neon and the others make various plans for survival, night after night, and each person must come to a decision about how far he or she is willing to go to stay alive. The final voiceover about fighting tooth and nail maybe oversells the message, but I can’t really think of another flaw the film had; and this one was quite a bit less glaring than the zombie people who looked like the rats that infected them, so.

Mulberry Street

One of the weird things about Horrorfest 2006 was the lack of zombies. With nine movies’ worth of material, how do you not have a zombie outbreak? There were slashers and vampires, as well as ghosts a-plenty, and let’s face it, there aren’t all that many scenarios left after you’ve gone through such a list. But I guess the important part is that there was a zombie movie this year, so I’ll just focus on that.

I think it’s fair to say that Mulberry Street was the most technically impressive film of the weekend. Shot on grainy color film stock, usually with a video camera look, it had the same documentary-style feel to it that helped to make Night of the Living Dead so famous. And the acting was every bit as solid as anything I saw in Borderland the night before. Other than an odd choice for the premise, everything about it was done right.

In short, the rats in New York City start biting people, for no apparent source cause. And those who are bitten become first ill, then insane and violent, and eventually start to, you know, eat other people. Who, if only bitten without dying, turn into zombies themselves. Unfortunately, they turn into zombies who look like rats, also with no real explanation. It doesn’t really affect the movie in any way, which is good; it’s just an inexplicable stylistic choice that, for me, failed. Like I said, though, I can let one odd premise choice slide. All that said, the movie is actually about several people in a tenement on Mulberry Street downtown affected by these goings-on, including a retired boxer, his daughter returning from the war, a single bartender and her teenage son.

Despite these victims being neighbors instead of strangers, the comparisons to Romero’s original classic are inevitable. It has the feel that so few zombie movies have anymore, of that first whiff of panic and the turning tide from optimism into determination in the face of hopelessness, and then into despair. In point of fact, I still like Night of the Living Dead better, by virtue of the fact that Mulberry Street is a little too bleak for my tastes. It hits all of the notes right, though; if you’re looking for a powerful movie about people trying to make it through adversity, you could do a lot worse. (To a larger extent than is explainable by these all being horror movies, that’s an ongoing theme throughout the weekend’s films.)

Lake Dead

MV5BMTQ2MDk1OTA0Ml5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTYwMzU5MDM4._V1__SX1217_SY911_The opening salvo of Horrorfest’s Saturday film list was a palate cleanser. I could also have said that of last night’s Unearthed, except that there was nothing to be cleansed from and that said movie really wasn’t as good. And, okay, I’ll be opening up a little bit of confusion by claiming that Lake Dead was a good movie, so I want to be clear and say that it wasn’t good. It was slightly better than the Skinemax fare it occasionally looked like, and it had a truly excellent climactic line of dialogue. But good? No.

It was, however, extremely awesome. Three sisters stand to inherit land and a motel from a grandfather they had been told was long since dead, after he’s murdered during a moral dispute. They gather up their skintight clothes, their slutty friends and frat-boy dates, and head off to check out the inheritance and decide whether to sell it. If it wasn’t for the inbred locals, this would probably have been porn instead of horror. The acting quality and the looks of the cast both bear this out. All of which is basically my point about the awesome: hilarity ensued at every point. The lines were funny on purpose almost as often as they were due to the acting failures, the slasher-style chase scenes had to have been intentional parody, and the foreboding “But is it really over?” finale was probably populated with the actors who hadn’t quite been skilled enough at their auditions to get into the real movie.

I think I’ve long since been established as a person who can appreciate a bad movie, if it’s done the right way. If you’re like that sometimes, this should be on your short list of rental gold. (Or, I guess it’ll still be in a theater near you sometime next week, maybe.)

Borderland (2007)

The third film of the night was also the best, although it seemed less like a horror movie to me than a drama with very horrific elements. Borderland is another entry in a relatively new breed of horror films such as Hostel, Turistas, or Wolf Creek, in which people on vacation run afoul of unsavory local elements who intend to perform diverse deadly acts upon their bodies. In this case, three Texan college students wander down to Mexico for general debauchery and run afoul of a murderous and approximately Satanic cult, which they must struggle for survival against with the help of a few locals.

As a thumbnail, that sounds pretty generic. I’m here to tell you that the actual movie was both shot and acted exceptionally well. Each of our heroes had a different take on the mingled anger and hopeless despair of the situation. And if the majority of the cult members didn’t have much individual personality beyond “I’m going to kill you with a machete now, and not in the nice way”, well, the way they were filmed going about their business was far more realistic and disturbing than I’m usually comfortable with. And of those with personalities, the leader was spot on with his suave and utterly evil self-assurance, the muscle was even better at being simultaneously inhumanly effective and batshit insane, and Sean Astin’s disciple reminded me strongly of Dennis Hopper in Apocalypse Now, with every bit as much talent.

There are good, solid reasons not to want to watch this movie. But they pretty much all revolve around how you feel about the content, because the presentation will be hard to top this weekend, and for my money stands up well among the movies that have been released this year.

The Deaths of Ian Stone

MV5BMTQxMjU3ODgxMl5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTYwNjIwMDM4._V1__SX1217_SY911_Have I mentioned that this weekend is HorrorFest? I’m thinking I maybe have, but there’s probably no way to be sure! Anyway, this is another weekend with way too little sleep and the necessity to whirlwind through my reviewing schedule to even have a chance of keeping up. Mind you, I’m not complaining. It feels like this weekend was created just to make me happy. Downside: It’s the second weekend of two, and the theater was basically empty all last night. Ten or fifteen attendees per film? As much as I don’t like crowds of people, that makes me sad. With rare exceptions, movie crowds don’t trigger any of my social anxiety at all, and I love the energy of a full crowd of fans at a premiere. My promise to myself, therefore, is to go the first weekend, next year. (I don’t actually know that there will be one next year, but I assume there will.)

I’ve been rather looking forward to the night’s second movie, The Deaths of Ian Stone, for several weeks now. It seemed very cool from a description which is not that different from the one I’m about to provide, and came very close to living up to my expectations. The Ian Stone in question is a regular bloke with a regular life, which includes as highlights a cute blonde that he likes to flirt with or possibly date and a lot of oddly familiar stony-eyed people who spend their time staring at him. The problem is, the staring people eventually try to kill him. The bigger problem is, they succeed. And then he snaps out of a kind of doze at 5:02, in different surroundings, nay entirely different life circumstances. And it starts all over again, with a brand new set memories and the occasional leakage from some previous life that he has no evidence ever really happened. He’s got to find a way to break out of the cycle, because dying a lot is probably pretty unfun. Except, any time he starts to realize what’s going on, his mysterious stalkers are right there on hand to kill him all over again. And, of course, is there any way to be sure any of it is really happening at all?

Yay, spooky paranormal mystery to unravel! The only negative I have to report is that, like so many mysteries out there, the solution’s pursuit is far more entertaining than the solution itself. But it’s hard to hold that too heavily against them, when it’s the norm. Also, for any Dexter fans (and you should be), the girl who plays Lila is in this movie. I don’t guess I have a particular point to that statement other than to praise Dexter. But the actress is really hot, if that matters to you.