Monthly Archives: January 2009


So, you know the story of Beowulf, right? He started killing monsters to make people think he was awesome, and eventually became the king, and he even killed a space dragon? Wait, I meant a regular dragon. That’s a weird typo! I… I may have shown my hand too quickly? In Outlander, see, there’s this guy from space, and he crash-lands because a couple of alien monsters screwed up his ship. And then he teams up with a bunch of vikings named Hrothgar and Wulfric and Boromir and Viking Kate Winslet and Erik, and they fight against the aliens and do things like be noble and dramatic and fall in love.

It’s a little hard to believe that this concept made it beyond the Sci-Fi channel’s weekend line-up, but the truth is, it’s more than good enough for that. As cheesy science fiction goes, it was pretty much top of the barrel. (I mean, it was still cheesy in a lot of ways, make no mistake!) It had a displacer beast! And an alien food bank! And a genocide sub-theme that ultimately seemed to come out in favor? Yeah, okay, I’m not too sure about that part either, but it was still a pretty awesome movie.

Taken (2008)

MV5BMTM4NzQ0OTYyOF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwMDkyNjQyMg@@._V1__SX1859_SY847_So, you know how in Europe, there are all these unscrupulous Albanians and Serbians and other Iron Curtainers running around kidnapping people, for the purpose of letting them be tortured to death or else sold into sexual slavery? Here’s a thing that I maintain would be a bad idea: being one of those people, and kidnapping Jedi Master Qui-Gon Jinn’s daughter. I mean, if he were allowed to be angry and have thoughts of revenge. So, Sith Master Qui-Gon Jinn, I guess is what I mean. Also, he and Jack Bauer probably hang out over beers, sometimes.

I predict this is enough information to tell you whether you’ll like Taken. In case you’re on the fence, don’t forget that Liam Neeson cannot help but lend pathos and gravitas to every role he plays. It drips off of him like sweat off some guy named Keith.

Ultimate Spider-Man: Cats and Kings

The problem is, it feels like all of my Ultimate Spider-Man reviews are basically the same. That is the only problem, though. I’m pretty sure that if there were forty years’ worth of this series to read, I wouldn’t read anything else for a long, long time. As it is, I hold myself in check, so that I won’t run out for a while. (See also: the Dresden Files)

So, in Cats and Kings, Aunt May continues to be the best (rather than worst) supporting character in comics, J. Jonah Jameson[1] shows sudden depth of character, Mary Jane reveals new troubles that, in retrospect, have been there all along, and… oh, right! There’s also some crime-fighting! Including the return of Spidey’s first foe, the Kingpin, the reveal of a single-dimensional Elektra that has nothing much to do with the one I’ve reviewed lately[2], and new-to-me character Black Cat, who… okay, despite an apparent cribbing of a DC character you may or may not be familiar with, seems like she might be the best crossover between Peter’s life and Spider-Man’s since the Osborn family. It remains to be seen, though!

As usual, none of this comes close to capturing the essential funness of the series. Every volume is like reading the first day of sunlight in the spring in Seattle, or reading your kid’s first steps, or reading the first time you ever had sex with Scarlett Johansson.[3]

[1] He runs the newspaper, the Daily Bugle, where Peter Parker works. But you knew that?
[2] Which is pretty much a good thing. The Ultimate Daredevil and Elektra in their own books have no good way to cross-over with the rest of the Ultimate universe, unlike most of the rest of what I’ve read.
[3] Too much hype?

Walled In

One of the few things that’s pretty cool about the Studio Movie Grill as a chain is that they get quite a few sneak preview movies, and it’s usually pretty easy to get into them. Sure, it’s not like the Alamo Drafthouse, where I can watch crazy old movies from the ’60s and ’70s that are all but impossible to find except in people’s personal film collections, but which get loaned out on occasion. But the SMG previews have never been a bad time; I mean, look at Tropic Thunder!

Except, here’s the thing about Walled In: It kind of is a crazy old movie from the ’70s. In several subtle ways, it reminded me of the Italian horror field from that time. I mean, nothing that actually happened, but the mood of the thing, and the inability to pull a coherent plot thread from one end of the movie to the other. Which, other than the pleasant nostalgia, was kind of a problem; don’t get me wrong. See, there’s this architect/construction chick who has been tapped to plan the demolition of a seriously awesome condo/apartment building, in the middle of a swamp by itself, that was designed by a very famous architect who has never lost a building to earthquakes, hurricanes, fires, or whatever. And this was his last building: while he lived there, some other dude went crazy and buried a bunch of his murder victims in the walls, including our famous architect. And now there are only four people still living in the building, which I forgot to mention has some spiritual similarity to the building in Ghostbusters, in that you can tell just by looking that it was probably laid out in such a way as to summon Gozer the Gozerian, when the time is ripe. Or something just like that.

And then things get weird and inexplicable, in the way that Italian horror movies do. I can’t exactly recommend it, or even describe it as good. But it did evoke its mood just perfectly, and I believe there are a few people out in the world, maybe even dozens, who know exactly what I mean and would be thrilled to see this, once. Maybe twice, if it was with someone else who would also know, but missed it the first time.

As a final note, this was shipped to the theater on DVD instead of film. You could tell because of the DVD notification right before it started, plus the occasional “Property of Anchor Bay” that flashed across the bottom of the screen at sporadic intervals. I cannot help but think that this was an unintentional prophecy about the flick’s eventual release. Any takers?

Kushiel’s Mercy

51f-tlefrqLIt’s those books where alternate-history Renaissance France is full of beautiful people who have the very best sex in all of alternate-history Europe, while traveling the world in search of adventures and things! At its best, Carey’s Terre d’Ange series takes the Eddingsian exploratory motif and tosses it with liberally applied political intrigue and a dash of romance, to the general good. (Plus, some light and occasionally not-so-light bondage wanders across the page. Y’know.) At its worst, you have Kushiel’s Mercy, which is really not that bad of a worst, if I didn’t have five other books to compare it to.

The political and (increasingly more frequent) magical plots are pretty great; unfortunately, the less spoiled about them, the better[1], so I can’t really elaborate. But where I would normally expect to see yet more exploration of alternate Europe and environs, most of first-person narrator Imriel’s focus is on the survival of his relationship with Princess Sidonie. Which is really just too many reflections about how dire things are and how certain he is to overcome them nevertheless, especially when you consider that he’s still traveling to three new locations over the course of the book. On a more subjective note, I had a problem with a mid-book twist in which the consistent first-person narration was broken via the introduction of a new-to-the-series character. Upon reflection, I should ought to be glad to have let Imriel’s focus take a rest, but it was just too jarring of a shift.

In the end, it’s as I said before. I was looking for a fantasy travelogue with a little romance, and I got a romance novel with a bit of travel thrown in. It was still a good book, just not quite as good as what I wanted. Mostly, it has made me want to pick up one of my unread Dave Duncan serieses.

[1] But check this out: the jacket didn’t spoil it either, which is awesome both for itself and for the unusualness of the event.

My Bloody Valentine (2009)

MV5BMTkzMDk4MDU0NF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwODM5MjUxMg@@._V1__SX1859_SY893_You know, I learned something about myself while watching the remake of My Bloody Valentine, presented in 3D and starring that one guy from Supernatural. (No, the other one.) Anyhow, what I learned is that if you create a movie in which a pickaxe goes through someone’s skull and his eyeball shoots halfway into the theater instead of just sitting flatly on the screen, that is pretty much everything I need that movie to do. If it chooses to also include a naked lady running around in anger and/or terror for a solid five minutes of screen time, well, that just goes to show that they understand what 3D is for.[1][2]

Now, would it be nice if they had also included solid dialogue, decent acting from anyone outside of the two male leads, and sufficient direction to get the actually good acting I’ve seen both of them perform in the past? Would it be nice if they had included a little bit more murder variation than the ubiquitous “pierced by pickaxe”? Obviously, yes; but I want to point out, again: eyeball halfway out into the audience. That is some awesome shit. Plus, y’know, completely gratuitous midget. I wonder if there is any full-on midgetsploitation in the horror genre? That could be worth seeing.

[1] That said, 3D porn I think might be a little scary.
[2] I will be the first to admit that I completely lose at feminism when it comes to horror movies. That part of my brain was hardwired long before I realized that there was even a question about gender equality, much less the second or three later when I came down on the side of yes, let’s do that equality thing. So, when I see a naked lady holding a gun on a scuzzy truck driver, or running away from a maniacal pickaxe killer, even though these things are objectively horribly exploitative and would basically never happen to a dude in a horror movie, I don’t care, because that’s what horror movies are, and while I’m probably wrong, I love them for it. I point this all out not so much in my own defense[3] as to give context to the end of the scene, when the naked lady is under an old, crappy motel bed, and the mattress is ripped off, leaving her to fend off the pickaxe killer with only a rusted mattress frame that basically made it look like she was naked and terrified in a chicken-wire cage.[4] It turns out that this is where I draw the line between “Awesome, horror movie nudity!” and “Dude, that’s kind of creepy and uncool.” Now you know!
[3] Because, it’s a really terrible defense. “No, your honor, it’s not that I’m okay with killing people. It’s just, in the context of me not liking this particular person, he pretty much had to be killed by me. Oh? Still guilty? Huh.”
[4] Which is the problem with the movie in a nutshell. It couldn’t decide whether to be campy, or a creepy torture-fetish thing, or psychological, or a mystery, or what. You can turn any of those into a pretty awesome horror movie, but you cannot turn all four of them at once into one. You’d be hard-pressed to pick two and succeed.[5]
[5] And now I’m including actual review material in the footnotes? That’s not cool.

Left 4 Dead

These past several Mondays, my regular game of Halo 3 has rapidly and with a feeling of potential permanency changed to a new game. Left 4 Dead is close to unique in my experience in that it has almost no single-player component, no particular plot beyond the thumbnail sketch of world destroyed by zombiepocalypse with which we are all so familiar, no character growth to speak of. It is a pure game experience, divorced entirely from any other considerations. I mention this primarily to explain why you’re getting this review instead of a variety of other games I have played for considerably more hours but not yet completed. Halo 3, for example!

The inevitable big question, therefore, is how does the gameplay work out? I haven’t played by myself, but I’ve played a few other ways: two-player split-screen, two-player online, four-player online, and up to four-versus-four player as well, in all four game maps. So I’ve pretty much hit the whole thing by now. In case you don’t know what a zombiepocalypse is… you know what, nevermind. I think you’re just not allowed to read this anymore. Because, come on! Anyhow, there are these four single-dimensional survivor characters about whom you can tell basically everything just by looking at them, and they are surrounded on all sides both by hordes of zombies and by specialized über-zombies that grow to incredible strength, have entangling frog-tongues, pouncing cat leaps, or blinding toxic sludge. And the goal is to either cross the dead, destroyed city (or whatever) to unexpected safety, or, on the other side of the aisle, to devour all flesh.

Hey, look! I haven’t really said how the gameplay works out! It is frenetic, fast-paced terror as the survivors. Everywhere you turn, there could be a zombie with nothing to lose, whose only goal is to hurt you a little bit more, in the knowledge that you’ll be dead eventually. You’ve got limited weapons and ammo, limited ability to heal yourself, and essentially unlimited enemies. And as the zombies, it’s a strategic game of cat and mouse, in which you have nigh unlimited ability to find the survivors, and if you’re doing it right, herd them into cooperative traps with your über-zombie cohorts. You always come back, the only penalty for death being a period when you can’t keep attacking. On the downside, you’re pretty easy to kill and it’s hard to attack people who can shoot you from across the parking lot, well outside your range.

I guess it’s like this. Remember when Roddenberry introduced the holodeck in Star Trek, and any time the writers got tired of aliens, they’d have the opportunity to do a historical simulation of some kind, inevitably from the ever-popular twentieth century? The way I see the game is like this: thanks in part to the brilliantly conceived XBox Live network’s capability for connecting you with friends and letting you easily communicate with them however you want to, but mostly due to the beauty of the game itself, I see Left 4 Dead as pretty much the last necessary link for zombiepocalypse experience other than the invention of the holodeck.[1] It might actually be the perfect video game experience.

[1] Which really won’t ever happen, since the event itself will hit long before our technology is ready for a holodeck version.

Perkins’ 14

The last Horrorfest review has been delayed, by virtue of the fact that I am a lazy bastard and finally didn’t have a big stack of behind staring at me. A little behind, that’s okay! Um. To be clear, I am referring to my having a backlog of reviews to write, not to Baby and the positive and negative aspects of her back-capacity. Of course, now I’m all distracted by the Jonathon Coulton music in my head.

So, anyway, I saw the last movie, right? Right. Perkins’ 14 has barely a shell of a plot, if you look at it very closely. There’s this guy who kidnapped a bunch of kids ten years ago, for, you know, some reason (which may or may not have been made clear), and now they’re all back to destroy the town they were stolen from, which they do mostly by running around, grabbing people, and eating them. But I’m pretty sure they weren’t zombies. The inexplicably dark and/or flickering sets make it difficult to be sure, of course. And there’s a cop with a dark history related to it all who’s trying to atone for a crime nobody but he believes he committed. A metaphorical crime, you understand. At least, now that I’ve told you. Because, honestly, that would’ve been unclear, right?

But it’s the mood and the philosophical underpinnings that make it work. I read the Thomas Covenant books sometime during early high school at the latest, I think, and almost nothing has stuck with me, except that one book in the second trilogy was too depressing to read, white gold is cooler than yellow gold, and of course the infamous and somewhat inexplicable rape scene right at the start. But what did stick with me was a line from early in… well, one of the books, probably the start of the second trilogy. It explained that there’s only one thing you can do to hurt the man who has already lost everything. You give him something back, but broken. So, one of the things I liked about the movie was that it was entirely based on that premise. It may have actually not had anything but that, so if you don’t find that this resonates with you, the rest of the movie probably won’t work.

Also, though, it kept reminding me of playing Resident Evil 2, and that’s always cool. ‘Cause, you know, chased into and through a weirdly laid out and defectively lighted police station, by things that want to bite you and kill you. So.

Du saram-yida

MV5BMTM0NDU2NzgwMF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwMjQxNjQyMw@@._V1__SX1859_SY847_I could look really cool right now, if I had mentioned in a review what I thought at one point over the course of the weekend, that it was odd how in the past 16 Horrorfest movies last year and this year, there have been no more Japanese horror entries since Reincarnation the first year. Then, to my surprise, Voices was populated with Asian people speaking in subtitles! They turned out to be from South Korea, though. And more importantly, it turns out that Korean horror has no particular relation to Japanese horror, which is probably pretty reasonable of an outcome, when you think about it. But during the first moments, I felt unrecognizedly prophetic.

So the deal is, members of a certain family believe they are under a curse, because they keep killing each other for no particular reason. The deaths are scarier than what I’m used to seeing because they’re very matter-of-fact. No dramatic build-up, no terrorized flights through darkened woods, because the people killing you are people you have no reason to distrust, people who have no motive, no beef against you. They just suddenly strike. So, anyway, this is happening, and it’s confusing and motiveless, and maybe there’s a curse, but maybe not, and maybe there’s a surprisingly Western-feeling trickster spirit involved, which I mention not to accidentally spoil things so much as because I’m interested in either the connection between the trickster characters I know about and Korean ones, or else in the parallel but unrelated development of the archetype in vastly divergent cultures. (In particular, I note that Chinese trickster characters I’m aware of are usually beneficial or somewhat heroic, as opposed to the Western ones and apparently Korean ones.)

Interesting movie, in any event, but more for the underpinnings than as a scary movie in its own right. As a scary movie, it was basically fine, in keepng with the expectations I have for Asian horror movies. They are either brilliant, or else acceptable. I suppose I may never see bad ones because of the exportation filter, but for now, my knowledge indicates they are much better craftsmen than we are. Good for y’all, Asia!

Slaughter (2009)

I know what I just said about Autopsy being my favorite. As a pure horror movie, yeah, it was. But I think Slaughter was the best movie I’ve seen so far this weekend. And I’m pretty sure it’s too complexly layered for me to explain why. Although the fact of it is a pretty good indicator, I guess? Without going into the spoiler-laden detail, it tells the story of a troubled girl trying to escape from her abusive past who befriends a younger and possibly more troubled girl who seems to be following the classic Dr. Drew scenario of looking to older men for the approval that her father never gave her. Which would be more Lifetime than Wolf Creek[1], except for the fact that her father seems to be paying rather more attention now! I mean, there’s no proof that he’s killing the men she brings home and feeding them to his pigs. But… well, let’s be honest, I saw this movie at Horrorfest. It’s a good bet he is, all other data being equal. I think that might be what was happening even if there weren’t any pigs, or in fact an isolated, picturesque and yet creepy farm to feed them on. That’s just the way we roll, y’know?

[1] A) I really can’t stop referencing that movie. I guess it made quite an impact! B) The description I read reminded me of Wolf Creek more than the actual experience of Slaughter did, but there’s still some good parallels to be drawn.