Tag Archives: romance

The Lost City (2022)

What if you wrote a romance novel about being a romance novelist whose life is devoid of romance, but then you crossed that with Romancing the Stone from the ’80s, which is more of an action comedy than a romance novel, but then you also noticed that hey if you’re crossing it with a movie anyway, you might as well make your novel a movie instead?

Also, maybe your inspiration for writing a novel about the thing you ended up making a movie about instead came from those Bones novels, so you should probably make your novelist an expert in the field of whatever will allow her to go out and do actiony treasure hunting a la the movie you decided to cross your romance novel with.

Also, you are just on board with everything Daniel Radcliffe has done since he got out of his Harry Potter contract.

In the unlikely event that you’ve done all of these things: congratulations! You’re going to get sued by the people who made The Lost City, for flagrant plagiarism. That sounds fun!

All of this said: I’m not coming down on it. It for sure has an aesthetic and knows exactly what it’s going for, and you might hate that thing, but if you do not, this is a pretty funny and moderately sweet example of said thing.

Sex Appeal (2022)

What if a teen sex comedy, but without anything explicit (other than the language)? Actually, it a) worked pretty well[1] and b) was surprisingly sweet. Sex Appeal tells the story of a STEM-focused high school valedictorian[2] who is unexpectedly confronted with a concept she’s never had to consider before. (It’s, uh, a partner who is interested in a physical relationship.) So, she decides to kill two birds with one stone by creating as her entry into an upcoming competition a phone app that coaches people into having great sex.

Unfortunately, she’s an emotionless robot, and the people around her who are tasked with experimenting to get everything just right aren’t[3]. It was funny, though probably not funny enough that I shouldn’t have watched something on Shudder instead. But I will say that at no point was it predictable, and that’s not nothing.

[1] The metaphors that replaced the sex scenes were the correct amount of over the top, for example. Perhaps not the “hilarious” that they were going for, but definitely lavishly overstated.
[2] The kind that only exist in movies, who are given the run of the school, can interrupt anything at any time with no consequences, can even ignore classes that they consider irrelevant and nevertheless the faculty all love them. Movies are weird, yo.
[3] Aren’t emotionless robots, not aren’t people. It’s not that kind of movie.

The Siren (2019)

Remember when Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was released as a book in America? You do not, of course, because some publisher decided we were collectively too stupid to understand the reference and/or to look it up, and gave us a made-up, dumbed down version instead.

The opening scenes of The Siren are text cards explaining how a rusalka is created. She is something something betrayed by a man maybe, drowns herself in grief for sure, and then haunts the waterways where she drowned, killing pretty much anyone she can get access to. You know, mostly if they go swimming.

You can see how this is pretty annoying.

Anyway, this mute guy goes on vacation at a lake house which is basically one room about the size of a firewatch tower, but the patio actually overhangs the lake, so, prime real estate I guess? He probably said why he was there, but I forget. (Or he didn’t, that would make sense in this context!) He makes two friends, one a beardy guy who shows him how to get the electricity running at his airbnb, the other a lady who is just always swimming. At his dock? Swimming. When he’s out on the lake for a canoe ride? Swimming. Teaching him how to swim? …well, that one makes sense I guess. On his patio for a lunch date? Foot trailing in the water. There’s maybe something fishy suspicious about the whole thing, if you read about rusalkas somewhere and/or are aware of the movie genre. You know?

Nevertheless, the chemistry is undeniable, and if he can learn how to swim plus she can learn how to not murder him, they may just be able to make a go of it! …well, and if the lakewide body count stops rising and nobody notices that she’s only ever swimming, never sunning or cooking in the kitchen of whatever lakehouse she lives in or sleeping there, just to name a few examples of other things people do when living near lakes.

Then again, that may all be too much to ask.

But getting back to my original point: there are like two characters with dialogue in the whole movie; the mute guy mostly gestures. And okay, under these circumstances, the “siren” does make a lot of the vocal noise in the movie, sure, but she never sings, she never lures anyone anywhere with her supernatural wiles. She just drowns people if she can get to them. The only crossover she has with being a siren is she’s in the water. …and hell, even the original sirens I think hung out on rocks, right?

Ugh. (But I liked the movie otherwise. It had a slow, dreamlike, haunting quality to it. And the rusalka’s nervousness about what to wear and how to impress her man were sweetly endearing, if you leave out how all her jewelry and clothing were stolen, mostly from the corpses of her victims.)

The Love Witch

Movies in the ’60s were weird. Because they had all these eye-popping colors, and would film people in sharp focus while driving and the background looked like completely different film stock, even though I think it was actually real instead of matted, and everyone’s performance was very earnest and serious, like the fate of the world depended on finding a new boyfriend or solving that mysterious murder or discussing whether feminism is worthwhile in the modern world. No naturalism to speak of in really any aspect of a ’60s movie, is I think my point.

The Love Witch was made just a handful of years ago, but you’d believe the filmstock was kept in an airtight container for the past 50+ years, if not for the occasional modern vehicle in street shots, because every other aspect is pitch perfect. Elaine, per her interior monologue, recently lost her husband and became a witch, and now she needs to find love again, which she plans to do by finding a man, giving him everything he could possibly want[1], and also a love potion she mixed up on top of that. That premise established, all that remains is to find out whether she actually knows what she wants, as well as how far she will go to get it. Plus a bunch of random burlesque dancing, naked coven ceremonies, creepy MRA-disguised-as-ultra-feminist warlocks, largely gratuitous tarot, and the most random, tiny renfaire you ever did see.

And a theme song that must be heard to be believed, “Love Is a Magikal Thing”.

[1] Free access to sex and sandwiches? I’m only barely clear on what else she had in mind, if anything.


I’ve made a huge mistake.

Honestly, that would probably be the right place to stop the review, but I just want to complain more, I so do[1]. Spoilers for Bullet, an Anita Blake novel from maybe 2010?, are a free-for-all from here on in. I will mostly be describing the first half of the book, mainly because the second half goes off the rails and becomes all but indescribable.

Scene one: Anita and her main squeezes (so, like, four of them?) head off to an art school dance recital, partly to reintroduce the characters but mostly so Anita can get a dose of guilt from a four year old and his catty mother about how much sex she has, and with how many people.

Scene two: one of the four dudes I mentioned earlier is in a snit because another one of the four dudes I mentioned has been refusing to bang him, since Anita might not like that. They decide to have a six-way (another dude, who has been on the outs with Anita but who is important to the local power structure, showed up to help) to prove to the pissy guy that he is loved.

Scene three: No, wait, they were all compelled to have the six-way by a dead vampire progenitor who it turns out isn’t dead and wanted to use the lust sex magic to take over Anita’s body and live again. But they noticed in time and stopped, hooray!

Scene four: Some werelion that is pissy Anita won’t pick him exclusively (instead of the two vampires, two wereleopards, and werewolf that made up 5/6 of scene two, not to mention the random other folk she does on the regular) shows up and has beaten some of his pride members nearly to death since he thought maybe she’d banged them too. She uses some of her sex magic to save them before they die, only a vampire who uses death magic has showed up remotely to make them eat each other instead, and in the process of using her sex magic against his death magic, we devolve into instant full on orgy, which nobody can remember when they wake up.

It is important to note that maybe 12 hours have passed so far.

Scene five: That one werelion is still pissy, and picks a fight that results in a lot of people getting hurt, and someone else dying (maybe one of those four people from the beginning?! oh noes), and Anita shoots him in the face so much that he cannot heal from it, what with his head being fully destroyed. Presumably it is this scene from which the title arises? I have no way of knowing.

Scene the second half of the book: Anita is numb from the horrors she has seen, which are apparently just scene five? I’m numb from the horrors I’ve seen too, which comprises maybe rather more of the book by volume. Anyway, the remainder of what happens, in no particular order, are that she exercises off her aggression / numbness[2], finds out about someone taking out an open assassination call on her and the main vampire and the werewolf, uses creepy necromancy powers to drain the lives of some volunteers to save someone else (which makes sense that she would gain a lot of power from that) and then uses inverse creepy necromancy powers to refill the lives of the people she had mostly drained (which makes her completely nonsensically filled up with even more power, instead of drained herself), finds out about a rotting vampire in Atlanta that has gone mad and started killing everyone, and bangs a lot of weretigers because that will be important to them having enough power later to defeat the progenitor vampire that was apparently supposed to be the plot of the book; only after 400 pages of various people negotiating poly relationships, the author realized the book was too large to get bogged down in plot resolution.

It is important to note that maybe 28 hours passed total, and certainly not more than 36. It is also important to note that I have aged five years from the life-draining powers of this book. I didn’t read the third Robin Hobb assassin book partly because Mary was behind (she’s very much not, anymore) and partly because I wasn’t sure I could take more misery.

Well, I am now looking forward to misery that the author intended to induce, since it will be a nice change of pace!

[1] I’ve complained about Ms. Hamilton’s authorial ticks at length, so I shan’t do so again, especially when there’s plenty else to worry about.
[2] Yes, both were a problem. Don’t look at me!

Passengers (2016)

It is functionally impossible to really talk about this movie without massive spoilers, because what the movie is actually about requires knowledge of character actions and motivations. This is… problematic, since spoilers suck. So, I’ll fill in the next paragraph with some kind of thumbnail thing, and put in a cut (that doesn’t work everywhere), and after that, you should probably have watched it first to go any further. Or, if you don’t care, that’s your lookout.

Passengers is, at the broadest level, the story of a colony ship headed outbound from Earth to new frontiers. At the next focus inward, it’s a story about hell and impossible choices. The next focus inward will have to go behind the cut.
Continue reading


41gFgp0FhpLThree years between Anita Blake books this time. Oops, I guess? I should read things I like next, clearly. Anyway, Flirt was quite a bit better than its predecessor, despite having an equally inexplicable cover. (For one thing, the title actually makes sense.) But the main reason for this is how short it is. Hamilton did not have enough time to throw in the authorial tics that have made me twitch so much, more than once or twice a piece; and the plot doesn’t have time to get buried up its own ass. There is a pointless chapter early on that exists solely to be a mislead about what’s actually going on once the mystery murdery part kicks into gear in the second half, but otherwise: no wasted space. I am impressed.

But it really is a book mostly premised on flirting, which is bad enough if you’ve read the rest of these. It’s also a book in which Anita must once again regretfully use her vampiric sex magic to make some other were-animal fall helplessly in love with her, thus further complicating her life (just as if the enslaved guy doesn’t have, y’know, bigger problems). Pretty much par for the course.

If the huge moral event horizon she crossed (unrelated to mental enslavement, no less!) were going to pay off in future books, I think I’d be more interested in what comes next? Nonetheless, this is still one of only two good books I can remember in this series since it made that original hard left turn into awfulness. I’d give you links here, but I don’t want to dig through my past reviews finding them, as it would only waste that much more of my life than I’ve already burned through.


Skin Trade

51nHng3hYnLSee, I even sort of have a couple of things to say about Skin Trade, but then I think to myself, I could not begin to guess what the title actually means[1]. It has no bearing on anything I read, none at all.

And then I think, fuck it, how can anyone else possibly still care anymore? Even the good ones are so terrible.

So. Terrible.

[1] Also, the saw blades on the cover? Equally random and meaningless. Perhaps title and cover are a metaphor for what lies within. There’s a kind of sadistic irony in the fact that it would be impossible to comprehend such a literally superficial metaphor without having read the book.


You know that movie where everything goes wrong in the worst possible way, and it’s a really funny movie, so you call its genre black comedy? What do you call the genre when that happens, but it’s not even slightly funny, a little bit? Because Bellflower, named for the street on which its events take place, may be one of the grimmest movies I’ve ever seen. (I rule this not a spoiler, even though it’s the kind of movie you should go in knowing as little as possible about, because of how the first minute or so of footage does nothing but show consequences that will be forthcoming.) On an eponymous street somewhere in what is probably the Valley part of Los Angeles, there are these two guys who are building a flamethrower (among other things) in order to be prepared for the inevitable post-apocalyptic future, in which they plan to wander the earth as, if you will, road warriors. And then they make friends with these girls, and then…. yeah, that’s about the point where I have to stop.

Don’t rule it out out of hand just because I said it was extremely grim. It is, don’t get me wrong, but you’ll be thinking about it (not its grimness, but the whole) for a long time after it’s over. Well, that’s not absolutely fair, most of my thoughts have been from a psychological angle, and if you don’t think those thoughts, I guess you possibly won’t be after all? Oh, I will say this one more thing, though: it is definitely not a date movie, regardless of how accurate my “romance” tag is.

Blood Noir

I’ve had a revelation. It may not be a new revelation, but I can only read books in this series so often without my brain turning to cottage cheese, so forgive me if I’ve lost track of the various ones over the years. No, see, my revelation is about the true irritant of this series. It’s that every now and again, if I can manage to scrape enough of the crap off the pages, there’s something like a decent storyline buried in there. I mean, yes, she’s been padding things with the hypersexed “relationship” plots for a long time now, and that squeezes out all but about usually 30 pages of story. But okay, that’s the book she’s writing, and if it wasn’t for the sheer gall of the packaging, I think I’d have gotten bored and moved on a long time ago. So I can accept that for what it is, it’s not the crap I’m referring to.

Let me explain. So, here’s Anita, and her good friend Jason is having a family crisis, and needs help, which is to say, a visit home with a girlfriend so everyone will stop calling him gay (which would not be as bad as all that, except he isn’t, so it’s annoying that nobody believes him). And she agrees to go, except they get caught up in (for once) human politics, and things quickly blow out of proportion, and all of that is before the vampires get involved. And sure, you could write a whole book about that, but our author cannot because she has to leave room for the porn scenes[1] and the random friend and/or stranger (but always at least one stranger, and always at least two people) that Anita will accidentally bind to herself metaphysically[2] in this particular book.

And my point is… well, it’s this. I’m not trying to say that the actual pornography and the implausibly repetitive growth of “power” and were-menagerie via sex don’t grate on my nerves. I’m not saying that the constant mentions of things tightening low in her stomach and what just does or doesn’t do it for this or that person don’t also grate after a while, but if I’m being honest with myself, all long-form authors eventually have turns of phrase that get old. I’m saying, reluctantly, that the kernel of mystery still remaining in most of these books would be enough to keep me going in the series; well, that combined with certain intangible benefits that I get from complaining about them, volume after volume. Except, well, the writing is getting objectively worse, by leaps and bounds. It’s not enough for people that she’s been friends with for a long time to have the same thought processes as she does. Well, no, that’s not true. As written, it’s easily bad enough.

“He looked like he was thinking about ponies. ‘I’m thinking about ponies!’ he suddenly declared inexplicably for no obvious reason besides the fact that all of us have exactly the same brains and the same voices, and I wanted to be sure you noticed that by showing how my thoughts and his words match up, for some reason even less explicably than the last thing that happened earlier in this sentence. And then we talked about how ponies make me angry (if Richard was the person who was talking earlier) or about how much common love we share for ponies (if anyone else was talking earlier) or about how I’m not sure sure that ponies should be involved in my sexual life, but they flat did it for him, so I would keep an open mind (if Nathaniel was talking earlier).”

But now it’s happening with perfect strangers, because writing more than one voice is really, really hard. Unless it says things in French sometimes, I guess. There was a literal, real, I’m not making this up even a little bit moment, wherein over a span of three pages, Anita makes a metaphorical leap about the situation feeling like the Twilight Zone, then a random new chick character makes a similar metaphorical leap about an unrelated situation feeling like the Twilight Zone. (Hold on, I’m nowhere near done yet.) Neither of these situations was in any way actually creepy or inexplicable or even subtly twisted, it was just the way people talk about things outside their experience. So these two different people make the connection to the Twilight Zone from two completely different experiences, and then, in the same three pages I mentioned earlier, Anita thinks to hrself about how she and this other chick are of diametrically opposed types that could never understand each other in any way.

Perhaps I’m being unfair. It could be that when the series ends, we’ll learn that she’s been captured via vampire magnetism for a dozen years or more and that all of these adventures are things her subconscious mind came up with while it had nothing better to do. That would justify almost every ridiculous thing that has happened, you know? Except Auggie the ancient master vampire that everyone has a ton of respect for and also they call him Auggie. Nothing will ever excuse that.

[1] No, seriously, at this point you could only film these books with a porn script, with the expectation that people would need to fast forward through maybe 15 minutes of plot to watch all of the sex in the maybe 70 or 80 minute movie. Seriously.
[2] And by “metaphysically bind to herself ” I mean have a non-puritanically excessive amount of sex with, which by fiat means they are tied together forever, and that is a twisty maze of passages through LKH’s psyche, all alike, if ever I saw such a maze.