Thursday, August 27, 2015

True Blood episode recap S6E2 "The Sun"

As Sookie sleeps, a portal opens in the middle of a bridge in Bon Temps: a snarling, bearded vampire pulls himself through.  I'm guessing this is good ol' Warlow.

Just before the driverless car with a hollering Jason in it actually hits the tree, Rutger Hauer stops it with some kind of telekenesis or something.  Jason jumps out, waving his anti-vamp gun around, shouting for Rutger Hauer "to prepare to meet your fucking maker, Warlow!"  Rutger Hauer sneers: I'm not Warlow, I'm your fucking faerie grandfather.  Jason: Oh.  Grandpa is not impressed with Jason's lack of readiness for the fight ahead.  They get back in the car and continue to Bon Temps.

At Fangtasia, the cops are gone but Tara is laid out on the bar, screaming.  She isn't able to heal and the bullet inside her is glowing.  Eric and Nora show up and assess the situation.  Eric smashes a beer bottle and digs the bullet out of Tara's side.  She immediately stops screaming.  They all stare at the bullet: it's a silver bullet with some sort of UV light inside it.  The vampires realize that holy shit, the humans are starting to fight back with nasty anti-vamp weapons.  Pam and Nora immediately start screaming at each other - WTF do they do now with the humans coming after then AND Bill being who knows WFT - until Eric roars at them.  If the humans want war, they'll get war, but in the meantime, they have to figure out how to deal with Bill.

Bill, meanwhile, has woken Jessica up with his own screaming.  He says he can feel all the vampires suffering everywhere, being tortured and killed by humans, and he can't do anything to help any of them.  He lapses into a fugue state as Jessica shakes and wails at him.  In his head, he's in a sunshiny meadow, talking with Lilith.  She tells him that "events have been set in motion," whatever the hell that means.  "A tyrant is rising.  It is the beginning of the end.  You must complete my work."  Jessica, desperate to wake Bill up, has ordered a girl/hooker from Human Edibles (you know, $50 for a bite to the wrist, etc.).  The woman freaks out a bit since Bill is so weird and she starts to leave, but then some force compels her back into the room, crunching and snapping her bones.  And then Bill sucks her dry, pulling all her blood out of her body as she shrivels up like a raisin.  Jessica, horrified, cowers in the corner, wailing.

In the morning, Sookie is awoken when Arlene calls her to holler at her to get her little ass in to work because Merlotte's is hopping.  (And at Merlotte's, in a storyline that absolutely NOBODY cares about, Patrick's pregnant wife has showed up, looking for him.  Terry freezes up, unable to lie to her, so Arlene steps in, saying that Patrick ran out on her and won't be coming back.  She's very sweet to the wife.  WHO CARES?)  As Sookie walks to work, she hears moaning and groaning in the underbrush.  After telling herself not to get involved, she gets involved, finding a wounded guy lying in a ditch after a vampire attack.  The guy is like her, a half faerie.  Sookie takes him back to her house and patches him up.  (I don't trust this guy.  Do you suppose he is Warlow in disguise?  Is that possible? Plus he should button a couple more buttons on his shirt.  He's got nice dimples, though.)  His name is Ben [warning sign!  Like Ben/Glory! BtVS reference, btw.]  Ben thanks her for her help and she tells him that if he's looking for a place to recuperate, there's that faerie haven/club in that field.

Back at Merlotte's, a bunch of non-local young folks has shown up looking for Sam.  They are a group looking to "start a dialogue among humans, vampires and other supernatural beings."  They want Sam to come out as a shifter and tells his story to the world.  The co-founder, Nicole, talks very earnestly to Sam, trying to convince him to join their movement.  Sam is all emphatically NO.  "You seem like a nice person but you don't know fuck-all about my life."  (Emma is having a fabulous, pink-spangly tea party with Lafayette over in Sam's trailer and GOD do I wish we could be following THAT storyline instead.)

Jason and Grandpa Rutger Hauer get back to the Stackhouse house.  GRH asks where it was that Warlow tried to come through before.  Jason takes him up to the upstairs bathroom and GRH throws himself through the portal, disappearing for a few moments until he comes flying back out, soaking wet.  What happened, asks Jason.  GRH doesn't really answer, just saying that it's worse than he feared.

Eric is keeping himself busy, skulking in the shadows outside the Governor's mansion.  When a nerdy dude hurriedly walks up, late for his appointment, Eric pounces on the guy, hilariously appropriating his clothes, glasses, briefcase and demeanor.  He is shown in to the Governor, ostensibly to talk about the Fish and Wildlife Department's whooping crane proposal.  But the Governor just wants to talk about vampires.  Eric plays along for a little while, then takes off his glasses, leaning in, turning on his glamouring and makes his demands (basically rescinding all the orders from the day before).  The Governor stares at him dazedly, then shouts, "Guards!"  Eric is shocked as the guards surround him.  The Governor, however, is positively giddy.  He's got contact lenses that counteract the glamouring effects, plus all the fancy new bullets that fry vamps from the inside out.  It's open season on vampires in Louisiana!  He shoos the guards out, telling them to take Eric to "camp."

Sookie gets back to her house (did she ever go into Merlotte's?), finding Jason and GRH (actual name: Niall).  Over a family dinner of spaghetti and beer, Jason and Niall bring her up to speed, including the fact that Warlow is now here in Bon Temps.  Jason wants to get with the hunting but Niall has to do a lot of talking first.  For instance, he is the King of the Faeries, which makes Sookie a faerie princess (Jason: I'm a faerie prince!  Niall: The genes skipped you.).  Warlow has been after Niall's family for centuries, killing many of them.  Claudine managed to blast him into a "dark realm" for a while but he's found his way back.  However, the bloodline has the ability to formulate their light/power into one supernova ball that will kill any vampire, including Warlow; Sookie will only be able to manifest this supercharged power once, and after discharging it, she will be a faerie no longer.  Her power has been on the fritz for a while, though, so Grandpa Niall tells her to start practicing.

As the guards take Eric out to the transport van, they mistakenly stand back from him, thinking that because their guns are pointed at him, he's trapped.  He gives a little shrug and flies away.  Guard: Vampires can fly?  Some time later, the Governor's twenty-something daughter is getting ready for bed, taking her anti-glamour contact lenses out.  Suddenly, Eric appears at her window, floating in midair.  He suggests that she invite him in.  Of course, she says, please come in.

After work, Sam brings Lafayette some dinner.  He asks Sam what kind of trouble he is in - but before they can get into it, they hear a car outside.  It's Martha, Alcide and that other werewolf bitch.  They want to take Emma back with them to protect her, especially since Luna shifted on national television.  Sam points out that the last time they "took care" of Emma, Russell Edgington (I miss him) got hold of her and put her in a cage.  Since Luna gave her life to save her daughter, Sam isn't about to hand the girl over to the werewolves, even if she is one of them.  Voices get raised and Lafayette comes out to see what's going on.  (Out in the bushes, Nicole and her ridiculous friends are watching, fascinated by the interplay.)  Emma wakes up and comes out and Martha grabs her; Alcide puts a beat-down on Sam; the were-bitch puts a beat-down on Lafayette.

Back at Bill's house, sad Jessica tries again to get Bill to snap out of it.  Are you Lilith? she asks, are you God?  She drops to her knees and begins to pray, asking God/Bill to protect Jason and Sookie and Eric and Pam and Tara (and in the voiceover we get to see all these people, dealing with everything they're dealing with right now) and Sam and Lafayette and Hoyt.  And bless Bill too, and bring him back.  "I need him.  We all need him."  Bill is still in his own head, talking to Lilith who tells him that he is needed to save all the vampires.  He wants to know how but she won't say, just telling him to trust what he sees.  She disappears and Bill wakes up.  Jessica runs to him and they watch in horror as the television announces that the Governor has decreed that vampires have no rights in the state of Louisiana.  And then he has a premonition of all our favorite vampires, trapped in a cell and exposed to sunlight until they burn.  Save them all, Bill!

Previously on True Blood / next time on True Blood

Monday, August 24, 2015

True Blood episode recap S6E1 "Who Are You, Really?"

Oh god.  I can't put this off any longer. Here goes nothing.  Wish me luck. 

Resuming exactly from the S5 finale, up where we left off,  Sookie and Eric watch in horror as the previously liquefied Bill re-coagulates.  Everyone runs like hell to get out of the Authority HQ as a feral Bill tears the place apart.  They jump in the SUV and drive away as the warehouse above the HQ explodes - and then out of the fire levitates a bloody, terrifying Bill.  "Get the fuck out of here!" shrieks Pam.  Also, in nobody-cares-much news, above ground but separate from everyone else, the mortally wounded (from skinwalking too much) Luna dies after making Sam promise to take care of Emma.

As the gang drives off, an emergency press conference from the Governor's office comes over the radio: he has sworn to protect the people of Louisiana, not the vampires.  Two hundred forty-six human Louisianans have been killed since the Tru Blood shortage so (1) a vampire curfew has been put into place (not allowed in public after dark), (2) vampire businesses are now closed/seized and (3) people have a right to defend themselves so basically violence against vampires is okay.  They all start squabbling among themselves and have to stop the car - Pam sniping at a bossy Nora and being pissed at Eric for not telling her about his sister, Jason getting all pumped about killing vampires, Jessica freaking out about what happened to Bill, Tara thinking Eric is an asshole for being mean to Pam - blah blah blah.  They are at the [nighttime] shore and the best part is Pam bitching about how much she hates the beach: fish piss and sand in your cootch.  One interesting thing (and I use "interesting" sarcastically) is that Nora knows about Warlow and wants to know what Jason knows about him.  Eric: Who's Warlow?  Nora glamours Jason a bit to find out what he knows; afterwards, he freaks out about the glamouring, starts waving his gun around and then runs off.

Then, poor Jessica convulses: Bill is compelling her, as his progeny, to come to him.  Eric tries to restrain her and she screams, vomiting blood, her chest swelling and bruising.  As soon he lets her go, the screaming and vomiting stops.  Pam and Tara head back to Fangtasia on Eric's orders; Eric and Nora go somewhere else.  I wasn't paying attention.

Pointless werewolfery:  Alcide must ingest the flesh of the former packmaster in order to cement his role as new packmaster, so he - in human form - takes a bite out of the dismembered JD's forearm.  Classy.  Pointless Bellefleur-ery:  Over at the Bellefleur family plantation, Arlene and Terry are running ragged trying to take care of Andy's four half-faerie babies.  He's freaking out a bit because he doesn't know what to do.  She calms down, calms him down, and takes him inside to learn how to change a diaper.

Sam (still covered in bits of Roslyn - eew) carries an exhausted Emma into his restaurant, where he finds Lafayette toting a shotgun and drinking Sam's good tequila.  Emma wakes up, sad and hungry.  Lafayette: "Hey shorty-pop.  You want somethin' deep fried, dipped in sugar and deep fried all over again?"  She does (I do too!) and he takes her back into the kitchen.  Sam pleads with him not to tell anyone that they're here.  Lafayette pats him on the shoulder, saying "Wrong place at the wrong time oughta be my middle fuckin' name."  Their secret is safe with him.

A tired Jason is staggering down some rural road somewhere when an ancient station wagon stops and picks him up.  A scary sort of old guy is driving (Rutger Hauer, who is usually scary, amirite?). When Jason says he's going to Bon Temps, Rutger Hauer says that he used to have family there, but they're likely all dead now.

Sookie and Jessica get back to Bill and Jessica's house.  They go upstairs, following the bloody footprints as Jessica whispers, "He's here."  He is sitting out on the veranda, clean and clothed and seemingly normal.  "I just want to talk," he says.  As he stands up, Nora and Eric fly in.  Without even blinking, Bill throws Nora off into the side of the house.  He and Eric grapple, fangs out, and Bill is about to do some serious harm to the Viking when Sookie runs up and stakes Bill from behind (not a euphemism).  She gets him right through the heart ... but instead of collapsing into a pile of true death blood and goo, Bill simply staggers a bit and pulls the stake out of his chest.  He looks around at everyone.  "Now can we talk?"  Bill speechifies, saying that he is not a monster, he is not here to do them harm unless they try to attack him again.  He says that he is himself, but more than he was.  "I see everything now."  Sookie's like, dude, I felt you die so I don't for a minute believe you are Bill Compton.  She tells him to GFTO of Bon Temps but Jessica steps in, saying that she and Bill are staying right here and the rest of them should leave.  The house starts to shake and Sookie, Eric and Nora run for it.

Somewhere else (Shreveport? wherever), the Governor has invited some Tru Blood executives to a currently-defunct bottling plant that the state had seized to hear his proposal: they are free to utilize the plant to get their business up and running again.  The executives want to know what's in it for him.  He says he just wants to feed the vampires, get them to stop killing humans and get back to being law-abiding, tax-paying citizens.  "The state needs revenue.  I need revenue if I want to get re-elected."  Somehow I don't believe him.

Out in the woods, the wolves are running.  Alcide transforms back to his naked human form - for the female audience's gratification - and then he and Ricki (his wolf girl friend) and another she-wolf have a three-way.  Ricki: "I'm your #1 bitch.  Don't ever forget that."  Whatever.

Back at Fangtasia:  Tara is pushing Pam to get over Eric, especially since he released her.  They argue a bit until the police show up to enforce the Governor's new executive order to close the club down.  Tara stands up to them and they shoot her with something that makes her scream and scream.
Eric walks Sookie back to her house, saying that he's got money and he can give her enough that she can go wherever she wants.  She's like, I'm not going anywhere.  He asks her for a pen and paper and - in his own blood - signs her house back over to her (I totally forgot that he had bought it).  She thanks him and then, without skipping a beat, she rescinds his invitation to her house.  As the door closes in his face, Nora is waiting for him on the porch.  She is interested to learn that Sookie may be his weakness (and she's also interested in Sookie because  of the Warlow connection).

At the Bellefleurs', there is the pitter-patter of little feet in the night.  Andy opens his eyes to find four toddlers staring happily at him.  "Hi, daddy!" they shriek with delight.  He and Arlene and Terry shriek too - but it's because those faerie children have aged four years in a single evening.

Bill brings Jessica a glass of Tru Blood.  She is still sad and scared and wondering WTF her sire has become.  She tells him that he almost tore her apart when he summoned her, that he was a fuckin' monster when he reanimated back at the Authority.  He pleads with her that he doesn't know what he is but he needs her help to learn what sort of powers he has now, to keep him honest and grounded.  She says he won't like it when she tells him the truth but he hugs her, saying that he will need to hear it.

Jason, being Jason, has completely spilled his guts to Rutger Hauer: Sookie's "mental problems" and consorting with vampires, his seeing his dead, racist parents, etc.  He's all, maybe I'm crazy too but I need to stick around to protect my sister from Warlow.  Rutger Hauer laughs, saying that there's nothing he can do to protect Sookie.  Jason: "How do you know my sister's name?"  Rutger Hauer: "Just who do you think I am, Jason?"  Jason assumes he's Warlow and shoots at him but Rutger Hauer teleports out of the moving car, which promptly crashes into a tree.

After Jessica has gone to bed, Bill is visited by four naked, blood-covered, merkin-wearing non-Liliths.  He's all, who are you?  They hush him and then rush into him, making him gasp with pain.

Previously on True Blood / next time on True Blood

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Strange and unReal, really

In this installment of not-a-True-Blood-recap, I can at least report that I have watch the first two episodes of S6.  And they're pretty much as terrible as expected.  The first episode, in particular, is a mess; the second is a little better.  There are still way too many characters (seriously, are Alcide and his merry band of redneck werewolves even connected to the rest of the characters at all?) but it appears that there may be some focus coming in this season's major storyline - vamps vs. humans - but DEAR GOD do I not care about the faeries.

I have been catching on on S3 of Orange is the New Black (wherein so far Alex is the Alcide of the prison in that her character is so isolated from what is going on with the rest of them that I just don't care).  I've also plowed through unReal and enjoyed it immensely.  Yes, I love a scripted show on Lifetime.  Judging from the online buzz, unReal is the summer's sleeper breakout show, something that no one expected.  It follows the production of a The Bachelor-type show, called "Everlasting," and the main characters are the producer and executive producer of the show.  They can't even be labeled anti-heroes because both of them are horrible, manipulative bitches (the show's words, not mine).  Rachel, the producer (Shiri Appleby - fantastic), is pretty damaged, with some depression and sociopathic issues; she is extremely good at her job - manipulating the show's contestants to get good t.v. - but at least she feels a little bad about it sometimes.  Her boss, Quinn, Everlasting's EP, is scarcely likable as she too manipulates everyone around her, including Rachel.  I rather wish they had gone a little deeper into the show-within-the-show (for instance, it's not really clear why most of the female contestants were even willing to sign up for such a degrading reality show in the first place).  But unReal is super-fun for the most part, even as it goes terribly dark.

The other thing I've been doing is reading Susanna Clarke's Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell.  I had tried watching the BBC's miniseries adaptation earlier this summer but kept falling asleep, so I decided to go right to the source and read it instead.  It won all sorts of awards when it came out - winner of the Hugo Award and World Fantasy Award, NYT Notable Book of the Year, Best of 2004 lists for Salon, Washington Post, San Francisco Chronicle, Chicago Tribune, etc. - and the pull quote on the cover is from Neil Gaiman: "Unquestionably, the finest English novel of the fantastic written in the last seventy years."  DAMN.  It is also a monster of a book, the paperback clocking in at 1,006 pages.  It follows two English magicians, the titular Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, as they each attempt, in their very different ways, to bring magic back to England from whence it has largely disappeared.  There are capricious faeries, enchanted ballrooms, tattooed beggars, Jane Austen-ish manners, the Napoleanic War, missing persons and pernicious plans to replace the King of England.  JS&MN starts off fairly slowly, then manages to suck you in so much that when the book finally ends, a thousand pages later, it seems abrupt.  I could have read more.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Going to camp, reading a book

I am inching closer to the True Blood recaps, I promise.  In the meantime, I just couldn't help myself and have fully embraced Wet Hot American Summer.  (I know I should be catching up with Hannibal but WHAS is so much funner.)  When I thought about it, I couldn't recall actually watching the whole of the original movie so I started with that.  Which I loved.  So much fun to see all these now-familiar people, many of whom were just getting going in 2001 when the movie came out:  Amy Poehler, Bradley Cooper, Michael Ian Black, Janeane Garofalo, David Hyde Pierce, Paul Rudd, Christopher Meloni, Molly Shannon, Ken Marino, Elizabeth Banks, Judah Friedlander.  And then to see the new Netflix series, Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp!  For those not in on the joke, the 2001 movie was set in 1981 about the last day of a Waterville, Maine, summer camp.  The new series, just now out in 2015, set in 1981 about the first day of that summer camp.  Same cast, fourteen years older, playing the same characters.  It was funny when they were all in their early thirties and playing teenagers ... now that they're in their mid-40s?  Awesome.  I do think that Paul Rudd may have sold his soul, however: he does not seem to have aged a day (from 32 in 2001 to 46 now).  I've only just seen the first episode but I so approve.

In media I have to read as opposed to watch, I recently finished David Mitchell's The Bone Clocks.  Mitchell is the same guy who wrote Cloud Atlas, which I haven't read but which is apparently similarly constructed to TBC which all these disparate characters and storylines that are somehow connected.  In a nutshell:  a teenage runaway is connected to psychic phenonmena that follow her throughout her lifetime, drawing in many peripheral people in her life and involving her in a supernatural conspiracy that spans generations across the globe.  I really do prefer linear plots and when I got to the fourth section of TBC I was starting to get annoyed - just when each story got going, it ended and another one started.  Thankfully, Mitchell does tie it all together at the end but I did find the novel frustrating.  I wanted to finish out the characters' stories rather than cutting short and skipping way ahead to the end.  I did like the very last section quite a lot, however, as it was a sobering look at a possible future for our planet as we humans continue to devour resources without thought for the consequences.  The Bone Clocks was ultimately, for me, a frustrating but intriguing read.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Running Drinking with the bulls

Mr. Mouse and I don't watch a lot of the same stuff.  We have agreed upon Breaking Bad, Deadwood, Justified and Cougar Town, but he would rather have a tooth pulled than watch the genre stuff that I love, and just last week I was horrified to catch him watching a History Channel show on grease.  Not Grease, the classic Olivia Newton-John/John Travolta musical, but grease, the stuff you slop onto moving parts so they don't get stuck.  Seriously, for that I have no words.  We do tend to like the same sort of televised sports (except that he does like motorized vehicles rushing around on tracks and I don't at all): soccer, Olympics both winter and summer (but not gymnastics or figure skating), skiing, American Ninja Warrior, triathlons, curling, etc.  In the last couple of years, we've really stepped up our soccer consumption: Salt Lake City has its own team, Real Salt Lake (who are doing terribly right now, btw); plus the men's and women's World Cup; plus the British Premier League.  We even have our own BPL teams to root for.  He's for Arsenal and I like Swansea, the only remaining Welsh team.

While watching the most recent men's World Cup, we were introduced to Michael Davies and Roger Bennett, also known as Men In Blazers, and then once the World Cup was over, we kept watching their television recap show on the BPL.  Some people find their shtick tiresome but we think it's just the right amount of bonkers.  (Mr. Mouse does miss a lot of their Harry Potter, Game of Thrones, LotR, and other references; I explain where necessary.)  When we learned that the Esquire channel had hired them to cover the annual running of the bulls in Pamplona, Spain, we knew we'd watch, despite not really having much foreknowledge of or interest in the event.

We've learned a lot, actually, because Rog and Davo do a good job of adding historical and cultural context, including lots of interviews with notable Spanish and American bull-runners, Pamplonan restauranteurs and local figures, all in between calling play-by-plays of the action and being dutifully horrified at the gorings.  For the record, they seem to be on the bulls' side more often than not, especially when the runners display above average idiocy.  One thing they've been doing with each episode is featuring a local beverage or food.  One that piqued our interest was kalimotxo, a half and half mixture of red wine and regular Coca-Cola.  It's a recently developed beverage, starting in the Basque region of Spain, and the revelers at the Sanfermines festival and encierro, a/k/a the running of the bulls in Pamplona, drink it by the liters.

We tried it (good grief, when was the last time I ever drank Coke that wasn't diet?) and ... amazingly, it isn't that bad, with a sangria sort of feel to it.  Even the New York Times is on board.  I'm not sure we'll drink enough of it to kill that two liter of regular Coke I bought, but it was certainly quaffable.  (Next up?  The Basque combination of chocolate milk and cognac ...)

Poor man's sangria, right there

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Mini book review: Under Heaven by Guy Gavriel Kay

I like big books with intricate plots. Under Heaven by Guy Gavriel Kay has 567 pages (hardcover) and a fairly large cast of characters involved in court intrigue, power struggles, rebellion, honor and poetry.  I do sort of wish I had liked Under Heaven more.

Second son Shen Tai has gone beyond the borders of the empire of Kitai, living in solitude as he works to bury tens of thousands of dead soldiers and lay their ghosts to rest.  He does this to honor his own deceased father.  At first it was terrifying, bleak and alone, ghosts howling and crying at night and no one but bones for company during the day.  But he keeps at his unending, impossible job and, by bringing peace to a few souls, begins to gain some for himself.  This solitary existence is rocked, however, when a messenger brings word that he is being gifted with two hundred and fifty Sardian horses - the most valuable and incredible horses in the world, a gift of inconceivable wealth.  This gift, ostensibly to honor Tai for the work he is doing, thrusts him back into court life as the emperor takes notice of him and lesser mandarins seethe with resentment.  As power players jostle for position around him, and assassins circle, trying to gain control of the horses, Tai must learn who his friends are and how to move in society again.

Set in a slightly fantastical version of China's Tang Dynasty, Under Heaven has hand-to-hand combat, concubines, evil shamans, sexy lychee nut eating and drunken poets.  Kay writes at a remove, however, so that I never felt a connection with any of the characters.  Perhaps part of it is that honor and decorum played such a large part in the characters' lives and the prose is designed to reflect those qualities.  Still, I had been hoping to be drawn in more than I was and, as such, Under Heaven left me a little cold.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Stephen King obviously doesn't need my help

The great and mighty Stephen King obviously doesn't need any of my help selling any books - his author book-jacket blurb flatly states "the author of more than fifty books, all of them worldwide bestsellers" but I recently got the opportunity to knock two more of my all-time-King list: Revival (published in November 2014) and Mr. Mercedes (published in June 2014).  (How does he do that?  Publish two complete novels in the same year?)  I'm not going to count either of these as my favorites but I almost always enjoy a new King read.

Revival follows the life of Jamie Morton, and his connection with the at first charismatic, and later sinister, Reverent Charles Jacobs.  Reverend Jacobs is at first an electricity hobbyist but after a horrific family tragedy, becomes more and more obsessed with the power coursing through the earth and its sky.  Jamie's path keeps crossing with Jacobs; they are inexplicably intertwined, right up to the sharp swerve into The Dark Tower/Lovecraftian ending of the book.

Mr. Mercedes has no supernatural elements and is a straight-up cop thriller.  In an unnamed Midwestern city, a terrible mass murder case has gone unsolved after a masked man driving a tank of a Mercedes plows into a crowd of applicants at a jobs fair.  Retired detective Bill Hodges can't let the case go and, when he receives a letter purporting to be from the driver of that Mercedes, Bill is compelled to solve the case.  Told from twin points of view - Bill's and the killer's - the point of this novel is not to figure out whodunnit (you know who by page 42), but to see whether the good guys will be able to catch the very clever but all too human bad guy.

I liked Mr. Mercedes well enough (certainly moreso than Revival) and was interested to learn that King's latest, Finders Keepers, is a related book, revisiting with some of the characters but following a different plot line entirely.  I prefer my Stephen King on the spooky side but I'm always up to see what he's got for us next.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Movie review: Return to OZ

Disney's Return to OZ, the 1985 sequel to the beloved classic, The Wizard of Oz (1939), is a slightly disturbing return to the land of L. Frank Baum's imagination.  I'm not sure how well it did upon its release - I don't remember it coming out in theaters at all - but if it wasn't well-received, I can believe it.  This sequel is scary (this coming from someone who is still disturbed by the original's flying monkeys).

When the movie opens, we learn that Dorothy (a nine year old Fairuza Balk) has been unable to sleep since the tornado that destroyed the Gales' home and whisked her away to the land of Oz.  her aunt and uncle are at their wits' end and decide to take her to a mental asylum where she will be subjected to electroshock therapy in an attempt to cure her of her Oz-ish delusions.  The asylum is frightening, with unseen patients' shrieks and cries echoing through the halls.  The head nurse is brusque to the point of meanness; the head doctor seems far too excited at the prospect of zapping people with his electricity machine.  As poor Dorothy is strapped to a table and connected to the electroshock machine, a wild thunderstorm rages outside, knocking out the facility's generator.  In the confusion, a mysterious blonde girl frees Dorothy and runs outside with her.  The head nurse gives chase and the girls fall into a raging river, the blonde disappearing under the surface and Dorothy clinging to a battered, floating chicken coop.

In the morning, Dorothy of course finds herself in Oz, accompanied by a (now-) talking hen from back home, Billina (which begs the question, why wasn't Toto able to talk when he was in Oz?).  Looking for Dorothy's old friends, they journey to the Emerald City, only to discover the city in ruins due to the machinations of the Nome King.  Dorothy and Billina are menaced by nasty Wheelers (people with wheels for hands and feet who are fully as terrifying as the flying monkeys) and a very scary witch who switches heads on a whim, but gain some new companions - Tik-Tok, a clockworks soldier; Jack Pumpkinhead; and the Gump - before confronting the Nome King.

Return to OZ is pretty intense.  There are quite a few scary characters - even good, simple Jack is a teensy bit creepy - and the sets are not as candy-colorful as TWoO.  The animation is awkward and has not aged well but Fairuza Balk does a great job as Dorothy, who has been de-aged from TWoO to align more closely with the original books.  What I enjoyed the most about RtO, actually, was how much came back to me from the books, which I adored when I was younger.  Even though it has been literally decades since I've read any of the OZ books, I remembered Billina, the lunch-pail trees, Mombi the witch, the Gump and the Wheelers.  Watching Return to OZ has actually inspired me to revisit the books - you can scarcely ask more of a movie than that.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Mini book review: Midnight Riot by Ben Aaronovitch

Finally a book that has enticed me enough to go after subsequent volumes in the series: Midnight Riot by Ben Aaronovitch!  Peter Grant is a probationary constable with London's Metropolitan Police.  After learning to his dismay that his supervisors plan to put him into an all-paperwork job - Peter is perhaps a little too easily distractable for the Murder Unit - he just happens to speak to a ghost who is an eyewitness to a very strange and violent crime.  Peter learns that the Met actually has a supernatural investigations division, headed by the mysterious Detective Chief Inspector Thomas Nightingale.  Nightingale gets him transferred and soon Peter is learning magic, talking with river spirits and going through cellphones faster than you can say "Piccadilly Circus" as they try to discover, with help of Constable Leslie May and terrier Toby, who is behind a string of escalating murders.

Midnight Riot is an excellent entry in the mashed-up British detective/urban fantasy genre.  Written in the first person, with Peter Grant as the sarcastic, interested and sometimes baffled narrator, it is a real page turner with plot advancements coming fast and furiously amid gently pointed and contemporary observations about London's traffic, tourists, police, weather and spicy West Indian food.  I was charmed by Peter Grant and his magical, modern London and I will definitely be picking up the second book in the series, Moon Over Soho, in the near future.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Movie review: Mad Max: Fury Road

Just go see it.

Mad Max: Fury Road is quite possibly the best action movie I've ever seen.  There is nothing extraneous in it; it is taut, linear and exposition-free.  The mostly practical stunts are incredible - Cirque du Soleil performers were apparently hired to fling themselves around on long, bendy poles whilst attached to battle-cars careening through the desert.  Tom Hardy, as the new Max, is good and has a complete character arc even though he has scarcely any dialogue.  Charlize Theron, on the other hand, is incredible and a complete bad ass.  I want her on my side when the apocalypse comes.  The non-headlining characters are amazingly well-rounded; the Wives refuse to be victims and Nicholas Hoult, as warboy Nux, is both hilarious and heartbreaking.  The two hour movie is nearly non-stop action; when the theater lights came up, I was completely exhausted and yet, if I'd been given the option, I would have watched again, right then, immediately.  The worst part of the whole thing was having to get into my meek, poky little Subaru Forester afterwards and then drive calmly home, obeying all the traffic lights.