Monday, June 30, 2008

Moratorium on zombie posts (after this one)

Okay. Even I’ve had about enough of the zombies by now. I promise that after this post I will not put up any zombie-posts for a month. That being said, read on, zombie-lovers, read on:

28 Weeks Later - Technically not a zombie movie, I know, but close enough for govmint work. I watched this last night, partially through my fingers because jump-scares are what really scare me - until I realized that I’d already taken out my contacts and could just peek over my glasses for insta-blur-vision for the jumpy bits. I liked it but I think I liked the original better, mostly because 28 Days Later was the first: I’d never seen such fast-moving rage-infected craziness before and it blew my mind (kind of like how the SFX in The Matrix were SO cool but kind of lost their magic in the sequels). I also preferred the intimacy of 28DL although I did appreciate the claustrophobia of the crowd scenes in 28WL. Some stuff was pretty obvious: when Scarlet tells cutie-pie sniper Doyle that the kids’ lives are worth more than either of theirs, you just know those soldiers ain’t making it out alive. But I thought Doyle had great chemistry with pretty much everyone he came into contact with, so kudos to Jeremy Renner (a/k/a Penn from Angel S1E11) for that. Lastly, how do you suppose the pitch to Robert Carlyle went? “Hey, Robert – I know you’ve been a Bond villain and all, but your résumé has been sort of quiet lately so do you want to have a few lines in which you abandon your wife to a fate worse than death like a total chickenshit bastard, and then spend the rest of the movie screaming, running around bleeding out the eyes and ripping people’s throats out with your teeth? Yeah? Cool.”

Finally, I heard that zombie kickball was a staggering success (I got caught up in something else and didn’t go, and am now regretting it to no end). Friends of the blog HB and RobZombie did attend – very gruesome, guys!


Sunday, June 29, 2008

Return of the Living Dead - movie review

I'm really starting to understand why people like zombie movies so much - I mean, I've gone my entire life without ever watching a single one and then, just like that, I've seen six in the last six months. There's humor in all these movies*, macabre humor, but humor nonetheless. Zombie movies are survival films and every audience responds to survival films, trying to figure out what they'd do in the same situation. There's also a great sense of equality in zombie flicks: anyone can be turned into a zombie and usually everyone - living and living dead alike - ends up dead (or probably soon to be dead) by the end of the movie.

Return of the Living Dead (1985) is a decent entry into the zombie film catalog. It's got a clever little conceit that immediately makes it smarter than such a mid-80s B horror film should be, linking immediately to the movie that started the zombie genre, Romero's Night of the Living Dead, and then changing the rules. In the world of RotLD, the 1969 events shown in NotLD are true, except that the zombies originated due to a chemical spill; Romero was allowed to make his movie but change some essential details. The U.S. government cleaned everything up, putting the last few zombies in storage tanks, and then promptly lost track of the storage tanks. Sixteen years later, the tanks are still sitting in the basement of a Louisville, KY, medical supply warehouse.

When two workers inadvertently open one of the tanks, they are infected by the noxious fumes and let one of the zombies out of the tank. The fumes fill the warehouse, reanimating the stored cadavers (and also the half-dogs that are for veterinary training - hilarious!). Luckily, there is a mortician next door (the Resurrection Funeral Home) and they manage to stuff the reanimated cadaver into the crematorium. Less lucky is the fact that it's raining, and the downpour washes the zombie's ashes (a nice play on acid rain) into the Resurrection Cemetery that is also next door, and brings all the dead folks there to un-life. Add in some punk kids partying in the cemetery and a kick-ass soundtrack (Surfin' Dead by the Cramps!) and you've got yourself a wacky romp.

RotLD changes the standard zombie rules quite a bit, on the one hand frustrating those of us who are just figuring out the zombie-verse, but on the other hand keeping the movie entertaining as we try to figure out just what will happen. Unlike NotLD, these zombies seemingly cannot be killed, which is why the government stuck them in storage tanks: a shot to the head does not stop them nor does severing the head from the body. The bits and pieces just keep coming, leading one character to scream, "You mean the movie lied?" at one point. These zombies are also pretty clever, able to use tools to get at their prey and also able to call over the radio for "more cops" when they've eaten the first ones. Some of them are even quite articulate, explaining that eating live brains somehow soothes the intense physical pain they feel as their bodies rot. Of course, most of them just stagger around, screeching "Braaaaaaaiiinnnnnss!"

The animatronic zombies are quite good and while this movie isn't supersaturated in gore like Dead Alive or Evil Dead, there are plenty of oozing, spurting, frothing shots. I did have a little trouble deciding whether I was supposed to be finding so much of the movie funny, whether the silliness was intentional or just due to the low budget and datedness. But then I realized that it didn't matter: I mean, it's a bad movie for sure, but parts were funny and parts were gross, and all the parts of Return of the Living Dead were fun.

* Even NotLD had some humor to it: it's kind of funny the first time you see the zombies lurching crazily about ... before you realize that everything's about to be FUBAR.


Saturday, June 28, 2008

Titles Nine - #3

Welcome to Books of the Mouses, Part Third. (The previous installment is here.) I will admit to you now that this is a not-often-visited section of our library - it's probably been decades since I've read any of these.
  • Wide Sargasso Sea – Jean Rhys
  • As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning – Laurie Lee
  • Tar Baby – Toni Morrison
  • Black Boy – Richard Wright
  • Jonathan Livingston Seagull – Richard Bach
  • Marked by Fire – Joyce Carol Thomas
  • Three Plays – Thornton Wilder
  • Northanger Abbey – Jane Austen
  • Hamlet - Shakespeare

Friday, June 27, 2008

Nothing ado about much

It's hot and sticky and I look like a Chia-pet from all the humidity. Bleh.

So I'm grumpy enough not to bother writing reviews of the two movies I've watched recently: David Cronenberg's Scanners - because I didn't really care for it: nice exploding heads, but s-l-o-w (I may have dozed off for a bit there) and pretty atrocious acting; and Terry Gilliam's Brazil - which I love more and more each time I see it but which is so bizarre and full and funny and complicated and absurd and scary that I'm too intimidated to attempt it.

I will, however, remind you that Zombie Kickball is this Sunday at 2:00 p.m. at the Eastern Prom park.

Also, here's a "name that candy bar from its cross-section" quiz if you're bored. I got 15 right out of 20. Thanks to Pop Candy for the link.

That's it. Time for a lime popsicle and the rest of Fables: Wolves.


Wednesday, June 25, 2008

The Prestige - movie review

I hesitate a bit to call The Prestige a magical movie (enchanting? mesmerizing? spellbinding?) but it really is. Loaded with a skillful cast, this story of performance, magic and obsession is just outstanding.

Robert Angier (Hugh Jackman) and Alfred Borden (Christian Bale) are two turn-of-the-century (19th into 20th) stage magicians. Originally working together on a show managed by Cutter (Michael Caine), their professional relationship is irreparably shattered when Angier's wife (played inconsequentially by Piper Perabo), a lovely magician's assistant, drowns during a water tank trick when she can't slip the knots tied by Borden.

The two men become competitors and rivals: working class Borden is the superior magician but the sophisticated Angier is a far better showman. His grief over his lost wife soon morphs into a dangerous obsession with Borden, however, especially as the other man finds himself a wife, has a family and begins performing the greatest trick ever seen: "the Transported Man." This trick has the magician enter one wooden box and then exit from another box twenty-five feet away. Angier is sure that Borden is using a double to pull it off, but Borden has a distinctive characteristic that is nearly impossible to fake - two of his fingers have been shot off - and the presumed "double" is also missing those exact fingers. Angier can't figure it out and it just about makes him crazy.

The movie's narrative flow jumps back and forth, requiring focus from the viewer: the story is sometimes told from Cutter's reminiscences and testimony at Borden's trial for Angier's murder, from Borden's reading of Angier's diary while sitting in jail awaiting his sentence, and from Angier's reading of Borden's stolen journal. We follow Angier on his quest to decipher Borden's trick and we watch Borden trying to reconcile his performance life with his domestic one. Each magician has his own secrets and his own obsessions. I managed to figure out the twist to Angier's story but missed Borden's simpler secret entirely - a classic case of misdirection by the movie's director, Christopher Nolan (who also directed Bale and Caine in Batman Begins).

Bale, Jackman and Caine are fantastic, of course. David Bowie does a nice, understated job as Nikola Tesla (the electricity guy) and Andy Serkis (Gollum from LoTR and King Kong from 2005's King Kong) is engaging - and nice to see without makeup. Rebecca Hall (most recently reviewed here as Antoinette in Wide Sargasso Sea) is quite good as Borden's struggling wife. But will someone please tell me why it was necessary to cast insipid American actresses as the lovely assistants? Surely there were pretty blonde English actresses (who wouldn't have struggled with the English accents) available - Scarlett Johansson as lovely assistant Olivia really didn't contribute much more than those marvelous breasts of hers.

I remember that when The Prestige came out in 2006 there was another period magician movie released at the same time (The Illusionist starring Edward Norton and Paul Giamatti) and the internets were full of people pitting the two movies against each - this one's better! that one's better! Now I'm going to have to move The Illusionist up my movie queue to see for myself. It's definitely going to have to work for it - The Prestige has set the bar high.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Book review: Dizzying Heights - the Aspen Novel by Bruce Ducker

Dizzying Heights is, in fact, a dizzying book, chock-full of twisty turns and scheming characters. A satirical look at Aspen, Colorado, and her colorful denizens, this novel attempts giddy elevations only to fall slightly short under its own unwieldiness.

There is a lot of plot in Dizzying Heights. First, Wadsworth Brush, the erstwhile hero of the story, comes to town to eke out a living after having been laid off from his software-programming job in Seattle. Waddy gets a job, rescues a dog, gets a better job and falls in love a couple of times. The better job that Waddy procures is programming for a database that records consumer fantasies in order to then sell the fantasies as targeted marketing techniques to manufacturers. This fuzzily ethical database project is the brainchild of one Mortimer Dooberry, a pop-psychologist scalawag, forever searching for his next big scam. Dooberry successfully courts all the Aspen players to back his latest scheme: Victor Grant, an incredibly wealthy and ruthless financier, who sneakily intends to take over the project if it looks fruitful; Etta Eubanks, a Texas oil woman, and her alcoholic artist-husband, Sherry Topliff; Peyton Post, heir to an indoor plumbing fortune, and his financial whiz of a wife, Chloe.

Meanwhile, couturier Justin Kaye (a thinly-veiled Ralph Lauren, frankly) is working up a scheme of his own: to despoil the last undeveloped valley in Aspen, ostensibly for a wild duck preserve and hunting club but really for dozens of multimillion dollar home sites. Aspen's local eco-cops, Friends of the Friendless Earth, led by Philida Post, sister of Peyton, are adamant about protecting this last valley so Justin must do some quick finagling which ends up involving a high profile New York attorney and several local Native American tribes.

And that's just half of the characters and stories weaving around this novel! This is where Dizzying Heights breaks down: it over-reaches and ends up being confusing to the reader. I was referring to the list of "Dramatis Personae" in the front of the book well past the 100-page mark. There are several people and story lines that could have been cut entirely with no detriment to the novel: there's no need for the decadent and past-his-prime cokehead rock star or the restaurateur who gets away with serving past-its-prime fish entrees by having great salads and an excellent wine cellar, for example; even toilet-heir Peyton Post could have been edited out easily.

I can imagine author Bruce Ducker, who lived in Aspen for many years, gleefully listing all the Aspen stereotypes he wanted to parody and then being unable to cull the herd. Ducker just tries a little too hard to be clever. He's not as deft as Carl Hiaasen in this character-heavy environmental/caper genre, thus the over-reaching.

That being said, the book is fun. Ducker does a great job of painting a picture of Aspen for us, with its over-the-top social strata - the old riche, the nouveau riche, the new nouveau riche and all the hoi polloi who serve them in order to live. Dizzying Heights breaks no new ground but is definitely entertaining, a good beach read if you can keep track of who's who.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Couple more zombie film snips

I know I promised my mom that the next movie I reviewed wasn't going to be a horror movie. But IFC has had this great Thursday night Grindhouse feature going on all month (that I only found out about last week - grrr) and I just can't seem to help myself. Technically these little snippets don't really count as "reviews" so I'm not technically a liar, technically. All rationalizations aside, the two indie horror movies I watched Friday and Saturday nights were pretty much diametrically opposed to each other atmosphere-wise, and I'm tickled that I got a chance to see them.

On Friday night I watched John Carpenter's The Fog (1980), starring Adrienne Barbeau, Jamie Lee Curtis, Janet Leigh and Hal Holbrook. Set on the dramatic California coast, an idyllic village is about to celebrate its centennial when it is visited by an eerie, glowing fog bank. The fog contains zombie lepers - or zombie ghosts, it's not clear although they're certainly corporeal enough to wield swords and grappling hooks to ill-effect - who are out for revenge against the town. Adrienne Barbeau plays a sexy single mom who owns the local radio station, headquartered in a lighthouse, and she gives a play-by-play over the radio as she helplessly watches the fog roll in. Hal Holbrook plays the village priest who figures out what is going on; Jamie Lee Curtis plays a hitchhiker who makes a connection with a local fisherman; and Janet Leigh is a high-strung town elder in charge of the centennial celebration.

The greatness of The Fog comes from Carpenter's ability to create dread and tension using little more than music and a fog machine. There's very little actual violence (just a couple of off-screen stabbings), no gore to speak of and only one clear shot of a zombie leper's wormy face. What is scary is the implacable approach of the fog, knowing that something is out there, in the swirling mists, but not knowing when or where it show up. My only complaint was when Barbeau climbed to the roof of her lighthouse to "escape" the zombie/ghosts: first, once you're up there, there's nowhere else to go; second, if you can climb up, so can they and now you're trapped. Stupid horror movie heroines. Regardless, it's good and spooky fun.

On the other end of the spectrum entirely was last night's feature: Dead Alive (or Braindead, as it was released in Peter Jackson's native New Zealand). Holy frakkin' moly - how Jackson went from this 1992 movie to being allowed to make LoTR less than ten years later ... somebody in the studios took a big chance. I know he made another couple of good films in between (The Frighteners and Heavenly Creatures) but I haven't seen them yet. What I've seen is Dead Alive and, I repeat, holy frakkin' moly. It isn't scary but it is bloody and disgusting and violent and just so much fun - I sat for much of the movie with my jaw dropped open in disbelief.

Typical zombie story, really: Lionel's mum gets an accidental bite from a Sumatran rat-monkey and quickly zombifies, making life truly miserable for poor mama's-boy Lionel. Like a good son he tries to care for her even so, but she is after all a zombie, and soon Lionel and his new girlfriend Paquita are battling for their lives against hordes of ravenous flesh-eaters.

The greatness of this movie is the gore. It's insane. A zombie punches through a victim's head and strangles another victim with its hand poking through the first's mouth. For much of the main action sequence, Lionel is chased throughout his house by the reanimated and tenacious stomach, lungs and intestines of a dismembered zombie. I can't even tell you all of it but the tide turns when Lionel brings his lawnmower inside, hoists it up to shoulder-level and literally mows down the mob of zombies. I was laughing and gasping and cringing and loving every over-the-top minute of it.

Since most of what I know of New Zealand is from this movie, the fabulous Black Sheep and the Flight of the Conchords series, I'm now pretty certain that Kiwis are total nutjobs. I'm not sure I want anyone to convince me otherwise.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Firefly episode recap: “Trash” (E11)

We begin as we should always begin, with Mal bollicky-bareass. That is to say, nekkid, perched on a rock in the middle of a desert. He has a tattoo on his right hip. “Yeah, that went well,” says Mal.

72 hours earlier: a bunch of scruffy folks are moving goods around in the middle of the night. Monty, a big burly smuggler, comes up and gives Mal a warm welcome. Mal notices that Monty has shaved off his enormous beard; this is because Monty’s new wife, Bridget, didn’t like it. Monty calls for Bridget to introduce her to his buddy Mal. The fetching Mrs. Monty shows up and she and Mal point their guns at each other immediately. She's Saffron, ginormous boobs and all. Monty: “So, you guys have met.”

After the credits, Mal and Saffron/Bridget have some ugly fisticuffs until Monty pulls them apart and demands an explanation. Mal gives a brief synopsis of “Our Mrs. Reynolds” and Monty is displeased, taking his ship and leaving her behind. God, her breasts are huge. I’ll stop saying that now, but they really are. She tries to sweet-talk Mal a bit but he shoos her away. As she saunters off, she plays her last card: she’s got the specs for an extremely lucrative heist.

When Serenity and the crew arrive to pick up their captain and the goods, they want to know why Mal’s nose is all bloody. He is not in the mood to answer questions. He does get cleaned up and stops by Inara’s shuttle, as requested. She looks particularly lovely and offers him tea. He is immediately suspicious of her hospitality, accusing her of using her wiles against him and asking her to speak plainly. So she does: he needs to take some jobs on worlds where both of them can work – she hasn’t had a client in three weeks. Things deteriorate quickly (he suggests that he’ll stay out of her whoring and she’ll stay out of his thieving) and they snipe at each other until feelings are hurt. Finally, she accuses him of not being after serious work any longer. Mal leaves, dander up, and goes straight to the cargo hold where he unlocks a crate. Inside is a rumpled Saffron. He wants to know about her extremely lucrative heist.

Saffron and Mal present the plan for the heist to the rest of the crew: stealing a valuable gun from an uber-wealthy and shady Alliance-friendly citizen, Durin Somebody. She has the security access codes, Durin’s schedule, the layout of his home … Wash raises his hand with a question: “What’s she doing on this ship?!” Everyone sniggers. Mal settles things down. The reason why Saffron needs a team to help her is because the gun is tagged and coded and alarms will go off when it crosses a doorway. This is clearly a job for more than one –

“Dupes,” says Inara, interrupting. She and Saffron hiss at each other a bit and just to spite Inara, Mal takes Saffron’s side. Kaylee eagerly takes the disks with the blueprints to start looking for a way in, Wash assisting. Mal asks Zoë’s opinion, seeing how she hasn’t weighed in yet. She thinks the heist sounds rich enough, but she just doesn’t trust Saffron. Mal promises he’ll be with Saffron every minute on the inside. Saffron smirks at Zoë: “See, hon? All it takes for you to be a rich woman is to get over it.” Zoë cocks an eyebrow and slugs Saffron, knocking her to the ground. “Okay, I’m in.”

Some time later, Jayne is doing something that allows him to be in a room with River and Simon. River thinks that Saffron is a liar and can’t be trusted; Jayne thinks that generally speaking, all womenfolk can’t be trusted; River points out that “Jayne” is a girl’s name. Jayne bristles, saying that if “she starts in on that ‘girl’s name’ thing, I’ll show her good and all I got man parts!” and sticks his hand down his trousers for emphasis. Simon: “I’m trying to think of a way for you to be cruder, but it’s just not coming.” Jayne leaves and River stares after him, murmuring bemusedly, “[He’s] afraid, since Ariel. Afraid we’ll know.” Simon goggles at his omniscient sister.

Zoë and Inara meet each other in the corridor (Saffron eavesdropping from behind a bulkhead) and Inara warns Zoë not to trust Saffron at all. She doesn’t want to know any of the details of the job – she’s got her own appointments with clients as soon as they “hit atmo” – but she wants the crew to be very careful.

Wash expositions about the planet they’re on, playground of the rich and paranoid. The wealthy inhabitants have man-made islands of their own, hovering over the oceans. There’s lots of security. Saffron and Mal take the shuttle as Serenity approaches and land a ways from the main house. There’s a big party this weekend and they pretend to be hired help, getting inside with no trouble.

The trick is getting the gun out when it’s tagged for alert if it crosses entry/exit points. Kaylee and Wash have discovered, however, that each island estate has its own automated rubbish system whereby drone shuttles systematically take away the refuse bins. The genius plan is to throw the gun down the garbage chute and, after Kaylee reprograms the bin to a different destination, the drone will take the bin (and the gun) away for them with the security none the wiser.

So, while Mal and Saffron make their way to the booty, Wash hovers Serenity just under the garbage bin. Jayne and Kaylee, on safety lines, climb out onto her roof to access the bin’s programming. They’re both wearing goggles and hilarious hats with earflaps; Kaylee also has on a very cute quilted jacket. Jayne does something wrong and is zapped by something electrical. The crew drags him back into the ship and Simon looms - “I’ll take care of him.”

Mal and Saffron find the gun, on display in a virtual museum of “Earth That Was” artifacts – like a phone booth, a piano, candelabra, etc. Suddenly, they are surprised by Durin, the estate’s owner. “You!” he points at Mal, and then Saffron turns and Durin finishes, “… brought back my wife!” Saffron is quite the polygamist! Durin is truly grateful and overjoyed and seems to be sincerely in love with Saffron (er, “Yolanda,” as he knows her). She’s been gone for six years. Durin scurries off to get some money as a reward and as soon as he’s gone, Saffron snaps at Mal, “We don’t have time.” And they get back to stealing the gun.

Just as Mal liberates the gun, Saffron draws her own and points it at him. Totally untrustworthy! And then, of course, Durin comes back. As he and Saffron argue, Mal backs away unnoticed and drops the gun down the garbage chute. (Just in time, Kaylee finishes reprogramming the garbage bin and the drone swoops down to take it away.)

Durin’s heart is breaking as he asks how long she and Mal have been together. Mal sputters his denial and Saffron smirks, “He’s my husband.” “Well, who in the galaxy ain’t?” squawks Mal. After some more taunting by his wife, Durin tells the two that he notified the feds as soon as he saw her: “I didn’t think you’d come back here for me.” Mal grimaces. Saffron kicks Durin in the head, knocking him out. Mal grabs her by the arm and they make dash for it, feds in hot pursuit.

They just barely make it to the shuttle and beat feet out of there. Saffron is a little sad and sniffly about seeing Durin (who really is a decent man), but it’s a ploy and she soon has Mal’s gun out of his holster. She lands the shuttle in the desert and tells him to strip. He protests, then smugs that no matter what she thinks of him, she won’t catch his crew with their pants down.

“Can’t turn,” remarks Wash nervously. Something’s wrong with Serenity. Bottom line, per Kaylee: they won’t make the rendezvous – they have to land now. Cut to Saffron zooming away in the shuttle and Mal, buckass nekkid (yay!), screaming after her, “You dirty, dirty whore! … Yeah, you better run!”

A short time later, Saffron is up to her hips in garbage. Her hair is slimy and she is pawing through the waste and not finding the gun. That’s because Inara, looking fab-u-lous, has it trained on her from a nearby escarpment. “What are you doing here?” grouches Saffron. Inara is all, oh, just my part of the job: where I make a big scene, storm off, wait for you to double-cross everyone, beat you to the rendezvous spot and get the loot before you do … “[y]ou didn’t see it coming?” Tee hee – apparently the whole crew has been in on it since Mal let Saffron out of the crate.

Back on Serenity, Jayne is in a neck brace in sickbay. He can’t move his arms or legs. Simon plays with his head for a bit, then saying the paralytic will wear off in a couple of hours. In the mean time, Simon would like to know how much Jayne was offered for the Tam siblings. Jayne sputters. Then Simon tells Jayne to remember something: whenever Jayne is on Simon’s surgery table, as he may be often, due to their dangerous line of work, even though’ he will be at the doctor’s mercy … he can trust that Simon will take care of him. Point made, Simon leaves. River pokes her head into sickbay: “Also, I can kill you with my brain.” Jayne looks nervous. Heh.

And then we’re back to naked Mal, perched on his rock in the desert: “Yeah, that went well.” Inara strolls up. She doesn’t think it went all that well, really, if she was only supposed to be the fail-safe in case everything else went wrong. Nonsense, says Mal, you had a very important role and wouldn’t you have been sad if you couldn’t have taken part? “Heartbroken,” she smiles.

While they talk, we get a lovely shot of Nathan Fillion’s bare butt - let me pause here for just a moment. Okay, we’re back. As Mal walks aboard his ship, Inara totally sneaks a look at his ass. How could she not? He gives everyone their orders – only Kaylee is not discomfited by his nudity – and then smiles, satisfied, “A good day!”

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Film snips

Poor Mr. Mouse has been sick as a dog lately, while the dog has been healthy as a horse - wait, what? - so I've had plenty of quality time with the DVR lately. This is what I've seen; I don't have enough to say about any of them for full-on reviews but I got enough for snippets.

Hairspray (2007) - I caught about 85% of this version and since I'm a huge fan of the original, I figured I could catch up. Elijah Kelley (Seaweed) and Nikki Blonsky were wonderful, although young Nikki seemed a little too earnest; I got a flashback to Batman Returns (the Anti-Claus scene at the end) when Michelle Pfeiffer was getting all up in Christopher Walken's business at the store; and John Travolta creeped me the hell out. I really disliked how this version made Edna's coming-out so important, like Travolta couldn't stand to not be the center of attention.

Sleepaway Camp (1983) - Oh good heavens. This is what comes of reading Final Girl too much. This cheesetastic horror film is like a survey course of all that was bad in the early 1980s: short shorts, high-waisted jeans, feathered hair, and insane teenaged transvestites murdering all the bullies in the area. Just like junior high.

Dawn of the Dead (2004) - Again, I missed the first half hour or so of Zack Snyder's pretty darn good remake. I must say, SciFi Channel is packing some serious cojones for showing this movie. It's awfully gory and I'm pretty sure I figured out what they were saying behind all the bleeps. I did rather miss the slow-moving Romero-era zombies but I'll admit that Snyder's living dead were dang nasty. And poor Max Headroom! (Hey - when is Max Headroom coming out on DVD? I loved that show!)

Black Snake Moan - Holy smokin' hotness is Christina Ricci not a pudgy pre-teen anymore. Wow. If you put her character Rae and Cherry Darling from Planet Terror (Rose McGowan) in the same room together you would melt the world's remaining glaciers. So better not do that. Regardless, I really liked this movie, sex-crazed white trash girl chained to the radiator by a God-fearing sharecropper notwithstanding. Rae reminded me of Faith from BtVS: terribly damaged and terribly sexy, and using the second to suppress the first. Samuel L. Jackson, continuing his trend of movies in which he is contractually obligated to say "motherfucker" at least once, is outstanding - and damn, that man is a musician! The music here is awesome and I shall be investigating the soundtrack on iTunes shortly.

Running Scared - I also really liked this movie, starring Paul Walker, Vera Farmiga and that scary, scary man, Chazz Palminteri. It is very violent and has a lot of people shouting the f-word at each other agitatedly: Walker, a minor hoodlum, is charged with disposing of a gun that was used to kill a crooked cop. When his young son's best friend, Oleg, steals the gun to shoot his abusive stepfather, Walker goes on a horrific ride trying to find the boy and the piece, passing through all the seedy underbelly of New Jersey in the process. Oleg, on the run, has what is for sure the worst day of his life. It is fast and nicely complicated plot-wise (which I love), with everything coming together at the end with a twist I didn't see coming (which I also love). Not for the faint-hearted - I mentioned it was very violent, right - but a really good movie if you like mobster/gangster stuff.

I have more in the DVR lineup: Brazil (awwwww!), The Departed, Recount and The Prestige; and on DVD I've still got No Country for Old Men and Revolver (sorry, Blockbuster). So much to see - good thing the forecast is for rain!

Monday, June 16, 2008

Book review: The Good Terrorist by Doris Lessing

Doris Lessing’s The Good Terrorist is a remarkable character study, exploring the experiences and influences that transform revolutionary dilettantes into actual terrorists. Set in London in the early- or mid-1980s (I believe, although the timeframe is never explicitly mentioned: Margaret Thatcher is running the country; millions are unemployed and dissatisfied with the Labour Party), the novel focuses on Alice Melling, an erstwhile British communist.

Alice is a fascinating, complex character. The only child of solidly middle-class parents, she rejects the creature comforts of the middle-class and identifies with the disenfranchised working poor. She is university-educated but has never held a job, preferring instead to drift from squat to commune, living off her government allowance and furthering “the cause.” Ever since university she has attached herself to Jasper, a selfish, manipulative queen who ruthlessly exploits her helpless adoration of him; since she has an irrational fear of physical contact and sexual connection, being in unrequited love with to a gay man suits her just fine.

Alice’s current group of companions, calling themselves the Communist Centre Union, needs a home. She finds a derelict house and they lay claim: moving in, cleaning out the rubbish, and getting the plumbing working again. Alice is incredibly competent, doing the bulk of the work herself and dealing with the police and various governmental agencies to enable the commune to squat in the house. Soon the house is quite nice and more people join the commune: along with Alice and Jasper are a lesbian couple, motherly Roberta and crazy Faye; two heterosexual couples, Bert and Pat (members of the CCU) and Mary and Reggie (Greenpeace activists who just need a place to live); and Philip, an unemployed tradesman. Under Alice’s careful care, the commune becomes a family – which is just what Alice is looking for, having abandoned her own.

Before long another group of revolutionaries arrives to squat in the house next door. These new comrades are much more serious about their politics than Jasper and his posturing CCU friends: there are Russian connections, and possibly IRA connections, and guns and explosives being dropped off in the dead of night. Alice is approached by one of the new neighbors who have noticed that she is the one doing all the work in her commune, and thinks that she would be better off with people more serious than her group.

But naïve Alice just wants to live with her ragtag communist family, going to demonstrations against the fascist British government and spray-painting anti-capitalist slogans on government buildings. For much of the time, Alice’s comrades are ineffectual and unfocused, feeling the need to change things but unable to decide or agree about what to change, much less how to change them. It is almost without Alice noticing that her group begins to be nudged in another, more active direction, and when the bomb finally goes off, they are all startled at what they have become.

The story meanders its way along – 375 pages and no chapter breaks! – much as Alice meanders through her own life, taking part in endless revolutionary discussions, attempting to understand family, raging in frustration against real and perceived injustices. The plot itself is not complicated; what Lessing has excelled at is depicting the fluidity and volatility of the political and personal relationships and how little events cascade into bigger ones. Originally published in 1985, The Good Terrorist remains relevant and compelling today, despite its 20+ year age.

Friday, June 13, 2008

The Evil Dead - movie review

Mom, I promise that the next movie I review will not be a horror movie. I don't know how I got on this kick anyway. (However, I did set the DVR to record Sleepaway Camp tonight ... they've got a Grindhouse Month thing going on over there at IFC - excellent way for me to catch up on all the schlock I've missed over the years).

The Evil Dead* is the movie that put Sam Raimi on the map as a movie-maker. Sure, ED looks like it was made on a budget of about $3,000 but Raimi still manages to create an incredible atmosphere of dread, disgust, fear and sheer terror with only a couple of fog machines, mannequins and a tanker-truck's worth of red-dyed Karo syrup.

The premise is trite by today's standards, although it was probably still vaguely fresh in 1982: a group of friends head out for a weekend in a remote cabin deep in the [Tennessee] woods. You just know no-one is getting out alive - or at best unscathed. Raimi slowly ratchets up the tension right from the get-go: cutting ominously between the car of unwitting kids and the scurrying POV shot through the undergrowth, undercut by creepy music.

The kids - two couples and the sister of one of the guys (the guy being Bruce Campbell, in the role that launched him as a cult hero) - settle into the cabin and eventually end up loosing demons via a Book of the Dead that just happens to be down-cellar. They start getting picked off one by one, attacked and then possessed by the demon[s]: first the sister, in a pretty horrible scene that can only be described as "rape-by-trees;" then the other two girls. I was just beginning to wonder why it was that only the women succumbed to the demons when the other guy (the not-Bruce-Campbell-guy, as he's got to survive to become "Ash," the hero of two more ED movies) sprang to evil life. Suffice it to say that Bruce Campbell ends up having to hack all his former friends, lovers and siblings to pieces in order to make it to ED2.

Speaking of hacking things to pieces, the gore in ED is superlative, especially on such a miniscule budget. It's slow to start - a few scratches here, some gouging there - but once it starts, there is blood and goo and nasty fluds galore. At one point near the end of the movie, Bruce Campbell has to go back down-cellar to retrieve the shotgun shells. He makes it about halfway down the rickety stairs when he realizes that it's not water dripping from the pipes - it's blood. And then the blood starts oozing out of the electrical sockets (a point of contention with me as clearly there are no power lines running to this cabin in any of the exterior shots) and filling the lightbulbs - a particularly nice touch, I thought. Anyhow, Bruce Campbell just barely makes it out of the cabin alive (carefully closing the front door behind him in another nice touch), and he is completely doused in blood. I may be paraphrasing another blogger I recently discovered who adores ED, but Bruce Campbell's character Ashley (soon to be just Ash) could totally have been Carrie's date for the prom ... after the bucket fell. It's awesome.

I'm truly a neophyte when it comes to horror films, but it really seems to me that the art of a good horror movie has been lost, or at least misplaced. Today's horror movies seem to be either (a) PG-13 fluff, (b) torture-porn or (c) just not that scary. There are exceptions to this, of course: I thought The Mist, The Ruins and The Descent to be sufficiently plotted, acted and gore-ified; I hear The Orphanage is fabulous and I can't wait to see it. But most of the true horror gems seems to have sprung from the 1970s and 1980s, The Evil Dead included. Sam Raimi proved that he would be a force to be reckoned with, particularly given a little money. I can't wait to catch up on the ED sequels.

* Total misnomer, by the way, as only one out of the four bad guys was actually "dead" before they were consumed by the possessing demons; the three girls were still very much alive when they transformed. In hindsight, I suppose the label "evil dead" could apply to the demons themselves.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Dracula 2000

The best thing about Dracula 2000 is the stacked cast: Gerard Butler (300, Tomb Raider), Christopher Plummer (The Sound of Music), Nathan Fillion (Firefly, Slither, Desperate Housewives), Omar Epps (House, M.D.), Jonny Lee Miller (Eli Stone), Jennifer Esposito (Samantha Who?, Crash), Jeri Ryan (Star Trek: Voyager, Shark, Boston Public) and Danny Masterson (That 70s Show) are the ones off the top of my head. Now, by "stacked" I mean "better than average cast for the cheesy schlockfest that is this movie." They are all very pretty to look at, and they do the best they can with what they've been given, but it was a losing battle from the get-go.

Here's the plot: A group of burglars inadvertently steal Dracula's coffin from a well-guarded bunker under Matthew Von Helsing's (Plummer) high-falutin' antique store. To make matters worse, they set him free and he makes a bee-line for New Orleans where Von Helsing's daughter, Mary, is living. Von Helsing and his assistant Simon (Miller) attempt a rescue and Von Helsing is killed by Dracula's three vampire brides (two of whom are Ryan and Esposito, chewing as much scenery as they can). Mary and Dracula have this mystico-religious connection and she gets vamped slightly (is that even possible, like being a little bit pregnant?), but with Simon's help manages to vanquish the unkillable Dracula and put him away for safe-keeping again. Yeah, I know, it's pretty thin. Poor little Nathan Fillion gets to play this sad sack of a priest who encourages Mary to fight for her soul. Yawn.

The interesting thing about Dracula 2000 is the premise it gives about Dracula's powers. Here, all the things that will kill or wound a vampire won't get the job done on him - stake through the heart, holy water, sunlight, beheading (although it's not clear whether anyone has attempted to behead him) - it just pisses him off. He also gets right annoyed over silver (at first I thought a werewolfy crossover but no) and religious artifacts. You see, in the movie the reason Dracula is immortal is because he's actually Judas Iscariot. He doesn't like Christian stuff because it reminds him of Jesus; he doesn't like silver because it reminds him of his betrayal; and he is unkillable because when he hung himself for his sins, the rope broke right as he died and something (God, the Devil, who knows) resurrected him to undeadness as punishment. He now lives forever, trying to remake the world into his own undead image. Well, okay, that's original enough that I'll go along with it for entertainment's sake, but then they don't explain how he got the fangs and the penchant for sucking folks' blood. As far as I know, not even Jesus Christ Superstar has Judas doing that.

The movie is rated R for violence/gore, language and sex. I watched it on AMC last night so the language was all dubbed over; the sex was no more scandalous than anything on Grey's Anatomy; and the violence/gore was pretty minimal. I'll grant you that it was edited for television but still - I can't imagine that it was all that scary.

Also, the blatant product placement for Virgin Megastores was so extremely irritating. Mary and her roommate both work there and we got to see them several times at work, wearing their little work t-shirts, the exterior Mardi Gras crowd shots usually included a glimpse of the store sign and Simon has a big ol' fistfight with a vampire in front of a frickin' store van. I know Wes Craven isn't known for subtlety, but jeesh.

All in all, this - in its uncut form on DVD - would be a perfectly fine movie for a lazy, rainy Sunday afternoon: silly, harmless and horror-light. Oh, I nearly forgot: the other best thing about Dracula 2000 is Gerard Butler's hair - it's got more charisma than Dracula does himself.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Summertime Drink Recipes 2008

Wow - is it Wednesday already? I lose track of the days when there isn't any watchable television on (except for BSG which is still going!). I'm mostly done reading my next book-review book; Dracula 2000 is set to record on the DVR tonight (Nathan Fillion! Gerard Butler!); and, speaking of Nathan Fillion, I promise to get the next Firefly recap up by this weekend at the latest.

In the meantime, I thought you might enjoy some new hot-weather drink recipes. This listing is a little different from last year's in that these are all recipes that I haven't tried yet. But they sound super-tasty and are fairly uncomplicated, which is always a plus. Please feel free to leave your own favorite summertime drinks in the comments below - I'd love to see what other people are drinking!
  • Jeanne's Dad's Daiquiris - Combine 1 generous cup of ice, 1/3 cup frozen limeade concentrate, 1/4 cup fresh lime juice, 1/4 cup amber Barbados rum (gosh - I'd up that, eh?) in a blender. Blend 'til crushed and well-mixed. Serve over a couple more ice cubes with lime wedge garnishes. (Serves 2)
  • Pisco Sour - In a shaker, combine 1 medium egg white, 1.5 oz. Chilean pisco (or Peruvian, I suppose, but I'm biased to Chile), 3/4 oz. fresh lemon juice (or fresh key lime juice), 3/4 oz. simple syrup and a dash of Angostura bitters. Shake well for ten seconds. Fill shaker with ice and shake well for twenty seconds. Strain into chilled glass and top with 3 drops of the bitters. (Serves 1) Food and Wine July 2007
  • Rangoon Rickey - Cut eight 6-inch stalks of lemongrass into 1-inch pieces. In the bottom of a wide-mouthed pitcher, use the handle end of a wooden spoon to crush the lemongrass. Add 18 oz. (about a fifth) of white rum and the juice of 4 squeezed limes, then fill the pitcher three-quarters full with ice. Add ginger ale to taste (but not too much!). Stir briefly, squeeze some lime wedges into the pitcher and serve immediately. (Serves many) Food and Wine
  • Strawberry Margarita Ice Pops - Put 1.25 lb. strawberries (hulled and halved or ... frozen ones!), 1/2 cup white tequila, 1/2 cup superfine granulated sugar and 1 Tbsp. fresh lime juice in a blender and blend 'til smooth. Pour into large glass measuring cup through a fine sieve if you want the remaining chunks out. Pour into popsicle molds and add sticks; freeze at least 24 hours. (Makes 8) Gourmet Aug. 2000

Please note: these are not my own recipes and I absolutely do not presume to claim creation-ship. I've given credit where I can but some of these recipes are just on scraps of paper and I didn't note down the source.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Boston Weekend Redux

We just had our second annual girls’ weekend and, in spite of the terribly hot and sticky weather, it was a rousing success! This time we (my mom, my sister-in-law and three dear family friends – including Friend of the Blog, AnnaB) spent Friday night at AnnaB’s wonderful, funky 1890s farmhouse, dining on chicken and veggie kabobs, Mexican-style corn on the cob (shucked, grilled, slathered with mayonnaise and sprinkled with cheese and spices) and strawberry shortcake.

Saturday morning we piled into the borrowed minivan and road-tripped to Boston where we:
  • Took a Duck Tour
  • Stayed at the 463 Beacon Street Guesthouse
  • Had a great lunch and pitchers of margaritas (regular and blood-orange) in Central Square, Cambridge
  • Gleefully spent money at Ten Thousand Villages, next door to the margaritas in Central Square
  • Strolled down Charles Street, through Beacon Hill, the Public Garden and the Common
  • Walked to the North End where I was bitterly disappointed to learn that Dairy Fresh Candies – my favorite place ever in all of Boston – has closed its doors after 45 years in business (website does not appear to be updated w/r/t the closing)
  • Drank beers at Boston Beer Works while watching the Belmont - I should have learned by now never to bet on the grey horse
  • Walked back to and through the North End for our fabulous dinner at Monica’s which was fabulous for two things in particular: the food (especially my delicate fettucini with prawns and littleneck clams) and the extremely attractive staff (yowza!)
  • Picked up postprandial cannolis and tiramisu at Mike’s Pastry (because the line at Modern Pastry was just too long) and ate while dangling our toes in the wonderful fountain in the new park between Haymarket and the North End
  • Had a fantastic Sunday breakfast at Johnny D’s in Somerville (they have the best oatmeal in the world! plus the rest of the menu is awesome too) before walking through Harvard Square and then heading home, tired, happy and extremely well-fed

P.S. to AnnaB - in case you haven't seen it yet, Friday's BSG was not the season finale ... there's still more to come!

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Cat People - movie review

Mr. Mouse and I are attempting to cut down on our television watching by only watching that which we have recorded on the DVR. It's a pretty good rule. And gosh, I'm so glad that I used up space on the hard-drive for this one: 1982's Cat People, a pretty bad remake of the purportedly better 1942 horror film of the same name. Incredibly, it has a really strong cast for so crappy a movie: Nastassja Kinski, Malcolm McDowell, John Heard (supercute in 1982), Annette O'Toole, Ruby Dee (whose part seems superfluous and must have been drastically cut) and Ed Begley Jr. are the big names. Even John Larroquette gets a few lines in one scene!

Nastassja Kinski is Irena, a waifish virgin who has been tracked down by her creepy brother Paul (Malcolm McDowell - does he ever not play creepy?) and brought to New Orleans. Their parents died when they were young; the siblings were separated and only recently reunited. The other thing about Irena and Paul is that they are Cat People: they can only have sex with each other or else they turn into black leopards post-coitus. They have to stay in big-cat form until they manage to kill someone and then they can change back. Paul is hip to the situation; Irena is just figuring out the horror movie trope of once you have sex, bad things happen to you.

John Heard (Oliver), Annette O'Toole (Alice) and Ed Begley Jr. all play zookeepers. They get involved after Paul shags a hooker and turns into a leopard; the zookeepers manage to capture him for a while. Now, I would like credit for this prognostication: about one-third of the way through the movie, after Paul-the-leopard has been brought back to the zoo, and as Ed Begley Jr. was attempting to clean the big cat cages, I announced to anyone who was listening (the dog, Mr. Mouse having gone to bed), that Ed Begley Jr. would be killed by the leopard. Lo and behold, within twenty seconds of my pronouncement, the leopard had ripped Ed Begley Jr.'s arm off and the poor fellow bled to death.

Sidebar: For a horror movie, there's very little gore - the disarming (heh) of Ed Begley Jr. is the most of it, with a couple of scratchings, a body wrapped in a bloody sheet, some gooey stuff and an autopsy of a Cat Person in leopard form. I understand that you don't have to have a lot of blood and guts in a horror film, but if that's the route you're going, you have to ramp up the suspense and atmosphere, throw some scares in that way. Cat People is nearly bereft of such atmosphere, unfortunately.

Long story short (and it's really not much of a coherent story with jumps and gaps and leaps of logic), Irena tries to be a good girl but when her brother is killed she embraces her feline-icity and eventually has sex with Oliver. This sexual awakening literally releases the beast within. However, when Irena morphs into her leopard-form, she is unable to kill the zookeeper because she loves him. So she runs off and kills someone else in order to get back to human form. Realizing that if she wants to be with Oliver she can never again "be with Oliver" without consequences, Irena finds her lover and asks him to "free" her. He's down with it, but first ties her to the bed (fun with bondage!) so she can't maul him after they do the nasty. The final scene is actually kind of sweet: Oliver goes out to the big cat cages at the zoo and hand-feeds a beautiful black leopard. She purrs and he skritches her behind the ears. I can't read the name placard on her cage but I'm guessing "Irena" would be too obvious.

There is a fair bit of nudity in this movie: Kinski gets fully naked a lot, both McDowell and Heard flash their tushes and Annette O'Toole (Mrs. Kent from Smallville!) goes topless. Everyone looks great and it was fantastic to see all-natural boobs for a change. Yay for the early '80s!

The absolute low point is a dream sequence in which Irena learns the history and/or mythology of the Cat People. It's all gauzy scarves, wind and fog machines a la an excruciating music video. Boo for the early '80s!

And finally, big points go to Mr. Mouse who, before he went off to bed, correctly identified the Cat People theme as being performed by David Bowie - before any lyrics were actually uttered! Very impressive.



BOOK REVIEWS, A - Z

As with the movie reviews, here are the links to all the book reviews. I hope to start working on doing this for the television recaps soon - please bear with me.


A
Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter - Seth Grahame-Smith
Acacia - Book One: the War with the Mein - David Anthony Durham
The Accidental Highwayman - Ben Tripp
Alanna - the First Adventure - Tamora Pierce
Already Dead - Charlie Huston
American Gods - Neil Gaiman

B
Beautiful Creatures - Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl
Black Hole - Charles Burns
Black Orchid - Neil Gaiman
The Blade Itself - Joe Abercrombie
Blandings Castle - P.G. Wodehouse
Bloodstream - Tess Gerritsen
The Blue Sword - Robin McKinley
The Book of Lost Things - John Connolly

C
Callisto - Torsten Krol
Cast in Shadow - Michelle Sagara
Cast in Courtlight - Michelle Sagara
Cast in Secret - Michelle Sagara
Children of God - Mary Doria Russell
Clockwork Angel - Cassandra Clare
Coraline - Neil Gaiman
The Cornish Trilogy - Robertson Davies

D
Dare Me - Megan Abbott
Dark Summit: The True Story of Everest's Most Controversial Season - Nick Heil
Dead Beat: A Novel of the Dresden Files - Jim Butcher
Dead Harvest - Chris F. Holm
Dead Witch Walking - Kim Harrison
Deerskin - Robin McKinley
The Deptford Trilogy - Robertson Davies
Dewey: the Small-Town Library Cat Who Touched the World - Vicki Myron
A Discovery of Witches - Deborah Harkness
Dissolution - C.J. Sansom
Dizzying Heights - Bruce Ducker
Doctor Sleep - Stephen King
Dragonhaven - Robin McKinley
The Dog Stars - Peter Heller
Duma Key - Stephen King

E
The Emperor's Children - Claire Messud
Extraordinary Circumstances: The Journey of a Corporate Whistleblower - Cynthia Cooper

F
Falconer - John Cheever
Fiddler's Ghost - Mitch Jayne
Finch - Jeff Vandermeer
Flora Segunda - Ysabeau S. Wilce
Flora's Dare - Ysabeau S. Wilce
The Forgery of Venus - Michael Gruber
Fragile Things - Neil Gaiman
Full Dark, No Stars - Stephen King
Furies of Calderon - Jim Butcher

G
A Game of Thrones  - George R.R. Martin
The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making - Catherynne M. Valente
The Girls - Lori Lansens
The Golden Compass - Philip Pullman
Gone Girl - Gillian Flynn
A Good Dog: The Story of Orson, Who Changed My Life - Jon Katz
The Good Terrorist - Doris Lessing
The Graveyard Book - Neil Gaiman
A Great Deliverance - Elizabeth George
Guards! Guards! - Terry Pratchett

H
Heart of the Trail: The Stories of Eight Wagon Train Women - Mary Barmeyer O'Brien
The Heroes - Joe Abercrombie
Homecoming - Bernhard Schlink
How to Ditch Your Fairy - Justine Larbalestier
H.P. Lovecraft - Tales
The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms - N.K. Jemisin

I
Immobility - Brian Evenson
In Search of Molly Pitcher - Linda Grant De Pauw

J
John Dies at the End - David Wong

K
The Knife of Never Letting Go - Patrick Ness

L
The Last Werewolf - Glen Duncan
The Lazarus Project - Aleksandar Hemon
Let's Pretend This Never Happened - Jenny Lawson
Leviathan Wakes - James S.A. Corey
The Lies of Locke Lamora - Scott Lynch
Life Sucks - Jessica Abel, Gabe Soria and Warren Pleece
Life Support - Tess Gerritsen
Locke & Key: Welcome to Lovecraft - Joe Hill

M
M Is for Magic - Neil Gaiman
The Magicians - Lev Grossman
The Martian - Andy Weir
The Mermaid Chair - Sue Monk Kidd
Midnight Riot - Ben Aaronovitch
Mike and Psmith - P.G. Wodehouse
Missing Joseph - Elizabeth George
The Mortal Instruments series - Cassandra Clare
Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore - Robin Sloan
The Museum of Extraordinary Things - Alice Hoffman
My Dead Body - Charlie Huston

N
The Name of the Star - Maureen Johnson
The Night Circus - Erin Morgenstern
No Dominion - Charlie Huston
NOS4A2 - Joe Hill

O
Old Fish Hawk - Mitchell Jayne
Out of Sight - Elmore Leonard

P
The Passage - Justin Cronin
Payment in Blood - Elizabeth George
Perdido Street Station - China Mieville
Piercing the Veil - Jacqueline Fullerton
Poison Study - Maria V. Snyder
Pride and Prejudice and Zombies - Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith

Q
The Queen's Bastard - C.E. Murphy
Quicksilver - Neal Stephenson

R
Ready Player One - Ernest Cline
The Real Animal House - Chris Miller (a/k/a "Pinto")
Red Country - Joe Abercrombie
The Rozabal Line - Shawn Haigins

S
Sabriel - Garth Nix
The Secret History - Donna Tartt
The Secret Race - Tyler Hamilton and Daniel Coyle
Secrets of the Sea - Nicholas Shakespeare
Seraphina - Rachel Hartman
Sharp Teeth - Toby Barlow
Shiver - Maggie Stiefvater
Silver: My Own Tale As Written by Me with a Goodly Amount of Murder - Edward Chupack
Skinny Bitch - Rory Freedman and Kim Barnouin (guest review by LyndaLove)
The Sparrow - Mary Doria Russell
The Sport of Schutzhund: A Photographic Essay - BJ and Peter Spanos
St. John and the Midfield - Gerasamo Maccagnone
Station Eleven -  Emily St. John Mandel
Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers  - Mary Roach
The Strain - Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan
Summer Knight - Jim Butcher
The Summer of My Greek Taverna - Tom Stone

T
Talk Talk - T.C. Boyle
The Twelve - Justin Cronin
Tooth and Claw - Jo Walton

U
Uglies - Scott Westerfeld
Under Heaven - Guy Gavriel Kay
Under the Banner of Heaven - Jon Krakauer
Under the Dome: a novel - Stephen King
Under the Skin - Michel Faber

V
Vampire Hunter D - Hideyuki Kikuchi

W
A Walk for Sunshine - Jeff Alt
Water for Elephants - Sara Gruen
The Wee Free Men - Terry Pratchett (and then three more)
Why We Broke Up - Dan Handler
The Wind Through the Keyhole - Stephen King
The Windup Girl - Paolo Bacigalupi
Wolf Hall - Hilary Mantel
The Woman in White - Wilkie Collins
World War Z - Max Brooks

X

Y

Z

Wide Sargasso Sea - movie review

Wide Sargasso Sea - based on the 1966 novel by Jean Rhys, originally aired by the BBC in 2006 and finally releasing to U.S. audiences on DVD later this month - is a sensuous look at a descent into madness. Ostensibly presented as a prequel to Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre, the story is about Mr. Rochester’s first wife, Antoinette Cosway, and how she transformed into that ghostly lunatic locked in the tower at Thornfield Manor.

Edward Rochester, a disenfranchised second son, has come to Jamaica to seek his fortune at his father’s behest. Edward could not be more English: tight-lipped, excruciatingly proper and respectably swaddled in good English woolens. He is entirely unprepared for life in the Caribbean – the warm, sticky, scented air, the beautiful women, the copious amounts of rum – and is unable to do much more than protest feebly when his friend Richard fixes him up with Richard’s stepsister, Antoinette.

Antoinette is lovely, innocent and presumably quite unlike any English ladies Edward has ever met, barefoot and dreamy. She introduces him to the beauty and wonders of her island home and he is quickly smitten with her. Before long they are married, over the odd protestations of Antoinette’s Aunt Cora and amid the murmured whisperings of the Jamaican townsfolk. Dizzily in love, the newlyweds head to the Cosway summer home in the mountains for their honeymoon.

The mountain house is beautiful and decayed which seems to be the state of nearly everything in Jamaica, as Edward soon discovers. The couple spends their days exploring their surroundings and each other’s bodies; Antoinette is the happiest she has ever been and Edward relaxes for the first time in his life.

It doesn’t take long for things to fall apart, of course. Antoinette’s nurse, Christophine, is openly hostile towards her former charge’s new husband; the other servants are dodgy and impertinent. Edward begins to hear rumors that his wife’s mother was insane and tried to kill her own husband. Digging deeper, he uncovers additional secrets, including that madness likely runs in the Cosway family. He retreats into his Englishness – well on his way to becoming the harsh, withdrawn Rochester we know from Jane Eyre - and Antoinette’s fragile psyche starts to disintegrate. By the movie’s end, it is uncertain whether her insanity is wholly genetic or in large part due to her husband’s treatment of her.

This production is gorgeous: filmed in Jamaica, the colors and textures are lush and saturated. A couple of times the director used trite, swirling camera work to indicate the characters’ unstable states of mind which I found annoying. He should have trusted the actors’ capable performances: Rebecca Hall, as Antoinette, and Rafe Spall, as Edward, are heartbreaking in their bewilderment and anguish as their lives spiral out of control. They certainly didn’t need whirling, stuttering shots of jungle vegetation and blurred faces to help convey their pain.

The DVD extras are a little skimpy: previews from other British television productions; a biography of Jean Rhys, the author of the source material; and the main cast’s filmographies. I did find the Rhys biographical information interesting, and one doesn't really expect a lot from the extras for a production like this anyway.

British television has long had a reputation for quality period drama, mining the wealth of classic literature and making these rich stories accessible to folks who might not be inclined to pick up the book. I think Wide Sargasso Sea is a strong entry into the field and am pleased that those of us in the U.S. finally have the chance to enjoy it.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

MOVIE REVIEW LINKS, A-Z

3:10 to Yuma
28 Days Later
30 Days of Night
1408


A
Alien
All Cheerleaders Die
American Zombie
The Animatrix
Ant-Man
Appaloosa
The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford

Attack the Block
Ava's Possessions

B
The Babadook
Bad Milo!
The Bay
Beowulf (2007)
Bernie (2011)
Big Hero 6
Black Christmas (1974)
Black Sheep (2007)
Black Swan (2010)
Blades of Glory
Blood Simple
Bloodsucking Bastards
The Boondock Saints
Bubba Ho-Tep
Burn After Reading
The Burrowers

C
The Cabin in the Woods
Candyman
Carrie (1976)
Cat People (1982)
Children of Men
Chocolate (2008)
Chronicle
The City of Lost Children (La cité des enfants perdus)
Cloverfield
The Conjuring
The Convent
Creature from the Black Lagoon
Cronos

D
Dahmer
The Dark Knight

The Dark Knight Rises
Dawn of the Dead/Day of the Dead
Daybreakers
Dead Like Me: the Movie
Dead Snow
Dead Within
Deathproof
The Devil's Backbone
The Devil's Muse
District 9
Dog Soldiers
Doomsday
Dracula 2000
Drag Me to Hell
Drive

E
Easy A
Enchanted
Equilibrium
Event Horizon
The Evil Dead
Evil Dead II: Dead by Dawn
Excision
Extract
The Eye (2002)

F
The Fall
Fallen Angel (2007)
Fido
Final Girl
The Final Girls
The Fly (1986)
The Food of the Gods
Forgetting Sarah Marshall
The Fountain

Friday the 13th (1980)
Friday the 13th Part 2
Friday the 13th Part 3D
Frozen
Funny People

G
Ginger Snaps
Ginger Snaps Back: The Beginning
Gone Girl

H
Hamlet 2
The Hangover
Hard Candy
Hellboy II: the Golden Army
Hellraiser
The Host
Hot Fuzz
Hot Tub Time Machine
The House Bunny
Housebound
How to Train Your Dragon
The Hunger Games

I
I Am the Pretty Thing that Lives in the House
I Sell the Dead
Idiocracy
Immortals
In Bruges
Inception
Infection
Inglourious Basterds
Inside Out
Insidious
The Iron Giant
Iron Man
It Follows

J
Jennifer's Body
Jeremiah Johnson
Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work
John Carter
Juno

K
Kick-Ass
King Kong (2005)
The King of Kong: Fistful of Quarters
Knocked Up

L
Land of the Dead
Let Me In
Let the Right One In
Lifeforce
The Long Good Friday

M
Mad Max: Fury Road
Magic Mike
Maleficent
May
The Maze Runner
The Men Who Stare at Goats
Mirrormask
The Mist
The Monster Squad
Monsters
Moon
Much Ado About Nothing
My Bloody Valentine
My Soul to Take

N
Never Let Me Go
The Neverending Story
Neverwhere
Night of the Creeps
Night of the Living Dead
Night Watch (Nochnoy dozor)

O
Observe and Report
Ocean's Thirteen
One Missed Call
Only Lovers Left Alive
Open Water
The Orphanage (Il Orfanato)
Our Idiot Brother

P
Pacific Rim
The Pact
Paranormal Activity
ParaNorman
Phantasm
Pineapple Express
Piranha (2010)
Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End

Planet of the Apes
Planet Terror

Pod
Pontypool
The Prestige
Prometheus
Pumpkinhead
The Purge

Q
Quarantine

R
Ratatouille
Ravenous
Re-Animator
[REC]
[REC]2
Red State
The Relic
Resident Evil: Extinction
Return of the Living Dead

Return to OZ
Ride the Divide
The Ring (2002)
RocknRolla
Rubber
The Ruins
Run, Fat Boy, Run

S
Safety Not Guaranteed
The Scorch Trials
Session 9
Severance
Scott Pilgrim vs. the World
Shall We Dance? (1996)
Sherlock Holmes (2009)
Shredder
The Singing Detective (2003)
The Signal
Sleeping with Other People
Snowpiercer
The Spiderwick Chronicles
Splinter
Stardust
Star Trek (2009)
Storage 24
Super
Super 8
Superbad
Sweeney Todd

T
Tales from the Darkside
Ted
Teeth
The Thing
Thirst
The Town
Transformers (2007)
Trainwreck
Tropic Thunder

U
Under the Skin
Unfriended

V
Vertigo
V/H/S

W
Waitress
Wanted
Warm Bodies
Watchmen
We Are What We Are
What We Do in the Shadows
When Animals Dream
Wide Sargasso Sea
Wolfen
Wolverine (X-Men Origins)
The World's Fastest Indian

The Wrestler

X
XX

Y

Z
Zack and Miri Make a Porno
Zombieland