Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Vampire Academy by Richelle Mead

It's been ages since I reviewed a supernatural YA book - y'all have just been pining away for another one, I can tell.  Vampire Academy by Richelle Mead fits the bill.  This first volume in the series is about two teenaged girls: Lissa, a mortal, magic-wielding vampire; and Rose, a half-human/half-vampire Dhampir, Lissa's BFF and sworn guardian.  Lissa is a Moroi (a type of vampire) princess, the last of her line, beautiful, fragile, haunted, and in need of protection from the nasty Strogoi, who are vampires in the universal sense - living dead bloodsucking killers.  Rose, who narrates the book, has known Lissa since they were little.  She is Lissa's opposite: curvy, earthy, passionate, short-tempered and ferocious.

In an attempt to protect Lissa, Rose took her friend and ran away from the Vampire Academy.  They lived on the run for two years, using Lissa's talent for compulsion to avoid scrutiny and using Rose's blood to feed Lissa.  But the Academy's administrative powers that be finally tracked down their truants and returned them to the school in the wilds of Montana, and now they face new challenges.  Lissa must needs reclaim her rightful place as a royal in the students' social hierarchy and Rose has a lot of catching up to do if she wants to graduate as Lissa's official guardian.

Complicating matters are Lissa's ex-boyfriend's new girlfriend, a tiny harpy (not literally - she's another vamp) hell-bent on destroying her perceived competition; and wierd Christian, a moody outcast royal who may or may not have insidious designs on Lissa.  Rose has her own problems to deal with - a badly tarnished reputation, a way-hot but distant tutor and the strange and powerful empathic bond she shares with Lissa, which allows Rose to know everything her friend is feeling.

Vampire Academy is not fabulous literature by any means, and is not nearly as good as the Mortal Instruments series.  But it's entertaining, and quickly-read; the characters have equal parts supernatural and normal teenagery issues; it's a little bit violent and a little bit sexy, but remains firmly PG-13; and while things get wrapped up pretty tidily at the end, you can pick out the themes that will continue in the next books (Frostbite, Shadow KissBlood Promise, Spirit Bound and Last Sacrifice, to date).  I liked this first volume well enough that I'll take another stab at the series and see where it leads me.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Spartacus: Blood and Sand S1E7 and 8

Episode 7, "Great and Unfortunate Things" - [Quibble: I find it slightly unfortunate that E6 was titled "Delicate Things" and this one "Great and Unfortunate Things" ... the writers don't have a thesaurus?]  Moving on: Batiatus generously allows Spartacus to honor his poor dead wife with a funeral pyre.  Spartacus is very sad and not really in the mood for training.  The dotore (?) knows Spartacus was thinking about escaping with Sora and warns that next time the Thracian had better kill him instead of just drugging him, and then he pounds on the new widower for a while.  Crixus isn't doing that well either: he's got a fever what with his horrific wounds having gotten infected.  Later on, Spartacus learns that one of the other gladiators has been taking advantage of Barca's absence and is abusing little Petros, raping and beating him.  Our hero is SO not in the mood for this and simply throws the abusive gladiator off the cliff during practice.  Everyone thinks that was a shitty thing to do: sure, that guy shouldn't have been hurting Petros, but he was a gladiator and deserved to die in the ring, not tossed away like trash.

The next games in Capua are a celebration of some old Roman soldier and are to be a reenactment of his victory over a bunch of Thracians.  Batiatus wants Spartacus to play the part of the Roman hero; the tricky bit is that the Thracians he will be fighting are actually Thracian prisoners.  Spartacus is really not keen on fighting his countrymen until he realizes that this might be his out: he agrees, but only if the fight will be six Thracians to his one "Roman."  You know, gladiator-assisted suicide.  The fight goes badly at first, as one might suspect in a 6 v. 1 battle.  But then something awakens in Spartacus and he kills the hell out of all six Thracians, to the delight of the crowd - and Batiatus.  At the end, he renounces his old life, raising his arms and screaming, "I AM SPARTACUS!"

Episode 8, "Mark of the Brotherhood" - This new Spartacus has become quite the killing machine in the ring, laying waste to all comers.  The rich twit Ilythia is becoming bored and annoyed with her husband's nemesis's many victories and to keep her attention and patronage, Batiatus invites her to come see the newest crop of slaves he's buying, to check out the next generation of gladiators.  While Batiatus is at the slave market, Lucretia brings the recovering Crixus to her bed for some sexual healing.  Later, Ilythia reviews the new recruits - who include a couple of German brothers and a big Gaul with dreadlocks - she has them drops their loincloths and, unable to contain her leering, picks the Gaul (with the HUGE penis) to be "her" gladiator.  As Batiatus explains it, she'll pay for his food and training and he'll bring her glory in the ring - eventually.

When Crixus returns to the gladiators' quarters, he finds that the balance of power has changed; he is no longer the boss - Spartacus is.  Crixus can scarcely stand it and, faced with his venomous hatred of the Thracian (which is in part because Spartacus will not revel in the brotherhood of the gladiators as Crixus thinks he should), Batiatus considers selling the former champion off to some hick ludus in Damascus.  Lucretia gets very upset at the thought of losing her favorite.  To try to prove his worth, Crixus challenges Spartacus in the practice yard, but he has not nearly regained his strength and Spartacus handily kicks his ass and shames him further.  However, when Ilythia's Gaul, under orders from his new mistress, tries to strangle Spartacus in the bathing chamber, Crixus hears the struggle and saves Spartacus's life - saying that he is merely saving the life of a brother in arms, who deserves to die in the ring, not drowned in the bath.  As punishment, the Gaul recruit is castrated and strung up on a crucifix.  To his credit, he never sells out his scheming mistress, even as he dies up there on the wall.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Spartacus: Blood and Sand S1E5 and 6

Episode 5, "Shadow Games" - In an attempt to please the gods and put an end to the drought, Capua's magistrate is putting on some games, thinking that the human sacrifices (dead gladiators) might make it rain.  The magistrate wants some big guns for the primus (main fight): hiring Crixus AND Spartacus to fight against Theokoles, some undefeated monster of a man who goes by the charming nickname, the Shadow of Death.  Realizing that the odds are against them, Spartacus tries to get Crixus to work with him, to fight as a team against their common enemy.  But Crixus doesn't trust the Thracian, saying that he doesn't believe in the way of the gladiator, of glory - it's each man for himself.  In the less-testosterony portion of the plot, Batiatus starts an investigation into who tried to have him killed down in the Pits.  He learns that Solonius, a rival ludus owner, hired Whatsisname, to whom Batiatus owed a lot of money, to take care of it; instead, Batiatus takes Barca, one of his pet gladiators with him to Whatsisname's house to slaughter Whatsisname's entire family - Barca does it, but is unhappy about killing the little boy. 

Meanwhile, snooty little Ilythia condescends to arrange for a priestess of Juno to examine Lucretia to discover why she and Batiatus have been unable to have children.  The ritual demands that Lucretia have sex within the hour, but Batiatus is off investigating his would-be assassins, and when she summons Crixus to her bedchamber, the big lug pleads off, saying sex would drain him before the big fight.  Poor Lucretia.  Finally, at the primus, we see Theokoles: a scarred, misshapen giant, scarcely human, wielding two swords and no shields.  In no time at all, Spartacus and Crixus lay him out ... but it's a trick, and the monster comes at them while Crixus is celebrating, and wounds him badly.  Spartacus is left to press the attack alone, which he does mightily, at last decapitating the legend.  As the slaves drag the bleeding Crixus out of the arena, the skies darken and rain pours down, drenching our Spartacus, the new champion of Capua.

Nudity alert: to prove how much Spartacus and Crixus don't like each other, they do some nekkid wrestling in the gladiators' bathing chamber - yay! 

Episode 6, "Delicate Things" - It's still raining as Batiatus gives a victory speech back at the ludus - he's very pleased with ol' Spartacus.  And so he is also pleased to give our hero some good news: he, Batiatus, has found Spartacus's wife and she'll be brought to the ludus to serve as a slave until her husband wins enough coin to free them both.  I guess that is good news.  Downstairs, Crixus is in wicked bad shape as the medicus closes his wounds with a hot poker.  Spartacus does not intend to rescue his wife only to condemn her to another life of slavery and begins to plot to escape the ludus once Sora is delivered.   There is more conniving in the ludus and Barca, who is genuinely a nice fellow (recent murders notwithstanding) and only wants to gain freedom for himself and his little honeyboy Petros, is betrayed: Batiatus is led to believe that Barca did not in fact kill Whatsisname's little boy, who might be able to identify his family's killer, and so has poor Barca killed for disobedience.  They tell poor Petros that Barca was able to only buy his own freedom and left his little lover behind.

Spartacus's plan to escape with his wife is in place ... but when the cart bringing her arrives, she is terribly wounded, the cart purportedly having been attack whilst on route.  Sora dies in her husband's arms and it's all very sad.  Of course, this was Batiatus's doing: he only promised to reunite the two - he had no intention of letting his prize gladiator get away from him.  Lucretia is first horrified by then impressed with her husband's ruthlessness. 

Nudity alert: Lucy Lawless fully topless in the bath halfway through the episode!

Friday, December 24, 2010

Max Headroom episode recaps 5-7

Editor's NoteThese are pretty teensy for recaps, I know, more like mini-mini-recaps.  But (1) nobody is reading them anyway because nobody cares about poor ol' Max Headroom and (2) if you are by the grace of dog reading them, I don't want to give away too much because poor ol' Max Headroom deserves to be seen in all his lame '80s splendor.  So these are teaserecaps, if you will.

Episode 5: "War"  - Best line goes to Murray:  Edison asks, sincerely, "Since when has news been entertainment?"  Murray replies, "Since it was invented?"  In this episode, in the midst of global ratings sweeps, a terrorist group contracts with the television networks for exclusive rights to their upcoming bombings.  Edison gets involved when one of Network 23's own reporters gets caught in the crossfire.  It's like Wag the Dog writ small.

Episode 6: "The Blanks" - "You don't have any rights - you're a Blank!"  As a response to the government's rounding up all the unregistered, off-the-grid folks known colloquially as "Blanks," a Blank rights/extremist group threatens to wipe out the city's computers and televisions.  In a world where television off-switches are illegal, and the networks and/or government supplies free television sets to everyone to help keep them under control, shutting down the system would be disastrous.  Panic sets in throughout the general populace during short black-outs with no television, and Edison and Max work with the Blanks to affect a release of their imprisoned compatriots.

Episode 7: "Academy" - When a high-level computer hack hijacks the Network 23 signal, Bryce is asked to trace the hack.  He does, but lies about its origin, instead sending the Metrocops to arrest Blank Reg.  It appears that the gifted hackers are young students at Bryce's alma mater, the Academy of Computer Sciences.  Bryce suffers his very first crisis of conscience for protecting his fellow brainiacs at Reg's expense.

These three episodes were much more overtly political than the first group.  Issues like profiling, inadequacy of the justice system, the persecution of the Other and the manipulation of news for ratings are at the forefront, and the show is none too subtle about where it stands.  I do find it fascinating to watch this all now, with the 20+ intervening years.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Comic mini-review: Eternals by Neil Gaiman

I have made it my mission - a low-key, as-I-get-around-to-it mission, but still - to absorb in some form or another all of Neil Gaiman's works.  I love his writing, his worlds both familiar and oh-so strange, his embracing of old stories and gods, his creation of new beings and universes.  So far I have managed to watch Neverwhere, Mirrormask, Beowulf and Stardust, and read M is for Magic, American Gods, Anansi Boys, Fragile Things, Coraline, Black Orchid, The Graveyard Book, the Sandman series (click on the Gaiman tag over there on the right and it'll bring up all the reviews) and now, most recently*, Eternals

Eternals is a Marvel comic book written by Gaiman, illustrated by John Romita Jr. (who signs his art JRJR, which I rather like), a resurrection of an old and forgotten comic by Jack Kirby back in the 1970s.  The Eternals are not superheroes, although they have superpowers like superspeed, flight, transmogrification, mental telepathy, mad fighting skillz, etc.  They are not gods, although they have been around for a gajillion years and are ageless immortals.  They are another race entirely, set by their makers to keep and protect the Earth ... and most of them don't know who they are. 

So this is an origin story of sorts, as one of the Eternals, Ike Harris/Ikaris, sets about to gather the Eternals together, restoring their powers and their memories of who and what they are.  He finds the speedster, Makkari, who thinks he is "Mark Curry," ER doctor; Sersi, who can change matter's form and who is currently a party planner; Sprite, a puckish male Hannah Montana; and Thena the Warrior, married with a child and a job as head researcher for Stark Industries.

Yeah, that Stark Industries.  Iron Man has more than a cameo here, as do Yellowjacket and the Wasp (whoever they are).  The Marvel universe has a big presence in this book, which dampened my enthusiasm a bit - I'm just not that interested in superhero comics.  Another dampener for me is that there was just so much going on, it was overwhelming at times: a big cast and a twisty plot are fine, but the loads of exposition weighed things down.  Wave upon wave of giant alien robots, mutant demony critters, one Eternal thinking to take over the world one country at a time, another Eternal sabotaging his fellows, the Avengers trying to get the Eternals to sign on with them, dating throughout the millennia, how many ways can an Eternal not be killed ... I realize that all this is there to lay the groundwork for future stories, but it felt a little rushed. And not nearly Gaiman-y enough for my taste.

I didn't find the Eternals artwork to be anything special - although apparently Romita kept a number of the original Kirby elements in the characters' drawings while updating them out of the Seventies.  I just couldn't get excited about this book, and a couple of times caught myself turning pages quickly - never a good sign.  I'm sure it's a solid enough comic but I have come to expect more out of Neil Gaiman.  And, I'm afraid to say, that it's made me a little leery of all the other comics of his I have to read to accomplish my mission.  I do hope the others are more Sandman and less superhero.

* I'm halfway through Good Omens too.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

New Christmas Cookie Recipe

It's been ages since I posted a Christmas cookie recipe (over three years, to be precise), so I'm thrilled to have found a new one to share with you.  I don't know where I got it - looks like somewhere online, either the Portland Press Herald or the Salt Lake Tribune or some food blog/site that I visit occasionally - but I love it because it's easy and very tasty and gorgeously colored and Mr. Mouse doesn't like them* so I don't have to share.  So if this is your recipe, THANK YOU!  I've made three batches thus far (it makes small batches, btw) and we still have a week to go for Christmas.

Pistachio-Cranberry Cookie Sticks

3/4 cup whole pistachios (shelled)
1 cup + 2 Tbsp. all purpose flour
2/3 cup sugar
1/4 tsp. salt
6 Tbsp. unsalted butter, cut into chunks
2 Tbsp. water
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/8 tsp. almond extract (optional)
1/3 cup chopped dried cranberries (or dried cherries)

Combine the pistachios, flour, sugar and salt in a food processor and pulse until it is a fine meal.  Add the butter and pulse until the dough looks crumbly.  Combine the water, vanilla and almond extract and add it to the food processor, pulsing until it just looks damp.  Add the dried cranberries and pulse until evenly distributed.

On a piece of parchment paper, roll out the dough into a 6x9 inch rectangle that's a 1/2-inch thick.  Refrigerate for 2 hours or overnight.

Preheat over to 350.  Using a pizza cutter or long knife, cut 3/8-inch thick slices and place them on parchment-lined cookie sheets, about 1 inch apart.  Bake 12-14 minutes, until golden at the edges.  Don't overbake as they will continue to firm as they cool.

* Mr. Mouse is not being deprived.  Just today I made him a whole batch of Giant Ginger Cookies.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Comics review: Batwoman: Elegy by Greg Rucka and J.H. Williams III

I've said quite often that I'm not very familiar with comics and graphic novels.  Multiply that times about a zillion when it comes to superhero comics - I'm mostly just not that interested.  I was reading some Swamp Thing for a while, but that's not your typical cape and tights comic; I quite like Watchmen but, again, that's not your stereotypical superhero story.  Somehow this Batwoman: Elegy collection book made it onto my to-read list, however, and the library actually had it.

The Batman gave her the inspiration.  Her father gave her the discipline.  Years of training gave her the skills.  But only Kate Kane herself knows what gave her the unbreakable drive to serve in the war on crime.

This is an origin story (I'm a sucker for origin stories), picking up sometime after the Batwoman was nearly killed by being stabbed through the heart.  She's mostly healed and is ready to pick up the fight again, especially since the crazy cult, the Religion of Crime, has an insane new mistress in town.  The A story is the Batwoman's battle with crazy Madame Alice, and it's a little confusing what with all the turncoat shapeshifters and all.  The B story, Kate Kane's backstory flashbacks, is where all the good stuff is: Kate's mother and identical twin sister were brutally murdered when she was a child.  Kate joins the Army, then has a wild-child period before running into the Batman.  After that encounter, she realizes that she too can take up the fight against crime and, aided by her father, a retired Army colonel, assumes the mantle of the Batwoman.

Much of the art in this book is amazing - kaleidoscopic, multi-faceted and vibrant.  The story is unexpectedly poignant in places too, particularly in these days of "don't ask, don't tell:" Cadet Kate is a lesbian and her final confrontation with her brigade commander is gut-wrenching and honest.  Apparently Batwoman's sexual orientation has caused somewhat of a stir in the comic's fandom.  I found it compelling from a motivational (for the character) standpoint but non-intrusive otherwise.

I liked that the Batwoman character is attractive but not a knockout, strong and curvy but not ridiculously voluptuous.  Her costume is tight but doesn't particularly sexualize her (i.e., no cleavage).  Her gorgeous long red hair is a wig - Kate Kane's hair is cut in a practical bob.  She's fairly smart, stubborn, vulnerable ... a pretty modern superhero.  I don't imagine that I'll follow the comics any further, but I'm definitely happy that I read Batwoman: Elegy.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Max Headroom episode recaps 1-4

I have been waiting and waiting and waiting and waiting for Max Headroom to come out on DVD.  I remember loving it back in 1987 - back then, it seemed like one of the most subversive things on television and I was drawn to its cynical, punk-lite sensibilities.  Looking back now, I realize that I ended up being drawn to similar motifs: Brazil, Time Bandits, The Road Warrior, Neverwhere, etc., ... all post-apocalyptical or just-prior-to-the-apocalyptic scenarios with burned out buildings, widely separate social strata, punks, bad teeth and underdogs fighting against the Man, whosoever the Man might be at the time. 

Before I sat down to watch this series again, I figured there's no way MH can stand up to my remembrances.  To be honest, it's pretty dated with the clothing (shoulder pads!), big hair (and I'm not even counting the mohawks) and synthesizer music.  But I'm finding it very interesting to watch in 2010 a show made in the late 1980s about the insidiousness of network television - how the networks control what people watch and how they'll do anything to keep people watching.  It's rather more prescient than one might have expected.

Episode 1: "Blipverts" - During the pursuit of a mysterious death story - in which a new kind of television ad, a "blipvert" which compresses 30 seconds' worth of advertising into a 3-second spot, which can overload a lethargic human's nervous system and cause them to explode - investigative reporter Edison Carter (Matt Frewer) sustains a massive head injuiry.  His employer, Network 23, who is running these blipverts for their major advertiser, Zik Zak Corporation, wants to know just what Edison knows and has their resident boy-genius/mad scientist Bryce, download Edison's memories into his computer using his cutting-edge artificial intelligence program (which uses fabulous "Money for Nothing" era CGI).  The AI takes on a life of its own, becoming the charming and distractable Max Headroom, and Max helps Edison, his controller Theora (Amanda Pays) and his producer Murray (Jeffrey Tambor) break the blipvert story.  As it turns out, the viewing audience loves Max Headroom and Network 23's ratings skyrocket regardless.

Episode 2:  "Rakers" - Theora's estranged brother has become tangled in the illegal underground game of raking to try to make some money for his wife and baby.  Originally conceived of by young punks as a way to blow off steam, rakers ride motorized skateboards and try to knock each other off.  Local gangsters have seized on this game as a way to make some money and up the ante, making the players wear razor-sharp knives on their gloves and spectators bet on the survivors, rather than the winners.  Edison, Max and Theora track down the illegal games and broadcast the story just before Network 23 signs an exclusive contract to air the exciting new "sport."

Episode 3: "Body Parts" - The city's rich and privileged class are stealing body parts from the young disadvantaged people living on its fringes.  When his girlfriend is taken for her pituitary gland, a young fringe-dweller enlists Edison to help him track her down and expose the body-snatching.  In the process, we're also introduced to Reg and Dominque Blank, proprietors of an indie television station, "Big Time Television," doing broadcasts whenever and wherever they can.  In the B plot, Network 23's biggest advertiser, the Zik Zak Corporation, wants Max Headroom to promote their latest products; Max is proving difficult to work with, however, until he can talk to Edison to clear up some holes in their memories - many of which apparently occur around bouts of "drinking," whatever that is.

Epsidoe 4:  "Security Systems" - Edison investigates the possibly hostile takeover of Security Systems, Inc., a global company with a monopoly on information systems.  When he gets too close, the artificial intelligence running the company, a sexily-voiced mainframe called A7, alters his file and puts him on the run - locked out of his home, his job, his bank accounts.  With Bryce and Reg Blank's help, Edison infiltrates the SSI headquarters where Max flirts with A7 and manages to save the day, and his good buddy Edison.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Spartacus: Blood and Sand S1E3 and 4

In E3, the gladiators' training begins in earnest with much grunting, sweating, bashing about with practice swords and lifting of heavy things.  Spartacus is not much getting along with Crixus the Undefeated, Batiatus's prize gladiator (and Batiatus's wife Lucretia's occasional sex toy).  But Spartacus is determined to make a go of it, especially since Batiatus told him that he'll need much money to buy his wife's freedom, once Batiatus has located her.  So when Batiatus and Lucretia organize a gladiator tournament for the city of Capua, in an attempt to curry favor with Capua's senator, both Spartacus and his new BFF Varro (who needs money to settle his gambling debts), hope to garner places in the tournament that will net them some cash.

During the pre-tournament party, the Senator's hedonistic and snobby daughter Ilithyia develops a yen for gladiators, which includes watching with rapt attention when Lucretia orders Varro to service a slave girl in front of the guests.  Lucretia's delight at Ilithyia's delight is short-lived, however when the spoiled girl's short attention span turns elsewhere.  At the party, Spartacus learns that he and Varro are to fight in the first match, which will bring neither of them any cash, so he picks a fight with Crixus, in front of all the guests, forcing Batiatus to proclaim Crixus vs. Spartacus as the headlining fight to appease his audience.

Of course, in the tournament the next day, poor Spartacus is no match for Crixus who nearly kills him before Spartacus begs for mercy.  Batiatus grants it, sparing Spartacus's life, but the Capuan crowd is displeased at the mercy and Batiatus ends up losing a lot of money on the event.  To punish Spartacus for his major mistake, he kicks him off the gladiator team, saying that he must fight in the "underworld" until he dies or wins back favor.

S4 is Spartacus's trials and tribulations in the underworld: unsanctioned, highly-dangerous and -illegal fights to the death that take place in the catacombs beneath Capua.  It's all very ugly - the crowd especially is ugly, screaming for painful death for the combatants - and Spartacus has to dig deep to find the wherewithal to keep himself alive.  But he does, winning match after match (and gaining vicious scar after scar), and winning money for Batiatus, who sorely needs the cash to pay off his impatient bookies. 

After a time, however, Spartacus can take no more and tells Batiatus that if he will promise to rescue his wife, Spartacus will throw the fight: Batiatus should bet all he has against Spartacus; the Thracian will die; and Batiatus will make a killing.  The greedy Batiatus agrees but during the fight, as Spartacus is getting brutally pummeled, assassins make a move on Batiatus.  Knowing that a dead Batiatus will not be able to save his wife, Spartacus saves his master's life, and kills his opponent in the process.  Batiatus is in a tough position now: he's lost all the money he bet against his own man, but his life has been saved.  Troubled but grateful, he reinstalls Spartacus in the ranks of his gladiators.

In the B-plot, Crixus is not just a mass of muscles as he is secretly in love with one of Lucretia's slaves.  They must keep it hidden, however, because Lucretia (Lucy Lawless) is a jealous and vindictive woman.

Monday, December 6, 2010

The Walking Dead S1E6 (12/5/10)

Season finale time!  We start off with a little bit of Shane backstory, showing him in Rick's hospital room just as all hell is breaking loose.  In the hallways, soldiers are killing indiscriminately, walkers and humans alike.  Shane tries to lift Rick from his bed but the comatose man is too heavy, plus he's hooked up to all these machines and Shane just doesn't know what to do.  An explosion rocks the hospital, knocking out the power.  Shane panics, putting his head to Rick's chest, and when he doesn't hear a heartbeat - which, how could he what with all the gunfire and screaming and whatnot going on around him - he apologizes to his friend and gets the hell out of there.

Back in the show's present, Edwin Jenner is the name of the doctor barricaded in the CDC building.  He lets the band of survivors in, telling him that a blood test for each of them is the price of their admission, and warning them to bring in what belongings they have, for once the blast doors close behind them, they won't open again.  A little later, the blood tests all having come back clean, Jenner treats the survivors to food, wine (much wine) and hot showers - and it's difficult to say what is enjoyed more. 

At dinner, Shane kills everyone's buzz by asking Jenner why it is that he's the only one left.  Jenner explains that the other CDC folks either left to be with their families or stayed for a while before killing themselves.  He himself stayed to do what work he could.  Afterwards, everyone is drunk in different ways: Andrea is despairing that nothing is left in the whole world; Rick is a little maudlin, thanking Jenner for saving their lives when he was losing hope; and Shane catches Lori alone, intending to plead his case but ultimately nearly raping her before she claws his face and chases him off.

The next morning everyone is hungover.  Along with the aspirin, coffee and powdered eggs they ask Jenner if the CDC has come up with any answers.  He shows them a scan of "Test Subject 19," an infected individual who volunteered to be hooked up to the CDC's computers so they could see just what happens.  What happens is the brain dies from whatever agent - viral, bacterial, microbial, fungal, who knows - is transmitted by zombie bite, and then the agent restarts the brainstem only, so the walkers are not quite alive, just moving on instinct and reflex.  The scan ends with a bullet through TS19's head.  Everyone is stunned, moreso when Jenner tells them that the epidemic is global and there is really nothing left.  Dale apologizes for asking yet another question, but wants to know what the big clock on the wall is counting down to - there's one hour left.  Jenner says that's when the generators run out of fuel and "facility-wide decontamination" occurs.

Everyone scurries around for a while, trying to confirm that the building is in fact running out of fuel.  When the clock hits 30 minutes, the laboratory doors close, locking Jenner and all the survivors in.  Jenner, calmly, resignedly and just a little crazily, explains that the building is responding to the loss of the power grid, which were this situation to have happened in the event of a terrorist attack, the building will obliterate itself and all the nasty bugs the CDC has collected (weapons-grade smallpox, Ebola, etc.).

Much panic ensues until Rick convinces Jenner to let them out, to at least give them a chance at survival, grim as it may be.  Jenner does, warning them that the topside doors are sealed and he can't do anything about that, and then he whispers something in Rick's ear.  Everyone runs topside - everyone except Jacquie, who prefers an immediate, painless death to fighting anymore, and Andrea, who has simply given up in the wake of her sister's death.  Dale tries to convince Andrea to come with him.  When she refuses, he sits down beside her and says, fine, then, he'll stay here too because he cares about her and can't face life topside without her.  She stares at him, horrified that he would give up his life for her like this.

Upstairs, nothing anyone does can break the safety glass ... until Carol hands Rick the grenade that she found in his clothes when she washed them for him.  (Remember, he pocketed it when he was trapped in the tank.)  He places it against the window and BOOM, the window shatters.  They all run for their vehicles, offing a few lurching walkers as they do so, and are about to drive away when Dale and Andrea make their way out of the CDC building.  Everyone ducks and covers as the building explodes massively; Dale and Andrea get into the RV; and they caravan away to fight zombies another day. 

Still: where's Merle?  He better show up in S2.

Previously on The Walking Dead / next time on The Walking Dead

Friday, December 3, 2010

Spartacus: Blood and Sand - S1E1 and 2

Starz's pay-cable series, Spartacus: Blood and Sand, is awesome.  Take the bloated Russell Crowe vehicle Gladiator, mix it with Gerard Butler's 300, add a TON more gratuitous nudity and even more heavily-stylized blood splashing across the screen ... and you've got Spartacus: Blood and Sand.  Seriously: the fight scenes are taken right from 300, what with the freeze-frames and the pseudo-motion capture and the gushing blood, and the revenge story is totally taken from Gladiator, except that our hero (played by yummy Welshman Andy Whitfield, now undergoing treatment for non-Hodgkins lymphoma and we wish him wellness) is a Thracian, not a disgraced Roman general.

In the first episode, the Thracians join forces with a Roman legion ostensibly to protect their villages from marauding raiders but when the Romans change their tactics, leaving Thrace vulnerable, the Thracian soldiers desert.  The Romans don't take kindly to that and capture the deserters, ripping them from home and family and forcing them into either slavery or, if they're tough enough, the enforced servitude of gladiatorship.  In the second episode, Spartacus - not his real, Thracian name, but we don't know what that is - learns what it's like to be in a gladiator training house: ugly, brutal and bloody, with multiple glimpses of full-frontal male nudity plus lots of nekkid butts.  Our hero is not inclined to fight, even to save his life, until his new master promises to help him find/rescue his beautiful wife, raped by the Romans and sold into slavery.

Solid female full-frontal nudity, quick and distant male full-montys, lots of boobs, serious sex scenes, sweat and dirt and blood and swear words (who knew the ancient Romans dropped so many f-bombs?) ... this series is hard to take seriously but is a lot of fun to watch if you're in it for the violence and eye candy.  Lucy Lawless, she of Xena and (to a lesser extent) BSG fame, plays the wife of the owner of the gladiators.  She's 42 and flashes a lot of skin - bare boobs and butt - and good for her as she looks great.

Despite being a decent success (word is, it improves as the season continues), S:BaS is in hiatus now, due to its lead actor's cancer.  I've heard both that they may recast the lead or they'll wait and see how his treatment goes.  Frankly, I'd like to see them wait for Andy Whitfield: after two episodes, he's good but not great, but with a twinkle in his eye that promises more, and DANG I approve of the tiny leather loincloth wardrobe has him in.  I'll keep up with these mini-recaps through the season, with more detail now that I've committed to the show.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Big Love mousings: S1E9 and 10

To pick up where we left off:

E9:  The wives go round and round, trying to decide whom to name as guardians of their own children in the event they and Bill both die.  Turns out neither Barb nor Margene want Nikki to be guardian for their kids and Nikki wants her boys to be raised back on the compound. Barbara is also getting excited about her nomination for Utah’s Mother of the Year, but Nikki thinks she is being prideful – awesomely, when Nikki complains to Bill, he points out that what she really has a problem with is the fact that she’s Second Wife under Barb. Roman's child bride-to-be Rhonda comes to stay with the Henricksons while trying for a drama contest; Sara introduces her soon-to-be-step-grandmother to straight-laced LDS Heather, who is both fascinated and repelled, and wants to rescue Rhonda from the compound. During all this domestic turmoil, Bill has been asked to join a local business leaders group – he wants to do it, but ultimately turns it down because he’s worried about outing himself as a polygamist.

E10: Margene catches pregnant. Bill buys Old Whatsisname’s shares of stock and takes his seat on Roman’s board, then helps him and his elderly wives run away to Arizona. While Bill and Joey crash the board meeting, Albee pays Wanda an intimidation visit – and when he threatens her baby, she poisons him with antifreeze. Turns out she’s done this before: she’s the one who poisoned Bill and Joey’s dad with arsenic. After failing out of the drama competition (and awesomely bedazzling her jean jacket) Rhonda gets dragged back to the compound where, pouting, she tells Roman about Barb being up for Utah’s Mother of the Year.  So during the awards ceremony (which Nikki and Margene can’t attend because Barb was not allotted enough tickets), Roman calls in an anonymous tip that Barb is a polygamist. She is escorted out of the Governor’s Mansion in front of everyone, while Bill and their three kids scuttle away ashamedly. When they get home and are joined by Nikki (who is nearly hysterical, screaming that they’ll be taken away from each other until Bill tells her, “They don’t do that anymore”) and Margene who rally around their stricken sister-wife. The Henricksons’ lives are crumbling around them – who knows what the social repercussions will be? Not me, anyway: I’m not picking up S2 anytime soon.

Monday, November 29, 2010

The Walking Dead S1E5 (11/28/10)

For not having that much zombie-action - and yes, I confess to being on the side of the zombie-action proponents vs. the survivor-tales camp - I thought this was a good episode.

The remaining survivors clean up camp in the aftermath of last night's walker onslaught.  The zombies get pickaxes through the brainpan and then tossed on a bonfire; the pre-zombie dead humans get pickaxes through the brainpan and then buried.  There is some dissent that all the bodies should be burned, just in case, but Glenn is adamant that their people get treated with dignity, and Lori points out that burying their dead gives the living a chance to mourn. 

One person who is in full-on mourn mode is Andrea, crouched motionless over her dead sister's body.  The other survivors are getting antsy, knowing that dead Amy is a zombie time bomb just waiting to wake up and start chomping.  But when Rick tries to take Amy's body, Andrea shoves her gun - safety off this time - in his face and tells him to back the hell off.  The survivors give the sisters some space.  And when Amy jerks back to zombie life, Andrea strokes her face, tells her little sister that she loves her and puts a bullet in her poor dead brain.

Another issue is that Jim - he of the grave-digging dream - got bitten during the zombie fight.  Darryl thinks they need to pickaxe him ASAP but Rick thinks they need to try to save him.  Rick suggests that they go to the CDC, thinking that if anyone could have survived this zombie apocalypse and possibly have any sort of treatment, it would be there.  Shane thinks they should go to Fort Benning instead: even though it's farther away, the military base should be well-defended.  There is quite a bit of tension between the group's two alpha males but in the end Shane caves and they head out for the CDC.  Rick leaves a note and a map for Morgan and his son: he's been trying to reach them on the walkie-talkie to warn them away from Atlanta but hasn't heard anything.

En route to the CDC, Jim gets worse and worse, finally asking the group to just leave him at the side of the road.  There is some discussion as to whether they should kill him so he doesn't zombify, but Lori points out that they should honor the dying man's wish and in the end they put him in the shade, say their goodbyes and leave him there.

Meanwhile, there is a lone survivor deep in the basement levels of the CDC ... and he's going a little nuts, being down there for 194 days.  He's been running tests on zombie tissue but a lab accident destroys the freshest specimens and he starts to despair, his taped log sounding more and more despondent.  One night, halfway through a bottle, he announces that he might blow his brains out the next day - he's undecided.  First, though, he's gonna get drunk.

Topside, the survivors have arrived at the CDC.  The grounds are littered with rotting, fly-infested bodies.  They pick their way through, only to find the CDC closed off behind blast doors.  Everyone starts to panic: they have no food, hardly any gasoline, it's nearly dark and the walkers are starting to stir.  From inside, the lab guy mutters for them to go away.  As Shane tries to drag Rick back to the vehicles, Rick sees movement from a CCTV camera.  He starts screaming, begging to be let in, saying that they'll die if they're not let in.  Finally, just as everyone is reaching meltdown, a blast door rolls up, flooding the ragged band of survivors with light.  Looks like they'll be inside for the night at least.

One nagging question: where the frack is Merle?

Previously on The Walking Dead / next time on The Walking Dead

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Mini movie review: Idiocracy

One might think I would know better than to expect great things from a movie called Idiocracy.  Or even good things, really.  In all honesty, I really should have expected bad things - or at least really dumb things - from this movie.  Because that's what I got.

Starring Luke Wilson, Maya Rudolph and Dax Shepard, the Mike Judge-penned and -helmed Idiocracy is supposed to be satire: Wilson and Rudolph are volunteers for a year-long government experiment in long-term hibernation, but are forgotten and reanimate 500 years in the future where everyone on the planet has devolved into morons.  Crops have failed, continents are giant dustbowls and the economy is in the tank.  Once the most average guy in the U.S. Army, Wilson now finds himself the smartest guy on Earth and tasked with saving it, in one week.

The movie starts sharply enough in its prologue, saying that smart people over-thought themselves out of existence (focusing on their careers before having children, trying to wait for just the right time, then waiting too long and being unable to have them) whilst the redneck dumbasses propagate like rabbits.  [Mr. Mouse looked at me at this point, saying: "This is kind of too close to reality, isn't it?"  Which was the whole point, really.]  But Idiocracy just gets dumber from there, relying on sightgags (i.e., Fuddruckers restaurant morphing over time into Buttf**kers) and lame sex jokes.  Maybe Mike Judge was getting meta - using the increasing stupidity of his movie to illuminate the increasing stupidity in the world around us - but it doesn't come off.  Idiocracy, plainly put, is pretty idiotic.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving

Yeah, yeah, no posts, whatever.  But I've got the last coupla episodes of Big Love S1 to watch/mini-recap for you and if I ever remember to get to the post office, Idiocracy is waiting for me there, and I'm about a third of the way through John Carpenter's They Live.  So stuff is forth-coming.  Now I have to go eat pumpkin pie, however, so you're on your own for just a little longer.

BTW: this whole Glee thing with the homophobic closeted football player?  Um, Buffy did that storyline like back in 1998 or 1999 already.  Just sayin'. 

Also just sayin': this rumored BtVS movie reboot?  Worst. Idea. Ever.

Monday, November 22, 2010

The Walking Dead S1E4 (11/21/10)

Now, some folks have been complaining that TWD has slipped from its extremely strong pilot episode, slowing down, focusing on the human relationships and less on the [expensive, more difficult, etc.] zombie action.  As E4 started, with the two sisters in the canoe, fishing in the quarry (are there even fish in quarries?) and tearfully waxing nostalgic about learning to fish with their dad, I was all, maybe the naysayers are right: this is frickin' boring.  Then I kept watching the rest of the episode.

It's two-pronged, with the survivors at the campsite and the rescue-Merle-and-the-bag-of-guns crew.  Out at the campsite, one of the guys, Jim, whom he haven't heard from much thus far, is acting really weird.  He's out in the sun, frantically digging holes in the dirt.  The crew tries to get him to stop and when he won't, Shane tries to get him to hand over the shovel.  Jim takes a swing at Shane, who quickly drops him and handcuffs him and ties him to a tree in the shade.  Some time later, Jim has drunk some water and cooled off.  Shane asks him WTF was with the digging.  Jim says he had a reason - some after effect of a dream he had - but doesn't remember what it was now.  That evening, the gang enjoys some fresh fish and storytelling around the campfire.  Enjoys, that is, until a whole herd of ravenous, slavering zombies falls upon them.

Meanwhile, back in Atlanta, Rick, Glenn, Darryl and T-Dog try to track Merle, following the blood spatter from his self-amputated hand.  They follow the trail to a kitchen, where it becomes evident that Merle cauterized his wound with a hot iron and then scarpered out the window.  He could be anywhere, and likely really pissed off.  They decide to go after Rick's bag of guns instead: Glenn sets up a plan where he runs out to grab the guns while Darryl covers him from one alley and the other two men from another.  Darryl is grudgingly impressed (and thus begins Darryl's rehabilitation from loose-cannon asshole redneck to slightly less loose-cannon asshole redneck).  The plan goes pretty well until Glenn makes it back to Darryl's alley with the guns and a bunch of vatos jump them, trying to steal the guns.  Our guys fight them off and the vatos drive away, leaving one of their own behind but taking a shrieking Glenn with them.

Rick, Darryl and T-Dog arrange a trade with Guillermo, leader of this apparent gang but all is not quite as it seems.  Guillermo is tough, but not the bad ass he purports to be: he and his crew have holed up at an old folks' home, taking care of the elderly patients who were abandoned when the zombie apocalypse hit.  One of the gang members is actually a nurse; Guillermo used to be the janitor.  Touched by Guillermo's loyalty to these helpless old folks, Rick leaves a bunch of guns and ammunition with the vatos.  However, when Rick et als. return to where they left their van, it's missing.  Who could have taken it?  Why, Merle, of course, and he could wreak all kinds of hellfire down on the campsite.  The guys shoulder their guns and hoof it for the hills.

Rick's party gets back to camp just in time to help demolish the marauding zombies, but not before heavy casualties are taken.  The battle is quite amazing for cable television: there are full-splatter head shots galore plus many, many instances of zombies taking large and bloody mouthfuls out of their prey.  It's awesome.  And in the end, it leaves the much-diminished band of survivors reeling.

Afterwards Jim stands there, axe handle dripping grue on the ground, and says to no one in particular: "Oh.  Now I remember my dream."

Previously on The Walking Dead / next time on The Walking Dead

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Movie review: In Bruges

On the plus side, last night Mr. Mouse stayed awake for the whole 107 minutes of In Bruges, despite his stated preference for 90 minute movies.  On the minus side, this morning he announced: "The more I think about that movie, the less I like it."  I still liked it twelve hours on, but it wasn't what I expected.

In the wake of a badly botched hit, two Irish hitmen (Colin Farrell as "Ray" and Brendan Gleeson as "Ken") are sent by their boss Harry (a lunatic Ralph Fiennes) to hide out in Bruges, Belgium for a while.  Ken is instantly enamored of the beautiful, old town, dragging a reluctant and twitchy Ray all over the place to see the sights.  Ray is not impressed.  He thinks Bruges is a "shithole," and refuses to be charmed by its ancient and picturesque stone buildings, canals and bridges.  He does like the pretty Belgian girl he meets in the town square, however, and she helps take his mind off the fact that he's stranded in a town he hates.  For a little while, anyway.  It was his error that screwed up the hit and it weighs heavily on him.  Things get complicated when Harry comes to town and the last twenty minutes or so of the movie are full of gunshots, spurting blood and dead bodies.

The blurb on the DVD mailer called In Bruges an "action-comedy."   The Mouses take issue with that descriptor since (1) much of the film is quite slowly paced, full of dialogue and loving shots of the gorgeous architecture of Bruges and (2) whilst some of the dialogue (when you can understand it: Farrell gets to use his real Irish accent here and speaks really quickly) is quite funny, the movie itself is NOT, and ends rather grimly in fact.  It's a very pretty film, a postcard to Bruges, and Farrell is very good in his role.  But when someone says "action-comedy" I think Hot Fuzz or a Lethal Weapon, and In Bruges is not one of those.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Titles Nine - #10 -- Utah edition

It's another fascinating installment of the FMS series, "Titles Nine," whereby I go to my many bookshelves and pick out nine volumes to share with you, my faithful reader[s].  In our explorations of Utah since we've moved out here (and the two vacation trips), we've relied on a number of sources of information: word of mouth, newspaper articles and, mostly, guidebooks. Here's what our Utah-centric library looks like right now:

  • The Historical Guide to Utah Ghost Towns by Stephen L. Carr
  • Insider's Guide to Salt Lake City (4th edition, but a treasure trove of information regardless)
  • Frommer's Utah (a going-away present from a dear coworker)
  • Moon Handbooks - Utah (found in a used bookstore and not that helpful because it's old)
  • 60 Hikes Within 60 Miles - Salt Lake City by Greg Witt (we've done so many of these that we're wishing there was a volume 2, 60 More Hikes Within 60 Miles)
  • Hiking the Wasatch by John Veranth (not quite as detailed as 60 Hikes)
  • Roadside History of Utah by Cynthia Larsen Bennett
  • Best Easy Day Hikes: Canyonlands and Arches by Bill Schneider (2nd ed., a Falcon Guide booklet
  • and two Pocket Naturalist pamphlets, Utah Trees and Wildflowers; and Utah Birds


Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Walking Dead S1E3 (11/14/10)

Episode 3 opens back up on the rooftop, Merle Dixon (Michael Rooker) alternately pleading with and cussing out God for his predicament.  As the zombies try to squeeze through the chained and padlocked door, snarling and drooling and hungry for Merle's live flesh, he tries to catch hold of a hacksaw with his belt, hoping to cut himself free before the walkers get to him.

At the survivors' camp outside city limits, everyone tries to go about their daily chores - haircuts, collecting firewood, cooking - without worrying too much that the raiding party hasn't made it back yet.  Soon enough the raiders return.  Rick sees his old partner Shane first, then catches sight of his family.  Carl flings himself into his dad's arms; a stunned Lori quickly follows suit.  After a couple of moments, Rick pulls Shane into the group hug.  Cuckold and cuckolder together!

After the reunions, talk quickly turns to having left Merle behind - as in, who's going to 'fess up to his little brother Darryl.  Rick is wracked with guilt at having abandoned a livng human (completely without irony at the same sort of thing (yes, same but different) having been done to him when he was comatose in the hospital).  Darryl gets back from hunting - with only a brace of squirrels since the deer he wounded wandered off and was bloodily eaten by an itinerant zombie (who is soon brutally bludgeoned to bits by the male survivors) - and the raiding party tells him what they did to his "douchebag" brother (Shane's words, not mine.).  They also plan to go back to rescue Merle in the morning: Rick, Darryl, Glenn and T-Dog, guilty at having dropped the handcuff key.

The next day Lori is not pleased at potentially losing Rick again after having just found him and she takes it out on Shane, telling him to stay the hell away from her and her family.  He gives her a hurt look, to which she snarls, "You told me he was dead, you sonofabitch."

While this is going on, at the other side of the quarry (located below the survivors' campsite and their source of fresh water), the other women in the group are doing the group's laundry, complaining about the current division of labor.  The menfolk have to watch for the zombies, you see, and can't be bothered with laundry.  There's some laughter too, though, as the women joke about what they miss from their previous lives: texting, coffeemakers, their vibrators.  Then Carol's husband, Ed (?), interrupts their fun with some rude, then sexist, then abusive comments.  The women get agitated and then Ed punches his wife in the face.  Now Shane charges over and beats the everloving bloody hell out of Ed, channeling all his frustration over the Lori-situation into Ed's face.  Shane shouts that if Ed ever tries that again, he'll gladly beat him to death.  By the looks on their faces, the watching women believe him.

Meanwhile, the erstwhile rescue party gets back to the department store roof without incident.  There is one problem, however: Merle is gone.  He managed to reach the hacksaw but ended up pulling an Aron Ralston instead of sawing through the cuffs: his severed hand is all that is there for the rescuers to find.

Previously on The Walking Dead / next time on The Walking Dead

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Random Weekend Musings

Wow.  When I ceased and desisted on the FEFMSSOMS, I didn't actually mean to cease and desist the posting entirely - sorry.  I've been doing stuff, like watching the whole fourth season of Dexter (John Lithgow = awesome), keeping up with Hawaii Five-O (lame) and The Event (lamer), baking chocolate cakes and homemade dog biscuits, raking leaves and getting my photo taken for my season ski pass.  None of which translates to anything postable here, really. 

Well, I suppose I could have recapped Dexter but [here comes the excuse] I was knocking off the episodes really quickly so I could return the DVDs to the girl at work who loaned them to me, and staying up WAY too late to do so.  Recapping just wasn't feasible.  But this was a stronger season that recent ones, I thought.  I still like S1 best, when Dex was new and crazy and we weren't sure if we were actually supposed to root for him.  I'll put S4 as my second favorite season, on the strength of Lithgow's performance; then S2, with that crazy English chick that no one really liked; then S3 as the worst season becaus Jimmy Smits was just so awful with all his scenery-chomping histrionics.  The series is still pretty good but I am concerned about the gradual domesticating and taming of its anti-hero.  We'll see, I guess.

Actually, this post was SUPPOSED to be a review of In Bruges but due to the lame-ass DVD that sent me, we didn't get to watch it.  Instead, we saw The House Bunny, which I actually saw in theaters (review here) but Mr. Mouse had never seen.  It didn't hold up as well on the second viewing, frankly. 

That's it for now.  Looking forward to The Walking Dead tonight and will have a mini-recap up as soon as possible afterwards.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The Walking Dead - S1E2 (11/7/10)

Lest we think better of them, and forget with whom our sympathies are supposed to lie (i.e., the not dead husband/partner), S2 starts off with Shane and Lori sneaking off into the woods for some nookie.  She takes off Rick's wedding ring, which she wears on a chain around her neck; he flips her over and takes her from behind.

Meanwhile, Rick takes advantage of the zombies' horsemeat feeding frenzy and jumps out of the tank.  He runs to a nearby alley where Glenn, the kid who called him a cozy tank-hiding dumbass, ushers him into a department store.  There are five other survivors there with Glenn - two women, three men - they've ventured into Atlanta for supplies.  From the department store rooftop, the group alternately watches the city streets swarm with zombies and bickers among themselves.  The bickering gets ugly when the Racist Redneck, played by Michael Rooker so you just know he's going to be extra nasty, starts beating the crap out of the black guy ... basically because he's a black guy.  Rick settles things down by punching Rooker out and handcuffing him to a pipe.

The rest of the episode involves this group of survivors trying to get back out of Atlanta.  First they try to go through the sewers, but it's a no-go as there are too many starving, rat-gnawing zombies down there.  They're frustrated - and getting scared since the swarm of zombies is close to breaking into the department store after them - until Rick gets the clever idea to slather themselves in zombie guts, so they smell like dead people, not living ones.  He and Glenn chop up a zombie and coat themselves in entrails (the intestines wrapped around their necks like scarves are a nice touch), then stagger down the street towards a getaway vehicle.  They almost get chomped when a passing rainstorm washes them clean, but they manage to nab a box truck in time, returning to the department store to pick up the other survivors.

Except for Michael Rooker.  He's been left behind, still cuffed to the roof because the black guy lost the handcuff key that Rick gave him for safe-keeping.  It really was an accident, but everyone gets disapproving and judgey when they hear what happened.  It's too dangerous to go back now, however, so they leave Rooker up there to starve to death and/or get eaten by zombies, and haul ass on out of Atlanta, heading back to the group's camp ... where the adulterous Shane and Lori are about to get a helluva big surprise.

Previously on The Walking Dead / next time on The Walking Dead

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

The First Ever FMS Scarelicious [October] Movie Series - Movie #15: The Crazies (2010)

Ah, the final film for the FEFMSCOMS: the 2010 remake of George Romero's The Crazies.  I'm going to classify this one in the zombie category: even tho' the infected folk aren't dead, they're still significantly altered in zombie-ish ways a la 28 Days Later

SPOILERS AHEAD: In a nutshell, when the residents of a teeny Iowa (?) town start acting strange - like burning their families alive inside their home and then mowing the lawn in a stupor while the fire rages - Sheriff David (the lovely, lovely Timothy Olyphant), his wife Judy (Radha Mitchell) and Deputy Russell (Joe Anderson - just great (and British in real life - who knew!) (also, he was in The Ruins which I totally didn't remember)) decide to investigate.  A military plane, carrying a biological weapon to be destroyed, has gone down in the town's water supply.  Designed to "destabilize a population," the bio weapon wreaks havoc on Sheriff Dave's friends and neighbors, causing veins to swell and pop, and ramping up their natural aggression to unnatural levels.  It's not quite as extreme as the 28 Days Later rage virus - as in the townsfolk do not tear each other apart with their teeth - but it's damn bad anyway.  To make it worse, the military arrives to contain the infection.  And by "contain the infection" I mean "kill everyone in town."

It's pretty clear that the military/government is meant to be the bigger bad guys than the crazies.  It wasn't the crazies' fault - it was the government's - and instead of helping these poor people, the military are just covering their asses by eradicating not only the threat, but the witnesses.  This was the political statement being made by Romero in the original (which I have not yet seen); the remake sticks to the playbook.

The Crazies is an okay horror movie, kind of average, nothing special.  The acting is solid - I really liked that Joe Anderson a lot - and the writing is fine; the gore-osity is a little light, devolving into a shoot-fest that is more action and less horror once the military arrives.  That being said, the best scene in the whole movie, and one of the better scenes I've seen in a horror film in quite some time, is the car-wash scene.  It's AWESOME and I'm not going to tell you anything about it because it deserves to be seen, not read about.  Car-washes sort of wigged me out before I saw The Crazies - I'm going to be a nervous wreck in 'em now.

*               *                *             *             *

So there you have it: fifteen scary movies in a row, celebrating (and extending) the season.  It's been a lot of fun.  Mr. Mouse is appalled at how much I've come to like horror movies but I've been really impressed with the quality and depth of the genre.  I'm going to take a little break from the scare fest and watch some other stuff, but not to worry: my movie queue is stuffed full of fright flicks and I won't abandon them for long.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

The First Ever FMS Scarelicious [October] Movie Series - Movie #14: Event Horizon

1997's Event Horizon is a pretty good science fiction/horror movie that starts strong but lost me a little with the histrionics towards the end. 

Set in 2047, the Lewis and Clark is a search-and-rescue ship, heading out past Neptune to find the lost Event Horizon, an experimental spacecraft that disappeared in 2040.  The crew finds the EH, adrift and alone but still fully functional; they also find what appears to be the remains of the crew splattered all over the walls of the ship's bridge.  After some investigation, it appears that the experimental engine - which uses moviescifiscienceystuff to basically fold space/time for instantaneous space travel - took the ship to another dimension ... and brought back a dark passenger.  The rescue crew starts to hallucinate/experience really bizarre and bloody stuff and it is clear that the Event Horizon has no intention of letting them escape back home.

Director Paul W.S. Anderson assembled a really strong cast (Lawrence Fishburne, San Neill, Kathleen Quinlan, Joely Richardson, Richard T. Jones, Sean Pertwee, etc.) but unfortunately ignores half of them, focusing on Fishburne, Neill and Quinlan.  Jones and Pertwee are stuck outside for the bulk of the movie, trying to fix their space ship, while Richardson simply disappears for a good half hour, only to reappear not particularly worse for wear, for the end.  Perhaps these folks are the victims of rigorous editing - EH is only 95 minutes long - or maybe the filmmakers just couldn't be bothered to keep up with all their cast.  It may be just as well: Jones's character is more caricature than anything else.

Event Horizon starts off really strong - moody, atmospheric, creepy as hell.  The hallucinations/visions are grim and grotesque and the icky effects are good.  But I lost a little patience with the movie when Sam Neill's character turned into a possessed Pinhead without the pins and started ranting about hell dimensions ... give me scary space movies with aliens or people just going nuts from being out in the black, but spare me the rushed metaphysics.  It's a decent enough scary movie but won't move into my list of favorites.

Next (and last for the Scarelicious series): The Crazies, version 2.0.

Thursday, November 4, 2010


Despite this short hiatus (during which I have been going out to dinner with friends; and also watching the fourth season of Dexter), and despite it actually being November now, I declare that the First Ever FMS Scarelicious October Movie Series is not quite over. 

Thus far we've seen zombies of the rage, Nazi, Spanish, space slug-induced and regular varieties; aliens both dog-splitting and sternum-splitting; traditional slashers; zombie-causing porcupine fungus monsters; giant carnivorous burrowing cicadas; supernatural wolves and however you would classify Phantasm ... I think we need a couple more.  Like The Crazies (new version) and Event Horizon - neither of which I've seen before but both of which I'm looking forward to with great excitement.  So stay tuned - the happy horror-fest ain't done yet!

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to go watch another Dexter.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

The Walking Dead – S1E1 (10/31/10, on AMC)

Season 1, Episode 1 of The Walking Dead:

Rick, a sheriff’s deputy, upon waking up from a gunshot-induced coma of indeterminate length, discovers that Georgia (or possibly the U.S.A. or even the world) has been decimated by the inevitable zombie apocalypse, รก la 28 Days Later. Rick does not take this revelation with quite as much aplomb as Jim did in 28DL, making his stupefied, stumbling way back to his home in search of his family, wife Laurie and son Carl. Luckily, he does not get eaten in his complete obliviousness to what is going on.

Also luckily, he meets a father and son who are hovering in limbo in Rick’s town, unable to move on after the recent zombification of their wife/mother. They feed him and bring him up to speed on the “walker” situation – mostly, don’t get bitten as the resulting fever will kill you … but not for long. They also tell him that apparently Atlanta is a safe haven, with military protection and the Centers for Disease Control. (Anyone who has ever read The Stand probably suspects that the zombie problem started at the CDC.) Rick takes them to the sheriff’s department where all three get a much-appreciated hot shower (thanks to the department’s stand-alone propane boiler), as well as stocking up on firearms and ammunition. Then Rick heads off to Atlanta, looking for his family, and the father and son tragically try to work up the courage to put their zombie wife/mother down.

When his car runs out of gas, Rick liberates a horse from an abandoned farm and rides off into the sunset. Atlanta is teeming with zombies, however: the horse gets eaten and Rick takes refuge in a derelict tank. About to kill himself in despair and desperation, he stops when he hears a voice over the tank’s radio: “Hey, dumbass! You in the tank – cozy in there?”

Meanwhile, a small group of survivors has set up camp a ways outside of Atlanta, running a CB radio on a battery to try to contact other survivors. The leader of this little band is Rick’s former partner, Shane, and he is determined to keep everyone together and safe. Also in this group: Laurie and Carl. And they apparently think Rick is dead, because when Shane puts a liplock on Laurie, she doesn’t fight him off - at all.  Makes me wonder how long ol' Rick was in that coma.

I thought this first episode of The Walking Dead was awesome! The zombie makeup/gore is just outstanding and the story is both compelling and heart-rending (of note: Rick’s sobs in his empty house and the father trying to shoot his zombie wife). The accents are a little iffy – both Rick and Shane are clearly not true Southern boys – and I hope they don’t spend very much time on this love triangle with Rick/Laurie/Shane. But I think this is another fantastic show from AMC and a great start. And not a moment too soon: I was beginning to despair of this whole television season!

Next time on The Walking Dead

Sunday, October 31, 2010

The First Ever FMS Scarelicious October Movie Series - Movie #13: 28 Days Later

My apologies, but this is going to be a candy-ass review.  While I love 28 Days Later with all my heart, my heart really wasn't in it when I watched it yesterday, partly because I've seen it a couple of times before and partly because it was the sanitized AMC Fear Fest version and thus just not the same as the real deal.

Nutshell synopsis: some well-intentioned but misguided animal rights activists attempt to liberate some chimpanzees from a lab somewhere in England.  Unfortunately, these chimps have been infected with "rage," a virus that causes uncontrollable aggression and bloodthirstiness and is spread - at record speed, like you'll show symptoms in 15-20 seconds once infected - by blood.  An activist is bitten by an infected chimpanzee during the liberation attempt ... and twenty-eight days later, all of England has been decimated by this infection.  Our hero, Jim (a hauntingly skinny Cillian Murphy) wakes up in a London hospital after a month-long coma, only to find his world now post-apocalyptic.  He meets up with several other survivors and they make their way to a miliary outpost, battling the infected, screaming, blood-spewing lunatics all the way, only to discover that the soldiers have become monsters even more than the infected are.  The infected can't help themselves, of course, but the soldiers, led by the insane yet charismatic Christopher Eccleston, have succumbed to their fear and despair and in doing so, have given up their humanity.

This is a fantastic movie.  It's not technically a zombie flick since the infected aren't dead people, but they act like zombies - sprinting, shrieking zombies - in that all they want to do is chew on uninfected people.  It's well-acted and well-plotted and beautifully shot, and if you haven't seen it yet and have any inclination towards zombie films, you need to.

Next: I know today is Hallowe'en and tomorrow is November, but the next two movies in my queue are The Crazies (new version) and Event Horizon.  Perhaps I'll continue the Scarelicious Movie Series through those two, just for the heck of it.  Or maybe not, since we have visitors coming.  Guess you'll just have to check back and see.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

The First Ever FMS Scarelicious October Movie Series - Movie #12: The Thing (1982)

Man oh man, is The Thing my kind of movie or what?  Science fiction/horror with nasty shapeshifting aliens and a very healthy dose of paranoia ... so much fun!

Set in an Antarctica research station - a location as alien and isolated as any space station or space ship - a group of American scientists are surprised when a Norwegian helicopter circles their camp, shooting at one of their sled dogs (Jed, a gorgeous wolf/dog hybrid) who's been out romping in the snow.  The Norwegians accidently get themselves killed before the Americans can ask them WTF, so our guys check out the Norwegian research station not too far away, and end up bringing back the partially-burned remains of ... something.  This thing that they've brought back is not from our planet and, worse, a live version has infiltrated the American research camp in the form of that gorgeous dog.  You see, the alien absorbs other life forms and assumes their shapes so you really have no idea whether you're with the real deal or the Thing.

The Americans, being scientists, figure this all out very quickly - watching the faux dog split open to reveal the grotesque and ravenous creature within brings them all right up to speed - and realize that any one (or more) of them could be infected.  No one trusts anyone.  And when one of the Americans sabotages all the vehicles and the radio equipment, effectively stranding them in the station until spring so that the Thing can't escape to infect the rest of the planet, then tension and paranoia are palpable.

What a great flick.  The Thing has an awesome cast, led by Kurt Russell (fresh off Escape from New York), and including Wilford Brimley, Keith David and Richard Masur.  With so many characters all dressed in parkas, it would have been easy for everyone to blend together, but the actors do a great job of differentiating themselves.  The setting is frightening even before the alien shows up: isolated, cold, snowbound - you can believe that it would have been a tense and slightly paranoid environment even without some extraterrestrial monster munching on people.  And the creatures are FANTASTIC, sprung from the crazy imagination of Rob Bottin (also responsible for special effects on The Howling, which I am eager to see).  Watching the dog Thing peel open and the tentacles come flying out was amazing, but my favorites were the upside-down head spider Thing; and the man Thing trying to devour the scientist head-first left me slack-jawed.  Awesome.

The Thing is a great, great creature-feature, and one that holds up well 20+ years on.  Check it out if you haven't seen it - you'll be glad you did.

Next: ...?  I'm in between DVDs so I'll have to check the DVR and see what AMC has left me.

Friday, October 29, 2010

The First Ever FMS Scarelicious October Movie Series - Movie #11: Dead Snow

Dead Snow marks the second horror film with subtitles seen here at the 2010 FEFMSSOMS: first was Spanish-speaking virus-zombies in the excellent [REC], and now Norwegian-speaking frostbitten Nazi zombies.  We are nothing if not multicultural!  However, if I were to say to you, "Norwegian-speaking frostbitten Nazi zombies," your initial thought would not be *zzzzzzzsnoozezzzzzzzzz*.  But it should be, unfortunately - the first hour of this 91 minute movie is s  l  o  o  o w. 

Seven Norwegian medical students - four guys and three girls - head off to the snowy hills deep in fjord-country to stay for a weekend at an eighth medical student's family cabin.  That girl never meets up with her friends though because whilst she is cross-country skiing through the rolling hills, a bunch of Nazi zombies eat her up.  (Technically she's running through the rolling hills, having lost her skis trying to escape.)  Then the Nazi zombies make their way to the cabin to eat people up there too.

Finally, for the last half hour, all hell breaks loose and it is non-stop, gooey, gory, blood-soaked zombie-kills and zombie-killing carnage - fun if you've managed to stay awake until then.  These are not your typical flesh-eating shamblers: these are organized, higher-functioning zombies who use weapons and take direction from their leader, the zombie kommandant or some such (he's got a fancy hat is what makes him the leader).  If I'm ever in a zombie apocalypse, I do not want to be up against these guys - they are just too smart and motivated.

I had a couple issues with Dead Snow.  The subtitles weren't a factor, although they did sort of disappear during scenes where everyone was talking at once.  I didn't worry about missing any scintillating dialogue though - there wasn't any that I noticed.  The fact that the characters were all paper-thin and/or caricatures wasn't a problem either as I've overlooked that in other movies that had enough going on to make up for it.  But this movie just didn't have enough going on for two-thirds of its running time.  For a Nazi zombie movie, there should be more scenes with Nazi zombies.  If the movie is weak, you have to make up for it with lots and lots of zombies throughout the movie, not just the last half hour.  Just sayin'.

Dead Snow also doesn't really know what it wants to be.  At times it was channeling Scream, with characters discussing their favorite horror movies and then breaking Scream's rules by having sex in the outhouse and them promptly getting eaten up.  (By the way: sex in an outhouse = NASTY.)  At other times it could have been a serious zombie movie: the zombies looked great, especially since they'd been hanging around in those hills since the villagers chased them out of the village in WWII, and the zombie vs. human violence, once it kicked into gear, was outstanding.  And then sometimes it seemed like it wanted to be a horror-comedy: one kill had a zombie ripping a med student's head in half the long way (super-fake but in a funny way), with the newly liberated very fake brain flopping with a splat onto the floor.

A little more focus, a little more even pacing and a little more depth of character would have boosted Dead Snow out of mediocrity and into exemplary Nazi zombie movie territory.  It's too bad - it should have been awesome.

Next: back to the classics with The Thing!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The First Ever FMS Scarelicious October Movie Series - Movie #10: Friday the 13th Part 2

The rules for horror movies, according to the Scream franchise, anyway, are: you get killed if you have sex, you get killed if you drink and the killer is not who you think it is; for sequels, there's going to be a higher body count and more elaborate kills.  I'm finding it very entertaining to watch the classic slashers like F13th and Halloween after having watched the Scream movies - now I better understand where they're coming from.  For my money, Scream was paying attention because Friday the 13th Part 2 pretty much follows the rules.

This second installment in the series, Friday the 13th Part 2, is a return to Crystal Lake, but next door to "Camp Blood," as the site of Jason's initial rampage is now known in town. After the cold open dispatching of the first movie's final girl (oops - SPOILER), a bunch of taut-bodied young folk assemble at a camp counselor training camp where for the next couple of weeks, they'll learn how to be better camp counselors.

At first, everything is fun under the sun: hiking in the shortest shorts imaginable, swimming, arm-wrestling, jogging in tube tops. But then, as half the gang heads to town for beers and dancing, Jason, wearing a stylish burlap sack over his head, makes his move, swiftly dispatching the six left behind (plus the town lunatic who's peeping in the girls' cabin windows). When Final Girl Ginny and her boyfriend Paul get back from the in-town boozing, it's time for the big battle with Bag-head Jason. And in the aftermath, as they joyfully greet a lost little dog, thinking that the bad guy has been defeated, Jason - sans burlap sack - crashes through the cabin window, dragging Ginny off to her (presumable) doom.  I admit it: even though I totally knew it was coming, I jumped about three feet when he came in through the window.

Side note: how friggin' lucky were you if you were one of the camp counselors who stayed in town for after-hours partying when Ginny and Paul went back to the lake? Seriously - like five or six kids totally dodged a bullet there - or machete, to be more precise - by not going back early. There's a lesson to be learned from that, I think.

While Friday the 13th Part 2 was enjoyable enough (I did watch it on AMC so there were no actual nekkid boobs or graphic on-screen violence; I don't know how the cable television cut compares to the original), I think I'm done with this series. I just don't like slashers. I find them boring. Everyone who isn't the Final Girl or the Slasher is just uninteresting, time-wasting fodder. The plots are bare-bones, with everyone just wandering around waiting to get picked off. And I confess that I prefer the zingy and imaginative tauntings of Freddy Kreuger to the mute, monolithic monomania of Jason Voorhees (and also Michael Myers). I am given to understand that in later iterations, fans tend to cheer for the increasingly over-the-top ways in which Jason dispatches his victims ... while I can see the charm (??) in that, I got other things to watch.

Like Nazi zombies on skis - next: Dead Snow.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

The First Ever FMS Scarelicious October Movie Series - Movie #9: [REC]

Did I say Splinter was scary?  Well, in hindsight, yes, it's still scary ... but not nearly as scary as [REC].  Holy friggin' moly: [REC] is terrifying.  Awesome, but terrifying.

A cute little television reporter (Angela) and her cameraman (Pablo), shooting a puff-piece on Barcelona's firemen, tag along with two of said firemen on a call to help an elderly woman trapped in her apartment.  When they get to the apartment building, the other tenants are milling about in the lobby, disturbed by the screaming coming from the old woman's flat.  Two policemen take the firemen and the t.v. crew up to the third-floor apartment and when they break the door down, all hell breaks loose.  The old lady, fat, nuts and wearing nothing but a blood-covered slip, attacks the rescue party, chewing a hole in one policeman's neck.  Leaving one of the firemen behind to deal with the now-restrained old lady, the rest of them drag the wounded police officer down to the lobby, only to find out that the Barcelona health department has sealed the building, allowing no-one out for any reason.  Then the formerly upstairs firefighter plummets down the stairwell with a splat, face nearly chewed off. 

And now the screaming starts.  The virus/sickness/demon-possession spreads quickly, picking off the trapped people one by one.  There is a lot of screaming - things get very tense very quickly.  This is all shown as a real time POV movie, filmed on Pablo's camera and narrated by Angela as they first hope to bring word to the world of what is happening in the building; later, when the power is shut off to the building, the filming is incidental as Angela and Pablo make use of the camera's light, and then night vision scope when the light is broken.  This is used to excellent effect towards the end, when the only things we see are what little is illuminated by the light, and then the night vision.  There are very bad things lurking just out of our vision - Angela knows it, Pablo knows it, and we know it.

Of all the horror movies I've watched, [REC] is one of the very few that has really frightened me.  My heart rate was elevated for the last ten minutes of the moive and was positively POUNDING by the end of it.  Both Mr. Mouse and the dog had gone to bed, and I was the only one awake in the whole dark house - I had to watch the Weather Channel to calm down for a few minutes before I dared leave the t.v. room.

The fact that [REC] is in Spanish with English subtitles should dissuade no-one from watching this movie; I didn't think it lessened the fright factor one bit (and I have a crappy t.v. on which subtitles are a little fuzzy).  I'm going to watch the American remake, Quarantine, too but I will be surprised if it is as good as the original.  [REC] is one hell of a horror movie - I'm so glad I saw it.

Friday, October 22, 2010

The First Ever FMS Scarelicious October Movie Series - Movie #8: Splinter

Tight little (82 minute) lower budget horror flick taking place in one claustrophobic set?  Check. Non-annoying characters exhibiting at least some growth and played by decent actors?  Check.  Hideous fungus/parasite beastie that zombifies its prey in really awful ways?  Check.  Equal amounts gory grossness and things that jump out causing me to watch a large portion of this movie through my fingers?  Check.  Dear Reader[s], I give you Splinter.

One young couple, heading home from a failed camping trip in the wilds of Oklahoma, is taken hostage by another couple, a violent ex-con and his tweaked-out girlfriend.  Experiencing car trouble, they stop at a rural gas station, only to be trapped by zombies animated by the freaky, mindless Splinter-fungus-parasite.  This beastie, displaying nasty black quills like a porcupine from Hell, infects living creatures, ripping them apart from the inside with the quills, and reanimating their broken bodies as it ceaselessly searches for more food.  Our heroes are forced to use every resource available to them - and there's not much - to fight for their lives.

This movie is super-fun in a quite scary way.  There's nothing extraneous - at no time did I wish for things to just move along.  None of the four main characters are annoying (quite a feat for lowish budget horror movies) and both the men had arcs; the women were less well-developed character-wise, but as the acting and the dialogue was decent, I can live with that.  The characters' actions and reactions to what was occurring around them were reasonable too - nothing to take you out of the movie with a "WTF?"  The zombie/creatures are horrific: really, really freaky (all excellent practical effects - no CGI), and moving in extremely unsettling ways.  There's plenty of blood and goo, but not too much, and multiple mobile amputations.  And all sorts of things jump and twitch and flap, which I find the scariest.  Great stuff, all told.

I remember seeing ads for this movie when it came out back in 2008 and thinking that while it looked good, there was no way I was going to see it in the theater because I didn't want to pay for a movie ticket and end up peeking through my fingers for most of the movie.  My instincts were right on:  Splinter is good, and I bet it's even better if you watch the entire screen for the whole movie.