Thursday, April 29, 2010

Habs Win!

Stepping out of the normal run for a minute, here's the end of last night's game:

Monday, April 26, 2010

New Ronald Kelly Novel - Timber Gray

Any new of a new Ron Kelly release is good news, and Macabre Ink is now offering his new novel Timber Gray as a digital download in the various popular formats. This is the first time Ron has written a novel in the Western genre, and from the description, I’d say it is western enough to please western fans, while being dark enough to satisfy the horror audiences. You can read more about it and order it by clicking on this site, the Crossroads Press web presence. Cool cover, too.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Dead Snow

I’d like to say upfront that I am burned out on zombie movies, so factor that into the following review, as it may be too harsh.

There was a fair amount of positive buzz around Dead Snow (Død Snø in Norwegian, which for some reason I think looks cool), the Norwegian Nazi-zombies-in-the-snow horror comedy. It got good write-ups in both Rue Morgue and Fangoria, so I was fairly eager to check it out.

A group of Norwegian medical students, all fairly stupid, go on a vacation together at a remote mountain cabin. They have some fun childlike antics, and then a mysterious stranger appears. He is Exposition Guy, whose mission is to fill in the background story for the film. He tells how the local area was occupied by the Nazis in World War Two*, and the locals rose up and killed the Nazis after the Germans stole their gold and jewelry. Since then, the undead Nazis protect their hidden loot. After Exposition Guy leaves and is eaten, the med students discover, you guessed it, the swag. Nazi zombies appear and start to kill and devour them, while the hapless students try stupidly to escape.

I dunno. The movie is supposed to be funny, but it seemed tired and clichéd to me. Maybe it was the subtitles. I know enough Spanish French and Russian to sort of follow along with the movie, and subtitles don’t matter for a lot of Asian films since the dialogue often has sweet FA to do with the plot, but I found it harder to catch the nuance of the acting with the subtitles here.

The visual look, decaying zombies clad in pristine Nazi uniforms against a snowy white backdrop, is very nice.

If you are a diehard zombie fan, you will probably want to give Dead Snow a try for yourself. If, like me, you feel like you’ve overdosed on zombie films, you may want to give this a pass.

* The oddest comment was along the lines of “The other places occupied by the Nazis in Norway, they got along well with the locals, but not here.” Is this a confession?

Monday, April 19, 2010

War Wolves

For a low budget, SyFy channel creature feature, War Wolves doesn’t have a terrible premise. American soldiers come back from fighting in Iraq infected with a virus that turns them into werewolves, and a small team of werewolf hunters has to track them down. It also features genre veterans in supporting roles like John Saxon (A Nightmare on Elm Street), Adrienne Barbeau (The Fog, Escape From New York, The Thing [you don’t believe me, but it’s true]) and Tim Thomerson (the Trancers movies, many others). Unfortunately, the script is terrible.

It is very overwritten, with characters being forced to recite long, cringe-worthy chunks of dialogue, sometimes for exposition, mostly to seem hip. And for a movie that should be an action fest between werewolves and the people who hunt them, it’s incredibly slow. I rarely fall asleep during a movie, but this one got me just before the one hour mark.

Saxon, Barbeau and Thomerson are talented actors (Thomerson in particular has a great delivery of comedic lines) and do what they can with the material, but the rest of the cast is just overwhelmed. Unless you have a psychological disorder that compels you to watch every werewolf movie ever made, you’ll want to miss this one. Those specialists who enjoy the traditional human-to-wolf transformation scenes will be particularly disappointed, as here the change is shown by the afflicted actors donning fake fangs, no other makeup needed.

On a personal note, there is a scene near the beginning of the movie where the “good” werewolf attends an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. There’s no reason for this, as we are told by an annoying voice-over that only alcohol allows him to control his lycanthropy, but what struck me is how much more interesting the people in his AA group seem to be than those I come into contact with every day. Pathetic, I know, but I was wondering if it was worth developing a drinking problem in order to have cooler friends.

Havoc Reigns!

Setting aside the usual vague purpose of this blog, I'd like to congratulate our home town team, the Huntsville Havoc, for winning the SPHL championship Saturday night. Good work, guys.

To anyone interested in seeing a picture of me, here it is. I'm in the upper left hand corner, under the Hardee's sign. You may need a magnifying glass, but I'm wearing an Avangard Omsk sweater.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Dolan's Cadillac

I am an unabashed fan of author Stephen King. Uncle Stevie and I go way back (in the sense that I’ve never met him, but I’ve been reading his work since very near the beginning), and I can say I’ve enjoyed everything he has written, on one level or another. The movie adaptations of his work, however, have been hit or miss for me. The latest of these, Dolan’s Cadillac, is a huge miss.

(Spoilers will abound in this review. However, if you’ve read the novelette on which the movie is based, you already know all the plot points anyway, and if not, you should be able to gleam everything from glancing at the box cover.)

The movie starts off on the wrong foot, with a terrible voice over. A note to filmmakers about something you should already know: Motion pictures are a visual medium. This means you should show the audience, not tell them. When you use a narrator to explain things, you are admitting you can’t cut it. The narration steals from another King work (did he get paid twice?) for the description of Dolan. The voice over describes him as being someone so scary that birds fall dead when he looks at them. However, in this movie, Dolan looks more like an overgrown kid who has forgotten his Ritalin. Dolan is played by Christian Slater, who I kind of like as an actor, but the script here calls for him to babble uncontrollably.

Robinson (no first name given, played by Wes Bentley) and his wife Elizabeth (Emmanuelle Vaugier) are schoolteachers trying to have a baby, for purposes of added poignancy. Elizabeth is in the wrong place at the wrong time and observes crime boss Dolan murdering twenty or thirty people. She courageously decides to testify against him, even though the federal prosecutor (Al Sapienza) tells her that every other witness against Dolan has been murdered. This doesn’t deter the brave Elizabeth, and she gets whacked, too. Unfortunately, she is killed only because she does a Very Stupid Thing, and even worse, the clever murder plot requires that she do that exact Very Stupid Thing at that exact time. I guess someone peeked ahead in the script.

His wife’s death destroys Robinson emotionally, which Bentley portrays with a goggle-eyed scowl (see box cover). Since it’s the same scowl he uses from the beginning of the movie, the effect is muted. Because the feds can’t do anything, Robinson decides to take matters into his own hands, first by buying a ridiculously large gun to kill Dolan (real assassins prefer smaller calibers because they are quieter and more accurate) and then completely wimping out when he gets the chance to use it, losing a lot of credibility points. Since he doesn’t have the nerve to use the gun, he concocts a Rube Goldberg type trap to catch and kill Dolan. He should have shot him when he had the chance.

Part of the problem may lie in the source material being better suited to about half the length of a feature film (there are only two characters in King’s original story). Much of the script was presumably added as padding to make it longer, and the added material is awful. There’s also the matter of the acting.

Al Sapienza, a good character actor, is fine as the ineffectual federal prosecutor, and Vaugier elevates anything in which she appears, both in terms of her looks and her acting. But Slater can’t make Dolan the monster he is supposed to be, possibly due to the script. It has him talking incessantly like a speed freak, and there are character inconsistencies. For instance, Dolan makes his living running Eastern European sex slaves into the country from Mexico, which seems somewhat low rent for a criminal empire. Toward the end of the film, an associate comes up with a way to maximize his earning, by switching to children, who are more valuable, and easier to pack. Dolan reacts with disgust at this, which is the wrong move. He is supposed to be a monster, and this is a revenge story. Trying to humanize him (I suppose that’s the intent) is counter to your goals.

Wes Bentley was once a promising young actor, who seemed on the verge of stardom after his role in American Beauty. He needs to raise his game or find better roles, or he’s heading for a second lead role in Anacondas 7: Snakier Than Ever.

I can’t recommend this movie to anyone under any circumstances.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Burial to Follow

There have been enough Southern horror writers to constitute their own sub-genre. Ronald Kelly, Joe Lansdale, Robert R. McCammon and Michael MacDowell are only a few of the great Southern horror writers. One of the better currently active practitioners is Scott Nicholson, whose fine novella Burial to Follow is available for free download at his website.

Southern funerary customs are not formally written in a book of rules, but custom has solidified ritual to the point where they might as well be. Burial to Follow takes places at the visitation for Jacob Ridgehorn, and has as its main character Roby Snow, who presents himself as a distant cousin of the Ridgehorns, but who is there for a much more serious purpose.

Much of Southern observance of death centers around friends and neighbors delivering food to the family of the deceased, and usually results in much more food at the family’s home than can be consumed. This is probably an expression of the desire of good people to do something for the bereaved survivors, even though there is nothing that can really be done. In Burial to Follow, Nicholson crafts a story that imagines a deeper meaning to this, for Roby is the somewhat unwilling agent of a supernatural power, one of several who have roles to play in the passage of a soul from its earthly life.

As a Southerner, I’ve attended a number of these grim events, and Nicholson does a great job of capturing the feelings present, the grief of the survivors, the beginnings of a division of the spoils among the heirs, and the sympathy and morbid curiosity of friends and acquaintances. His dialogue is sharp and rings true to my ear, and the characters seem familiar to me.

If you have already read Mr. Nicholson’s work, you will certainly want to read this novella, and if you haven’t tried it, Burial to Follow makes a fine staring point.

Burial to Follow was originally published as part of the anthology Brimstone Turnpike from Cemetery Dance.

Rise Of The Gargoyles

(Title discrepancy alert: Despite the plural title of this SyFy movie, there appears to be only one gargoyle in this movie, albeit one that seems to change size. A more accurate title would be Rise of the Gargoyle. Or The Gargoyle Rises. Or Glitter.)

Professor Jack Randall (Eric Balfour, almost always better than the roles he gets) is a professor of architecture discredited due to his theory that the gargoyles we see on buildings represent creatures that once existed. For this wingbat idea, he has been exiled to Paris, France (This is an odd idea of a punishment detail. My boss got mad at me once and sent me to Nauvoo, Alabama for a week, which is much more punitive.) where he teaches classes of very disinterested students. My theory as to why they are so unresponsive: His lectures are in English, while the national language of France is, oddly enough, French. They just don’t understand what he is saying. Paris, in this movie, is played by Romania. Jack’s only friend is his agent, carol, who can’t sell his book since everyone knows he is nuts.

Elsewhere in Paris, workmen demolishing an old church (Why? Why not?) wake up/disturb a gargoyle and are eaten. When Carol drops by to tell Jack that yet another publisher (lulu?) has rejected him, she suggests they snap him out of the doldrums by breaking into an old church and looking for loot. Will it surprise you to learn it is the same church where the workmen became Gargoyle Chow? Inside the church, they discover and take some oblong rocks (“Gargoyle poop,” I said. “Gargoyle eggs,” said my Beautiful Wife.). Carol takes the poop/eggs home with her, and the gargoyle follows to get them back, which causes the viewer to lean to the “eggs” point of view. The poor gargoyle is able to track them across a crowded city, but fortunately for the plot, can’t find them in the cabinet where they were placed. Still, the gargoyle chases Carol out on the roof and chops off her head to teach her to leave other peoples’ stuff alone. A French Inspector probably not named Clouseau though just as competent suspects Jack, of course.

With Carol gone, Jack needs someone else to hang with, and finds Nicole and Walsh, the host and cameraman of a TV show about unexplained phenomena. No one pays any attention to their theories, either, because, again, they present them on French TV in English, although this time it’s English with a French accent. They also hook up with the even crazier Father Gable, the priest of the church where everything is going down, and the latest in a long line of priests guarding against the gargoyles return.

Movie pet peeve: The priest is depicted as kind of a lone wolf, doing his own thing, solely responsible for the church. This happens a lot in movies, and completely ignores how hierarchical the Catholic Church is. Very little is done without supervision that doesn’t involve altar boys.

Father Gable provides the exposition for the film. The gargoyles once were the scourge of the earth, and now are coming back. The gargoyle and the hundreds of eggs it has laid (it wasn’t poop) must be destroyed or all mankind is doomed. Fortunately, sunlight turns the gargoyles temporarily to stone, a brittle state in which they can be easily destroyed. Why one of the priests didn’t go down in the basement to finish off the last gargoyle during the millennia they have been watching is not explained. Jack, the TV crew and the priest go to the church to finish them off once and for all. There is an explosion.

The cast is the movie is generally pretty good, although the part of the priest is played as if there is an Oscar category for over-emoting and the actor is determined to win. The CGI is adequate, what there is of it. There are some moments of unintentional hilarity, as when the inspector is hoisted into the air by the flying gargoyle and ripped to shreds, while the evidence team nonchalantly goes about their work. The French are hard to ruffle.

The biggest problem of the movie is the lack of gargoyle face time. The gargoyle is on screen maybe five minutes, and if you sit down to watch a cheesy creature feature, you want to see lots of the creature, dammit. We mostly see the aftermath of what it has done.

Whether you should watch this depends on your enthusiasm for this kind of thing. Unless you have exhausted the pool of available low-budget monster films, there are many better options.