April 30, 2010

On My Radar: Joe R. Lansdale's "Deadman's Road"

Scheduled to be released in October, Subterranean Press has something special cooked up for fans of Joe R. Lansdale and his special brand of storytelling. Deadman's Road is a collection of stories involving the character, Reverand Jedidiah Mercer, and his adventures in the old west with all manner of monsters.

I am not familiar with this character, or much of Lansdale's work beyond a few short stories, but I do like the idea of blending horror and other dark themes with the Wild West--the upcoming Jonah Hex movie has my interest despite the casting of Megan Fox.

Deadman's Road consists of a novel, Dead in the West, being re-released as well as four shorter stories entitled: "Deadman's Road," "The Gentleman's Hotel," "The Crawling Sky," and "The Dark Down There." The book will be a cloth-bound hardcover, but Subterranean Press will also have 200 signed leather-bound editions too ... for a heftier sum.

I'm not likely to be forking over the moolah for one of those limited edition jobs, but I think this is one book I'll have to keep an eye out for. Lansdale is one of those authors who never seems to receive a bad review from horror fans.

What's your take? Ever read the Jedidiah Mercer stories before? This something you'll be anticipating in the fall?

You can read about the book and pre-order information here.

April 29, 2010

Rabid Reads: "Secular Sabotage" by Bill Donohue

Title: Secular Sabotage
Author: Bill Donohue
Published: Faith Words (2009); an imprint of Hachette Book Group
Pages: 258
Category: Nonfiction; Religious
ISBN 978-0-446-54721-5

The only previous familiarity I have with Bill Donohue is seeing his face over the years on various cable news shows, most notably while decrying The Da Vinci Code and insisting the film include a disclaimer telling audiences that it's a work of fiction. Yup, he wanted a disclaimer for a Hollywood movie to remind people it was only a movie. It inspires images of General Motors demanding Michael Bay add a disclaimer to Transformers, so audiences don't get the idea that their sedans will turn into robots.

But Secular Sabotage isn't just about Donohue's objection to Dan Brown's novels--he only blathers about that for a few pages. The book takes aim at just about every facet of society he deems a threat to Catholicism and Christianity at large. What exactly does he take issue with? Anything containing the words "liberal," "secular," or "multicultural." Oh, and "gay." He's got a problem there too.

He does manage to preface his tirade on the first page by stating that not all liberals, non-believers, and homosexuals are bad. Only the radical ones. Only the anti-Christian ones. Mind you, he spends the rest of the book lumping everyone under a big tent of evildoers. And he manages to last all the way to the twelfth page before likening them to Hitler. Playing the Nazi card so early basically let me know what to expect from the rest of the book, though I got a chuckle from his taking offense to others comparing him and the Catholic League to the Nazis. Hello pot, meet kettle.

His incendiary rhetoric runs the gamut of just about everything you'd expect from a right-wing pundit. But if you're expecting to find something you haven't heard before, or something that you have in a better articulated state, don't hold your breath. Despite a few salient points scattered throughout the book, the rest reads like a grouch grumbling about those kids who won't stay off his lawn. His declamations of Hollywood and the New York Times feel like regurgitations from just about every other hard-line conservative crank.

The line of the book for me had to be when he addressed the sex scandal within the Catholic church: "The good news is that the scandal has long been over." Published in September 2009 in hardcover, I would be willing to bet the paperback edition might contain a few extra edits.

For a book that is subtitled--"How Liberals are Destroying Religion and Culture in America"--I guess readers are to infer that the best way to keep America safe from radical elements is by adhering to the say-so of the opposing radical element. Yeah, I'm sure that's a real recipe for success--it's been working wonders so far.

Bottom line: This book is an appetizer for sympathetic wing-nuts, as Donohue does little more than preach to the converted.

April 28, 2010

Wish List Wednesday #44: I Drink for a Reason

If you are unfamiliar with David Cross, you're really missing out on something. The man is funny as heck. You probably are familiar with him and just don't know it. He played Dr. Tobias Funke on "Arrested Development," has been doing stand-up for years and doing it well, has appeared in more movies than I can count--some better left not tallied. And now he's written a book.

I Drink for a Reason sounds like it's a print version of his rants on his usual targets, like politics, religion, and celebrities. And I love his rants. The only way they could be better is if they came with marshmallows and a prize in the box. Facetiousness aside, the man knows funny and if he's taken the time to write a book or hire a competent ghost writer then I'd be more than willing to give the book a read.

I've read books by Stephen Colbert, Dennis Miller, Bill Maher, Drew Carey, George Carlin, and Jeff Foxworthy--I'll refrain from citing which books were funny and which were feeble. I'm willing to bet that Cross can't do any worse than the worst. Get 'r done.

How about you? Any interest in books by comedians and comics? Had a chance to read this one?

April 27, 2010

Killer Kitsch: Minimates

Have you ever heard of Minimates? These things are adorable. They make the Lego action figures look like crap. Oh wait, they always looked that way.

The company has licenses from all kinds of games, comics, and movies (Lord of the Rings, Star Trek, Spider-Man). I browsed their site and had a blast checking out all the iterations they came up with for different franchise characters. I think the Ghostbusters might be one of my favorites though. Check it out and be sure to browse their site too ... you might find something even higher on the awesome scale.

"We've been going about this all wrong. This Mr. Stay Puft's okay! He's a sailor, he's in New York; we get this guy laid, we won't have any trouble!" - Peter Venkmann

April 26, 2010

Rabid Rewind: Igor

Title: Igor
Starring: John Cusack, Molly Shannon, Steve Buscemi, Sean Hayes, Eddie Izzard, and Jennifer Coolidge
Directed by: Tony Leondis
Written by: Chris McKenna
Released: Alliance Films (2009)
Genre: Children's Animated

Animated movies just don't enthrall me the way they used to, at least not as often. Wall-E and a few other films over the last decade have captivated me, but I think the advent of CGI has caused films that would otherwise be passed over to get the green light. Remember that animated movie about the fish that wasn't Finding Nemo; the one with Will Smith and Jack Black voice acting? Yeah, crap like that.

Igor, I'm afraid, falls into the crap-like-that category. I hate to say such a thing, especially because the cast was so strong overall. I mean, how bad can a movie be when it has John Cusack, Steve Buscemi, Molly Shannon, Eddie Izzard, and Jennifer Coolidge. Yes, the movie always stars the likes of Sean Hayes, Arsenio Hall, Christian Slater, and why-oh-why Jay Leno. But not all films can bat a thousand in the casting department.

I don't know when this movie hit theaters, but I'll assume it was around Halloween. And I'll also assume it did poorly, as I hadn't heard of it until recently.

The premise sounded promising enough: A mad scientist's assistant, Igor (voiced by Cusack), has dreams of being an inventor himself and competing in the annual showdown where each scientist's evil invention battles it out until the last invention standing is used as blackmail against the neighboring nations to Malaria--a recession proof scheme if ever there was one.

With inspiration drawn from the classic monster movies from Universal and other studios, like Frankenstein and Attack of the 50 Ft. Woman, the potential for witty parody and loving winks to those films are few and far between. Instead, the movie relies heavily on well-worn pratfalls and one-liners that have long lost their charm. I think it's through the talents the cast with Cusack and Molly Shannon (voicing Igor's Frankensteinian invention, Eva) that help salvage what's there to be enjoyed.

Ultimately, this is a kid's movie rather than a family film. A family film gives something to adults to enjoy, those winks and nods through the whimsical antics of the cartoon characters, but I noticed none of that in this one. Oh, the lost potential of casting Eddie Izzard as the voice of the villain--another missed opportunity like his role in My Super Ex-Girlfriend. I shall not dwell on how insufferable Jay Leno's voice was in his scenes, I shall simply thank my luck stars those scenes were few in number.

If your kids like monsters and you want your television to babysit for ninety minutes, throw this DVD on. I think you could find some better movies for them to watch, though. Perhaps Monsters Inc. or The Addams Family.

April 25, 2010

This Week on WTF

Monday ... I review a little horror in Rabid Rewind, but this time it's for the ankle-biters with Igor.
Tuesday ... Killer Kitsch comes back again with a peak at adorable miniature action figures.
Wednesday ... I stray from the usual fare on Wish List Wednesday to look at something on the funnier side by David Cross.
Thursday ... And I stray even further when I review nonfiction by Bill Donohue that takes exception to godless heathens like me.
Friday ... Joe R. Lansdale is On My Radar.
Saturday ... The weekend offers up some more ankle-biter fare with a new Book Vs. Movie segment, featuring Where the Wild Things Are.

April 24, 2010

Rabid Reads: "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies: Dawn of the Dreadfuls" by Steve Hockensmith

Title: Pride and Prejudice and Zombies: Dawn of the Dreadfuls
Author: Steve Hockensmith
Published: Quirk Classics (2010)
Genre: Horror; Romance
ISBN 978-1-59474-9

If you haven't read Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, just imagine Jane Austen's classic novel about young love and propriety ... but with the added subplot of a zombie infestation. It's not rocket science, but it was a daunting effort by Seth Grahame-Smith to fine tune a zombie tale into Austen's words. Now, Steve Hockensmith has written a prequel to that popular mash-up novel, but this time it is sans Jane Austen.

This time around Hockensmith was tasked with crafting what is essentially an original tale involving the characters created by Jane Austen and augmented by Grahame-Smith. All things considered, I'd say it's mission accomplished for Hockensmith.

After listening to the audiobook version of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (reviewed earlier this week), I sat down with this book and hunkered down for another romp with the Bennett's and the undead. Turns out that wasn't really necessary for a casual reader like me. If I'd been an Austenite (or whatever her fans are called) or a big fan of the mash-up, I might have appreciated the allusions and winks and nods.

The Bennett daughters along with the rest of the community attend the funeral of a neighbor, only to horrified when he rises from his coffin and clumsily tries to feast on anyone within arm's reach. Upon killing the "dreadful," it's apparent that the dead are rising ... again. Despite this being a prequel, there's still the predating war against the undead which Mr. Bennett and others fought in. This story ends up following the first days of training, as Mr. Bennett takes it upon himself to finally train his daughters in the martial arts--Elizabeth especially.

There's lots of incidents and encounters with the zombies, plenty of wit, and even a love triangle as Elizabeth's affections are torn between a warrior and a scientist as they fight off the hordes--what's an homage to Austen without some romance. Ultimately, however, this ended up feeling like more of the same from the mash-up. And some of the suspense was diminished from the knowledge of how certain characters were destined to remain alive and appear in the first book. It's a fatal blow to many a prequel, and the action and angst offered wasn't quite enough to keep me hooked.

I think Steve Hockensmith did a heck of a job picking up the ball and running with it, but I think the end result is a novel aimed at existing fans, rather than aiming at recruiting new ones. It's like a bonus reel for fans of a particular movie, or downloadable content for fans of a particular video-game.

You can read other reviews of this title at: Bookin with Bingo; Book Junkie; Fatally Yours; vvb32 Reads

April 23, 2010

On My Radar: George Romero's "The Living Dead: The Beginning"

I had no idea George Romero wrote novels. Who knew? Well, as near as I can tell, he's only written one other, Night of the Living Dead, which I assume is a novelization of his landmark film. Still, give the man some credit.

While doing some updates on Good Reads, I came across a new book set to be released in July by Grand Central Publishing, titled The Living Dead: The Beginning. My instant reaction was, "Oh man, another zombie book?" Then I spied the author's name--George A. Romero. The man practically invented zombies.

I suspect fans of zombie fiction will be crawling all over themselves to get a copy of this when it hits shelves in July. I'm not convinced, though. I have thoroughly enjoyed quite a few of his movies, but there have been others that I have found lackluster--and Diary of the Dead was just dreadful, in my opinion. What kind of quality in writing should we expect from Romero? We're not in need of Richard Matheson caliber stuff, but I can't help but be a tad skeptical when a celebrity notorious for their movies, music, etc, suddenly takes a stab at writing a book.

I'm going to keep an open mind with this one. I won't be rushing out to snag a copy, myself, but I think this is a title I'll be keeping an eye out for later in the year when it does hit shelves.

How about you? Been hearing any buzz about this upcoming release?

April 22, 2010

Rabid Rewind: The Hatchet Murders

Title: The Hatchet Murders (also titled Deep Red)
Starring: David Hemmings, Daria Nicolodi, Gabriele Lavia
Directed by: Dario Argento
Released: 1975
Genre: Horror

Dario Argento, the "Italian Hitchcock." How's that for high praise? For a man as heralded as he in the horror genre, I never heard tell of him until last year, as Argento is frequently mentioned on horror blogs and podcasts. While I enjoy watching movies, I'm not a cinema buff, so forgive my ignorance.

At any rate, the opportunity arose to view my first Argento film this past month so I decided to see what all the hoopla was about. The Hatchet Murders is a movie that could be perceived as either very dated or very stylized. Frankly, I had a hard time deciding which, as I felt less engaged by the picture than curious about Argento's style of film making.

Set in Italy, a pianist (David Hemmings) witnesses the murder of a young psychic woman only to end up himself a target of the knife-wielding maniac. Despite seeing "Hatchet" in the title, the movie was grainy and had a lot of quick cuts during the murderer's scenes, thus the weapon appeared to be more of a clever than a hatchet. Not that it matters much, since the film relied more on tension and suspense than those few scenes where someone is getting hacked to death.

And if I'm to be honest, the movie didn't do much to hold my attention--it took me two nights to sit through the entire thing. The acting was as tinny as the sound, and caused me to think the movies notoriety comes more from Argento's prowess than those in the cast. The plot came off as a bit of a meandering mess, as Hemmings spends so much time playing detective and traipsing into dark rooms and alleys to learn the killer's identity, it contrasted awkwardly with the scenes where he's scared stupid in the actual vicinity of the killer. A flawed and vulnerable character, yes, but an aggravating one too.

What saves this movie in my opinion is the music. The supremely eery children's lullaby heard moments before each victim is stabbed and bludgeoned to death puts to shame other kids singing in horror flicks. Throw in the frenetic and psychedelic rock music that accentuates the more taut scenes in the movie, and you've got a score that is a standout.

I'm not sure if this movie is Dario Argento's hallmark movie, however--pled ignorance, remember--and after seeing it I hope it isn't, because I was not swayed into thinking of him as the "Italian Hitchcock." I'll leave it to the Argento faithful to recommend a better movie to try and see, so I might better understand why he is so adored.

For horror fans like me, or movie fans in general, looking for something off the beaten path, you may want to consider checking this out. I wouldn't go so far as to say you should make it a priority, but there's definitely worse ways to spend ninety minutes. And tapping into that 70s vibe of cinema is a fun way to waste some time.

April 21, 2010

Wish List Wednesday #43: Darkness: Two Decades of Modern Horror

The last time I featured an anthology for Wish List Wednesday was back in October with Paul Kane's and Marie O' Regan's Hellbound Hearts anthology (WLW #18). I think it's about time I blog about another anthology I hope to have in my clutches--Darkness: Two Decades of Modern Horror, edited by Ellen Datlow.

I love me some short stories. I just do. I tend to get the collections of a single author, like Harlan Ellison's Ellison Wonderland or Stephen King's Nightmares and Dreamscapes, but anthologies are a great source of entertainment too. Joyce Carol Oates edited a great one called American Gothic a few years back that should be enjoyed by all.

With Darkness, Datlow has brought together twenty stories from twenty authors that stretch over the course of twenty years. Imagine the daunting task of picking out only twenty stellar stories from that time frame. And over the last two decades, there have been enough classics that it would be easy for her to choose stories that have been published multiple times already. Ellen Datlow dared to steer away from the stories that have been featured in previous anthologies, however, and has amassed twenty tales that are still fantastic but may not be so familiar with the masses.

The list of contributors includes Joe Hill, Peter Straub, Poppy Z. Brite, and even George R. R. Martin.

Have you heard tell of this anthology? Is it on your wish list, or have you already ordered a copy? Or are short stories just not your cup of tea?

April 20, 2010

Killer Kitsch: Dollar Bin Horror

I discovered Rhonny Reaper's blog a while back thanks to a couple of other very fun horror blogs. Dollar Bin Horror features some great reviews and articles revolving around horror's lesser known and lesser celebrated films--all at bargain basement prices if you know where to look.

She recently blogged about some new products with lower prices on her webstore. I have to say that the new logo is very sweet and sexy ... in a macabre sort of way. If you're interested in checking out the t-shirts and other memorabilia, just pay a visit to http://www.cafepress.com/dollarbinhorror.

April 19, 2010

Rabid Reads Listens: "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies" by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith

Title: Pride and Prejudice and Zombies
Authors: Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith
Narrator: Katherine Kellgren
Published: Brilliance Audio (2009)
Genre: Romance; Horror
ISBN-13: 978-1-4418-1676-4
ISBN-10: 1-4418-1676-3

It is fortunate that I received this audiobook as part of the Quirk Classics Prize Pack last month, as I must admit that reading the book was not a high priority for me. Oh, I appreciate the premise, and anything that can take the piss out of those rabid Jane Austen fans gets a mark in the plus column from me. But I had trepidations concerning the quality of the actual book. I've never read a mash-up before and the amount of hype afforded to this book didn't think this one was much more than hype.

I think my appreciation for the story and the effort put into its crafting by Seth Grahame-Smith can be heavily attributed to the narration of Katherine Kellgren. When it comes to audiobooks, I use them as a means to take in a story I would otherwise avoid. I wouldn't have dared read a John Grisham novel until the day I received an audiobook of The King of Torts, and I enjoyed it because of its narrator (I forget the voice actor's name). Kellgren brought to life through her voice acting Austen's world and the addition of zombies in an entertaining manner.

By now, even those with nary an inkling of desire to read the book are aware of its premise. The romantic world in which Elizabeth Bennett and her family resides is plagued by an onslaught of "dreadfuls" and "unmentionables" (aka zombies). The zombies are basically an additional subplot added to the existing Jane Austen novel. Grahame-Smith has essentially turned Austen's novel into a kind of satire or farce. It's not high brow, but it's not intended to be--at least I hope not.

I imagine that had I sat down to read this book I would have given up on it halfway through, if not before. I have never read a Jane Austen novel, nor do I care to. Nor am I a great fan of zombie fiction, as I find they are a finite resource for subject matter. It's the injection of zombies into the original narrative that gives this story enough of a spark to light my interest. Separate the two and I could care less, if I'm to be honest.

I think Austen's writing style has been adequately impersonated in order to keep readers from hitting speed bumps as they read, especially the Austen devotees. I have to admit that it became a bit tiresome through the second half, though. The final fight scene was fun and offered satisfaction for listening to all nine CDs--two weeks worth of nighttime listening. I can't say I'd recommend the book to anyone who isn't already a fan of Austen or the undead, but the audiobook was worth listening to overall--and like I said before--Kellgren sells it for all she's worth.

You can find more reviews of this title at: Adventures of Cecelia Bedelia; Book Rat; Crackin' Spines & Takin' Names; Epic Rat; Fantasy Literature; Graeme's Fantasy Book Reviews

April 18, 2010

This Week on WTF

Monday ... I review the audiobook version of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith.
Tuesday ... I introduce a new segment called Killer Kitch, which focuses on memorabilia and collectibles.
Wednesday ... There's a new horror anthology out, edited by Ellen Datlow, and I want it.
Thursday ... I review my first taste of horror from the likes of Dario Argento in Rabid Rewind.
Friday ... I try out a new blog segment, On My Radar, where I preview a book or movie to be released in the months to come. This week talks about George Romero.
Saturday ... If you didn't get enough zombies on Monday, I review the prequel to PPZ called Dawn of the Dreadfuls.

April 17, 2010

Rabid Reads: "Black Hills" by Dan Simmons

Title: Black Hills
Author: Dan Simmons
Published: Reagan Arthur Books/Little, Brown and Company (2010)
Pages: 481
Genre: Speculative Fiction
ISBN 978-0-316-00698-9

Every boy wants to prove he's a man at some point in his life, daring the world in one way or another. For Paha Sapa (Sioux for Black Hills, the place of his birth), a young Lakota boy, the act of counting coup on a fallen white soldier in the midst of a battle winds up backfiring and setting his life on a winding and inevitable course through to his old age.

The soldier he has laid his hands upon at the moment of death is none other than General George Custer, and as a result Custer's spirit or some form of it leaped into Paha Sapa's body and mind. Paha Sapa's gift which is rare but not unheard of among his people is a touch, though unpredictable, that gives him glimpses into the past and future of those he touches. And after touching the revered Crazy Horse after telling about his encounter with Custer, Paha Sapa's life is sent on a path away from his people during a tumultuous time (1876)--the dust is still settling in the aftermath of the American Civil War.

Jump ahead to the 1930s where Paha Sapa, now known to others as Billy Slow Horse, is working as a powderman on the construction of Mount Rushmore, carving the four heads of U.S. Presidents into the side of the mountain. Here, Paha Sapa still lives with the spirit of Custer many decades after first encountering him, has been married and raised a son, and now plots secretly to exact a measure of revenge and justice on the day President Roosevelt comes to commemorate to monument. As a boy, he had a Vision that foretold what he believes is to come in the wake of the white man's presence and scared him inexorably.

Paha Sapa's story jumps from past to present--"present" being a relative term here--as Dan Simmons lays out his life, his maturation, his heartbreak, and his resolutions. The story is punctuated periodically by George Custer's confused and wistful ramblings to his wife, Libbie. It's not exactly a period piece, and it can't be classified as paranormal suspense in spite of the inclusion of Custer's "ghost." This is a novel that defies genre, and all the better that it does.

It stands apart from just about anything I've read and the language used, seamlessly fusing English with bits of a Siouan tongue, as Paha Sapa gradually becomes more familiar with the white man's world and the white man's nature. At the core of the story, however, is a kind of romantic tale. The inclusion of Paha Sapa's relationships with both his wife, Rain, and son, Robert, really give a balance to the turmoil he suffers through his childhood and his old age.

This is a book I'll be stewing on for quite a while. It's certainly earned a permanent place on my bookshelf, and is easily the best novel I have read so far from this year--and I've read a couple of gems from 2010. The bar has been set rather high for the remaining nine months. If you want a novel that blends a coming of age story with a love story with a meandering through a people's history, I'd say this book is one you should consider reading.

You can read other reviews of this novel at: Fantasy Book Critic; Devourer of Books; It's Dark in the Dark; Serendipitous Readings

April 15, 2010

Rabid Rewind: Inglourious Basterds

Title: Inglourious Basterds
Starring: Brad Pitt, Christoph Waltz, Eli Roth, Diane Kruger
Written and Directed by: Quentin Tarantino
Released: 2009

Maybe it's because Quentin Tarantino is such an iconoclast, but he seems to be a polarizing figure for movie fans. There doesn't seem to be a whole lot of middle ground--you either love his films or you hate them. Forced to choose a side, I side with the lovers. And I'll gladly hoist up this movie as evidence to support my stance. Is there more sizzle than steak? Maybe, if you went into theaters or sat down in your living room with preconceptions about Inglourious Basterds. When it comes to Tarantino, I find it best to watch his films with a mind like a blank slate. Unlike many, I loved Deathproof, and attribute my appreciation for the movie because I didn't instantly hold it up against its Grindhouse counterpart, Planet Terror.

The setup for this one is easy. It's revisionist history with razor sharp teeth. In Nazi-occupied France, a Tennessee moonshiner turned commando, Lieutenant Aldo Raines (Brad Pitt), forms a group of Jewish-American soldiers to go behind enemy lines to demoralize the German army by killing soldiers in the cruelest manner. And those they don't kill, they send back with scars both emotional and literal. At the same time, a young Jewish woman running a cinema in France discovers she's going to host the premiere for the latest piece of Nazi propaganda, and decides to use it as a means to extract revenge on her oppressors.

On top of that is the award-winning performance by Christoph Waltz as "the Jew Hunter," Colonel Hans Landa . That guy came out of nowhere to steal the whole movie right out from under Brad Pitt's heels. Well, truth be told, Brad Pitt is not quite the marquee player in this movie as he is put out to be, as--just like any Tarantino film--there is more than one story arc playing out. Pitt's performance is surprisingly diminished among the din of the other characters. A welcome surprise as the cast seemed very strong with a equal caliber script.

The Basterds themselves, however, are more like specters in the background aside from a handful. I recall some critics saying they were little more than set pieces, but that's not really fair because there were--I would say--two Basterds (Donnie and Hugo Stiglitz) that had rather substantial roles in the film. Out of a gang of eight or more though, I can see the want for more exploration into all of the Basterds. Mind you, I join the chorus of those who could have done without Eli Roth in the cast. That guy stood out like a sore thumb, and I just didn't buy him as "The BearJew" for a second.

The film is laid out in chapters, each one introducing the characters to the audience, as well as progressing the main story in increments. Tarantino paces this out with mesmerizing dialogue and some viscerally charged scenes of violence. And as soon as you see Colonel Landa toy with a French farmer in the opening scene like a cat with a mouse, you get sucked in for the ride.

The movie is bloody, and filled with so much nostalgic fervor, you'd swear it was Lee Marvin's wet dream of a war movie. Love it, hate it, or just sit on the fence to try and figure out what to make of it. Whatever you do, just watch it. It might be about twenty minutes too long, but the time is well spent as far as I'm concerned. A masterpiece for Tarantino? I don't think so, but he ought to be very proud of it--it's about as close to making par with Pulp Fiction as he has come so far.

April 14, 2010

Wish List Wednesday #42: Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Slayer

I have yet to read Seth Grahame-Smith's breakout mash-up novel, Pride & Prejudice & Zombies. That's due mainly for two reasons: 1) I'm not in any great hurry to read a Jane Austen novel, even though that novel is the best chance to make me; 2) the title doesn't include the words "Vampire Slayer."

Enter SGS's new novel. Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Slayer. I swear, you can add those two words to the end of any name and it's instantly improved. Denise Richards: Vampire Slayer. Dane Cook: Vampire Slayer. Sarah Palin: Vampire Slayer. You see? I'd actually be interested in those people if that's how they were introduced.

Different from the Pride & Prejudice remix, this book is not derived from an original novel with new narrative added. This one is pretty much an original novel with a revisionist history approach. Grahame-Smith did a bunch of research on Lincoln and created a reimagining of his life, as if the pivotal moments in his life and his great ambition revolved around vampires. Shoot, that's enough to perk my interest.

How about you? Any interest in checking out this title? Have you already, and if so what did you think of it?

April 12, 2010

Book Vs. Movie: Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist

Michael Cera is a little bit of a superstar. Maybe it's a temporary trend and he'll disappear into the background, but I doubt it. The guy has found a niche and is milking it for all it's worth. And Kat Dunnings is doing a bit of the same, as I swear she played Norah the same way she played her role in Anna Faris' The House Bunny. Cut, awkward, and snarky. Like Kristen Stewart, but good.

The book by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan was a quick back-and-forth, as each author tackled alternating chapters. David wrote Nick's story, while Rachel wrote Norah's. Seeing the story told through their eyes as they spend the night getting to know each other for all their goods and bads made for a fun romp.

The movie approached the story in a different way, which I should have expected. The alternating chapters disappear and the narrative is a seamless blend of Nick and Norah spending the night in New York City together--and apart at some points. Ultimately, this felt very much like Nick's story though, with Norah as what felt like a prominent set piece. I'm sure that was more of an editing job, since Michael Cera's stock is through the roof after Superbad and Juno.

A lot of the story from the book makes it into the movie, like Nick being the bass player in a dysfunctional "queer-core" band, and Norah already knowing Nick somewhat as an admirer of his pining playlists and lyrics from the mixed CDs he makes for his ex-girlfriend. Something that gets brought into the foreground more in the movie is Nick's bandmates when they offer to take Norah's drunken friend home, so Nick and Norah can hang out searching for Where's Fluffy, an elusive indy band. I guess the director was hoping to capture a bit of the much-familiar teen slapstick as Norah's friend escapes the band's van and tries to find her own way home. It felt tacked on though and really didn't need to be added.

And there were other bits and pieces in the movie that really strayed from the book, I thought. The ending pretty much stays the same, though there were a couple of racier scenes that were conspicuous by their absence. I have a feeling scenes involving teen sexuality were frowned upon when trying to get a PG rating for this movie, so I guess that was inevitable.

Winner: The book. Ultimately, I thought a movie dealing so closely with music would hook me more than the book, but it's the way the story is told in the book through Nick and Norah's shared love of music that really made the story stand out. The film sadly become just one more teen romance/comedy that was a little more palatable than most, but hardly a standout among the best.

April 11, 2010

This Week on WTF

I'm trying to see if I can fill out the blog a little more. It's not easy, but when I can get online I am able to schedule a bunch of stuff weeks ahead of time. I'm thinking of adding a memorabilia meme, not because I'm a collector but because I love the artwork, toys, and collectibles that certain books and films inspire. I may try and add a mini-interview section too, but these are still ideas I'm trying to work out.

If you have any suggestions on how I might improve upon my blog, feel free to leave a comment or send me an e-mail.

In the meantime, here's what is on tap for this week:

  • Monday ... Nick + Norah's Infinite Playlist goes under the spotlight in the next bout of Book Vs. Movie.
  • Wednesday ... After sampling Seth Grahame-Smith's Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, I take a peak at his latest novel for Wish List Wednesday.
  • Thursday ... It took a little while, but I finally got my hands on Quentin Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds, which I review in Rabid Rewind.
  • Saturday ... After winning a copy of Dan Simmons' new novel, Black Hills, from All About {n}, I review it for Rabid Reads.

April 10, 2010

Rabid Reads: "Bestial" by Ray Garton

Title: Bestial
Author: Ray Garton
Published: Leisure Books (2009)
Pages: 339
Genre: Horror
ISBN-10: 0-8439-6185-6
ISBN-13: 978-0-8439-6185-0

Werewolves have had a lot of makeovers over the decades. I think every animalistic aspect has been explored, and just about every deviation from the conventional wisdom of the myth has been explored too. And while I have heard of this particular method of propagation used for vampire fiction, this is the first novel I've seen treat werewolves as the result of a sexually transmitted disease.

Don't worry, I didn't spoil this book for you by revealing how the werewolves are created. Really, that's just the beginning to this tale. Still, that's a heck of a thing to keep in mind as the novel's heroes are introduced, as one of them carries some residual trauma from being raped and tortured by vampires. Imagine what goes through her head when she learns her next assignment involves werewolves that rape as well as kill.

Gavin Keoph and Karen Moffett are private investigators under the employ of an eccentric and highly successful horror novelist, Martin Burgess. The caseload involves the supernatural and they've got the scars to prove it. Despite their hesitance about tangling with potentially life threatening creatures again, they head to Big Rock, California, where repeated animal attacks and bizarre disappearances have peaked Burgess' interest.

The story isn't told solely through the eyes of Gavin and Karen, however, as there is a wide cast of characters that Garton manages to use as view pieces in the course of the story. There's Bob, the thirty-something Seventh Day Adventist who lives under the thumb of his widowed mother and grandmother--shy, repressed, and absolutely terrified of the world thanks to the religious zealotry of his family. There's Dr. Abe Dinescu and his rising suspicion about the recurring animal attacks and apparent ignorance to the danger by many of the residents of Big Rock. And even Sheriff Taggert, the lead villain in the tale as he slowly but surely sows his seeds of infiltration throughout the community in order to take it over and unleash his ultimate discovery about the next step for all werewolves.

This story is packed and fast-paced, so much so that I was worried halfway through it would wind up as a cliffhanger. It's a stand alone, however, despite a couple allusions to a follow-up novel sometime down the line. For me though, there was the fact that this was my first Ray Garton novel. Bestial is a sequel to another werewolf novel set around Big Rock called Ravenous, and is even a sequel of sorts to one of Garton's vampire novels, Night Life, which featured Keoph and Moffett investigating the bloodsuckers.

That's not really a hindrance, thankfully, as the necessary backstory is laid out in this novel quite nicely for folks like me. With only a couple of pages that felt like characters were speaking more for my benefit than their own, I thought the whole universe Garton created was believable enough to feel the gruesome consequences of what was happening.

One part I found a bit underwhelming came at the end of the novel when the proverbial gun that's introduced in the first act arrives to do what guns do best. I expected something different, and while the outcome had its own level of satisfaction for me, I still expected something less--what's the word I'm looking for--"gung ho"? Bah, I won't go into detail and spoil it, and it's likely other readers have a different reaction to it. And it doesn't rob from the story as a whole.

The story is bloody and brutal, with few instances when we're turned away from the violence. It's action-packed and provides a fair amount of suspense in spite of the mystery about the werewolves being revealed relatively early. I think I'm going to have to look up Ravenous just to see what else Garton has done when it comes to werewolves, not to mention my interest in his take on vampires as well with Live Girls and subsequent novels. In due time, in due time.

If you like horror and/or werewolves, give this novel a shot. If the prologue doesn't compel you to keep reading, then I don't know what to tell you. It hooked me.

You can find other blog reviews of this title at: Bookgasm; The Mad Ravings of an Entertainment Junkie

April 8, 2010

Book Vs. Movie: Twilight

I am not the intended audience for Stephenie Meyer's Twilight saga, but I feel it's important to step outside my comfort zone when it comes to reading books and watching movies. Last year, I read Twilight--most of it, anyway--and just didn't care for it. As far the film adaptation was concerned, with its success, ardent fans, even more ardent detractors, and a less than impressive movie trailer, I was in no hurry to watch it. But I did anyway--comfort zone, remember.

I didn't like the book. I dare say I liked the movie even less. And that's saying something because my expectations were basically rock bottom when I popped in the DVD.

There are times in my life when I look at something incredibly popular and beloved by a huge swath of society and can only shake my head in wonder. I wonder what the hell is wrong with said swath. They love something I find to be utterly undeserving of such adoration. I felt that way about "Seinfeld", "Desperate Housewives", "Grey's Anatomy", reality TV at large, and Star Wars--yes, George Lucas' crown jewel ain't that great in my opinion. But I can't exactly sit on my high horse as if my tastes are beyond reproach. I used to be a wrestling fan, I'm still a fan of "Family Guy" and "Star Trek", and Stephen King is one of my favorite authors. Culturally elite, I am not.

Having laid out that caveat, allow me to simply state that the success of Twilight befuddles me more than any one book/movie franchise. The movie was so bad, bad doesn't cover it. I am amazed at the idea that the movie could be considered anything but an embarrassment and a terrible misstep in kicking off the franchise for the silver screen.

For one thing, two hours was way, way too long for this movie. Ninety minutes, tops, should have been sufficient to tell the story. To be fair, I wanted to stop watching after the first fifteen minutes. After forty minutes, I did. I literally needed to stop, leave the living room to do something less tiresome, then watch the rest of the movie later. As bad as both Transformers films were, I at least managed to sit through each without having to stop and internally rage over a movie night ruined.

Then there was the cinematography--or maybe it was the editing--that made pieces of this movie look like a bad music video or a lazy school film project. And while I can appreciate the idea that the people in charge wanted to get across immediately how the Cullen's were "different", the vampire makeup used was so awful and out of place, it made Clark Kent's eye glasses look like an ingenious disguise. And I won't even get into how ridiculous Pattinson looked when he sparkled.

As for the acting ... I groaned audibly whenever Edward and Bella were alone together. I may be too cynical to sit through a movie like this, but I've seen plenty of so-called "chick flicks" and enjoyed them. The on-screen chemistry was so bad, coupled by the sorely vapid dialogue, I became even more convinced Kristen Stewart can't act. Unless she intentionally portrayed the character as an insufferable dullard with enough angst and awkward body language to make the most emo rock band roll their eyes.

I'm sorry. To the fans of Twilight, I won't begrudge you your fun with this work. And as far as Stephenie Meyer is concerned, as wish her all the success in the world. I, however, am done with this franchise permanently. New Moon? No chance I'm going anywhere near that book or that movie. If you like or love it, have fun. I will do my best to keep my snarkiness down to a dull buzzing noise. People love "Seinfeld", I thought it was average at best. Transformers was a box-office juggernaut and I think both movies were abominations. So, hey ... what do I know?

Winner: The Book. I may not have liked the book, but at least it took me three hundred pages for me to give up on it. It only took forty minutes for the film to wear me out to the point where I abandoned it. I forget who directed it, but I do recall that someone else directed New Moon. I think people in charge realized they could do a lot better than what they ended up with for Twilight. For good or bad, Stephenie Meyer's words are as she wanted them on the page, so if I had to make a choice between the two I'd go with the author.

April 7, 2010

Wish List Wednesday #41: City of Glass

I posted my review of City of Ashes by Cassandra Clare this past weekend--check it out--and there is one book left in the series. City of Glass is the big finale in this YA fantasy trilogy. I've come this far, so why stop now?

I haven't read the reviews for this book, but I don't think I really need to in order to have it on my wish list. Clare has managed to create a fun, vibrant world for her characters to run around in. It's got a tinge of the Buffy the Vampire Slayer universe, but not so much that it appears to be trying to copy the Joss Whedon vibe. Nor does it veer into Twilight territory. This world of Shadowhunters and Downworlders, while filled with the oh-so-familiar vampires and werewolves, has found its own niche.

And I'm really hoping that incestuous crush subplot gets resolved in the third book in a manner that doesn't make my skin crawl.

How about you? Read any of the books from the Mortal Instruments trilogy? Like, dislike?

April 6, 2010

Rabid Rewind: The Box

Title: The Box
Starring: Cameron Diaz, James Marsden, and Frank Langella
Director: Richard Kelly
Released: Warner Brothers Pictures (2009)

Prior to watching this movie, I was unaware it was based on a short story by Richard Matheson. If I'd known that I would have made it a point to read "Button, Button" before watching this sci-fi thriller, as I like to read a story before seeing the film interpretation. Oh well, I don't think it would have mattered much because I suspect I would have been a bit disappointed by this movie either way.

The story deals with a married couple enduring hard times with the wife (played by Cameron Diaz) being laid off from her teaching job and the husband (James Marsden) failing the psychological exam at NASA, dashing his hopes of becoming an astronaut. The increased combined income would have been enough for Diaz's character to afford surgery on her foot--four of her toes were amputated and it hurts to walk. Enter the box. One night a box is left at their front door, followed by a stranger (Frank Langella) with a disfigured face who explains the nature of the box. There is a button that if pressed will result in two things: the wife and husband will receive a million dollars tax-free in cash, and somewhere in the world someone they don't know will die.

The couple is given twenty-four hours to decide whether they'll push the button or not. If they don't, some other family will be given the offer. They spend the next day debating about how crazy the man is, how preposterous the offer is, what they could do with the money, and whether they could live with the fact of being responsible for another person's death. At the last minute, the wife pushes the button, which reminded me of Eve and the apple--an intentional allusion or not, I'm unsure.

The first half of this movie felt very eery and engaging. I quite liked it. Langella plays the stranger with a combination of calm and foreboding. And Diaz puts on a better performance than I'm used to seeing from her. Marsden, tolerable. The whole premise for this movie is great? If you knew someone would die because of it, would you take the money? Richard Matheson got the idea from his wife's philosophy class, if I recall correctly.

My main gripe with the film is that the big reveal is basically revealed halfway through the movie. The majority of the mystique and intrigue is thrown out the window in favor of surreal visual effects and a conspiracy theory I had trouble buying into. What mystery is left is simply trying to guess the fate of Diaz's and Marsden's characters ... oh, and that of their son.

Did I forget to mention the son before? Well, that's understandable given the fact that he was nothing but a prop and a cheap one at that in the film. Marsden and Diaz don't play parents, as the kid is portrayed as little more than an impudent stranger living in their home. He didn't feel like a part of the family dynamic at all. That would be my second gripe about the movie--lack of sympathy for the characters.

So, by the time the big finale approaches, I already know what is going to happen, but it's teased out for ten or fifteen minutes with overwrought dramatics that fell flat with me. And combine that with the conspiracy element and I didn't care for the ending at all.

People beat up on M. Night Shamalan (sp?) for his films, but I gotta say, I'd watch The Happening again with a smile on my face before bothering with this movie again. This movie was hyped as "from the guy who brought you Donnie Darko" and now I'm less eager to see Donnie Darko. Do yourself a favor if you watch this movie, and stop it at the point when Frank Langella comes back to the house to retrieve the box. The end of that scene leaves the story on a great note, even if it's midway through the whole movie. Everything beyond that just doesn't measure up in my eyes.

April 3, 2010

Rabid Reads: "City of Ashes" by Cassandra Clare

This review will contain SPOILERS pertaining to the first book, City of Bones. You've been warned.

Title: City of Ashes (Book Two of The Mortal Instruments trilogy)
Author: Cassandra Clare
Published: Simon Pulse (2008); an imprint of Simon & Schuster
Pages: 453
Genre: YA fantasy
ISBN 13: 978-1-4169-7224-2
ISBN 10: 1-4169-7224-2

Do you remember watching the Star Wars trilogy--the good one, not the recent one--and the moment when you discovered Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia were brother and sister? Did you instantly flashback to that moment when they kissed in the first movie? Creepy. I mean, that's some Jerry Springer stuff, right there. So as I'm reading this Mortal Instruments trilogy by Cassandra Clare, I'm trying to wrap my head around the whole incestuous attraction between the protagonist, Clary Fray, and her crush/long lost brother, Jace. I enjoyed the book and all, but that one plot point gets harped on constantly and, to be blunt, creeps the bejesus out of me.

The lip lock happened unwittingly between Clary and Jace in City of Bones (my review of that is here), though. In City of Ashes, however, there's a scene where neither character can cry ignorance to their parentage. But, I digress on the grounds that I don't want to spoil things for the second book too, and--again--it's just yucky all the way around.

City of Ashes picks up not long after City of Bones. Clary and Simon are dating (sort of), while Jace and the Lightwoods have been putting the pieces of their family life back together following the betrayal of Hodge (a custodial guardian for the Lightwood children) and the return of Valentine (Clary's and Jace's father, and resident evildoer). Clary's mother is still in a coma. And the Mortal Cup (one of three Mortal Instruments) is still in the possession of Valentine. All caught up? Good.

The story turns towards the Mortal Sword this time, as Valentine sets his sights on stealing all three Instruments for his nefarious plans of conquering Downworlders (vampires, werewolves, fae, etc.) and the Shadowhunters (demon hunters and Downworlder police). Downworlder children are being killed one by one and it all seems to point back to Valentine, which draws the ire of the Inquisitor upon Jace as a suspected spy and traitor. This leads the gang from the first book getting back together, though not on an entirely amicable level, to investigate and ultimately fight Valentine before it's too late.

For a YA series that doesn't feel like it's reinventing the wheel, I have come to quite enjoy this series. Clare has built a conflicted character in Clary that is vulnerable and fretful without being insipid. Again, that crush on her brother is plain wrong and detracts from the story for me, but overall she's a very likable character. A bit heavy on the sass when she's laying out her logic to the adults in the room, but it's endurable. Some interesting developments occur too, with regards to supporting characters, especially Simon and Alec Lightwood.

In one way the book felt like a throughway to connect the first book and the establishment of characters with the third book and the ultimate showdown. In another way, I felt it deepened the story and helped bridge the disconnect between the real world that Clary knows and the supernatural world that Jace knows. The revelations concerning Clary's and Jace's connection with Valentine also lead me to guess on how their taboo relationship will finally be resolved ... but I'm getting ahead of myself.

This is a fun series with good humor and better action, and I'm going to keep my hopes up that the third book, City of Glass, delivers on the promise made by the first two books. If you dig monsters, fights, and a splash of romance thrown in then you ought to consider checking this out.

You can find other blog reviews of this title at: Books By Their Cover; Carrie's YA Bookshelf; Today's Adventure

April 2, 2010

Wag the Blog #13: Tastes Great, Less Killing (Horror Vs. Thriller)

It's been a couple of months since I whipped up one of these blog entries, so it's about time I pointed visitors towards some of the blogs that have caught my interest lately.

I'll be damned in the Bram Stoker Awards went down last weekend. I didn't pay attention to when the ceremony was going to be, so this was a pleasant surprise provided by Dark Wolf's Fantasy Reviews. You can find the official results at HWA's blog, Dark Whispers, too, but I always encourage people to visit Dark Wolf's great blog. 2009 Bram Stoker Awards Winners. Hurray, Sarah Langan.

The Vault of Horror hosted a conversation regarding scary movies. Horror Vs. Thriller: A Conversation looks at the distinguishing features and close similarities between the two categories and what might make a movie a thriller instead of a horror film.

I was not aware Patton Oswalt wrote for comic books. Leave it to Entertainment Weekly's PopWatch Blog to interview the comedian. Patton Oswalt talks about his "Firefly" comic book. I discovered "Firefly" too late, as Fox canceled it after the first season. I watched the entire season on DVD and loved it like others love Jebus. I love the idea that the story is carrying on in another medium.

J.A. Konrath's Newbie's Guide to Publishing answers the question, Am I Good Enough to Epublish. Short answer for me? No. But the guy seems to have Amazon and e-books in general figured out, at least for the most part. If you're curious about electronic publishing, you'd do well to check it out.

Ty Schwamberger took the time over at Hellnotes to interview three aspiring authors. Ty-ing Up the Genre: Up-and-Comers looks at three writers and their motivations, hardships, and approach to the craft.

Speaking of interviews, Patricia's Vampire Notes recently hosted an Interview and Contest with David Niall Wilson.

And Apex Book Company's blog, R. Thomas Riley talks about the thing no writer really likes to talk about. The Wall. Oh man, I still cringe when I think about my bout of the wall a couple of months ago.

Over at Death Rattle, there's a countdown list--two actually--of the Top Five Female Revenge Movies (#5, #4, #3, #2, #1). I am sadly not in much of a position to see movies that slip under the mainstream radar, but it's blogs like this that manage to give me movie titles to keep an eye out for in the future.

Oh, and I don't know if Nicholas Sparks has an over-inflated ego, but to read some of his comments in this USA Today interview, I suspect he is his own biggest fan. Actually, any author who cites his own novel as his favorite coming-of-age novel is definitely his own biggest fan. Yup, I'm a little less eager to read his work now--and there are two on the way (The Notebook and Dear John).