Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Solid Stephen - It

Image result for red balloon transparent backgroundThough It was never my favorite Stephen King movie (that's reserved for Pet Sematary), and I didn't read the book (liked The Shining best), I do love my Tim Curry, and loved his Pennywise. Thinking, "who could possibly top that?" I almost passed over this new iteration of It. I never cared much for clown tropes anyways. But then I found out who was playing the new Pennywise-one of my new favorite actors, Bill Skarsgaard. I've been watching his amazing performance in Netflix's Hemlock Grove, and just knew I had to see what he could do to scare a bunch of kids into floating.

He did not disappoint. His Pennywise is his own, and it's quite scary. What I liked so much about this movie was that, as full as it was with "jump scares," they all served a very real purpose. Most of the time, those kinds of cheap thrills are for the audience's benefit only. That's not how the most horrific scenes in this movie are framed. It's the way that Pennywise scares the kids, isolating them and taunting them before spiriting them away-so you feel a connection to those characters. They felt entirely authentic and organic to the storytelling. It was so good that, even when I was scared, I was grinning like an idiot at how awesome Skarsgaard was.

I enjoyed the darker places that this version of the movie went to, pulling more from King's original text, which I appreciated. The history of the town's curse was really exciting as well. The woodcut-style colonial sketch with Pennywise peering out was especially good, and I won't be at all surprised to see some form of that on my walls one day soon. I'd love to see that story element developed further in the sequel to this film, where a very grown-up group of kids must rehash this nightmare.

K Rating: 5/5

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Thursday, September 14, 2017

A Lesson in Time Management - Twin Peaks

Image result for twin peaks 2017I've waited for the frenzy to die down a bit, allowing myself to digest Showtime's revival of David Lynch's cult show Twin Peaks. I've come to the conclusion that it was very much like the original show, in that there were certain things I couldn't get enough of, and other things I could have done without. Furthermore, that this sort of imbalance, which is frustrating because of how strongly the "good" segments resonate, is part of Lynch's style.

The great parts of this show were really great-I clung to every word during the FBI segments, and waited with baited breath for Dougie Jones to wake up, and realize himself as Agent Dale Cooper, the poor bloke who's been trapped in the red room for twenty-five years.  The segments taking place inside Twin Peaks were great as well-I especially loved Hawk's conversations with the log lady, and the seriousness of those scenes, despite their bizarre content. It made their dialogue feel immediate and urgent, despite its cryptic nature.  The same was true of the Garland Briggs narrative. You were never 100% sure what was going on, but you got more and more clues along the way. The special effects in alternative universes, swirling sky vortexes, and the lost time at Jack Rabbit's Palace were so out there, and yet so menacing and disturbing at the same time.Those scenes are the ones that satisfied the most.

On the lighter, humorous side, I loved the Horne brothers. They were endearingly hilarious, as were the Mitchum brothers.

Bringing everything we saw this time back around to Laura Palmer was a master stroke. But the problem was we didn't get any sort of revelation or closure as to the nature of Laura and the larger significance of her murder, or Cooper's quest to rescue her.  Not even a Lynchian conclusion.

For me, that comes down to a genius who has too many ideas in his head to see them all to fruition. There was an inordinate amount of time spent on things that ultimately didn't matter. Audrey Horne, for example. And her and (evil Cooper's?) son. And Norma's diner. The worst offender was Jacoby's "shovel out of the shit" radio program. While I fully appreciate that these things populate the world Lynch has built and give it some of its flavor, there were many episodes that felt slow as sin because too much time was being spent with them, to the detriment of the things that keep me absolutely riveted. The end result was a big fat question mark for Laura Palmer and Dale Cooper, and an only marginally satisfying reunion of Cooper with the Twin Peaks Sheriff Station.

Lynch's "take it or leave it" approach to his art is his prerogative as an artist, true. But, Lynch does not exist in a bubble. He has editors, producers, distributors, and an audience that have allowed his creation to come into being at all. So I don't think it's unreasonable for a show that's so unconventionally good to be somewhat conventional in leaving its viewers satisfied. I'm not saying I need a happy ending, but I need to be satisfied by what I watch, not frustrated by it. So as much as I loved Twin Peaks, there were lots of misses within its greatness, and I feel that Lynch made a major misstep by ending on the note that he did. There is only one solution: more Twin Peaks.

Rating: 4/5

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Seriously, Lynch? Come on!!!

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

THE SPECTER OF THE INDIAN: BLOG TOUR SCHEDULE


I'm so pleased to announce the schedule for the blog tour of my historical nonfiction book, hosted by Pump Up Your Book!







Title: THE SPECTER OF THE INDIAN: RACE, GENDER, AND GHOSTS IN AMERICAN SEANCES, 1848-1890
Author: Kathryn Troy
Publisher: SUNY Press - Summary from their website HERE






Participants:


Monday, September 4

Tuesday, September 5

Wednesday, September 6

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Monday, September 11

Tuesday, September 12

Wednesday, September 13

*******

Monday, September 18

Tuesday, September 19

Wednesday, September 20

*******

Monday, September 25

Wednesday, September 27

Thursday, September 28

Friday, September 29

Friday, August 18, 2017

Dark Fantasy Lite - Sea of Shadows

Sea of Shadows (Age of Legends Trilogy Book 1) by [Armstrong, Kelley]There's plenty to like in Kelley Armstrong's new Age of Legends Trilogy, starting with Sea of Shadows. A ritual meant to keep vengeful spirits at bay takes place annually in the Forest of the Dead . Twin girls are just old enough to conduct the ritual themselves, but things don't go smoothly-their entire village is wiped out by shadow monsters, and it's up to them to travel to the Imperial City to warn the emperor.

Armstrong did a lot of things right in this fantasy. I'm a sucker for rituals and legends coming to the foreground, and the legendary creatures that represent the main peril of this story were described in great detail. The narrative had darker strains, with great mood in the way the Forest of the Dead was depicted, as well as the devastation wrought on Edgewood, the village that lies just beyond. Characterization was spot on, both for the twins Ashyn and Moria and for the two other survivors, Ronan and Gavril, and the surprise twist at the end will absolutely keep me reading the rest of the series.

The main drawback of this series was the world building itself. The concept is a fine one, and I really appreciated that it had a more Eastern flavor in its underpinnings, but the depth and breadth of the world building were insufficient to match the concept. As I was reading, I could feel the potential for world building to have happened on an epic scale. Its beginnings were there, but in the end the language wasn't hefty enough to bring the world to life as much as it promised. Part of that was the action-oriented pacing of the plot, which focused on fighting monsters. There was nothing wrong with these segments, but they did stop us from feeling the world in all its fullness, and the book in truth could have been twice as long in its description to really draw me in to the universe.

Another thing that detracted was the sometimes too transparent use of culturally specific details. The worst offender was the ritual suicide as a form of defeat. The self-stab and then beheading for honor's sake is just too specific to Japan, and it pulled me out of the world. You want to use that concept? Fine, but make it your own in some way, don't just cut and paste. It was world building at its laziest.

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And lastly, the author seems to have been confused about just what kind of threat she wanted to write about. The things that come out of the forest: are they shadow vapors? vengeful ghosts? shadow-stalkers, which is sort of like the walking dead? That concept was not cohesive. Discovering the source of the disruption is framed with a sense of urgency-figure it out, fix the problem, contain the spirits. But the political intrigue that becomes apparent in the last quarter of the book, while interesting, does not jibe with what we'd been presented with thus far, and does raise questions about the direction of the rest of the series. My vote is for something more spiritual and mysterious, rather than man-manipulated sorcery.

Overall I liked Sea of Shadows, but felt it was playing it a little safe. And for dark fantasy, you never want that. Hopefully the second installment will pick up the slack.

K Rating: 3.5/5
(No more 10s: too many numbers to keep track of)
**New Author Goal: 16 out of 30**

#15 was another I put down after about 75 pages: Labyrinth by Kate Mosse. I really wanted to like that book, but the writing was just atrocious, and little stupidities kept me from being engaged. Medieval Carcassone had suburbs? Really????

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Extreme Gothic: The Cure for Wellness

Very few films can claim to have it all. This one does. The Cure for Wellness (2016) has heady doses of Gothicism, body horror, psychological terror, and a disturbingly believable modern aesthetic.

New York financial analyst Lockhart is sent by his employers to fetch the boss, who's seemingly gone off the deep end while taking in the waters at a shi-shi  spa/clinic/resort/asylum set in the Swiss Alps. Then there's the old, "I'm not a patient" routine, and things devolve from there.


This movie has a lot of things going on, but they all work together in a surprisingly deft way that is simultaneously horrifying and refreshing. To summarize:

This is a solidly gothic film. The entire beginning of the plot is structured like Dracula-a young man at a firm sent to get the senior exec who's lost his marbles. He's staying up at the mountain, where the old castle has been converted to a luxe retreat for high-powered magnates suffering from society's ills. There is a sharp divide between the castle staff and the dwellers below-a legend of an incestuous, sadistic baron destroyed by fire, and rumors of crazy experiments keeping people away in the past and the present. There's the mysterious grounds keeper, who is not carrying water, as he claims, down to the subterranean bowels of the castle. There are secrets: hidden identities, relationships, motivations.

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I'd be totally relaxed by this, wouldn't you?
It's also the best asylum-based horror scenario I've ever seen. I'm normally intrigued by such settings, but end up rolling my eyes at trite, tropish storytelling. Not here. The hydrotherapies offered at the castle were well-developed and thought out, and the water theme gave everything a sense of robust detail and cohesion. Nevermind that there's something in the water, and the clientele are slowly withering away like Egyptian mummies. Aside from the gothic layers, there are layers of mad science that, combined with the other elements of the film, turn the plot into more of a labyrinth. There are layers and sublayers, and then there are sublayers. Then's there's the sideways surrealism of such scenes where Lockhart gets lost in the steam rooms, made all the more special by the kinds of truly bizarre touches that earned the director, Gore Verbinski, kudos for his version of The Ring.

Jason Isaacs (the head doctor) wears an excellent mask of serenity as Lockhart's horror deepens, and the layers of deceit, exertions of power, and questions of sanity are just thin enough to be perfect. Normally, when one goes the way of cerebral terror, they refrain from body horror: the visceral, "oh my god I'm gonna be sick this is so cool" element. I've never seen the two work together so well, and this is mainly a praise of the careful plotting. Wrap both of those in a simultaneously gothic and modern sensibility, and this is the result: it borders on genius. This is a near perfect film, and my only regret is not seeing it sooner. The trailer did it absolutely no justice. But don't be fooled. This film is incredible, and should not be missed.

K Rating: 10/10

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Saturday, August 5, 2017

A VISION IN CRIMSON - FREE - GET IT NOW ON AMAZON

As I work towards producing Book 2 of my Frostbite Series, there's no time like the present to fall in love with new worlds filled with dark magic, sizzling passion, and vampires. Pick up your copy of A Vision in Crimson from Amazon today!


Katelyn knows her magic is risky, but Icaryan light is fading fast and she is desperate. Returning to Earth, she crosses paths with Luca, a vampire hybrid living on the outskirts of humanity. Passion sparks their weary hearts. The rogue hunter follows Kately into a world teeming with wonder and danger, forsaking his own quest to root out his father.

But his father has not forgotten him.

A Vision in Crimson is the first installment of a new epic fantasy blistering with romance and Gothicism.


Sunday, July 30, 2017

A Dry Telling- The Unquiet Bones

I'm trying to bone up on my historical fiction. I was never much of a fan when reading history day-in and day-out was a necessity, but now that I am free of those fetters I can enjoy the creativity that can flow from such beginnings. I wouldn't have become a historian in the first place if I wasn't interested by the past.

But only certain bits of history intrigue me: the weird, strange, dark, or unnatural. Unidentified bones and multiple murders in Medieval England certainly qualifies. The story of The Unquiet Bones was clearly presented, perhaps too clearly most of the time. That might be the Law and Order enthusiast talking, but I was usually a few steps ahead of the plot, and wished for more complexity. At times. Most of the time, the mystery and its investigation were finely done.

What this story really lacked was a sense of flavor. It was very straight-forward and matter-of-fact in its telling, focusing on the same kinds of details-what is eaten, how cold Master Hugh's feet are- as he travels back and forth to seek out the killers. I wanted more ambience, more local, cultural robustness to round out this story and give it mood. Looking back now, I think I may have given too short shrift to Oliver Potzch's The Hangman's Daughter (see my review here). The plot may have been slow in some places, but wasn't always, and it had local character in spades, with fully developed characters that you were drawn to love and/or hate.

In contrast, Lord Gilbert seems very empty. His dialogue was usually just a mimicking of what Master Hugh had already said, which undermined both of them as distinct or unique in character and voice. It is hard to say whether I will pick up the next in the series, especially when there are so many other things to read. It's a shame that the cover art is so fascinating.

K Rating: 6/10
**New Author Goal: 14 out of 30**

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