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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Sunday, July 23, 2017

Oh. My. God. Castlevania!!

Rarely have I seen a more fulfilling adaptation of a thing I have loved so much for so long. Netlix's new anime of the Castlevania  series was a fantastic four episodes. My only complaint is that the first season was short. So short, in fact, that you barely get to see the inside of Dracula's castle, which is a huge deal. But that really is the only bad thing I can think to say, that I wanted more, and wished Netflix had had the guts to test the waters with a full season. They learned pretty quick though, and renewed the show almost immediately. Smart.

Here's my take on the highlights of Castlevania:

Dracula: Maybe this should go without saying, but still. They made him sympathetic, providing the burning of his wife as the motivation for the curse he lays upon Targoviste. At the same time, he is every bit as bad-ass as the punishingly difficult final boss that every player expects from Castlevania. My personal favorite was the pillar of fire.



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Additionally, I liked that, in lieu of Dracula being irreparably, inexcusably evil, we have a very sinister view of the religious authority in the town, the one responsible for burning Mrs. Dracula. When he gets his comeuppance, it's both well-deserved and well-scripted. *MWAH!*

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"I'm Trevor fucking Belmont."

The humor
: Despite the awesomely despicable gore (loved that whipped-out eyeball), there was a thread of grim humor throughout, which really added something to the dialogue, and the overall feel of the show. The material is definitely being taken seriously, but the dark humor feels authentic and genuine to the kind of apocalyptic scenario that Trevor Belmont and the people of Targoviste have thrust upon them.

The catacombs: Though we only got to see a small portion of Dracula's castle, the setup for it was really well executed. A small visual moment lets you know exactly when it's happened (the light bulbs indicative of Dracula's technology). But it was presented as a subterranean sector of the town itself, which in reality was a demonstration of just how far Dracula's reach over the town extends. Clever.

Can't wait for more. Gimme more. I need more!

K Rating: 5/5

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Straight-up Creepy: The Resident

I never hesitate to watch anything produced by Hammer Studios. The Resident (2011) was no different, and my interest was piqued by the presence of Jeffrey Dean Morgan (TWD's Negan) and the Hammer idol Christopher Lee himself.

The Resident is about a recently separated doctor (Hillary Swank, my least favorite person) who moves into a new apartment, and is never quite alone there. Creepiness ensues, and interest turns into obsession, turns into violent mania. That's about all I can say without giving away more.

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The film was fine, but it certainly wasn't Hammer's finest. The depravity of the voyeurism and the brutality accompanied by it were spot on, and the production values were spot on (especial kudos go out to the lighting department), but the plot was so straightforward it was disappointing. I really hoped for more psychological bends and twists, and wished the identity of the perpetrator had been kept from me. At least a little misdirection was wanted, and with it this film would have earned its place.

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The man needed more to do...how do you
underuse a talent like his????
There were plenty of choices as to who could be harassing the unsuspecting doctor-the new landlord, (we all know Negan is very capable of being a creepy mother-fucker), his old grandfather (he's been the scariest man/monster who's ever lived), or the philandering boyfriend who she stupidly lets back into her life. But I wasn't left guessing, not even for a little bit, about who the villain of the film was. And that really took away from it, for no discernible reason. They even pulled a weird directorial stunt of rewinding scenes not even of a quarter of the way through the movie to hit me over the head with the resolution of what I thought was the plot. Then everything was laid bare, and there was nothing left for me to do but sit back and watch the grossness unfurl. I would have much preferred being kept in the dark, finding out along with the dear doctor just what the hell is wrong with her apartment, and why she can't seem to wake up in the morning.

K Rating: 6/10

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Mixed Signals: Standard Gothic Meets Paranoiac in The Widow's House

In my quest for new authors, it seems more common than not that the writers, and their stories, have great potential, but lack something in execution. The same is true of my recent read, The Widow's House. The back cover touted a terrifying gothic story set in the perpetually haunted Hudson Valley.

The "gothic" segments of the book were the hardest to swallow. For one, the protagonist Clare doesn't take her haunted situation very seriously. She states rather plainly what she saw, dismissing those supernatural instances out of hand before there's time to create any kind of atmosphere, mood, or sense of terror within the character. Automatically then, I can't be made to care much about these things either.

Second, the characters of the book (all old-school traditional (read really pretentious) writers seem to be bashing the very genre their author is writing in. That certainly didn't endear me to the book or its characters, but aside from that, it was contradictory to the plot. If Clare's husband, Jess, the "famous" (actually one moderate book ten years ago) writer balks at dilapidated houses and the stories bred by them, why is he so eager to move in to one, claiming inspiration? The only one writing a decent story in that house is Clare, based on a local Apple Blossom Queen. That was an interesting quirk, but unraveling the who's who of the story was convoluted, and not in an "AHA!" kind of way.

The plot didn't build in tension, mainly because every possible chance at a real gothic story was brushed aside, and was largely tropish. The concepts were good, but tropish. And I didn't really care about the growing distance between Clare and Jess. It wasn't exciting, or unpredictable, and again, it didn't endear me to Clare, who puts up with someone painted as lazy, self-centered, abusive, and potentially philanderous.

The last quarter of the book is the best part, but mainly because it is almost an entire shift in the book itself. Not just in the plot, but also in the kind of book you're reading. We went from a semi-haunted I don't-care-about-this story to a psychological thriller, which was exciting for the last few pages, but wasn't fully developed. The breadcrumbs that should have been there throughout really weren't. When Clare starts to question her reality, or when you start to question her reliability as a narrator, that is the author's best accomplishment in this book. But again, to see that kind of consistency in tension and telling throughout the book, rather than a sleepy novel that had a great ending, would have been immensely preferable.

This is what comes of dabbling: trying to write in a genre that you only half-heartedly, at best, seem to respect or even understand. When you look down your nose at the thing you're hoping to draw readers with, the result is usually half-assed. It's a mathematical certainty. GARBAGE IN= GARBAGE OUT.

I've said this many times before, but it is usually true. If you think this story is for you, watch Paranoiac instead. Or  Strait-Jacket.

K Rating: 5/10
**New Author Goal: 13 out of 30**


Thursday, July 6, 2017

A Lesson in Character: A Darker Shade of Magic

Four Londons: all distinct, with some parallels, bound by magic. One closed off from the others, whose horrors begin to creep back into the rest.

It's a great premise, which is of course why I picked up A Darker Shade of Magic. The plot itself: the invasion of hungry, murderous, black magic into the remaining realms: one on the brink of destruction, one prosperous, and our plain ol' regular London, felt fresh and new. The concept of how the worlds interacted with each other (which is to say very little), the description of different magical systems, (especially Black London's magic), all that was very good. But overall, the book was only "meh." For one glaring reason: the characterization sucked.

The two main characters, Kell and Delilah, are painfully shallow and contradictory. Kell is one of two remaining blood magicians, capable of traveling between worlds. For someone who wields unspeakable power, over blood and the elements, Kell is constantly on the run in this book. He was weak at every turn, waiting to be rescued by the female, presumably just for the sake of having the stronger character be female. Which in this universe, made not a lick of sense, since she's been living in Grey London (our London, where magic is forgotten). You wanna have her discover some powers she couldn't possibly have? Fine by me, but her snarkiness rubbed me entirely the wrong way. She came off as pig-headed rather than brave, which I didn't appreciate. Her biggest contradiction is that she thinks of herself as a pirate. She seems to have no seafaring background whatsoever, and of course no realistic conception of pirate as privateer - something the author would do well to demonstrate she understands. Additionally, her desire to do that, in addition to cross-dressing, and the use of a top hat are anachronistic. Tri-cornered hat is more like it, if she dreams of being a pirate.

It peeved me, these little details about how the worlds are built-essentially, that there wasn't a great attention paid to details. The concept of how the worlds interact is not enough-each one of those worlds felt empty, and I had to do a lot of the work in terms of imagining the places where the characters traveled, filling in gaps that the text didn't provide. And the secondary characters are worse-off than the mains: they get so little page-time, that they're barely established, let alone made complex and capable of growth. Which is a problem, because those are the people whom the mains care about. But I can't empathize with them about stock figures.

Then again, I'd like to see something substantial happen in this universe: not just plotwise, because that this book semi-accomplished, if in a somewhat rushed way, but the first book in this series left off suggesting that their escapades would be episodic, rather than part of a larger arc of depth and growth. Which is frustrating. I want to like this series. If I can just get some characters I can care about, I'll be fine.

K Rating: 5/10


**New Author Goal: 12 out of 30**

Sunday, July 2, 2017

A Shallow Horror -The Neon Demon

Beauty queens can be bitches. The beauty industry, likewise, is a dog-eat-dog world, with fierce competition between models, photographers, makeup artists, etc. That is the setting of The Neon Demon (2016), which follows the new "it" girl around L.A. for a few days, before things get ugly.



Overall I enjoyed this film, and appreciated the special attention paid to artistic shots, but it wasn't robust enough for me to merit it being a feature-length film. Not with the plot as thin as it was. This would have felt much sharper had it been shortened as part of an anthology, or simply just a short film, but the violence that is blended with the artistry of this film was only strong in certain places, leaving a lot of empty space in between scenes that could have carried a more complex plot, rather than the very expected jealousy that brews among girls who have been in the business longer than the angelic-looking newcomer, whose face and demeanor catch the eye of designers and photographers as being "true" beauty, rather than the manufactured faces and bodies of the competition.

Image result for blood and black laceWhen the competing girls try to capture the new girl's look (literally), things get interesting, and the violence is smartly done, but it just doesn't go far enough. By the time those scenes of violence begin to escalate, the movie is over. And the nature of the violence itself (I don't want to give it away) is something I have seen before, so as nice as the shots were, more originality would have paid off there. It's a matter of the writing, not the storytelling, if you catch my drift. And with subject matter like this, it's all too easy for me to compare it to Blood and Black Lace (1964). In other words, there's a very hard act to follow.

The director Nicolas Winding Refn has gotten my attention, but I want to see this kind of talent being put to real solid use. Firmer, more intricate writing on par with the photography would have made this stellar.

K Rating: 7/10