Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Powerful Pages - Old Bones by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child


Powerful Pages - Old Bones by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child

Old Bones is the latest novel from Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child, two gifted authors who have made quite a name for themselves with their unique brand of fiction.  Combining mysteries a la Sir Arthur Conan Doyle with a flair for science and history that brings Michael Crichton to mind, they spin gripping yarns with morbid touches that would be perfectly at home in a horror novel.  It's a mixture that I and a great many others enjoy, though lately I have grown just a little fatigued with their Pendergast series.  This detour with two of their best heroines at the helm was like a breath of fresh air, and I had an absolute blast with it.  In Old Bones, an ill-fated attempt to dig up new insight into the woeful fate of the Donner Party is derailed by greed, deception, and cold-blooded murder.  A search for a rumored hidden treasure and a devious plot on a grand scale put Nora Kelly (a tough-as-nails archaeologist) and Corrie Swanson (a rebellious FBI agent working her first case) directly in the cross-hairs.  These strong women find themselves at odds from the word "Go," and a serious power struggle ensues. They'll have to iron things out quick, fast, and in a hurry if they want to survive, much less figure out why a bunch of old bones are worth killing for.  Given that the grim legacy of the Donner Party is a key element of the plot, Old Bones is a bit gruesome, and this dark vibe meshes nicely with a desolate setting and a difficult battle against the elements.  While the last act is thrilling and all of the various threads in a fairly intricate narrative are effectively tied off, I may have been hoping for a little more from the climax.  And I pegged the killer fairly early on, and for better or worse, that's something I tend to hold against whodunits.  Still, it's about the journey, and this one had me hooked.  It doesn't rank among this impressive duo's best works, but it is an intense addition to their catalog nonetheless.

Final Grade: B

Monday, September 16, 2019

Short Attention Span Review - A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (1987)


Short Attention Span Review - A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (1987)

Dream Warriors is a fan favorite for many reasons.  Among them are an impressive cast for a late 80s horror flick, a lot of creativity, kooky effects, and director Chuck Russell filling in nicely for genre heavyweight Wes Craven.  It also boasts a lively script, some of Englund's best work straddling the fence between horror and comedy, and a frantic pace.  It is surely the best entry in this series that Craven didn't engineer, and it's a pretty damn good horror movie in general.  I love the inventive kills, and there are some huge beats in the story.  The only shortcomings are a few instances where there was a little too much cheese in the recipe and a couple of effects gags that miss the mark.  Honestly, that's to be expected in a film of this ilk that aims to do so much, and there are way more hits than misses.  The TV kill is one of my favorites, and the puppet sequence is also wicked.  John Saxon's presence in the closing reel is a huge plus, and the subplot with the creepy but helpful nun is a nice touch.  This is a really fun spookshow with a lot of substance, and while the first film from this franchise is much better (I do consider it to be a legitimate classic), Dream Warriors is as good as it got for Freddy beyond that.  And that's good enough for me to show it some love here in the Land of Way.

Final Grade: B

Dream Warriors shines when emphasizing the creativity that always separated this franchise from the pack.

Sunday, September 15, 2019

Short Attention Span Review - Westworld (Seasons 1 and 2)


Short Attention Span Review - Westworld (Seasons 1 and 2)

Apparently, one of the silver linings of my injury and my recovery has been a steady diet of high-quality science fiction.  Westworld might be the best example of that yet, and anyone who hasn't made time for this series from HBO is truly missing out.  The original movie was a fun little adventure written and directed by Michael Crichton.  The idea behind that venture was rock solid, but the picture itself was pretty basic in a lot of ways--particularly if one compares it to Crichton's later efforts.  The series is an extremely complex and equally provocative affair with a stellar cast and magnificent special effects.  It will return with a third season sometime in 2020, but the first two seasons tell a striking tale that is a remarkable accomplishment in and of itself.  While some characters will return, I believe the program will see something akin to a new beginning.  One can only hope that this renewal will prove as compelling and daring as the foundation that has been laid.  There are powerful ideas in play here, and rich characters who are seldom good or bad, but some volatile combination of both.  The nature of the storytelling is just as inventive, with time shifts, dramatic twists, and shocking revelations allowing the talent involved to weave a visionary web.  I was damn near mesmerized by this one, and it continually raised the bar and caught me off-guard.  The marriage of awesome technology, killer effects, and profound ideas to a wild west setting is a stellar juxtaposition that gives all of this complexity an entertaining sheen.  I could single a lot of performers out here, as Westworld essentially litters the screen with dazzling performances.  I will limit myself to a handful in the interest of brevity.  Anthony Hopkins is as on as he has been in a great many years.  Jeffrey Wright has never been better, and the same could be said of Evan Rachel Wood.  Ed Harris is phenomenal, dude is like a force of nature, and he has been given the most audacious part in a show filled with them.  Westworld is unbelievably good, and anyone looking for riveting sci-fi will find something to treasure with this dangerous spectacle.  

Final Grade: A+


Ed Harris is absolutely legendary in Westworld, a true blue science fiction epic. 

Saturday, September 14, 2019

Monster Jams: Mike Patton and Jean-Claude Vannier - Corpse Flower (released 9/13/2019)


Monster Jams: Mike Patton and Jean-Claude Vannier - Corpse Flower (released 9/13/2019)

Talk about a strange brew--this bizarro collection of adventurous tracks from vocal mad scientist Mike Patton and famed composer Jean-Claude Vannier is genuinely an album without boundaries. An eclectic ensemble provides strings, keys, and percussion for this boisterous effort that roams a broad musical landscape with playful abandon. There is a cinematical feel to the compositions that veer from blues to pop amid a great many detours into various sounds and moods. At times cocky and sarcastic, Corpse Flower also hosts numerous moments of gentle amusement and loving tenderness. It even growls at various junctures, and the artists have so much fun exploring the space that it is often hard to discern whether or not they are winking at the listener or cracking a whip. The lyrics are occasionally blunt and direct, but veer more toward the poetic or even the surreal--and also plunder Oscar Wilde's material in the opening salvo. As a Patton fan, I would classify this among his most curious endeavors, yet it is infinitely more accessible than his most challenging recordings. A hearty buffet of sonic delights, Corpse Flower is one of 2019's most unique releases, and it takes listeners on a delightful journey with a lot of eerie subtexts. Standout tracks include "Browning," "On Top of the World," and "A Schoolgirl's Day," but there isn't a bad cut in the mix. 

Final Grade: A

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Powerful Pages - Darkness on the Edge of Town by Adam Christopher (An Official Stranger Things Novel)


Powerful Pages - Darkness on the Edge of Town by Adam Christopher (An Official Stranger Things Novel)

My readers are aware that I enjoy Stranger Things immensely, and I love a good book, so I decided to give Darkness on the Edge of Town a go.  This tie-in centers on Hopper as he tells El about a strange case from his past.  In the summer of 1977, Hopper was a detective working homicides in New York. A series of ritualistic murders draw he and his fiery partner into a dangerous web that includes shady government agents, tough street gangs, and a demented madman with insidious plans for the city.  The novel culminates with a massive blackout and a desperate fight for survival.  Christopher's prose is clear and descriptive, and his grasp of the characters we know is strong.  The characters he creates are perhaps a bit more vivid, and he shows a knack for pacing and action sequences.  There are several sections where this book is a genuine white-knuckle pageturner.  It is an entertaing read, and it is cool to see a younger Jim Hopper mixing it up with a nifty collection of rogues on the mean streets of the Big Apple.  The novel is designed to appeal to both teens and adults who enjoy the show, and the tone may suffer a bit as a result.  It is a bit tame for the older generation, while it may be a little too rough for young adults--and the timeframe won't have as much allure for those readers either.  It's also fairly run-of-the-mill in a lot of ways; there is nothing daring or bold about the plot.  The execution is solid, and the story is exciting, but in many ways it is a routine thriller.  The big hook here is a chance to see a popular character cut his teeth in a dangerous situation long before finding himself facing far bigger challenges in Netflix's most popular program.  As such, it's perfectly serviceable, and it should please those looking for some cheap thrills with a couple of familiar faces in the mix.

Final Grade: B

Short Attention Span Review - Life (2017)


Short Attention Span Review - Life (2017)

Widely panned as an Alien wannabe with a great cast and a lousy creature, Life came and went with minimal fanfare.  I have a soft spot for films in this vein, so the fact that I had yet to watch this sci-fi/horror hybrid only underscores just how badly it was overlooked.  I say that because having viewed Life this weekend, I'm here to tell you that this one is well worth a watch.  And it tries really hard to be something more than an Alien clone, though the trappings are too familiar.  Bottom line: if you do a creature feature in space, you're wading into that territory.  There's no way around it.  It's like making a shark movie--your picture will be compared to Jaws.  Those are the rules.  And while Alien was a B movie at heart, Ridley Scott transformed it into a visionary spectacle for the ages.  Life is technically sound, but it doesn't rise above being a B movie in concept or execution.  But it's a good B movie, sporting a great cast, quality effects, and a vicious monster that is unique.  I really liked the way the picture was shot, and I also liked that creature.  And Life has some serious momentum--once the horror aspects really kick in, it's very exciting and equally dark.  Many fans will likely be turned off by how cold-blooded the script is, but genre fans may find that this sinister undercurrent enhances the experience.  It is no classic, not by a long shot, but as monster movies go, it's a winner.  If you're looking for some gruesome thrills, you could do far worse.  

Final Grade: B


Jake Gyllenhaal sits at the head of the table where Life's considerable star power is concerned, but this is still a B movie.

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Short Attention Span Review - Get Out (2017)


Short Attention Span Review - Get Out (2017)

As someone who loves horror and would argue that the genre has been at the very forefront of social commentary and diversity where the cinema is concerned, I chafe at the notion of so-called "progressive horror."  Maybe that's partly why I avoided Get Out for so long.  Add to that my disappointment with Us, and it's fair to say that I approached last night's viewing of this influential chiller from 2017 with some trepidation.  However, unlike director Jordan Peele's follow-up, I found Get Out to be very rewarding.  Deftly balancing potent commentary with satire and several resounding shocks, this is a real winner.  I'm not sure that it was as groundbreaking as many made it out to be, but it surely had a lot to say.  The script represents a superb effort that fueled an unnerving march toward a grisly conclusion.  In the early stages, this movie feels kind of like a razor-sharp episode of The Twilight Zone, and the execution is a marvel to behold.  The filmmakers really manage to toe the line, building upon the premise with eerie brush strokes while being careful to avoid taking things so far that credibility is lost.  Peele allows things to simmer until the very end, when he delivers a massive climax that is deeply fulfilling.  I will praise every aspect of this provocative shocker, to include the performances, the score, the editing, and the effects work.  This wasn't just a good horror movie with a message, this was a great horror movie, and it certainly included some powerful ideas and difficult concepts.  Yet Get Out wasn't preachy or pretentious, and the entertainment value didn't suffer from a need to make a statement.  Quite the opposite, really, as the statement rendered here paved the way for a compelling and satisfying terror tale that will be treasured for years to come.

Final Grade: A

An uneasy slow burn, Get Out boils over to tremendous effect in the closing reel.