Saturday, March 20, 2010

The Round-Up#22

Film Review: The Fourth Kind: No, it's not real. Any of it. Let me explain.

Before The Fourth Kind came out, Universal Pictures pulled out all the stops with an aggressive promotional campaign, claiming that the film was based on true events and that it incorporated real archival footage. Sorry, folks. It turned out to be a hoax. All of it. But that doesn't take away the fact that this is a hugely entertaining thriller. It's dark, suspenseful, and occasionally terrifying. It tells the tale of Dr. Abbey Tyler, a psychiatrist who is out to find out who, or, rather, what killed her husband. Her quest for the truth leads her into a bizarre mystery involving sightings of owls, and nightly visits by omnipotent, malevolent creatures. Director/Co-writer Olatunde Osunsamni uses every trick in the book, visual and narrative, to make a film that is slightly cheesy, yet strangely effective and unsettling. Earnest performances by Milla Jovovich, Elias Koteas and Enzo Cilenti also add a touch of class to the proceedings.

So, forget the promotional campaign, forget Jovovich's cheesy intro in which she tells you that it's all real, and sit down and enjoy this film for what it really is: a stylish and entertaining thriller.

Extra! The Voice of the Night by Dean Koontz: This edition's Extra! selection is the novel The Voice of the Night by Dean Koontz. Part horror novel, part psychological thriller, and part coming-of-age tale, this early, atmospheric work by Koontz, is unlike anything he's ever written, and it is one memorable and disturbing tale. Worth dusting off.

That's it for me. So, till next time, keep browsing those shelves.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The Round-Up#21

Book Review: Blood Work by Michael Connelly: Better known for the Harry Bosch series of crime novels, Michael Connelly delivers another stand-alone thriller that is nothing short of a knock-out. Revolving around Terry McCaleb, a former FBI profiler (who retires after suffering from a heart attack and having a heart transplant), and his quest to catch the killer of his heart donor (a young single-mother), this is a thriller that works on many levels: as a straightforward thriller, as a touching character study, as a stylish piece of livre-noir, and as a grand piece of entertainment.
Connelly's deep knowledge of police procedure and jargon enrich this thriller, and his masterful ability to create realistic characters is in full force here. And just when you think you got this twisty story figured out, Connelly shows you that he is two steps ahead, always, revealing one plot-twist after another, each one more emotionally devastating than its predecessor. A must for fans of intelligent, meticulously plotted thrillers.

P.S. This novel has also been made into the feature film (Blood Work) directed by and starring Clint Eastwood.

Extra! Batman: Inferno by Alex Irvine: This little-know novel - set in the Batman universe established by Christopher Nolan and co. in Batman Begins - is a gem. The complex plot, revolving around a new foe called Enfer, who's out to burn Gotham city to the ground, and The Joker's plan to destroy Batman's reputation by donning the caped-crusader's costume and impersonating him, is delightfully inventive and thrilling. But it is Irvine's energetic writing and his ability to get inside the characters' minds, that make this novel stand out among many of its kind. An undiscovered treasure for fans of The Dark Knight.

That's it for me. Till next time, keep browsing those shelves.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

The Round-Up#20

Film Review: The Mist: Adapted from Stephen King's harrowing novella, The Mist, written for the screen and directed by Frank Darabont, is one of the finest Stephen King adaptations ever made, and one of the finest horror films I have ever seen. Period.
The story is simple. A mysterious mist shrouds a small town. Something is in that mist. Something deadly and hungry for blood. A group of people take refuge in a department store. Chaos ensues. King and Darabont use that simple premise to draw an ugly, yet realistic, picture of humanity under pressure. Once the creatures inside the mist make their presence known, the department store becomes a microcosm, a dog eat dog world where human frailty and humanity's penchant for violence rise to the surface.
This is a film that will haunt you for days. Not because of the violence (which is aplenty), or the fine performances, or Darabont's almost flawless direction. No. What will haunt you are the actions of the characters, the film's refusal to look away from our faults as a species, and the ending, which is devastating in its brutality and power.

Film Review: The WolfMan: This remake of the classic 1941 Universal monster movie, is a strange creature. Starring Benicio Del Toro as the titular beast, Anthony Hopikins as his father, and directed by Joe Johnston (better known for family-oriented fare like Jumanji and Jurassic Park III), this is a film that can't seem to decide what it wants to be. Is it a dark horror movie with plenty of violence? Check. Is it a dark drama about family secrets and sins of the father? Check. Is it a fun monster movie with plenty of chases and monster mayhem? Check. But wait! That's not all. It also has some stylish and trippy surreal imagery, and a finale that manages both to be silly and thrilling.
The final verdict: Despite an underwhelming central performances by Del Toro, an uneven tone (a fault, which according to the director, will be rectified in the director's cut DVD, which will be 17 minutes longer), and plot-holes galore, this is a stylish, fast-paced, gorgeously designed picture, that is memorable and visually splendid. Recommended.

Book Review: The Great and Secret Show/Everville by Clive Barker: Clive Barker, once touted as "the future of horror" by none other than Stephen King, has long ago abandoned straight-horror in favor of weaving sweeping tales of dark fantasy, which feature meticulously imagined alternate universes. The Great and Secret Show and its sequel, Everville, are two of his finest works in that genre.
Centering on two warring super entities who have stumbled upon a Godly compound called The Nuncio, and the two small towns that serve as the battle-grounds for these two demi-gods' fight, these two novels are almost over-ripe with imagination, sexual imagery, terrifying set-pieces and memorable characters. Although Barker stumbles a bit with Everville - it's too sprawling and hallucinatory for its own good - together, these two novels offer the reader a chance to lose him/herself inside a mysterious, alluring world, and, with Barker's take on religion and the nature of Angels and Demons, reading them should stir up some interesting discussions.

Extra! Tanlines: This edition's Extra! selection is the music of Tanlines, an independent band from Brooklyn, New York, whose stylish blend of world-beats and Electronica (like a cross between Talking Heads and Aswad) are irresistibly addictive and uplifting. This is the kind of music that puts a smile on your face and makes you want to dance in the sunlight. Give their work a listen here. You won't regret it.

That's it for me. Till next time, keep browsing those shelves!