Saturday, October 29, 2011

My new novel out now and free movies this Halloween!

My new novel, COFFIN X, is out now on Amazon (US, UK, France, Germany). A dark tale about a group of heroes hunting the Grim Reaper after he goes insane, this is a hardcore horror novel that pulls no punches, so read at your own risk this Halloween! More info and an excerpt here.

To celebrate the release of the book and Halloween, my website is hosting a small, online horror film festival, featuring five classic horror movies, free to download or stream (courtesy of The Internet Archive). So head over there and enjoy. And don't forget to spread the word.

Happy Halloween.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Synopsis for COFFIN X, my new novel, coming this Halloween

Here it is, the synopsis for COFFIN X, my new novel, which will be out for sale on Amazon (US, UK, FRANCE, GERMANY) this Halloween:

"Death is a Man in Black, and he has gone insane. Now, only one man, an amnesiac who wakes up to find his wife dead beside him, a man who calls himself X, can stop him. Now, X, along with a band of heroes hunting The Man in Black, have to embark on a terrifying journey through the dark streets of the cursed town of Croton, through a haunted house filled with secrets, to find the only thing that can stop Death: an ancient weapon that has the power to reverse time. But will they make it?

Coffin X is a terrifying novel of dark fantasy and horror, with a large cast of memorable characters, an unforgettable atmosphere, a multi-layered plot and a shocking ending that will leave you breathless and haunt your dreams."

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

My new book coming this Halloween

My new book, Coffin X: A Novel, will be out for sale on Amazon Kindle this Halloween.

It's a dark-fantasy/horror novel that has a large cast of characters and several interweaving storylines. The plot: well, basically, it's the story of what would happen if Death (also known as The Grim Reaper) went insane. Intrigued? More details to come. But here is a sneak peek at the cover art.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

The Round-Up#48

Book Review: From The Corner of His Eye by Dean Koontz: Dean Koontz can be a hell of a frustrating author sometimes. Some of his books are superb, filled with imagination and storytelling prowess, driven by inventive central concepts and an irresistible atmosphere of menace. On the other hand, some of his books, especially ones published later in his career (from the mid-90's, onwards), are so repetitive, preachy, and thinly plotted, that one wonders how they could have been written by the same man. From The Corner of His Eye is one of the good ones. In fact, it's one of the very good ones. It combines Koontz's masterful ability to keep the reader intrigued, turning the pages effortlessly, with a plethora of imagination and likeable characters and a plot that defies categorization.

The plot: Junior Cain, a handsome young man with a twisted mind, throws his wife off a cliff to inherit her money. After her husband dies in a car accident, Agnes Lampion gives birth to a young boy who grows up to be a prodigy with a strange and magical ability to glimpse other realities that exist parallel to ours. After getting raped by a white man, Phimie White, an African-American young woman, gives birth to a baby girl, Angel, and dies in the process. Detective Tom Vanadium, an enigmatic man with a penchant for unnerving murder suspects with his mind-boggling coin tricks, doesn't believe that Junior Cain's wife's death was accidental, and so embarks on a journey to harass the prime suspect, her husband, till he breaks and confesses. Together, all those people's live are about to intertwine, with consequences that might change the face of the world we live in.

I know the synopsis is murky. But to tell any more of the plot would be unfair to you and to the book's wonders. As part of the thrill of reading this lengthy novel (it's over 700 pages long) is unravelling the layers of the plot one by one, discovering surprises, some pleasant, some disturbing, along the way.

Although Koontz gets on his soapbox one time too many, and the novel is about 100 pages too long, these flaws don't detract from the fact that this is a wonder of a novel; a book filled with stories within stories and memorable characters. The novel is also one of Koontz's most tightly plotted in a long time, with one delicious twist leading to another. And despite Koontz's genre-hopping (the book is part Sci-Fi, part mystery, part ghost story, part love story, and part historical novel!), he pulls it off, delivering a book that has a satisfying ending and is never confusing.

So who is this book for? Fans of Koontz, of course, are the primary audience here, as, by now, they are used to his style and his penchant for juggling genres. But it's also a good introduction to Koontz, a good choice for people who like long, multi-layered novels, and readers who like their novels atmospheric, fast-paced, and well-plotted. No matter what your preferred genre is, this is must-read book, that's entertaining, humane, suspenseful, and immensely rewarding. One of Koontz's best.

Film Review: Fright Night (2011): Being a die-hard fan of the original Fright Night, I went to watch this remake with a ton of expectations on my shoulders. I was primed to be very harsh on it, and, frankly, hate it. But I just couldn't do it.

The remake of the perennial 80's classic is, for the most part, a most successful venture, with appealing characters, kinetic direction, and a good script.

The story: Charlie Brewster, a teenage boy on the verge of manhood, is at a crossroads. He is trying to decide which direction his life should take - he doesn't know whether he wants to continue being the loveable geek and friend of fellow geek Ed, his once best friend, or become a "cool" guy who shuns geekhood and dates "hot babes" who have a social life seeking "hot guys" who have a social life, too. But that all changes when a mysterious stranger named Jerry moves in next door to Charlie's house, wooing his single-mom and his girlfriend Amy with his good looks and charming banter. But Jerry is a vampire, feeds on human blood, and doesn't want anyone to know about his true nature. But the problem is, Ed, Charlie's once-best friend already knows the truth about Jerry, and he shares it with Charlie, endangering both their lives and the lives of the ones they love. Now Charlie has to fight or die at the hands of the monster who lives next door.

The story is more or less the same as the original's, with a few changes here and there, some of them brilliant, some of them just plain fun. But the clever concept is what drove the original, and is what drives this version, as well. And Marti Noxon's screenplay fleshes out most of the characters and grounds the film in reality, making the plot twists more effective and the suspense more taut. Fine performances by the whole cast, especially Anton Yelchin as Charlie, ensure that we come to care about the characters and what happens to them. Add to that Craig Gillespie's stylish and assured direction, which is thankfully old-school, with long takes (including a memorable car chase filmed in one take and from inside one car) and smooth editing, and you get a rare animal: a horror film that's fun, clever, and scary when it wants to be.

Although Colin Farrell's vampire villain pales in comparison to Chris Sarandon's charismatic portrayal of the same character in the original - and so does David Tennant's Peter Vincent when compared to Roddy McDowell's, for that matter - and the ending doesn't pack the punch it should, Fright Night is an entertaining, energetic horror film, that succeeds both as a fresh take on a classic and as an endearing homage. It is also the best vampire film to come out of Hollywood since John Carpenter's Vampires, and that came out in 1998. Enough said. Go see it!

Extra! Whiskey Sour by J.A Konrath: This edition's Extra! selection is the novel Whiskey Sour by J.A Konrath. This is a fun, fast-paced mystery/thriller with a wicked sense of humour and one hell of a central character in Jacqueline "Jack" Daniels, an insomniac, middle-age detective, with a troubled life. Also, the novel is strangely touching considering the subject matter. A must read.

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

Thursday, August 25, 2011

My new book now on sale at the Amazon Kindle store!

My new book, 9 Lives: Stories For Cat Lovers is now on sale at Amazon Kindle US, UK and Germany!

The book is my love letter to cats, my favorite animals in the whole wide world, and consists of nine short stories that span many genres (including comedy, mystery/thriller, fantasy, and horror).

Here is the official press release: "Let Dr. Rex Chartreaux, a mysterious professor and raconteur, take you on a journey through 9 stories of wonder, adventure, mystery, and terror, in which cats play a major role. From the tale of a young girl who embarks on a journey to find her missing cat and ends up discovering much more, to the tale of a merciless criminal who discovers he is being hunted down by a mysterious and seemingly invincible vigilante known as THE CAT, to the story of a falsely accused man who is saved from a life in jail thanks to the help of a feline, 9 LIVES is a collection of stories for the whole family that will surely thrill, inspire and move you. A must for fans of Lillian Jackson Braun, Rita Mae Brown, Agatha Christie and Frances Hodgson Burnett.

Half of the proceeds from this book will be donated to animal shelters around the world."

To read two stories from the book, for free, follow this link or this link.

And remember that you don't have to have a Kindle device to be able to read this book; since Amazon Kindle allows you to download free software which enables you to read the book on your device of choice (PC, Mac, Blackberry, iPod, iPad, you name it).

Friday, July 29, 2011

The Round-Up#47 (Bumper Edition)

Film Review: Rob Zombie's Halloween II: While Rob Zombie's remake of John Carpenter's original was a fierce and stylish film, Zombie's second time out is, well, something else entirely. With Halloween, Zombie proved he could deliver one helluva an entertaining and scary film, and he managed to add enough new touches to the story to make it feel fresh and updated. But the fact remained that Halloween was, more or less, indebted to Carpenter's vision, and followed the same story, yet with what you might call revisions. What Zombie achieves with Halloween II is to make a film that's entirely his own, taking the Michael Myers mythos in a completely new direction, which is, for better or for worse, startlingly original.

The Plot: After barely surviving her battle with her brother, mass murderer Michael Myers, Laurie Strode tries to go on with her life. But her mind has been deeply scarred by her experiences, and after seeing visions of a still living Myers roaming about, continuing his killing spree, she begins to doubt her sanity. Meanwhile, Michael Myers, whose body was never found, turns out to be alive, and as he is haunted by visions of his dead mother and his younger self urging him to finish his work and "go home", he embarks on a journey back to Haddonfield and his sister, Laurie, whom he intends to kill in order for them all to be united in death as a family.

As the synopsis shows, Zombie takes the story in a bizarre direction, turning Laurie and Michael's tale into a twisted psychological drama, with hallucinatory visions and revelations that add an arguably supernatural bent to the story. But, in truth, one is never completely sure what Zombie is trying to do or say with this film, as the plot is confused, confusing and occasionally repetitive, and the tone of the film is unrelentingly grim.

But despite all that, Zombie succeeds in creating a stylish, visually lush, and narratively adventurous film that is unlike anything that has come before it in the long-running series. And the downbeat and disturbing ending packs a wallop and brings the story to a somewhat satisfying close.

Film Review: Dead Mary: This low-key, low-budget horror film is a strange creature. At a glance, it looks like an Evil Dead/Cabin Fever rip-off, with a bunch of young folk staying at a cabin in the woods for a long weekend, only to discover, after one of them is found brutally murdered in the woods, that there is an otherworldly killer amongst them. But as it turns out, Dead Mary is quite a bit more than that.

The film begins with a lengthy sequence introducing us to the cast of characters (which range from the unfaithful husband, to a guy who just broke up with his girlfriend, to the newbie girlfriend of one of the guys, who feels like an outsider, to the strong-willed young woman who flirts with the boyfriend of one of her friends), then shifts gears to become something similar to Invasion of The Body Snatchers, with a shape-shifting creature picking the characters off one by one. Then it shifts gears once more to become an apocalyptic thriller similar to The Thing. That's not to say that any of these aspects to the story is fully fleshed out or realized on a large scale. Far from it. This is a low-budget film, with almost no effects, and with minimal locations. So do the filmmakers pull it off? Yes. In spades.

Thanks to Robert Wilson's assured and stylish direction, which is pretty old-school, Peter Sheldrick and Christopher Warre Smets's solid script, and the young cast's earnest performances, the film turns out to be an effective and ambitious effort that manages to maintain the suspense throughout the whole running time, provide a couple of truly disturbing sequences, create an atmosphere of foreboding, and end on a darkly humorous and ambiguous note, things which many similar films with higher budgets fail to pull off (Cabin Fever, anyone?).

Although the plot is far from original, and the film has some pacing and script hiccups along the way, this is a minor classic, that is entertaining and fresh.

Book Review: The Criminalist by William Relling Jr.: Stories about psychics who help solve crimes have become a cliche. From numerous TV shows (most of which are lackluster) to dozens of paranormal romance series that feature psychic detectives, this sub-genre has been seemingly bled to death. But then comes William Relling Jr.'s The Criminalist to prove that there is life yet to this kind of tale.

The plot: Kenneth Bennet, a clairvoyant who is grieving for the recent loss of his wife, has a vision that provides him with vital clues to catching a serial killer preying on children in a small town. So, Bennet, who has been warned by his psychiatrist that he is on the verge of physical and mental collapse, drags himself to the small town afflicted by the murders to offer his help. But local law enforcement refuses his help, which leads him to try to solve the case on his own, while trying to come to terms with the loss of his wife and maintain his slowly dissolving sanity.

Describing the plot of this novel isn't easy, as it's multi-layered and centered on characters rather than events, which is somewhat peculiar for the genre. But Relling Jr. uses the genre and the psychic angle only as a McGuffin, and, instead, focuses on the lives and psyches of his characters, which are, for the most part, interesting and three-dimensional. Though on the surface the novel is a murder mystery, in truth it's a novel about grief and life choices. With the Kenneth Bennett character, Relling Jr. creates a living, breathing man who is flawed, devastated, almost paralyzed with grief, and who happens to be psychic, something which grounds the tale in reality and makes the proceedings much more interesting, with Relling Jr. following Bennett as he tries to gain control of a life spiraling out of control; and the journey is both tragic and touching. Relling Jr. also has a penchant for fleshing out almost every character, even ones that make a brief appearance, something which, while it doesn't always work, gives the novel a depth sorely lacking in many novels of the genre.

While the novel has its flaws (the pace is uneven, the plot meanders, the serial killer is never really fleshed out, and the ending is somewhat of a disappointment), this is a clever, touching, and engrossing book, and the best novel about psychics since Stephen King's The Dead Zone.

Book Review: The Last Days of Krypton by Kevin J. Anderson: Everybody knows the story of Superman and the planet Krypton with its red sun. Everybody knows that Superman is the only son of Jor-El and Lara, who shipped him off to Earth moments before the planet Krypton was blown to smithereens. But Kevin J. Anderson's novel The Last Days of Krypton proves that there is much more to the story. And what a story it is!

From political shenanigans, to sibling rivalry, to the plots of the evil dictator Zod, to the mute villain Nam-Ek, to the true nature of Brainiac, to earthquakes and flash floods, Anderson's Krypton has to be one of the most unfortunate planets in the universe. And that's what makes this book so entertaining and flawed at the same time.

With straightforward prose and a quick pace, Anderson tells the story of Krypton in an exciting, never-lagging manner, with one disaster after another and endearing characters that try to overcome those ordeals. The novel is full of adventure, romance, villains and action, which makes it an almost epic Sci-Fi tale that sheds new light on the whole Superman mythos.

But in trying to combine all the different mythologies that have been created over the decades, Anderson also creates a novel that doesn't leave the reader room to breathe and suspend his/her disbelief, as Anderson crams his 400+ pages with disaster after disaster, one alien visitation after another, that the story becomes more of a space opera than anything else, which, of course, might have been Anderson's intention in the first place (the book begins with a list of all the characters in the novel - Dramatis Persoane - as if it were an opera or a play). And, also, the stilted dialogue surely doesn't help.

But, overall, the flaws don't take away from the fact that this is a hugely entertaining book, with enough imagination and forward momentum to make it an addictive read and a must for fans of The Man of Steel. And on the long run, it's probably going to become the final word on the story of Krypton.

Extra! New York Dead by Stuart Woods: This edition's Extra! selection is the novel New York Dead by Stuart Woods, a superb, super fast-paced murder mystery, filled to the brim with sex, plot twists, and action, and one of the most fun books I've ever read. A must read.

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

Saturday, May 28, 2011

The Round-Up#46

Film Review: Sucker Punch: Ever since his directorial debut, the 2004 remake of Dawn of The Dead, Zack Snyder has established himself as a visual stylist of the first order. Just take a look at his next two films, 300 and Watchmen; two pieces of marvelous eye-candy. And pieces of candy they were, with superficial characters, convoluted plots, and unsteady paces. Snyder's fourth film, Sucker Punch, is more of the same. For better or for worse.

The story: A young woman gets locked up in an asylum by her stepfather, an evil and abusive man, who, after her mother's death, wants to take control of the family fortune. To ensure that the young woman never leaves the asylum and challenge him, he bribes a corrupt orderly to make sure that she receives an unnecessary lobotomy, thus ensuring her silence forever. Seconds before the lobotomy is performed on her, the young woman lapses into unconsciousness and into a fantasy world where she is a dancer in a whorehouse serving the rich and powerful, and where, like in the real world, she has to fight to survive. What follows is a series of incoherent, yet visually dazzling action set-pieces, that combine eye-opening CGI with masterful choreography.

I can't go into detail about the plot, because, frankly, that's all I got. The rest, a lot of fancy-schmansy talk about the power of imagination and one's inner strength, was lost on me, as I was too busy watching scantily clad attractive actresses fighting and strutting their stuff, while creatures straight out of a steam-punk novel filled the screen every five minutes.

So, is it a good movie? Not by a long shot. It's a loud, mostly mind-numbing film, with bland performances and a bleak, uninteresting story that goes nowhere. While the soundtrack, which mostly consists of atrocious hard-rock numbers and an annoying Bjork track that is replayed ad nauseum, is truly awful. But the visuals alone are worth a look, while Abbie Cornish proves that she is an actress to watch out for, delivering a nuanced performance that becomes one of the film's few redeeming features.

So if you're in the mood for some loud, mindless entertainment that pretends to be something different, Sucker Punch is the ticket.

Book Review: Helltown by Dennis O'Neil: Part of the DC Universe line of novels that came out a few years ago, Helltown focuses on the origin story of one of DC Comics' lesser known but most intriguing characters, The Question. But that's not all this book is about. No. This is a damn fine novel that combines action, pop philosophy, atmosphere and strong, smooth writing to produce something truly enjoyable.

The story: Vic Sage returns to his hometown, Hub City, in search of his parents' identity (he was brought up in an orphanage), to discover that it has become a cesspool of violence and hatred run by criminals and corrupt politicians. Soon after his arrival he attracts the attention of the mayor and his thugs, which leads to him being beaten almost to death and rescued by a mysterious warrior who calls herself Shiva. He is then taken to an enigmatic mentor named Richard Dragon, who, at the request of Shiva, begins to transform Sage into a warrior. But Sage feels that something is missing in his life, questions that need to be answered. So he decides to return to Hub City, and, as a vigilante named The Question, find those answers, no matter what the cost.

The Question, as envisioned by veteran comic book writer Dennis O'Neil, is a complex, enigmatic character, that is both unique and reminiscent of the greatest characters to ever grace the pages of comic books. He is a conflicted character on a dark quest, an intriguing, norish hero. But what truly sets him apart are his flaws, his humanity, and his background. Here is a character that's neither rich nor formally educated, has no sidekicks or friends, no gadgets other than his costume and mask (that change color at will). He is human, has no superpowers, and isn't really a great detective. But that's what makes him interesting. O'Neil, who also penned the ground-breaking comic book series about The Question back in the Eighties, has a masterful command of the complex nature of the character and his inner struggles. He also anchors the story in reality, giving the book a gritty, somewhat bleak feel, which suit the character and his quest. And despite the appearance of Batman, who plays a major role in the story, he doesn't overshadow Vic Sage/The Question, which is a testament to O'Neil's strong writing.

Although the main villains of the book are borderline caricatures and the main mystery is so slight it's almost a McGuffin, this is a multi-layered, well-written, compelling book that is a must for fans of DC Comics, comic books, and mysteries. An overlooked gem.

Extra! Bring On The Night by Jay and Don Davis: This edition's Extra! selection is the horror novel Bring On The Night by Jay and Don Davis, a superbly entertaining vampire novel from the 80's, with plenty of atmosphere, well-drawn characters, and one hell of a villain in Kane, a ruthless vampire stalking the streets of Chicago. Worth re-discovering.

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

Monday, May 9, 2011

The Round-Up#45

Film Review: Thor: Take one of Marvel's least appealing comic-book characters, a mostly stellar cast who are in it for the paycheck, and a stylish director who doesn't know what kind of movie, exactly, he's trying to make, and you get Thor, a bizarre if entertaining near train-wreck of a film.

The story: a prince named Thor, who is next in line to become King of Asgard, a realm of demi-gods and magic, is banished to Earth after defying his father the king's orders and starting a war with a breed of monstrous being called the Ice Giants. After arriving to Earth without his powers or Hammer of The Gods, Thor unites with a meteorologist to try to find a way to get back to his realm, Asgard, which is on the brink of annihilation due to his treacherous brother's nefarious plans.

Director Kenneth Brannagh, who claims to be a huge fan of the comic-books, doesn't know how to handle the campy material and the thin storyline. And despite creating a couple of stunning action sequences, the second half the film devolves into a juvenile, over-plotted, incoherent mess, with over-the-top dialogue and failed attempts to turn the story into a sort of tragic fantasy.

So what is there to like about Thor? There is the previously mentioned action sequences, some marvellous production design, and the pleasure of watching a bloated, yet strangely naive, blockbuster directed by a talented filmmaker who is trying his best to turn what's basically a campy action-fantasy film into something better, and failing to do so. Next up for Thor, The Avengers, directed by Joss Whedon. So let's hope he fares better in that one!

Book Review: Dracula: Asylum by Paul Witcover: Designed as a sequel to Universal's infamous 1931 film adaptation of Bram Stoker's Dracula, starring the immortal Bela Lugosi, Dracula: Asylum is a rare book, in that it took me by surprise. As a huge fan of the 1931 film directed by Tod Browning, I sought out the book primarily due to it being an official sequel to that film, expecting a fun, quick read, with a thick-accented Dracula roaming the streets of London, drinking blood and spouting one-liners. What I got was something else entirely.

Author Paul Witcover uses the 1931 film and Stoker's novel as a starting point and then proceeds to transcend both, with a novel so well-written, so ambitious in its complexity and ideas, that it becomes a masterpiece of dark fantasy that manages to achieve the impossible: Add a new twist to the Dracula mythos.

The book takes place in London during WWI, following Dr. Lisa Watson, a psychiatrist who is transferred to the Seward Sanitarium for shell-shocked British soldiers, hoping to help her fiancée get back his memory, which he's lost due to the traumatic experiences he suffered in battle. Now he thinks himself Sherlock Holmes and doesn't remember anything about his true identity. Meanwhile, in the catacombs of the asylum, Renfield, who is still alive, but has become a mentally damaged mute, discovers that the corpse of Count Dracula, his master, is still there, with a stake through its heart, waiting to be revived. So he pulls out the stake, reviving the dark Count, and all hell breaks loose, as Dracula, whose slumber for the past twenty years has strengthened his psychic powers, plans to destroy the world.

Although the above synopsis doesn't do the story justice, the less told about the twists, turns and revelations of the plot, the better. Suffice it to say that if you think you know where the story is going, think again, as Witcover has a multitude of ideas and surprises under his sleeve, and, with his rich, stylized Gothic prose, lays them out one by one, continuously delving into darker psychological territory. Witcover's Dracula is the most cunning, malevolent version of the Count since Bram Stoker's; an evil, shrewd master of darkness and manipulation who is much more dangerous than previously thought. This Dracula's evil is almost biblical in scope. While the main characters, Lisa and Denis, are three-dimensional and flawed, and Witcover allows us to go under their skin to see the light and darkness within them.

Despite the novel's overly dark tone and Witcover's lifting of a couple of ideas from the films They Might Be Giants and Dracula 2000, the writing is so rich, the attention to detail so admirable, the story so original and well-plotted, that this novel deserves to be called a masterpiece of dark fantasy that transcends genres. And, if there's any justice in the world, it should become a classic.

Extra! Dracula's Daughter: This edition's Extra! selection is the 1936 film Dracula's Daughter, the sequel to the 1931 classic film starring Bela Lugosi. Dark, disturbing, and surprisingly daring for its time, this stylish film directed by Lambert Hillyer is worth re-discovering.

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

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

The Round-Up#44

Book Review: Run by Blake Crouch: In keeping with the spirit of this bullet-train of a novel, let's get right down to it: Run is powerful, terrifying, touching, and brutal.

The plot - about a family on the run after most of America's population contracts a psychological/spiritual plague that compels them to kill everyone in sight who's not affected - is not original. But author Blake Crouch isn't really out to break new ground when it comes to premises and plotlines; what he wants to do, and which he succeeds at magnificently, is pull you into a story that grabs hold of your attention, slams you in the chest and leaves you breathless and shaky at the knees. Thanks to a set of characters so well-drawn and three-dimensional that you feel every nick, wound, bruise and pain they suffer, and a pace so masterful that you just can't stop reading, halfway through this ambitious novel genre-boundaries are blurred and you discover that you've fallen under its merciless spell.

For Crouch, this is a ground-breaker, as his writing here reaches new heights; the prose is breezy, the pace near-perfect, and the way the story flows is sheer magic.

But be warned, this is a brutal, violent, emotionally devastating piece of fiction. So before turning the first page, get ready and get comfortable, because you ain't gonna get up till the heartbreaking and strangely uplifting climax.

Available at the Amazon Kindle Store.

Film Review: The Men Who Stare at Goats: Inspired by true events and a book of investigations into the US army's research into the paranormal and how it could be used to the US's advantage during the final years of the Cold War, this is a hilarious, compelling, endlessly entertaining film, full of quirky characters and quirky performances to boot.

The film revolves around a young American journalist (endearingly played by Ewan McGregor) whom after getting dumped by his wife, suffers a crisis of faith and decides to join the army as a war correspondent. In Kuwait, he meets a retired American soldier (wonderfully brought to life by George Clooney) who claims to be a former member of a special squad of "Jedi Warriors," American soldiers with psychic abilities. What ensues is a strange, crazy ride into the past and present, as the "Jedi Warrior" tells his tale.

Although it isn't entirely clear which parts of the film are based on true events and which aren't, that really isn't the point. This is a tremendously fun film to watch, with a game cast (including a scene stealing Jeff Bridges as a tripped-out hippie general, and Kevin Spacey as a smarmy villain), a fine, playful script, and a director (Grant Heslov) who knows what he's doing.

This is the kind of stylish, quirky film that they used to make in the 70's but don't make anymore: Entertaining, fast-paced, darkly funny, bitingly satirical, and strangely moving. The best compliment I can give it is, it leaves you wanting more. An underrated gem.

Extra! 30 Days of Night (Film Novelization) by Tim Lebbon: This edition's Extra! selection is the novelization of the film 30 Days of Night by Tim Lebbon. Novelizations are usually hit or miss, ranging from the entertaining to the trashy. But that's not the case here. Tim Lebbon takes a flawed script and turns it into a suspenseful, dark piece of horror fiction in which the characters come to life (unlike the ones in the film) and the atmosphere is so thick you can almost touch it. This is a very good horror novel in its own right, and is a rare beast, in that it is actually better than the film. A must read for horror fans and fans of the 30 Days of Night franchise.

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

Friday, February 25, 2011

The Round-Up#43

Film Review: John Carpenter's The Ward: "One of the master's best"; "Carpenter's return to form"; "an old school masterpiece"; these are some of the things people have been saying about John Carpenter's The Ward, the master filmmaker's first film in a decade. Well, I have to say that none of these statements is quite right. The Ward is an enjoyable horror film made by a master filmmaker wishing to exercise his craft after a long absence; nothing more, nothing less.

The film's plot - which revolves around an amnesiac young woman who, after setting fire to an abandoned farm house, is transferred to an insane asylum where the ghost of a murdered girl terrorizes the patients - is, for the most part, a standard affair, with the patients being picked off one by one in a myriad of ways, some imaginative, others not. But this is a John Carpenter film after all, so there are some nice twists, and the second act is especially suspenseful. So where does the problem lie? It lies with the film being a John Carpenter film, a tag which brings with it numerous expectations, most of which are not met in this film. Absent is Carpenter's trademark visual style and painterly compositions; absent is the slow build-up and masterful pacing that Carpenter is known for; absent is an atmospheric and catchy synth score by Carpenter, another one of his trademarks; and most disappointing is the film's ending, which leaves a lot to be desired, a flaw which most of Carpenter's films never had.

As one of John Carpenter's biggest fans (he is one of the reasons I became a filmmaker in the first place), I have to say that the film is slightly disappointing; not because it's not good, but because it's not very memorable or stylish. But I am still hoping that the master has another muscular horror film under his sleeve; because with The Ward, at least, Carpenter has proven that he's still got it, but that he doesn't want to use it to its maximum potential. Yet . . .

Film Review: Black Swan: This tale of a young ballerina's rise to fame and her coming undone as a result, is part psychological thriller, part horror film, part coming-of-age drama, and is an easy film to admire if you're into the bizarre and art-house.

Darren Aronofsky directs the film with his trademark visual flair, while Natalie Portman gives an effectively moving and vulnerable, if not superb, performance. But it's Mila Kunis who steals the show in a supporting role, as a feisty, sexy, playful character who is the only character in the film that comes off as normal and whom the audience can relate to. And that's the problem with Black Swan. Despite a good story, strong performances, and plenty of style, the film features a cast of very unlikable characters: from the obsessive mother (played by an over-the-top Barbara Hershey), to the manipulative and repugnant troupe manager (a scene-chewing Vincent Cassel), to the disturbed and self-victimizing central character (Portman), the audience has almost no one to root for, someone to guide them through the dark tunnels of the central character's psyche, which makes for an intriguing, but ultimately cold film. But, in the end, that doesn't take away from the film's power to haunt and linger in the mind long after the end credits have rolled.

Flawed, but fascinating and memorable.

Book Review: Dweller by Jeff Strand: I picked up this book solely due to the fact that it's written by Jeff Strand, one of the co-writers of Draculas, one of the best horror books of 2010. Before reading Dweller, I wasn't really familiar with the author's work. After reading Dweller, that will have to change, as Strand is an immensely talented author, who is able to transcend genres and come up with highly original plots, as evidenced by this near-masterpiece.

The story is simple: A young boy, a loner and an outcast, stumbles upon a frightening creature that dwells in the woods near his home, and, slowly, they become friends. This strange relationship survives the test of time and the boy, now a man, and the beast stay the best of friends. But when the man gets involved in a relationship with a young woman, all hell breaks loose.

That synopsis just skims the surface of this thought-provoking, multi-layered, and well written novel, which is unlike anything I've ever read. It's a coming-of-age drama, a horror tale, a tragedy, and a meditation on the nature of evil that dwells in the hearts of all men, all rolled into one gut-punching novel. Unmissable.

Extra! The Door in The Floor: This edition's Extra! selection is the film The Door in The Floor, starring Jeff Bridges, Kim Basinger and Jon Foster, and directed by Todd Williams. A fascinating, touching, and disturbing film about damaged people and the loss of innocence, this is a superb film featuring wonderful performances by Bridges and Basinger, and masterfully directed by Williams. An undiscovered classic.

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