Book Review: Heather Herrman, Consumption

Consumption cover

Nutshell: Believe the hype; Consumption is straight-up horror that echoes King, Koontz and Hill. Gory but not gross, and a page-turner once the first few chapters click into place. Required reading for horror fans. Get to it. Grade: A-

“For fans of Stephen King” is a statement I don’t take lightly.  Okay fine; I scoff at regularly.  But the combination of this tease plus the promise of a possession/small town takeover storyline intrigued me, so I took the bait.  And I enjoyed the hell out of Consumption.

Brief story?  Okay, it won’t get you anywhere near the depth of the plot but here goes.  A couple who are thisclose to the end of their relationship head to a new place to try to start over, but get sidelined by a busted car.  A young girl who hopes to shake her father out of the darkness that came after her mother’s death.  A young man who hopes for something more while being hemmed in by circumstance.  A sheriff that misses his ex-wife and young daughter.  And an old man who has the secret history of a small town written in a battered journal.  These folks and others find themselves in a small town with a crazy history that is coming around again.  And that thing that’s coming around again?  It’s hungry.

Herrman blends multiple storylines with ease, and gets you to feel for these characters.  No small trick with a Salem’s Lot sized cast of characters that all have their particular interaction with the thing that’s taking over their town.  I had a chilly thrill trying to figure out who would come out unscathed — if anyone would — and who would succumb.  With hints and red herrings thrown in for good measure, it’s not always easy to figure out, even for seasoned horrorhounds like me.  But what would be the real fun in that if it were?

Truth be told, I wavered during the first few chapters.  The characters were a bit too mysterious, their plans and back-stories too vague.  It felt as if the characters themselves were shaking me, saying “hey, we could be one thing, or the other!  And you don’t know us yet, so why care?”  But less than a tenth of the way in (I’m a sucker for Kindle’s percentage-meter), I was hooked.  Herrman’s ability to take the usual character cliches and twist them, combined well with the twists and thrills of her plot.  Add just enough gore to keep things interesting, and Consumption became less a simple read and more a page-turner I couldn’t put down ’til I’d finished it.

This book being scheduled to hit stores just in time for the summer beach season is kismet.  It’s just the chill-inducer horror fans will eat up in these hot, humid months.  Hopefully that’s the only scary thing they’ll be eating.

 

[Random House/Hydra, 2015.  I received an advance copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley.  I received nothing for my review beyond the copy of the book.  Not even a blueberry muffin.  Probably for the best.]

Off the Shelf — Batman Detective Comics Volume 6: Icarus

Batman Detective 6 coverNutshell:  Think of this as Law & Order: Gotham Division. Batman heads out to squash the bad guys that have killed someone who was trying to make Gotham a better place.  Gritty art gives it a suitable Noir feel, but I wanted characters that were around for more than a twitch. Still, an engaging and quick story arc that doesn’t demand much of you, mythology-wise.  That’s a good thing, for n00bs as well as fans looking for a quick-n-dirty. Grade: B+

Best Lines:
“Subtle isn’t in Gotham’s DNA.”
“The skies are clearing.” ‘That’s ’cause we’re not in Gotham anymore.’

Goodies: Variant cover gallery.

Story:  Annie “The Eagle” Aguila — Motocross champ.  Her mom Elena partners with Bruce Wayne to develop Gotham’s notorious East End Waterfront into a place where the disadvantaged can go for “free medical clinics, a drug treatment facility and education centers.”  I’m sure nobody will have a problem with that.  Sike! Elena burns to death internally on Bruce Wayne’s doorstep, a reaction to the street drug Icarus.  But how’d she come into contact with it, and why?

Thoughts:
So what’s the difference between Batman and Batman Detective Comics?  Well this series focuses on Batman as detective, rather than the sweeping arcs that you see in other titles.  There’s still a connection to the overall story — in the case of Icarus, Bruce is mourning the loss of Damian (from Batman, Inc.) — but Detective Comics are smaller arcs.  More easily digestible, if you will.  Think of Detective as a string of miniseries, and the other titles as a long-running soap opera.  Sometimes literally, but hey.

Think of this as “Noir Batman”. No, not the Dark Knight; Bruce Wayne may be putting on his gumshoes here, but he’s not quite the brooding mess he can be sometimes. It’s more like a look at Batman the brain, rather than Batman the butt-kicker (though he does a lot of that here too.) Betcha didn’t know Batman speaks Chinese!  Of course he does. Is there nothing he can’t do? Y’know, besides listen to Alfred.

Detective Bullock — yeah, like the guy in Gotham — is ready to kick ass and take names, and scoop his cats’ litter box.  Fans of Gotham will recognize the Penguin/Falcone feud, and a few other tidbits that have made their way onto the show.  That’s a nice bit of tie-in for the casual-readers but loyal TV watchers (even though these subplots have been in the comics for quite awhile now.)

Though I enjoyed reading this arc — I do so love a good stand-alone tale — I have to admit that I’d have enjoyed it more if the victim and a few of the other baddies were fleshed out a bit more.  Elena seems like an incredibly good do-gooder, but she’s trotted out, and then cut down.  And a few of the baddies seem like they’d be interesting and worthy adversaries (at least in this no-supervillains-need-apply story), but it’s as if the arc needs to wrap up quickly, and they get nabbed double-quick.  I wouldn’t have minded another issue or two, to let these bad guys foam at the mouth a bit more.  Francis Manapul and Brian Buccellato don’t run out of things to say, they simply tidy up before I’d really gotten enough out of the story. BTW, the art by these two is suitably gritty and raw.  No wonder the story and art work so well together; they’re doing ’em both.

Icharus: Chaos Theory — the last issue of this TPB is the Annual #3, and it looks at the story from a different view.  But the last panel (Spoiler: with the last page showing Elena Aguila welcoming Aden to the Aguila Family Shelter, when she died in the main arc???) threw me for a loop.

NERD ALERT (and another spoiler): though I loved Batman’s tussle with Gertrude the giant squid, my ichthyology nerd brain cried out that Batman would never be able to survive the kind of deep-sea pressure a giant squid would require, even if anyone would be able to capture and house a giant squid in captivity.  Ahem.  Anyway.  Just had to vent a bit.  Better now.

Publication 411: Collects issues #30-34 and Detective Comics Annual #3. Hits shelves May 26th, 2015.

Subscribe or Shelve: folks who love the idea of following The Bat, but can’t hang with an every-Wednesday love affair can dip into an arc or two of Batman Detective Comics and still enjoy the show.  You may miss a beat here and there — storylines from the more substantial series do bleed into this one — but if you’re looking for an easy Bat fix, you can find it here.

Review in a Flash: Tomorrowland

TOMORROWLAND one sheetSometimes I’m too lazy for a full-out piece. Sometimes everything I’ve got to say about a film can be summarized in a sentence or two. Sometimes it’s both.  So herewith, a quick-n-dirty on Tomorrowland!

Nutshell: Tomorrowland is an interesting film.  But not an engaging one.  With actors like Clooney and Laurie, and the whole of the Mouse House behind it, I expected more than a bland, yet morally heavyhanded, story.  Grade: C

Before:  I’m not sure about this film.  The trailer looks beautiful, but it’s Disney; of course it’s gonna be gorgeous.  However, the story looks like it’s nothing more than “touch a pin, see George Clooney.”  Though I’m sure there are a lot of gals who’d love that, I’ma need more.  But that’s me I guess; ticked off if I don’t get enough about the film from a trailer, ticked off if they show to much.  I’m an enigma wrapped in disgruntlement.  Sprinkled with stardust and licorice.

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Baltimore Screening Pass-palooza: San Andreas!

san andreas onesheetC’mon, admit it.  You’re secretly glad you live on the East Coast, because there’s never been a threat of our state crumbling apart and falling into the ocean.  (Of course we’re all in it together with this pollen tsunami though…)

As we sit back in our fantasy of natural disaster superiority, how about enjoying a little CGI shakedown?  Because I’ve got passes for the Baltimore area screening of San Andreas!  Can you smell what the Rock is saving in this film?  ‘Cause here’s a synopsis:

After the infamous San Andreas Fault finally gives, triggering a magnitude 9 earthquake in California, a search and rescue helicopter pilot (Dwayne Johnson) and his estranged wife make their way together from Los Angeles to San Francisco to save their only daughter. But their treacherous journey north is only the beginning.  And when they think the worst may be over…it’s just getting started.

Boom!  In more ways than one.  Gotta admit I’m stoked for this one; y’all know I’m a huge fan of quality destruction ala quality CGI.  And with a story about a megathrust earthquake, this film looks like it’s got both.  Read on for passes!

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Baltimore Screening Pass-palooza: Spy!

SpyDo you like your popcorn shaken, not stirred?  Is your shoe actually a phone?  Then you’re just the kinda fan that’s ready for today’s giveaway; screening passes for Spy!  Here’s the synopsis, should you choose to read it…

Susan Cooper (Melissa McCarthy) is an unassuming, deskbound CIA analyst, and the unsung hero behind the Agency’s most dangerous missions. But when her partner (Jude Law) falls off the grid and another top agent (Jason Statham) is compromised, she volunteers to go deep undercover to infiltrate the world of a deadly arms dealer, and prevent a global disaster.

Gotta love an “Everyman” storyline, amirite?  Of course I am.  Read on for how to score a pass for you and your own Ms. Moneypenny…

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5 Stupid Questions for: Wasted

wasted-3I love zombie movies. I love silly jokes. And who doesn’t love Grandma’s Boy? So when I heard about a short film (looking to become a longer one) that rolled up all three and lit ’em up, I had to talk to creators Satheesan Nagenthiram, Steve Kasan and Lance Fernandes.  And ask them really stupid questions. Because you could find out all about their film Wasted at their various social media sites. But will you find out what they think about pandas over there?  No.  No, you won’t.  But you will  here.

I saw the short, and liked the mashup of survival cheet-sheet story, zombiness and stoner humor.  The gore is pretty sweet, with a cartoonish excess that I’ve always been a fan of. Think a low-budget Shaun of the Dead, but with more survival tips.  And weed.  Definitely more weed.

Though voting is closed, why not head over to their CineCoup page and check out a few of their vids?  Because I’m sure this gang ain’t finished yet.  And someone’s gotta one-up Pot Zombies

Here’s a bit of 411 about the project, straight from the stoners themselves:

Wasted is about a group of friends break away from their mundane routines of regular life and have high adventures when the one event they have been waiting for occurs, the Zombie Apocalypse. A hybrid joint of high zombie action, comedy, geek references and plain insanity. It is Scott Pilgrim meets Mad Max.
Follow us on Twitter @Wastedtheshow
On Facebook Wastedshow
Also find more videos here http://www.cinecoup.com/wasted
The Skull & Cross Blunts is us.
No work, No rules and No responsibilities, well, you get Wasted.

And herewith, 5 stupid questions. Take it away, fellas!

1) So, what’s up with Aquaman?
If you’re talking about Momoa Aquaman, I personally love it. I like that they changed everything mainly making Aquaman of Samoan/Maori heritage.

2) If you could be any vegetable you wanted to be, what would you be?  Why?
Tomato because Tomatoes can be in everything. And, if a tomato becomes radioactive it will come to life and kill. It would be, dare I say, an Attack of Killer Tomatoes!!

3) Pandas. Discuss.
They know Kung Fu at least that is what the movies and Jack Black tells me.

4) Is Winter really coming?
Yes. In Canada we only have two seasons Construction and Winter. But, I really hope Winter is coming otherwise poor Ned & Rob got beheaded for bullshit.

5) Is it really always 4:20 somewhere?
Yes. Quite true I believe NATO has decreed that somewhere in the world at all times must be obliged and inhaled.

Movie Review: Pitch Perfect 2

PP2 poster is BEST POSTER.

Nutshell: The Barden Bellas are back, and still awesome?  Well, kinda.  Pitch Perfect 2 is a crazy, messy blend of songs, funky cameo appearances and strange subplots that will have you laughing out loud. But those moments can’t cover up a weak screenplay and weaker direction.  Still, it’s able to pull itself together often enough to be an enjoyable, if not perfect, film for fans of the first film, and folks who won’t ask for much. Grade: B-

“What kind of white shit is this?”

Indeed, Cynthia Rose, indeed.  The Barden Bellas, now three-time National Champions, are asked to perform for POTUS’s birthday celebration.  Things do not go as planned (read: “Muffgate”.)  Now humiliated and on the verge of being forever banned, the Bellas have one last shot; the International Championship.  That’s not going to stop Emily (Hailee Steinfeld), a Legacy Bella, from trying to join. However, this is senior year for the Bellas, and at least one of the team has plans to move on after college (read: Beca’s got an internship with a talented music producer.)  And then there’s the competition; a group of absurdly beautiful, completely self-absorbed Teutonic vocalists called Das Sound Machine. The Bellas have their work cut out for them.

Unfortunately, the script isn’t so cut and dry.  In fact Kay Cannon’s screenplay feels like a dream board by a lovesick highschooler with ADD. There are so many subplots and offshoots that the film often loses focus.  Let’s roll-call ’em, shall we?

  • a super-secret acapella “Laser Ninja Dragon League” singoff, hosted by a guy with more dollars than sense. (David Cross)
  • a talented but completely crazy music producer who serves as Beca’s mentor. (Keegan-Michael Key)
  • Emily’s mother Katherine, former Bella and creator of a famous booty shimmer…that we never get to see. (Katey Sagal)
  • Acapella commentators John and Gail, being even more inappropriate than in the first film. (John Michael Higgins and Elizabeth Banks)
  • Fat Amy’s hate-boink Bumper (Adam DeVine), tries to take their relationship to the next level while settling in as a new campus security guard.
  • Former Bella Aubrey (Anna Camp) hosting the Bellas at her team-building retreat.
  • Snoop Lion recording his Christmas album.
  • Benji becomes enamored of Emily and acts like a toddler with a concussion.
  • Oh god I need all the beer.

Storylines, cameos and characters from the first film are thrown at viewers with lightning speed; by the time you recognize who someone is, it’s off to the next thing.  Nothing sticks around long enough to click beyond a joke or two.  (Though Fat Amy’s “We Belong” solo breaks the trend and lingers for a bit too long in proportion to the rest of the speedway of stories.) Halfway through I felt like someone had slipped E into my water bottle.  I knew where I was, I knew I was having a good time, but I didn’t understand a bloody thing that was going on.

Missed opportunities hang onto this film like fruit one day too long on the tree.  Beca and Jesse barely get any screentime as a couple. Fat Amy and Bumper rock,  and Benji and Emily are adorable, but these romances feel like more things that could have been jettisoned/pared down in order to focus on a more cohesive plot.  Where’s Emily/Hailee’s big number, where we get to see her chops in full effect?  On the cutting room floor, apparently.  And while Sagal is trotted out as a former Bella and her first scene feels like we’ll get to see more of her, she’s barely onscreen and we never get to hear her voice (even though the actress has an amazing set of pipes.)

Director Elizabeth Banks may have her heart in the right place, but she’s unable to focus on a coherent storyline and get that story across.  Instead, Pitch Perfect 2 gets lost in wave after wave of new scenes with new people doing new things.  The core Bellas seem to be thrown into the mix just to keep fans on their toes.  By the time the competition comes around, it barely makes a difference.  (Or a ripple in the story; the competition is a series of montages, the obligatory but incredible performance by the Bellas, and then a cut to graduation.)  Pitch Perfect 2 isn’t so much a film as it is a loving tribute to/for fans of the first film.  You liked Pitch Perfect?  Then woohoo — we’ve got more stuff, y’all!

That’s not to say that I didn’t like the film.  In fact, I enjoyed the hell out of it. Why did I have fun during Pitch Perfect 2?  Because it got me to laugh myself sick.  Because I’m a huge fan of the first film, so I could jump right in.  Because I could see where this story was going from early on, and I got the goosebumps anyway.  Because 100% less vomit! But I can’t get past the mess of a script.  Just can’t.

But oh, the songs!  “Boogie-Woogie Bugle Boy”, “Timber”, “Wrecking Ball”, “Lady Marmalade”, “MMMBop”, “Never Gonna Get It”, and a mashup of “Winter Wonderland” and “Here Comes Santa Claus” that I want on my holiday playlist.  The original song “Flashlight” is primed as the “Cups” of PP2, and it’s got great potential.  It’s tough to capture lightning in a bottle though.  Especially if you just made a wobbly bottle. 

And that’s the main problem with Pitch Perfect 2; it forgets it’s roots, in the hopes of becoming another insta-hit.  If a sequel plays too much to fans of the first film, it’s got to work twice as hard to become it’s own kind of awesome.  Pitch Perfect 2 simply hopes you like the original enough to go for more. That’s not enough.

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