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November 17, 2009

A Haunting In Connecticut

CoverA Haunting In Connecticut is about, surprisingly, a haunting… in Connecticut. Unfortunately for us, this movie took its job too literally and forgot that it was supposed to be a scary film… in Connecticut.

The film begins by telling us that it’s based on a true story. Yeah, like Silence of the Lambs and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre are based on the Ed Gein story.

So there’s this kid who has terminal cancer who has to get experimental treatments… in Connecticut. Since the commute is ridiculous, the boy’s mother decides they should rent a house that’s closer to where he’s getting treated. Of course, the house she chooses is the cheap, creepy looking place. Right away our cancer boy starts to see strange things going on, which we find out is because he’s "in between the two worlds" (as explained by Casey Jones). Regardless, Dad, the two little kids and the cousin join our unhappy duo in the haunted house… in Connecticut. There’s a mysteriously locked room downstairs that no one can open, for about two days, then the door mysteriously opens to reveal the ugly truth… the house used to be a funeral home! Worse, all the medical instruments and fluids are still around. Instead of complaining to the landlord or maybe the rental association, out loving family decide they should just not go into that room anymore.  You know, cause of the sharp instruments and the little kids…

Moving on. Turns out that’s not the only history in the place; looks like they also used to hold séances, with a little boy as the psychic. In a moment of entrepreneurial brilliance, the director of the place used necromancy to enhance the boys powers so his readings would be more showy… which from what we’re shown just meant he threw-up a lot.

Yup… this was a true story folks.

What makes this movie so painful is that it’s supposed to be a scary film. Instead, it’s more about a family dealing with their dying son… in Connecticut. Along the way, the mother reaffirms her faith, the father reaffirms he’s an alcoholic, the kids reaffirm they like to play hide & go seek in inappropriate places, and the cancer boy reaffirms that when you get messed up visions that no one else can see, you should investigate them completely.

There’s really only one ghost who shows up, and you figure out who he is pretty early on, and the big "twist" really isn't that surprising, and can be guessed quickly.

What’s worse is that the scary parts with the ghosts are basically a diet coke version of The 6th Sense.

There are some small bits of creepy, but the overall experience is more about this family and their drama. For a ghost story, that’s extremely depressing… even in Connecticut. If you’re dying to see this film, borrow it from one of you friends who were unlucky enough to purchase the film and hit fast forward.

November 13, 2009

Soulless, but very witty.

For how much I struggled through Quicksilver, I'm surprised at how quick I'm getting through The Confusion. As I mentioned before, perhaps it's easier because I know what I'm getting myself into, and I know what to expect.  Or maybe it's just plain a better book?  Stephenson can skip all the character, location, and political introductions, and get right to the action.  Talk about action!  So far Jack and his crew of ex-slave pirates have stolen a ship full of silver pigs, with the hopes of making a profit in Cairo.  When they check the holds, they find absolutely zero silver, but nearly a metric ton of gold. Nice.  Too bad their investor is expecting the pigs and has no legitimate use for gold. When Jack learns the investor is none other than Duc d'Archacon, he comes up with some specific plans of his own.  Meanwhile, Eliza and her baby are trying to avoid intrugue, blackmail and poverty, and failing miserably at all three.  Being blackmailed into a marriage with Etienne d'Archacon might not be the worst thing that ever happened, after all, he believes he is the father of Eliza's child, and it will keep  them alive and out of the poor house. Provided she can keep Etienne alive, that is. 

And major big plus, the book has maps in the front. I loves me a good map.

On a lighter side, we picked up Soulless, by Gail Carriger.  It's a lovely, amusing, witty vampire novel with a twist.  Carriger implies this is just the beginning of  a casual series, and that is just fine by me. Alexia Tarabotti is under no danger of being bitten by a vampire, as she was born without a soul.  When supernatural creatures touch her, they lose all their supernatural powers – fangs recess, werewolves are no longer hungry, things like that.   I've only read a few chapters, and the gaslight environs and Alexia's obsession with her wardrobe is keeping my highly entertained.  A nice light read, perhaps this will be my gateway drug to Twilight?  Was talking with a friend a work who is nuts over the Twilight books. . . sounds like things easy to read while you're babysitting a counter.

November 03, 2009

Umberto Eco's The Name of The Rose

CoverI finally finished Umberto Eco's The Name of the Rose, and I'm happy to add it to the “Books I want to read again the moment I finish them” list. For an Eco, it's surprisingly readable, and layered in such a way that readers of any interest level will get a lot out of it.

At its most basic level, this is a murder mystery. In Eco's afterward, he mentions the idea of the novel was born when he played with the idea of poisoning a monk. He also mentions that he wrote the prose in a specifically open manner to encourage readers to form their own interpretation of events and conversations. Is that person being sarcastic? Is there some kind of secrecy going on? If you interpret it that way, then he is, and there is.

Brother William and novice Adso are traveling to a Benedictine Monastery in Italy, for the purpose of meeting up with other monks in the area. They are hoping to devise a plan of attack for an upcoming meeting between the Pope and the Holy Roman Emperor, at which heresy will be the main topic. When William and Adso arrive, they are informed of the recent death of a young monk, and asked to investigate. To protect the reputation of his monastery, the Abbot wishes for William to find out what's going on before the other Catholic representatives arrive.

And, as this is a murder mystery, the bodies start piling up. As a friend of Sir Francis Bacon and William of Occam, brother William goes about his investigation in a very scientific way. Ask questions, find out where people were at the times of death, look for people with fishy alibies, look for footprints in the snow by the bodies. Piece by piece, Williams puts together his hypotheses, with minimal help from the secretive monks. He even sneaks into their famous labyrinth library after the abbot forbids him from doing so. There is something in that library that people are dying for. Like myself, William is a lover of books and knowledge – no learning is heretical, it is all important. Libraries of that time were literally banks of information, scrolls and books that existed no where else in the world. The philosophical idea of a library that exists to keep knowledge away from people and keep secrets was beyond fascinating for me.

The days go by, there are more deaths, the other Catholic representatives arrive, along with the Inquisition. Eco says he put the Inquisition in the story because you can't have a 14th century story take place in a monastery without them. And yes, that chapter made me queasy, had me biting my nails, and nearly gave me an anxiety attack.

There is so much more I could say about this novel, so I'll say just one more thing: read it. Make sure you get a copy with Eco's afterword (because that's the best part), and read it. Eco hits everything just right: style of prose, action, descriptions, dialogue, I can't find a single thing to complain about.

It's books like this that make those mediocre novels so hard to enjoy.

November 02, 2009

Review of Kadrey's Sandman Slim

Sandman Slim isn't so much a novel as it is a revenge genre graphic novel with no pictures – plenty of action, violence, some flirtation, and not much else. A bastard child ofThe Crow, Constantine, Spawn and Sin City, it's all the grit and action of a first person shooter adventure video game, with a less intelligent script.

When James Stark was 19 years old, he was a talented magician, in love with the beautiful Alice, and running with the wrong crowd. After a ritual gone horribly wrong (or right?) he ends up in hell. Alive and kicking, but in hell. An obvious novelty, Stark spends the next eleven years as a slave pit warrior, killing monsters left and right, and generally becoming a hellion himself. He eventually finds the magic key that gets him out of hell and back to earth. None of this is really explained, the reader learns of it through Stark's scattered flashbacks.

He's missed eleven years of current events, but is thrilled to be back on earth to track down Mason, Parker, and the rest of the guys who sent him to hell and then killed Alice. Kasabian is easy to find – the dumbest of the lot, he's been holing up in a junky video store, which while in a bad area of Los Angeles is of course surrounded by Beamers, Lexusi, and other fancy cars for Stark to steal whenever he needs to get somewhere. The manager of the video store is the beautiful Allegra, who offers to help Stark merge back into society because she thinks he's right out of prison. She helps him buy a cell phone, he tells her magic is real. Next thing we know, Allegra is apprenticing with the mysterious Dr. Kinski, alchemist extraordinaire. Stark's only goal in life is to avenge Alice's death by killing Mason very slowly.

Like leveling up in an MMORPG, as the novel progresses, the bad guys get tougher, but Stark gets stronger. Convenient how that works. Kadrey should have hired an artist and an inker, because this would have made a decent graphic novel.

Stark spends most of the next few hundred pages getting the crap beaten out of him while trying to find Mason and rest of his minions. Did I mention Angels get involved? And the Department of Homeland Security? And a brothel? And lots of porno dvds? It's not that this book is over the top, it's that this book is so over the top it that it starts to come off as rediculous. Kadrey seems to be competing with himself to see which he can do more often – remind us that Stark is beyond stronger than the strongest person ever, or that everything MacGuyer could ever need is found in the porn section of Kasabian's video store.

This is where the “revenge novel and nothing else” got most annoying for me. Stark was sent to hell during a magical ritual gone horribly wrong. What were they trying to do? Maybe it didn't go wrong, maybe Mason had planned to send him to hell? What did Mason get out of the whole thing? I want to know more about Alice. I want to know more about Kinski, I want to know more about the Jades and all the other creatures in this dark fantasy world. I want to know how Stark managed to trick and kill the Devil's generals and I want to know how he got the key to the Room of Thirteen Doors and embed it in his own body. Kadrey had every opportunity to flesh out his characters, story, and universe by giving the reader some information about how this whole disaster started, but all he could was give Stark some weapons and start him running. Makes me wonder if this is the second book in a series, and I missed the first one?

I probably shouldn't have finished this book. The more I read it, the angrier it made me. It made me angry that Kadrey would make Stark so naïve and stupid. It made me angry that the most interesting character, Kinski, got minimal screen time, and that other characters were so undeveloped as to be embarrasing. It made me angry that reading this made me feel like a prude, as I'd reached my limit of violence, carjacking, blow job jokes and video store porn by page 75. It made me angry that everytime I put the book down I felt the need to bath in Clorox.

All that said, I'm sure this novel has some redeeming points. I picked up a ton of great insults that I hope never to have the opportunity to use. Change the names and place, and you'd have a great novel adaptation of your favorite first person shooter video game. I hope when they make the movie Kinski is played by Peter Stormare and Aelita is played by Tinda Swinton.

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