Archive for June, 2013

world_war_z(Note: some possible spoilers)

The critics have been harsh on the movie version of World War Z, but I’m going on the record as saying it’s as good a zombie flick as you’re going to see. Perfect? No. Entertaining? Oh yeah.

Going in, I knew that it wasn’t a faithful depiction of the outstanding Max Brooks novel by the same name. So, I wasn’t expecting that, and I kept my mind open. And I’m glad I did, because WWZ had a lot to offer to the zombie genre.

The story is pretty simple: something is turning the world into zombies — like, superfast — and UN investigator Brad Pitt is the only one with a snowball’s chance in hell of finding out what, thus saving the world.

A lot of critics got hung up over the fact that we don’t really ever learn exactly what it is Pitt’s character investigates — he deflects the question every time it comes up. We know he’s seen some bad stuff around the globe, and his knowledge of the world’s bad stuff is, apparently, invaluable. And a lot of bad stuff happens in this movie. Also, it’s not quite the incoherent mishmash many of the critics have claimed. Yes, a little more back story would have been helpful. Pitt’s character wasn’t that well-developed, and his was the main character. So, as you can imagine, none of the other characters are sufficiently explored, either.

But, this movie is, really, about the zombies, and there are some interesting variations to the genre. These aren’t your George Romero and/or Walking Dead shuffling, groaning, easy-to-see-coming-and-kill zombies. These undead, created by some mysterious virus or bacteria (global warming, overcrowding, greed, etc., are all alluded to as possible causes), are lightning-fast, relentless predators. Forget those agile zombies of 28 Days Later. Imagine a flesh-eating Usain Bolt running after your helpless ass and you get an idea of what I’m talking about. The effect is terrifying. You cannot get away from these guys (unguys?). There is no stepping out into the street and drawing down on them. You better have your shit together before you even think about it. And when they spring, they do so in bunches. If you’re used to The Walking Dead variety of the undead, you’re in for a shock (and a treat).  Taking down a barn full of those zombies had a little urgency to it, but when the WWZ version swarms a street in Jerusalem, it’s like watching a raging river overflow its banks.

Also, for a zombie movie — where the gross-out is part of the show — this is a surprisingly un-gory movie, a fact I didn’t even realize until I was out of the theater. Yes, there’s a lot of biting and dying and killing going on, but the action sequences focus on the tension and the urgency of the moment — the instinct to survive trumps everything, and that instinct stays ratcheted up with the possibility of an infected undead springing out of nowhere.

I’m sure WWZ will be categorized as an action film, and it probably should be. Still, there are some genuinely scary moments, especially when the last act becomes more of a horror movie than your standard action flick (and I don’t want to get into it too much and risk running into spoiler territory). Whatever it is, it all added up to an interesting and innovative take on the zombie genre. And a hell of a lot of fun.

Source: Wikipedia

Source: Wikipedia

I’ve had a couple of requests lately about signing books. Actually, I’ve had a lot of complaints lately about not being able to sign e-books. Well, thanks to the miracle of the interwebs, now I can.

The folks at Authorgraph have figured out a way to do this, via Amazon. There’s a quick explanation here, but all you really need to know is that if you want me to “sign” your e-book (any of my three), all you need to do is click on the link on the right, which will take you to the Authorgraph page where you can request an autograph.

I’m also working on getting a tab inserted on the Deep Blood Facebook page in the coming days.

Full disclosure: I’ve never used this technology, so don’t feel bad if you haven’t either. Likewise, we’re both experimenting here. So feel free to let me know if it doesn’t work out on the first try.

Is this the scariest movie ever?

Is this the scariest movie ever?

I don’t consider myself a horror fan by any definition. Yet, as I read through Entertainment Weekly’s “20 Scariest Movies of All Time,” I suddenly realized that I’d seen 18 of the 20. I was as surprised as I was when the creature appeared for the first time in Alien.

The link above is worth checking out, but if you’re too lazy to do that, here’s the list, along with my own two cents:

The Shining: One of the creepiest movies I’ve ever seen — and not just because Shelly Duvall is in it. Jack Nicholson at his Nicholsonest.

The Excorcist: This one would lead my list. Watched it once. That was enough. Maybe because I was raised in the God-fearin’ Deep South, this movie just plain scared the living hell out of me. I don’t even like to think about this movie.

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: Gore, chainsaws, violent death and Leatherface. Hell yeah, it’s scary.

Silence of the Lambs: I love this movie. To me, the scariest moment of the entire film is the very first time we lay eyes on Hannibal. He’s just standing in his cell, serene in white, and I damn near jumped out of my skin. Creeeeeeeepy.

Jaws: I was surprised to see this one on the list. I never considered it a “scary” movie. I mean other than big-ass sharks eating people and severed heads popping out of boat hulls and all. But there were moments of sheer terror. Spielberg wasn’t a household name when he made this, but he showed true editorial brilliance.

The Ring: OK, I watched it only because of Naomi Watts.  And I ended up totally creeped out by the time it was over. The entire movie is one big session of extreme unease. Good stuff.

Halloween: No. 2 on my list. Probably my favorite “scary” movie of all time. Owing a debt to Hitchcock’s Psycho (with a family connection, no less), this one ruined more than one night’s decent sleep for me. The soundtrack is just plain scary, too.

Psycho: Groundbreaking, ooky and scary. If you saw this as a teenager, you probably still lock the door behind you when you take a shower.

Seven: Arguably, one of Brad Pitt’s best performances. If you don’t know what the seven deadly sins are, this is a hell of a way to learn. Can’t say I was “scared” watching it, but the suspense was suffocating.

Rosemary’s Baby: Mia Farrow puts new meaning into the saying, “The Devil made me do it.” Satan worship, devil sex, human sacrifice and weird neighbors all add up to one super-spooky movie.

Poltergeist: Didn’t scare me one bit, but I did find myself entertained when I first saw it in the ’80s. Recently watched it again. It doesn’t hold up.

28 Days Later: Zombies! This is one of my favorite zombie flicks. Plenty of suspense and “gotcha” moments. This is a truly scary movie.

A Nightmare on Elm Street: I think there are two classes of horror fans: the Michael Myers crowd (Halloween) and the Freddie Krueger crowd (Nightmare). I’m in the former, so this movie didn’t really entertain me at all.

The Thing (1982 version): John Carpenter knows how to make a scary movie. The guy who brought you Halloween scared the hell out of you again with this one. There’s hardly a comfortable minute in the whole thing.

The Evil Dead: I know this is a seminal film in the horror genre, but I hated it. It wasn’t scary at all to me. Disturbing, yes. Cheesy, oh hell yeah. But not scary. At all.

Carrie: Damn right, that’s a scary movie. Glad I’d already been to my prom before I saw it.

Night of the Living Dead: More zombies! By the time I saw this, I’d already seen some of the others on this list, so the scare factor was pretty low for me. But you can see how the zombie genre became instantly fascinating with this one, the original.

The Omen: I hated that kid (or was that the point?). Especially after The Exorcist. The last thing I wanted to have was the shit scared out of me (again) by some other devil-spawn child.

An American Werewolf in London: Seriously, this is a scary movie? I enjoyed it. The F/X at the time were avant garde and it was actually a funny movie.

Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer: Somehow, I missed a Michael Rooker film.

Dead-Alive: Didn’t see it.

One that should have been on this list: Wait Until Dark.

camarorun-200x300Camaro rides a Harley, drinks beer, plays blackjack and isn’t afraid to go after a man she finds attractive. She’s also a stone-cold killer.

That’s how Sam Hawken introduces us to Camaro Espinoza, a former Army medic and Iraq veteran who is now “a woman searching for a place in a world that looks entirely different to her. A woman with the unfortunate habit of getting involved in things that frequently turn violent.” Frequently, indeed.

Camaro Run is the first of a series of novellas Hawken intends to write, and if the rest of the series is anything like the first, it’s going to be a hell of a ride.

When Camaro rolls into Las Vegas from parts unknown on a blazing hot afternoon, a quiet night at a casino for a shower and a roll in the sack with a good-looking guy she meets at a blackjack table turns into an astonishing fight for life in the hotel room. Camaro witnesses some bad guy murdering her brand-new lover for a mysterious “package,” and the game is on.

Now dogged by the killers — who seem to be up to a double-cross of their boss themselves by framing Camaro — and a Mexican crew intent on killing her, and Las Vegas detective Marlene Brown (who just knows she’s up to no good), Camaro hotfoots it out of town on her Harley. But with this herd after her, she has to think quick and shoot even quicker.

With a slam-bang breathless style, Hawken tears through the story. It’s less than 100 pages, but it feels like a lot less. I read the entire thing in an afternoon on my back porch, never once thinking of putting it down until the end.

And Hawken is good enough to leave you wanting more. There’s a lot to Camaro, a lot we don’t know yet. But after Camaro Run, I can’t wait to find out.

Check out more of Hawken’s work at his blog here.

Available June 21.

MudThere is a magic to a river. Barrier to some, avenue to others, a river is both a destination and a channel. It is sanctuary and peril, serenity and unease. It is an economy, a hope, a livelihood and a danger. For those who are associated with the river, something is either “upriver” or “downriver.” You are either moving with a current or fighting against it.

It is an enigmatic body of water such as this that anchors Mud, Matthew McConaughey’s best role to date. Its sometimes ominous, sometimes benign presence is in nearly every scene of the movie and could almost rate a nomination for best supporting actor.

That’s not to knock the film. Advertised as a “coming of age” movie, Mud delivers far more than that. This is not an update of Huckleberry Finn, nor is it a cynical version of Stand By Me. Written and directed by Arkansan Jeff Nichols, it’s a fresh piece of Southern fiction, superbly presented. In a fair world, it would be under consideration for one of the best pictures of the year.

The story centers on teenagers Ellis and Neckbone, who live on “the river” in small-town Arkansas. Ellis’ parents are hanging on to the tatters of their marriage; Neckbone is being raised by his uncle — his parents are whereabouts unknown. They form an intrepid pair, moving about on a dirtbike Neckbone built from scratch and on Ellis’ daddy’s boat. One morning, while exploring a nearby island, they investigate a rumored boat that rests high in the trees.

The boat is there, which they immediately claim as their own — only to discover the evidence of someone living there.

That someone, they soon learn, is a stranger who calls himself, “Mud” (McConaughey). “Mud” packs a pistol, chain smokes and has snake tattoos that are there to remind him “not to get bit.” He regales the boys with a dubious tale of being there in hiding while he awaits the arrival of his true love, Juniper (Reese Witherspoon). When the boys interrogate him as only teen boys can, he spins a tale of shooting a man in Texas to protect Juniper, which has put him at the pointy end of the wrath of the dead man’s father and a herd of bounty hunters.

McConaughey trades in his usual heartthrob looks (though I’m sure there will be ladies who disagree with me on this point) and his insouciance for a measured coolness that borders on menace. He’s a complicated man with a complicated, if murky, past. Ask Juniper or Tom Blankenship (played perfectly by Sam Shephard), and they’ll tell you different stories about Mud’s true nature.

And while the story is about two boys trying to help a man reunite with his true love, it’s also a story about the discovery of the joy and freshness of love as well as the pain and perishability of that love and its devastating aftermath. Nichols throws poignancy overboard for sadness — viewers looking for the usual Hollywood “true love conquers all” story will be disappointed.

Jean Stapleton as Edith Bunker

Jean Stapleton as Edith Bunker

The world’s favorite dingbat died yesterday. Jean Stapleton, forever known to Americans as Edith on the groundbreaking show, “All in the Family,” was 90. The news instantly transported me back to the early 1970s, when “All in the Family” was the most popular — and, by far, the most controversial — TV show in the land. So controversial, in fact, that I can remember our local preacher ripping into it from th pulpit on Sunday mornings. The controversy was lost on me, a mere boy of 9 or 10, at the time. To me, the most outrageous thing on the show was the occasional sound effect of the “terlit” flushing upstairs. That and Archie’s slightly-more-than-occasional swearing (remember this was the early ’70s).

But the show took on social issues like nothing other show before it, and very few since. And did so in a smart, thoughtful way. Whether racism, the Vietnam War, women’s rights or politics, the show went head-on with the topic, and in front of a live audience, this was sure to cause more than a few moments of discomfort and/or anger.

Archie, of course, was a full-on bigot who was constantly being challenged by his “Meathead” son-in-law and his “Little Girl” daughter, Gloria. Archie and Meathead (whose “real” name was Michael Stivic) were nearly always at war over everything, even the process of putting on your socks. The “sock and a sock or a sock and a shoe” argument was pure genius.

I remember the episodes with the neighbors, the Jeffersons (yes, George and Weezy) being especially prickly, especially after discovering George was almost as bigoted as Archie. The confrontations were boisterous and pointed, with everyone taking a side — except Edith, the peacemaker and often the only voice of reason in the madhouse that was the Bunker residence.

Edith was the real spirit of the show. She was kind and naive (leading Archie to think she was a “dingbat”) and really served as Archie’s conscience and the family anchor that made her immediately lovable.

I was an adult before I realized that Edith’s voice was not Jean Stapleton’s real voice, or that she was a powerful dramatic actress. Her physical comedy and her perfect timing took a character that could have come across as a simpleton and a doormat for her boorish husband and turned it into a nearly angelic, delightful mother with an unshakable integrity. The “cling peaches” episode is proof of this — and this episode was the first thing that came to mind when I learned she had passed. And when Edith announced she had breast cancer — a topic never before broached on TV, much less a sitcom — you felt as if a family member was telling you this news.

“All in the Family” broke a lot of ground — and made the “spin-off” a thing of art. “The Jeffersons,” “Maude” and “Good Times” all traced back to “All in the Family,” as well as some others that didn’t fare as well.

TV sitcoms were never the same. Because those characters did, in fact, make you feel like it was all in the family.