Sunday, July 29, 2012

14 (A Book Review)

My Rating: 7/10

Padlocked doors. Strange light fixtures. Mutant cockroaches.

There are some odd things about Nate’s new apartment. Of course, he has other things on his mind. He hates his job. He has no money in the bank. No girlfriend. No plans for the future. So while his new home isn’t perfect, it’s livable. The rent is low, the property managers are friendly, and the odd little mysteries don’t nag at him too much.

At least, not until he meets Mandy, his neighbor across the hall, and notices something unusual about her apartment. And Xela’s apartment.  And Tim’s.  And Veek’s.

Because every room in this old Los Angeles brownstone has a mystery or two. Mysteries that stretch back over a hundred years. Some of them are in plain sight. Some are behind locked doors. And all together these mysteries could mean the end of Nate and his friends.

Or the end of everything...

I just finished this in audiobook form (I listen to tons of audiobooks during my long days in my woodworking shop). It was loads of fun. It is by Peter Clines, an author whose work I've previously read in "Ex-Heroes", a very straightforward genre mashup of superheroes and zombies (After the zombie apocalypse, the world's masked avenger types round up the survivors in LA and attempt to defend them inside a fortified compound. This was every bit as entertaining and as dumb as it sounds).

14 was a whole different kettle of fish, and it's as hard to review as Triangle was, because I don't want to give away what made it so cool. It's like a combination of Lost and Lovecraft, with a mystery/horror/SF bent.   The hero is a young slacker type who works as a data entry temp and is stuck in that "Waiting for his life to start" phase (Weren't we all, once?  Let's just call it "Age 21-26", eh?), when he finds a new apartment that is too good to be true - Incredibly cheap rent, included utilities, and a nice building. After moving in, however, he begins to notice oddities - The elevator is always in the basement, the building has no power lines going to it, his kitchen light fixture turns any bulb put into it into a black light, and his neighbors are a collection of oddities. Tim is a former book publisher with a skill range from James Bond, there's a young actress who spends her time topless on the roof, and computer nerd Veek is a cranky geekette with an apartment so crammed with high powered PC gear that she could run 4Chan in her spare time.

The book is about the deepening mystery as these disparate characters begin to cooperate, Scooby Doo fashion, to delve into the mysteries and secrets of their strange building.   I went into it expecting either a haunted apartment story or an evil landlord story, and instead got the Phantasm effect - That feeling I had way back when first watching Phantasm, that I was completely expecting the story about a funeral home to be a ghost or vampire movie and instead got weird yellow-blooded aliens and fingers turning into crazy bugs and evil jawas from another dimension. 14 is an ongoing succesion of unexpected twists and discoveries and weirdness that goes from Mystery Gang fun to sanity-shattering, universe-threatening horror. The characters are simple but it's well written and has a lot of clever, natural-sounding dialog. Worth reading.

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Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Marchlands (2011)

NetFlix N/A
IMDB 7.4/10
My Rating: 8/10

In this ITV 5 part miniseries, 3 families across 3 different time periods are impacted by the supernatural repercussions of a young girl's death.

During the years we lived overseas, we watched a lot of BBC via our satellite dish but very little ITV, other than the occasional US TV shows they'd run.  ITV was... Well, as the Brits might say, it was Chav-TV.  Reality shows by the ton, trashy soaps about self-obsessed young people having sex all the time, and just generally not what you'd think of as intelligent television.  That's why I was all the more surprised to be so impressed with this show - When did ITV start making TV for people who weren't the UK equivalent of Dittoheads?  (Normally I'd pick on the Tea Party as my example of Stupidus Americanus, but Rush is on my mind at the moment for his absolutely hilarious and roundly internet-mocked accusations that comicbook villain Bane is a liberal conspiracy to make Mitt Romney look bad.  Nevermind that Rush would probably be a Bane fan if he'd just get to know him...)

So, Marchlands is a great show.  Let's just start with that up front.  You especially need to see this if you're an old-school horror fan, because the style of scares here is right out of The Haunting or The Legend of Hell House.  This is not full up with jerkycam ghosts and "BOO!" jump scares - Instead, we're introduced to a cast that we believe in and invest in, and we're slowly drawn into the mystery of the hauntings that occur... So slowly that when something genuinely creepy happens, the skin goes all prickly.

The story is really three stories in one.  In the 1960's, a young couple live with parents in the titled household and cope with grieving over the loss of their daughter.  Mysterious circumstances surround her accidental drowning and the heartbroken mother is essentially walled out by the "Everything must be normal" facade of her family and village friends.  In the 80's, a family with children live in the same house and find their daughter increasingly targeted by an unseen presence that she calls her "invisible friend".  And in the present day, a young couple buy the house for their quiet country escape and find something is very interested in their newborn baby.

All three tales connect in ways both expected and unexpected.  It reminded me somewhat of American Horror Story in this respect with the house's past always lurking right on the edge of the current day experience and giving deeper layers of meaning to all sorts of seemingly casual occurrences.  It isn't so intense as American Horror Story, though - While AHS was like a steam train barreling directly at you, Marchlands is more of a soft touch...  Just a delicate whisper of scares here and there, just enough to keep you uneasy.  It helps that the characters are so real.  Alex Kingston departs from her River Song persona in Doctor Who to embody a frustrated, anxious 80's housewife, and the producers did a great job at choosing look-alike actors to play younger and older versions of the same characters across the time span.

To enjoy it the most, don't look at it as a horror series, look at it as a mystery with horror elements.  The cloud overhanging the death of the young girl is gradually unveiled over the series and for once, everything wraps to a tidy conclusion without any jarring, "Let's throw this in just to be clever" twists - It's smart but doesn't try to be TOO smart.  Worth seeing!

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Saturday, July 14, 2012

Tranzor's "The Thing"

Recently I've been sending some time browsing at, a site dedicated to amateurs re-editing their favorite movies for various reasons - Sometimes improvement, sometimes drastic alteration, and sometimes just fun tinkering.  This is a case of the latter, and it's a generation-targeted nostalgia missile in the extreme.  You see, what fan editor "Tranzor" has done is not try to improve John Carpenter's 1982 classic The Thing in any way - Instead, he has transformed it into an edited-for-television late 70's Midnight Movie.

Before I go on, a word about legality.  Fan edits exist in a weird sort of murky grey zone in copyright law - It is legal to make them and it is legal to watch them and it is legal to own them... provided you actually own the original DVD as well.  So, while I can download this fan edit with impunity, someone who didn't own the original DVD would essentially be committing a file sharing copyright breach by downloading it, which is why I'm not posting any download links with this article.  If you want to see this yourself... Well, let's just say that Google is your friend.  That said, on with the show!

Remember the late night monster movie?  There was the news at 11, then Benny Hill or Monty Python, then some sort of late night horror movie in edited-for TV mode, usually something from the 50's.  For all the talk about the "grindhouse" theater experience, this sort of midnight movie had its own strange charms - Missing reels, terrible film quality, choppy cuts, dropped-out profanity, etc.  What this fan editor has done is to recreate this experience with The Thing.  The movie is reformatted into 4:3 and changed to B&W, with a few other tweaks here and there.  You know you're in for fun when you put the disc in...

Right after an intro that will throw you straight back to age 12, you start realizing that this is going to be a wholly different "Thing" viewing experience:

The funny thing about this is how GOOD the movie looks in black and white - The setting is pretty timeless and with the color and the cussing gone, you could almost think you were watching a genuine 1957 drive-in classic.  It's funny how some films time-travel well and others do not.  We were watching the original Alien the other night and it could have been shot last week - Other than some amusing computer nostalgia (A text-prompt green screen monitor on a starship), the look and style were timeless.  Compare it to something like Logan's Run, which immediately says, "1975-1978" really loudly.  I wouldn't have thought that The Thing could get more brooding, but then I saw it in B&W:

There's a great irony here that I've spent most of my adult life avoiding commercials, and yet the commercial breaks in this are the highlight of the experience.  You'll be totally into the movie and then it will hit a crisis point and BAM! - Commercial cutaway:

I haven't watched commercials since the day I got my first VCR - I'm a little hostile to the messages advertisers try to shout at us.  I don't mind informative advertising, but 99% of TV commercials amount to either, "Use our product or no one will ever have sex with you!" or, "Use our product because all our competition sucks."  Thanks, but no thanks.  However, in this case the nostalgia factor wins out, and I'm sitting there watching original 1977 commercial blocks all over again, filled with cheery disco music and ads for Tab cola.

Yes, Tab has even less calories than water.  Never knew THAT, did you, you fatty water drinkers...
Overall, this DVD is a blast, right down to its custom printable DVD case cover.  If you have fond memories of staying up for the late movie, then watching it in wide-eyed childish terror and running to the kitchen for snacks during the commercial breaks, then this is an experience to love.  If you were born after, say, 1978, then I suspect you'd only find this confusing - A bizarre re-edit of a great move for no understandable purpose.  Like the man says, ya just had to be there...

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