BookBin2015: Ghost World

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I don’t really know how it happened that I never read Daniel Clowes’ graphic novel Ghost World before now. I’ve also never seen the movie based on the novel. I’ve had it on my radar for years, and I’m pretty sure it’s one of the first movies I ever added to my Netflix queue. I’ve just never taken the plunge and moved it to the top.

[Loba Tangent: I just watched the trailer and read the plot of the movie. First, I love how early this was in Scarlett Johansson’s career. Also, what the hell ever happened to Thora Birch? Second, that plot sounds jilted. I suppose that answers my question of how they made a mainstream movie out of this comic, which doesn’t really have a central point other than the exploration of the post-graduation dystopia and ensuing tumble into adulthood, as set in the culture-defining era of early 90s grunge and disenchantment. They didn’t make that movie. They made another movie. And it sounds…questionable. Maybe that’s why I haven’t rented it yet.]

So, the graphic novel is…uh, I think I just pretty much explained most of it in my tangent. The two main characters are Enid Coleslaw and Rebecca Doppelmeyer, both highly cynical, highly sarcastic, highly amusing. They’re best friends at the time of their high school graduation, both into the same things, the same people, the same warped and weary view of the capitalistic, consumer-driven wasteland of unnamed America in which they live. Enid is slightly more of all these things and slightly less popular with the boys than Rebecca, which I think gives her the sharper edge and ekes her out as the star of the novel. She seems to be the one intent on making things happen, whereas Rebecca is more content with being a follower and the recipient of male affection.

Clowes does a fantastic job of showing the everyday fluctuations of relationships and the stilted stumbling journey that we all take as we move away from the cloistered safety of our adolescence and into the stark reality of adulthood and figuring things out on our own. Also, the natural evolution of Enid and Rebecca’s friendship from beginning to end was believable, relatable, and not the least bit melancholy. And make note that it was no small thing that Clowes chose two female characters as his protagonists, or that the novel was so well received by fans and critics regardless of the fact that it wasn’t a male-driven coming of age story for the comics fandom, which continues to be a holdout of male domination.

Final Verdict: I very much enjoyed this novel and foresee it becoming a part of my graphic novel collection. I kind of have a feeling that I might not have the same reaction to the movie…but I’m willing to give a go.

BookBin2015: The Cape

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So what do you think my reaction is going to be, based on all that you’ve read here at the lair of my love for Joe Hill, when I stumble upon a graphic novel based on one of his short stories? Um. Let me think.

I’m going to grab it from the shelf like I’m a wild dingo and it’s the first food I’ve seen in a week, and I’m going devour it in one sitting, that’s what’s going to happen.

So it was with The Cape. Although, for full disclosure, this graphic novel is based on a short story by Hill as translated for a comic by Jason Ciaramella, with art by Zach Howard and Nelson Daniel. This being said, I don’t know exactly what comes from Hill’s story and what might be uniquely Ciaramella. All I have to say is, whoever thought of dropping a grizzly into a convertible as retribution against the driver? That’s just mighty twisted brilliance right there.

Other than that, this graphic novel is a “what-if” tale about a young man who had a horrible accident when he was a kid, falling from a tree while playing with his brother, and never really recovered. Instead, he kind of just slides through life without drive or ambition or any will to do anything. That is, until his girlfriend breaks up with him and he finds himself living in his mother’s basement. It’s here that he discovers his mother didn’t throw away the cape he wore as a kid (and was wearing the day he fell from the tree). It’s also here that he discovers that the cape from his childhood can make him fly. Forreals.

Does he take this newfound ability as a sign that he should change his life and begin to do good? Come on, now. This is a Joe Hill story, people. Of course he doesn’t! He uses it to exact revenge on everyone he believes has wronged him. Which, by the by, leads to the grizzly bear dropped into a convertible.

Brilliance.

To be sure, the bleakness runs thick through this tale. We begin our journey feeling sympathy for our primary character, Eric, when we learn that his father was killed in battle and Eric wears one of his dad’s Marine Corps patches on his cherished cape…and then he falls from the tree and suffers severe trauma that continues to plague him through his adolescence…but then? Then, when he returns home and discovers his cape and its powers? Not so much with the sympathy anymore. Hill’s characterization of a megalomaniacal turd blossom is overwhelmingly successful. Ciaramella breaks it all down satisfactorily for comic consumption, while Howard and Daniel provide solid, straightforward line work and coloring for the visuals.

Final Verdict: I liked this novel well enough and thought the artwork was enjoyable, but I don’t really see any reason to add this to my graphic novel collection at this time.

BookBin2015: An Idiot Girl’s Christmas: True Tales from the Top of the Naughty List

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I’m running out of days in 2015 to post all the books. ALL THE BOOKS!

Sorry. I’m excitable today for some reason.

Not because of this book though. Spoilers.

I actually really like Laurie Notaro. I own several of her books. I was even banned from reading them right before bed, because I couldn’t stop myself from laughing. She can be very funny. Unfortunately, I did not find myself laughing all that much with An Idiot Girl’s Christmas: True Tales from the Top of the Naughty List.

Admittedly, some of the pieces were funny, but those were the ones that I had already read in her other collections. The rest inspired a chuckle or two, or maybe a happy smile, but it wasn’t the same as those other books. Maybe it was because this was a forced compilation of ALL CHRISTMAS ALL THE TIME. Or maybe I’ve outgrown Notaro’s shtick. I don’t know. I’m sure I’ll give her a try again. I see from her Amazon page that she actually has a few books out that I haven’t seen before. I will keep that in mind. I’ll just be sure to avoid any future holiday-themed collections.

Final Verdict: The library is welcome to have their copy back.

[Loba Addendum: Just for the hell of it, I searched my blog for Laurie Notaro’s name and came upon a BookBin entry from 2011 in which I mention that the last Notaro book I read prior to the one I was reviewing…was this damned collection. I seriously did not remember reading this. However, I did keep having flashes of looking at the cover while sitting on a plane. Apparently, I like to take Notaro with me on trips. And I don’t retain memories of her books. Winner.]

BookBin2015: Wes Craven: The Man and His Nightmares

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I swear this will be a brief review. After all, what else is there to say about John Wooley’s biography Wes Craven: The Man and His Nightmares other than it’s a biography about Wes Craven. If you like Craven, then you’ll probably like this book. It includes information on Craven’s fundamentalist upbringing, his cinematic oeuvre, as well as interviews with Craven, either from other sources or from Wooley’s own discussions with the director.

There’s not really much else to write about this. Admittedly, I thought it could have been a better researched and compiled biography. Then again, I always had hoped that Craven would have written his own autobiography. Sadly, that never came to pass. However, thanks to this book, I did learn that Craven wrote a book! It’s called Fountain Society and Craven tried a couple of times to focus on turning it into a movie, which clearly never happened. Maybe one day. Of course, I’ve added this book to my wish list. Is this a surprise to anyone?

Final Verdict: I bought the book. I plan on keeping it. Enough said.

Cravenous: Deadly Friend

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As if we (and Craven) didn’t learn this lesson with Deadly Blessing, here comes another example of how outside involvement in one’s creative process is bad, mmmkay?

Funny that it would be with the second movie Craven directed with the word “Deadly” in the title (although the title was originally the same as the book on which the story is tenuously based). I speak, of course, of 1986’s Deadly Friend. Based on Diana Henstell’s novel Friend, Bruce Joel Rubin wrote the screenplay for this story about teenaged computer genius Paul and his robot BB, and how they moved to a new town, where Paul fell in love with pretty blonde Buffy the Vampire Slayer Sam, who ends up dead at the hands of her abusive father around the same time that Paul loses BB to a blast of rifle shot from the neighborhood hermit who was just trying to be hermit-y. So what does Paul do? Implants BB’s A.I. chip into Sam’s brain, of course. Hilarity…didn’t ensue. Just a whole lot of WTFery.

Oh, also, Rubin’s most famous other contributions to Hollywood are that he wrote Jacob’s Ladder and Ghost. That kind of lessens the sting of this train wreck. Although, again, this is all about the damage of outside demands.

So what happened with this movie? A whole lot of wrong. See, Warner Bros. was delighted to have snagged the director who had been riling up the horror crowd for more than a decade at this point and had just dropped Freddy Krueger on audiences to continuing success for New Line Cinema. They wanted to channel that power into their own pockets, which translated to they wanted Craven to deliver something as horrific or worse than A Nightmare on Elm Street into their movie collection (see the movie’s poster above, which claims that this movie was Craven’s “most horrifying creation,” which was kind of right, but for all the wrong reasons).

Craven, however, had a completely different idea. He was tiring already of being known only as a horror director. With this film, he was hoping to do something more like a sci-fi thriller/love story. Something sweet and intriguing, not disgusting and unsettling like most of his other movies. Neither Warner Bros. nor his devoted fans were feeling this. When he finished the first cut of this movie, which went through title changes from Friend to Artificial Intelligence to A.I. and finally to Deadly Friend, everyone but Craven was disappointed. Fans wanted gore. Warner Bros. wanted gore. Also, WB VP Mark Canton wanted an ending that makes absolutely zero sense but that ended up being the new ending because no one tells the emperor that he looks stupid naked.

Craven ended up going back in and adding a bunch of gore and a few minuscule scares throughout the film to satisfy the fan demand, and re-shot the ending to match the upper echelon request…and what we ended up with was what I would now categorize as the kind of movie that is enjoyable when you’re young, but that contains far too many plot holes and questionable decisions to continue to be enjoyable to an adult with a hyper-critical mind.

It actually surprised me in all the bad ways how much I couldn’t enjoy this movie anymore. Not really scary, not really sci-fi, extremely dated, and with tons of questionable choices, I at least can say that Deadly Friend is still fun to watch for two reasons: catching all the anachronisms and poor choices; and one of the greatest horror death scenes ever. Think basketball versus head.

Oh yeah.

Otherwise, I spent much of the movie, including the increasingly more ridiculous end half, asking all kinds of questions that detracted from the story immensely. Questions like why did Sam have to look like a raccoon after she died? Was there no budget for a decent make-up artist? Couldn’t Craven bring some of his crew from NOES to help him out on this film? After being spoiled by the makeup for Freddy Krueger, going to this movie’s idea of “dead” makeup was more than jarring. It was just silly. See Exhibit A:

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Seriously, I could come up with a better corpse makeup than this. Then again, was she a corpse? Was the A.I. processor taking over the functions of a living entity? Or was it merely animating dead flesh. That was never really addressed, but something needed to be touched upon to explain this ridiculous makeup.

Then there is the question of Sam’s robotic movements. BB’s A.I. processor was having difficulty integrating into her brain. He wanted to keep moving the way he remembered moving. However, he had no trouble integrating enough to use her legs to walk even though he shouldn’t have known how to use legs. Why, then, couldn’t he just as quickly figure out how to use her hands the way they were meant to be used? Because the pincer hands were a little distracting. See Exhibit B:

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She just walked around like that for most of the time that the character was “BB/Sam,” until it was no longer convenient but literally made no sense that she started to function normally toward the end only to…well, we’re getting ahead of ourselves.

Back up to the fact that, in addition to moving like BB, Sam also sounded like BB. Which meant that Sam sounded like a demented Roger Rabbit, because Charles Fleischer made the annoying noises attributed to the robot. Why? She only possessed BB’s A.I. processor. Not his vocal chords. Of course, they never really specified how BB made any noise in the first place. Still, there should have been no way that his voice could have come from her larynx. That was just silly, and made all the sillier when she then started to sound like herself at the end.

Even sillier than this? The ending. Ugh, the ending. So Sam meets her second ending from a bullet from a deputy’s gun after causing a whole bunch of death and destruction. Paul, still unwilling to let go of probably the only girl to ever show any interest in him (and for some reason not in a cell of his own for stealing a dead body and re-animating it for this death trek through this once-quiet town), breaks into the morgue to steal Sam again, only to find that somehow a robot has grown beneath Sam’s human skin, breaking through at just the right moment to start choking Paul before the film mercifully finally fades to black. Oh, but not before we hear that Sam once more sounds like BB.

W.T.A.F.

This seriously was one of the worst endings possible for this movie. I don’t care if Canton was one of Warner Bros.’ VPs at the time. This ending makes NO SENSE. How would a robot grow? And what happened to Sam’s bones and organs and blood? Paul stole her body from the hospital before she could be embalmed or prepped in any way for burial. Everything was still there. Only now it transformed into robot parts. Never mind the fact that, right before Sam is killed again, she’s starting to show signs of returning to a more normally functioning human, with normal human movement and normal human speech (or that, when she’s shot, she bleeds and we don’t hear any tin ricochet noise or something equally ridiculous). What was that all about? How could she be going full human only to then turn into a robot at the end?

Logic, you are completely MIA from this film.

Still, with all the terrible, I’d still rather watch this than Chiller ever again. I’m not sure that’s saying much, but it’s all I’ve got at this point.

Logical Art Thou Among Vulcans

It seemed only fitting to choose Spock for this year’s holiday greeting. And just as our venerable Vulcan does, I will you all a most logical holiday, however you choose to celebrate the season. Here’s to 2016 and all the rambling I hope to do here at the lair. I hope you all will drop by every now and then for a visit. I mean, I can totally ramble to myself…but company is nice, too 🙂

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BookBin2015: Lost Souls

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Last year, I read Seth Patrick’s brilliant novel Reviver and loved it. The only thing that I apparently had any problem with was the fact that Patrick had left the ending wide-open for a sequel, which was already in the works. The sequel was titled at the time Acolyte.

Turns out that title didn’t stick. At some point along the way, it changed to Lost Souls, and became the second of what is now dubbed the Reviver Trilogy. I actually liked the first novel enough that when I learned this one was coming to our library, I put myself on the wait list to read it. The moment I got my hands on it, I jumped right in and began chasing the action.

I have to admit, the bloom is off the rose on this one. Whereas I was so enamored of the first story and its originality and well-paced revelations, this time around, I found the story somewhat plodding and rather dull. It starts out well enough, but then slowly dwindles down into one primary focus that we then have to hear about for the bulk of the book. It lacked all the intrigue and discovery and excitement of the first book. Sure, it had its moments, but it was nothing like that first novel.

This time around, I was content to set the book aside and let it be (not too long, though, since I couldn’t renew this as a new release). I’m kind of disappointed that I bothered to read the sequel. I didn’t find it terrible, but I also didn’t find it worth my time. However, now I feel invested. I mean, it’s only a trilogy. I’ve read two-thirds of it already! Needless to say, I’m a little bit irritated by this. Do I leave it be and never know how the Reviver Trilogy ends? Or do I join up for the duration and plow through what might be a fantastic finale…or also might be a plodding, dull dud of a finish?

Okay, that was harsh. I’m just disappointed that the second wasn’t as strong as the first. But, history has shown that oftentimes the middle link is the weakest when it comes to trilogies. I’ve gotten through the middle link. Now I just have to wait for the home stretch to appear.

Final Verdict: If this were merely a one-two punch, then I would say no way to this and just add Reviver to my library. However, knowing that the third book might offer the same level of excitement and intrigue as the first one makes me reticent to just dismiss this one. If I do read the third one and it does end up wowing me, then I would probably want the whole trilogy. Guess we’ll just have to wait and see…

Cravenous: The Hills Have Eyes Part 2

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I’m honestly surprised that Wes Craven agreed to tackle a sequel to his 1977 movie The Hills Have Eyes, especially considering how adamantly against an open ending he was for A Nightmare on Elm Street. Then again, even though The Hills Have Eyes Part 2 came out after Nightmare, Craven started working on it before that film released. Perhaps his experience with this film was partially what drove his disinterest in leading another of his films down the franchise route.

There’s not really a whole lot to say about this sequel. True to most 80s horror sequels, it takes the original idea, guts it of value and back-fills it instead with more gore and more gratuitous nudity. That’s pretty much this film in a nutshell. The only original characters to return for this film are Michael Berryman’s Pluto (who gets royally shafted in this film), Robert Houston’s Bobby, and Janus Blythe’s hill girl Ruby, who now goes by Rachel. Oh and Beast, the German shepherd, who is probably the most interesting character from the entire film.

The premise is that Bobby is still severely traumatized by the events of the first film and when he learns that the motocross team he trains and has developed a high-octane fuel for is going to compete in the desert near where those events happened, he freaks and can’t go. So his wife, Rachel/Ruby, takes his place and leads his unknowing team of dirtbiking dudes (and their girlfriends) off into the empty terrain of her former home. Of course, they break down and the remaining cannibal clan find them. You’d think the clan would be led by Pluto (who, by the by, shouldn’t have made it to the sequel since it seemed pretty clear from the first film that Beast killed Pluto, but whatever). Instead, the leader is the Reaper, the brother of Jupiter, the leader from the first movie.

Now, that’s where the plot really falls apart for me. This introduction of the Reaper is painfully convenient, especially considering how important it was to stress how horrible Jupiter was in the first film—so horrible that his own father abandoned him alone in the desert to fend for himself. No mention there of a brother. And yet for the sequel, we get a brother who is supposedly even worse than the first guy? Perhaps they were only supposed to be brothers in name only, but if that was the case, then they needed to stress this a bit more. Otherwise, it just feels like a flimsy plot contrivance.

I would have much rather seen Pluto as the big bad of this film. Craven could have made him a proper badass to better explain how he survived the first film. Instead, he turned Pluto into a bumbling, skittering Falstaff to the Reaper’s terror. And, spoilers ahoy, he bites it well before the end of the film. A shame, really.

The returning character who doesn’t bite it but instead bites others? Beast. Most badass dog on the block, yo. So badass that he has flashbacks. I kid you not, denizens. Beast has a flashback to the events of the original movie, and it might possibly be one of the greatest moments in film history. Dog flashback. Thank you, Wes Craven. Also, thank you for letting the dog survive this time. And kill Pluto. Again.

Spoilers.

Craven does introduce an intriguing plot element by having one of the characters, Tamara Stafford’s Cass, be blind. I liked the utilization her other senses to figure out what was happening around her. Kane Hodder appears in the movie as a stuntman. Guess it was in between Friday the 13th films for him. Peter Frechette’s in it, for you two Profiler fans out there. Oh, and Penny Johnson plays Sue. It’s not until many, many moons later that she lands her job as Kassidy Yates on Deep Space Nine.

Not much else to say about this movie. It’s an okay sequel, but not really necessary. However, I’m glad that Craven took the reins on the sequel rather than let others tamper with his original creation. Wonder what might have happened with the Nightmare franchise had he held on to those reins as well…

BookBin2015: My Dirty Dumb Eyes

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This might possibly be one of the most randomly fortuitous grabs I’ve ever made at a library. I saw the chaos-in-neon cover of Lisa Hanawalt’s My Dirty Dumb Eyes and decided on a whim that it looked like something that I could at least give a go. It ended up being a funny, surreal visual romp that gives nary a fuck as to whether it’s poignant or pithy or cerebral. It just wants to be. Period.

Hanawalt’s humor is uniquely her own, coming through in the loveliest of visual and linguistic ways. She’s a sublime storyteller, slightly puerile when it comes to bodily functions, slightly precocious when it comes to all else, and overwhelmingly endearing when it comes to simply being herself.

There’s not much else to say about this weird, wonderful collection of one-offs, movie reviews, personal stories, and visual sundries. You kind of have to see it to believe it.

Final Verdict: I have added this to my wish list. It’s not an imperative purchase, but it is one that I envision making a lovely addition to my library.

Cravenous: Chiller

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I know I’m calling this one early, but I’m going to have to say that Chiller is probably going to be my least favorite film from Craven’s directorial oeuvre.

It’s not that Craven did a terrible job on directing. It was a nice, solid, middle-of-the-road effort for a movie that was…meh. Not the worst made-for-television movie. Not the best. Just meh.

The story, written by J.D. Feigelson (who apparently had a very brief career as a screenwriter of other equally unmemorable-sounding horror scripts), contemplates what might happen if someone was revived from cryogenic suspension without their soul. He doesn’t have a very positive outlook for such a person.

Very existential-sounding plot, right? Of course, it requires that one believes that behavior is dictated by a “soul” rather than something less ethereal like personality, genetics, upbringing, etc. I’m not really all that keen on believing that who I am is contingent upon what my soul is like, or that missing my soul would turn me into a cold, calculating jerk with serpent eyes.

Really, really cheesy serpent eyes, mind you.

I don’t really have a whole lot else to say about this movie. It was rather dull, with no real standout directing or acting. Paul Sorvino is probably the most recognizable name. Beatrice Straight played the mother; horror fans will recognize her as Dr. Lesh from Poltergeist. Dick O’Neill was in it for a hot minute, for all you Cagney and Lacey fans.

I kind of feel as though this was an immense step backward for Craven after he dropped the magnificence that is Nightmare on Elm Street on us all. Then again, people might not have yet twigged to how amazing that movie was and how wondrous Craven could be when given control of his films. He was probably still just that guy who made horror movies to them. A shame, really, that he had to waste time on something like this when he clearly could do far better.