Friday, April 09, 2010

Book Review: Plague of the Dead by Z. A. Recht

Zombies are, and have been for some time now, all the rage in the horror genre. From books to movies, the undead are enjoying more success now than at any time in pop culture history. But, with so many variations on a theme, they can't all be good. And this brings us to Plague of the Dead by Z. A. Recht.

Plague of the Dead tells the tale of the zombie apocalypse, how it begins and the tough S.O.B.s that stand on the front lines of the war. Unfortunately, everything in this book is so cliched that at times, I wanted to hurl the book across the room. I'm telling you, there were times I had to close the book in mid-sentence, close my eyes and pray for patience. And this is coming from someone who loves over-the-top, B-grade horror! This book was the single hardest book for me to get through in years.

The story starts out promising enough, but once the Marines come into the picture, forget about it, it's all down hill from there. The dialogue was contrived and stereotypical. It was like all of these guys were withdrawing from steroids or something. And, why fill the book with so many characters whose names start with the letter D? Between the terrible "Marine dialogue" and trying to keep track of all of these similarly-named characters, it was just too much. Not to mention that there is not a single character who's appealing to the reader. When a character dies, who cares? Not me. It's a tough sell when you wish the zombies would take out the supposed good guys because the good guys are all such assholes.

Need another reason I didn't care for this tale of woe? The book is filled with WTF? moments. For instance, there's once scene where the Marines are trying to get into a gun shop because during a reconnaissance, they learned that there were some really old MREs and weapons available in the shop's basement. The leader of the group's like, "We have to get that food if we want to survive!" My first thought was - doesn't this town have a grocery store? I mean, with millions dead (and it all happened so quickly), the grocery aisles should be pretty clear and relatively well-stocked, don't you think?

But the biggest problem with Plague of the Dead is that it doesn't end here. This is the first in a series. If you really, really, really love zombie stories and you won't feel complete unless you see and read every last one of them, then by all means, pick up Plague of the Dead. But, as for me, this was the first book that caused me mental and physical anguish.

Plague of the Dead gets 0 out of *****.

Monday, April 05, 2010

Movie Review: Clash of the Titans

Growing up as a teenager in the late 70s/80s, there were basically two movies that mattered - Star Wars and Clash of the Titans. While I loved Star Wars, Clash of the Titans always held a special place in my heart as one of my favorites of that era. So, I was filled with anticipation when I heard they were remaking one of my all-time favorites. The possibilities were endless, with modern film making technology capable of incredible feats, this was one film that would be vastly improved over the original, right? I mean, this is a no-brainer. They can't possibly screw this up, right? Uh, right?

Well, to call this movie Clash of the Titans is near to blasphemy in my opinion. This film, with all of its pomp and circumstance takes a giant, Kraken-sized crap all over the original. Not only does it completely disregard the mythology, but it turns it into an unbelievably lousy story.

Rife with crappy acting the likes you have never seen, this version of the film often has the look of a Sci-Fi Channel Saturday night feature. The public settings with all of the people look terrible, cheap and poorly executed. The Gods look like a bunch of hair metal rejects, and what can possibly be frightening about Hades' receding hairline? I mean, this thing is almost a joke. In many ways, the original was not only better, but it had better effects! If you have ever seen the History Channel's Clash of the Gods program, you'll wonder how a show on the History Channel can get their Gods so right and yet this multi-million dollar epic can't.

This film has way too many bad things going for it to list here. So instead, I'll focus on the one good thing it has to offer -- the Kraken. It seemed like all of the film's effect budget went into making the Kraken, and it was quite an impressive sight for all of it's two minutes of screentime.

If you have any love or respect for mythology, or if you have fond feelings for the original film, don't go see this new version of Clash of the Titans. You'll leave the theater very pissed!

Clash of the Titans gets ** out of *****.

Movie Review: Shutter Island

I'm going to start this review by saying that I've never been much of a Martin Scorsese fan. Or Leonardo DiCaprio for that matter and since they pretty much only work with each other, I haven't had the pleasure of seeing many of their collaborations, which is tallying upwards of around 40 or so, right? Well, Shutter Island, a film about psychopaths locked up on an island, I just couldn't ignore.

Shutter Island is shot extremely well. The style harkens back to the golden age of movies, when men smoked a lot of cigarettes and said things like, "What, are you a wiseguy? Keep it shut, she!" The design of the movie, the score, the screenplay -- it all adds up to a spectacular re-visting of detective noir movies from the 40s and 50s.

Having said that, the film suffers due to two major influences -- Leonardo DiCaprio and Mark Ruffalo. These two don't look comfortable at all working with each other and when they're on the screen together, it looks like two schmoes playing detective. Ruffalo looks bored just being involved and DiCaprio looks like he's trying to get an Oscar video bite out of each second with his ruffled brow and steely-eyed glare. The supporting cast is just great however. It's unfortunate that Scorsese couldn't look beyond his man-love for DiCaprio and get somebody a little better for this particular role. Case in point, John Carroll Lynch, the actor who portrays Deputy Warden McPherson, is miles better and more believable and entertaining in his miniscule role than both Ruffalo and DiCaprio are in theirs.

The film does have its share of twists and turns, it just takes an extremely long time getting there and by the time the end comes, you're just glad the marathon is over. At the end of the day, Shutter Island feels over-expanded and exhausting. I give Shutter Island **1/2 out of *****.

Movie Review: Lake Mungo

Lake Mungo is one of the films featured in 2010's Afterdark Horror Filmfest. But, don't think that this one is a scare-your-pants-off monster movie. Lake Mungo is barely a whisper of a horror film that relies on the pure emotional distress of losing a child. And that is where the heart of the "horror" lies in this film. Sure, there's a ghost story tied in here, but that was, to me, a sidetrack to the real horror displayed here.

Lake Mungo is an Australian faux-documentary on the accidental death of 16-year old Alice Palmer and how her death impacted her family. All of the actors here are incredibly believable and if one wasn't already aware that this is, in fact, fiction, it would be easy to believe that what we are seeing is real.

Not long after Alice's death, strange things begin occurring at her family's house. Her brother, Matthew, catches odd images in his pictures and videos that lead the family to believe that their daughter is either still alive or haunting their home.

As the movie progresses, the family discovers things about their daughter that they never knew. This is where the film took a turn for me as many of the "discoveries" were extremely convenient and in truth, didn't add anything to the film. If anything, it stole some of the fire from the family's plight.

Lake Mungo was a disturbing movie, no, maybe "unsettling" is a better word to describe this movie, especially if you have a teenager of your own. But, for those looking for a strong ghost story, look elsewhere. I give Lake Mungo *** out of *****.