Kelly Shaw's Book & Movie Forum|
[Most Recent Entries]
Below are the 20 most recent journal entries recorded in
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|Wednesday, November 11th, 2009|
|Saturday, October 24th, 2009|
|Two new horror movies
I'd expected a lot -- maybe too much -- from Trick 'r Treat
, the long delayed anthology film that recently appeared on DVD. Yes, it conjures a memorable Halloween mood and setting, but it severely suffers in the plot department. There's nothing surprising or remotely creepy about the story lines, nothing inventive about the direction. Even the usually great Brian Cox's performance feels contrived, tired.
On the other hand, Tom Shankland's The Children
, hailing from England and just released on DVD, is a genuinely scary addition to the "killer child" genre (think The Omen
, The Bad Seed
, etc.). It's almost unbearably suspenseful, disturbing without being disgusting, and directed with a real sense of atmosphere and dread. The snowy environment, complete with swaying trees, is almost a character unto itself. The Children
definitely belongs in any conversation about the best horror films of recent years.
|Wednesday, October 21st, 2009|
|Slapdash thoughts on Jeff VanderMeer's Finch
This morning I finished Jeff VanderMeer's brilliant new novel, Finch
, a perfect marriage of dark fantasy and darker noir and a satisfying conclusion to the Ambergris cycle. Having closed the book only a few hours ago, I'm still consumed by the city of perpetual transformation and war, by the grotesque gray caps and their fungal magic, by green-gold doors and possible worlds, by fractious rebellions, shadowy characters, and suggested monsters. By VanderMeer's muscular prose, fantastic set pieces, surreal imagery, and deeply affecting denouement.
Now, I can't find my way back from Ambergris to my own world.
So, to exorcise Ambergris from my mind, I thought I'd write an in-depth review about Finch
. For the last hour, I've typed furiously, attempting to express my affection for the book in greater detail. With each passing paragraph, though, I'd fall deeper and deeper into VanderMeer's world -- and further away from adequately describing it: The more words I typed, the less I seemed to actually say about Finch
I could muster no better than this, just a few sentences I posted on a message board right after finishing the book:This morning I finished VanderMeer's Finch. A tough, bruising story; a perfect melding of fantasy and noir; and a beautiful, fitting conclusion to Ambergris. I must admit, the last page hit me emotionally: It's been a long journey for Ambergris fans, and Finch delivers a bittersweet finale, recording a sort of beginning and ending, taking note of a crossroads, not just for the fictional city but for the author as well. The book, probably my favorite of the year, exceeded my lofty expectations and makes me want to re-read the three-book cycle. For this reader, Ambergris is a masterpiece of modern fantasy and one of the most original works of weird fiction to be published this decade.
|Saturday, October 17th, 2009|
|Lovecraft Unbound, Edited by Ellen Datlow
Earlier this week I finished Ellen Datlow's new horror-themed anthology, Lovecraft Unbound (2009)
, featuring 22 contemporary authors riffing on and personalizing familiar Lovecraft themes and settings: impending apocalypse and cosmic horror, Antarctic quests and ancient cities, isolation and loneliness. Given the subject matter, the tone of Datlow's collection could have easily detoured into overwhelming despair.Lovecraft Unbound
, however, is a very well rounded collection and offers a wide range of stories, from irredeemably bleak personal visions (Laird Barron's "Catch Hell") to comical pastiches. While the majority of the stories tend toward the serious, the likes of Richard Bowes, William Browning Spencer, Joyce Carol Oates, and Nick Mamatas bring much-needed levity to the proceedings, providing the collection with a nice tonal balance.
Who am I kidding, though? I like my horror fiction straight up -- dark, scary, and cold sober. Here are a few brief thoughts on such stories, my favorites of the collection.
• Dale Bailey and Nathan Ballingrud team up for the book's auspicious opening, "The Crevasse," which takes place in Antarctica just after World War I. Told in prose pruned to perfection, the authors use Lovecraft's cosmic emptiness, as well as the barren setting, to amplify and parallel the protagonist's profound personal loss. Allow me this hyperbole: "The Crevasse" is Lovecraft by way of Raymond Carver.
• Caitlin R. Kiernan's "Houses Under the Sea" (2007; one of the book's four reprints), the best story in the collection, reinforces Kiernan's place on my list of favorite short story writers. (You disagree? Get thee to her masterful 2005 collection, To Charles Fort, With Love
.) A 30-plus-page novella, "Houses Under the Sea" is a straight-up weird fiction masterpiece: arresting in story and adventurous in style, abounding with emotional and intellectual layers, and overflowing with indelibly creepy imagery. It's also a persuasive argument for the power of weird fiction. Quite simply, "Houses Under the Sea" is awe
some, the kind of story that keeps me loyal to the genre.
• When I finished reading Laird Barron's novella "Catch Hell," my hands were shaking. Not only with fear induced by the story, but with admiration for Barron's adroit writing. With how he slowly unveiled his characters' identities, imbued the text with deeply personal pain and perversity, and manipulated this reader's expectations from page one -- even the title, seemingly generic, smartly sets up the story's mingling of pagan and Judeo-Christian horror themes. Certainly, Barron is one of the most erudite of horror writers, and "Catch Hell" proves he knows not only his Lovecraft but his Arthur Machen and Ira Levin as well. To this reader, Barron seems intent on producing only major stories, as if he's trying to redefine the horror genre one publication at a time. I think he's succeeding.
Because I can never resist an opportunity for a list, I'll conclude with my ten favorite stories from Lovecraft Unbound
1) "Houses Under the Sea," Caitlin R. Kiernan (2007; reprint)
2) "Catch Hell," Laird Barron
3) "The Crevasse," Dale Bailey and Nathan Ballingrud
4) "The Din of Celestial Birds," Brian Evenson (1997; reprint)
5) "Marya Nox," Gemma Files
6) "Come Lurk With Me and Be My Love," William Browning Spencer
7) "The Recruitor," Michael Shea
8) "Machines of Concrete Light and Dark," Michael Cisco
9) "Sight Unseen," Joel Lane
10) "Leng," Marc Laidlaw
|Tuesday, October 6th, 2009|
|Ti West's The House of the Devil
Though I've only recently seen it, I can state without reservation that The House of the Devil
(2009) is one of the best horror films of the decade. It establishes Ti West, who wrote, edited, and directed the picture, as American horror cinema's most exciting, smart filmmaker. No "torture porn" or gratuitous gore here, just real acting, writing, and directing in service of a story that inexorably builds to a fever pitch and honors horror directors of yesteryear. West's clearly fond of Rosemary's Baby
and The Shining
, amongst other horror gems from the 1970s and 80s that prioritized setting, lighting, and camera movement over cheap scares. I haven't been this impressed by a horror film since Let the Right One In
If this one comes to your neighborhood, don't miss it. Better yet, purchaseThe House of the Devil through Amazon's Video on Demand
|Sunday, October 4th, 2009|
|Under the Dome: To read or not to read?
I consider myself one of Stephen King's "Constant Readers." But I'm on the fence about whether to buy (and read) his new novel, the 1,000-page Under the Dome
. At that length, I'd better be darn certain of the book's quality before giving my time and shelling out my cold, hard cash.
Advance-reader copies of Under the Dome
are making the rounds; Google brings up a couple blog reviews
. And here are excerpts from the first two professional assessments that I've come across.
• King keeps a huge cast very busy in his third-biggest novel ever, but most of its members are flimsily realized. However, his explanation for the dome has a prestigious pedigree (Shakespeare’s King Lear), and his way with mayhem remains nonpareil.
- Ray Olson, Booklist
• The frequent accusation that King writes too long is sometimes deserved. However, when he works in an epic mode, depicting dozens of characters and all their interrelationships, he can produce great work. He did it with The Stand and with It, and he has done it again here.
- Karl G. Siewert, Library Journal
Aside from the seven-book Dark Tower
series, I've never been hugely taken with King's "epic mode," but have responded more positively to his more intimate, personal works (to say nothing of his corpus of short stories, particularly Night Shift
, a seminal collection of modern horror). My favorite of his novels include 'Salem's Lot
, The Shining
, The Dead Zone
, The Green Mile
, Bag of Bones
, Hearts in Atlantis
(actually, five interconnected stories), and Lisey's Story
. I must confess, though, that I've missed out on a few of his major works, notably Pet Sematary
, and The Stand
So, there you have it. Under the Dome
: To read or not to read?
|Wednesday, September 30th, 2009|
|Friday, September 25th, 2009|
|In preparation of Halloween
It's a dreary, rainy night in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Trees are already shedding their leaves, and the most wondrous of seasons, fall, is officially upon us -- it won't be long, now, before the very streets I walk through incessantly inspire me to reread my favorite stories from The October Country
Needless to say, I've been thinking of ways to best enjoy the Halloween season. Of course, those ways involve reading a lot of books and watching a lot of movies. Here's what I've got in mind.
• Tonight, Cindy and I are attending a midnight screening of Ti West's homage to 1970s horror cinema, The House of the Devil
. This new, stylish trailer
has certainly raised my expectations.
• I'm looking forward to David Herter's October Dark
, the latest entry in Earthling Publications'
(who first brought us Conrad Williams' The Unblemished
) line of Halloween books. Don't think of balking at the $50 price tag: The Unblemished
is one of the most beautiful book objects in my collection, and October Dark
promises to be no different. Still unconvinced? October Dark
also boasts a wonderfully Bradburyesque cover (above), an introduction by Jeffrey Ford, and an irresistible plot.
• On October 6, the Halloween-themed anthology film Trick 'R Treat
finally sees the light of day on DVD. Hollywood studios planned multiple theatrical releases for this well-reviewed film, only to shelve it time and again. Amazon.com reviews
, while not always the most reliable, support other reviews I've read around the web: Trick 'R Treat
, surely, has the potential to be a new seasonal favorite.
• On the mass-market-paperback front, keep an eye open for Sarah Langan's new novel
, Audrey's Door
, due for release next week. Langan's already proven to be a master of the Stephen King-style, small-town horror novel (The Missing
may be the best of its kind since King's own 'Salem's Lot
). Now, she turns her attention to New York City and the haunted-house tale. I, for one, can't wait to see how she personalizes this subgenre!
|Thursday, August 27th, 2009|
|Favorite films of the decade, so far (revised: 12/13/2009)
With a new decade approaching, it's time to reflect upon the movies that captured our imaginations from 2000-2009. There are a lot of movies I'd like to see before finalizing my list of favorites, such as Soderbergh's two-part Che
and the six-hour Italian TV-series The Best of Youth
, to say nothing of a dozen or so interesting-looking films to be released later this year. Here, though, are the films (and cinematic television) that have most impressed me, that have moved me in some profound way and have stayed with me throughout this new millennium. It should go without saying, but I'll reiterate it anyway: This is my
list, meaning it's very personal and not in any way meant to be an objective summation of the decade. Top 30 (in alphabetical order)A.I. Artifical Intelligence
(2001, Steven Spielberg)American Psycho
(2000, Mary Harron)The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
(2007, Andrew Dominik)Carnivale: Season 2
(2005, Daniel Knauf)A Christmas Tale
(2008, Arnaud Desplechin)The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
, (2008, David Fincher)The Departed
(2006, Martin Scorsese)The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
(2007, Julien Schnabel)Donnie Darko
(2001, Richard Kelly)Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
(2004, Michel Gondry)Generation Kill
(2008, David Simon and Ed Burns)I Heart Huckabees
(2004, David O. Russell)Inglorious Basterds
(2009, Quentin Tarantino)Inland Empire
(2006, David Lynch)Kings and Queen
(2004, Arnaud Desplechin)Mad Men: Season 2
(2008, Matthew Weiner)The Man Who Wasn't There
(2001, Joel and Ethan Coen)Mulholland Drive
(2001, David Lynch)The New World
(2005, Terrence Malick; preferably, the "Extended Cut")Oldboy
(2003, Park Chan-Wook)Public Enemies
(2009, Michael Mann)Punch-Drunk Love
(2002, Paul Thomas Anderson)The Royal Tenenbaums
(2001, Wes Anderson)Sideways
(2004, Alexander Payne)The Squid and the Whale
(2005, Noah Baumbach)Spirited Away
(2002, Hayao Miyizaki)There Will Be Blood
(2007, Paul Thomas Anderson)The 25th Hour
(2001, Spike Lee)Yi Yi
(2000, Edward Yang)The Wire: Season 1
(2002, David Simon and Ed Burns) Zodiac
(2007, David Fincher)
I'll stop now before I feel guilty for leaving off Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings Trilogy
, Nicolas Winding Refn's crime-saga Pusher
, Joss Whedon's Firefly
and seven seasons of Buffy the Vampire Slayer
, the first (and only awesome) season of Battlestar Galactica
|Saturday, August 15th, 2009|
I’m making my way through Kazuo Ishiguro's The Unconsoled
(1995), a very odd, surreal book overflowing with scenes of absurdity and humor. I'm currently on page 350 and still don't know what to make of it – its tone and dialogue remind me of the films of Luis Bunuel. But its story takes its time giving up its secrets.
Mr. Ryder, a world-class pianist, prepares for a pivotal recital in an unnamed European city. Much of the plot, as it is, consists of characters delivering long, winding monologues that reveal bits and pieces of the city's bizarre history. Some scenes are very funny (particularly those scewering the cult of personality), others rich with gothic atmosphere. Some are intriguing (such as when Mr. Ryder attends a screening of 2001: A Space Odyssey
-- starring Clint Eastwood!), some are downright plodding. Overall, though, Ishiguro's writing is wonderfully modulated -- you get the feeling the author intended every word of this 550-page novel. And, since I can't seem to stop turning the pages, consider this a recommendation.
|Friday, August 7th, 2009|
|Forthcoming: Enduring by Donald Harington
Donald Harington, author of one of my favorite books, With
(2003), has a new novel coming out September 1 called Enduring
. His last publication, 2008's Farther Along
, felt like a throwaway (so much so that I put it aside after 100 pages). Enduring
, though, sounds promising and looks to be a major work.
In case you're unfamiliar, Harington's a one-of-a-kind. His stories, particularly those set in the fictional town of Stay More, Arkansas, are a fusion of Southern sensibilities, literary ambition, and magic realism, and have drawn comparison to the work of Garcia Marquez and Nabokov. Moreover, Harington's been praised by the likes of Peter Straub and Fred Chappell -- in short, I highly recommend getting lost in one of his books.
|Tuesday, August 4th, 2009|
A few years back, when I was obsessed with all things Clive Barker, I would've been ecstatic to see the publication of Hellbound Hearts
, an anthology of stories inspired by the Hellraiser
/"Hellbound Heart" mythology and featuring new cover art by Mr. Barker.
Alas, I've fallen off the Barker bandwagon. Over the past decade, he's produced nothing but mediocre books (I've not been seduced by one of his works since 1998's Galilee
) and lousy movies (eg. Saint Sinner
, The Plague
). Moreover, as a longtime fan, I've patiently awaited the completion of long-in-the-pipeline story cycles and novels. Will we ever see the Third Book of the Art, the sequel to Galilee
, or the Harry D'amour-versus-Pinhead novel, The Scarlet Gospels
Still, Barker's my Tolkien. In 1997, he blew my 17-year-old mind with The Great and Secret Show
, turning me on to reading and sparking my interest in the genre. So, I'll always keep an eye on Barker's future projects, holding out hope that he'll deliver another shockingly original collection (a la The Books of Blood volumes 1-3
), a sprawling metaphysical fantasy (a la Imajica
), or a deeply personal fantasia (a la Sacrament
About Hellbound Hearts
: I'm very curious to see how Conrad Williams and Sarah Langan put their stamp on Hellraiser
. Too bad Barker doesn't contribute a story, too -- it would've been nice to see an excerpt from The Scarlet Gospels
|Saturday, August 1st, 2009|
|Messiah of Evil on DVD
One of the great pleasures of home video is discovering forgotten films from bygone eras, specifically, horror gems. If you share my affection for creepy 1970s classics like Lemora: A Child's Tale of the Supernatural
and Let's Scare Jessica to Death
, then mark your calendar -- the 35th anniversary DVD of the Messiah of Evil: The Second Coming
hits shelves on September 21.
I first heard of Messiah of Evil
through Video Watchdog
Editor Tim Lucas' blog. I can find little else written about it, though, save for this review
|Thursday, July 30th, 2009|
|Lovecraft: Fear of the Unknown
DVD of the documentary featuring Neil Gaiman, Peter Straub, and Caitlin R. Kiernan, amongst others, is due for release October 13.
|Sunday, July 26th, 2009|
|The Red Tree by Caitlin R. Kiernan
I'm waking up this blog to mention the approaching publication date, August 4, of The Red Tree
by Caitlin R. Kiernan, one of my favorite authors. Here's a review from Kirkus:
Dark-fantasy specialist Kiernan (Daughter of Hounds, 2007, etc.) delivers a creepy and engaging tale. Portrayed as the posthumously published memoir of a suicide, the narrative is introduced and commented upon by a fictional editor. In the story proper, that suicide, novelist Sarah Crowe, tells of moving into a rural Rhode Island house. There she finds a rather spooky manuscript, written by the house's former tenant, a professor who was driven mad by his obsession with a 130-foot-tall red oak on the property. The tree is apparently full of dark magic and is somehow connected to various deaths throughout the town's history. Before long, Sarah becomes preoccupied with the red oak herself. Horror fans will recognize the familiar Lovecraftian gothic-horror elements-indeed, Lovecraft, Poe and other writers are explicitly referenced in the text-but Kiernan's prose is thoroughly modern, even colloquial, with none of the gothic genre's tendency toward archaic phrasings. She ably keeps the proceedings from devolving into formula, and her portrayals of Sarah's growing obsession, and the violence surrounding the tree, are evocative and chilling. A multileveled novel that will appeal to fans of classic and modern horror. Buy The Red Tree
|Sunday, March 22nd, 2009|
|Subterranean Press unleashes The Skylark!
Earlier this week, I was disappointed to hear that Doubleday pushed back the release date of Peter Straub's next novel, A Dark Matter
, to January '10. This morning, I was thrilled
to discover that Subterranean Press
will publish an expanded version of the book, re-titled The Skylark
, featuring more than 200 pages than will appear in the mass-market edition! It's due for release this fall.
Peter Straub explains: “What Subterranean Press will be publishing is an earlier state of the novel now called A Dark Matter, not merely the limited version of the trade edition. I wish to have it preserved and published in this form as well as the final, many-times-re-edited form to indicate what I hoped its shape would be like. This is a much looser, sloppier, more wild-eyed version of the book, with blind alleys, red herrings, and false trails."
Straub's also edited two anthologies ready for release this fall, the 1,500-page "American Fantastic Tales"
: Terror and the Uncanny from Poe to the Pulps
and Terror and the Uncanny from the 1940s to the Present
|Monday, March 9th, 2009|
From one of my favorite movie-bloggers, Jeffrey Wells
:"Obama needs to go after the greedy bad [Wall Street] guys and make them suffer for their misdeeds in ways that are vivid and theatrical and dramatically satisfying. Send the worst of the Wall Street scalawags to jail. Make the greedheads who don't go to Sing Sing or Danbury or Leavenworth pick up trash in public parks while dressed in orange jumpsuits, and not just for 30 days -- make them do it for two or three years, day in, day out. And take their money -- take it right out of their bank accounts the way Charlton Heston led the Hebrew slaves to the grain silos of the high priests in "The Ten Commandments" -- and distribute it to struggling small banks, deficit-plagued municipalities, crippled companies and the desperate poor.
|Saturday, March 7th, 2009|
|The return of Glen Hirshberg
Glen Hirshberg has finished writing The Book of Bunk
, an ambitious, career-defining novel he's grappled with for fourteen years. He recently began blogging
about the book's creation, its place amidst crumbling capitalism, and its path (I hope!) to publication. The blog is well worth your time -- it feels honest and revealing, like a glimpse into a writer's heart and what could be a truly special project.
Here's a taste of what Hirshberg says about The Book of Bunk
. Turns out it’s another Glen Hirshberg book, alright. For better or worse. Another story rooted hip-deep in history that isn’t really a historical novel. An old-school adventure tale – complete with multiple romances, three separate fires, F. Scott Fitzgerald, railroad tramps, orphans, a haunted forest, Communists, a (possibly) imaginary country of shadows, and at least one murder – told by a narrator who thinks he’s an impostor (but isn’t) to the brother he believes is also an impostor (and might or might not be). A fairy tale with no magic (the book is in fact subtitled A Fairy Tale of the Federal Writers’ Project); a page-turning thriller about sitting around telling stories. A book our narrator doesn’t want to write about the creation of a series of books no one wanted to write that just may have created the myth of America.
|Random thoughts on Watchmen
Plenty of ink has already been spilt about Watchmen
, with consensus opinion saying director Zack Snyder gave it gallant go. I don't disagree. It's a worthy production with lots of pretty pictures, a sensational credit sequence, an admirable loyalty to the source material, and an unwillingness to comfort the audience -- this is one violent, black-souled Hollywood picture!
But, Snyder's film is a paradox: very watchable yet oddly un-engaging. It lacks the texture of the graphic novel and an emotional, intellectual center. Many of the book's resonant character moments, such as Hollis' death and the newspaper vendor's social commentary, were excised. I'm hoping they were filmed and make their way into the 205-minute DVD director's cut, which I'm curious to see -- but only in close proximity to a bathroom! (Cinemas really need to consider bringing back intermissions for movies longer than two hours.)
Many mainstream critics have taken Snyder to task for being too faithful to the graphic novel. I wish he’d been even more faithful! By replacing the giant squid, he lost some of the book’s essential strangeness. And by introducing a little of the old ultra-violence, he makes the story all about the visceral. For the record, in the graphic novel Rorschach does not take a cleaver to the child-killer (he incinerates him), nor does the fat prisoner get his arms sawed off (he gets his throat cut). I may be picking knits, but Snyder’s changes are made not to advance Moore’s story but only to please the gore-hounds.
, ultimately, is worth seeing on the big screen, but it's too much about flashy surfaces to reach greatness.
|Wednesday, March 4th, 2009|
|Public Enemies trailer
Michael Mann's new gangster film, Public Enemies
, hits theaters July 1. Like everything Mann touches, the just-released trailer
is utterly classy and stylish. (Yes, I've even come to appreciate 2006's Miami Vice