Reviews

Review: Prince Lestat

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Review: Prince Lestat

That’s what they all love about Lestat. He says we’re damned and then he behaves as if Hell has no dominion over him.

Anne Rice doesn’t need a lot of introduction. In 1976 she published Interview with the Vampire, which pretty much shaped the course of all vampire fiction from then on. The whole concept of vampires changed from things-that-go-bump-in-the-night, to tortured souls looking for redemption, cursed to live forever and drink the blood of human victims who would always be falling helplessly in love with them. If any book, TV show, or movie created in the last thirty years features vampires in velvet and lace, who also happen to be devastatingly handsome and charming (homoerotic subtext optional but fairly likely), you can credit Anne Rice’s books for the style if not the actual substance.

After she published Blood Canticle in 2003 Rice announced she had said everything she needed to say in the Vampire Chronicles. It took her more than ten years to change her mind, but this October she released Prince Lestat, the eleventh book in the Vampire Chronicles (which don’t count Pandora and Vittorio the Vampire, for some reason), taking the vampires much further along in their journey from cursed outsiders to the beginning of a new super race. Anne apparently reread all of her previous vampire books for inspiration in writing this one; from the flood of guest appearances by even the most minor characters, it’s pretty obvious that she wanted to make sure each and every one of her beloved Undead creations had their moment in the spotlight.

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Review: The Complete ElfQuest Volume 1 – The Original Quest

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Review: The Complete ElfQuest Volume 1 – The Original Quest

If you’re familiar with the ElfQuest series at all, you probably already understand why I think it’s amazing, epic, and one of the most gloriously beautiful comic book series ever created. If you’re not familiar with ElfQuest…well where the heck have you been?

First printed waaaaay back in 1978, ElfQuest started as an independently owned and published comic book series written and illustrated by Wendy Pini, with her husband Richard Pini contributing as editor and co-writer. Over the course of thirty-six years it’s spanned more than a dozen different story lines, and is one of the first successful comic book series that has attracted an equal number of male and female readers. The comic is amazingly well-written and (I’m going to be harping on the artwork a lot in this review) absolutely gorgeous.

ElfQuest: The Final Quest began its run in January of this year, and the first graphic novel for the title will be out in April of 2015. For anyone who’s interested in starting this series from the beginning (or for those nostalgic fans who want to update their collection) Dark Horse Books has released a  graphic novel that collects all four books of the original series in one volume.

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Movie Issues: Big Hero 6

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Movie Issues: Big Hero 6

Big Hero 6 is the 54th Disney animated feature film and the first to be inspired by a Marvel Comic of the same title. The film is wonderfully directed by Don Hall and Chris Williams and features an amazing voice cast: Ryan Potter, Scott Adsit, Jamie Chung, Damian Wayans Jr., Genesis Rodriguez, T.J. Miller, and Maya Rudolph. It’s fun, has amazing animation, and is all around one of the best Marvel/Disney collaborations. This is definitely a movie to see.

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Review: The Six-Gun Tarot

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Review: The Six-Gun Tarot

Why is Golgotha the town where the owls speak and the stones moan? Why is this the town that attracts monsters and saints, both mortal and preternatural? Why is our schoolhouse haunted? Why did Old Lady Bellamy wear the skins of corpses on the new moon? How did old Odd Tom’s dolls come to life and kill people? Why do you still pour a ring of salt around that unmarked grave and how did this little ditch of a town become the final resting place of some of Heaven’s treasures?

I picked up R.S. Belcher’s book from a list of recommended horror novels that I thought would work for a pre-Halloween review. I ended up putting it down for a while, since it seemed to be more Western than horror. It’s a Weird Western though, which was a nice surprise. There are shape-changing Indians, a rough-and-tumble frontier town (with a separate Chinese district, natch), a dandy of a Morman mayor with two wives and a dangerous secret, and a lot of other strangeness that made things interesting, but it didn’t really seem all that scary.

Of course that was before the appearance of a cult which kidnaps people and feeds them to an ancient darkness from before the beginning of time, creating an army of human-shaped drones who drip black-ink poison from every orifice and create more drones by forcing the slug-like creature that replaces their tongue down the throat of another hapless victim. And that was after the appearance of a decapitated and rotting head being kept alive in a jar, and the Devil himself hanging around the town trying to figure out how he can profit on all the things going on. This book got dark kinda fast.

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Review: Planes – Fire & Rescue

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Review: Planes – Fire & Rescue

Pixar is just one of those companies that I’ve always kept a close eye on. I’m willing to watch pretty much anything they put out, but the Pixar movie that caught me completely off guard was the original Cars movie. It hit me straight in the feels and to this day is still one of my favorite Pixar flicks. When I heard about Planes, this seemed like a no-brainer. Considering the rich history of aviation that California has it seemed like it would be a slam dunk. Sadly, I was more then wrong, and what I witnessed was merely a re-working of Cars 2. Well, luckily for Pixar they didn’t give up on the Planes franchise and put together a sequel: Planes Fire & Rescue. Taking to the skies with a very California-themed movie, how does the flick hold up? Is it on fire? Or will you just get burned.

Story

I’ll keep this spoiler-free, as I was pleasantly surprised with the direction the film took. There is a much deeper side story to this movie that I don’t want to spoil for everyone.

Quick backstory / summary of Planes 1: Dusty Crophopper was a dusting plane that dreamed of becoming a Racing Plane. Working hard, he managed to win Wings Across the Globe aerial race.

At it’s core, Fire & Rescue revolves around the characters of Prop Wash Junction, the air field in which our main character, Dusty Crop-Hopper, lives. The air field is outdated and doesn’t exactly have the proper fire prevention plan, having only one fire truck who happens to be quite old, aka: Mayday. Well, as it happens, an accident occurs and a fire breaks out doing some major damage. TMST (Transport Management and Safety Team) is dispatched and is led by Ryker. He shuts down Propwash Junction until they can find another fire prevention vehicle. Dusty feels terrible about the situation and volunteers to become a Drop Plane. Traveling to the Piston Peak National Park, Dusty goes to become a certified first responder.

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Graphics

What was truly unique about this movie was the attention to detail that was put into the surrounding areas of Piston Peak National Park. Resembling Yosemite National Park there was plenty of CG eye candy to look at. The forests all looked very realistic, with those Cars / Planes little touches. My personal favorite were the “deer” found in this movie, all of which were John Deere tractors. Okay, it made me laugh. All the characters looked amazing and there were some very nice-looking aerial shots that really sold the movie.

Sound

One of the areas I was most impressed with was the soundtrack, unlike the original Planes movie’s lack of songs. It really illustrated the atmosphere of the film. There were a couple of songs in particular that truly capture the Fire & Rescue essence of the film while giving it a more blockbuster feel to the movie. Also, voice acting was top notch. Returning in his role as Dusty Crophopper was Dane Cook. While not exactly sold on his Planes 1 performance, in Fire & Rescue there was a lot more range to his acting that really solidified his performance.

Thoughts

I’m really hoping that the crew over at Pixar start to realize what truly makes an exceptional Planes / Cars movie. I was dragged kicking and screaming to the first Cars movie, as I figured it was going to be a Thomas the Tank Engine style show, very elementary and meant for a much younger audience. I was wrong on so many levels. What I saw instead was a love letter to California and a movie that had soul. While Cars 2 and Planes 1 seemed to forget the heart and was more concerned about selling toys. Never focusing on any of the characters they introduce, kinda like the prequel Star Wars films.

Overall

While certainly not the best of Pixar’s film, it far surpasses the original Planes movie. It’s a very entertaining movie that kids will more then enjoy. Especially if they are into the Cars / Planes franchise. That being said, as a parent I’ve watched the movie upwards of five times and could stomach watching a couple of more times.

Halloween: Our favorite horror books

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Halloween: Our favorite horror books

Horror novels are good any time of the year, but the best time for them is right around Halloween. With the weather getting cooler and the nights getting longer, there’s nothing like curling up in a dark room with a cup of hot chocolate and a great horror story and scaring the hell out of yourself.

It’s also interesting how much of horror has a sci-fi or fantasy element to it. The exceptions are true-crime books or novels about gritty, urban violence, and those are great, but Kathryn and Elizabeth really prefer the ones with some kind of otherworldly element. So they’ve whittled down their list of favorites and each picked three books they think you’d like, if you’re looking to sleep with the lights on tonight.

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Review: Afterlife with Archie

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Review: Afterlife with Archie

The elements of the story are all familiar: a tragic accident, a grieving loved one, a forbidden magic spell to bring the dead back to life. What starts out with the best intentions ends with an entire town under attack by a hoard of zombies. The difference here is that this isn’t Stephen King or another Night of the Living Dead clone, it’s Archie and the gang, with Sabrina the Teenage Witch breaking the rules to raise Jughead’s beloved pup Hot Dog from the grave. Afterlife with Archie has been running for a few months now, but a reprint run started on October 22 and I stumbled across the graphic novel for the first time a week before Halloween. How could I not pick this up?

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Review: The Shadow Over Innsmouth

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Review: The Shadow Over Innsmouth

It was the end, for whatever remains to me of life on the surface of this earth, of every vestige of mental peace and confidence in the integrity of nature and of the human mind.

There are quite a few different flavors of horror. Some horror stories focus on one particular monster, or a haunting, or some kind of disaster. I’ve never been much for the hack-and-slash type (although strangely enough that one scene from Cabin in the Woods made me happy), and most psychological thrillers only work for me if there’s a supernatural element as well. By far my favorite type of horror is the one that’s hardest to pull off: it has to be clever and creepy. For the most part you never see the monster, since the one you imagine is scarier than the one you see. There’ll be this looming terror of the unknown, of waiting in the darkness hoping you won’t be found by something that you’ll probably never understand. Characters in these stories don’t know if they’ve gone completely out of their minds and made up everything that happened, or if whatever happened has made them go completely out of their minds. Basically I’ll accept any horror recommendation if you use the magic words: Inspired By Lovecraft.

H.P. Lovecraft is famous for creating the Cthulhu Mythos; the concept of a race of godlike beings who are imprisoned/asleep somewhere in the depths of the sea, or in outer space, or just there, in a dimension separated from ours by a thin wall that’s getting thinner all the time. Just seeing The Elder Gods causes people to go insane, and any worship ceremonies for them are filled with odd phrases that try to capture how unknowable they are. (If you watch any  Doctor Who, the phrases that the Ood chant in the episode The Impossible Planet are pure Lovecraft: “He is the heart that beats in the darkness. He is the blood that will never cease. And now he will rise.”)

But Lovecraft wrote stories about other races too, ones a little younger than the Elder Gods, but a whole lot closer.  Lovecraft’s novella The Shadow over Innsmouth tells the story of an entire town taken over, and rotting from within, by a race that’s close enough to be family. 

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Review: Peacemaker

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Review: Peacemaker

Peacemaker is the latest book in C.J. Cherryh’s Foreigner universe. Calling it an epic series doesn’t seem to do it justice: it’s now a full five trilogies long. And Cherryh’s still not done: she’s working on the first book in the sixth Foreigner Sequence.

I don’t exactly have a short attention span, but even I would’ve thought after fifteen books in a series I’d be tired of it. But with every book she gives us a little more of the atevi and their world and their interactions with one human, and it keeps getting better.

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Review: Dracula

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Review: Dracula

Hollywood has released yet another vampire movie, this one named after Bram Stoker’s book from 1897. To the surprise of absolutely no one, the only thing the movie has in common with the source material is a) the main character is a vampire and b) the movie’s title is Dracula. What is a surprise to me is how a book can spawn so many movie adaptations and books and TV shows, while at same time has never been made into a movie that’s completely faithful to the original (the film from 1992 comes closer than any of them, but it still messed with the story in some pretty important ways). Whether you’re a fan of Dracula or Lestat or Damon Salvatore or even Edward Cullen, it’s worth it to read Stoker’s novel to see for yourself the book which had so much of an impact that it’s still inspiring people more than a hundred years later.

Fair warning though, this one was tough to get through in places. Even on the second re-read I found myself getting bogged down by the flowery prose. The characters are all just so earnest; going on and on for a page and a half at a time about how desperately grateful they are to have such stalwart friends to stand by them through these trials, and the whole time I’m wishing they would just shut up and move on. In order to really appreciate what Stoker created here, it’s helpful to keep in mind that this is not a collection of old black-and-white movie cliches and overly-dramatic stereotypes; this is where all the cliches and stereotypes come from. The vampire myth was around before Bram Stoker, but he was the one who defined it for modern audiences. Dracula is what started it all.

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