Book Review: The PRIEST’S GRAVEYARD

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1-26 - Book Review: The PRIEST'S GRAVEYARDTed Dekker
CenterStreet
2011

Two abandoned souls are on the hunt for one powerful man. Soon, their paths will cross and lead to one twisted fate bound by a perilous love. Danny Hansen came to America with hopes of escaping haunted memories of a tragic war that took his mother’s life. Now he’s a priest, incest by the powerful among us who manipulate the law for their own gain, uncaring of the shattered lives they leave behind. It is his duty to show them the error of their ways, even if he must put them in the grave. Renee Gilmore is the frail and helpless victim of one such powerful man. Having escaped his clutches, she now lives only to satisfy justice by destroying him, regardless of whom she must become in that pursuit. But when Danny and Renee’s paths become inexorably entangled, things go very, very badly and neither of them may make it out of this hunt alive.

Ted Dekker is another in a woefully short list of fiction writers that is something of an anomaly in the Christian fiction market. Matter of fact, when it comes to so-called “Christian fiction”, there’s really only two authors I read: Frank Peretti and the author if this novel I’m reviewing, Ted Dekker. Like Peretti, Dekker’s fiction doesn’t feel the need to patronize, actually crafting a good story, rather than utilizing this as a means to an end.

That said, let’s talk about The Priest’s Graveyard, shall we? This is a story about a priest who, because of a rather traumatic childhood, to call him “unorthodox” in his methods would be grossly understating things. He’s a vigilante, really; he’s on the trail of someone who is in need of judgment when he happens upon one of his prisoners: a young lady who is suffering from a severe case of Stockholm Syndrome. What follows is a sticky web of a psychological thriller, with enough twists and turns to make your head swim.

The Priest’s Graveyard was a very good story. With this, we not only got a taunt, spine-tingling psychological thriller with a very engaging mystery that manages to suck you into everything completely, but it also explores the nature of mental illnesses and moral quandaries of black-and-white in a very gray world without taking away from the momentum of the story. The solutions aren’t cut and dried, as the concept of the easy way out of the story isn’t even considered. This is not a book that you can really read in bits and pieces in between your busy life; judging by the majority of write-ups on GoodReads, I’m not the only one who began reading this, then suddenly found myself annoyed that I had to put it down because “real life” was encroaching, and I had to labor in exchange for money for goods and services. Stupid reality. Anyway, great book, good to get lost in some overcast weekend with nothing else to do.

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Movie Review: MULBERRY STREET

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1-25 - Movie Review: MULBERRY STREETLions Gate Films / After Dark Films
2006
R

The city that never sleeps may shut its eyes for good when a deadly infection turns its residents to savage creatures. There is only hope for a small few, including six recently evicted tenants who must protect their crumbling apartment complex as the city around them is thrown into chaos…

Mullberry Street is one of the entries in the second round of After Dark Horrorfest movies, and one of the After Dark DVD showings that I’m slowly but surly slogging through. This one, I’ll be forthright, was not one I was really in a big hurry to watch, as the premise I read on the DVD cover blurb seemed to put it as another one of those Outbreak of Crazies type of horror films, where the budget is low and the crazies are mistaken for zombies. Basically, 28 Days Later in New York. Or something.

Instead, though, I found myself rather surprised. Not by much, but at least the movie proved me wrong with my pre-watching assumption of the plot. I like when that happens. And I have to admit, the twist on this is rather interesting.

In Mulberry Street, we’re introduced to the inhabitants of an apartment complex located on the titular street in New York city. The tenants are fighting to keep from being evicted by the city, which is not really part of the plot but it’s worth mentioning, just to get an idea of how bonded this eclectic mix of tenants are. One of said tenants is an ex boxer who is anxiously awaiting the return of his daughter from active service in the military. She’s on her way there when a infectious outbreak happens, causing everyone infected to turn into blood-thirsty monstrosities. And by “blood-thirsty monstrosities”, I mean “they turn into wererats.” And while that’s usually signals the possibility of unintentional hilarity, somehow actually made it seriously work as a horror device. This mostly had to do with the fact that the filmmakers wisely kept the wererats out of sight for the majority of the time when the outbreak attacks happen, only allowing brief flashes and shadows, forcing the viewers to use our imaginations. I wish I could say that the actual wererat effects themselves were just as effective, but let’s face it–they did come of as kitschy. Which is why I’m glad they didn’t feature very much until the last part.

The majority of the story is set in the apartment complex and the adjacent bar, which lends to a nice claustrophobic atmosphere, which adds to the overall effectiveness. And the characters themselves seemed genuine and didn’t bog us down with needless exposition to their back stories.

Overall, I was rather pleasantly surprised with how much I actually enjoyed watching Mulberry Street. With the non-assuming title, the low budget rawness and the creative usage of the less-is-more philosophy of horor movie filming, along with some very good performances from the cast, Mulberry Streets turned out to be one of the better offerings in the After Dark movie series. Worth checking out some time.

Book Review: The MAN IN THE HIGH CASTLE

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1-25 - Book Review_ The MAN IN THE HIGH CASTLEPhilip K. Dick
Vintage Books
1962

Perhaps if you know you are insane then you are not insane.

It’s America in 1962. Slavery is legal once again. The few Jews who still survive hide under assumed names. In San Francisco the I Ching is as common as the Yellow Pages. All because some 20 years earlier the United States lost a war–and is now occupied jointly by Nazi Germany and Japan. this harrowing, Hugo Award-winning novel is the work that established Philip K. Dick as an innovator in science fiction while breaking the barrier between science fiction and the serious novel of ideas. In it Dick offers a haunting vision of history as a nightmare from which it may just be possible to awake.

Alternative history stories are an interesting breed of science fiction; they tell a kind of “what if?” tale, speculating what the world might be like if key moments in time zigged instead of zagged, changing the present considerably from the one that we’re experiencing now. It can be a mind-blowing thing. Especially when you factor in questions like, “what if [B] won [specific war] instead of [A]?” Such is the topic of Philip K. Dick’s alternative history novel, The Man in the High Castle.

It’s post-World War II America, a world where the Axis won the war instead of the Allied forces, when Franklin D. Roosevelt is assassinated in 1933 and America maintained its isolationist policy. Thus, America is divided into three sections: the Nazi powerers controlling the East section, the Japanese controling the West section, with a kind of neutral zone in the middle area. And although they won, both Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan are embroiled in a cold war that makes the one America and the USSR had seem like a stare-down in a Junior High lunch cafeteria.

The core story itself focuses on a handful of individuals that, for all intents and purposes, are merely trying to live their lives in this reality that is all they’ve known: Frank Frink, who fought in the Pacific War, beginning a startup business with a former colleague making unique jewelry that oddly moves the Americans and Japanese who see them; Frank’s estranged wife Juliana, who finds herself part of a mission to assassinate the author of the popular subversive novel The Grasshopper Lies Heavy; Nobusuke Tagomi, a high-ranking trade businessman who finds himself unwillingly being dragged into conflicts involving a Nazi plot to take down the Japanese regime, all this before catching a glimpse of an alternate reality that is closer to our post-war reality; Robert Childan, the curator of an Americana antiques business who discovers that his ability to determine between genuine articles and counterfeit ones isn’t as good as he thought; and Rudolf Wegener, a counter-spy trying to prevent the Nazi strike on Japanese America.

The main point of interest tying all of these things together, really, is the novel-with-the-novel, the afore-mentioned The Grasshopper Lies Heavy; in it, we have a kind of alternate history novel to the alternate history of The Man in the High Castle, which speculates a world where the Allies won World War II, but then Britain becomes the tyrannical nation, spreading its kingdom (instead of dismantling it, like in the real reality…if we can figure out what reality really is by this point).

Philip K. Dick had this immense talent for bringing the whole Inception thing into the waking world, and The Man in the High Castle is yet another example of this talent of his. It’s hard to really explain the book in a linear fashion, without diverting on the many bunny trails this book brings up. I’m afraid I’m going to have to go with the standard “I can’t describe it and do it justice, you’re just going to have to read it.” And read it you must, as this is recommended Sci-Fi reading.

Also, just for the record, I read this some time before there was talk of making this into a miniseries. And as of this writing, I still have yet to watch that. I would suspect, though, if you have seen the show, you would want to read this book anyway. Tell me how it compares.

Movie Review: TRANSFORMERS: Age Of Extinction

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1-22 - Movie Review: TRANSFORMERS: Age Of ExtinctionParamount Pictures
2014
PG-13

I may have started the apocalypse, but you brought your family. And that’s you know, terrible parenting.”

Transformers: Age Of Extinction begins after an epic battle left a great city torn, but with the world saved. As humanity picks up the pieces, a shadowy group reveals itself in an attempt to control the direction of history. While an ancient, powerful new menace sets Earth in its crosshairs. With help from a new cast of humans, Optimus Prime and the Autobots rise to meet their most fearsome challenge yet. In an incredible adventure, they are swept up in a war of good and evil, ultimately leading to a climactic battle across the world.

You know, I can’t really recall there being all that big of a demand for a fourth Transformer’s movie. Matter of fact, after Dark Of The Moon, it looked like we were spared any lingering threat of another sequel in Michael Bay’s ongoing live-action Transformers franchise, after both Shia LaBeouf and Michael Bay announced they weren’t returning for any potential sequel. Names were bandied about to take Bay’s place—including Bay’s spiritual forerunner of big, dumb ‘splosions movies: Ronald Emerich—but then Bay came back to bring us another overly-long summer blockbuster full of giant robots, forgettable human characters, and things going boom. So, there’s that. But, it does have Marky Mark and a Megan Fox analogue, an Irish-accented Fast and the Furious reject, and a mindless surfer dued. But then again, there is Kelsey Grammer as a CIA guy with a vendetta against all Transformers…

What I’m trying to get at, here, is Transformers: Age Of Extinction wasn’t as bad as it could have been. Keep in mind, this is still a big-budget Michael Bay movie. Take that as you will.

This time out, due to the aftermath of the events in Dark Of The Moon, all Transformers are considered Persona non-Grata. Technically, the Autobots have amnesty, what with saving our collective hides from the Decepticons, rather ambitious CIA head is hurting both Autobot and Decepticon fugitive, aided by a mercenary whose family perished in the Battle of Chicago in the previous movie, and a mysterious Transformer who is neither Autobot or Decepticon, but is working for an ancient entity known as The Creator. Also, a CEO for a highly successful tech company has been backwards-engineering the dead Transformers for profit. You know, for that all-important self-righteous indignation factor. Meanwhile, Marky Mark is a plucky yet down-on-his-luck inventor type who buys junk and turns it into other things that mostly do not work properly. He stumbles across the damaged husk of Optimus Prime, and despite the protestations of his teenage daughter and surfer dude partner, decides to keep Optimus a secret from the government and fix him up himself. Faster than you can say “contrived plot twist,” the voice of Sideshow Bob discovers Marky Mark’s subterfuge, and next thing you know they’re all on the run from Warrant Face and Lamborgini Bot. Optimus rallies the other four remaining Autobots out of hiding to make a final stand against these unprovoked attacks. Meanwhile, back in Movie Subplot D, Lex Luthor’s whinier doppelganger has essentially created Galvatron with Megatron’s leftovers, along with a couple more bots to complete the collection. Problem is, Megatron’s essence infected the Galvatron model, putting in his essence in a shiny new body. Wackiness ensues, Dinobots finally show up in the final quarter (sadly, no “ME, GRIMLOCK SOMETHING-SOMETHING” was ever uttered) collateral damage skyrockets, and then Optimus leaves to go find The Creator. The end.

As I mentioned earlier, Transformers: Age Of Extinction wasn’t as bad as it could have been. And by that, I mean comparatively to the other Transformers movies. Age Of Extinction could have been much, much worse. What this movie has going for it is the big action effects, and at least pairing down the robot count to a handful on both sides so that they didn’t start blurring together too badly. And the Dinobots were cool, though lacking any sort of personality distinction beyond smashy-smashy. And there is no faulting the always awesome Kelsey Grammer here. His performance always shines, no matter what the dreck he’s handed. He would make reciting the periodic table riveting.

The same, unfortunately, could not be aid of the rest of the cast. I’ve heard it said that Michael Bay movies don’t have characters so much as they have archetypes, which here is the nice way of saying “cookie-cutter stereotype.” And here, we get to see it with our own eyes yet again: We got the Plucky Underdog dad, his Scantily Dressed Eyecandy daughter, her chower-headed boyfriend (who seemed to have stepped off of a Fast & Furious cosplay session), trenchcoat wearin’ and bad one-liner spoutin’ henchmen (one of which used the phrase “My face is my warrant!” in a way that made me have to pause the movie and take a break from the stupid), and…aaaaaah, my brain feels like it wants to leak out of my nose and ear holes just for thinking back on this movie to write the review.

Let’s just end this here and put it out of our misery: Transformers Age Of Extinction is yet another steamy mess of big mindless action and not much else. And yet, somehow we all forget that these are what they are, and continue to come back and watch whatever new one is out, making them oodles of money, and thereby guaranteeing our continued torture by making the studios green light more sequels, thinking this is what we want. Pass on this one. Pass it like the stinky, deadly fart it is.

Book Review: The CHRISTIAN CULTURE SURVIVAL GUIDE

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1-22 - Book Review: The CHRISTIAN CULTURE SURVIVAL GUIDEMatthew Paul Turner
Relevant Books
2004

By taking a hilarious look at the peculiarities and churchisms that have been added to this thing called Christianity, The Christian Culture Survival Guide leaves you with a knowing smile and the reassurance that true faith is only found in Jesus…not in the gift aisle at the Heaven Sent Christian Bookstore.

One of the greatest gifts that the Holy Spirit hath bestowed upon me is the ability to find satire and parody within the Christian culture in which I haplessly dwell. I hate to say it, but we do tend to make it rather easy, almost self-parody at times. And it’s hard enough trying to remain graceful to my fellow followers of Christ Jesus, and still point out the utter ridiculousness we produce in the name of Sanctified Pop Culture. But, as much as we want to confess otherwise, we do have our own sacred cows, and I happen to find they make the best cheeseburgers. And I’m really not the only one.

Which brings us to Matthew Paul Turner’s first publication, The Christian Culture Survival Guide. I first discovered this in an add within the pages of Relevant Magazine back when it was first released. The title and description struck me as being by someone who possibly shared the same sense of humor I have about these things. And, as it turns out, yeah he does; I just didn’t get around to picking up this book until years later, when I stumbled across it in the shelves of the oft-mentioned Half Price Books. By then, I was well acquainted with Turner’s blog, Jesus Needs New PR, and have read his memoir Churched. So I nabbed the copy, and proceeded to read the entire thing in a few hours.

Yeah, The Christian Culture Survival Guide isn’t what you would call deeply theological, but that really isn’t a slam. It’s a complement, actually; Turner writes in a very accessible conversational style, telling stories and observations about the topic at hand, having been involved within CCM and witnessing things first-hand, showing a wry sense of humor that’s playfully biting but never nasty. There are several side-bars and notes within the chapters, as it’s layout is one of those hip hyper-kinetic styles that leaves me wondering if it was intentionally trying to ape the style of those youth group workbooks that I’ve seen back in the 1990s.

In any case, The Christian Culture Survival Guide is funny, spot-on and something everyone should read. At the very least, it should be issued to every kid in every youth group in America.

Book Review: The BURNING

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1-21 - Book Review: The BURNINGBentley Little
Signet
2006

A college freshman finds herself stranded in Arizona with no place to stay and nowhere to run. Cabin Fever closes in on an isolated park ranger, as two sinister beauties lurk in the desert outside his door. A California divorcée is starting a promising new life. But her young son knows better—because he’s seen what’s creeping outside the window. A cross-country traveler is on a journey of self-discovery. But one tourist trap holds its own dreadful surprises… Four strangers with one thing in common: a mysterious train choking the sky with black smoke, charging trackless across the American night…and carrying an unstoppable evil raised from the bowels of history, that will bring their worst fears to life.

The Burning is the first Bentley Little novel I have read in 2014, and considering it’s three-quarters of the way into the year, this seems odd, also considering I tend to suck down Little’s novels like they were sweet, sweet Hostess treats. And since he tends to write and release a new paperback of his trademark style of unnerving horror yarns, it’s not like there’s a lack of them for me to feed my addiction.

Anyway, I came across The Burning at the usual place where I’ve been supplementing my nasty “reading habit”, namely Half Price Books. Great and wondrous place, that is. Also rather dangerous, considering the prices. And once again, I find myself shilling for the place; I really need to get some sort of endorsement deal out of this. On to the book review.

The Burning deals with the revenge of thousands of Chinese immigrants that were murdered after the completion of the coast-to-coast railroad back after the Civil War. A ghost train is a-chargin’ along, from sea to shining sea, picking up those vengeful souls and sounding like a Johnny Cash ballad; meanwhile, at different points in the country, strange phenomena begin happening: nightmarish specters manifesting, strange mold that causes people to become irrationally racist hate-mongers, bizarre writings, and of course that ghost train mentioned before. In the meantime, a young college student, a divorcee’ mother and her child, a disaffected Chinese young man and a park ranger from different parts of the country find themselves a part of something greater, learning that the past can come back and haunt us, quite literally.

There’s no mistaking that The Burning is a Bentley Little novel. It’s got all the halmarks, really: extraordinarily bizarre situations and supernatural circumstances thrust upon unsuspecting and hapless protagonists, it’s tense and disturbing and viceral horror, with points where you have to pause and think, “did I just read that?” When compared to his other novels, The Burning may not be as great as his more memorable offerings, but it’s not bad, either. It’s a supernatural horror novel that doesn’t pretend to be anything other than what it is, and it’s rather good at being it. Not the first book I would recommend to check out if it’s your first time with Bentley Little, but it’s worth checking out.

Movie Review: The PROPHECY- Forsaken

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1-21 - Movie Review: The PROPHECY VDimension Films
2005
R

“I love this park. Perverts and lunatics everywhere. I’m like a kid in a candy store.”

Following the secret battles between hell, heaven and the earth, Allison now possesses the Lexicon, an ancient text that can reveal when the Antichrist will appear. But renegade angels are on the hunt for the book, and the woman who holds it.

The fifth (and so far, final) film in The Prophecy series, Forsaken is really more of a sequel to the fourth movie in the series–the previous Uprising–as they were both shot back-to-back, and the story in Forsaken continues on where Uprising left off. Namely, after a brief “Previously, on The Prophecy” recap, we find Allison still in possession and protecting the self-writing book of prophecies yet to come refered to as the Lexicon, incogneto to keep it from the less-than-altruistic forces of both evil and good that want to get their grubby whatever-they-have on it.

One of these less-than-altruistic types is a mysterious guy named Stark, who hires a hitman to go after and kill Allison. Only, the hitman as a bit of a change of heart before he’s able to follow through with the job, and escapes with Allison and the Lexicon to go into hiding from Stark and all the other angels that are after the book. Lucifer is around, and explains that the book is about to reveal who the Antichrist is in a matter of hours, and everyone’s in a frenzy to see what this bit of spoilerific news is. Allison manages to escape pursuit of a couple of angels on her tail, hides out in an old church, where she’s told by a dead girl that she cannot let the angels have the book. Redundancy is redundant. She’s then betrayed by the hitman who saved her in the first place, is captured by a multitude of angels, taken before Stark who says he’s against the whole Armageddon thing and wants to kill the kid who will grow up to be Antichrist, she escapes, is pursued, learns that she’s part angel because reasons, then manages to save the day by being shot repeatedly and falling off the roof, scattering the pages of the Lexicon to the four winds, never to be collected again. The end.

Overall, I found The Prophecy: Forsaken to be…a movie. It had a beginning, a middle and an end. In the meantime, the sum of its parts can be described as “going through the motions”. Yes, it had something of an ambitious script, and the inclusion of Tony Todd and Jason Scott Lee helped a bit, but in the end this movie just kind of limped along, completely dry and somewhat forgettable once the end credits rolled. That whole twist about Allison being part angel and part human itself kinda fell flat, as most Deus Ex Machina usually does. I hate to say it, but this movie could have used more Lucifer. Specifically, the Lucifer from the previous movie. I’m not even sure Christopher Walken could have helped much. You can pass this one up, if you want. No big loss. Unless you’re OCD about these things and must watch it, then it’s not the most painful thing to sit through.

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