Book Review: The WASTE LANDS

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book-review_-dark-tower-iiiStephen King
Grant
1991

“What we’ve got here is a lunatic genius ghost-in-the-computer monorail that likes riddles and goes faster than the speed of sound. Welcome to the fantasy version of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.”

Roland, The Last Gunslinger, moves ever closer to The Dark Tower of his dreams and nightmares as he crosses a desert of damnation in a macabre world that is a twisted image of our own. With him are those he has drawn to this world: street-smart Eddie Dean and courageous wheelchair-bound Susannah. Ahead of him are mind-rending revelations about who and what is driving him. Against him is arrayed a swelling legion of foes both more and less than human….

This is the book where I didn’t read it when it was initially released. Well, I began reading it, yes, back in 1992 when I received a trade paperback edition as a gift; however, around that same time I began sliding into the point in my history where I stopped reading fiction in general because of…reasons. One day I shall go into these “reasons” in depth, but for now, that’s just going to have to do. Needless to say, I got to about the part when Roland and the Ka-Tet (which is a great band name idea, by the way) encounter a giant cyborg bear. I’d say SPOILERS, but chances are, if you’re reading this, you’ve read the book as well and know what I’m talking about. That’s the point when I closed the book and said, “I’m good,” and put the book away, to be lost with the other books that I had turned my back on in that time period. The 1990s was a wacky time for me.

It wasn’t until 2010, when I decided to read all of the Dark Tower books in succession when I read The Waste Lands in its entirety. Being a bit older, and a bit…well, I wouldn’t go so far as saying “wiser”, but for want of a better word and all, I found myself enjoying this third entry in the Dark Tower series far more than back when I first attempted to do so.

Here in The Waste Lands, after running into said giant cyborg bear (which turns out to be one of the Guardians of the Six Beams that are tied into the Tower), they get a bead on the path to the Dark Tower, and head out into Mid-World. There, it’s found out that, due to Roland’s actions in The Drawing of the Three, he’s created a paradox in reality, wherein certain events in The Gunslinger have been retconned out of reality, but Roland remembers both that reality and this reality. Eddie is inspired to carve out a key that would open up a door between Roland’s world and the New York in our reality, and let Jake through, joining the quest. Along the way, they encounter a Billy-Bumbler who also joins the gang, and then Jake gets kidnapped by a bunch of post apocalyptic city dwellers lead by a guy named the Tick-Tock Man. Then they all climb aboard a high-speed bullet train with sentient AI and an acute case of psychosis who wants nothing more than to exchange riddles and jokes while deciding whether or not to kill them. Also, they’re headed towards Kansas. The end.

The Waste Lands was, for all intents and purposes, a continuation of The Drawing of the Three, wherein more is revealed about Roland’s world, and the final members of his Ka-Tet completes the group: Jake and Oy, the billy-bumbler that is described as a kind of racoon/dog hybrid with a high level of intelligence. The adventures in this installment are a bit darker, especially when they arrive in the run-down city and Jake is almost immediately kidnapped by the locals. Then there’s the psycho train they climb into at the end, which will lead into the next book and leaves things in quite a cliffhanger.

Overall, the story in The Waste Land was necessary to the narrative, but seemed to cram a lot into a small area to accommodate the story. There were points where it was in danger of going completely off the rails, no pun intended. Regardless, a rather interesting continuation of the overall tale.

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Book Review: The DRAWING OF THE THREE

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book-review_-dark-tower-iiStephen King
Grant
1987

Roland could not understand why anyone would want cocaine or any other illegal drug, for that matter, in a world where such a powerful one as sugar was so plentiful and cheap.

While pursuing his quest for the Dark Tower through a world that is a nightmarishly distorted mirror image of our own, Roland is drawn through a mysterious door that brings him into contemporary America. Here he links forces with the defiant young Eddie Dean, and with the beautiful, brilliant, and brave Odetta Holmes, in a savage struggle against underworld evil and otherworldly enemies.

After reading the first novel in the Dark Tower series and finding myself underwhelmed with the original experience (bit different when I re-read it in my 30s, as you may recall if you read that review), I then decided to press on and read the second entry in the Dark Tower saga, The Drawing of the Three. It had just hit in the mass market edition through the Signet label, which just happened to coincide with my finishing up The Gunslinger. Pure coincidence, I’m sure.

I remember reading this in the Spring of 1990, at the age of 16, and being completely immersed in the continuing story in a way that truly sucked me in and lost track of reality. It was obvious that this was a better tale than that of the first book, and although The Drawing of the Three was twice the size of The Gunslinger, I ripped through that far faster.

The story picks up where The Gunslinger left off: Roland wakes up on a beach, where he’s immediately attacked by a mutant lobster. He loses a couple of digits on his right hand, which gets infected, causing him to lose strength as he’s walking along the beach. He then comes across a series of doors along the beach, like he suddenly found himself in the middle of a Pink Floyd album cover shoot. Because these are magical doors, when Roland passes through one of them, he finds himself inside the head of someone else, seeing through their eyes. The first two people turn out to be the ones he was destined to recruit to join in his quest to find the Dark Tower: young heroin addict Eddie Dean, and a feisty young lady named Odetta Holmes who seems to have more than just Roland riding along in her head, let’s just say. The third door leads to the head of a sociopath that just happened to be the guy who not only caused the physical and psychological trauma for Ms. Holmes, but also was the cause of death for one Jake Chambers in New York, which lead to his appearance in the first novel. Some quantum-reality jumping wackiness ensues, resulting in Odetta’s split personalities to merge into Susannah Dean and Eddie to kick his heroin addiction, and Roland finding himself in the company of new companions to accompany him on his on going quest.

As I mentioned, I originally read The Drawing of the Three in just a handful of days (keeping in mind that I was 16 and still had to find time to read in between homework and the other things that were competing for my attention at that tender age), and the story stuck with me long after I finished reading it. Even back then, I was heavily fascinated by surreal concepts like doorways that lead to alternate dimensions in time and space (among other things), and since the narrative of this story involved a Being John Malkovich setup (long before that movie became a thing, I should also point out), this story just blew my teenage mind right out of every orifice in my head. Re-reading it now, the story still holds up very well, and continues to blow my mind with the fantasy elements, as well as exploring the nature of psychological brokenness. Not to mention getting a bit of a tie-in with discovering the origin of how young Jake ended up in Roland’s world, and how that tied into the drawing of what would become Roland’s companions as they continue the quest for the Dark Tower.

Book Review: The GUNSLINGER

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book-review_-dark-tower-iStephen King
Grant
1982

The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed.

In The Gunslinger (originally published in 1982), King introduces his most enigmatic hero, Roland Deschain of Gilead, the Last Gunslinger. He is a haunting, solitary figure at first, on a mysterious quest through a desolate world that eerily mirrors our own. Pursuing the man in black, an evil being who can bring the dead back to life, Roland is a good man who seems to leave nothing but death in his wake.

I began reading Stephen King’s magnum fantasy opus Dark Tower series back in 1989. I won’t go into the history of the writing of this particular book in what would become a seven-part series (eight if you count that flashback novel published after the fact, but eh…I haven’t felt the need to read that one yet); needless to say, King started writing it back in the late 70s as a serial that was finally collected in the mid-80s in Trade Paperback form, and then finally in the later part of the 80s in mass paperback form. The last format was the one I began reading.

And boy, was I bored with the story.

Keep in mind, I was all of 15 when I started reading that, and my attention span wasn’t what it is now. However, this was also the early edition of The Gunslinger, which was quite a bit different than the editions of this story we have now. And there is a noticeable difference. Mainly, the revised edition flows a bit better, and doesn’t seem as dry as the original one seemed to be. It took me several months to get through The Gunslinger when I was 15; when I re-read it back in 2006, I remember beginning reading it…then suddenly I was done in a few hours. Which, considering I was telling myself to take things slow, savor the story, I didn’t have much money to spare to pick up the later editions of the Dark Tower series, suddenly finding myself reading the final page left me in kind of a daze, wondering what happened. Anyway…

For all intents and purposes, I’ll be focusing on the updated edition in this review, as it was the one that I read most recently, and still have in my collection. On we go, then, sully forth…

We begin our epic tale with the titular Gunslinger, Roland of Gilead, pursuing a mysterious man in black (sadly, not Johnny Cash), on his quest for a mysterious Dark Tower, the center of not only this reality, but all realities. There are some flashbacks to where Roland has been leading up to now, which paints a picture of a land that’s not quite like ours, but bears an eerie similarity. Along his journey, he comes across a bunch of mutants, a town that was mystically boobie-trapped by The Man In Black to kill Roland, and a boy from what turns out to be our reality that has somehow managed to turn up at an abandoned way station in Roland’s world. Then the Gunslinger catches up with The Man in Black, and…they sit down and talk around a camp fire. The end.

As I mentioned above, it didn’t take me too long to re-read The Gunslinger. It does well with establishing the main character of Roland, a hardened, haunted man in a world that has moved on, on a quest that seems to be a fool’s errand, a tilting at windmills. It was also a good blend of fantasy and western, like Robert Jordan as filtered through Zane Gray. Mind you, The Gunslinger is probably the lesser of the seven core novels of the series, but it’s also merely the introductory adventure to set things up. The real fun doesn’t really start until the next novel in the series.

Movie Review: The MAGNIFICENT SEVEN (2016)

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magnificent-seven-2016MGM / Paramount
2016
PG-13

“That bear is wearing people’s clothes.”

Looking to mine for gold, greedy industrialist Bartholomew Bogue seizes control of the Old West town of Rose Creek. With their lives in jeopardy, Emma Cullen and other desperate residents turn to bounty hunter Sam Chisolm for help. Chisolm recruits an eclectic group of gunslingers to take on Bogue and his ruthless henchmen. With a deadly showdown on the horizon, the seven mercenaries soon find themselves fighting for more than just money once the bullets start to fly.

Here we are, with another remake of another movie that many consider to be a classic of the respective genre, that being the 1960 Western classic The Magnificent Seven. And I’m certain that, by now, due to the ability of many to at least do a Google search of the original Magnificent Seven, everyone reading this review of mine would already know that the first Magnificent Seven was actually in itself a remake of the Akira Kurosawa’s masterpiece Seven Samurai. Only, with cowboys. Making this here update technically a remake of a remake. Remake-ception. Do people still reference that meme? I really don’t pay attention to these things. Anyway…

Regarding my desire to see this update, I wasn’t exactly chomping at the bit (see what I did there?) to head out and watch it when it was released back in September. It looked interesting, yes. Just like any other Western remade with a more diverse cast but with all the same tropes we know and love from the Western movie genre. I waited until the later part of October to watch it, and then on a Saturday morning showing at a certain theater I don’t go to very often, so that even if I didn’t find it too entertaining, at least I could pick up one of those fantastic taco salads the adjacent sports bar whips up for lunch. Well, I was going to do so even if I was entertained, but still. Great taco salads there.

And, really, I was entertained by this Magnificent Seven. I’ve never really seen the 1960 version, so I have no idea if it follows the story closely; though, it does seem to adhere to your standard Western design: Evil land Barron is trying to force a town off of prime real estate for mining purposes, town hires a roving Marshal to help eliminate the bully, roving Marshal gathers together a posse of misfits and outlaws and inspires the townfolk to fight back, and then a showdown blows up the third act of the movie, causing the town’s Undertaker’s business to take a sudden uptick.

Did I say I was entertained by this movie? Yes, yes I did. And I wasn’t lying about that. The characters were what you would call cliche’–Peter Sarsgaard’s robber Barron character is all but missing the mustache twirling, and while I loves me some Denzel Washington in whatever he does, his character does come off as a bit overly altruistic for his own good–that in no way distracts from the fun this movie is. It doesn’t pretend to be more than just a Western, and a remake of one at that. Everyone is does great with their respective characters, with Vincent D’Onofrio standing out as the extremely quirky tracker/hunter Jack Horne.

Overall, though, I wouldn’t really recommend paying full price to watch The Magnificent Seven. Maybe a nice early matinee like I did, or maybe wait for the DVD release to watch.

Movie Review: VAMPIRES: Los Muertos

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Movie Review: VAMPIRES: Los MuertosScreen Gems
2002
R

“Ok we got a sucker”

Watch out, unholy bloodsucking children of the night! Jon Bon Jovi is coming after you! And you don’t have a prayer to live on! Sorry, had to do that. Anyway, Bon Jovi’s front man is Derek Bliss, vampire slayer, and he’s gone down to Mexico, where it’s 99 in the shade (sorry) to deal out some bad medicine (sorry) and clean up some vamps. When his potential team gets wiped out, Bliss rounds up a rag tag group, including the guy who played the teenage son on Family Matters (lookin’ particularly manly in that duster of his), to go hunt down these living-impaired fang members. Pun intended. Meanwhile, since this is a technical sequel to John Carpenter’s Vampires, the monsters in question have been trying to get that black cross to work, and the rather comely head vamp has discovered a way to walk in the daylight and not go down in a blaze of glory. Sorry…

As a fan of John Carpenter’s original Vampires, I had to pause and ask myself, “Was a sequel really necessary?” Well, yes…I would have loved to see the continuation of the story that would have evolved from the ending of the first one, and see James Woods back in black as the hard-edged, wisecracking vampire hunter. A better question is, “Was this sequel really necessary?” That, I would have to answer, no. It wasn’t . Other than that black cross angle, Los Muertos doesn’t really move the whole story of the first one forward, and really is more of a weak remake of the first movie. In fact, if I got my facts right, John Carpenter himself went on record to say that his involvement in Vampires: Los Muertos was basically just him “collecting a check.” Gotta love his brutal honesty, there…

Which to say, Los Muertos wasn’t really a bad movie. Surprisingly, Jon Bon Jovi plays his part as the brooding vampire hunter in an effectively understated way. Perhaps the best scene in the movie is at the beginning, where Bon Jovi dusts some bloodsuckers. His merry band of vamp hunters, though, seemed a bit standard- you got the kid sidekick, the big badass (the Family Matters guy, sporting a goatee to prove he is, in fact, badass), an old guy who always responds with “I had a dream!” every time he’s asked a question (yeesh), a semi-turned chick with a psychic link to other vamps, and a Van Damme look-alike priest. Interesting. On the other side of the coin, the pasty villaness just slinked around for the majority of the film, then got some shots in near the end. Nothing too earth shattering, really.

Verdict? Los Muertos is watchable, mostly painless, and easily forgettable after about ten minutes or less after the end credits. My advice would be to rent the first one if you’re going to see this one, just to see what’s missing. Jimmy, I missed thee…

Movie Review: TRUE GRIT (2010)

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Movie Review: TRUE GRIT (2010)Paramount
2010
PG-13

“You must pay for everything in this world, one way and another. There is nothing free except the grace of God.”

Following the murder of her father by hired hand Tom Chaney, 14-year-old farm girl Mattie Ross sets out to capture the killer. To aid her, she hires the toughest U.S. marshal she can find, a man with “true grit,” Reuben J. “Rooster” Cogburn. Mattie insists on accompanying Cogburn, whose drinking, sloth, and generally reprobate character do not augment her faith in him. Against his wishes, she joins him in his trek into the Indian Nations in search of Chaney. They are joined by Texas Ranger LaBoeuf, who wants Chaney for his own purposes. The unlikely trio find danger and surprises on the journey, and each has his or her “grit” tested.

I normally don’t watch straight-up westerns. Usually, the genre would have to have a healthy dose of sci-fi or horror mixed in to get me interested. That, or Clint Eastwood. That guy’s just awesome. So, it’s rare that I would actually plop down money to go see a straight-up western movie in the theater. It was the matinee pricing, but still.

When it came to this remake of the John Wayne classic True Grit, there were two things going for it: it was a Coen Brothers joint, and it starred Jeff Bridges. Still, I held off for a few weeks after it was released…because it was a western. Yeah, yeah, terrible person I am, being all comfortable with my personal movie preferences. How do I live with myself?

Anyway, not being familiar with the original movie, beyond that it’s lauded as one of John Wayne’s finest performances, and that he was playing against his usual type of movie character – and that he wore an eyepatch – I really don’t know just how this remake holds up to the classic. Neither do I care. I’m just getting that out of the way, as I’ve had a lot of people ask me if it’s as good as the original since watching this version. I also don’t foresee myself watching the original any time soon. And that’s enough talking about that. Let’s get on with it, shall we?

As a whole, I found True Grit to be rather enjoyable, a good way to spend an afternoon with the guys. Good period piece settings, the story kept me engaged with just a bare few minor lagging moments, and it’s gritty without going overboard, I thought. The main thing that made this enjoyable was the cast. All of them were fantastic, from the main actors down to the very minor characters. Jeff Bridges is a joy to watch here as the grumpy and perpetually drunken Rooster, and whenever he has to go off screen or there’s a scene without him, it makes me sad. Matt Damon as LaBoeuf as the polar opposite of Bridge’s Rooster works well. Very amusing moments with those two together. The big surprise, though, was the performance of Hailee Steinfeld as the 14-year-old with a vengeance streak. Surprise because the actress is actually 14 here, but she gave a much, much more professional performance, holding her own against Bridges, Damon and the other actors that spice up the story. I honestly thought they got a younger 20-something to play the part, until I did a little research after watching this. Very impressive.

Overall, I found this True Grit to be enjoyable. Good story, great cast. Hasn’t made me want to watch more westerns, but I can think of worse things to do on a weekend afternoon.

Movie Review: SERENITY

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Movie Review: SERENITYUniversal Pictures
2005
PG-13

“Way I remember it, albatross was a ship’s good luck, ’til some idiot killed it. Yes, I’ve read a poem. Try not to faint.”

Set in the not-so-near future of Joss Whedon’s sci-fi series Firefly, a genetically enhanced and telepathic girl escapes the government-controlled experiments subjected on her, and hitches a ride with her protective older brother in tow on the Serenity, piloted by the cynical Captain Malcolm Reynolds and his motley crew, themselves at odds with the coalition dominating their universe. After inadvertently discovering a massive cover-up involving a supposedly “failed” planet colonization, the crew find themselves on the run from a deadly assassin, fighting their way through traps and hordes of cannibalistic Reavers to uncover the conspiracy, with a human cargo that may be their biggest threat. Just another day in the life of the Serenity crew, really…

Let me preface this review by stating that I, your beloved Uncle NecRo, have yet to see an episode of the series Firefly, the short-lived show that this movie is based on.* Chalk it up to lack of interest, as the only things with the Joss Whedon stamp that I was interested in at the time happened to involve vampires. Namely, Buffy The Vampire Slayer and Angel (Angel being my favorite of the two). Firefly was more sci-fi with a western feel kind of show (i.e.- no fangs…and definitely no Spike), and while I did want to check it out sometime, the affiliate it was shown on didn’t really give the show much of a chance, showing the episodes out of sequence and such. So, before anyone thinks that this is one of those kind of reviews that slathers this movie with praise because the author is already a ravenous and drooling fanboy of the mythos its based on, keep in mind that I walked into the theater with something of a clean slate.

That said, I also want to point out that, the moment the opening credits rolled, I was captivated by one hell of a well-written, well-directed, and just flat-out fantastic sci-fi adventure movie. Once again, as with his writing on both the other two shows and on the impeccable Astonishing X-Men comic (the only X-Men comic I’ve ever read, save for my brief lapse of sanity involving the Grant Morrison run on New X-Men…geek boy roots showing again), Joss Whedon has woven one hell of a space yarn that’s really more of a western with space ships. You know, like how the classic Star Wars movie was. You got intense action, captivating drama, some interesting plot twists, and some very outstanding special effects. The fight scenes were kept low-key by today’s standards (meaning, no wire-fu, just some good-ol’ classic martial arts and fisticuffs), and the final stand-off between the crew and the Reavers was just…unbelievable. In a good way. And, true to Whedon’s method, I’m sure there will be some fans of the series that’ll be taken aback by some unexpected plot turns involving the cast. That’s his way. I remember standing up and screaming at the television when he offed Fred for no apparent reason in that episode of Angel…but again, I’m getting away from the subject. I digress…

Bottom line, this is a fantastic movie that both fans of the series and anyone who’s never heard of Firefly can enjoy. Too bad I saw little to no advertising for this, and apparently it’s taking a dive at the theaters. But word of mouth from other geeks on the ‘net have praised it, so word of mouth can keep this sucker in a strong “cult” standing. Highly recommended…a good use of your $8…

[* = this was posted nearly ten years ago…I have since then not only watched the entire series, but I own them, and watch them all back-to-back at least once a year…in case anyone feels the need to troll, and all that – Uncle NecRo]

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