TV Picks Return

Quick programming alert: two Beemsville TV picks return for each of their second seasons this week.

On AMC, Hell on Wheels kicks off at 8:00 CST.  You can watch trailers and plot-line lead-in from last season if you want to get on board or missed some episodes.  AMC is also doing a Season 1 Marathon all day today (Sunday) as is their custom.  We like this show because it’s a well-made Western with strong performances and interesting characters.

Tomorrow night at 9:00 CST, Grimm starts up again on NBC.  Move on from your Olympic hangover with supernatural style.  NBC’s site also has plenty of media and content to initiate or reintroduce you to Detective Nick, Monroe, and the Grimm-iverse.  This show has old-school X-Files appeal, a well-conceived urban fantasy setting (easier said than done – just look at all the crap fantasy spin-off attempts), and interesting characters.

You gotta have interesting characters.  Check them out.

Movies: Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter

…based on the book by Seth Grahame-Smith, directed by Timur Bekmambetov, starring Benjamin Walker, Dominic Cooper, Anthony Mackie, Rufus Sewell, and Mary Elizabeth Winstead.

We are of two minds about Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter around these parts.  One one hand, it’s a fun summer popcorn movie that takes the semi-ridiculous and makes it cool.  On the other hand, my history major hand, it takes a pivotal historical figure and series of events, and throws it in the pop culture schlock-o-meter.

Four Score and Seven Decapitations Ago…

The vampires brought forth onto this continent, a new nation, conceived in darkness, dedicated to the concept that slavery provided a steady food supply and also helps explain why there’s always so many vamps in the south.

Young Abe Lincoln learns the truth when, after he and his father’s disagreement with a river merchant over the treatment of a young slave, Will (Mackie), that merchant pays the Lincolns a visit.  Yes, he’s a vampire, and he gives Abe’s mom a little bite-and-drain.  Abe watches, horrified, from the attic.  She quickly becomes ill and dies, and Abe vows vengeance. Continue reading

Fall Movies

It’s that time of year, with the temps dropping, the leaves starting to turn, and the cinema offerings a little less popcorn and a little more mature.  You usually get a few decent horror movies this time of year, and maybe something with a little Oscar buzz.  You may also find those really good films that they weren’t sure how to market, so they didn’t try to pack them into the busy summer schedule.

So here are five fall movies we’re looking foward to…

  • The Thing (Oct 14) This one is being plugged as a prequel to the John Carpenter/Kurt Russell classic version that scared the living crap out of me when I was 10 or 11.  Gave me nightmares for weeks.  The trailer looks scary as hell.  Will I be able to talk the wife into a horror film this fall?  We shall see.
  • Anonymous (Oct 28) No, it’s not about annoying hackers; it’s alternative history that posits some of William Shakespeare’s plays as attributable to the Earl of Oxford, and throws in some 16th century political thriller for good measure.  The cast has impressive British types; Roland Emmerich directs.  Color us curious.
  • In Time (Oct 28) Saw this preview last month for a sci-fi thriller by Andrew Niccol (Gattaca, The Truman Show).  The central premise concerns immortality and eternal youth, for those who can afford it, but you have to work your ass off to bank the time – so relative age becomes the central currency.  Looks weird and intriguing.  Starring Justin Timberlake and Amanda Seyfried.
  • J. Edgar (Nov 11) Clint Eastwood directs Leo DiCaprio in the title role.  What else do you need?  Should be a fascinating take on the Godfather of the FBI.  How far will Clint and Co. delve into the controversial purported practices and, ahem, alternative behaviors of Hoover?
  • The Muppets (Nov 23) In Beemsville, we love us some muppets.  It’s been awhile since anyone has seen Kermit, Fozzie, Miss Piggy and company on the big screen.  If you check the cast list, it’s pretty impressive.  Looking forward to taking the family to this one.

Movies: Deathly Hallows Part I

Much of the reaction to Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part I has fallen into two broad camps:

  • How great to see the cast together again in this, the final chapter.  Those kids sure have grown up!  And oh, it’s dark and scary…
  • This movie is too long and unfocused.  It’s an exercise in box-office economics.  I never really liked HP to begin with…

You could probably support both arguments, though you’ll never get me to agree with the camp than never liked HP to begin with.  That argument, I just don’t understand…  Anyway, it is a pleasure to watch those young actors who brought HP to the big screen years ago.  And yes, the tone of the final two-part film installment, like the book, is decidedly bleak and dark and threatening.

This is, after all, JK Rowling’s version of the final showdown.  They aren’t just uncovering old mysteries at Hogwarts anymore, dodging the attempts of the Big V’s minions.  No, this is Ralph Fiennes as Voldemort – as sinister a cinematic villain as you could hope for in this, the age of varying shades of evil.  This is the Ministry overrun by Voldemort’s forces, Harry and friends scattered into hiding, and a new twist on the quest to destroy the horcruxes that safeguard the big V’s immortality. Continue reading

Ready for Walking Dead

Tomorrow night, AMC’s television version of The Walking Dead, based on the graphic novel series by Robert Kirkman, receives a Halloween debut.  For fans of horror, zombies, and comic books, this is a much-anticipated and promising development.  AMC has an excellent resume for developing intelligent TV drama, including Mad Men, Breaking Bad, and Rubicon (the latter is currently a Beemsville favorite show).  High expectations are certainly in order.

We can tell you the graphic novels provide ample source material.  Kirkman’s series is character driven, first and foremost.  The tension of the survivors on the run from the planet’s newest alpha predators drives the interactions and speculation on the strength of the human psyche.  It’s not about the blood and gore (though there’s plenty of that); it’s about adapting to an impossible situation – the good and the bad of people under extreme duress. Continue reading

Fall Reading List

Seems like I’ve been reading Shogun by James Clavell for ages, but hey- the book is like 900 pages.  Enjoying it quite a lot – review should be soon forthcoming.  After that we’ll move on to longtime ally Benjamin Percy’s The Wilding, which has garnered excellent reviews.  By most accounts, this book should both horrify and provoke the intellect, and if I know Ben (and I do), it will have some ambitious, hard-charging language as well.

Next it’s on to John Le Carre’s latest, Our Kind of Traitor. Have’t read a Le Carre book in some time (after devouring seven or eight quickly about ten years ago) but based on the buzz and the synopsis I’m looking forward to this one.  That will get me into winter, and by then I’ll probably be in the mood for something sci-fi/fantasy.  However, with The Walking Dead set to premier on AMC week after next, I may want to revisit Kirkman’s graphic novel series.  Last checked in around trade paperback #7, and to be honest, was starting to get tired of the lack of narrative momentum and higher-level plot ideas.

A short story collection could also be in order, and Dark Futures: Tales of Dystopian Science Fiction (edited by Jason Sizemore) looks promising.  Have also been meaning to look at the latest  Year’s Best Science Fiction, shepherded as ever by Gardner Dozois.

Drop me a line with other suggestions, if you dare.  It’s always nice to have options.

A movie to watch for

As we sit and watch the Academy Awards (10 nominees for Best Picture – really?  That’s like inviting 96 teams to the NCAA tournament*…), it’s only natural to think about the cool movies you’ve seen or missed lately.  Thus we bring you this:

It looks like the kind of wacky horror Lovecraft would have despised.  Seriously.  At the same time, a contemporary revival of the Cthulhu Mythos on the big screen (or straight-to-video screen) has to start somewhere.  And The Last Lovecraft: Relic of Cthulhu at least has some tongue-in-cheek to go with the nameless horrors.

There have been quite a few bad Lovecraft movie adaptations – maybe because his stories depend on the reader’s imagination to a great degree, which is something most movies cannot do.  So maybe the humor-meld is the way to go.  We’ll be looking for this one.

Continue reading

Movies: The Wolfman

…directed by Joe Johnston, written by Andrew Kevin Walker and David Self, starring Benicio Del Toro, Anthony Hopkins, and Emily Blunt.  Yes, it’s another remake from the land of remakes, but this time it’s the Lon Chaney Jr. Universal classic, The Wolfman getting the treatment.  With Del Toro as Lawrence Talbot and Hopkins as his father, Sir John, this latest version boasts some serious acting talent.  It also features impressive staging of scene and place as the director creates another great looking version of the 19th century English Countryside and London.  With the fog machine in turbo and a selective dark color palette, Joe Johnston recreates the creepy feel of many of those early monster movies (and he does so without it becoming a schtick – no small feat).

So you have excellent actors and a great-looking film.  You also have a story and plot that’s remarkably similar to the 1941 version.  Lawrence Talbot comes home to Blackmoor England to investigate the death of his brother.  He gets bitten by a werewolf and falls for his dead brother’s fiance.  He figures out what’s happening to him, commits mayhem in his furry form, and wrestles with selfish vs. selfless tendencies.  It’s the classic werewolf movie plot.  Sure, there are some new twists in this version, but if you’re expecting some kind of contemporary examination on the curse of the werewolf, you should probably stick with Wolf or (better yet) Teen Wolf.

Continue reading

Books: The Zombie Survival Guide

…by Max Brooks.  The Zombie Survival Guide came out in  in 2003, a key component in what some have dubbed the Zombie Renaissance in horror writing and other media.  With this book and his novel, World War Z (which is on my reading list), Brooks both took advantage of and helped spur on the profusion of undead fiction.

The ZSG is exactly what the title says it is : complete protection from the living dead.  It’s written as a handbook or manual in the tradition of outdoor, disaster, and yes, nuclear survival guides of years past, and Brooks’ commitment to the material is complete.  There are no ironic twist or humorous winks in this book (despite the fact it may be found in your book store’s humor section).  The guide begins with a description of the virus Solanum, which causes humans to become zombies.  These zombies have no respiration, metabolism, or higher brain functions.  Their only instinct is to feed – preferably on human flesh.  They aren’t the fast zombies of 28 Days Later or the mystic zombies of Caribbean and African mythology.  They are single-minded feeding machines in vaguely human form.  They survive until the flesh falls from their bones or their brains are severely damaged.  Thus does Brooks define his monsters, which seem most like the zombies of older movies and most notably, Robert Kirkman’s Walking Dead.

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No New Moons Here

Like the majority of red-blooded hetero American males, I stayed the hell away from New Moon this weekend.  Of course that didn’t stop the wife from going, nor did it stop the film from bringing in a near-Batman-like box office haul.  It’s not that I won’t go watch the occasional romantic comedy or chick-flick now and again, no, what it comes down to is a lack of respect for and dumbing down of the whole monster mythos genre.

The clincher for me was the scene in Twilight in which the girl and vampire-boy Edward ascend from the overcast forested shadows into the sunlight.  And what happens?  His skin sparkles like diamonds It’s so beautiful, says the girl.  No burning death, weakness, not even a little smoke.  Nothing but sparkly.  And this, my friends, is an insult to true horror fans everywhere.  It’s not that we’re against reimagining the folklore and mythology around traditional creatures like vampires and werewolves; shows like Buffy, the Blade movies, and even the Underworld movies have done this in some respect.  But do try to understand and  respect that  mythology and folklore, so any changes you make have some resonance, instead of seeming like a poorly conceived plot device designed to make teenaged girls sigh.  Continue reading