Monthly Archives: June 2013

Review: Odd Passenger (2009 Webseries)

Creator: Dean Koontz
Writer: Jerry White
Director: Jack Paccione, Jr.

I’m a huge Odd Thomas fan. This is a four-part webisode series available here on YouTube that follows Odd as he hitchhikes between Brother Odd and Odd Hours. The first episode is basically his “I’m Odd Thomas, and I see dead people” spiel, followed by the hook to get you to watch the other three episodes. We catch up to Odd as he hitchhikes, being picked up by a man named Perkins. Odd goes to throw his bag in the backseat, only to see a lingering young woman with an X carved on her forehead who solemnly points at Perkins. “Some days are more interesting than others….”

Anthony Marks, the young man playing Odd isn’t really how I pictured the character, but that’s okay. His performance worked well enough, and they managed to get the right tone with the voiceover narration, which is one of the things I’ve always felt they would have a hard time with if they filmed the books. Definitely worth the fifteen to twenty minutes it takes to watch the series, especially if you’re as much of a fan of the series as I am.

UPDATE: This is apparently not canon, as Odd later states in Deeply Odd that he’s only met one other person who could see spirits, meaning the young British lad he mentions that gave the Bodachs their name. Still worth seeing, but be aware of its non-canonical state.

THE ODD THOMAS SERIES, BY DEAN KOONTZ
Prequel: You Are Destined To Be Together Forever
Book I: Odd Thomas
Book II: Forever Odd
Book III: Brother Odd
Book IV: Odd Hours
Interlude: Odd Interlude
Book V: Odd Apocalypse
Book VI: Deeply Odd
Book VII: Saint Odd
Manga Prequel Series
Odd Passenger (Non-Canon Webseries)

Leave a comment

Filed under Films, Reviews

Review: “American Vampire, Volume I” by Scott Snyder, Stephen King, & Rafael Albuquerque

Title: American Vampire Volume I
Writers: Scott Snyder & Stephen King
Artist: Rafael Albuquerque
Series: American Vampire (Volume I, Issues #1-5)
Rating: ****
Publisher/Copyright: Vertigo, 2010

Are you a “Twi-Hard?” Then you really have very little reason to be reading my reviews of anything vampire-related, for one thing, and probably have a vastly-greater tolerance for crappy writing. You probably won’t want to read this review. I’ve said it before (though I don’t believe I’ve said it in any of these reviews): immortal beings who sparkly are not vampires but a particularly nasty breed of fairy. If I’m being charitable, perhaps a vampire-infected breed of fairy–but a fairy, nonetheless. Vampires are an incredibly rich subject matter for storytelling, allowing you to wrestle with themes of immortality, good VS. evil, inner demons, all kinds of stuff. A conflicted vampire, ala Buffy The Vampire Slayer’s Angel? Sure. Walking in sunlight? Dracula does that in the original novel, so I’m flexible on this count. Sparkling? That’s just wrong. Sneaking into a girl’s room to watch her sleep? That’s just creepy, and I don’t mean the kind of creepy one should find in a vampire novel. (Want some fun? Find a YouTube video of Robert Pattinson discussing Twilight. He hates it!) My favorite apraisal of Twilight comes from an interview where the reviewer asked Stephen King what he thought of the book, given his praise of J.K. Rowling and the fact that some people were comparing Twilight and Harry Potter. Mr. King responded in a very matter-of-fact manner: “Stephanie Meyer cannot write for $#!^.” I’m less rigid in my ideas of what vampire stories are aloud to do than King is–I suspect Angel would stick in his craw almost as badly as Edward Cullen–but given that review I was fairly certain I was not in for yet another Twilight knock-off when I picked up the first volume of American Vampire . I was not disappointed.

American Vampire is a Vertigo series conceived by Scott Snyder, with the first volume (issues #1-5) written by Snyder and the legendary Stephen King, and drawn by Rafael Albuquerque. The first collection forms two stories told in alternating chapters, one set in 1925 Los Angeles, the other beginning in the 1880s and detailing the origin of Skinner Sweet, Old West outlaw-turned-vampire. Snyder writes the 1925 story, telling the story of Pearl Jones, a wannabe-actress and newly-minted pawn in an old feud between Skinner Sweet and the old school of vampires–European nobility of breeding and money. King writes the origin story based on Snyder’s outlines. Sweet is the first of a new breed of vampire, and the first vampire conceived on American soil. Sweet’s strain of vampirism doesn’t follow the old rules. He can walk in the daylight, may even be strengthened by it, and seems impervious to silver and garlic. The vampires of this series are savage animals, and while they may at times be sympathetic protagonists we are never allowed to forget how monstrous they are just below the surface. I’m not really all that well versed in art, but I will say that Albuquerque’s work here is very good. He captures the feel of the Old West and the savagery of the characters quite well. I’m not sure if King’s involvement goes beyond this first volume (UPDATE: it does not), but nevertheless I definitely intend to continue reading this series!

Content: This is a Vertigo book, so very much intended for an adult audience. There is a lot of violence, very savage and vividly rendered. This is a vampire book, what did you expect? The language is definitely R-rated, and there is a bit of sexual content. A bit of nudity too, but that part is non-sexual. (It’s a corpse, if you must know. Don’t know about you, but I certainly don’t find that arousing….)

Leave a comment

Filed under Books, Comics/Graphic Novels, Reviews

Review: “Brother Odd” by Dean Koontz

Remember when I reviewed Forever Odd and said that while I still love the series, the sequels to Odd Thomas just don’t manage to match the charm of the first one? Yeah, it had been too long since I read Brother Odd (*****). I won’t say this is BETTER than Odd Thomas, but it is just as good in different ways. Forever Odd for me fell a little flat–it was good, it was an Odd Thomas adventure after all–but if the offhand references to anecdotes and prior happenings Odd keeps tossing out are any indication, it was far from his most interesting adventure (If you’ve read them, you’ll understand this is less saying its boring and more saying that one of those may have made a better book). And not all that important, really. Nothing of significance to Odd’s life really happens, aside from his journey to the monastary at the end. Whereas Brother Odd is riveting without losing the Odd Thomas charm, an incredibly significant event in Odd’s life, and offers the first hints at a larger story in play here. To say more would offer a disservice to the book, so I’ll simply paraphrase the bard, “There is far more in heaven and earth, Odd Thomas, than is dreamed of in your philosophy….”

Language: Brief, but occasionally strong.
Violence: PG-13. People die, but usually not in grotesque detail. There is tragedy, but it is balanced with hope. Still, occasionally disturbing. Another factor: the lingering dead. These can be a little grotesque at times, depending on the manner of their demise.
Sex: PG at most.

THE ODD THOMAS SERIES, BY DEAN KOONTZ
Prequel: You Are Destined To Be Together Forever
Book I: Odd Thomas
Book II: Forever Odd
Book III: Brother Odd
Book IV: Odd Hours
Interlude: Odd Interlude
Book V: Odd Apocalypse
Book VI: Deeply Odd
Book VII: Saint Odd
Manga Prequel Series
Odd Passenger (Non-Canon Webseries)

Leave a comment

Filed under Books, Novels, Reviews

Review: Marvel Comics’ “Stephen King’s Dark Tower,” Arc I

Story & Creative Consultant: Stephen King
Plot & Research: Robin Furth
Script: Peter David
Pencils: Jae Lee (except for Fall Of Gilead)
Colors: Richard Isanove (handles full art duties on Fall Of Gilead and shares the art credit for Battle Of Jericho Hill)
Publisher/Copyright: Marvel Comics, 2007-2010

“The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed.” Thus began one of Stephen King’s most epic works, the seven eight-volume Dark Tower fantasy series that provides the glue that ties all of King’s works together. I was personally introduced to the franchise through Marvel Comics’ prequel series, which details the origins of Roland Deschain and what brought his world to the state we find it in when King begins his epic saga.

This review is for the first arc of the story, consisting of the first five miniseries as well as the one-shot The Sorcerer. I plan to read the second arc, but that will be a second review. I also plan to read the actual series, but that could take a while as it ties into so many other King novels I have yet to pick up….

The content for these comics (especially The Gunslinger Born) is culled from flashbacks and other material revealed throughout King’s masterworks. King himself serves as creative consultant and first line of approval on the series. The research and general direction is handled by Robin Furth, author of The Dark Tower: The Complete Concordance (I assume this means she’s an expert). The actual script is handled by Peter David, veteran of many of Marvel’s most enduring series. Pencils for the series are mostly handled by Jae Lee, while Richard Isanove handles the colors. Later in the series Lee is inexplicably absent for a set, with Isanove filling in almost seamlessly. When Lee returns, they share the art credit. I cannot rave enough about the beauty of the product of their collaboration throughout the series. The content and subject matter is unrelentingly dark, and yet there is great beauty to the books because of the artwork. It’s incredibly striking. I’ll seed some examples through here.

Roland and his kin inhabit a world not our own, though I understand that in the novels that come later Roland does a fair bit of jumping around Stephen King’s multiverse. These comics, however, are anchored firmly in Roland’s own All-World. The best way to describe All-World is to say that it is a land where there once existed a civilization much like ours, but they are long gone. It is implied that the “Old Ones” wiped themselves out with nuclear war, given the presence of mutated humans and livestock. After the destruction All-World was united by Arthur Eld, who ruled a mighty kingdom from his capital, Gilead in New Canaan. Roland and his father are descendants of Arthur Eld. Civilization has reorganized along feudal lines, and the technological level has plateaued at the “Old West” level, excepting the rare Old Ones’ artifact that someone manages to reclaim and get working again. In the Dark Tower mythos (and by extension, all of King’s body of work since most of it ties back to here), all of reality exists as various levels in the Dark Tower. From Roland’s world it is actually possible to enter the Dark Tower, a fact that makes it unique among all of reality. Roland and his friends are opposed by the Crimson King, John Farson, and the evil wizard Marten, who want to either destroy the Dark Tower and return the world to a state of chaos or control it and rule everything. As our story opens, the forces of these evil ones have been rolling across the world towards Gilead, opposed only by the Alliance led by Steven Deschain, Roland’s father. How long they can hold out against this ultimate evil remains to be seen…..

If you are interested, here are links to my reviews of the individual collections on Goodreads. Caution: reviews may contain spoilers for the previous volumes…..
Volume I: The Gunslinger Born (*****)
Volume II: The Long Road Home (***)
Volume III: Treachery (****)
Volume IV: Fall Of Gilead (*****)
Volume V: Battle Of Jericho Hill (****)

Content: This is not for kids. This is a series for adults and late teens, those old enough to appreciate the works of Stephen King.
Violence: There’s quite a bit of this. People die horrible and gruesome deaths frequently in these pages, and not just the bad guys. Young women, little children, strong men and weak, none of them are safe. This can be pretty gory at times, and is vividly rendered.
Language: Pretty PG. This is still Marvel, after all. Nothing you won’t hear on primetime TV.
Sex: Sexual matters are referenced and discussed fairly frankly, especially in the first volume when a young lady is sent to a witch to be checked to see if she is “still pure.” There is some implied sex–glossed over by a double-splash of the two characters kissing passionately while the narrator does his thing, and then dressing on the next page–but nothing explicit. No nudity.

Leave a comment

Filed under Books, Comics/Graphic Novels, Reviews

Review: “Forever Odd” by Dean Koontz

Forever Odd (***) is the second Odd Thomas adventure (see my review for the first one here). This one isn’t as good as the first one, but that’s a hard act to follow! Still worth reading.

Here we meet up with Odd several months after the end of Odd Thomas. Once again, a friend is in trouble and it falls to Odd to do something about it….from an abandoned casino to the storm sewer system of Pico Mundo, this book never lets up as it races to its finish….

Honestly, I think this one falls a little flat. Read it anyway, but make sure you continue on to Brother Odd before you decide to stop the series. At which point you will decide against stopping the series….

Content advisories:
Language: PG-13. Brief, but occasionally strong. Even PG-13 films are allowed two F-bombs these days, so I think this is a safe assessment.
Violence: PG-13. People die, but usually not in grotesque detail. There is tragedy, but it is balanced with hope. Still, occasionally disturbing. Another factor: the lingering dead. These can be a little grotesque at times, depending on the manner of their demise.
Sex: PG-13. The villainess in Forever Odd is a 900-line operator with a penchant for the occult. The subjects of rape and child molestation occasionally come up in the course of Odd’s adventures, given that he sometimes runs into the lingering spirits of victims of such crimes. Not explicit, not gratuitous, but not for kids either.

THE ODD THOMAS SERIES, BY DEAN KOONTZ
Prequel: You Are Destined To Be Together Forever
Book I: Odd Thomas
Book II: Forever Odd
Book III: Brother Odd
Book IV: Odd Hours
Interlude: Odd Interlude
Book V: Odd Apocalypse
Book VI: Deeply Odd
Book VII: Saint Odd
Manga Prequel Series
Odd Passenger (Non-Canon Webseries)

Leave a comment

Filed under Books, Novels, Reviews

Review: Louis L’Amour’s “The Sackett Saga, Book I: Sackett’s Land”

I love Louis L’Amour’s writings. Formulaic as some of them can be (he was writing in the era of the pulps, don’t forget. He himself tried to keep anyone from reprinting certain of his short stories he felt were less than stellar), there is a quality to them that I rarely find anywhere else. This is an element that some would dismiss as cliché or outdated–Louis L’Amour’s characters are heroes, through and through. When I was a boy, I learned honor and chivalry from Arthur and his knights, from Robin Hood, from all those sorts of tales, it’s true. But I also learned these things from the Louis L’Amour westerns my dad let me borrow. For that reason, as well as the sense of pure adventure and the lure of the American Frontier, I will always have a place in my cram-packed library for a Louis L’Amour book. Among L’Amour’s most enduring creations is the Sackett family, which he revisited over and over again. Word is that he had at least three more of these tales planned before he died, but unfortunately we’ll have to be satisfied with those dozen or so Sackett stories he finished.

The first of these Sackett tales chronologically (and that’s the order I’ll be following, so like it or lump it!) is Sackett’s Land. Barnabas Sackett is a young man living in England’s fens, circa 1599. He has been left by his father with a bit of land, most of it swamp, a sword, and the skills to use both. A windfall discovery of several ancient Roman coins sets him on the road to trading in the New World, but he will have to tread carefully, for he has made a powerfull enemy. A promise to his father, made on the field of battle, threatens the inheritance of a rising star in the English Court. If Barnabas does not tread carefully, he will find himself an outlaw. If he does not watch his back, he may find being an outlaw the least of his worries….

Content: Some violence, some mild language. Nothing too severe.

2 Comments

Filed under Books, Novels, Reviews

Review: Cloud Atlas (2012 Film)

Directed by: Tom Tykwer, Lana Wachowski, & Andy Wachowski.
Screenplay by: Tom Tykwer, Lana Wachowski, & Andy Wachowski.
Based on the novel by David Mitchell.

If you follow my reviews, you’ll know that I recently reviewed the novel Cloud Atlas (find that here). Having read the book, and given that a trailer for the film was what turned me onto reading it in the first place, I then set out to see the film. I found it to be an excellent adaptation, all things considered. Things were changed, sometimes significantly, but a straight translation would have been impossible to pull off. In every case I could see why they made the decisions they did and it made sense. This is a very unique movie, and not one you can watch casually. It will take a significant amount of brainpower just to follow the six different stories being presented simultaneously, let alone the various themes and recurring elements tying everything together. You may want to watch it a second time. Maybe more. For spoiler-free rundowns on the six interrelated stories, check out my review of the book. They didn’t change things enough to render them irrelevant, and I don’t really feel like reproducing them here. Oh! Except that Zachry is not a young boy in the film but instead is played by Tom Hanks.

First things first: I absolutely loved it. How much of that had to do with the fact that I enjoyed the book I cannot say, but I highly recommend both versions of this tale. That said, they are two very different experiences. The book, briefly, is structured as a Russian nested doll–six stories, each breaking off at the halfway point and the next beginning until you reach the last one, then revisiting each story in reverse order. Picture six loosely-connected novellas arranged chronologically, then each one opened to the middle and stacked on top of each other. While the film tells the same stories, its structurally more of a mosaic, cutting from era to era in such a way as to emphasize thematic parallels or moments of recurrence. For example, we cut from our dystopian-future tale where our heroes are running across a narrow bridge to the South Pacific where another character is racing through the rigging of a sailing clipper ship. A lot of subplots got cut and elements of the main plots were cut up or rearranged to streamline the flow and allow everything to happen within a reasonable runtime, and the entire ending of the Somni-451 tale was rewritten so that it better fit the thematic emphasis of the film. Additionally, whereas the reincarnation of a single “soul” across all six stories in the book was a minor theme, the film decided to make this a major element of the film and highlight it by casting the same actors in most/all (depending on the actor) of the stories. Thus the reincarnation theme links each character played by a particular person instead of the six protagonists. I have to say, this was a very risky decision on the part of the filmmakers, but for my money it paid off. I’ll say more about this when I talk about the actors and the makeup jobs.

The performances from the various cast members were simply phenomenal. It takes a lot of skill to convincingly play one character in a film, let alone six unique and complicated characters….at the same time. A lot of credit is also due to the makeup department for the work they did, especially in turning changing actors/actresses sexes or white actors asian and vice versa. Turning the asian actresses white didn’t work quite as well–Doona Bae’s character in 1800s California looked very exotic, for example. She was incredibly beautiful, but I don’t think anyone would mistake her for fully caucasian. (Please understand this is not meant in any way to promote racism–the fact is that certain racial backgrounds come with distinct facial characteristics. Not better, not worse, just different. Everyone on board? Good, lets stop wasting time….) In fact, even if nothing else in this review grabs you, you should see this film just for Hugo Weaving (Lord of the Rings’ Elrond, The Matrix’s Agent Smith) as the tyrannical female head nurse at a retirement home.

This film is rated R, for good reason. There is some disturbing violent content that is a bit gory, the language is definitely R-rated (though not as bad as many other films I’ve seen), and there is some sexual content and nudity. I didn’t find it gratuitous, as in every case it served to advance the plot, enhance the worldbuilding or even evoke certain thematic elements, but viewers should be advised nonetheless.

Leave a comment

Filed under Films, Reviews