Reviewed by Morgan Elektra
Written by Stephenie Meyer
Published by Little, Brown Young Readers
Reviewed by Morgan Elektra
Written by Stephenie Meyer
Published by Little, Brown Young Readers
There’s something you need to know about me. I’ve mentioned it before, but I feel I need to really impress it upon you now. I love words. And I don’t mean like, “I’m an avid reader” kind of love. I mean I regularly engage in a passionate affair with the written word. I love the way words look on paper, and the way they sound when spoken. When someone, anyone, strings them together in a way that pleases the eye, the ear, or the mind, I feel physical satisfaction. I’m not just a bookworm. Give me a dictionary and a thesaurus and I can occupy myself for hours. Talk to me about palindromes and synonyms and subtexts and I’m all a quiver. I’ve always been this way.
At the tender age of seven, in addition to reading my Nancy Drew, The Babysitter’s Club, and Encyclopedia Brown, this zeal led me to explore my parent’s extensive library – to pick up books like The Fall of the House of Usher (I barely understood it, but what a lovely sounding title!), The Case of Charles Dexter Ward and Pet Sematary. Thus began a lifelong habit of insatiable literary curiosity. It doesn’t matter if it’s a painstakingly crafted work of erudite art like Floubert’s Madame Bovary, or a children’s book like Dr. Suess’ The Butter Battle Book. Whether its poetry, true crime, fairy tales or romance novels, I’m willing to give everything a fair chance – and if it’s any good I devour it greedily.
I tell you this, because it’s this voracious inquisitiveness that has brought us to this place. Until my dear colleagues here at Dread Central began reporting on the upcoming “>Twilight movie, I was fairly unaware of the existence of the series. I’d heard the name mentioned in passing, but it had never been on my radar. And then we posted our first news item on it and I thought “Hmmm, a vampire movie. Interesting.” And that was about it. That is, until people started posting comments responding to the news. The rancor, derision, eye-rolling and mocking directed at the film news made me wonder – Young adult or not, was the source material all that bad? I had to find out for myself.
Book 1: Twilight
I was skeptical enough not to want to blind buy and spend $16 or more dollars on a book I might not like, so I added the first book in the series to the top of my Bookswim pool. (Bookswim is like a literary Netflix; it feeds my addiction beautifully.) Right off the bat, the reader is introduced to 17 year old Bella Swan, from whose perspective the entire story is told. Author Stephenie Meyer quickly establishes Bella as a unique character, both within the context of the fictional world she’s created and in the pantheon of young adult heroines, which was surprising.
Given the series’ explosive popularity with teenage girls, I was half expecting a heroine who fit in with her contemporaries, like pop icons Paris Hilton and Britney Spears. Or perhaps more fairly, like “Gossip Girl”’s Serena van der Woodson, or Disney’s Hannah Montana.
But Bella resembles none of these characters, real or imagined, in the slightest. Instead, she’s somewhat shy, sarcastic, self-effacing, intelligent, clumsy and introspective. She cares nothing for sports or fashion. She loves to read and listen to music; she’s smart but not overly nerdy. She’s just as squeaky clean as any Disney “it” girl – she does her homework, cleans her room, cooks dinner for her divorced father, and is loathe to skip class – but without the bubble gum, Crest white smile, super saturated color, saccharine sweetness that makes Disney fare so wincingly unappealing to grown ups. Bella’s often dry wit, self awareness and insightfulness are a pleasure, which is thankful, considering the reader spends the next 400+ pages inside her head.
Of course, the story that unfolds focuses on Bella’s recent move to the small town of Forks, Washington and subsequent romance with Edward Cullen, a boy in her class who just happens to be a nearly 100 year old vampire, the youngest (technically, he’s still 17) of a family of vampires. And though Edward hasn’t fed on a human in over 80 years, Bella’s blood smells to him like the rarest of fine wines to a connoisseur. So, apart from the normal trials and tribulations of young love, the pair must deal with his constant struggle to overcome his desire for her blood.
The potential for melodrama is incredibly high, but Meyer manages to avoid most of the pitfalls of teen angst. The writing is, on occasion, admittedly somewhat awkward but that lends itself to the environment of Bella’s mind rather well. And I was more pleased than I would have thought that Meyer remains true to that environment. We learn nothing that Bella doesn’t know, see nothing that Bella doesn’t see. This can be frustrating at times, but it allows the reader to feel the same tensions and exasperation Bella feels. And the reader learns a great deal about Bella’s character through her thoughts, deeds, and reactions. She manages to both be an admirable Everywoman and truly extraordinary in a way that has nothing to do with being a supernatural creature.
Speaking of the vampires, Meyer does interesting things with the vampire mythos, playing with almost all of the preconceived notions established fang-o-philes might have; expanding on some ideas, doing away with others completely, and creating several of her own unique characteristics. The vampires of Meyer’s creation possess preternatural speed, strength, agility, and heightened senses; have skin as hard as stone, no fangs and a venomous bite. The sun doesn’t hurt them, nor do crosses, garlic, or wooden stakes.
They do drink blood, though the Cullens have made the choice to only feed on animals. However, this is a rare trait, common only to them and one other small coven in Alaska. None of the other vampires you meet throughout the series share this preference – which in fact leads to the climax of this lover’s tale, and perhaps my biggest issue with this book. I don’t have an issue with climax itself, when a group of nomads stumble upon the Cullens during a game of baseball vampire-style (which, cinematically speaking should be a fun scene in the film, if done right) and one of the group (a tracker named James) gets a whiff of Bella’s yummy blood and decides to hunt her. It’s high octane, full of tension and emotion and a good dash of pain (though nothing overly graphic). My issue is that the last hundred pages feel fairly disjointed from the first 400.
The beginning four fifths of the book build very slowly. It works very well to establish the world the reader is going to inhabit (hopefully) for the next three books; the environment, the characters and their traits. A first time reader will likely only notice that the dialogue is generally snappy and often funny, and that the major characters have very distinct personalities. It’s only if you stick with the series that you realize how much of a foundation Meyer builds within that first book.
And that’s a great thing … but once the story progresses from foundation to action, it happens in a split second. It’s hard to switch gears from the experiences and hardships of young love to a life or death game of cat and mouse. For me, it took a bit of time to go from one speed to another. Though once I did I enjoyed the climax and denouement quite a bit. Aside from the swift change of tone and pacing near the end, my only other gripe would be the abundant over-usage of the word “incredulous” in all its forms. I ached to mail Ms. Meyer a thesaurus with the entry for the word highlighted.
But still, Bella is a treat to get to know and her and Edward’s story is amusing, sweet and exciting – in more ways than one. Meyer has been hailed because Bella and Edward’s relationship is chaste. And it is chaste, just not puritan. Bella is a passionate girl, and Edward doesn’t just lust after her blood. But given the situation, Edward’s strength and Bella’s tantalizing smell, even kissing is playing with fire for the pair. Still, it doesn’t stop Meyer from writing several steamy scenes of nuzzling, non-sexual touching, and kissing that one reviewer dubbed “the erotics of abstinence”. It’s a good term, and Meyer definitely proves you don’t have to have sex to be sexy.
I freely admit the book has its flaws. The writing is solid, but not exactly inspired. It’s occasionally awkward, and the wording somewhat naïve. There are also the pacing issues I mentioned. But I still enjoyed it much, much more than I ever thought I would. I was entertained thoroughly. Granted, this is very much for the ladies – although it’s not overbearingly girlie or lovey-dovey, so it’s not impossible that a guy could enjoy it. But I think those who love vampires would enjoy Meyer’s clever twists, and those who enjoy a good epic romance will enjoy Bella and Edward’s. Twilight is a strong opening piece that makes the reader want to know what’s going to happen next. And that’s never a bad thing. I’m still skeptical about the movie, but as for the book… like another recent children’s book series by a certain Ms. Rowling, I think if you write it off as mere kid’s stuff, you’re really missing out.
3 1/2 out of 5
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Threads Blu-ray Review – The Horror of Nuclear War Hits Home Video
Starring Death, Destruction, Famine, Unimaginable Suffering
Directed by Mick Jackson
Distributed by Severin Films
Although not quite reaching the tense heights felt during the Cold War, talk of nuclear annihilation has nonetheless been on the tips of tongues following a recent public spat between President Donald Trump and North Korea’s Kim Jong-Un. The difference being that unlike the decades-long stalemate between America and Russia, this kerfuffle feels more like two boys breaking out the ruler to measure package size. Regardless, the truth remains that as long as nuclear weapons are held by any country the risk of a catastrophic event is always on the table – and their use should never be used as a casual threat. The world has seen firsthand the level of devastation that can be wrought with their use; a reminder none want to endure again. This seems as fitting a time as any for Severin Films to breathe new life on home video into Threads (1984), a frightening portrayal of what could happen in the U.K. following nuclear war. Similar in concept to America’s The Day After (1983), Threads is a chilling, bleak vision that showcases the breakdown of society prior to, and after, the detonation of nuclear weaponry. Nothing is glamorized; there are no heroics. By the time the credits roll viewers will be left chilled to the core, having witnessed so much destruction that should never be allowed to occur in a modern society.
The action is centered in Sheffield, U.K. where we follow the lives of a few distinct families and citizens who represent different sectors of the populace. The events leading up to nuclear war are depicted via television and radio broadcasts, with anchors reporting on increasing tensions in Iran following a coup allegedly backed by the U.S. In response, the Soviet Union moves troops into northern Iran to protect their own interests. The standoff becomes increasingly strained when the U.S. reports the submarine USS Los Angeles has gone missing in the Persian Gulf. Soon after, a collision between Soviet and American battle cruisers forces the U.S. President to issue a warning to the Soviets that any further action may lead to armed confrontation.
As all of this is occurring the citizens of Sheffield are attempting to go about their normal lives… until a melee involving nuclear-tipped weaponry prompts the government to assemble emergency operations groups. With the U.K. now completely gripped by fear, the threads of society begin to rapidly unspool, with citizens divided over local government response while runs on grocery stores and looting become widespread. Finally, in the early morning a few weeks after this skirmish began air raid sirens are sounded and within minutes a nuclear warhead is detonated over the North Sea, emitting an EMP and knocking out all communication in the country. The attack wreaks havoc, decimating the country and wiping out millions of lives in one swift blow. Those are the lucky ones.
Those who survive the initial blast are met with highly-radioactive fallout, disease, famine, radiation sickness, crumbling infrastructure and streets littered with rotting corpses. Society has suffered a complete breakdown. Money no longer holds any value. Nuclear winter brings about a dearth of crops and a massive drop in temperatures. Food is the only commodity with any value – and it is long before any can be produced. Population levels reach those of the medieval times. Even a decade after the blast, the areas devastated by nuclear war have only rebuilt to a level on par with the Industrial Revolution. Children are still born. Language is limited, due to the lack of proper schooling. Little hope looms on the horizon as those left alive scrounge and scavenge, eking out a miserable existence.
Director Mick Jackson made a smart decision by shooting Threads using a neorealist lens, employing unknowns in place of familiar faces. This gives the picture a documentarian feel while also scuttling the notion of seeing famous faces either survive the catastrophe or become heroes. There is no silver lining to be found. The initial blast rocks the U.K. on a grand scale, brought to visceral life by Jackson’s use of miniatures and montage to convey a massive scale of destruction. Fires rage, Sheffield is in ruins, charred corpses line the streets, and radiation poisoning leaves survivors roiling in pain and vomiting endlessly. The brutal verisimilitude is gut-wrenching; Jackson ensures every bit of pain and perseverance is palpable.
Threads should be mandatory viewing, serving as a warning of the very real potential outcome should civilized nations resort to using nuclear weaponry on a global scale. No good can come of mutually assured destruction. All of the posturing and battling between the U.S. and Russia pales in comparison to the annihilation of millions of lives and decades of industry, all wiped out in the blink of an eye. This is true horror.
Given its low budget and television roots, it should come as no surprise that Threads looks on a rougher side of HD. Severin touts the 1.33:1 1080p image as being a “new 2K remaster”, though the provenance of the elements used is not mentioned. Truthfully, the grainy, rough-hewn picture is a perfect complement to the gritty imagery seen throughout and anything more polished might have lessened the impact. The film was shot on 16mm and blown-up to 35mm; again, a smart aesthetic decision given the documentarian feel Jackson wanted. The cinematography reminded me of Harlan County U.S.A. (1976), an American documentary on coal workers. Damage can be seen throughout, as well as plenty of flecks and debris but, again, none of this was particularly irksome because it feels organic to this decaying world.
Audio comes in the form of a simple English DTS-HD MA 2.0 track. First off, I highly recommend turning on the subtitles because the English accents are thick and plenty of U.K.-specific colloquialisms are used; it helps – a lot. This is a thin track without much direction, employing a workmanlike sound design to get the point across. Explosions have a bit of roar and oomph, but the biggest impact is made by a scene of total silence post-attack. Dialogue is clean and well set within the mix. Subtitles are available in English.
An audio commentary track is included, featuring director Mick Jackson, moderated by film writer Kier La Janisse & Severin Films’ David Gregory.
“Audition for the Apocalypse” is an interview with actress Karen Meagher.
“Shooting the Annihilation” is an interview with director of photography Andrew Dunn.
“Destruction Designer” is an interview with production designer Christopher Robilliard.
“Stephen Thrower on THREADS” finds the author and film historian discussing the production history and impact of the film.
A “U.S. trailer” as well as a “Re-release trailer” are included.
- NEW 2K REMASTER of the film prepared for this release
- Audio Commentary with Director Mick Jackson, Moderated by Film Writer Kier–La Janisse and Severin Films’ David Gregory
- Audition For the Apocalypse: Interview with Actress, Karen Meagher
- Shooting the Annihilation: Interview with Director of Photography, Andrew Dunn
- Destruction Designer: Interview with Production Designer, Christopher Robilliard
- Interview with Film Writer, Stephen Thrower
- U.S. Trailer
Brutal and unflinching in its desire to convey a story true to reality, Threads is a difficult and necessary viewing experience that shows firsthand the level of terror wrought by man’s hand.
Annihilation Review – A Fascinating, Gorgeous New Take on Body Horror
Written and directed by Alex Garland
Have you ever walked out of a theater and thought to yourself, “That was more than just a movie. That was an experience!“? It’s only happened to me a handful of times, the last one I remember being Mad Max: Fury Road. Last night that sensation washed over me as the credits for Annihilation began their crawl after a near two-hour runtime. I remained in my seat until every name slipped by before I found it within myself to stand up and leave the theater. All I could think was, “I’ve just witnessed something incredible.”
An adaptation of Jeff VanderMeer’s first book in his The Southern Reach trilogy, Annihilation follows Lena (Portman), an ex-soldier-turned-biologist professor at Johns Hopkins whose husband, Kane (Isaac), has been missing for a year after leaving on a covert mission about which Lena has been able to get zero information. When Kane mysteriously returns and almost immediately falls gravely ill, Lena finds herself in a secret government facility that is monitoring a strange and potentially cataclysmic phenomenon: a strange shimmering dome that appeared in a remote region after a meteorite landing, a dome that grows larger with each passing day. Realizing that the answer to her husband’s malady may very well lie within that area, Lena joins four other women as they embark on an expedition into what is called “Area X.” However, it’s quickly realized that nothing is quite what it seems to be and that the laws of nature no longer apply.
The majesty of Annihilation is the time it takes to build the story and to ramp up the tension. While it has no problem with frenetic scenes, the film moves at an almost poetic pace, every moment adding something to the overarching narrative. From showing the relationship between Lena and Kane to the interactions among the five women who venture into “Area X” to the action sequences, every part of the movie feels necessary. This is even seen in the climax of the film, which is a 10-minute scene that features almost zero dialogue and yet feels fraught with danger.
Visually, the movie is absolutely gorgeous. The jungle that takes up most of Area X is lush and beautiful. Crepuscular rays break through the leaves and tease a rainbow iridescence thanks to the “shimmer.” A wide variety of flowers impossibly blossom from the same source, a result of the genetic mutations occurring within the dome. Strange fungal patterns explode across the walls of abandoned buildings, their patterns a tumorous cornucopia of colors and textures. Even when the movie brings gore into the equation, it does so with an artist’s gaze. Without ruining the moment, there is a scene where the team comes across the body of a man from a previous expedition. For as macabre as the visual was, it was equally entrancing, calling to mind the strangely beautiful designs of the “clickers” from The Last of Us.
Each setting in the story has a visual style that sets it apart from one another but still feels connected. The governmental facility feels cold and sterile while the jungles of Area X are warm and verdant. As the team ventures further into the contaminated zone, we are taken to the beach next to the lighthouse that acts as “ground zero” for the mysterious event. Here we see trees made of crystal and bone-white roots clinging to the nautical beacon. In this third act, we’re taken into the basement of the lighthouse, which can only be described as Giger-esque, with strange ribbed walls that feel like they pulsate with a life of their own.
The characters of Annihilation feel real, and the exposition given doesn’t feel forced. When Lena is rowing a boat with Cass, the sharing of information feels like camaraderie, not awkward plot reveals. Additionally, no character is without his/her flaws. Even Lena has her own issues that burden her with guilt, making her journey into Area X all the more understandable. As the stress of the mission wears on these women, the seeds of distrust begin germinating into deadly situations that have very real consequences, including the appearance of a bear that would be right at home in the Silent Hill universe. Also, kudos to Garland for writing the film in such a way where the gender roles not only feel natural but are never focused on in a disingenuous manner.
Musically, Ben Salisbury and Geoff Barrow, who scored Garland’s previous film Ex Machina, create a soundtrack that is atmospheric, haunting, and hypnotizing. The music elevates the dreamy phantasmagoria of the film without overpowering any scene. Meanwhile, cinematographer Rob Hardy, who also worked on Ex Machina, helps create a film where nearly every frame is a work of art.
Those entering Annihilation expecting a clearly defined sci-fi/horror offering will be disappointed. There is certainly a great deal of both to be had, but the movie doesn’t want to offer something fleeting. Instead, it uses those genres as a foundation to create a film that will stay with viewers long after they leave the theater. When you get to the core of Annihilation, it’s a body horror film that pays homage to the work of David Cronenberg while carving an entirely new path of its own. Just don’t expect it to hold your hand and answer all of its mysteries. Some questions are left for you to see through on your own.
I do not say this lightly, but I truly believe that Alex Garland has offered audiences one of the best genre films in recent years.
Annihilation is a bold, gorgeous, and stunning melting pot of horror, sci-fi, and drama, culminating in one of the most fascinating films I’ve seen this decade.
Mom & Dad Review – When Parental Protection Goes Horribly Awry
Starring Nicolas Cage, Selma Blair, Anne Winters
Written and directed by Brian Taylor
The love of one’s parents is something that can propel an individual to not only personal, but professional heights as well, and that’s not to say that the aforementioned love should be taken for granted, either. The reason why I’m making this statement is that you never know when that love could turn to blind, unrestrained rage, and you as the child could be forced to save your own life from those very people who raised you – enter Brian Taylor’s ultra-black comedy, Mom & Dad.
Josh (Zachary Arthur) and his sister, Carly (Winters), are your typical American children: generally oblivious to the life around them provided by their progenitors, and when a mysterious and unexplained virus causes all parents to turn violently towards their kids, it’s the youngins that are the ones being stalked, sometimes with horrific results. What gives this film a tremendous sense of “oomph” is the fact that there really isn’t a whole lot of time spend on useless build-up. Taylor’s style of balls-out direction is no truer on display here as the parental duo of Nicolas Cage and Selma Blair as Brent and Kendall Ryan is one of cinematic gold. Cage, who on the normal is an actor that harnesses his bat-shit nuts style of character portrayal until it’s time to fully unleash the beast – well, consider this performance off of the friggin’ chain! It’s clear from the get-go that the relationship between the folks and the kids isn’t entirely the most drama-free and devoid of subtle hostility.
Some of the scenes of various attacks are a bit tough to take at times, and although the film was created in jest, it’s still the shock factor that carries this one to the finish line with the audience kicking and screaming all the way. One scene inside a newborn delivery room had me shifting in my seat, and for that to happen is pretty damned impressive, and I’ve seen some rather demented shit over the course of my years. The film does get a bit disjointed at times, but order is restored when the mayhem returns in full-force, and Taylor’s action-film resume shows through with psychotic camera-angles and dizzying arrays of brute force from some characters. Blair and Cage didn’t exactly come off doubtless as a couple, and maybe they would have been better set as a separate-working tandem, but the two nevertheless provided some real entertainment once their switches got flipped (well, Cage’s switch never really has an “off” position in this movie).
In the end of it all, Mom & Dad is the textbook definition of a “mindless movie,” and that’s not meant to be a negative in any fashion – I absolutely loved it from beginning to end, and this one is meant for a viewing with the kiddies to gently remind them what could happen if they ever get out of line (wink, wink).
Ferocious, frenzied and ultimately fun, these parents certainly aren’t to be f**ked with!
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