Archive for January, 2010

MOVIE: Carriers (2009)

January 31, 2010

This flick, about a group of four young adults driving around aimlessly after a pandemic has wiped out most of the world’s  population, is pretty much exactly like every other post-pandemic road-trip movie you’ve ever seen.  If you’re not a fan of the genre, there won’t be anything in this one for you (except possibly the pleasure of seeing Captain Kirk again — as it turns out, Chris Pine is always Captain Kirk even when he’s not).  If you ARE a fan of the genre, on the other hand, this movie will be somewhat disappointingly familiar, but you won’t really mind.  Because, well. . . because you’re a fan of the genre.  What more do you want, after all?  It’s a post-pandemic road-trip movie, dude.  *shrug*

The four main characters are two brothers, Danny and Brian (Pucci and Pine), Brian’s girlfriend Bobby (Perabo), and Danny’s friend Kate (VanCamp).  As the story opens, they’re their town’s last survivors of a worldwide viral pandemic, and they’ve decided to embark on a road trip with no clear destination in mind.  There’s some talk of a set of “rules” (ala Zombieland, but not nearly as clever), rules they promptly break when they encounter a father (ex-Boyfriend Christopher Meloni) and his obviously infected little girl.  The father tells them he’s heard of a school a day’s drive away that has a cure, and since each of their two cars has a problem only the other car can resolve, the two groups have to team up to survive.

Of course, in reality, they have to team up because you can’t have  a post-pandemic road-trip movie without some kind of Hope Mecca to journey to, and so, Hope Mecca: check.

What happens next?  Oh, you know what happens next, don’t be silly.  It all goes wrong, people die, we’re reminded again of the terrible things humans will do to keep themselves (and only themselves) alive, there’s some shootin’, there are a few scenes of gross looking dead or near-dead people, someone in the gang of four gets sick and has to be left behind, some militant survivors hassle them for a while, someone else gets sick and has to be taken out, the movie ends fairly lacking in hope.  Like I said: you’ve seen this before.

But hey, credit where credit is due:  at least this one doesn’t involve zombies, which I’d say is probably its one and only original idea (at least, it felt original in this day and age, when it seems like every disease-based disaster movie is really just a zombie movie in disguise).  Instead, it involves something far scarier in practical terms — a virus that is highly contagious through air or contact, has an incubation period during which people are infected but not symptomatic, and takes over a week to kill:  a long, long week of pain, sickness, misery, and isolation.

The thing is, despite what it lacks in the originality department (third floor, ding!), I still found this one thoroughly watchable.  The acting is believable, the story is tolerable, and I appreciated the filmmakers’ attempt to make a scary disease movie that would actually feel somewhat plausible.   If you like any of the actors, or you’re a fan of virus disaster flicks in general, this one is probably worth a rental.  If not, well, hey, why’d you read down this far?  Thanks for doing that.  That was sweet.

[Netflix it | Buy it]

Genre:  Deadly Virus
Cast:  Chris Pine, Piper Perabo, Lou Taylor Pucci, Emily VanCamp, Christopher Meloni

This Week in Steve McQueen: The Cincinnati Kid (1965)

January 29, 2010

First off,  let me say I thought this movie was filmed beautifully.  I was immediately struck by both the colors and the camera work — angles, people in foreground versus background, stuff like that.  Brilliantly done, in that regard.  After I saw it last week in the Steve McQueen film festival I’ve been going to lately, I looked up a few things about it and was surprised to find that the original director, Sam Peckinpah, had been planning to shoot the film in black and white.  I think that would’ve been a mistake.  It would’ve fit the time period much better, sure, but for a movie about the red and the black of poker, having the colors of the cards pop the way they did — and somehow, they really did POP — felt like a mandatory effect to me.

That said, I can’t help but wonder if this film would’ve been ten times more interesting with a man like Sam at the helm.  One of the reasons he got canned, in fact, was because he was trying to “vulgarize” the script, according to the producer.  Well, no offense, Mr. Producer Man, but this movie could’ve used a little vulgarity.  Or at least a little spicing up.  Because otherwise?  Propped up next to other movies of its ilk, it just fell flat and dull, dull, dull.

See, the story is one we’ve just seen too many times done so much better.  It’s the tale of a spunky young gambler, Eric “The Kid” Stoner (McQueen), who finds himself face-to-face with the most famously successful pro-player in the history of stud poker, Lancey “The Master” Howard (Edward G. Robinson).  After some caution from his friend and dealer Shooter (Karl Malden, who I loved in this, incidentally), The Kid decides to take the risk and jump into Howard’s big game.  Also joining the game is the rich, arrogant William Jefferson Slade (Rip Torn), who hires Shooter to deal the game and then tries to bribe him into helping him cheat.  When Shooter refuses, Slade calls in thousands of dollars in markers owed to him by Shooter and also threatens to expose a secret about Shooter’s wife Melba (the way, WAY overacting Ann Margret).  Commence much wringing of hands, as Shooter is faced with having to choose between his honor as a straight dealer and his honor as a husband.

That conflict sounds more interesting than it actually is, I’m afraid.

The big game finally comes and we watch the various participants struggle with their ever-shifting roles in this massive spectrum of personal relationships, professional honor, and greed.   But what could’ve been complexity and drama ending up feeling more like, well, like watching poker on ESPN.  There was a game.  Some guys yelled at some other guys.  Somebody won, somebody lost, the end.

This isn’t a BAD film.  It just lacks in oomph somehow.   And while it may have lacked in even more oomph had it been filmed in black and white as Peckinpah originally wanted, I think his proposed script changes probably could’ve pulled  this film out of its stupor.

Alas.  Win some, lose some, eh, Kid?

Definitely worth a rental for steadfast McQueen fans, and also for fans of either Malden or Robinson, who were great in this.  But for the casual McQueen liker, it’s probably one you could pass up.

Up next week, Nevada Smith!  Stay tuned!

[Netflix it | Buy it]

Genre:  Drama
Cast:  Steve McQueen, Edward G. Robinson, Ann Margret, Karl Malden, Tuesday Weld

BOOK and MOVIE: Push by Sapphire (1996), Precious (film version) (2009)

January 26, 2010

Two weeks ago, I read the novel Push by Sapphire, and then last week, I saw the movie that was based on it, Precious.  I had been reading gushing reviews of the film ever since it came out a few months back, and had been really intrigued by it, so when it left theaters before I’d had a chance to see it, I decided to pick up a copy of the book and start there instead.

Unfortunately, I think the brilliance of the novel so overshadowed the film for me that I wasn’t able to appreciate the movie version very much at all.  The story centers on a sixteen year-old, dirt-poor, African-American girl in Harlem named Precious Jones.  Pregnant with her second child (both children the product of incest with her father), Precious is kicked out of school.  She finds out about an alternative program in her area, Each One Teach One, and, after some nudging from a school counselor who believes in her, she gets herself registered, wanting desperately to learn how to read and write.

There, she meets Blue Rain, her teacher and ultimately the woman who inspires Precious to get back on her feet and press on towards a brighter future.  Miz Rain, as Precious calls her, teaches a class for teenagers who can’t read or write, and her unique instruction methods (she has all the students write in a journal daily, whether or not they can write at all, and responds personally to every one of their entries) inspire the students and bring them together into a tight bond.

When Precious has her second baby and her abusive mother sends the baby flying to the to the floor in a fit of rage, blaming Precious for “stealing her man” (which tells you everything you need to know about her mother, right there), Miz Rain helps her find a halfway house where she and her newborn son, Abdul, can live safely.  Eventually, Precious also regains custody of her first child, a daughter with Down’s Syndrome she calls “Little Mongo,” and by the end of the story, we know Precious Jones and her babies are gonna be all right.

The novel version of this story is written in Precious’s voice, the text spelled phonetically just as she’s speaking it.  While it took me a few pages to get into the rhythm of this writing style, ultimately, I found it absolutely overwhelmingly powerful.  It takes us right into her head, and the details of her emotional responses to her repeated rapes by her father literally made me break down and weep time and time again.  So much confusion, so much shame, so much terror, and all in such a little, little girl.  It’s just heartbreaking.  To then watch her writing change as she begins to learn from and be inspired by her teacher is a revelation, and by the end of this novel, I felt like I knew Precious Jones as well as I’ve ever known anybody.  I loved her.  I loved her.

The film, on the other hand, kind of robs you of that inside look at Precious, and necessarily so.   It can’t be filmed the way it was written — there’s no way to make that work.  But without that intense inner voice, that uniqueness, the story ends up losing a lot of its impact and mostly just ended up feeling t0 me like every other inspiring-schoolteacher-with-poor-troubled-students film I’ve ever seen.  It follows exactly that pattern and, as such, is pretty predictable.

That said, the acting in the film is phenomenal.  I was moved very much by Gabourey Sidibe’s performance as Precious, and Mo’Nique’s, as her brutal, equally-broken mother (Mo’Nique just won a Golden Globe for this role, I believe).  Actress Paula Patton (Deja Vu and Mirrors) is also great in the role of Blue Rain and it was nice to see her in a meatier part like this at last.   Additionally, Lenny Kravitz surprised me by showing up (What the. . .?  Is that LENNY KRAVITZ?)  and then doing a pretty decent job with his role as Precious’s maternity ward nurse, and even though he was clearly added to the film as eye candy (his character isn’t in the book at all, I don’t think), I did not mind this one iota.  No sir.  Not one bit.

Overall, I think this is an absolutely riveting, beautiful, inspiring story, and one not to be missed.  But my recommendation is to skip the movie and go straight to the book.  If you feel a need to cover both bases, I’d suggest, in that case, starting with the film.  I think if I’d gone that route myself, I would’ve appreciated the film a lot more than I did.  Instead, the moment the movie was over, I just wanted to pick the book back up again so I could reacquaint myself with the REAL Precious.  She is, quite simply, an inspiration.

Highly recommended!

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[Buy the movie | Netflix it]

Genre:  Fiction/Drama
Film cast:  Mo’Nique, Gabourey Sidibe, Paula Patton, Mariah Carrey, Lenny Kravitz

MOVIE: Heartland (1980)

January 25, 2010

The other day at Scarecrow Video (my favorite local video rental shop), I found myself pressed for time and needed to find a second movie to rent fast (it was two-for-one day and what idiot only rents one on two-for-one day?).  So, you know what I did?  I went up to the Independent Drama section, closed my eyes, reached out, and picked a box off the shelf at random.  This is the movie I ended up with, and, I’ll confess, I almost put it back when I flipped it over to read the description.  I mean, really, how many times have I seen this EXACT movie?  A million times.  A million, at least.  The box described it as a film about a widow who takes her daughter to Wyoming in 1910 to work for an unmarried rancher who needs a housekeeper, and if you can’t predict exactly where this is headed, then you haven’t been paying attention.

Thing is, even though everything I expected to take place in this film did, in fact, take place in this film, I still ended up loving it.  For one thing, I have always adored Conchata Ferrell, though I confess I never knew that was her name until today.  Remember her as the pizza parlor owner in Mystic Pizza?  Or how about as the boisterous nurse in that 80’s sitcom with George Clooney, E/R?  Always loved her, and man, does she ever carry this whole movie on her shoulders too.  Ferrell plays Elinore Randall, a middle-aged widow with a 7 year-old daughter  who finds herself forced to move from Denver to Wyoming when she loses her job and needs another one.  Rancher Clyde Stewart (Rip Torn) pays her way, under the contract she’ll stay a full year, and their first encounter is when she gets off the train after a long, long journey and he hands her a shopping list and walks off.  Friendly, that guy.

At first, the relationship between Randall and Stewart is an awkward one.  He’s not much of a talker, she’s pretty no-nonsense, and, man, can you imagine having to live that closely with someone you don’t even know?  It’s a two-room ranch house — it’s close quarters.  But as time passes, Randall and Stewart begin to slip comfortably into a routine.  It’s not love at first sight, but it’s functional.  It works.  It’ll do.

Only Randall’s not one to sit still anywhere in life, and the more of Wyoming she sees, the more she begins to love the land and long for her own place, having “worked for others all [her] life.”  When she puts a claim down on the land abutting Stewart’s ranch, he sits her down and gives her the straight talk about how hard it is to make it alone as a rancher in Wyoming, especially in the winters, which are long and brutal.  The conversation ends with a dose of practicality — why don’t we just get married?

So, they do.  And then they have a son.  And then their son dies during their first hard, hard winter together, and so does a lot of their cattle, taken by snow, taken by starvation, taken by disease.  But when spring rolls around and their grief begins to settle, Randall and Stewart emerge as a strong, loving unit, and life goes forward.  Life goes well.  Life has hope and companionship and peace at last.  It’s hard, that life.  But now — now — it can be done.

So yes, you see?  It’s just like every other movie you’ve ever seen about this — hardscrabble people in a hardscrabble land coming together to make things just a little less hardscrabble.  But this one is filmed well, written well, acted well, and features a lady who has, hands down, the greatest laugh in the history of laughs (oh, Conchatta, I love you, keep laughing, never stop).

Definitely recommended, and hey, you know what?  I think I’ll do that blind-selection thing again this Wednesday at Scarecrow too.  So far, so good.

[Netflix it | Buy it]

Genre:  Western
Cast:  Rip Torn, Conchata Ferrell, Lilia Skala, Barry Primus

Best of 2009 Lists Up at the Boyfriend of the Week!

January 22, 2010

Finally finished my annual list of best books, good movies, and bad movies read/seen in the last year.  Check it out and let me know if I missed any of your favorites!  And Happy 2010 to all you guys.  Thanks for reading and here’s to another 12 months of incredibly cute boys.

http://megwood.com

MOVIE: Humpday (2009)

January 21, 2010

Okay, first things first, it kind of blows my mind that this movie is both filed under “Comedy” and has the phrase “phenomenally funny!” written in large, white letters across its cover art.  Because while, yes, this movie has its truly funny moments, it is SO not what I would consider a comedy.  Instead, I found this film to be an extremely tender, compassionate, and thoughtful look at friendship and love.  And man, while the concept definitely makes it sound like you’re in for a crazy laugh riot, if you spent the entire film snorting and giggling, YOU DID NOT GET IT, my dear, obtuse friend.

In some ways, the central storyline of this film is not all that new.  It’s about two men who were best pals in college and reunite after a long absence to find they’ve taken completely separate paths.  Ben (Mark Duplass of the fabulous grin) got married, has a steady job, and is now trying to start a family.  Andrew (Josh Leonard of the delightful eye-crinkles), on the other hand, has been tooling around the world starting art project after art project, finishing nothing, but striving always for adventurous greatness.  When Andrew finds himself back in town briefly, he decides to pay a visit on Ben, crashing his pad at about 1 in the morning.  Groggy, Ben and his wife Anna (Alycia Delmore of the great bangs) offer to let Andrew spend the night in their back room.

Andrew’s plan to keep the visit short gets revised, though, when the next day he meets a lovely bisexual (director Lynn Shelton) who invites him over for a party at her place that night.  Andrew in turn invites Ben, who half-heartedly invites Anna, who instead suggests he have a lovely time by himself and make it home in time for dinner.  The party is pretty crazy, however, and Ben gets sucked into it quickly, losing track of time.  By the time the conversation turns to porn, both Ben and Andrew are pretty wasted, and when one of the locals brings up the weekly newspaper’s annual Humpfest competition, they are instantly, drunkenly intrigued.  The contest goes like this (and, incidentally, the paper is Seattle’s weekly, The Stranger, and Humpfest is totally real):  enter a homemade porn movie into a contest, watch a screening of it and the other entries, vote for your favorites, win fabulous prizes.

Forgetting all about the waiting Anna, Ben and Andrew quickly pledge to make the perfect entry of all time for Humpfest.  The most original concept ever, brilliantly filmed, total ART.  What they’ll do, they say, is film themselves having sex:  two heterosexual males, loving friends, expressing their affection for each other in a way that is stereotypically WAY, WAY TABOO for straight guys.  It’s “beyond gay,” they say.  It’s virtually guaranteed to win!

The next day, sobered up, the ramifications of this pledge start to reveal themselves to the fellas, who have several long conversations and finally agree to go ahead and give it a shot.  Meanwhile, Ben lies to Anna about it, and Andrew doesn’t, which leads to a whole lotta messy marital conflict.  And while I understood why Anna might be a bit weirded out by the entire concept (oh, sort of, anyway), I do have to say I was really no big fan of hers.  Some of that was because of the painful, painful spectacle of a woman so desperate to have a baby she’s completely separated the act of sex from romantic-love-type emotion.  And then has the gall to go all bonkers about her husband when he, essentially, declares he wants to do roughly the same thing.  Some of it was just the sulking.  She sulks a LOT.  Much as I loved her bangs, I do sort of hate sulkers.  Oh, I have issues.  I’ll shut up.

Andrew and Ben, on the other hand, I absolutely adored.  Their relationship is fascinating and believable, and the dialogue, much of it apparently improvised (something Leonard in particular has demonstrated he’s quite adept at), is sharp and just so, so RIGHT.  Their conversation in the hotel room, when they finally come together to make their film, is among the best dialogue between two male friends in a movie I’ve ever encountered.  It was just so authentic.  I felt like I was standing in the hallway eavesdropping while this real thing was happening to these real people just beyond the door.  This is almost exactly the same reaction I had to Shelton’s earlier film, My Effortless Brilliance (which costars Basil Harris, by the way, one of the members of the ex-Boyfriend of the Week band Awesome), and I was pleased beyond reason to discover that it wasn’t just a fluke.  There’s something about the way her characters talk to each other that hits it right smack on for me, and I love that.  I love it so very, very much.  I think it’s amazing and rare and great.  I think this movie is amazing and great.  I think Lynn Shelton is amazing and great.  And, while I’m at it, let me also mention that I think Josh Leonard’s eye crinkles are amazing and great.  (Watch for him in an upcoming Boyfriend of the Week write-up, by the way, because I can resist his charms no longer.)

Consider me a fan, Ms. Shelton.  And believe you me, I’m in it for the long haul after this one. Looking forward to what you do next.  Though, I do have a question for you — I’ve now seen two of your films, and both of them featured one character telling another character that their hair smelled really great.  Is that line your yellow Oldsmobile Delta 88?  Do you know what I’m talking about?  In any case, I’m looking forward to hearing that line for a long, long time.  Bring it on, lady.

[Netflix it (available on Watch Now) | Buy it]

Genre:  Drama, Not Really Comedy
Cast:  Mark Duplass, Joshua Leonard, Alycia Delmore, Lynn Shelton

This Week in Steve McQueen: Baby, The Rain Must Fall (1965)

January 19, 2010

“You never woulda got drunk, stabbed that man, and ended up in the pen if it weren’t for your playin’ that HONKYTONK!”

Need I say more?  THAT is how awesome this movie was.  It’s everything you’d expect from that one line of dialogue, plus lots and lots of half-naked, badly lip-synching Steve McQueen.  Marvelous.  Loved it.  LOVED IT.  Definitely worth a rental for any fan of the man or the genre (the genre of rock and roll, bad boys, and the women who love them desperately, desperately, foolishly).   What it lacked in sense and plot, it more than made up for in heart, and I’m nothing if not a sucker for heart.

Lee Remick, you sweet thing.  I adore you.

[Netflix it | Buy it]

Genre: Drama
Cast:  Steve McQueen, Lee Remick, Don Murray

MOVIE: Sherlock Holmes (2009)

January 17, 2010

Over the span of my life, I’ve had a lot of encounters with the great Sherlock Holmes.  Hands-down, though, one of the best was when I was living in my first apartment in graduate school, back before I had a TV set.  That year, I started getting a lot of books on tape from the local library, primarily to fill the silent void when I was home alone.  One of those audiobooks was a series of recordings of Holmes stories, read by ex-Boyfriend of the Week Ben Kingsley.  Most of the time, when I had a book on tape playing, I wasn’t even really listening to it; it was just there providing the comforting sound of a voice in an otherwise quiet room while I puttered around.  But every time I put in one of those Kingsley recordings, I immediately found myself sitting down, ear tipped towards the speaker, riveted.

I can’t remember how many of those Kingsley-read stories I listened to, but it was at least a half-dozen, and I’ve read many more Holmes tales in print during the span of my lifetime as well.   So, I would consider myself reasonably familiar with the mythos of Holmes and Watson.  That said, I’m certainly not a purist, and I went into this movie excited to see a new spin on the old boys from a director (Guy Ritchie) whose films I’ve found really energizing and unique in the past (big fan of Snatch in particular).

Overall, I will say I really enjoyed watching this film.  It’s entertaining, for sure, and I thought both the lead actors, Robert Downey Jr. as Sherlock and Jude Law as a totally kick-ass Watson, did a great job in their respective roles.  (Though I will say I’ve heard/read a lot of people talking about a homoerotic element to their relationship in the film, and I have to say, I didn’t pick up on that at all.  I’ve never really understood why people persist in describing a close relationship between two men as “homoerotic,” just because, what, they live together and they clearly care a lot about each other?  This is weird to me.  But whatever — it isn’t terribly important and besides, what the hell do I know anyway?)

While I was undeniably entertained the entire time I was in the theater, I did have a few issues with the movie overall.  One was the storyline — the mystery — which I didn’t feel was at all up to par with the smart, complex plots of the original stories.  The mystery wasn’t terribly original or interesting (it was about a bad dude who kills a bunch of people, gets hanged for it, and then “miraculously” comes back to life to keep on killin’), the clues discovered didn’t feel like authentic “eureka!” moments, the villain didn’t impress me as that terrific a nemesis, and the result was that I didn’t care all that much about the outcome.  The only part I found at all intriguing was the set-up for the coming and classic conflict between Holmes and Professor Moriarty, which is finally established at the end of the film, leaving great, hopeful space for a sequel.  Bring it.

The other issue I had with the film was, I’m sorry to say, all Guy Ritchie’s fault.  Ritchie has a very distinctive style, especially when it comes to scene transitions and fights, and while that’s a style I have really dug in the past (it worked to enthralling and often comic effect in Snatch, for example), it just didn’t fit here for me.  I don’t know if it’s because it felt too “modern” for the setting of the story, or. . . what, exactly.  But it felt forced to me here, like Ritchie got to the end of the film, realized his trademark techniques weren’t in there, and went back to toss them in at random in a few places.  It glared at me.   It jerked me out of the experience a few times.   It was too much.  Too much.  Just somehow a little bit too much.

Aside from these quibbles, though (and my overall dislike of Rachel McAdams, who I find kind of stifled in terms of range — read: boring), I was completely entertained the entire two hours this movie was rolling out before me, and if they make a sequel, I’ll be one of the first in line, popcorn at the ready.  It’s the kind of movie you should see when what you want is a boost of spirit without much expenditure of brain.  “Flick” is the word, really.  This movie is a flick, in the very best sense of the term, and, as such, it features very little in the way of mental challenge, and very much in the way of eye candy (damn you, Robert Downey Jr.’s mouth, because you look distractingly delicious from here and from here, I cannot reach you).   Nothing wrong with that.  And, in fact, many things right.

What did you guys think?  Hit the comments and let me know.  And can you believe I haven’t made Jude Law a Boyfriend of the Week yet?  I can’t believe it either.  I better get on that.  What should I rent for research?

[Prequeue at Netflix | View trailer]

Genre:  Action
Cast:  Robert Downey Jr., Jude Law, Rachel McAdams, Mark Strong, Kelly Reilly

BOOK: Boneshaker by Cherie Priest.

January 12, 2010

I actually finished this book over Christmas, but I’m behind on EVERYTHING here, so let’s pretend it only seems like it’s January.   It only seems that way.  It’s actually about December 26th.   Tomorrow is December 27th.  A few days from now it will be January 1, 2010 and I will finally post my “Tops of 2009″ lists for you.  But for now, it’s only the 26th and I have a great book to tell you about.  Settle in and read up.

This book was given to me as a birthday present from a good friend of mine who works in a bookstore and recommends all kinds of awesome stuff to me whenever I see him.  He’ll undoubtedly be pleased to note, for example, that two of the best books I read in 2009 are ones he passed along to me.  (Thanks, Steve!)  But even better in terms of this particular gift,  he got my copy of Boneshaker signed by Cherie Priest herself!  Every couple of chapters, I would turn back to the front page and look at her signature and marvel at the fact this woman exists in the real world.  A person with this kind of imagination.  But she is, look!  She signed my book!  Someone met her!  She wrote a note to me in my book!  It’s kind of amazing.  Oh, to have that kind of creativity and brain.  I wish, I wish, I wish.

This story is set in the mid-1800’s in Seattle, but it tells the tale of a very different Seattle from the one we all know and love.  (Hate.  Love.  Mostly hate.  STILL RAINING, GAH!) The tale begins as Seattle is expanding into a real boomtown, people coming in from all over to strike it rich in gold.  One resident, an inventor named Leviticus Blue, has come up with a machine he thinks is going to revolutionize the industry — finally a machine that will allow miners to break through the ice in Alaska and get to the massive stores of gold hiding behind them.  Only something goes awry and the machine is unleashed on the city of Seattle instead, where it not only tears up the town, but also releases a toxic gas that begins to kill– and then bring back to life, zombie-style — all those who come in contact with it.

Flash forward a few years, and the city of Seattle has now been walled off to contain both the toxic “blight”  and the scary undead residents who creep around the streets, insatiably hungry for human flesh.  Blue’s widow, Briar Wilkes, lives just outside the walls with her son Zeke, who struggles daily with the stigma attached to being the son of the man who destroyed Seattle.   Throw into the mix a complicated history with Briar’s father — thought by some to be a hero and others to be a criminal — and life for the teenaged Zeke is only getting harder.

His solution?  To go under the wall and into the city of Seattle to try to find the truth about his family.  To survive the blight and the zombies and make his way to the facts about Leviticus Blue and his grandfather.  Only as soon as his mother realizes what he’ s done, and that the way he got in can no longer be the way he comes out (a tunnel the next day crushed by an earthquake), she immediately makes plans to find a way into the city herself to try to find him before it’s too late.

Desperate to stay alive, each Wilkes ends up teaming up with survivors inside the walls, trying to make their way to each other and back to safety.   And that’s where the real fun for the reader begins.  You’ve got ravenous undead, criminal overlords and gangs, air pirates, drug addicts,  and heavily armed, extremely cranky refugees to work with.  Who do you trust?  And if you trust no one, how are you going to make it out alive?

If you’re a fan of A) zombie stories or B) science fiction in general, I think you’re going to have a great time reading this novel.  I myself can’t wait to find out what else Priest has written and start loading up my nightstand with her paperbacks.  Hope they make this one into a movie.  Man, it could be a GREAT movie if someone did it right, too.  Someone do it right?  Please?  For me.  Much obliged.  Amen.

[SCIENCE FICTION]

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This Week in Steve McQueen: The Great Escape (1963)

January 12, 2010

For my birthday last month, my husband got me two passes to a ten-week/ten-movie Steve McQueen film festival that started last week in Seattle.  “YAHOO!” was my response upon opening the envelope, followed by what can be best described as a “jig.”  Though I’d appreciate it if you didn’t repeat that.

Last Thursday was the start of the series, and while I was sitting in the theater waiting anxiously for the film to roll, I came up with the plan to bring you guys in on the action by reviewing each movie each week in a regular feature I’m going to call “This Week in Steve McQueen.”

If you’ve seen the film yourself, I’d love to have a conversation about it in comments.  Who’s your favorite character?  What’s your favorite scene?  If not, maybe reading what the rest of us have to say will inspire you to take action.  And, incidentally, if you live here in my town, and you like Steve McQueen, make sure you let me know because my husband isn’t going to be able to join me for every film in the series, so I will need a date periodically.  That date can be you!  You!  You right there!  You!  And me!  And Steve McQueen!  Let the magic begin!

Kicking off the series last Thursday was one of my all-time favorite films, Steve McQueen or no, The Great Escape.  This is a movie I’ve seen dozens of times, and it’s one I watch regularly on the small screen at home.   Getting to see it on the big screen, then, was an enormous thrill for me — I could barely sit still all day waiting for 7:30pm to come.  And guess what?  No big surprise:  it was just as awesome as I hoped it would be.  (Though it does, I will confess, seem considerably longer when you’re in a crowded theater that’s about 10 degrees too warm and lacking seriously in leg room — if you end up joining me for The Sand Pebbles, another super-long McQueen film, wear lots of layers).

I’m assuming this is a movie most people have seen, so I won’t go into detail about the story here.  In short, it’s the true story of a group of British and American POWs during WWII, brought together in a German prison camp that’s been specially designed to make it impossible for them to escape.   The brilliant plan, you see, was to get all the POWs who kept escaping together in a single location and lock ‘em down permanently.  But, of course, those of us with nieces and nephews know exactly what happens if you put all the troublemakers together in a single room.  Because what happens is trouble.  And trouble is exactly what is wrought upon the Germans, in no short order.

I remember seeing this movie as a little kid and being struck by the violence (nice people get shot — oh, sweet Archie — which is always the worst type of violence in a film, especially when you’re a child), but I never realized it was as hilarious as it is until I was in my 20’s and I rediscovered it.   Nor did I realize how handsome James Garner was until I was in my 20’s and rediscovered HIM, for that matter.  This movie is loaded with some of the most famous actors of the early 60’s:  Garner, McQueen, Richard Attenborough, Charles Bronson, Donald Pleasence (pre-Halloween), James Coburn, and David McCallum (best known these days as “Duckie” on NCIS, by the way).   And put simply, the film is an absolute blast to watch.  It’s exciting, funny, clever, well-acted, well-shot, and wonderfully scored by Elmer Bernstein (I dare you to get that theme out of your head — it’s still stuck in mine five days later).  You can’t really go wrong here.

SO, if you’ve never seen this one, take the night off, rent a copy, and curl up on the couch with The Forger, The Cooler King, The Scrounger, Big X, and The SBO.  It’ll be a night to remember, trust me on that one.  (p.s. The Scrounger’s mine.  Handenzees off!)

And now for a little piece of Steve McQueen trivia:  You know that scene where Hilts strings the wire across the road to stop the soldier on the motorcycle?  He’s ALSO playing the soldier on the motorcycle.  He got to do a lot of riding in the movie, and, in fact, his “escape” by motorbike was his suggestion to director John Sturges.  The original plan had involved having Hilts get on a train.  McQueen?  On a TRAIN?  That’ll be the day. . .

Up next, Baby the Rain Must Fall.  Review next week!

Genre:  Drama, War
Cast:  James Garner, Steve McQueen, Richard Attenborough, Charles Bronson, EVERYBODY ELSE ON THE PLANET IN 1963!


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