Movie Review: Kill Devil

Movie Review: Kill Devil (2004)

A teenager wakes up on a deserted beach, sometime in autumn.  He doesn’t remember who he is or how he got there, but the blanket he was under indicates he wasn’t on that beach by accident.  He’s wearing a strange metal wristband with the name “Shougo” on it, so that’s what people call him.

Kill Devil

Shougo soon meets other amnesiac teens, some reasonably friendly, and others lethally unfriendly, especially “the scythe man.”  Shougo and the others stumble around the island looking for the reason they’re there, and someplace safe.

Then about fifteen minutes in, we’re told exactly what is happening, not in dialogue, but a straight-up voice-over.  It seems that Japanese scientists have isolated the “murder gene” that causes some people to flip out and casually kill others.  Sixteen teenagers who carry the gene were brought to this island, and had their memories wiped as part of an experiment code-named “Kill the Devil.”  (We never learn the precise goal of the experiment.)

This 2004 Japanese film is transparently following in the footsteps of Battle Royale with the young people being coerced into killing each other for the benefit/entertainment of adults.  It’s not nearly as good; the amnesia gimmick means that we learn little to nothing about any given character before they die, and most of them do.

There’s also a samurai sword duel in the middle of the movie that has nothing to do with anything else.

If you liked Battle Royale or The Hunger Games, but thought there was too much plot and character development, this might suit your needs.  The US DVD release comes with a trailer and alternate ending; don’t watch either before the main feature as the trailer spoils one of the few actual surprises, and the alternate ending won’t make sense at all (not that it does much anyway) without seeing the rest of the movie first.

In addition to R-level violence, there’s some side-on male nudity.

After this point, I will be discussing SPOILERS for Kill Devil.

SPOILERS!

It’s a bit difficult to say what the theme of the movie is, beyond “grownups suck.”  Perhaps the futility of trying to overcome your genetic destiny; or a warning against being so invested in a certain outcome of your scientific research that you rig the experiment until you get the outcome you want.

The ending of the film is a downer, with all the teenagers dead, and most of the adults getting away with their actions.  And then there’s a stinger at the end of the credits that’s foreshadowed in one line in the rest of the movie, involving a character we’ve never seen before and leaves you asking “why?”  Perhaps it was meant to be a sequel hook.

The alternate ending is just like the regular ending except that the last teen killed suddenly rises, goes into a dance routine, and then several of the other teen characters join him for a big dance number.  Then the others vanish, the last teen lies down dead, and fade to black.  (Same stinger after the credits.)  Given that several members of the cast were members of the Diamond*Dogs dance troupe, this may have been the original intended ending.

Both the ending credits and the trailer show a still of what is apparently a scene deleted in the US release in which two of the characters do a rap.    I am mildly grateful that this was not included.  The trailer also gives away the stinger.

END SPOILERS

Again, not particularly recommended, unless perhaps you are a fan of the Diamond*Dogs dance troupe, or one of the actors in the cast list.

Manga Review: Vinland Saga Book One

Manga Review: Vinland Saga Book One by Makoto Yukimura

It is the Eleventh Century C.E., and Europe trembles in fear of the raiders from the north, who we would call Vikings.  This is the story of one such Viking, the youth Thorfinn Thorssen.

Vinland Saga

This thick volume opens with a battle in the Frankish Kingdoms (later France) as Askeladd’s band of mercenaries offer their services to Lord Jabbath.  Among the raiders is Thorfinn, who is far deadlier than any beardless boy has a right to be.   But Thorfinn serves Askeladd for one reason only, to someday be allowed to kill his father’s murderer in a fair duel.

We then flash back to Thorfinn’s childhood in Iceland, and how it was that his father, the mighty Thors,  was treacherously slain.   But we also learn of old Erik and his tales of a land beyond the sea, without slavery or war.   This “Vinland” remains a place that Thorfinn cannot bring himself to search for until he has had his vengeance, reckless of the cost.

The art is excellent, and the creator has done his research (no horned helmets here!)   On the other hand, he does take some liberties with history (this will become more apparent in later volumes.)    This is an exciting tale of vengeance and violence, although it should be acknowledged that most of the people in the story just aren’t good people.  The one truly heroic person in this volume is the reluctant warrior Thors,  who believes that a true warrior should not need a blade to lead a good life.

Note:  While there is no rape in this volume, given the subject matter, I would not be surprised if it came up later in the series.  As is, there’s plenty of blood spilled and heads flying off;  it’s rated 16+, and I’d advise parents to stick to that.

I recommend this volume to fans of Viking tales and lovers of violent action stories.

Comic Book Review: ‘Tain’t the Meat…It’s the Humanity!

Comic Book Review: ‘Tain’t the Meat…It’s the Humanity! art by Jack Davis

EC Comics was for a short time a brilliant publisher of crime, SF and especially horror comics in the early 1950s.  One of the things that made them so great was having some of the best artists working in the field at the time.  This book collects several stories artistically rendered by Jack Davis, particularly from the Tales From the Crypt series.

'Tain't the Meat, It's the Humanity

Mr. Davis had a great line in rotting corpses, feral rats and ugly-natured humans.  This is a black and white reprint, which allows his use of strong blacks to be shown to advantage.  (He went on to a long, successful career in other comics areas after horror comics were gutted by the Comics Code.)

EC’s horror titles were notorious for their twist endings, and horrible puns.  The title story is no exception, being about a World War Two-era butcher who gets tempted by the money of the black market.  Other standouts include “The Trophy!” about a hunter who only kills animals for bragging rights (two versions, one done originally for a 3-D comic!), “Gas-tly Prospects!’ about a murdered prospector that won’t stay buried, and “Lower Berth” with (at the time) the most unexpected twist of all.

There’s also some biographical material about Mr. Davis, whose life was thankfully nothing like the stories he illustrated.

This is classic stuff, and highly recommended for teenagers and up.  (Some scenes may be a little intense for preteens.)

Book Review: Murder by Sunlight

Book Review: Murder by Sunlight by Barbara Graham

Disclaimer: I received this book through a Goodreads giveaway on the premise that I would review it.

Murder by Sunlight

It’s coming up on the Fourth of July in tiny Park County in Tennessee, and Sheriff Tony Abernathy must deal with not just the heat and increased traffic, but a sudden wave of crime.  Someone is going around assaulting people in an attempt to find “Bob”, a man is found impaled on a tree, and a woman is murdered–by sunlight!  Good thing the sheriff’s wife Theo runs the local quilting shop, where she can catch the gossip while a charity quilt is being made.

This is part of the “Quilted Mystery” series, none of which I have read before.   Amusingly, the fact that several high-profile murders have occurred around one small town is acknowledged, and may be causing political problems for the sheriff.

The story reflects the business of a sheriff’s department, with many issues popping up, some connected to the main plotline, others mostly irrelevant.  I found most of the characters likable, or at least believable–as often happens in murder mysteries, the central victim has a personality that leads you to question why she wasn’t murdered before this.

I really liked that volunteerism leads to at least one character having as happy an ending to their part in the story as is possible under the circumstances.  And crafty people may enjoy putting together a quilt pattern that’s slowly revealed through the book.

It’s a good fast read and a fun mystery.  Thrifty readers may want to check to see if there’s paperback editions of the earlier books, or consult the library, as the hardback is $25.95 new.

Book Review: USA Noir

Book Review: USA Noir edited by Johnny Temple

Disclaimer:  I received this book as a Goodreads giveaway on the premise that I would review it.  This was an Advanced Reading Copy, and small changes may be made in the final product.

USA Noir

“Noir”, here, is short for noir fiction, a form of hard-boiled crime fiction by analogy with the cinematic film noir.  Noir fiction tends to focus on the seedier side of life, filled with petty criminals, people driven to extremes by circumstance, and bittersweet at best resolutions.  Akashic Books has been putting out anthologies of noir short stories grouped by location since 2004, and this is a “best of” collection.

The stories are grouped by themes such as “True Grit” and “Under the Influence”, and range across the continental United States.  (Yes, that includes the Twin Cities.)  Most are contemporary (one has Google Maps as a plot point) but there are a couple of period pieces set in the 1940s and Fifties.

Some standout stories include: “Animal Rescue” by Dennis Lehane (a man finds an abandoned puppy, and decides to keep it),  “Run Kiss Daddy” by Joyce Carol Oates (a man does not want to upset his new family), “Mastermind” by Reed Farrell Coleman (a dumb crook comes up with the perfect crime), “Loot” by Julie Smith (various people try to cash in on Hurricane Katrina), “Helper” by Joseph Bruchac (revenge comes looking for Indian Charlie, but he’s no pushover) and “Feeding Frenzy” by Tim Broderick (in comic book format, a Wall Street firm has lost a big contract, and the employees search for someone to blame.)

Thirty-seven stories in total, 500+ pages of entertainment.   There’s also a list of the other stories in the volumes these were reprinted from, and a list of awards the series has garnered.

If the genre is not warning enough, I should mention that sordid violence is common in these stories, and some may be triggery.

Overall, the stories are of good quality, and represent an excellent cross-section of today’s noir writers.    It’s good value for money.

Update:  “Animal Rescue” was turned into the 2014 movie “The Drop” starring Tom Hardy; here’s the trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Iy_ogNiryZ8

Book Review: Waco’s Debt

Book Review: Waco’s Debt by J.T. Edson

This book is part of the “Floating Outfit” series, about a particularly illustrious group of cowboys who work for the OD Connected ranch in Texas.   As the title suggests, the star of this volume is Waco, one of the youngest members of the crew.  Waco’s foster father and brothers are murdered, and he returns to the ranch where he grew up to track down the killers and protect his foster sister Mary Anne, who has returned from education in the East.

Waco's Debt

This is a Western of the old school, morally unambiguous.  The good people are good, the bad people are despicable, and soft city folk need some real rough living if they want to amount to anything.  There’s a sidebar romance with one of Mary Anne’s friends being wooed by a greenhorn that Waco takes under his wing.

It’s a quick read, with plenty of action and a side trip to Chicago, where Waco runs into some old friends.  Waco was eventually spun off into his own series of books, and became a U.S, Marshal.  If you like your Westerns fast-paced and reasonably clean, this is a fun book.  Trigger warning, though, for some off-screen domestic abuse by the villain.

Book Review: Dead But Still Ticking

Book Review: Dead But Still Ticking by David M. Selcer

Disclaimer:  I received this book as a Goodreads giveaway on the premise that I would review it.

Ticking

Warren Barchrist III may have won a big case in the last volume, but his name is still strongly associated with being sued by the Securities & Exchange Commission.  So his law business hasn’t really picked up, and he’s considering closing up.  Until, that is, he receives a five million dollar cashier’s check from elegant gay lawyer Robert Steinglass, with a promise to explain later.  Before that can happen, Steinglass dies under suspicious circumstances.

In addition to his now deceased client, Warren soon finds himself hired by the dead man’s husband because the law firm he belonged to has un-personed him and is supposedly hiding the will.  And a toxic client wants to hire the Buckeye Barrister for involvement in drug smuggling.  How do a Ukrainian widow and Somali terrorists fit it?  After being poisoned himself, Warren is determined to get to the bottom of this.

Warren proves to be a talkative narrator, full of fun facts he wants to share with the reader.  (For example, Columbus, Ohio has the second-largest Somali community in the United States, after Minneapolis.)  Since I do the same thing when I talk, I can empathize, but it could weary some readers, especially if they read many of the same facts in the previous books.    His gluttony and self-preoccupation are weaknesses that come back to bite him more than once in the story.

If you have not done so already, do not read the back cover or the official Goodreads description, as it gives away a huge plot twist.  There is some fat-shaming in the book,  aimed at the main character.  I noticed several spellchecker typos, the bane of small press and independent publishing.

Overall, it’s a fun read I’d recommend to fans of mysteries with lawyers as the main characters, and Ohio residents.

Book Review: Dark Harbors

Book Review: Dark Harbors by J.K. Dark

I received this book as a  Goodreads giveaway on the premise that I would review it.

Dark Harbors

Jack Cross used to be a rock star, the leader of the band Dark Cross, kings of the “pirate rock” trend.   But that was a while back, before drugs and the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle brought the band to a crashing fall, and Jack bottomed out.   Now he ekes out a living as a charter boat captain, sailing the Dark Cross out of Florida for tourists.  It’s something to do between the nightmares.

Jack’s latest cruise seems pleasant enough; he and a couple of old buddies are taking some Doctors Without Borders volunteers around the Caribbean to relax and help folks.    But there are bad signs, including reports that modern-day pirates are lurking in these warm waters.   Not everyone is going to be returning from this voyage….

The good first.  J.K. Dark clearly loves sailing, and has done some research on the Caribbean.  Some bits are nicely creepy, and the fact that Jack often has difficulty telling nightmare from reality for a few moments helps set the foreboding tone.

The not so good:  The frame of the story is that Jack Cross is telling it in first person to an Alcoholics Anonymous-like group as they’re something of a captive audience. ( Which may or may not mean he survives the voyage.)   But about two-thirds of the way in, there are suddenly third-person chapters that reveal the inner thoughts of characters Jack hasn’t met yet, and who he never gets the chance to get that information from. I can understand why the author does it, the information is necessary to understand what’s really going on.  But it breaks the frame and the narrative flow, and this is one book that might be better served by the reader being as much in the dark as Jack.

Warnings:  Trigger warning for rape late in the book.  Also, practitioners of Haitian Vodou might be displeased by its presentation in this story, even if it eschews the voodoo doll and evil magic stereotypes.

The book is self-published, I am told, and could have used a stronger editor.  I cannot recommend it unless you are really into crossing Jimmy Buffett atmosphere with a near horror taste.

Book Review: Beneath the Bleak New Moon

Beneath the Bleak New Moon by Debra Purdy Kong

Disclaimer:  I received this book as a Goodreads giveaway on the premise that I would review it.

Beneath the Bleak New Moon

Casey Holland is a security officer for a small transit company in Vancouver, British Columbia.   She’s working the night shift during a new moon, and dealing with obnoxious twin sisters who flout the bus rules.  Suddenly, she and the bus passengers witness a hit and run accident caused by illegal street racers.  Casey tries to save the victim, but it’s too late.

As a result, Casey meets Danielle Carpenter, a rookie reporter with a burning grudge against Roadkill, the local gang of street racers.  She believes one of them killed her brother, and is taking dangerous chances to track them down.  She drags the unwilling Casey (who would much rather leave this to her police contacts) into the investigation.

More hit and runs happen, but these are no accidents–has Roadkill developed a taste for blood as well as their need for speed?  And do the twins know too much about the gang for their own good?

This is the third Casey Holland mystery; references are made to her having gotten too personally involved in previous cases (one was her father’s death.)  She’s apparently mostly learned her lesson on that score, so Danielle is brought in to be the reckless one.  Casey coordinates with the police whenever possible, given her quasi-authority status.

There’s a subplot involving Casey’s ex-husband and her current boyfriend, and very glancing looks at her foster daughter who may be getting a love life of her own.

This story is a bit closer to noir than to cozy, the conclusion is more the product of elimination of suspects than it is of clever reasoning.  Many of the characters come off as unlikable, but  we are seeing them through Casey’s eyes and she’s kind of judgmental.

This book should be enjoyable for those who want some, but not too much, grit in their mystery stories.  Also, those who wonder what happens to unlucky pedestrians in those Fast and Furious movies.  Check it out at your library, or there’s a special ebook offer at touchwoodeditions.com .

Book Review: Hen of the Baskervilles

Book Review: Hen of the Baskervilles by Donna Andrews

Disclaimer:  I received this book through a Goodreads giveaway on the premise that I would review it.  Also, this review is of an Advance Reading Copy, and there may be small changes in the final text.

Hen of the Baskervilles

Meg Langslow is a blacksmith in the Virginia city of Caerphilly, although she isn’t doing any smithing in this particular volume.  It seems that (as in real life) the Virginia State Fair has run into severe financial trouble, and various communities and counties have decided to put on their own fairs, in an effort to become the new must-see event.  Caerphilly’s entry into this competition is the “Un-Fair”, which is basically a jumped-up county fair, notable for being in two counties–the midway is in adjacent Clay County, which is causing some jurisdiction friction between city police and county sheriff’s office.

Thanks to her superior organizing skills and having an extensive network of useful relatives and friends, Meg has been drafted into being assistant director of the fair.  Which would be stressful enough without a rash of theft and vandalism just before the fair is set to open.   The title comes from a garbled memory of one theft’s victims, and it’s mentioned a couple of times how much of a stretch it is.

Things get even dicier when the boyfriend of one of the fair’s most hated exhibitors turns up murdered.  With clashing law enforcement  stomping about, more missing animals and a slew of suspects, can Meg figure out what’s really going on before the fair is closed down for good?

The Meg Langslow mystery series has birds in the title of each book, previous cases aren’t much referred to, except that by now Meg has an extensive list of defense attorneys in case anyone she knows is arrested.  As someone who’s been to many county fairs, I found the setting charming and reasonably authentic.  The characters were also pretty enjoyable, especially the person everyone thought would be murdered.  The mystery worked well, and had a plausible solution.

Based on this volume, I would read other Meg Langslow books, but I might want to check them out from the library as the recent ones are only available in expensive hardbacks.

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