Archive for the ‘Review’ Category

I haven’t read the original Ramses the Damned novel since I was bar mitzvah age, but I remembered enough of the details (and remembered more during the reading of the book) to be very excited upon learning earlier this year that Anne Rice had written a sequel twenty-eight years after the original with her son, author Christopher Rice (whose books I need to put on my reading list one of these days). And now that I’ve read the Rices’ first collaboration, what do I think?

Well, you know how George Miller revisited the Mad Max franchise with Fury Road several years after the last entry, with a new cast and crew to help shape his vision, and the results were pretty awesome? It’s kind of like that.

 Ramses the Damned: The Passion of Cleopatra revisit Ramses and Julie Stratford shortly after the events of the last novel, preparing for their engagement party and their lives as globe-trotting immortals. However, news that Cleopatra is still alive reaches their ears, and there’s a chance she still holds a grudge against them. And as if that weren’t enough, new forces threaten the immortal couple, including an ancient queen whose very existence will turn the immortals’ world upside down.

Honestly, I could not tell this was a collaborative work. This may be because I’m unfamiliar with Christopher Rice’s work, but it’s more than likely he’s very good at imitating his mother’s style. Whatever the reason, the novel has a great story and moves along at a nice pace. The expansion of this fictional world to include new elements and characters didn’t feel forced or weird, and the twists and dramatic moments really allowed you to feel the surprise and attention when they occurred. You can’t complain about that.

And let’s talk about the new characters, because they were great! Bektaten’s addition to the cast was a real shake up, as was her companions Enamon and Aktamu (I hope I didn’t butcher those names trying to spell them). There’s a gravitas to them that leaps off the page and commands respect not just from characters, but from readers. It’s as if their many centuries have allowed them to transcend many human flaws and become something more. Imagine what they could be like in our modern world! It’d be truly something to see.

But of course my favorite new character (and possibly my new favorite character) is the aptly named Sybil Parker, an American author whose dreams cause her to be roped into this strange and magical world.* From the moment she appears on the page, she is just so interesting to follow, as her part in the story is so full of mystery and a bit of intrigue. And her arc, going from this timid homebody to this brave young woman who doesn’t bat an eye at immortals, was masterfully written. 

I don’t have any real problems to point out with this story. Possibly a bit more of Elliot Savarell would have been nice, but that is probably nitpicking on my part.

All in all, Ramses the Damned: The Passion of Cleopatra is a great return for a story we had thought finished long ago. On a scale of 1 to 5, I give the novel a 4.8. Pick it up, and get wrapped up in the story (been waiting a week to make that pun, and it was worth it).

But tell me, what did you think of this novel? What immortal creatures will we get from Anne (and possibly Christopher) Rice next year (I’m hoping angels)? And which Christopher Rice novel should I put on my reading list? Let’s discuss.

*Sounds like my dream life right there. Well, hopefully the former will be achieved someday soon.

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Well, I’m back at this again, with an odd film for my third outing. You see, I watched this film last July, and I even wrote a review. So why am I watching it again and making it part of the Rewatch Review series? Well, here’s why:

WHAT’S IT ABOUT: A Puritan family is forced to move out into the wilderness and start a farm on the edge of a forest. There, a witch sets into motion events that will change the fate of this family, especially the teenage daughter Thomasin, forever.

WHY I DIDN’T LIKE IT: Well, I actually did like it. I gave the film a 3.8 out of 5. That’s a good score. However, I went into the film with different expectations based on the title (the titular witch is actually very peripheral to the story), and I had a hard time without subtitles understanding what anyone was saying, which affected my enjoyment of the film.

WHY I REWATCHED IT: Over the past year and however many months, I’ve thought a bit about this film, and how my enjoyment of it was skewed by the fact that I had totally different expectations going in. I wondered if maybe, f I rewatched the film knowing what it’s really about–not the witch, but the family she affects–I’d enjoy it more. So when I decided to do this series, I put this film on my list.

THOUGHTS: I guess I did enjoy it a bit more, but I wouldn’t raise that 3.8 any higher.

The Witch is a good film, and I go into detail why in my review. It’s faithful to the time period in all the best ways, the psychological aspects are handled very well for a first-time writer/director, and the actors are all good in their roles. With great setting and music, it’s a pretty damn good horror flick. And if you watch it with the subtitles and don’t get miffed by the witch only being in the film for about two or three minutes, you’ll enjoy yourself thoroughly.

I did notice this time though that sometimes the lighting makes it hard to make out what’s going on, though. Like seriously, I know you’re in the middle of the woods, but maybe still use some lights so we can see the characters? Thank you!

JUDGMENT: My opinion doesn’t change, but I’m glad I watched it the way it was meant to be watched. It’s still a good movie, and if you get the chance, check it out. Just remember: subtitles! Those thick accents will puzzle you to death if you allow them to.

 

Well, that’s all for this entry in the series. Honestly, it was shorter than I expected it to be. The next one will probably be a bit longer, at any rate. After all, I’m watching one of the first slashers ever. That’s right: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Bring it on!

I finally watched the final episode of American Horror Story’s seventh season (one day I’ll be able to give a review right after the season premiere or finale on my own cable package), and I have to say, this has definitely been an interesting season. When people heard that the new season was going to be about the 2016 American Presidential Election, after months of speculation that it would be about either a cruise or something else ocean-related, we weren’t sure what to expect. Would it be preachy and lean towards one end of the political spectrum or the other? Would Trump, Clinton, or some other political figure be featured as a character? And would Sarah Paulson play Trump (if she did, she’d be great at it, no doubt)? And as further details came out, namely that it would be about a cult that arose in the wake of the election and focused on people who felt isolated and galvanized by the election, we got intrigued. Could this actually work as a season arc? Could this be good?

Well, before I get into that, let’s go a bit deeper into the plot. Returning to a normal mode of storytelling after the reality TV show format of Roanoke and being perhaps the most down-to-Earth season in the show’s history, Cult follows two very different people who become intertwined in ways neither would believe. The first is Allie Mayfair-Richards, a business owner and mother with liberal leanings and crippling anxiety who isn’t dealing well in the post-election climate. The other is Kai Anderson, a charismatic young man who begins to gather a group of devoted followers around him as he pursues power in local politics. As their lives start to intersect, they’ll not only make permanent impressions in each other’s lives, they’ll make impressions in the very surface of American politics.

I loved this season. Yes, the first two episodes were kind of slow and clunky, more devoted to commentary than to actually scaring the viewer, but after that the story and scares really picked up. The writers kept things very intimate, so that while this may have seemed like a big story about national politics and American political culture on the surface, it felt incredibly intimate, letting us into the lives and minds of these people. As per usual with American Horror Story, the story was twisty as heck, keeping you guessing where the story would go from one episode to the next and being unable to figure out most of the time where things would go. And after the second episode, they managed to keep the political commentary from getting too over the top. In fact, I think they managed to capture the spirit of American politics very well in this season: confused, divisive, changing from day to day and week to week. Things come up and down, change and merge and break, and become so muddled that you don’t know how it all started. All this was captured very well in this season.

And oh my God, that ending! That’s going to stay in my head for a while.

Beware this guy. He is a villain par excellence.

I also really enjoyed the characters. Obviously, the two main ones are exaggerated distillations of the stereotypes of the liberal and conservative voters, with Kai representing some of the darker views of what Donald Trump is to some Americans, but they also feel like real people whom you want to watch and see where they want to go from episode to episode. Each major character is given time to develop so that they feel real to the viewer, and you feel their struggles and/or death. I especially love Beverly Hope, played by Adina Porter (who played my favorite character last season), whose struggles within her workplace, followed by her struggles within a cult that changes drastically from the time she joins to the time she escapes. Kai is also just terrifying to watch. You know what his final goal is, but you never know what to expect from him from moment to moment. He’s like a pinball, causing something every time he touches something. He makes for a great villain. And watching Allie go from this weak, paranoid woman to this strong, somewhat devious fighter was just stunning.

Now, were there any parts I didn’t care for? Well, as I said, the first two episodes didn’t jibe with me, they were more devoted to commentary and set up than actual scares. Those could have been done better. Another issue I had was that I felt the final episode was kind of predictable. I mean, once I saw where it started, I kind of knew where it was going to go (except for maybe that last scene). I expect better from American Horror Story.

I also didn’t care for Lena Dunham playing Valerie Solanas in the seventh episode. Now, I have nothing against Lena Dunham. I think she’s a great crusader for a number of important issues, and I admire her for the success she’s had in the entertainment business. But sadly, I’ve only seen her in a couple of roles, not enough to get a gauge on whether or not I like her as an actress. And in the seventh episode, she just felt miscast. The episode was written brilliantly, the character she played was interesting, but she just didn’t fit well into the role, to the point that she was annoying (I don’t mean that in a sexist way, I just mean she didn’t fit the role and it had a negative impact. Don’t go after me in the comments).

And finally, I felt like the clown costumes could’ve used an explanation. Yes, the character Meadow designed the costumes, but why clowns? Why not a minority abused by the right, or ninjas, or just people dressed in dark clothing? It’s hinted that it has something to do with Twisty the Clown, who makes a surprise guest appearance in the first episode, but we never find out why the cult decides to commit crimes in custom-made clownsuits. I would’ve loved an explanation on that, especially since clowns figured so much in the advertising for the season (speaking of which, where are the bees? They show up a lot in the ads and the opening theme, but barely in the show proper).

This needed more of an explanation.

But other than that, American Horror Story: Cult was a great entry into the series. On a scale of 1 to 5, I give this season a 4.2, as well as the designation of my second favorite season so far (Hotel‘s still the best). It’s engaging, thrilling, and different from any other season so far. Plus it does a better job of talking about oppression and women’s empowerment than Coven ever did, so good on the writers for fixing that mistake. Check it out, and see it for yourself.

Now as for Season 8, details are scarce beyond that it will come out sometime next year, and that Sarah Paulson will return for her eighth consecutive season (yay!). I’m still hoping that I’ll eventually get an Orphanage or Academy/School-themed season. I’m curious as to how, if the theory about each season being a circle of Hell is true, how those themes might apply to those circles that are left. And I’m wondering who will be coming and going for the next season (Lady Gaga! Kathy Bates! Please come back!).

Well, that’s American Horror Story for you. It leaves you wondering up until the moment something happen, and then it blows us all away.

Reborn City, Book 1 of the Reborn City series.

I almost totally forgot this was happening today. I’ve been attending a training this week for work, so that’s been occupying most of my thoughts, and on top of that, yesterday was Halloween, so I totally forgot that anything else was happening this week. Lo and behold though, one look at my Facebook memories today showed me otherwise, and reminded me that today is the four-year anniversary of the publication of my first novel, Reborn City.

Now if you don’t know what Reborn City is, it’s a science fiction novel I wrote back in high school, and which I published back in my third year of college. The novel follows the Hydras, a street gang in a dystopian future whose leaders have incredible powers, and the shadowy government corporation that shows a great interest in the gang. A sequel, Video Rage, came out last year, and the third and final book in the series, Full Circle, is in the works.

Of the stories I’ve published, Reborn City is probably the one that’s gotten the best response from readers, even if it doesn’t have as many reviews as The Quiet Game. A lot of people have gravitated to the world of the story, and to the struggles of the characters, as well as to the intrigue and action that takes place within. But don’t take my word for it. Here are some of the top reviews:

This is an extremely commendable effort by a new young writer, whom I believe we will see much more of in the years ahead. Rami Ungar’s vision of a frightening dystopian future is peppered with those elements that make us all human. There are quite a few surprises in the book, and I am anxious for the next volume in the series to be released.

–Marc M. Neiwirth

This is not a genre I typically delve into, but I took this book on vacation and couldn’t put it down. The plot had me turning pages at quite the clip. The characters were unique and interesting and the imagery had me creating my own visual of what Rami’s interpretation of the future looked like. For first time novelist, Rami Ungar, this was an outstanding showing of talent and commitment to his passion of writing. Looking forward to seeing what he comes up with next!

–Michele

As a reader who does not read books in this genre, I must admit that I could not put down the book. I attribute this to the talent of the author. I am looking forward to reading the next books published by Ungar. I recommend this book to readers who enjoy action with features of supernatural powers and sci-fi.
–ENJ
These and other reviews are the reason why RC has a 4.6 out of 5 rating on Amazon (Video Rage has also gotten some good reviews, but I won’t post them here).

Video Rage, Book 2 of the Reborn City series.

If that short description of Reborn City and the reviews made you want to read the book, I’ll include the links to check it out down below, as well as links to Video Rage. You can also click this month’s featured novel, which happens to be Reborn City, to get taken directly to its Amazon page. And if you end up getting a copy and reading it, please let me know what you think in a review. Positive or negative, I love feedback and I would love to hear (as well as probably post) yours.
Feedback also makes me a better writer in the long run, so you’d be doing me a couple of solids as well.
And if you’re wondering how Full Circle is coming along, please know that I haven’t forgotten about it. I’m just taking a break to work on some horror stories, as well as to make sure Rose eventually gets published. As more news materializes, I will let you know.
Until next time, my Followers of Fear. Pleasant nightmares, and HYDRAS!!! (That makes so much more sense if you read the book).

I did not expect to do a review today. I didn’t even expect to see a new movie this weekend! But then I found out that the fourth or fifth Stephen King film to come out this year (he really is in the middle of an adaptation renaissance) was out on Netflix, I was like, “I gotta watch this. I gotta watch this, and I gotta review it.” So I watched 1922. And what did I think?

Well, it was nothing like I expected. I’ll give it that much.

1922 follows a farmer who plots with his son to murder his wife after she threatens to force them to leave their farm and move to the city, and the consequences of their plans. It’s based on a novella that I’ve only read half of (I was just coming off a huge Stephen King binge, and at the end of those, I just get sick of his style), and I honestly didn’t know it was being adapted into a movie until I saw the trailer last month. I wasn’t too excited, because while the trailer was good, I felt a lot more hype for movies like It and Gerald’s Game. Who knows? Maybe it would blow me away.

Too bad I found it average.

I think the film’s biggest problem is its first half hour, in which the farmer and his son kill the wife (spoilers). They cram that whole thing into about twenty minutes or half hour, from the introduction to the main characters to the murder. Now, usually movies about murdering someone take more time to do that, introduce the characters and then get to the murder. This gives the filmmakers time to introduce us to the characters so that we, the audience, can connect and empathize with them. This time is also used to explain why the characters feel murder is necessary to accomplish their goals. Otherwise the audience won’t understand, and that takes them out of the story.

However, 1922‘s filmmakers are in such a rush to get to the actual murder, they skip over all that. Instead, they use narration and jumpy shots of the characters thinking or pacing or staring into space to try to get all that across, and it’s done poorly. There’s a phrase we writers use: “show, don’t tell,” and that applies to movies too. We only get so much interaction between the characters during this time, in favor of the jumpy shots and narration, and by the time we get to the commitment to murder, we’re just like, “Wait, I have a hundred questions and points I’d like to bring up! I seriously don’t get why this murder needs to happen!”

After that first half hour though, the film does even out, becoming a much better horror film. The pacing becomes much more even, and they dispose of the jumpy shots. It actually makes for a really well-plotted thriller, in which we really see how this murder, as well as some of the consequences–expected and otherwise–psychologically damage the farmer and his son. The actors do a good job of making their characters seem real, and the use of the supernatural in this film isn’t too over-the-top or distracting. It’s actually pretty creepy at times.

Still, there’s nothing during the time after the first half hour of the film that makes the film extraordinary. No terrifying corn chase scene, no stalking of the main characters that makes you feel a chill. It’s just average psychological thrills and family drama, and we’ve seen a lot of it before in a hundred films, books, and TV shows.

Still, it’s better than the first half hour.

On a scale of 1 to 5, I give the film 1922 a 2.5. It’s a horror film, but there’s better material out there, Stephen King or otherwise. Go watch that instead.

 

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. I’ll try to make the next blog post I put out either something about my life or about examining something in writing or horror that’s worthy of discussion. Until then, have some pleasant nightmares and a great weekend.

My first entry into the Rewatch Review series, Perfect Blue, turned out to be an enjoyable film, much better than I remember it. That said, could the next one do just as well? You’ll have to read on to find out. Here we go with 2008’s The Strangers.

WHAT’S IT ABOUT: A couple go home after a wedding to relax and work through their issues. They’re stalked and attacked by strangers who show up in the middle of the night (simple and to the point).

WHY I DIDN’T LIKE IT: I just thought it was basic horror fodder. Nothing original or likable, nothing to make it stand out. It was bad, the kind of film that people hold up when they say horror movies are just lifeless stories about boring people screaming while someone or something tries to kill them.

WHY I REWATCHED IT: I heard some people praise it as scary. I heard it was loosely based on the Manson murders (right around the same time I read Helter Skelter). And I heard a sequel was being filmed. That’s it. Motivation enough.

THOUGHTS: I didn’t think it was possible. It was worse than I remember.

Nothing about this film makes it especially good or scary. For one thing, our two main characters are the blandest I’ve ever seen. It’s like watching white bread with saltines trying to be interesting and have chemistry, but the characters feel mismatched, and their actors feel like they couldn’t give a crap about making us believe them, just as long as they get paid! So when they discuss their issues or try to seem “in love” with one another, it just rings hollow. And when that happens, it’s hard to get invested into the movie at all.

On top of that, the camera is seriously unsteady. Not kidding, in shots where the camera should stay still to focus on a character or a dramatic scene to make it more powerful, the camera is moving around shakily, which is seriously distracting and takes away from the scene. I felt like the cameraman was holding a handheld, and his arm just got tired from holding the camera, so it shook. Seriously sloppy.

And beyond all that, the story has been done to death! “Killers in the house! Ooo-oooh! Scary!” But here’s the problem, we’ve seen this sort of story done so much better, in classic slasher films like Halloween and When a Stranger Calls. This is trying to be those films, but it doesn’t even feel like pale imitation here. It’s like paint-by-the-numbers (or kill-by-the-numbers, I guess).

The only good points were that the film did pick up a bit as it went on, with decent attempts at atmosphere and a few jump scares, but the first half hour of the movie just made it so boring, it’s hard to move past that and get emotionally invested in the story. But other than that, there’s nothing redeeming to make up for the mistakes made with this film.

JUDGMENT: I had more fun checking my phone than watching this movie. The Strangers, on a scale of 1 to 5, gets a well-deserved 1. Stay away from it, because let’s face it, the crap in your toilet will be more entertaining than this film. Don’t expect me to go anywhere near the sequel.

 

That’s all for now, Followers of Fear. Let’s hope that the next film I watch, I actually enjoy. Especially since I thought it had great potential the first time around.

Fun. That is the best way to describe this movie. Lots and lots of fun.

Happy Death Day is a comedy/horror film starring Jessica Roethe and Israel Broussard. Written by Scott Lobdell and directed by Christopher B. Landon, the movie follows Theresa “Tree” Geibman (Rothe), a selfish sorority girl who is murdered on her birthday by a masked killer, only to wake up at the beginning of her birthday. When she’s killed again by the killer and wakes up at the beginning of the day all over again, she decides to solve her murder and catch the killer before he finally finds a way to permanently kill her. It’s Groundhog Day with a horror twist, and in the best way too.

And yes, they do reference that movie at one point in the movie. After the film’s proven just how good it is despite the familiar premise.*

Honestly, I have very little to pick at with this movie, it was that good. The writing is stellar, balancing humor, horror, mystery and the growth of protagonist Tree with a deftness that you don’t normally see from first-time screenwriters, and the directing and acting matches just as well. Rothe does a great job showing us the evolution of Tree from a very unsympathetic protagonist to a likable and kinder person, and Israel Broussard’s Carter Davis as a sort of advisor and love interest is instantly lovable. The rest of the cast is also a lot of fun. I especially liked the character of Danielle, who was great comic relief as the movie went on.

The movie also does a great job of keeping things light when they need to be light and serious when they need to be serious, and Landon does a great job working with Rothe to show her evolution as a character, in both attitude, clothing, and even make-up. Along with great music and other touches, you get a really well-told film. It’s not exactly super-scary (though there were points where members of the audience gasped and screamed), but it keeps you engaged and trying to guess the ending and resolution, which will probably surprise you, especially if you’re not very good at guessing these sorts of things (I am, and even I had a bit of trouble predicting things).

If there was anything I didn’t like, it’s the mask the killer uses. Not that it’s bad, it’s a psychotic, one-toothed baby, it’s creepy as hell. But it’s revealed early on that the mask is actually that of the school’s mascot, and that plenty of people wear that mask. What school makes a baby its mascot? That’s almost as dumb as the Fighting Artichokes (which is a real thing).

But anything other than that is nitpicking. This is a fun thrillfest that will keep you on the edge of your seat till the end of the movie, and I can see it gaining the same sort of cult following as Groundhog Day has (though obviously for very different reasons). On a scale of 1 to 5, I’m giving Happy Death Day a 4.5. Go check it out, and see for yourself how awesome it is.

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. I might have another post out in the next day or two, so keep an eye out for it. Until then, pleasant nightmares!

*Funnily enough, I’ve never seen Groundhog Day, though I know the basic gist of it. I’ll watch it at some point, though. I have an idea for a novel with its own Groundhog Day time loop scenario, so I’ll probably see the movie before I start working on that (whenever that is).