Posts Tagged ‘celebrities’

A good number of you probably remember that late last year, I did a series of posts where I reevaluated scary movies I’d previously seen and disliked called the Rewatch Series. The first of those movies was the psychological horror anime movie Perfect Blue, released in 1997. I found that my previous dislike for the film had been based on my not understanding it, and that with a few more years and a better understanding, I found it to be a really good movie.

I’d also known for a long time that the movie was based on a novel, but it wasn’t translated into English and therefore I had no hope of reading it. That is, until I found out a few months ago that Seven Seas Entertainment had licensed and translated the novel for the English-language market. Naturally, I got excited and tried to get my hands on it. And after about four months, I finally did get a copy and sit down to read it.

Boy, that’s different than the movie in more ways than one. But of course, this won’t be a book-vs.-movie comparison (at least not entirely). It’s a review, so let’s get to reviewing.

Perfect Blue: Complete Metamorphosis follows two very different people: Mima Kirigoe, a Japanese pop idol who is trying to leave behind her image as an “innocent” starlet and take on a more mature image; and the other is someone simply identified as “the man,” a man who is obsessed with Mima and her “innocent” image and resolves to keep her innocent by any means necessary. When their paths intersect, their lives will be changed forever.

So right away, I should point out that the movie took a lot of liberties with the original story. Whereas the movie was a deeply psychological story about a young woman struggling with her identity, how people saw her, and how she saw herself after a career change, the novel itself is a very basic stalker story, like what you might find in an episode of Criminal Minds.* The story is mainly told from the viewpoints of Mima, who in this version is okay and even yearns for the changes to her image so she can progress in her idol career, and “the man,” whose sanity erodes the further Mima seems to get away from her innocent image and whose plans get more drastic. There are times when the story is told from the POV of other characters, but they’re always related in some way to the lives of Mima and “the man.”

What I do like about the novel is that “the man,” who in the movie is called “Mr. Me-Mania,” is given more complexity and we see more things from his perspective, why Mima’s innocence is so important for him and some of his ideas about the world. Not only that, but in the movie Mr. Me-Mania is, while intimidating, mostly a passive character, not taking any sort of action beyond stalking until late in the film. But from the beginning of the novel, “the man” is completely active and menacing, committing a horrific crime within the first few pages of the novel. It’s very effective for setting our perceptions of “the man,” and sets things up for the more disturbing actions he takes later in the story.

Speaking of which, there are some really disturbing scenes in the novel, especially as you go later in, that utilize body horror. Now, normally I’m not that big a fan of body horror (I associate it too much with torture porn, which I’m not the biggest fan of), but here it’s done very well, especially when “the man” starts practicing for his plan to “save” Mima. This is followed by a very scary climax, which utilizes tension, body horror, and good old-fashioned chase to effectively keep the reader drawn in and wanting to find out what happens next.

While not the same as the film, the novel is still good on its own merits.

However, the novel isn’t perfect. As I said, the story is a very basic stalker tale. The novel doesn’t go as deeply as it could into who Mima is as a person, and I would’ve liked to go deeper into that, as well as into other aspects of the story (but then again, Takeuchi did say in an afterword that he was simply writing a story around the conflict between an idol’s desire to grow and a fan’s desire to hold onto the image he fell in love with. On that alone, he certainly succeeded). That, and I felt that the novel ended a little too abruptly, without really showing the aftermath of the story’s main events.

Still, t is a decent, if very simple, story of psychotic cat and mouse. And while I like the movie better, I have to say I’m glad I picked up the original novel. On a scale of 1 to 5, I’m giving Perfect Blue: Complete Metamorphosis a 3.8. A gripping story of obsession with plenty of tension and well-written body horror. Take a look and let the story get under your skin (whether you want it to or not).

*In case you’re curious about the author’s feelings about the changes made to the story for the movie version, there’s an afterword at the end of the book written just after the film came out where he seems not only okay with the changes, but also was enthusiastic about the movie itself. Always nice when an author is okay with the changes made from book to film.

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I’ve been hearing about this film for a few months now, and the earliest whispers I heard was that it was going to be scary. Some event went so far as to call it an instant classic in the horror genre. Well, with rumors like that, I had to see this one myself. So today I went to the theater, trying to go in without preconceived expectations so as to give it a fair rating.

God, Hereditary is unsettling. And I’m still not sure what to make of it.

Hereditary follows the Graham family: father Steve, mother Annie, teenage son Peter, and 13-year-old daughter Charlie. The film begins with the funeral of Annie’s mother Ellen Leigh, who had a very complicated relationship to her daughter. What follows is a strange and twisting journey as the family experiences tragedy, psychosis, and the strange, all in two terrifying hours.

Where to begin? Well, for one thing, the film is excellent at creating atmosphere. It’s a slow burn story that doesn’t pile on the scary stuff all at once or starts small and then continues to escalate. Instead, it features small instances of horrifying and/or possibly supernatural occurrences, followed by big scary moments that stay with you for ages (one early-ish in the film left my mouth hanging with my hand covering it for several minutes) before retreating back to low levels. It’s a method that I don’t usually see in horror, but it’s quite effective. And when paired with odd camera movements and a soundtrack that’s quiet for nearly half of the film and only utilizes music during the most necessary scenes, the unsettled feeling you get while watching is doubled.

And on top of all that, you don’t really know if what’s happening is actually caused by supernatural forces or is taking place in the characters’ heads. Annie admits that her family has a very dark history of mental illness, and it’s hinted that daughter Charlie possibly has some mental/learning disabilities as well. So is what’s happening on screen actually the work of malevolent, supernatural forces, or is it some sort of shared delusion manifeting in a family under stress? Hereditary makes you ask that question throughout the movie, and you may not be able to answer by the end. All these elements come together to create this really freaky atmosphere that where it feels like nothing is stable, and anything can shift under your feet at a moment’s notice. Heck, the camerawork for this film, like sliding one person to the next and then backing up all in one shot or revealing a character’s reaction to a scare before showing us what’s so scary, feels like something right out of The Shining.

Actually, one wouldn’t be wrong in calling Hereditary a modern-day Shining, as its ability to unsettle and make audiences question the characters’ sanity, along with the excellent tricks of music and camera, are reminiscent of the Kubrick film. Of course, knowing my feelings on The Shining, it won’t surprise many of you to know I like this film better.

Of course, none of this would work so well without a brilliant cast to back it up. There are a number of excellent actors in this film, like Toni Colette as Annie, Alex Wolff as Peter and Gabriel Byrne as Steve, and they all do an amazing job in their roles. But the prize definitely goes to young break-out star Milly Shapiro as Charlie, who embodies the strange, creepy kid almost too well. You watch her, and you can’t help but be mesmerized and afraid. I hope she appears in more horror films (or films in general), because if her performance in Hereditary is anything to go by, she’s going to have quite the career in the future.

If there’s one problem the film had, it was the last couple minutes. I mean, they were passable, but I expected more after everything that came before. Other than that, great film.

All in all, I think the moniker “instant classic” is an excellent one for Hereditary. On a scale of 1 to 5, I’m giving it a 4.5. An unsettling, gripping addition to the horror pantheon that you won’t be able to disengage from and will stay with you long after the credits roll. Check it out, and be prepared for scares.

I talk a lot about my writing career. Not just on this blog, but everywhere else: when I was at school, at social events, at wherever I happen to be worshiping (usually it’s at a synagogue, but occasionally I’m at other places), when I’m hanging out, and of course, at work. I’ve mentioned to more than a few people at work that not only am I a writer, but I’ve told them that Rose is getting published by a publishing company. The vast majority of people I’ve talked to about it have been very excited to read it, even if horror is not their normal genre (though I think Rose would be more classified as a supernatural thriller at this point). It really boosts my mood when people say that, and makes me want to be an even better writer.

Today, a coworker from another office and I passed in the hallway at work. She asked me about updates on Rose, and I told her that my publisher was hopefully going to get back to me this week about some revision suggestions I’d made. She got that “how cool!” look on her face and told me to keep her informed. She then dropped this on me: she’d been telling her kids about me, as I was proof of success for “following your dreams.”

Well, this really got my thinking. I mean, I’m flattered and all, but do I really deserve to be called an example of following your dreams? To my coworker, I probably am. After all, to non-writers, getting the book accepted by a publisher counts as living the dream. But to me, I haven’t accomplished my dreams yet.

That’s not modesty on my part, I’m just not sure I can say I’ve reached my dreams. At least not at this point. My dream has changed over the years, from being the next JK Rowling to the next Stephen King to just being able to make a living off of writing and maybe writing full-time, which is where my dream is that today. And I’m not there yet by any means. I still work a 40-hours a week job to pay my bills (sometimes longer if I have to stay late to finish up certain projects). And while Castrum Press wanting to publish Rose is a big step in the right direction, the book still has to come out.

I guess what I’m saying is that I’m still following those dreams. I’m still working to make it so that I’m in bookstores, to get lots of people to actually want and look forward to reading my books. And I say “books,” because it’s probably going to take several books, if I’m very lucky, to be able to write full-time. It’s rare for authors to be able to write-full time, and even rarer just after the first book. If I somehow manage to make that happen, then hooray. But at the moment, that’s still several years in the future.

I guess I’m still chasing my dreams. Right now, I’m on the right track, and I’m an example of how hard work, lots of revision and rejection, a bit of backbone, and a Plan B if you don’t happen to be one of those overnight success stories (aka employment) can pay off a little. But of successfully chasing your dreams? Well, we’ll see where I end up in the next few years. Fingers crossed it’s a better place than where I am now, even if I’m still not writing full-time.

On an unrelated note, you remember how in my last post, I talked about getting a statue of Cthulhu? Well, my boss took a look at it this morning and okayed me to keep it in the office. To which I say, “Yay! Now I can really start turning my workspace into a den of horrors!” But seriously, it’s nice to really be able to personalize my workspace in such a way. Before now, it really didn’t have that much to say, “Oh, this is totally Rami’s desk. You can just tell by looking at it.” There’s a lot of rules to how one can decorate their workspace at my job, so being able to just have Cthulhu there is a big deal for me. Perhaps in the future, I can also put some other cool stuff around my desk to really help me feel at home while I work.

Until then, I’m cool with just Cthulhu. Besides, he looks so cool there, doesn’t he? I think he does, anyway.

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. Thanks for letting me ramble on about this stuff. Until next time, pleasant nightmares!

Whenever Blumhouse is involved in a movie, I usually get interested, as they tend to produce high-quality horror films. When I heard about this film, I got interested both because it had an interesting concept behind it, and because I like Tyler Posey (Teen Wolf fan for life!). So even though it got negative early reviews, I decided to check it out anyway, and convinced a friend of mine to see it with me.

I have a lot to say about this film. Let me try to keep this brief.

Truth or Dare follows a group of college students who go to Mexico for their final spring break. While there, they meet a mysterious man who invites them up to an old Spanish mission for drinks and some good, ol’ fashioned truth or dare. However, when they leave Mexico, they find the game has followed them, and it’s now much nastier: you either play the game, no matter what horrific secrets you might have to share, or what terrible deeds you must commit, or you will die. And the game won’t end till all the players are dead.

Now on the surface, I should have liked this movie. In addition to an interesting concept, the film is incredibly well-written. The story isn’t only compelling, but surprisingly, without plot holes. With very simple tricks, they plug up most of the plot holes that would come up in a horror film, let alone one surrounding a game mainly played by children and horny teenagers. Not only that, but the way the film has these characters expose their deepest secrets is so good at making you feel sympathetic, you almost feel their pain. And when they have to undertake some of the dares, you actually get a little afraid for them.

Not only that, but most of these characters are well-written and multidimensional. Most characters in horror films are ridiculously flat, and especially in ones based around games (*cough* Ouija *cough*). But Truth or Dare actually makes these characters more than flat or stereotypes. They have trouble, they have hidden depths, which is only made more clear when characters are forced to reveal dark secrets. This is especially true with the character of Markie, who at first glance is a happy-go-lucky strawberry-blonde, but in actuality is struggling in a number of ways.

It’s helped by the fact that the actors in these films are all really good. I can’t say any one of them gave a bad performance.

But the film has one big issue: its atmosphere. In horror, atmosphere is essential. And this film¬† doesn’t really have one, at least not one that lasts. Several times, the film does create some tense moments (keep an eye out for the roof scene), and there are a number of great jump scares. But after the tense moment or the jump scare, I found myself winding back down to normal. And in a horror film, you should be kept at a slight tension at every moment. There should be something in the back of your mind that says, “Oh my God, I’m scared, my heart rate is going to increase a little.” And I never felt that way during this film.

And that really brings down the film as a whole.

Still, if it weren’t for that problem, this film would be terrifying. On a scale of 1 to 5, I give Truth or Dare a 3.5 out of 5. Despite its lack of atmosphere, I honestly recommend seeing it. It probably won’t leave you scared stiff, but it’ll keep your interest and won’t leave you angry at the actors or the directors like other films I could name (*cough* The Friday the 13th remake is a piece of trash, and I would love to chase Michael Bay around Camp Crystal Lake for that ass-terrible excuse of a film. *cough*). Give it a watch, if you feel so inclined, and decide for yourself.

Go on. I dare you.

Whenever you hear a movie getting a ton of hype, especially a horror movie, you tend to be a bit skeptical. And when you hear that Platinum Dunes, Michael Bay’s production company for horror movies, is involved, you’re even more skeptical. I mean, have you seen Ouija? Or that crappy, way-too-sexual middle finger to a franchise that was the Friday the 13th reboot (I’m sorry, but I’ll never forgive Michael Bay for that film. Did not understand what made Jason Voorhees or the Friday the 13th films great at all).

I’m glad to report that this film was not only very good, but actually scared me a bit. And I credit that to how much its director, John Krasinski, who also starred in the film with his real-life wife Emily Blunt and co-wrote the script (rather than a certain director who thinks explosions, boobs, and unsteady camera movements make good cinema).

A Quiet Place follows a family–a father (Krasinski), a mother (Blunt), their deaf daughter (actually deaf actress Millicent Simmonds), and hearing son (Noah Jupe)–living in the first years of a post-apocalyptic world where a predatory race of creatures that hunt through sound have exterminated most of the human race. The family tries to survive each day without making a sound, speaking only with sign language and going to extreme lengths to muffle or suppress every noise (which makes you very aware of how much noise we make in our everyday lives). Which is getting more and more complicated because the mother is heavily pregnant (you can understand why that might be an issue). The film chronicles one particularly nasty night, when the mother goes into labor, and what happens afterwards.

This film is a great horror film. For one thing, the emphasis on sound in this film, both in terms of the lack of ordinary sounds like speech, electronics, and whatnot, the sounds we do hear, from nature to the monsters’ roars and growls, to the music, help to create this creepy, unearthly atmosphere. This helps in suspenseful moments, where characters have to be very careful not to make a sound or they’ll get killed, as it heightens the terror you feel. Hell, I was afraid to make a sound during those moments, and I was in the audience! Coupled with a some well-timed jump scares, you get a really scary film.

I also really liked the monsters in this film. Even in broad daylight, the monsters aren’t very easy to make out through most of the film, keeping them mysterious and making their deadliness all the scarier. And when we finally do see them, they are still really terrifying to look at, even if they may look like the monsters from a certain popular science-fiction/horror franchise (those who’ve seen the movie know what I’m talking about). And I love how not much about the monsters is revealed in the film. You learn enough to understand how they hunt and why they’ve been so successful in hunting down humanity, but you never really learn where they came from or how they appeared on Earth. And that, like the Xenomorphs from the Alien franchise before Prometheus, just makes them all the scarier.

But the best part of this film are the relationships between the family members. With little to no spoken dialogue, you really get to see how this life has been wearing on them, how little mistakes and arguments, along with the constant need for survival, have given each character their own struggles and fears, and how all that creates tensions between them. Seeing them work together, fight, and try to overcome this life is not only enthralling, but contains a great metaphor for the struggles of a family–any family–during difficult times.

That all being said, the lack of sound and action at times does make it hard to stay invested or pay attention to the story. I also thought that the ending could’ve been darker, which would’ve made it a much more memorable and powerful film. At least in my mind.

All in all, I’m giving A Quiet Place a 4.3 out of 5. This is a scary film that will draw you in not just with its premise and atmosphere, but with its intelligence and depth. Take a look and see why silence is truly golden.

You know, you often get great horror films. You get great science-horror films. And every now and then, you get a great horror film that makes you think, like Get Out or As Above, So Below. But I’ve never seen a science-horror film that’s not only good, but made you want to speculate so much about its deeper meanings and the questions it raises.

Based on the novel by Jeff VanderMeer,* Annihilation focuses on Natalie Portman as a biologist who goes on an expedition with four other women into “The Shimmer,” a place where everything is mutating and changing and no previous expedition has come back alive, after her husband returns from there gravely ill and seriously changed. Once inside, they will be tested in ways they cannot even imagine, and discover something horrifying.

This was an absolutely amazing movie. For one thing, the main cast (which is all women but not treated like a huge deal at all by the film, which I love) are all absolutely amazing. They really make you believe they are these characters, even if they aren’t given that much development. Gina Rodriguez, who plays Anya Thorensen, was especially great, and seeing her transformation through the movie is worth the ticket price alone.

Visually, this film is a feast. There’s so much to look at and take in, but it never really feels overwhelming. Sometimes the imagery is beautiful, sometimes it is baffling, and sometimes it’s creepy, but you’re never going to look away because you want to take it all in. And as for atmosphere, this film does a really good job of just building up an air of strangeness. So much of what’s in the Shimmer is unreal and surreal. It’s unknown to everyone, and the characters have to guess most of the time as to the meaning of things. And that’s what they’re doing: guessing. Very little is confirmed, and so much is unknown. So you kind of feel their fear and paranoia as they start to wonder what is real, what is happening, how it could be happening.

But what I love most about this film is how intelligent it is, and how it makes you wonder. As I said, very little is confirmed with this film. A lot of what we see, we the audience have to draw our own conclusions and decide what is happening, or what the deeper meaning is. Or if there is a deeper meaning. Or if what we’re seeing is actually real. It’s so strange, but at the same time so thought-provoking. And it’s been a while since a film made me wonder this much, made me want to examine it more.

If I’m going to ding the film on anything, it’s the CGI. Except for the film’s climax, the CGI doesn’t work well. It’s not awful, but I feel it would work better in a video game instead of in a live-action film. I would’ve preferred if they’d tried for a more animatronic approach, like with the Jurassic Park films.

On a scale of 1 to 5, I’m giving Annihilation a 4.5 out of 5.¬† A visual thrill-ride of the strange and otherworldly, fronted by a great cast. Definitely check it out and get lost in a world of the hallucinatory and engaging.

*By the way, I tried listening to this book on audio. But the narrator’s voice made me sleepy, so only so much of the novel actually made it into my brain. From what I remember though, the novel and movie differ on a lot. But in a good way.

I did not finish watching the Netflix show 13 Reasons Why, owing to how depressing it was (I like dark stuff, but that show just took the joy out of living!). But in recent weeks, one scene from that show, a surprisingly not-sad scene, has been coming back to me. In a flashback, the main character Clay is critiquing another kid’s essay, and notices the latter uses the word “unique” several times. When the other kid asks why that’s an issue, Clay says that if everything is unique, it means nothing is unique. And on the surface I agreed with that sentiment, but I didn’t realize how it applied to my own writing until almost a year later.

As many of you know, I recently finished a fourth draft of my college thesis Rose, and that I had the novel beta read by a couple of people, including my colleague and good friend Joleene Naylor. One of the things she pointed out was a problem throughout the novel, and which I’ve been trying to avoid in subsequent stories, is repeating words, especially adjectives. Apparently I’ve been using the word “unique” several times in a single chapter or paragraph, though “unique” wasn’t usually the word I used.

Actually, it tended to look something like this (not an actual line from the novel, but I think you’ll get the idea):

Rose stood in place, refusing to show her fear. Angrily, Paris placed the book on the table.

See how I used “place” twice? A better way to write this might have been:

Rose held her ground, refusing to show her fear. Angrily, Paris placed the book on the table.

See the difference? And I had to do this throughout the fourth draft, identifying where I repeated words in close proximity to one another, and then coming up with a better way to say it.

And I feel like this is a really common issue that writers have to deal with at some point, or possibly at several points, in their careers. Despite our reputations for loving really big words (verbose, callipygian, penultimate, etc), when it comes to fiction, we tend to just use everyday words. After all, we’re normally writing for everyday people, not for a small niche of scholars or people associated with a small religious movement. So if a simple word, like “unique” or “place,” fits the bill for telling the story, we’re likely going to use it. And we’ll use it again and again, if it’s the first word that comes to mind.

But as the above points show, you have to vary what words you use in order to tell a story and not distract the reader. And that’s something I’m trying to learn how to do as a writer. You know, along with learning how to write good short stories. And writing good stories in general. Again, I leave that up to the feedback of my readers. But this is getting a lot of emphasis as well. Because as great as a story is, the language it’s told through can determine how successful it may be. Imagine if Harry Potter had been published and it read like a sixth grader had written it. I guarantee it wouldn’t be the phenomenon it is today and I might not have been inspired to be a writer (unless JK Rowling was in the sixth grade when it was published. Then she’d be the Mozart of literature).

So while I may never actually need to know twelve different ways to say “unique,” hopefully in the future I can avoid making mistakes like the ones above. And if I do (because let’s face it, no author is perfect), I hope I have a good group of editors and beta readers around me to point out those mistakes.

And if you’re an author who makes this mistake, the only way I can think of to avoid it is to do what you’re already doing: think about the words you use. Just do it a bit harder when it comes to the individual words themselves. At least, that’s what I’ve been doing. And I think it’s been working.

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. Expect another post from me (or maybe even two) very soon. Until next time, pleasant nightmares.