Sunday, August 12, 2018

We Sold Our Souls by Grady Hendrix

Kris Pulaski founded a metal band in the 90's called Durt Wurk with her high school best friend Terry Hunt. They were on the verge of something big when Terry threw a tantrum and ruined it for them all. He split from the group, made them all sign contracts to never play music again and sign over ownership of their music among other things, and left them. Twenty years later, Terry is the height of corporate rock music while Kris is reduced to managing a Best Western. She rediscovers her love of music and sets out to reunite with her bandmates, confront Terry over his betrayal, and make music again.

We Sold Our Souls mixes a deal with the devil, a Lovecraftian cult, and a scrappy metal band to create its weird and wonderful mythology. It all starts with Kris moldering at the Best Western, struggling to deal with naked, deranged patrons.  Because of Terry and his contracts, Kris has no prospects or real future. I am completely on board with her when she sets out to rebuild her band and face Terry. The situation is all the more heartbreaking when their relationship is shown. She and Terry grew up together, mourned legends, traded tapes, learned music, and finally founded Durt Wurk together. He threw it all away to become the Blind King and head Koffin, the most commercially successful and soulless metal band. It merges the commercial nature of Kiss mixed with Nickelback, only with metal music. Melanie is a huge fan of their music who is disillusioned and drowning in college debt. She proves to be significant to the story in surprising ways.

I love the way Hendrix talks about music. Kris started out as a kid in a basement struggling to make music with hurting hands and strings only to transcend the pain and frustration when she finally plays the opening chords of Iron Man. The same music heard by thousands finally came out of her own guitar. Later on, Durt Wurk played for a different crowds (hostile and not) and succeeded in transforming them with their music and energy. Melanie and Kris bond over their shared love of Dolly Parton (after butting heads over their differing views of Koffin) and pass the time singing her music all the way to Vegas. The manufactured to appeal to the widest audience type of music fro Koffin is described very differently than Durt Wurk's earnest and heartfelt but imperfect songs. The way music is described borders on magical but feels accurate. It has a way of bonding lovers of the same music and transforming listeners and performers alike.

The horror elements took me by surprise. I thought it would be similar to The Devil's Candy or something more straightforward. The creatures that gave Terry the contracts are bigger and more monstrous than our perception allows us to see. They never communicate directly because they don't even speak the same language. The minions are only aware that they know human greed and feast on souls. Their main minions are cookie cutter UPS drivers that aren't much more than automatons. In addition, all the followers of Koffin act as their eyes and ears. When enough followers gather, they stop truly being individuals and answer commands to destroy. Kris isn't safe anywhere. The creatures have already gotten to anyone that might matter to her and every person is a potential informant or attacker. The eldritch nature of the villains plus their far feaching eyes and ears keeps the suspense and sense of danger high as the novel moves along.

We Sold Our Souls is a treat to read. There are so many different elements that Hendrix melds together to make this unique novel. I loved everything from the music to the characters to the villainous monsters. The story is a love letter to metal music that still critiques the negative things about it like how women can be harassed at concerts. I have no issues with this book and I loved how it ended like it started. I highly recommend this and any other Grady Hendrix novel.

My rating: 5/5 fishmuffins

Friday, August 10, 2018

The Meg (2018)

Jonas Taylor, rescue diver, had a traumatic experience with something unknown crushing a nuclear submarine and forcing him to leave his best friends behind in order to save others. Five years later, the underwater research facility Mana One discovers an even deeper section of the Mariana Trench. The crew of the small craft is attacked and stranded due to the damage. Drunken Jonas is pulled from his island retreat to save them only to face the gigantic creature of his nightmares.

The Meg is yet another killer shark film except this particular shark is a Megalodon, a giant species from millions of years ago. The stakes are higher because of the extend of the devastation it could cause. Like most of these types of movies, the shark seems to actively go after individual people it has a grudge against and after large groups of people to eat. The shark looks awesome. Its ability to jump in the air and move at breakneck speed makes it daunting as hell. The size of it is crazy, but it isn't really believable that the people had any chance at all to beat it.

Most of the human characters have a sense of community and meaningful relationships to each other. Even the very first character to die (who had very little screen time) made me a little emotional. The research team felt like a family who truly cared for each other. Suyin and Jonas had an adorable romance where Jonas didn't just go around saving her. Suyin's daughter Meiying is the cutest kid. The writing for her is a little too precocious for a kid her age, but it didn't annoy me. Her interaction with Jonas gave him a little softness to his stereotypically gruff action hero facade. Jack, the billionaire funding the program, had no consistency to his character at all. First he was comic relief, then he was the greedy boss, and finally settled on the villainous big game hunter.

The Meg is a ridiculous movie, but it was fun and over the top just like I wanted. The emotional stakes with the well built relationships and warm fuzzies with Jonas, Suyin, and Meiying are unexpected and very welcome in this type of movie. The big flaws for me are the inconsistency in Rainn Wilson's character and the entirely too long run time of the movie. It should have been at least a half hour shorter to keep up the momentum. The Meg isn't Jaws, but it's not trying to be. Don't go in expecting logic or realism and you'll be fine.

My rating: 4/5 fishmuffins

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Dance of Thieves by Mary Pearson

The Remnant Chronicles continues with Jase, the new leader of a fearsome outlaw family, and Kazi, a former thief and current guard of the queen. The queen has set out to overthrow Jase's family, but they must join forces to survive despite their conflicts.

Dance of Thieves takes place in an already established world that I was unfamiliar with. I never read the Remnant Chronicles and I expected this book to be part of an all new series. Establishing the characters, setting, and current politics felt choppy and stilted. The author seemed to assume that the reader already knows the world and didn't fill in many gaps besides the backgrounds of a few characters. The prose completely changes to being fluid and easier when the plot finally moves forward, but I didn't feel much of a connection to the characters. I didn't finish this book. Sixty pages felt like it took forever and I decided not to invest the time in the rest of the four hundred plus additional pages.

What I read had some good aspects. Kazi AKA Ten is an interesting character. She's a legendary thief because she worked for a long time and kept her ten fingers, meaning she wasn't caught stealing. When the queen went by, Kazi spit on her and the queen responded by training her. Kazi pushed back and kept defiant for a while until the others earned her trust. The only trouble after that was when she had a traumatic flashback and attacked someone violently. I felt for her, but Jase was only introduced a few pages before they met. We only saw him being generally drunk and arrogant before the two characters on opposing sides are thrown together, presumably to become attracted despite their best efforts.

Dance of Thieves had some good aspects, but I couldn't connect with it. Maybe I'll read the previous series and get on board, but the way it's written doesn't seem to account of unfamiliar readers.

My rating: 1/5 fishmuffins

Monday, August 6, 2018

Shark Movie Mini-Reviews: Jaws 3-D (1983) and Jaws: The Revenge (1987)

* Jaws 3-D (1983)

While stalking water skiers, a great white shark gets into the gate leading to Sea World Orlando attractions. No one seems to notice except for the dolphins Sandy and Cindy. Dr. Kay Morgan (senior marine biologist) and Michael Brody (architect of attractions) work together and investigate the missing mechanic whose body never surfaced.

I thought I never saw this film, but watching it had me feeling so nostalgic and I remembered almost every scene. I used to watch it so many times as a kid on commercial TV with my siblings. Jaws 3D is one of the cheesiest movies and I love it so much. The character are shallow, the dialogue is awful, and their reactions are over the top. Kay and Michael are the only remotely likeable people in the entire film, but they're also a pretty cute couple. The park manager Calvin is only interested in profits and puts the animals in dangerous situations, ignoring Kay's valuable advice. I'm not exactly sure why Sea World would want their name on this especially when the officals of the company are so toxic. Phillip is another awful character who treats Kay like garbage and wants to kill a shark on life TV.

I am more on the shark's side this movie. 90% of the humans are awful and I don't really care if they die. The death of the baby shark is a truly sad, sobering moment in this campy film. It was put in a tank that was too shallow just to show it off to patrons without assessing its health or identifying its environmental needs. I don't blame the mother shark for wanting reveng. It then destroys parts of the underwater tunnels and crashes into the window to the underwater cafe in one of the best worst shark scenes ever. The shark attacks look incredibly awkward and more like people swim into its mouth on purpose than the shark trying to eat them. The 3D moments look pretty terrible, particularly the last scene of the film. Even though it has flaws galore, I love this movie in all its cheesy glory.

My rating: 3/5 fishmuffins

* Jaws: The Revenge (1987)

The Brody family is back, but forever changed. Martin Brody died of a heart attack and his son Sean (also working as a police chief) was killed by a shark. Ellen grieves for her husband and son, clinging tight to her remaining family in Michael, his wife Carla, and their children. They convince her to go the Bahamas for the holidays, but Ellen can't shake the feeling that the ocean is dangerous and sharks will never leave them alone.

Jaws: The Revenge is the weakest in the series, but manages to have some interesting moments. Sean's death scene in the ocean being relentlessly attacked by a shark while the community performs Christmas carols. It's a chilling moment that illustrates how he is so close to help that is still unattainable. This is the best moment of the whole movie. From then on, it's all Ellen lecturing Michael, a marine biologist, to stay out of the ocean. I do like how the film focuses on Ellen and how going to the island prompts her to let go of the past a little bit. I hate how this film seems to stand alone. Last movie, Michael was an architect dating a marine biologist named Kay. Now, he is the marine biologist and his wife Carla (who looks EXACTLY like Kay) is an artist with almost no personality. I really hated this change.

The shark shows up everywhere and literally stalks the family wherever they go. It took 4 movies, but a shark finally got to eat one member of the Brody family and it's hungry for more. The action sequences are lackluster except when it attacks a helicopter. The mechanical shark is overused and looks fake. The ending so this movie seriously bored me. There are so many ridiculous things wrong about sharks (way more than usual) including having it swim over 1,000 miles in three days and roaring like a lion. I'm glad I watched it, but I don't see myself revisiting this film any time soon.

My rating: 1.5/5 fishmuffins

Saturday, August 4, 2018

Shibuya Goldfish 1 by Aoi Hiroumi

Giant goldfish terrorize Japan and a small group of survivors try to figure out what to do next.

Shibuya Goldfish is an impulse buy that I never heard anything about. The premise made me laugh and I had to see what it was about. Giant goldfish fly around, say inane phrases, and eat everything and everyone in sight. What's not to like? The entirety of society has halted. Anything that moves is eaten, including rescue helicopters. Only small patches of humanity exist now, struggling to survive. No one knows where they came from or how this happened, but it seems to be contained in Shibuya. Somehow, the city is contained within a giant fishbowl and it no longer has access to utilites.

As the story goes on, the abilites of the goldfish are slowly revealed. They are quite nearsighted, relying on smell and sound with the help of the lateral line organs to find food (ie people). The creatures travel in schools and sleep at night or in the shade. They also lay eggs everywhere, which adds a layer of terror when there are miniature versions of these creatures running around. Plus they can be laid inside living people who wouldn't be aware of it until they hatched. I love this body horror aspect that makes the survivors distrust other people as well as the obvious threat.

The survivors are a range of people, including high school students (Hajime Tsukiyada and his crush Fukakusa), a wannabe teen idol Alisa Usui, her middle school aged fan, and police officer Anko Yukino. Each person reacts to the crisis differently. Some try to charge out and get eaten. Others try to circumvent the goldfish by dousing themselves in perfume and moving silently. Some fall in love while some pretend to fall in love or make friendships. Still others simply sacrifice those around them to survive. I enjoyed seeing truly different types of people who range from incredibly selfish to self sacrificingly altruistic.

Shibuya Goldfish is a fun horror manga that takes the threat of giant man-eating goldfish seriously. This is what I wanted from Junji Ito's Gyo, which had more weird aspects that went way off the rails. Many of the situations are pretty typical for apocalypse situations and I hope the next book will expand outside of that. I am excited to see where else this story is going to go and the next one will follow different characters. The second book isn't out until October 30th. I will pre-order so I can read it the first day it comes out and mope around until the next one comes out.

My rating: 4.5/5 fishmuffins

Thursday, August 2, 2018

Shark Movie Mini-Reviews: Deep Blue Sea (1999) and Jaws 2 (1978)

I am watching delightfully bad shark movies in preparation for the release of The Meg.

* Deep Blue Sea (1999)

Dr. Susan McAlester developed a way to harvest serum to cure Alzheimer's from shark brains. Unfortunately, she didn't tell anyone she had to genetically engineer the sharks to have bigger brains in order to harvest enough serum, making them much smarter.

Deep Blue Sea is a cheesy good time with killer sharks, people getting eaten, and an whole underwater science facility being flooded. There's a good mix of characters with a bunch of scientists, a cook, a corporate executive, and a shark wrangler. All of these characters are pretty stereotypical and don't hold too many surprises. The best characters are LL Cool J as the cheerful cook and Samuel L Jackson as executive Russell Franklin. The worst character is Susan who seems to think all this life lost is worth it. She's a parody of a scientist in this anti-science film.

These sharks are ridiculously fast, smart, and all produced with animatronics or CGI. There are only 3 sharks, a mated pair and their offspring, but they certainly eat a lot of people. For the time, the CGI was amazing, but it hasn't aged well. This isn't the only thing threatening the characters since there's a huge storm preventing helicopters and the facility is being flooded floor by floor. It makes for an exciting film even though many of the characters can be flat. Watch this if you want some good, mindless, cheesy fun.

My rating: 2/5 fishmuffins

* Jaws 2 (1978)

Years after the first film, Brody and his family still live and work on Amity Island. A shark seems to be killing people in the ocean again, but it's attributed to boat accidents and the like. Brody is let go from his job after scaring vacationers out of the water and wildly shooting at blue fish. Is there a shark or is Brody simply traumatized from his past?

Jaws 2 brings back almost the entire cast of the first film (except for Hooper and Quint), but is not nearly as successful. Brody is his usual everyman hero and fights to save people even when everyone thinks he's wrong. His wife has a job this time and seems less sympathetic than before because she's more on the side of the financial success of the island. Miraculously, the mayor kept his job and is back to his old tricks, discrediting Brody the minute he says shark. Brody's kid Mike is now a teenager (accompanied by a bunch of new and annoying friends plus a love interest to impress) and still disobeys his father and acts like it's the end of the world when he has to get a part time job.

This film isn't good. The dialogue is stilted and unnatural. The situations are completely ridiculous. For instance, the first shark encounter has a woman "accidentally" (it looked completely on purpose) pouring gasoline on herself and the boat and somehow causing an explosion, which should have also killed the shark. It clearly should have exploded as well, but somehow managed to escape with a bit of a facial burn. It wants revenge! Of course the lying teenagers get stranded with a shark circling them and Brody has to come in to save them. If you want a good shark movie, this isn't for you. However, the cheesiness and campiness are entertaining if you just want some shark craziness.

My rating: 2/5 fishmuffins

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Friend Request by Laura Marshall

In 1989, Louise had the choice between a real friendship or a hollow friendship with acceptance to the cool crowd. She chose the cool crowd and succeeded in making Maria's life hell with cruel pranks. In 2016, Louise is a divorced single mother who works as an independent interior designer and dotes on her son. One day, she receives a friend request from Maria, who has been missing since prom night 1989 and is presumed dead. Threatening messages follow and Louise has to confront her uncomfortable past and the people from it to find out what actually happened to Maria.

Friend Request is a thriller novel about the past coming back to haunt wrongdoers. Louise is pretty insufferable and spends most of her time bemoaning her teenage mistakes and mooning over her ex-husband who replaced her with a younger woman. Right from the beginning, their relationship was creepy because she said they were everything to each other and didn't bother having any friends. The way she spoke, he seemed to tell her (maybe in not so many words) that no one would want her if they knew what she did. She keeps saying how she's changed, but then goes back to those old bad habits and clearly hasn't. Her penchant for lying to police over and over after someone died is really frustrating and does nothing at all to help her.

The novel is told in chapters from 2016 and from 1989, so we get to see first hand just how Louise was as a teenager. I fundamentally don't understand her as she oscillates for real friends and fake popular friends. It's abundantly clear that Sophie, queen bee, only wants Louise as a "friend" to do her dirty work, to make fun of, and to make herself feel better. Maria wanted to be her real friend and support each other, but then Louise would be the target of those same pranks. Maria also had rumors about her swirling around her about what happened at her old school and that she was promiscuous even though she was harassed by a stalker. Louise gets more and more entrenched in the popular crowd until she commits an unforgiveable act.

Friend Request is a frustrating book with a horrible main character. She never seemed to act in her own best interests. I kept reading to find out what the horrible act was in her past and see what other secrets would be revealed. The ending wasn't suprising. I'm surprised I read the whole book and Laura Marshall's next book has to be incredibly intriguing for me to pick it up after this one.

My rating: 1/5 fishmuffins