Sunday, April 22, 2012

The Flesh of Fallen Angels, authors Roy C. Booth and R. Thomas Riley

I remember, back in the idealized olden days of yore long forgotten (hence the idealization) by aging brain cells, when you knew exactly what you were getting when you picked up a western. Men being men while hunting down the other men who done took their wife or town hostage. Outlaws. Gun slinging sheriffs. Whore houses in trouble. It was a simpler time. Then came these new fangled weird westerns, with their space ships and vampires and ghosts and goblins and all manner of hoobajoo. Somewhere in there, the whole mess got a whole lot more complicated. Enter the venerable Roy C. Booth and R. Thomas Riley stage right with their tale of gunsmoke and demons in the midst of the civil war.

Many years ago, Gibson Blount lost his family to a plague that no one saw coming. A Plague carried on leathery wings that whispered murder in the ears of the townsfolk, then drank deep the despair that followed. Now, Gibson travels the land, looking for other towns like his, towns that have been ripened for harvest by unholy beasts of nightmare. His goal isn't salvation, it's revenge and he won't let anyone get between him and Azazel. But now he's found help in a priest, a prostitute, an angel and William Quantrill.

First and foremost, let me say that layering a story about the conflict between angels, both fallen and otherwise, over the historical backdrop of the American Civil War was genius. The comparison between the two is never mentioned, but used quite well in subtext. Warring angels referring to each other as brother, the knowledge that their war did nothing more than destroy their home, the fact that the reason for fighting is largely forgotten in the midst of the fight and the humanization of those who are ostensibly the most evil are all used to great effect without smacking the reader in the face with it. Nice job, gentlemen.

Onto the story itself: the premise (stranger rides into town, knowing that a great doom is coming but no one believes him until its too late) isn't exactly new, but its used well here to develop the initial tension. Its paced well and, once it gets moving, doesn't stop or slow down until the end. Also, the interspersal of Blount's past sprinkled in along the way provided another tether that kept me running along to find out how he became the man he is. Often times, origin stories become dull because of the time it takes to establish where the character came from, but this approach allowed me to jump right into the action while being fed tidbits as it played out. I liked it.

Also, I got a big kick out of the demons and angels as well as the bits of sci-fi that were hanging around in the background of the supernatural. The angels are not the “flaming sword” types, seeming to have a preference for lead. Similarly, the demons are not of the bright red, cloven hoofed and giant horn variety. Instead, the canine-bat-chupacabra approach provided a freaky aspect without coming across as cheesy. I'll keep clear saying too much about the “ship” or exploding balls, except to say that it added an interesting quantity.

But there are times that the writing itself gets a bit too thick for its own good, drawing too much attention to the style and away from the story. To me, the best westerns have been written in a very straight-forward way and I got bogged down a few times, especially in the beginning, by the style. Also, I was a little sad to see that Blount, very clearly established as a man with nothing to lose and motivated only by vengeance, was never placed in a situation where he had to choose between doing what was right and completing his quest. It makes him come across as too simple of a character if he is only presented with the right thing to do.

Overall, The Flesh of Fallen Angels made for a fun ride across the prairie. Full of guns, blood, demons and cowboy goodness with some dashes of interesting subtext and the boy have more plans for Gibson Blount in the future. I'll be curious to see where he goes.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

An incredibly vague review of CABIN IN THE WOODS
In times like this, I kinda want to pull my hair out. Most movies, books etc. can be explained in fairly straight forward terms without the fear of ruining the experience. Even those based around some pivotal twist moment can be dealt with by avoiding that moment and working with the rest. But, what the hell am I supposed to do with a movie that constantly twists expectations and uses that to create the tension that makes the story work?

So, please forgive me if I am a bit vague here.

If you don’t know the drill, I don’t know what to say for you: Like the set up to a bad joke, five college kids go out to a family cabin out in the remote woods of … somewhere. Of course, there are the requisite stoner, jock, slut, brain and sweet innocent girl who just had her heart broken. They ignore the warning of the crabby, creepy old man at the broken down gas station and proceed to party it up with a game of truth or dare until they find something in the cellar of the cabin. Blood, boobs and guts ensue.
Nothing new there, except that everything about how the situation is treated is very much so. I don’t want to call this a horror movie about horror movies, because that calls to mind self-referential material like Scream and Behind the Mask. No one in Cabin in the Woods ever utters the dreaded “This is just like a horror movie” and it never directly winks at the audience. At the same time, every standard trope is used in some way and they are all used purposefully. Maybe I should just call it a movie about our fascination with horror and how we deal with it and let you draw your conclusion when you see it.
Trust me here, you do want to see this. The acting’s spot on, the script is tight and the action is paced well, creating a nice rhythm of laughter, horror and abject confusion. Joe Bob Briggs fans will love the inclusion of Anne Hutchinson’s tits, though there are some that will be just as enthralled with Jesse Williams shirtless, as well as the profusion of flying blood and body parts. Whedon fans will adore the sharp dialogue. Everyone should like the fleshed out characters and the solid acting (Fran Kranz, as the burnout realizing more than even he thinks he should is especially interesting to watch). And the choice of "Last" by Nine Inch Nails as the credits rolled was pure genius. It’s just a damn good movie.

I warned that I would be vague and I don’t want to say more than that for fear of ruining the experience. Hopefully, it will be enough to say that I was sporting a grin that split my head in half and that I overheard someone saying “what did I just see?” as I was leaving the theater. I can’t come up with a better endorsement than that.