Monday, August 15, 2011

We Interrupt our regularly scheduled programming....

My friend Tina Pratt, who runs the awesome-tastic webcomic The Paul Reveres and is also responsible for the creation of my site banner and the Insatiable Critic logo, was in a very serious car accident with a drunk driver, who was idiotically attempting to operate a rather large pickup truck. She is in good condition but has been recovering in the hospital for several days after having to have surgery on her knee. Please keep her in your thoughts and prayers that she continues to make a safe and speedy recovery.

Toby sends lots of licks and purrs!

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Audiobook Spotlight: Magic in the Shadows casts its spell on readers

Image courtesy of Tantor Media, Inc.

Since the dawn of the Harry Potter craze, many of us out there have started to get a sense of “wizarding fatigue” as I like to call it. There’s got to be other intriguing magic plotlines that don’t revolve around high school characters waving magic wands, right?

The author Devon Monk has found a cure for readers looking to sink their teeth into something a little different, and boy to we get it with a shot of adrenaline in her Allie Beckstrom series, revolving around the adventures of a very funny and true spitfire character (Allie) who can sling magic like a cowboy can sling a Colt revolver.

This type of magic is grittier and more complicated than traditional wizard stuff, and Allie has the unusual condition of actually having magic INSIDE of her – it comes to her naturally and flows through her, so much so that it becomes a detriment to her having a “normal” life. The upside is, it gives Allie some highly evolved senses, especially smell. Taking place in the city of Portland, Oregon, we are set in a world where the use of magic comes with a price – and people are paid good money to be the “proxies” (that is, the recipients of the pain associated with the use of a significant amount of magic) and it is a part of everyday life. Allie's job (when she's not dealing with other out-of-control supernatural elements) is to to be a Hound, a person who can track down people who abuse their power in magic and keep them from causing harm to innocent non-magic users.

Magic in the Shadows is the third installment in Monk’s series, but it is written in such a way that it could be read as a stand-alone without readers being too lost. Monk does a wonderful job in giving readers enough background to get grounded before the plot takes off at a breakneck speed. Engaging and funny, the book is filled with numerous wonderful characters, including Shamus, a death magic user who dresses gothy, drinks like a true Irishman, and has a smart mouth to match. This book lends itself well to audio because the characters play off each other so well, and the chemistry between Allie and her budding romance with Zayvion Jones, (affectionately known as “Zay”) a member of the Authority – an elite group in the city whose job it is to keep magic in check – practically sparks and dances off the pages. They are worthy of one another as allies and lovers.

Another character that gets introduced in this book is Stone, a gargoyle that Allie accidentally releases into life through an accidental surge of magic during an attempt to have a quiet dinner out with Zayvion. He becomes an unforgettable and important character in this book as well as the subsequent volumes in the series later. And honestly, people that know me well know I have a thing for gargoyles, and Stone is just flat-out adorable!

Despite all the magical properties in the world that Monk has created for us, the characters are very real and relatable. Allie gets tired. She gets stressed. And she’s really tired of having to deal with the spirit of her dead father in her head. Okay, so thankfully we in the real world don’t have to deal with that, but there’s a very human element that runs through Monk’s writing, that there are consequences to people’s actions; there is a price to pay for the magic that is used.

Perhaps it is that human element that makes for such a great audiobook. Emily Durante brings attitude and flair to Allie, as well as embodying the cool straight-man aura that Zayvion embues. She does a fantastic job with Shamus’s Irish accent, giving him just the right amount of snark his character requires without going over the edge and making him totally obnoxious. Her voice makes the book come alive in the way a truly well-done audiobook should, and makes the reader hungry for more. And thankfully there IS more: there are three more volumes awaiting after Magic in the Shadows, the most recent volume, Magic on the Hunt available through Tantor Media through CD or download as of Aug. 29.

A truly compelling listen, anyone who is looking for a fresh voice in the genre of urban magic should check out this series. You can listen to an audio clip from Magic in the Shadows here.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Current Reels GUEST Review: Cowboys & Aliens has the look but not the thrill

Harrison Ford and Daniel Craig lookin' grim in this image courtesy of Universal Studios and Dreamworks Pictures

And now...for something a little different.

I am proud and happy to have the equally insatiable Libby Cudmore, writer extraordinaire, throw in her two cents on my blog. For guest reviews, we also have a guest rating system, featuring Roxy, my friend's epically amazing pooch who is a very good girl and also has good taste in movies. Same gig, one through five. You'll see her featured at the end of this review!

For more of Libby's writing goodness, giddy-up and turn your browser horses (or "hosses", as they say in the Old West) towards Record of the Month Club/Boys on Film.

Without further ado...take it away Libby:

Cowboys & Aliens was, for me, like my 13-year-old self and my 27-year-old self giving each other a high five. Harrison Ford (as Han Solo) was my first love, and Walton Goggins (as Shane Vendrell) is my most recent. So while IMDB-stalking Goggins the night before Predators opened, I saw a listing for Cowboys & Aliens and have been anxious for it ever since.

In addition to being a fan of Harrison Ford, Walton Goggins, Clancy Brown and Toby Huss, I also like big bloated silly action movies. Not like Transformers or, even worse, Battleship (which has the silliest looking trailer ever), but big cheesy ones like Independence Day. From everything I’d seen, Cowboys & Aliens looked like it was trying to bring fun back to the movies, and I can get behind that. Cowboys fight aliens. Awesome.

The problem I’ve had with recent alien invasion movies, like Skyline, is that Our Heroes inevitably look to the sky and point and scream, “What’s that?” Well, let’s see, we’ve had alien invasion movies since the fifties, and they all have giant flying saucers hovering in the sky, what the hell do you think it is, it’s ALIENS, what, are you Amish!?! But Cowboys have never seen aliens, so the believability is already there. Imagine, you’re just a normal guy, riding your horse and you see a giant THING flying past you. Holy cats, that’s got to be scary! I like that kind of rooting interest in my films. I also like the idea of Walton Goggins in a cowboy hat.

So I put on my refashioned vintage western shirt and got tickets for the midnight showing. I took a nap, I got some Bottlecaps and I was all geared up. I was ready. I needed my Walton Goggins fix.

I need to say this first: Guys in western gear are really hot. This is part of Shane Vendrell’s sex appeal on The Shield—he wears snap-front western shirts a girl could just rip off his body and inappropriately tight boot-cut jeans. The real, old-timey western costumes are even sexier, even on Daniel Craig, who has a mouth like a puckered cat butt. Harrison Ford’s still got it and rocks that paisley scarf, even if he is a million years old and can barely move his mouth anymore. Olivia Wilde has creepy doll-eyes and looks like she wore her Laura Ashley pajamas to the gunfight. Paul Dano has a pube ‘stach. But other than that—Sexy City.

(This does not mean, gentlemen, that you can start wearing cowboy hats. Chances are you are not a cowboy, nor are you Daniel Craig, and you will end up looking like a dope in a cowboy hat. And unless you have an ass like Walton Goggins, step away from the boot cut jeans while you’re at it. Vintage snap-front western shirts make you look like a hipster. So really, just don’t bother trying, because you will hurt yourself and those around you.)

But I digress, and I’d like to point out one more great thing about the film—it has an awesome ensemble cast. You have two TV Cops (Adam Beach of short-lived SVU fame joins Shield alum Goggins) a guy from another western show (Keith Carradine of Deadwood, although you could also make the Justified argument in Goggins’ case) two dudes from Carnival (Toby Huss and Clancy Brown, once again playing a man of God) James Bond and Indiana Jones. Really, how do you screw that up?

Two hours later I was sleepy and slightly disappointed. The movie wasn’t bad (except for Paul Dano and Olivia Wilde’s sad attempts at “acting”) but it wasn’t especially good either. It wasn’t even bad/good, (although it is ripe for riffing). Walton Goggins is barely in it. I was expecting a summer thrill-ride, but what I got was a generic blockbuster with nothing memorable or unique.

And that’s what hurt most of all.

I was so pumped for this film. I’d waited a year, scanned for screenshots, watched the trailer, stayed up past my bedtime and for what? Nothing special. I didn’t even come away with the same goofy affection I have for Predators. At least in Predators, Walton Goggins (who is the only good part of that film) got to say lines like, “If we ever get out of here . . . I’m going to do so much cocaine.” I don’t remember a single gruff, muttered piece of dialogue from Cowboys & Aliens.

While the cowboys are mostly hot, the aliens look like Silent Hill villains, and poorly-rendered ones at that. I’m a big fan of guys in rubber suits, so I can see right through CGI—but bad CGI is even worse than the zipper hanging out. It’s lame and it’s pathetic and it makes you sort of sad. Luckily they weren’t in it that much, probably because the budget was used up on making Olivia Wilde look less like a Real Doll and more like a human being (they almost succeeded).

If you’re looking for a way to hang around in the A/C and eat some snacks, by all means. Cowboys & Aliens is a perfect film. It’s inoffensive, it doesn’t put cocaine directly up Michael Bay’s nose and tells Hollywood, “Hey, we like Jon Favreau. We still like Harrison Ford, and we’ll tolerate Daniel Craig.” The western is making a comeback, and I think we need to support that as best we can. I’d rather see this than, say, a gritty reboot of Wild Wild West.