Review: Vampire Academy

I chose not to see this in the theater.  Who wants to pay $10 for another Twilight wannabe?  Now that I’ve had a chance to see it on DVD, it’s actually pretty good.  It reminded me more of the later Harry Potter movies than Twilight and that’s a good thing.  St. Vladamir’s Academy is a bit like Hogwarts.  It’s a secret school where vampires go to hone their magical skills and dhampirs go to learn martial arts so they can defend good vampires (Moroi) against evil vampires (Strigoi).  But everybody in the academy has secrets that need to be revealed slowly.  So we get a little mystery, a little action and a little bloodsucking all overlaid on the usual high school experience of cliques, bullies, mean girls and BFFs.

And it mostly works.  That’s because Zoey Deutch carries the whole movie as the sassy dhampir.  The other performances are pretty good too.  Gabriel Byrne is the only familiar actor but the young cast of unknowns (to me) get the job done.  Yes, it’s YA vampire fiction but Vampire Academy has nothing in common with Twilight.  It owes more to Harry Potter and X-men.  If you get the chance, see it.  You don’t need to be accompanied by an adolescent girl.

True Blood Season 7

It’s hard to remember how excited I was when this series started.  The show had such great acting and strong writing, I actually thought it was better than the novels.  That didn’t last long.  The performances are still fine but the writers quickly ran out of interesting stories.  You can search this site for my postings about various seasons but what’s the point?  The show has steadily spiraled downward since that first season and I’m looking forward to the series ending.

Is there any reason to hope that season 7 will be any better?  I think so.  It looks like the TV writers are going back to some of the elements that made the novels so good.  First, it looks like they’re putting the emphasis back on Sookie Stackhouse.  At times, she’s become a minor character on the show but it looks like she’s moving back to front and center.

Second, they’re emphasizing her psychic power/curse.  Without that, she’s kinda boring.  Mostly they’ve treated her power as a writing nuisance.  How can you have any surprises on a show with a mind reader in the cast?  So they kept finding reasons why her power didn’t do much.  Now it’s back and being treated as both a power and a curse again. Good move.

Finally, the novels always treated the town of Bon Temps as a separate character.  And it looks like that’s happening in season 7.  A lot can still go wrong and the series could die without redeeming itself.  But there’s hope.  And the writers have the advantage that in a final season, anyone can die and anything can happen.  Let’s hope they don’t screw it up.

Review: Midnight Crossroad

After ending her Sookie Stackhouse series, Charlaine Harris is starting a new one with Midnight Crossroad.  It takes place in a tiny town in Texas (try saying that 3 times fast) where every resident is offbeat and everyone has secrets.  One of the residents is a vampire although it’s not clear if vampires in this series are similar to those in Bon Temps.  Is this somehow integrated in the Sookieverse?  I dunno.

What I do know is this book didn’t work.  The story was mostly boring and I came close to quitting the book a few times.  What was really inexplicable was how bad the writing was.  If this were a first novel, I’d think it showed a little potential but the writer needed to improve a lot before going pro.  How did Harris’ writing regress so badly.  The dialogue was awkward, the descriptions were unclear and the pacing was uneven.  I know part of the problem is Harris switching from first person to third person.  It’s an experiment on her part and it didn’t work.

Look, I don’t want to beat up on Harris too much.  I’ve enjoyed a lot of her books and she shouldn’t get trashed for trying something new.  But she needs to learn from this mistake and go back to the drawing board.

Continue this website?

My contract with my ISP will be up for renewal soon and I need to decide if I want to continue doing this.  Honestly, it depends on you.  Do you enjoy reading this blog?  Do you benefit from the Reviews Page?  Simply reply to this post to answer these questions and let me know if you want me to continue.

Review: Southern Gothic

I just caught this movie on Showtime and the best I can say for it is…..it wasn’t bad.  The story takes place at a strip club in a small town.  (When did low budget film producers decide that all movies are more interesting set in a strip club?)  A relationship develops between the depressed, alcoholic bouncer and a depressed, non-alcoholic dancer.  The bouncer is depressed about the death of his young daughter and the dancer is depressed that she can’t properly care for her young daughter.  A match made in heaven!  So ……. not a bad premise for a movie.  Meanwhile, one of the regulars at the club is a preacher with delusions of grandeur.  He decides it’s his mission to wage a holy war against evil, including the club where he’s been spending all his money.  Again, not a bad premise for a movie.  And then, they throw in vampires….

I can’t believe I’m saying this but this movie might have actually been better without the vampires.  No, I take that back.  All movies are better with vampires!  Maybe they just needed to be used better.  They seem like an afterthought.  There’s no consistency in their nature.  Can they exist in daylight?  That depends on the scene.  What about the meeting of vampires in a church filled with crosses?  Shouldn’t that issue have been addressed?  Either take the vampires seriously or don’t use them at all.  Still, not a bad movie.

Review: By Blood We Live

If you’ve looked at my Reviews Page, you know I’m a big fan of Glen Duncan’s werewolf books.  They began with “The Last Werewolf” and continued with “Tallulah Rising”.  Both were great.  Now the series continues with “By Blood We Live”.  All of these books have vampires as well as werewolves but the latest entry really puts the spotlight on vampires.  The werewolves are more in the background.

This book has everything.  It’s action packed and suspenseful but also beautifully written.  It’s the kind of book that makes you want to turn pages to see what happens next.  It also makes you want to stop and reread paragraphs to admire the use of language.  I can’t think of another author who combines literary quality with exciting stories and imaginative fantasy as well.  Why aren’t you reading these books?

Review: From Dusk till Dawn – the series

Back here, I offered my first impressions on the series.  Now it’s over and time for final grades.  First, I have to say it was too long.  Rodriguez used every trick he knew to pad a 2 hour movie out to 7.5 hours of TV.  He gave us individual flashbacks, historical flashbacks, new characters and even threw in a heist/caper movie at the end.  Much of it worked, some of it didn’t.  Still, I was never unaware that the show was being stretched to its limits.  And the final episodes were largely incomprehensible.  Why were the Gecko brothers in a labyrinth that wasn’t really a labyrinth?  What was Professor Tanner’s motive for wanting to sacrifice Kate?  Did he accomplish something or was it his own personal kink?  And why was he helping Carlos in the first place?  And what was Richie at the end?  Was he human, vampire, snake, conquistador?  I have no idea.

Let me give some of the positives for the show.  Ranger Gonzalez was a great character.  Or maybe it’s because Jesse Garcia did such a good job playing him.  Either way, you could argue that a character not in the original movie carried the TV series.  A lot of the other acting was really good.  Let me mention Robert Patrick (Jacob Fuller), Brandon Soo Hoo (Scott Fuller) and Jake Busey (Professor Tanner) for extra praise.  I came to appreciate D.J. Cotrona and  Zane Holtz as the Geckos.  And Eiza Gonzalez was onscreen a lot longer than Salma Hayek had been in the role (and bikini) of Santanico Pandemonium.  That’s not all bad.

All in all, it was a mostly enjoyable series but it didn’t leave me wanting more.  I’m not looking forward to a 2nd season.  I don’t think I’ll ever watch it again (unlike the movie which I’ve seen quite a few times).  Let’s say a B+.

Review: Written in Red

This is a new series (The Others) by Anne Bishop.  I haven’t read any of her other stuff but this looks promising.  Who are “The Others”?  They’re the usual collection of monsters (e.g. vampires, were-critters, elementals) and they’ve been living with humans for centuries.  Bishop gives a history and geography of the world that provides the setting for these stories.  Mostly, it’s the same world you and I live in…but with monsters.  The monsters hire Meg Corbyn as their human liaison although it turns out she isn’t quite human herself.

I liked this book.  In fact, I’m heading out right now to get the second in the series (Murder of Crows).  I liked the premise of a human working for monsters.  It reminded me a bit of “The Shambling Guide to New York City” by Mur Lafferty.  The Bishop book is darker and the Lafferty book is more comedic but they both deal with a person learning about the world of monsters as part of employee orientation.

This book doesn’t work as science fiction.  I couldn’t buy that the world would be about 90% the same as mine after centuries of interaction and conflict between humans and monsters.  Would we really have about the same government, technology, culture and society after fighting wars against werewolves?  I didn’t buy it.  So just treat this series as a fairy tale instead of sci-fi and the problems go away.  Either way, the characters were strong and the story was interesting.  Give it a try.

Review: Night Broken

This is the latest novel in the “Mercy Thompson” series by Patricia Briggs.  It’s been a great series although the last book was a bit of a letdown.  Briggs comes back strong with Night Broken.  It’s got everything you could want: interesting human relationships, intense action, multiple fascinating story lines and, of course, an appearance by vampires.

Let’s see if I can summarize the premise quickly.  Mercy is a Native American shape shifter who can transform into a coyote.  She’s married to a werewolf who’s the pack leader in town.  She’s also friends with various vampires, fae, ghosts, etc.  One of the problems with monster series is that you constantly have to escalate the threat in each book.  This time, Mercy’s up against a volcano god.

There comes a time in every series when you can tell the creator is completely out of gas.  It happened to Charlaine Harris.  Hell, it happened to Arthur Conan Doyle.  This book shows it hasn’t happened to Briggs yet.  Her writing is very strong and she still has stories to tell.