May 2, 2016

Movie Monday: The Huntsman: Winter's War

The Huntsman: Winter's War I'll be honest: I fell asleep during Snow White and the Huntsman because I was so bored.  I only saw the beginning and end of the movie.  I mostly found it a waste of some nice costumes and Charlize Theron chewing the scenery as the villain.  When I got a chance to see The Huntsman: Winter's War for free at Alamo Drafthouse, I decided to go see it despite my apathy for the previous movie.

The Huntsman: Winter's War starts before the first movie, when the eponymous Huntsman Eric was just a child.  He was kidnapped by the Freya (Emily Blunt), Ravenna's younger sister, along with many other children.  She decided to raise an army free of love after her lover murdered her daughter.  Eric, of course, breaks the rule and falls in love with Sarah (Jessica Chastain), the dead wife of the first movie.  The first thirty minutes or so cover their courtship and her death.

The movie then skips forward seven years and becomes a sequel to Snow White and the Huntsman. I know some disliked that Sam Clafin, who played the love interest, got to come back when Kristen Stewart didn't.  I found it more palatable in practice, because he shows up for a few minutes only to direct the Huntsman to find Ravenna's mirror, which Freya is searching for to boost her powers.

What follows is a quest to find the mirror.  Eric is accompanied by two dwarves, which becomes four dwarves when they meet two female dwarves on the way.  Entirely unsurprisingly, they also run into the still alive Sarah, who believes Eric left her to die and isn't too pleased he's off jauntily living his own life.  I thought these characters made for a fun ensemble.  Chris Hemsworth was quite mopey in the first movie, but here he gets to crack some jokes and play off of the comic dwarves.  Eric and Sarah's romance is perfunctory, but Chastain and Hemsworth manage more chemistry than Stewart and Hemsworth.

The Huntsman: Winter's War is cheesy, and could use far more of Charlize Theron's Ravenna, a performance that remains the highlight of the series.  But you don't need to see Snow White and the Huntsman first, and I found it an improvement overall due tot he greater use of humor and the wider range of female characters.  I also liked that the child soldiers weren't an entirely faceless crowd, nor entirely warped by their childhoods.  This is a fairy tale that offers redemption.

April 29, 2016

Event Report: Maggie Stiefvater at Blue Willow

The Raven King I went to see Maggie Stiefvater for the third time at Blue Willow Bookshop last night.  It was her second stop of THE RAVEN KING tour, and I've been excited about this event for awhile.  I love this series, and everyone I talk books with has been buzzing about it since bookstores put it on sale early.

Getting there was a nightmare.  It normally takes me around 45 extra minutes with rush hour traffic; today it took me more than two hours due to rush hour traffic and construction.  I arrived after the stated event start time, but before Stiefvater started talking.

The really, really bad?  Blue Willow sold out of the book.  They had five colors of line ticket for preorders, and said there were about 20 per group.  With 100 preorders, I would think they would have ordered more copies.  (It seemed like maybe 20 day of people got a copy, although it was hard to tell how many people in line got a copy and how many didn't.)  I was far from the only one who didn't get a book.  Some bought backlist, some ordered a copy to come in later, but I'm sure the bookstore lost a bunch of sales.  And yes, I could have preordered, but I go to a ton of book signings and have absolutely never been unable to buy the book.  I love Blue Willow and think they bring a lot of great events to the community, but I was hugely disappointed.

Sometimes Blue Willow has events off site, and I think they should have done that last night as well.  The bookstore was packed.  Everyone had to shuffle tighter together every time someone else showed up for the event.

The good: Stiefvater was hilarious.  I love seeing her talk.  She gave several different anecdotes about her average workday, and explained how she wasn't responsible for John Green setting himself on fire.  I also met some cool people while waiting in line to get my copy of BLUE LILY, LILY BLUE signed.  (And hey, she recognized me!)

Next Thursday, May 5, the Fierce Reads tour will be at Blue Willow.  I'll miss it due to my prior commitment to Captain America: Civil War, but right now I feel less bad about missing it that I would have before.

April 18, 2016

Excerpt: The Books of Ore

Waybound Cam Baity and Benny Zelkowicz are excited that their Second Book of Ore novel, WAYBOUND, is now available from Disney-Hyperion!

Both authors got their start in film.

Cam Baity is an Emmy Award-winning animator, and his short films have screened around the world, including at Anima Mundi in Brazil and the BBC British Short Film Festival. His credits include major motion pictures like The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie, and popular television shows such as Robot Chicken.


Benny Zelkowicz studied animation at CalArts and made the award winning film, The ErlKing. He worked on The LEGO Movie as well as several TV shows including Robot Chicken and Moral Orel.

Check out the blurb for WAYBOUND:

Phoebe Plumm and Micah Tanner are a long way from home and entrenched in a struggle with no end in sight. The Foundry, an all-powerful company that profits off the living metal creatures of Mehk, is unleashing a wave of devastating attacks to crush the rebel army of mehkans known as the Covenant and capture Phoebe and Micah, dead or alive. But the Covenant believes that their ancient god, Makina, has chosen Phoebe for a sacred task: to seek the Occulyth, a mysterious object they hope can turn the tide against the Foundry. With her father gone, Phoebe's once unshakable determination is broken, and while Micah tries to uphold the vow he made to protect her no matter the cost, their enemies are closing in and time is running out. 
 
To celebrate, I am pleased to share an excerpt from the first volume of the trilogy, THE  FOUNDRY'S EDGE.  What is it about, you ask?

For Phoebe Plumm, life in affluent Meridian revolves around trading pranks with irksome servant Micah Tanner, and waiting for her world-renowned father, Dr. Jules Plumm, to return home. Chief engineer for The Foundry, a global corporation with an absolute monopoly on metal production and technology, Phoebe's father is often absent for months at a time. But when a sudden and unexpected reunion leads to father and daughter being abducted, Phoebe and would-be rescuer Micah find themselves stranded in a stunning yet volatile world of living metal-one that has been ruthlessly plundered by The Foundry for centuries and is the secret source of every comfort and innovation the two refugees have ever known.

Take a look!

The Foundry's Edge She hefted open the great front doors and hurried down the wide slab steps. On the hammered-steel driveway below, Tennyson the chauffeur was finishing up a quick polish of the long, smoke-gray Baronet with his chamois.

The Plumms had seven Auto-mobiles in all. Phoebe’s favorite was the classic, electric-blue Flashback her dad had named Shameless. Tennyson, however, preferred the Baronet, which was the largest and most impressive of the collection. It was a silver arrow of aerodynamic design, with sweeping fenders whose curves reminded Phoebe of brushstrokes. Parallel grooves ran along the body, giving the impression that the Auto-mobile was speeding, even when it was at rest. The Baronet was quite a sight, but it was no match for Shameless.


April 13, 2016

Review: Nightstruck

Nightstruck First in a series
By Jenna Black
Available now from Tor Teen (Macmillan)
Review copy

One night, Becket hears a baby crying in a dark alley. Despite her misgivings, she goes to help the baby.  But the baby isn't human.  And ever since that night, strange things have been happening in the city of Philadelphia after dark.  Statues and other inanimate are coming to life.  People are dying.

NIGHTSTRUCK starts creepy and ramps up the horror as the story continues.  This is the first in a series, and fairly light on plot.  Becket has a rocky relationship with her best friend Piper and gets closer to her crush and neighbor (and Piper's boyfriend) Luke.  The focus is on them living under siege, the way the escalating threats sap at their will.  Becket knows the night wants her, and she's tempted to let it take her to make the awfulness stop.  (Even if it won't stop, not really.)

The revelation of just who is attacking Earth and why is left to future novels, but enough is revealed to make it clear that the larger picture will be explored throughout the series.  But NIGHTSTRUCK is a small story, focused solely on Becket, her loved ones, and her city.

And did I mention it is creepy?  I am going to be staying away from grates for awhile.

As far as the romance goes, I fear a love triangle in the future, but I did like Luke.  There's little conflict to their romance aside from his dwindling attachment to Piper.  He's a nice, steady boy and they like each other.  A little more passion might've been nice.

I think NIGHTSTRUCK could have used a bit more plot, but that the atmosphere sold it.  It felt very much like a prelude, but it did its job: I'm ready for the show.

April 11, 2016

Movie Monday: Green Room

Punk-rock band The Ain't Rights are trying to figure out how to get home on one tank of gas when their last show falls through, but their host has a solution for them: they can play at this club his cousin goes to.  Just don't mention politics.  The band is pretty nonplussed by the crowd, but not enough that they don't play a prank on the Neo Nazis.  Still, things don't start to go wrong until after the show.  There's a dead girl backstage, and the band has seen it.  Soon enough they're holed up in the green room, waiting for help to come.


GREEN ROOM is a tense thriller that builds the tension naturally.  At the beginning, it's clear that both sides think the standoff will be over quickly.  Amber (Imogen Poots), the friend of the dead girl, and the band are all pretty resourceful.  I really enjoyed that they were scared, in over their heads, outnumbered and outgunned, but still able to come up with some pretty smart moves.  They aren't just a bunch of fodder for gory ends.  (Not that none of them meet gory ends.)

The gore in GREEN ROOM is intense, but used sparingly.  From the first shocking injury to the last, I still jumped.  The movie didn't stop surprising me as it went on.  I was not surprised, however, by Amber.  I do enjoy a character determined to survive a horror movie however they have to.  Honestly, I liked all the protagonists pretty well.

The antagonists are well acted too.  Patrick Stewart lends his considerable gravitas to the role of their leader, Darcy.  His quiet, calm manner no matter how awry things go did convince me that he was a man people would follow despite the heinousness of his orders.  Macon Blair brings a surprising amount of humanity to henchman Gabe, who gets the best line of the movie.  (I won't give it away.)

Director Jeremy Saulnier has truly made a horror film with a punk-rock sensibility.  It's visceral, but what makes it most terrifying is how stripped down it is.  There are no monsters.  There are barely even guns.  One of the worst injuries in the film is caused by a door.  And, well, there are Neo Nazis in Oregon, and that is scary.  GREEN ROOM got under my skin in the best way.  This is a horror movie with a brain.

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