Movie Review- Devoured (2014)

This film follows Lourdes, a woman who moves to New York to make money to provide for her son to have a life -saving operation. She winds up working the night shift cleaning a bar/restaurant and setting up for the next day. Throughout the film Lourdes is aggressively harassed by her male boss, snubbed by her female boss, propositioned for sex by skeevy customers. She toils endlessly and is victimized for her hard work. She had next to no social life, she dresses poorly. It accurately portrays what a bind Lourdes is in, she is unable to quit her job because it’s her last chance to save her son. Aside from the horrors of wage-slavery and the class struggle, Lourdes begins seeing dead people. Dead men pop up from behind fish tanks, dead women emerge from trash bags in the alley, Lourdes pulls out a tooth and spits a geyser of blood, something tries to pull her through a locker or trap her in the bar. But still she returns every day.

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The pacing of this movie is excruciatingly slow. As Lourdes walks the restaurant there are bizarre scenes of elaborate meal preparation in a way that is reminiscent of the opening theme of “Dexter”. We watch as tables are set. Again. The audience is forced to see these repetitive scenes, fitting since this is all Lourdes’s life consists of except for her phone calls home to her mother and son. 

The majority of the film is more depressing drama than horror. But after the mood is set, there are some true shocks and creeps. It’s wonderfully directed by Greg Olliver (whose other works are rockstar documentaries) who sets the mood well, orchestrates jump out of your seat moments and leaves the audience guessing til the end. It’s a slow burn, but there is no denying it is well done. (However, this is not an ending that’s never been done in horror either.) Olliver gets us into Lourdes’s mind state and will leave you wondering if her bosses are evil, if the place is haunted or if she is just losing her freaking mind!

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Marta Milans from ABC’s “Killer Women” stars as Lourdes, she is fantastic. She completely pulled off every aspect of this role and made this film relatable. Even through the depressing slog that was the first half of the movie, Marta Milans brings life to Lourdes and never allows the audience to forget why she is there and what is at stake for her.

That being said, this title doesn’t fit at all. I hear “Devoured” and I think “vampires, ghouls, shit that will eat you” and there’s really none of that. I feel like that’s why there were all those shots of the food, because people eat food and the movie was named “Devoured” for absolutely no reason and they tried to make it work. Or it was to throw the audience off of the cause of the horror. I don’t know. But it doesn’t make sense.

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3.25 out of 5 

Manga Review- No Longer Human Vol. 1

by Usakaru Furuya based on the novel by Osamu Dazai.

The story is told from the perspective of Yozo Oba, or rather from that of the author, who while trying to find inspiration for his next manga stumbles upon Yozo’s diary online. There’s a picture of a very charismatic 17 year old Yozo ..and then a disheveled and haggard 25 year old photo of the same man. The author wonders what could have happened, so he dives in.

Be warned: This is a story for the Palahniuk crowd. Hell, for the Bukowski crowd. The art is beautiful, but it’s dark and haunting and perfectly fitting. There’s uncensored sex and booze and overwhelming sadness.

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Yozo is the victim of aggressive “tiger-parenting”/mental abuse by his father and as a result he find himself unable to relate to his high school classmates. He puts on a show for them, he plays up class clown antics to please people and he memorizes what ordinary responses are when peers are sad or upset.. but he doesn’t relate. Yozo sees himself as a marrionette -this comes through masterfully in the art, sometimes with just hints of strings being pulled, sometimes Yozo takes on a “broken doll” look, classmates also appear as ‘faceless’, hollow and/or eyeless. He keeps up this facade until he meets Horiki. In Horiki he recognizes the clowning and posturing. Yozo finally feels like he can be himself. This doesn’t make Horiki a good influence, of course. Horiki is self destructive and really only takes pleasure in drinking and getting prostitutes. Yozo’s father has been paying for his apartment and mailing him an allowance and Horiki takes advantage of having a rich friend. Through Horiki and his escort, Yozo finds a finge political collective to involve himself with.

His family ends up cutting him off and he grows to depend on the collective. For companionship as before, but also for basic needs like FOOD. Misaki will do anything for him, even more so when their group turns to terrorism and Yozo is granted a high rank. He recognizes it’s gone too far, and when he abandons, the group has it out for him. So he goes to a “hostess club” for comfort and meets Ageha. She’s sad and lonely herself and falls for him. He takes a handout from her, but then can’t bear to face her as he finds himself homeless and hopeless. “It’s so easy falling.” Yozo calls Horiki and Yozo laments “Love lasts as long as the money does. People misinterpret that saying. It doesn’t mean women ditch you when you’re broke. When a guy has no money he gets depressed, he loses it. Even his laugh is weak. He starts to feel sorry for himself. And in a funk, he starts to push women away from himself.”  (as someone who has spent most of my life being working poor.. yes… the struggle of feeling like you have no friends because you can’t afford to buy a coffee in a cafe or 2 beers in a tavern with them, or that your house isn’t warm enough to host people -it’s painful)

Yozo and Horiki go act like drunk assholes in the club where Ageha works. But she doesn’t turn her back on Yozo. But when they go to the beach to watch the waves… they get an idea… double suicide. And by this point I want to pull out my hair. And I’m ready to cry off all my mascara because the most wonderful thing that either of them can think of is that someone loved them enough to die with them. They walk off into the ocean together… 

Somehow it still manages to get worse.

There’s also this other aspect, where the author is presenting it as a rewritten diary and it made me think of the fact that as writers and readers we sometimes become voyeuristic. And it’s told that way, like we know too much. As if we are intruding on someone’s inner thoughts of self-contempt. And we should look away, accept that this isn’t our business. But it’s just so brutally honest that there’s no looking away.

I don’t like it for what it did to my emotions. But there is no denying how masterfully executed it is. Rating it makes my head hurt. Read at your own risk. It’s 3 volumes long, but I’m not sure if my heart can take it.

Book Review #30- Iron Night

Oh man. Since the first in this series was so good that i had to start a blog because of it my expectation for book 2 may have been higher than average, but it lived up in nearly every way. There is no way to replicate that feeling of something new and glorious, but ML Brennan skillfully avoids a slump while the nerdy and impoverished Fortitude Scott gets in over his head (again) in a supernatural plot that runs deeper than he could ever imagine (…again). Suzume Hollis, ‘co-main character’ and kitsune is still more kick ass than Fort. She has his back, consistently, even though she likes to give him a hard time. Parts are genuinely sweet, but don’t linger too long in the sap as they attempt to track down those responsible for the murder of Fort’s roommate. 

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They uncover a plot by elves to create less human purebloods and preserve the bloodlines through incest and magic. It’s incredibly messed up. To say the least. Fort meets a girl, and Brennan does the right thing here and makes Lilah the elf capable, caring and on their side. fort has every reason to fall for a girl with a peculiar upbringing -he himself was raised mostly in solitude under crazy freaky family rules (Fort’s still drinking his mother’s blood, consuming fluids from your mother in your 20s is hella bizarre). He can sympathize with a character who knows it’s wrong that she went to prom with her cousin, who is embroiled in her family’s crazy and criminal behavior against her will. She likens her upbringing to being raised in a cult. 

So the elves, growingly discontent with low birth rates and dwindling numbers and watered down powerless too-human children get crazy like the ancient royals and start breeding anyone that will make a viable elf child… no matter how young or closely related. If that wasn’t gross enough, the plot also involves a hyper-violent skinwalker and magical roofies.

Fort’s still trying to keep himself human, but he has to team up with his VERY vampiric sister, Prudence while his dashing brother is tending to his wife. Fort’s also terrified of Prudence. And with good reason. Torture is her cup of tea. She waffles between “antagonist” and “ally” as she herself becomes concerned that their family is weakening with this more human approach to raising Fort. The pure elves “Themselves” are willing to do ANYTHING to elevate their elite status.. and so is Prudence.

There’s more! Fort’s human father figure gets caught up in the mix and he has to make hard choices about where his allegiances lie. He still tries to make it to his shifts at a high end restaurant with an egomaniacal chef and he still buys his clothes at Ocean State Job Lot. Suzume still just about steals every page for me, although she wasn’t as focussed on as in the last book. Suzume is still all about playing pranks and showing Fort up, but she’s sweet when he needs her. She’s an awesome *friend* ..even if she might have set up book 3 with a strange new roommate for Fort. There’s a ton going on in just 305 pages. There were some interactions that made me crack up with laughter and ones that broke my heart. 

ML Brennan presents vampires as apex predators (which I think is awesome, because it shouldn’t be easy to make a vampire: there would be vampires everywhere. And if they say ‘immortality is a curse’ and that why they don’t turn anyone, I will hate that book) and in this one she makes a real monster out of the skinwalker (with it’s own powerset outside of those presented by Patricia Briggs or shown in TrueBlood) and concocts an intricate elf hierarchy system. It’s fabulously detailed. There’s also close relation between personalities and their species/customs. Lilah is meek from being sheltered by her family. These creepy things start out as the norm until she sees how deep it runs, but until Fort’s arrival calls attention, she would never have questioned. Fort is rebellious because he was at one point raised human, he is quite literally not like his family. Suzume is a frigging badass because she was raised in a matriarchal society by women who don’t take husbands and she needs to support herself in every way. It’s not just random traits. They were born and raised to be what they are. Personalities develop around experiences and there aren’t any shortcuts taken in the backstories.

This is really better than I could explain. 5 out of 5. Throw down you $8 and get pumped for book #3 out in November.

I would recommend this series for anyone who’s an urban fantasy fan, those looking to get beyond supernatural YA fare (it’s grown up, sans-smut) and.. well, anyone who daydreams about going on crazy adventures while they’re working their crap-job. Fort’s a good hero while still acknowledging that he’s in over his head, Suzume is a good friend without becoming an insta-love interest. I’m really looking forward to seeing how the characters progress.

Lazarus #7

Lazarus has consistently been one of my favorite series. I love dystopians. I love female leads. i love the “what ifs” of impossibly stratified classes and corporate wealth that elevates families into royalty… and dumps everyone else into poverty so extreme that there’s no escape. It’s impressive… and yeah, it’s depressing. 

The review for last issue is here.

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So I’m a huge fan and we’re getting into some meat now. The Barrets, an impoverished Midwestern family who recently lost everything in a flood is travelling to Denver for “the Lift” they are hoping to get jobs working for the Carlyles …but so are alot of people, so many that they clog up the highway as they make their way on horseback. They are attacked in the night and their daughter, Leigh, is killed and the father is shot.  

Forever is interrogating the woman who ‘distracted’ the guards so that her friends could steal materials to make a bomb. She doesn’t care about threats of prison or torture. But Johanna offers her something different.. a better life. A make over, higher social status, acting classes, a job. Is it an offer to good to refuse?

We also get another glimpse into Forever’s training with Marisol. I think Forever kills her. It’s so heavy. Greg Rucka is stopping my heart with this one. Next issue Forever will be at “the Lift” and since she’s becoming more aware of the atrocities both inside and outside of her family I expect her to get into a lot of trouble. But her training tells her that if her family needs someone dead… she must abide. Will she sympathize with the “waste” or will she stay true to the Carlyles? 

The faux advertisement for Morray cellular service on the back page is a nice touch. Corporate empires = global take over. It’s terrifying and awesome. 

Almost Human- Episode 13

The episode begins with a woman at a homeless shelter being harassed by a man, a seemingly nice guy in a wheelchair comes to her defense and offers to help her out, he pricks her hand, drugging her.. then he pulls a Lucky Number Slevin and stands up out of the wheelchair and put the victim in it. Nothing looks amiss as they continue up the street. The next day they find her dead and stuffed with straw and stitched back up.

It’s identical to a case that Kennex’s father worked shortly before his death. And I was baffled because the plot was about how Kennex’s father was framed, threatened by dirty cops, thought he put the wrong man away for the Straw Man killings and we didn’t get back to Anna, Syndicate, his crush on Stahl or anything.

It goes on and Kennex gets to clear his father’s name, Michael Ealy sings Lionel Richie (actor says it was improv BTW) And successfully made it through his first review the conclusion being that this DRN is fit for duty.

Which lead FOX to tweet this:

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Which… what does that mean? Is the show renewed?! Quit messing with me!

Anyway, in a major plot twist, it is found that the dead bodies are not dead bodies and that they are 3D printed with bio-organic engineered skin and such. There was some interesting technological/futuristic implications -such as the homeless getting blood analyzed and receiving vitamins specific to their missing nutrients- but this one felt more like a traditional cop show than a lot of the episodes. They touched on the class struggle, homeless youth being the target of this person, a man who took the fall for the crime being easily convicted because of a history of mental illness. It was fairly well done, and I was glad to see the poor depicted less Fight Club/Mad Max destructive.

Quotes; Rudy trying to say something nice about Dorian for his review “If I had a child, I would want Dorian to raise it instead of me” or Kennex: “He flipped a van once. That was cool. I didn’t know he could do that” And later, messing with him, “I told them you have no concept of privacy. You scanned my balls, you exposed yourself..” And Dorians reply “I apologized for scanning your balls.” And then as a gift to his partner, Dorian buys John a gift. Kennex: “I wonder what it is.” Dorian: “It’s a leg!”

Baha, and it totally concluded at that place where Deckard ate noodles.

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FOX had better not let me down. For some reason it was acceptable for them to let X-Files run itself into the ground, but any other sci-fi show is beyond doomed. Don’t let this be the last case for Kennex and Dorian!

Fantastic Female Friday: The Crimson Avenger

AKA Jill Carlyle.

Justice Society of America member, Ultra Humanite plot thwarter, bad ass, highly educated, super powerful.

Jill Carlyle was technically the third Crimson Avenger. She was also the most powerful. Jill Carlyle was a lawyer. She took up the original Crimson Avenger’s guns after failing to convict someone who was obviously guilty. In pursuit of justice, she purchased pistols at a pawn shop. From the origin story comes something very potentially Batman meets Dexter. Unfortunately, this was set forth by Geoff Johns, who I think is an misogynist ass. And racist. I hate him. Which is unfortunate, the Crimson Avengers third incarnation was a fucking bad ass.

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The good: Carlyle was the most powerful of the three, she got added bonuses of teleportation and was able to dematerialize in order to avoid enemy attacks. She can’t die and she can’t miss. The original crimson Avenger, Lee Walter Travis (1938), was a trained soldier with martial arts skills who worked as a reporter and was the first official masked crime fighter. The second Crimson Avenger, Albert Elwood, made his single appearance in 1963, he was more trouble than he was worth. In 2000, the third Crimson Avenger found the guns and sealed her fate. Jill was something terrifying, she wasn’t some masked vigilante, someone hiding the skin around their eyes and toting a smoke gun; she took up the cause for a righteous reason and ended up cursed. Left with an eternally bleeding wound on her chest that made the hyper-masculine Lee Travis’s golden “bullet-esque” costume look weak. It’s deeper, the knowledge that if you set out to do the right thing you might get more than you bargained for. You might not be able to stop. 

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But unfortunately, a great character was undone by bad writing. During the time when she joined the JSA to team up against the Ultra-Humanite and Thunderbolt, Jill’s personality was consumed by the power of her weapons. (In the same string of events, the only other female; Powergirl, was artistically strong and stunning, but unnecessarily catty and impulsive to the point of incompetence- not that impulsive and irrational behavior is out of the norm for her. And the only other African American character was the one who accidentally gave the Ultra-Humanite a Genie that made him be able to take control of ALMOST all the world’s superheros. (Jakeem does set it right -but after a pep talk from HourMan… like I said, Johns doing inclusion.. HA!) 

At the end of the “Stealing Thunder” story arc we get a good glimpse at Jill. Ready for a new assignment, she wakes up in an electric chair, out to avenge Charles Durham. Charles Durham was framed. She gets to tell her story, and she shares that Lee Travis was cursed too, but left it behind for a costume and a sidekick, the curse was broken until she picked up the guns. The guns compel her, the holsters never come off (how does that work?) and she ends up after Wildcat -who helped save everyone from the Ultra-Humanite. 

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Jill Carlyle, educated black female from Detroit, from an unapologetically urban background, drawn to violence by grief -the way so many heroes are… Jill could have been more, if crimefighting was an itch she needed to scratch (a la Dexter) if she went home at night rather than turning into mist and drifting off to her next assignment she would have been more. It is a great disservice that she did not have more agency. 

That being said: Carlyle’s justice was universal. Wildcat didn’t get a free pass. He framed a man who died as a result. No amount of good deeds on the side made up for it. Jill Carlyle does not believe in affluenza. Jill Carlyle does not care about your upbringing, your excuses or who you know, she doesn’t care if you’re a “nice guy” or a pillar of the community. Her justice is universal. She can stop anyone who stands in the way.

And she does. Even the impervious Power Girl. 

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Jill Carlyle: “I am on no one’s side.” 

She spares Wildcat after hearing his testimony, he committed his crime for the same reason that she took up the guns. It was the only way. She fights against her curse and saves him. Using strength and will against the curse upon her. And sets off for a more worthy kill. 

She has been absent from The New 52! But I’m holding out hope that she can find a home under a worthy pen somewhere in the DC Universe. 

Almost Human- Episode 12

Episode recap + review! + bonus Science and Tech side notes and links!

In the first scenes we see a wealthy chrome in his natural habitat: Virtual Reality golfing in his large house, when a badly disfigured man jumps up behind him. He administers a syringe that gives the man a seizure and then he sucks fluid out of the man’s body with another syringe.

At the station, Kennex receives a call from a woman he’s seeing, Samantha. He had a bad date, she kept taking phone calls and ignoring him. Dorian answers the phone and says, “Kennex can’t talk right now. He’s waving his arms and mouthing ‘no’.” Then Dorian tells Kennex that he’s boring. Stahl comes up and says that she’s been tipped about a possible homicide. EMTs said it was a heart attack, but he was a Chrome and Chrome’s don’t have congenital defects. Curiously, the body is still at the scene even though there are no crime scene techs and Stahl was tipped off by another Chrome, which means someone should have been there or the body should have been removed from the scene before it started to decay and stink up the place. Anyway, Dorian finds the injection point. The wound was contaminated by DNA of 7 different people. Who all died of the same “natural causes.”

Stahl runs down leads and pays a visit to a Chrome Club looking to obtain surveillance footage. She faces off with a snarky blonde and a handsome man asks her about her decision to be a cop. Which apparently is a long story. Anyway, he gives her the footage. She brings it back to the station and she and Maldonado look it over while talking about Stahl’s recent experience with Chromes. Stahl, usually resentful of her upbringing tries to avoid Chromes and she says that she forgot that they’re people, too. Maldonado says it’s important to be around people who are like you and understand you. To which point, Stahl says, “Is that why you keep John around.” Maldonado: “Nah, lost a bet.”

Stahl sends footage to John

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Facial recognition is reading him as 2 of the 8 victims. They also look up his Bitcoin exchange- Almost Human loves Bitcoin, however, virtual currency hit snags this week as Mt. Gox, an exchange site for Bitcoin, got hacked and lost possibly 6% of the total money invested in Bitcoin. This was due to the malleability of transaction numbers and history. Back to the plot; Rudy figures out that he’s stealing parts of people’s faces, he’s using nanobot plastic surgery. Face lifts at an atomic level. A doctor involved in the trials is questioned. The trials didn’t go well. Donors experienced arrhythmia and died, recipients were horribly disfigured. There seemed to be a lot of them. Why did they keep doing this? Kennex and Dorian find out that the person performing the surgery will need “an actuator.”

Back with the killer, he’s blackmailing his doctor into continuing the procedures. Turns out he volunteered for the original trials. He gets some new eyes at the expense of a barista.

Dorian is antagonizing John again, “They more flaws you have the more human you are. You’re very human, John.”  They’re on their way to meet an informant, “Di Carlo” (who turns out to be a little person- Bad Santa actor Tony Cox, in an exo-suit of an overweight woman). They’re at some kind of trash burning, Mad Max, punk rock Fight Club. Anyway, Di Carlo gives up the location of the actuator. They find out the man wants 10 procedures and there have been only 9 victims. They extrapolate who the next victim will be. Stahl and some others keep an eye on him, the murderer knows he’s been discovered and heads out to search for another victim.

After some leaps in logic, Kennex figures out that the killer is a DMV employee, Eric Latham. Stahl surmises that he has Body Dysmorphic Disorder and that’s why he is consumed by this need for perfection. She says he’s inundated with images of perfection and unable to cope. Which for this world means not just media but being designed from birth to look beautiful. He’s trying to speed up the procedures so that he can meet a woman, Judy, who he met online and is scheduled to meet face to face. With irony that hits like a brick, she’s blind. He meets her briefly,before the police arrive. Eric kills himself in front of John.

Kennex is thinking about Eric Latham and he decides to take a chance and ask Stahl to go have a drink. But she’s already heading out with the man from the Chrome Club, and we’re treated to a “brooding and staring off at happy people in the night while 80s music plays in the background” closing sequence. I don’t mind 30 seconds of angst.

I was really happy with this episode, there was a good balance between all the characters. Stahl, Kennex and Dorian all got to show their particular talents. Stahl got to show her investigative skills instead of somehow landing on tips and watching TV. And it addressed privilege and class. Stahl is a Chrome and having this privilege doesn’t make her a bad person, it also doesn’t make her a better person, either. Right now there is debate about using DNA of 3 people (male female and an extra donor woman) to replace mutated mitochondrial DNA and prevent birth defects. But there’s a question of “where does it stop?” and opening the floodgates for “designer babies”.  And on the surface you might say, “who wouldn’t want this? I don’t want my children to have degenerating vision/predisposition to kidney disease/go bald when they’re 17.” But what we end up with is what you saw in this episode, technology used to further divide a class line as well as race lines (all white people, dark haired males, mostly light haired females. Episode before last followed the same pattern, with the exception of one family), engineered to look perfect, have no physical failings and be geniuses. They look down on Stahl for being too blue collar, they’re meant for industry. They are meant for preserving a superior way of life for themselves. Well, that’s terrifying.

But on a smaller scale, aren’t we doing that already? People partner with someone “like them” in some capacity, if they choose to breed the child will be a product of the coupling with whatever benefits and negatives that comes with. And what’s seen by negative to some is not always the case, such as the instance of Deaf couples selecting embryos that are more likely to be Deaf. Sitcoms joke about superior cells used to make babies, such as Caroline Channing donating her “Ivy League eggs” on CBS’s Two Broke Girls while Max’s low rent genes are a dime a dozen. How far is the next step, really? The Chinese are already trying to crack the genetic code for genius by analyzing samples from individuals with IQs over 160. And if you can get it, will you be considered a bad parent if you don’t?

Anyway, a 45 minute sci-fi drama just made me think about the implications of designer genetics. I wish they would officially renew it, because it’s really good. Well, most of the time. And Kennex and Stahl are still dancing around each other, we still don’t know what’s going on “over the wall” and we don’t know where Anna is. Next week is the finale and I can’t imagine this will all be wrapped up neatly. I would miss Rudy and Dorian the most.