Book Review: Autumn by David Moody

Hi again…

Zombies. They seem to be everywhere these days. Resident Evil: Afterlife brought their biologically engineered zombies back to the big screen recently. On Halloween 2010, the Walking Dead will invade television on AMC. And there have been many recent books – from The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and the Undead and Pride and Prejudice and Zombies to Patient Zero and Zombie Britannica.

So what makes David Moody‘s upcoming book Autumn different?

First of all, this is the first zombie book that I can recall that never uses the “z” word explicitly. Moody refers to them as “creatures” or “figures,” and these undead don’t seem to be of the flesh-eating variety. Other than one scene that made me wonder if they might be capable of extreme violence, it’s just the oppressive numbers of restless dead and the fact that they’re everywhere that makes them a persistent threat.

Second, though the book starts like many zombie plagues with some sort of worldwide biological or chemical event, Moody doesn’t try to explain how or why it happened. Though 99% of the world’s population suddenly dies, our few survivors are more interested in survival than a cure.

Third, the survivors themselves are just ordinary people. Michael is a bit of a loner who has a mysterious past he’s not willing to talk about much. Emma was a medical student and is more keen on finding a safe place than solving the riddle of what caused the event. And Carl was a husband and father who never quite gets over the trauma of losing his wife, daughter, and his old life.

Autumn may have the earmarks of your ordinary zombie tale, but it is far from it. Moody’s writing is just descriptive enough of the threats facing our survivors to make the whole story more psychological horror than of the brain-eating variety. It’s extremely well written with the implied silences just as important as the action. It reminded me more of classic Stephen King than George A. Romero – and I have to say I’m looking forward to what’s happening next.

If you’re looking for a different kind of horror or zombie fiction, you can’t do much better than this creepy start to a new series by David Moody. Look for Autumn on bookshelves now!

This article first appeared at BlogCritics.org here.

–Fitz

p.s. Check out Autumn and other great books below!

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DVD Review: Legion (2010)

Hi again!

When Legion hit theaters in January 2010, I understood from the trailers what the movie was about. The angel Michael (Paul Bettany) has come to Earth to countermand an order from God to kill all of humankind, including the child that might bring about its salvation. Still in the womb, the child’s mother – a girl named Charlie (Adrianne Palicki) – is working as a waitress at a diner in Paradise Falls, a speck in the middle of nowhere. Michael must save the kid from an army of angels and God’s wrath, or mankind is doomed.

Ah yes, our extermination. We, like the cockroaches we abhor, have spread across the Earth devouring resources and abusing our gift of free will. As Michael says in one scene, “The first time God lost faith in Man he sent a flood. The second time… he sent what you see outside.” Like our world is a giant Etch-a-Sketch and God wants to shake things up to erase us from the planet.

And, like cockroaches, we’re not such an easy race to erase off the map.

Though largely panned by reviewers far and wide, I liked Legion. It doesn’t have the philosophy of The Prophecy from back in the mid-90’s. But it takes a simple premise (The Apocalypse), a chance of redemption (an unwanted child), an interesting battleground (a diner in the middle of nowhere), and shows us angels like we haven’t quite seen them before.

Plus, if you add in the interesting cast of characters – Michael (Bettany, Iron Man 2, The Da Vinci Code), simple mechanic/protector Jeep Hanson (Lucas Black, The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift), inner-city tough guy Kyle (Tyrese Gibson, Death Race, 2 Fast 2 Furious), unlikely mother-to-be Charlie (Palicki, TV’s Supernatural), Dad simply trying to get to Christmas Howard Anderson (Jon Tenney, TV’s Brothers & Sisters and The Closer), bitchy wife Sandra (Kate Walsh, TV’s Private Practice), bratty wild child Audrey (Willa Holland, TV’s Gossip Girl and The O.C.), ex-military fry cook Percy (Charles S. Dutton, TV’s Roc, Alien 3), diner owner Bob Hanson (Dennis Quaid, Pandorum, G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra)… and one ticked off angel Gabriel (Kevin Durand, Robin Hood (2010), X-Men Origins: Wolverine)…

Honestly there were so many different demographics represented by the population of the diner and its visitors that it was the perfect place to stage a heavenly battle. Anybody who thinks America isn’t diverse hasn’t been watching our movies I guess!

Now I know there are those people who didn’t like this film. I get it. It’s certainly not perfect. And it does get a little preachy and take itself too seriously from time to time. But this is an extremely visual film co-written and directed by a visual effects guy – Scott Stewart. Stewart has been involved at The Orphanage and ILM doing visual effects since the mid-1990s on such movies as Mars Attacks!, Sin City, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest, Superman Returns, and others. So it came as no surprise to me that this would be an effects-heavy film.

What did surprise me was how old school many of the effects were. Yes, we had scenes where peoples’ faces were vibrating as they were possessed by angels and where characters like the Ice Cream Man (played beautifully and far too short by Doug Jones – Hellboy, Fantastic Four 2: Rise of the Silver Surfer, Pan’s Labyrinth and many others) transformed into grotesque beings attacking the diner. But then you had more subtle scenes with lightning and fog where you’d catch brief glimpses of the hordes of possessed beings in the dark and simple explosions as gunfire, gasoline, and vehicles met briefly to light the night.

Is this a film for you to think deeply about your own mortality? No. Definitely not. Is it a film to enjoy as you learn bits and pieces about the battle and watch as cool effects grace the screen? Yes. Definitely. If you’re looking for deeper spiritual or philosophical discussions, I recommend you check out The Prophecy and its sequels.

Included with the DVD are three short extras – “Creating the Apocalypse,” “Humanity’s Last Line of Defense,” and “From Pixels to Picture.”

“Creating the Apocalypse” provided a great segment about how they made Jones into the Ice Cream Man. What a process… With four prostheses, Jones ran from the ice cream truck towards the diner and jumped into the air. How he was able to pull that off is beyond me. Hearing Jones talk about the preparation alone was worth watching. The cast and crew seemed to appreciate his efforts even though he was just in that one scene. I have to admit to being more freaked out by the mechanical baby that was built for the film than the Ice Cream Man. At a bit more than 23 minutes, this is a very detailed look behind the scenes at how they did some of the movie magic.

Where the last feature dealt with the effects, “Humanity’s Last Line of Defense” focuses on the ensemble of actors. It’s quite obvious that the director and crew wanted to have the best group of actors they could get for these roles. It’s kind of fun to think that Bettany really wanted to be in an action film and fire machine guns. The mutual respect and admiration between the cast and crew was obvious as you hear Quaid, Bettany, Gibson, and others talk on set.

And in “From Pixels to Picture” you get a better understanding of the amazing efforts that went into the visual effects not only in post-production, but during the production on set. These visual engineers had some serious challenges integrating live action stunts with computer generated effects to create a number of seamless scenes. Between Gladys, the crazy possessed old lady on the ceiling, and the swarm of flies as they try to drive a character to the hospital, they did a great job in merging old school matte paintings, light, and shadow, with CG for the film.

Legion is definitely not for everybody. It’s rated R for bloody violence and language. But I found it to be an entertaining mix of religion, horror, and story. Be sure to check it out on DVD and VOD today!

This article first appeared on BlogCritics.org here.

–Fitz

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[DVD Review] X-Men: Volume 5

Hi all!

When I was just out of college, I started watching the X-Men animated series whenever I could on Saturday mornings. Even now, when there are good cartoons on Saturday mornings, I’ll plop down on the couch with my daughters and eat a bowl of Fruit Loops while watching. Unfortunately, the cartoons now aren’t as good as they were in the ’90s. X-Men, Batman: The Animated Series, Superman: The Animated Series, and Batman Beyond were all in full swing in the mid to late 1990s. It was a great time to be a comic book cartoon lover.

The X-Men series was based on the X-Men comic book series from Marvel Comics that started in 1963. Created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, the X-Men is a group of mutant humans with extraordinary abilities such as telekinesis, telepathy, teleportation, advanced healing, etc. Led by Professor Charles Xavier (i.e. Professor “X”), they trained to use their powers to help people even as the world around them was seething with anti-mutant sentiment. On the opposite side, wishing to rule humankind, is Magneto, a powerful mutant who can control magnetism. Magneto leads the Brotherhood of Mutants, a group dedicated to stirring up anti-mutant sentiment in order to cause a war.

Many social issues were explored in the pages of the X-Men comics, including anti-semitism (Magneto was a Jewish boy in Germany during World War II), racism (mutant vs. human paralleled the racial tensions of the 1960s), government control (McCarthyism), and so on. The X-Men animated series dealt with many of the same issues over its five seasons and has been widely lauded for bringing those tough issues to television. The series ran for five seasons on television from 1992 to 1997 and had high ratings for all five seasons.

X-Men: Volume 5 is a two-DVD set that includes the last four episodes of season 4 and all ten episodes of season 5. Included is one of my favorite storylines from the series involving Apocalypse, who wants to bring about a war between mutants and non-mutants so he can rule the world. Also included is my favorite episode – “Old Soldiers” – where Wolverine reminisces about his time in World War II with Captain America when they fought the Red Skull. With next year’s big screen debut of Captain America – Captain America: The First Avenger – coming July 22, 2011, it was fun to see Cap again even as a cartoon.

As with all cartoons, the heroes struggle not only with their foes, but with themselves. And the X-Men don’t lack for enemies or troubles as a group or as individuals. Time travel, computer virus-like aliens, tyrants from other planets, and ageless villains take their toll.

Animation-wise, this series was one of the most consistent style- and quality-wise of the many great animated series of the time. Unfortunately however, there are no extras. I would have been very keen to learn more about the production process, why producers and writers decided to use one storyline over another, and so on. Marvel should learn from DC’s example in this case. The Superman: The Animated Series complete set includes many extras and provides a much more complete viewing for me than did any of the X-Men volumes. However, maybe they will now bundle all the episodes into one collection and provide some extras in lieu of all the great Marvel-based movies coming out in the next few years.

If you were a fan of the series in the ’90s and are looking to explore the cartoons of your youth, I’d highly recommend picking up X-Men: Volume 5 on DVD as well as the previous four volumes. I’m sure we’ll see much more in the way of DVD re-releases over the next year as director Matthew Vaughn readies the next X-Men movie, X-Men: First Class, for a June 3, 2011 release. Next summer should be a great one for comic-book movies, but until then be sure to pick up the X-Men animated series on DVD as you chill in the air conditioning THIS summer!

This article first appeared at BlogCritics.org here.

–Fitz

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