The Number 23 on DVD

23 the MovieThe Number 23 on DVD
By Mercurio D. Rivera

For Jim Carrey completists, his most recent movie, The Number 23, an attempted psychological thriller, arrived on DVD this past Tuesday. The DVD is chock full of impressive special features, including, deleted scenes, alternate endings, commentary by director Joel Schumacher, and three short documentaries, including one on the making of the movie. For fans of this film [Are you out there? Hello? Anybody?], it’s certainly worth picking up for the extras.

Carrey continues to stretch his acting muscles, this time playing Walter Sparrow, a dogcatcher who becomes insanely obsessed with the supernatural secrets of the number 23. Sparrow happens upon this mystery after his wife (Virginia Madsen, giving her all) gives him a dime-store detective novel in which the protagonist private dick (also played by Carrey), fixates on the number. It turns out that when Sparrow adds up (or subtracts or multiples or divides or randomly transposes) any numbers, ranging from his street address to his social security to the pairs of shoes in his wife’s closet, he arrives at …23! Eerie, huh? So what does it all mean? No one knows. Not Sparrow. Not the detective in the novel. Not even the scriptwriters apparently.

Unfortunately, the movie spends way too much of its time in the two-dimensional world of the detective novel with its cardboard, clichéd noir characters and not enough time in the real world where Sparrow slowly loses his grip on his sanity. Schumacher uses every trick at his disposal to try to make the detective story interesting, including diagonal camera shots and washed-out coloring, all to no effect. In the end it’s hard to do anything but yawn and look at your wristwatch as these dull stereotypes blather on. Worse, both the main story and the detective story are weighed down by Carrey’s incessant voiceover, explaining everything that happens along the way. But all the explanations in the world can’t bring any sense to the convoluted screenplay. The two storylines nicely converge at the end, but it’s too little, too late.

Rating: 1 star out of 4
(The missing numbers between 1 and 4? 2 and 3. Holy crap!)

Room “1408”: Worth Checking Out

1408 Film ReviewRoom 1408: Worth Checking Out
Rating: 3 of 4 stars
Film Review By Mercurio D. Rivera

The latest adaptation of a Stephen King short story, 1408 stars John Cusack as scribe Mike Enslin, a hardened cynic who writes tour guides reviewing the spookiest spots across America. After suffering a personal tragedy, Enslin spends lonely days on a book tour seeking solace in spirits of a different kind, the only kind he believes in, until he receives an anonymous postcard touting Room 1408 of the Dolphin Hotel in Manhattan as prime ghost-hunting territory. A determined Enslin sets off on another debunking mission, but initially has trouble reserving the room. It turns out that hotel management has closed off Room 1408 since the 1980’s due to 56 deaths, including a parade of jumpers, a man who slit his own throat and tried to sew it back up with a knitting needle, various self-inflicted eye gougings, and patrons stricken with a nasty case of insanity—all within an hour after checking in. To summarize, “it’s a fucking evil room,” says Samuel L. Jackson as the hotel manager who implores Enslin to stay away with no success. (“I don’t want to clean up the mess,” he explains.)

Cusack is terrific as the increasingly desperate protagonist at war with the room’s special effects, including bleeding wallpaper, morphing paintings, extreme temperatures and, most chillingly, a digital clock-radio that blares the Carpenters’ “We’ve Only Just Begun” at the most inopportune moments. It’s scarier than it sounds—I guess “Hotel California” would have been too obvious?—but if this were all that it was about, the film would quickly turn tedious. What gives “1408” its edge and distinguishes it from scores of other haunted house special effects movies is the psychological component: Enslin is forced to confront the most frightening creatures of all—yep, those pesky inner demons.

In contrast with King’s other hotel horror masterpiece The Shining, which evoked a sense of dread from its isolated snowbound setting, King’s story manages to wring genuine chills despite its mid-Manhattan setting, mostly in everyday objects found in typical hotel rooms—no easy feat. All in all, this is a smart, above-average horror flick definitely worth checking out.

By Mercurio D. Rivera for Senses Five Press

Sheepishly B-a-a-a-d

Beware she who bears woolBlack Sheep: Sheepishly B-a-a-a-d
Rating: 2 out of 4 stars
Film Review by Mercurio D. Rivera

Carnivorous sheep run amok on a New Zealand farm in Jonathan King’s silly horror/comedy Black Sheep. Protagonist Henry Oldfield suffers from a peculiar phobia, a paralyzing fear of sheep following a childhood prank by his sinister older brother, Angus. After moving to the city and going into therapy, Henry returns years later to sell his part of the farm to his brother—just as two environmentalists are trespassing onto the property to uncover genetic experiments being performed on the livestock. No sooner than you can say “zombie sheep” a mutated lamb fetus crawls off, its bite transforming the sheep into vicious meateaters. And humans bitten by the infected sheep slowly morph into what can best be described as, well, goofy “weresheep” cast off from the island of Dr. Moreau. Henry and a female environmentalist named Experience battle the zombie sheep, the weresheep and Henry’s phobias. Scares and laughs ensue. Supposedly.

Striving to capture the tone of comedic horror movies such as Shawn of the Dead and Slither, Black Sheep unfortunately fails to deliver either laughs or chills. The horror/comedy ratio is out of whack: the humor is much too broad (“Who’s driving?” one of the characters in the back of a pickup truck screams; cut to the shot of a killer sheep behind the steering wheel) and the horror almost nonexistent. In the only frightening sequence early in the movie, a sheep stands at the end of a corridor–its silhouette preposterously threatening—as the phobic protagonist confronts his worst nightmare. Unfortunately, his neuroses are overcome way too easily—particularly given the circumstances, which would seem to validate his fears. The movie is also undermined by two scientists who perform genetic experiments in an evil, over-the-top Austin Powers sort of way.

I really wanted to like this one—zombie sheep? what’s not to like?—but in the end this one was just b-a-a-d.

By Mercurio D. Rivera for Senses Five Press

Kushiel’s Justice Review

Kushiel's JusticeKushiel’s Justice
By Jacqueline Carey, published by Warner Books.
Reviewed by C. Wright.

Kushiel’s Justice continues the story of Imriel de la Courcel, third in line for the throne of Terre d’Ange, and child of the nation’s most infamous and deadly traitor. Imriel, regarded with suspicion since his childhood, is determined to prove himself loyal to his country. Instead, against his will, he finds himself committing the one act guaranteed to condemn him for treason in the eyes of the nation if discovered—falling in love with its dauphine, Sidonie. Yet Imriel is already engaged to Dorelei mab Breidaia of Alba, and weds her to secure Terre d’Ange’s political influence in Alba’s succession. In doing so, he betrays his own heart and violates his god’s single imperative, to “love as thou wilt.”

In this sequel to Kushiel’s Scion, Jacqueline Carey turns the reader’s eyes to Alba, a barbarian tribal society steeped in druidic magic. Here a scattered tribe of bear-like mystics, desperate to protect Alba from the devastation foreseen in visions of Imriel’s future, use Imriel’s lingering passion for Sidonie to strike at the heart of his Alban family. The resulting tragedy spawns a quest for revenge that spans three nations.

Once again, Carey’s talent for creating rich and fully articulated characters shines through in this novel. As with its predecessor Kushiel’s Scion, Kushiel’s Justice focuses primarily on Imriel’s inner conflict and growth. Imriel’s struggle between love and duty, though a familiar trope, is handled with a refreshing maturity and complexity, putting Sidonie’s regal air and constrained passion in contrast to Dorelei’s charming naïveté without invalidating Dorelei as an intelligent and insightful woman in her own right. Alais, Sidonie’s sister, captivates with her blend of quiet wisdom and lingering insecurity, and a new cast of Alban characters beautifully fleshes out Imriel’s world. Imriel himself undergoes subtle but visible character growth over the course of the novel as he recognizes his own selfish tendencies, earnestly tries to make himself worthy of his wife’s affection, and begins to trust that he can be true to his nature and still be good.

Series fans may feel the absence of Phèdre and Joscelin, heroes of the first trilogy, who spend much of this book following their own pursuits and play only a tangential part in this chapter of Imriel’s story. Similarly, events in the Alban sections of the story seem greatly distanced from the familiar society and world of Terre d’Ange; this sense of encapsulation feels appropriate to Alba’s political standing in Carey’s world, but it may leave the reader longing for more of the signature flavor, intrigue and social politicking of the series. The slower pacing of events in Alba is occasionally frustrating, but it does give the reader time to revel in the sensuality of the books.

On the whole, Carey has done an excellent job of exploring Imriel and Sidonie’s forbidden passion, bringing Imriel through staggering character growth, and including hints of the plotlines from the prior novel and series by incorporating Imriel’s mother’s letters and the secrets of the Hidden Guild. She leaves the reader at a moment of high anticipation, with Imriel and Sidonie poised to return to Terre d’Ange and handle the tenuous political situation into which their romance has plunged the nation.

June 13, 2007 – C. Wright for Senses Five Press

Kushiel’s Scion Review

Kushiel's ScionKushiel’s Scion
By Jacqueline Carey, published by Warner Books
Reviewed by C. Wright.

With Kushiel’s Scion, Jacqueline Carey returns the reader to the world of Terre D’Ange, whose people are descended from gods and carry passion in the blood. The novel opens with Imriel de la Courcel, the long-missing Prince of the Blood, returning to his home country and joining the household of Phèdre nó Montrève and her consort Joscelin Verreuil, heroes of Carey’s first Kushiel trilogy, who rescued him from torment and slavery. Imriel is already regarded with suspicion in the public eye—and doubts about his loyalty increase when his infamously traitorous mother, Melisande, escapes from her self-imposed prison in neighboring La Serenissima.

In addition to accusations of treachery and deceit, Imriel struggles with his mother’s other legacy—the dangerous desires inherent in his family’s bloodline. Desperate to escape his history and darker urges, Imriel flees to Tiberium, where he encounters the Unseen Guild, a secret organization who taught his mother the arts of covertcy and who now seeks to recruit him.

This novel is something of a departure from Carey’s earlier Kushiel books; though it maintains the complexity of character and the richly articulated world that characterized her first trilogy, it has a much quieter tone and slower pacing. The focus is on Imriel’s internal struggle to reconcile the traits he inherited from his mother with his own desire to do good; the book deals much more with philosophy than action and adversity. However, Carey enlivens the novel with a compelling blend of character personalities, clever subterfuge, and the continuing mystery of Melisande’s schemes that unites this trilogy with her earlier work.

In Scion, the author has done an excellent job of creating a distinct and authentic voice for Imriel, who shares neither the previous heroine Phèdre’s unique sexuality nor her assurance and sense of self-identity. Terre d’Ange and its familiar locations take on a new character when viewed through Imriel’s eyes; the experience of her world is appreciably different in this book. Imriel himself is a strongly sympathetic and relatable hero, whose thoughts and views change believably as he himself matures and develops over the course of the novel.

To her credit, Carey has not tried to top the epic arc of her first trilogy by introducing an even more staggering series of events; her approach in following more subtle plotlines makes for a very authentic-feeling follow-up to the first trilogy. This start of what seems to be a quieter series of books gives a different and interesting view of life in Terre d’Ange in the wake of heroes.

June 13, 2007 – C. Wright for Senses Five Press