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October 2, 2015
CSI Shrewsbury: Brother Cadfael's Medieval Mysteries
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Showing posts by: Angie Barry click to see Angie Barry's profile
Oct 2 2015 10:00am

CSI Shrewsbury: Brother Cadfael’s Medieval Mysteries

Brother Cadfael came before fingerprinting and DNA testing, before security cameras and GPS phone tracking, back when detectives had their work cut out for them when it came to solving murders. Barring a confession or finding the bloody dagger on a suspect, it was difficult to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that someone was truly guilty.

Which makes Ellis Peters' medieval sleuth all the more impressive: armed only with his own instincts and varied life experiences, he winkled out a number of miscreants in the course of twenty novels and thirteen television adaptations. By finding just a spring of a plant on the victim, he could determine where the man died and why.

When first we meet him, this singular hero is a sixty-something monk at the Abbey of St. Peter and St. Paul in Shrewsbury, a town not far from the border between England and Wales. It's been several years since the Welsh Cadfael took up his Benedictine habit and became the herbalist of the Abbey.

[He didn't always serve...]

Sep 18 2015 3:30pm

The Golden Age of Mystery: Dorothy L. Sayers’ Gaudy Night

When Harriet Vane receives an invitation to attend her Oxford Gaudy — a class reunion — she's also given a most unusual request from her old professors. A poison pen is running amok at the ladies' college of Shrewsbury and the dons are terrified that the nasty notes, malicious vandalism, and obscene threats against them will escalate into outright violence.

If word of this campaign were to reach the press, it would only further smear women's education, a fight that the dons are still waging. Oxford may have finally opened its doors to female students, but they're still very much second class citizens of the campus compared to the male body.

Shrewsbury (a thinly veiled stand-in for Somerville College, Dorothy Sayers' alma mater) receives far less funding than the colleges reserved for men and is allowed to accept a much smaller percentage of students. Lady scholars are still dismissed by their masculine counterparts, and the critics of such education will renew the cry of 'soured virginity' if the poison pen's actions come to light.

[Sounds pretty harsh...]

Sep 4 2015 12:00pm

Sense8: You Are Not Alone

What would you do if one dayutterly out of the blueyou saw a woman commit suicide? No one else saw her, no one else reacted, and it all has the feeling of a waking dream. And, in the aftermath of this bizarre moment, you start to... experience things.

You hear police sirens in a silent room and pounding club music in an empty apartment. Smell rain on a sunny day. Taste pot brownies and someone else's kiss. See a chicken flutter onto the desk of your immaculate office or a stranger's face in your mirror.

You'd think you were going mad, of course. You'd probably be confused and frightened and more than a little disturbed. Especially when you realize that it's not just you inside your head any morethere are seven other people sharing that space now.

[Hey, get out!]

Aug 14 2015 11:00am

The Monstrous Feminine: Women and Horror, Part 3

“Get away from her, you bitch!” — Ellen Ripley (Aliens)


Being a mom is a full-time, lifetime, really difficult job even in the best of situations. When you throw a mother and her child into a horror scenario, the stakes get infinitely higher. Not all ladies have a strong maternal drive, of course, this writer being one of them. But a lot of us do, and given how society often expects and demands women to take care of children, a mother serves a vital role in horror.

In The Babadook (2014), it's not immediately clear just where the threat lies: within or without. Amelia (Essie Davis) is a single mother wholly focused on her son Samuel (Noah Wiseman) after losing her husband in a violent accident. When Sam starts to develop behavioral issues, she takes him out of school and does her best to address the problems before they get worse.

But things take a turn for the frightening when Sam finds a bizarre pop-up book about a creature called “Mister Babadook.” Unexplained events begin happening in the claustrophobic house, which Amelia blames on Sam and Sam blames on the Babadook. After destroying the grotesque book, Amelia discovers glass in her food and Sam is involved in a bad accident at a party. And then she finds the book repaired—freshly edited to include images of herself doing unspeakable things to the dog, her son, and herself. 


Aug 13 2015 2:30pm

The Monstrous Feminine: Women and Horror, Part 2

“Oh, she was so sexy. She was asking for it.” — Hayley (Hard Candy)


We unfortunately live in a world where it's unsafe to be a woman. Having a casual drink at a bar, dancing at a loud party with friends, even walking a quiet street at night: danger lurks everywhere. Simply being, a woman is reason enough to be constantly vigilant. With the threat of violence and sexual assault everywhere it's no surprise that those themes constantly crop up in horror.

I frequently lament at the abundance of such plot devices, yes, and I'm definitely fed up with the constant abuse heaped on female characters and the preponderance of victim narratives.

But rape culture is a very real, very insidious thing, and given how it permeates the lives of women across the world, it's a topic that needs to be addressed. With horror's willingness to discuss taboos, it's only natural for the genre to regularly address the fears of rape and sexual violence.

[There are certain defenses...]

Aug 12 2015 2:30pm

The Monstrous Feminine: Women and Horror, Part 1

“It is women who love horror. Gloat over it. Feed on it. Are nourished by it. Shudder and cling and cry out—and come back for more.” — Bela Lugosi

Being a woman is not easy.

For a lot of reasons, of course, and some of those reasons are downright horrific. There's a lot of gross body stuff (for those born biologically female) that we put up with every month for thirty or forty years, to start with.

Then there's pregnancy, when ladies are physically supporting a life—or parasite, as some would describe it—right up until the moment it bursts out of the womb like that dinner scene in Alien...

Okay, maybe it's not quite that bad. But it's still terrible and awesome, and a really great example of how women can be more hardcore than men. I'd like to see any of the muscle-bound guys in a summer blockbuster handle childbirth or menstrual cramps.

Given how extreme physical changes can be for ladies, it shouldn't be surprising that there are a lot monstrous body horror narratives we connect to on a visceral level. Or that so many lady-led horror flicks home in on topics like sexuality, motherhood, and the dangers of being female in a world full of violence directed at women.

[Hell hath no fury...]

Aug 5 2015 5:15pm

Under the Radar: Genre Movies You May Have Missed — The Illusionist

The fall of 2006 was a great time if you were into magicians. No, not David Copperfield or Gob Bluth—I'm talking more about the Harry Houdini class of conjurer. Most will remember The Prestige, which starred Batman, Wolverine, Black Widow, and Ziggy Stardust himself as scientific genius Nikola Tesla. No surprise that's the one everyone remembers, with that cast and such a big budget for splashy special effects.

In comparison, The Illusionist may seem like the poor country cousin. It doesn't have quite the same amount of star power—though Edward Norton, Paul Giamatti, and Rufus Sewell are all incredible, award-winning actors, they aren't quite as beefcake-y as Christian Bale or Hugh Jackman—and it's definitely not as flashy with its magic sequences.

But in terms of story, emotional resonance, characters, and—well, everything—The Illusionist is by far the superior film. Where The Prestige is all showy pyrotechnics, The Illusionist is positively lyrical. With its warm sepia tones and blurred edges, it feels like a faded photograph lit by candlelight.

[Abra kadabra...]

Jul 13 2015 12:00pm

Infecting the Infected: What’s to Come on The Strain Season 2

When we last saw Dr. Eph Goodweather (Corey Stoll) and his rag-tag team of vampire hunters — young son Zach (Max Charles), lover and fellow CDC coworker Dr. Nora Martinez (Mia Maestro), vampire expert and Holocaust survivor Abraham Setrakian (David Bradley), exterminator Vasiliy Fet (Kevin Durand), and hacker Dutch (Ruta Gedmintas) — things weren't looking too bright.

Abrahams's plan to drive the Master, the source of the vampiric plague, into deadly sunlight failed; the Strigoi defied all expectations and managed to escape before he was immolated. And just to cap off the day's failure, Eph and Zach came face-to-face with the freshly turned Kelly (Natalie Brown), confirming their worst suspicions about what had happened to their wife and mother.

The first season closed pessimistically: with Eph breaking his sober streak by downing a shot of booze and the group driving off into a chaotic night full of fires and bloodshed. That final shot and voice-over suggested that New York was as good as gone, the first large-scale victim to the Strigoi's push for global domination.

[Not so fast...]

Jul 10 2015 11:00am

Fresh Meat: The Suspicion at Sanditon (Or, The Disappearance of Lady Denham) by Carrie Bebris

The Suspicion at Sanditon (Or, the Disappearance of Lady Denham) by Carrie Bebris is the 7th cozy addition to the Mr. and Mrs. Darcy Mystery Series set in the location of Jane Austen's final work (available July 14, 2015).

“Well, does Lady Denham intend to join us at all this evening?” Mr. Hollis's volume drew the attention of all the guests, and the conversation ceased.

Miss Brereton flinched at his querulous demand. “I do not know.”

Mr. Parker was more sympathetic. “As you have returned without her, I can only suppose something significant prevents her from joining us. Is Lady Denham indisposed?”

Her composure suddenly breaking to reveal her distress, her gaze swept all the guests before returning to Mr. Parker.

“Lady Denham is missing.”

Fitzwilliam Darcy and his wife Elizabeth (formerly Bennet, oh she of the “fine eyes” and lively wit) have only recently arrived in the small coastal town of Sanditon, primarily to advise their friend and cousin Colonel Fitzwilliam on whether it will be a sound investment for him, when they find themselves embroiled in a most perplexing situation.

[The knots only grow tighter...]

Jun 30 2015 1:00pm

Under the Radar: Genre Movies You May Have Missed — Push (2009)

By now, Chris Evans is a bona fide Hollywood star. Everyone knows his name and face, and he's made a big mark in pop culture with his roles in four comic book adaptations: The Fantastic Four (where he was Johnny Storm, the Human Torch), Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World (Evil Ex Lucas Lee), The Losers (Jensen), and the Marvel Cinematic Universe (Steve Rogers, aka Captain America).

(He likes to say that he was never big into comics and it's just a coincidence that he's starred in so many adaptations, but we know better. As the folks at Tumblr like to say, it's no coincidence that he has the perfect superhero shoulder-to-waist ratio.)

But before he was the superpowered soldier with the star-spangled uniform, he played another guy with superpowers in the little-known film Push.

Nick Gant (Evans) is what's known as a Mover, which is just another way of saying telekinetic. Like Jean Grey, he can move things with his mind. Which makes life difficult for Nick, because there's an organization very interested in people like him called Division. Division has been “collecting” superpowered folks for several decades now: testing them, classifying them, and doing their best to weaponize them for the good of the government.

[Sounds recognizable enough so far...]

Jun 16 2015 11:00am

Fresh Meat: The Devil’s Only Friend by Dan Wells

The Devil's Only Friend by Dan Wells is the 4th paranormal thriller featuring a teenaged sociopath who fights demons for the government (available June 16, 2015).

John Wayne Cleaver is a teenaged sociopath. A fact he's pretty open about. He also has a driving urge to kill, which is why it's a good thing he lives by a set of self-imposed rules. Rules that include: keeping away from animals, eating a strictly vegetarian diet, and never touching a gun.

And it's also a good thing that he's found a way to channel his murderous impulses; it seems the government is in need of someone with John's particular proclivities and mindset, because it turns out there are worse things than serial killers in the world.

Things like demons.

[Well okay, that's fair...]

Apr 13 2015 4:45pm

Under the Radar: Genre Movies You May Have Missed — The Faculty

Start with The Breakfast Club formula—a preppy popular girl, a jock, the burn-out/bad boy, the new girl, the geek, the goth—and throw in the body horror of parasitic aliens. Stir in plenty of knowing sci-fi riffs and you’ve got The Faculty, a little film with cult classic cred.

Herrington High is your typical small town Midwestern school: perpetually strapped for cash, with a bunch of teachers who are almost as apathetic as their students, and notable only for its championship football team. But one night, after a disappointing budget meeting, the principal (Bebe Neuwirth) has an unsavory encounter with the coach (Robert Patrick), and things take a turn for the bloody.

In a single day, the faculty starts behaving strangely. Soon, the students are following suit. By Friday night the only people unaffected are a small group of misfits.

[Misfits gotta stick together...]

Mar 22 2015 12:00pm

Under the Radar: Movies You May Have Missed — Attack the Block

Why is it that aliens always invade New York? Or Los Angeles? How come it’s always the Americans taking on extraterrestrial threats, armed with big guns, ripped shirts, and catchy one-liners?

Gotta admit: those stories are old and tired. Been there, done that, seen the post-apocalyptic wasteland.

Which makes Attack the Block a refreshing change of pace. This time, we’re treated to space invaders in London—and not the tourist-filled, upper-class London with posh accents and Austen manners.

No, this is the council estate of South London. Where youth gangs run amok. Where Cockney slang can sometimes be indecipherable. Where you’re more likely to see knives and baseball bats than Aston Martins.

[The only Bond you'll find here is James's Bail Bonds...]

Mar 9 2015 2:15pm

Under the Radar: Movies You May Have Missed — The Gift

This installment of Under the Radar spotlights a film in one of my favorite subgenres: southern gothic. While there are many books out there to scratch the southern gothic itch—Flannery O’Connor and William Faulkner immediately spring to mind—it’s a genre that remains vastly underutilized in film. This is a damn shame, given how so many of the trappings of SG lend themselves nicely to the medium.

Skeletal cypress trees, spidery clumps of Spanish moss, the murky green water of the swamp, and the ever-present sound of plaintive fiddle are all hallmarks of an atmospheric Southern tale. Throw in something dark, dangerous, supernatural, and you’ve got your gothic.

From its opening frames The Gift promises to fulfill all of these requirements. With Sam Raimi handling the directing and Billy Bob Thornton providing the screenplay, the film’s chops are certified: this is going to be a creepy and authentic thriller.

[What's not to like?]

Feb 28 2015 12:00pm

Under the Radar: Genre Movies You May Have Missed — Bandits

As a reporter says in the opening prologue, Bandits (2001) is “part Bonnie and Clyde, part Barnum & Bailey.” It’s farcical comedy, crime melodrama, and a unique love story all rolled into one.

Joe Blake (Bruce Willis) and Terry Collins (Billy Bob Thornton) are a pair of inmate pals who spontaneously decide to break out of prison. In the aftermath, confident Joe sets his sights on his dream of buying a hotel in Mexico and turning it into a restaurant and casino. He’ll work the front, while the high-strung Terry can manage the restaurant and finances.

But casinos cost money, and the pair’s pretty strapped for cash — not to mention on the lam. So the fugitives turn to their most bankable skill and concoct a daring plan: they’ll rob banks by kidnapping the managers the night before, then make off with the goods the next morning with their hostage’s assistance.

They enlist Joe’s cousin, Harvey Pollard (Troy Garity), to be their getaway driver and odd job man, and before long, Joe and Terry are known as the Sleepover Bandits. Their faces may be plastered on every TV and they’re now at the top of the Most Wanted list, but things are definitely looking up.

[They'll soon learn: two's company, but three's a crime...]

Feb 17 2015 2:30pm

Under the Radar: Alien Trespass (2009)

When you’re an alien on a mission, you can’t go wrong with a plucky waitress at your side. Alien Trespass (2009), another genre movie you may have missed, fits the bill when you want something silly, zany, and outright goofy. Right from the introduction, which frames the ensuing picture as a “lost” sci-fi classic recently rediscovered after sixty years, you know you’re in territory Ed Wood would’ve been comfortable in.

(I will say that Trespass is several calibers above Wood’s films in terms of production values, acting, and writing. Then again, there are laundry commercials that are better made than Wood’s infamous Plan 9 From Outer Space—but I digress.)

The shtick—that this was originally made in the 1950s, the heyday of flying saucer/alien robot stories—serves this film well. It’s supposed to be over-the-top, very “golly gee willikers!” and bright with Technicolor.

An alien named Urp crash lands on earth, inadvertently freeing a dangerous monster he was transporting in his ship. In order to recapture the hungry Ghota before it can eat the humans of the nearby town, Urp possesses the mild-mannered astronomer Dr. Ted Lewis (Eric McCormack) and enlists the aid of spunky waitress Tammy (Jenni Baird).

Alien Trespass (2009): Astronomer Dr. Ted Lewis / Alien Urp (Eric McCormack) and spunky waitress Tammy (Jenni Baird).

[She just loves a good convict hunt!]

Jan 23 2015 1:30pm

Under the Radar: Genre Movies You May Have Missed — The Frighteners

I love the mainstream, popular, and critically acclaimed films as much as the next person. The last thing I’d consider myself is a cinematic snob. But there are times when a truly amazing movie slips into—and out of—theaters without much buzz before fading into obscurity. So I’d like to bring a few of those gems back into the light and remind you that sometimes the blockbusters aren’t the only films that can give you plenty of bang for your buck.

Before Peter Jackson was synonymous with Lord of the Rings, he cut his directing eye-teeth on horror. And by far the most polished of his earlier schlock-fests is 1996’s The Frighteners.

[Off we go!]

Jan 3 2015 1:00pm

Under the Radar: Genre Movies You May Have Missed — The Cell

I love the mainstream, popular, and critically acclaimed films as much as the next person. The last thing I’d consider myself is a cinematic snob. But there are times when a truly amazing movie slips into—and out of—theaters without much buzz before fading into obscurity. So I’d like to bring a few of those gems back into the light and remind you that sometimes the blockbusters aren’t the only films that can give you plenty of bang for your buck.

There are plenty of horror films that strive to be nightmarish and disturbing, but few will ever achieve it in quite the way The Cell does.

Catherine Deane (Jennifer Lopez) is a child psychiatrist pioneering a new technology that allows her to enter the minds of comatose patients. When serial killer Carl Stargher (Vincent D’Onofrio) suffers a seizure that sends him into an irreversible coma just as the authorities close in, FBI agent Peter Novak (Vince Vaughn) turns to Catherine for help.

Stargher has killed seven women through an elaborate process of drowning them in a hidden watertight tank and an eighth victim—Julia Hickson—has only hours to live. If Catherine can’t find her location in Stargher’s twisted dream world, or connect with the frightened child hiding beneath the monster, the young woman is doomed.

[And perhaps Catherine herself will become Stargher’s last victim…]

Nov 19 2014 10:30am

Under the Radar: Genre Movies You May Have Missed — Black Sheep

I love the mainstream, popular, and critically acclaimed films as much as the next person. The last thing I’d consider myself is a cinematic snob. But there are times when a truly amazing movie slips into—and out of—theaters without much buzz before fading into obscurity. So I’d like to bring a few of those gems back into the light and remind you that sometimes the blockbusters aren’t the only films that can give you plenty of bang for your buck. Last time, we looked at Evolution, and this week we'll be discussing Black Sheep (2006).

Black Sheep is one of those films that you hear described and can pretty much only say: “What?” I mean, who looks at a sheep and think, “Yes. That’s just what my horror film needs. Mutated sheep hungry for human flesh!” The tagline alone is a winner:

There are 40 million sheep in New Zealand, and THEY’RE PISSED OFF!

Yes, it’s utterly ludicrous—and not to be confused with that comedy featuring Chris Farley and David Spade. But a horror movie doesn’t need a plausible plot to be entertaining; in fact, I’d say 85% of the horror industry wouldn’t exist if every film took itself seriously and adhered to logic.

[Leave the logic and seriousness to the other genres...]

Oct 28 2014 11:30am

Fresh Meat: The Midnight Plan of the Repo Man by W. Bruce Cameron

The Midnight Plan of the Repo Man by W. Bruce Cameron is the debut mystery featuring the perennially-disappointing repo man Ruddy McCann who begins to hear the voice of a murder victim in his head (available October 28, 2014).

I am deeply committed to a road to nowhere and can’t reverse course save by driving backward for at least four miles—I doubt my car would forgive me, and I know my neck wouldn’t. But that’s what my instincts are urging me to do: back up. Get out. Escape, an inner voice whispers.

Escape from what?

Ruddy McCann has a lot on his plate. The family bar is in dire financial straits. The crummy winter weather is interfering with his repo work. His love life is as empty as his wallet.

Oh—and he has a murder victim inside his head.

When Alan Lottner first speaks up, Ruddy thinks he’s finally cracking. Maybe he’s got the Repo Madness, as his boss suggests. Perhaps the stress has just become too much.

But the dream he had—of Alan’s murder, as seen through his eyes—and some digging reveals that the voice isn’t just his imagination. Alan really did exist and he really was murdered.

[But why is he in my head?!]