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black comedy

REVIEW:  A Bad Day for Voodoo by Jeff Strand

REVIEW: A Bad Day for Voodoo by Jeff Strand

“When your best friend is just a tiny bit psychotic, you should never actually believe him when he says “Trust me, this is gonna be awesome.”

Of course, you probably wouldn’t believe a voodoo doll could work either. Or that it could cause someone’s leg to blow clean off with a quick prick. But I’ve seen it. It can happen.

And when there’s suddenly a doll of YOU floating around out there–a doll that could be snatched by a Rottweiler and torn to shreds, or a gang of thugs ready to torch it, or any random family of cannibals–well, you know that’s just gonna be a really bad day…”

Dear Mr. Strand,

I love the dedication of your book “to everybody who’s kind of weird.” I love the high school/er feel and the “teachers are out to get us” ethos. It started a little slowly, took some time to build up to cruising speed but once this baby got going, it was like a roller coaster that shooshes down and then turns you upside down and inside out and shakes you around until you’re seeing triple and thinking your intestines are headed for the next county. Or an older Caddie doing 80 mph – impossible to stop, relentless in moving forward, and cornering on two wheels.

A bad day for voodoo jeff strandHmmm, that’s still not quite it. I’ve got it! It’s really like an out of control carny ride. One of those spinning ones that goes faster and faster and spins around and around in a whirling vortex of insanity and you wonder if you’re going to see a repeat of that cotton candy you ate before getting on – no wait that part came when Mr. Click turned into a zombie and later when he tackled the chop shop thug. That was nasty. And poor Kelley getting to be up close and personal with it for so long after she got shot. Bleurgh.

I’m not sure which – ever escalating – part had me laughing the most. They were all so inventive and just when I thought, “it can’t possibly get any weirder” you’d top it with the next sequence and make it even crazier. The first voodoo doll, Mr. Click’s leg, the second voodoo doll, the carjacking, the chop shop, the gun fight, the dog, the dog with the doll, the dolljacking, the search for a phone, the weirdly smiling family, the payoff, the chase scene, the two voodoo priestesses, getting what’s needed from where it is to the voodoo priestesses to end the power and then your editor’s OMG reaction to the missing chapter. Chapter 28 was great because I too was wondering how you’d get the doll, Adam, Tyler, and poor Mr. Click away from Tyler’s parents, the cops, the cop car and to the voodoo shop before Tyler began roasting in hell. Sounds like it would have been a hell of a read (pardon the pun) but Tyler’s editor’s recount is a close second.

Tyler’s first person POV is funny, concise and trustworthy. If he tells me something, I’m inclined to believe him – with the obvious teen hyperbole. And the brief times that you need to include information that Tyler wouldn’t have known, it’s prefaced with information about how he (could) easily discover it. I so don’t like 1st person PsOV that include a lot of “later I discovered that” awkward tack-ons. They just never flow for me. The main place where we don’t have Tyler’s actual POV is the (still) hilarious (missing) chapter 28.

It’s truly funny. I can just see you cackling with glee as each chapter tops the previous one in the Holy S–t – word quotient. I liked the characters – even taxi driver Zeke when he was initially in for the fun of chasing the carjacker but – wow, I didn’t expect what was going to happen to Mr. Click or Tyler and I hoped against hope about how the ending would occur. I totally agree with Tyler, Adam and Kelley’s decision to tell the truth vs trying to make up something to explain it all. ‘Cause who on earth is gonna believe all that? No one, which would keep their parents and the cops from picking apart any made up version of the events.

Tyler learns that Adam might be a little strange but he’s a true friend. Ditto Kelley being a fantastic girlfriend – they might even last past the “sell by” date that Tyler envisioned when she would break up with him on their way to different colleges. These two are the best – the type who really will hide a zombie body for you.

I had a fun time reading about the weird and wild night that Tyler, Adam and Kelley endure. It’s not entirely new since zombies seem to be the new vampires, it’s not rocket science – God help the world if Adam gets his hands on a rocket – but it’s delicious fun. I didn’t turn off my ereader thinking, “that was a total waste of my time” which is always a good thing. It also earns the accolade “I could see this almost as if it were a film, and what a film it’d make.” B+



Friday Film Review: Bridesmaids

Friday Film Review: Bridesmaids

Bridesmaids (2011)

Genre: Comedy/Romance

Grade: B+

“You kind of stole all the crazy.”

“I out-crazied you.”

Okay, the fact that I reviewed “Bad Santa” last year should tell y’all I have no shame about watching and recommending gross-out movies. Still I hesitated on this one awhile before deciding to give it a shot. The critics’ reviews were pretty good but when a friend told me about the “intestinal distress while in bridesmaids dress situ” scene, I wavered. Did I really want to watch a film where the bride-to-be and her bridesmaids all race for the lone bathroom in a chi-chi wedding salon – and some of them don’t make it? Guess you can tell that in the end, I did.

Down on her luck Annie (Kristen Wiig) is thrilled when her long time best friend Lillian (Maya Rudolph, who I loved in “Away We Go”) announces her engagement – especially after a hilarious brunch when Lillian wonders if Dougie is about to break up with her (“He calls me Dude a lot.”) But it doesn’t take long for trouble to elbow its way onto the scene. At the engagement party – held at the snooty country club where Dougie’s family and boss are members – Lillian introduces Annie to her other bridesmaids Becca (Ellie Kemper) who seems to have a chaste marriage with her Ken doll husband, Rita (Wendi McLendon-Covey – Reno 911) whose three boys have her living in a fluid spattered home, Megan (Melissa McCarthy) who makes sex sound like a full on Krav Maga session, and Helen Harris III (Rose Byrne) who’s so perky and perfect she makes everyone’s teeth ache.

Or maybe it’s just Annie who can’t stand Helen as the other women eagerly fall into line with whatever expensive outing Helen dreams up for the pre wedding celebrations while Annie’s efforts result in the women suffering an extreme bout of food poisoning as they try on expensive bridesmaid dresses in a shop with white carpeting. The bachelorette trip to Vegas also falls prey to Annie’s fear of flying and probably gets her added on the no-fly list after Air Marshall Jon (Ben Falcone) and Megan have to take a hysterical Annie down mid-flight.

Annie’s love life also sucks as she bounces between bad dates and f*ck buddy, happy-go-lucky asshole Ted (uncredited John Hamm). Still, a chance meeting with Wisconsin State Trooper cutie Officer Nathan Rhodes (Chris O’Dowd, whose accent I just want to wrap around me like a blanket), due to her taillights being broken, brings Annie a much needed sympathetic friend to whom she can pour out her troubles.

When her frustrations boil over at the OTT French themed (complete with Golden Retriever puppy party tokens) bridal shower, will Annie finally go too far and alienate her best friend forever? And does she have any hope of salvaging her budding relationship with Rhodes before her self doubts sabotage that too?

Let me try and find some redeeming aspects of the film to salve my conscience about rec’ing it. Annie does grow as a person. She learns something about valuing herself and that the human heart has an endless amount of room to add new friends. Annie finally sees that Helen doesn’t have the perfect life it appears to be from the outside and that perhaps she’s just looking for someone to accept her too. And maybe Rhodes’ encouragement – plus the carrot cake Annie bakes as a peace offering – has rekindled her dreams to make her living as a baker instead of existing in a soul sucking job in a middling jewelry store.

The movie also lets the female stars be funny in a way that few movies have allowed. Usually women have to be all nicey nice. Be sweet. Don’t say anything bad. Don’t make waves. Beam that clinched teeth smile in public like a lady and wait until you get home before yelling how you really feel. In “Bridesmaids” the women get to show it all in public. Though it might start with the painfully polite, faux female facade of friendliness before heading to the speech-off contest at the engagement party, pretty soon the white cotton gloves start to come off. From the tampon commercial tennis match to the screaming meltdown at the bridal shower (watch for the rabbits running for cover in the background) – the characters really show their true feelings right out in the open and to each others’ faces. I might not want to see a steady diet of this all the time and I certainly don’t think I could actually do any of these things in public myself – the “be nice” lessons of a lifetime are hard to shake – but it’s damn funny and refreshing to watch on screen.

Which leads me to the main reason to see it. I found it to be OMG funny. I started laughing at the morning “conversation of shame” between Annie and Ted and kept on during Annie’s impersonation of a penis and balls at her bunch with Lillian. Then there’s Annie’s brother and sister roommates – ick! blech! scrub the tub scene from my brain with bleach! (note, this is in the unrated version of the film). Annie’s sobriety test is only topped by Steve Martin’s in “The Man with Two Brains” while her taunting of flight attendant Steve, while under the influence of whatever pills Helen gave her washed down with a gulped Scotch, had me in stitches.

Annie’s not the only one with the good lines though. Megan wants to climb a hawt guy “like a tree” and Rita frankly talks about how she wants “balls in her face” during the bachelorette party in Vegas. Helen’s disingenuous “Oh, you can get checks cashed here” comment followed by the condescending statement about the “sense of camaraderie in coach” would make me want to slap her too. I loved Rhodes’ and Annie’s morning radar gun bantering, though if he let Annie sit in the front seat when they started after the guy going 91 mph – “can’t let that go” – why couldn’t he let her do it again later in the film?

But the three sequences that stand out for me are the well known “food poisoning,” the French bridal shower throw down, and Annie’s attempts to get Rhodes to help her. The “hot lava” get-me-to-a-toilet, projectile vomiting scene almost made me wet myself even as I thought “am I laughing at this?” I just had to immediately rewind it to make sure I’d really seen what I just thought I had. And then I laughed at it again. Good thing Helen’s husband is probably rich enough to replace that carpeting. The butterfly flitting out of the bridal shower invitation box (a box for God’s sake!) set the tone for things to come. Riding white horses while being lead to Helen’s house was bad enough but the hot chocolate fountain, party favors (but why Goldens? Why not poodles?) and the gigantic cookie would have me at least thinking if not saying “Are you shitting me?” too. Watching the dual meltdown is cathartic (“She does NOT get a party favor!”).

The last scene is funny but also revealing. Annie discovers the hollow sham of Helen’s life then starts to open up to her as a friend – just a bit, we see how much Annie hurt Rhodes, how he’s struggling to maintain that hurt but that there might be romantic hope here- and it’s funny as hell. The first time I saw it I was concentrating on Annie and Rhodes but take the time to watch what Rose Byrne as Helen does as her facial expressions are priceless.

This is another Hollywood release that doesn’t have the bonus material on the rental discs (I hate, hate, hate these!) The extra stuff is worth seeking out as the commentary is good and the gag reel truly is funny. But the line-o-rama, where the director just let the actors ad lib and improv a variety of lines, is a scream. That alone is a reason to try and see this stuff.

The film ends in a way I like. Not everything is neatly wrapped up. Annie still doesn’t have a job. She and Helen might get to be closer friends but I’d never bet the farm on them being BFFs. Megan seems to have gotten herself down to a manageable number of puppies and possibly has something going with Air Marshall Jon. And Annie just might be ready to let herself have a positive relationship with a man who looks like a winner. Maybe he’ll let her turn on his siren some more and play with his radar gun again. B+