Sunday, December 7, 2014

My review of OLALLA, Amy Hesketh's new Vampire film.

Amy Hesketh’s OLALLA would have become a favorite film of mine even without the Vampires. And I know my female Vampires.

DRACULA’S DAUGHTER was my first (Vampire film). She seduced me when I was a kid, did it right there in my house with mom and dad sleeping in the next room and me sneaking a look at the late late show on TV. My next, one BLACK SUNDAY evening, in the balcony of an old Fox Movie Palace, was Princess Asa of the royal Moldavian House of Vaida. Asa, played by the ferociously beautiful Barbara Steele, changed my outlook on life (and Witches and the Undead). Then there was BLOOD AND ROSES, DAUGHTERS OF DARKNESS, REQUIEM FOR A VAMPIRE, TWINS OF EVIL, THE VAMPIRE LOVERS, LUST FOR A VAMPIRE, COUNTESS DRACULA, LA COMTESSE NOIR, VAMP, ONCE BITTEN, QUEEN OF THE DAMNED, and Jac Avila’s recent macabre masterpiece, DEAD BUT DREAMING. The point is, my long list of Famous Female Vampires of Film-dom is extensive and could be continued, on and on.

But Olalla is a Vampire like no other, and OLALLA is a Vampire film like no other. The movie thumbs its nose at almost every establishment Vampire tradition. No Danse Macabre for these Vampires. No. But there is Mambo! No sucking of blood from neat little puncture wounds on the throat. But there is chilled blood in the fridge sipped from fine crystal. Or, if you’re Olalla, the black sheep of the clan, you occasionally do it the old fashioned way, rip out the throats of your victims, and leave a bloody mess. Not good, in a family determined, for good reasons, to avoid attracting attention.

You don’t have to be a non-conformist Vampire to identify with Olalla. Are your tastes in clothing styles a little unusual? Does your career choice garner disdain and disapproval? Have you discovered your sexual preferences violate some arbitrary definition of “normal?” How about your taste in music? Art? Books. Videos? Food? Hobbies? Whatever? There’s a little Olalla in all of us.

With its roots in a story by Robert Louis Stevenson (the guy who wrote “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde”), Olalla is portrayed with a sly undercurrent of self-deceptive innocence by Hesketh herself. She yearns to be an ordinary woman and go shopping, but she does not have “ordinary” in, umm, well, in her blood. She tries but cannot long stand to pretend, like the rest of her family does, not even after the repeated encouragements of a skillfully applied riding crop, wielded by the family’s dedicated enforcer, Felipe, played with exquisite intensity by Jac Avila (hard-ass to the max, but with Olalla’s best interests seething in his Vampire-heart). Tough love, thy name is Felipe.

Felipe is convincingly and sympathetically portrayed in flashbacks as Avila’s younger self by Alejandro Loayza. He has worried about Olalla’s well-being, and that of his family, since childhood (in OLALLA,  Vampires age, but slowly). Felipe’s sense of responsibility for his family’s well being is a heavy burden, especially considering what happened to Olalla’s mother (played in heart-wrenching flashbacks by Hesketh, too).

Let me tell you, I was pulling for mom and could hardly stand to watch her ending. Yes, Hesketh, both as actor and director, is so good that she did a number on jaded horror movie watcher me. Not that I’m complaining, but no one deserves to die that way (though thousands, maybe millions have, over the centuries), especially not a good-hearted mother, Vampire or not! It’s those damned villagers with their pointed sticks! And torches. Superstitious fools!

And how dare the leader, played with suitably manic enthusiasm by Eric Calancha, whip her so much? Sure, his fear makes him merciless, but over and over his whip marks her flesh…until, hey! That’s enough! Well, maybe just one more…but no one looks away! No one averts their eyes, not even me, from her pain and her shame as the flames rise higher and her screams grow more frantic. And the heartbreaking, heroic way she tries to endure it and accept it then gives up and starts desperately wrenching on her ropes. Won’t anyone show her some mercy? Won’t someone cut her loose in time? Oh! The flames! They’re coming from her now! It’s too late! But meanwhile, back in the present day—    

Olalla’s sister, Ofelia, cares about the family, too, and is fed up with her sister’s antics, endangering them all. Ofelia remembers all too well what happened to their mother. Mila Joya plays Ofelia as a playfully seductive predator, with a subtle undercurrent that made me wonder just how many throats she herself had ripped out, in secret, without telling anyone, and never getting caught.

But then there are the ordinary men who fall in love with the extraordinary Olalla and her mom. Luis Almanza’s Nathan and Cristian Del Rio’s Roberto cannot resist! Moths to the flames! The way those characters were played made me identify with them, worshipping each their own version of la belle dame sans merci, because maybe, just maybe, Hesketh herself will be merciful, maybe this time, love will find a way, maybe she’s not la belle director sans merci…yeah, right!

She has no mercy on her audience when it comes to creating other unforgettable characters, either. If the two uncles, played in fascinating synchronicity by Beto Lopez and Fermin Nuñez don’t steal the show, Erix Antoine’s Bruno does. The aunt, Maria Esther Arteaga, is a blessedly calm center of respectability, but what can she do amid all the rest? Is this old and rather decadent, in a dignified way, family doomed? Well, maybe not! After all, who among us can deny that Beto’s extended, unhurried, detailed explanation of what a “muffin” is and is not is alone worth its weight in butter running down your chin and, in my opinion, gives this family all the socially redeeming value they need to justify their continued existence.   

Bottom line, having been dominated by females (Vampire-films-wise), I have been waiting for OLALLA most of my life. But thanks to Amy Hesketh, its award-winning writer, director, star, and to Jac Avila and all the rest at Pachamama Films, none of us have to wait any longer. Three cheers and all the first magnitude stars in a star atlas for OLALLA! Just don’t watch NOSFERATU with her, okay? But if you do, at least do not talk through the film in an attempt to impress her with how well-versed you are in NOSFERATU film-lore. It’s not a good idea. Believe me. You’ll be sorry…heh heh heh...Hesketh!

Trailer for OLALLA:



Monday, July 14, 2014


"It was so hard for me,
You have no idea how much I worked for you."
--excerpt from the English lyrics to Hyo Min's "Nice Body" solo debut

 Hyo Min, Loco, "Nice Body" Music Video

"Nice Body" (Dance Version with English Subtitles)

The following is why, with all respect, I call 박효민 (Park Hyo Min) "The 'Rocky' of K-Pop." She is known to millions, of course, as one of the original members of the K-Pop group T-ARA (pronounced "tiara"), a group who is internationally popular and has even performed for royalty, among other distinctions and accomplishments. This review of Hyo Min's solo debut in 2014, "Nice Body," is derived from variously publicly available articles and video clips and interviews. As such, I acknowledge that, like the object of the K-Pop song, "Bad Girl Good Girl," made famous by the group, Miss A, I should probably "shut up, boy," because I don't know Hyo Min, personally, and I was not involved in any way in the creation of her solo debut's music video, but nevertheless, having had more than a slight touch of "showbiz" in my own life, and because I suspect that many people do not know what she went through to create this solo debut, here we go. 

So, Hyo Min, you work long and hard perfecting dance moves and singing performances, taking risks that may or may not pan out, putting your sweat and creative blood into the process, knowing that the results are going to be seen and examined and analyzed for the slightest flaws by millions of viewers.

Then, because you feel that your already fit and toned dancer's body needs to be made even better, to fully actualize the concept of the "Nice Body" song chosen for your solo debut, and to be faithful to the spirit of the lyrics, you challenge yourself to endure cross-fitness, Olympic-caliber exercises that includes training with weights, leaving you sick with muscle pain the first week, but you bear the pain and keep going.

Then you discover the exercises have added enough muscle mass that your costumes and clothes no longer fit the way you want, so you put yourself through a stringent lemon-detox diet to re-fit your new, stronger body into your clothes and to cleanse your system for the stressful debut promo process, one week before it begins.

And for the proper "break with the past" effect, you cut off your trademark long hair that you admit to having cherished, and die it blond, hoping your fans will still accept it and you (and they do).

Until finally you are ready to debut your solo, whose success is important for yourself AND your T-ARA sisters, debut it, literally, because of the Internet, TO THE WORLD--in your one chance to "get it right," so that millions can watch and deem your efforts "cute" and have fun experiencing what you and all those on your "team"--who are also depending on you to succeed--have created.

And because of the lyrics of the song and the unique dreamy Chopin piano prologue and epilogue you added, showing the glitzy and fun middle part to be the DREAM OF A BETTER LIFE in the mind of a woman (you, in extreme make-up--like the EP's title, MAKE UP) who needs (and, deep inside, WANTS) better health, you maybe dare to hope that some viewers will be INSPIRED by the song and video to exercise and FIGHT BACK and WORK to improve themselves, like Rocky Balboa did in the famous, award-winning film.

But! All that was EASY compared to what you must survive BEFORE the debut...standing alone--truly ALONE-- before the PRESS! And remaining poised, remaining calm, being charming and respectfully humble and as always, attractive, smiling, positive, and “cool,” hoping that some inadvertent mis-step doesn't scuttle the whole project before it begins...not much stress there, either, right?

Does that sum it all up, at least on the surface, maybe, just a little, Hyo Min? 

Wow. Being a pop star "idol" is definitely not a role for the weak or weak-willed. 

I’m certain that in the opinion of your countless fans, you deserve all the success in the world. And what’s more, we know that no one gave that success to you. We know you worked hard and did your best, “went the extra mile,” and EARNED this solid solo victory. And for the inspiration of your example, we all say, with a bow of sincere respect, “THANKS!”

(for my blog about how I discovered T-ARA, see T-ARA by way of a Ghastly Ghost )

Sunday, March 23, 2014

HEL X 3 "Author's Cut" of the Hel Triliogy

Covers for the Hawk Books trade sized reprints in 2000, art by Boris Vallejo,
stacked above the 2002 Russian language editions from Alpha-Kniga, art by Ilya Voronin.

I finished revising and expanding my Norse heroic fantasy trilogy into what is called an "author's cut." All three novels, Warrior Witch of Hel, Death Riders of Hel, and Werebeasts of Hel, are now bundled into a 3-in-one ebook set called HEL X 3. 

I discovered from working on the Hel novels that I liked Bloodsong and her allies, warriors, shapeshifting berserkers, Witches (good and not so good), villains (bad and worse), and monsters (don't even ask) in the three books so much that I wanted to spend more time with them and am now writing a new novel in the series, Valkyries of Hel.

Most of the characters from the first three books return in the fourth book, but there are some interesting changes. For example, there will be K-Pop.

Here is the original cover for the first edition of the first Hel book, September 1985, published in the Questar line under the Popular Library imprint (that was then owned by Warner Books), gorgeous art by the legendary Boris Vallejo, and written under my previously used pen name (because the publisher insisted) that I later stopped using.

My webpage: C. Dean Andersson

Sabine Starr's "Gone Bad" series


Sabine Starr has written a “Gone Bad” series of novels that the genre and marketing folks classify as Western Romances.  Okay. They are westerns, set in the late 1800s in Ms. Starr’s native (from the author’s information) North Texas and Southeastern Indian Territory (today’s Oklahoma), and there is romance in them. But of historical novels I have enjoyed, there were always romance in them.

You learn a lot of history while enjoying a good story with these books

To me, Sabine Starr gives you real novels, not been-there-before predictability, with great come-alive descriptions of the landscapes in which the stories take place, a nice mix of interesting characters, and of course the “hero” and “heroine.” But don’t expect the main characters or the romance between them to be stereotypes. My advice to any stereotype trying to sneak its way into a Sabine Starr novel is to run for the hills before she fills its bottom with hot lead!
Take Belle Gone Bad for example, the newest in the series AmazonLink. The heroine is a serious bounty hunter tracker out for revenge against those who killed her father and fiance. But if you think you’ve been to this round-up before, nope. She has some serious paranormal activity going on, we later learn. So does the hero, for that matter. Yes, paranormal activity in a “western romance.”

This ain’t Gunfight at the O.K. Corral territory, pa’dners. Surprises like that in Belle, and the others in the series, Lady, Angel, and Bride (which can be read in any order, by the way) each holds its own surprises and mysteries waiting to be discovered, is what makes reading still enjoyable.

I hope there are more “Gone Bad” books coming our way.

T-ARA by way of a Ghastly Ghost

I’ve fallen in love with a Korean band named T-ARA.

And it all started with a Korean horror movie.

White, 2011, Youtube trailer is the story of a "cursed melody" that a K-Pop (Korean Pop) girl group called the "Pink Dolls" perform, which turns out to be a great career move in the short term, but not so much later on..."Is it getting warm in here?, hot, hot, hot, hot..." the cursed melody performed by the Pink Dolls

One of the stars of White is a young woman named Eunjung. I looked her up and discovered she really is a K-Pop star with a group called T-ARA (tiara). So, I searched YouTube for any videos T-ARA might have there and found so many I still have not watched them all. But Eunjung had also starred in another horror film, Ghastly, 2011, along with another T-ARA member, Hyomin. I watched Ghastly, too, and was even more impressed. Both actresses did excellent jobs, and Hyomin's final scenes were so strong, due mostly to her sheer acting talent, with few special effects, that it made a lasting impression on me, not an easy thing to do when you have seen as many horror movies as I have. The full movie with English subtitles is currently available, free on YouTube at this link:   Ghastly -- Full Movie with English Subtitles

Now, Hyomin has made another film, Jinx, 2013. It is not a horror film. It is a charming romantic comedy. She makes her character, a South Korean student in Japan, endearing and captivating. Jinx trailer And here is my IMDB review: JINX!!! IMDB Review -- And my updated blog review is here.

Hyomin has also acted in other dramas and comedies, including the historical epic, Gyebaek, for which she won a 2011 Best New Comer MBC Drama Award. Hyomin's heart-felt acceptance speech

Back to T-ARA. My first T-ARA experience was a video of a release called "Number 9." I always liked the golden oldie, "Love Potion Number 9," both the original and the cover by The Searchers, as well as the Beatles' "Number 9" on their “White” Album. But none of my expectations prepared me for T-ARA’s “Number 9.”

T-ARA's version got to me in unexpected ways. My musical tastes are extensive. I was trained and performed on various musical instruments throughout my youth and in the Air Force. So! This K-Pop group’s "Number 9" had a lot going for it musically. The group's dance performance was also impressive (yes, I was also trained as a dancer in my youth, but do not ask me to prove it with a "time-step").

The T-ARAians were great singers and dancers and, from their between dance moves performances in the video, competent actresses as well. Not to mention, of course, their costuming and generally striking appearance (I wasn’t going to mention this, but since you forced me, yes, okay, they are all quite beautiful). Then, I found the English lyrics to “Number 9” and was even more impressed. T-ARA“Number 9” Video and Lyrics

I went back for more K-Pop, me, who likes Viking Metal by Bathory and Amon Amarth! Could anything be farther from Viking Metal than K-Pop? But I have not been disappointed. I have barely scratched the surface. Miss A. Brave Brothers. Girls Generation. Speed. Sistar. 2NE1. And so many more. Fascinating and fun. Here is a nice sampler from YouTube. 100 top K-Pop songs

T-ARA is a classy and very accomplished group of performers, and from my own experiences, a very hard working bunch. Their kind of perfection takes long hours of practice to make it look so easy on the stage or in front of a camera. Indeed, I read that T-ARA rehearsed for three years before their debut in 2009, for which they became known before their debut as the "Super Rookies." Well, if true, it shows.

Now, they have followed up “Number 9” with “FirstLove” – Video and Lyrics. From the title, I was afraid I would find some pop music sweet syrupy concoction, maybe a K-Pop version of Pat Boone’s “April Love.” But T-ARA surprised me again. To begin with, after the intro, the song is done in a Tango rhythm! And the women’s singing is captivating. The addition of a sharp, guest-rapper named EB (yes, rapping within a Tango), adds a nice touch.

“First Love,” by composer Cho Young Soo, however, is a rather ironic title. In some ways, it has lyrics that are even more edgy than “Number 9.” Yet, the video that goes with it, by contrast, provides fans with a welcome, candid look inside the recording studio, with three of the members, Hyomin, Jiyeon, and Soyeon, no flashy costumes, no fancy dance moves, simply working together in ways that reminded me of the Beatles’ “Let It Be” movie, except without the building feuds. Here is a good interview with the three about "First Love" (with English subtitles) "First Love" Interview.
In fact, T-ARA’s artistic progress in just a few years reminds me of the Beatles, too, starting with entertaining pop music then progressing to more serious themes, even, yes, now, art. This group and those creators and collaborators behind the scenes, of whom there must be many, are doing important things that should only get more interesting and enjoyable in the months and years to come.

How much of their progress is due to input from Hyomin, Eunjung, and Jiyeon (the three that have been with T-ARA from the beginning) and the other current members, Boram, Soyeon, and Qri, I do not know, but I suspect that these savvy, creative professionals are an important part of the input-mix. And in a new development, Jiyeon and Hyomin each had a solo debut released in 2014, and Hyomin's second solo album arrived in 2016.  But each had also done memorable solo work during T-ARA's concerts, which can be found and viewed on YouTube, such as Hyomin's spectacular "Love Suggestion" solo, sung in English and danced with the style of a Bob Fosse Hollywood vamp number, with echoes of Monroe, Hayworth, and Dietrich, but infused throughout with Hyomin's unique style and energy. Hard to believe this is the same person who created the loveable Jinx character and the dramatic Gyebaek portrayal, but that's showbiz for you. Hyomin's versatility is impressive. She also does photography, creating professional photobooks, draws and designs, models, and composes. Here's a classic vamp shot from her "Love Suggestion" solo.

Here is a link to a performance of "Love Suggesstion."

Here is a link to Hyomin's solo debut "Nice Body"

Also see my blog about Hyomin's "Nice Body" solo, "The 'Rocky' of K-Pop"

And on her first EP, titled MAKE UP, she included a self-composed song, a strong rap with an emotional punch. I hope to see more of this kind of work from her as her solo career evolves. Link to "Overcome" with English subtitles

Hyomin has composed two new songs that are included on her 2016 full-length album.

Jiyeon (the youngest or "maknae" of T-ARA) had a solo debut in 2014 with an incredibly strong dance and singing tour de force of a performance. It was a surrealistic, beautiful, nightmare of a music video with enough striking images to make a surrealist master like Dali or Magritte take notice. Watch for the sudden bat-wings dance move designed by Yama and Hotchicks choreographer. And the weird mirror-dance effect. Unforgettable imagery executed perfectly. Here is a link to Jiyeon's solo debut "Never Ever."

I want to also include a link to T-ARA's "Do You Know Me?" music video.The costuming and sets and ensemble dancing alone will reward you with smiles, and giving us smiles is largely what T-ARA is about. Once upon a time, listening to the Beatles could uplift my spirits and turn a solid, determined frown into a silly, who cares let's be happy smile. Now, for me, smiles are guaranteed by listening to T-ARA. No, I have not learned Korean. Yet. Knowing Korean would add to the enjoyment, but the MUSIC transcends language... and in some ways treating the voices purely as musical instruments even enhances the effect. As I have heard it said, music is the universal language.  "Do You Know Me?" link

And last but not least, for pure can't sit still fun, here is T-ARA sub-unit N4 (Hyomin, Jiyeon, Eunjung, and Areum). N4 has traveled to the U.S. and appeared in Las Vegas. Hold on... here you go... go... go ahead... you know you want to... get up and move!  T-ARA N4 link

So, now I must say, with all their other fans, “Sarrang-hammida, T-ARA!” Because it turns out, and no one is more surprised than die-hard Viking metal-head me, I do love this group and what they are doing. Long live T-ARA! And long live all Queen's (don't correct me... T-ARA fans are "Queen's," with the possessive apostrophe, not "Queens" -- as T-ARA fans have corrected me!) Yes, T-ARA fans, male and female alike, are correctly referred to as "Queen's.") T-ARA official facebook page  T-ARA on Wikipedia