“The Last of Us” S1E1 – Spoiler-Free Review

Oh. My. God.

A video game adaptations that DOESN’T totally suck? Is this real? For so long, the dreaded curse of adaptation has plagued video-games-turned-movies (and, for that matter, shows). There are many examples, but the most notable failed video game adaptations have been Resident Evil (almost every iteration, from the too-long movie franchise to the Netflix series), the messy Uncharted movie, and Doom.

Happily, I’m here to tell you the Good News: the curse has been broken. The Last of Us is a shining example of what an adaptation should be all about: honoring the source material while adding fresh elements that work.

For the uninitiated, The Last of Us was a highly successful 2013 action-adventure video game following a mismatched duo as they trek across post-apocalyptic America to deliver a cure for a pandemic that’s destroyed the entire world. The game swept award after award and raised the bar for other game developers, offering an emotional character-driven story that never strays too far into the action elements nor becomes too much of a soap opera.

Much like the game, HBO’s The Last of Us delivers all the hard-hitting emotional moments visual masterpieces. I think this success owes a lot to the fact that this is a television series rather than a movie, which might’ve eschewed some of the poignant character moments in favor of spending more time on the crowd-pleasing action-adventure moments.

My favorite aspect of the show, so far, is the fidelity paid to my favorite moments from the game. There’s a scene early on that absolutely ripped my heart out, and it’s pulled almost shot-for-shot from the video game. You’ll know exactly what scene I’m referring to if you watch the show, trust me. And there are plenty of fan-favorite moments like this, which I think is enough to calm the fear that this adaptation will stray far from the near-perfect source material.

I can’t say much else about the premiere episode of The Last of Us without going into spoiler territory, but I intend to write a full review of the show after the finale airs in Spring ’23. I would be remiss, however, not to mention the actors who made the first episode work so well.

Bella Ramsey, of Game of Thrones fame, absolutely shines as Ellie, one of the protagonists. Her body language, her sarcasm, her quieter moments…they all perfectly mirror the source material (which is funny, because Ramsey claimed in an interview that she’s never actually played the video games). I was skeptical about this casting choice at first, but I’m delighted to say I was wrong to be worried. Ramsey totally kills it.

Fellow Game of Thrones alumnus Pedro Pascal plays Joel, the jaded hero and main protagonist. From the very first time he appears on screen, he’s 100% the Joel we all know and love from the games. He’s a man who’s been through some truly horrendous events since the apocalypse, and his heavy grief practically bleeds out onto the screen regardless of what scene he’s in.

There are plenty of other great casting choices, but I’ll explore these further as the show goes on, since much of the first episode highlights the acting abilities of Ramsey and Pascal. All I’ll say for now is that I’m very pleased with the casting department, and I can’t wait to see how these characters develop as the show goes on.

I give the premiere episode of The Last of Us a solid 9/10, and I recommend it to anyone searching for an emotionally satisfying series premiere that doesn’t buckle under heavy expectations of fans of the source material.

Check it out!

“The Menu” – Movie Review

“Do not eat; experience.”

The Menu is a black comedy that lives up to the hype and then some, offering biting social satire, witty commentary on consumerism, and a visual feast for foodies amongst us.

The film follows a group of socialites invited to dine at an exclusive restaurant located on an island. The group is largely comprised of the most unlikeable types of people: name droppers, cheaters, self-proclaimed experts in their fields, and guys who unironically say things like “You know who I am, right?” in order to get what they want. The chef, played by the legendary Ralph Fiennes, offers his guests a dining experience like no other…but it comes at a high cost.

Just as describing every intricate detail of a dish at a fancy restaurant may spoil the experience for the uninitiated, there’s not much I can say about the plot of The Menu without ruining your experience. All I can say, above all else, is director Mark Mylod really took me by surprise with this one. I went in expecting another disposable “elevated horror” film (God, I’m sick of that phrase…) and what I got was so, so much more.

In fact, it can be argued that the events within The Menu are a commentary on the state of filmmaking and the modern audience. There are many among us who fancy themselves “experts” on film, and they eagerly tear apart each and every moment of popular films rather than simply experiencing them for what they are. Likewise, the guests at the exclusive restaurant all think the world of themselves due to their “expertise” in fine dining, and they snobbishly judge the food they’re served and demand their money’s worth, asking for alterations to the menu, larger portions of certain dishes, and an entirely different experience altogether.

Perhaps it’s a reach, but I think Mylod is criticizing our universal tendency to want rather than to experience. Honestly, can you think of the last time you truly experienced a movie for what it was? I sure can’t; I’m always longing for more of certain elements, thinking to myself what I might’ve done differently (oh, expert filmmaker I am!), and eagerly awaiting the moment the movie’s over so I can talk about what I liked and disliked via various social media. In short, the experience of simply being at a movie and taking it for what it is is often lost on me. We’re hungry people, us moviegoers, and at times we can be quite insatiable.

There’s a moment in the film when the chef is explaining to the protagonist, Margot (played wonderfully by Anya Taylor-Joy), that in life there are the creators and the consumers: those who slave over their art, whatever it may be, and those who consume it.

But, theories about “the message” aside, The Menu also stands on its own as a highly entertaining film filled with dark comedy, suspense, and a fantastic score that I absolutely adore. Every element of The Menu works, and whatever you go into the film expecting, Mylod finds a way to subvert those expectations and offer a unique experience you won’t soon forget.

There’s plenty more to say about The Menu, but a lot of it’s already been said in other reviews, so I’ll eschew the fluff and skip right to the meat of the dish: Go see it; it’s two hours you’ll positively savor.

This is only the second film I’ve seen in 2023, and I know it came out last year, but I can already tell this will be a highlight of this year’s film viewing experience.

Also, upon watching The Menu, you’re likely to flinch every time someone claps their hands together from here on out.


“MEGAN” – Movie Review

Well, hot damn! Now THIS is how you properly start off a year in horror movies!

Megan, directed by Gerard Johnstone and produced by James Wan, is a horror-comedy that works on both levels, filled with black humor and some truly fun action sequences.

Megan tells the story of a young career-driven woman named Gemma, who’s thrust into parenthood after her brother and sister-in-law are killed in a bizarre accident that leaves her niece orphaned. Gemma works in the toy business, and her secret groundbreaking project is an A.I. doll that’s fully communicative and able to foster realistic companionship with the child it’s “paired” with (much the same way your iPhone or household A.I. “pairs” with you and gets to know your various likes and dislikes). Gemma decides the prototype, named M3GAN, would be the ideal friend for her niece and also take some of the weight off Gemma’s shoulders when it comes to parenting. Needless to say, this doesn’t end well for Gemma.

I went in blind with this movie, no expectations whatsoever. Honestly, I assumed it was going to be a rip-off of the Child’s Play remake (which left a sour taste in my mouth, but we won’t get into that here). James Wan’s attachment to the project was the only reason I wanted to see Megan, since he tends to hit home runs with every movie he’s attached to, even–in my humble opinion–2021’s Malignant.

But Megan took me by surprise. It wasn’t nearly as gory as some other horror films with Wan’s name attached, nor was it particularly scary. It was just…fun; from the first frame to the last, I was sucked into the world of the movie and turned into a believer.

The gore effects, when present, worked incredibly well, mostly because Johnstone opted for minimalism rather than over-the-top carnage that leaves nothing to the imagination. There are some very dark moments throughout the movie, and these moments work well because they’re almost always punctuated by dark humor. Not just one-liners, either; the framing of the shots, the quiet moments between dialogue, and the idiosyncrasies of characters all lend themselves to full-on belly laughter.

Megan also works as an exploration of parenthood and responsibility to kin. As mentioned above, Gemma uses her A.I. prototype to avoid learning parent skills while also furthering her career by testing the humanoid companion on her niece. The film does a nice job of asking whether or not Gemma’s intentions were pure in the first place or if she’s simply manipulating her niece’s need for companionship for her own ends.

Also, I would be remiss not to point out how well the sinister A.I. doll M3GAN is played by the young actresses Amie Donald and Jenna Davis. The physicality, the voice, the subtle changes in the doll’s tone and demeanor…it all worked extremely well when it might’ve otherwise failed with lesser actresses. My favorite part happens about two-thirds of the way through the movie, and it involves an old school paper cutter blade and a fantastic dance sequence. You’ll know what I’m talking about when you see it, and I’d be very surprised if you’re not as happy with the scene as I was.

Overall, Megan is a great comedy-horror film that’s sure to please anyone looking for something fresh to start their 2023 theatrical experience. You won’t be particularly frightened, but you won’t leave the theater disappointed, either.


Books and a Break

This week’s been everything I’d hoped for. Although I was supposed to be in the Virginia woods this week on a writing retreat, I instead decided to drive to my hometown of Coshocton, Ohio to surprise my older sister before she leaves for two years to Chennai, India! She and her husband are diplomats, and they’ll be away overseas with my nephew for way too long for me to pass up an opportunity to see them for a full week, so I made a last-minute change of plans and went back to my roots, singing “Country Roads” at the top of my lungs the whole way (yes, I got a few weird stares from passerby, but it’s what I’m here for, isn’t it?)

Fortunately, being home hasn’t hampered my ability to get some serious writing done and dusted. I’m nearly finished with a new short story, which I’ll give details about at a later date, and I’m pre-writing Clive (the pseudo-sequel to Moving Through) while putting the finishing touches on Parasitic Host, my upcoming comedy-horror novel. I’m also journaling every day again, which has been nice, and I’m reading a few helpful books on technique and self-editing. I pride myself on always learning, both from past experiences and from people who’ve been doing what I want to do much longer than I’ve even been alive.

Speaking of journals, you can now buy copies of my Moving Through inspired journal here on my Amazon page. They’re a good place to vent…and I’m pretty sure I’d be snapping 24/7 if not for that outlet. Mostly joking.

I’ve gotten a lot of reading done this week as well, and though I’m currently working on proper review for these books to post on Amazon, here are some brief thoughts on what I’ve been reading.

Bishop by Candace Nola

This book is engaging for so many reasons. Not only do we get a werebear fighting a proper wendigo (one that true to the original mythos), but we also get fully-developed characters who make smart decisions and aren’t simply slaves to the plot. This is a character-driven novel, and I had a blast reading it.

Midnight In the City of the Carrion Kid by James G. Carlson

Oh boy, now THIS is my type of book! Part “Silent Hill,” part Naked Lunch, 100% weird the entire way through! It doesn’t let up even once throughout it’s rather brief length, and it packs a real wallop that should make any bizarro horror writer envious.

Rotten, No One Survives, and The Survivor by Buzz Parcher

I was recently at an indie writers convention in Northeast Ohio, and while I didn’t sell too many books, I did meet probably my favorite new indie horror writer, Buzz Parcher. He and I have very similar tastes in the splatterpunk subgenre, and I’m absolutely certain his name is one you’ll be hearing plenty of over the next few years. These books are brutal, funny, fast-paced, and they push the envelope in every sense of the phrase. You can watch my TikTok review here.

I’ve been pretty active on TikTok lately with book reviews, and new episodes of The Family Fright Night Horror Podcast are airing 2-3 times weekly, so there’s plenty of new content while we wait together for Parasitic Host to hit bookshelves. I have a lot of great news I wish I could share, but I don’t think now’s the best time to do so, since things change sometimes. But when the time comes…you’ll know what I’m referring to!

‘Til next week, adios!

Family Fright Night Horror Podcast!

Hey everyone! Just dropping in to let you know: I now have a podcast!

The Family Fright Night Horror Podcast features some of the top names in the horror industry as we discuss the movies made them horror fans. Guests so far have included Del Howison, Paul Tremblay, S.A. Cosby, Daniel Volpe, Wrath James White, and more!

I’ve included some episodes below for your enjoyment. You can find the show on most podcast servers, and if you dig it, you can subscribe so that you never miss an episode!

Here’s the RSS feed link!

Author Paul Tremblay, “Head Full of Ghosts,” “The Cabin at the End of the World”

Author S.A. Cosby, “Razorblade Tears,” “Blacktop Wasteland”

Author Wrath James White, “The Resurrectionist”

Author Daniel Volpe, “Talia”

TV Roundup

Hey, I FINALLY got to do a good ol’ fashioned TV binge in 2022!

Lately, after a long few months of traveling and dealing with professional obligations and mental health issues, I’ve finally had the chance to sit back and enjoy a good ol’ fashioned television binge! There are so many shows I’ve been meaning to catch up on, and here are my thoughts on a few of them.

Obi-Wan Kenobi (Disney+)

Man, the Star Wars franchise must be every screenwriter’s wet dream! You don’t have to respect lore, you don’t have to regard canon (whatever that even means anymore, and you don’t even need to tell much of a story…as long as there are space lasers and melodramatic monologues from the lead characters. The Book of Boba Fett was the epitome of bad writing, in my opinion. But…

Obi-Wan Kenobi revived my hope for the Star Wars television expansion on Disney+. Some might even call it “A New Hope.” Everything about this show was well done, and I didn’t even mind how a few things clash with established canon or disturbed some of the meaningful events throughout the original trilogy. One scene in particular in the final episode, involving a young Luke Skywalker, bothered me a bit, but the show was otherwise a joy to watch from beginning to end. I especially enjoyed Hayden Christensen’s portrayal of Darth Vader, which I never in a million years thought I’d say. The final episode was brutal in so many ways, and the pure rage in Darth Vader’s hunt for his former master was never boring or overwritten. I’d recommend this to anyone who cares to see a bridged gap between Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope; this is what Star Wars should’ve been from the beginning of all this revival business in the Disney purchase

The Boys (Amazon Prime)


The Boys, since the very first episode, has only gotten better and better. This latest season, which introduces Jensen Ackles’ “Soldier Boy,” hits the nail on the head with both social commentary and pure satire of the American fascination over superhero franchises. I loved the Deadpool movies, but damn, this show has quickly surpassed both films in terms of balancing humor with drama (both leaning, admittedly, heavily toward the “humor” side).

The Walking Dead, Season 11 (AMC+)

Michael James Shaw as Mercer, Christian Serratos as Rosita Espinosa, Melissa McBride as Carol Peletier – The Walking Dead _ Season 11, Episode 14 – Photo Credit: Jace Downs/AMC

I haven’t been a fan of The Walking Dead in a while. Unlike many others, I absolutely LOVED the Negan and Saviors story line, as it was also my favorite part of the graphic novels. The previous few seasons, however, have seemed to drag onward like a reanimated corpse begging to be put out of its misery with a merciful “series finale” head shot.

But Season 11 has been pretty stellar. I’m only a third of the way through it, and I’m actually paying attention to episodes again instead of constantly playing on my phone and rolling my eyes during every long-winded “this is who we are now” monologue. I find the character development between Maggie and Negan especially interesting, since he straight up brutally murdered her husband in front of her after his lengthy introductory monologue. The two characters are getting a spinoff together, so maybe that’s why they’re getting so much screen time together, and somehow it never feels forced

Dexter: New Blood (Showtime)

I hated this show. It had its good moments but, overall, it completely failed to justify its existence. I hesitate to share my full thoughts on this shows weak points, since conversation is a thing of the past and having a negative opinion on shows and movies that others love is like asking for hate mail. All I will say (and this is a hill I will gladly die on) is that the season finale SUCKED. I hated Dexter’s son throughout the show but, man, the season finale just threw away any good qualities the character might’ve had, all for the sake of manufactured drama and “tying up loose ends.” I certainly hope there’s no season two of this garbage. Just let it die.